I’ve spent most of this week linking over to Spectrum Culture in order to call attention to my various contributions to the year-end features. As it happens, there’s one more left, which spurred me to come up with a ranking of the top songs of the year, something I routinely indulged in back in my college radio days, but which I haven’t done in quite some time. I wrote on “Swim” by Surfer Blood, my selection for best song of the year. These are the others that I had in my top ten that didn’t make it on to the collectively tallied Top 25 List.
She & Him, “In the Sun”
It’s an ideal companion piece to “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?,” the shimmery, sad single from the duo’s debut, Volume One. Whereas the singer in that song was “just sitting on the shelf” waiting for her lover to come and play, the single from the aptly named Volume 2 begins with the plaintive announcement “It’s hard to be ignored,” and eventually includes the comparatively triumphant assertion “I’ve been thinking of leaving.” Delivered with Zooey Deschanel’s deadpan sweetness, the song is like a long-lost girl group pop gem splendidly rendered for a post-ironic musical era.
Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”
One of the things I love most about the new album by Arcade Fire is that it sounds unmistakably like the band and yet is full of subtle reinvention. The grand jubilee of their trademark sound is present in the title cut, but scaled back to something spare and almost jaunty, a quality that contrasts sharply with the foreboding lyrics which mix idyllic suburban landscape imagery with fearful note of falling bombs and damage done. In that respect it reminds me somewhat of the 1989 Guadalcanal Diary song “Always Saturday”, which made the sun-baked weekend picture of porch swings and late night movies oddly creepy. Arcade Fire accomplishes that and makes it sound like an aching anthem for a dying society.
Titus Adronicus, “Four Score and Seven”
This is the song a band plays as a last lament on a ship engulfed in flames as it sinks, bound for the deepest, darkest part of the ocean floor. The song is filled with splendid aural clatter as it reels absorbingly behind Patrick Stickles yowling out lyrics with bracing directness. Oblique poetry and sly metaphor are of course rewarding, but there’s something to be said for line like “Fuck, I’m frustrated, freaking out something fierce.” The song pounds away until the final moments when Stickles repeats “It’s still us against them” before concluding “and they’re winning.” The songs soars, builds, and bullies, but, in the end, it’s the forlorn collapse of that concession of defeat that makes it resonate.
Les Savy Fav, “Sleepless in Silverlake”
This song about carousing through the night in a Los Angeles neighborhood is like a mix of The Hold Steady’s middle class wounded heroism with Weezer’s west coast jagged pop deconstruction. “We hit the hills and we hit ’em hard” is the opening line, and that’s a fine thesis statement for the song. It’s the fuel that powers battered convertibles cruising well-lit city streets all night long.
Wolf Parade, “Yulia”
It’s simply the year’s finest song about a doomed Russian cosmonaut confronted with the unknowable vastness of space.