I've been doing this list since 2008. It's fun, because what's more enjoyable than pointing out the crashing gong in 'I Was a Lover'? or the crazy "Because you're miiiiiiine" in 'I Put a Spell on You'? This list celebrates the little moments in music that make us stop for a second and go 'whoa'.
I wish I could put the "BOOM BA-DOOM BOOM" from "Superbass" on this list, but that came out in 2010, so even though it's the single part that got stuck in my head most this entire year, it gets retroactively put in the Top 10 for last year.
Spotify links for most, Grooveshark links for some, YouTube links for others.
20. Tyler, the Creator - Yonkers
"...stab Bruno Mars in his gotdamn esophagus..."
'Yonkers' is filled with tasty lines, but I do like the one about brutally murdering the pop singer that my wife is obsessed with most of all.
19. Sims - When it Rolls In
The most surprising (and best) song on Bad Time Zoo builds up the tension, only to release it with a sigh instead of the usual angry out-lashing. Hearing Sims sing is different - to hear him sound defeated, then shrug it off by saying that he'll be alright no matter how bad things can be is uplifting.
18. Cults - You Know What I Mean
The Gear Change
This site calls it a "gear change". It's when the singer changes keys (almost always up) for the last run through the song (usually the last chorus... think the change in "Man in the Mirror"). Usually it's a bad thing (the site in question unequivocally states that it's always a bad thing). Cults' great song "You Know What I Mean" sort of plays with the trope - it's not quite the same melody, so I'm unsure of whether it fits or not. What I am sure of is the fact that little key change brings the song to a completely different level. Maybe the gear change can be a good thing sometimes?
17. Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
"Can't no preacher man save my soul..."
I vaguely remember Joy Williams as a CCM singer. I recall her doing some sort of bubbly pop music, I dunno, I could be way off - it was a different time, man. Either way, as half of the Civil Wars, she transforms into a folky, vaguely ominous spectre. On the title track of their quite good debut, Barton Hollow, she and bandmate John Paul White weave down a dark path, culminating in the line "Ain't going back to Barton Hollow/Devil gonna follow me e'er I go/Won't do me no good washing in the river/Can't no preacher man save my soul". Nicely done.
16. The Vaccines - All in White
"Oh my God, I think I'm hearing double"
I'm not sure why this particular line resonates with me. I just really like the great feeling of frustration to it.
15. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Summer of All Dead Souls
Trail of Dead have done the epic rock thing pretty well for a while now, finally getting the synthesis down on their last CD, Century of Self. In the opening guitar riff of 'Summer of All Dead Souls', they get to let loose with a excellent squall of a riff. I'm reasonably sure that there were plenty of times this summer that nearby drivers looked at me in puzzlement as I drove by them, furiously drumming to a beat they couldn't hear, bobbing my head in time with the guitar.
14. Kurt Vile - Runner Ups
"My best friend's long gone, but I got.....runner ups..."
Kurt Vile's song "Runner Ups" might be one of the more depressing songs of the year. Lines like "my whole life's been one long running gag" and "I don't know if it's real, but it's how I feel" get the point across, but the cynicism and venom he delivers the lyric in question tops it all. "My best friend's long gone, but I got.... runner ups...yeah".
13. Dessa - 551
The vibraphone intro
'551' was a hell of a song to begin with, but the vibraphones that begin the Castor, the Twin version really bring out the sadness and inevitable regret espoused in the song itself. They're so haunting that I kind of want to look up more vibraphone music, but feel that nothing could quite top what I've already heard here.
12. Viva Voce - Diamond Mine
Anita Robinson sighs and plays the guitar
Anita Robinson might just be one of my favorite people in music. She shreds on the guitar, she knows how to make a song either rock or chill, as needed, and her voice is a true melter. In "Diamond Mine", all she has to do is sort of sigh and play a little guitar with the perfect bit of distortion... yup, that'll do.
11. We Are Augustines - Juarez
"Got a drunk for a mother, got a saint for a brother"
I only heard this song for the first time a little under a month ago, but it caught on quick. "Juarez" is the vaugely autobiographical song about a trip to find lead singer Billy McCarthy's father. Toward the end of the song, McCarthy just repeats the closing line of the chorus "Got a drunk for a mother/Got a saint for a brother" for one of the most haunting codas I've heard in a long time.
