Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Songs: The Top 20

The cream of the 2010 crop, in reverse order this time (for no good reason). The grooveshark widget is at the bottom of the post. Make sure to let me know what I missed.

20. "Kala Djula" by Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabeté (from Ali and Toumani)

The mere existence of this sequel to my #2 album of the last decade was a wonderful surprise, since Touré passed away in 2006.

19. "This is the Remix" by Girl Talk (from All Day)
< (Rick Ross * Banarmama) + (Lil' Kim * Jaskson 5) + Toadies * (B.o.B. + Method Man) + (Lil Jon & East Side Boyz * Simon & Garfunkel) + (Fabulous * INXS) >

Greg Gillis's excellent gimmick hasn't gotten old yet.

18. "Run" by Vampire Weekend (from Contra)
"And I don't think your eyes / have ever looked surprised"

It feels like this album came out way too long ago to still qualify for this list. Contra was the rare sophomore effort that successfully balanced the exploration of new sounds without abandoning what made the debut successful. 

17. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" by The National (from High Violet)
"I still owe money / to the money / to the money I owe"

While others will disagree, I found High Violet a step backwards after Boxer (my #5 album of last decade) and Alligator. Lyrically, the band is as strong as ever, but there are at least 4 songs on each album of the prior albums that would have placed higher on this list.

16. "Uh Huh" by Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles (from Enter The Magical Mystery Chambers)
"Y'all know my occupation / I'm puttin' in the words / So when there's imitation / I put them in the dirt"

Looking for Grey Album-like success, Tom Caruana created a mashup that drew from the entire Wu catalog and combined it with music from the Beatles. The results were mixed, but "Uh Huh" combined an obscure Method Man track with an obscure Beatles B-Side ("You Know My Name") to create a pretty fantastic song.

15. "Dogs of Clinic 17" by The Extra Lens (from Undercard)
"5 of us are left / (that's down from 20) / but the guy in the white coat / he tells me that 5 is plenty"I have more John Darnielle music in my collection than any other artist (because not many other artists have recorded 400 songs), but more is always welcome.  As is often the case with the Mountain Goats, the song title provides insight beyond what is in the track itself.

14. "Desire Line" by Deerhunter (from Halcyon Digest)
"Forever fades black / and comes up cold"

As interesting as Microcastle but much more lively, Halcyon Digest was one of the year's pleasant surprises. 

13. "House of Gold" by Breathe Owl Breathe (from Magic Central)
"We will romanticize what we want out of life / you and I will someday die / everyone at the dance was wearing masks / so, so did I"

There is a lot going on in the seemingly simple song, one of the catchiest this year. Oh yes, and there are handclaps.

12. "Wide-Eyed, Legless" by Laura Veirs (from July Flame)
"Will we ever more kiss on the boardwalks fading rail? / In the light of the waves and the comet's waning tail / I don't think so"

Ominous and nostalgic, this song immediately surpassed anything else I had previously heard from Veirs.

11. "Tambourine Man" by Cloud Cult (from Run With the Wolves EP)
<Bob Dylan cover>

A cover of any song probably shouldn't be this high on the list. A cover of a song as iconic (and much covered already) as "Tambourine Man" definitely shouldn't. And yet, something about Cloud Cults reimagining of the song, from Craig Minowa's earnestness to the backing piano, plays in a way that Dylan (and others) never did. Awful, awful album cover.

10. "Zebra" by Beach House (from Teen Dream)
"Any way you run, you run before us"

My words can't do this lovely song justice. Beach House crushed it with Teen Dream.

9. "Sweetest Kill" by Broken Social Scene (from Forgiveness Rock Record)
"I break you through this world / Let me break you through this world / Can I break you through this world? "

Given their large and rotating membership, BSS has no consistent sound. This makes can make them frequently frustrating and occasionally very great.

8. "Rill Rill" by Sleigh Bells (from Treats)
"So this is it, then?"

Speaking of Broken Social Scene, this song plays like the narrator from "Anthems For a 17-Year-Old-Girl" stopped sitting in her room waiting for the guy to dream about her and grabbed a baseball bat.

7. "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green (from The Lady Killer)
"I pity the fooooooooool"

Smokey Robinson used to write 10 songs each year that were this good. Why do they come around once a decade now?

6. "Crash Years" by The New Pornographers (from Together)
"Tonight will be an open mic"

Neko Case just sounds better with the boys.

5. "Oh You, Old Thing" by Wolf Parade (from Expo 86)
"Bon soir, bon soir ma ville / I’m gonna leave you now in the arms of babes"

Spencer Krug fails to 3-peat, but posts an 8th top 10 appearance in six years, despite the rule against more than one song per artist. The Wolf Parade breakup would be much more soul crushing if Krug and Boeckner weren't doing great work elsewhere. Choosing between this track and "Cave-o-Sapien" was difficult, but ultimately I went with the love song to Montreal. My favorite album cover of 2010.

4. "I Walked" by Sufjan Stevens (from The Age of Adz)
"For at least I deserve the respect of a kiss goodbye"

Sufjan ditching the banjo for beeps and blips worked remarkably well on a few tracks and less well on others. But by releasing "I Walked" in advance, the rest of the album couldn't help but disappoint.

3. "Good Intentions Paving Company" by Joanna Newsom (from Have One on Me)
"And I know you meant to show the extent / To which you gave a goddang / You ranged real hot and real cold but I'm sold / I am home on that range"

There are critically acclaimed bands that I haven't liked or understood but eventually came to enjoy, but none like Joanna Newsom. I hated, and still don't like, her early work -- viewing it as insufferably precious. But, for this year's triple-album, Newsom stopped singing like an 8-year old and started singing like a 13-year old and it really worked.

2. "Runaway" by Kanye West (from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
"And I don’t know how I’ma manage / If one day you just up and leave"

Kanye manages to create the perfect song to showcase both his ego and insecurities. Even the indulgent closing minutes seem appropriate. Great music shouldn't necessarily require knowing something about the singer himself, but its that element that make "Runaway" such a high point.

1. "Walking Far From Home" by Iron & Wine (from Walking Far From Home EP)
"I saw sickness / blooming fruit trees / I saw blood and a bit of it was mine"

This was a surprise. First, the full album that this song appears on won't be released for several weeks. Second, while I was sure he would continue to make very good recordings, I feared that Sam Beam's best days may be behind him. But this song has everything I love about music. It is similar in structure to a favorite Iron & Wine song, "The Trapeze Swinger", and yet completely different. Musically, the rumbling feedback of the first 40 seconds gives way to angelic backing vocals before building back and making a triumphant push on top of the "loaded linen tables". Lyrically, the song evokes nostalgia and loss, telling a story without being explicit. Vocally, its Sam Beam. It's less than 5 minutes long, but it is a fully imagined world full of musical sinners, whispering lovers, maritime believers, micturating millionaires, and homesick angels. It's my favorite song of the year.


  1. EPR's top 5 of DSS' 2010: 1-20

    I Walked - Sufjan Stevens
    Walking Far From Home - Iron & Wine
    Crash Years - The New Pornographers
    Rill Rill - Sleigh Bells
    Good Intentions Paving Company - Joanna Newsom

  2. EPR's bottom 3 of DSS' 2010: 1-20

    Tambourine Man - Cloud Cult
    Kala Djula - Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabeté
    Sweetest Kill - Broken Social Scene

  3. EPR's "Ten That Missed the List" list*:

    Illuminata - ceo
    Marathon - Tennis
    That's Right (1:41) - Jump on Stage (1:09) - Girl Talk
    The Day - Curren$y f. Mos Def & Jay Electronica
    Angela Surf City - The Walkmen
    The Opposite of Adults (KIDS) - Chiddy Bang
    Looking for Ya - Big Boi f. Andre 3000 & Sleepy Brown
    Bang Pop - Free Energy
    Ghost Inside - Broken Bells
    Such a Lucky Girl - Woodpigeon

    * Includes artists that made the list

    EPR's "Best New to me Artist": Woodpigeon

    EPR's "How the rest of the iTunes Gift Card was Spent" list:

    Catholic Pagans - Surfer Blood
    Wide-Eyed, Legless - Laura Veirs
    House of Gold - Breathe Owl Breathe
    Learning - Perfume Genius
    I Need a Dollar - Aloe Blacc