Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top 30 Songs of 2010

When I make year end song lists I try to follow two rules:
1) No songs from top ranked albums*
2) One song per artist

Yes, this helps spread the wealth but it is really about celebrating the song as a singular entity. Truly great songs have all the depth and emotional range of a full length and are best heard outside of the context of its record.

I think this might be the single best explanation of what my taste looks like at this point in time so enjoy (at the bottom there is a link to download a zipfile of all 30 songs).

Beck – Garbage Truck

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a fine enough movie with a damn good original soundtrack. This song is my most lasting memory of the film and is generally badass.

29. Baths – Hall

Read enough music blogs and you will end up liking songs like this.

28. The Hoof & The Heal – Fireworks

The first 2.5 minutes is pretty solid if not workmanlike indie pop, but then there is that GD refrain where the lady sings the main theme sweetly and the male incessantly shouts. It reminded me of a happy version of the ending of The National's “Secret Meeting”.

27. Cloud Nothings – Didn’t You

It’s fun, bouncy, and a tad bit grating – it’s the music of an 18 year old in 2010. It might be the shortest 4 minute song of the year.

26.The Tallest Man on Earth – King of Spain

When I make these lists every year there is always a misguided desire to get it completely right. I try to jam every album I missed into the first week of December. This year, The Tallest Man on Earth was the artist to separate himself from the rest of the previously missed pack (take that Ben Folds/Nick Hornby). Thus, I have only known this song for less than a week - maybe it will grow on me more, maybe I’ll grow tired of it in 6 days – still I am very comfortable with it joining the ranks.

25. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Our Hearts Are Wrong

With her voice and unique vocal phrasing, I would buy an album of Jessica Lea Mayfield singing names from the Ohio phone book. This might be the most peppy song of her career sonically but as the title suggests JLM is still the same downtrodden, oddly world wary 21 year old that I love.

24. Bear Hands – What a Drag

There was a time back in 2007 when I was certain Bear Hands would be the next big thing. They were not. Regardless, they can write a single and the lead singer can turn a phrase, “You got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails”

23. Male Bonding – Year’s Not Long

It is a scrappy fucking song. Frantic, brash, catchy, or more simply the type of song I always want to hear.

22. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II

Smiles. What I like about Mrs. Arcade Fire is that it sounds like she is smiling when she sings. It is refeshing, especially compared to her ever-stoic beau. "Sprawl" is so joyous it allows me to ignore the “important” lyrics.

21. Yeasayer – I Remember

“Ambling Alp” would have easily been by my top song of 2010 but it was released as single in November 2009. When the album did come out in 2010 this stood out. I instantly loved the vocal melody, partly because it is very similar to a song I once wrote with Dawson.

20. The Black Keys – Everlasting Light

I don’t want to be the “I liked them more before they got big” guy but for me The Black Keys are at their best when they are doing punked up version of Junior Kimbrough songs. Still this song is special, blatantly forward thinking yet still securely rooted in their blues core.

19. She & Him – Home

I have written about this song before and I think I said it best, “You can actually here Zooey smile as she sings the refrain. Smiling! Actual audible happiness recorded for the listener to empathize! No Auto-tune. No American Idol belting for belting sake. No Beyonce aimlessly singing runs without any regard to the melody.” I am sucker for refrains, especially when they are performed with as much heart and honesty as is the case with “Home”.

18. Here We Go Magic – Collector

For a band that is as psychedelic and ambient as Here We Go Magic often is, this is their equivalent to a four-on-the-floor rave up. Kinetic and propulsive, I always hope it would last at least 85 minutes longer.

17.Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union

Just a seven minute and ten second powerhouse of a song.

16. Nathaniel Rateliff – Early Spring Till

There I was on a second date, talking about music, and recommending bands my counterpart would surely never listen to, when my guest brought up Nathaniel Rateliff. In her words, “he just gets up on stage and sings his heart out.” Though trite, she was ultimately correct.

15. Janelle Monae (Feat. Big Boi) - Tightrope

Plainly, this is song is a real hoot.

14. The Hold Steady - The Weekenders

This first half of 2010 was defined by its disappointing releases. The Hold Steady was one such release for me; the sonic equivalent of a band trying to figure out where to place its next step. I remain excited for their future because even on a down record The Hold Steady were able to come up with my favorite lyric of the year:

“She said the theme of this party's the Industrial Age/

And you came in dressed like a train wreck”

13. Gayngs – The Gaudy Side of Town

Talented people can take even the most flimsy premise and churn out gold. A bunch of Mid-westerners (including Mr. Bon Iver) half-ironically taking their best stab at 1980’s blue-eyed soul sex jams is not something I ever thought I would want to listen to but alas here I am.

12. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Mama Don’t Like My Man

Here is a fun fact about my taste in soul music: I like the sweet Sam Cooke stuff more than the imposing Otis Redding variety. This is my favorite SJ&TDP song because it is just a beautiful, tender, minimal doo-wop number. Anachronistic schmanachronistic, the song is a joy

11. Japandroids - Younger Us

Japandroids writes songs about the forced nostalgia of a generation of twenty somethings ready to talk about last night like it was the roaring 40 years ago. They are me at my most earnest, they are my Bruce Springsteen – I sing along, fist pumping accordingly. Musically, they are tenacious and brash, allowing me to accept how close they are to sounding like Taking Back Sunday. I hate that I relate to the below lyric but it is what it is:

“remember saying things like 'we'll sleep when we're dead'

and thinking this feeling was never gonna end

remember that night you were already in bed,

said 'fuck it' got up to drink with me instead!”

