As I continue my much-delayed “Best of 2010” list, we start to get into the meat of things. As we stated earlier in part one, this year felt a little lagging in terms of show-stoppers. But there were enough really really good songs to make up for the lack of great songs. And we’ve got more of those listed below.
40. The New Pornographers- Moves
Listen to it HERE
The New Pornographers are sort of the New, New Pornographers now. Together was an improvement over 2007’s “okay but sort of forgettable” Challengers, but it’s still a far cry from the apex they reached around Twin Cinemas. Their opening track, “Moves,” is a good example of the new direction. Gone is the gleeful uptempo belt-a-thon of “Mass Romantic,” instead we have mid-tempo, orchestral indie pop that’s good on the ears and memorable in that, “Oh yeah, this song” sort of way. It’s like the dude who played the farmer in Babe, we like the work he’s done, but we never realize how many things we’ve seen him in until he pops up in The Queen or as Jack Bauer’s dad or something, and even then we just think, “Oh yeah, that guy. That guy. What’s that fucker’s name again?”
“The name’s Cromwell. James Cromwell. And don’t call me a fucker”
“Moves” is ornately, almost delicately, arranged. Strings mesh with a rough guitar overlay that somehow sounds much softer than it should. The song starts deliberately upbeat, but never takes it into overdrive, before drifting out for the final 30 seconds. The final song we’re left with is safe and enjoyable, and as far as “safe” songs go, it’s one of the few that has a good chance of getting stuck in your head. But The New Pornographers, when they take some more risk, can craft a top-5 song. Instead, this track is safe like a medium-cooked steak. Yes you still enjoy the meat, but if you manned up and ordered the steak medium-rare you’d probably enjoy your meal better. What I’m trying to say with that analogy is that if James Cromwell really wanted us to remember his name, he’s gotta step up and do a nude scene.
39. The Thermals- I Don’t Believe You
Watch the video HERE
The Thermals absolutely kicked my ass last year. Best song of the year. Second best album of the year. They were crushing it. And they carried over that style into this year’s Personal Life, they unfortunately gave themselves the Matrix 2 treatment. They saw the stuff that people liked, and then started to rely on that a little too much, bullet-speed style.
After a while, this goes from cool to excessive
“Now We Can See” had an awesome use of an “oh-ay-ah-ay-oh-ah” chorus that was catchy as all shit, and worked with just totally amped up indie punk. In a word, it was awesome. In more than one word, it was, like, so badass you guys. So, “I Don’t Believe You,” which is enjoyable and light, feels like it misses the mark for a band that can and has written songs that fall in the “legendary” category.
And Legendary never disappoints
“I Don’t Believe You” opens with the fuzzed out guitar and a chorus of “oh-oh-oh-ohh”s that…wait, suddenly seems pretty familiar in light of “Now We Can See.” Hell, the song itself sounds almost exactly like a song they wrote about Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Like, eerily similar. Check it out. What we’re left with is a very fun, catchy, energetic song…that feels like we’ve been here before. The Thermals usually are pretty good about taking a fairly standard genre-sub type and making the songs sound unique and fun, while still falling within that genre. But now, this song comes off like an overused SNL Skit, like that sort-of-funny-sort-of-annoying Molly Shannon character that got her own movie back in the 90’s. Yeah, it’s a good skit I guess. But we know how it’s going to end.
Yeah, she falls down and things break.
38. Spoon- Written in Reverse
Listen to it HERE
Spoon is like, the vampires of Indie Rock. And I really hesitate to use that metaphor, because we’re unfortunately still in that 5 year window right after people stopped looking at vampires as gory badass sex monsters, and right before we start giving them, like, their 9th gritty reboot. I’m going to avoid making jokes about those fucking “opposite of dusk” books, but you know.
See? Like this!
To wit, Spoon are sort of ageless. They’ve been around forever, and they release albums with such fevered frequency (7 albums and 7 EPs so far) with no real drop off in quality. “Written in Reverse” shows Spoon staying true to their form, with a bluesy jangly piano and guitar driven number, ambling along and really just concentrating on most of Spoon’s better traits. Harmonies, crisp production, it’s all there. Ahh Spoon, you never let us down.
