Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Top 27 of 2007

Warning: Epic (read "lengthy") post ahead...

Now that we are a full 44 days (Update: 54 days) into the year, the Grammys have come and gone (yawn), and I have proven that I can maintain an album purchasing rate of 1 disc per week so far, I think it is finally safe to post my favorite 27 songs which debuted in the year A.D. 2007. For our latest revolution around the sun, this planet found itself treated to new releases from some veterans (Radiohead, Wilco, The White Stripes), second or third albums from some rising stars (The Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams), a few newcomers (Mika, Feist, Jon Foreman), and a couple very solid musical films (Once, Across the Universe, I'm Not There). Who made my list? Who didn't? Who prevailed? How big of an idiot am I because I don't include your favorite song? Find out now....

Top 27

27. "Wild Mountain Nation" by Blitzen Trapper (Wild Mountain Nation)
To begin the countdown, a song from these Pacific northwest newcomers Blitzen Trapper that tends to make me double check my iTunes to see if somehow I accidentally started playing my "Get the Led out" playlist (but then I hear the vocals and realize there is only one Robert Plant).

26. "White Tooth Man" by Iron & Wine (Shepherd's Dog)
You may notice that this will not be the last track from I-dub's latest release on the countdown. It sits here because it typifies everything I love about this album; in a word, layers. Very thick layers.

25. "Icky Thump" by The White Stripes (Icky Thump)
The amateur drummer can always count on the Stripes for a fun one to pipe through the headphones in the practice room. On the other hand, try playing Jack's guitar/organ (?) solo...

24. "Come Right Out and Say It" by Relient K (Five Score and Seven Years Ago)
I must have a soft spot for Matt Thiessen's songs about girls. Or maybe the classic RK style on this track resonates with the 8th grader deep inside me. Either way, I love it.

23. "Deathbed" by Relient K (Five Score and Seven Years Ago)
Proof that, as the band approaches the 1 decade mark, they have indeed matured significantly. They again show their versatility in slightly tweaking genre and coming away with something entirely new, and entirely impressive. Fun Fact: Jon Foreman's first of several appearances on the top 27 countdown occurs here... right around 10:01

22. "Two" by Ryan Adams (Easy Tiger)
Part of me feels like he's a little too country for me to consider myself a fan. This track even features a good bit of pedal steel, which is almost always certain to repulse me. Ryan Adams is just too amazing, that's all there is to it.

21. "O, For a Thousand Tongues To Sing" by David Crowder Band (Remedy)
This track also takes the award for year's best hymn remake. Bonus: It's a Charles Wesley one. DCB has already proven their ability to transform such time-honored classics into epic, modernized favorites for a new generation, and here is no exception.

20. "Something To Believe In" by Aqualung (Memory Man)
This song has been infecting me rapidly ever since my roommate first played it for me back in September. I thought it was "okay" then; its well-thought-out instrumentation and finely-tuned dynamics won me over in the end.

19. "Say It To Me Now" by Glen Hansard (Once)
Anyone who has seen the film will vividly remember their first encounter with the charmingly Irish Hansard there on the dark streets of Dublin. Anyone who hasn't seen the film should call me up and we'll watch it together. This one showcases his passionate vocals and double-time strumming that is just straight-up cool. Stay tuned for more...

18. "Apologize (feat. OneRepublic)" by Timbaland (Shock Value)
I am tempted to simply type the phrase "guilty pleasure" here, but would that be fair to the intricate and generally appealing fusion of hip-hop instrumentation, pop vocals, and a Coldplay-esque chord progression? Probably.

17. "(Fork and Knife)" by Brand New (Single)
The markedly more lighthearted, piano-driven follow-up to their last LP (The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me). This was a pleasant surprise for many of us who enjoyed "Devil and God" but were probably starting to do a little too much moping.

16. "The Devil Never Sleeps" by Iron & Wine (The Shepherd's Dog)
As catchy as I've ever heard Sam Beam. Completely different from the rest of the album. Wonderfully executed genre exploration. Smooth blues piano. Yes.

15. "Hey Ya" by Obadiah Parker (Obadiah Parker Live)
Here is the best cover to make the list. If you had never heard the OutKast version, this would be completely legit. Also, props on sharing a name with the shortest book in the Old Testament. Obadiah means "Yahweh's servant." Thanks Wikipedia.

14. "Grace Kelly" by Mika (Life in Cartoon Motion)
Not only does this song remind me of my little brother, who had it as his ringtone for most of '07, but it also feels like a (resurrected) Queen concert. There's even a lyrical nod to Mercury himself. I just used this word 2 songs ago, but it's just... catchy.

