Talking Music: Reflections & Recommendations by Admohr

Admohr’s Favorite Fifty Tracks From 2010, Arbitrarily Ranked

Posted in 2010, The Year's Best by admohr on December 20, 2010

Selection Criteria: Only one song per artist & artist cannot be included on my year end “Best Albums of 2010” entry to be released tomorrow.

While the annual season of list-making is generally beneficial giving everyone a chance to take a moment and reflect on the past year in music, the year-end lists of the best songs have always struck me as one of the more pointless exercies – somehow ranking tracks across genres & even formats, all the while rating album singles & unreleased b-sides against each other. So what follows is my own take at this ultimately meaningless practice in hopes of giving the reader some actual meaningful music ideas & recommendations.

Note, I didn’t put much thought into the actual numerical ranking, hence the reason subcategories are included within. That said – I may be a little more fond of the top 15 over say nos. 35 through 50.

50. Laura Marling – Hope In The Air
A powerful, sweeping LP – I Speak Because I Can – plays like Joni Mitchell fronting Mumford & Sons (likely because Marling actually IS fronting Mumford & Sons on this record). “Hope In The Air” is just one of many moving vocal experiences layered on even more inspired songwriting.

49. The Bitters – “Travelin’ Girl”
Delightfully fuzzy, noisy & poppy – The Bitters aren’t unlike many other lo-fi noise-rock-pop outfits going right now, but “Travelin’ Girl”‘s refusal to be pegged as just a simple song distinguishes them & gives the listener hopes of future pop-brilliance.

48. Lissie – “Loosen The Knot”
Full-bodied vocals that hit their stride during the chorus, Lissie gets compared to Neko Case but this particular track evokes more of a Tegan & Sara influence.

47. Frightened Rabbit – “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”
The comparisons to The Twilight Sad go beyond being Scottish as Frightened Rabbit bring hook-heavy, winding & emotive pop compositions which always make for a rewarding & accessible listen.

46. Xiu Xiu – “The Fabrizio Palumbo Retaliation”
Xiu Xiu might not be for everyone – their eccentric content & expression is definitely more challenging than even your typical NPR track, but beyond the surface is some fascinating experimental pop that’s always deserving of a follow-up listen.

45. Ty Segall – “Imaginary Person”
Sounds like the Beatles on paranoia-inducing narcotics.

44. Wavves – King Of The Beach
I’m not nearly as big on Wavves as I am on his sig. other (Bethany Cosentino), but the likability of “King of the Beach” is pretty much impossible to deny.

43. Phosphorescent – “Tell Me Baby (Have You Had Enough)”
The Neil Young / Comes A Time LP-type vibe from parts of this uneven record and especially this performance is what ultimately continues to bring the listener back, in an effort to continue to uncover additional influences.

42. Janelle Monae – “Cold War”
Is there any excuse for this track not to be receiving heavy mainstream airplay? A completely accessible pop-masterpiece that floors the listener every single time w/ Monae’s emphatic delivery.

41. Josh Ritter – “Change Of Time”
Ritter has already had an accomplished career of folk-inspired acoustic rock, yet his So Runs The World Away LP might actually be his strongest album to date – a collection that works best when consumed on the whole.

40. LCD Soundsystem – “All I Want”
While I’ve never considered myself a fan of all of LCD Soundsystem’s impressive catalogue, they always manage to assemble one truly meaningful song per their acclaimed LPs. For me, “All I Want” is this year’s “All My Friends.”

39. Alejandro Escovedo – “Anchor”
The highlight of Escovedo’s Street Songs Of Love LP, “Anchor” was more than deserving of its heavy KXT airplay this past summer and always deserving of rolling the windows down & bumping up the volume.

38. Women – “Eyesore”
Album closer “Eyesore” seemingly single-handedly leaves the most lasting impression from Women’s Public Strain LP by being the track that most successfully manages to blend the presence of heavy distortion with their strongest writing.

3 Tracks Only On My List Because They’re North Texas Artists (but still worthy of your time)
37. Sarah Jaffe – “Summer Begs”
Jaffe’s sound seems destined to score the last 15 minutes of a Grey’s Anatomy episode, but her debut LP floors the listener with how unpolished it is in its rawest, most emotive moments. Still, tracks like “Clementine” and “Summer Begs” are just great acoustic-pop songs, perfect for society’s use in assigning context to otherwise ambling network television dramas.

36. Doug Burr – “Red Red”
Burr’s criminally-underrated O Ye Devastator LP is probably best pegged somewhere between Damien Rice’s O & Sufjan Stevens’s Seven Swans, a meticulously-crafted style of acoustic-pop-rock strewn with heavy swings & undeniable expression.

35. Dorrough – “Get Big”
Lyricism almost as entertaining as his Twitter feed, “Get Big” probably isn’t the masterpiece that “Ice Cream Paint Job” or even “Walk That Walk” was, but any song with a couplet like “First I stimulate the kitty / Then I hit her with this willy” deserves SOME sort of praise.

