Treble’s Best Songs Ever of 2006

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“Ballad Of Human Kindness”
by The Dears
from Gang of Losers

The whispering orchestral passages in The Dears’ “Ballad Of Human Kindness” provide a silky bedding for lead singer Murray Lightburn’s, lyrics which are weighty in tone and significant in meaning as he pours out, “Well, I thought that we’d all care about peace/ And I thought that we’d cry about love and loss/ And I thought that we were somehow holding on, but I’m just standing here…No one should have to live all of their life on their own.” Lightburn’s musings about people’s indifference towards each other has universal relevance—people are meant to be there for each other, but choose not to be. The Dears have long been described as orchestral pop’s dark romantics and “Ballad Of Human Kindness” brings to light a darkness in humanity, a lack of compassion which Lightburn rings out, “And I can’t believe the vast amounts of people living on the streets/ And I can’t believe that I was almost one of them, and I almost died/ And I can’t believe I haven’t leant a hand, that I’m just standing here/ Well, I’m gonna change.” It compels the listener to feel what it is like to be the person who is abandoned and alone, and inspires the listener to shed their own insensitivity. – Susan Frances

“Reena”
by Sonic Youth
from Rather Ripped

Some artists just refuse to burn out. Our generation has been spoiled by bands who consistently put out quality records well into their twilight. Robert Pollard still shits gold every few weeks, Steve Malkmus has a reinvigorated spirit, and hey I heard even Hall and Oates are hitting the studio again soon! But what Sonic Youth have done with
Rather Ripped is incomparable to the rest; they have capstoned a new halcyon era and created their most cohesive and beautiful work since 1990’s Goo. An enormous part of the success of Rather Ripped is their open embracing of melody. Kim Gordon opener “Reena” sets the tone of the album with pristine sounding reverbed guitars and haunting harmonies. The rage of the past albums is still remains, but it is streamlined through perfectly executed moments of vocal passion rather than their typically crunchy guitar dissonance. With such a substantial back catalog at this point in their career, they said “why the fuck not” to making an accessible record and it sparked a new masterpiece. EDIT: Hall and Oates is apparently not getting back together. Hopefully Ever. – Tyler Agnew

“O Valencia!”
by The Decemberists
from The Crane Wife

If the Decemberists are known for anything, it’s the ability to write songs that are simultaneously catchy, poignant, and undeniably memorable. “O Valencia!” is classic Decemberists in that sense, an upbeat, captivating pop tune backed with what we’ve come to expect from Colin Meloy’s storytelling talents – a tale of star-crossed love and inevitable demise, with the undying proclamation of “I swear by the stars/I’ll burn this whole city down.” The vocals are lovely, the guitars are dexterous, and the drums and chimes guide and accentuate the song’s sweet terrain. Simply put, it’s a wonderful representation of the fourth installment in a very successful series of albums by the Portland group, demonstrating that the Decemberists show little sign of slowing down. – Anna Gazdowicz

“The President’s Dead”
by Okkervil River

The relaxed exactness is what makes Okkervil River’s “The President is Dead” a song to behold, and in this case, allot a place on Treble’s Top 50 songs of 2006. The song goes right into the variably directional folk tunes that we’re familiar with that matches perfectly with the subject matter of the lyrics—a man without a grand or even apparent direction in life absorbing his usually drab suburban surroundings and appreciating them for something beyond what they are. Both the man and the music change drastically once it is announced that, “The President is Dead.” The shot of three snare snaps propels the song into escape velocity, adding electric guitar and percussion that complicate rhythm and the life of the man and the melody. Suddenly, all of the “Littlest things,” no longer made him feel like he was blessed, because the President is dead. The “eggs on the plate and the bacon hissin’/ and the coffee was great and there was spring on the wind,” are just the same as they were before, but now that a man who was killed in a far off place, they can’t be appreciated. – Paul Bozzo
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“Star Witness”
by Neko Case
from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Neko Case actually witnessed a gang-related shooting of a youth in Chicago, a kid who was shot for being mistaken for someone else, his future and dreams spilled out on to the pavement for reasons beyond his, and Case’s, comprehension. That “Star Witness,” a haunting and beautiful murder ballad, is based on this true-life tragedy makes it all the more affecting. Brushed drums sweep and reverb heavy guitar weep, while Neko’s narrative unfolds: “my true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil that had run from the block of a Falcon sedan 1969…the paper said ’75.” The actual incident is never explicitly stated, merely alluded to with the most minute of details, the small things that are lost forever, and of the racially biased society that turns a blind eye—”this is nothing new, no television news/they don’t even turn on the siren.” And somehow, amidst the most horrific of circumstances, Case delivers a harrowing nightmare with an angelic sound. When she sings “hey there, there’s such deadly wolves `round town tonight,” she may be delivering a warning, or merely stating the unfortunate truth, but the harmonies are so sweet, they make the shock that much easier to take. – Jeff Terich
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“Over and Over”
by Hot Chip
from The Warning

