10. Mavis Staples, “Try Harder”
On her third collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, she’s now making music as relevant as the protest gospel-soul she pioneered nearly 50 years ago with The Staples Singers. Built on an insistent, guttural guitar riff, it’s no exaggeration to say that “Try Harder” is right up there with “Respect Yourself”, especially when she sings, “Don’t do me no good to pretend,” again and again, laying bare the wisdom of acknowledging evil in order to combat it.
9. Lana Del Rey, “Love”
Despite having put out four albums in six years, Rey is still more of a singles artist—I can imagine her eventual hits comp will be all-time, with this arresting ballad as just one of its crown jewels. Taking aural inspiration from Phil Spector, crossed with her usual Angelo Badalamenti-isms (would it have been too on-the-nose for her to have appeared on Twin Peaks: The Return?), her declaration here “to be young, and in love” is deeply felt and understood.
8. Waxahatchee, “Never Been Wrong”
Right off the bat this has an agreeable Pixies/Breeders vibe that never quits; I also hear a little vintage Matthew Sweet and maybe some Jill Sobule, too. Fortunately, Katie Crutchfield transcends any hint of ’90s pastiche, as moving beyond her previously low-fi aesthetic for full bells-and-whistles production only further fortifies the strength of her words and melodies.
7. Stars, “We Called It Love”
This highlight from Fluorescent Light is almost Stars-by-numbers at first—another catchy mid-tempo gem to surely take its place on a killer compilation one day. However, after a few plays, all its little nuances begin to surface, and then crystalize to the point where the song, with its observation, “I don’t believe people ever change,” freshly resonates.
6. Sufjan Stevens, “Mystery of Love”
From the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack (which I have yet to see—it opens in Boston on the 22nd), musically this could’ve easily fit on Carrie and Lowell, but not tonally. After absorbing that album’s raw grieving and immense loss, it’s almost cathartic to hear Stevens sing a gentle, spiritual, and altogether happy love song again. It emits a rare sense of wonder that I always seek (but not often find) in the art I consume.