With mid-week comes the middle of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs list. Inside today’s 10 songs you’ll find the longest song on the entire list, a couple of serious dance tracks as well as some lo-fi stuff too. If there’s a “theme” that can be derived from most of the songs listed here, it’s that they’re fun and very well constructed. I sincerely hope you’re able to discover something new from this as well. If you’ve not yet done so, feel free to have a look at the other songs among this Top 50 list so far.
Top 50 Songs #50-41
Top 50 Songs #40-31
Once again, if you have any comments, either in regards to this list or just want to talk about some of your favorite tracks from 2010, feel free to leave those below. Also, I’m continuing to include mp3s of the individual songs on this list wherever possible. Just know if I had it my way, you’d be able to download them all without restriction. So here we go, Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2010, #30-21!
30. Male Bonding – Year’s Not Long (MP3)
Contrary to what some so-called “tastemakers” might tell you, lo-fi is not a dead genre. Glo-fi may continue to hold down most of the attention these days, but that doesn’t mean some upstart punk band recording music in a basement isn’t worth your time. Good music is good music, period. Naturally then, I was just a little bit upset that Male Bonding’s album “Nothing Hurts” didn’t get a ton of attention this past year. It’s a dirty, gritty and fun record packed with catchy, fuzz-filled punk tunes. They actually had something of a recording budget too, thanks to their label Sub Pop, and the purpose that served was mostly to make an extremely messy sound just a touch clearer. That’s why on the leadoff track “Year’s Not Long”, guitars take first priority, speed riffing and essentially creating a memorable, wordless hook that sticks with you more than most of the lyrics will. John Arthur Webb’s vocals are audible and decipherable about half the time, while the other half the guitar distortion just washes over them in what feels like a completely necessary fashion. It’s the tone and emotion coming through Webb’s upper register that shines through the most, no matter if you can understand what he’s saying. Drummer Robin Silas Christian also proves to be one hell of a drummer with some dramatically great fills. The lyrics are about the end of something, be it a relationship or a year, but either way, it passes by way too fast. The same could be said about the song itself.
29. Kanye West – Runaway (ft. Pusha T) (Stream)
No doubt, it’s been a tough year for Kanye West. He spent a fair amount of time in 2010 away from the spotlight, trying to figure himself out and why exactly he’d drawn the ire of so many people. The Taylor Swift thing was part of it, but it was just one high profile incident among a series of them that had so many people calling Kanye a douchebag and an asshole. Spending time in Hawaii while conceiving of what would eventually become “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, he wrote a song about his troubles. The nine minutes that make up “Runaway” play out like something of an apology, done in only the most epic and grand fashion possible. Judging by the chorus, easily the most memorable thing on the entire album, West is celebrating his own idiocy, calling for a toast to the douchebags, assholes, scumbags and jerkoffs. The verses tell a dramatically different story though. Outside of Pusha T’s contribution, West calls himself out for the qualities that make him an unlikable bastard. “You’ve been puttin’ up with my shit just way too long,” he says in the first verse over an ominous beat and a somber piano key pressed over and over again. As he goes on and on and on, the instrumentals build from the most minimal of arrangements to a full string section that only ups the drama. For a guy that’s shown such arrogance and a lack of self-awareness, “Runaway” works us harder and harder until we finally start to feel for the guy. He may be that douchebag asshole scumbag jerkoff so elegantly described in the chorus, but he’s OUR douchebag asshole scumbag jerkoff.
28. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp (MP3 via Stereogum)
It’s been over a year since “Ambling Alp” was released as a single in hot anticipation of Yeasayer’s sophmore record “Odd Blood”. As I was writing bits on my top songs of 2009, my initial inclination was to include “Ambling Alp”, along with Beach House’s “Norway”, but my purposefully restrictive rules made that impossible given that they were singles from still-forthcoming 2010 albums. That I still like and listen to “Ambling Alp” regularly more than a year later is a pretty good testament to how strong of a song it is. Yeasayer has done better, as “2080” was my favorite song of 2008, but unlike that track, this one had “hit single” written on it in large letters. Yeasayer pushed down a bit of their psychedelic, hippie vibes for the second album, choosing instead to explore bright pop music just a little more. Comparisons to Animal Collective have been justified in many senses, but Yeasayer push a lot of different influences on just this song alone. You can identify swatches of reggae in the bouncy structure of the track, the horn breakdown near the end is fascinating unto itself, and the distorted keyboards keep you on your toes. Lyrically, the track is about boxing, and the final verse is pretty great if you need a bit of a pep talk. But the talk of both throwing and dodging punches also speaks largely about the song itself, with the band issuing an imaginary challenge to us, suggesting they won’t be backed into a corner or bullied for their uncompromising and unique style.
27. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Company
Joanna Newsom is a tough nut to crack, particularly because she keeps playing with our expectations. Despite its length and regard as a “triple” album, “Have One On Me” was largely a showcase of how a delicate girl with a harp took a strong leap forwards from both a stylistic and lyrical perspective. The best example comes in the form of “Good Intentions Paving Company”, a seven minute piano song that’s one of the poppiest, broadest and wittiest songs Newsom has ever written. The piano work is pretty bright and sprightly, and Newsom’s vocals take a far more grounded and normal approach than some of the cutesier quirks she’s forced on us in the past. There’s a stark humanity and warmth in her voice as well here, and it’s fitting for the topic at hand, which is love. A line like “I regret how I said to you, ‘Honey, just open your heart,’ when I’ve got trouble even opening a honey jar” is dually impressive for how relatable yet funny it is. But the song also deals with the challenges that love can bring, such as the difficulty of fully committing to a partner despite the overwhelming urge sometimes to just throw everything away to keep your freedom. Newsom tackles it all in the most relatable way possible without compromising her own style or vision. That in the end, after a dangerous situation, she comes to the conclusion that all she wants is for her partner to hold her until she can’t remember her own name is so rational and simplistic it’s positively inspired. If only all our relationships could be so easily defined.
26. The Walkmen – Angela Surf City (MP3)
The Walkmen tend to be a group of miserable mopes, as the topics in many of their songs aren’t exactly the cheeriest things in the world. They’re still easy to love though, and past singles like “The Rat” and “In the New Year” offer proof positive of that. Hamilton Leithauser’s whiskey-soaked wail tends to be a big factor as well, and the more he belts it out the more exciting things get. On “Angela Surf City”, the band is firing on all cylinders. The lyrics are about being bored with the world, even when there appears to be absolutely everything going on around you. Such pedestrian and day-to-day events are uninspiring, and Leithauser’s so torn up about it he belts that boredom to the rafters. The titular character of Angela has something to do with it, presumably because she makes his life that much more exciting. She’s left him, or has just gone away, so he relies on memories of her to help get him through another day. Between the singing and the storyline are the instruments, and the guitars and booming drums do a great job of creating a woozy beach/surf vibe established in the song’s title. Depressing as it might seem, the subdued verses and overtly loud and speedy chorus roll past like waves, and the listener has a surfboard. Translation: it winds up being a ton of fun anyways.
25. Wavves – King of the Beach (MP3)
Say what you will about it, but forming the basis of a song around only four chords can be absolutely brilliant if used properly. One of the people that has proven this without a doubt would be Nathan Williams, otherwise known as Wavves. The guy made two albums filled with scuzzy lo-fi pop that tended to smack you in the face as much as it inspired. But with his latest album “King of the Beach”, he took a large leap forward by cleaning up his sound in two ways. Everything now sounds much clearer (i.e. higher production values) and equally poppier. Williams tended to focus on repeating a chorus over and over again until it was stuck in your head rather than try anything in a real verse-chorus-verse range, which is why the opening and title track on the new record is so invigorating. It’s a slice of four chord power-pop that’s immensely bouncy and fun while trying not to force itself on you. Force isn’t really a requirement though when even the verses are highly memorable. An ode to surf and sand, “King of the Beach” is ideal for those situations, or just a warm and sunny day out and about wherever. The surprise comes at the bridge, when there’s a percussion breakdown and a slice of wild guitar solo-ing. It’s a big part of what turns this song from very good to one of the year’s best. THE Summer Jam of 2010? You’d best believe it.
24. Hot Chip – Take It In (Free mp3 at RCRD LBL)
When Hot Chip’s “One Life Stand” came out early this year, I bemoaned the lack of clear dancefloor singles on it. Where was the next “Shake A Fist” or “Over and Over”? Sure, there were a couple reasonable candidates that’d work in a club, but those choices weren’t as openly obvious amidst the slower cuts. It was by happenstance then that “Take It In” slipped through my net and didn’t fully register in my brain until it accidentally popped up when my mp3 player was on shuffle. Separated out from the rest of the record, the interesting dark and light dynamic the verses play with the chorus ring that much more vividly and command your attention. Robotic and devoid of emotion are good ways of describing Joel Goddard’s singing through the equally strict beats that compose the verses, and his “need of affection” couldn’t be more spot on. When the chorus kicks in however, it’s the equivalent of the sky opening up and making everything better. Alexis Taylor and Goddard hit their best vocal harmonies since “Boy From School” as keyboards soar into higher registers and the beats pick up to an even greater dancefloor speed. Pushing the move further in the exact opposite direction are the lyrics, which come off like a lovesick teenager. “My heart has flown to you just like a dove” might get a bit schmaltzy, but damn does it stick in your head. “Take It In” may close out “One Life Stand”, but in a weird sort of move it’s as if the band was saving their best for last.
23. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt
The orchestral pop of Owen Pallett on his album “Heartland” is meticulously constructed and gorgeous as all get-out, but failed to completely deliver when it came to easy memorability. The entire record is memorable for being as good as it is, but in terms of a logical standout single to promote, there wasn’t much of one to be found. Listen to each song separately though, and the choice becomes clear: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”. Personally, I didn’t quite understand what made the song so special until I’d heard it a handful of times. The looped keyboards provide a good backing beat for the orchestration to work some serious magic as things progress. From the start though, it’s only those keyboard tones and Pallett’s voice, which comes across as emotionally invested. The splashes of strings begin to show up and adds to the quirky factor of the track, but it’s when Pallett first utters the line “I’m never gonna give it to you” that provides a momentary glimpse of the magic to come. That singular line is the hook of the song, and boy is it a dynamic one. The more Pallett repeats it, the more strength it gains both vocally and in instrumental support. The topic is power, and that lyric is a refusal of surrender. By the end of the song, Pallett lets the words soar to a triumphant and exciting height, and the orchestra races with him there before completely overtaking him at the finish line. It marks one of the most genuinely thrilling moments put to record this year, made that much more interesting because of how it tends to not stick out like a sore thumb when placed inside the full album construct.
22. Gorillaz – Empire Ants (ft. Little Dragon)
Gorillaz and hip hop seem to go together pretty naturally, and that’s a big reason why songs featuring De La Soul and Del the Funky Homosapien have been hits for the cartoon band. They cross genre borders and make them easier to market to more people. So De La Soul showed up yet again on the new Gorillaz record “Plastic Beach” for another turn at a single, this time it was “Superfast Jellyfish”. That didn’t work as well as hoped, though second single “Stylo” with Mos Def and Bobby Womack fared a bit better. But sometimes the best Gorillaz songs don’t have any footing in hip hop, as was the case here courtesy of the track “Empire Ants”. What it lacks in rap influence and a memorable chorus it more than makes up for with its brilliant construction and general beauty. With the island cover and the word “beach” in the album title, “Empire Ants” takes that concept pretty literally at the beginning, with a sparse beat placed underneath some gentle acoustic guitar strums and some light splashes of piano. It’s hammock music for a lovely day on the sand. Albarn’s lead vocal comes in, nice and subdued, speaking of “polyphonic prairies” and remaining calm while the rest of the world comes “crashing down” around you. Just as you’re about to drift off into the worry-free unknown, the lovely melody fades as synthesizers begin to percolate and shimmer in the background. Suddenly the beat cranks up and things are still gorgeous but now the energy is such that you’re compelled to dance, or at the very least bob your head. Little Dragon’s smooth-as-silk vocals come in and only lend the track more beauty before it fades off into the night. I’m pretty sure Damon Albarn has never made a song this majestically beautiful before, and am doubtful he ever will again. Perhaps he should try – it suits him so well.
21. Delorean – Real Love (MP3)
Delorean’s debut album “Subiza” is filled to the brim with enjoyable and danceable songs, so it’s natural to ask just what makes “Real Love” stand out amongst them. The way I see it, it’s the singular song that takes all of the band’s best qualities and shoves them into a grand six minutes. Upbeat synths, extremely high-pitched and stretched out “aaahs”, small splashes of piano, and a healthy BPM are all there, along with some tropical sound samples such as seagulls and waves on the ocean. And though the lyrics start out at a very uncertain level, questioning whether or not a proverbial “we” will ever meet again or if hearts will break, the final verse is full of sound advice instructing us all to hold onto love while it’s within our reach, because once it’s lost it’s tough to find it again. All this from a track that 98% if people at a club would not pay attention to save for the beat that gets them dancing. True, that’s all you REALLY need, but with “Real Love” Delorean are out to prove that they’re more than just a group of guys that know how to make you move.