Top Songs of 2010: #3-1

I’m not one to mince words, so… this will be my last post here on theoverload.wordpress.com. It’s been an enjoyable 13 months on here, but it’s time to retire temporarily from this amateur blog format. For those of you who have grown accustomed – or even addicted – to my amazing writing: fear not! Along with a few other music-loving Austinites, I will be starting a semiprofessional Austin music blog over at ovrld.com. That’s right, we’re stepping up to the big leagues! We’re going to feature mp3s, interviews, band profiles, schedules/calendars and original video content. All of this will take time to build, of course, but hopefully it will illuminate the offerings of this music-rich city to those both in the city limits and outside of them. We’re currently lining up the first few acts to be featured, so hopefully it will only be a few more weeks before we launch. I’ve had a great time with this site and will remember our old times fondly, but hopefully this will not be the end of our musical communications. With that in mind, I dedicate these last three songs – my favorites of 2010 – to all of you: my supportive and wonderful friends, family and readers. See you again soon!

Rock stars never know their way around the kitchen.

#3 – “O.N.E.” by Yeasayer

It’s hard to put Yeasayer into words. Their 2007 album, All Hour Cymbals, was excellent while being all over the map. This year’s Odd Blood was a bit more focused, but that’s not really saying much, I suppose. Somehow they manage to be dark and bouncy at the same time. Their music moves – even the album’s ballads like “Madder Red,” “I Remember,” and “Strange Reunions” remarkably avoid dragging. On songs like “Rome” and “Love Me Girl” they cultivate complex soundscapes that are still rhythmic enough to demand movement on your part as the listener. The first single, “Ambling Alp,” seemed like it would be hard to top. It’s an anthem of hope in cynical times…as told through the story of a 1930’s boxer, but still. “Now the world will be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs / And if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you / Raise your head and wear your wounds with pride,” they advise the listener. It’s advice that seems applicable to the subject of the much more morally ambiguous “O.N.E.”

“O.N.E.” is told from the perspective of a lover who tires of his relationship (“The well of the night has gone dry”), but seems to still get off on the painful parts of it (“I like it when you lose control”). He just can’t seem to make up his mind, vacillating between the refrain “Hold me like before / Hold me like you used to / Control me like you used to” and the conclusive “You don’t move me anymore and I’m glad that you don’t.”

For such an indecisive, potentially hateful song, it sure is popular, though. Full credit for this can go to the amazing music of this song. From the opening cowbell avalanche, the song just explodes with various rhythms all built around the “four on the floor” that we’re used to from our pop music but that expands wildly on that basic format. Melodically, Yeasayer continue to introduce new lines even two-thirds of the way through the song. Structurally, there’s a new section that comes in with less than a minute to go. It’s a song that keeps you on your toes constantly. And then there’s Anand Wilder’s laconic delivery, maintaining the calm amidst the aural storm, delivering the lyrics with disarming lack of passion. In my mind, this was the greatest rock song of the year in a year filled with great rock songs.

#2 – “Yamaha” by The-Dream

The-Dream is one of the busiest men in music. He has written modern classics like “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies,” which won him two Grammys. He has collaborated with nearly everyone under the sun (Mariah Carey, Diddy, J.Lo, Brandy, Ciara, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Lionel Richie, etc….I want this dude’s Rolodex). He’s also been twice married – once to singer Nivea, and more recently to singer Christina Milian. Yet, in July Milian filed for separation, as The-Dream is…we’ll say “a busy man.” In and amongst all this writing and riding, he has released three albums in the last four years. The staggering thing is just how good everything is.

Sigh...Why do fairy tales always have to end?

Love King was literally my most-played album of the year, and “Yamaha” was my most-played song. It’s an R&B masterpiece filled with incredible beats, smooth melodies and more personality than anyone else can muster. He’s one of the few artists that can turn out something as hilariously sleazy as “Make-Up Bag” and then later on deliver a heart-achingly personal “Nikki, Pt. 2” about his ex-wife Nivea. The album’s literal centerpiece, however, is this glorious ode to women and motorcycles. Well, really it’s just women. But like many great songwriters before him (Marc Bolan, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, ZZ Top), automobiles are used as metaphors and proxies for women. This leads to some truly funny lines like, “Throw me the key / I’ll be the perfect passenger / Don’t throw him the key / Cuz all he’ll do is gas you up.” The mood changes a bit toward the end, though, when he declares, “This one is for you, wherever you at / Still got your name tattooed on my back.” Is this a wistful remembrance of a relationship in its infancy? Is it an attempt to recover a lost love? There’s a forlorn element that cracks The-Dream’s playa-ish facade, and reveals his posturing for exactly what it is.

