Best Tracks of 2010 – Part V

We’ve arrived at the home stretch – the best ten songs of the year.  This is usually where the fights erupt, but I can’t really see the year shaking down any other way.  2010’s crop had some legitimately brilliant music, and with the death of the album in recent years, these singles and tracks have certainly established themselves to last for years to come. Without any further ado, I present to you…

Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 10-1

10. Cee-Lo – “Fuck You”
What can I write about this song that hasn’t been published already?  Cee-Lo seemed to come out of nowhere in late August with this absolute gem, which had a soft release on youtube in the form of a lyrical video – a smart marketing tactic, as the buzz and momentum grew exponentially in a matter of days.  The  catchy blend of old school doo-wop and modern pop was genius, and the crassness of the lyrics only cemented it as a ballsy hit.  Even the bizarre bridge wasn’t enough to derail this from becoming the two words for which every artist strives: “instant classic.”

9. Communist Daughter – “Not the Kid”
Johnny Solomon’s newest musical venture is named after a Neutral Milk Hotel song, and this Minnesota-based band is certainly an act to watch.  There’s a brooding nostalgia present here, bordering on ominous, as Solomon creates harmonies with bandmate Molly Moore that would be perfect for a high school reunion.  There is an upbeat arrangement present here that seems to betray the darker tinges of the lyrics, including references to “the shadows in my head.”  Solomon is obviously battling demons with this song, but it’s not an entirely menacing concept in its execution.  In the end, though, it somehow all works – and quite well.

8. Vampire Weekend – “Giving Up the Gun”
The boys from Columbia have reached their potential in this, by far their most polished and airwaves-ready song to date.  The hooks and boisterous energy of the first album have matured past the gimmick of trust fund frat rock, with a serious contender for pop attention manifesting itself.  Some may complain that it sounds too processed, but I dig the thumping drum beat, playful percussion, and relentless but creative bass.  It’s almost like their attempt at synth-pop, but presenting us with their own perverted twist on it.  Regardless of their intention, it’s endlessly appealing, and quickly entered my list for the best songs of the year.

7. Broken Bells – “The High Road”
What happens when you mix the musical stylings of James Mercer, the lead singer of Garden State staple The Shins, and Brian Burton, otherwise known as Danger Mouse/half of the duo Gnarls Barkley?  You become fortunate enough to hear what will likely be the future of independent music as we know it.  Highly melodic music is twisted and turned on its head through the electronic experiments of this vastly original duo, with acoustic guitar following samples.   Slick keyboarding skills are on display in full force, but so is Mercer’s formidable tenor gymnastics.  All in all, it’s a song that should have been inescapable this year.

6. Mumford & Sons – “The Cave”
For a band that exploded this year after “Little Lion Man” caught on with a decent contingent of the American public, it surprises me how few people have heard the far superior single “The Cave.”   Showcasing some of the best guitar/banjo/dobro/mandolin/awesome-string-instrument work I have ever heard, the British quartet of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwayne infuse an aching pain and earnest desire to transform into the track.  Furthermore, the crescendo of this song is one of the most heart-breaking and soul-stirring pieces of music I’ve encountered in years.  You cannot help but be swept away by this song, and that truly speaks to me.

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5. Kanye West – “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”
Easily one of the most prolific, well-known, and, in my opinion, most talented rappers of all time, Kanye West upped the game for everyone this year with his latest album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  This was his second single from the album, and easily blew the rest of the game out of the water.  Kanye’s known for one of two musical stylistic approaches – bombastic arrogance and painfully honest introspection; utilizing the latter, West discusses his own crippling insecurities, strips away his characteristic bravado, and bares his soul in the process.  Some have said he delights in his flaws with this record, but I would argue he’s merely come to terms with them.  In the process, he’s become infinitely more relatable, and ensconced himself firmly in the upper echelon of the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.

4. Aloe Blacc – “I Need a Dollar”
As yet another throw back song, this succeeds where so many  others fail; harnessing 70s soul and funk with a spring-step beat and chorus with plenty of blaring horns, Aloe Blacc adapts his smooth vocal instrument to highlight the pain of unemployment and homelessness.  Blacc’s protagonist shares a life full of anguish and disappointment as he sings from the position of a man on the street, begging for a dollar because his “ole buddies” have become whiskey and wine.  He details losing his job and living in a harsh and unforgiving world, pleading with the truly haunting hook “Well I don’t know if I’m walking on solid ground/Cause everything around me is crumbling down/And all I want is for someone to help me.”  For a year that went down in history books as pretty shitty, this song serves as an anthem of sorts for 2010.

