Ground rules – only one song per artist (with one caveat), and I didn’t include songs like “War on Sound” by Moonbabies since it’s been out for years, even if the actual album is new this year.
I’ll also use the same format as I tried out last year. Rather than talking about the whole track, I’ll just pinpoint the best moment – the one instant of absolute perfection that truly defines the song.
40. Book Lung – New Ruins
1:32 – Long, dusty roads. Grim faces peering through windows. Memories faded like an old photograph. And constant motion…dragged along by that insistent drum beat and bassline.
39. 23 – Blonde Redhead
4:00 – Sometimes small variations on a single theme are more effective at ratcheting up the tension than trying to create a “big” sound. This bit isn’t tremendously different from the rest, but after all that buildup, a few light touches here and there are more than enough to get you all hot and bothered.
38. Be Less Rude – Frightened Rabbit
1:10 – There’s just something in that voice – I can’t get over it.
37. Then and Not a Moment Before – Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
1:37 – Long-time readers will know that I’m a major sucker for the instrumental interlude, particularly when it features horns. Here’s, it’s the thing that transforms a nice, jangly pop song into one of my favorite tracks of the year.
36. Dead Fish on the Banks – The Goodnight Loving
1:21 – Sometimes, we all just want to be afraid.
35. The Angels Come Around – Rilo Kiley
1:49 – Oh, Jenny – why couldn’t the rest of the record have sounded like this?
34. To the Dogs or Whoever – Josh Ritter
0:41 – The boiling point.
33. Ruby – Utah Carol
0:20 – Just a little whistle, but it makes the whole song for me.
32. Cutting Ice to Snow – Efterklang
2:42 – The clouds broke and on the other side we saw…a great blue expanse of sky. And beyond that, we can only dream.
31. Torn Blue Foam Couch – Grand Archives
2:53 – Look at that, Mat Brooke knows how to rock!
30. Parking Lot – The Coathangers
1:48 – Best scream of the year. Hands down.
29. Apartment Story – The National
0:40 – Have you ever read “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck? Set it in the 21st century, give it a soundtrack, and this is what it would sound like.
28. I Am John – Loney, Dear
2:10 – Remember that scene at the end of Back to the Future where Doc says “where we’re going, we don’t need roads”?
27. Australia – The Shins
2:35 – To quote Inigo Montoya: “I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using.”
26. A Bottle of Buckie – Ted Leo
2:29 – It’s hard to turn down that pipe interlude at 1:30, but there’s just too much energy here to pick anything else. Ted Leo at his best can bring it better than just about anyone, can’t he?
25. Bridge of Sighs – Palomar
0:00 The best opening guitar line of the whole year.
24. Fluorescent Adolescent – Arctic Monkeys
2:29 – Don’t look now, but it turns out the Monkeys have some real musical chops. And how great is the line “you used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your nightdress.”
23. Reinvent the Wheel – Bright Eyes
2:09 – A brief and necessary respite, giving us a chance to notice that little emo-Conor has written a mighty fine piece of rock and roll.
22. Will It Float – The Triangles
0:57 – Yes, it will float.
21. When I Say Go – The 1900s
1:57 – One of the finest choruses in recent years. On this last iteration, the addition of the backing aaah-ohhhs makes my soul feel all warm and fuzzy.
20. The Last Time – The Sinister Turns
2:21 – If you were as bummed as me by the New Pornographers’ lackadaisical effort this year, look no further. These 30 seconds will restore your faith in the existence of the power-pop hook.
19. (Antichrist Television Blues) – Arcade Fire
4:48 – If there’s a better ending for a song this year, I’d like to hear it.
18. John Allyn Smith Sails – Okkervil River
2:30 – Name another band that could even attempt such a brazen move. To take a song so deeply etched in our cultural landscape and make it fit so seamlessly…It’s a cataclysmic, triumphant leap into the long darkness…a sly, sad lament. “John Allyn Smith Sails” is not their best song, but it may be their most audacious.
17. Plastic Pre-Flight Seats – Windmill
0:34 – Wow.
16. Spitting Venom – Modest Mouse
5:00 – This song’s descent into the maelstrom of the extended coda is the moment when the new record (partially) redeems itself. Mostly because it’s the first time that not sounding like old-school Modest Mouse feels like a good thing.
15. Jesus, Walk With Me – Club 8
2:51 – Re: the comment on #19…here you go.
14. Keep on Walking – Scouting for Girls
0:54 – “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.”
13. Beautiful Life – Gui Boratto
All 8 minutes and 30 seconds – Seriously, just try and pick a single moment. This song is like a Mobius strip, somehow given material form, encased in amber, and preserved for all time. When you’re listening it’s impossible to even imagine anything other than this eternal, endless now. The Field may be the sexy pick for best electronic music this year, but I’ll take Gui Boratto any time.
12. New Paltz Waltz – Owen Roberts
1:32 – “Was it enough to say that I love you like the stars, like a dusk red moon, like a ballad on a hollow guitar?” Just try and listen to this without falling in love.
11. Mariella – Kate Nash
2:08 – Everything I love about Kate Nash, condensed into 18 seconds. That voice, that accent, the piano, those handclaps.
10. Casting Agents and Cowgirls – Busdriver
2:06 – You could almost pick any moment at random and it would be just as good.
9. Impossible – Shout Out Louds
0:08 – Can you build a 7-minute song around one simple chord progression? You can if it’s as achingly pure as this one, and it’s never more affecting than here on it’s first arrival.
8. Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
2:31 – This whole section of the song, all the way through the verse and into the chorus, is both one of the finest vocal performances in Bruce’s entire career and also one of the most beautiful and realistic takes on the the deep, soul-bruising aches of love you’ll ever hear in a song. In some ways, it’s Springsteen’s most mature moment as a songwriter, but it’s also one of his most joyful. Imagine that.
7. Black Winged Bird – Nina Persson (The Cake Sale)
2:19 – “I’m still singing to you” – oh, Nina, if only you really were singing to me. Sigh.
6. Chemicals Collide – Cloud Cult
2:24 – The finest moment from the finest record in several years. Close in the running is also every iteration on “Oh God, it’s beautiful” a very simple sentiment which Craig Minowa manages to make sound earth-shattering.
5. The Con – Tegan and Sara
“The Con” is my favorite track, but it doesn’t have any single standout moment, so I’ll instead take the opportunity to point out my two other favorite Tegan and Sara songs, both of which would have also made the top 10.
Dark Come Soon features the single finest musical moment of 2007 at 2:00. I’m not sure it’s possible to say it any better than “So what, I lied? I lie to me, too.” I get weak in the knees just thinking about it.
And then there’s Nineteen. Here, it’s the harmonies starting at 1:51, and culminating with the “love you/love me” section. After six months and a hundred listens, it still gives me shivers every time.
4. Smother + Evil = Hurt – The Kissaway Trail
2:48 – The rest of the song is glorious enough alone, but it’s the coda that sets it apart. It’s what gives this song escape velocity and sends it hurtling off into the great unknown.
3. Subtle Changes – Sambassadeur
2:26 – That galloping beat! Those soaring strings! That voice that wraps around you like your favorite blanket on a cold winter morning. This is a song to be treasured, to be listened to on repeat as you begin the long task of healing a broken heart. It’s the kind of song that reassures you – any world that contains something so beautiful can’t be all bad.
2. Don’t Lose Yourself – Laura Veirs
0:47 – Imagery that could entrance even the most prosaic of souls.
1. Idyllwild – Trembling Blue Stars
1:58 – “A girl whose favorite thing is snow – snow and being alone.” A voice that makes me stop in my tracks, and a line that makes me believe that love is real, and all around us.