MIX TAPE SERIES #1: GOOSEBUMPS

In the digital age, which is the lazy way old people choose to describe the last ten years, musical concepts have changed drastically.  “Mix tapes” were replaced by “Mix CDs” were replaced by “Craigslist Casual Encounters” were replaced by “Playlists and Tissues.”  And with artists focusing on producing “single tracks” as opposed to “cohesive albums” the artistry and patience found in compiling a compelling mix can only be found from nostalgic music writers or people too poor to get an ipod hook-up installed into their cars (and in some cases, a combination of the two).  But, despite the existence of ipod shuffles and itunes playlists and pens that write upside down, a well crafted mix CD (which we’ll describe as a mix tape because that has a better ring to it) can tell the listener exactly what year you made your mix better than anything other than, possibly, a diary entry from an angsty teenager.

Much like how if you’re between the ages of 25 and 32 you’ll know the name of at least 2 of these three characters.

However, unlike mix tapes you may make in High School, a proper mix serves as a launching pad into good music that you either might not have heard before, or that works organically in the structure of the mix.  That is why I’m going to begin my Mix Tape series to inform you of songs you’ll love (if you haven’t heard them before).

But first, the rules.

There are many philosophies for the creating of a perfect mix.  Some adhere to the “album” philosophy- namely, if your favorite artist would not release an 80 minute album, you should not make a mix that fills up an entire CD, focusing instead on 12-14 truly great songs to interact with each other.  While this method makes some good points, it is not the route that I will take, since I want to take advantage of all the space we have available to fit as much music as possible.  This will make a mix much better suited for road trips and long drives.

And to make matters worse, he had to listen to Dave Matthews Band on repeat until help arrived.

As a result, the my mix method will slightly alter the Rob Fleming school of mixes.  You can’t have the same artists appear too close to each other in the track listing, but you are not forced to start with a “show stopper/attention getter.”  In fact, I will try to make the second or third track by the one that really starts to grab your attention.  The first track should rise, possibly starting slow before building your attention and taking you through to the next level.

The real difficulty is transitions.  An ideal mix is one where, after listening to it a few times, you assume that the songs are meant to be paired together.  Once you realize that the ending of “Another Love Song” by Queens of the Stone Age actually sublimely goes into Rouge Wave’s “Kicking the Heart Out,” and that it’s such a great transition that you almost assume they’re the same song, it’s hard not to mentally cue up the second song once you hear the first.  With that in mind, it’s time to start the inaugural Mix Tape Series with the mix entitled Goosebumps.

Track One:  Tartufi- If We Had Daggers They Would Fly

While I might be presumptuous in calling Tartufi “friends of my former website, Elitish,” I think I can at least safely say that they are “people who let me interview them (which used to be on Elitish but now is here).”  This track opens their 2006 effort, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, and immediately establishes them as a band that is worth your time and beef jerky making abilities.  It also gives you confusing results if you google the album title.

Umm…what the fuck, google?

Starting slowly, this San Francisco duo’s track is layers of tinkering piano and soft guitar that swell and build over a minute stretch, until they are met by increasingly overlapping vocals of “ohs” and “ahs” that lull you into a sense of comfort even as the music gets increasingly intense.  That is, until everything goes to hell with a flurry of guitar that turn into vocals and drums in a remarkably catchy pattern.  Like Built to Spill with a hint of tribal vocal influence, it’s a song that slowly brings you in before grabbing you by the shoulders to let you know, “Hey, guys, listen to me, I’m awesome.”  Which actually would be a terrifying thing for a song to actually, physically do.  Once songs become sentient it’s just a matter of time before they doom us all.

Where were we going with this again?

The last few seconds and the first few seconds of a song are integral to creating a proper mix.  That’s why, as Tartufi’s track fades into soft xylophone (because fuck yes, xylophones) it’s time to go to…

Track Two:  The Delgados- I Fought the Angels


You don’t need to be attractive to make good music, but if you make good music we’re just going to assume you’re attractive.  The reason why people assume Pete Wentz sings for Fall Out Boy is because their lead singer is chunky, and the reason why people feel that Fall Out Boy is shit is because Pete Wentz is goofy looking and scenester as shit.  I bring this up because the only thing that enhances someone’s attractiveness is if they’re foreign.  So the fact that “I fought the Angels,” the opening track to 2004’s Universal Audio is sung by a girl on a Scottish Band is basically the hotness equivalent of dividing by zero.  It seems impossible.  Granted, I’m saying this without having seen Emma Pollock…

*Curt nod*  Judges?  Judges?  Is this acceptable?  The judges are informing me that yes, she is attractive.

That of course has very little to do with the actual song, but it does sort of paint the way your brain will take in the lyrics.  It’s a pretty girl with a strong voice singing over stripped down guitar rock instrumentals with some vocal doubling tastefully applied where it’s needed.  The concept itself (defiance against unseen forces, literally “I fought the angels”) is much better than the lyrical execution (what the hell does “My words are seldom for a friend” actually mean?) the song is made mixworthy when the drums kick in at 1:10 and keyboard and bass and even the occasional almost soundscape use of strings layer through the song which such stealth that you don’t even notice it apart from commenting on how rich and full the song is.

As the song cuts off, however, it’s time to take it back down to the beginning of a low rising song.  This mix is called Goosebumps because each song has a moment, usually a build or a crescendo, that gives me goosebumps (unfortunately it is not named after R.L. Stine’s classic works).  So, in keeping with this theme, the next song we encounter is…

Track Three:  Okkervil River- John Allyn Smith Sails

The closing track to 2007’s The Stage Names doesn’t really hit you until you hit the halfway point, at which point your ears perk up, you say, “What the fuck?” and the librarian says, “There’s no swearing in the library young man,” and you say, “I got your library right here you old biddy” and she goes, “Oh really?  Old biddy?  What is this, fucking 1950?” and you go, “HA!  I thought you’re not supposed to swear, fuckass” and anyway, I’m not allowed in public libraries anymore.

Like I even care.  Stupid old biddy.

“John Allyn Smith Sails” is a semi-non-fictional account of the poet John Berryman, who was born as John Allyn Smith Jr.  If you’ve not heard this song, or the Hold Steady track that mentions him in passing, we’ll save you the suspense- the dude jumped off a bridge to kill himself, survived the fall, and some days later from hyperthermia.

What makes the song worthwhile however appears at the halfway point, when after describing Berryman’s funeral, a semi-cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” comes into play, desperate pleas of “I feel so broke up I want to go home” being expressed through harmonies and, yes, a riveting horn section (read as: trumpet).  It’s a brilliant switch over that both cements the song as a musically worthwhile anthem, while serving as clever word play of the title (Sloop John B, John Berryman, get it?  GET IT!?)

(KAAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNN!  I mean… GET IT!????)

By the time it fades, of course you have to move on to the next track, which continues along the nautical theme (yes, the comparison is looser than Andy Dick after his fourth eight ball, just beware with us).

Track Four:  Immaculate Machine- C’Mon Sea Legs

As is custom for my continued effort to get a restraining order filed against me, I’ll just point out again that OH MY GOD KATHRYN CALDER!

I TOOK THIS WITH MY PHONE YOU’RE SO PREEEEEETTTTYYYY

Ahem.

Anyway.

(But seriously guys, back me up on this)

“I hope no one writes anything creepy about me on the internet today!”

“C’Mon Sea Legs” was my number one song of 2007, deftly taking Brooke Gallupe’s vocals and adding about several degrees of Kathryn Calder to take them from good to incredible.  I’ve been writing about this song in glowing terms for four years, so it’ll just read as cheap repetition if I go into depth into this song, so I’ll sum it up as succinctly as possible.  Gallupe sings the melody, with Calder (who honestly has one of the best voices in music this side of Neko Case) doing soft soaring harmonies.  The song serves as a fairly straightforward metaphor for overcoming and getting over negative life events (since it’s in song lyrics, let’s just simplify that as “getting over getting dumped”).  Calder’s vocals strengthen as the song progresses, until finally Gallupe lets Calder take over, as she belts the emotional apex of the song, making a powerful and moving musical moment.

When it’s all done, the song is less “anthemic” and more “epic.”  Which is why I keep it going with a similarly epic song (that also happens to feature KATHRYN CALDER)

Track Five:  The New Pornographers- The Bleeding Heart Show

“Hey, I know this song!  This is the song that’s used on those commercials for that shady as hell for-profit university, right?”   Well…well yes, fine, it is.  “Hey Jeff, did you know that The University of Phoenix takes on anyone and usually leaves its students in massive debt?”  Yes, I had heard about that, listen guys, I’m trying to write about this song, it’s really quite good and… “No, but seriously, it’s such a racket, even cracked.com talked about its evils and…” SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET ME TALK ABOUT THE FUCKING SONG OKAY!?

YOU AND YOUR STUPID TIE CAN GO TO HELL!

*deep breath*

Okay.

Trying too hard to interpret New Pornographers lyrics will make your nose bleed, since A.C. Newman’s main lyrical influence seems to come from magnetic poetry.  Seriously, “I leapt across three or four beds into your arms”?  Unless you’re living in military barracks, I defy you to find a situation where you’d leap across three or four beds to go to someone’s arms.  And if you did have three or four beds, why would you leap across them?  Why not go around them?  Or at least, I don’t know, push them together so it’s like one giant bed.  But why is it so many beds and…

AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…aghh.

It’s fitting that Newman at least acknowledges the fact that his lyrics are basically amalgamated words that are smushed together and set to power pop melodies with the line, “It looked as if I picked your name out of a hat.”  But the lyrics aren’t why we listen to this song (and trust me, even if you don’t think you’ve listened to this song, you’ve listened to this song).  The last minute and a half, apart from sounding like some sort of Indie Lion King soundtrack, provides one of the seminal musical moments of the past ten years (“Ohh, bold words, GoodSmith.”  Yeah, well a pretty girl looked at me on the bus today so I’m feeling pretty bold, reader.)

That’s right, world.  Looked right at me.  For like, a FULL two seconds.

