Here’s the dilemma. 2010 was probably one of the best years for music in a while, with the possible exception of 2007. Yet, this was the year where I fell behind music the most. So, when picking the top 50 songs of the year, I’m left with a lot of great tracks, but not as many transcendent tracks as, say, 2009. I didn’t help my cause by having two of my top 10 tracks from 2009 be songs that came out in finalized, album form in 2010. Los Campesinos!’s “The Sea is a Good Place to Think About the Future” would have been an easy top 5 for 2010, and Sleigh Bell’s “Crown on the Ground”, which technically was released as a demo last year, would have been part of a spirited battle for the top song of the year slot. And, due to a computer-less month and a half span, I’ve got about 6 albums on the backlog that will not be properly represented in the list (so calm down Kanye West fans). But enough dwelling on the past, that’s best left for bankrupt one-hit wonders.
In the coming months, there will be various lists that, as a sort of postmortem, knock various songs from this list (sorry, Fang Island, the obsession with your album was a great week and a half, but it’s time to move on). So, as you read this, the first of five articles breaking down the top 50 songs of 2010, keep in mind that I am a fickle beast, and have no problem removing these songs from the list to replace them with a Menomena track. I’ll fucking do it, don’t even try to stop me.
…Why did he choose that picture here? WHY DID HE CHOOSE THAT PICTURE!?
So, with that said, let’s take a look at the songs that have made the cut for 2010…for now.
50. Fang Island – Daisy
Watch the music video HERE
Fang Island was one of the few albums I listened to when I was in a particular “not listening to new music at all” funk early this year. It was basically Fang Island and Titus Andronicus- hell, as of June I had Fang Island’s second album, Fang Island (real original title, you guys) as a top album of the year. I’m telling you all this because this is the last you will hear of them for the rest of this article. Just sneaking in at the top 50 for best songs. I’m sorry guys, it’s not you, it’s the 49 other songs.
We also have an issue with your pro-fairy, anti-castle stance
I’ll say this, despite the lack of elitish-lovin’ they will receive in this list, Fang Island did release one of the better albums of the year. They’d easily make an honorable mention list of albums for me if I were motivated enough to write an honorable mention list. Which, you know, I’m not. Hell, I’m just posting my year end list for 2010, and it’s already practically February of 2011. Where does the time go?
Fang Island describes their sound as, “Everybody high-fiving everybody,” which is a pretty accurate description here in “Daisy,” the closest thing to a stand out track in an album of very good songs that don’t really transcend into greatness, and run together throughout the album. Playful dueling guitar riffs, smashing drums, it’s so energetic and exuberant that it’s easy to forget that the song is literally 3 minutes of pure instrumentals with 30 seconds of light lyrics to close out the damn thing. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to let loose and just dance like an idiot. Which, at the very least, makes it a worthwhile track.
49. The Books- A Cold Freezin’ Night
Watch the music video HERE
My first experience with The Books was listening to Motherless Bastard from their 2002 debut Thought For Food. It’s basically an adorable child talking to her father, as the father goes, “You have no mother and father. I don’t know you.” As the kid starts crying, he goes, “don’t touch me.” The rest of the song is soft, sweet acoustic instrumentals. What I’m trying to say is that The Books are very talented musically, sort of weird, and don’t seem to care much for children.
You would NOT want to see that shit at a Books concert
A Cold Freezin’ Night was influenced by finding Talkboys with tapes that children had recorded on (seriously, remember Talkboys? From Home Alone? Those were fucking awesome!). There’s upbeat percussion, a random harmonica flair, and the song drives with an almost dance beat that’s somewhat out of character for a band known more for its lush use of strings with obscure audio clips percolated throughout. This track utilizes tape recordings of two children (oh shit, you know what’s coming), one boy and one girl, in a sort of battle of the gender that would be precocious if it weren’t so terrifyingly violent. A boy’s giddy, childish chant of “Cold freezin’ night, oh baby!” appears throughout, while the standard reply from the girl is, either, “I wish I was a boy,” or, “kill him.” Yeah, shit gets fucked up.
But those are badass
And when I say that this song is violent, I mean it. “I could kill you with a rifle, a shotgun, anyway I want to, probably by cutting your toes up and working my way up,” the boy says. “Asshole,” the girl says. There is a lovely, “I’m going to rip your balls off” moment as well. Yeah, it’s fucked up. But it’s improbably humorous. The upbeat tempo and dancey rhythm takes away the threatening nature of the audio, and manages to make it into a goofy “kids being kids” track. Yeah, it’s weird, but it’s quite fun as well.