3. Robyn – “Dancing On My Own”
As one of the singles from arguably the best albums of the entire year (in contention with West’s effort, natch),  Sweden’s resident pop queen brought her A game and put literally every other dance/pop act in the world to shame.  She’s constructed a strangely inspiring song revolving around a woman seeing her ex-boyfriend and his new lover at the local dance club.  Alternating between resolute strength and an absolute breakdown, Robyn sings “I’m in the corner/Watching you kiss her/I’m right over here/Why can’t you see me” and talks about how she’s become far too inebriated.  Losing utter control over her emotion, her protagonist continues to dance to the beat, as she can’t stop moving: “Stilettos and broken bottles/I’m spinning around in circles.”  Try listening to it while strutting down the street, or, better yet, while drinking a few beers and dancing in your boxers.  In my book, it’s easily one of the best pop songs to ever exist.

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2. Ryan Bingham – “The Weary Kind”
Now it’s time to flesh out my country background – in case you haven’t seen Crazy Heart, you’re missing out on a true masterpiece of desolation and new beginnings.   The theme to the film, written and performed by Ryan Bingham, is a true study in heartache.  Jeff Bridges’ character in the film writes it slowly throughout, piecing together his triumphant comeback through one song, but Bingham’s interpretation is hands down a better track.  The sparse arrangement of his own acoustic guitar, a slide guitar, an accordion, and very little else works wonders with his tormented husk of a voice.  Lyrics like “Your body aches/Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate/The days and the nights all feel the same” and “Your lovers won’t kiss/It’s too damn far from your fingertips/You are the man that ruined her world” highlight the sorrow and suffering that few expected from such a young artist. Phenomenal work all around; let’s be honest, there’s a reason it won the Oscar for Best Song.

1. Foster The People – “Pumped Up Kicks”
Finally, it’s time for the best song of the year.  This sun-drenched ditty from southern California is equal parts chillwave guitar and distorted vocals, sounding almost like lead singer Mark Foster’s voice has been passed through an intercom.  Zach “Reazon” Heiligman, Mark Pontius, and Cubbie Fink join him for what is sure to be a massive band in the coming years.  Let me put it this way – if Max Martin forced MGMT to mate with Peter, Bjorn, and John, he still couldn’t hope for something this stunning.  The whistling, the hand claps, the lyrics about kick ass shoes?!  You simply cannot top this slice of sheer musical heaven.  A friend of mine likened the song to drinking a cold beer – it goes down so smoothly, it just makes you want another.  Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe this beaut, so why not give some space to NPR’s attempt?

“A killer melody floats lightly over a surf guitar lick as mellow as low-tide. Ambient synths echo a distant cicada buzz creating a hazy summer feel. It’s an indie-pop jam that exudes sunny californian vibes.”

In short, get excited about impending warm weather, because you will throw this track on a CD, put all of your windows down, and jam out on repeat while the sun kisses your skin.  It is THAT GOOD.

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Best Tracks of 2010 – Part IV

It’s Thursday, and we’re down to the top twenty songs left in the list.  With only two days left, today you get to pore over the songs that landed between 20 and 11 on the list, and decide if I’m brilliant, insane, or a mixture of the two. Be sure to tell me what you love and hate from the list in the comments.

Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 20-11

20.  Tame Impala – “Solitude Is Bliss”
Another complicated and layered piece of rock and roll/electronic/chillwave that deals with a sense of introverted pride.  Are we sensing a pattern here, folks?  This four piece psychedelic rock band from Australia  recorded this album almost in its entirety at a beach shack about four hours south of their hometown of Perth.  Lines like “There’s a party in my head/And no one is invited” belies a certain flirtatious aspect of the song – are they singing about drugs or just the concept of having fun without a crowd of people around you?  Not sure I know (or care), but the song remains incredible regardless.

19.  Andy Davis – “Kiss It Goodbye”
A great guy from Nashville, Andy Davis has been wallowing in relative obscurity for years, outside of the occasional attention from a show called Grey’s Anatomy.  He has an outstanding ear for hooks and lyrics, and this nugget has been hidden for far too long.  Detailing the course of a break up while blaming himself for the relationship’s ruin, Davis creates a pop classic with lines like “I’m a concrete floor; sometimes I can’t be rested on/Don’t you give me your heart I can’t even be trusted with my own.”  He may not be well-known enough to merit a Wikipedia page, but don’t assume that will last for long; Andy Davis will be hugely popular if he keeps creating songs like this.

