Being the pretentious music snob that I am, I thought that I would begin my first of two instalments of my look back on the year in music. I love all kinds of musics in many different genres, and I’d like to think that I listen to a lot of it with a critical ear. I am by no means a trained or paid critic, but I love telling people what I think, so you better take my words of wisdom with the highest regard.
Top 25 Tracks of the Year
1. Iron and Wine – Boy With A Coin
Perhaps there was no other song I listened to more than this one. Although there are no other songs on The Shepherd’s Dog that are as strong, this one had me captivated from first listen with its simplistic acoustic lick, hand-clap percussion, and feedback swells.
2.National – Fake Empire
What I love about this one is how well it builds. What convinced me of its brilliance was watching the band perform it live on one of the late night shows. The understated vocals, coupled with the off-tempo drumming and powerful piano makes a great start to the National’s best album yet.
3. Field Music – She Can Do What She Wants
Even if it wasn’t a single, this was one of my favourite tracks of the year, a great northern soul-influenced pop song that clocks in at under 2 and a half minutes. Its placement at the end of Field Music’s album also gives it a bit of a different importance; it is easily the catchiest song on the album, and really makes a case for the whole disc as one of the best albums of the year.
4. Band of Horses – Is There A Ghost
When you actually think about it, there are very few lyrics to this song, and little variation to the melody. But what makes this track work so well is how it builds, fuelled by Ben Bridwell’s strong and emotive vocals.
5. The Loose Salute – The Mutineer
Originally appearing as the last song on Mojave 3’s 2006 album Puzzles Like You, albeit in a different form, this song was written by Mojave’s drummer, and performed anew by his side band The Loose Salute. While the rest of the album is perky and upbeat, this beautiful, solemn tune is one of the nicest surprises of the year, with its swelled strings and hushed vocals. The best depressing song of the year.
6. The Twilight Sad – Cold Days From The Birdhouse
With its Max Richter production and strong delivery, this Scottish band came out of nowhere to put out a great record, highlighted by this, its opening track. It starts with a minimally clinking piano and some effects-laden instrumentation, but builds with heavy vocals and eventually, guitars to match. It feels equally cold yet inviting, and at all times, intense.
7. Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew – Back Out On The…
Drew’s ‘solo’ album sounds more or less like a Broken Social Scene album with crunchier guitars, and he gets the best blend of starry pop and 90s grunge with this anthemic track. Part of what makes it so great is its energetic drumbeat and simplistic structure, but what really makes it work is that you can really feel the energy in the choruses.
8. Chromeo – Bonafied Lovin’ (Tough Guys)
It’s pretty hard not to love these guys, with their heavily synthesized, overtly sexual 80s pop. Fortunately, they are far more than a novelty act, with fantastic pop hooks and stellar production. Of all their tracks, this one was my favourite, partly for the ‘oh-oh-oh’ part in the chorus, which hasn’t been done in that way for 20 years.
9. Wilco – Impossible Germany
While their album Sky Blue Sky was underwhelming, this track is the best example of why they are still one of the best bands going today. WIth the triple guitar assault, some interesting pop hooks, and typically mysterious lyrics, this one really explodes in its second half, with Nels Cline’s incredible solo being joined by two more guitars in near sonic bliss. Music rarely gets any better.
10. Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation
I really didn’t like anything else I heard by these guys, but this track is perfect southern rock, with slide guitars, quick hooks, and a fun bouncy beat.
11. Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova – Falling Slowly
From one of the best movies of the year, Once, this standout track is guaranteed to make your girlfriend cry. It also helps that it’s an incredible track.
12. The Broken West – Down In The Valley
There aren’t enough really great power pop tracks coming out these days. I know we’re unlikely to see songs as great as September Gurls or Shake Some Action, but I can see this track on a compilation in 20 years chronicling American power pop in the late 00s.
13. LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
I had a hard time choosing between my two favourite LCD songs, this and the next sequential track on the album, Us vs. Them. The latter is a Talking Heads-like anthem that really takes a long time to get going, whereas All My Friends really starts to form after 45 seconds, and doesn’t let up.
14. Wintersleep – Hollow Man
I literally heard this song last Friday on the radio and I loved it so much I had to get it right away. The rest of the album doesn’t compare to this catchy, Modest-Mouse-like stomp, but that’s okay because this one has been in my head for a long time. From its ‘na-na-nas’ to the heavy organ, it may be a while before I stop listening to it.
15. The Besnard Lakes – Disaster
This one takes a while to bury itself into your head, and once it does, it’s very hard to get it out. I was originally dissuaded from it because of the odd falsetto at the beginning, but the beautiful instrumentation drew me in and it was tough to get away.
16. Battles – Race In
This is future music. While much of the blogosphere is digging the track Atlas, I prefer the frenetic leadoff track on the band’s album, with the mix of spastic drumming, whistling, and synthesizing. If there’s any indication of where music is going, I imagine more of it will sound like this.
17. Josh Ritter – Right Moves
Unlike last year’s the Animal Years, there was no single song that grabbed me right away. Right Moves is easily Ritter’s poppiest song, a 1970s pop radio song that really depends on a catchy chorus. Not that I’m complaining – it’s a great hook.
18. Laura Veirs – Don’t Lose Yourself
Her 2007 album Saltbreakers disappointed – it was nowhere near the brilliance of her last one, but that didn’t stop her from putting together a couple of great tracks, including this one, with its electronic drums and otherwise folky sound.
19. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
Just like Josh Ritter, Wolf looks to 70s orchestral pop for inspiration, and does it best with the title track from his latest album, a catchy and fun track with a great singable chorus.