3 Tracks From Otherwise Forgettable LPs
34. Plants & Animals – “Jeans, Jeans, Jeans”
Probably an unfair categorization for a young band still figuring out it’s sound, “Jeans Jeans Jeans” evokes a pretty powerful Wolf Parade impression yet stands in contrast to pretty much everything else from their first two LPs that have more of a roots-rock vibe.

33. Suckers – “Save Your Love For Me”
The over-the-top, completely absurd vocals to this one somehow work, but unfortunately when you choose the nuclear option of vocals in the very first track of your debut LP, the listener has no clue what to make of anything that follows.

32. Rogue Wave – “Solitary Gun”
I suppose the main reason this strikes me as such a disappointing LP is because of just how perfect Zach Rogue & Co.’s first 3 albums are, (2.5 stars to Asleep at Heavens Gate, really allmusic?) but this album doesn’t hold a candle to opener “Solitary Gun” which still finds the band in its typically strong indie-pop form.

2 Songs From Over-Exposed LPs (that are still pretty good)
31. Mumford & Sons – “The Cave”
Becoming society’s alternative “it” band this year was completely deserved from my standpoint – their record creates unprecedented power for an album full of horns & banjo and each song hits the listener differently, even if they’re all foot-stomping in the end. It’s tough to pick just one song to pass along to the next listener, so it’s probably best to just pass along all of them.

30. Arcade Fire – “Suburban War”
I have no issues at all with this record showing up almost unanimously across everyone’s year-end top 10/15/20/25/50 albums lists, as long as we’re all in agreement that this record as a whole & even in its most moving moments still doesn’t hold a candle to the modern masterpiece that Funeral was.

5 Hip Hop Tracks (for @doublem)
29. Big K.R.I.T. – “Hometown Hero”
One of the more emotive & expressive hip hop LPs I’ve encountered, “Hometown Hero” probably isn’t even the greatest track, but the Friday Night Lights samples & call-outs are just too perfect to leave off a list that’s mine.

28. Kanye West – “Power”
I don’t know if “dominant” can ever really be used to describe a piece of music, but “Power” is such an onslaught from West to the listener that it seems as fitting of a use as there will ever be.

27. Big Boi – “Shine Blockas”
My favorite groove & beat of the year, a song so infectious that always reminds you that you can’t dance once during that new Kanye album.

26. Rick Ross – “Aston Martin Music”
Genuinely one of my favorite performances of the year – the trading, soaring choruses combined with Ross’s abrasive vocals creates a unique, serene groove that rock or pop is completely incapable of matching.

25. Drake – “Over”
I think I find Drake’s lyricism to be so endearing because he’s always bordering on insecurity, sometimes alternating self-deprecation and swagger in the same verse. Kanye receives endless praise when he shows his internal vulnerability, yet his very life itself prevents him from creating a verse that is truly relatable. Drake too is living a life that really nobody else will ever know – but when he tells us about it you can’t help but feel like you’ve been there before yourself.

3 Mainstream Tracks (for @aqmohr)
24. Mike Posner – “Please Don’t Go”
A throwaway electro-pop track with some decent breakdown throughout: exactly the type of song you won’t mind until mainstream rotation force feeds you it to the point of revulsion.

23. Taio Cruz – “Dynamite”
Pop-cheese pleasure in the way that only pop-cheese can. Taio (?) was obviously a little insecure about the ultimate crescendo-power-hook at the end though, hence the completely over-the-top explosions behind him at 3:16.

22. Rihanna – “What’s My Name”
Some of the most infectious & chilling sound engineering of the year, the tones backing Rihanna & Drake’s vocals would seemingly be more in place as the score of a suspense-thriller film. Rihanna’s verses & chorus add just another layer to this haunting groove that proves that a perfect pop song doesn’t always require some sort of massive choral-hook that just abuses the listener.

The Pre-Game (& In-Game) Song of the Year
21. DJ Khaled – “All I Do Is Win”
I know this is kind of a credibility-killer to any list, but I’m telling y’all, this song was the greatest thing to happen to college & professional sports since “Sirius” (“All I Do Is Win” just barely edged Marching Band Renditions of “Bad Romance” for sports-music-meme of the year.)

5 Tracks For A Bro’s Night Out
20. The Gaslight Anthem – “Old Haunts”
Brian Fallon continues his pivot to meaningful pop-rocker after old days of matinee hardcore shows, a move started with the perfect The ’59 Sound LP. “Old Haunts” represents the trek of this band, still carrying it’s hook-heavy influence while Fallon finds himself wanting to be defined more by his lyrics.

19. The Black Keys – “Next Girl”
I’ve never quite gotten over how completely badass Carney & Auerbach are able to make a decidedly non-badass lyric like “I wanted love but not for myself / but for the girl so she could love herself” sound.