18. Freelance Whales – “Generator ^ Second Floor”
There’s a morbid playfulness utilized in this catchy ditty about a funeral (or possibly even a dream).  Lead singer Judah Dadone fronts this group of multi-instrumentalist indie rockers from Queens on an astounding piece regaling us with someone making requests about their own wake while recalling flashes of memory from his childhood.  The thing that’s so endearing about this song, though, is not the fixation on death, but the ability to make an uplifting song from dark subject material.   “Don’t fix my smile,” Dadone coos, adding, “Life is long enough/We will put this flesh/Into the ground again.”

17. She & Him – “Don’t Look Back”
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward returned this year with a second album that seemed too forced in comparison to the magic of their debut.  That said, this gem encapsulated so much of the appeal that was present in Volume One: unabashed optimism, sunny vocals, and real messages.  Zooey’s protagonist advises her lover that they don’t need to spend every second of their relationship together, but, and more importantly, fixating on the past is detrimental to the future.  Emotional heft with catchy music and the usual guitar badassery from M. Ward? Yes, please!

16. Free Energy – “Bang Pop”
Speaking of catchy, welcome to a well-crafted rock song meant to get you dancing in the aisles and strutting down the street.  This is the second year running where I included a song from this Philly-based band, and it’s quite obvious why once you listen to their music.  Nonsensical lyrics that seem to imply the protagonist has met and fallen in love with a girl from outer space synch up perfectly with a killer guitar solo, impeccable timing, and a steady drum beat to create a sonic force of nature.  I challenge you to listen to this and not immediately add it to your work out play list, let alone tap your foot in time.

15. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – “Fooling Myself”
I like to describe Grace Potter and the Nocturnals as a more feminine version of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. The Waitsfield, Vermont band mixes blues, rock, soul, and even alt-country into an amalgam of genres that fits her velvety voice perfectly.  Slow guitars, laid back drums, and a set of backing vocals create an almost ethereal atmosphere to the song – similar almost to a subdued Fleetwood Mac cut.  There’s a smoky dive bar aspect to the music that’s enchanting and pulls you in, always leaving you wanting more.

14. The Black Keys – “Tighten Up”
Speaking of old school rock and blues, The Black Keys harken back to 60s and 70s acts with this slice of perfection from the perennial critical favorite.  Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, based in Ohio, harken to Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” or the Fleet Foxes’ “Mykonos” when their bridge changes the song, taking it an entirely new direction.  Omnipresent DJ Danger Mouse produced the track after working on an earlier album with the duo, and this seems to fit in well with the sound of those songs.  Clearly I’m a sucker for a tune that involves whistling or hand claps (in this case, the former figures in heavily to the melody), but the grit behind it cements this as a huge favorite.

13. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – “Old Before Your Time”
I’ll be completely up front about this: I included this song on the list because it feels like Ray legitimately wrote a song about my life.  I personally connect with the majority of the lyrics, and the bluegrass tinge with LaMontagne’s trademark husky vocals just adds to the reasons that I love this cut so much.  Ray’s protagonist sings about his own stubbornness and faults, but also has the self-awareness to realize when he made mistakes and how he grew from them.  The lyrics and vocals are certainly the centerpiece here, but the banjo evokes a feeling that you’ve stumbled upon this music in a backwoods restaurant.  You can imagine the country pines surrounding your cabin as the group’s music transports you back in time by several decades.  Trust me, if there were more music like this, I wouldn’t mind living then at all.

12. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”
Remember way back to a time several years ago,  when I speculated that Adele had the potential to be a huge talent?  This song delivers on that potential and then some.  The apparent bastard child of “Cold Shoulder” and “Chasing Pavements,” this song from the British siren features her growling instrument hitting insane notes with incessant backing vocals and almost martial drum beats.  There’s a defiant anger in the tone of the song – a message of “You could have had it all, but you went and screwed everything up.”  The climax builds to a hand-clapping/foot-stomping fever of intensity that’s certain to win her massive amounts of fans State-side.