20. Loney, Dear – I Am John
I almost forgot about this one because of the fact that it was released in February, but this track was my favourite on his first of two 2007 albums. I just love the way it builds from a quiet guitar to indie pop perfection.
21. Of Montreal – Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider
I didn’t like the Of Montreal album at all at first, but then a couple songs grew on me. This one sounds like it wants to be a simple pop song, but it got lost in some fucked up maze on the way, and ended up being broken and battered, while still maintaining some of its basic pop hooks. It’s pretty hard to resist.
22. Jens Lekman – And I Remember Every Kiss
Anyone who tries to sound like Scott Walker is okay in my book. Here Lekman performs his best baroque pop, with orchestral swells and fun lyrics. A great intro to his stellar album.
23. Spoon – You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
What impresses me most about Spoon is that they just don’t make bad albums. And they’re always full of pleasant surprises, like this track, a fast-paced, soul-stomping tune that makes it hard to not start tapping along.
24. WinterKids – Tape It
The only track on here based on a promo I got, this one was stuck in my head for a long time after I heard it, a fast and catchy indie pop tune in the vein of the Shins or the Klaxons. Plus, it’s about taping shows on VHS. And nobody sings about that anymore.
25. Menomena – Wet and Rusting
What I love about Menomena is that you never know when instruments will come or what will happen next in a song. I feel like they construct each song like an opus and yet each track comes together so naturally. Plus, they have some really fun drumbeats.
Top 10 Pop Singles (aka Guilty Pleasures)
Note that I consider radio/top 40 songs as ‘pop’ songs; these are not necessarily the best tracks of the year, but just some of the best from the radio.
1. Feist – 1 2 3 4
It’s hard not to want to start dancing when you hear this one. I have no guilt about absolutely loving it.
2. Colbie Caillat – Bubbly
Okay shut up. It’s a damn good pop song.
3. Kanye West – Stronger
Try not getting energized after hearing it. Go ahead. Try.
4. Justice – D.A.N.C.E.
This one would have been higher, but I overplayed it and now I can’t hear it anymore. It’s still awesome though.
5. Rihanna – Umbrella
The best pop chorus of the year?
6. Kate Nash – Foundations
Yes, she’s a wannabe Lily Allen, but isn’t that scores better than being a wannabe Britney?
7. Kaiser Chiefs – Ruby
I’m pretty sure every Kaiser Chiefs song is exactly the same witha couple of changed lyrics, but they play them well, so I’m not complaining.
8. Feist – I Feel It All
I am allowed to put more than one Feist track on here because she’s so amazing. It was actually hard to pick which other track – there are so many great ones.
9. Arcade Fire – Keep The Car Running
I call this pop just because these guys became more mainstream than ever, and even if they have kept most of their artistic integrity, this is just a great radio song. It makes you want to dance like Courtney Cox in the Dancing in the Dark music video.
10. Soulja Boy – Crank That
The 10 Most Disappointing Albums of the Year
1. Radiohead – In Rainbows
If you know me, you’ll know that I rarely stop slagging off Radiohead. But this time it’s for a good reason. They’re profiting wildly off selling their album to fans three times (online, $80 discbox, and then in stores), and worst of all, it’s a terrible album. Nobody would even care for it if it didn’t have the name Radiohead on it.
2. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Don’t get me wrong. I love Wilco. They are easily the best live band playing right now. And this album has some amazing tracks. It also has some lousy ones, and it really just starts to get old quickly, which is such a shame, because I know that the tracks are incredible live. I guess I’m just hoping for another Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
3. Wheat – Everyday I Said A Prayer For Kathy and Made a One Inch Square
I absolutely loved their previous album, the equally long-titled Per Second Per Second Per Second Every Second, but this one sort of feels like they ran out of songs, and instead tried a couple of shoegazey tunes that really didn’t pan out. With the exception of a few tracks, it falls flat really quickly.
4. Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
I really got excited about Modest Mouse just before Good News came out, and began exploring their back catalogue. I was really excited for this one, but save a few tracks, really didn’t like it all that much. Which is a shame, because they’re still a fantastic band.
5. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
I think I’m givin up on Ryan Adams. He still hasn’t delivered for me since Gold. Not that Easy Tiger is bad – it’s still better than more than half of what he’s done, but it just doesn’t have that same charm that Heartbreaker did. I think he needs to take about 5 years off, and craft the perfect album. Because otherwise, he puts way too much stuff out there.
6. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Again, not a bad album, but his last one, the Mysterious Production of Eggs, was my favourite of 2005, and this one just didn’t connect with me like the last one. Maybe seeing him live would change that.
7. New Pornographers – Challengers
I think my problem with the New Pornographers is that I want to like them a lot, but most of their songs and albums sound almost the same, and show little musical growth. In another year I won’t be able to set this one apart from their last 3.
8. Kanye West – Graduation
I like that this one was shorter, more concise, and easier to digest. But it’s just not as good as Late Registration. Besides a couple of incredible tracks, it really doesn’t necessitate repeated listens.
9. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Almost four years from their last one, and they put out an album that is good, but not necessarily worth the wait, especially when there are several similar-sounding groups that have popped up in the interim that are moving in directions perhaps the Shins should be too.
10. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
For all of the acclaim that this album is getting, I just really don’t get it. I mean there are some interesting moments, but there’s nothing here that is reall that interesting. But like Radiohead, much of the indie press latches on to just about anything Animal Collective or its affiliates put out.
Stay tuned tomorrow for my top 50 albums of the year!