2011: Let Me Hear That Song

Kaputt and Northern Gospel, 2011’s two albums that I wrote about here will both likely end up high on my best-of-the-decade list at next year’s end; looking over the songs below, I can see more than a few placing high on the adjoining tracks list: M83’s 2011-meets-1986 anthem, Iron and Wine’s Christine McVie pastiche, Ivy’s house-pop resurrection, Wilco’s catchiest tune (without Billy Bragg), kd lang’s finest ballad, Lana Del Rey’s still-startling debut and R.E.M.’s sweet last gasp.

And that’s not all! Don’t forget Jens Lekman’s cautionary note to the lead actress of a Lars von Trier film, spirited one-shots from alt-country rocker Jessica Lea Mayfield, garage punks Those Darlins’ and Aussie duo An Horse (it was the golden age of discovering new music through iTunes’ free Song of the Week), awesome cover versions from James Blake and Kris Delmhorst, the eerie, Norah Jones-led “Black” (made immortal by Breaking Bad late that year), and of course, Kate Bush’s 13-minute paean to fucking a snowman.

As for The Rapture’s urgent, exuberant dance-rock opus (also a last gasp from them), it’s not a Bee Gees cover—it’s much better than that.

Click here to listen to my 2011 playlist on Spotify.

1. Wilco, “I Might”
2. Those Darlins’, “Screws Get Loose”
3. Atlas Sound, “Mona Lisa”
4. Beth Ditto, “I Wrote The Book”
5. Jens Lekman, “Waiting For Kirsten”
6. Smith Westerns, “Weekend”
7. Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Blue Skies Again”
8. Destroyer, “Kaputt”
9. Emm Gryner, “Heartsleeves”
10. Iron & Wine, “Tree By The River”
11. PJ Harvey, “The Words That Maketh Murder”
12. Kate Bush, “Misty”
13. M83, “Midnight City”
14. The Kills, “Future Starts Slow”
15. Junior Boys, “Playtime”
16. James Blake, “Limit to Your Love”
17. Lykke Li, “Youth Knows No Pain”
18. Kavinsky featuring Lovefoxxx, “Nightcall”
19. Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What”
20. Kris Delmhorst, “Tonight She Comes”
21. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
22. Ivy, “Distant Lights”
23. St. Vincent, “Strange Mercy”
24. Lady Gaga, “Marry the Night”
25. Florence + The Machine, “What The Water Gave Me”
26. My Morning Jacket, “Outta My System”
27. Cut Copy, “Need You Now”
28. Raphael Saadiq, “Movin’ Down The Line”
29. John Maus, “Hey Moon”
30. Laura Marling, “The Beast”
31. R.E.M., “Uberlin”
32. kd lang & The Siss Boom Bang, “The Water’s Edge”
33. Danger Mouse & Daniel Luippi feat. Norah Jones, “Black”
34. Gillian Welch, “Scarlet Town”
35. Meshell Ndegeocello, “Chance”
36. Lindsay Buckingham, “That’s The Way Love Goes”
37. Washed Out, “Amor Fati”
38. An Horse, “Dressed Sharply”
39. The Rapture, “How Deep Is Your Love?”
40. Tune-Yards, “Bizness”

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2010: So Far Away, But Still So Near

My 2010 top ten albums list is a good example of how such things are prone to being forever in flux. Only Laura Marling (my then #4) made the 100 Albums queue. The top three are still beloved, but there are other Tracey Thorn and Charlotte Gainsbourg albums I love more (the Hot Chip one is good–just not interesting enough for a 1000+ essay.)

Going through my selected tracks below from that year, most are predictable (Belle and Sebastian, The New Pornographers and Goldfrapp on one of my year-end mixes? Who saw that coming?) Still, a few curveballs remain: actual pop/EDM hit “Stereo Love”, which I might’ve heard on Kiss 108 while getting as haircut; “Shark In The Water”, one of my favorite one-hit-wonders (and it wasn’t even a hit here!); “This Charming Life”, Joan Armatrading’s best song in well over twenty years (not that I’ve heard much in the interim); and “Melancholy Beach”, a Gorillaz song you’d easily mistake for Blur in a blind listening test (I know, like most Gorillaz tunes.)

“Dancing On My Own”, however, completely owns this year (and I didn’t even hear it until that November at the earliest.) As excellent as Robyn’s new album Honey is (released three days ago and already a lock for this year’s top ten), nothing on it compares to what will always be her signature crying-on-the-dancefloor anthem, about which I would change absolutely nothing.

