Listmas 2010 continues again today with the second installment of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2010. Today there’s a hefty dose of longer songs, that is to say a few of them actually soar above the 5 minute mark. As usual, there are mp3s available for download whenever possible. If you’d like to read yesterday’s entry, Songs #50-41, that can be viewed here. In that post I also provide a good introduction to this list and explain the criterion for making this list. I hope you like what you’ve read so far, and that today’s set of songs will be equally as interesting. As usual, I’d like to hear what some of your favorite songs of the year have been, so comment if you wish. Join me after the jump for the continuation of my Top 50 Songs of 2010 #40-31!
40. Spoon – The Mystery Zone
Sometimes comfort food really is the best medicine. In the last couple years, Spoon’s profile has risen considerably and they’ve found a loyal following thanks to songs like “The Underdog” and “Don’t You Evah”. It helps that their last album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” was regarded by many as their magnum opus, a consolidation of all of their best qualities with a fun little twist thrown in. Naturally then, a follow-up is bound to disappoint, as “Transference” did earlier this year. Problematic as that might be, Spoon continues to score hits and do well, and “Written in Reverse” turned out to be a surprisingly resilient single. Getting all ramshackle and featuring a very raw-voiced and screamy Britt Daniel, it was something a little different to show off another side of the band. Nice as the ever-deepening layers of Spoon might be, they still do best when hitting a certain hook-filled groove and sticking with it. As such, “The Mystery Zone” has all the hallmarks of a classic Spoon track, with a couple of odd ideas mixed in. The song itself is some bouncy fun, but Britt Daniel’s hiccupy and often cut off vocals stand out as strange, almost as if he backed away from the microphone because he forgot what to say. The missing words to flesh out those thoughts, that’s the real mystery zone. Daniel is your drunk uncle, ready to pass on all the advice he’s learned about romance over his many years, but as he rambles on and on, you come to realize in his drunken state he’s unable to fully explain what he means. Still, you love your uncle, especially when he’s drunk, and though he’s done this a million times before, it continues to be stimulating and fresh every time.
39. Magic Kids – Hey Boy (MP3)
I’ll be the first one to admit to you that the use of a children’s choir in most songs is terrible. Annoying is the word that comes to mind when even thinking about it. So when Magic Kids placed a group of kids in a room and asked them to sing the chorus for “Hey Boy”, my immediate instinct said to skip the song immediately. Instead, I stuck it out that initial time, only to have the song stuck in my head for days. Other stuff has naturally taken its place as that’s what happens when you avoid a certain song like the plague. But as a testament to the power of this track, the mere mention of “Hey Boy” causes the song to play in my head whether I want it there or not. As time has gone on, I’ve learned to accept this and even soften my stance on the use of kids in the song. Mostly it’s a really bouncy pop song that will torture you into loving it. I’m wrapped up in Stockholm Syndrome.
38. Vampire Weekend – White Sky
By all accounts, Vampire Weekend’s second record “Contra” is as good as their self-titled debut. Virtually every song is a potential single, and depending on how much time goes on that may turn out to be the case. When facing choices about which track to include on this list, a fair list of options included first single and hit “Cousins”, which did well at radio this year. There was also “Horchata”, the first song that was spread around the internet in anticipation of the record. “Giving Up the Gun” earns some credit for not only being a good song but having an interesting music video that featured everyone from a Jonas Brother to RZA and Jake Gyllenhaal. As the Christmas season is in full effect right now, “Holiday” is soundtracking not one but TWO commercials, and oddly enough it hasn’t gotten annoying just yet. The choice I’ve ultimately made for this list is “White Sky”, for the simplest of simple reasons: it’s the most under-exposed of all the best songs on the album. Two months from now this track might be everywhere and annoying, but for the moment, it feels like the best Vampire Weekend song that’s not being forced on me from various angles.
