28 January 2008

the post-music post

Well, the title's not entirely true. I have one more thing to say before I can leave the subject of the music of 2007 back where it belongs (in the back portion of the blog): my favorite song of 2007.

Not a whole lot of rules apply, because as long as it was a song that appeared on an album released in 2007, it's fair game.

As usual, I think my though process deserves some consideration. As a person who's been "playing" "guitar" for something approaching eight years now, and who took a introduction to music theory for non-music majors class (pass/fail!) his last semester in college, I can at least pretend to have some idea for what makes a good song good, or in rare cases, great. Some years this would've been a ridiculously simple task; I couldn't stop listening to "March Into The Sea" from the day the EP showed up at my house, and I was ridiculously infatuated with (still am, by the way) "Inside Job" on Pearl Jam.

2007, though, featured a ridiculous abundance of not just good albums, but good songs. That's a difference worth noting because it allows me to illustrate it by making a television parallel, which, the way I see it, is always worth making. The difference between a good song and a good album is like the difference between a good episode and a good season (bet you couldn't see that coming, could you?). To wit, the key word here (which I didn't use) is time. The fifth season of Angel had 22 episodes to build up to the fantastic, wonderful end of "Not Fade Away." 22 episodes, which winds up being something over 800 minutes of TV (though, in all honesty, the show had 4 seasons leading up to that, plus the time Angel spent on Buffy, so there was more than even those 800ish minutes, so maybe this isn't a fair comparison. Maybe we should use the first season of Lost, since we all came to that without any baggage related to the characters or the storyline. The first season of Lost was pretty darn good, and everything built up towards that final episode where they finally got into the hatch). Storylines can begin and end, characters can come and go, things can be telegraphed in the first few episodes that don't bear fruit until the very last episode (God, I love mixed metaphors). On the other side of the coin, a single episode of television - let's stick with the Angel parallel and use "Smile Time" from Season 5, the episode where Angel gets turned into a Muppet-like creature.

As an episode, "Smile Time" has to more or less stand on its own. It has to begin, middle and end logically, and well. It has to work for someone who's been watching Angel religiously from day 1, and for someone who got the DVDs loaned to them with the promise that they would love this specific episode. Okay, that might be stretching the situation a bit, but one episode has somewhere around 40 minutes to work its magic, as opposed to a whole season. It takes more work to love a season than an episode, but in a lot of ways, it's probably more difficult to make a good single episode (that's probably unfair, especially these days, but in the years where seasons didn't really build towards anything, but were just a collection of episodes...).

In a lot of ways, the same rules apply to comparisons between songs and albums. I won't reiterate everything I've just written, but let's say that the second track on The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, "The Only Moment We Were Alone," doesn't stand like the cheese (alone) nearly as well as it does in its place as the second track on Explosions' album, while "Fiona," on Lyle Lovett's album The Road to Ensenada doesn't lose anything taken out of its place on the album and experienced on its own merit.

Now, the real question is, should that quality be taken into account when considering the merits of my favorite song of 2007? Can I list it (publicly) as such if it's really not the best pure standalone choice I could've made? Can I even apply qualifiers like these when selecting my "favorite," a word chosen specifically because of its more personal and less quantifiable qualities (it's easy to argue a choice for "best;" it's significantly more difficult to argue against someone's "favorite")? Am I just putting too much effort into a declaration that will, in all likelihood, never be seen by human eyes?

I suppose I could describe a selection process that I didn't really have, but the truth of the matter is, all of that buildup just leads to the reveal of a big, familiar cop-out: I can't decide between two songs. And - here's the shocker, now - one song is from All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone, and the other, yep, is on Threes.

"Birth and Death of the Day" vs "False Start."

"Birth and Death," the first track on All of a Sudden, is amazing, engaging, epic and beautifully cathartic; for my money, it's the ultimate Explosions song. "False Start" speaks to me in a more immediate, explicitly relevant way, with regards to the path I'd prefer to make my life take (after all, I can't just sit around and expect someone to recognize my abilities and ambition. I kind of have to, you know, fucking do something). It feels somewhat moronic to try and make a decision between the two songs, since they're radically different (like comparing an episode of 30 Rock to an episode of The West Wing - they're both good, so why make a ridiculous fuss deciding which one is "better," or in this case, "favorite-er?"), so, right now, it makes more sense for me to just declare an overall tie between Sparta and Explosions in 2007. Both bands added to my year's quality to an incredible degree, and were I ever in a position to explain this to them, I'd relish the opportunity. Whether or not they'd feel the same way is another thing entirely.

"Birth and Death" does everything an Explosions song is supposed to do (that is to say, suck you in and blast you back out expertly well in turn), particularly when it comes to the opening track on the album, and "False Start," well, is a good song. A great song, and a song that, for me, extraneous to the album itself, calls up a lot of specific thoughts and feelings.

It's like trying to say whether I like a Sports Night episode more than a Freaks & Geeks episode.

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