Fifty tracks would have been more like it. So much great material has wound up on the editing room floor that it’s downright painful to send this to press. But we’ve talked enough this year, so we’ll send it to press anyway. Here they are, the top 25 songs of 2010. The list comes straight from the iPod, with no other modus or operandi. What an unbelievable year:
25. “Landscape at Speed” by Shearwater, from The Golden Archipelago
The LP was a bit rough, and then there was that whole Shearwater is Enron maneuver, but “Landscape at Speed” is the same complex, orchestral, and touching Shearwater that helps keep Austin weird.
24. “Oh Kingdom” by Ohsaurus, from Glacial Pioneer
It starts twice: first with a flight to Newark and then, immediately after, with a big-sound Secret Palace layover done Mutual of Omaha style, popping with static, alive with irreverence. Then the intravenous synthesizer, pulsing rhythm, and orange juice travels. Go listen to it five minutes ago.
23. “Niabiosy” by Alexander Martovsky, from Libidakachanie, martydavajna
Delicate, halting, triumphant, pixie-dusted electroacoustic from a long, very strange, and challenging album. We hope to hear a lot more from Martovsky, and soon.
22. “Whispering Light” by Jesca Hoop, from Hunting My Dress
Just try to pull your eyes away. Far from a traditional beauty, Hoop rather exudes a flood of contrasts: wisdom and innocence, frailty and power, chastity and erotica. And there is no better way to describe her music, either. Not beautiful in any traditional way, it is entrancing nevertheless. Textured and simple, ancient and postmodern, fairytale and cynical.
21. “Ready to Start” by The Arcade Fire, from The Suburbs
They’ve struck again, with what time may prove to be their finest work: a greatest hits album comprising all new material. Go take a drive and decide.
Arcade Fire – “Ready To Start”
20. “sorbonne: midnight” by sketches for albinos, from days of being wild and kind
This song is a coup. The moderato piece features a processed, melancholy piano, a bit of static, and lots of distance. This is a simple construction, but effective. After the first quarter pole, processed sounds swarm and then taper off like bees. Melody and noise, beautiful.
19. “Racing to Shimmering Lights” by The Meligrove Band, from Shimmering Lights
I’ll put it plainly. So you won’t blame me. Well, I just don’t think you know what’s right. And I just don’t think you know what to fight for.
18. “Hallelujah I’ve Been BLORR’n Again” by Bastard Lovechild of Rock n Roll, from Bim Bom
Hey, the sync feature doesn’t lie. (Does it?) We first learned about them some fifteen minutes ago, but we’ve already logged a dozen or more listens. They’re hard-working, they’re talented as hell, they’re brand new to the game, and they left us in stitches after their recent interview. (Do stay tuned for that.) Give them a slice of your time, or at least a look at your terrific tushhh.
17. “romy schneider” by sketches for albinos, from days of being wild and kind
This warped piano track is alive with brief, sudden samples and pops of distortion. The air in the studio must have been damp with nostalgia the day it was recorded. Sentimental listeners might have to pause the album right there, to go give mom a call.
16. “Engulfment Hypothesis” by Ohsaurus, from Glacial Pioneer
Both a southeast Asian stick fight — the smell of sweat, the dirt under the nails — and the clinical, digital re-creation thereof. Two minutes of deep pharmaceutical bliss. We could all use a few more.
15. “Le retour des sirenes” by Loser Superhero, from La realidad y el deseo
A transistor-radio chic intro, a jazz-kinda-meets-IT high-register drone. A few bars in and it layers expertly, with Explosions In The Sky six-string and electron-stream big drum. Then, the sirens of the title and then, well, holy crap.
14. “Condor and River” by Her Name is Calla, from The Quiet Lamb
A grisly dirge, nearly too painful to hear. The composition begins with five minutes of roots rock, slow moving and slow to develop. Was that a harmonica just now? Then, an abrupt transition to momentum and guitar fury: the unspeaking narrator takes to flight, or gives chase. (The track has a discernible plot, even before the expository lyrics confirm it.) Morris concretes these suspicions at the song’s halfway point: “They found your clothes by a lake/I held my breath.” Then, in gruesome repetition: “Your body surrounded by quiet/Your surrounded by dark.” The piece concludes over mournful trumpet and cello, which is tempting to chalk up to DeVotchKa’s influence. But it is doubtful that those Colorado misfits will produce anything quite this powerful in their coming release.
