Here they are: my ten favorite songs from 2010. I was originally going to break this post up into two posts, giving every song a full review, delving into every song with vigor and purpose. Then I remembered how hard it is to write one review, much less ten. The result is a compromise: five full song reviews, five ten-word reviews. Upon review, I’m not sure which style of review I prefer, you decide I guess. So without further ado, my top ten of 2010 (in no particular order).
Teenage Dream—Katy Perry
This song is the reason I still listen to the radio. Which is saying a lot, because honestly, I don’t need to listen to the radio to hear new music. I’d still be pretty happy with my usual routine of music consumption: check out the major music blogs (Pitchfork, Stereogum, Aquarium Drunkard, to name a few) give any well reviewed song/artist a listen on hypem.com or grooveshark, and if I like it I’ll download it. But every year a pop song comes along that none of the blogs cover, because most blogs consider themselves “above” pop music (side-note: Tom Ewing writes an amazing column called the Poptimist for Pitchfork that is consistently well-written and insightful and is definitely the exception to the rule that I just stated). This year “Teenage Dream” was the song that made me flip through the stations five or six times waiting to hear it before putting in a mix cd as I sat in traffic—and then 20 minutes later do another scan. I’ve fallen in love with other pop songs before, but I’ve never really admired one before. And honestly, I really do admire the construction of this song. “Teenage Dream” is the perfect pop machine, every part working with maximum effect towards a single purpose, no energy spent on extraneous bells and whistles. Consider the elements: a "four to the floor" beat, a two note guitar line, some nice guitar crunches during the chorus, some background synth, a totally sweet breakdown at the 2:48 mark, which leads to the cathartic blast for the final minute. And I haven’t even gotten to the lyrics yet! And they’re the best part! I find it impossible to listen to “Teenage Dream” without imagining that Katy Perry is singing to me, and I have the feeling I’m not the only guy who feels this way. I also suspect that lots of ladies imagine themselves singing this song to the man of their dreams. Here lies the essence of this song, it simplifies the very scary realities of sex and love into innocent desires. “You make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream” Katy Perry states, which reads as “You make me feel like I did before I got all caught up in the BS of sex and dating as a young adult, which is a difficult world to navigate and often leads me to have reservations about actually becoming close to a person of the opposite sex”. Maybe I’m reading way too deeply into this song, and my assessment of it is far too subjective, but this song gives me hope, and that is far more than most pop songs are able to do.
Sweet, sexy, sixties inspired ditty. Toe tapping will occur, inevitably.
Wait for Me—Anais Mitchell feat. Ben Knox Miller and Justin Vernon
“Wait for Me” is the centerpiece for my favorite album of the year, Anais Mitchell’s fantastic Hadestown. I had a hard time picking a favorite song from this album, but ultimately I settled on this one because I think it encapsulates what this album is all about better than any others. I should give you some background on this album: Hadestown is a modern re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth (google it, and while you’re at it, read Sara Ruhl’s play about it called Eurydice) set in what seems like a post-apocalyptic New Orleans, with guest voices from the likes of many of today’s folk heavy hitters (Ani Difranco, Greg Brown, and Justin Vernon to name a few). “Wait for Me” uses Justin Vernon’s falsetto to its best abilities on the lilting and beautiful chorus in direct contrast to Ben Knox Miller’s harsh and gravelly voice (think Tom Waits). The dynamic of these two voices working against each other creates a jarring effect, one that’s hard to shake. It’s a great song on it’s own but it’s best listened to in the context of the entire arc of the album, so go out and buy it now and give it a listen—you will not regret it.
Radar Detector—Darwin Deez
Prozac for the ears. The definition of catchy. Lovely.
She Needs Me—Jamie Lidell
Perhaps the best thing about this song is its sense of humor. Scratch that, the second best thing about this song is its sense of humor, the real best thing about this song is the seventies funk sexiness that oozes out of every pore. The first time I heard this song was while I was working my first shift at Urban Outiftters—I had a very hard time restraining myself from groping the nearest mannequin. Seriously, if you can listen to the bass line of this song coupled with Lidell’s Stevie Wonder-esque voice and not start shaking your hips just a little bit, you might want to check and see if you still have a pulse.
But back to the humor thing. This song would be totally ruined if it took itself too seriously. Without any humor, you might start feeling self-conscious about wanting to get down with everything within a three foot radius--but when one of the opening lines of a song is “she needs you in the morning, just to cook her some eggs sometimes,” you know it’s okay to be giggling a little bit when you scoot closer to the person next to you.
Excuses—The Morning Benders
Sounds like the 40’s, 60’s and today all at once.
(Side Note: If you click only one link on this post, have it be this one)
Burden of Tomorrow—Tallest Man On Earth
Kristian Matsson, the Swede behind the Tallest Man On Earth moniker, hasn’t strayed much from his original formula--slick folk guitar and unique voice—but in his case it doesn’t matter. Matsson is such a talented songwriter that it doesn’t matter that the elements never change, the result always seems to be new and fresh. Throughout his career Matsson has been compared to Dylan, but this comparison is too obvious, and dare I say it, diminishing of Matsson’s talents. Matsson’s ability to create a memorable melody is what sets him apart from Dylan (and for that matter, every other guy with a guitar) and “Burden of Tomorrow” showcases these talents better than any of the other stellar songs on his 2010 release The Wild Hunt.
The melody on this song is so catchy that it took me at least three listens to realize I had no idea what the song was about. Upon further investigation…I’m still not sure. The lyrics are pretty obtuse but still beautiful, and almost inspiring: “Aww but hell I’m just a blind man on the plains/ I drink my water when it rains/ and live by chance among the lightning strikes.” Maybe it’s this mystery of meaning that kept me coming back to this song over and over again throughout 2010, or maybe it was the melody, or maybe it was both. Whatever it was, I hope the Tallest Man On Earth keeps doing it.
All Delighted People—Sufjan Stevens
Alternative Song Title: “Don’t worry guys, I still Got It.”
Bloodbuzz Ohio—The National
My favorite thing about The National is that every song feels like the entire band is staring at you straight in the eye, daring you to look away. It’s not confrontation: it’s bold-faced honesty. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” keeps this tradition alive, and ratchets it up to another level. Jagged guitar lines, a driving beat, orchestral swells, and some of Matt Beringer’s best lyrics yet all combine to build an incredibly moving song.
The lyrics in “Bloodbuzz Ohio” are certainly not what you would call “linear,” but they definitely tell a story. Consider the following samples: “Stand up straight at the foot of your love/ I lift my shirt up,” “Lay my head on the hood of your car/ I take it too far,” “I still owe money, to the money I owe,/ I never thought about love, when I thought about home.” The images here are simple, clear, and relatable. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a song about the dogged pursuit of love, and it’s repercussions: loss, depression, anger. But it might be about something else too. Although The National are often dismissed as being a one-note band (that note being “moody and depressed”), if you listen closely, this song strikes a new note: hopefulness. The chorus, and final lines are self-aware: “I’m on a blood buzz, yes I am/I’m on a blood buzz, God I am.” It’s as if Beringer is acknowledging his own predisposition to sorrow, admitting that maybe it’s just a “buzz” after all, and not the end of the world.
“BloodBuzz Ohio” is the perfect song to play for someone who has never heard The National—a perfect example of the band at its best: dark, captivating, and beautiful.
Two Door Cinema Club—Something Good Can Work
Brits with a drum machine inspire positive attitude about love.
Happy New Year everyone, I have a feeling 2011 has a lot of good music in store for us.