Best Songs of 2010

Posted by Greg , Friday, February 25, 2011 9:46 PM

2010 was a really great year for music.  I would say it might possibly be my favorite year for music since I started paying attention to music in yearly increments.  This list originally started at over 100 songs before I pared it down to roughly 75.  That still seemed like too many, so with much sweat and tears I managed to reduce it further to the 50 songs you'll find below.  I hope you enjoy this list as much I did making it.

50. Crutch & Cane
Peter Wolf Crier, Inter-Be

Peter Wolf Crier is the product of songwriter Peter Pisano and drummer/engineer/soundscapesmith Brian Moen.  "Crutch & Cane," snuck up on me late in the year, but its low-fi aesthetic and catchy melody made a lasting impression.

49. My Own Sinking Ship
Good Old War, self-titled

"Why can't I invade your mind?"  Well, first of all, because that wouldn't be very nice.  And maaay violate several international treaties.  Bet that thought never crossed your mind, did it?  See that, Good Old War?  That's how you blow someone's mind without invading it.  In 2010 we graduated to high-tech mind warfare.  Get with the program.

48. Composure
Warpaint, The Fool

It's tough to pick standout tracks from Warpaint's debut LP as the songs work together as a cohesive whole.  The combination of bass, guitars, and vocals undulate hypnotically throughout The Fool, but a track like "Composure" serves as a shot of adrenaline amid the otherwise slowcore collection of songs.

47. Ride Off on a Cloud
Joe Purdy, This American

Joe Purdy has a way of conveying both despair and comfort with only his voice and a guitar.  Songs like "Ride Off on a Cloud" make me wish I had a shitty life and could drown my sorrows in a seedy dive bar over not-cold-enough beer and some nachos.  Well, maybe no nachos.  Don't get me wrong, I love 'em, but they're not helping the image I'm trying to convey here.  Sorry, nachos, here's your pink slip.

46. Road Regrets
Dan Mangan, Nice, Nice, Very Nice

I suppose there's an argument to be made that anything from Nice, Nice, Very Nice shouldn't be eligible for a Best of 2010 list, as the album was actually released in mid-2009 in Canada.  It didn't see a US release until 2010, though, which is why "Road Regrets" is showing up here.  Mangan's voice has a raw, gritty quality, which is especially great when you consider he's singing something about "coffee sweats."  Mmmm.

45. I Got
Young the Giant, self-titled

Young the Giant had sort of a weird debut release.  The album was made available digitally in mid-2010, but was not available in physical form until January 2011.  Okay, maybe that's not particularly "weird," but someone remember to yell at me if I forget this fact and try to include "I Got" on my 2011 list.  Thanks.

44. 50's
Pomegranates, One of Us

I love drums.  I'm sure I've mentioned that before.  All a band needs to do is put the drums front and center, and I'm hooked.  For real.  The falsetto "Come on baby!" chorus is a nice touch, too.  Revised criteria: Any band who puts drums front and center and has a falsetto "Come on baby!" chorus is A-OK in my book.  Nice job on both accounts, Pomegranates.

43. Fall Hard
Shout Out Louds, Work

I'm willing to bet that years from now, people will be saying "Work was criminally underrated in 2010."  I haven't actually listened to the rest of Work to make that statement, but I'm willing to put 5 e-bucks on its truthfulness.  Your call, Internet.

42. 2012
PS I Love You, Meet Me at the Muster Station

Holy shit, it's the end of the wooooorld!!!!!  That's gotta be what this song is about, right?  I mean, it's called "2012."  Last I heard, that was The Big One.  Ya know, after all the other Big Ones.  (Not to be confused with Aerosmith's Big Ones.)  No one seems to buy my theory that the Mayan calendar runs out at 2012 just because they ran out of stone to carve on.  That Mayan calendar is carved on stone, right?  If not, fuck 'em.

41. Far Away
Junip, Rope and Summit EP

All you need to know about this song is that it was featured prominently in Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption.  I never made it that far in the game, but I heard it was in there.  I'm sure it kicked ass.

