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All Mixed Up

Remember that song "Last Night, a Year-End Top Ten List Saved My Life"? Of course you don't. The music itself -- not some perfunctory list -- is what makes you laugh, pulls on your heartstrings and gets you thinking. Aside from mix tapes made by old lovers and friends, an enumeration of someone else's favorite music isn't going to move you. So this year we've taken a more pragmatic approach to sharing our favorite local releases. We've assembled track lists with the best songs from the best albums and artists for situations you may encounter in the coming year -- a custom set of mix tapes from us to you.

Top Ten Songs While You're Waiting for the Light to Change
By Dave Herrera

Whether you're stranded in the mobile parking lot known as T-Rex or stuck in an endless loop of red lights, these tracks are so tuneful and profound that before long, you'll be romanticizing the mundane moments in life and drumming on the steering wheel, and you'll forget all about raging against the machines.

1. "Don't Ask Me" from the Seattle Sessions by Love.45 (Self-released)
"Don't Ask Me" kicks off thirteen minutes of pure power-pop bliss on Love.45's latest disc. Sure, the fellas have followed the radio-rock formula down to the letter, but it's rarely been done this well or sounded this good. By the second chorus you'll be fingering the rewind button instead of saluting your fellow motorists.

2. "Waking Up the Stars" from Too Many Fires,by Carolyn's Mother (Arc Weld Records)
This anthemic ditty is an apt introduction to the best material the venerable ensemble has produced. On "Waking Up the Stars," a shimmery six-string skitters across a thundering, omnipresent bass line while Rhett Lee's soaring vox instantly captivates, conjuring images of a place where the streets have no name -- and probably no traffic.

3. "Vienna" from the Reason EP by the Fray (Self-released)
Subtle guitar flourishes spread like a fine mist over this piano-heavy arrangement, creating a fitting backdrop for a lamentation to lost love. "Vienna" is a hauntingly beautiful track from an EP already brimming with brilliance, and it will relax you like a warm flood of seratonin.

4. "Poison Tester" from Jump the Hedges First, by Against Tomorrow's Sky (Universal Warning Records)
From a band that took its moniker and album title from a Van Morrison song ("Sweet Thing"), this is exactly what you'd expect: an epochal musing taking you deeper into the mystic. Like Morrison's "Cypress Avenue," "Poison Tester" is a bit ambiguous. By the time you've deciphered its true meaning, you'll probably be home.

5. "By the Sea Shore" from Ambient Frequencies, by Five Style Fist (Self-released)
"By the Sea Shore" is a six-minute audio sedative from an outfit that otherwise treads on the hybrid trail blazed by 311. If this serene instrumental doesn't lower your blood pressure dramatically, a few anger-management classes would probably do you a world of good.

6. "Me and Wade" from Famous American, by The Late Jack Redell (Satire Records)
Armed with a trademark twang and a penchant for storytelling, Redell has the makings of a classic American songwriter. Part Springsteen and part Cash, he crafts organic tunes that are perfect for driving, whether you're barreling down the road with the windows down or at a dead stop.

7. "What You're Thinking" from Applause of the Rain, by Christopher Jak (440 Records)
What the hell is that guy in the SUV smiling about? Why isn't he red-faced and white-knuckled like you? Obviously, unlike this guy, you don't know Jak -- because if you did, you'd be smiling, too, and people would be wondering "What You're Thinking." With a voice that falls somewhere between those of David Wilcox and John Gorka, this newcomer is a welcome addition to the scene.

8. "1963" from the compilation The Acoustic Circus, by Ordinary Poets (Fall of Order Records)
"1963" is a jangly ode waxing on the familiar theme of it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The masterful vocal work will take you back in time to the days before you could drive. Whatever happened to that girl, anyway?

9. "Diesel Man" from Last Call Scars, by Rexway (Hapi Skratch Records)
Instead of cursing that jackass in the Peterbilt for driving at half speed in the fast lane and making broad right turns, "Diesel Man" implores you to respect those "brought up on this highwayman's life." After all, they "built us our America."

10. "Sirens" from Untying the Not, by the String Cheese Incident
The dynamic tension of "Sirens" -- dark minor-chord progressions in the verses and sunny, major-chord changes in the chorus -- mimics bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic. Just as things start loosening up, they bottleneck and the cycle repeats itself.

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