10. The National - Exile Vilify
The National manage to do this a lot. Their song from the Portal 2 soundtrack might be one of the most lyrically sparse they've made. Once the guitars and strings begin to swell for the second half of the song, all Matt Berninger has to do is sing "Vilify/Don't even try" to put the cherry on top and perfect the whole thing.
9. Doomtree - Fresh New Trash
"Rap won't save you"
I cop to two things. One, I've never been all that impressed with Mike Mictlan (he just doesn't have the vibe that I'm looking for when I'm listening to Doomtree records). Two, "Fresh new Trash" is a lesson in wastig a pretty good beat. Between listening to Cecil Otter waste four bars talking about the level in his headphones and Sims end seemingly every line "hey! alright okay!", there's precious little being done with one of the best beats Doomtree has had to work with. Then Mictlan comes in for the last verse. He lays waste to it, sounding fresher than I can remember him ever sounding, and closing by absolutely snarling "Rap won't save you", a great callback to one of the few other songs I've enjoyed him on. Maybe I'll give Deity For Hire a second chance...
8. Bon Iver - Perth
2:33 into the first song on Bon Iver's new record, one could be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed. Justin Vernon still sounds like Justin Vernon, the arrangement might be a bit lusher, but nothing that would've sounded particularly out of place on For Emma, Forever Ago. Suddenly, a wave of guitars hits, and the track is turned on its head. It sets the mood perfectly for the dramatic leap forward that takes place over the the rest of them album.
7. The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day
The instrumental bridge bleeds seamlessly into the hook
I have a particular fondness for songs that don't slow down for the bridge, choosing instead to maintain the same breakneck pace through the entire song. As if there weren't enough reasons to love 'Buy Nothing Day', it has a great example of this. The bridge doesn't serve as a breather, it just reloads and amps you up for the hook - just the way I like it.
6. The Antlers - Putting the Dog To Sleep
"Prove to me/I'm not gonna die alone..."
The "dog euthanasia as metaphor for the end to a relationship" of "Putting the Dog to Sleep" could have been hamfisted and trite. Instead, through lead singer Peter Silberman's verging-on-unhinged vocals, it becomes a gut punch of an album-ender. When he yelps out "rove to me/I'm not gonna die alone/Put your arm 'round my collarbone/Open the door...Don't lie to me/If you're putting the dog to sleep/That pet you just couldn't keep/Couldn't afford" you believe. You have to.
5. Pains of Being Pue in Heart - Belong
"In hospitals, in shopping malls..."
The song seems to be about an off-again/on-again relationship. The bridge (where this comes from) talks about all the places in the world where perfectly normal people do their thing - admitting that the object of the song is special while simultaneously seeming to confess that that fact just isn't enough. None of that matters, though, because there's dynamics at work which have been in short supply since the Smashing Pumpkins heyday.
4. Elbow - The Birds
"Looking back is for the birds"
Guy Garvey knows his way around an epic conclusion to an epic tune ("The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver", etc), but he outdoes himself with the conclusion to the 8 minute song "The Birds". The song has been building the entire time, but Garvey keeps it in check until without warning he brings it all back mid sentence.
3. Virtual Boy - Thrust
The string section makes an appearance
I mentioned on Monday that I don't quite 'get' dubstep. I might not be in the target audience, but I can still appreciate a big beat, and I'm an absolute sucker for a big beat combined with those cheesy fake string sections that were all the rage for a couple minutes a few years ago. "Thrust" pushes all those right buttons, but it makes you wait, stretching out the song, playing at what's ahead. Then right at the end, it bursts wide open, tacking on as much as it can. The string section almost seems over the top, but it fits right in.
2. TV on the Radio - Second Song
The glorious transition between the verse and the chorus
It's a fairly simple wordless vocalization, combined with a sort of melty swell to a ridiculously funky chorus, but there wasn't a single moment in music that made me smile the way this one did. There hasn't been one for a while. I sort of doubt there will be one for some time.
1. Cage the Elephant - Shake Me Down
"Even on a cloudy day"
While taking my brother back to the airport this summer, he played me "Shake Me Down" for the first time. It began as a fairly standard alt-rock song. Good enough, but nothing amazing. I was about to compliment him on his selection, but he raised a finger to silence me. "Just hold on for a moment", he said.
Then it hit. For a minute or so, the song went into hyper-epic mode, and everything aligned perfectly into a minute or so of rock perfection.
The song finished. "Whoa" was about the only thing I could think to say.
"Right??" he said with a smile.
Then he hit repeat.