6. Arcade Fire - "In the Back Seat"
First of all, how weird is it that Funeral came out 7 years ago? And that Arcade Fire is now one of the world's biggest bands? Actually, the latter question really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who heard Funeral back when it was released. It's an album chock full of anthems. While the likes of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)", "Wake Up", and "Rebellion (Lies)" hog the critical spotlight, my favorite has always been "In the Backseat". Regine Chassagne takes the vocal lead on what starts as a delicate ballad, but rolls out into an explosive conclusion. Like most great Arcade Fire songs, "Backseat" owes as much to the dense arrangement as it does to any singular element. But the build is a function of that arrangement, with the string sections growing around Chassagne's high vocal wails and the drums' steady thud. A resounding closer, the song is a final peak in the Funeral mountain range.
5. Led Zeppelin - "The Rain Song"
Legend has it the song was borne out of a criticism from friend/fan/Beatle George Harrsion that Zeppelin didn't write enough ballads. Who knows if the story is true, but either way, after Houses Of the Holy came out Zep certainly had one to brag about. "The Rain Song"--which was my favorite song for a long time and is still up there--takes a simple enough lyrical approach. Emotions vis-a-vis the seasons--"the springtime of my love," "the summer of my smiles," "the coldness of my winter." The words might seem worthy of a crocheted wall-hanging, but the crescendo the song achieves is one to behold. It's a lengthy tune, but Jimmy Page's all-time riff was the perfect backbone around which John Paul Jones could build mellotron sections. And John Bonham's drum textures in the second verse stir up a triumphant bridge, where we finally hear Robert Plant unleash a few hair-raising notes. The song floats back down as nicely as it climbs, a welcome exhale after such an invigorating ride.
4. Red House Painters - "Drop"
The word that comes to mind here is "excruciating"--it's a build that takes so long to develop, it's almost undetectable. But the RHP's were never a band to rush things. Hell, their last album came out a few years after they dissolved. So anyway, it shouldn't surprise you that the band was album to craft one of the most grueling builds you'll ever hear. You wouldn't been foolish to assume that the song wouldn't build at all. But piano and drums enter gracefully, and the emotional gravity of the tune begins to strengthen. The song reaches its apex at about seven minutes, when the third chorus starts and Mark Kozelek adds a ghostly high harmony to the words "All the love..." If you aren't fighting back tears at that point, you were probably in too good a mood to be listening to the RHP's in the first place.
3. Radiohead - "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
Again, there were just so many Radiohead songs to choose from. But embodied the build the way that "Weird Fishes" does. Let's face it--the build is the song, and vice versa. Guitar tracks build up steam throughout, and Thom Yorke's ups the voltage on his delivery throughout. Perhaps the song's defining trait is Ed O'Brien's backing howl. The repeated Eeeh-aaahs that flare in the middle verses will bring your neckhairs to full attention. Again, this song is just one extended build, but give Radiohead credit: it would have been just easy for the band to maintain a steady pace/feel throughout. Hell, it's already a high-energy track when it kicks off. But the band chose to ratchet things up over the course of the song, resulting in a subtle build
2. Wilco - "Poor Places"
The song's arrangement is a masterwork--it's jagged and scarred, featuring tense whirrs and beeps and clicks and other instruments that jockey for attention. The noise here is clearly meant to architect a feeling of anxiety and paranoia--something supported in Tweedy's lyrics. I went into this at length in last year's analysis of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The song's--and album's--climax is a windstorm of feedback behind the robotic recitation of the album's title. It's a melee that spills over the song's timid former half like hot lava. No other build on the list elevates quite as high as "Poor Places", nor is any one so important to its album as a whole.
Keep an eye out for this month's #1, in just under the gun...