Between Neko Case’s belting, which is actually a prescribable cure for Lupus, Kurt Dahle’s transcendent drumming, and the rich layer of harmonies provided by every member of the band (including Kathryn Calder, SQUEE!) this song takes the high point of “C’Mon Sea Legs” and continues at the same high level.  So it seems only fitting that I follow this up with a track by an artist once called “The best band ever” by both Paul McCartney and Sting (citation needed)…

Track Six:  The Wrens- I’ve Made Enough Friends

As you may have gathered from my extensively in-depth interview, and my embarrassingly gushing live review, and, well, from just about everything I write, I am a big fan of The Wrens.  Not in a “their album art is tattooed on my chest” way, but more in the “I know all their B-sides and I use their album art as a screensaver” sort of way.  Actually that sounds fairly creepy too.  I mean, I’ve played with them on stage, and I follow them on twitter, it’s not like I know what sort of shampoo each member uses.  Oh God, I’m just digging myself in deeper.  Uh, hey, Charles, if you’re reading this, it’s all just part of the gag, you know, like I’ve been doing gags for every track I’ve done so far on this list.  It’s, uh, meta humor…ha…haha…See?  We’re laughing, everyone’ s laughing, we’re having a good time, they’re a good band, okay, let’s just leave it at that.

Photo unrelated

I’m not helping my case with this description, but as one of the band’s member’s message board posts related the sentiment of a friend of his, “I’ve Made Enough Friends” was the sex song of the 1990’s.  Possibly the most immediately accessible song on the 1996 masterpiece (Yeah, masterpiece, I went there, deal with it) Secaucus (it’s named after New Jersey you guys!), “I’ve Made Enough Friends” is a refreshingly earnest, straightforward tale of blossoming…well, love sounds too idealized for the song, but at least lust.  Clocking in at 2:47, the track doesn’t waste much time with languished metaphors or plodding instrumentals, it just treats you to a story of a first physical encounter between two people.

“A rush of wonder this spell I’m under might last,” Charles Bissell croons (“…croons?  Someone wants to use their thesaurus today, huh?”  Shut up, reader, you’re messing up my rhythm.  “Can’t mess up something that’s not there.”  Shut the hell up I said!) as the music rises in intensity to mirror the passion of the song’s two characters.  As the song builds up and blasts away, “Undo your buckle while you bite at my neck, I’ve waited no end, I’ve made enough friends” is almost gleefully exclaimed, all build and energy and harmonies.  There is no room for a letdown in this song, it’s almost delicately crafted within its short time frame, with the song ending abruptly when there is nothing else left to be said.

By this point, it’d be easy to keep the mix going on this course, playing an up tempo song to match the high energy that “I’ve Made Enough Friends” ends with, but a truly good mix should be more like a sine graph (“sine graph?  Math is stupid.” Fine, a roller coaster.  Ugh.  You suck so hard.)   A rising and falling tide receives more attention than still water, so I’m taking things down a little with the following track…

Track Seven:  Spoon- Paper Tiger

I don’t know why I associate Kill the Moonlight with Spoon doing experimental percussion work, but I do.  It’s an entirely inaccurate assumption, as if all previous and following Spoon albums used a goddamn drum machine while this one album used like, I don’t know, a space robot drummer (…holy shit that’d be the coolest thing ever).  I mean, in Soft Effects they had a song that used a fucking shoe for percussion.  That’s not even a joke, they took a shoe and smacked it on like the floor or whatever, and decided, “Yeah, this’ll be good for our instrumental interlude!”  Remember that obnoxious as hell “sheeewwwssss” video about shoes?  No?  Well good for you, I won’t link you to it because it’s awful, but basically it’s as if Spoon was in the recording studio and thought, “How can we liven up this song?” and that obnoxious dude in the wig appears and is like “Oh.  My.  God.  Sheewwwws.”  And the band tossed up their hands and said “Why the fuck not?”

Ugh.  This video.  Ugh.

Spoon gets inventive with their percussion is what I’m saying.  I honestly haven’t been able to find/am too lazy to really do intensive research regarding the source of the strange, plastic-in-a-good-way sounding percussion base that “Paper Tiger” uses, which sounds like part drum, part vacuum-of-space, but it distinguishes this otherwise good-and-pretty-sounding-but-fairly-standard-song and makes it unique.  A lesson in minimalism, there’s the echoing, for-some-reason-futuristic-seeming percussion mixed in with some very light drums, softly hesitant synthesizer notes, and the occasional instance of Britt Daniels endearingly-strained falsetto, and…that’s about it.  This song uses strange percussion sparingly, but that’s still half of the instrumentation in the song.

As a stand alone track, or even as part of Kill the Moonlight (which, if you haven’t heard, was when Spoon decided to do experimental percussion, which they never did at any other point in their career) is a pretty song, one worth listening to, but not something that demands your attention as much as other music surrounding it.  Spoon barely touches it now when they do live concerts.  But for this mix, it’s a nice way to cleanse the palate, sort of like the ginger that goes along with sushi.

This song is the ginger, and the next track is the sushi, is what I’m trying to say.

Track Eight:  Ola Podrida- Cindy

For starters, I’m just going to call bullshit on the fact that Ola Podrida doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.  Not all of us get your fancy press booklets, Mr. Wingo, and you’d have to assume that a band that’s managed two 7.8-and-higher rated albums on pitchfork would at least have a damn wikipedia page.  Seriously, there are artists who are on wikipedia who are listed as having “played with Ola Podrida” yet Ola Podrida doesn’t have it.  Anyway, Ola Podrida has David Wingo, who is a film composer.  It’s easy to make a blanket statement of him using that mindset with his music, as “Cindy,” a beautifully tragic, soaring affair, sounds like it should be the background for an emotional crescendo in some Wes Anderson film.  But that’s just lazy writing, and I have never ever been a lazy writer.

Pictured above:  My research method

“Cindy” doesn’t necessitate any lavish visual backdrop, mainly because it’s rife with its own theatrics.  In case you haven’t picked up the pattern yet, most of these songs are going to start off pretty soft, and then build to dizzying heights by the time the song is over.  That’s going to happen just about every goddamn time, and you’re going to take it and like it, you hear me?

“Don’t talk to me about fucking cadence, I fucking INVENTED cadence.”

“Cindy” is a film upon itself, describing a girl (going on a limb and saying her name is…Cindy?) who burns down…well her life.  She burns her house down, burns her diary, “She burned everything, except for her wedding ring, because she threw that in the sea.”  As the fire builds lyrically, so too does the song, plot and instrumentals holding hands and looking both ways before sprinting across the street.  What started as soft plucked guitar ends with an inferno of rapid fire double stops before the song uneasily rests, like the embers left after an inferno.

Ola Podrida’s seminal track (eh, that may be a bit hyperbolic) follows a similar sonic structure as the following song, which you probably have heard of…

Track Nine:  LCD Soundsystem- New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

“Oh LCD Soundsystem, isn’t that like, a cliché at this point?  They’re so popular that everyone knows someone who lied about seeing their final MSG show,” you might be saying.  “I like that song, ‘Daft Punk is Playing at My House,’ and ‘Someone Great’ is really good too.  Let me click this link to refresh my memory on how this song goes,” you’ll likely continue.

“HOLY SHIT JEFF WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THAT KERMIT WAS INVOLVED!?”

“Hi ho, maybe your mother loves you too.”

“New York I Love You” is easily the least LCD Soundsystem…erm…sounding track that has been recorded by LCD Soundsystem.  Where are the muted disco beats and seven minute songs with slightly fuzzed guitars?  Where are the drunk girls?  WHERE ARE THE DRUNK GIRLS!?

Now’s a good time to do the customary “James Murphy dresses ridiculously” joke, as is custom.

Soft piano chords, whispers really, begin the track, which begins with very little separating the listener from Murphy’s anguished earnest lyrics.  A bittersweet love ballad to the city that holds you, Murphy scatters some brilliant lyrical moments throughout the song, which is nothing but piano, light drums, and the occasional bass.  “You’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown,” Murphy muses.  “But they shuttered your stores when you opened the doors to the cops who were bored ocne they’d run out of crime,” he meditates.  A capable, straightforward piano song for the majority of the track, the song erupts at the 3:20 mark with thrashing guitars, hard piano chords, and belted vocals.  And of course, GUITAR SOLO!

GUITARRRRRRR SOOOLLLLOOOOOOOOO EEEAAAAOOOWWWWWWW

It’s honestly an unlikely addition to the LCD Soundsystem canon, but it’s easily my favorite track they’ve done.  Besides, it fits in better with this mix than any other LCD Soundsystem tracks.  Which brings us to…

Track Ten:  Tartufi- Window Machine

Before Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, Tartufi had a third member, and a CD featuring that third member.  So We Are Alive sees less sonic exploration than UUBUU (hehe, uuuubuuuuuu) and a more straightforward power pop direction.  It also established the tradition of getting weird results when you search for it on Google.

Erm…okay.  Duly noted, facebook group.

“Window Machine” seems like two songs combined, or at least an interlude going into a real song.  The first half is a pretty, light instrumental, while the second half actually features things like “vocals” and “lyrical structure.”  I know, crazy.  Again, this song is a ginger song (I like that term, I’m going to use it, offended redheads be damned), to clear your palate for…

Track Eleven:  The Wrens- She Sends Kisses

Oh, don’t give me that look you guys, I’ve already filled my quota of borderline stalkerish sounding jokes about the Wrens.  “She Sends Kisses” is rarely the first song that people obsess about the first time they listen to The Meadowlands, but eventually just about everyone lists it as their favorite Wrens song, or easily in the top five.  I’d talk about how great The Meadowlands as a whole is, but I’ve used up all my hyperbole for the day, and the Hyperbole Bank is closed for the day with a sign on it that says “We have used up all the hyperbole that has EVER EXISTED, will open tomorrow which will be the BEST DAY EVER.”

“Jeff will NEVER be able to write a SINGLE WORD EVER AGAIN without me!”

Needless to say, The Meadowlands, an album that delves into topics that range from betrayal to simply…well, growing up, is a masterpiece, and appears far lower than it deserves to be on many “Best albums of the Aughties” list.  Of the numerous incredible tracks on the record, “She Sends Kisses” stands out five minutes of pure build, like bathtub slowly filling with intensity.  And bubbles.  Because bubbles are awesome.

“Sheeeee seeeeeeennnnnddssss  *breath* kisssssessssssssssss”

This song discusses a chapter in the mini-plot within the album that hasn’t been named by any source I’ve seen, so I’m just gonna give it the fairly unimaginative name of “The Ann Saga.”  For those of you taking notes…stop it, this is the internet, put that notebook away, you look ridiculous.  But for those of you who are curious as to what the Anne Saga on The Meadowlands would entail, it’s basically a three part song series.  Which I will map out below.

