Sunday, January 9, 2011

2010 in Music: 2. A 2010 Playlist

Previously: Shows, An Aside About Community

The biggest difference between this list and those of the past couple years is that I did not arrange the tracks into mixes. I did not attempt to create an album-like order out of the chaos of individual tracks.

The second-biggest difference is that I have instituted a one song per artist per album rule. That’s why I am calling this a “2010 playlist” rather than a collection of my favorite songs or of the best songs of the year. Last year’s list was out of control, and I needed to cut it down. Notice that it’s per artist per album—meaning that multiple tracks from a compilation can be listed, and an album and EP from the artist can each contribute a song (you can call it the “I will have two tracks by Sufjan Stevens on here dammit” rule).

In keeping with past years they will not be ranked but simply ordered by artist name (first name, in the case of persons’ names, as you would see in your iTunes library).

The text accompanying the tracks varies. It may include memorable times listening to the song–particularly moments with friends–why I like it, why I picked it verses other tracks on the album, or thoughts about why I like this track but not the album.

You can download all of them in three parts (here, here, and here). Be forewarned: some of your mothers may not like some of the lyrics. The zip files are not arranged in any order whatsoever.

Please, you know, check out and buy the albums and go to the shows and be good patrons of the arts.

(In case you missed it above, the tracks are ordered alphabetically as you'd see them (aka as I saw them) in an iTunes playlist. The numbering below is not ranking.)

1. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire

Chase and I listened to this song on repeat when he visited this summer. Most notably, on the way up to Phoenix as the sun set behind Picacho Peak (check out the embedded video in the linked post above), and then again on the way back down when Chase finalized his decision to turn down the Republic’s job offer.

I love the lyrics—even the “oh we’re artsy and the Machine doesn’t like that” business, but especially the suburban dystopia shopping malls imagery. Escape Phoenix’s endless lights while listening: “Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small / that we can never get away from the sprawl.” “We Used to Wait” comes in a close second.

2. “Oliver Twist” by Avey Tare

Creepy, dirty.

3. “Take Care” by Beach House

Teen Dream played a lot in my brother’s apartment this past winter, and it always felt wrong to put anything else on after this song closed the album.

4. “Didn’t See it Coming” by Belle & Sebastian

Cracking up in Sam’s apartment watching Stuart Murdoch dance, feeling better about my (much more) awkward, goofy, too animated dancing movements at shows.

5. “Tighten Up” by the Black Keys

Hits often happen for a reason.

6. “Swimming” by Breathe Owl Breathe

A lovely song to play when you despair of finishing a project.

7. “The Ghost Inside” by Broken Bells

8. “World Sick” by Broken Social Scene

I’m a sucker for anthems and partial to opening tracks. I could have picked any one of six or seven tracks.

9. “Scott Pilgrim 16-bit” (Plumtree cover) by Camilo Diaz Pino

Thanks Said the Gramophone.

10. “Found Out” by Caribou

Picked out of a hat, part of a true album.

11. “Road Regrets” by Dan Mangan

12. “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (Wallpaper. remix)” by Das Racist & Wallpaper.

Hilarious. Perhaps slightly less so than the original, but, you know, a little better as a song.

13. “Alta” by Dead Western Plains

Southwestern Animal Collective.

14. “Coronado” by Deerhunter

Lyrics, catchiness, jazzy horns. “Memory Boy” and “Revival” both could have been here.

15. “Chinatown” by Destroyer

Kind of sultry, Dan.

16. “That’s Right” – Girl Talk

Ralph, Brad, Erin T, and I rocked out to this song while trying to find a restaurant in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve, just hours after Sam and Rachel were married. Babs and Katie O were in an SUV behind us. We spent about fifteen minutes within a half-mile of the place before finding it. Pittsburgh is hard to navigate.

Picking a track from All Day is kind of arbitrary since the album doesn’t actually consist of songs but is rather divided into tracks purely for convenience. Each track, thus, really has a few different, distinct phases. So I went ahead and picked the song that I liked the best start to finish—hence track 4, “That’s Right.” The last minute or so, with M.O.P. over Miley Cyrus, is one of the best things to happen this year in music (granted “Ante Up” is one of my favorite rap songs, so not screwing it up automatically makes the track awesome).

17. “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz

My favorite song on the album has changed constantly in the ten months I’ve had this album. "Rhinestone Eyes," "Superfast Jellyfish," and "Some Kind of Nature" are better songs, I think, but I can't get away from the tone of this one.

18. “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” by Grinderman

The way he says, “Hey man I think it might be the cops"–it's badass. I can only, though, take the Grinderman schtick for so long. My interest flags halfway through the album.

