Top Songs of 2010: #10-1

10.  LCD Soundsystem- I Can Change

Listen to it HERE

 LCD Soundsystem always has that track that I idly listen to, find a different track to obsess over, only to be dragged back to that original track when I hear it fucking everywhere.  Because honestly, I must be the only person that doesn’t immediately gravitate to songs like “Someone Great,” and I’m wasting my time listening to the title track of Sound of Silver, which is less resonate but sorta goofy and danceable and what’s wrong with me liking that?  What?  Don’t look at me like that!

“But it’s called ‘Someone Great.’  The word ‘Great’ is in the fucking TITLE.  You are dead to me.”

 I eventually come around, so this year I decided to be proactive by putting I Can Change ahead of the much goofier “Drunk Girls.”  I’m more of a “North American Scum” as opposed to “All My Friends” sort of guy.  But that’s the beauty of LCD Soundsystem, you can pick from any of his tracks and find someone who says “that’s my favorite on that album!”  As I’ve said before, I sort of was hoping for another “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” type moment on This is Happening, mumble mumble, but you go with the cards that you’re dealt.

The problem with LCD Soundsystem is that there’s something effortless about the beats at play.  It’s easy to overlook the complexity of everything.  It works, but it doesn’t brag about it.  That’s why “New York, I Love You” stands out to me, it’s stripped-down piano-front-and-center approach is so radically different, it seems so novel.  And so it’s easy to overlook, with the pulsing 80’s synth-pop beats and crazy basic drum machine rhythm, the heartbreakingly poignant lyrics.  It’s not quite, “you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown,” but hearing James Murphy first ask, “Never change, this is why I fell in love,” before desperately pleading, “I can change, if it helps you fall in love,” creates a perfect atmosphere of unrequited love, hidden as a low key dance song.

Also, James Murphy wears funny glasses.

Might I recommend changing that, first?

9.  Peter Adams- Cypress Knees

Listen to it HERE

If you ever could hear a “single worthy” track on an EP of music recorded for the Cincinnati ballet, we’re going to go out on a limb and say this would be the best song to nominate.  Starting off with some light guitar, the drums kick in at the 30 second mark with forceful vocals that sound just slightly distorted, as if sung through tissue paper.  The song is short, surprisingly poppy (in a good way), and sandwiches upbeat, slightly edgy vocals between the closest thing you’ll get to a face-melting violin solo in Indie music.

I’m pretty sure we’ve made no fewer than 5 violin jokes in this list so far

While Peter Adams has recently been the master of ornate, complex, lengthy songs that flow beautifully, “Cypress Knees” reminds us that, hey, he can make a good short track too.  Clocking in at under three minutes, the track is a head-popping orchestral delight, complex yet easily digested, and more rewarding after every listen.  It’s not every year that a ballet song will make my top 10 songs of the year list, but I’m more than happy to make an exception for 2010.

8.  Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring

Watch the video HERE

Really, Los Campesinos! should have two songs in the top 10 of the year, but as I’ve bemoaned earlier, Potentially-Best-Song-of-the-Year-or-at-least-easily-in-the-top-3, “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” was first released last year, and made my list then, so it gets bumped off.  So instead, the top 10 Los Campesinos! representative is here in the form of the album’s title track which has a T-shirt ready sentiment.

Seriously, every damn stranger will weigh in their two-cents when you wear it

Showing their typical “upbeat happy sounding songs with downtrodden lyrics” flair, this song clocks in at just under two and a half minutes, but easily provides the most “head banging in concert” moments of the album.  While there there’s no lyrics in the verse that pop out as, “holy shit,” the general sentiment in the chorus, “You’re pouting in your sleep, I’m waking still yawning/ We’re proving to each other that romance is boring,” neatly sums up one of the band’s general thematic motifs.  It’s not the strongest lyrical example of a Los Campesinos! song, but it’s the most catchy song on one of the top albums of the years, and that’s enough to get you a spot high on this list.

7.  Titus Andronicus- Richard II

Listen to it HERE

Titus Andronicus has to work really hard for me to get over their vocals.  Dozens of bands do the punkish half-screamed lyrics, and dozens of bands happen to suck pretty hard.  Titus Andronicus, of course, overcomes this with an effective use of the vocals, as well as layered instrumentals and a strong thematic element to their music.  In a world where The Hold Steady is verging on ten years of existence predicated on clever rasp-spoken lyrics, it’s not surprising to see Titus Andronicus release an album like this to such acclaim.