As with Yeasayer, though, it’s the music that makes the song. From the start, you hear the “When Doves Cry”-era percussion part that eschews contemporary R&B standards with a stuttering, barely danceable beat devoid of traditional high-hat/snare hits. Then come the glistening strings that end up cover the whole track. In the wrong hands, they would soundtrack a hideous Christmas song or American Idol track. Here, they shine and sparkle and pierce in ways that sound utterly contemporary and hip. Then, there are the layers of vocals that The-Dream winds around each other, then reverberates and then uses to directly harmonize in some of the closest harmonies this side of bluegrass. The last minute and a half of the song sees him maximize each of these elements to create the most beautiful R&B track I’ve heard in years.

It’s easy to write The-Dream off as a Prince or R. Kelly knock-off, and to be certain, he owes each of those artists a tremendous debt. But to ignore what he’s doing because of that is short-sighted. This is gorgeous, emotional music that follows in a tradition it helps to enhance.

Nerd Alert!

#1 – “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green

I feel like I don’t need to say anything. I don’t need to tell you about Cee-Lo, because you know by now. I don’t need to talk about the minor controversy about this song, or the major enthusiasm with which the world embraced it immediately upon its understated release on a Friday in August. I don’t need to talk to you about the original video comprised entirely of written text, or the official video taking place in a diner. You know about Gwyneth Paltrow, William Shatner, and the countless YouTube videos reimagining the song in a variety of contexts. You know about the Grammy Awards.

What matters here is the song itself. Picture yourself, 50 years from now at the retirement home with that now-iconic opening piano riff coming on. The whole place would go crazy – to the extent that 75-year-olds do. This is universal. “Fuck You” touched everyone; I don’t know a single person who disliked the song. It hits you to the core – the place where only music can get you. The combination of the organ, the backing vocals and Cee-Lo’s one of a kind voice carrying the melody elevates the song into our shared cultural canon in a way that no song has in years. It’s a song that will resonate through the years, despite AND because of its over the top profanity.

I haven’t seen a single year-end list that was topped by this masterpiece. (Ain’t that some shit?) Maybe that’s because it’s too easy? Listmakers want to seem cutting edge, or smarter than everyone else. But this is one that America got right. This song’s power is undeniable. It’s the only song from this year that we can be certain all of our parents heard and all of our kids will hear. It’s the only song that immediately solicited academic analyses. It’s the only song that makes you want stand up and give the finger, while beaming and laughing like a giddy child. It’s the only song you could play on repeat for the rest of your life, and still feel that chill run down the back of your neck when it begins because you know the awesomeness that you are about to behold. I hope the critics come to their senses and recognize that even though Kanye pushed boundaries, the Arcade Fire delivered anthemic indie, and countless artists offered up new and interesting material, Cee-Lo Green took us back to our roots in singing the greatest song of the year and of many past ones and likely many to come. Time will tell if I’m right, but this time around, I don’t care. Anyone that disagrees has a message coming to them from Cee-Lo.

Advertisements

Top Songs of 2010: #7-4

I can see you all. Not literally, of course. Nor can I see you each individually. However, I know that you’re out there. Ever since starting this year-end countdown, my average hits per day have quadrupled. Even today, when I haven’t posted in several days, I’m still over twice my pre-list viewership. I am certainly grateful for all of the new eyes, but there’s one thing that bothers me. You wouldn’t be aware of this increase if you looked at the comments section. No one’s commenting about anything. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I know you all have opinions about what I’m writing. In recent days, I’ve had people tell me in person that “Horchata” sucks, or that “England” is not the best song on High Violet. These are the kinds of things you should put in the comments section! I’d love to hear everyone’s reaction. And I’m sure your fellow readers would love to know what you’re thinking as well. So my challenge to everyone is to leave one comment on this post. It could be about the songs listed below, or it could be about songs already listed, or about predictions for the remaining songs. Or anything else. Just throw me a comment, let me know what your thoughts are, and let’s get a conversation going.

Continue reading

Top Songs of 2010: #12-8

I imagine that for some you, I’m trying your patience. “2010 is over!” you’re saying. “This is a time to look forward at the upcoming new year!” While I acknowledge that we’re already getting great leaks/releases from R. Kelly, the Smith Westerns, the Decemberists and the Go! Team, among others. However, I would counter that it’s always a good time to look back. I’m fascinated with the idea of taking stock of our history (as my recent 20-part, 10-week-long series on deserving Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame nominees should indicate), and, well, I’m not yet done. Twelve songs remain! For those of you who read Pitchfork regularly, or have spent the last few weeks scouring year-end lists, there will be few surprises from here on out (though I can think of two that still might not be entirely familiar). The majority of you, though, probably have better things to do with your lives. And that’s where I come in – though I guarantee that there’s at least one song in the next 12 that you’ve heard already. We’re approaching the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the songs and artists that made a tremendous impact this year and that we will return to over and over until we die (morbid but true). Here’s what defined 2010 for me, and possibly you:

Continue reading

Top Songs of 2010: #17-13

I’m not really sure about what kind of intro to give today, so let’s dive in. I’ve thought long and hard about the order after the Janelle Monae fans reacted with such surprise on the last post. So I’ve shifted some stuff around. You’ll see three artists with whom you’re not familiar, and then two of the bigger names of the year. Excited? I know; me too!

