As the numbers get smaller, the hits get bigger!
Here we are. The end of another year. I’ve listened to a lot of music over the past 11 1/2 months. iTunes tells me I’ve added over 700 songs over that period. I would guess that I’ve sampled well over twice that number, often giving songs a listen or two and if they didn’t meet my stringent standards, I chucked them aside. Long story short, I put in the work to break it down for the people.
And so, I present to you my ten favorite songs of 2010.
10 – “Hurricane J” – The Hold Steady. You know you’re living right when you can put out a solid four-star album and it seems like a disappointment. That’s the case with the Hold Steady, who put out three straight classic albums before this year’s Heaven is Wherever. It was good enough. For many groups it would be a career-high. But not for Craig Finn and friends. The lyrics weren’t quite as good, the music not quite locked in as in the past.
This song is a perfect example. A first-class rocker, yet it doesn’t compare to past classics like “Stuck Between Stations,” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” or “Stevie Nix.” Yet it still cracks my top 10.
9 – “Get Some” – Lykke Li. And here’s our second Swedish artist. Apparently she had a bad breakup between her last album and her current one. The heartbreak has served her well, as her music has taken on a darker, edgier quality.
8 – “Don’t Do It” – Sharon Van Etten. Van Etten is known for her stark, confessional songs. At first listen, this song doesn’t seem like much. But the more you listen, the more it opens up and sucks you in.
7 – “The Diamond Church Street Choir” – The Gaslight Anthem. They’re from Jersey and sing about the common folks. Of course they get compared to Springsteen. Their sound isn’t quite as Springsteeny as the Hold Steady, but they certainly have the rest of it down. I’m not sure the Boss ever wrote a hook as good as the one in this song, though.
6 – “Fuck You” – Cee-Lo Green. I boldly said this was the best song of the year the first time I heard it. It suffers a little because of the sense of novelty surrounding it, from the lyrics to the many remakes and remixes. But that novelty factor hides that this is nearly a perfect song. Listen to every note Cee Lo sings, listen to all the backing vocals, listen to the layers of music. Its brilliance is hidden behind the shock value of its title. This is classic, pour your heart out, soul music.
5 – “Good Evening” – The Concretes. Holy crap, more Swedes! This time some sexy, slinky, seductive Swedes. Or at least that’s what they sound like, here.
The audio on this video is very poor. Not sure why there’s not a better version available anywhere.
4 – “England” – The National. I don’t give The National the attention they deserve. They are a band that demands you listen to their albums in full, without distraction, so you can mine the meanings buried deep within. My life now doesn’t allow those deep, continuous listening sessions. Shame, because as much as I enjoy their music anyway, I imagine they would be life-changing if I could allot the time needed to fully appreciate it.
This is a terrific version of the song, but it loses the power of the drums from the studio version. I don’t know about his technical proficiency, but the National’s drummer is as good as anyone at propelling songs forward, adding tension and drama to already fantastic music.
Oh, and I highly recommend skipping the nonsense at the beginning of this video. Pause it, let it load, and then move to 2:20, where the music starts.
3 – “Dancing On My Own” – Robyn. This year I read a couple Swedish novels (Stieg Larsson, translated, of course), we bought a Swedish auto, and I listened to a lot of Swedish music. I probably ate some Swedish fish along the way, too. Robyn is certainly the class of this Swedish invasion. “With Every Heartbeat” cracked my top five of the decade list a year ago. Her Body Talk project this year, a series of three EPs released over the year, was an audacious and perfectly executed endeavor. Upon the release of Part III, all three sections were bundled into one full-length. There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, and this is its finest.
2 – “Cold War” – Janelle Monae. On an album full of bombast and surprises and delights, this simple, emotional track was the standout from one of the most original, essential artists to emerge in recent years. If she doesn’t become a super-duper star, America sucks.
1 – “FootShooter” – Frightened Rabbit. My favorite new band of the last five years or so followed up their epic 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight nicely with this year’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks. It is largely about picking up the pieces and moving on.
But this track could have easily fit on Organ Fight. While the rough edges have been polished up – this is the music Coldplay could have been making had they gone a different direction – all the honest, embarrassing pain is still there. The last minute or so is simply perfect. And the chorus features the best line of the year: “Buck up your ears my dear I’m verbal when I am loaded.” Great drums, too.