11. 1,2,3 – “Confetti”
This pulsating stoner rock is the kind of music that comes across as instantly familiar and recognizable.  One listens to this song like one would put on a favorite hoodie, and if it takes a few listens to understand the appeal, I understand completely; even your favorite hoodie was stiff and uncomfortable initially.  Pittsburgh-based duo 1,2,3 (Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels) bring a certain brash attitude to their songs that is simultaneously full of earnestness and bravado.  The line “Even though we’re all gonna die here/You’re my kind, dear” is practically existential in its treatment of modern relationships.  Sure, we might not last forever, or even matter while we’re here, but what does matter in our brief time on Earth is the relationships we treasure.  Relationships and, apparently, great music.  1,2,3 is, at this point, two for two.

We’re almost done at this point.  Tomorrow will hold the end of the week and the end of the list: the final ten songs of the 2010.  Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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Best Tracks of 2010 – Part III

The third day of the week means it’s time for the third portion of 2010’s list of best songs.  There are a ton of outstanding songs in this list, but I hope you agree with me when I say it’s only getting better.  Disagree with a song being so high, or even being included? Sound off in the comments below.

Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 30-21

30. Kaiser Cartel – “Ready to Go”
As soon as the song starts, the charming arrangement of “ba da bum, ba da da dum” and “ha ha ha ha” sets you up for a doozy of an earworm.  The next two minutes and forty-nine seconds are going to pass by far too quickly, but they’ll stay with you for hours, if not days.  Well-placed drum beats coincide with maracas and a simple guitar to construct a deceptively simple song that works mostly because of the harmonies of the two leads.  You’ll find yourself singing along before the end of the first listen.

29. Local Natives – “Airplanes”
These critical favorites from Silver Lake, Los Angeles made a huge splash with their album in 2010, but this understated song of longing was by far my favorite cut.  Lead singer Taylor Rice enters intriguing three-part harmonies with his bandmates, expressing a longing tied to a former partner, repeating “I want you back” and “I love it all/So much I call” countless times throughout the piece.  Their influences seem to include Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, and even a more laid-back Grizzly Bear, but the sound is all them.  This debut certainly ensures more attention for them in the future.

28. Rox – “My Baby Left Me”
This British songstress can belt out her pain like few acts out there, and in a crowded field of retro and vintage acts, there’s something genuine in Roxanne Tataei’s voice.  Aided by Al Shux, the man who made “Empire State of Mind” a massive hit, “My Baby Left Me” combines a church organ, swirling strings, and distorted vocals meant to sound like several back up singers to accompany Rox’s syrupy voice.  Lyrics like “My baby left me sad/He didn’t do nothin’ right/…/So dry to the bone/And he left me alone” would seem to fit with more of a blues arrangement, but this punched-up, jazzy music elevates the song to an entirely new level.

27. The Decemberists – “Down By the Water”
Many fans have scoffed at this lead single from the Decemberist’s newest album, claiming that Peter Buck’s guest guitar skills make the song sound like a rip-off of older R.E.M. tracks.  As someone who’s always hated R.E.M., I couldn’t really care less. With Gillian Welch on backing vocals, there’s very little to dislike about this song.  In full alt-country swing, the Decemberists deliver a song full of misery and contempt for a small seaside port town; you really have to listen to them to interpret all of the bitter diatribes and saltiness inherent within.

26. Diamond Rings – “Wait & See”
His sequel of sorts to the utterly disarming song “All Yr Songs” from 2009, Toronto-based John O’Regan delivers again with this gem.  “Wait & See” has the same cheap drum machine effect as its predecessor, but the comparisons basically stop there.  This is a song with more weight than his previous work, but captivating nonetheless; similar to Robyn’s more popular “Hang With Me,” this song serves as a warning to any potential suitor to not waste his time expecting John to “decide what [he] want[s] to grow up to be.”

25. April Smith and the Great Picture Show – “Colors”
Quite the opposite of “Wait & See,” April Smith’s tune “Colors” is alluring in its sheer earnestness.  The song builds slowly, adding layers of instruments as each verse progresses, growing ever more complicated and delightful.  Hand claps, cow bell, and even a kazoo lend to the warm and fuzzy atmosphere as Smith crows “I’ll wear your colors, my dear/Until you’re standing right here/Next to the one who adores you/Whose heart is beating for you.”  A nautical theme emerges, and the listener can find themselves transported to a port town with all of the happiness that the Decemberists’ missed out on with their entry.

