I am a commuter. Growing up in the country, I would not have predicted that I’d ever become a full-fledged city girl, but it has in fact happened, and I’ve embraced this to a full and happy degree. One part of this absorption of city existence is a general neglect of my car and a developed sense of love for my bike, public transit (Bay Area Rapid Transit, represent!), and the overall ability to get somewhere on my own two feet. Because I live in Oakland and work in Berkeley, my commute is rarely less than 40 minutes (when I ride my beloved bike), and about 50 minutes each way when I walk 1.25 miles + 10 minute train ride + 10-15 minute walk to my place of business. In order to avoid commuter-induced insanity, I am completely and fully addicted to the shuffle function of my iPod. I own an iPod mini, which means that I have to pick and choose which albums and songs go on this handy little mp3 device (about 1500 songs), which makes for a nice little collection in which to keep me entertained. It’s a lovely and ostensibly adventurous part of my daily life – I either scroll through as the iPod shuffles until I find the songs that fit my current fancy, or I just let it go and try to guess who/what is playing at any given time. Either way, when a truly great set of songs come on in a row or within one commuting period, it’s one of the best things ever. Perhaps I have skewed standards, but I find it to be one of the most pleasant ways to enjoy myself, to immerse myself in a world that lacks an entirely tangible existence. In fact, if I ever do have to embark on my commute without my iPod, it feels as if I’m walking around having forgotten to brush my teeth or put on socks, two discomforting notions indeed. It’s not uncommon to see me walking around with a huge smile on my face because The Decemberists’ “Sons & Daughters” or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s “In This Home On Ice” or Art Brut’s “Good Weekend” or Jens Lekman’s “Black Cab” or Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” or what have you have appeared in the shuffle mix. It’s my life, and I like it.
1. David Bowie & Queen – “Under Pressure”
The fact that this song came on as the first in this shuffle only further demonstrates that this is a really cool idea for a column. One of my all-time favorite songs (Vanilla Ice rip-offs be damned), “Under Pressure” is simply amazing, and undeniably epic. The bassline, the piano, the jangly guitar, the famous vocals from Bowie and Freddy Mercury, all rolled together to create a song that’s equal parts upbeat and introspective – I can’t get enough of it. It’s a song that I rarely skip over on my iPod in favor of something else, and it seems to always match the scenery of my daily travels: walking the city streets among other commuters and homeless people, riding the light rail train while overlooking the East Bay, or biking past the College Ave. shops and through a series of quaint residential neighborhoods.
2. Brendan Benson – “Metarie”
My iPod tends to favor Brendan Benson, which leads me to believe that this little electronic device can somehow detect my super-duper fangirl crush on the singer-songwriter. But that’s beside the point. Arguably Benson’s strongest and most accessible song from 2002’s Lapalco, “Metarie” is also a favorite of Benson himself, given the fact that he recorded two new versions of the tune for his Metarie EP in 2003. The lyrics are simple and remarkably poignant – “I’d like to move out of this place/change my name/maybe get a new face/sleep all day/stay up all night/everybody around me thinks I’m all right” – and you can’t help but identify with him, in one way or another.
3. Coldplay – “Don’t Panic”
I don’t even really like this song all that much anymore, which tells me that it’s probably time to plug my iPod into my MacBook (I’ve turned into a geek for the Apple products – I’ll admit it) and do some editing of my ‘Pod library. It’s honestly not that this is a bad song, because it’s not – I’m just really sick of it. I blame Zach Braff and that soundtrack of his from that movie we all won’t admit that we liked whose soundtrack made way too many people believe that Iron & Wine were the original creators of “Such Great Heights.” Bah!
4. Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away”
Throbbing, raunchy electroclash – this song is Peaches in a nutshell. Also known as the song playing in the strip club in Lost in Translation with the naked Japanese ladies, “Fuck the Pain Away” makes no attempts to be subtle and instead throws the raunchy stuff right in your face. I caught Peaches in concert back in December, and the show was nothing short of rad. Now, I can’t listen to her songs without remembering her crazy costume changes involving bright pink denim vests and multiple pairs of saran wrap underwear. Like I said – rad.
