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.

#27 – “I’m the Enforcer” by Field Auditorium

Well, that was weird. Spencer Berger is an LA musician who recorded a little bedroom folk-rock project under the name Field…and has apparently realized how hard that is to Google or something and has since changed his name to Auditorium, which doesn’t really help anything. To add to the confusion, apparently this song came out in 2009, but will be included on Auditorium’s first full-length, Be Brave, due out January 18th, 2011. But it’s staying on the 2010 list because here we are, Goddammit!

It’s a simple little song that was probably recorded on a four-track machine, but it shows Berger’s gift for melody. “Enforcer” reminds of late-60s Donovan for both Berger’s vocal style and his absurdist lyrics, like the first verse, “Here’s Charlie, he’s a defector / I will never ever let him infect her / He uses concentration / to steal love songs off the radio station / In the middle of the night / he holds on tight / to the chorus and reflects on life / That’s Charlie, he’s a defector / I will never ever let him infect her.” The rest of the song follows accordingly, but with ethereal backing vocals and a simple, understated guitar solo. Other songs I’ve heard from Brave showcase a similar gift for melodic hooks – hopefully it fulfills the promise of this early single.

No matter what Kristian Matsson says, this dude is ACTUALLY the tallest man on earth. Matsson is of average height.

#26 – “King of Spain” by The Tallest Man on Earth

While we’re on beautiful acoustic guitar songs we’ll turn to this “rocker” from The Tallest Man on Earth, the stage name of Swede Kristian Matsson, but the doppelganger of Michael Raymond-James, actor from True Blood and Terriers. Matsson put together a beautiful album with this year’s The Wild Hunt that showcases his inventive guitar tunings and finger pickings, as well as that gruff, Dylanesque voice (though which Dylan period, I still haven’t quite put my finger on) (also, did you catch the overt Dylan reference in the lyrics?). The rolling rhythm with which he plays the guitar propels the track continuously forward (though he nicely breaks up that rhythm after each chorus). The vocal melody in the verses is beautiful self-contained, but lays the groundwork for an even better chorus melody. I saw Matsson play at Antone’s in Austin this year, and frankly, he didn’t quite hold my attention in that setting through the entire set. This is music more for sunny Sunday mornings on porches or cloudy weekday afternoons in bed, a soundtrack to peaceful times by one’s self. I highly recommend the whole album, but from the beginning this was always the standout track for me.

#25 – “10 Mile Stereo” by Beach House

My experience with Beach House’s album this year, Teen Dream (released several months before Katy Perry’s similarly-named single), was the exact opposite. There was no one standout track, but it is an undoubtedly beautiful album from start to finish. Lead single “Norway,” leaked in late 2009, set a great standard that the album surprisingly lived up to. The first four tracks of the album are all spectacular, and frankly, until earlier today, I actually had “Zebra” in this position on this list. But I always kind of thought of it as a placeholder, and after realizing my bias toward leadoff tracks in the last entry, I thought to revisit the rest of the album again. And “10 Mile Stereo” stood out to me again as it has many times before.

There are so many things Beach House do right on this song (as with the rest of their album). Victoria Legrand’s voice is hauntingly gorgeous as it winds its way around an incredible melody. The arrangement is slow-paced, allowing the song to gradually build into an epic chorus that just seems to grow more epic the more times its repeated. The lyrics are initially irrelevant – Legrand could be saying anything and it would sound moving with this music – but when you realize that it’s a song about surviving a failed relationship it becomes remarkably poignant. Her song-ending sentiment, “Love’s like a pantheon / It carries on forever,” could be a defiant statement of survival, or a marker of the denial that the relationship is actually over. The ambiguity is as true as it is touching, and showcases the remarkable of this group only starting to find its voice.

The cover for Chromeo's 2007 album, Fancy Footwork, ranks among my favorite album covers of all time.

#24 – “Night by Night” by Chromeo

Canadian duo Chromeo has quietly put together one of the awesomest discographies of the last few years with hot electro-retro singles like “Fancy Footwork,” “Bonafied Lovin’,” and “Tenderoni.” This year’s Business Casual (which reached #70) continued the trend with songs like “Don’t Turn the Lights On” and “Hot Mess.” Yet, their best single is far and away the irresistible “Night By Night,” a song that sounds like it belongs on the original Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It’s easily one of the best straight up dance songs of the year, and continues the trend of 80s glorification that has been going on for several years now. The whole last 1:30 of the song is basically an extended dance outro that allows the synths and funk guitars ample room to funk out. Before that, however, David Macklovitch’s vocals provide the perfect smooth soundtrack of seduction. There’s a refreshing absence of irony here, and in all of Chromeo’s work, that sounds like it shouldn’t find a home in 2010 (or 2011) but in fact provides us with a fun, original hit guaranteed to light up any dance floor.

#23 – “Acapella” (featuring Chiddy Bang) (Ming Remix) by Kelis

Remix of the year! I don’t even know what Kelis’ original song sounds like. “Acapella” was designed as her comeback song, since it’s been about a lifetime since “Milkshake” and apparently it was at least moderately successful. But after I heard this version, there was no going back. Ming, though potentially the name of DJs in Australia and the UK, in this case is apparently the name of a middle-aged producer/composer from New York City named Aaron Albano. Through his generous use of cowbell and a rhythm section funkier than anything Chic ever produced, he creates a backing track that screams, “Dance!” Kelis’ vocal performance and harmonies sound perfectly at home here; in fact, the production track makes her seem even more animated than I’ve ever heard her before. There’s also a competent verse from indie-rap darling Chiddy Bang, but Ming is undoubtedly the star of this one. If you need something to get the party jumping that isn’t slathered with bombastic synthesizers, check out this faux-old-school jam.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. dude, you are sleeping on Kelis if you think she hasn’t done anything notable since Milkshake. Granted, there hasn’t been a standout hit like it, but girlfriend is fresh.

    Reply

    • You’re right, I have been sleeping on her. I just looked up some stuff on Wikipedia, and though she’s only had one other album, it apparently had some hits on it. I’ll keep an ear out for her stuff. Thanks!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Robin on January 6, 2011 at 5:41 am

    “I’m The Enforcer” is wicked. Heard it through Blalock’s Indie/Rock Playlist (back when he was Field). Hadn’t seen that vid, thanks for it…looks like there’s a more up to date link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-f8hH268-c&feature=related

    Reply

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