Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 20 Moments in Music: 2010

20. Sufjan Stevens - "I Want to Be Well"
Sufjan Stevens is not fucking around...

Sufjan Stevens is generally known for lush compositions and tender (some might even say "wussy"), frail singing. From here on out, he'll be known for not fucking around. The first time he said it, I couldn't tell if I had heard correctly. That anyone can still shock with profanity in this day and age is startling. That Sufjan is the one to be doing it is downright shocking.

19. Deerhunter - "Desire Lines"
Fade out

I sort of slept on this song (and CD, sadly). It's too bad, because this song is very reminiscent of my favorite Deerhunter song, "Nothing Ever Happened". It's got a downright catchy chorus, melody everywhere, and the 3 minute breakdown to carry out the song which hits just as you'd be expecting the hook again. This one doesn't have anything quite as rapturous as the synth lines in "Nothing Ever Happened", but it is the very definition of chill, and leaves you ready to play the song over and over again.

18. Brandon Flowers - "Crossfire"
"Lay your body down"

Mr. Flowers probably needs a break, as the last Killers album sucked, as does his new solo attempt. "Crossfire" is actually a pretty good song, though. The chorus is big in that classic Killers way, punctuated by Flowers begging the object of the song to "lay your body down". His voice sells it in a way that he hasn't been able to for at least 4 or 5 years now. Please, Brandon, take a break and come back to music when you're able to make an album with a little more of this, and a little less of... everything else you've been making lately.

17. James Blake - "Limit to Your Love"
That bass

This song is a Feist cover, Feist's fingerprints linger on the song, with the melody essentially unchanged, and a lot of the vocal inflections still exist in James Blake's version, as well. A lone piano backs Blake's soulful voice, and the whole thing feels very minimal - almost skeletal.

Then that bass hits. If you have the song turned up, it literally shakes you. At first listen, it almost seems tacked on and unnecessary. Each subsequent listen has you waiting on pins and needles for it.

16. Das Racist - "Rainbow in the Dark"
" everything plus everything that is not me"

One could be forgiven for thinking that the guys behind "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" might not have very much in the way of a substantial music career ahead of them. Surprisingly enough, both (free) mixtapes they released this year proved them to be excellent wordsmiths and very clever lyricists. My favorite line happens about 3 minutes into Shut Up, Dude standout "Rainbow in the Dark".

"You, you are not me. Me, I am possibly everything plus everything that is not me."

I have no idea why this particular line is the one that stands out, but it does. The flow (which I wouldn't have even thought to give them credit for after Pizza Hut/Taco Bell) is just so right.

15. Sleigh Bells - "Tell 'Em"
Opening salvo

Toward the end of last year, I heard a couple of songs from a new band called Sleigh Bells. They lived in the red end of the EQ spectrum. They featured super-overdriven guitars, and were generally pretty fun to listen to. All the same, I wasn't breathlessly anticipating a full length album full of that particular sound. At least, I wasn't right up until I heard the first 15 seconds of the opening track. A wall of gloriously pumped up bass blasted from the speakers and let me know that, yes, the next thirty minutes were going to be a LOT of fun...

14. Los Campesinos! - "In Medias Res"
"Would this interest you at all?"

Los Campesinos! make their trade in being miserable. There are relatively few songs that are particularly cheerful, and most of those come from their first CD. Toward the end of the opening track of their new CD, the lead singer asks:

"If you were given the option
Of dying painlessly in peace at 45
With a lover at your side
After a full and happy life

Is this something that would interest you?
Would this interest you at all?"

It all becomes a little clearer. Conflict and angst is so ingrained into the lead singer's life that even if given the option to have a life without, he would balk at the opportunity. No wonder the CD is entitled Romance is Boring.

13. Dessa - "Alibi"
99 Problems...

Of course it's a reference to the Jay-Z song, but what really sells it is how she seems so exasperated and disgusted with the concept of the line that she can't even finish it.

"Sometimes it's the plain truth, 99 problem.... rrrrrgh..."

12. The Hold Steady - We Can Get Together
"Heaven is whenever"

"Heaven is whenever we can get together, sit on your floor, and listen to your records."

On the record that line seems decent, when The Hold Steady played this song live at First Avenue, it seemed almost spiritual.

11. Jambo Reign - "Radio Low"
"E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E some restraint"

I have a weakness for singers and rappers who spell things out. It seems lame in theory, and in practice, I'm sure it's not really all that much better, but I still like it. The almost completely unknown Jambo Reign's "Radio Low" seems like a normal entry into the "list of performers who randomly spell out words during songs", until the very end of the song, by which point lead singer is practically shouting the phrase. A great way to end a surprisingly good song.

10. The National - "Afraid of Everyone"
"You're the voices swallowing my soul"

I love The National and all, but they bring up a rather silly dilemma. You see, when a person puts a song quote up on Facebook, it's generally either:

a) a party anthem - i.e. "Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough" or...
b) a horrific and depressing breakup anthem

However, if you were to put up "You're the voices swallowing my soul", you've immediately got some explaining to do (which is sad, because a lot more people should be listening to The National). It does no good to mention the unbelievable drumming that accompanies the line, or the fact that "Afraid of Everyone" evokes a feeling of paranoid despair better than any song in recent memory. Seriously, though... that drumming... Forget Facebook. This is too good for a mere status update, anyway.

