November 24, 2010

The Best Songs of 2010 :: 10-1

Menomena - "Queen Black Acid"
On "Queen Black Acid," Justin Harris sings easily the best line of the year: "You're five-foot-five not a hundred pounds / I'm scared to death of every single ounce." It's a simple lyric, but in this narrative it proves to be devastating, carrying with it a weight of emotion and regret further emphasized by the sparse soundscape of the song: a lone strummed guitar and the wandering inconsistent snap of the drums. 

Joanna Newsom - "Baby Birch"
"Baby Birch" is another heartbreaker—a nine-and-a-half-minute epic ballad that closes out the first of Have One On Me's three records. The song—about a path not taken and the consequences and regret that ensue—burns sparsely and slowly before kicking in the door around the six-minute mark with a drum, hand-clap and electric guitar climax dressed in the violent imagery of a butcher and barber “cutting away at my only joy.”

Cults - "Go Outside"
If you read music blogs, you've most likely heard this song in excess this year. But it's for good reason. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics are easy to remember, and the beat always swings and propels forward as if en route to a better place and time. Led by a simple xylophone riff, these young musicians have crafted one of the more memorable pop tunes of recent memory. And the message couldn't be more perfect, contrasting the opening "it's living that's treacherous" quote from cult figurehead Jim Jones with the bright sun-filled possibilities of going outside—in other words, living and enjoying life to its fullest.

Kisses - "Bermuda"
LA duo Kisses—comprised of Princeton's Jesse Kivel and girlfriend Zinzi Edmundson—have crafted and refined disco music for the new century. While remaining highly danceable and blissfully enjoyable, there's no sense of the Studio 54 excess or glitter falling from the ceiling that plagued the late 1970s genre. Rather, the band succeeds, especially with the lush "Bermuda," because of its dual nature—part intimate bedroom pop, part expansive synthesizer-fueled cinematic beauty. Kivel's casual and deep resonance finds the perfect home with "Bermuda," gliding effortlessly above the bright flashing tones and tap of the drum-machine.

LCD Soundsystem - "Dance Yrself Clean"
"Dance Yrself Clean" is James Murphy's magnum opus. Dirty and visceral dance music produced and infused with all of the craftsman's smarts and best tricks. Perhaps no maneuver is more important than the volume control: Murphey's bongo, clack and cow bell intro is purposely set to an extremely low level, which on first listen might lead the listener to pump the volume back up—and that's exactly what he wants. Because when those elephant-sized synths finally arrive at the three-minute mark, its speaker breaking time. Hello tinnitus.

Delta Spirit - "Bushwick Blues"
If modern rock radio wasn't so overwhelmingly plagued by corporate owners and sponsorships, a deserved song like "Bushwick Blues" might have a chance at some serious air time and potentially become a nationwide favorite. Who knows, maybe it will in a year, as that's how long it takes radio stations to catch up with trending bands. The important point here though is that in a scattered and increasingly niche-driven musical culture, this San Diego band has written an old fashioned rock anthem approachable from every angle: the regret-tinged why-can't we-stay-young-forever love-torn lyricism, roaring electric guitars, dizzyingly fast bass and drums, and Matt Vasquez's raspy come-sing-along-with-me vocals.

Morning Benders -"Excuses"
Chris Chu and company begin their self-professed Phil Spector tribute with the scratch and pop of a needle hitting a vinyl groove, placing what follows—soaring strings, "wall of sound" era percussion and bright vocal harmonies—within a nostalgic lens. But as classic as "Excuses" is in tone and construction, it's also indisputably something new—perhaps the first classic of a new generation. The folks at Yours Truly captured and cemented this indisputably epic aura with an epic performance by the Benders and their San Francisco Big Echo Orchestra collective within which lies proof that great songs still do exist.

Active Child - "When Your Love Is Safe"
Take away the dark and bold synthesizer-fueled production aesthetics and this is Top 40 bubblegum pop. The lyrical construction of "When You Love Is Safe" (a euphemism for being stuck in the "friend zone") is brilliant in that it could be sung by a mainstream pop idol. But thankfully, it's not. Los Angeles's Pat Grossi, with his tender otherworldly falsetto and expert musicianship, gives this composition astonishing integrity and legs the way a young Prince used to with songs like "I Would Die 4 U." Cliches and niches are transcended here, leaving a single perfectly crafted work of pop music.

Sharon Van Etten - "Love More"
The back and forth push of air on the opening hum of the harmonium in the mournful burn of "Love More" puts a truly heart-squeezing grip on a song that only becomes more emotionally potent with the entrance of Sharon Van Etten's voice and her slowly woven harmony with fellow singer Cat Martino. "Love More," if nothing else, provides proof aplenty that the singer/songwriter genre is alive and well. But what it also shows, is that even in people's darkest moments, we are capable of creating the most extraordinarily beautiful things. 

White Hinterland - "Icarus"
The magic of a song lies in its ability to transport the listener to a far away world with success often determined by its ability to make that escape convincing. "Icarus" feels like autumn on Mars—the colors and tones are present, but the leaves are suspended in air, floating away instead of falling from their branches. "Why must I always see the end at the beginning," sings Casey Dienel over her own repeating fluttering vocals. The lyric in many ways applies to the song's own construction—a series of loops, whooshes of air, and echoed voices circling back over themselves. Along with coconspirator Shawn Creeden's rolling bass line and occasionally off-beat drumstick tap, the song is proof of how music can remain grounded in its own organic nature within a world of increasingly modern electronic tools and instruments—perfectly imperfect.

White Hinterland


  1. You have introduced me to some great music. Good taste and excellent descriptions. Thanks.

  2. ditto the above comment... i am currently chewing my way through these sick bands!

  3. This playlist is the gayest damn playlist I have ever seen. Where is Linkin Park on here?

  4. Dance Yrself Clean is number one in my books:)

  5. Best list i've seen yet! WE featured the kisses track recently on our show and it always get such great feedback. Thanks for all the music!

  6. How has no one considered THIS:
    One of the best tracks of the year.


  7. just discovered this blog and the list is rad, thank you for so much love C:

  8. I really enjoyed your list and stumbled across a few things i hadn't encountered elsewhere. I also really like your writing style. Thanks - nice work.