48. Los Campesinos!- Straight in at 101
Listen to it HERE (…on youtube)
Hey! It’s Los Campesinos! Alright! Is everyone in the band happy now!? GREAT! Who just freebased some pixie sticks!? I fucking did, that’s right!
Don’t do candy, kids.
Los Campesinos!, the most energetic happy Welsh band that writes depressing lyrics, had an interesting time with their album, Romance is Boring. It was leaked a month early, literally with a text file saying “Fuck you” to the lead singer. They decided to rock the “bloody knee” angle for their cover, and, most importantly I’m sure, their best song by far on the whole album (“The Sea is a Good Place to Think About the Future”) was technically released last year, so it won’t get its proper due in this year-end-at-the-beginning-of-the-following-year list. I know, that’s the one that stings the most. Sorry Gareth.
He seems to have bounced back okay, though. Look! He’s clapping!
In “Straight in at the 101” we have the typical mix of clever lyrics, depressing lyrics, abrasive thematic sexuality, and honestly, some of the better lyrics that you’ll find. Gareth Campesinos! starts things off pining, “I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock, feels like the build-up takes forever but you never get me off.” There is no “holy shit” moment in this song like in some of Los Campesino’s best track, but as the song bustles through at 100 mph of upbeat pop rock, before settling with an a capella deadpan of “The talking heads count down the most heart-wrenching break ups of all time. Imagine the sense of waste, the indignity, the embarrassment, when not a single one of that whole century was mine,” it’s hard not to at least respect the hell out of the song. Los Campesinos! can win you over with energy and lyrics alone, and this is a great example.
47. Everybody Was in the French Resistance… Now- Hey! It’s Jimmy Mack
We all love Eddie Argos, and despite some claims that the Art Brut shtick has worn thin, Argos was able to pen three of the top 15 songs of 2009 with “Alcoholics Unanimous”, “Demons Out”, and “Mysterious Bruises”. 2010 left us sadly without any additional Art Brut material, instead Argos focused on his side project with Dyan Valdés of L.A.’s The Blood Arm. What we got was Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now’s Fixin’ the Charts, Vol. 1, an album full of “answer” songs to well established songs, from his refusal of Avril Lavigne’s advances in the song “Girlfriend” (“G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N., You Know I’ve Got A”), or his Michael Jackson inspired diatribe against his absentee father in “Billy’s Genes” (Guess which song that refers to…that’s right, clearly, “Thriller”). It’s silly fun on the first few listens, but eventually the album crumbles into a largely forgettable collection of witticisms.
As an idea stretched for an album, this youtube response video style wears thin, but you can appreciate the effort in tracks like “Hey! It’s Jimmy Mack”. Most of the album falters when attempting to mimic the instrumental backgrounds of the source material (The horn section opening leading into the 80s beat of “Billy’s Genes” is painfully awkward in particular). “Hey! It’s Jimmy Mack”, the fun “fuck you” response from the titular Jimmy Mack of Martha and the Vandellas Motown fame, keeps it simple, combining the 60s style piano waltz with appropriately understated strings. It’s goofy and fun to hear Eddie Argos affirm, “Hey, it’s Jimmy Mack. Yeah, I heard your track. And if that’s your attitude, then I’m never coming back,” and Argos is nothing if not constantly Meta, but all the same, I’m still waiting for the next Art Brut song with a clever turn of phrase that’s not held down by the need to stay truthful to source material. Sure, this song is fun, but how about some more songs about German B-sides and comic books?
46. The Wrens- Crescent
Listen to it HERE
There’s an unwritten rule here at Elitish. Well, not so much unwritten because we write it, for all to see, every damn year. When it comes The Wrens, friends to this site (we can say that, right? Since we interviewed them? The same way the bus driver on the way to work is a friend of Elitish, no matter how many times he says, “Man, what the fuck is Elitish? For the last time, you have to stand behind the yellow line.”) we always wax poetic on the following points.
1. The Wrens are, like, so good you guys. So good. It’s not many bands that can release an album in 2003 that my baby-boomer father can say, “I’ve changed my favorite album of all times, it’s now The Meadowlands by The Wrens,” and have that be only a positive indicator of how good that band is.
2. The…The Wrens are…totally releasing an album next year. Seriously. I mean, sure, I’ve been saying that since my ill-fated pitchfork call-back in 2005, but…totally going to happen.