Part 1:  “She Sends Kisses” tells the story of Charles (a fictionalized version of Charles Bissell) starting a relationship with Beth (a hypothetical love interest) through flirtatious love letters.  I guess I’ll go into depth with this one since I’m writing about the fucking song.  Beth is “tres involved” (French for “totes seeing someone”) and Charles “Wrote back, good luck.”  The song ends with an assumption that he will start seeing Beth.

Part 2:  “Ex-Girl Collection” takes place after Charles has been sleeping with Beth, but he happens to be in a serious relationship with Ann (a hypothetical girlfriend).  This song shows Ann finding out about Beth, being both distraught and angry about it, while Charles remains bemusedly ambivalent.

Part 3 (sort of):  A bit of a stretch, but “Per Second Second,” with largely inaudible lyrics, shows a sort of freefall post-breakup mindset, as kicked off by the line “I had this dream again Ann shot me, per second second faster from the winner’s line.”

And thus ends Professor GoodSmith’s enthusiastic attempt to misinterpret Wrens lyrics.

This joke is for the zero readers who have met me in real life and who have also seen the movie “Funny People.”

This song is possibly the crux of the entire mix.  It’s arguable the best song you’ll see in this list, and it’s in the middle, towards the end, to encourage the listener to keep on listening to the remainder of the album.  That way you get to hear bands like…

Track Twelve:  Badly Drawn Boy- Say It Again

“Oh yeah, this band seems pretty familiar.  Didn’t you write an article about how this dude sucks at music now?  Also, I don’t mean to be hypercritical, but you seem to be overusing the crutch of starting these bits with a hypothetical reader telling you something sort of sarcastic, and then you yell at the hypothetical reader and call him or her stupid…Are you doing to start being more original, or are you stuck in a creative loop?”  Hey, shut up stupid, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

“AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A PICTURE OF SOMEONE YELLING AND A CAPTION OF THEM YELLING!  YOU ARE MORE PREDICTABLE THAN COLDPLAY’S LYRICS!”

But yes, Badly Drawn Boy has a career trajectory that starts off incredibly high (how good was Hour of the BewilderbeastSO GOOD!) to still pretty high (the About a Boy soundtrack was… it was good) to…

If a picture says a thousand words, then all of these words are “AGHHHHH.”  I’m trying to say that new Badly Drawn Boy is…not good.

But this is from a happier time.  A better time.  A less “name dropping of Madonna” time.  “Say it Again” is uplifting, catchy, beautiful, and eagerly uses a horn section, and it blends in nicely to the next track, which is COVERED IN BEES!

Track Thirteen:  Menomena- Evil Bee

What do you want from your non-muppets-related Menomena songs?  A crisp-yet-murky quality that you have a hard time putting your finger on?  Engaging vocals?  Grand piano instrumentation?  Saxophone solos?  Bees?  BEES!?  BEEEES!?!?!?!?

BEEEES!!!!!!

Well this track’s fucking got it.  For a nearly five minute song that feels like it’s chalk full of psychological depth, it basically only repeats the line, “O to be a machine, to be wanted, to be useful, oh to be a machine.”  Which of course, puts “Evil Bee” on a short list of most cringe inducing title puns you’ll find in Indie Rock (get it?  To BEE a machine?  BAHHH HAHAAA!).  As a general rule, you know your mix is going to be in decent shape when the thirteenth track on it is the best song from the 6th best album of 2007 (which was the best year for music since 2003).  While this song feels…dark, the track it leads into is extremely sunny in comparison.

Track Fourteen:  Biirdie- You’ve Got Darkness

This song is a pain in the ass to find online, so I’m putting it online.  Whatever.  You’ll listen to it and you’ll like it (or you’ll laugh at the part where they go “Did you go out and kiss your friend” and call that particular lyric “trite” like a few of my friends may or may not have done).  That said, there’s a lot you can make fun of Biirdie for, mainly if your definition of “a lot of things” is “they spell their name with two I’s and that’s stupid.”  And that’s my definition, so I’ll just lump you guys into the same category as me.  You don’t mind, do you?

Of course not.

So, the song.  We’re in the homestretch people, and this epic splattering of musical meandering has just three more tracks, including this one.  Biirdie (pfft, two I’s, get that shit out of my house) combines soft and warm male vocals with female backing vocals, and they even through in a bit of a “everyone’s harmonizing while singing different things” thing at the end of it, which happens far less often in music than it should.

We’re five thousand words into this piece.  This is a mix CD that has a lengthy short story as its liner notes.  So I’m gonna try to take this home somewhat succinctly.  First, I’m going to go into a description of how to properly end a mix.

“Oh shit, yo teach is gonna lay down some knowledge!

Many albums are set up with a similar mindset as most semi-successful comedians:  You want to start strong, and you want to end strong, because like birth and death, the start and the ends are usually the most memorable part of any given artistic endeavor.  That’s why, just as I started this mix with two tracks that were the opening songs of their respective albums, I close out with a classic album’s first song, followed by an incredibly obscure album’s closing track.  So fasten your safety belts, I’m going to avoid a reference to a classic Hollywood film/shitty Broadway version of a classic Hollywood film.

Track Fifteen:  Wilco- Misunderstood

The difference between Wilco in 1996 and Wilco in 2006 is striking.  An unfortunate cliche, or at least hipster assumption, is that success breeds contentment, which breeds mediocrity.  When Weezer sang about being tired of sex in Pinkerton, it was bold, it was brash, and it was sung by people who weren’t quite yet millionaires.  But you compare that to Make Believe, which was nine years later, and suddenly it’s the Harvard graduate singing “It’s just something that you’re born into, and I just don’t belong” in front of the fucking Playboy mansion.  While the Indie stereotype is that Hipsters begrudge their bands becoming famous out of some sort of narcissistic desire to  claim ownership to these bands “before they got big” that’s actually not the case.  It’s just that for every Bruce Springsteen (read as: someone with a large underground fan base that put out classic work after becoming mainstream) there are dozens of Post-Reunion-Smashing-Pumpkins or Post-Yankee-Hotel-Foxtrot-Wilcos .

The Beatles tried to push the envolope with a completely blank album cover.  Spoiler alert:  Replacing that concept with “A headshot of a character from Lost” does not seem to have the same artistic integrity.

We’re not saying that once Wilco started consistently getting top 10 albums, they became a shitty band, but that’s exactly what happened.  Which is why “Misunderstood” is such a breath of fresh air.  Nothing about this song demands mainstream success.  This was never a song that would be considered for even an adult contemporary station.  Starting with jarring, aggressive, screechy violin and deep kick drum, this six-and-a-half minute track abruptly switches into soft piano and sad reflective lyrics (“you love her but you don’t know why”, “you still love rock and roll, you still love rock and roll”) before letting the distorted guitar and drums show up again.

And despite appearing in several other tracks, Jeff Tweedy’s use of “I know you got a God-shaped hole” reeks of a desperate earnestness that the band has never been able to replicate.  Being There was Wilco’s second album, a moderately popular Indie alt-rock band’s gutsy decision to release a lengthy 19 track double album as their Sophomore effort.

And now, he looks like an extra for a Geico commercial

You never know what to expect from the song, as it oscillates from abrasive to soothing, as evident by the final two minutes, where the band lets go of all inhibitions, eventually screaming, “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all,” with a sort of raw emotion you don’t see from the band anymore.  And I miss that aggression.  It makes for beautiful music.

Track Sixteen:  SeaRay- Hall of Fame


It’s fairly likely that you’ve never heard of this band.  To dust off an old chestnut that has become a comforting friend over the course of this soon-to-be six thousand word article, you, the hypothetical reader, are likely saying, “Oh yeah, I know Wilco.  They’re like super famous.  But SeaRay?  Isn’t that like, a jet ski or something?”  God, you’re so stupid hypothetical reader who I insult frequently in this article.  But you do make a point.  SeaRay is a band so obscure that I personally own the physical copies of both of the full length CDs the band ever released before their 2004 break-up… and they’re imported to itunes with different spelling of the band’s name (Sea Ray vs. Searay).

Like this, but not a video game

“Hall of Fame” is a track that appears on both full length SeaRay albums.  The difference between the debut Sea Ray and the final album Stars at Noon are massive, but two-fold.  First of all, between the band’s first album and the second, the singer learned how to sing.  That might sound catty, and I can’t back that up because it took me 30 minutes just to figure out how to get the good version of this song available to stream online, but trust me on this point.  The lyrics are the same, the melody is the same, but the vocals sound like they’re sung by a 22 year old who never had voice lessons and hasn’t sung in a public setting for the last four years (I can pretty accurately spot that as my itunes is full of several dozen songs of a 22 year old version of me singing in a similarly cringe-worthy way).  You’re listening to this version and going, “But the lead singer has pretty good vocals.”  And you’re right.  He does.  But he didn’t when the band released their debut in 1997.  Remember that whole “time makes fools of us all” thing I was hinting at with the last song?  Yeah, it works in the other direction too.  1997 Sea Ray was kind of cringe-worthy.  2003 SeaRay was…great.

Which brings me to the second point.  They added a cello.  That’s huge.  All the best bands use cello.  Now’s as good of a time as any to give my limited attempt at a history for the band.  I was introduced to them while seeing a Metric/The Stills concert, where SeaRay was the opener.  They released an album in 1997, an EP in 1999, and Stars at Noon in 2003.  They broke up soon after that, unfortunately.  Seriously, I can’t stress how unfortunate that was.  Stars at Noon was a soaring, beautiful album.  Soft yet engaging, background music you want to pay attention to.  Which is surprising since their live performance was incredibly high energy. We’re talking a hot chick playing cello as the drummer is throwing his drumsticks ten feet in the air and the band’s manager/album artist/keyboardist/etc. plays piano with one hand while playing trumpet in another.

This is all I can find to confirm this

There’s an unwritten rule in Indie rock that is rarely followed, mainly “If you’d like to sleep with a band’s cellist, that band deserves to be famous.”  Unfortunately that was never in the cards for SeaRay.  So this is my attempt to help them live on.  “Hall of Fame” is a logic-defying thing of beauty, a combination of confident vocals, lyrical acumen, and a wondrously cacophonous closing point where drums, keyboard, strings, and just about every instrumental melds together in a way that defies logic by coming off harmoniously.

What we’re left with is a song that soars to dizzying heights before fading away unexpectedly, leaving us exhausted, satisfied, and cognizant that we’ve witnessed the end of a musical endeavor.  And while an ill-fitting, hurried eulogy for a band long dead might not be the most effective way to acknowledge a band’s past accomplishments, its tracks like this that can help enforce that there is great music out there we’ve yet to encounter.  Even as we use them to close out our obnoxiously long articles about mix tapes that were made years ago.  Sure the latter is an easier, cynical route to take.  But doesn’t the joy of music lie in the discovery of new music?

