Last year, you may recall that I did my top songs in two sets of 10, each song receiving a one sentence write-up. I decided to do longer write-ups this year, because I've apparently become too longwinded for anything less. So this week will (hopefully) feature four posts, culminating with the top 5 songs of the year. Then next week, I should be able to get the top albums list out.
Like last year, only one song per artist lest the list become cluttered with any one. I'm also going to try to include immediate listening capability--either via YouTube embeds or linking to someplace you can listen. At the end of it all, I'll include a .zip file of all 20 songs.
Let's get it going:
20. Josh Ritter - "See How Man Was Made" from So Runs the World Away
Josh Ritter is a gifted songwriter, but I never thought of him as much of a singer. His voice is servicable, but no one (inculding, I'm sure, Ritter himself) would claim it's going to drop any jaws. But on "See How Man Was Made", Ritter displays an impressive versatility I wouldn't have guessed he was capable of. The song itself is a ghostly, fingerpicked affair, and there's a beautiful ambiance about it that will make you forgive (or at least forget) the C+ lyrics. But again, the vocals are what makes the song. Ritter sustains some impossibly lengthy notes without a waver, and displays an impressive range, too.
19. Marc Ribot - "Delancey Waltz" from Silent Movies
If "Delancey Waltz" is meant to conjure a stroll down the Manhattan thoroughfare under wintry gray skies, mission accomplished. Like most of the tracks on Silent Movies, its delicate, sepia-toned arrangement somehow both calms and unsettles. There's a bit of mystery and minor key eeriness shrouding the gentle strums and unrushed melody. It's gracefully sinister, in such a way that it would have served as a suitable texture to Coppola's Godfather.
18. Hold Steady - "The Smidge" from Heaven Is Whenever
Heaven Is Whenever represented a bit of a paradigm shift for The Hold Steady. I'll get into that a bit more on its "Best Albums of the Year" entry. But amongst all the newness was a rollicking rager that had "vintage Hold Steady" tattooed all over it. Craig Finn lines like "She's got a bandolero belt filled with kamikaze shooters" are all over the place. The riffs are crunchy, and the chorus will have you pogoing and rawk-fisting without regard for those around you. While I was happy to see the Hold Steady branch out a bit with this album, I'm glad Craig and crew reminded us that they're still capable of blowing out some windows.
17. Dr. Dog - "Where'd All the Time Go?" from Shame, Shame
Poor Dr. Dog. I liked Shame, Shame a lot, but it seems every time I tried to really dive into it, something else shoved its way in the picture and I lost focus. While I regret not fully investing my attention into this album, a few of the tracks stuck. Most notably to me was "Where'd All the Time Go", which doesn't stray from the band's vintagey aesthetic. The lyrics are sort of inconsistent, but the chorus is an A+, culminating in a nice 6/8 flourish that'll get in your head after the first listen. The song is sort of a microcosm of the album: it isn't anything revolutionary, but it's the sort of thing that won't become stale either. That's a success in my book.
16. Jay Bennett - "Mirror Ball" from Kicking the Perfumed Air
Listen to "Mirror Ball"
Kicking the Perfumed Air is the first (and perhaps last) posthumous release from Jay Bennett, aka the man to whom Jeff Tweedy owes much of the success of Wilco. After Bennett was relieved of his Wilco duties, he went on to release a few solo albums and produce some other artists. He died of a painkiller overdose in May of 2009. It was a tragedy for more than the obvious reasons, because many Wilco fans hadn't relinquished the hope that the two might one day make music again. Alas, it can't ever happen, but Kicking the Perfumed Air provided us with a relic from that golden era. Recorded in Wilco's loft, "Mirror Ball" has the slow, loping sadness of "She's a Jar" and the lush ambience possessed by much of the Summerteeth-era material. It's expertly crafted, stepping between keys while various synth strings coo behind Bennett's haggard voice and hushed guitar strums. It's a lasting reminder of what Jay was capable of, especially in that creative environment.
Here's what's upcoming:
(All this depends on how ambitious I'm feeling. But it should happen...)