37. The Arcade Fire- Rococo
Listen to it HERE
Who really suspected that The Arcade Fire would become a number one artist? I don’t mean artistically, they’ve always been critical darlings and rightfully so. But, after listening to tracks like, “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” back in 2004, I did not expect them to be the top selling artist on Billboard at any point. Well, they pulled that off with this year’s The Suburbs. And it’s refreshing to see top selling bands that are both incredibly talented, artistically creative, and do not have the words “Nickel” or “Back” anywhere in their band name.
Seriously, how long until they finally break down and sue me for libel?
“Rococo” starts obscured by a brief haunting haze, some ethereal background instrumentals with acoustic guitar holding everything together. That is, until the strings come in to create some daylight. The chorus of “Rococo” is muddled and almost a whisper until Win Butler eventually decides to break through the murky lyrics and really get into the song at the two minute mark. From the halfway point on, it’s one of the more accessible, catchy-in-that-dark-brooding-sort-of-way tracks on the album, and it improves upon each subsequent listen.
Lyrically, it’s surprisingly sparse, a very succinct cultural indictment, sort of insulting those who are culturally artistic solely for social reasons. “Let’s go down and talk to the modern kids, they will eat right out of your hand, using big words they don’t understand. They’re singing, ‘Rococo.’” By centering its lyrics (and by that, I mean, like, half of the lyrics is them chanting ‘Rococo’) on the overly ornate and ostentatious 18th century artistic style, it’s not too much of a stretch to interpret Butler’s snide, “They seem so wild but they are so tame,” as a derision of “Look at this fucking hipster” variety hipsters, garishly dressed to attract attention and pretentious about an artistic culture they don’t truly understand, and can only mimic.
So, basically, this song is a Hipster Fight. Hipster Fight! HIIIIPPPPSTERRRRR FIIIIIGGGGGHHHHHT!!
36. The Hold Steady- Barely Breathing
Listen to it HERE
The Hold Steady use so many different damn lyrical motifs throughout their albums that you sort of have a Pavlovian response when they crop up in later albums. You hear “Holly” and your ears perk up, remembering Separation Sunday’s affirmation that, “Holly was a hoodrat, and now you finally know that.” You hear “Charlemagne” and you think about how he’s got something in his sweatpants, or if you’re familiar with some of the band’s earlier B-Sides, you remember to say a prayer for sweet Charlemagne, they had the cops at the door and poured his stash down the drain. And how he’s gonna have to come up with 7 grand some other way.
Wow, dude was into some shit, I had no idea
In this case, we have a chorus that ends, “Where were you when the blood spilled? They almost killed me,” which references the band’s first album, Almost Killed Me, and also the epic line in the track “Positive Jam” that goes, “The 80’s almost killed me, let’s not recall them quite so fondly.” It might sound somewhat cheap and lazy to have a song on this list where my main focus is how it lyrically sort of alludes to different (admittedly, better) Hold Steady songs, but try to keep up.
The song itself is a catchy, if slightly overproduced track. Starting with some light stutter guitar, and the…odd but not totally detrimental decision to digitalize Craig Finn’s vocals for about a half a syllable, the song eventually picks up to a nice pace, with horns effectively blaring, and a nice clarinet solo at the end of the song that works surprisingly well for a band you’d never imagine using a clarinet in their songs. And to be honest, I don’t see why not. Clarinets are highly underrated.
…Oh that’s just an unfortunate placement…
35. LCD Soundsystem- All I Want
Listen to it HERE
The anthemic LCD Soundsystem over-six-minute-long tracks are almost a musical subgenre in their own right. Yes, we saw the goofy “Drunk Girls” in the last section of top songs, but compared to “All I Want” those songs are less siblings and more distant second cousins who have to reintroduce themselves each time they run into each other. “All I Want” has that particular LCD Soundsystem feel, as soon as it starts off with that 70’s synth and mournful sliding guitar you sort of know it’s going to be an obstructed reflective piece. As the lyrics kick off, melting in with the ornate wall of sound, it’s hard to know which is more important to focus on. The lyrics don’t drown in the music, but they go swimming, and in their murky depths they’re not quite an afterthought, but they’re not front and center either. “Drunk Girls” this is not, the hyper-happy vocals are not front and center, and that’s only confirmed as Murphy mumbles, “Wait for the day you come home from the lonely part.” It’s a totally different term. Unless he’s making this song about drunk girls as well, in which case, dude you’re hella overreacting.