40. Biting Your Tail
Iron & Wine, Walking Far From Home single

The electro-folk "Biting Your Tail" was released on Record Store Day.  While may thought it might have been a preview of Kiss Each Other Clean, in retrospect it's not hard to see why it was left off the album.  Almost entirely electronic, "Biting" is unlike anything else in the band's catalog, but somehow it still works.  [Psst: This song was only included because my wife would have been mad if it wasn't.  And I can say that because she doesn't actually read this blog.  Seriously, though, I'm kidding.  Or am I?]

39. What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)
Wolf Parade, Expo 86

As I said my review of Expo 86, "What Did My Lover Say" is a monster of a song.  Wolf Parade has pulled off somewhat of an amazing feat by crafting a song that is remarkably infectious without actually being catchy.

38. Bad Bad World
Guster, Easy Wonderful

Guster's Easy Wonderful is the band's best album in years, possibly their best of all time.  I just wish they'd throw some "motherfuckin's" in their songs.  Imagine if the chorus was "Is it such a motherfuckin bad, bad world..."  Awesome, right?  I smell a Ja Rule cover in the works...

37. Better Off Here
Glen Phillips, Tornillo

"Better Off Here" is one of the best Glen Phillips songs we've heard in years.  It blows my mind that it wasn't released on a proper album (Tornillo is just a collection of demos recorded during/prior to the Winter Pays for Summer sessions).  Glen, if you need a creative director or something...whatever they call the guy who advises you which songs to put on your albums...I am ready to fly out to California anytime, man.

36. Making Plans
City Reign, Making Plans single

City Reign plays a brand of earnest, energetic rock not heard often enough anymore.  "Making Plans" features chugging riffs, kinetic drumming, and interwoven backing vocals.  Lead singer Chris Bull's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble here.  Now all we need is a full length album!

35. Burying Stones
Highlife, Best Bless EP

I like this song.  [That's what my wife tells me to write every time I ask her, "Honey, what should I say about this?"]  Apparently Highlife is named after the Afro-pop genre highlife (creative, right?) that originated in Ghana and has spread to other West African countries.  I don't really get an African vibe from the song, but then again, I've never heard highlife, so I really have no idea what I'm talking about.  Pitchfork says this is a pretty on-the-spot example of the genre, so if that's true, I just expanded your horizons.  You're welcome.

34. Comin' Through
The War On Drugs, Future Weather EP

You may be interested to know that Kurt Vile (incidentally #33) is a founding member of the War on Drugs, although he is not present at all on Future Weather.  It's not clear whether he's still in the band.  Still, this song has a world-weary quality that I actually found rather endearing.  That's probably not the right word...but maybe it is.  "Comin' Through" is one of those songs that may not immediately grab your attention, but it sneaks up on you like a thief in the night.  And before you know it, you've got the thing on repeat for days.  It's really quite infectious in a completely unassuming way.

33. In My Time
Kurt Vile, In My Time 7"

As I said above, Kurt Vile is/was in the War on Drugs (#34), but he's had growing success as a solo musician.  With it's bright acoustic guitars, the easygoing "In My Time" finds Vile accepting life for what it is, and what it will bring: "I know that when I get older / I'm dying / But I got everything I need anyway / That's fine now."

32. Art House Director
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record

Forgiveness Rock Record was one of those albums I just never got around to hearing.  Luckily, "Art House Director" caught my attention, because it's pretty fantastic.  Catchy and dominated by horns, the song is an exciting departure from Broken Social Scene's typical style.

31. The Northwest States
Secret Knives, Affection

New Zealand's Secret Knives got a ton of attention for Affection, especially in October 2010, when they were they 2nd most blogged about artist on the Hype Machine (only Kanye West was mentioned more often).  "The Northwest States," with its chiming guitars, bright electronic touches, and distorted lyrics, was a big reason for that groundswell of interest.

30. P.S.
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, III/IV

Ryan Adams needs to a do a front-to-back power pop album.  It's pretty remarkable how the guy can just try out different music genres like they're just t-shirts.  And he pulls it off, every time.  It's like he woke up one days and said, "I'm gonna write a fucking awesome power pop song."  And so we got "P.S."