24. Wise Blood – “Solo (4 Claire)”
Ladies and gentleman, we have a sampling artist who can actually create real music.  In short: step aside, Girl Talk, your tired shtick isn’t needed any more.  He takes cues from rock, R&B, blues, and hip hop, and easily shifts between said genres, with this swaggering and dark take on love for a girl named Claire.  Christopher Laufmann hails from Pittsburgh (just like Girl Talk), and there’s an eerie cadence to his work that stays with you long after you finish the song, especially with ominous lyrics like “Claire I want to meet ya/Tie you up and teach ya tonight.”

"Solo (4 Claire)"

23. Beach Fossils – “Youth”
More chillwave surf rock to swoon over, and this is even from Brooklyn!  It’s like my trifecta of music trends converged into one man.  Dustin Payseur distorts his vocals excessively over a simple drum beat and some relatively intermediate guitar skills, but the result is outstanding.  The fact that he recorded a lot of this album alone in his attic comes through, as a loneliness lingers over the tune, almost as if he were a wandering musician, busking at a beach resort that had closed for the summer.  “I don’t know just what I feel/But I feel it all tonight” seems like the perfect line to describe the Millennials and, let’s be honest, youth in general.

22. Sonny and the Sunsets – “Too Young to Burn”
Sorry to break it to you, but you’re in for a one-two punch of surf rock with this next track.  Hand claps, a set of drums, and a single guitar, led by some seriously ennui-infused vocals from Sonny Smith may make this seem like several other songs on the list, but give it another try.  Even more frustrating, yearning for the innocence of youth seems to be a theme with a lot of the songs from 2010, and this one certainly doesn’t fail to deliver.  More importantly, though, there’s a feeling while listening to this track that elicits not only  a bonfire on the beach, but also sitting at the window on a rainy day.  Let’s cut to the chase, though – long story short?  The line “Every tear rolling down/Is a lesson learned” is worth a listen by itself.

21. Court Yard Hounds – “Ain’t No Son”
Lady Gaga (and even manipulative, opportunistic trollops like Katy Perry) took a lot of credit for the advances made in gay rights in 2010, but more praise should be directed to Court Yard Hounds.  This side group of the Dixie Chicks wrote a well-crafted song describing a conversation between a father and son after the latter decided to come out.  Characteristic instruments for the sisters like the banjo and mandolin meet more stereotypical rock and roll pieces, including an incredibly enthusiastic guitar solo and overbearing drums.  The lyrics are the real star, with lines like “Yeah, you’re a sight to see/What you call freedom/Makes you look like a freak” cutting to the bone.

Get excited about tomorrow, when songs 20-11 will be uploaded…

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Best Tracks of 2010 – Part II

Day two of the week leads to my second grouping of songs from the list.  As the list dwindles down, I get more and more excited about the music.  All of these songs are gems, but the quality grows exponentially as we advance up the list.  I hope you agree.

Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 40-31

40. OneRepublic – “Good Life”
As someone who’s had fun ripping on the tedious monotony of Ryan Tedder’s music in the past (see: last year’s list), I am unabashedly and passionately in love with this song.  The almost formulaic Tedder has his typical thumping beat from most of his songs, but it’s the whistling and endearing lyrics that make this such a feel-good tune.  The lyric “Cause hopelessly/The hope is we/Have something to feel good about” transforms the piece into something meaningful.  Tedder and his bandmates legitimately want you to appreciate all of the wonder around you, and it comes across in the song.

39. Wale – “The Black N Gold”
Wale continues to represent DC with his fresh and inventive rhymes.  Is he the best MC out there? No, not by a long shot, but his rapid-fire flow and constant pop culture references make for a great jam. DJ Omega helps with the mixing as Wale discusses Frostburg women, taking it to the face, and even leads the song with “Wale, Ovechkin – the best on the Earth.”  His District swagger is incredibly contagious, and I especially love the swipe “Y’all Mario Brothers, I’m Metal Gear.”

38. Kid Cudi, Best Coast, and Rostam – “All Summer”
What do you get when you mix soaring, sun-tinged vocals, an infectious drum beat, and one of the best rappers in the game all focused on having some fun in the sun? One of the best songs of 2010, hands down.  Surf rock darling Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast provides the vocals, which consist of “All year long/We wait for sun/At the beach/We come undone” and “All summer/Drinking water/Trying to keep your eyes dry/Trying to keep your eyes dry.”  Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij provides the incredible instrumentation as backing to Cudi’s rhymes.  If you can’t imagine yourself basking in some rays while listening to this, you’ve lost any vestige of imagination you had left.

