Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top 26 Songs from 2010

At one time in my life, music was probably more important to me than movies. Over the years that has changed partly because of access (no more free downloads for this guy) and partly because of quality: music as a whole, especially what gets played on the radio, is in a down period right now. That's nothing new, the music industry is cyclical and it'll come back around eventually. Consequently, however, I don't buy many albums these days and the bulk of my musical purchasing revolves around bands/musicians I've grown to trust or occasionally catching something worthwhile while surfing iTunes. Still, I do love music and every once in a while I'll take a break from my well-respected (and modest) brand of film coverage and venture into the land of music. Below are the top 26 songs (because I couldn't decide between number 26 and 25) I acquired in 2010. Most of them are actually from 2010 or late 2009 but some are oldies that I've missed up to this point. Please enjoy.

26. 1901 - Phoenix
Phoenix's music is a little too Talking Heads-like for me in most cases, but 1901 grew on me over the course of months until I was thoroughly in love with it. It's just so stinking catchy.

25. New Fang - Them Crooked Vultures
How to make a great band. A. Keep it simple - singer/lead guitar, drummer, bass. B. Assemble members from great bands like Led Zeppelin and the Foo Fighters. C. Make a record. That's it. New Fang has great energy and a grunge-era grind that makes me pine for the early 90s.

24. The Weary Kind - Ryan Bingham
A little more country than my normal fare, Weary Kind is the theme to 2009's "Crazy Heart." It's a much more heartfelt, authentic ballad than what you typically hear on country radio.

23. Devil's in the Jukebox - Ray LaMontagne and Pariah Dogs
Always a solid spokesman for white man blues, Ray LaMontagne lets a little Southern soul into his latest album. Jukebox is hot and lively but a bit unrefined which makes it seem like a group of good ol' boys cut this track while sitting on a back porch drinking moonshine. Love it.

22. Please Speak Well of Me - The Weepies
I was a bit disappointed in The Weepies' newest album as a whole. What's made their previous work so good is the twinge of melancholy that contrasts so wonderfully with lead singer Deb Talan's light, merry voice. Speak Well gets closer to the highs of their previous hits with its subtle pleading.

21. Awake My Soul - Mumford and Sons
Mumford and Sons was without question my best find of the year. English folk rock at its finest, the entire album Sigh No More is an absolute revelation. Awake plays out more like a church hymn than a rock song and a darn good one at that.

20. Astronauts - One Eskimo
I saw One Eskimo perform on "Ellen" of all places and was impressed by their hit Kandi. Their new album popped up for an inexpensive Amazon download not long after and Astronauts stuck with me. Like the Weepies song above, it's the subtle pleas aimed an ex are exquisite.

19. Zombie - Miser
Confession: I have a serious love for cover songs. There's something awesome about another musician's take on a pre-existing song that gets me almost every time. Miser is a little heavier than what I usually listen to but the harder sound works well on this classic Cranberries tune. This was stuck in my head for weeks.

18. Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up - Them Crooked Vultures
New Fang is the song that got Them Crooked Vultures on the radio but Warsaw is the cut that caught my attention. More than anything, this is a throwback to old school rock song, complete with an extended runtime and a long vocal-free, guitar-heavy closing. Sort of a tribute to Led Zeppelin that had me immediately.

17. The Weight of Lies - The Avett Brothers
It was a big year for this folk trio who got one step closer to mainstream. They'd be my bit for breakout artist of 2011. Their album "I and Love and You" is a solid effort and the smooth melodies of The Weight of Lies is quite appealing.

16. Next Girl - The Black Keys
The Keys make their debut on this list with the song I thought would be their breakout hit. I've been riding the Black Keys bandwagon for a long time now and when their album "Brothers" hit, I knew they'd finally made it. Next Girl is less sophisticated than a lot of the other tracks on the album but it is a straight-up, no frills rock song that should absolutely be cranked to eleven.

15. 9 Crimes - Damien Rice
Rice is an enigma to me. I own none of his albums but every once in a while I come across a song of his that completely blows me away. 9 Crimes is no exception as it fits right in with the rest of his hauntingly sad but irresistible singles such as Cannonball. Beautiful song.

14. Long May You Run - Neil Young
This is the real oddball on the list. Having never been much of a Neil Young fan, I hadn't heard Long May You Run until Mr. Young sang it on the final episode of Conan O'brien's tragically short run on the Tonight Show. It's a simple and perfect "good-bye song" and one that instantly went into my favorites playlist.

13. Hallelujah - Lee DeWyze
On the whole this was a very poor season of "American Idol." Somehow I get sucked into this dumb show every year but I think this might have been my last one. Still, DeWyze's rendition of "Hallelujah," a song that's been done about a million times, is spectacular. The heart of Jeff Buckley's version is lacking here but DeWyze makes up for it with more refined vocals and an excellent use of the instruments around him.