10. Mark McGuire – Brain Storm (For Erin)

This is not really the type of music I listen to unless I am watching Friday Night Lights, but there is something special about this track. I realized my affinity for it when I was deciding to play it on the Podcast I co-host. What sets it apart is the recording; the left speaker plays the track as recorded and the right speaker picks up the delay. So completely immersive after multiple listens, it has a way of worming itself into your brain, allowing the melody slowly reveal itself over time.

9. Cee-Lo - Fuck You

Enough time has passed since this song’s grotesque ubiquity, allowing me to listen to it once again with fresh ears. Now I can securely say that is as lasting as it was once immediate. The song just grabs you and makes you want to instantly play it again. Yes, he curses but its impact is secondary to how he chooses to sing it. I would like to believe “Flub Glue” would be equally as compelling.

8. Crystal Castles – Violent Dreams

Ethereal yet tense, beautiful yet jarring, this is the type of song I never would have imagined liking five years ago. Abstract and indecipherable, it is a song that allows each listener to project his or her own meaning. In my opinion it is the high water mark for how affecting digital music can be.

7. Tennis - Marathon

A song that sounds modern regardless of the de rigueur 1950’s girl groupness and the That Thing You Do rhythms. It all comes down to the vocals - the dove singing through a speak & spell lead and the specter with a bouffant harmonies – that are just perfect. It might be the most aggressively pleasant song I have ever heard.

6. Spoon – Who Makes Your Money

Transference was one of my biggest disappoints this year, since I expect complete perfection from Spoon. Though very different from the rest of their catalog this track still highlights what Spoon does better than anyone: subtlety. The songs unfolds slowly, building a melodic tension until there is just 30 seconds left and Britt hits that hushed falsetto, “who makes your monaaaaay, who makes your money”. It hit me like a sledgehammer to the shin upon the first listen and for every subsequent one to this day.

5. Best Coat - Boyfriend

My time living in LA directly coincided with the era of bands making music like this. Why is this song special? It is just better. Waxing poetic about a song this simple seems ridiculous; sometimes it is just that easy and songs are just good.

4. White Denim - tony fatti

I am the first to admit White Denim is not a great brand, yet there is no one I listened to more this year. They are exactly what I want from new music: fast, twitchy, disjointed, driving, guitar heavy, spastic, kinetic, soulfully sung. I wish they were my songs, I wish it was my band.

3. Sam Amidon - Relief

Sam Amidon sings only covers of old regional folk songs. “Relief” is the exception as it was originally performed by the incomparable R. Kelly. The instrumentation is drastically changed and yet the big difference is how Sam beautifully phrases the melody. I did not truly love the song until I saw him live and he explained why he decided to cover the song, its lyrics:

“What a relief to know that, we are one

What a relief to know that, the war is over

What a relief to know that, there is an angel in the sky

What a relief to know that, love is still alive”

He pointed out how completely untrue this refrain was when it was released and how odd it was for R. Kelly to write a joyous song about a non-existent reality. He continued, that the truth of the song would shift in and out over time. His incredibly heartfelt performance focuses less on the possible irony here and more on the beauty of its potential. When Sam lead a sing along of this overly idealized refrain, I could hear that the best singing crowd I have ever been part of decide to believe these words even if for just the five minutes.

2. Weekend – Coma Summer

I do not like A Place To Bury Strangers, the existence of My Bloody Valentine has had no effect on my life, Sonic Youth always seemed pointless, yet this song really got to me. Yes, there is a lot of noise but its nowhere near the masturbatory levels of the previously alluded to band, it simply brings an urgency and dynamism to the bittersweet song. The vocals are mixed low, as is expected for the genre, but the melody is sing along-able even on the first go around. I think more than anything else what got them so high was being from San Francisco. Moving to a new city is never easy but finding a band or song that you love can make you feel like you are in the right place.

1. Sharon Van Etten – Love More

Sometimes it is just about a voice. Sharon Van Etten’s is powerful, oddly lived in considering her lack of age, and with a purity that reminds me of Sam Cooke of all people. “Love More” is a vocal showcase for Ms. Van Etten, which I keep on coming back to so to marvel at the impossible to ignore talent and emotional resonance. She does not merely sing the notes; instead she slyly approaches from above or below, creating brief discordant moments. This disharmony underlies the bittersweet meaning of the song, which though intentionally uneasy is not purely morose. “Love More” is true to Sharon’s tendency of lyrical specificity; however, broadly it is a song about coming to terms with both the best parts and especially the worst parts of failed relationships.

The meaning is brought to life by the flourishes surrounding the lead vocal. The greatest impact comes from harmonies that are surprising and painfully beautiful. I have never heard a more affecting example of an artist overdubbing her or his own voice. Smartly, the instrumentation does not draw to much attention to itself: Quiet percussion simply helps to maintain momentum, brief guitar swells and fills boosts the melody with out getting in the way, and the repetitive pump organ creates a space for the loneliness to reside.

Though obviously recorded in a studio with multiple takes for multiple parts, the result feels three-dimensional. A moment in time is captured as much as a feeling. “Love More” is my favorite song of 2010 because ultimately it lives, it breathes, it grows, it evolves.

Download all 30 Songs Here

*I expect many will be able to reverse engineer my top album list by what is not on here. For the rest, that list will be up next Monday.

1 comment:

  1. #22 is the song I've been listening to all week, all through finals! And I totally agree about the smiling thing.