13. "Old Dirt Hill (Bring That Beat Back)" by Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds (Live at Radio City)
I can remember hearing this one for the first time, piped in through the atrociously obnoxious speakers at Starbucks. It stands out in my memory because I found myself asking the person across the table from me to actually stop talking for a minute to finish listening to the song (it was so loud we had no other choice...but I didn't mind). I immediately went home and purchased Live at Radio City. This is a fantastic version of my favorite song from Dave's latest (most mediocre) studio effort with DMB.

12. "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (Once)
"Take this sinking boat and point it home..." The tune that bookends the beautiful relationship featured in Once, providing sonic context for one of the most memorable scenes in a music film (the one at the piano in the music shop, duh). Solid.

And now, the top dogs, the cream of the crop...

11. "Impossible Germany" by Wilco (Sky Blue Sky)
When I try to articulate the warmth in my heart that I experience when I hear this one, words seem to fall short. I've heard a good deal of criticism coming Jeff Tweedy's way for Wilco's latest effort in the recorded medium. Critics bemoan the cleaning up of his act, the significantly lighter tone of an album written post-rehab, the latest iteration of the oft-shifting collection of musicians that is Wilco. My questions include: When did we start criticizing (and stop complimenting) these guys for exploring new directions? Can we just enjoy the fact that this man has gotten his life back on track and is using his art to celebrate? I, for one, celebrate whenever I pop this album in my barely functioning car stereo (which is often). After all, music is about expressing life as it is, in all of its phases, mountain-tops and barrel-bottoms alike. The tone of this record is a testament to the authenticity with which Tweedy writes: he sits down in my passenger seat and tells me about how life has been lately; it's been good.

10. "Intervention" by The Arcade Fire (Neon Bible)
One of my good friends back in ol' Caintuck used to call me up on summer nights and we'd go out for Krispy Kreme and milk. We'd come back to his apartment and sit and eat and talk and laugh and it was all very good... so good, in fact, it made us angry. We would seriously just get mad. Maybe this is just me, but some things are just so purely good that they invoke in me an emotional response that somehow manifests itself as, well, anger. Maybe it's more like an exasperated joy. I'm doing a poor job of explaining. Regardless, this song? Same deal.

9. "The Cure for Pain" by Jon Foreman (Fall - EP)
See if you can listen to Jon's lyrics and not absolutely fall in love with everything that he is doing. This is the lead-off track from his first solo release, and it completely sets the stage for the four seasons project. I read in an interview that he wrote this song one night when he had realized that his band had been making music for about a decade. I'll just let this snippet speak for itself:
"I have been playing music in Switchfoot for about ten years. During that period, I have been fighting pain or running away from it in a myriad of ways. And yet the pain is a constant. I have had some amazing moments singing gravity away but the water keeps on falling. I began to think the suffering I see around me, I think of the pain of a grandmother dying of cancer. Of a friend killed by a train. I think of the pain of death, of failure, of rejection, the pain of a father losing his only son. And I came to the conclusion that I cannot run from pain any longer." (Source:
Listening to Jon Foreman will make you a better person.

8. "Remedy" by David Crowder Band (Remedy)
Something about the title track from DCB's latest strikes an indie-rock chord deep within me; yet it still retains the distinction of being an incredibly thoughtful and expressive song of worship. Major themes:
- Humanity's absolute need and dependence on exactly the sort of grace/rescue (a.k.a. "remedy") that God offers via His son, Jesus.
- Christ's incarnation and immanent return.
- The difficulty we have at truly understanding the previous two points.
- Beautiful instrumental swells.

7. "Boy With a Coin" by Iron & Wine (The Shepherd's Dog)
If you read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (2007's Pulitzer Prize winning novel), the images in this song should resonate in a special way for you. If you haven't, this song is still really good. It's a bit of a departure from Sam Beam's typically "stripped-down" sound: When I've played this album for people, they say, "This is Iron & Wine?" It is a more heavily produced recording, but I absolutely love the new direction. This album wins the award for most spins in my Discman as I read before bed (yes, Discman; you know you still have one somewhere).

6. "When Your Mind's Made Up" by The Frames (The Cost)
Many of you may have heard this one during Once (previously mentioned above, see #'s 12 & 19), but how many of you heard it before you watched it? Well if you had listened to Glen Hansard's band's latest album, you probably would have. Their version of this song is a little more electrified (not to mention more intense) than the one from the movie. I love it for multiple reasons, the biggest being that it is in 5/4 time. Dave Brubeck would be proud.

5. "You Are My Face" by Wilco (Sky Blue Sky)
I want to pretend like the lyrics to this song have some deep significance, but the more I think about them, they make less and less sense. And yet, I like them. They're so ambiguous that they seem to fit so many different situations, as if I could quote every line at any given point in my day and at least one of them would be relevant. Above all, the guitar playing in this song is just well done. It's the second track on Sky Blue Sky, but you really feel like, at about 1:30 in, the album actually gets going; it's as if the tap had been at a trickle before, and now it's really flowing. To fully appreciate, listen to the whole disc in one sitting.

