1. Women – Black Rice
It’s been a tremendous year for several Calgary, AB musicians and Women have been on the vanguard of a creative and thoroughly western wave. This sleepy little ditty is a gem of a song that seems to only get better with every listen. The vibes alone are simply transcendent. If Brian Wilson and Colin Newman were to get together and conceive of a song this could possibly be the result. Chad Van Gaalen produced their CD and his inspired imprint is really felt on this one. "Black Rice" is noisy and melodic, with a killer hook that will grab you from the start. This one is a welcome addition to my ever growing canon of favourite songs. Certainly my favourite of the year.
2. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
At the beginning of the year I had not heard of this remarkable Seattle quintet. As the year progressed though, Fleet Foxes turned out to be the proverbial band of the moment, and deservedly so. Their initial success was due in large part to this most enigmatic and intriguing single. In many ways "White Winter Hymnal" is a perfect song; highly mysterious, lyrically ambiguous and musically stunning. I still haven’t truly deciphered the lyrical meaning behind this song but that really doesn’t matter much. There’s no denying its intrinsic appeal is bound by its subtler beauties. Fleet Foxes will no doubt be a huge contender in the music world for years to come. It's kind of nice to be there at the start.
3. Frightened Rabbit - Keep Yourself Warm
I have always enjoyed this song but it was only this week that I realized the true appeal that this song possesses. (I must tell you, I only made this realization after listening at preposterous volume in my car as I drove to work.) The Scots in Frightened Rabbit have created a sing along song that is equal parts anthemic, traditional and very cathartic in its reach. What has become a concert highlight, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison's urgent vocals propels this song to classic status in its truest sense. Akin to the Pogue’s Fairytale of New York, a song for the ages. You might want to keep youngster out of the room when listening to this one. Cursing (with Scottish accent) at the top of my lungs has never been so fun.
4. Portishead – The Rip
Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead loved this song so much the two covered it on tour this year. The song also garnered a legion of music fans the world over in 2008 and resulted in much renewed interest for the moody Bristolian trio. "The Rip" is a song that seems as much of the moment as some alien transmission from another universe. Unhesitatingly cool and quite unlike anything else ot there this is pure icy Portishead and it’s a classic. Only Beth Gibbons is capable of conveying the true desolateness that this track possesses. In a brilliant return to form, Bristol’s Portishead have topped even themselves with this dark number. "The Rip" is a near perfect track from a near perfect album.
5. Brian Eno and David Byrne - Strange Overtones
Until this year it had been more than 25 years since this talented musical pairing’s last collaboration on the seminal My Life in the Bush of Ghosts album. Rather than duplicating their successful sampling framework employed in 1981, the two set out to use pure song craft as the essence of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The first single and quite possibly the best song on that record, “Strange Overtones” employs the best of both artists creative worlds with the result being their finest work in many years. Byrne’s contagious falsetto and bright guitar are what really set this one apart and perfectly encapsulates the “electronic gospel” themes the two sought to explore with the record. (According to my iTunes database this song is also my most frequently played song this year- A personal testimony of sorts to the appeal and quality of this remarkable piece.)