Click here to listen to my 2010 playlist on Spotify.

  1. The Divine Comedy, “At The Indie Disco”
  2. The New Pornographers, “Crash Years”
  3. Hot Chip, “Hand Me Down Your Love”
  4. Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Dandelion”
  5. VV Brown, “Shark In The Water”
  6. Belle & Sebastian, “I Didn’t See It Coming”
  7. Laura Marling, “Hope In The Air”
  8. Tracey Thorn, “Hormones”
  9. Vampire Weekend, “Giving Up The Gun”
  10. Broken Bells, “The Ghost Inside”
  11. Best Coast, “Boyfriend”
  12. Fitz and The Tantrums, “Breakin’ The Chains of Love”
  13. Corinne Bailey Rae, “Paris Nights/New York Mornings”
  14. David Byrne/Fatboy Slim feat. Theresa Andersson, “Ladies In Blue”
  15. Goldfrapp, “Alive”
  16. Grafitti 6, “Annie You Save Me”
  17. Janelle Monae, “Wondaland”
  18. Laura Veirs, “July Flame”
  19. KT Tunstall, “(Still A) Weirdo”
  20. Metric, “Eclipse (All Yours)”
  21. Spoon, “The Mystery Zone”
  22. Field Music, “Let’s Write A Book”
  23. Edward Maya feat. Vika Jigulina, “Stereo Love”
  24. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “I Learned The Hard Way”
  25. Guster, “Architects & Engineers”
  26. The Gaslight Anthem, “American Slang”
  27. Gorillaz, “On Melancholy Hill”
  28. Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”
  29. The Radio Dept., “You Stopped Making Sense”
  30. Scissor Sisters, “Invisible Light”
  31. Joan Armatrading, “This Charming Life”
  32. Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
  33. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “Bottled In Cork”

2009: Desperate For Some Kind of Contact

No joke—The Black Eyed Peas spent 26 consecutive weeks leading the Billboard Hot 100 this year (with two songs); Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga also dominated radio, while Animal Collective topped the Village Voice Pazz and Jop album poll. None of these appear on my playlist, although it does feature artists who came in at #’s 2, 3 & 4 on Pazz and Jop (respectively, Phoenix, Neko Case & Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)

If any trend emerges from this mishmash of indie singer/songwriter stalwarts (Metric, Jill Sobule, Andrew Bird) and still-hanging-on veterans (Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys, Chris Isaak), it’s an increasing propensity for lounge-pop, albeit in various guises: modern indie (The Bird and The Bee), jazzy easy listening (Pink Martini) and orchestral ’60s throwback (Camera Obscura), among others. Everything old’s also new (yet) again: Moroder-like synth-disco (Royksopp), Kate Bush-esque new-wave splendor (Bat For Lashes), British pop-punk both snotty (Art Brut) and sublime (White Lies).

Throw in a handful of UK number ones (La Roux, Lily Allen, David Guetta) and you’ve got a shimmering time capsule of end-of-the-decade Anglophilia. Oddly enough, it took a few years for the one of the most Anglocentric, of-its-time tracks to fully register: Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” is essentially Sarah McLachlan laptop music but those last, crescendoing fifteen seconds always get to me.

Click here to listen to my 2009 playlist on Spotify.

  1. The Tender Trap, “Sweet Disposition”
  2. Florence + The Machine, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”
  3. Camera Obscura, “French Navy”
  4. Super Furry Animals, “Helium Hearts”
  5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Hysteric”
  6. Morrissey, “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
  7. Jill Sobule, “San Francisco”
  8. The Bird and The Bee, “My Love”
  9. Chris Isaak, “We Let Her Down”
  10. Bat For Lashes, “Pearl’s Dream”
  11. Pet Shop Boys, “The Way It Used To Be”
  12. Lily Allen, “The Fear”
  13. Metric, “Gold Guns Girls”
  14. Emm Gryner, “Young As The Night”
  15. St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work”
  16. Vienna Teng, “In Another Life”
  17. La Roux, “Bulletproof”
  18. Andrew Bird, “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”
  19. Pink Martini, “Splendor In The Grass”
  20. Neko Case, “I’m An Animal”
  21. Kings of Convenience, “My Ship Isn’t Pretty”
  22. Gossip, “Heavy Cross”
  23. Phoenix, “Fences”
  24. Royksopp with Robyn, “The Girl and The Robot”
  25. White Lies, “Death”
  26. David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland, “When Love Takes Over”
  27. God Help The Girl, “Come Monday Night”
  28. Junior Boys, “The Animator”
  29. Serena Ryder, “Little Bit of Red”
  30. Art Brut, “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”
  31. Sondre Lerche, “Heartbeat Radio”
  32. Imogen Heap, “First Train Home”
  33. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, “Goodnight Oslo”

