1. In Between Days – The Cure
2. Dear God – XTC
3. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
4. Forget Her – Jeff Buckley
5. Heavy In Your Arms – Florence + The Machine
6. Madness – Muse
7. Untouchable, Part 1 – Anathema
8. Untouchable, Part 2 – Anathema
9. Hoppípolla – Sigur Rós
10. It Will Be A Good Day (The River) – Yes
11. Cover Your Tracks – A Boy & His Kite
12. Don’t Hate Me – Porcupine Tree
13. My Love – Sia Furler
14. Settle Down – Kimbra
15. Daydreaming – Paramore
16. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) – Talking Heads
About half of these songs made the list from my explorations this year, and the rest are from my longtime list of standards or favorite bands. Here's some thoughts on each track.
1. The Cure is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Disintegration is one of my all-time favorite albums. But before Disintegration, before Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, there was The Head On The Door, the first album that married Robert Smith's morose lyrics with an upbeat, lyrical style of music. This album transformed The Cure from the goth band that recorded Pornography and Bloodflowers to one with a much wider appeal.
2. I discovered XTC this year from the soundtrack for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Heavily inspired by the Beatles, they were one of the few bands to not simply learn from the Fab Four, but to take the inspiration into significant new realms. The album "Dear God" comes from, Skylarking, recalls James Joyce's Ulysses, with this song ending a single day's activities with a child's bedtime prayers. The song was added to the original version of the album, replacing "Mermaid Smile," after it became a hit single in the US.
3. Another band I "discovered" this year from the Wallflower soundtrack, The Smiths typify the kind of oppositional dynamics that surely influenced The Cure - a gloomy lead singer who appears as the wounded poet in his garret while the band specializes in breezy, chiming, quintessentially buoyant music. This song is the penultimate track on their third album, The Queen Is Dead.
4. As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Buckley's Grace was one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. In stark contrast to contemporaries Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Buckley showed several generations that profoundly new rock and roll doesn't have to completely reject what came before, locating fertile ground between classic rock and grunge. "Forget Her" was recorded in one live take, probably the only time it was ever played because Buckley replaced it with another song on Grace for personal reasons (he drowned in 1997 before he could make a second studio album). But the song somehow made it to the promotional version sent to the press a month before the official release of the album. In the years since Buckley's passing, the song has taken on legendary proportion, with musicians and fans passing around coveted bootleg copies. Finally, it was released in 2004 on the Legacy Edition of Grace so that the world could hear this definitive performance of a voice taken from us far too soon.
5. Think what you will about The Twilight Saga, but Summit Entertainment knew what it was doing when it put Alexandra Patsavas in charge as music supervisor (she also did the Wallflower soundtrack for Summit). This track is from the third movie, Eclipse, as is Track 13. I've never been a fan of Florence + The Machine, but this song really grows on you with its lush textures and pounding chorus.
6. Muse is one of the bands, like Paramore, that must have benefited greatly from the success of Twilight because author Stephenie Meyer cited them as her favorite rock gods and a source of inspiration for her writing. Muse's lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, has cited Jeff Buckley as a major influence, as is immediately apparent. I saw them in concert this year and they are one of the most exciting live acts you'll ever get to see. This song is my favorite track from their recent album, The 2nd Law, which I think is their best studio album to date.
7-8. Anathema is a band I discovered when I heard them on a K-Scope Records sampler (that's the UK label that distributes Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson). Emerging from their early roots in death metal, the group cites Steven Wilson as one of the key influences that helped them find a more accessible sound that I characterize as "atmospheric rock" - their newest album is called Weather Systems. I got to see both Wilson and Anathema perform this year, and I'm hoping Porcupine Tree comes back to New York soon so I can see them for a fourth time.
9. I saw Icelandic superband Sigur Rós at MSG this year with Morgan, and it was one of my favorite concerts ever. Their music is primal and full of what I feel is their love for humanity, like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" chorus in the Ninth Symphony. On this song particularly, they managed to turn Madison Square Garden, for just a moment, into a sparkling oasis of beauty.
10. This was one of the songs on my "Music for a New Life" mix and it is still one of my favorites. In the world of progressive rock, no one has been doing it better or longer than Yes. This is a song that Jon Anderson dedicated to his wife when they performed it live and it perfectly expresses that love.
11. An unassuming track that's been stuck in my brain from the Twilight soundtrack finale from Breaking Dawn, Part 2. It reminds me of U2 the way it builds to a crescendo, starting with an intimate acoustic guitar.
12. My favorite band of this stage of my life, this is actually from an early album, Stupid Dream, before their drummer extraordinaire, Gavin Harrison, joined the band. But I love this song from the live DVD, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, so even without Gavin, it's a great song. I love the atmospheric sound effects and solo instruments from Richard Barbieri's synthesizers. But with Gavin playing on the live performance, it's amazing.
13. This is the song that's playing when Edward proposes to Bella in Eclipse. It's another spot-on choice that captures this romantic moment perfectly, and Sia's voice is so beautiful and unique. She reminds me of Nigerian-born Sade Adu when Diamond Life first came out in 1985.
14. Most people first heard Kimbra singing with Gotye in the ubiquitous hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" a couple years ago. But this New Zealander has a load of talent and shows it in her debut album. Her masterful use of overdubbing and scat to serve her music reminds me of Imogen Heap's deft use of the vocoder in "Hide and Seek."
15. Since I'm seeing Paramore tomorrow, I had to include at least one song from another of my all-time favorite bands. Since their career has been relatively short, I've heard every song they've ever released on an album. Their new self-titled album is very different from their older work because the band's lead guitar and drummer split from the band last year. "Decode" from the original Twilight soundtrack is probably still my favorite song by them, but it's great to see the band maturing and growing in different directions.
16. This year's musical renaissance started with hearing the Talking Heads album Remain in Light, so appropriately I should close with some funky, quirky exit music from what has been a string of dark songs overall. I first heard this song in the movie Wall Street and rediscovered it when I picked up a copy of their excellent album, Speaking in Tongues, featuring their hit, "Burning Down the House."