Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Blog This! Best of 2006

*Note: This was originally published on the old site under the old name on October 29, 2006.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” - Victor Hugo

The key criteria for me in compiling this list is lyrics, and that’s why a line from each one is included in the notes. A song has to have a lyric that affects me somehow, that catches my attention at first listen, and that makes me relate the song to an aspect of my life. It makes my list personal, and what’s the point of making one if it doesn’t mean anything to you? Anyone can replicate the charts, and there may be someone out there whose life is summarized in the Billboard Top 40, although I doubt it.

I won’t elaborate much on what each individual lyric means to me. You can listen and determine what they, or others, mean to you.

The songs are listed in random order.

And a note about the tempo (or lack thereof) of the songs - don’t ask me why, but as I get older, the songs get slower. I can’t explain it, but songs with fast tempos don’t resonate with me much anymore.

1. “Another Good Man” by Brian VanderArk, from Angel, Put Your Face On
“ he says my insides, well, the damage would astound me . . . i laughed, at least it left the outsides as it found me”

In the studio diary on his website, VanderArk says he is most proud of this track, calling it the “quintessential song on the record”. Piano, acoustic guitar, and gentle pedal steel lead you away from the mass production of the Verve Pipe and into the mind (and soul) of one the most gifted songwriters of our time. You can’t admonish a person for things beyond their control.

2. “The Adventure” by Angels & Airwaves, from We Don’t Need To Whisper
“I cannot live, I can’t breathe, unless you do this with me”

I picked this song for two reasons - for what it is, and what it isn’t. First, what it is - I love the transitions and differences. It’s fast, slow, sweeping, epic, and bare - all within 4 and 1/2 minutes. And second, what it isn’t - it’s not U2, despite what every review of the record would lead you to believe. There’s an Edge-esque guitar part at the beginning of this track, and all of a sudden The Edge owns the patent and A & A is ripping off The Joshua Tree. Please. I like it, and unlike U2 and the critics who would rate a Bono bowel movement 5 stars, I’m not too pretentious to admit it.

3. “Runaway Girl” by Sean Watkins, from Blinders On
“What if you thought you saw a ghost a hundred times a day”

Sean Watkins is 1/3 of Nickel Creek, and while this third solo album ventures from alt-bluegrass into indie alt-pop, I can imagine this song on Nickel Creek’s last album Why Should The Fire Die?. I first heard it on XM 45 while on a road trip last April, and it’s been in my head ever since. Sometimes the end is a beginning.

4. “Empty” by Ray LaMontagne, from Till The Sun Turns Black
“I never learned to count my blessings, I choose instead to dwell in my disasters”

In an interview, Ray LaMontagne said some of the songs he writes don’t have a life span, while others stay in his head and try to kill him. The same is true with the songs I hear. Some are immediately forgettable, and some of them, like this one, answer a question you never even knew you asked and haunt you forever. My life in a nutshell . . .

5. “Night Train” by Amos Lee, from Supply & Demand
“I’ll become one with the wind, where there isn’t a beginning and there is no end”

Amos Lee stands out from other singer-songwriters because of the absolute ease in which he performs his songs. I’m not saying the songs are simple - they are extremely well-crafted. It’s the way he makes it sound easy. There are some powerful moments on this record, and none of them are forced.

6. “Open Your Eyes” by Snow Patrol, from Eyes Open
“All this feels strange and untrue”

I almost went with ”Chasing Cars”, and it would have been a worthy choice. But, I simply couldn’t get away from this track. I’ve never heard a song that just keeps building like this one, and every time you think its reached its peak, it hasn’t. It leaves you all of 15 seconds at the end to catch your breath. Strings are usually just an accompaniment. Will you define the moment, or will the moment define you?

7. “Not Your Year” by The Weepies, from Say I Am You
“Your life feels like the morning after all year long”

All Music Guide says “The songs are simple and pretty and generally uplifting, basking in the glow of being happily smitten, but not blind to the misfortunes of others in the world.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t. Theme song anyone???

8. “Shade & Honey” by Sparklehorse, from I Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of A Mountain
“I’ll cry diamonds while you burn, cause no one here can save you”

Saying that Sparklehorse’s lyrics are highly intellectual is a gross understatement. I actually feel stupid after listening to them, because I know there’s so much I’m missing. But, the music is so cool, I can deal with the fact that it renders me a moron. Most are drawn from the works of literary giants like Shakespeare, Whitman, Baudelaire, and Dante. Musically, they have an alternative folk style that could be compared to pop acts Prefab Sprout or Architecture in Helsinki.

9. “Waterlily” by The Cottars, from Forerunner
“Darkness all around you like a shroud”

I was fortunate to catch The Cottars at the Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing this past summer. The highlight of that show was a stunning cover of the Tom Waits classic “Briar & The Rose”. This track opens the Forerunner album, and if it doesn’t stir something inside you, then quite honestly, there is no hope for you.

10. “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice, from 9
“It’s a small crime and I’ve got no excuse”

Gorgeous misery. You can hear the affliction in the otherwise angelic voice of frequent collaborator Lisa Hannigan. A lyrical paradox - there is no greater crime.

11. “These Four Walls” by Shawn Colvin, from These Four Walls
“I’ve had enough and I’ve tried it all”

I hated “Sunny Came Home” from A Few Small Repairs (1996) until I heard “A Matter of Minutes” from Whole New You (2001), which ironically is about how long it took for me to became a huge fan of not only her work but the whole folk genre as well. Funny how five minutes can completely redefine you. Colvin calls this a “fighting to get out” song, and if you consider the fact that the walls might not be physical, it takes a pretty powerful turn.

12. ”Good Days, Bad Days” by Richard Butler, from Richard Butler
“I want to unsing every song, unwrite every line, unstep every step I’ve made”

What more can I say about this song than I already said here? Not much. Great stuff.

13. “Empire State” by Guster, from Ganging Up On the Sun
“Been one in a million, been a million to one”

Guster is an old friend of Blog This!. Like a building, relationships can be repaired, although sometimes it’s better to just knock down whatever’s left and start over. I’m not sure that this is the actual meaning behind the song, but it’s where I ended up with it.

14. “Out Loud” by Mindy Smith, from Long Island Shores
“Why should we stand in lonely shadows with so much light around?”

Mindy Smith has a voice that draws you in and the songs to keep you there. Her songs are deeply personal. You can hear her feelings coming through, and that makes her an artist as well as a singer - because there is a difference. She makes it sound like it’s possible to find what makes you happy and to be comfortable in your own skin. Not easy - but possible.

15. “I Still Hear It” by The Webb Sisters, from Daylight Crossing
“A song in my soul wherever I go, it lives on and on and on”

There’s really nothing all that remarkable about this song, but I find it utterly infectious, and something about it gave it one of the highest play counts in my iTunes library. Maybe it’s the harp. Sometimes there is no explanation.

16. “Mile” by Richard Buckner, from Meadow
“Nothing sees us, as we drive out, where we shouldn’t have”

This song is so pretty, you have to forgive the way that Buckner tells the story. The lyrics are evasive, leaving one to guess what the song is about, and through my research, I think Buckner prefers it this way. My best guess is something along the lines of a romantic relationship that shouldn’t have happened, a ”forbidden love” if you will.

17. “Along The Wall” by Leigh Nash, from Blue on Blue
“Whatever you tell me, I wont believe you”

Leigh Nash has one of those unmistakable voices that you know you’ve heard, but not the name to go with it. You in fact have heard her before, as the voice of Sixpence None The Richer. This song is like advice you’d get from a friend. Romantically speaking, the bumps along the road are worth it if you reach your destination.

I’m out -