Best Songs of 2010

Note: these are all songs that were not from my favourite albums of the year. Only fair, I think.

"Cold Storage" - Aloha

One of those rare moments that a song title kinda perfectly captures the feel of a song. An icy chill wind off of snow blows throughout the cool post-punk arrangement and the lyrics. "Pay no mind I'm more dead than I'm alive," could have been written by Ian Curtis before Joy Division was signed to Factory and the music sounds like Matt Pond PA covering the boys from Manchester with all the zeal they have. It's a great, sad but ultimately uplifting song and it just sounds so cool and detached, like a drive through Bar Harbour in the dead of winter. "Blackout" is also a delight.

"What Tomorrow Brings" - Badly Drawn Boy

Damon Gough's latest album is so reverb-heavy it sounds like it was recorded in a YMCA. The songs by and large are great but they're definitely mood pieces, which is why I couldn't put it on my best of. I rarely found myself sad enough to connect with them. But the clearest sounding and, strangely, the most devastating is "What Tomorrow Brings" which is one of those great big-picture songs that only Gough can write. Like the Berlin Philharmonic playing along with the sadness of a dejected film character, it sneaks up on you and breaks your heart.

"Mama Taught Me Better" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

It's hard to quantify just how amazingly Leah Shapiro fits in to and makes Black Rebel Motorcycle Club better. Really it can be summed up in the drum fills in "Mama Taught Me Better," which is in the top two or three songs the band has ever rocked. Before each chorus she punishes her snare and it sounds like nothing less than a machine gun. The chorus and verse are all Robert Been and Peter Hayes of course, between the guitar-in-its-death-throes and that fucking sound that they get out of the scraped bass and guitars, this is one for the books. How they manage to get that sound in the last verse has been killing me because not since "Creep" have I heard anything that fucking cool come from a guitar being played like a guitar. The whole thing has that indefinable sense of cool that these guys have been selling since the start.

"Detroit Has A Skyline" - Cymbals Eat Guitars

AV Undercover was a mixed bag. 25 Songs sung by 25 bands who didn't write them in a tiny room capture for posterity and not much else - they can't sell them or even make them downloadable thanks to the cost of a song. The best of them were really something to behold and I can think of none better than the initially ramshackle and loudest of the bunch, New York's buzz band Cymbals Eat Guitars doing Superchunk. Joseph D'Agostino does a great job shredding his way through the minor classic, and the rest of the band makes a suitably powerful rhythm section, but I think the song wouldn't quite work if D'Agostino didn't murder the vocals with his impassioned warcry-like performance. The chorus is the real game changer, though. He just kills it and it makes this something I've listened to a hundred times since stealing it off a pirated youtube video. What? Just because they won't give it to me doesn't mean I have to like it.

"Get Frostied" - Deastro

Techno music and the technology behind it has totally left me in the dust, which is both good and bad because while I'm out of the loop I can also occasionally be totally wowed by some thing I can't explain. Take for instance this song by Deastro off their Mind Altar EP (essential listening, Dan Deacon and Animal Collective fans. Get off your wallet's ass and buy it). It's this pulsing, whirring environment; a whole club to get lost in. It reminds me of what it's like to listen to a song that perfectly captures the feeling of the movie Enter The Void, without the homophobia or creepy incestuous undertones. This all just the flashing lights and colours and for four minutes you too can vanish into an idealized electric womb space where you simply connect with other bodies and your next life is just a short trip away.

"Midnight Directives"/"Keep The Dog Quiet" - Final Fantasy

If pressed I don't think I could pick which of these songs I like better. And seeing as how they follow each other on the album Heartland and I tend to listen to 'em together anyway, I thought I'd split the difference. Heartland was the album that would have gone on my list if it'd been 21 albums, but tradition is tradition. Plus I wanted to highlight just how spectacular these songs are, worth the price of the album alone. Jittery, hyper-active and just about the catchiest things on earth, the songs make perfect use of the sonic spac Owen Pallett has made for himself as well showcasing his gift for orchestration. He is more a conductor than a mere songwriter and he turns indie songwriting into something closer to preparing Brahms for The Hidden Cameras. He's got such an ear for little things that all combine into a beautiful whole. Both songs also benefit from the fact that they rising, undeniable choruses that have stayed with me since I first heard them. Urgent and wonderful and the highlights of a great album.

"Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man" - Grinderman

I think I was so psyched about this album because the memory of how awesome it's opening track is stayed with me even as the record lost momentum. But there really is no beating how awesome this song is. Seriously. There's nothing Nick Cave can't make amazing.

"Lights" - Interpol

Yeah, this record should have been better, but I'm still such a sucker for Interpol. They're first album probably changed my life (initially for the worse, but that wasn't they're fault) and I've still found things to return to in every subsequent release and their self-titled fourth album is no exception. Case in point, ostensible single "Lights" which is the kind of echo-filled dark side of the parking garage dweller they do perfectly. Also the chorus, the build-up in Paul Banks vocal performance has me singing along too soon everytime, so excited am I to hear him reach the apex of the song, which is just as galvanizing as anything they've yet done.

"England" - The National

The National have been trying to out-sombre Leonard Cohen for some reason. I don't get it. They're best songs are the one with the lightning fast drumming, the distorted guitars and maybe a hint of piano. The best of the best have Matt Berninger out-and-out screaming. "Mr. November" and "Abel" prove my point. Everyone who likes how sad their output has become probably has a reason but I'm kinda glad I haven't been able to identify with it for awhile. The end of their incredibly austere High Violet does have one of their most catchy (if also perversely most dire) songs to date. Changes in intensity set in motion by a blast of horns, the song turns from a sadsack drinking alone into a drunk screaming at passing cars and the whole world in turn, which is what these guys do so well. The less I can tell what Berninger's saying, the happier I am singing along and this one just about takes the cake on that score. I could have used more guitar a la Alligator, but coming at the end of an album as grey and rainy as High Violet, it may as well have been "Voodoo Chile". And this song is just as awesome as far as I'm concerned.

"Mermaid Parade" - Phosphorescent

Ok, this is mostly here to make my girlfriend mad, but I do really love this song. Beautiful americana via a tired New Yorkers state-of-mind.

"Who Are You New York?" - Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright is just one of the best songwriters in the world. And one of the best singers on that same planet. It'd be ok if he were one or the other, but he's both and that's fiercely unfair. This song, the standout from his arresting and devastating All Days Are Nights, is perfect because it's both the misery of realizing your coffee is cold and almost gone, but also the feeling that down the block is another one and it'll be served by the cutest server in the city. It's sad and ecstatic and Wainwright's playing has the ferocity of Philip Glass' "Mad Rush" and he does it all while impeccably and tear-jerkingly singing one of the best songs I heard in a period of 365 days. It's just not fair. Luckily I can listen to this song to commiserate.

"1999" - Shout Out Louds

Another slick and cool post-punk from the masters of spitting the hits of the early 80s back at a grateful public. This one, indeed the whole album, is a bit more inspired and original than their last, and "1999" is great in that it could conceivably have been written by Paul Weller 30 years ago. But it's also pretty perfectly suitably suited to today and the malaise of existing now.

"Threshold" - Sex Bob-Omb

How I wish there was a proper album coming from this band because these guys rock as hard as BRMC and Grinderman and they were just the fevered imagination of Bryan Lee O'Malley, Edgar Wright and Beck. The best and catchiest of the crop of songs composed for the movie's house band, it works out of context, but in the film it's like the manifesto for rock music that movies have attempted to give us since Elvis' film debut. Scott Pilgrim is the worthy heir/successor of Rock And Roll High School, Phantom of the Paradise, Rock and Roll Nightmare and every other creaky "You just don't get it!" music movie of the last half century. And Sex Bob-Omb are the first band I bought outside of the context of a fictional story. These guys could and should be real because they're fucking awesome.

"Got Nuffin" - Spoon

Not much to this but it was the best song on their last album and it's quite good to blast in a car.

