My favorite things

The 20 tracks -- all exclusive to Salon -- that make up the best of this year's free downloads.

Published December 30, 2006 1:00PM (EST)

This year we've featured more -- and better -- exclusive downloads on Audiofile than ever before. Midway through making my list of favorite Audiofile downloads of the year, I realized that all of them were Salon exclusives -- not so surprising, really, because nine times out of 10 an exclusive is my favorite song from the album it's on, a song I was excited enough about to go through the trouble of getting permission to post it.

Anyhow, here are my 20 favorite downloads from Audiofile this year. As usual, they're not as eclectic as I'd like, as it's still the case that indie rock is the only genre to have fully embraced the Web and the idea of giving away songs on it as an effective promotional tool. Regardless, much as I wish there were more jazz, more world music, any classical, etc., this is still a batch of 20 songs that I'm proud to have hosted. Tell me where you think I went wrong in the comments. Thanks to all the artists and labels for allowing us to post their music, and thanks to you for listening.

1. "Looter's Follies," Destroyer
exclusive download | review
The best track from my favorite record of the year, a songwriting tour de force.

2. "Ambiguity," David Thomas Broughton
exclusive download | review
The opening track from Broughton's debut, recorded live in a church.

3. "Jolly Jolly Jolly Ego," Dirty Projectors
exclusive download | review
An astonishing, brilliantly constructed song from one of the most innovative minds in modern music.

4. "No Education," Plush
exclusive download | review
An equally brilliant construct from an anachronistic pop classicist.

5. "Lies," Carl Hancock Rux
exclusive download | review
A standout track from one of my surprise favorites of the year, Carl Hancock Rux's "Good Bread Alley."

6. "Marla," Grizzly Bear
exclusive download | review
The gauzy, impossibly tender emotional core of Grizzly Bear's brilliant "Yellow House."

7. "Maybe in Another Year," Jennie Pearl
exclusive download | review
A haunting song from 15-year-old Joni Mitchell wannabe Jennie Pearl.

8. "The Legend," Willie Nelson
exclusive download | review
An elegant take on a classic Kris Kristofferson song, by one of the great interpreters of our time.

9. "Estrela," Susana Baca
exclusive download | review
A honeyed, beatific duet by Baca and Gilberto Gil.

10. "Post-War," M. Ward
exclusive download | review
A ballad for the dusk from the silky-voiced young songwriter.

11. "Truth Is Marching In," Marc Ribot and Spiritual Unity
exclusive download | review
The guitar great leads his new quartet through a tribute to Albert Ayler.

12. "O Yes My Lord," Voices of Conquest
exclusive download | review
A Detroit choir backed by a single drummer -- one of the strangest things I've ever heard.

13. "Polska på övervåningen," Väsen
exclusive download | review
The legendary Swedish folk trio giving a gorgeous performance of one of its best compositions.

14. "La Llorona," Chavela Vargas
exclusive download | review
A legendary and heart-wrenchingly ravaged voice in her Carnegie Hall debut.

15. "Bells," Albert Ayler
exclusive download | review
The legendary free jazz saxist (that's three legends in a row, best take a break) in an 18-minute-plus performance of one his signature tunes.

16. "Prepared (2)," Lambchop
exclusive download | review
Whispered, nearly indecipherable intimacies from the masterful Kurt Wagner.

17. "I Cried Last Night," Junior Kimbrough
exclusive download | review
Junior Kimbrough definitely stands out among modern bluesmen, not just for his singular evocation of the Delta blues ethos but because of how loose and weird and mysterious his music is.

18. "De Makeba," The Jazz Dazzlers
exclusive download | review
For me, South African township jazz is an instant dopamine booster.

19. "Give All to Love," Niobe
exclusive download | review
A gorgeous and disorienting song from a German electronic music artist.

20. "This Lamb Sells Condos," Final Fantasy
exclusive download | review
Dazzling, adorable, punchable.

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For more Salon year-end stories, click here.

By Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett is a writer and musician in New York. He maintains a blog called doveman.

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