In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re highlighting the songs we’ve listened to the most this year from our iTunes or on our Spotifys, Rdios, or stereos.
Self Defense Family “Cancel Man” (2014)
There’s a simple reason why “Cancel Man” became my most listened to track of 2014, and it’s because even at nearly five minutes in length the song somehow feels incomplete. This isn’t a knock against it; in fact, it’s a testament to Self Defense Family’s economical songwriting. At its core, “Cancel Man” is only two sections, each repeated three times throughout the song, with each movement returning more grandiose than the last.
The two overlapping guitar parts that introduce the song are not easily identified as lead or rhythm; instead, they tug back and forth between channels, only completing the song’s central riff through their constant interplay. It’s a noted difference when the chorus hits and the guitars choke out any open space with a two-note pattern that sucker-punches the listener, all before dipping back into a comforting verse. This contrast is amplified by vocalist Caroline Corrigan, whose lyrics fluctuate just as heavily as she moves from indifference to all-consuming desire when discussing a vacuous, late-night hook-up.
There are subtle shifts in Corrigan’s phrasing, as she goes from claiming her own waning interest (“I want the same as anyone”) to embracing it (“I need this more than anyone”). The song’s arrangement mirrors this, as Self Defense Family plays for accessibility by doubling the chorus in its early going, only to cut it in half before the song’s final, resonant note. This musical give and take is the exact same as the emotions Corrigan sings about, as listeners go from a pleasant introduction to intense infatuation by the song’s end.
When that final note comes I find myself working through the same emotions Corrigan did throughout “Cancel Man.” She may have accepted that her needs will go unfulfilled, but she’s still going to chase down those dead ends anyway. As for me, I’ll continue to feel short-changed by a chorus that lacks the satisfying resolution so many other songs would happily offer. It’s a beautifully frustrating moment, one that speaks to the song’s thesis and unites the listener with its emotional arch. You may never get what you want, but there’s no harm in repeating the process and hoping for a different outcome.