29. I Saw the Light
Spoon, Transference

This song is over 5 minutes long, and the last 3 minutes of it are entirely instrumental.  Some people might think that would be boring, but Spoon are masters of their craft.  The song just builds and builds toward the final minute of jammy goodness.  It doesn't even need lyrics.

28. Ready to Start
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

Arcade Fire show up several times on this list (and in truth, I probably could have listed them even more), but "Ready to Start" stands out on the album.  Its throbbing beat belies its subject matter ("The businessmen are drinking my blood / Like the kids in art school said they would"), but alludes to a willingness to throw off the shackles of despair and make a real attempt at living life.  It's a glimmer of hope on an album that's otherwise fairly downtrodden.

27. Bloodbuzz Ohio
The National, High Violet

I don't know if "Bloodbuzz Ohio" was written about the recession of 2008-present, but it sure fits as a soundtrack.  "I still owe money / to the money / to the money I owe."  The National have written a lot of great songs, especially about ennui in the modern world, but this one seemed to capture the mood of a nation struggling through financial ruin.

26. Safe in L.A.
Gold Motel, Summer House

Gold Motel is a new band formed by Greta Morgan (of the Hush Sound) and members of This is Me Smiling and the Yearbooks.  Almost the entire debut LP has a breezy, carefree quality reminiscent of southern California.  But unlike their peers (female-fronted summery sweet indie bands), Gold Motel songs have a punchiness that sets them apart.  "Safe in L.A." is my personal favorite, but the whole album is ridiculously catchy and fun.

25. Moonless March
Aloha, Home Acres

Rhythmically intense, noisy but in control, "Moonless March" is a wall of propulsive guitars and drums.  Great song.

24. Orphans
The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang

"Orphans" is easily the most energetic song on American Slang.  It's got everything that a great Gaslight Anthem song needs: lyrics about fading youth, chugging guitars, and a towering chorus.

23. Central AC
We Are Scientists, Barbara

Oh, those We Are Scientists.  So classy.  It's possible that every one of their songs is about getting drunk and blacking out.

22. Nothing Like You
Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks

The most upbeat and energetic song from Winter, "Nothing Like You" is a giant, glorious fuck-you to an ex.  I think.

21. Relief
Sam Amidon, I See the Sign

Folk singer Sam Amidon's "Relief" is actually a cover of an unreleased R. Kelly original, with Beth Orton on backup vocals.  That's a somewhat bizarre sentence to write.  Unlike others' attempts to parody Kelly, Amidon's take is earnest and delicate.  The song is spiritually optimistic, almost to the point of being a farce ("What a relief to know that / There's an angel in the sky / What a relief to know that / Love is still alive"), but Amidon breathes each line with enough sincerity to almost convince us it's true.

20. Tighten Up
The Black Keys, Brothers

The Black Keys have been on a hot streak lately, and songs like "Tighten Up" are a big reason why.  It's all kinds of awesome that there's a band doing stuff like this, and people actually like it enough for it to get some radio play.

19. Boy
Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard

"Boy" sounds like it could have been lifted from Ra Ra Riot's debut, The Rhumb Line.  While this is the band's bread and butter, "Boy" is the result of a more experienced, self-assured band.  No matter what direction they pursue in the future, Ra Ra Riot will probably always have the ability to write a great song like this.

18. Burning Stars
Mimicking Birds, self-titled

I never got around to hearing the rest of Mimicking Birds' debut album, but "Burning Stars" (and "Cabin Fever," by the way) is just such a good little song.  My wife says: "This song makes me want to cry...and I don't know what he's saying."  (What he's saying is that our time is short and we need to look out for each other.)

17. Bitter Beauty
Jason Collett, Pony Tricks

Jason Collett is friggin brilliant on this track.  Pony Tricks is actually a "remix" album of sorts (although I feel weird using that term to describe anything that doesn't involve synthesizers, guest rappers, or R. Kelly), with re-interpretations of Collett's older songs.  In its original conception, "Bitter Beauty" was an upbeat tune.  In this new version, the song's tempo is considerably slower and features Collett's world-weary voice, backed up beautifully by a gospel choir and simple piano chords.  It's a completely different vibe that works astonishingly well.