Plenty of 2006’s records have focused on excess and abandon. Few pulled it off with as much likeability and poise as “Over and Over.” Plotting a checkered path calling at Earth Wind and Fire, Prince, Gang of Four, Soft Cell and Miss Kittin, the “joy of repetition” has never sounded so appealing. The song is up there amongst the best offbeat pop songs, making the interesting inexplicably straightforward and addictive. This will become an indie disco staple of “Step On” proportions. – Tom Lee

Cat Power
“The Greatest”
from The Greatest

It begins with the soft, falling notes of piano keys, followed by the splash of a rippling guitar, a sprinkling of drums like rain on a tin roof, and then we hear Chan Marshall’s beautifully fluid voice. It is the title track form Cat Power’s latest album, released back in January, which means it had to be memorable to last an entire twelve months in order to make our final songs list. It is easily one of Marshall’s best, trading the Muhammad Ali `powers of the air’ mantras (`Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’) for those of water (`No wind or waterfall could stall me / Then came the rush of the flood’). Like Ben Folds’ “Boxing,” “The Greatest” tells the tale of a boxer past his prime. Marshall similarly finds pathos in Ali’s story, comparing the vigorous and brash youth with the man that Parkinson’s has counted down but not out. “Two fists of solid rock / With brains that could explain any feeling.” One can’t help but think of Ali in his current state and use that as a comparison with the much younger Marshall. The woman known as Cat Power has gone through problems with alcohol, intense stage fright and, at one point, even briefly `retired’ at the tender age of 24. Thankfully, she came back to us, giving us some of the best music of her career. “The Greatest,” and the album for which it is named, is like Ali’s big comeback against George Foreman, the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle.” Both serve to remind us who really is `The Greatest.’ – Terrance Terich
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“European Oils”
by Destroyer
from Destroyer’s Rubies

If I were to direct a video for “European Oils,” it would have to be sumptuous, disturbing, perhaps a little rococo, and rife with Roman columns. You see, that’s exactly the sort of imagery that Dan Bejar summons in this magnificent rock opera—elegant piano twinkles and fuzzy guitar solos provide the perfect bed for an intricately woven narrative of lust and bloodshed. Cries of “death to the murderers we’ve loved all our lives” and talk of “getting it on with the hangman’s daughter” are merely pieces of a larger puzzle, as usual, Bejar’s lyrics portraying a cryptic, expressionist abstraction of epic songcraft. It’s art rock at its absolute best, and hell, it’s even pretty catchy, particularly during the cascading, sublime chorus of “la-da-da-da-di-di-di-di-da.” Okay, now cue the smashed vase and splash of crimson when he sings “she needs to feel at peace with her father…the fucking maniac.” – Jeff Terich

“When You Were Young”
by The Killers
from Sam’s Town

“When You Were Young” contains one of my favorite lines from all year: “We’re burnin’ down the highway skyline, on the back of a hurricane that started turnin’ when you were young.” Brandon Flowers’ words capture the rambunctious nature of being young rather well. Along with youth, this single captures how the band has progressed since their debut album and single. Seriousness aside, it’s got a killer beat, no pun intended. At the parties I’ve been to in ’06, “When You Were Young” has gotten a three to four replays a night. A well-crafted pop song is always appreciated, especially when it’s the soundtrack to the greatest telenovela ever. – Dean Steckel

“And I Was a Boy From School”
by Hot Chip
from The Warning

Hot Chip has actually been around since 2000, but this year found the London quintet turning in the best of their careers, namely The Warning. Their inventive mix of dance beats, indie aesthetics and an incredible dual vocal balance earned them nods as the heirs to the crown held by New Order, and rightly so. Several songs, sometimes mixed by their label lab rats DFA, were noteworthy, but “And I Was a Boy From School” is one of the major standouts. The song starts out with a keyboard loop reminiscent of Daft Punk, but then finds Alexis Taylor’s falsetto breaking in to recall Andy Bell, only to find himself undercut beautifully by the bass vocals of Joe Goddard. Its verses are catchy enough, but the true magic of “Boy From School,” as it is called in its `single’ version, comes with the choruses and the bridge. Usually, pop songs find a bit of energetic life in the chorus. That’s where Axl Rose brings you to your `kn-kn-kn-kn-knees.’ Not so for Hot Chip who slow things down in this chorus, and stunningly. Their repeated harmonizing of “We try, but we didn’t have long” is spine tingling. They only up the ante in the bridge when all the instruments save for bells and what sounds like a zither pull back, revealing Goddard heartbreakingly singing “I got, I got lost.” Taylor’s reply answers in kind, equally heartbreaking, and somewhat hopeless as he blames his partner, “You said this was the way back.” “Boy From School” makes me think of what would result from Brian Wilson coming of age in the laptop generation. – Terrance Terich

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