If it’s true we’ve become an iPod nation, then I’m guilty of sometimes forsaking a full album to skip from song to song. It’s the beauty and the curse of the iPod. Although I’m a tad uncomfortable with a ranking system because I just know I’m missing a song (or five), these were my favorites (saying “best” is just too objective) for the year:
20. Brendan Benson – Alternative to Love
Spiel: Say what you will about his writing: it’s trite, elementary, whatever. I find it endearing, and I think this is one my favorite Brendan Benson songs.
Favorite line: “Maybe this time I could stay / and let myself get carried away”
19. The Rosebuds – Hold Hands and Fight
Spiel: This is three-minute pop bliss with deceptively deep lyrics.
Favorite line: “I have told myself, I know / a thousand ways to leave this place.”
18. The Kingsbury Manx – What a Shame
Spiel: Such a beautiful song – until you read the recording notes: ” … about two people who realize they are totally bored with each other.” Ah, but that shot of depression adds to its aura.
Favorite line: “I feel so sedated, said me / like I told you, said she / it’s not what lives are supposed to be.”
17. Radar Bros. – Is That Blood
Spiel: This song is like running underwater – the guitars and melodies just feel suspended and stuck in time.
Favorite line: “Kind and ordinary / with a smile, we will forgive the ones we killed.”
16. Bloc Party – Like Eating Glass
Spiel: What a way to open one of the year’s great albums. The rhythm section is unparalleled.
Favorite line: “We’ve got crosses on our eyes / been walking into the walls again”
15. Death Cab for Cutie – Different Names for the Same Thing
Spiel: This song — like the album — grew on me. I love the drunken, piano-lounge feel to the opening, which is outdone only by the absolute reversal in rhythm and texture of the song’s second half.
Favorite line: “And I knew no words to share it with anyone / the boundaries of language I quietly cursed.”
14. Fruit Bats – Traveler’s Song
Spiel: My favorite line in this song could be the best of the year. It almost seems too simple.
Favorite line: “God’s not better than us, just bigger is all.”
13. Sun Kil Moon – Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
Spiel: I know. Technically, this is a cover. But Mark Kozelek’s reworking of it offers a whole new appreciation for what really was a great song to begin with. This might as well be an entirely different song.
(Not including a favorite line, seeing as how the song wasn’t Kozelek’s)
12. Low – Cue the Strings
Spiel: This song builds and builds yet never really boils over — just a constant crescendo that keeps you gripping for more.
Favorite line: “So what, pray tell / will save you now? / here comes that cold sunrise”
11. The Mountain Goats – Dance Music
Spiel: Was there a more personal and intimate song than this?
Favorite line: “There’s only one place this road ever ends up / and I don’t wanna die alone.”
10. Wolf Parade – Modern World
Spiel: I think I initially overlooked this song because I was so hung up on You Are a Runner. What a great change of pace after the album’s stunning opener. (And the tuning change at about the 1:24 mark blows me away.)
Favorite line: “Modern world I’m not pleased to meet you / you just bring me down.”
9. The New Pornographers – Use It
Spiel: Picking a favorite song off Twin Cinema is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. Nonetheless, the arrangement on this song is evidence of a band oozing with chemistry and talent.
Favorite line: “Two sips from the cup of human kindness /and im shit faced, just laid to waste”
8. Spoon – My Mathematical Mind
Spiel: Love the open-ended feel of the music, and jam-ish sort of feel to it.
Favorite line: “I’m looking through you / you know who you are”
7. Elbow – Station Approach
Spiel: It’s real simple: The 2:49 mark of this song is magic.
Favorite line: “I never know what I want but I know when I’m low that I / I need to be in the town where they know what I’m like and don’t mind”
6. Sufjan Stevens – Chicago
Spiel: The imagination and imagery of his writing takes hold here. Kinda like reading a book.
Favorite line: “I made a lot of mistakes / in my mind, in my mind”
5. The Mountain Goats – This Year
Spiel: The confidence born from exasperation in this song is downright inspiring. And are those hand claps? Jesus, I love hand claps.
Favorite line: “My broken house behind me and good things ahead / a girl named Kathy wants a little of my time / six cylinders underneath the hood crashing and kicking / aaaahaaaa, listen to the engine wind.”
4. The National – Abel
Spiel: Could have vied for top song of the year. This track just explodes with intensity.
Favorite line: “I see water on the bridge / Well, you better hold my hand through this / Turn around, turn around, take me back /I can’t calm down”
3. Elbow – Mexican Standoff
Spiel: More hand claps! And the guitar layering on top of this focused drum beat almost makes you forget to ask what the hell Guy Garvey is singing about.
Favorite line: “Your sweet reassurances don’t change the fact / That he’s better looking than me / Yet he’d look ideal ‘neath the wheels of a car”
2. Rogue Wave – Publish My Love
Spiel: I’ve read reviews comparing Rogue Wave to Sunny Day Real Estate, and this song might be the first hint of that. The sound is unabashedly huge and the production is bright and brilliant.
Favorite line: “Just stand there / you could never make me go through it”
1. The National – Looking for Astronauts
Spiel: From the get-go, I liked this song purely for aesthetic reasons. Then I listened to an interview with frontman Matt Berninger, who explained that he wrote the song during a break from his relationship. His girlfriend said something about never being quite satisfied, that there’s always a chance you’ll go out there and find an astronaut. In other words, find something better. Berninger wrote the song as a metaphor for “potentially walking away from something great.” That just added new depth and meaning to which I could relate from my own experiences. And that, to me, is what makes a song great.
Favorite line: “But that’s how we like it, and that’s all we want / something to cry for, and something to hunt”