3. If The Wrens have released a song this year, it will make my list, even if the song only consists of them hitting a trash can while saying, “We’ll see Elitish in their graves,” with dog barking in the background.
4. That being said, they did release a song this year, and it is markedly better than the worst case scenario posited in my third point (though, hey guys, if you want to rewrite “Faster Gun” that “Elitish in their graves” thing would actually sync up pretty well with the chorus. Just, just think about it a bit, you don’t have to make a decision right away). “Crescent,” which is a more fleshed out version of the low-fi demo “A Thousand Do’s” released last year, was released on a 31-track benefit compilation for Hurricane Katrina victims, because if The Wrens aren’t going to release an album, they at least make sure to contribute what songs they do get done to worthy causes. So, kudos to them. Yes, it’s a joke I’ve used before, but I don’t care. You think Johnny Carson decided to retire Carnac the Magnificent after one show? Hell no! You gotta keep that going. So, anyway, let me dig around here and…
Here you go, guys. No, no, you only get one for now. I’m saving the rest for when you release that new album.
The track itself is light, breezy, and generally uplifting. Since it’s Charles Bissell singing (I’m assuming, it’d be pretty embarrassing if I were wrong about that…) the lyrics are no doubt obscure, but obscured enough that it’ll warrant a few dozen more listens before I start to be able to give an appropriate attempted-English-major insight into the meaning. But really, to describe the song best, it’s sunny and worn. Like a hammock you keep out all year. It’s frayed, but comforting. It feels like relaxing memories. There isn’t the focus on build that you get in much of the tracks from The Meadowlands but that’s alright. You can just play it and close your eyes, and let yourself drift away.
Well, until that new album comes out *cough cough hint*.
45. LCD Soundsystem- Drunk Girls
Watch the music video HERE
LCD Soundsystem can be really reflective. They can be dancy, but usually with a bit of soulfulness hidden away (see later in this series of lists). But sometimes, they’re just fun when they’re being goofy as shit. For example, this music video, where the band is basically being aggressively molested by a bunch of goddamn pandas as they try to sing the song. For those of us who like the songs like “North American Scum” and “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” drunk girls is pretty direct, fun, dance music. There’s not much to romanticize here. Just drunk girls.
I’d say “you’d be surprised how hard it was to google image search ‘drunk girls’ and get one WITHOUT nudity” but…you probably AREN’T that surprised…like, at all
Honestly, the song is just incredibly fun. And since the songs that will come later on by LCD Soundsystem are a bit more emotionally heavy, this is a nice little breathy piece, isn’t it?
44. Elissa P- Good Egg Bad Seed
Listen to it HERE
This song is basically a prestige addition to this list, I’ll just tell you that right now. I heard this song first in late 2008, in a much earlier form. And I don’t have a concrete date for the more produced release of this, from Quickie Calender. But I figured Elissa P, a Chicago artist who I guess is in San Francisco now, deserved to get the proper, well, props for “Good Egg Bad Seed” which has a nice combination of build and nice electronic instrumental beat. The gold standard for Elissa P remains her collaboration with Brenmar Someday from 2007, “Prize Pig” but as a stand alone track, this song works well. More toned down synth instrumentals play out well, with overlapping vocals that add a lot to the original demo.
So I could try to make apologies for the fact that not only do I tell you “this song normally wouldn’t meet my standards for being put on this list, since I heard it before 2010, but screw it I’m doing it anyway” I’m sort of half-assing the description anyway. Given that I found out about this album’s existence while writing this list, I’m just telling it like it is.
Good song, though.
43. Menew- Don’t Give Up On Us Now
Listen to it HERE
I honestly don’t know much about Menew, or really this song. No doubt my credibility will take a big hit when I play the “I heard this on an episode of Chuck and thought it was pretty” card, but what are you gonna do? This song, which as you know was-totally-in-that-scene-where,like,the-bad-guys-had-Chuck-and-Sarah-and-his-friends-were-all-“wegottahelphim”-and-the-music-is-all-like-“don’tgiveuponus!”-and-I’m-all-hell-yeah!, comes from Menew, apparently three Canadian brothers who like to wear sunglasses and silly hats.
They also have a pretty pretentious way to describe their band name (which is pronounced “menu”. Come on, get your shit together, Menew). Seriously, to quote the band’s website, “They wanted a symbol more than a word.” I think Prince tried that before to more success.
How come I’m always able to find musicians that look suspiciously like Prince?
