10. Beach House - "Norway" from Teen Dream
You can almost see the puffs of cold breath in front of Victoria LeGrande as she exhales the "hah, hah, hah" chorus that arises throughout "Norway." If ever a song conjures the environment suggested by its name, this is it. The jangly guitars and a steady tom thud will transport you to the Norse winterscape in question, which seems like a fitting accomplishment for a band that's so regularly deemed a dream pop group.
9. Vampire Weekend - "I Think Ur A Contra" from Contra
As expected, VW's sophomore effort was peppered with hook-addled indie-pop tracks ("Holiday" appears in several ads this season.) But I was most drawn to the album's closing track, the spacey slow-burner "I Think Ur A Contra." Why? Because it represents an evolution for a band that usually clings tightly to a springy pop formula. I think this band is tremendously talented, and I'd hate to watch them jog in place. Contra as a whole was a bit of an aesthetic deviation form their debut, but only its final track marks a true departure (in the right direction.)
8. Titus Andronicus - "A More Perfect Union" from The Monitor
What better way to start an opus of an album than with a 7 minute, two-part anthem? It's a fist-pumping affair, one that blasts the spotlight squarely on Patrick Stickles' Westerbergian vocals. The lyrics are chock full of allusions to their home state of New Jersey and the Civil War--including the stirring finale, where a string of wartime rallying cries pour out over searing guitar interplay. In case you're curious, the speech at the beginning is from the transcript of an Abraham Lincoln speech given well before his presidency. And, no, it's not really Abe Lincoln speaking. Use your head...
7. The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio" from High Violet
The edgy hipster trapped inside of me never wants to pick the obvious choice. To be fair, the single (or media-anointed standout) is rarely the album's best track. But it's really hard to ignore just how good "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the song structure -- it's your standard I-vi verse. But there's a tension about it, charged by staggered snare hits and impeccable piano countermelody you'll hear around 2:30 and 3:50. Matt Berninger's lyrics find solace in home and love among the turmoil of everyday life. The writing was on the wall for this one: it was a fan favorite before High Violet even hit the shelves.
6. Black Keys - "Next Girl" from Brothers
For the past decade, The Black Keys have made a living off of bluesy badassery like "Next Girl". Its chunky wah-wah riff underscores some junkyard noodling that, from what I can tell, is an effects-laden guitar that achieves a blues harmonica tone. The chorus burbles with attitude as Dan Auerbach's doubled vocals howl, "My next girl/will be nothing like my ex girl/I made mistakes back then/I'll never do it again." I appreciate the production style that allows Dan's excellent voice to be heard clearly--not always the case with the BKs. It's a no, fear speaker-melting manthem that'll wake up your neighbors.