Is it just me, or did every second song released this year have a lyrical theme lifted directly from Trooper’s “Raise a Little Hell”? It seems logical in a way, given the state of the world, but there comes a point when enough is enough. “Good Girls” never feels like a retread, though; it’s a peppy, playfully seductive song that sounds like it just stepped out of Motown in the ‘60s, changed its dress, put on some new shoes, and walked straight into 2011 without anyone batting an eye.
9. "KMAG YOYO" - Hayes Carll
It was absolute agony picking a song from Hayes Carll’s all-around solid KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories, but in the end I went with the title track, a Dylanesque fever dream in which Carll perfectly sums up the life of a man that finds himself in way, way over his head. Like with any good shaggy-dog story, the fun is in the telling, but I will say that Carll’s eye for details (“Ended up in Abilene/Working in a Dairy Queen”) is as impeccable as always, and that once you finish listening to “KMAG YOYO”, you feel the same sort of happy exhaustion that you might feel after finishing a really good book.
8. "Set It Free" - Sarah Slean
Like KMAG YOYO, Sarah Slean’s double
and Sea was an embarrassment of riches when it came to song quality, so picking only one of the record’s eighteen tracks for this list was initially a daunting task. “Set It Free”, however, seemed to be the most appropriate selection, not only for how innovative the song sounds, but also for Slean’s utilization of a considerably worn-out lyrical theme – “just get happy” – in a refreshingly modern way. Not only that, but whenever it comes up on my iPod or the radio, I immediately feel better – and any song that does that is a winner in my opinion. album Land
7. “Edge of the Moon” – Tori Amos
I’ve been listening to classical music since I was a little kid. Recently, though, I’ve started growing apathetic towards it – mostly because, in the course of developing a relationship with this musical tradition, I’ve come to one conclusion: for a piece to stick with me, I have to be engaged. If I don’t feel a visceral connection, forget it. And a lot of classical music out there is what I like to call "pomp without circumstance" - sure, it's technically impressive, but I don't feel any emotion behind it.
That’s part of, but not entirely why, “Edge of the Moon” is so remarkable. From a brilliant opening (“Your heart grabs my hand”) that rises to an exhilarating crest and then settles into a gorgeous, heartfelt ending, it’s a strikingly personal, yet completely relatable, work. Like all of its parent album Night of Hunters, “Edge of the Moon” was carefully adapted by Amos from a classical piece – in this case, Bach’s Flute Sonata – and transforms its source material into something that gives me hope I can rekindle a passion for classical music once again.
6. “Leaves, Trees, Forest” – Dan Mangan
“Leaves, Trees, Forest” is undoubtedly a career highlight for Dan Mangan – and considering he’s already written songs like “Road Regrets” and “Sold”, that’s saying something. It’s one of the few songs I’ve heard this year that could properly be called ‘sumptuous’, reminding one of psych-folk and Smile-era pop yet sounding completely original at the same time. Mangan has always had a knack for inventive, yet wholly relatable, imagery, and when he growls “My heart is a ghost / He drinks and he smokes and he keeps me awake,” it feels like a sucker punch straight to the heart.