There’s sort of a sing-songy quality to “Richard II” that somewhat masks the darker themes at play.  Titus “We Really Like Shakespeare, We Guess” Andronicus starts things off with thirty seconds of fairly standard instrumentation before diving into lyrics that are basically the Double Rainbow of metaphorical allusions.  While the title references the Shakespearean play that leads to the Machiavellian rise to the throne of Henry IV, the lyrics never mention the titular Richard II, instead highlighting the ability of war to strip you of your humanity.  So, to map it out, this song metaphorically compares the Civil War to the play, Richard II, while using the Civil War as a metaphor for current society.  Double metaphors!  Full on double metaphor!

This upbeat track throws in legitimately jarring imagery into the lyrics, with lines like, “You’ll be cutting ears off dead men/ Pumping shells into the carcass for hours on end/ Then you’ll swear that we’ve always been friends/ And be unable to conceive it could ever happen again,” highlighting the brother fighting brother aspect of the Civil War, and translating it to a condemnation for the misdeeds we commit to those close to us.  As The song begins to draw to an end, and fade into a minute of haze, Patrick Stickles insists, “I will not deny my humanity,” before finally coming to the final question, “Where are all your friends now?”  The metaphors layered over metaphors go back and forth between subject matter, but the end result stays, as always, universal in nature.

6.  Menomena- Five Little Rooms

Listen to it HERE

Menomena always knows how to deliver the goods in a sort of creeping way that grabs you for reasons you can’t explain.  In “Five Little Rooms,” the first released track of their album, Mines, you can peg it for a Menomena track within the first five seconds, with their trademark baritone saxophone.  It’s got what you would hope from the band, deep, guttural sax lines, sprinkled with light piano and doubled harmonies throughout, all while taking a dark but upbeat melody that includes the surprisingly catchy chorus of, “All this could be yours someday.”

Huuuuge…tracts of land

While it falls a bit short of Menomena’s hardest hitting song, “Evil Bee,” it still gives us a song that’s catchy enough, enjoyable enough, and just…good enough to make this year’s top 10.  Also it let me make a huge stretch to incorporate a Monty Python joke, which totally earns it points.

5.  Buke and Gass-  Naked Cities

Listen to it HERE

“Naked Cities” made a surprise vault up to my top 5 when I started writing this list.  Each listen through Riposte had it moving higher and higher on my list, and as soon as “Naked Cities” began to stick out, it suddenly showed itself to be the most face paced, exciting, catchy song on the album.  While it’s the one of the more straightforward tracks on the album, it’s easily the most accessible, which is impressive on an album full of catchy, accessible tracks.  Buke and Gass tracks are basically like skittles.  They’re all good, and it’s hard to pick a flavor that stands head and shoulders above the rest, but if you put a gun to our head, we’d say orange.

Hey, after 20 thousand words and 45 track reviews, the analogies are bound to get a bit strained…

The vocal riff of the first half of the song perfectly accents the pounding kick drum, creating a really head-bopping-friendly rock riff that sprints at full speed for over a minute before going into a hazy interlude that ends with the opening melody, allowing the first and last minute to be nicely complimented by a suspenseful build in the second minute.  It’s a single-worthy track, and one that improves upon each subsequent listen, which makes it a no-brainer to make this year’s top 10 tracks.

 4.  The Hold Steady- Hurricane J

 Listen to it HERE

As the Hold Steady has gone the route of being a raucous speak-sing garage rock band while gradually turning into an upbeat sing-speak garage rock band with pop sensibilities, they can’t really pack as much of a punch as they once did.  It’s not their fault, their first three albums are going to be the albums that are still used as influences to bands ten years down the line (see also:  Titus Andronicus).  The first three albums were masterpieces, the fourth had some great moments, but as the novelty of “wow, Craig Finn is totally singing, and there are oohs and aahs in the background, hell yeah!” has more or less run it’s course.

But he will always have the “looks like a substitute teacher doing a Joe Cocker impression” novelty

The “oh my God that line is epic” lyrical moments become more sparse the farther you get down their discography, but much like an NBA superstar with a little left in the tank, The Hold Steady can still show you moments of brilliance.  “Hurricane J” is one of such moments.