That being said, the song works very well. And while it’s easy to discount a song for reasons like “You found out about it on a TV show about a Nerd Spy?” don’t forget, Chuck rocks the shit out of Frightened Rabbit on a weekly basis. But anyway, the song passes my criteria for a song- harmonies, and buildup. Both of which they do well. While it’s easy to knock the song for lack of lyrics, maybe mentioning that their aversion to naming themselves after a real word carries through to their decision to write a four minute song with lyrics that are 80% “Don’t Give Up On Us Now” and 20% “Rhyming Dictionaries must have been on sale at Borders,” it’s still very pleasant to the ears. Earnest, shout-singing harmonies come off sweet as honey, while the instrumentals evoke an unnamed urgency that brings a small smile to your face. So there you go, Menew, you can cut out the whole section where I make fun of your stupid-ass band name, and you can just post that last sentence to your media section of your site if you want, because seriously, this is one of those “you’re going to replay this song over and over again for a few days after the first time you hear it” kind of songs.
42. Buke and Gass- Page Break
Watch the video HERE
Buke and Gass (who were quite gracious with elitish in an interview where we asked them more about their instruments than their actual music) put out an epic album that pitchfork decided to ignore, continuing their “we play it safe and write really lazy reviews of some of the best albums of the year” ways that’s been the norm since, what, 2007? But I digress.
Anyway, the background for the band first, I suppose. Buke and Gass are a two person band that sounds like more than a two person band, using homemade instruments (a bass ukulele- buke, and guitar bass- gass) and a stomp drum with a tambourine and a smaller drum inside. The instruments create a unique sound, but I’m not going to talk more about the instruments, and focus more on the music, since practically every other review spends the first five paragraphs talking about the instruments.
Yet no one asks them the relevant questions, such as their relationship with this teddy bear
Buke and Gass were punished this year for releasing an EP last year that I was unable to include into my year end list in time. So those songs will not be on this list (don’t worry, 4 more are, including this one). Page Break is a pulsating ball of energetic rock music that sends you on a rocket ship to an amusement park in the course of its 1:51 length. It’s not quite as substantial or substantive as other tracks on the album, but the format works perfectly for this track. Short, fast, upbeat, catchy, and cut off before it gets a chance to run out of steam. It’s not easy for a track that’s shorter than two minutes to make my top songs of the year list, but Buke and Gass managed to pull it off. Also, they’re Indie Sasquatch, but I’ll get to that in the albums of the year description (SPOILER ALERT!)
41. The Hold Steady- The Sweet Part of the City
Listen to it HERE
Guys, I miss Franz. I miss Franz so much. Heaven is Whenever is the first Hold Steady album since Franz Nicolay, the band’s talented and Tim-Burton-Movie-Villain keyboarder left. Yes, it was amicable, yes, I can see how Franz felt there wasn’t much more he could accomplish with The Hold Steady (they’ve been in a holding pattern, no pun intended, for the past few albums now, not really expanding their sound apart from that whole ‘more singing less talking from Craig Finn’ thing) but there’s a noticeable drop off between this album and their previous work. Is it still a good album? Yes. Am I still half considering sticking the album at the 10 spot in my year end ranking? Well, yes, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’s just scientifically proven that any band is better if they have Franz Nicolay as a member. Because, I mean, look at this motherfucker.
Even his mustache has a mustache, it’s GLORIOUS
Of the slower songs on the album, and there are more ‘slow’ songs on this than previous Hold Steady efforts, I basically needed to choose between the opening track, “The Sweet Part of the City” or the title track of, “We Can Get Together” (the chorus is “Heaven is whenever we can get together”). I like the sentiment of the latter track, but “City” works better for me. It’s got a chicken-fried-steak sort of feel to it, it’s a little lethargic and has enough country twang to help it stand out, but not enough for me to throw up my hands and go, “Cut it out with all that damned country twang!”
Would it be too inappropriate to point out that both “Country Twang” and “Country Strong” could easily be turned into pornography titles?
This song isn’t a barn burner, and to be honest it’s remarkably insubstantial for a four minute track- it feels like a two minute song, three minutes top. But it is the one song on the album that warrants taking out your phone and turning on the “Zippo Lighter” app on your smart phone. Because our generation is ridiculous, and also because you can’t smoke in concert venues anymore. Oh, I mean, because it’s a good “sway to a song with a ‘lighter’ in the air” song.
This literally does NOTHING
So there we have it, the first of 5 series for the top tracks of 2010. Check back next week for numbers 40-31, and when we’re done with the top songs, we’ll go into Elitish’s top 10 albums of the year!