10. CHVRCHES “We Sink”
Album: The Bones of What You Believe
Videos: Live version
“We Sink” is a devastating song about love that was never realized, instead becoming a lifelong match of inconvenience. The primary chorus lyric—”I’ll be a thorn in your side, ’til you die”—exemplifies that theme in a much poppier way than you would expect, adding to the charm of the song for me.
9. The Postal Service “A Tattered Line of String”
Album: Give Up (re-issue)
Videos: Official video
I was actually somewhat shocked that this song didn’t get more airplay on outlets like Alt Nation, given Ben Gibbard’s status as alt/indie royalty and the strong reviews that Give Up continues to get ten years after its release. “String” would fit right it on that acclaimed album.
8. Vampire Weekend “Unbelievers”
Album: Modern Vampires of the City
Videos: Live version
If more of the world would at least engage with matters of faith, I think Christians like myself would be better off. I might disagree with the end reasoning, but it’s a lot easier for me to relate to doubt than apathy. Ezra Koenig spends much of the Modern Vampires album wrestling with the big questions a young adult faces, and “Unbelievers” makes no secret about where he lands, at least for the time being. As for the music, “Unbelievers” has one of the more memorable refrains of the year.
7. The Almost “Ghost”
Album: Fear Inside Our Bones
Videos: Live version (acoustic and not that great)
There were just a handful of hard rock songs to make my list this year, which I suppose is either a testament to the desolation of that genre today or a symptom of my own changing tastes. Actual guitar rock is practically absent from the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart (Mainstream is a little better), so it’s not just me. The top 5 as I am writing this contains 2 Lorde songs, Imagine Dragons, Passenger, and The Neighbourhood (the underwhelming “Sweater Weather”—not their decent “Female Robbery” song). The Almost had a nice little album in the midst of all that. “Ghost” is the strongest song on it and one of the best true hard rock songs of the year.
I think CHVRCHES have demonstrated their mastery of the dysfunctional relationship pop song this year. In this one, the woman has all the power and seems to enjoy it, so you can again contrast that depressing note against the song’s decidedly upbeat sound. I find myself tapping along to the electronic beat in much the same way as Martin Doherty does in the live version. We are not winning any dance contests.
This song became inescapable in the later part of the year, and for good reason. Aside from a minor complaint about the singer-harmonizes-with-herself dynamic that has worn on me over the years, it’s a catchy pop song that, thanks to its counter-cultural theme, is right in my lyrical wheelhouse. It also has a (slight) baseball connection, which is cool.
Technically this song was released as a stand-alone single in 2012, but I hadn’t heard it much, and it still meets my criteria since it first appeared on an album for the September release of “AM.” This one is more of a straight-ahead rocker than the album-opening slow burn that is still to come on this list. Any rock stations that are left in this country ought to be playing songs like this.
This was one of my most-played songs of the year, thanks to my musically-inclined son Matthew’s willingness to bob up and down and sing the “baby, baby, baby” line over and over. The child has even woken up from a nap multiple times when this song came on in the car. The lyrics are not all fun and games, however, as it’s obvious from the start that this song is not directly about a woman named Diane. As evidenced by many of the other songs on this year’s list, I like that sort of tension in a song between the lyrics and the mood—it’s not often done with such an inescapably catchy tune. Maybe that tactic will wear on me one day, but I could probably go at least another year playing this one a hundred times or more.
“So have you got the goods?” The way Alex Turner can sing a slow song with rhythm is mind-blowing. The lead track for AM starts slow and intensifies in support of regretful lyrics expressing insecurity over the singer’s un-reciprocated love. Easily my favorite rock song of the year. One of my bigger music-related regrets this year was not getting to see Arctic Monkeys when they played at Track 29 in Chattanooga, due to a prior engagement. It was also the night the Braves were knocked out of the playoffs, but it was a work conflict (promise).
Lauren Mayberry’s voice soars in the chorus of the best pop song of the year. Like The Colourist, CHVRCHES may have stylized their name for search engines, but otherwise they’ve avoided least-common-denominator pop tendencies to create a great song that represents the highlight of their debut album. It is the most fully-formed song they have, and the potential they showed on other songs already has me hoping they can create an album full of songs like this one next time around.
Next up: Tomorrow I will have the full list in one post, along with Spotify and YouTube playlist links.