As with last year, I did a 20 track CD length version for those of you still listening to music via spinning aluminum oxide and lasers, and an extended MP3 Playlist (marked accordingly on the list) which rounds up a cozy 28 tracks.
1. “Everlasting Light”
Artist: The Black Keys
Notes: I know this was overplayed this year, but it warrants inclusion for the backup vocals alone.
2. “Down by the Water”
Artist: The Decemberists
Notes: I am stoked that the Decemberists went back to the pop song format at least for one album. Yes, it’s supposed to sound like “The One I Love”. Peter Buck produced it and plays on it. And that’s Gillian Welch singing backup. “The More You Know…”
Artist: Best Coast
Notes: I have an entire folder full of retro/pastiche bands from just the last couple years. Thank you Mark Ronson. It seems like this year the R&B homages (Sharon Jones, Isobel Campbell et al) were eclipsed by the umpteen Brian Wilson and T-Rex high-fives. This Best Coast track brings a little Mindless Summer to the list.
4. “Fistful of Mercy”
Artist: Fistful of Mercy
Notes: Lots of Ubergroups this year. Fistful of Mercy is Dhani Harrison, Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur. This officially has my vote for Best Beatles Offspring track. Sorry Julian.
Artist: Mt. Desolation
Notes: This mega-uber-band gets turns from members of Keane, Noah & the Whale, Mumford & Sons, the Killers, the Long Winters etc.
6. “Live There”
Artist: The Lonely Forest
Notes: Another beautiful EP and another thing we can thank Deathcab For Cutie for.
7. “Rill Rill” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Sleigh Bells
Notes: Yeah I’m a sucker for a groove-based throwback sounding pop song. I wasn’t as jazzed about this whole album as everyone else seemed to be. But this is a fun song with some great production stuff going on. Plus as a Pittsburgher, I love the title.
8. “Lisbon” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: The Walkmen
Notes: Horns, Bells and Mandolins are the must-have extra instrumentation on scads of albums in the past few years. Personally, I blame Wilco. Or again, Mark Ronson. Sure, they sound great right now, but in 10 years the Glockenspiel is going to seem “So 2009.”
9. “Femme Fatale” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Aloe Blacc
Notes: I usually try to include a couple more covers on the set, but this year there wasn’t enough room. This one surprised the heck out of me in a delightful way. Worth it for the superb guitar alone.
10. “We Used To Wait”
Artist: The Arcade Fire
Notes: Nyde, I tried, I really did. I had another A.F. track all set to go. But I couldn’t break away from this one.
11. “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Notes: Give it a minute or so. It builds nicely. Crunchy, dpsych-garage-rock with a dark groove.
12. “Angel Dance” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Robert Plant
Notes: Another surprisingly great solo album from Bob.
13. “Foot Shooter”
Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Notes: No Best of the Year compilation from me would be complete without at least one Brogue Band.
14. “Marmalade” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Sea of Bees
Notes: Great, lush pop track from a great, lush pop album.
15. “When I’m Small”* (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Notes: Infectious sampled groove riff with a cool, ethereal haunting guitar and vocal track.
16. “Heaven and Earth”
Artist: Blitzen Trapper
Notes: One of the most beautiful tracks of the year.
Artist: Lindstrøm & Christabelle
Notes: I wasn’t going to include any dance/ heavy synth/groove/pop tracks on the list . This one kept rubbing my leg until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Plus it allowed me to have one pretentious Norwegian letter in my set. Now, I just have to get some bands with æ and å in their names.
18. “Own Stunts”
Artist: Breathe Owl Breathe
Notes: This one is a sleeper that I’m surprised didn’t make more best-of lists. I think it’s one of the sweetest lyrical tracks of the year. Of all the Fleet Foxes/Bon Iver clones this year, not all of them should have bothered. B.O.B. is one of the exceptions.
19. “Up In The Dark”
Artist: The New Pornographers
Notes: One of my favorite dashboard hand-drummers this year.
20. “Don’t Do It”
Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Notes: For those of us that were waiting for that magical, haunting mashup of old-school Sara MacLachlan and Brandi Carlile – here’s the reward for all our cards and letters. Song of the year? possibly.
21. “Old Fangs” * (MP3 Playlist Bonus Track)
Artist: Black Mountain
Notes: I needed another band wth “Black” in their name. Or I needed another garage/psych band to restart the set list. Take your pick.
22. “Boy Lilikoi”
Notes: Jónsi is the lead singer of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. And kind of a male version of Bjork. Except with more feathers. Imagine a bunch of big, cinematic, orchestrated pop songs that all somehow tie together in some sort of Rekjavikian fairytale and still remain crazy hook-laden and catchy as hell. I’m not sure how this song stays so ‘sing-alongy’ when I really have no idea what he is singing at any given moment. Hot Tip – put on the Neverending Story DVD, turn down the volume and put on this album.
Notes: Bit of a jump from 2007’s “Take Me To The Riot”. Synth 90’s Brit Pop throwback sound.
Artist: The Kissaway Trail
Notes: Biggest, longest epic track on the set. Great album. Bells, big arrangements, anthemic Arcade Fire style sound, especially with the time sig. change after the first verse. Well done you Danish nuts.
25. “The First Time”
Artist: Doll & The Kicks
Notes: My vote for Best New Band of the Year. When I try to get other people into this band, I fail miserably with my descriptions “It’s like 4 Non Blondes meets Concrete Blonde with Nicole Atkins’ rhythm section…” Tara said it sounded like Gwen Stefani. Yikes. All I can say is give this song a shot. She’s one of those performers who is more captivating live than on record (at least from the YouTube videos) but this track captures some of that power.
26. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Artist: The National
Notes: I wasn’t fully on the National bandwagon with the last album. I LIKED it . I didn’t LIKE, like it. This album is more fully formed.
Notes: Well, nobody talked about this album at all. I didn’t even know it had been released until I was following some random James links. I loved this band in the 90’s and when I heard about it, I feared this reunion would be bad. But it’s superb. A powerful, destructively simple song. Tim Booth remains a tremendously overlooked singer.
28. “Goodbye Sweet Dreams”
Artist: Roky Erickson with Okkervil River
Notes: I said it before – there’s a place in rock heaven for Okkervil River to have so compassionately made some sense out of one of the most brilliant, disturbed minds in music. This track could bring anyone that knows Roky’s story to tears.