We’re over the hill and racing towards the inevitable conclusion of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2010. There’s been a lot of fun music so far, but naturally, the best is yet to come. Today features one of the biggest hits of the year, to the point where the kids from “Glee” have already covered it. Hopefully that’ll be the first and last time such a crossover between that show and this website occurs. There’s also a few pretty hot new artists showing up here that you might also expect to see again next week when the Top 50 Albums of 2010 list gets published. If you’ve yet to see/read about a lot of the other songs in this Top 50 Songs countdown thus far, let me catch you up with some links:
Top 50 Songs #50-41
Top 50 Songs #40-31
Top 50 Songs #30-21
I’m continuing to solicit any comments on things you see on this list or just your own personal opinions on some great songs this past year. As usual, where I’m allowed to offer a free mp3 to you, I have done so. Tomorrow is the Top 10 Songs of 2010, be sure to check back in for those!
20. Belle & Sebastian – I Want the World to Stop
There’s very little I have to say about this song. I’m not the biggest Belle & Sebastian fan in the world, and their new album “Write About Love” came out a little flat if you ask me, but it did have its moments. “I Want the World to Stop” is one of those such moments, the best of moments, falling in line with a number of other B&S classics. The held down keyboard chords, the permeating bass line, the wandering finger-picked guitar, the hand claps, the call-and-response vocals, the harmonies, the horn section that pops up about halfway through…every single piece of it is indie pop magic. Throw in a sharp hook that keeps repeating over and over and over again, and yeah, you’re not going to mistake this for any other band. If only the rest of the album were as good as this one song.
19. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Album-opening tracks are an interesting breed. The traditional route is for most artists to lead off with something immensely strong to hook the listener and compel them to keep listening. On occasion however, an artist will throw a curveball and do something completely weird and offbeat with an opening track, a la Yeasayer and their scary-ass demon-voiced “The Children”. Thankfully Kristian Matsson falls into the category of the former and leads with an openly sharp title track. It’s one of the few songs on the record that uses more than one instrument, as his traditional acoustic guitar is peppered with bits of banjo in the background. The mood is very jaunty and adventurous, like an adventurer headed out for a day spent tracking and killing animals. The lyrics reflect such imagery, even if they don’t make complete sense. It’s more about the emotions you’re able to pull from the song itself rather than the apparent deeper meaning behind the words. Still, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone” is something that sticks with you as part of the effortless hook anyways. That may be your wish Kristian, but keep making songs as good as this and you won’t be forgotten no matter how hard you try.
18. Crystal Castles – Not In Love (ft. Robert Smith) (Download free from RCRD LBL)
On the original album version of “Not In Love”, the vocals are so washed over, distorted and processed that it’s tough to make out over half of what’s being said. Is that Alice Glass even singing? I have no idea. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because it’s still one hell of a hot dance number that should be played in every club around the world. The reason why its not probably has a lot to do with how “difficult” it comes across outside of the of the flashy beats. Thankfully some musicians have good senses about them to actually like innovative stuff no matter how famous they may get. The Cure’s Robert Smith has apparently taken a shine to Crystal Castles, and mutual respect occasionally breeds collaboration. As such, when Smith lent his trademark vocals to do a re-interpretation of “Not In Love”, it gave the track exactly the shot in the arm needed to turn it from a “difficult” club hit to an “easy” club hit. This is, by far, the catchiest and best thing that either of these two artists have been associated with in awhile. It’s a bona fide hit, and one that, with a now crystal-clear vocal from a famous artist, will actually make an impact in the right places with the right people.
17. Local Natives – Sun Hands (MP3)
This is one of those situations where virtually any Local Natives song would have satisfied for placement on this list. They’re a great band and their debut album “Gorilla Manor” will pop up on my Top Albums of 2010 list somewhere. So why “Sun Hands”? Well, it’s a single, and that’s part of the appeal. The galloping percussion is also a big factor, as are the vocal harmonies…though the harmonies are a big selling point for any Local Natives song. What really sells “Sun Hands” for me though, after a close analysis, is probably the the bridge. The lines “And when I can’t feel with my sun hands/I promise not to lose her again” start out at practically a whisper, backed only by the click-clack of drums. Then things go from quiet to loud in an instant, as the band screams the lines together before launching into a pretty solid guitar solo. It’s pretty thrilling to hear on record (probably because it’s EARNED and not forced), but live it gets stretched out and stacks intensity on top of itself. The band tends to save it as a set-closer for that exact reason. In essence it’s probably also the best song Local Natives have ever written, the most stand-out song on an album full of them.
16. Deerhunter – Helicopter
Have you ever had a fever dream before? Naturally, such events can occur only when your body temperature is far above the normal 98.6 degrees. It’s a sign that something is wrong with your body, that you’re sick or on the verge of getting sick. As upsetting and dangerous as that may be, the best way to break a fever is to sweat it out. You climb into bed and pile blankets on top of you until you can barely breathe. While you lie there, hotter than you’ve ever felt before, sleep is your best refuge. Only the mind does funny things when the body is not well. Hallucinations are a common experience as you drift between consciousness and unconsciousness, and the whole thing is very similar to a highly memorable drug trip. Why did I go through the trouble of all that description? Listening to Deerhunter’s “Helicopter” is like the audio version of a fever dream. The 8-bit keyboards that make up the basic melody, and the hazy guitars that wash over you in the chorus are so intense and oddly beautiful that it’s an experience unlike any other. And to think – unlike a fever dream, you can experience this song anytime you like.
