Today is mix CD release day, so here’s my ranking of my favorite 20 songs of 2006 (which, in a different order, comprise the tracklist of the CD). The CD is entitled Year of the Wolf, copies of which are available upon request. (If I see you during the holidays I’m going to hand you a copy even if you don’t request one.) This naming scheme (following last year’s Year of the Phoenix) may or may not continue in the future, but since it worked again this year I went with it.
The rules: Only music released in 2006 (or December 2005) qualifies, and no more than one track is selected from a single album. Generally records which were released earlier in other countries (typically the UK) before a 2006 US release are disqualified, but I have been inconsistent in applying this rule.
Special congratulations to the Decemberists and The Hold Steady, who are returning from last year’s favorite songs list.
20. “Help Us Out” by the Futureheads (from News and Tributes [US release])
This was a bonus track on the US release (and a B-side to one of the British singles), and the runner-up for Best Bonus Track of 2006. (The Art Brut bonus track named there was disqualified from this list due to an earlier British release.) Maybe it’s the way it captures the energy of the Futureheads’ superior debut album, but I liked this track more than any of the non-bonus tracks on the record. A wonderfully frenetic song that races through its two-and-a-half minutes.
19. “I Bet You Looked Good On The Dance Floor” by Arctic Monkeys (from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not)
The Arctic Monkeys were one of the most hyped bands of the year, but this, their key single, lives up to its reputation. A gem of Britrock in the line of the Libertines or Pulp, with clever lyrics and terrific guitar riffs.
18. “I Feel Space” by Lindstrøm (from It’s A Feedelity Affair)
The title is an apt description of the song, gorgeous spacey electronica suitable for some retro-futuristic disco.
17. “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” by Camera Obscura (from Let’s Get Out Of This Country)
This bright-sounding pop-song was a striking opening track for Camera Obscura’s album, so striking that I kept it as the opener for my mix CD.
16. “Roka” by Calexico (from Garden Ruin)
A strong runner-up in the Best Bilingual Song category, Calexico mixes some Spanish vocals into their Southwestern-country style to great effect.
15. “Way Out” by Ellen Allien and Apparat (from Orchestra of Bubbles)
This European electronica collaboration produced some great tracks, none better than the ethereal “Way Out”, which feels like exploring an alien landscape.
14. “Conventional Wisdom” by Built To Spill (from You In Reverse)
Trading off between a spectacular guitar riff and catchy vocals, the first two minutes of the song are rock perfection. So we’ll forgive them the next four minutes of aimless jamming.
13. “Summersong” by the Decemberists (from The Crane Wife)
The Decemberists forgo their usual narrative-heavy songwriting to evoke a bittersweet summer’s day, and the result is the best song on the album.
12. “Set The Fire To The Third Bar” by Snow Patrol (from Eyes Open)
Gary Lightbody makes several attempts on the latest album to recapture the anthematic glory of Final Straw; this duet with Martha Wainwright is the one that best succeeds.
11. “Love & Communication” by Cat Power (from The Greatest)
A simply beautiful song which achieves a nice synthesis between Chan Marshall’s voice and the accompanying Memphis Rhythm Band.
10. “Glasgow Mega-Snake” by Mogwai (from Mr Beast)
If the title conjures an image of a gigantic snake eating Glasgow, it’s an appropriate one. Heavier than usual for Mogwai, a direction they should perhaps go more often.
9. “Pictures of a Night Scene” by Pretty Girls Make Graves (from Élan Vital)
PGMG members shuffle instruments among themselves and trade their usual aggressiveness for a tense and haunted atmosphere.
8. “Marble House” by The Knife (from Silent Shout)
Nearly eveything from The Knife’s eerie record was good, with this track edging out “We Share Our Mother’s Health” as my favorite.
7. “Black Flowers” by Yo La Tengo (from I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass)
A perfectly calm and comforting song that always leaves me feeling peaceful.
6. “Revolver” by Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (from Ballad of the Broken Seas)
Mark Lanegan’s songwriting contribution to this album is the best Americana song of the year, a dark contemplation of life and death.
5. “New Years” by Asobi Seksu (from Citrus)
Somewhere between shoegazing and J-pop lies Asobi Seksu, and this is the best of their fuzzy, blissful pop. I don’t understand the (mostly Japanese) lyrics, but the song does somehow feel like New Year’s Eve.
4. “Hot Soft Light” by The Hold Steady (from Boys and Girls in America)
It was tough choosing just one song from this album, but this is the one I found the catchiest. Craig Finn takes the persona of a guy being questioned by the police, his story backed by the band’s most formidable rock.
3. “The Blues Are Still Blue” by Belle & Sebastian (from The Life Pursuit)
My most-played song of 2006 (it helps that it came out in February), it’s one of those perfect Belle & Sebastian pop songs that I can’t get enough of.
2. “Rough Gem” by Islands (from Return to the Sea)
Originally I thought this song a notch below some of the others on this amazing album, but after multiple plays it kept growing on me. Mixes commentary on the diamond trade with plays on the singer’s name and some thoroughly impenetrable lyrics, on top of Islands’ irresistible calypso-tinged pop, here at its most vibrant and coherent.
1. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio (from Return to Cookie Mountain)
This one astonishing song towers over everything else on an already excellent album. Filled with passion, energy, and primal desire, given powerful expression by Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals, it’s the best song about werewolves since Warren Zevon.