…okay, unless you’re discovering a piece of shit like Creed… because there’s no joy to be found here.  None.  Ugh.

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Top 10 Albums of 2010

“What the hell is going on here?  Not only is Jeff waiting until MAY to post his top albums of the year list, but he doesn’t even have the decency to start the list with anything clever or original?  There’s no introduction about how 2010 was good year for music, but 2011 is blowing it out of the water already?  No multiple references (and frankly, we deserve an apology) to the fact that they took five months to post a yearend list?  How Jeff is posting his 2010 list when we’re nearly halfway through 2011?  What the hell?  I was hoping that he would say something like, there were breakthrough bands that just missed this year’s list, like Fang Island’s debut, or how this marks the first year that Jeff has not listed the album that contained the best song of the year on his year-end album list.  I was hoping he would point out that Spoon’s Transference was a good album, but got relegated to the 11th best album of the year after a surprise surge from a double EP that’s controversial in its own right, since it’s not technically an album, but it will be the first EP to ever make Jeff’s year end list.  I was hoping for something like that.  And funny captions and such.  Instead, what do I get?  I get a lengthy paragraph of a hypothetical reader expressing his frustration.  I just want to know what the best albums of the year are, dammit!”

10.  The New Pornographers- Together

When The New Pornographers put out a record, it’s a lot like when Daniel Day-Lewis puts out a movie.  Well, not the “Holy shit Daniel Day-Lewis is entirely fucking insane” way, but more in the sense of, “We know how good he can be, but if he’s in an only-okay-movie we will totally forget about that movie.”  Seriously, the movie the guy followed up There Will Be Blood with was that musical movie Nine, which was so forgettable I’m wasting all of our time by making a joke about it here.

This was only slightly less forgettable

The New Pornographers put out three albums from 2000 to 2005 that are Power Pop classics, pretty much dominating upbeat playlists for that entire time with songs like “Mass Romantic”, “The Bleeding Heart Show”, “Electric Version”, “Letter From an Occupant”, and maybe some of the Dan Bejar tracks if you’re into that sort of thing.  We loved them because they were so impossibly upbeat, an unstoppable fireball of Indie pop that had so many hooks I just had to stop myself from making a fishing joke, since I know so little about fishing.

You know, like the…uh…Trout hook?

When Challengers was released back in 2007, we sort of didn’t know how to react.  It was alright, and had a few catchy songs, but this was the follow up to the 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema?  Dammit, Daniel Day-Lewis, we expected more from you!

And better choice in piercings.

Challengers was more lackadaisical and ballad friendly then any of their previous albums, and Together still does not reach the 2005 dizzying Power Pop heights of the band’s heyday.  There is just enough up-tempo songs however to make this album deceptively strong.  While there is no single “top 10” worthy song, there isn’t much in the way of filler either, and this album benefits from the total sum of its parts.  An album full of very-good-but-not-great songs can sometimes trump the album with a few great songs, but a few only-okay tracks.  That’s what Together brings to the table, an album that may not add any new songs to the upper echelon of The New Pornographer’s cannon, but a song that is worth at least four uses in How I Met Your Mother episodes.  What you’re left with is an album that shines through much brighter every time you listen to it, much like the boy you turned down for prom, only to find out later that he has gone on to write for a sleek, sexy music website that does posts at an almost bi-yearly rate, you don’t really notice the album until you give it a second listen.  Or second look.  Johnny Flenderson works at a gas station now, Carol, why the hell would you chose him over me!?

Erm… I mean… dance music y’all!

9.  Girl Talk- All Day

Girl Talk needs to have their own PSAs.  Gregg Gillis’ DJ mashup project has done more for awkward white people in the 21st century than cocaine and shoulder pads did in the 1980s.  If somewhere a 22 year old with thick rimmed glasses and a penchant for Sigur Ros wants to get the people at his party to dance, Girl Talk is there.  Whenever a hipster feels he can’t go out on a dance floor unless he hears Neutral Milk Hotel, Girl Talk is there.  Whenever sweaty white kids need to dance off that ecstasy because OH MY GOD THE MUSIC FEELS SO GOOD, well, velvet walls are there, but so is Girl Talk.

In defense of people currently rolling, we do agree.  These do feel amazing.

Every Girl Talk album always comes out as a surprise, always comes out online for free, and always crashes serves as an influx of white people flood the internet to download the album so they can get a playlist for their next party.  It’s hard to imagine there being a “bad” Girl Talk album, since the albums (which are essentially 70 minute single tracks that are broken into tracks for convenience), but All Day in particular is the strongest Girl Talk album since Night Ripper.  Starting with Black Sabbath and taking you through a torrential tear of old school hip hop, top 40 hits, indie tracks, and the guitar riff from Beck’s “Loser” (oh and also fucking Electric Light Orchestra!) the album serves as the best dance music that came out in 2010, plus lets you appreciate the humor of the fact that there was absolutely someone who never heard the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” until he reached the second track of this album.  Because white people are hilarious.

8.  Peter Adams – Dances for Heather/I am a Strange Loop EPs


Peter Adams released two EPs that consisted, essentially, of two 15 minute tracks composed for the Cincinnati Ballet, broken into three tracks each.  Peter Adams, who is an established Elitish favorite, continues his practice creating ornate, orchestral Indie pop tracks from his home, playing every instrument you can hear.  While we would have loved for a full length album to come out to build on the brilliance that was I Woke Up With Planets In My Face and The Spiral Eyes, any new music from Peter Adams is welcome, and he definitely did not half-ass his commitment to the Cincinnati ballet, as every song of the Dances for Heather EP made my top songs list this year.

And that’s worth a delicious, delicious kudos

…And, not to show myself to be a lazy music writer in my year end list coming out in May, but that was before I had even gotten a chance to give I am a Strange Loop a close listen, since it features the track “The Tangled Canopy” which is easily one of the three best songs of the year.  Whoops.

So I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t make that mistake, Dr. Stein style.

So when a combo of EPs supplants an album (This is pretty much the reason why Transference by Spoon was the last album to not make this list) it has to be pretty damn good.  And this is.  Pretty damn good.  Soaring, building, orchestral yet poppy, occasionally soft and lilting, occasionally strong and driving.  In fact, “The Tangled Canopy” best shows all the strengths of Adams’ work in 2010, starting with soft, slowly building strings that swell until they reach a breaking point, followed by a soft guitar-vocals interlude that then lets loose with a flurry of orchestral instrumentation, drums, and layered vocals that form a sinisterly breezy, yet ineffably catchy, melody.  These songs don’t stay in place for very long, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

7.  Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Oh Kanye, Kanye, Kanye.  What are we going to do with you?  We’re used to our musical geniuses being crazy and self-destructive, but we have no idea what to do when they just end up being…egotistical douchebags.  So when Kanye West made the horrific mistake of, gasp, making an attractive, 19 year old millionaire sad, all hell was unleashed on him.  Also, memes.  Just like, so many memes.

…Granted, funny memes, but still

Kanye was coming of 808 & Heartbreak, which was greatly influenced by his mother’s untimely death.  And it was…fine?  Lots of vocodor, and decent songs that weren’t particularly memorable.  So after the infamous Imma-Let-You-Finish incident, it was easy to see Kanye’s career fizzing out of existence.


Like so many packets of Pop-Rocks

So when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy begins with “Dark Fantasy” begins with spoken word couplets going into choir-like vocals that meld into a piano driven beat.  What follows is an album filled with upbeat club jams and somber reflection pieces, all doused in a combination of self-reflection and egoism.

What’s left is the “Sergeant Pepper’s of Hip Hop,” a real game-changer, and a reminder that Kanye West is an asshole…but a talented asshole.

6.  LCD Soundsystem- This is Happening


Ah LCD Soundsystem, we hardly knew ye.  Wait, that’s not true.  You actually got increasingly popular with each album release.  And now you’re gone.  Gone and forgotten.  Well, that’s not true.  19,000 people watched the last ever LCD Soundsystem concert, and even more streamed it live online.  This is Happening is both the best album LCD Soundsystem released, as well as their worst.  And that’s where it gets tricky to know how to read into the album.

Each LCD Soundsystem album uses the same art-dance-punk tropes to give you a different feeling.  Their debut was tongue in cheek, all scene-reference and house parties.  Sound of Silver was less goofy, but not quite serious, the defiant college student refusing to accept a professor’s hypothesis, at times goofy, at times soulful, but always sure of their identity and their sound.

Generally it involved James Murphy looking silly

This is Happening hits you like the season finale of a critically acclaimed TV show on the bubble of being renewed.  It wants to leave enough open that you can see more coming in the future, but it wants to give you enough closure to leave you at peace if this is where it ends.  Let it Be this is not, James Murphy still has plenty on his mind.  This is an album by a man who has more to tell us, but doesn’t feel the need anymore.

So you have songs like “Dance Yrself Clean” to open, that alternates between quiet electronic and blaring dance hall.  You have “Drunk Girls,” a song that doesn’t take itself seriously that, at its heart, is about…well, not taking yourself seriously.  “All I Want” blindsides you with raw poignancy that penetrates into the core of the beat itself, to the point that it can touch your soul before you hear a goddamn word if you’re in the right state.

Okay okay I get it, being too serious

But honestly, this album is a testament to what LCD Soundsystem has accomplished over 3 well spaced albums.  We don’t want it to be an epitaph…but it’s a good epitaph nonetheless.

5.  The Arcade Fire- The Suburbs

I’m not going to get into the lyrical analysis of the story arc at play with The Arcade Fire’s most popular/third best album.  I cover that pretty heavily in my discussion of the three songs from this album that made my top songs list, so just take my word when I say, there’s a lot of artistic depth behind the lyrics.  This album is loosely connected, and really highlights a divide between demographic cultures, which is really driven home by the opening dichotomy of the title track, as “The Suburbs” combines jangly, upbeat piano chords with, well…depressing lyrics.


This is the first thing google image search comes up with when you search for “depressing lyrics”.

Of course, what made this album more noteworthy wasn’t the album itself, it was the reception.  Number one album on Billboards when it was released, winner of the best album Grammy in a move that made music fans everywhere go, “…Wait, I thought the Grammys rewarded shitty bands.”  Fans of the band cheered the win, troves of poseur hipsters burned their Arcade Fire patches because the band wasn’t “cool” anymore, and people who don’t know what good music is decided to make “Who is Arcade Fire” into an internet meme.