#17 “Young Blood” by The Naked & Famous

This is 2010’s version of “Dominos” by the Big Pink (while also recalling quite a bit of Passion Pit and MGMT’s first album). It’s just a massive, synthetic anthem that makes you feel like a teenager all over again – the good parts. And yet, unlike “Dominos,” this is a synthetic anthem with heart. It makes you ache and yearn. It acknowledges the downsides of being young with lines like, “The mood it changes like the wind / Hard to control when it begins” and “Can’t help myself but count the flaws / Claw my way out through these walls.” But it also goes for the passion of youth: “We lie beneath the stars at night / Our hands gripping each other tight / You keep my secrets hope to die / Promises, swear them to the sky.” And there’s the triumphant “Yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus mixed with those ringing, processed guitars and massive drum sound that all celebrate the joys that us adults can only hope someday to return to.

Continue reading

Top Songs of 2010: #22-18

I’m feeling melancholy today, and I know exactly why. Sure, some of it has to do with having drank heavily last night. Some of it is probably my continued lack of any kind of schedule while my winter break endures. Yet, there is a concrete, clearly identifiable thorn in my side. A kind of nostalgia, or weariness, or longing. There are all kinds of things I should be doing at the moment: paying bills, getting things from the store, responding to official e-mails. But on days like this, at times like this, in moods like this, I’ve always taken comfort in the music. So for my own edification, as well as hopefully yours, I’m going to add another five videos to my “Best of 2010” YouTube playlist.

Neon Indian's Alan Palomo, in need of yet another cassette version of Thriller.

#22 – “Sleep Paralysist” by Neon Indian

My annual concession to chillwave, Denton, Texas’ one-man band Neon Indian takes the place that Small Black held last year. Ironically, Neon Indian’s debut album was released last year and Small Black’s came out this year. I guess that proves my contrarian bonafides. “Sleep Paralysist” was the only song NI put out this year, it was co-written and recorded with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, and as far as I’m concerned it’s heads and shoulders above any of the material from last year’s Psychic Chasms. The song kicks in with some luscious layered synths, and the staggering arpeggios are eventually smoothed out by the time the chorus hits. It becomes massive and cathartic while remaining entirely danceable.

Continue reading

Top Songs of 2010: #27-#23

Apparently, it’s been a while since I had a winter break. I didn’t realize that there was so much time in between classes. What did I use to do with all this time when I was an undergrad? I guess just sit around in Connecticut making snow angels or something. Well, there’s no snow here in Texas so I’ve been trying to come up with other things to do. I’ve been working out more, and started cooking real meals (so far: a nice vegetarian omelette and a chicken salad that set off the fire alarm in my apartment). I’ve been going to see lots of local bands at night, and learning more about the Austin music scene – information that I will be bringing to you shortly in a new, revamped site. And I have been listening to music from up and down 2010 again. There has just been so much good stuff to come out this last year! While there may not have been the giants of 2009 (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Phoenix, Dirty Projectors and the XX seemed to dominate everything…I guess this year it’s just Kanye), the depth was much greater as was the diversity. The next five should showcase that. Maybe. I don’t know, it’s a hard group to find a theme for. Just enjoy it.

Continue reading

Top Songs of 2010: #32-28

And like that, 2011 is under way. The beginning of a new year always feels a little strange – today I wrote my rent check with “1/3/11” as the date. The “10” I had taken for granted for so long vanishing never to return again. And with the first Monday of the new year, the cycle has started over again: new bands, new shows, new news. Yet, I’m plowing ahead. 2010 doesn’t vanish, it’s just beginning the process of moving from present to past, and really, that’s what retrospectives like this one are all about. Perhaps January 2011 is really the ideal time to conduct a year-end list, you know, now that the year’s over. So with this installment, we’ll actually take our first big bite out of some of the bigger acts to come through 2010 (with one unknown thrown in for good measure). I had some transcendent moments with this music this year, but again, 2010 was just that good. Hopefully time just makes it better.

Continue reading