Friday, 23 December 2005

2005: A Year in Music [Part 2: Top 10 songs of the year]

I want to get something straight from the outset. This is not a singles list. Firstly, not a lot of music I listen to lends itself to the single format. So while I'm dying to talk about how Kate DeAraugo's Maybe tonight cash-in meant a lot to me in 2005, I won't.

Instead, I'm going to talk about my favourite songs of 2005. Just choice cuts, regardless of how well known they are. Some of these will be more well-known than others. Some of them were singles, but that's not why I chose them. I made a playlist of these 10 songs on my iPod, and it's a fantastic playlist. It definitely helped to reassure me that I'd made the right decision by including them in my top 10 songs of the year.

So here we go...

10. From which I came / A magic world - The Eels

This is the first "real" song on the Eels' double album Blinking lights and other revelations (the first being one of several instrumental "title" tracks which is reprised at various points of the album). And it's a corker.

It starts with an epic fade-in, giving way to some backwards stuff remniscent of Beatles circa 1966. There's a bit of what sounds like cello thrown in after that, before a guitar strum gives way to E's reverb-soaked vocals.

As brilliant as this song is on a musical level, it's the lyrics which shoot it into the stratosphere. E talks about his birth as if he is some genius freakazoid who was completely conscious of what was going on. It's an early sign of optimism on an album that covers a gamut of emotions.

9. Darlinghurst nights - The Go-Betweens

Robert Forster's songs on Go-Betweens albums (always 50% of each album) are always the growers. It happened with almost every one of his songs on their masterpiece 16 lovers lane. And it happened on their newie Oceans apart as well.

Sometimes his songs sound too smart for their own good, which is why they take so long to sink in. His vocals aren't exactly radio-friendly either, compared to Grant McLellan's more polished pipes. And those lyrics? Don't get me started with those. I mean what is he talking about?

Gut rot cappuccino, gut rot spaghetti
Gut rock rock 'n' roll through the eyes of Frank Brunetti

But after 5-10 listens this songs starts sounding amazing. Because it is amazing. Bobby is up there with Paul Kelly as one of the great Aussie "storyteller" songwriters. And while this isn't his War and peace, there's a much better chance you'll follow this one through until the end.

8. Keep the dream alive - Oasis

Oasis are the definitive chorus band. Many bands are capable of writing a great melody, but incorporating said melody into a brilliant chorus is another thing entirely. They have done it many times in the past, and this is a textbook example on their excellent new album Don't believe the truth.

While there are probably more interesting songs on the album, none of them sound like they have been designed for a stadium singalong like this one. Which made me even more pissed off that they didn't play it live when I saw them in December.

All in all, this is a perfectly constructed song. The first verse is pretty raw and doesn't really let you in on the brilliance that is about to follow. The second verse has Liam singing about "[being] at the crossroads waiting for a sign", a poignant lyric from a band who has certainly been around in the last decade and is trying to establish their place in the future.

Then the chorus hits. And it's gold. Pure gold.

7. This time - The Drones

The closing track on their blues-rock epic Wait long by the river and the bodies of your enemies will float by (even the album title is epic!), this is one of those classic unknown tracks that is hidden away at the end of an album. Heard by few, but loved and cherished by those lucky few who get to hear them. My brother Danny thinks that this sounds like a lost Love track from their Forever changes album. While I do find it hard to hear that comparison, there's no doubt that it does sound like a classic track from the era.

6. Into the woods - My Morning Jacket

You know when you hear a song that just feels like it is going to become a lost classic in years to come? Well this is one of those songs to me. Notice that I said lost classic. No, this won't be a well known or popular song. It's one of the minor songs on their Z album, not one of the songs that someone would mention as one of the standouts from the album.

It's got a great 3/4 waltz beat, Jim James' fantastic falsetto and just the right amount of whimsy to make it sound like a track that should have been on The soft bulletin but wasn't. And it gets my nod for the best (or at least funniest) lyrical couplet of the year: A good shower head, and my right hand. The two best lovers that I ever had.

But I think it's the weird choir that starts at about the 4:30 mark that makes this song what it is for me. Just when you think it can't get any more addictive, it does. It's always the little things which make the difference.

5. Sing me spanish techno - The New Pornographers

Every now and then, someone releases a perfect pop song. This is one of those songs.

Carl Newman's songwriting praises have been done to death by the indie music press for the last few years, so I'm not going to repeat those. You can enjoy the verses and dig the chorus of this song. But it's the bridge of the song which makes it the sweetest song you've heard in a long time. Traveling at godspeed, over the hills and trails...

Seriously, you have to hear this song. Art Brut sang about writing the song that was going to make Israel and Palestine get along. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is the type of song that is going to cause Israel and Palestine to get along. For it is impossible to think about hurting anyone while you are listening to a melody as sweet as this.

4. I'll believe in anything - Wolf Parade

I'm not the first person to praise this song and I won't be the last. Like a short guy who has suddenly increased in height by 2 inches between his 16th and 17th birthday, this is a grower. First time I heard it, it sounded like noise. Spencer Krug's vocals were whiny, the lyrics were obtuse and it was quite frankly a mess of a song.

Give it time, and it will embed itself under your skin. This is one of the most musically and lyrically intense songs I have heard in a long time. It shouldn't feel good listening to this. But just try listening to the last two minutes of this song while driving 100 down the freeway, and tell me it isn't one of the greatest things you've ever heard. I dare you.

3. The two sides of Monsieur Valentine - Spoon

I've got a confession to make. I am in love with Britt Daniel's voice. Before you go off and buy me a ticket to next year's mardi gras, I'd like to clarify that it's purely a platonic love - kind've the same love George Costanza had for that cool dude in the
MaƱana episode of Seinfeld.

He just has the coolest rock star voice. Some praise Jack White, but Jack White sounds like lumpy gravy compared to this guy. It's got that perfect nasal thing happening, kind've like Jonathan Richman from The Modern Lovers. It's just so goddamn cool. Have I said that it's cool? Glad I got that outta the way.

Anyway. Cool voice. Perfect pop song. Nuff said.

2. You are my sister - Antony & The Johnsons (featuring Boy George)

On the other end of the voice spectrum is Antony. His androgynous vibrato hardly has the "cool rock star" tag attached to it, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's one of the most stunning voices I have heard in a long time. And who's this that he has pulled out of obscurity into one of the greatest guest vocals in years? None other than the Culture Club man himself.

I'd probably call this song the centrepiece of the superb I am a bird now album. I could almost pick any song from that album. But it's the camaraderie of this song and the complementing vocals of Antony and Boy George which make this one of my picks of the year.

1. John Wayne Gacy, Jr. - Sufjan Stevens

In a pick which is sure to spark interest in at least one of the readers of this blog (he's looking at you McBean), this harrowing portrait of the infamous serial killer is my pick for song of the year.

Sufjan's superb album Illinois covers a lot of ground in its 74 minute running time. But no part is more emotionally effective than the three minutes and nineteen seconds that make up this song.

Musically, it's a haunting piano-based indie-folk melody with gentle guitar strumming on top of it all. Lyrically, it starts out as a chilling look at Mr Gacy and what people who knew him thought about him. Eventually it gets to the details, and that's when it really pulls on the emotional heartstrings.

A good vocalist will merely sing a song. It takes someone special to feel a song. When Sufjan sings

Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God...

and he quivers and sounds like he is on the brink of still affects me every time I listen to it.

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