The Suburbs isn’t even the band’s best album.  In fact, it’s their worst.  Which was like saying Return of the Jedi was the worst movie in the original Star Wars trilogy.  Factually correct, but pretty misleading.  And yes, that will likely be the nerdiest reference I make in this entire list.

Win Butler:  “Correction- second nerdiest”

Each Arcade Fire album comes with an unspoken worry that they’re eventually going to flame out.  Their popularity or success with get the most of them, and their music will become a cheap parody of itself.  For now that, thankfully, that’s not proven to be the case.  If this album were the best album The Arcade Fire had done, it would be the number one album of the year.  Dropping down to five by their third just shows that they have plenty of juice left in them.  Hey, the more chances to piss off Justin Bieber fans, the better.

4.  Sleigh Bells- Treats

OH SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!?  ARE WE BEING BOMBED?  WE’RE BEING BOMBED AREN’T WE?  IT WAS THE DAMN RUSSIANS ALL ALONG, I FUCKING KNEW IT, I KNEW THOSE APOLLO CREED KILLING BASTARDS WERE UP TO NO…oh sorry, my itunes volume was just on pretty high, I guess I put the Sleigh Bells album on.

Though Ivan Drago did get a producer credit, I believe

Sleigh Bells will punch you in the damn ears until you bleed because fuck you, that’s why.  But for a band that tries to make instrumentals that sound like fireworks having sex with a two headed guitar, there’s something strangely catchy and upbeat about these tracks.  Nowhere is this seen better than “Crown on the Ground,” a top 10 song for Elitish’s 2009 list, one of the first tracks released by this band, a barn-burner that is both off-kilter, out of control, catchy as all hell, and…almost pleasant in the right mindset.  There’s a sweetness to the dichotomy between Alexis Krauss’ perky pop vocals and Derek Miller’s obscenely overdriven instrumentals.

Not that kind of overdriven

While the style itself seems somewhat limiting (“Female vocals?  Check.  Loud noise metal influence instrumentals?  Check.  Okay, done”) they get about as much range out of their unique arrangement in Treats than bands that work in other eclectic genres.  “Infinity Guitars” pounds forward methodically with a flicking-off-society punk edge, like the leather clad girl you went to school with who kept getting suspended that you couldn’t help but be attracted to (and steered away from), but it immediately gives away to “Run the Heart” and “Rachel” that feature almost more of a, dare I say, pseudo club beat and fully takes advantage of the subconscious innocence of Krauss’ vocals.  Who knows if they can keep this level of creativity and ingenuity this sharp in subsequent albums (I’m unfortunately foreseeing a sophomore slump for these guys), it doesn’t matter when the creativity and ingenuity is in front of us in the first place.

3.  Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring


Los Campesinos! sings like Welshmen.  *cough*  Sorry, is this thing on?  I said, “Los Campesinos! sings like a Welshman.”  No?  Nothing?

Bueller?  Bueller?

The narrative of Los Campesinos! has changed in the short years they’ve been together.  No longer are we listening to them as the upbeat twee college students doing great songs that get ruined by fucking Budweiser, increasingly, as band members slowly shed off, it becomes more and more of a poetic vehicle for Gareth Campesinos!, who doesn’t mince words as the album’s opening track, “In Media Res” closes with the, erm, depressing, “If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at 45 or with a lover at your side after a full and happy life, is this something that would interest you?”…which then of course goes straight into “There are Listed Buildings”, a song that starts with happy yelped “Ba da”s.  So yes, this album does have its bi-polar moments.

No, not that kind of bi-polar

These songs are deeper, more profound, more…scarred than the band’s first album, and it rivals the darker moments of We Are Beautiful, We Are DoomedRomance is Boring has two type of songs- upbeat songs with surprisingly dark lyrics, or depressing songs with appropriately dark lyrics.

The best examples of this can be seen in the two best songs on the album, the title track, “Romance is Boring” and the somber-yet-brilliant “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”.  The first clocks in at two and a half minutes, all fist pumping and power chords, masking any negativity of the sentiment that “Romance is boring” and bringing you a full speed pop song.  “Sea” on the other hand, is a full two minutes longer, full with cello and languished sentiment of life that runs deeper than typical musical angst.  The  typical “She don’t love me, she broke my heart” sentiment is so far in the background it doesn’t even appear on the cast list, instead we see lines like, “At 14 her mother died in a routine operation from an allergic reaction to a general anesthetic, spent the rest of her teens experimenting with prescriptions in a futile attempt to know more than the doctors.”  The song has a raw honest desperation to it that have a deep impact, and adds that extra layer to this already good album to make it a truly great one.

2.  Titus Andronicus- The Monitor


I’ve already extensively discussed the themes of Titus Andronicus and the main strengths and points of this album in such depth with their many songs that made my top 50 songs of the year list that you can probably recite word for word how I’d have this review go.

So yes, the album is allegorical and about the Civil War and has very abrasive vocals that somehow work a lot better than I would have ever expected.  The lyrics delve deep into a personal dissatisfaction that is expressed through various Civil War motifs, like some sort of hyper-literate Hold Steady clone.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t lessen the impact of this album, that hits on all cylinders as a personal, emotional, anthemic album, full of barnburners and fuck yous.

Songs like “Four Score and Seven” start off slow, build to an emotional threshold guided by a surprise horn section, before exploding into fist-pumping glory throughout the course of the track’s eight hyperactive minutes before asserting, “I wasn’t born to die like a dog/ I was born to die just like a man.”  These type of moments that grab you by surprise and take you along for a ride riddle the album, and make it a no-brainer as the second best album of the year.

1.  Buke and Gass- Riposte

Buke and Gass have unique instruments.  They made it themselves, and it makes them get a lot of instrumental sounds that make it hard to believe that they are just a two person band.  That’s all I’m going to say about the instruments, because the music is why they’re the best album of 2010.

Starting with “Medulla Oblangata,” which goes from a hazey instrumental intro do sharp, defined biting chords, the album takes you through a pounding, unpredictable ride.  With the second track, “Medicina” you begin to get a sense that this album is going to be a roller coaster in the best possible way.  A minute of slow, deliberate music slowly builds until the halfway mark where the best key change of any song this year takes place and you’re caught in catchy instrumentals whipping you along at a breakneck pace.

Like this.  But music.

Arone Dyer’s vocals are a revelation, as always, helping take well crafted, catchy-yet-dangerous songs up to the next level.   You never know which direction each song will take, but you know that even the most abrupt transitions are smoothed over by Dyer’s warm vocals.  These are songs that are meant to throw off the casual hipster trying to nod along without knowing the music, as each song is roughly 35% vocals, 35% instrumentals and 30% tempo change.  It gives each song on this album a dizzying effect that makes each track exhilarating.  It should be telling that four songs from this album made my top songs of the year list, after I had to disqualify almost half the album from that list for appearing on an EP in 2009.

If it weren’t for the release year of this sucker, the top songs list would have been called “Buke and Gass and friends”

As you can tell by the post date, we are almost halfway through the year, and I’m just releasing my album list.  While that is a testament to my laziness, it also is a testament to how good this album is.  The best albums will grow on you with each listen, and as each month of 2011 has gone by, it’s only affirmed my selection here.  So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to this album yet, go to their website and work on remedying it (link to website).

And there we have it, loyal readers.  A mere 4,000 words to go through the top 10 albums of the year, but of course, most of my analysis is in my top songs of the year list.  Either way, now that 2010 is officially in the rear view mirror, all we can do is look forward to each subsequent 2011 release (and hope that I’m more prompt with my year end lists in six months time).

Posted in Elite Rankings, Jaded Hipster, Meet Sarcastic List | 1 Comment

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.

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Top Songs of 2010: #20-11

20.  Buke and Gass-  Revel in Contempt


Listen to it HERE

It wasn’t until about the second or third listen through of Riposte that “Revel in Contempt” really jumped out at me.  The first thirty seconds of this five minute track starts with some clapping, a nice Gass riff using both the base and guitar strings, and Arone Dyer with a low rising note, but things don’t really take off until Dyer hits you with a sort of staccato of goofy lyrics that, though they’re probably not inspired by the Frogger video game, I will just pretend that they are because that would be kind of awesome, “Two frogs come up to the road/ One says to the other toad/ Hesitation is your friend/ Not just to get to the end.”  Now, we can ignore the obvious fact that frogs and toads are different species of animals, and…oh…can’t…have to put up a frogger screen grab…

Artists interpretation

Buke and Gass motor through this song like a stunt driver in a blindfold.  While the basic gass jam at the beginning stays relatively stable, or at least stable enough to give the song an overlying backbone, the song veers in so many directions over the course of the song it takes dozens of listens to get to the point where you expect what’s coming next.  And you know what?  That’s part of what makes this song so great.  Everything catchy, everything is fun, instrumentally it is unique (oh goddamn it, sorry sorry, I’ll stop focusing on the ‘homemade instruments’ aspect), but there is almost an element of surprise to the music, a sense of, “what are they gonna do next?”  It’s exhilarating, and it’s fun, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it.

19.  The National- Conversation 16


Listen to it HERE

The best songs on High Violet sound like they belong on Boxer or Alligator.  But then again, the best songs on Boxer and Alligator sound like they belong on High Violet.  Goddamn it, stop being so fucking dependable, The National.  Here in “Conversation 16”, we see what I can only assume is The National’s entry in this year’s “nonchalantly miserable” contest, which of course takes place in Cleveland.  Because, you know, The National are from Ohio.  They totally should win with this track, but it’ll be tough, since one could assume that they’ve not been forgiven for taking their talents to the East Coast.

What should I do?  Should I be the basis of cheap, easy topical jokes on a music website?  What should I do?

The lyrics to “Conversation 16” read like a greatest hits compilation of therapist notes.  “I tell you miserable things after you are asleep,” “You never believe the shitty thoughts I think,” “Had my head in the oven so you know where I’d be,” “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil.”  Holy shit, you guys.

Goddamnit, The National.  Here everyone, let’s take our mind off things with some baby pandas.

I get the impression that if you spent time with the band in a public setting, like a dinner party, they’d basically turn into Debbie Downer from SNL.  “This roast is delicious,” your friend will say.  “That’s probably because they gave the cow hormones to enhance the taste, which also can lead to an onset of clinical depression in high doses,” The National will respond.  A wah-wahhhh noise will sound from nowhere, while the band all shrugs at the same time.  “Hey, nice beer selection, some really good microbrews here,” another friend will say.  “It was more expensive than it used to be, because there was a hop shortage in the Pacific Northwest last year.  You know, global warming,” The National will reply.  A wah-wahhhh-wahhhhhh noise will sound, as the band shrugs.  Goddamn it The National!

