15 December 2008


12 great songs not on my top ten albums. In alphabetical/iTunes order, by artist:

Alphabeat - "Fascination"
It's too easy to copy the sound of another time and be done with it; this young, heavily '80s-influenced Danish sextet earns bonus points for also capturing the giddy excitement associated with the best pop songs of that era, and for being so darn infectious that they end up sounding more like today than yesterday.

The B-52's - "Juliet of the Spirits"
Gotta love Fred, but over the years, many of the B's best moments have been courtesy of Cindy and Kate ("Give Me Back My Man", "Roam", "Summer of Love"). Add this cascading, shimmering ode to Fellini and feminine awakening to the list - it's a highlight from their more-durable-than-you-would-expect reunion effort FUNPLEX.

Camille, "Cats and Dogs"
"Cats and dogs are not our friends," trills this sweet-voiced french chanteuse over a swaying piano line recalling early Kate Bush, before fast forwarding to a THE DREAMING-era Bush freakout, as she giddily leads call-and-response meows and woofs amidst a fabulous cacophony of barnyard noise.

Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal"
The lyrics may reference the colder months, but the music of this neat, if somewhat overhyped Seattle band sounds positively, blissfully summery, with wide expanses of tom-toms and 12-string guitars filling up space between the song's attention-grabbing a capella harmony bookends.

Hercules and Love Affair - "Blind"
It's more-than-adequate revivalist disco until Antony's androgynous, otherworldly voice comes in and nearly steals the show. Yet, he works with rather than overshadows the backing track, and the yin/yang combo makes for an urgently beautiful marriage.

Marit Bergman - "Out on the Piers"
Concentrating on singles (via a subscription service) rather than albums, she's come up with an unconventional but agreeable assortment of stuff. This gem, a semi-sequel to 2006's "No Party", is a crisp, jaunty, impassioned rise-up-and-unite anthem that seems especially relevant this year.

Mark Brown feat. Sarah Cracknell - "The Journey Continues"
Yet another year without any new material from Saint Etienne, although this collaboration between vocalist Cracknell and producer Brown can't help but sound like a St. Et. track - fortunately, it's as catchy (the propulsive beat) and weird (the eerie, operatic vocal sample woven throughout) as one of their classic singles.

Martha Wainwright - "You Cheated Me"
I respected Wainwright's 2005 self-titled debut well enough but thought it could've used at least one song with a really memorable hook (even brother Rufus had "April Fools" on his debut). With this highlight from her second LP (the wonderfully titled I KNOW YOU'RE MARRIED BUT I'VE GOT FEELINGS TOO), she not only fulfills the criteria but knocks it out of the park. I've spent hours, days even with this song's terrific chorus stuck in my head, and I don't mind (or feel cheated) at all.

MGMT - "Time to Pretend"
Psych-pop that's more pop than psych, sharp rather than precious, less ironic than affectionate, and with a hook that's nearly as unshakable as that of "You Cheated Me".

She & Him - "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
Over the length of an album, Zooey Deschanel's charming but somewhat flat tone starts to grate, but on one song at a time, it occasionally endears - especially on this single, and particularly towards the end when her multiple overdubs lift the track into retro AM-radio heaven.

Steve Wynn - "Manhattan Fault Line"
Wynn is one of my longtime favorite artists, and I'm still trying to figure out his latest album CROSSING DRAGON BRIDGE, an odd folk-rock detour recorded in Slovenia. But this single instantly connects, building slowly through wistful ruminations on the author's past and present until it practically explodes into a joyous, orchestral finale.

The Ting Tings - "Shut Up and Let Me Go"
You may have heard this one in an iTunes commercial. It's really catchy and kinda stupid and owes a sizable debt to Blondie (and maybe the Tom Tom Club). It stands to be this year's equivalent to last year's most co-opted, overplayed song (that would be Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks"). I still can't get enough of it.

12 more songs to download:

Alison Moyet - "A Guy Like You"
Cyndi Lauper - "Rain on Me"
David Byrne and Brian Eno - "Strange Overtones"
Duffy - "Mercy"
Elbow - "The Bones of You"
Kate Nash - "Foundations"
Magnetic Fields, "Drive On, Driver"
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Dig, Lazurus, Dig!"
R.E.M., "Supernatural Superserious"
Sam Sparro, "Black and Gold"
Sparks, "Lighten Up, Morrissey"
Super Furry Animals, "Baby Ate My Eightball"

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