19. “Walking Far From Home” by Iron & Wine

I can’t wait until next year to post this. Thanks Sam and Calvin.

20. “Tightrope (ft. Big Boi)” by Janelle Monáe

New Year’s Eve, Civil War cocktail, Ryan and Darrah’s kitchen. “Hiiigh or lowww.”

21. “STILL” by jj

That killer Dre sample.

22. “Go do” by Jónsi

I’m glad Jónsi seems more happy with his life these days, though his depressed self might make better music. All the same, I dare you to be cynical about this song. If you succeed, you are a bad person. Just kidding?

23. “The Trailer and the Truck” by Josiah Wolf

He’s no Yoni when it comes to singing and songwriting, but, oh man, what a percussionist.

24. “Dark Fantasy” by Kanye West

“Monster” is by leaps and bounds the best track on the album, and one of the best of the year, but “Dark Fantasy” is a pop masterpiece. Also, I couldn’t bring myself to share that track with such pure souls as yourself, even with the explicit disclaimer above.

25. “Arrow” by Kathryn Calder

I try to imagine Neko Case singing this track, how she would make it a defiant anthem. Kathryn Calder doesn’t quite have the pipes for that. Instead her lovely voice creates a fragile, haunted, vulnerable beauty.

26. “REVOFEV” by Kid Cudi

“I’m sorry, Cudi. I do not have the energy to listen to your album extensively this year. But I will give you a few minutes… Excellent choice, sir.”

27. “Alpha Shallows” by Linda Marling

Thanks StG.

28. “Apple Pie Bed” by Lawrence Arabia


29. “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem

Song of the year? Probably. Where have I not rocked out to this song? Work, study, home, coffee shop, Plush... The best place, though, was in my parents ’99 Sienna with Sean and Julie and Josh while driving through the stunning, ragged desert landscapes of eastern Arizona.

30. “Sun Hands” by Local Natives

“And when I can’t feel with my sun hands / I promise not to lose her again / and when I can’t feel with my sun hands / I promise not to lose her again / AND WHEN I CAN’T FEEL WITH MY SUN HANDS / I PROMISE NOT TO LOSE HER AGAIN / AND WHEN I CAN’T FEEL WITH MY SUN HANDS / I PROMISE NOT TO LOSE HER AGAIN”

31. “Splitting the Atom” by Massive Attack


32. “Red Paint” – Matt & Kim

33. “If You Return (ft. Little Dragon)” by Maximum Balloon

Thanks for the intro, Blaine. “Groove Me” was the early favorite, but Little Dragon slowly overtook.

34. “The Horn” by Midlake

Probably the most disappointing album of the year, though I’ve since learned to appreciate it on its own terms (rather than on the terms that the band set up for it).

35. “Sigh No More” – Mumford & Sons.

Good times have been had rolling through Tucson in Kyle B’s car.

I picked this song, but I could have really picked any of four or five songs—which is paradoxically why (spoiler!) this album won’t appear on my year-end list. It pretty much follows the same format over and over:
1. Strumstrumstrum + quiet, earnest singing and maybe some vocal harmonies
2. BUM BOOM BUM pluckety BUM pluck BOOM pluck with LOUD EARNEST SINGING and also some vocal harmonies
3. Repeat

Soft singing, soft swells, then loud swells and some standard banjo plucking and horns and folksy fiddling, with some vocal harmonies at all the right times. In this sense and others it reminds me of last year’s initially thrilling but quickly disappointing Avett Brothers album. Which brings me to my next point, which is that the album is repetitive in a larger sense. It’s trendy. It follows in the well-worn footsteps not only of the Avett Brothers lucrative big-label debut but also the massive (and justified) to-do over Fleet Foxes in 2008. That’s not to mention the dozens and dozens of bands pumping out albums of varied quality in this genre right now. Which is not to say that trendiness automatically excludes it—there are a number of very trendy albums on my list—but it doesn’t exactly help.

I want to clarify before I move on that I definitely enjoy the album. There’s an earnest urgency about the album that I find endearing, even though some reviewers find it grounds for dismissal. Shouldn’t there be room for sincerity? There’s room for everything else, no matter how stupid, crass, ignorant, or obnoxious (see: Kanye West raging through the album lists—mine [spoiler!] included). But sincerity? Not so tolerated. The pluckety parts are catchy, whatever else they may be, and I enjoy the vocal harmonies, even though they don’t stand up to comparison with Fleet Foxes. And, hell, the Mumford guy has a book club that so far includes: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brow, and The Outline of Sanity by G.K. Chesterton. Can’t complain about that.

