Not wanting to be listless when it came to the Jackin' Pop poll, I gave just about every song I own from 2006 at least a cursory re-listen on a road trip last weekend. Here are the top 10: songs to crave, put on mix CDs and feel lucky to have heard.
10. Jennifer O'Connor - I'll Take You Home (from Across the Mountain, Over the Valley and Back to the Stars)
It's tough write a driving song with a killer melody and still sound like a friend in a real, live, hard conversation. The words she's speaking to the subject of the song are honest and self-effacing, the sorts of things lots of folks want to say but have a hard time saying, and this tension is played out in the vocals. "I think you're lost/come on, I'll bring you home" has all the tenderness and ambivalence you'd expect it to. Plus you can sing along to the chorus.
Download from her Daytrotter session
9. The Places - The Damn Insane Asylum (from Songs for Creeps)
Some bands have songs that are mission statements. You know, like Bad Company's "Bad Company"? "The Damn Insane Asylum" is as close as The Places might get, combining dislocation, urban spelunking, and a dash of lurid romance. The telephone vocals fit so well you barely notice the production trick.
8. Laura Gibson - Hands in Pockets (from If You Come to Greet
A song that could launch a lifestyle. Listen to how she sings the opening word, "up", like a call to action. Imagine the next generation's Wes Anderson scoring his movie, stumbling across this and calling it a day.
MP3: Laura Gibson - Hands in Pockets
7. Boat - Last Cans of Paint (from Songs That You Might Not Like)
The best two minutes of bedroom pop I found this year. A little glam, a little sadness, always going for broke.
MP3: Boat - Last Cans of Paint
6. Kimya Dawson - My Mom (from Remember That I Love You)
Kimya Dawson is a rock star. She totally subverts the confessional singer-songwriter genre, singing about Sesame Street and serious illness with all the silliness and fear and total humanity you could ever want. Heartbreaking.
MP3: Kimya Dawson - My Mom (live)
5. Chad VanGaalen - Graveyard (from Skelliconnection)
Van Gaalen specializes in a beautiful but slighty queasy mix of fantasy, subtle humor and played-off terror. When his Neil-Young-on-helium vocals work their magic on this alt-country gem, you can coo along in a musical stupor and forget the lyrics, about the spirit of a dead lover rising and falling. On an uneven sophomore release, this is the song that deserves to be heard.
MP3: Chad VanGaalen - Graveyard
4. Fionn Regan - Put a Penny In the Slot (from The End of History)
I don't even mind that the Saul Bellow reference is a little precious. That's how good this song is, especially the bridge, like a total immersion in some snowy old-world city block.
Stream: At his MySpace
3. Eef Barzelay - The Ballad of Bitter Honey (from Bitter Honey)
This got the biggest reaction from the crowd at Eef's solo show, and it's the sort of iconic songwriting jujitsu that makes an impression long after Ludacris laughter wears off. Starts as a party trick and leaves you shakin': "Don't hate me cause I know just what this world is all about".
MP3: Eef Barzelay - The Ballad of Bitter Honey
2. Bishop Allen - The Monitor (from the March EP)
Like entrants in National Novel Writing Month, Bishop Allen forced themselves to stretch their songwriting chops when they committed to releasing one EP a month all year. This is my favorite of the motherload, na-na-nas and slow build, mixing the raw enthusiasm of Charm School with world-weary perspective.
MP3: Bishop Allen - The Monitor
1. M. Ward - Chinese Translation (from Post-War)
You can't help but go with the flow. This here is spiritual, thickets of churning acoustic guitars and Ward's gentle rasp, sing-along chorus for the ages. The best song of 2006! Whew.
Stream: the video