“In 2008 26 dolphins committed mass suicide.”   Goddamn it The National!

Really good song though.

18.  Frightened Rabbit- Nothing Like You

Watch the video HERE

This track, placed neatly in the middle of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, comes closest to matching the tone and mood of Midnight Organ.  It’s quick, catchy, and up-tempo, but with the trademark “dejectedly having sex with someone” lyrics we’ve come to know and love.  With a chorus of, “She was not the cure for cancer, and all my questions still ask for answers, there is nothing like someone new, and this girl she was nothing like you,” lead singer Scott Hutchison does his best to scare away any potential groupies.  This is the man who has sung, “Let’s pretend that I’m attractive, then you won’t mind, we can twist for a while,” or “if we both got the same diseases, it’s irrelevant girl.”  Now he’s singing about an ex while talking about having sex with someone new.  It’s honest, it’s a little fucked up, but you gotta love Frightened Rabbit for not caring.

Much like Kevin Federline, or lazy writers who make Kevin Federline jokes in 2011, he just doesn’t give a shit.

Basically like “The Modern Leper” on speed, this song plows through angst with a suspicious amount of upbeat energy.  One of the stronger efforts on this album, and morally ambivalent enough to be really rewarding the more you dig into it.  Just like Kevin Federline jokes.

Because these jokes would have absolutely CRUSHED in 2007, and also, tee-hee, fat.  Fat fat fatty.

17.  Titus Andronicus- No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future


Listen to it HERE

In my fictional sprawling concept album, Roses, Thorns, a botanical allegory about the life and career of disgraced baseball great Pete Rose, I’d probably have filler tracks about baseball commissioners to serve as interludes with titles like “Giamatti’s Brush: Part 6: Wildfire” and “Fay Vincent’s Tulips: Part 7: Part 3.”   What I’m saying is, when you see a ridiculous title like “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” on a concept album, and see that the title is the third part of a song where parts 1 and 2 occur on different albums, you’d be forgiven if you rolled your eyes at the band trying too hard.

Cover art for Roses, Thorns.  The liner notes will just be cocaine and a phone catalogue of bookies.

It’s hard to distinguish the second tier songs of a great concept album.  You’re dealing with a whole mess of clashing lyrical and musical motifs, and, to be honest, a decent amount of transitional filler.  New Jersey outfit Titus Andronicus complicates that by making a Civil-War-as-a-Metaphor concept album bursting to the brim with high energy, lengthy tracks.  So, when you have an album like The Monikor and you get to this overlong-concept-album-cliché title, the first minute of muted, lethargic instrumentals would rightfully have you worried.  But when you reach the 1:15 mark, and the song dives head first into face-melting guitar play and battle-formation-ready drum palpitations while Patrick Stickles trips over himself to spit out lyrics, it’s easy to see this band in a “even-more-whisky-soaked-The-Hold-Steady” sort of way.  As the final minute and a half consists of the band chanting, “You Will Always Be a Loser,” the song turns a defeating defamation of the listener into an anthemic battle cry with the final shout at the waning moments of the track with a simple, “And that’s okay!”  What we end up with is a rousing affirmation of mediocrity, which is uplifting in a way that “Selig’s Buds: Part 3: Part 8: Part 3: This Rose Shall Not Pass” won’t even come close to reaching in its theoretical existence.

16.  The Arcade Fire- Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Listen to it HERE

1970’s synth beat?  Five and a half minute length?  Looping instrumentals?  Wait, is this…did The Arcade Fire team up with LCD Soundsystem?  No?  Okay, just making sure.

“That’s not the last you’ll see of me, Elitish!”

You can’t call The Suburbs a concept album, but it’s hard not to see from the lyrical connections between the tracks that they’re all written from the same mindset.  Starting off with a dissatisfaction of societal life, it almost appears as a cousin of the track “The Suburbs,” only instead of resigning their fate to the Suburban life, the protagonist, who very well could be the feminine foil to the male voice of the album’s opening track, escapes to find that dissatisfaction might just be a state of mind.

The song, which is really the final track of the album, begins with a sentiment that immediately reminds me of “Death of a Salesman” by Low (though the complete opposite musically).  “They heard me singing and they told me to stop/  Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.”  The chorus again shows the yearning for an urban identity, “‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine/ They’re calling at me, come and find your kind.”  While “The Suburbs” focuses on a sort of repressed optimism, a hope for the sake of hope when no hope can exist, “Sprawl II” shows a different kind of  melancholy, when hopes are realized and proven to be futile.

The shift from Suburb to City occurs in the song, only for it to be shown to be a foolish dream, one that the protagonist cannot face.  “We shield our eyes from the police lights/ We run away but we don’t know why,” shows the shock of this change, which only degenerates as the next chorus screams, “And like a mirror, the city lights shine/ They’re screaming at us, ‘We don’t need your kind.'”  At this point, rejected by the very desired city life that the song yearns leads to rejection, as the song starts again with the opening stanza, with a rejection of the protagonist’s creativity, and a somber resignation.

The “sprawl” proves to be the city, and the shift into urban living is seen in the title line, “Living in the sprawl/ Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,” but no matter what the location, the sprawl proves to be wherever you are, as the lyrics opine, “Sometimes I think that the world is so small that we can never get away from the sprawl.”  Of course, all of this is masked by upbeat, danceable music and cheerful vocals so that everything is hidden underneath.  As it stands, the album begins with a desire to leave The Suburbs that is never realized, while it ends with a desire to leave The Suburbs that just goes to show that, no matter where you go, the distinction between where you are is insignificant in the end.

…Oh shit, you guys, wait.  I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened there.  There were…just, no jokes in there.  Like at all.  It was just amateur college level (ha!  hopefully…) English Paper textual analysis.  Wow, I’m really sorry about that.  Uh…Nickelback sucks.  No, did that one too recently.  Hey, how about how bad The Black Eyed Peas were in the Super Bowl?  No, that just draws attention to the fact that it’s already a month into 2011 and we’re not done with our 2010 list yet.  Uh, okay I’ll just google image search “funny picture” and post the first thing that comes up, okay?

I don’t get it…*squints*…oh, it’s dogs humping.  Meh.  That was disappointing.

15.  Peter Adams- Bending Sky

 

Listen to it HERE

While “Cumulus Spires” is a great song written for a ballet that sounds like it’s written for a ballet, but is good on it’s own, “Bending Sky” is a song that’s great on it’s own, but sounds like it would be good for a ballet.  Less driven by strings than Adams’ general use of strings (though they do appear effectively) this song is half overture introduction and half pop song.  This is not a song that I can make “HEAVY METAL VIOLIN WOOO!” jokes for, it’s really got a more of a hauntingly beautiful vibe to it, a lullaby with strings and light drums to take it from, “oh that’s nice,” to gorgeously memorable.  And really, it’s a succinct song that warrants a succinct description.  It’s pretty, it’s emotionally resonate, and it’s worth several listens.

14.  Titus Andronicus- Four Score and Seven

Listen to it HERE

Here we have another Titus Andronicus track, the title of which hits the listener on the head as if to say, “Okay, if you couldn’t guess from the opening track of “A More Perfect Union”, let’s just get the mystery out of the way and tell you this album is about the Civil War.  Four Score and Seven years ago, get it?”  Yes, Titus Andronicus, we get it.

This song, an 8 minute battle of rock and roll in its own right, starts unassuming enough.  Soft (well, soft for Titus Andronicus) vocals peppered with sparse guitar, slowly building up with first gentle strings and then a soulful harmonica solo (Harmonica solo, bitches!) until they realize, “Wait we’re Titus Andronicus,” and jump from the line, “When they see the kind of person that you really are, then you won’t be laughing so hard,” repeating the second half of the couplet as a bar chant before sending in the horn section, which saunter through the next minute of the track before dying down to be replaced by heavy garage rock guitar riffs.

It’s a song that highlights the enigma that Titus Andronicus is for me; the screamed, oddly-yet-appropriately-atonal vocals evoke a sense of every shitty scream-o band that sucks.  Except somehow Titus Andronicus separates themselves from that, taking the strained vocals away from the Connor Oberst territory they strayed into with their first album, The Airing of Grievances, and injecting a sort of burned out soulfulness that compliments the breakneck pace of the second half of this eight minute long epic, croaking lyrics like, “’Cause these humans treat humans like humans treat hogs, They get used up, coughed up, and fried in a pan, but I wasn’t born to die like a dog, I was born to die just like a man,” with an intense earnestness mixed with frustration, anger, and just general catharsis.  The album serves as a metaphor, using the Civil War as a backdrop to highlight the desperation of their New Jersey living, and when they close out the track with the repetitive, “It’s still us against them,” before finishing with a despondent, “And they’re winning,” this metaphor shows the social anxiety of an uncertain economy, the frustration of shattered dreams and of course, having to deal with music writers making cheap Jersey Shore jokes at the end of their song descriptions, using photos that will hopefully be unrecognizable in five years.

If the album is a Civil War metaphor, than Snooki is…battlefield dysentery?

13.  Sleigh Bells- Rill Rill

Sleigh Bells makes the kind of songs that sort of makes you feel like you just opened the Ark of the Covenant- it’ll melt your face, fools.

Rill Rill is not really a face-melting track.  It’s still larger than life and pushes your speakers to the red, but really the drive of the song is a loop sample from the acoustic guitar bit of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”.  It’s the closest to a “put your lighters in the air” song that Sleigh Bells does, which just means that when you hear it live you are not necessarily compelled to start aggressively crowd surfing.  It’s perfectly suited for the standard “I’m a hipster, I don’t care” dance stylings of an Indie rock concert.  Plant your feet, nod every two seconds or so in tune with the beat, smoke a clove cigarette, drink a PBR, rinse, repeat.

To be fair, I don’t drink PBR to be ironic, I drink it because it’s cheap everywhere except China

As a track, it’s relaxing, and the closest thing to a “pretty” song that you will hear from the noise pop duo.  As a part of a whole album, it’s a breather from the high-kicking intensity of the rest of the album.  Either way, it’s damn enjoyable, and it reminds us that Sleigh Bells doesn’t have to melt our faces to work.