15. Best Coast – When I’m With You (MP3)
Another record from which there are about a half dozen great and catchy songs to pick from, choosing just one seems cruel. “Boyfriend” is the obvious choice for Best Coast, but my personal pick is “When I’m With You”. The track closes the “Crazy For You” album, and is just about the only thing on there that actually takes its time getting where it’s going rather than heading straight there. The song starts like it’s trying to free itself from quicksand, with just Bethany Cosentino and her guitar both moving in very s-l-o-w motion. The slightly subpar recording quality, along with the general disdain in Cosentino’s vocals very eerily recall some of Liz Phair’s early material. That’s a very positive thing, as is the quick change-up into a speedy surf-punk song once the first verse and chorus are done. Cosentino’s vocals gain some serious life too, and so this time when she says “when I’m with you, I have fun”, it sounds like she really means it. If you watch the music video for this song, you’ll see her running around and spending time with a guy that looks exactly like Ronald McDonald (but isn’t for, you know, copyright reasons). Just another tongue-in-cheek moment from one of 2010’s breakout stars.
14. Surfer Blood – Swim (MP3)
What I find most interesting about Surfer Blood’s “Swim” is just how much of an effect the vocals have on the entire track. Paying attention to only the instrumental side of things, there’s power chords galore in a very summery California-type anthem arrangement that’s surprisingly Weezer-esque. Force Rivers Cuomo to sing the song and you’d have another hit on your hands. But Surfer Blood don’t really need Rivers to spawn a hit, as their debut album “Astro Coast” secured them a lucrative major label record deal. Back on topic though, singer John Paul Pitts’ vocals are thrown through such an echo or reverb filter that it sounds like he’s singing inside a large, cavernous room and the microphone is just 10 feet out of his reach. He’s got to raise his voice and ostensibly shout to be heard, before finally submitting to actual full-on screaming. It’s a weird sort of effect to use on a song like this, but it ups the unique factor enough to make it highly interesting, and I imagine then feels all the more built to play in stadiums. Did I mention it’s also really, really catchy?
13. Cee Lo Green – Fuck You
This right here is what you call a “people pleaser”. It’s Cee Lo Green knowing exactly the right moves to win you over. How else could he turn a song titled “Fuck You”, where the f-bomb is dropped a few dozen times in a 3.5 minute span, into one of this year’s biggest hits? That’s fucking awesome is what it is. And it all started with the YouTube video he posted that spells out the lyrics word-for-word. That went viral, then digital sales of the song made a mint, all before radio had time to catch up with a freshly censored version retitled “Forget You”. The “Glee” kids have covered it with Gwyneth Paltrow, and there’s probably 50 million other Joe Six Packs out there with their own cover versions and another 50 million still trying to put their own unique spin on it. It’s 2010’s “Crazy”, which Cee Lo was responsible for in the first place. The music is a cool 60s groove that gets your head bobbing, then throw in Green’s smooth-as-silk voice that sings the words “fuck you” in such an upbeat fashion there’s even an “ooo, ooo, oooo” attached to the end of it, and hot damn is it catchy. We’ve all been betrayed or dumped sometime in our lives, and to turn the experience into a fun little pop song, well, it just makes the whole thing that much more bearable.
12. The Radio Dept. – Heaven’s On Fire (MP3)
The Radio Dept.’s song “Heaven’s On Fire” begins with an audio clip of Thurston Moore talking about rock music, youth culture, and the influence of big business over both. The conclusion he comes to is that these large corporations need to be destroyed so youth culture can be given back to the people it was named for. What does that sentiment have to do with the actual song? Well that’s difficult to completely decipher from the cryptic lyrics, but my read on it is that the “narrator” of this song is upset with someone for their lack of rebellion in the face of destruction. If youth culture and rock music are our heaven and we just sit back and let some corporate fatcat dictate what culture and music to absorb, is it really heaven anymore? Because of our apathy, heaven’s on fire. Deeper meaning touched on, there’s a simplicity and brilliance to this song that makes it almost childlike in tone and with some extremely sharp hooks to boot. The splashes of piano, the groovy bassline, Johan Duncanson’s echo-treated singing, and the small bit of saxophone at the end all contribute towards making a middle finger towards capitalist dictators sound positively delightful.
11. Gayngs – The Gaudy Side of Town (MP3)
When discussing How to Dress Well earlier in this countdown, I mentioned my fondness for what I dub “old school” R&B. It was more than just Tom Krell trying to bring back memories of late 80s/early 90s R&B – Gayngs showed up to peddle that sort of cheese even earlier in the year with their record “Relayted”. Producer Ryan Olson got a bunch of musicians together ranging from The Rosebuds to Solid Gold to Megafaun and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and they made an album filled to the brim with straight-faced slow jams that’d probably be spelled “jamz” back in the 80s ’cause it was “rad”. Call it soft rock gone indie, but to actually confess to LIKING it is to risk embarassment, especially if you’re not viewing it through your irony glasses. The whole of “Relayted” is a bit much for me to take/sit through, and in fact the first seven minutes of the record that is “The Gaudy Side of Town” is about as much pleasure I can derive from the project. But that slice of pleasure is a gigantic one, as the track worked its way into my head and still won’t let go after more than six months of constantly playing and replaying it. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it strikes the sweet spot of my brain; it could be Justin Vernon’s vocals or quite possibly that 80s softcore pornography saxophone. Maybe it’s something else entirely. All I know is that between listening to this song and watching the live music video that features white suits, sunglasses and a balloon drop, I can’t get enough of “The Gaudy Side of Town”.