Okay, it is literally impossible to find appropriate pictures for a drunk girl caption. I think if you goggle image searched “Drunk Girls” with safe search on, the first page of results would just read “You’re kidding, right?”
“All I Want” works a “melancholy break up vibe,” which only works if it feels either unique or authentic. “All I Want” rocks a little of both. This is not a six and a half minute song of, “Take me back,” and this is not a six and a half minute of, “I don’t need you anymore.” The chorus is as basic as it is effective. “Now all I want is your pity, or all I want are your bitter tears.” There’s a sort of mutually assured destruction in those lyrics, the indecisiveness of a difficult split. As Murphy pines away, the song both stands still and builds at the same time, subtly changing when you relax yourself to it, like one of those magic eye 3D pictures. Only, uh, music?
Like this. Maybe this is analogy is a little forced.
By the end of the track, as Murphy croons, “Take Me Home,” everything seems resolved even though nothing is. And you realize that those 6 and a half minutes just breezed by you. And all you’re left with is a few seconds of piano notes and silence.
34. Los Campesinos!- We’ve Got Your Back
Listen to it HERE
You know what I like? (“The Wrens? You talk about them like, all the fucking time, even when describing songs that are in no way related to them?”) Shut the hell up, parentheses. I like it when Los Campesinos! starts happy yelling. It’s awesome. Combine them with lyrics you can’t place to a particular song until you hear them and go, “ohhhhh, that lyric” you’re left with one of the better songs of the year. “We’ve Got Your Back” is like Rachael Leigh Cook in a late 90’s movie. You don’t really pay attention to it, but when it’s true beauty is shown to you, like getting rid of those glasses and giving it a makeover, you realize what you’ve been missing all this time. Don’t worry that’s going to be my most obscure 12 year old pop culture reference I’ll make on this list. Maybe.
See, okay, so like, in the movie, Freddie Prince Jr., who trust me was once kind of famous, he’s like the popular kid. And he asks out the nerdy girl, Rachael Leigh Cook to prom or something, I didn’t actually see the damn movie, I was like 13 at the time. But then she like, loses the glasses and gets glammed out, and Freddie Prince Jr. is all “Oh shit, she’s like smoking hot, we’re toooootally going to go steady” or whatever we used to do in the goddamn 90’s. No, not steady, that’s more 1950’s, how about, “Oh yeah, we’re going to wear like, neon clothing, and dance to Smash Mouth songs.” Yeah. That seems authentic. I’m saying the song is good. Shit, we’re still in the caption part. Uh….
There’s a nice interplay between male and female lead vocals here, but really the solidity of the song can best be expressed in the sentiment of the chorus (which is, of course, HAPPY YELLED! Fuck yes!). “Every girl I’ve ever kissed I was thinking of a pro-footballer. Though. You. Should. Know.” It’s an oddly innocent “fuck you” line built in there, just because it’s delivered so matter of factly. There’s no malice. no hatred. Just…”Soccer is more important to me than you, just a heads up.” The rest of the lyrics have their moments, but this provided every damn media writer a perfect question, “What did you mean with this line?” If a song has an interview-quote worthy line, you know it’s doing something right.
Okay, so like, this is what they did to make her “ugly” and I know what you’re thinking. You’re all “she’s actually pretty hot, like a real librarian thing going on, I dig that” well, the 90’s were a more innocent time when glasses and pulled back hair meant you were ugly. Or something about inner beauty? Right? But that’s sort of bullshit because they made her hot, at least according to the imdb synopsis. Oh shit, I’m still going on about this caption aren’t I? Goddamn it…uhhhh….NEXT SONG!