I actually think I’ve used this image while writing about Sleigh Bells last year…

12.  Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man


Watch the video HERE

Yeah I’m calling pitchfork out on bullshit.  Pitchfork basically took a massive shit on this album, and this song in particular.  And you know, as a discerning listener, what’s wrong with mea culpa?  No, seriously, you can’t dismiss a track with a simple, “as if admitting wrongdoing is a noble gesture” I’m willing to bet that there are songs you listen to that pull that shit all the time.  That’s right, pitchforkmedia, I’m calling you out.

like this

This song is very simple in what it does, but it’s effective.  And “Little Lion Man” is already a pretty big hit in Britain, and I it’s gained enough traction here to warrant two Grammy nominations.  That should scare me already- Indie music outlook takes a massive Snooki (that means shit) just all over the song, and then the Grammy’s decide to give it validation only afforded Maroon 5 and Coldplay.  So either I’m getting old, or this is an anomaly.  I’m thinking it’s the latter.

“Two snooki jokes in the same article, after going through the whole list without one?  Fuck you, Jeff, I’m not even going to find another damn picture for your lazy ass.”  ~Elitish’s resident google image searcher

So, is anyone else excited for like, two years from now when there’s no longer any need to make jersey shore jokes?

So here’s what you get.  Standard sort of lyrics that resonate if you’re in the right mental state (that’s not a high or drunk reference, I mean legitimate mental state).  British dudes singing folky-ish.  Piano.  Stuttery acoustic guitar.  Oooo, harmonies along piano chords for the chorus, followed with drums and a hella banjo tirade.  And really, that’s where I’m won over, very pretty harmonies as the band sings, “It was not your fault but mine, and it was your heart on the line, I really fucked it up this time, didn’t I my dear?”  And I cannot stress this enough, the banjo tirade.  You can’t go wrong with a banjo tirade.

Like this, only fucking BETTER

And of course, you have the closing segment of raising, soaring harmonic “ahhhhs” that hearkens Frightened Rabbit, as the instrumentals cut out and the song closes a capella.  It all works together really well.  Plus, the chorus, while simple, resonates.  Mea Culpa doesn’t have to pretend to be noble to be something that’s worthwhile to see out in the open.  Damn pitchfork, step off, yo.

Or you’ll get bit, pitchfork.  YA BIT.

11.  Kanye West- Runaway


Watch the video (well, a censored version of it, since the actual video is 35 minutes long, so this one doesn’t swear, sigh) HERE

Though if you want to see the 35 minute short film version, which is basically chunks of the album, including a few songs that just missed making my year end list, you can see it HERE

Also THIS website is pretty cool, since if you’re still reading this part of it, you either won’t notice a shameless plug for a new website, or you won’t click it, so either way I’m golden.

Kanye West is sort of a like an interstellar body of bullshit.  Like, just a fucking planet of bullshit.  I know that’s an interesting way to describe a song this high up on my list.  But bear with me.  Kanye’s egocentricity is well documented on teh interwebz, on entertainment magazines, hell, you could go to your grandma and say something about Kanye West and she’d probably respond, “He’s a jackass.”  Even Obama straight up said that, and no one really cared, because he kind of is.

But why a planet of bullshit?  Because, when you’re full of that much shit, you know it.  You can’t ignore that fact, all you can do is, well, try to change, but that’s hard, and let’s be honest, Kanye is famous because of his bullshit.  But all the rest of that bullshit that’s out there in entertainment just sort of revolves around him.  He’s got a bullshit gravitational pull.  Kanye’s mother dies in a botched plastic surgery procedure, Kanye releases 808s & Heartbreak, which people pretty much will only remember as “that…album?  I guess there was…like, vocodor and shit, right?”  Then, Kanye hurts the feelings of a pretty, young, rich white girl, and is forced to go into hiding until he releases the album lazy-critics call “The Sergeant Peppers of Hip-Hop.”

And honestly, that’s sort of fucked up.  But it’s the perfect metaphor for Kanye’s career.  The Taylor Swift…thing?  He’s pulled that shit before.  Kanye West crashes award show stages so much, I half expect him to be cast opposite a black Vince Vaughn in some sort of bad blacksploitation version of Wedding Crashers.  He’s a dick.  But I guess it took this media schilling, where “Kanye is a douchebag,” which we all knew, turned into, “Kanye hurt that poor girl’s feelings, she seemed so sad about it!” and that made him a monster.

This guy stole a kid’s ice cream cone

But just as we know Kanye’s an asshole, Kanye knows he’s an asshole.  We’re just the ones who won’t admit we’re full of shit.  So the last thing you’d expect would to be a nine minute bittersweet anti-hero ballad like Runaway.  Opening with just simple, single high sharp piano notes, slowly plodding alone in those simple instrumentals that inexplicably carry more emotional weight than any beat, sample, or power chord can.

As the beat comes in, letting the song tow along like a semi-truck, slow moving but powerful, the lyrics combine as a recognition of failings, and a refusal to change. “Never much of a romantic, I could never take the intimacy, and I know it did damage, plus the look in your eyes is killing me,” shows the emotional conflict inherent in the entire song.  While certain lyrics are jarring in the scope of this almost abrasively gentle song (“I sent this bitch a picture of my dick” seems particularly out of place) the focal point of the song remains, the “Save yourself before I hurt you again” resonance of the line, “Run away from me baby, run away as fast as you can,” drives home the point of the song, and really, in a sense, the whole album.

As Pusha T sings, “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the assholes, let’s have a toast for the scumbags,” much like the rest of the album, it’s hard not to contextualize it as an acknowledgment of Kanye’s faults.  But would we rather have a saint who won’t admit their faults, or a sinner who knows their sins?  Well, I can at least tell you who would be more interesting to listen to.

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Okay we’re almost done with the top songs of 2010.  Stay tuned for the next installment.

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Top 50 Tracks of 2010: #30-21

30.  Sleigh Bells- Infinity Guitars

Watch the video HERE

Sleigh Bells melts your face, and you like it.  Last year, I pegged “Crown on the Ground one of the top songs of the year, and in the meantime they decided to actually release a proper album.  Sleigh Bells has a pretty basic formula, but it’s unique and fun as hell.  Upbeat, danceable, fuzzed out like shit, and leading to countless instances of people checking their speakers to make sure they still work, “Infinity Guitars” takes a pretty lazy beat, pushes the guitar until it’s fuzzed out as hell, and then takes Alexis Krauss’ vocals and puts them behind about 3 layers of production.  The song ambles, pretty much repeating the same lyrics (seriously, there are eight lines of lyrics in the entire song) for about two minutes before the Delorean reaches 88 miles per hour and we’re treated to 30 seconds of upbeat face-melting noise pop.  I’m not sure why I made a Back to the Future reference just there, though Sleigh Bells would have been an improvement over the soundtrack in the future scenes from Back to the Future 2.

This could have amped it up to Back to the Future 3 status

29.  Frightened Rabbit- Things

Listen to it HERE

Frightened Rabbit, one of my top bands of 2008 not to make my 2008 list because I hadn’t listened to it enough at the time, again gets hosed in my 2010 list, being the last album out to not make the top albums list.  Seriously guys, you were this close with The Winter of Mixed Drinks (awesome title, by the way).  Really they suffer from the fact that The Midnight Organ was so good, had so many good songs, and was subject of one of my favorite blurbs ever (“Coldplay for people with self-respect”).  Their soaring, expectation-less angst was unmatched, and they couldn’t have hoped to hit that point again with this album.  The band expanded, and their sound did too.  It’s sort of like John Mayer looking at Jessica Simpson- she’s gotten bigger, but she doesn’t look as good as she did before, even if she is sexual napalm.

Let it also be known that the only way John Mayer can make an Elitish.com yearend list is if we’re making jokes about his racist genitalia.

“Things” starts the album off showing the shift away from their previous forlorn Scottish folk-rock ways, with distortion splashing throughout, and as a fitting bridge between Midnight Organ and Mixed Drinks, they throw us a bone by tossing a thematic motif in the lyric of, “You’re my human heat, for the things are only things, and nothing brings me like you bring me.”  It builds and drives somewhat recklessly, as Scott Hutchison dances through the rising melody.  It’s a solid way to start a solid album, and it is in no way racist.  Which is the opposite of John Mayer’s junk.

Ha, seriously, what a douchetard.

28.  Frightened Rabbit- Swim Until You Can’t See the Land

Watch the video HERE

Things” goes right into “Swim Until You Can’t See the Land“, and fittingly falls just about one spot ahead of it.  This “worst swimming instructional guide ever” track was a single before it was released on this album, and it’s good single material.  It’s catchy, it’s grandiose, it’s even insert random descriptor that music reviewers say (angular guitar?), and it’s definitely good enough to land in the top 50 songs of the year.  But it also shows a bit of the lyrical shift for the band that put the album just a shade below “Top albums of 2010” territory for me.  Instead of blunt yet honest lyrics like, “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to stay warm,” we get swimming out to sea as a metaphor for willful drowning.  And it’s good, but when you’ve come to love the direct, “holy shit did he just say he has an STD?” kind of lyrics, the song feels like a bit of a letdown for a band whose sophomore effort probably had 3 of the top 15 songs of 2008.

27.  Girl Talk- Jump the Stage


Listen to it HERE

Really, putting Girl Talk tracks onto a “top songs of the year” list is as tricky to peg as it is ultimately pointless, lazy, and sort of like cheating.  At this point, you’d start to think that the Girl Talk shtick would get old, but apart from a few misses (how do you not go into the chorus of “Paint it Black” when you sample it!?) and re-used samples from earlier albums, All Day still manage to be goofy, fun, and incredibly danceable, with a great number of laugh-out-loud-holy-shit-he-mixed-that-with-THAT-and-it-works-so-fucking-great moments.

Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, who has gone from clean shaven to long hair to sort of looking like the Caveman from those Progressive Commercials, breaks the album up into “tracks” as a courtesy, he insists that it’s a single mix that should be listened to all at once, probably while fuckin’ raging.

So when you want to break apart a Girl Talk song, you choose the ones that have the most “HA!” moments.  This one is up there, from the use of Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” through the awesome combination of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” with Radiohead’s “Creep,” and finally with the incredibly epic combination of Lady Gaga’s “LoveGame” overlapped with Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies” all over Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life.”  It works incredibly, and it’s one of the most lightheartedly fun moments of any track this year.  So come on, awkward white hipsters, hit those dance floors, and feel superior when you let yourself think you’re the only one that caught that sampled use of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

26.  Girl Talk- Let It Out

Listen to it HERE

Yeah, you might be noticing that I just rocked back-to-back instances of the same band having consecutive spots on the year end list.  That’s two repeat artists.  Full on Double Repeat artists, how is this happening?

Really it’s almost impossible to separate Girl Talk tracks.  They’re not meant as songs, and having them included on this list is a good indicator of the laziness of someone who doesn’t start releasing his top 2010 list until February.  So I can’t really put these too high on my list- despite the fact that I enjoy the hell out of them, they’re not stand alone.  They’re not meant to be stand alone.  So, I just arbitrarily pick out the two that have my favorite moments.  As everyone except for Guy Pierce in Memento surely remember, I had a good handful of sections in “Jump the Stage” that I really liked.  And they might be some of the best moments on this album which, spoiler alerts, will end up on my top 10 albums of the year list.

Spoilers do not apply to fictional characters in Christopher Nolan films

And really, as far as the number of laugh out loud awesome moments go, “Jump the Stage” is probably a better track than “Let It Out.”  So why is this one spot higher than the other?  I’ve got four words for you.

Mr.  Fucking.  Blue.  Sky.

Not to be confused with Mr. Yellow Baby Sun of your Nightmares

Really, that’s all it takes for me, a badass instance of using “Mr. Blue Sky” by E.L.O.  Sure, there’s a fun bit with “Loser” by Beck, and Gillis’ use of “Rude Boys” by Rihanna to close things out is a lot of fun, but really this song is on here because of E.L.O.  Listening to this song, my initial twitter response (because fuck the social media generation, sigh) was “Oh Girl Talk, you had me at Mr. Blue Sky by E.L.O.”  And he does.  Does that make me easy?  Like, a mash-up slut?  I don’t know, probably.  But I’m okay with that.

I tried to google image search “Mash Up Slut” and…well, here, just, here’s a picture of pizza instead.  I’ll be back after my eye wash.

25.  The National- Bloodbuzz Ohio

Listen to it HERE

The National is a lot like Spoon- they’ve been around forever (The National formed in 1999, Spoon in 1993), and they’re so consistently solid that it’s easy to overlook their efforts.  In High Violet, the fifth album from the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati five-piece, you get exactly what you expect from The National.  There’s no musical leaps being made by the band here, it’s a series of songs that sound like they could be placed on just about any National album.  And, for those of us who have listened to Alligator and Boxer, that’s not a bad thing at all.

With Bloodbuzz Ohio, we see the ultimate example of what The National thrives doing.  The song is dense, upbeat, yet mopey at the same time.  Matt Berninger’s voice sounds like a funeral procession at times, full of sorrow and dejection.  High Violet took a year to record, and as Berninger told Stereogum, “We started out trying to make a pop record.  I had the word HAPPINESS taped to my wall.  We veered off that course immediately.”

Haha, holy shit guys.  I think The National moved up a few spots on my inevitable “Top 10 awesome bands that just need a hug” list (coming soon to an elitish.com near you).  Listening to The National is like walking by a crazy, depressing homeless person that happens to have an adorable tiny puppy with them.  You have no idea how to react to that.  Hell, google images can’t even handle that shit.

See, this is the closest I can come to matching that analogy.

Lyrically, the outstanding chorus is what sets this track apart, as the driving instrumentals that still somehow seem to amble do their job, Berninger croons, “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe, I never thought about love when I thought about home.”  Hey, if you’re going to do bleak, you might as well do bleak well, and few can match The National on that front.

24.  The Arcade Fire-  The Suburbs

Watch the video HERE

The first track, and title track, of The Arcade Fire’s 2010 release starts with upbeat, almost carefree piano as the backbone of the strong, a sort of happy sounding instrumentals that clashes a bit with The Arcade Fire’s usual gloomy ways.  And lyrically, there is a disconnect, as Win Butler paints a sort of familiar scene of dissatisfaction with a Suburban status-quo, an American Beauty-esque unnamable despondency.  But, but, the music part is like, sort of happy, right?  Right?

And really, it’s not so bad. The suburbs have boobs that shoot flowers at you, after all.

“In the suburbs I learned to drive, and you told me we’d never survive.  Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving,” the song starts.  The song highlights a couple in their quest to escape the suburbs, the thematic “Neighborhoods” of 2004’s Funeral, and a combination of suburban boredom (or, to quote the song, “By the time the first bombs fell, we were already bored”) with the eventual resignation of a sort of Suburban circle of life, and as the opportunity to leave fades, so does the desire.  “In the parking lot we’re still waiting, it’s already passed, so move you feet from hot pavement and into the grass,” Butler cedes at the end of the song, emphasizing, along with the chorus of, “Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling,” that despite his greatest efforts and intentions to move to the city (cough, hot pavement, cough) to the grass (cough, suburban lawns, cough) he’s moved on.

So basically he’s like a combination of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, Donnie Darko, and like every fucking character from every fucking “dark” TV show, movie, or book that derides Suburban life.  And it would be frustrating as hell, if not for the fact that The Arcade Fire aren’t heavy handed, instead relying on a theme that, in focusing on our past childhood, we waste too much of our present adulthood.  “I want a daughter while I’m still young,” Butler says, only to close out the verse, “and show her some beauty before the damage is done.”  Depressing?  Sure, but oddly optimistic in a way too.

See, at least The Arcade Fire had the good sense not to squish their protagonist with a goddamn airplane engine…

23.  Peter Adams- Cumulus Spires

Listen to it HERE

Cincinnati’s “the most hi-fi low-fi recorder ever” Peter Adams, who was a pretty big deal in my 2008 list always seems to be changing his stylistic approach with each recording.  The Spiral Eyes started with oceanic electronic noise building to a music box and kicking into an upbeat anthemic rock song.  The rest of the album followed suit- catchy, four minute songs with strings and the ability to make your eyes bulge out when you’re told, “yeah, all that instrumentation and vocals?  All done by one fucking guy, man!”  Then came I Woke Up With Planets in my Face, where his sound was pretty much the same, yet totally different.  Sure there were the three minute jaunties, “Ziggurat” being one of the standout tracks, but the real heart and soul were the sprawling seven minute orchestral epics, “Antarctica” and “The Seventh Seal,” which delicately guided us along for the duration with precise use of strings, and some of the most “surprisingly easy to rock out to this violin section” moments of anything I’ve ever listened to.

HARDCOREEEEEEE

2010 did not bring us any new Peter Adams albums, instead we received two separate EPs- I Am a Strange Loop and Dances for Heather, both of which were recorded for the Cincinnati ballet.  Dances for Heather is one 15 minute instrumental track that is split into three different tracks (but each track earns a spot on this list).  And before you can disgustedly throw down your laptops and shout, “EWW!  BALLET!?  What the shit!?” let me tell you this.  Shut up.  While you wouldn’t assume that a recording for a ballet would actually be orchestral pop, or even have lyrics, “Cumulus Spires,” the closing track to this EP, sprawls for nearly eight minutes, but it gives you a healthy dose of excitement and, well, just solid musicianship.

Starting off with slow, pretty violin for over a minute, by the time the track kicks into a Russian-sounding instrumental jam off, you might assume the track will just be an instrumental.  But when Adams’ always light and gentle vocals kick in, the track begins to sound more like the epic lengthy tracks of Planets.  There’s an ambiance about this song, and while it’s not as catchy as “Antarctica,” for example, it still manages to peg itself as an eight minute song that feels like it rushes by in four.  At times it glides softly in place, at other times it soars.  There’s more violin focus than his previous work at play here, the guitar sort of lingers in the background, which is to be expected for a ballet piece I guess.  But no matter what, as just a listening experience, it’s incredibly awarding.

And keep in mind, ballet is cool again because it makes Natalie Portman go all Lesbian on Mila Kunis, so there’s that too.

And the Oscar goes to…cunnilingus.

22.  The New Pornographers- Your Hands (Together)

Watch the video HERE

It feels like I’m not doing my job as completely as I should, since the three songs from Together by The New Pornographers that I’m putting on this list all happen to be the first three tracks from the album.  But hey, nothing wrong with an album being top-heavy. After two tracks of, “Oh, that’s cute” songs, Carl Newman and company decide to add in a dash of excitement, giving us probably the most upbeat track on the whole album.  Power chords pepper the track, as the whole track is essentially sung with some level of harmonies occurring, with Kurt Dahle getting to really let loose on the drums during the chorus, which is another thing that The New Pornographers have to start doing more like having Neko Case belt her way through a power pop anthem, okay? Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

Like this!  Do you not remember this!?

It’s crazy to think that The New Pornographers have been around for ten years, a fact that should make me feel incredibly old, save for the fact that I didn’t hear about them until I was in High School and they were already two albums into their discography.  But that’s beside the point.  Listening to The New Pornographers now, you can appreciate the songs, and in fact, tracks like “Your Hands (Together)” are very well done songs.  But, unfortunately, everything the band does will invariably be compared to their earlier work, which was so transcendent it is sort of hard to match.  But we can’t fault them for trying.

I was gonna make a Yasmine Bleeth joke about how like, she used to be impossibly hot but she’s still putting herself out there, but apparently the only thing she’s done recently is get busted for coke, and she hasn’t worked since 2003.  So I guess that analogy sort of imploded upon itself.

21.  Sleigh Bells- A B Machines


Listen to it HERE

It’s hard to really give Sleigh Bells their appropriate dues.  These are not lyrics that you go into depth interpreting, these are not intricately composed musical sonnets.  This is screeching howling guitar, fuzzed out, over a drum beat and “Got my A machines on the table/ got my B machines on the floor” serving as the ONLY lyrics in the damn song.  When bands are described as noise pop, never is it more true for Sleigh Bells.  It’s pop, this is not music meant to be delved into and interpreted, this is music you listen to just for the cathartic experience of that listen.  You consume it, you are done with it, you consume it again.

The only difference being that the noise aspects of the music normally would repel casual listeners.  Not so here, somehow the meshing guitar elevates this song from simplistic repetition to high quality dance music.  It’s as accessible as any band with these elements will ever sound, and it’s enjoyable as hell to listen to as well.

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And so, part three of five has been completed.  A few more lists to go, and then we’ll get the top 10 albums of the year, so stay tuned.

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Top 50 Tracks of 2010: #40-31

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.

Uhhhh……nevermind.

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!!

HIPSTERRRRR FIIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!

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 “uglyand 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!

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Top 50 Tracks of 2010: #50-41

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.

Stop!  Bankruptcy

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
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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!

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