13. “Fox News” by Cee-Lo Green, from The Lady Killer
This track is all soundbite. Every last line: funny, tragic, familiar, defiant. Danceable, singable, shoutable. The music: big-voiced groovy throwback, pure Cee-Lo, as sweet as kiwi, as sharp as cheddar. Watch the official video below, and bathe: baby, bathwater, rubber ducky and all.
12. “Los Diablos Del Espacio” by Double Handsome Dragons, from EP3
The initial impression is that of a conventional rap rock piece, until a short historical audio clip reveals itself: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s fiery September 2006 speech to the UN (‘the devil came here today’, spoken of then-president George W. Bush, and of American imperialism in general). The track builds momentum throughout its second half, trading in global politics for astronaut synthesizer loops. An alarm sounds during the hard-hitting climax, and the impact is hair-raising. “Los Diablos Del Espacio” resembles a countdown to annihilation, and makes clear that the threat to mankind isn’t coming from outer space. It is a masterful bit of apocalyptic songwriting. The use of guitar, laser-sharp electronica and rhythm section here is downright orchestral.
11. “Ayisha Abyss” by Serena-Maneesh, from No 2: Abyss In B Minor
“A smart and vibrant juggernaut, from S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor.” That’s just about all we wrote the first time around, and we’ll trust our instincts here. Take a listen:
10. “A Drowning” by How To Destroy Angels, from their self-titled debut
Stream it here.
9. “Really Want It” by The Meligrove Band, from Shimmering Lights
8. “Ghosts at My Back” by The Meligrove Band, from Shimmering Lights
Companion pieces from their long, long-awaited Shimmering Lights (tracks #2 and #1 respectively), “Really Want It” and “Ghosts at My Back” inaugurate the LP seamlessly: beach dissonance, alt-Brady harmonies, Bohresque energies, and guitar, guitar, guitar. It’s been Meligrove year around here (a spectacular album, twice reviewed, a riotous interview, a gushing concert review), and this is exactly why:
7. “Pour More Oil” by Her Name is Calla, from The Quiet Lamb
It is an unambiguous piece, aching and textured. Like most of the songs on Quiet Lamb, it opens slowly, patiently, a tavern lullaby waiting to explode into a wall of guitars, or strings, or brass (song codas often pull the volume back for a minute or two as well). After the delicate prologue, Tom Morris intones, “A wave of endorphins and a cold shoulder/And a mighty blow to the back of the skull.” (He is not your everyday, meaningless lyricist.) Marching drums arrive as he delivers the titular, heart-rending chorus, which — what with his luxurious phrasing — is nearly lost in vowels: “Pour more oil on us/Wrap your hands around my heart again; I am home at last.”
6. “La realidad y el deseo” by Loser Superhero, from La realidad y el deseo
The title cut to a brief, bewildering album, what with its spaceman intro (tinkery guitar, buzzy control panel, lonely astronaut siren call), its GY!BE zombie-flick pacing, and, po-ro meets NIN closing credits. It’s a synthesizer orgy: gorgeous, haunting, unrelenting. The China-girl coda was composed with Chinese electronics, and it begs only one question: did we say “gorgeous” yet?
5. “In This Shirt” by The Irrepressibles, from Mirror Mirror
Almost a year in, and the piece is just as disarming as ever: the slow, lush, pock-marked organ intro. The agonizing vocal restraint. The unexpected, yet brilliant post-production. The tense, two-minute whisper promising the gorgeous tidal wave of strings and countertenor heartbreak.
4. “Fields 2″ by Voder, from Fields
Thirty beautiful minutes of restrained synthesizer play culminate with “Fields 2,” a succinct and luxurious composition.
3. “Make Believe It” by The Meligrove Band, from Shimmering Lights
The finest track on the finest album of the year was bound to show up here somewhere. “Make Believe It” is Go Push Your House Into The Lake Good, replete with a 007 guitar riff, a space needle organ lick, and a pi/e time signature. Vocals are accessible, even inviting: the sound of a small fraternity singing karaoke to its own in-house material. And we dare you not to pine for the B-52s, even as they bow to The Mars Volta and The Flaming Lips at the same time.
2. “The Union: Into the West” by Her Name is Calla, from The Quiet Lamb
The Quiet Lamb concludes with a startling metaphor, that of Manifest Destiny-as-Death Rattle. Also a brassy and brilliant colonial piece, it’s noisy, shouty, distorted … and very nearly perfect.
1. “Are We Not the Future of This Nation?” by Double Handsome Dragons, from EP3
This is the one, minions. And please, don’t give yourselves to brutes.