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Track Stars- best songs of 2007

December 26th, 2007

A few weeks ago I made some predictions for various music magazines’ picks for album of the year. I did pretty well, due to how predictable these things are. I called pitchforkmedia.com’s selection of Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch,” but was off by one with Rolling Stone. I thought they’d give it to Springsteen, but instead they awarded him the number two slot behind M.I.A. Spin was really the only surprise, giving their top pick to Against Me! I thought they might honor Radiohead or The White Stripes. Good for Spin, for demonstrating that music can be unpredictable and that not everyone has to conform to what their readers expect. Hopefully, my list will be a bit more unpredictable.

Some of my choices surprised even me. (I never thought I’d fall hard for a Jay Z song). Similar to last year, I’m eschewing the traditional “Best Albums” list, in favor of a mix where 15 of my favorite songs from the year flow together, capturing 2007. (C’mon… does anyone really listen to full-length albums anymore?) All of these tracks come with my highest recommendation and can be streamed online or purchased at your favorite digital music provider.

One final note, while we’re on the subject of unpredictability: Foxboro Hot Tubs. This band, probably not on any list (including my own), gave me the biggest surprise of the year. They play ’60s garage rock and may or may not be a secret side project of a multi-platinum selling punk band (*cough* Green Day *cough*).

1. LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends.” It’s a pretty bold move to open any mix with a song nearly eight minutes in length. But “All My Friends” is really that good — beginning with a spitfire piano loop and spiraling faster and faster out of control, as James Murphy deftly blends dance and rock. He doesn’t let up until the closing note. An epic about getting older and the friends along the way, it’s easily my favorite song of the year.   

2.Arcade Fire, “Keep the Car Running.” Frontman Win Butler sings, howls and channels Bono, Byrne and The Boss over mandolins and handclaps until he finds release at the chorus. Like all good Arcade Fire songs, it’s hopeful in the face of
adversity (in this case, isolation and escape) — and you’ll want to hit repeat.

3.Jay-Z, “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is…..).” If I don’t hear this — the standout track from Jay-Z’s true comeback album — at least six times on New Year’s, I’ll be severely disappointed. Plus, it’s fairly amusing to hear Hova try to rap a couple words in Hebrew. If this is “black superhero music,” these are the comic book adventures I want to follow.

4.Panda Bear, “Take Pills.” I don’t get all the Panda Bear hype, but then again, I’m not into freak-art rock. Still, once Panda (Noah Lennox) gets past his weird intro indulgences (all two and a half minutes of it) and to the actual song (in the traditional sense) his talent for writing a hook is undeniable. If you’ve ever wondered what the Beach Boys might sound like underwater, look no further. 

5.The Polyphonic Spree, “Section 22 (Running Away).” OK, this band is practically a cult, with more than two-dozen members in matching robes and a drink-the-Kool-Aid message of sunshine and life. And yes, frontman Time DeLaughter sounds like he swallowed a tank of helium. But I dare you not to get giddy when the orchestra swell’s behind DeLaughter’s feel-good chorus about running away and flying (whatever that means). 

6.Against Me!, “Thrash Unreal.” If I’d never heard of The Clash, Against Me! might have been the most exciting band I’ve heard in a long time. Butch Vig (Nevermind, Siamese Dream) was behind the boards for this one, keeping a pop sensibility in place behind the band’s political leanings and harder influences. In short: this song just rocks.

7.Modest Mouse, “Missed the Boat.” Even with the addition of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Modest Mouse is still Isaac Brock’s show. He slurs, spits and sings, anchoring a seaworththy melody with a tight, muted arrangement. This is one of the prettiest hangovers I’ve ever heard.

8.Kate Nash, “Foundations.” 2007 was supposedly the year America went nuts over Lily Allen, but I never saw the appeal — I found Allen to be grating and annoying. Fortunately, England had another export this year, the charming Kate Nash (touted by some as “the next Lily Allen”). “Foundations,” a piano rocking break-up song smacks of one-hit wonder, but many more successful pop-stars would kill to have a hit this good.

9.Kanye West, “Champion.” I nerded out over Kanye’s Daft Punk sampling on “Stronger” (along with the video homage to “Akira”), but this is a better, tighter song. Maybe it’s the Steely Dan sample, maybe it’s the hook, but set against the robo-rap of “Stronger,” this just sounds so much more organic and full of life.

10.Black Kids, “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You.” If “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” ever had a kid, it might sound something like this. There’s a lot going on in this synth-happy ode to teenage insecurity, but somehow the bouncing bass line and two-part vocals tie everything together into a cohesive pop song.

11.Straylight Run, “Still Alone.” Certainly not what I’d expect from Straylight Run, a decent piano-emo outfit formed by ex-members of Taking Back Sunday. After a solid first album and unlistenable EP, Straylight Run takes a sharp left — highlighting co-vocalist Michelle DaRosa’s Broadway sensibilities. A good show tune is still a good show tune, even if there isn’t a show.

12.Melee, “For a Lifetime.” I had the pleasure of interviewing these guys at the 9:30 Club a couple months ago. We bonded for a few moments over growing up with the same post-grunge rock. This probably explains my initial reaction to the Captain Fantastic-inspired group: If I had any musical abilities, I’d want to be in a band like Melee. As a fan, I can think of no greater compliment to give to an up-and-coming band.

13.Fountains of Wayne, “New Routine.” As different characters criss-cross the globe, trying to start over in a new place, the focus of the song shifts to the person they meet. When an American waitress can’t find much going on in Liechtenstein, she breaks up with her boyfriend — “So he grabs his cap/throws a dart at the map/and now he’s living in
Bowling Green.” (The hotel manager he meets then moves home to Canada). It’s a movie in four minutes, easily the best and most sophisticated song in the Fountains catalog.

14.Ben Gibbard, “All Apologies.” There were rumors of a new Postal Service album this year, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for this live cover, recorded by National Public Radio (and a fair amount of bootleggers) during Gibbard’s solo tour. It’s a haunting reminder of what Kurt Cobain left behind — and a logical extension of the direction Cobain took the song on “Unplugged in New York.”
 
15.Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere.” This is why they call him The Boss. OK, it’s not
“Thunder Road,” but when a corpse like Springsteen decides to dust off his guitar, it’s nice to see him kick everybody’s butt and show them how it’s done.

BONUS TRACK:
Counting Crows, “Cowboys.” The album was supposed to come out in November, but it was pushed back until the spring. I’ve been waiting five years for a new Crows record, so I suppose it’ll have to be a few more months. No worries, because this track plays like the Counting Crows greatest hits in five minutes and serves as a great preview to what 2008 has in store. Me? I’ve got my calendar circled for new releases from Weezer, Amanda Palmer and (keeping my fingers crossed) Ben Folds.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.

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