2008: Tell Me If It Was Worth It

A decade ago as of this writing, and the year feels even further away. Whatever happened to The Ting Tings, Alphabeat, Nikka Costa and Duffy, anyway? Does anyone in the UK remember top twenty hit “The Journey Continues”, known to me only because it has the singer from Saint Etienne on it? Robert Forster and Brazilian Girls have since put out a single album each (the latter this year!); Portishead remains MIA to this day, suggesting Third might’ve been a fluke.

2008 had room for so much: an ‘80s pop star reinventing herself as an EDM diva (Cyndi Lauper), a Tony Award-winning musical from one of the decade’s best (and more obscure) rock singer/songwriters (Stew’s Passing Strange), a ‘90s Swedish teen-pop fixture coming into adulthood (Robyn), new wave icons getting the band back together for one last hurrah (The B-52’s), the first collaboration between two post-punk giants in 17 years (Byrne/Eno), plus some significant debuts: Vampire Weekend, Hercules & Love Affair, Lykki Li and Fleet Foxes.

If making room for weirdos such as The Dirtbombs doesn’t fully get me off the hook for going out on Coldplay (their greatest hit, how could I not include it?), so be it. The Goldfrapp song remains one of my all-time favorites, and even that’s eclipsed by Martha Wainwright’s caustic, uber-catchy gem—brother Rufus has never bested it.

Click here to listen to my 2008 playlist on Spotify.

  1. Goldfrapp, “A&E”
  2. Alphabeat, “Fascination”
  3. Martha Wainwright, “You Cheated Me”
  4. Sam Phillips, “Don’t Do Anything”
  5. Mark Brown feat. Sarah Cracknell, “The Journey Continues”
  6. Calexico, “Man Made Lake”
  7. The Ting Tings, “Shut Up and Let Me Go”
  8. Alison Moyet, “Can’t Say It Like I Mean It”
  9. The B-52’s, “Juliet of the Spirits”
  10. Aimee Mann, “Thirty-One Today”
  11. Marit Bergman, “Out On The Piers”
  12. Fleet Foxes, “White Winter Hymnal”
  13. Brazilian Girls, “Losing Myself”
  14. Portishead, “The Rip”
  15. Hercules & Love Affair, “Blind”
  16. Robert Forster, “Don’t Touch Anything”
  17. Stew, “Work The Wound”
  18. She & Him, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
  19. Vampire Weekend, “M79”
  20. David Byrne & Brian Eno, “Strange Overtones”
  21. Cut Copy, “Hearts On Fire”
  22. The Dirtbombs, “Wreck My Flow”
  23. Juliana Hatfield with Richard Butler, “This Lonely Love”
  24. Lykke Li, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
  25. Duffy, “Rockferry”
  26. Marianne Faithfull, “Down From Dover”
  27. Cyndi Lauper, “Into the Nightlife”
  28. Nikka Costa, “Can’t Please Everybody”
  29. The Radio Dept., “Freddie and The Trojan Horse”
  30. Stereolab, “Three Women”
  31. TV On The Radio, “Family Tree”
  32. Robyn with Kleerup, “With Every Heartbeat”
  33. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”

2007: So Give Me Your Hand and Let’s Jump Out The Window

A weird year by any standard: of the handful of these I first heard on the radio at that time (Kate Nash, Iron & Wine, Rilo Kiley, Plant/Krauss), the strangest (and most obscure) of them was Tunng, a British electro-folk collective: resembling laptop Peter Gabriel, “Bullets” somehow found regular rotation on WERS and stood out immediately. The National, Imperial Teen and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings were more word-of-mouth discoveries (Pink Martini I became aware of via my parents.)

Otherwise, with each year, my mixes tend to feature more artists already familiar to me. In 2007, some had put out their best work in some time (Tori Amos, They Might Be Giants, Suzanne Vega) while others made triumphant returns after extended absences (Tracey Thorn’s Arthur Russell cover, which thankfully doesn’t change the gender of his lyric; Crowded House’s unexpectedly strong reunion album Time On Earth.) The Weakerthans were on their last, eloquent gasp, while St. Vincent, then a young upstart/Polyphonic Spree refugee was only hinting at a rich, varied catalog to come.