33. The New Pornographers- Crash Years
Watch the video HERE
GIVE NEKO CASE THE MICROPHONE! YEAHHHH! Even if A.C. Newman doesn’t write the anthemic showstoppers for Neko Case to sing anymore, it doesn’t matter, Neko Case on any song is automatically pure gold. Maybe it’s because she adds a healthy dose of “American artist” to the Canadian super group. Probably not, but it’s a thought. Neko Case is the embodiment of “Indie hot,” in that, her vocals are so good that she automatically launches herself into an unattainable level of attraction for most fans. Like in 2003, when she was voted “The hottest babe in Indie Rock” on a Playboy poll, and she turned down an offer to pose nude for the magazine.
But her VOICE, man!
“Crash Years” lets Neko show up her golden pipes, though it does not give us a good, “her just belting the shit out of the lyrics” section, which is a huge missed opportunity. We do get a whistle chorus though, which is sort of catchy in a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sort of way. Like, well, pretty much the whole album, the track does mid-tempo great, but never really cranks it up to 11. But shit, anytime you use Neko Case, even if you leave some of her best vocal abilities off the table, you’re still due for at least one of the top 50 songs of the year.
It also helps when Kathryn Calder is around to lend a hand
32. Kula Shaker- Peter Pan R.I.P.
Listen to it HERE
Kula Shaker is an English psychedelic rock band that really was big in the UK between 1996 and 1999- you know, that whole brit-pop fad. That’s one thing that would have me worried about putting a song by them as one of the best songs of 2010. Also hurting Kula Shaker is that they are compared to Oasis (sort of) in their opening wikipedia paragraph (they had the fastest selling debut since Oasis). Also, their lead singer, Crispian Mills, is a vegetarian who thinks killing animals is just as bad as killing humans, and then made a lot of really weird and confusing statements about Hitler and how much he likes swastikas.
Plus, he sort of looks like a tool
But forget about that shit, forget that the lead singer is nuts, forget that it’s just about impossible for a Brit-Pop band to reunite 10 years after their heyday and release some solid tracks, because “Peter Pan R.I.P.” is actually kinda pretty as hell.
Listen, it’s a scientific fact that if you do a pretty ballad, and you rock an awesome strings section, it’s gonna be a good song. Also, cellos make everything better. And I mean everything.
Ladies and gentlemen, rule 34
The opening cello backdrop is when I’m sold. Seriously, that’s all it took, I heard the first 10 seconds and I was like, “unless they recorded themselves ritualistically slaughtering a puppy halfway through this song, I’m going to like this song.” But we were safe of that happening, you know, because of the whole militant vegetarian thing. Anything short of that, and I would have made whatever excuse I needed to for me to add this song to my top songs of the year list. And I have no regrets. None!
Look what you made me do!
31. Kanye West- Power
Watch the video of, well, most of the song HERE
Kanye describes “Power” as a superhero theme music, and it fits. Kanye’s ego is on full display in this track, and considering the 2009 and 2010 that he had, the defiance is palpable. Kanye is the 21st century, or at least, the 21st century schizoid man. Kanye calls out society, himself, and…SNL? Sure, what the fuck. Fuck those guys.
Yeah, you’re on Yeezy’s shit list
As as song, “Power” rages, it dribbles with its head down to get to the basket as fast as possible. And while he lets loose with his own superhero anthem, he still highlights his insecurities. “They say I was the abomination of the Obama nation, well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation,” he spits. This isn’t a “fuck you” song, it isn’t even a “fuck me” song, it’s just… “fuck.” And you know what? It works.
Plus, even without any of that analytical bullshit, it’s still pretty damn fun to listen to.
So there we go, everybody. We’re trucking along, the next installment should come up within the next few days. So, enjoy the songs, recognize that the rest of the list will be even better songs, and…sorry about those incredibly long captions about She’s All That. Never even saw the damn movie. But you know that. Because I mentioned that in my rambling captions. I should just ignore that and pretend it never happened…okay, so stay tuned for more purdy songs!