12. Little Lion Man - Mumford and Sons
This song, which alerted me to the existence of Mumford and Son,s is somewhat different than the rest of their album. It's got simpler lyrics and a bit more edge to it which has made it a radio hit on alternative stations across the country. It's a perfect introduction to the band, however, and has a genuinely powerful message behind it.

11. Mary - Patty Griffin
A few years back, "Scrubs" was my go-to TV show for great music. Now that show is "Sons of Anarchy." Featured at the end of a particularly tense and strong episode, Mary caught my attention right off the bat. Patty Griffin has such a distinct voice and the song is arranged wonderfully.

10. White Blank Page - Mumford and Sons
The final entry for Mumford and Sons is (obviously) my favorite from the album. Part lament, part indictment of an ex-lover, White Blank Page begins with frail vulnerability but builds, both vocally and instrumentally, into a dynamic crescendo. One of the best "I'm over you" songs in a long time.

9. Pyro - Kings of Leon
The Kings' follow-up to the tremendous success that was 2008's "Only by the Night" was solid but ultimately disappointing in that it seemed unable to find a tone. Pyro, however, is an excellent highlight that grows on you the more you listen to it. It's very reminiscent of Revelry which was, in my opinion, the best track on "Night" despite never being released as a single in the US.

8. Howlin' for You - The Black Keys
Even if you've never bought a Black Keys record, you've heard Howlin' for You. This song has been embraced by advertising firms worldwide, having been the backing music for no less than five commercials and was a go-to exit song for ABC/ESPN sports. It is a perfect blend of arena-rock and Southern blues, a combination I didn't know could exist until now.

7. How He Loves - David Crowder Band
As a general rule I don't listen to much Christian music. Despite my faith, most contemporary Christian bands come across as second-rate musicians with third-rate production teams who make music that is two years behind the times. No thanks. How He Loves, however, is a fantastic worship song all around that gripped me the very first time I heard it. Kuddos to DCB for striving to make good music not just good Christian music.

6. Giving Up the Gun - Vampire Weekend
I confess I didn't like this song the first time I heard it. As the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live, Vampire Weekend was just too emo for me. But days late I was still humming Giving Up the Gun under my breath and I figured I better give these guys a second chance. Glad I did, too, because this is one of the coolest songs I heard all year. It's exceedingly catchy and I've found that it doesn't get old no matter how many times it pops up on my iPod.

5. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem featuring Rihanna
Showing off my versatility as a listener, rap makes it debut on the list with a song that (unlike most of the entries on this list) burned up the pop airwaves. Whether you like rap or not (I usually do not), you cannot question Eminem's talent as a rapper. He can pack more quality rhymes into a lyric than just about anybody in the business. Love the Way You Lie also shows off his amazing ability to take his song and give it the right touch to turn it into a pop hit.

4. Forever Young - Audry May
Another cover song and another song from "Sons of Anarchy," I downloaded Forever Young at the very beginning of 2010 and it has made its way onto almost every playlist or mix CD I've made since then. It is such a simple, restrained song but it continually resonates with me.

3. Dear God - The Roots featuring Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk's 2009 album was outstanding. The only way to improve on their silky smooth melodies would be to add the original rock-rap band, the Roots, to the equation. If "mash-up" wasn't one of the most overused terms of the year, I would say that this combination of sounds and voices is the best mash-up of the year. The two bands complement each other perfect and the result is an outstanding track that I've listened to dozens of times.

2. Tighten Up - The Black Keys
The final entry for the Keys is their biggest hit to date. Garnering some actual mainstream radio play for the first time, Tighten Up is a huge achievement in part because of just how good it is but in part because of the versatility it allows the Keys to show. Sandwiched on the album between the straight-up rock 'n roll Next Girl and the blues-heavy Howlin' for You, Tighten Up contains elements of both but at the same time sounds completely different from anything else on the album. Seriously, if you like music AT ALL, you are doing yourself a disservice by not owning the "Brothers" album.

1. Big River - Secret Sisters featuring Jack White
I'll give this disclaimer first: I love Jack White. I think he's a genius and not just when it comes to music. So I was probably already predisposed to loving this song. That said, when I heard Big River for the first time, I just about wet myself. Over the last few months I've played it approximately 3,000 times and forced every single person who has ridden in my truck to listen to it whether they wanted to or not. It's a perfect combination to me. While Secret Sisters were cutting their album in Jack White's studio, legendary producer T-Bone Burnett asked White to jump in and give it some White Stripes flair. On ONE TAKE, with no preparation, White laid down a fierce, powerful, unbridled guitar track that works BRILLIANTLY with the Secret Sisters' beautiful harmony. It blew me away and I've been preaching its merits ever since.

Thanks for indulging my brief foray into music,

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