The first two tracks are easily my favorites: Stars’ anthem-like, ‘80s-inspired pop arguably never peaked higher than with this song, while The Shins, finally following up their great 2003 album Chutes Too Narrow evoked no one so much as… prime Crowded House (even if they didn’t call the song “New Zealand”.) Apart from that, nothing encapsulates the year better than a memory of taking the Amtrak into New York City that April, LCD Soundsystem’s epic Sound of Silver opener on my headphones providing a steady, hypnotic pulse across endless row houses and railyards of Queens—more apt for what I remember as an optimistic time than, say, Rufus Wainwright’s premonition of complications still way, way down the road.

Click here to listen to my 2007 playlist on Spotify.

1. The Shins, “Australia”
2. Stars, “Take Me To The Riot”
3. Tracey Thorn, “Get Around To It”
4. Bebel Gilberto, “Bring Back The Love”
5. Fountains of Wayne, “Someone To Love”
6. Kate Nash, “Foundations”
7. The New Pornographers, “Myriad Harbour”
8. Nicole Atkins, “Maybe Tonight”
9. Tori Amos, “Bouncing Off Clouds”
10. Iron & Wine, “Boy With A Coin”
11. LCD Soundsystem, “Get Innocuous!”
12. Rilo Kiley, “Silver Lining”
13. Crowded House, “She Called Up”
14. Imperial Teen, “Room With A View”
15. Andrew Bird, “Scythian Empires”
16. Jens Lekman, “A Postcard To Nina”
17. KT Tunstall, “Saving My Face”
18. Feist, “The Limit To Your Love”
19. The National, “Fake Empire”
20. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Rich Woman”
21. Super Furry Animals, “Baby Ate My Eightball”
22. Roisin Murphy, “Primitive”
23. St. Vincent, “Paris Is Burning”
24. Tunng, “Bullets”
25. Rufus Wainwright, “Going To A Town”
26. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “Tell Me”
27. Tegan and Sara, “Back In Your Head”
28. Pink Martini, “Hey Eugene”
29. Richard Hawley, “Tonight The Streets Are Ours”
30. They Might Be Giants, “The Mesopotamians”
31. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, “La Costa Brava”
32. The Weakerthans, “Sun In An Empty Room”
33. Suzanne Vega, “Anniversary”

2006: No Party To Go To

In 2006, now fully into my thirties, my life began to solidify—had a steady job, a good living situation, I even met the person I’d eventually marry. Music too remained a constant, even if none of the albums on my original year-end top ten endured to point of warranting their own entries in this project (the one that did, I didn’t hear until its American edition came out the following year.)

Starting this year, I began making best-of mix CDs to send out to friends, a ritual I kept up through 2010 (and briefly revived in 2015.) Most of the first seventeen tracks here appeared on that first mix, with a few substitutions—“Dress Up In You” remains one of my ten favorite Belle and Sebastian songs, while my original choice of “The Blues Are Still Blue” would now barely crack the top fifty. Also, Swedish pop star Marit Bergman’s ebullient “No Party”, the original lead-off track (and rightfully so) is currently not on Spotify, so I’ve embedded its video above.

The latter half of this playlist is full of songs that have endured, from massive hits (Gnarls Barkley, Scissor Sisters) to barking-mad obscurities (please listen to the Herbert song all the way to the end) and everything in between. I would apologize for that Rodrigo y Gabriela-Sparks-Gainsbourg sequence for inducing whiplash if not, even by 2006, iPod shuffling hadn’t already conditioned us into listening to music that way.

Also, if someone were to locate a copy of this playlist decades from now without knowing the title, I’d like to think due to the timeless nature of such tracks as “Be Here Now”, “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff” and “I Feel Like Going Home”, they might not immediately deduce what exact year all these tunes came from.

