Oh, life. It’s bigger. It’s bigger than you! And you are not me! Too true, Michael Stipe; you know, your hometown of Athens, GA, having produced both the warbly melancholy of your very own REM and the cheeky beehives of your buddies The B-52s, seems to embody the yin and yang of this week’s Top Ten: the tragedy, the comedy. Sure, life is awful and you really just wonder what the point of it all is, but also, dude, check out this video of the Muppets with a disco song!!! So, hurry up and bring your jukebox money:
10. Plastic Little – “Dopeness” (video; song from the forthcoming She’s Mature)
Okay. I debated about posting this here—Mother Jones is a serious magazine, and this is a serious web site, and this video from the Philadelphia rap crew is pretty much Not Safe For Work, with its, um, kind of freakish opening-scene take on childbirth, and the song’s slangy references to, er, genitalia, and “makin’ babies,” and the shaking of baby-makers. But before you fire me, Mother Jones, please hear me out: it’s all done in such a spirit of surreal and silly fun, it’s hard to be offended, and if it was a French short film and not a rap video you’d be putting it in a museum. Maybe. But, anyway, that one fake-childbirth moment might be hard to explain to your boss if they catch you watching it, so beware.
9. Blonde Redhead – “The Dress” (video; song from 23 on 4ad)
We’ve already established that 23 is one of the, well, at least top 23 albums of the year; apparently video director Mike Mills agrees, since he’s in the middle of creating clips for five tracks off the album. Four are featured on the 4ad website, and they’re all simple ideas, executed with a kind of zen focus: a text-only outline, a series of poses, an emerging rainbow, and this: a series of people doing something that’s almost unbearable to watch. (Yes, it’s safe for work.) (Watch a higher-quality quicktime stream here.)
8. Flight of the Conchords – “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” (from “Flight of the Conchords” on HBO)
Yes, okay, silly parody songs full of non-sequiters are kind of SNL Digital Short territory, and Beck has already done the geeky-white-boy’s-ironic-Prince thing pretty well. But still, this entry into the genre from the new HBO series has its own charms, not least of which is the line, “Let’s get in a cab / I’ll buy you a kebab.”
7. This video of Philipino prisoners re-enacting the video to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
6. Against Me! – “White People for Peace” (from New Wave on Sire)
While the video’s colorful East-vs-West war-as-football metaphor isn’t exactly ground-breaking, the track itself is oddly moving: a protest song about the futility of protest songs. The Florida punk-ish combo squeezes the line “Protest songs in response to military aggression” into the chorus, a line whose banality, in its repetition, takes on a kind of despair.
5. Funk That Sh*t – “Believe in Glory Box” (Cher vs. Portishead, mp3 on his website here)
Portishead’s “Glory Box,” from their 1994 album Dummy, is a masterpiece of spare, jazzy trip-hop; Cher’s 1992 smash hit “Believe” is a strangely mechanical slice of pop-by-committee. Together: they’re a monster! Sometimes a mashup is so wrong it’s right, and this is so wrong it’s like Frankenstein, but it’s right like Frankenstein dancing with Gene Wilder.
4. Bat for Lashes – “What’s a Girl to Do” (from Fur and Gold on Echo)
Hey, here’s something the Mercury Award nominations are good for: they opened my ears to Bat for Lashes, the mysterious Kate Bush-y singer/songwriter otherwise known as Natasha Khan. In this track, she borrows the “Be My Baby” beat, but then goes to a much creepier place; the video echoes the weirdness with, um, woodland creatures doing stunt bicycling?
3. Caribou – “Melody Day” (from Andorra out 8/19 on Merge)
Toronto multi-instrumentalist (and, er, mathematician) Daniel Snaith has been making electronic-infused psychedelia for a few years under the Caribou moniker, after being forced to give up the name “Manitoba,” long story. This track could almost be right out of the 60s, with its breathy vocals and echo-y flute trills. Plus, his website claims this video was filmed not far from where Tarkovsky shot “The Sacrifice!”
2. Escort – “All Through the Night” vs. Muppets Footage
You know what? I think this video proves my suspicion that Muppets actually walk a fine line between cute and terrifying. Am I wrong? Those talking fuzzballs and the dancing inverted “U” creatures kind of give me nightmares. Anyway, more editing up of silly old footage to go with incongruous songs please!
1. Lil’ Wayne – “I Feel Like Dying”
(stream at The Fader here)
Sometimes a hip-hop song is built around a sample so toweringly brilliant, all the rapper has to do is just keep up. Thankfully we’re dealing with New Orleans native Lil’ Wayne, who’s so hot right now you have to hold his mixtapes with oven mitts. Damn. Here the sample is apparently from a South African band called “Henry Ate,” and lyrically, this is as devastating a portrayal of addiction as there has ever been in music, right up there with “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Too bad he just got arrested.