18. The Hold Steady – “Weekenders”
“Weekenders” is the perfect snapshot of The Hold Steady and what they’ve become today – a band desperately trying to hold onto their hardcore & punk roots while undeniably being pulled to the allure of Craig Finn’s incredible pop songwriting. And while this punk band effectively ceased to exist as soon as they started adding backing vocals to their choruses, the band here still plays with such an unmatched conviction that a listener dwelling more on what they’re not playing ends up completely missing something powerful.

17. Wolf Parade – “Cave-O-Sapien”
I think it’s that slight tone of pure-terror in Spencer Krug’s vocals, combined with the relentless drive of this Wolf Parade performance that makes the listener feel as if they’re on the verge of completely losing control (whether “they” is you or the band probably depends on how loud your volume is). Their Expo 86 LP is full of emphatic moments that showcase that Krug & Boeckner, while incredible songwriters individually, can still create something pretty transcendent when playing together.

16. Drive-By Truckers – “Birthday Boy”
It is with nothing but the highest respect for Patterson Hood that I say that Cooley’s perfectly-phrased opening line of “Birthday Boy” alone inspires more imagery in the listener than anything Patterson wrote on The Big To-Do (and honestly – it’s a fantastic album). Mike Cooley has always been the straight-forward, succinct & underrated one – but “Birthday Boy” is probably his strongest lyricism to date.

15 Must-hear Tracks

15. Damien Jurado – “Arkansas”
Jurado is one of the most under-appreciated songwriters, yet his writing gets overlooked because of how overwhelmingly spare his compositions are. “Arkansas” proves that w/ a touch of production + instrumentation, his writing & potent Nebraska(LP)-style lyricism becomes that much more accessible.

14. Shearwater – “Black Eyes”
A song performance so dramatic & powerful it alone almost matches the entirety of their brilliant Rook LP, Meiburg’s vocals may actually be overshadowed by the chill-inducing delivery of the band on “Black Eyes.”

13. Beach House – “10 Mile Stereo”
Beach House’s Teen Dream LP is practically impossible for the listener to not embrace from their very first listen. Tracks like “10 Mile Stereo” and “Norway” provide some of the most unique soundscapes with Legrand’s transcendent, deceptively-soulful vocals. The wash of noise to close “10 Mile Stereo” is one of the best album moments of the year, a chill-inducer upon every single listen.

12. The Soft Pack – “Down On Loving”
Foot-tapping, fist-pumping straightforward basement rock at a blistering pace, “Down On Loving” endorses the underrated abilities of indie rock without over-the-top flair.

11. Lower Dens – “Rosie”
“Rosie” actually represents more of a moment in the Twin Hand Movement LP where the listener realizes how deeply invested they’ve become in the complex, brooding journey of the record.

10. Screaming Females – “I Don’t Mind It”
An admohr personal fav, Screaming Females are a must-listen for fans of the fem-fronted noise rock trio genre. “I Don’t Mind It” is probably amongst the catchiest songs of their LPs of straightforward, balls-on rock.

9. The War On Drugs – “Comin’ Through”
I don’t love the Vile-less The War On Drugs quite as much, but the Future Weather EP is still loaded with intersecting melodies & a wall of noise and is worthy of heavy rotation.

8. Sleigh Bells – “Infinity Guitars”
Hipster stripper music. If we blog hard enough, maybe someday this will be mainstream stripper music. Also I think this is the first attempt in music at making the “maxed-out-volume / blown-speaker” sound an actual genre itself.

7. Girls – “Carolina”
Broken Dreams Club was excluded from my year-end albums consideration because it is technically an EP, but the wash of fuzzy feedback plus Owens’s soothing vocals in “Carolina” highlight why this EP is one of the strongest & most enjoyable beginning-to-end performances of the year.

6. Gayngs – “Cry”
As long as we can keep this group underground, hipsters can bathe in the enjoyable qualities of soft rock while still maintaining “above-The-Fray” social status.

5. Titus Andronicus – “Theme From ‘Cheers’ “
Tough to pick only one from this great bender of an LP, but I dare you to even try to not scream “I need a whiskey” next time you find yourself past the point of too many.

4. The Fresh & Onlys – “Waterfall”
The most irresistible indie rock single of the year, I love how timeless this track feels with guitar chords & reverb vocals seemingly coming out of the past.

3. Mavis Staples – “You Are Not Alone”
If there’s a better vocal performance this year that simultaneously warms the listener while giving them chills, I haven’t heard it.

2. Twin Shadow – “Castles In The Snow”
“Castles…” only highlights the flawless second-half of the Forget LP which unquestionably gives the listener their best New Wave fix of the year. The ability of stacking George Lewis Jr.’s stalking vocals on top of industrial jangle & terrifying synth – in only his debut LP no less – “Castles In The Snow” becomes one of the most awe-inducing performances of the year.

1. The National – “Lemonworld”
Dessner noted in an interview how difficult it has been to translate this song to the live setting, but it’s likely because the unique tone of melancholy & resignation this recording captures is so complex & emotionally layered, the performance goes far beyond providing traditional emotional context for the listener. “Lemonworld” is less a song than it is an individual thesis on personal conflict and searching for a life of meaning & feeling.

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