30. Leonard Cohen: “Almost Like the Blues” Throughout his half-century career Leonard Cohen has rarely dared to be outright funny, but “Almost Like the Blues” may be the octogenarian’s most mordantly humorous song to date, as he describes rape and murder and war as “almost like the blues.” The cosmic punchline to a long career is that the world’s grimmest problems pale next to those of a poet-singer with a famously dour countenance and an obsession with Biblical allusions. Best line that proves Cohen is in on the joke: “There’s torture and there’s killing, and there’s all my bad reviews.” 29. Rosanne Cash: “A Feather’s Not a Bird” Rosanne Cash opens her latest album with a swampy country-blues travelogue that rides the same roads as Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Lucinda’s Car Wheels: She rides into Memphis and Muscle Shoals, heads up to Nashville, and finally back to Florence, Alabama. It’s a journey toward a new perspective on her own life and art, tracing routes on a map like roots of a musical family tree. 28. Trampled by Turtles: “Wild Animals” “There’s another world, it’s made for us,” Dave Simonett sings on the title track to Trampled by Turtles’ seventh album. It’s a song about this life and the one after, and sure enough, “Wild Animals” sounds like heaven, thanks to the band’s brotherly harmonies and the roomy, haunted production courtesy of fellow Duluth icon Alan Sparhawk. This is what Low would sound like as a string band—which is high praise. 27. Real Estate: “Talking Backwards” Rarely does a song about chronic miscommunication manage to sound quite as eloquent as “Talking Backwards,” the centerpiece of Real Estate’s third and best full-length, Atlas. Drawing from arcane indie pop of the late 1980s (e.g. the Innocence Mission, the Ocean Blue) without sounding revivalist, the New Jersey band converse in crisply intersecting guitar lines, naturalistic melodies, and collegiate vocals—all of which barely disguise the song’s subtly unsettling sense of isolation and regret. 26. Spoon: “Do You” “Do You” may be remembered as 2014’s best summer jam, with its coded come-on (“Do you wanna get understand?”) and its chorus of infectious do-do-do’s sounding like a girl-group 45 melting on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk. However, Britt Daniel and co. aren’t sold on the warm weather, opening the song with him barfing in the street and closing with a request for a popsicle. They’re one of the few bands who can elevate adult ambivalence to anthemic levels. 25. John Fullbright: “The One That Lives Too Far” John Fullbright may have stripped down to nothing but a piano and a lonely guitar on his second album, but his concerns remain as dramatic as ever. On “The One That Lives Too Far,” he pleads with a lover to stay true but knows she’s slipping further and further out of reach. The kicker: Every relationship is long-distance when you live in the middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma. 24. Beck: “Heart Is a Drum” Two decades after declaring himself a loser, it’s still a shock that Beck can do acoustic and sincere just as well as he once did beats and irony. “Heart Is a Drum” is a fluttery folk tune that frays at the edges, showing off new grain in his voice (it’s been six years since his last album) and ruminating on the tragedy of conformity and the triumph of finding your own way. It’s not Mellow Gold, but it is mellow gold. 23. Lydia Loveless: “Head” Too few break-up ballads address the absence of sex in the midst of loneliness, which makes Lydia Loveless’ wine-stained wet dream “Head” so devastating. “Don’t stop getting undressed, don’t stop giving me head,” she sings boldly, but the despair in her robust Buckeye brogue conveys all too convincingly the loss of physical intimacy that follows a bad split. 22. Benjamin Booker: “Have You Seen My Son?” This debut single from the brash Florida-bred blues-rocker and Jack White protégé is an ode to prodigality, but you’d be hard pressed to tell if he’s pro wondering or con. The song morphs willfully from its Strokesy rave-up into a lengthy guitar jam, as though the music is leading us out into the big bad world. 21. Doug Paisley: “Radio Girl” Who even listens to the radio anymore? This Canadian’s finest song waxes nostalgic not just for a long-lost lover, but for the experience of turning on the radio, hearing a song you didn’t expect, and having a lifetime of memories flood your brain.
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