I always like reading lists of the best music for a particular year, since it gives you an idea of what you may have missed. Putting one together can be a little more challenging. 2010 started off slow in terms of good music, but ended up on a high note, with some high-quality, yet not necessarily high-profile, releases. So here we go.
Best 2009 song I first heard in 2010:
Memory Tapes – “Green Knight.” There’s something obsessively intriguing about “Knight”. Part of it is the sample in the middle of the song — the squeak of rubber soles on a basketball court-which leads to the surprisingly catchy chorus. And like a good chillwave song, “Knight” succeeds best at evoking memories of the end of a hazy summer.
Best 2010 song by a three-man Canadian power trio:
Rush – “Caravan.” Since any Rush song would by default go near the top of my yearly lists, I carved out their own category. Long after their contemporaries are playing third stage at the local Corn Dog festival, Rush are more popular now than ever. “Caravan” features one of their best in-song jams, proving they still have it, and then some.
Favorites of 2010
15. Delorean – “Stay Close.” The manager may not be from Barcelona, but this indie dance crew is. Props to the person who gets the reference.
14. Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp.” Yeasayer’s mix of world music and Phil Collins (but seriously, they’re big fans of Phil) may not always gel, but “Ambling Alp” was a notable exception.
13. Robyn – “Dancing on My Own.” A polished, pure, and profound slice of synth pop. Robyn occupies a unique niche as an indie icon who makes music better suited to Top 40 radio.
12. Eluveitie – “Thousandfold.” Eluveitie deliver Celtic/pagan metal, minus the cheese, which is not an easy task to accomplish. It is the only song in this list to feature a hurdy-gurdy.
11. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – “Better Things.” “Things” is a memorable and potent mixture of Motown, Stax, funk, and soul.
10. Morning Benders – “Promises.” My wife introduced me to The Morning Benders, and while their total output has some highs and lows, “Promises” brings clever arrangements and soaring vocal harmonies.
9. All That Remains – “Hold On.” Metalcore with melody, brought to new heights by Phil LaBonte’s excellent vocals. A big step up songwriting-wise for the band.
8. Janelle Monae – “Cold War.” When Monae delivers the most powerful lyric of the year (I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me), chills ensue.
7. Belle and Sebastian – “Come On Sister.” Belle and Sebastian can really do no wrong at this point. Wisely moving on from their twee pop sound, as it had started getting a little tired, their ability to combine insanely catchy melodies with the sound of AM Gold, as in “Sister,” is peerless.
6. Arcade Fire – “Modern Man”/Kate Rogers – “Holy Rollers.” Two songs by Canadian artists, both featuring off-beats guaranteed to stymie rhythmically-challenged clappers. “Man” is the strongest song off the critically acclaimed The Suburbs. “Rollers” showcases Rogers’ ability to coax the most melody out of every lyric, coupled with an acoustic/bluesy sound far removed for her electronica roots.
5. Tracey Thorn – “Swimming.” Thorn’s smooth voice is front and center, an uplifting ode to love arising from the melancholy tone of a collection of songs about middle age and the passage of time. The sparse arrangements and lilting background vocals by Cortney Tidwell are perfect.
4. Enslaved – “Waruun.” Six and a half minutes of progressive death metal excellence with crystal-clear production, inventive and inspired time changes, guttural vocals, and bone-crushing intensity. The best metal song of the last few years.
3. Janelle Monae – “Tightrope.” A thick slab of James Brown meets Outkast-inspired funk with a dash of R&B and a mid-song rap by Big Boi. Original, inventive, and a visually arresting video to match.
2. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bottled in Cork.” Ted Leo releases another solid piece of punk-infused indie awesomeness that should be played on radio stations across the country, but isn’t. An ode to the global perspective, and bartenders.
1. Band of Horses – “Laredo.” The best song of 2010, I loved this the first time I heard it and it grew on me even more. Band of Horses has never sounded more cohesive or majestic. An expansive guitar lifts this song along Ben Bridwell’s angular vocals. And the lyrics deftly combine the perceptive (I’m at a crossroads with myself) with the unintelligible (I put a bullet in my Kia Lorenzo?).
Ariel Pink – “Round and Round”
Band of Horses – “Compliments”
Coheed and Cambria – “World of Lines”
Elton John/Leon Russell – “If it Wasn’t for Bad”
Neon Indian – “Sleep Paralystist”
Peasant – “Well Alright”
Robyn – “Hang With Me”
She & Him – “Sing”
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
Tracey Thorn – “Why Does the Wind Blow (Morgan Geist remix)