As I say, I enjoy it, but I enjoyed a number of albums that won’t make the list, and in the end it just didn’t hold up.

36. "Watch the Glow" by Museum of Bellas Artes

37. “I’m Afraid of Everything” by …music video?

Prelude to a sexy album. A jazzy, R&B flavor a killer beat.

The DWP release, “Alta,” has been getting a good bit of attention because it excellently recaps some of the interesting sounds in music recently. I think their label-mates …music video?, though, may actually be ahead of a forthcoming turn with the R&B- and smooth-jazz-inflected pop. Just a thought.

38. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by the National

“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” may be the best line of the year. Close behind: “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe . . . I’m on a bloodbuzz, God I am.”

39. “Hitchhiker” by Neil Young

I don’t know enough of his discography to have context for this album, but I love this.

40. “A Bite out of My Bed” by the New Pornographers

A few tracks competed for my affections, but as I wrote in July, “That whining, saxophone-like 'naa-na-naaa-naaaa, naa-na-naaa-naaa' just kills me! And when it frames Neko's 'Oh my darling! Oh my darling! Oh my heart!' Ack! I love it so much!”

41. “Boy” – Ra Ra Riot

Vampire Weekend already released an album this year, and it’s not this one. But I very much like this song.

42. “This Time Around” by the Radio Dept.

43. “Dancing on my Own” by Robyn

If Karen O sang the exact same lines over the exact same music, I would probably vomit with the thrill of it all.

44. “How I Got Over (ft. Dice Raw)” the Roots

“Right On” and “Dear God 2.0” and “The Fire” are close behind.

45. “Way Go Lily” by Sam Amidon

“How Come That Blood” is masterful, but "Way Go Lily" is gorgeous.

46. “Love More” by Sharon Van Etten

I cannot explain why I don’t own this album.

47. “Gonna Get Along Without You Know” by She & Him

I got this stuck in my mom’s head a number of times when I was living at home this summer.

48. “Castaways” by Shearwater

49. “Crown on the Ground” by Sleigh Bells

Is that my speakers? Should it sound that way? Did I just blow my speakers? What?

50. “Written in Reverse” by Spoon

Kickass. As I wrote in June, when Britt Daniel screams ‘IIIIIIIII'mm-nossstandinere!’ I want to get in a fight.

51. “Coldharbour Road” by Stornoway

52. “Vesuvius” by Sufjan Stevens

And every other track on the album.

53. “All Delighted People (Original Version)” by Sufjan Stevens

Can anyone else on earth do this? They cannot. Those last two minutes. Who? Who can?

54. “Little River” by the Tallest Man on Earth

Kristian Matsson puts more meaning than you can find on most albums into “come on now."

55. “Burden of Tomorrow” by the Tallest Man on Earth

A few other tracks could have been here, but the lyrics on this one are just so, so good. “Rumor has it that I wasn’t born / I just walked in one frosty morn / into the vision of some vacant mind / Oh, once I held a pony by it’s flying mane / and once I called the shadow in the turning game / but I will fight this stranger that you should fear / so I won’t be a burden, not tomorrow dear.”

56. “Rosalyn” by Thad Cockrell

Technically it’s late 2009 but worth bending the rules for it.

57. “Four Score and Seven” by Titus Andronicus

Hard not to pick “A More Perfect Union,” with that blistering guitar hook, yet here we are.

58. “Run” by Vampire Weekend

59. “Blue as your Blood” by the Walkmen

Should I have picked “Juveniles” or “Angela Surf City” or “Stranded” or “Woe is Me” or “Lisbon”? I don’t know… but this one...

The sky above / the skyyyyy above / is blue as your blood
Black is the color of your eyyyyeeees / Spanish is the language of your touch / Life rolled us over like a towncar / bruised up and busted to the ground.
The Lord came down, said to me / ‘Throw off your worries. Be at peace.’

60. “Shadows” by Warpaint

61. “Chinatown” by Wild Nothing

Yes, that’s two tracks titled “Chinatown” with vaguely similar elements (guitar plucks, ambience, that beat). Wild Nothing came first, though.

62. “Ghost Pressure” by Wolf Parade

“Pobody’s Nerfect” held the title for a long time.

63. “Semi-Precious Stone” by Wolf Parade

Better than anything Spencer Krug contributed to Expo 86.

64. “Madder Red” by Yeasayer

It’s not exactly a rock moment and probably doesn’t stand up in an all-time list, but—Brad, Erin, et al—we should at least consider this chorus for the “top ten non-worded vocals,” no?

Still to come: Unranked Albums, Ranked Albums