37. How to Dress Well – Ready for the World (MP3)
Here’s a fun little factoid I doubt I’ve revealed before: back in the mid-90s I listened to a lot of R&B. This was during my most formative years when quite frankly I didn’t know any better. That’s not to say it was a poor decision, I think I was just looking for something explicit and overtly sexual to upset my parents. Puberty was an emotional time. But I “grew” out of that phase in my life and settled into good old fashioned rock and roll soon enough, though I often get excited upon hearing a “classic” R&B song when I’m out somewhere. That’s probably a big reason why I think How to Dress Well is positively amazing. Tom Krell most likely listened to a lot of the same stuff I did growing up, which is why his songs reference that old school R&B so well. If this were the mid-90s and radio programmers were hip enough, “Ready for the World” would be a hit single. Technically speaking, it already was, as this is a drastically re-worked version of the 80s slow jam “Love You Down” by the R&B group naturally called Ready for the World. The original version wasn’t this dark or so drastically lo-fi in its production, but that intensely haunting quality How to Dress Well brings to it works wonders. Krell’s falsetto over the depressing beats and a female vocal sample seems like a serious mood killer, but there’s an odd warmth simmering just beneath the surface, and it’s also very important to remember: R&B stands for rhythm and blues, both of which this track has in spades.
36. Marnie Stern – Transparency Is the New Mystery (MP3)
What has largely defined Marnie Stern at this point in her career is her intense guitar finger tapping technique. Combine those wild licks with Zach Hill’s equally mindblowing drum work and that’s a 1-2 punch that’ll have your head banging…assuming you’re okay with doing so at multiple speeds per song. On her third, self-titled record, Stern scaled back her guitar attack just a little bit on some songs, and equally wrote moodier and less triumphant lyrics in conjunction. “Transparency Is the New Mystery” proves that perfectly, and the difference in attack results in a song that’s probably the deepest and most complex thing she’s ever written. Instrumentally, she foregoes the finger tapping for something a bit less intense, using a two-note sequence and the drumming to hold the melody together as her vocals sink and soar. The first words in the song are “In order to see it, you’ve got to believe it/I do”, which rings as positive until she starts repeating “I’m not enough” over and over again as part of what might be called a pseudo-chorus. The emotion and pure heartbreak that goes into those lines across her voice and matched with guitar sentiment marks one of Marnie Stern’s most confessional and vulnerable. Above all else, this is the track that shows beneath her impressive and intense “attack-style” music, there’s a living, breathing, very human being that’s as capable of great love and great pain as the rest of us. She just plays guitar better.
35. Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union (MP3)
It starts with a quote from Abraham Lincoln discussing the Civil War. That’s what Titus Andronicus’ record “The Monitor” is all about, and in opening with “A More Perfect Union” they come straight out of the gate ready for a fight. The drums pound, the guitars are coated in fuzz, and frontman Patrick Stickles puts on his best Paul Westerberg singing voice. Over the course of the first two minutes of the track, about a half dozen influences pour out and bring to mind so much great music across history. The most blatant reference is towards Bruce Springsteen, emphasized by the lines “I never wanted to change the world, but I’m looking for a new New Jersey/cause tramps like us, baby we were born to die!” screamed just as the track heads into its first extended guitar solo. At seven minutes long and featuring what’s ultimately several different “movements”, a song like this defines American excess and glorifies it one and the same. You’ll raise your fist to the sky and sing along with the “oooohs” and “na-nas” at the middle, and want to plant an American flag in the ground by the end. “Glory, glory hallelujah, his truth is marching on”, the band screams before breaking out into another high speed guitar solo. It’s epic, it’s fun, it’s dramatic, it’s intensely patriotic and triumphant. You can’t say that about any other song released in 2010.
34. Sufjan Stevens – Too Much (Download for free at Bandcamp)
Honestly, “The Age of Adz” was a very unexpected record. That’s both from the standpoint of how it was released with short notice and the small stylistic departure Sufjan Stevens took from what he had been doing on his 50 States project. Gone are the banjos and florid instrumentation, and in its place are skittering electronics and synths and a host of percussion. It’s interesting to say the least, if not a bit odd to the point where finding an easy go-to hit song has been nothing short of challenging. The closest Sufjan does come to some real hooks and pop-filled goodness is probably “Too Much”, which gets very electro while having a decently marketable chorus and a touch of old school orchestration. The first four or so minutes of the nearly seven minute song retain a standard verse-chorus-verse structure while the bleeps, bloops and synths dominate in an almost cute sort of way. But just as you’d suspect the song would be wrapping up, in comes a whole electro-symphonic breakdown that’s dramatically thrilling. Save for the 25 minute clusterfuck that is “Impossible Soul”, everything about “Too Much” forges a perfect link between Sufjan’s past, present and future. It is the most deeply satisfying of everything on the album, and unlike it’s title, actually comes across as “just right”.
33. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM
For me, 2010 was my long year of health problems. I wasn’t feeling good, noticed some potential medical issues, and saw doctors that ordered batteries of tests. I was poked with lots of needles and mildly electrocuted for the sake of finding a problem. I also got not one, but two MRIs. I had never had an MRI prior to this year, and it’s almost ironic that I’d be trapped inside the tightly confined space of that machine mere months after hearing Charlotte Gainsbourg’s song “IRM”. To fully clarify, in France, they call MRIs IRMs (translation: imagerie par résonance magnétique). What’s really notable is how Gainsbourg and her good friend/collaborator Beck not only incorporated actual MRI noises into the song, but used them as a basis for the melody. After some brain trauma, Gainsbourg spent her fair share of time with an MRI machine too and found the loud noises fascinating to the point where this song came about. It’s ultimate placement on this list is partly to do with my own personal relationship with the song, but additionally it’s just pretty damn genius. Gainsbourg’s disaffected, nearly spoken word vocals are as emotionally dead as the machine that’s scanning her brain, and Beck’s insistent lyrics have her describing neurons and demanding to know what’s wrong. The doctors failed to find anything physically wrong with me and they’ve given up trying for now, but my symptoms remain the same. “IRM” is actually a much more comforting track than you’d think.
32. Girls – Carolina
It’s been quite obvious from their debut record and even portions of this year’s “Broken Dreams Club” EP that Girls’ sound is heavily influenced by 60s pop. There’s a very sunny and beach comber vibe to most of their songs, and it fits them like a tailored suit. But Girls aren’t necessarily content to stay in one place or sound for too long, which is why the “Broken Dreams Club” EP toyed with a few concepts and ideas for directions they might head on their next full length. Closing out the EP is “Carolina”, a nearly eight minute song where the band starts to get a bit psychedelic. The first couple minutes ease you in by going instrumental with a hazy twang courtesy of a steel guitar. An ambient drone flutters in and out of the mix, a few deep chimes are hit, and there’s even some birds that chirp shortly before the song builds to fuzz-soaked guitars and heavy percussion. Dark and moody is the place it stays when Christopher Owens starts singing, playing to his lower register while noise swirls around him. At the four and a half minute mark though, in comes a cymbal crash and suddenly the ominous clouds disappear and we’re sunny again, though still with a touch of haze thanks to the guitar work. That transition from swirling psychedelia into a laid-back pop song is one of the most brilliant moves Girls have ever made, and hearing the track is a transformation of the band themselves to the next logical step they need to take. If their next album delivers on the promise of this song, we’re all in for a treat.
31. Warpaint – Undertow (MP3)
Warpaint seem to have a special relationship with darkness. They are kindred spirits in many ways, each projecting a creeping threat of the unknown. As a great if not moderately disturbing introduction to Warpaint, “Undertow” meanders for close to six minutes like a ghost wandering the hallways of an abandoned building. Jenny Lee Lindberg dominates the song with her bass work dominating the mix while vocalists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman sing about some seriously heavy topics with surprisingly little malice. By emphasizing the innocence in their voices however, it makes the track that much more unsettling. At least you KNOW the guy with the chainsaw is trying to kill you, unlike, say, a Norman Bates, who could either be a slightly off motel manager or a complete psychopath. The scariest people are always the most unpredictable, and Warpaint manage to achieve that same vibe with “Undertow” while simultaneously breaking out a surprisingly memorable hook. This is one of the only tracks this year that truly earns the distinction of being “so good it’s scary”.