4. "Reckoner" by Radiohead (In Rainbows)
Between Phil Selway's smooth jazz drumming, Thom Yorke's quintessential falsetto, and the driving rhythm guitar/organ, the aura created by this tune is, in a word, catchy: not a word I typically associate with this band. And yet, freed from their contract with EMI, and releasing the album with a choose-your-own-price scheme, Radiohead proves that they continue to make innovative, yet completely enjoyable (not to mention sophisticated) alternative rock music. Now if I just could understand what Yorke was singing, I'd comment on the lyrics...

3. "1234" by Feist (The Reminder)
I hope that if you heard this song (as so many others did) on the iPod commercial, you immediately went and watched the full video. Call me mainstream indie, but the chipper brass lines and meandering banjo featured here are just infectious. If you want to drive Kerrie nuts, just sing "I declare a thumb war" after the first line of the song. I learned that quickly. It's awesome. I have high hopes for future Feist fanfare.

2. "Lord, Save Me From Myself" by Jon Foreman (Fall - EP)
Listening to Bob Dylan lately has helped me better understand that to make music that really says something is probably one of the more noble pursuits to which a human being can aspire. In my humble opinion, no one else can do so as well as Jon; not even Bob. It would not have been difficult to simply stick his EP, Fall, at the top 6 slots on this list and just be done with it. But I think that "Lord, Save Me" captures the heart of the simplicity and truthfulness of his work. The prayer offered here displays a level of contemplative righteousness which I would hope to have every day of my life. I suppose I'll have to settle for just listening to it every day instead.

...and at the top spot....

1. "Keep The Car Running" by The Arcade Fire (Neon Bible)
I've thought about how I would defend this as my choice for the top slot on the list. It seems like the sort of thing I should do on a blog entry such as this. However, in lieu of defending the song's position, I will simply comment on what it does for me:

If I had to tell you what this song's about in a word, I'd choose "departure."

There is a feel of urgency that runs throughout the song, lyrically, instrumentally, and vocally. What are Arcade Fire so urgent about, however? Are they committing some sort of crime? Who is after them? Why would the be in such a hurry to depart as to keep the car running?

This song prompts in me thoughts of the apocalypse. There are images of visions in dreams of a city, of someone coming to take the singer away. Coupled with the notion of urgency is the exhortation to be prepared for something, a coming whose time is unknown. Listening to this with my headphones on and the lights off makes me feel like I'm taking part in the dream that's being described. The instruments convey the same urgent yet dreamy mood.

Ultimately, this song both frightens me and at the same time, gives me a restful sort of peace. It's the same feeling that comes over me as I contemplate the day of the Lord's return, or falling asleep, or even dying: it terrifies and attracts me all at once.


Well, that's it. I've not always given enough credit to some of these songs, and to some, I've probably ascribed a bit too much. Regardless, I can honestly say that each of them has been significant to me at various points throughout the year. Really, I think that music is so effective at evoking an emotional response because it can be so strongly tied to memories and events and people. It is resonant with the soul. The notes and rhythms represented above are the echoes of the past 365 days of my life, and each time I listen to them, I can almost detect them reverberating on the walls of my memory, like a sonic journal. Yeah, a sonic journal. I like that.

Other Categories...

Honorable Mention:
"Name" by Derek Webb (The Ringing Bell)

Songs technically discovered too late to be included (but almost certainly would have been on the top 27):
"New Soul" by Yael Naim (Self-titled)
"Fake Empire" by The National (Boxer)

Best electronic song:
"Someone Great" by LCD Soundsystem (Sound of Silver)

Best male vocal interlude featured in movie trailer:
"Girl" by Jim Sturgess (Across The Universe Soundtrack)


Anonymous said...

Aw, Ben, we have similar musical tastes. =)


Patrick said...

Benjamin. I miss you. I am excited about the possibilities. I love your music list. I miss you. I love your blog. Gunner needs someone to cuddle with. I miss you. I envision endless summer nights of contemplation, laughter, and starry starry bliss. Perhaps coffee as well? I miss you.

I want to listen to as much music as you do. I need new bands.

I'm calling you on Monday or perhaps Sunday.

Corman said...

I could compliment you on your well chosen list, but I shall do two things instead.

First: Blog shout-outs are the best, and I'm touched a) that those moments were as special to you as they were to me and b) that you connect those moments with such a freaking awesome song.

Secondly: Take a special someone into a lonely field when the stars are full in the sky, lie down on a blanket and play The Frames "Star Star." If you haven't heard it, don't listen to it before that moment. If you have heard it, there's a good chance you've already done the above. If possible, use the live version, as it's extra magical.

Kshanez said...

Thanks for the shout out...

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