9. Children 18:3 - "Lost So Long"
"Rain's comin'"

Children 18:3 goes epic. Who would have figured? They make the album title sound like a foreboding threat and a hopeful promise at the same time. And again, the voices of David and Lee Marie Hostetter blend together in that fantastic male/female harmony they do so well (but never better than they do in the coda of this song). They may never top this, and that wouldn't be a failure.

8. Arcade Fire - "Suburban War"
"All my old friends, they don't know me now"

The Suburbs has been described by the band as "neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs". Nowhere does that statement feel more true than the last minute of "Suburban War". A blast of noise (which reminded one of my good friends of a tornado drill siren) cuts the rest of the song off, then a driving drumbeat starts in as Win Butler sings "All my old friends - they don't know me now...". A sighing look back at the fact that things have changed, and they're not changing back, and it's time to move on.

7. Titus Andronicus - "A More Perfect Union"
"Tramps like us... baby, we were born to die"

Lead singer Patrick Stickles has a unique voice. It could be politely described as a "caterwaul". On the band's first album, his shouting occasionally came off as a little over the top. It still does, only now he's given it a purpose. Nowhere is that more evident than in the first verse of the opening track to the excellent The Monitor. The tension manages to build up the very first verse, until it all spills over with Stickles screaming "tramps like us... baby we were born to die!" as a huge squall of guitar and drums rushes over everything. The result is pure rock and roll awesomeness.

6. Salem - "King Night"
Wait... is that "O Holy Night"!?

The first time I heard this song, I was already creeped out by the slowed down and pitched "I love you" snippet in the beginning, and that was before the huge wave of bass cast its impressive shadow over everything. Most creepy, though, was that damned choir providing the backbone of the song. For a moment, it sounded like something familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Then suddenly, it hit me. It was "O Holy Night". Salem made "O Holy Night" sound like the creepiest song ever. That's an accomplishment.

5. Yeasayer - "Madder Red"
"Please don't ask me why"

Really, most of this song could be included here. From the "Ooo-oo-ooo-oo-oooh"s in the beginning, to the awesome way the chorus comes in, everything is so spot on. The best part, though, is the ending, where the singer just sort of fades away while singing "please don't ask me why".

4. The Hold Steady - "The Weekenders"
"The theme of this party's the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a trainwreck"

This is the one-liner of the year, from the song of the year.

3. Kanye West - "Monster"
Nicky Minaj's verse

This is sort of an obvious choice, but before this verse I didn't understand what the big deal with Nicky Minaj was. Sure. she was weird, but I hadn't heard anything that made me pay any further attention to her. Then she outshowed Kanye West and Jay-Z in their own song - only she didn't just outshow them, she blew them out of the water. In retrospect, in feels kind of obvious that she's actually the forefront of the song (she gets about twice as much mic time as either Kanye or Jay-Z do), but that doesn't take anything away from her verse. It's an all-over-the-place pillar of "shut the fuck up and listen to me". It succeeds wildly.

2. The National - "Conversation 16"
"Cause I'm evil."

This entire song is ominous, with lines like "[i'll] tell you miserable things when you are asleep" and "you'd never believe the shitty thoughts I think". But things really come to a boil during the bridge: "I was afraid I'd eat your brains..." then "cause I-i-i'm eeeeevil". It doesn't like much on paper, but with the voice of Matt Berninger, and the drumming of Bryan Devendorf backing it up, it feels like something of a self-admission you could make to yourself. It soars even as it admits terrifying things.

1. Japandroids - "Younger Us"
"Remember that night you were already in bed"

For a song about wanting to be brought back to bygone days, "Younger Us" feels alive. It's all about feeling alive and vital like you did when you were younger, so I guess that makes sense. In the midst of the nostalgic mayhem, the lead singer shouts:

"Give me that night - you were already in bed. Said "fuck it" got up and drank with me instead."

The radio edit cuts this line. I can't fathom why they would even bother playing the song at all with the line removed. The song's life beats through the line; it's where the point lies. Namely - "live life to the fullest right now, because now is the time that you'll be reminiscing about later".


  1. You mean there's a radio edit of "Younger Us"? I'm looking for it on the web and not finding it. I'd love to be able to share it with my kids.

    I'm not that surprised that Das Racist can rap well (although I've only sampled): what they do with the same damned lines over and over again in "CPH & TB" showed that they could add a lot of meaning through inflection and pacing.

    "Ambling Alp" was one of my favorite songs of 2009, but I streamed the full album twice and nothing grabbed me. Maybe I should give it one more try.

  2. Hey Nibbish. Just wanted to say a big thank you from the guys for including our album 'Blinded by the Bright Lights' and song 'Radio Low' in two of your top 20's...we are genuinely honoured. If you email us at we'll gladly stick a hard copy CD in the post (free of course!)

    Jambo Reign