5. Brendan Benson – “The Pledgeï¿½”
See, I TOLD you that my iPod favors Brendan Benson. Be still my heart. This track from 2005’s Alternative to Love is a lush tribute to Phil Spector and Elvis Costello, and it’s yet another example of Benson’s versatile talent. In a way, this song comes out of nowhere on the album, sandwiched between the diverse pop of the title track and the more acoustically-stripped “Them & Me,” so it strikes the listener as a wonderful and lovely surprise.
6. A.C. Newman – “The Battle for Straight Time”
I don’t think my level of appreciation for Twin Cinema would be the same if I hadn’t also discovered A.C. Newman’s The Slow Wonder around the same time. The New Pornographers’ amazing 2005 album picks up where A.C. Newman’s 2004 solo album leaves off, creating a perfect roundabout of pop music. This song, at the album’s central point, is one of the highlights of the album, representing what one might call a model of the perfect pop song. It’s light-hearted and infectious with a simultaneously meaningful backbone, and while it’s not as pure and beautiful as “Drink to Me Babe, Then,” it’s got enough denomination to stand completely on its own. Luckily, it doesn’t have to, as The Slow Wonder is a truly wonderful album that receives consistent rotation on my iPod list-o-rama.
7. Archie Bronson Outfit – “Dart for my Sweetheart”
Talk about a song that you can feel deep down in your bowels – “Dart for My Sweetheart” is the best song from 2006’s Derdang Derdang, full of wailing vocals, grubby and bluesy guitars, and aggressive drumming that’s practically tribal. In sum, this songs rocks so hard that it simply begs to be heard live – but please, oh please, remember to wear earplugs. My ears are ringing just thinking about it.
8. Gogol Bordello – “Immigrant Punk”
Now we’re looking at two really intensely rockin’ songs in a row – this particular iPod shuffle would be perfect for a bike ride, as it would certainly get me moving up those East Bay hills. In regards to Gogol Bordello – gypsy punk music? Did I hear that correctly? It’s such an unusual combination, and therefore brilliant at the same time. Gogol Bordello’s “Immigrant Punk,” specifically, is a successful and mosh-pit-inducing blend of traditional gypsy and punk rock stylings. Spastic, dirty guitars, screaming vocals, fat bassline, and aggressive accordion all make for a track that brings the crazy punk animal out of just about anybody – and don’t forget the shouts of oy-oy-oy-oy-oy and “Legalize me!!” The song is equal parts rocking-for-the-sake-of-doing-so and deliberate political statement, making for a very intelligent spin on the time-honored punk genre. Hey, you got a dictionary kicking around? Look up the immigrant, immigrant, immigrant punk!
9. Eels – “Love of the Loveless”
It’s the keyboard and percussion work that makes this a perfect little song for daily meanderings. I’m instantly in the mood to walk the streets and soak in my surroundings – Anna’s life, in movie form, with Mark Oliver Everett as my soundtrack. I’ve been really into the Eels as of late, and my recent tendency to focus on their Live at Town Hall and Souljacker albums has caused me to forget how much I really love this song. The iPod shuffle often does this for me – a song will appear that I haven’t paid attention to in awhile, and I’ll remember why I fell in love with it in the first place.
10. Martha Wainwright – “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”
Talk about a song that will leave me feeling charged and ready to kick the day’s ass. This is another song that my iPod tends to favor – hence its not-unlikely appearance on this list. Again, perhaps my iPod has special mind-reading powers that allow it to detect my inner (and outer) feminist. Martha’s powerful and raw voice paired just with her acoustic guitar and unabashed lyrics makes for a song that leaves some of her famous brother’s songs in the dust. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some Rufus. However, this song does perform leaps and bounds over some of his later work. Perhaps it’s Martha’s turn for the spotlight? Let’s hope so.