Once again, we have ground rules: I like three-minute pop songs. So, this isn’t exactly comprehensive and varied. I like what I like, that is all.
So, here’s the list, with occasional videos and live performances:
10. Feist, “The Reminder”/Emma Pollack, “Watch the Fireworks”
A lot of people are thoroughly annoyed by “1234” because of the iPod commercial, but I’m not one of those people. It’s a fantastic song, and Ms. Feist won some well-deserved success from it. But people who dug that shouldn’t forget Ms. Pollack, who mines similar territory (maybe?) and should be equally popular. Or at least sell more than five CDs.
9. Len Price 3, “Rentacrowd”
Blimey, it’s The Who and/or The Kinks and/or any British invasion band circa 1968. It’s great garage pop, where 12 of 13 songs clock in under 3 minutes. Oddly enough, no one in the band is named Len Price.
8. Radiohead, “In Rainbows”
For what it’s worth, I paid $8 for the download version. Radiohead is back to songs instead of “sonic soundscapes,” though there’s still some nutty stuff in here. It’s somewhere north of “OK Computer,” but south of “Hail to the Thief.” And I can never remember which song is which. Gah.
7. PJ Harvey, “White Chalk”
This kind of came and went, but it’s too bad. Ms. Harvey trades in her guitar for a piano and ups the heartbreak, making this one of the sadder records of the year.
6. The Apples in Stereo, “New Magnetic Wonder”
The polar opposite of PJ Harvey, it has to be said that The Apples in Stereo sound like ELO with a shorter, fatter, and balder singer. Which can get annoying at times, especially when lead Apple Robert Schneider decides to harmonize with a digitally created female version of himself. But when they get it right—as they do more often than not here—it’s three minutes of pure-pop pleasure.
5. The Polyphonic Spree, “The Fragile Army”
I saw them twice this year and, wow. On record, they can be a big too… big, with their 23-members flailing away, the swelling choruses, the exuberant shouting, etc. But “The Fragile Army” also includes less flashy songs, like “Light to Follow” or “Younger Yesterday.”
4. The White Stripes, “Icky Thump”
I have a rather irrational love of the Stripes. This is almost like a “greatest hits” kind of record, with songs that are “in the style” of their previous discs. But it’s still rockin’ in places, weird in others, and full of enough curves that keep it from sounding as same-y as it should. And “Rag & Bone” is really funny. And the video for “Conquest” (linked below) is awesome.
3. The New Pornographers, “Challengers”
It’s a bit slower and moodier than previous Porno CDs, but this one has some legs. There are the usual amazing songs from my future wife Neko Case (like the title track, though its video blows), a Dan Bejar song I actually like (“Myriad Harbour”), and plenty of other toe-tappers. The slow stuff like “Adventures in Solitude” and “Go Places” are amazing, and they almost make sense. If Carl Newman ever stops hiding behind self-consciously weird lyrics, maybe they’ll be a world-beater band.
2. Spoon, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”
This actually debuted in the Billboard Top 10, which is pretty amazing. It’s another terrific Spoon record, more like “Girls Can Tell” and “Kill the Moonlight” than “Gimme Fiction.” The songs are stronger, the performances somehow mix looseness and tightness, and the songs just sound really cool. I’m not sure what it is about Britt Daniel’s voice, but it just works for me.
1. Sloan, “Never Hear The End Of It”
So, you’re this Canadian band that’s huge in your home country but virtually unknown in the states despite years of turning and various attempts at selling out. So what do you do after a layoff of a couple of years? Release a CD with 30, count them, 30 songs… only which 4 of them clock in at over 4 minutes long. This is the best pop/rock band out there right now, a goofy bunch of guys who trade off instruments in concert, share vocals, and generally write great, sloppy guitar pop songs. The opening twin salvo of “Flying High Again” and “Who Taught You To Live Like That” sets the tone for what follows. Though a couple of tracks are seriously bad (“Golden Eyes,” I’m looking at you), there’s the usual head-shaking stadium anthems like the terrific “Ill Placed Trust” and the killer “Ana Lucia.” There’s even a strong ballad—never the band’s strong suit—with “Live the Life You’re Dreaming Of.”