As opposed to our favorite songs, or songs we'd like to think define our listening habits, taking a look at what a person actually listens to can be far more revealing. With that in mind, every so often we'll ask an artist to take a look at the most-played songs in their iTunes libraries and share with us the results. We do this on the honor system, and we ask our subjects to share a few words about each song.
Power-pop trio Nada Surf broke into the Billboard 200 in 1996 with their enormously catchy geek rock anthem "Popular," but a raw deal with Elektra pushed the band towards alternative ways to market their sound. After eventually partnering with Barsuk, the trio prudently doled out a handful of good albums, slowly integrating subtler, more reflective songwriting into their power chord-addled rock.
Freshly returned from South by Southwest, the group is gearing up to tour in support of their 7th album, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (hear track "When I Was Young" below), yet we somehow convinced the busy band to get on board the iTunes Questionnaire express. Like a true and seasoned performer, front man Matthew Caws even went above and beyond and submitted a bonus track, showing off a generous spirit right along with a well-rounded playlist.
Soak up some more Nada Surf when they play the Neptune tomorrow (3/24) with guests An Horse.
1. "Big Mac From Macamere," Mattie May Thomas: I find this song totally chilling. Recorded in prison in the '30s, it combines gospel, blues and Scotch-Irish balladry. The melody sounds like it's been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.
2. "Strange Powers," The Magnetic Fields: Among the many things that Stephin Merritt does well is combine clever and/or witty verses with choruses that replace that agility with simple and sincere beauty. Whether haunted or happy, this song's chorus is the sound of being in love.
3. "Face To Face On High Places," School Of Seven Bells: The most gorgeous drum machine music I've ever heard. Like the Cocteau Twins with harmony added. Breathtaking.
4. "Prenons Le Large," Benjamin Biolay: Because their standards are so high and their love of their own language so strong, writing in French is difficult, even for the French. Benjamin Biolay is the modern Serge Gainsbourg, a high-wire lyricist who is comfortable in any style.
5. "Hard To Find," The American Analog Set: I think I spent an entire road trip with this on repeat. I'm always searching for songs that function as trance music. Makes life more bearable when you need to check out but can't leave where you are.
6. "Young Love," Maximum Balloon: This is Dave Sitek's project, he of TV On The Radio. Different singer on each track. Totally mesmerized by this one.
7. "The Village In The Morning," The Magnetic Fields: I love the crumbling low end. I love the rhythm track made of "bad" sounds. I love the romance.
8. "How To Beat Dementia," Palomar: I love songs that attempt to explain life. The verses ask the questions, and the loud, wordless choruses do the explaining. The fade-out that exposes the wandering piano is beautiful.
9. "Sandy," Caribou: I've never heard a word of lyrics in this song, though there are plenty of words. I just love the melody and the production.
10. "Golden Haze," Wild Nothing: Interlocking repetitive clean guitar lines, reverb-heavy vocals, like a bedroom version of Head On The Door era Cure.
Bonus: Because "most listened to" list kept playing:
11. "What's In It For," Avi Buffalo: Probably favorite song of 2010. Incredible guitar playing, and a chorus that positively levitates. Can't blame them for repeating it a million times at the end.