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”
Advertisements

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”

2004: Take Your Records, Leave Me Mine

A decade after alt-rock peaked culturally (if not yet commercially), indie rock did the same, but it was a different world—for starters, you rarely heard this music on the radio. More often, you had to find it online, usually at Pitchfork.com, arguably never closer to the zeitgeist since then, especially when it placed Arcade Fire’s Funeral on top of its year-end best albums list. I don’t think I was even aware of the band until this happened, and I spent most of the year writing for a competing website (albeit a far less buzzy one.)

The playlist I’ve assembled for 2004 contains so much mid-oughts indie-rock royalty: in addition to my favorite Funeral track, there’s Sufjan Stevens, Franz Ferdinand, Neko Case, Ted Leo and Tegan and Sara. Plus, a handful of relatively obscure but likeminded artists I was assigned to review, including Tamas Wells, Marit Bergman, Tompaulin and Paul Brill, whose New Pagan Love Song (represented by its title track) almost had an 100 Albums entry of its own.

We also have a few ‘90s holdovers putting out some of their best work: a single from PJ Harvey’s unjustly forgotten Uh Huh Her; Morrissey’s second-last great song to date (which rhymes “bullet” with “gullet”); The Magnetic Fields, triumphant at the impossible task of a follow-up to 69 Love Songs; and Sam Phillips with one of her loveliest ever ballads (effectively used in Gilmore Girls and its Netflix sequel).

As always, it’s the oddities I adore the most: the Delays’ wonderfully androgynous vocalist, Loretta Lynn’s beguiling spoken word memoir-piece, Madeleine Peyroux’s so-crazy-it-just-might-work cocktail jazz Leonard Cohen cover. However, let me direct your attention to A Girl Called Eddy (aka Erin Moran (not the Happy Days star)). Her elegant, self-titled debut sounds like a cross between Aimee Mann and Dionne Warwick (with a hint of Karen Carpenter) and like nothing else put out in 2004. “The Long Goodbye” is such perfect, heartbreaking pop I never skip it whenever it comes up on shuffle. She hasn’t released anything since—does that make her this decade’s Jen Trynin?

Click here to listen to my 2004 playlist on Spotify:

  1. Tompaulin, “Slender”
  2. Bebel Gilberto, “Simplesmente”
  3. Delays, “Nearer Than Heaven”
  4. Jens Lekman, “You Are The Light (by which I travel into this and that)”
  5. Sufjan Stevens, “To Be Alone With You”
  6. Tamas Wells, “Even In The Crowds”
  7. The Magnetic Fields, “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend”
  8. Nellie McKay, “Ding Dong”
  9. Rufus Wainwright, “Peach Trees”
  10. A.C. Newman, “On The Table”
  11. A Girl Called Eddy, “The Long Goodbye”
  12. Feist, “One Evening”
  13. Junior Boys, “Teach Me How To Fight”
  14. Mark Mothersbaugh, “Ping Island/Lightning Strike Rescue Op”
  15. Loretta Lynn, “Little Red Shoes”
  16. Paul Brill, “New Pagan Love Song”
  17. Kings of Convenience, “I’d Rather Dance With You”
  18. Madeleine Peyroux, “Dance Me To The End of Love”
  19. Tegan and Sara, “Downtown”
  20. The Futureheads, “Meantime”
  21. Marit Bergman, “Adios Amigos”
  22. Arcade Fire, “Neighborhood # 3 (Power Out)”
  23. Mr. Airplane Man, “How Long”
  24. Neko Case, “The Tigers Have Spoken”
  25. Air, “Venus”
  26. The Divine Comedy, “Our Mutual Friend”
  27. Sam Phillips, “Reflecting Light”
  28. Scissor Sisters, “Mary”
  29. Ron Sexsmith, “From Now On”
  30. Morrissey, “First Of The Gang To Die”
  31. PJ Harvey, “The Letter”
  32. Franz Ferdinand, “The Dark of a Matinee”
  33. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “Me and Mia”

2003: My Office Glows All Night Long

I’ve already referenced in my essay on Want One just how much music I was listening to in 2003—truly the era of Peak CD for me. Between a major move across town (from Watertown to Jamaica Plain) and other new endeavors, it was a busy time, with music remaining one of my few constants (the other being movies.)

The three dozen tracks below are but the very best of a bounty of songs that received many spins on my dark blue Sony Discman back then (I’ve could’ve easily included another dozen.) Thumbing through this list, there’s only a few I didn’t hear until more than a year later, most notably The Radio Dept. when “Pulling Our Weight” resurfaced on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack in 2006. The most obscure tracks here (A Northern Chorus’ Smiths-worthy instrumental, Troll’s demented, inexplicable noir rock) are from records I was assigned to review; most of the rest represent the very best of that era’s indie pop, from veterans like the Nick Rhodes-produced Dandy Warhols and Arab Strap (whom fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian (also included) name-dropped a few LPs back) to next-big-things TV On The Radio and Regina Spektor.

2003 also happens to have two songs I’d take to a desert island with me: The Shins’ Nilsson-esque chamber pop wonder “Saint Simon” and Canadian band Stars’ immortal, resplendent “Elevator Love Letter”, which saved my life more than The Shins or even The Smiths ever did.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2003 on Spotify:

  1. The New Pornographers, “The Laws Have Changed”
  2. The Radio Dept., “Pulling Our Weight”
  3. Calexico, “Quattro (World Drifts In)”
  4. Rosie Thomas, “I Play Music”
  5. Basement Jaxx, “Good Luck”
  6. Arab Strap, “The Shy Retirer”
  7. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, “The Ambassador of Soul”
  8. The Postal Service, “Such Great Heights”
  9. Nelly Furtado, “Explode”
  10. Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man, “Tom The Model”
  11. Natacha Atlas, “Eye of the Duck”
  12. Black Box Recorder, “The New Diana”
  13. Paul Brill, “Westering”
  14. The Hidden Cameras, “A Miracle”
  15. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, “I’m A Ghost”
  16. Thea Gilmore, “Pirate Moon”
  17. Fountains of Wayne, “Mexican Wine”
  18. A Northern Chorus, “Red Carpet Blues”
  19. Regina Spektor, “Chemo Limo”
  20. Sufjan Stevens, “Romulus”
  21. Pernice Brothers, “The Weakest Shade Of Blue”
  22. The Shins, “Saint Simon”
  23. Stars, “Elevator Love Letter”
  24. The Dandy Warhols, “The Last High”
  25. The Weakerthans, “One Great City!”
  26. The Wrens, “This Boy Is Exhausted”
  27. Death Cab For Cutie, “Transatlanticism”
  28. Moloko, “Forever More”
  29. Oranger, “Bluest Glass Eye Sea”
  30. Stew, “LA Arteest Café”
  31. TV On The Radio, “Young Liars”
  32. Troll, “Western”
  33. Junior Senior, “Chicks and Dicks”
  34. Belle and Sebastian, “Stay Loose”
  35. Rufus Wainwright, “11:11”
  36. Super Furry Animals, “Slow Life”