Ground rules – only one track per artist (trying to decide which Mates of State track to use was almost impossible), and I didn’t include “You are the Generation That Bought More Shoes,” since it’s been out of many many moons, and it didn’t seem fair to steal the #1 slot from a genuine 2006 song. I also didn’t include tracks leaked from 2007 records. They’ll get their moment in the sun next year.
Since a lot of these were discussed in some detail yesterday on my albums list, I thought I’d do something a little different here. In place of my usual approach of examining the whole track in excruciating detail, I’ll just pinpoint the best moment – the one instant of absolute perfection that truly defines the song.
1. Antarctica – Antarctica Takes It!
The best song of the year, hands down. It’s so good that I’m violating the ground rules on the very first song and refusing to pick a single moment. There’s the first chorus – pure as newfallen snow, the final chorus emerging from the chaos of a squid attack, and any one of many perfect lines (“We heard the weary whales’ tune, and sang along neath the silver moon” or or “on this frosty winedark sea” or “We stole away from the crown of flame, for a cold land without a name”). Choose any second of the song and you won’t be disappointed.
2. Let’s Get Out of This Country – Camera Obscura
0:00 – They sure know how to enter a room! With that drum beat and opening burst, Camera Obscura may have created the single best song to kick off a summer mix in history.
3. State of the Union – David Ford
3:15 – The whole song is a study in layering, but the best moment is right here, as the final stage begins. The fuzzed bass pummels you, and it completes its metamorphosis from quiet folk song to full-fledged sonic onslaught.
4. Are You There Margaret? It’s Me God – The Lawrence Arms
2:56 – This song had the best chorus of the year, but that still wasn’t even the best moment. Instead it’s here, after the final chorus, when you think that the song is starting to fade out but they come back one last time to punch you in the gut. This was my most-listened song of 2006, if not ultimately my #1.
5. Balcony – Birdmonster
4:11 – The single most powerful moment of any song this year, hands down. Really, the entire rest of the song, as good as it is, feels like little more than a set-up for this moment. I spent about an hour an a half in the Mexico City airport this spring with this song on repeat just so I could hear this climax.
6. It’s My Way of Staying Connected – She, Sir
1:00 – Suddenly, you realize you’re sitting on top of a tidal wave.
7. Fidelity – Regina Spektor
2:52 – The instant when the Wright Brothers’ plane took flight, this is what it sounded like in their hearts.
8. Henney Buggy Band – Sufjan Stevens
2:20 – Sufjan providing perfect backing vocals for Sufjan. I’ll ask once again: in what world could this song ever be considered not good enough to make the first string? I mean, seriously.
9. Soft and Warm – Voxtrot
1:55 – They are masters of creating transitions in tone and melody, which makes for countless fine moments – this one just happens to be my favorite.
10. TV – The Headlights
1:17 – Like having your first kiss while whitewater rafting.
11. This Conversation – The Submarines
0:35 – “How will I ever get the sound from you out of my head? I guess that I should only be so lucky” – perhaps the most heartbreaking moment on an album suffused with feelings of loss and hope for redemption.
12. Been Here Before – Jeremy Enigk
1:57 – The organ interlude and the subsequent explosion of the second half, highlighted by that ethereal voice that pierces deep inside you from every angle, fuses together, and unleashes all the fury of an atomic explosion.
13. Another Sunny Day – Belle and Sebastian
2:24 – That’s some good guitarin,’ boy.
14. Freest Man – Tilly and the Wall
2:35 – In a song full of pathos, this is the most honest moment. You want to shake them, you want to hug them, you want to insist that it will be alright, but you just don’t know.
15. Dancing Under the Influence – Bedroom Eyes
2:42 – Handclaps!!
16. Breaking the Ice – Mojave 3
1:01 – I’m such a sucker for descending notes in a chorus. It may be the quickest way to my heart.
17. Kate – Sambassadeur
0:18 and recurring – You get on this Swedish-pop carousel and you just never want to get off. In a year full of great Scandinavian indie-pop was there anything that more perfectly represented it than this riff? I don’t think so.
18. The Quiz – Hello Saferide
1:12 – It starts with a bunch of cutesy questions for a prospective other, but takes a heart-wrenching turn with the question that lays all the rest bare: “and if I fall, would you pick me up?”
19. Fraud in the 80s – Mates of State
0:46 – I would try to explain this but my heart has already melted into a puddle on the floor.
20. Still a Long Way to Go – James Dean Bradfield
2:06 – I love the way the guitar frames the vocals. It’s not intrusive – it just provides this perfect sonic space.
21. Out These Doors Inside – We Will Build
2:23 – Does it count as a chorus on an instrumental? Whatever it is, I love it.
22. Old Dan Tucker – Bruce Springsteen
0:25 – You just want to get up and start dancing around the campfire with them.
23. The Crane Wife 3 – The Decemberists
0:49 – With this little bass line, Colin Meloy and company announced to the world that the switch to a major label was nothing to be feared, and they announced to me that they could still write dream-pop as good as the stuff that made me fall in love with them in the first place.
24. New Years – Asobi Seksu
0:42 – I don’t even want to know what she’s singing. The way that note just faaaaaaaaaaaalls away absolutely tears me apart.
25. Handful of Billions – The Sound Team
5:06 – Would this song be even close to as awesome if they had stopped before this final line? I posit that it would not.
26. When You Were Young – The Killers
2:48 – Say what you will about the rest of Sam’s Town, this song is awesome, especially this part. Yeah, that’s the stuff…
27. I Hate the War – The Ballet
0:49 – “Na na na na na na na na na na I hate the war” – Really, what else is there to say on this subject?
28. LDN – Lily Allen
0:58 – Who knew the best rhyme of the year would be “Tesco” and “al fresco?”
29. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – The Arctic Monkeys
1:23 – The song blew up thanks to the chorus, but for my money this little back-and-forth bit is every bit as devastating.
30. This Is Us – Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
1:14 – Mark Knopfler still has the sexiest voice on the planet and he proves it here.
31. Only a Fool – Marit Larsen
1:36 – I love the chorus of this song to death, but it’s got nothing on this instant when it bleeds back into the harmonica and the verse.
32. To Go Home – M. Ward
3:26 – Is it possible for the line “God it’s great to be alive” to sound more genuine than it does right here? No, it is not.
33. Johnny – Bombadil
2:10 – This song is full of fascinating instrumental interludes, but this is the best of them.
34. Thin Blue Flame – Josh Ritter
5:34 – “It’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance” – One of the most epic moments of the most epic song of the year. He’s right, too.
35. Long Day – The Bittersweets
2:28 – I’m also a sucker for the stripped-down chorus, especially when the singer is Hannah Prater.
36. Catastrophe – Rainer Maria
4:37 – No one can make a post-apocalyptic love song sound better than Caithlin.
37. When I Wake Up – Wintergreen
0:38 – That little pause in the percussion – brilliant!
38. World Spins Madly On – The Weepies
0:18 – “I woke up and wished that I was dead” – the perfect opening to one of the saddest songs of the year.
39. I Can Get Us Out of Here Tonight – Lucero
0:37 – The moment when the Millennium Falcon returns to join the assault on the Death Star.
40. Love You in the Fall – Paul Westerberg
2:08 – That little “ah-ohhh” – vintage Westerberg. It makes the whole song.