The rules are all the same: No song that appeared on my best albums list. I've expanded from my usual ten this year because there was just that much excellence to be reckoned with. One is a bit of a cheat, but as we're simply sharing wealth, I hope you can pardon me. More than most this year have some association with film, which shouldn't exactly be news, but I do love that films have been a consistent source of other artistic pleasure this year.
The National - "The Rains of Castamere"
Written to cap off one of the most anticipated and striking hours of television in the history of the form. How best to quell the truly beastly things we'd been witness to than with a dirge, something that forced the audience to contemplate what happens when men decide to go to war. Game of Thrones had been a serviceable allegory before the Battle of Blackwater, but never before had it turned to the blackest part of political manuevering and showed the human cost with such gut-wrenching (often literally) force. The National get dark, but rarely in their own songs had they reached so far down into human cruelty and come away with something so striking.
Ren Harvieu - "Nobody Does It Better"
I admit it was Radiohead covering the Carly Simon-sung, Marvin Hamlisch-penned Bond theme that kept it in my brain. Could Thom Yorke really love it that much? I suppose I just hadn't heard the right version. Until this year. The right version, for me, it seems is the one performed by one of England's many well-kept secrets, Ren Harvieu. Her version of You Only Live Twice earlier in the Bond And Beyond Celebration hosted by film critic Mark Kermode and presenter Simon Mayo (and Hello to Jason Isaacs!) was pretty stellar, but this has the feeling of destiny in it. She sells the heartache like few others can.
Adele - "Skyfall"
From one Bond theme to another. I'd completely forgotten how much I love this song (more so isolated than with the dispiritingly banal opening title sequence it accompanies) until after publishing. I've sung it to myself once a day since seeing Skyfall. Calling Adele the Shirley Bassey of our day is probably less a compliment than an obscurity countdown, so I'll just say that the song, like the film, has real staying power.
Scott Walker - "Epizootics!"
There's a moment in every music fan's life when they realize that the Scott Walker crooning "30th Century Man" at the end of The Life Aquatic, the fellow from the Walker Brothers, and the Scott Walker with the haunted moan who scored Pola X and gave the world the sound of its own death rattle in the album The Drift, are the same person. The avant-garde phases of Walker's career has got to stand as one of, if not the most, drastic reinvention in the history of music. I've loved his latest works starting from Tilt in 1995, but I think I may have found a favourite song from any point in his career, and it comes complete with a fabulous black-and-white movie to go with it. This Scott Walker is fearless.
The cast of The Hobbit - "Misty Mountains"
Or whatever... Look, maybe it's unforgivably nerdy of me to include this song, but I do know that it was during these ludicrous-on-paper musical numbers that I realized I was watching a movie that was going to stand the test of time. Haunting harmonies from the cast, who through nothing but intonation communicate generations of despair and fatalism. Ask anyone, I was completely indifferent to this whole film and everything it stood for before I saw it. This song is a big part of what changed my mind.
Kylie Minogue - "Who Were We?"
It takes a genius to get the world to notice Kylie Minogue for who she can be: one of the most heartbreaking singers out there. And the song, penned by Carax himself with Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy, seems lifted from a Judy Garland musical, but with a sadness and tragic hope lacking from the best of Meet Me In St. Louis or even A Star Is Born.
Pharaoh Overlord - "Rodent"
Falling just shy of the apocalyptic grandeur of the latest Godspeed record, Pharoah Overlord's Lunar Jetman nevertheless had "Rodent," one of the most crushing, haunting and electrifying rock songs in history. Part swamp rock, part doom drone, part black metal journey, for those ten minutes "Rodent" makes you feel alive.
The Walkmen - "Angela Surf City"
The Walkmen have a pass for life at this point and so as long as they're going to give me a toe-tapper in this vein for all their soul-searching and concept records, I'll follow them wherever.
Jesca Hoop - "Hospital"
She may be one of the world's most thoughtful songwriters and studio craftsman, but when she puts on the guise of pop star, Jesca Hoop really comes alive. It's a put-on and she knows it, but there's something to indulging our collective guilty pleasure, especially when devised so deliciously by someone with Hoop's ear for a hook. The lyrics betray her intelligence - if she's going to deliver top 40 fodder, it's going to hurt.
Lee Ranaldo Band with J Mascis - "Albatross"
And what would one of my lists be without a single song from a tribute album. They're largely wrectched endeavors, never the sum of their parts. But there's rarely one without at least one point of interest. Case in point: two of the world's greatest guitarists putting a distinctly 80's spin on one of the best guitar tracks of all time.
Laura Jorgensen - "The Climb"
Oh Laura, my dear, dear friend! You continue to fill my life with joyous, heartfelt music. I don't know if this is your best song, it could very well be (you've not exactly made it easy on those of us trying to decide these things), but that opening is among the sweetest sounds I've ever heard. Don't ever stop.
The Bootleggers - "White Light/White Heat"
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis' music may not have exactly been what the movie Lawless needed, but I can't complain because otherwise they'd never have recruited Mark Lanegan to sing just out of his range. The voice he adopts, attempting to reach the highest register he's perhaps ever gone for, is worth the movie being less than it could have been. This song has been in constant rotation since the film's premiere this summer.
Spiritualized - "Hey Jane"
I maintain that this is Spiritualized's best song. Other opinions are available.
JJ Doom - "Banished"
Release after release, MF Doom remains an enigma. While the world waits for Madvillainy 2, he continues to spin webs of gloomy hip-hop in whatever direction catches his fancy. The fly he caught this time around would be Jneiro Jarel, a beat-maker of almost equal dexterity to Doom himself. Relegated to just the man at the mic, Doom doesn't disappoint, least of all on "Banished," which has the most eccentric flow of any modern rap song perhaps ever. What would be marbles in the mouths of lesser MCs becomes liquid gold, spat with his usual wink-wink impudence.
Les Surfs - "Tu Seras Mi Baby"
Now, this is disingenuous, I confess. This song in its original incarnation (writ by Phil Spector, sung by The Ronettes), and even this version, are decades old. But I'm willing to bet the world at large was largely ignorant of its existence, as I was, until we watched Miguel Gomes' Tabu. I could thank the man for making a beautiful movie all day, but really I must thank him in person some day for introducing me to this song.