"A More Perfect Union" - Titus Andronicus

Like Dinosaur Jr. meets Against Me! Titus Andronicus is a no-win proposition. Pretentious, simple rock music with a raspy barking lead singer. I wouldn't ever have bothered if I'd had it described it to me like this. So why do I love them? The post-hardcore, shoegazing Iced Earth, Titus Andronicus make the most of exciting riffs and even though I'll never quite get used to the lead vocals or lyrics, there is no denying how fucking awesome these guys are during the instrumental parts. Their guitarist sounds like J. Mascis playing for the Strokes.

"Teen Age Riot" - A Truncated Congregation

Oh, you guys didn't hear Ginny sing "Teen Age Riot?" Well ask me for it, I'll email it to you and it'll go right on your list too. I had fun playing it, but Theo Blasko makes it. She was born to turn Thurston Moore's anomic poetry into something akin to Martha Reeves.

"With You In My Head" - UNKLE

Wouldn't be a complete list without a begrudging acknowledgement of how good the songs on the Twilight soundtracks are. It sends shivers down my spine, mostly of shame, but goddamn it there are great songs on these fucking soundtracks. And this is by far my favourite. With a perfect vocal and instrumental accompaniment by The Black Angels, UNKLE show how effortlessly they can turn something good into something unforgettable. Also, dig that this song has two choruses. Both of them amazing.


Bonus: Discussion about relative merits of The National's High Violet, sadness as a record's sole emotion. Beccah Ulm's first comment is in response to the above mention of The National's song "England"

Beccah Ulm - OK, fair enough. But I like the gray and rainy Leonard-Cohen-ness. Matt Beringer, Bill Callahan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen...Don't get me wrong, happy music is splendid and necessary...there's just something about a really devastating baritone that totally obliterates everything else

Scout - True but with Tom Waits at least there are options. He didn't only write sad songs. In fact he's better known for his not-sad ones.

I just wish they'd have the variety they used to. Alligator was sad in parts, but it rebounded splendidly.

BU - Yeah, and I love that. But even at his growliest the sad still creeps in ("All the World Is Green" on Blood Money; like half of Mule Variations; Heartattack and Vine, etc. etc. etc.)

Scout - True. I guess I fell in love with his oddball side and his love songs were silver lining. "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" for instance, is as good a song as was ever written by people ever. But it's a love song and those are a dime-a-dozen, pulverizing voice or no. "Underground" "Hoist That Rag" "Pasties and A G-String" "Shore leave" "Kommienezuspadt" "Murder In The Red Barn" "Jesus Gonna Be Here" "In The Colosseum" "What's He Building In There" "Shake It" "In The Neighborhood" and the others make him him. Love songs pay the rent, but I always got the feeling that these things just tore their way out of his subconscious. The balance is crucial, to be sure and I can't imagine a world without "Downtown Train" or "Bad Liver" or "Tom Traubert's Blues", I still think he's Tom Waits because of his more aggressively weird songs.

BU - I'll give you that. I think "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" or "The Piano Has Been Drinking" (Small Change as a whole is an album of just outstandingly-executed whiskey-drenched love songs) are the meeting point of both of his strengths--the sadness and the gravelly howling weirdness. You definitely need both though. I danced around my room like a hysterical fool to The Suburbs and I also stared at my ceiling in wistful sorrow to High Violet. I regard both experiences as highly fulfilling.

Scout - I can see the need for both sensations, and I'll concede that I've been in a pretty good mood lately. But I think that there's both crushing lows and ecstatic highs on The Suburbs? The lows aren't as articulate as the highs but the whole thing has "Malaise with a capital 'M'" spraypainted all over it. Like "Month of May" and "Ready to Start" are the rockers and they've got dark undertones. "We Used To Wait" got that minor chord staccato thing going on. And then there's "The Sprawl 1", which is a little too sad for me during a casual listen. But yes, the screaming highs are the highlight (Puns all around!) like "Sprawl 2" and "Empty Room" and "City With No Children".

Also, I'm glad you were fulfilled by the record even if I didn't care for it.

BU - Oh yeah, definitely. The Suburbs is the whole package (I listened to is while reading Johnathan Franzen's Freedom, and I almost kept waiting for them to just synch up or something. Malaise all around)

And I totally respect that you didn't care for it--I'm glad you're in happy moods, accompanied by happy music

1 comment:

Beccah said...

Yay! I'm on your blog!