16. Sparklers
Rocky Votolato, True Devotion

Pretty, quiet, and sad, "Sparklers" features little more than a guitar and Votolato's voice, using fireworks as a metaphor for loss: "Black marks on the concrete now but they were beautiful last night / A picture of our life / Can we make this how it was?"

15. Star Wars
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, III/IV

So, when Ryan Adams was spending most of the 2000s living the rock star dream, did anyone suspect the guy was really a geek at heart?  Like several of the songs on III/IV, "Star Wars" has somewhat of a false intro before it morphs into a completely different song.  This may be the most lighthearted and fun song Adams has ever (officially) released, as he pines for "Someone that loves me the way I love Star Wars, wizards, and ninja wars."

14. Written in Reverse
Spoon, Transference

Spoon kick so much ass.  Record after record, they just keep doing their own thing, and it's always great.  I found Transference to be their most immediately accessible album, although I don't think they intended it to be.  No one else can pull off a cocky song like "Written in Reverse"quite like they do.  The whole album just feels loose and jammy, like the band was having a great time in the studio and someone just happened to be recording the whole thing.  Great stuff.

13. Hercules
Guster, Easy Wonderful

Guster released what may be their best album in Easy Wonderful.  While there are plenty of great upbeat tracks (a welcome change from the more mellow vibe of their previous two records), it's the somewhat melancholy "Hercules" that truly stands out.

12. Wide Eyes
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor

Local Natives recorded one of the finest debuts of the year in Gorilla Manor.  It's standout opener, Wide Eyes," is characterized by propulsive beats and an insistent harmonized refrain about self-discovery ("Oh, to see it with my own eyes").  Just when the song doesn't seem to know where it's going, it explodes in burst of guitars.

11. Electric Eye
Robbers on High Street, Electric Eye 7"

I am so anxious for Robbers on High Street's new album.  When the hell is this thing gonna come out?!  "Electric Eye" might be the best song they've ever written [and I'm a big, big fan of "Hot Sluts (Say I Love You)"].  ROHS have always had a funky swagger, but it's never been more prevalent than on this song.

10. Sorrow
The National, High Violet

While other songs on High Violet have been given more attention, I keep finding myself returning to "Sorrow."  Aaron Dessner, the guys who writes most of the National's music, called it "a kind of weird celebration of feeling sorrow."  It's the soundtrack of mourning - the theme song of sad bastards everywhere.

9. Unsophisticated Heart
Joe Pug, Messenger

Joe Pug has written several great songs in his young career, but this is by far my favorite.  While every Pug initially grabs you with his unique voice, repeated listens reveals his knack for turning a phrase (e.g. "Now I see things like a soldier / And I'm jealous of the dark").  Every time I get someone acquainted with "Unsophisticated Heart," they always say the same thing whenever it comes on: "Ohhh, I love this song..."  My wife describes it as "peaceful, in a sad way."  I can't think of a better description than that.

8. Wicker Park
Secret Knives, Affection

As I said in my review of their album, Secret Knives' music is evocative of a hazy daydream, and "Wicker Park" is centerpiece of their surprisingly good debut LP.

7. Sewers at the Bottom of the Wishing Well
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV

There are so many great songs on III/IV, and they all fit so well together, that it's actually difficult to isolate the best tracks.  "Sewers" is a standout, though, for the unique place it occupies in Adams' catalog.  The song starts as just another Cardinals tune before quickly morphing into a snarling punk rocker.  Adams has never appeared so savage or so cocksure in a recording, and it's fucking badass.

6. The Suburbs
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs 

The Suburbs is a remarkably cohesive album, with themes (and even particular phrases) introduced in the opening tracks recurring later in the album.  "The Suburbs" touches on many of the topics explored later in greater depth, acting almost as a table of contents for the rest of the album.  This is a level of discipline that is largely absent from the works of Arcade Fire's peers.  It's a superb opening to one of the best albums of the year.

5. Yulia
Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Wolf Parade aren't known for writing pop songs, but Expo 86's catchiest tune is also its finest.  "Yulia" is the heart wrenching ode of an astronaut lost in space to the love he will never be able to see again.  Despite the somber story, the song is surprisingly uplifting.

