It's that time of year again. A time when every major pop culture site, blog, station, magazine, et al., produce lists that sum up the year in various media. Last year, I threw down a very personal three-parter that covered the previous decade, but this year, we're gonna try something new. This is my list of MY top 25 individual tracks of 2010, and I'll tell you up front that the order is a bit specious. On any other day, the bulk of the bottom, say, 20 (I know that's a lot!) could be reorder and reconsidered. I feel lucky to have so much great music from this year to have sorted through, but also slightly unprepared because there are several top albums of this year that I haven't yet got my grubby mitts on (Sorry, Kanye). There's also a serious shift in my musical tastes over this year to consider, how I trended toward dance and electronic stuff more than ever before, which informs this list and also skews my rankings ever so slightly. Ultimately, these tracks would comprise a stellar mixtape, so I compel you, even if you don't care why I like any of these, give each a shot and be blessed with the holiest of holiday traditions, the indie music orgasm. Now, here's the list:
Honorable Mentions: "Kiss On My List" - The Bird & The Bee, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates; "Crash Years" - The New Pornographers, Together; "Rambling Man" - Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can
And I'm already cheating a bit, throwing three extra songs on the list of 25. But, well, if you have a problem with it, continue reading and comment at the end. The Bird & The Bee's Hall & Oates cover album is one of the most fun listens of the year, and even though there is only one original on the disc, they needed a mention. "Kiss On My List" is my fave original, and their cover here is heartfelt and charming. "Crash Years" is a great, if too familiar song on the somewhat disappointing Together. Beautiful vocals by Neko Case, though. And Laura Marling gets props here for a great, sour, sad folk song, equipped with banjo and wonder. It's not catchy, per se, but it is exceptional musicianship and her vocals are haunting. But, serious, now let's do the list...
25. "Holiday" - Vampire Weekend, Contra
The main reason Vampire Weekend's catchy track falls to the bottom of the list involves a Honda commercial that is so ubiquitous right now I can barely stand the song anymore. The upside, it's a stellar song and is evidence that the band continues to churn out yelping, hook-laden, post-punk-pop.
24. "The Cave" - Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
Here's a tough spot. I couldn't figure out where to put Mumford & Sons, so they fit in with "The Cave" at 24. This is a phenomenal song, released as a single this year that combines the dreary self-awareness of The National with the pastoral sonic scenery of Fleet Foxes. It's just beautiful work, and should probably be higher on the list than it is.
23. "In The Sun" - She & Him, Volume Two
On a somewhat disappointing follow up to the great Volume One, "In The Sun" is a tightly plotted and fun song with a rousing, but not too rousing chorus. Zooey Deschanel's voice is perfect and M. Ward's musicianship excellent, but the song never challenges the listener enough to be "great."
22. "Daisy" - Fang Island, Fang Island
Beautiful Beach Boys-esque harmonies converge with flying, speedy guitars and an anthemic closing loaded with raucous chants, claps and heart-moving drums.
21. "Rachel" - Sleigh Bells, Treats
With Sleigh Bells, you get a lot of different tastes, and "Rachel" is the slower burning, fuzzier type of song, filled with lots of "oohs." It's one of their most accessible tracks on the album, and while not as fun as the others, it feels full, and grown up.
20. "Romance Is Boring" - Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring
As a title track, this one grinds out Los Campesinos! punk rock-ish frustration perfectly. The build within the song to a powerful and catchy chorus basically give the finger to romance, siding with the more pure lust, aggression and passion.
19. "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)" - Wolf Parade, Expo 86
I loved Wolf Parade's return this year that felt like a "back-to-roots" project to wash the terrible taste of At Mount Zoomer out of our collective mouths. Really I would've picked the whole album, but this track has some of the best lyrics and the best licks on the album.
18. "Pap Smear" - Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (II)
As I said in my review earlier this year, this song with its lamentable title may well be the best on the album. Crystal Castles keeps things disjointed with pace changes and jangling mixes, and the vocals are distant, but beautiful throughout.
17. "Night By Night" - Chromeo, Business Casual
With it's Rocky-esque guitar riff and beat, this is a seriously catchy dance-rock track. Chromeo shows hints of reaching toward LCD Soundsystem heights, with an extra injection of fun and less self-awareness. A great, catchy song on a surprisingly fresh, full album.
16. "Superfast Jellyfish" - Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
Plastic Beach is overloaded, but since day one, I've been all about "Superfast Jellyfish" because it is the most unapologetically charming, poppy song on the album. Where much of the greatness with the album comes from maturity and careful songwriting, this track is a boost that keeps you listening.
15. "Got Nuffin'" - Spoon, Transference
The only good song on the whole goddamn album. But it's a really good song and it means that Spoon can get back to writing the music that seems to come so easy to them. Next album... hopefully...
14. "Fixed" - Stars, The Five Ghosts
Exhibit A: Amy Millan's beautiful vocals and lots of synthed out guitars and keys. Exhibit B: Catchy, but sad, as is Stars wont. Case closed.
