Over the next few weeks, heading into the holiday, I will be posting my favorite songs of the year in blocks of 10. We’ll finish up the Friday before Christmas, so you can consider each of these lists my gift to you (ooh a playlist! so personal!!). This first post is the bottom of the list, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great songs. It took me a long time to land on these 40 songs, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
40. “Say You Were Wrong” by Molehill
These dudes have been working for over a decade and they have yet to reach their potential. Every year or two they’ll put something out that both reminds me how good they are and also shows me a new trick I didn’t know was up their sleeve. Never afraid to be political and direct, they always find a way to keep it fun.
39. “Becoming All Alone” by Regina Spektor
I’m not a religious person, but I do like hearing a good storyteller wrestle with the questions many faithful have at various points in life. It had been years since I’d listened to Regina Spektor and I honestly assumed she just retired. I wasn’t too far off; this year she released her first album since 2016. She’s always been a good lyricist and vocal performer, and “Becoming All Alone” was a great way to remind people of both talents.
38. “Marty McFly” by Normal Zac
After years of recording under the moniker The All-About, Zac Coe switched it up and came out with an album under the name Normal Zac. The themes and sounds remained the same-big, soaring emotions meant to fill arenas like The Killers (I’ve heard he really likes Sam’s Town). Zac never disappoints, and “Marty McFly” stands right there with some of his best work.
37. “Nothing Special” by Will Sheff
For almost 20 years Will Sheff has been delivering beautiful, raw, crushing songs with his ever-revolving band Okkervil River. It was time, maybe a little past time, for him to step out under his own name and show the world who he is. Lucky for us, that seems to be exactly what we all thought: a brilliant writer who happens to also be a great musician. “Nothing Special” is filled with amazing stanzas like this one
In time I’ll see my queen
Gray-eyed, emblazoned jeans
And a raven riding boot
I call her from the moon
With my thousand-dollar tune
But, in airlessness, my words diffuse
36. “Welcome To Hell” by black midi
So hard to choose a song from this year by black midi. These guys are insanely talented musicians fusing punk and jazz and rock and any other genre you can think of. Their ability to stay on course, no matter how off the course they may find themselves, is amazing. Their live show is not to be missed, but they sound good on records, too.
35. “Turning Onto You” by First Aid Kit
Every time First Aid Kit comes out with something new, I think to myself “No way this is gonna be good. It’s just gonna be more of the same.” Well, when “the same” is two voices that harmonize like angels, sounding like they just got back from a time machine trip to 70’s Laurel Canyon, I guess things could be worse. Honestly, Palomino isn’t my favorite record by them, but this song is excellent.
34. “Waking Up In Los Angeles” by Fruit Bats
I love specificity in songs. I love geography in songs. I really love specificity about a location in songs. This latest release from Eric Johnson absolutely nails it (and he calls it out right in the song). I’ve only recently discovered that ,geographically, Johnson spent a lot of time not far from where I’m typing this right now, over at the Old Town School Of Folk Music in Ravenswood. With his high level of songcraft, I can’t imagine we’re even on the same planet, but it’s nice to know we shared a little piece of the world.
33. “Burning” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I was so nervous this album was going to be terrible. A nine-year break from making music together is a long time for any band, and I didn’t love the first single (it’s ok). But this one really set me at ease. And I’m happy to report that the album is very good. It has a lot of classic YYY’s sounds, leaning heavy toward the Show Your Bones sound. Synthy and sexy as anything you’ll hear.
32. “No Stage” by Momma
Momma is one of my favorite discoveries of 2022. I got sent their album a couple months before it came out and listened to it a couple times back to back. They hit that 90’s nostalgia itch while offering something that also feels completely new. It was hard to pick one song over any of the others, but I went with “No Stage” because it’s a banger but I also love the line “I could be your favorite movie, cause I like a little tragedy”
31. “A Billion Drums” by Fort Frances
This list started with the band I’ve known the longest, and it’s ending with the one I might know the best. I’ve had some long conversations with David McMillin of Fort Frances, and we are basically on the same page on a lot of things in life and in music. He’s an optimistic songwriter even if the world around him can get pretty cynical. He lets it all out here on “A Billion Drums” when he says ” Time is a wheel, don’t give up, don’t slow down, don’t you dare turn around.” It’s nice to know I can always turn to his words when I need a little encouragement.