Starting off at full bore, with “oh oh ohs” and heavy, cutting guitar, the song goes from measured, almost call verses that throw in the occasional lyrical brilliance before exploding for the chorus after each refrain.  Lines such as, “You’re a beautiful girl/ and a pretty good waitress,” are the type of simple yet oddly profound love lines that The Hold Steady was able to build their reputation around.  Really, what The Hold Steady manages to craft is an upbeat, engaging, three minute track that sounds like an intellectual version of an 80’s song everyone would sing along to in a bar.

3.  My Gold Mask- Violet Eyes

Watch the Video HERE

Chicago’s My Gold Mask, a husband and wife duo that’s good enough to be viewed outside of the “husband and wife duo” niche, made last year’s year end list with their great EP opener, O My Soul, kicked off 2010 with another EP that fully realizes their dark, quirky sensibilities.  Gretta Rochelle again shows her vocal flexibility in a song where she jumps from a sultry lower register to a piercing higher register that’s crisp enough to sour over the purposefully muddled guitar haze supplied by Jack Armondo.  The song is haunting and feels like a Chicago winter, in a good way.

As the band informed me while graciously letting me ask them silly questions, they make their music attempting to avoid outside influence.  It’s an insular approach to music that makes efforts to compare them to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Smashing Pumpkins sort of fruitless, they craft a unique sound that’s somewhat timeless, a simple, catchy song driven by Rochelle’s pounding kick drum and echoing instrumentals.  Easily one of the best outputs by a Chicago band in 2010, this song more than any other captures the sound of the band and puts all of their best points on display.

2.  Titus Andronicus-  A More Perfect Union

Listen to it HERE

The one thing I regret the most about putting so many Titus Andronicus songs on this list is that, without the lyrical poignancy, it’s hard for to justify to myself that a screamy loud band with off-kilter (to put it kindly) vocals would have such a presence on my year end list.  And after a while, my inner English major, who I occasionally feed with Kerouac quotations and a kindly aversion to reality television programming, starts to get cramps.  It’s a lot of work, going into this metaphor within a metaphor business (though I will have a hard time avoiding using my, what, fifth double rainbow joke in this list?)

Boom.  Kerouac.  Bet you did not expect that to be the one mention in the above paragraph I decided to make a caption for so I can break up the article enough to make it more attractive to reading.

Opening with a Lincoln quotation, ending with, “As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide,” you are promptly slapped in the face with seven minutes of “fuuuuuuuck yes.”  The track muscles through Jersey references, driving down the turnpike, before gradually directing the song, and the album in the whole as this is the opening track for The Monitor, towards the Civil War metaphor, before finally leading to a raw throated proclaimed yelp of, “So we’ll rally around the flag…shouting the battle cry of Freedom…rally around the flag, glory, glory hallelujah, His truth is marching on.”  By the time you spring through this non-stop rock anthem, the final lines, a William Lloyd Garrison quotation, comes as a cold and somber, almost to bring you down as you lay exhausted and sweating on the dance floor.

1.  Spoon- I Saw the Light

Listen to it HERE

2009 had a slew of showstoppers, songs that resonated immediately, stuck in your head forever, and are still fixtures on all my playlists.  The pure quality of those songs was outstanding, but I can’t fault 2010 for failing to meet that high ceiling.  What I can take solace in is that, very few years does Indie Rock release a song that is “Oh shit, it just came up on my car stereo, I’m going to blast the volume up” quality.  And Spoon’s “I Saw the Light” may very well be the best of that category for 2010, and my favorite song of the year.

A low guitar line that starts off slow and just builds nonstop, this track got the memo that I’m a big fan of songs with build, and then just take that up a notch by doing it twice.  A song with two acts, a lyric portion for the first two and a half minutes followed by three minutes of building piano driven instrumentals.

And you know what?  It’s been a long journey for this list coming out, slowly seeping through over the course of two months, so I think at this point, I’m going to just shut my mouth, and let you listen for yourself.  Maybe you’ll hear something you like.  Maybe you’ll even hear the best song of the year.  I’d like to think you will.

So stay tuned for…lets be honest, like a month from now, when I finally get to posting my top 10 albums of the year list.

About Jeff GoodSmith

I write on occasion. Sometimes it ends up here.
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