What follows is a tally of the songs that mattered to me this year, big and small, pop or not, not in exact numerical order, but in clusters that made a certain sort of internal sense. It will not be too jarring. You know how these things work…
David Bowie – “Love Is Lost” (Hello Steve Reich mix by James Murphy)
The genuine warmth that surrounded David Bowie’s return to health and music was massive enough to warp the estimation of his comeback album. The Next Day was a decent record, better than his last few, certainly, but it featured only a couple highlights within shooting range of his career’s Everest peaks. At worst, it was melody and hook challenged, its best moments frazzled or muted by design. But, if there’s one person on the planet haunted by the structure of the truly grand Bowie songs, it’s James Murphy. In his first full year as a super producer to the stars, Murphy got his dream assignment, reworking “Love Is Lost” into an art-disco masterpiece with the epic builds, pregnant pauses, allusions to high-art composition, and even the exact effing piano sounds from Bowie’s best work. A decisive win for art-pop fan-fic.
Arcade Fire – “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”
Elsewhere, Murphy’s Bowie-era art-rock fetish was most prominently applied to the Arcade Fire. While the album turned out sort of gawky to my ears—sharp elbows and sweaty torsos inside a mirror-ball tuxedo—there are truly great moments that their most vocal detractors refuse to acknowledge. This one’s got their best guitar riff, maybe ever? It gives Regine, the one with the light touch to actually be an effective avant-disco singer, lots of space that the album could have used elsewhere. Win, when given a slow-down middle section to ache and simmer and mug to his heart’s content, is pretty great too.