Click here to listen to my 2006 playlist on Spotify

1. Neko Case, “Hold On, Hold On”
2. The BellRays, “Third Time’s The Charm”
3. Regina Spektor, “Better”
4. Hot Chip, “Boy From School”
5. TV On The Radio, “A Method”
6. Belle and Sebastian, “Dress Up In You”
7. The Hidden Cameras, “Awoo”
8. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins, “Rise Up With Fists!”
9. James Hunter, “People Gonna Talk”
10. Paul Brill, “Don’t Tell Them”
11. Camera Obscura, “If Looks Could Kill”
12. Emm Gryner, “Almighty Love”
13. Sufjan Stevens, “Dear Mr. Supercomputer”
14. Nellie McKay & Cyndi Lauper, “Beecharmer”
15. Calexico, “Cruel”
16. Junior Boys, “In The Morning”
17. Pet Shop Boys, “Integral”
18. Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
19. Art Brut, “Formed A Band”
20. Ben Kweller, “Sundress”
21. The Decemberists, “O Valencia!”
22. The Radio Dept., “The Worst Taste In Music”
23. The Divine Comedy, “Diva Lady”
24. Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff”
25. Ray LaMontagne, “Be Here Now”
26. Herbert, “The Movers and The Shakers”
27. Pernice Brothers, “Automaton”
28. Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Tamacun”
29. Sparks, “Dick Around”
30. Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Everything I Cannot See”
31. Scissor Sisters, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’”
32. Chris Isaak, “King Without A Castle”
33. Yo La Tengo, “I Feel Like Going Home”

2005: With What The Majestic Cannot Find

Irresistible to begin one of these best-of-year mixes with a song declaring, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.” Those words resonated deeply for me in 2005—my love life was in seemingly perpetual flux and I also had a doozy of a move to a new apartment that September. I was required to haul out much furniture left behind by ex-roommates and schlep the rest two blocks away over to the new place (which I’d end up staying in for a scant six months.)

Anyway, just as I went to more movies in 2005 than any previous year (including my first trip to the Toronto International Film Festival), I probably listened to more new music as well. My first draft of this mix was up near the 50-song mark, so I whittled it down to 33 (the same amount as 2004.) Given that this year generated three of my all-time favorite albums, the other tracks and one-offs I’ve kept are decidedly choice. There are unusual cameos (Cindy and Kate from The B-52s on “Take My Time”! An opera singer on the Calexico/Iron and Wine collaboration!), triumphant returns-to-form (Depeche Mode, Erasure, Aimee Mann and New Order), and defining singles such as Sufjan Stevens’ now-iconic ode to the Windy City, Fiona Apple’s Disney-meets-David Lynch title track from her troubled third album and The New Pornographers’ breathless, towering mini-epic—the centerpiece of an LP I nearly gave its own entry to.

If you asked me what some of the big hits of 2005 were, I’d answer “Hollaback Girl”, “Gold Digger”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and… that’s all I can name. But this mix is packed with songs that received many plays at the time on my just-purchased first iPod: Andrew Bird’s catchy, soaring, indecipherable wordplay; Metric’s Blondie-worthy disco-rock; My Morning Jacket’s incredible fusion of Lynyrd Skynyrd and XTC; Pernice Brothers’ blissful instrumental; Amy Rigby’s disarming meet-the-new-wife tale; glorious, meticulous power-pop from Stars, The Magic Numbers and Oranger; Doves’ alternately spiky and swaying Motown pastiche; and the now mostly-forgotten Shivaree’s dreamy, undulating ballad, its unresolved melancholy and regret just hanging there, affecting and unshakable.

Click here to listen to my 2005 playlist on Spotify

  1. The Mountain Goats, “This Year”
  2. The Go-Betweens, “Finding You”
  3. Calexico/Iron and Wine “He Lays In The Reins”
  4. Junior Senior, “Take My Time”
  5. The Decemberists, “The Sporting Life”
  6. Depeche Mode, “Precious”
  7. The New Pornographers, “The Bleeding Heart Show”
  8. Amy Rigby, “The Trouble With Jeanie”
  9. Bettye LaVette, “Joy”
  10. Doves, “Almost Forgot Myself”
  11. Metric, “Poster Of A Girl”
  12. Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago”
  13. Keren Ann, “Greatest You Can Find”
  14. Aimee Mann, “Video”
  15. Kate Bush, “A Coral Room”
  16. Roisin Murphy, “Through Time”
  17. Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine”
  18. Erasure, “Here I Go Impossible Again”
  19. Goldfrapp, “Ride A White Horse”
  20. My Morning Jacket, “Off The Record”
  21. Pernice Brothers, “Discover A Lovelier You”
  22. Shivaree, “Mexican Boyfriend”
  23. Antony and the Johnsons, “Fistful of Love”
  24. Martha Wainwright, “When The Day Is Short”
  25. The Magic Numbers, “Love Me Like You”
  26. Andrew Bird, “Fake Palindromes”
  27. Stars, “Aging Beauty”
  28. New Order, “Waiting For The Siren’s Call”
  29. Spoon, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”
  30. Oranger, “Sukiyaki”
  31. Ivy, “Ocean City Girl”
  32. Saint Etienne, “Stars Above Us”
  33. Ben Folds, “Landed”