I love year-end "Best Of" lists, but the music that's important to me in a given year is rarely from that year. I become really involved with a few songs per month, listening to them over and over again. My relationship with music I love hasn't changed fundamentally since I was 13 or so - I become immersed in things very quickly and want them around me always. These are the songs that have held special meaning for me this year. They're organized in a vaguely chronological, vaguely hierarchical fashion - which is to say, not really by any rhyme or reason.
10. Kate Bush - "Suspended in Gaffa"
My mother is an old-school Kate Bush fan. For the last few years she has been attempting to get me into Bush's oeuvre, but beyond a general admiration for its cover I was relatively nonplussed by The Kick Inside, Bush's first album. Until this past January, that is, when I acquired her entire discography after hearing the song "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" on the soundtrack of the middling James McAvoy vehicle Starter For One. I listened to the one-two punch of "Moving" and "The Saxophone Song" while trying to peck out stories in my study late at night; watched the bizarre video for "Wuthering Heights" and its weird YouTube responses; and fell asleep to the sexy three-song progression at the end of the album: "James and the Gold Gun," "Feel It," and "Oh To Be In Love." As my interest in Bush grew, so did my affection for her work, and I came to be as engaged by Hounds of Love, The Dreaming, and Bush's last album, Aerial. I listened to "Suspended in Gaffa" (from The Dreaming) more than any other song, captivated by its evocation of the line between ecstasy and depression.
9. Ladytron - "Ghosts"
I first heard Ladytron during my first year of college, in 2003, when a junior in high school sent me two mix CDs and a twenty-two page handwritten letter explaining the meaning of each song. "Seventeen" was one of the only songs I liked, and Ladytron became one of my favorite bands. On Halloween 2006 I saw them play at Webster Hall with CSS, a show so killer that I purchased tickets to a September 2007 McCarren Pool Chemical Brothers concert just because Ladytron was opening. Unfortunately, not even the arctic cool of this Scottish quintet could save the ultimate lameness of a Chemical Brothers concert. This song, on the other hand, captures what the band does best: glacial statements of emotional entanglement set against a killer beat.
8. CSS - "Believe Achieve"
I bought Cansei de Ser Sexy's 2006 debut after the aforementioned awesome Webster Hall concert. Like a lot of the things I venerate on this blog, CSS's sound has the appropriate quotient of grime to sex. I bought their sophomore effort, Donkey, in August and quickly singled this song out as my favorite. I burnt it onto a CD containing most of the tracks on this list and listened to it as I drove around my hometown, singing along.
7. Dawn Landes - "I'm In Love With The Night"
This beautiful song, for which I could find no corresponding YouTube, was introduced to me indrectly by Chris Onstad, author of Achewood, who linked Landes's song "Twilight" on his character Molly's blog. At the time I was living at a villa in Florence, where I would spend long afternoons writing on an old leather couch in the lobby. After I'd exhausted what the internet could offer me of Landes's songs, I broke down and bought her album Fireproof on iTunes. The entire thing is flawless. The ache in her voice sounds hopeful to me. Also awesome: her cover of Peter, Bjorn and John's "Young Folks":
6. Radiohead - "Lucky"
Although they're probably the most acclaimed band of my lifetime, it wasn't until this year that I "got into" Radiohead. My awakening took place during my time in Florence, when three friends and I went to Milan to see the band play a Roman amphitheater. Unsurprisingly, the band was killer live, especially their rendition of this song.
5. M83 - "Skin of the Night"
I bought M83's album Saturdays = Youth after the A.V. Club noted that "It's hard to imagine finding much to fault in an album that professes a serious devotion to the likes of the Thompson Twins and Kate Bush." Score! The album's spoken word interludes are sometimes embarrassing, but then again, the band is French. They probably think English sounds cool just the way we think French does. This endless unwinding song is as long as a prom night spent waiting for the sun to rise.
4. Cat Power - "Metal Heart"
Really any of the first three tracks on Cat Power's 2008 disc, Jukebox, could have made this list; "New York" and "Ramblin' (Woman)" are just as excellent as "Metal Heart." But the latter is a rerecorded song, originally a track from Moon Pix, so brilliantly reimagined that I didn't recognize it the first few times I heard it.
3. The B-52's - "Dancing Now"
I've always loved The B-52's, probably because I was six years old the summer that "Love Shack" came out. Their sound triggers a Pavlovian response in my brain forcing me to have a good time. I liked all of the songs on Funplex, but I listened to this one more than any other on that leather couch in Florence, dancing very subtly in my seat.
2. Crystal Castles - "Courtship Dating"
I feel like anything intelligent I try to write about Crystal Castles comes out kind of muted, so maybe I'll just be honest. I fucking love Crystal Castles. Their music is the only thing that makes me feel the way all music on Q101 did when I was 12 years old, like I'm riding on top of a train and the wind is in my face and anything is possible. I goddamn love this song. I can't explain how much I fucking love it. This band makes me want to punch somebody in the face and then make out with them.
1. The New Pornographers - "Centre for Holy Wars"
I am horrified that I can't find a YouTube link for this song. The best I can do is a kind of suspect last.fm link. It's a shame, because I've listened to this track (from Mass Romantic, the band's 2000 debut) more than any other song this year. I listen to it when I'm getting ready to go out, slipping across the wood floor of my apartment in my socks, and I listen to it when I'm hopping around in my sweats and glasses, hyping myself up to go running. I listen to it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Maybe the New Pornographers are old news, but this year they - and especially this song - were big news to me. Something about this track has made me unflappably happy. Maybe it was the chorus, the soaring words "exactly where we are" - a sort of mantra about self-acceptance, if you will - that put "Centre for Holy Wars" at the top of my list.