Wow, I am late getting this up. Everybody knows “best of the year so far” posts are supposed to by up by July 1, no exceptions! I have an excuse, though: My right hand was wrapped up in a splint for a week. It’s better now.
As is almost always the case on this blog, folk-rock is well represented on this list. You won’t find “Call Me Maybe” below, either. I think it was probably No. 16. Thank goodness. I narrowly avoided the embarrassment of having to admit that I compulsively sing along to that song every single time it comes on my stereo.
Without further ado, I proudly present the 15 songs that are leading the pack for Rankstravaganza 2012.
15. “Special Forces,” Matt Jones & The Reconstruction
Michigan—and Ypsilanti in particular—has this great chamber-folk scene. Singer-songwriter Matt Jones says his third album is “about being stuck in the middle: dissatisfied with what lies behind you, and unsure of what lies ahead.” There is an urgency to this opening track, with a martial beat that builds to a shout-along chorus. My other favorite thing about this track is the fact that the Bandcamp page includes the tag “northern aggression.”
14. “Blunderbuss,” Jack White
I like pretty much everything Jack White has ever done. The title track to his first solo album is no exception. It’s interesting to hear White set free of the restrictive framework of a band and just make the music he wants to make, which, in this case, is a totally Led Zeppelin-ish country ballad full of smooth, cascading steel guitar.
Jack White is the first of many artists on this list playing at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He is performing on Aug. 12. [tickets]
13. “Called Out in the Dark,” Snow Patrol
Oh, Snow Patrol. I swore I wasn’t going to fall for your slick pop-rock any more. The last two albums of yours that I bought were disappointments—rarely revisited and, frankly, a little embarrassing. But, so help me, when that simple, acoustic riff kicked in, you had me. I wish I knew how to quit you.
12. “You’re the Kind of Girl,” Lee Fields & The Expressions
Folks, this is old, old, OLD-school soul. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s some forgotten ’70s AM jam (one best played on a hot summer evening). Maybe that’s because North Carolina native Lee Fields has been part of the Southern R&B scene for more than 30 years. Like fellow revivalist Sharon Jones (whose second-act as a professional musician started with singing backup for Fields in the ’90s), he has the raw vocal chops to make it all seem 100% sincere and not just a calculated throwback.
11. “Get Alive,” AU
Layers of looping, syncopated horn and banjo. This experimental pop band from Portland, Ore., sure knows how to get my attention. Throw in some complicated vocal harmonies and I’m sold. Oh, you have those, too? (P.S. – I have been hoping that the band’s name is pronounced “Gold,” but evidently it isn’t a periodic table joke. Nor is it pronounced “Ow.” Just say the two letters separately.)
[mp3 via Stereogum]
10. “Midnight on the Interstate,” Trampled By Turtles
Midwest dudes with beards who pick up acoustic instruments and approach bluegrass and old-time music from an indie-rock perspective? Sounds like something I’d do. So why has it taken me so long to get on board with the Duluth, Min., band? I even kind of like their ridiculous name. My favorite part of almost every Trampled by Turtles song is Ryan Young’s fiddle, and this one climaxes with him playing a series of glorious fountains of imitative counterpoint (there’s your musical theory lesson for the day).
Trampled By Turtles is playing on Aug. 12 at Outside Lands. [tickets]
9. “Out of the Game,” Rufus Wainwright
It wasn’t songwriting scion Rufus Wainwright’s name that made me zero in on this track. I gave it a shot because of producer Mark Ronson, the guy behind, among other things, the soulful foundation for Amy Winehouse’s Back in Black. The man has a knack for pulling together diverse corners of pop music into something that is familiar but still fresh. This title track to Wainwright’s seventh studio album is another success on his part.
8. “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff,” Of Montreal
Kevin Barnes’ continuing insistence on pouring out the most painful parts of his psyche in song form would be tiresome by now if he wasn’t still pushing musical boundaries. I was interested—and skeptical—to hear him drop early 20th century American composer Charles Ives’ name in an interview about the Georgia band’s latest album, but you really can hear some of Ives’ chaotic influence in Paralytic Stalks, including the beginning and end of this nearly 9 minute track. Mostly, though, I like it because the middle section fucking ROCKS—and because I think it might be making subtle references to the myth of the Fisher King. (Not that Barnes has mentioned the ancient Grail legend in reference to the album. If I ever get the chance to interview him again, I’ll be sure to ask him if I’m way off base.)