I know, I know – we’re almost through the first month of 2011, and I’m just now posting my choices for the top fifty songs of last year. Now that I have an actual job, and a social life to boot, it’s been difficult finding time for this blog. That said, I’ve had this list decided upon for weeks now, and I just needed to sit down and physically write out my descriptions for each song. Here we go with the first ten songs…
Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 50-41
50. Jukebox The Ghost – “Empire”
The lilting delivery of this gem belies a song that would have been perfect for a seventh edition of The OC soundtrack compilations. There’s a rare versatility to this song – it would fit in well on a study mix or a playlist you made to help you work out at the gym. The aggressive piano, guitars, and percussion make it almost possible to not tap your foot along to the beat, and the DC-based band (which has won seven Grammys with just two albums) is sure to suck you in with this addictive chorus.
49. Cut Copy – “Take Me Over”
The dizzying electronic approach of Australia’s Cut Copy has an exotic feel to it on this track. Recalling hits from the 80s, including Duran Duran and the Culture Club, “Take Me Over” utilizes lyrics that reference “the jungle,” “paradise,” and “the night” and mirrors it would sound effects and an almost African drum beat. Fantastic work all around from a band that’s criminally underrated.
48. The Morning Benders – “Excuses”
There’s a sound here that’s reminiscent of Grizzly Bear here – catchy melodies and solidly constructed instrumentals, as well. Sweeping strings are married to vocal percussion that makes a retro sound very contemporary. You might recognize them from a Reese’s commercial, but I say their sublime amalgam of Berkeley and Brooklyn will make some quality music for years to come, regardless of where you hear it.
47. Cults – “Go Outside”
The complexity of this song is so subtle that you barely notice it on first listen. Two New York film students constructed this ode to summer sun and exploration, but the song charms the listener any time of year. The xylophone, tender harmonies, and restrained bass riff all work perfectly together, creating a truly impressive debut.
46. Fol Chen – “In Ruins”
There’s almost an inherent awkwardness to the music in this song, as the vocals glide over subtle and barely-there keyboards and a drum beat, then switch to an incredibly bombastic chorus that builds on itself. The song seems like it’s in ruins at certain points, switching back and forth between sparse instrumentation and complex keyboarding layered over several times with distorted vocals and hand claps.
45. Katie Melua – “The Flood”
Only someone as out there as William Orbit could put two entirely different songs together like this. Katie’s effortless voice floats over the track that begins with a low-key calm before building quickly to a thumping techno break for the middle half of the song. This track that alternates between quietly subdued and manically intense is a breath of fresh air in a pop scene that seems too processed, too distorted, and too reliant on AutoTune. Bass lines that sound almost like modern disco accompany soaring electronic beats and, somehow, it all works.
44. Surfer Blood – “Swim”
There’s nothing but unabashed rock in this phenomenal beach anthem, and Surfer Blood hits you with it from the first few notes. Based in West Palm Beach, Florida, this single technically made a splash in 2009, but I included it on this year’s list because the album was released in January of last year. The assailing guitars overwhelm the listener as front man JP Pitts practically screams the lyrics; surprisingly, the effect is charming and entrancing instead of obnoxious. This song would be perfect for a road trip or a playlist at your next party.
43. Born Ruffians – “What To Say”
Following up something as intensely rock as Surfer Blood is a song that’s demonstrably calmer. Born Ruffians have an infectious bass line and captivating vocal delivery from lead singer Mitch Derosier; there’s an intentional halting tone to Derosier’s singing that draws the listener in. Once the strings start about a minute in to the song, you can’t help but get hooked.
42. Tanlines – “Real Life”
How is it even possible to describe this song? The deliriously ambiguous lyrics, rapid-fire steel drums, and synth beat combine to create an individualized experience for each listener. The experimental electronic pop of Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm mixes almost a world music vibe with more recognizable indie/electronic influences. You may have heard this song used in BBC coverage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and I can’t think of a better venue for this truly unique song.
41. Smith Westerns – “Weekend”
The critical darlings of the indie blogosphere explode with this incredible track, with lead singer Cullen Omori cooing “Weekends are never fun/Unless you’re around here, too.” This song would be impressive from any band, but the fact that the entire group is in the age range of 18-20 makes this triumph all the more astounding. Simply put, there’s a reason the buzz around this new band is so deafening – they really are that good.
How do you think the list start out? Do you like the first ten songs? Tomorrow I’ll upload the songs that ranked between 40 and 31, and the conversation can continue.