4. Generator ^ First Floor
Freelance Whales, Weathervanes

It's not rare to find indie bands playing quirky pop songs filled with a multitude of instruments, but Freelance Whales just do it so well.  "Generator ^ First Floor" opens like a sunrise, over what I always imagined was a commune living inside a lighthouse.  I don't know where I got the lighthouse image, as it's not in the song.  Maybe the need to crank a generator...  It wasn't until a friend (who, incidentally, is much smarter and a better writer than I am) pointed out that each line of this song describes a period in a person's life, that I began to realize the band's knack for songwriting matched its talented musicianship.

The top three songs of the year should be considered in tandem.  If you asked me for my favorite song of 2010 on any random day, any of the next three titles might escape from my mouth.  This isn't a hedged opinion, but an acknowledgment that consumption of music does not occur in a vacuum, and taste is not always easily quantifiable.

3. The Orchard
Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard

Ra Ra Riot's "The Orchard," title track from GTI's #2 album of 2010, is like a sonic blanket, wrapping the listener in the warmth of cello, violin, and Wesley Miles' vocals.  When I first reviewed The Orchard, I said that its opening track was a statement: This is not the same Ra Ra Riot.  I still believe that to be the case, although subsequent listenings of that album have proven it to be just as infectious as its predecessor.  Still, in an album of great songs, the quiet and reflective "The Orchard" is a triumph.

2. Swim Until You Can't See Land
Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks

"Swim Until You Can't See Land" has all the ingredients of a GTI pick for Song of the Year: chiming guitars, an uplifting chorus, and aquatic metaphors.  Indeed, for the first half of the year I had it pegged as the eventual #1 on this list.  There's a part of me that still believes that to be true, and like "The Orchard," on any given day it is.

1. Deep Blue
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

At first blush, "Deep Blue" does not seem like a Song of the Year.  It almost feels like Arcade Fire forgot to write an intro, and the song takes its time to develop the metaphor referenced in its title.  Most reviews of The Suburbs overlooked it entirely, and some even directly criticized it along with the rest of that album's slower second half.  Yet every time it comes on, I have the same reaction: Damn, this is a great song.

According to the liner notes, the song's chorus is "lala, lala, lala, la la," but I always feel like Win Butler was really singing, "The lie, the lie, the lie, the lie..."  And in the context of the song, it would make sense.  The "lie" here is that modern social technologies - television, cell phones, computers, the Internet - which are supposed to bring us closer together, are really tearing us further apart.  "Deep Blue" is the dying gasp of real human connection: "Hey, put the laptop down for a while / In the night there is something wild / I feel it, it's leaving me."

Likewise, "Deep Blue" alludes to the increasing unimportance of human achievement.  The title refers to then-reigning chess champion Gary Kasparov's defeat to IBM's Deep Blue in 1996.  This is where Butler fears technology is taking us; to a place in time where we think we need to measure ourselves against the processing power of a machine.  Does that comparison even matter?  At what point does measuring our self-worth against a machine make us lose sight of our own humanity?  Isn't what makes us special and unique (a.k.a. "the feeling," mentioned frequently throughout The Suburbs) precisely that which makes us not machines?

And that's why I've chosen "Deep Blue" as my favorite song of year.  It's a truly rare feat when a rock song can transcend the proximal euphoria of a snappy chorus or pleasant chord progression, and attempt to grasp at something greater.

Roddy Woomble (Idlewild), The Impossible Song & Other Songs [preorder]

Posted by Greg , Friday, February 18, 2011 4:29 PM

Roddy Wooble, frontman for Scottish rock band Idlewild, will be releasing his next solo album, The Impossible Song & Other Songs, on March 21 in the UK via Greenvoe/EMI.  No word on an American release at this time.  Preorders are available at Woomble's website.

There's a nice interview in Guardian with Woomble, in part about the new album:
"This record's not a statement; it's fun – a party album! There's nothing clinical or cold about it. It is introspective to a degree, but it never falls below hopeful. My first two solo albums were much more low-key than this one and they were far more rooted in traditional Scottish folk. This record is a real change – it's more eclectic while still being part of that folk scene. I've been a bit limited before in what I did, but this is so much more free."

