Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Top Songs of 2006 

After a handwringing elimination process, this year's top ten songlist runs the gamut from brazilian hiphop to americana, from emocore to indiecool.

It also contains eleven songs, because I just couldn't winnow the list down any further without going into full-blown OCD mode. And five covers, for which I make no apologies.

Eligibility requires a 2006 release date. All songs are downloadable.* Enjoy.
*to download a song, merely click the songtitle as you would any link, and you'll be directed to the Yousendit page for downloading.

10. (tie)
When Doves Cry
The Be Good Tanyas (site)

Mountains O' Things
The Duhks (site)

Two Canadian bands with female vocalists from opposite ends of the trad-alt-folk spectrum cover black American songwriter hits from the mid eighties. Exceptionally well. With banjo.

Ironically, though their playing styles are disparate, the originals were conversely so. The rough backporch plucking of Doves reframes the beatperfection of Prince's original; the crisp, bright acadian-rock turn of Mountains brings the distance of a greek chorus to folkie Chapman's raw, plaintive lament. And so on.

Upside Down
Jack Johnson (site)

Okay, it's from a kids movie, and I can't help visualizing an animated Curious George painting handprints on an elephant's butt at the end, but I'd like to think that even if this weren't my daughter's favorite song, I'd still appeciate the sheer childlike joy of this and the better half of this year's soundtrack. More full than some of this ex-surfer's previous efforts, and less storytold, but for me this finally pulls together all the elements in one from Johnson. Who knew the jungle drums and the bounce of the animated flick were just what that distinctive strumstyle needed?

The Decemberists (site)

Recent release The Crane Wife is still growing on me, but this song stands out, and not just for a production value that finally showcases that quirky, nasal lead as powerfully distinctive, rather than just plain awesomely weird. I still have no idea what this song is really about -- there seems to be some eastasian fairytale backstory -- but the catchy universality of getting swallowed by a whale quietly sticks like gravy in the mind. And oh, those crashing accordian choruses like waves.

Handle With Care
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins w/ Ben Gibbard, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst (site)

Finally, a song that pretends to be nothing more than a fun wheeze almost accidentally transforms a chestnut into one of the catchiest songs this side of January. The original supergrouping from which sprung this poppy hit featured distinctive voices from Orbison to Petty, and Lewis plays the song true to form, bringing in the next generation of Traveling Wilburys with great success, proving once again that the best covers bring new light and life to even the cheesiest of originals.

Heart of Life
John Mayer (site)

Me and a billion twentysomething housewives, I know. But I'm not in it for the top forty hits. There's something about John's simplest songs, the way they capture inner adolescence so perfectly, the sheer joy of hope, the claptonesque guitar, the boy genius. Heart of Life rivals Daughters on my sentimental playlist, and that's saying something, since my first daughter was born when that one first came out. And, hey, Dave Chapelle thinks he's cool.

Mas Que Nada, Sergio Mendes featuring Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas (site)

Everybody's collaboratin' across the genre line these days. Sometimes it even works (see number 3 below, for example). This hiphop samba, featuring the always askew Black Eyed Peas over tradlatin beatmaster Sergio Mendes, is so crisp it teeters on the good side of overproduced, but that's half its charm. The other half is the universally stellar, almost disparate performances. The mix is clean, the players rock, and the whole is better than the parts -- what more could you want? Who knew the samba was so deep?

Tonight We'll Be Fine
Teddy Thompson (site)

Another cover, this one by an avowed addict with a voice and style that transcend his pedigree (say what you will about Richard Thompson's songwriting; his voice really isn't my cup of tea, and nor is Bob Dylan's voice). Originally performed live in 2004 for this year's tribute flick to Leonard Cohen, this plaintive reworking rivals the best of Teddy's album work -- a nice turn from the oft-cheesy coversongs so often cluttering up the soundtrack racks. Thanks to Dad for turning me on to Teddy.

Gnarls Barkley (site)

It was tempting to pick the throttled rage of Ray lamontagne's cover, or perhaps Nelly Furtado's scared little-girl lisp. But the success of the covers only demonstrates just how universal the sentiment, how plastic the motif of insanity. In the end the original reigns supreme: from the phat beats and funky bass jumpstart to the raspy vocals of out-of-nowhere Cee-lo, this one had earworm all over it, and I'm always grinning-glad to see it rise from the shufflechaff.

Incidentally, major props to me for introducing dozens of middle schoolers to this song long before it hit the summer beach boombox crowd. Thanks, blogosphere, for setting me in the groove.

Joshua Radin and Schuyler Fisk (site)

Joshua Radin was kind of a dark horse for me this year; it was September, I had never heard of him, and then, within a week,
  • this song popped out of nowhere
  • someone passed me a live cover of Yaz's Only You
  • his originals turned out to be universally quiet and catchy
  • I fell in love.

A quiet gem off The Last Kiss soundtrack, Paperweight's poetry was supposedly written the night before it was recorded, and I believe it; musically and lyrically, it is one of those perfect, raw, sparse songs that come out whole cloth on those rarest of inspirational nights long past bedtime. We hear Zach Braff's second film is no Garden State, but this song makes it all worthwhile. No idea who Schuyler Fisk is, incidentally, but it's her lyrics that rock.

World Spins Madly On
The Weepies (site)

A nightsong about waking, a mystical spinner about motionlessness and impotent loss: sweetness and light from a harmonic pair of solo-folkies-gone-indieband that took the blogging world by storm this year. Talk about earworms; according to iTunes, I've listened to this song over 120 times since downloading it in April. My daughter knows all the words; she's fallen asleep to it, once or twice, in my arms on the couch, when Mama was out.

I cry to this song sometimes, in the dark.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:30 PM |

Nice list, most of which I hadn't heard before. "Upside Down" will probably be one of my best of 2006 songs.
I've never heard any of these songs! I'm excited, because now I have a new playlist called "Farber's Favorites"! Thank you for sharing them all, I love new music.
Nice list!

I just posted mine and am now kicking myself because I left off the Weepies thinking it was from last year somehow.
Not a bad list... I just dropped by because I saw you on my friends blog www.musicforants.com and i thought I'd read your take. What I expected to find was a list that almost matches my tastes. I found that. What I didn't expect to find was an eloquent and colorful writer that is a pleasure to read. Thank you for making the internet a better place because of your writing style - unlike 95% of other people who post.

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