37. The National – “Lemonworld”
Brooklyn’s gruff band released another fantastic album this year, and “Lemonworld” is definitely a standout song.  Lead singer Matt Berninger’s distinctive baritone conveys a sadness to the lyrics, which seem to convey an overwhelming ennui regarding the suburban lifestyle.  The past decade has continued to skewer the ridiculous lifestyle of suburban America, but this song captures this depression in an entirely new light.   Lyrics like “So happy I was invited/Give me a reason to get out of the city…/Livin’ and dyin’ in New York, it means nothing to me” portray a man who’s given up on the false cheer of his wife.  Unfortunately, this track may have represented the feelings of 2010 a little too well.

36. Toro Y Moi – “Low Shoulders”
This bizarre and lush electronic composition overwhelms you with layered synth beats and vocals from the first few notes.  Toro Y Moi is actually only one man, Chazwick Bundick, which makes his musical accomplishments all the more impressive.  As part of the chillwave movement of music from 2009,  his lyrics are stream of consciousness, but the feeling of familiarity supersedes the  unique musical qualities of the song.  The song is certainly an acquired taste, but there’s legitimate talent in this creation, even if it lies beneath the surface.

35. Hurts – “Wonderful Life”
Several artists and groups have been trying to recall the synth sounds of the 80s and, besides the genius that was Ladyhawke’s first album, none have really succeeded.  That is, until Hurts released their debut last year.  The Mancunian duo of Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson merge haunting lyrics with incredibly complex compositions that instantly dig their way into your head.  “Wonderful Life” specifically deals with a man ready to throw himself off of a bridge, but a woman stops him at the last minute; the subject matter may be morbid, but trust me, the song itself is nothing short of breath-taking.

34. Hanson – “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin'”
Yes, Hanson.  If you heard this song on the radio and had no idea who the band was, you’d be sucked in, too.  Even if you knew outright, say, by watching their music video, I would be shocked to see you hate this ode to scorned lovers.  The big brass sound, impeccable guitar, frequent cowbell, and heartfelt vocals combine here for an refreshingly catchy sound that will certainly instigate some foot-tapping.  If these three brothers could escape their own past, this could be a huge crowd pleaser at large parties; even on my iPod, it’s a show stopper.

33.  Two Door Cinema Club – “I Can Talk”
Irish indie punk band Two Door Cinema Club created a flash of greatness with this intense track sure to grab you at the first note and not let go.   There’s an accessibility here that implies a pop production of more aggressive punk roots, but I’m certainly not complaining.  A sonic wall of sound hits the listener during the chorus, with pieces of jangly guitars in the verse hinting at the impending onslaught.  There’s a lot of music packed into a song that doesn’t even reach three minutes, and it just gets better with repeat listens.

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32. Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope (feat. Big Boi)”
Few people exploded on to the music scene like Janelle Monáe did in 2010.  One of the main reasons for that was this ambitious and varied take on hip hop that brought in vestiges of old school jazz, brass horns, turn-table mixing, and a brilliant guest spot from Outkast’s Big Boi.  There’s an almost constant marriage of vintage and contemporary, and her wail in the chorus is practically unparalleled.

31. Mark Ronson And The Business Intl – “Bang Bang Bang”
Established rap icon Q-TIP and up-and-comer singer Amanda Warner from MNDR lend their talents to producer wunderkid Mark Ronson’s lead single from his third album.  Ronson is never boring, and he fails to disappoint with a synthpop/hip-hop reimagining of classic French Canadian children’s song “Alouette.”  Q-TIP and Warner alternate between rapping and singing, respectively, and the partnership inexplicably works perfectly.  Never have I found someone yelling French numbers so enthralling.

Tomorrow, I’ll release the tracks that were lucky enough to place between 30 and 21.  If you love a song, hate a song, or just passionately disagree with a placement, then be sure to say so below.

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Best Tracks of 2010 – Part I

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.

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Welcome To My Life

Sara: brushing my hair for the first time in three days.  hello, grad school

me: I’m reading the wikipedia for Powerpuff Girls

Sara: just one more reason to love you

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Yeah, If You Want Me To Vomit

Alex: there needs to be a bumper sticker that says “Jesus is my admissions counselor”

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