I'm going to undermine this post immediately by submitting this qualifier: Only one song per album. Otherwise you might see four or five Monsters of Folk songs on a twenty-song list. And I don't want to be perceived as any more of an obsessive fanboy than I already am.
Here's the format: I'll give you the artist, song, and album. This will be followed by a single overly complex sentence write-up. In true post-padding and tension building fashion, we'll give you the first ten songs today, next ten tomorrow. Off we go:
20. Pearl Jam; "The Fixer"; Backspacer
The best Pearl Jam single in years, Eddie's voice is one of the wonders of the modern rock world.
19. Bonnie Prince Billy; "I Don't Belong To Anyone"; Beware
A string-draped country shuffle that's not quite as morose as its title suggests, its the perspective of a contemplating whether he's cut out for love.
18. Mark Kozelek; "Send In the Clowns"; Lost Verses Live
As with "Little Drummer Boy" and many others before, Kozelek reaches across genre lines and invites the song to exist in his dimension of brooding acoustic melancholy.
17. Akron/Family; "River"; Set Em Wild, Set Em Free
A standout track from an underrated album, the bounding vocal refrain of "You and I and a flame make three" is a strong image in a song that makes exceptional use of sonic space.
16. Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band; "White Shoes"; Outer South
Perhaps the final embers of his emo-folk days firing off, "White Shoes" is a quiet, intimate acoustic plea worthy of throat lump.
15. Bon Iver; "Blood Bank"; Blood Bank EP
The title track of the satisfying EP, Justin Vernon pairs some morbid imagery with a steady rhythmic progression; sounds about right for Bon Iver.
14. Patterson Hood; "Heavy and Hanging"; Murdering Oscar
A minor key, mid-tempo rocker that wouldn't have seemed out of place on Decoration Day (it was apparently penned in 1994), Hood regails us with a story of death, depression, and excessive press coverage.
13. Girls; "Laura"; Album
The surefire single from the year's strongest debut LP, it boasts a ludicrously catchy chorus, a bouncing progression, and a lush 3/4-time coda.
12. Monsters of Folk; "Temazcal"; Monsters of Folks
Conor Oberst's second entry, he again delivers with a downbeat space-folk slow jam that owes a lot to Jim James' ethereal harmonies.
11. Red Cortez; "All the Difference"; Hands to the Wall EP
The young band out of California's strong EP closes with a piano-driven anthem that's light on lyrics but still packs an emotional wallop, and leaves me pining for an LP.