13. "Real Love" - Delorean, Subiza
Delorean is one of my favorite finds of the year, and "Real Love" is just one of a litany of phenomenal songs. It's long, slow-burning, and has just the right amount of natural sound mixed in with the electronic to hold onto its humanity. And it drops to a hush and breathtaking bridge when the love drops out of the lyrics.
12. "Odessa" - Caribou, Swim
It's the opener, and the top track on the disc. So sonically interesting, despite its repetition. And the lyrics offer just enough to keep you thinking about the sort of machinations that keep us going every day in spite of the odds against us.
11. "Walk in the Park" - Beach House, Teen Dream
On such a wonderful album, it was hard to pick just one song, but I settled on "Walk in the Park" because it is full and cinematic. The opening lyric "We go for a walk in the park because you don't need anything" is exceptional, and captures the whole idea of Teen Dream, looking at music through the eyes of naivety dressed as experience.
10. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The National, High Violet
Another case of "fuck I have to pick one," I went with "Bloodbuzz Ohio" because it is endemic of The National's catalog. A song about home, artistic goals, and life with bills, it's just a slice of being a dreamer in a world where dreaming is associated so often with the laziness of sleep and the time wasting of daydreaming.
9. "Heaven's On Fire" - The Radio Dept., Clinging To A Scheme
The Radio Dept.'s album is a must own. I mean that. You, whoever you are reading this right now, MUST OWN this album. "Heaven's On Fire" is the second track, and it's an energizing masterpiece that opens with a touch of politicized interviewing.
8. "Hand Me Down Your Love" - Hot Chip, One Life Stand
Hot Chip simply knocked this album out of the park, but "Hand Me Down Your Love" is as thumping a track as they've ever produced, with heavy snare drum and smashing piano. It's catchy, powerful and ornately arranged to the point that it's hyper-eclectic.
7. "Subliminal Message" - Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Another surprise album for me, Happy Birthday produces a great throwback-y single with "Subliminal Message" that has a nostalgia for '80s sound, a nostalgia for love and simplicity in life, and a great chorus.
6. "The Game Gets Old" - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, I Learned The Hard Way
I'm a sucker for the opening brass line on "The Game Gets Old." In fact, I get chills every time I hear the song, and that's before Sharon Jones' powerful pipes take control of the scene. This is a song that remakes and retouches Motown's past and tells significant truths about love and what "the game" can do to those who lose out. It's brilliant.
5. "Bottled Up In Cork" - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks
I wanted to throw in "One Polaroid A Day" and others from Ted Leo's The Brutalist Bricks, but I couldn't bring myself to include those at the expense of other great songs (but see how I got the one in here anyway... sneaky mother). "Bottled Up In Cork" is classic Ted Leo, with a powerful guitar riff, bouncing drums and a compelling story. It's political, personal and epic all at once, and has a great repeating verse/chorus about travel, growing up, and loneliness. The song is built on hooks and a great solo, just like any great Ted Leo song is, and it's intimate and opinionated.
4. "The High Road" - Broken Bells, Broken Bells
As a collaboration, Broken Bells couldn't have worked out better. Danger Mouse and James Mercer combine to create songs that mix the Shins with the unnatural feeling of electronics, and Mercer uses it to evoke even more distance within some of his lyrics. "The High Road" is the best song on the album, if at this point, somewhat overplayed, and even tired. It's got that chanting, rousing "Hey Jude" quality about it.
3. "Ready To Start" - Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
On a seriously wonderful and essential Arcade Fire album, "Ready To Start" stands out for me because of the dark opening that breaks out into a jostling bouncy rock track, and for the lyrical excellence in it. For a song to be fun and also bring up all the artistic and love-related fears inherent to us; that business will destroy us, and that love will be lost, it ultimately becomes a song about hope and being ready to fight on. The strength is in us all to stand up and fight, even when we're in the throes of depression. That's the key. This is your vehicle. This song is your anthem.
2. "Dance Yrself Clean" - LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening
If this is the last LCD Soundsystem album, then "Dance Yrself Clean" is the perfect, dominating, self-aware track to start it off. It feels the burden of fame, and creation, and questionable friendships, and wants a sort of baptism by motion to wash away its fear and sadness. In that typical James Murphy fashion, it feels distant and sturdy, but fragile, and that makes the song, for its minimalist first three-plus minutes, extremely accessible. And then it rips open, breaking out of its shell and the dance begins. I hope, really and truly, that this isn't the last for LCD Soundsystem, but if so, it is a hell of a great way to go out.
1. "Cold War" - Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid
The best song on the most comprehensively eclectic album of the year takes my top rank. For everything that Janelle Monae does live and recorded she deserves high marks, and "Cold War" is song that touches on her overall story arc as well tapping into the self-doubt and humanism that drives any great. "You think I'm alone, well being alone is the only way to be" is a line carries sorrow and empowerment. And the song's powerful beat and melody keep it on the top of your memory no matter how many times you hear it. That's my reasoning to make it number one, and the reason why Janelle Monae deserves as many awards as she can carry.
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