1. A New Day Has Begun
2. Make Something Out Of What It's Worth
3. Work Like You Can
4. Tangled Wire
5. Roll Along
6. Hour After Hour
7. Leaving Without Gold
8. New Frontier
9. Old Town
10. Living As You Always Have
11. Gather The Day
12. Between The Old Moon

Radiohead, The King of Limbs [preorder]

Posted by Greg , Monday, February 14, 2011 10:17 AM

Radiohead have just announced their new album, The King of Limbs, which will be available digitally this Saturday Friday.  The band is taking preorders on its website, but unlike 2007's set-your-own-price In Rainbows, it will cost $9 for mp3 and $14 for WAV.

Alternatively, you can purchase the "newspaper album" version, which includes:
  • Two clear 10" vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve.
  • A compact disc.
  • Many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together.
  • The Newspaper Album comes with a digital download that is compatible with all good digital media players.
  • The Newspaper Album will be shipped on Monday 9th May 2011 you can, however, enjoy the download on Saturday 19th February 2011.
  • Shipping is included in the prices shown.
  • One lucky owner of the digital version of The King Of Limbs, purchased from this website, will receive a signed 2 track 12" vinyl.
    I love Radiohead, and I'm a supporter of vinyl, but this sounds like a joke.  The two versions are being offered for $48 (mp3) and $53 (WAV), which seems ridiculous.  You can walk into any record store in the country and buy new vinyl for 20 bucks.  Sometimes online retailers will sell records for even cheaper than that.  And when you buy vinyl, most bands include a download card for the digital version at no additional charge (sometimes including higher quality formats such as FLAC).

    Radiohead know the most dedicated fans are going to pony up the cash for the deluxe "newspaper" (whatever that means) edition.  But the band is not struggling for cash, as seen when they gave fans the option of buying In Rainbows for free, so this is perplexing.  I'll admit, I don't get it.  I don't understand what metaphor they're expressing by the "newspaper" angle.  And I don't know why it includes so much...stuff...that has nothing to do with music.  It just seems off.  And to be honest, it makes me not want to support this album.  I probably will (hell, I bought the physical copy of In Rainbows), but this move is going to make me think twice before doing it.  I doubt it will hurt the band's bottom line, and I'm sure they don't care one whit what I think about it, but right now I'm just disappointed.

    Please (please!) feel free to explain what I'm missing in the Comments section below... 

    UPDATE (Feb 18, 2011): Previews are popping up already in various places on the Internet, such as here and here.

    J Mascis, Several Shades of Why [preview]

    Posted by Greg , Friday, February 11, 2011 8:32 PM

    J Mascis, lead singer of several bands (most notably Dinosaur Jr), will be releasing the first solo album of his almost 30-year (!) career.  Billed as a mostly acoustic album, Several Shades of Why is due on March 15 via Sub Pop Records, and will feature guest appearances by Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), and others.

    Sub Pop has offered two sample tracks in advance of the album's release next month.  "Is It Done" features backup vocals from Bridwell, and just may be an early contender for my favorite song of 2011.  (That's right, I'm calling it in February.)  You can download it here.  "Not Enough," another track on the album, can be downloaded here.

    Is It Done:

    Not Enough:

    The Strokes, "Under Cover of Darkness"

    Posted by Greg , Sunday, February 6, 2011 8:50 AM has let a little (okay, huge) nugget of information slip: The Strokes are releasing a new song this week!  "Under Cover of Darkness" is available for a 30-second preview at the link above, and it sounds very, very promising.  You can download the entire thing on February 11.  Angles, the band's long-awaited fourth LP, is due in stores on March 22.

    Update 2/8/10: Well, that was short-lived.  Looks like Amazon pulled the clip.  Sorry for the tease, but it'll be just a few more days...

    GTI on Facebook

    Posted by Greg , Friday, February 4, 2011 6:15 PM

    Given and Taken in Ink now has its own Facebook page! Stop by and say hello: