As the year winds down, I'm compiling my favorite music of 2010, including categories for Best Songs, Best Albums, Breakout and Flop of the Year, Oddball Track, Best Cover and more. This is the first post in the "Best of 2010" series.
Perhaps you'll agree. Perhaps you'll disagree. The important thing is that, like the Texas Board of Education, I'll know I'm right, despite any evidence to the contrary. Here we go...
The Honorable Mention
(alt title: The Honorable Discharge)
These tracks just missed the Top 10 of 2010, which I'll post later. But it was another good year for new music, so it's an impressive batch of discharge.
I can't help thinking these lyrics tell the story of a third grader making a costume for the Xmas pageant, and his or her parent gets mad at him or her for messing it up. ("Take that snowflake / You can't do it right / I know what I want and I'm not too proud to shout it") Still, for a song about elementary school stagecraft, it's pretty badass.
One of many ass-gripping-all-out-full-frontal-assaults on this album. And "Uh Oh" probably starts out the fastest and roughest of them all. Mere seconds eclipse before Rod belts out ("Met a woman / It was all right, whoa!") and impregnates anyone in a 20 ft radius. Yes, even dudes.
No other band could effectively inject so much nonchalance into such a monstrous party jam. Like James Dean at a bar mitzvah, Damen Albarn deadpans from the hip with deadly accuracy. ("I'm a scary gargoyle on a tower / That you made with plastic power / Your rhinestone eyes are factories far away")
Enter cello-strokin' Sollee and his partner in some new-old-west crime Moore. The addition of Jim James is almost icing (the hockey penalty, not the cake-topper), but the result is so Woodie Guthrie, it shines (like freshly-Zambonied ice). The track is either a nostalgic or prescient (or both?) narrative of down-home, rural America. True exceptionalism.
With only a few dozen words repeated over 5 minutes and 26 seconds, Jose Gonzalaz was obviously struggling with writer's block. I wish he would've asked for help. I could have totally added some pizzazz to his misty, sepia lyrics. At least in my dreams. ("But we need to wake up / Baby wake up") Thanks, Jose.
Even for someone with a cursory exposure to sound mixing, it's clear that this song is superbly mixed. It's as plain as that little knob next to the slidey thing on the mixing board. And Spoon never, ever fails to deliver experimental rock coated in a fun-to-swallow pop capsule. ("Nobody gets me but you / Nobody gets what I've done / Everyone else seems to look through"). Damn right we get you.
Duffy, step up and get you some! Soulful exuberance in a bottle. That's what you get with this track. An otherwise disappointing record will leave its indelible mark on pop music in 2010 with this "Number". (Baby, if you want to be right / I will let you be right) Honest?
Now this is production gloss used appropriately. (For inappropriate use, see Kings of Leon's latest.) So slick, so creamy, you just want to eat this track up. But let's not be silly. You can't eat a song. That's just dumb, stupid. Still, I bet it tastes like nougat.
Although Craig Finn never truly "sings", he does lend more melodic vocals to this standout track on yet another fantastic hard rock album by Minnesota's finest band since The New Power Generation. "Weekenders" is wordy ("There was that whole weird thing with the horses"), heady, angst-ridden and a shitload of fun.
If there was a superhero who was known to be "peacefully unstoppable", this would be his (or her, or her, I'm not one of those misogynistic comic book fans who emerges once annually for Comic-Con) theme song. Masterpiece is a word thrown around almost as much as Mouseterpiece should be. But I think it applies here.
"Like Rock & Roll and Radio" by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise
Someone should tell Ray "vaudeville" is just two syllables. But tell him gently. He doesn't like surprises. This is a man who got so freaked out at audiences reactions (they were applauding him, the little Satans!) on his tour with Guster, he quit halfway through. Which is what makes this track so interesting. Unlike the J Roddy song above with a rock & roll reference in the title, this one doesn't rock. At all. But it does soothe. Man, does it soothe. Someone pass Ray a joint so he'll relax.
Canadians can finally claim the top band in a relevant genre for the first time since Rush dominated Prog Rock (which I would remind you was absolutely relevant and not dorky) in the 70s and early 80s. The 'Fire conjure this hit within an album that really needs to be taken in as a whole, not a series of singles.
If some superstar athlete hasn't used this as his entrance song yet, I'd be shocked. Kobe, Paquiao, Ochocinco, someone with a fan base of both grown men and teen screamers, have a listen. Not overbearing as a party song, it actually has just the right amount of bearing. ("Can't you hear I'm sick? / I'm lovesick / Can't you hear this phone? / Like my heart is quick")
A candidate for cover of the year, it takes balls to release a single covering one of George Michael's gayest songs, especially when "GAY" is right there in your band name. But if there's anyone with balls enough to simultaneously conquer and embrace this challenge, it's Har Mar Superstar. And GAYNGS, the cross-pollenated indie collective, treat this truly classic tune with genuine care, and without an ounce of irony. Ballsy move, guys.
("Well, you can't get what you want / But you can get me / Cause you are my medicine / When you're close to me / When you're close to me") Folks, this is as appealing as insecurity gets. And unlike your own insecurity, this song can actually help you be social. Like, at a party even.