Steamboat Springs "The Temptation of Adam"
It takes a certain kind of songwriter to set a love story in a missile silo. But Josh Ritter does that, populating his Cold War romance with top-secret locations and carving initials into a warhead.
His efforts to win over a girl stuck underground on the brink of nuclear war come through in clever wordplay laid over weepy strings: "We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside/What five letters spell apocalypse she asked me/I won her over singing W-W-I-I-I/And we smiled and we both knew that she'd misjudged me."
"A Postcard to Nina"
Something about 1950s doo-wop works perfectly with Jens Lekman's smooth baritone, frank lyrics and sample-happy horns. In "Nina," he stumbles into an awkward situation that probably never happened, where he's posing as a love interest for a friend and fielding fumbled jokes from her father: "But Nina I can't be your boyfriend/so you can stay with your girlfriend/Your father's mailing me all the time, he says he just wants to say hi/I send back out of office auto-replies."
The White Stripes
Even though he only wrote half of it, "Conquest" is Jack White at his songwriting best. To be able to see a snarling, ruthless rocker in Patti Page's 1950s boys vs. girls song (which is where he got the vocals for this one) lets listeners know that White can make a White Stripes song out of anything.
"American Gangster" the movie is about a ruthlessly smart entrepreneur who made millions by being better at selling drugs than anyone else. Jay-Z sees himself in that, except he sells hip hop (or has since he stopped selling drugs). So, "American Gangster" the album is about finding your way to the top and realizing it's not that great.
"Success" is Jay-Z's affirmation, backed by glaring gospel organ, that he's earned what he has, even if he isn't always sure what to do with it: "I got watches I ain't seen in months/Apartment at the Trump I only slept in once/ : said Hova was over, such dummies/Even if I fell I'd land on a bunch of money."
Nothing shows Kanye West's strengths better than the diversity of his infallible taste in music, and using a Daft Punk sample on the self-aggrandizing "Stronger" is one of his furthest reaches yet from the hip hop framework.
Not every Arcade Fire song is a winner. Especially on "Neon Bible," where the band leaves its innocence behind and sets off to be displeased with the state of the world, single tracks are not Arcade Fire's strength. Then there's "Intervention," with its staggeringly full church organ opening, its wistfully hopeful tinkering in a song that doesn't have hope for anything. He might not like the way things are going, but Arcade Fire leadman Win Butler can come off as optimistic through anything, even when he's singing things like, "Every spark of love will die without a home."
With the same feel as cinematically apt tunes such as "Caring is Creepy," this track has the reflective sound of The Shins' past, but is exuberant in a way that none of the band's infamously "life-changing" songs have been. The tambourine introduction and New Pornographers-style backing vocals make it prime to put on repeat.
"Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"
The style that Of Montreal leadboy Kevin Barnes chose for his "I'm depressed and living in Norway" record doesn't make any sense. Disco and emotional destitution aren't often found together.
But songs like "Heimsdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" are irresistible - Barnes makes self-medication sound like a dance party.