"Lisztomania" or "1901" - Phoenix -- I dare say Phoenix is the best French band since, well, ever. A friend of mine turned me on to their 2004 album, Alphabetical, which has some great laidback, chic alt-pop. But I prefer the band with the vigor they began adding to their sound on It's Never Been Like That (2006) and just about perfected on last year's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. "Lisztomania" and "1901" are so good and ridiculously catchy the rest of the album could've been crap, and I still would've felt fine about buying it. Thankfully, most of the rest is pretty darn good.
"To Kingdom Come" - Passion Pit -- What do you get when you combine a synth bed that apes The Who's "Eminence Front," a synth hook that evokes memories of skating at a roller rink circa 1985, and a singer sounds like he was castrated as a young boy? You get an indescribably addictive song, that's what. Thanks to Andy for introducing me to this song on his Best Of 2009 CD.
"Kick Drum Heart" - The Avett Brothers -- I and Love and You is a good album, but between Rick Rubin's polished production and AB's newfound love of mid-tempo, piano-driven ballads (the title track is the best of those), the album offers little of the band's endearing rambunctious side. With it's indelible plinking piano hook, uptempo beat, slightly goofball lyrics, and gratuitous screaming on the final chorus, "Kick Drum Heart" is a much-needed musical caffeine rush.
"Two Towns from Me" - Blind Pilot -- The duo's debut has plenty of outstanding songs to choose from--"Oviedo," "The Story I Heard," "One Red Thread," and "I Buried a Bone" to name a few--but the exquisite harmonies and beautiful, melancholy chorus make this song resonate with me more than any other tune on the album.
"In These Arms" - The Swell Season -- Glen Hansard's cathartic outbursts are few and far between on Strict Joy and there's nothing as gorgeous as "Falling Slowly," but that doesn't mean he and Marketa Irglova don't muster plenty of emotional pull. The lyrics capture the mixture of sadness, anger, and bruised love that linger after a break up, and even if Marketa isn't meant to be in his arms, the harmonies are a reminder the two are definitely meant to make music together.
"Paradise Cove" - Pete Yorn -- Yorn garnered more press for his collaboration with Scarlett Johansson--The Break Up--(check out "Shampoo" if you haven't heard it) than for his solo album, but Back and Fourth is solid. Most of the album is comprised of low-key acoustic tunes, but "Paradise Cove" harkens back to a bit of the singer-songwriter-meets alt-rock--meets The Smiths--meets a dash of New Wave goodness that made Musicforthemorningafter a great record.
"The Fixer" - Pearl Jam -- Backspacer was a welcome surprise--PJ's best album since '98's Yield--and "The Fixer" was the catchiest song they'd written in a long while and the best meat-and-potatoes rock anthem of the year.
"Some Roads Lead Nowhere" - Matthew Ryan -- If there were a Grammy category for Sad Bastard Song of the Year, this song would win hands down. Ryan's whispery rasp, the spare acoustic guitar, and touches of piano all beautifully convey the heartbreak of the lyrics.
"Little Bribes" - Death Cab for Cutie -- I enjoyed this power pop strut from the Open Door EP better than all but a handful of songs from Narrow Stairs.
"Midnight at the Movies" - Justin Townes Earle -- Like Ryan's tune mentioned above, the music and Earle's vocals perfectly mirror the lyrics' mood--in this case one of loneliness and malaise. His cover of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" is great too.
"What Are You Willing to Lose" - Lucero -- I've never been much of a fan of Ben Nichols' croaking vocals, but I can't resist a good barroom rocker replete with a horn section.
"That Year" - Brandi Carlile -- Simply a gorgeous song.
"Bull Black Nova" or "Wilco" (the song) - Wilco -- "BBN" Quirky, catchy, rocking, and rather unsettling. I'll have another please. "W(ts)" Jeff Tweedy does indeed have a sense of humor--and a great sense of melody.