20. Laura Marling – Alpha Shallows
I think half of the songs from Laura Marling’s I Speak Because I Can occupied this list at one point or another. “Alpha Shallows” got the spot after much deliberation for its palpable feelings of tension. Marling’s album is a surprisingly mature affair for a 20 year old both in subject matter and quality. The production on “Alpha Shallows” is gorgeous from its huge drum hits and strumming mandolins to the plucking string section it all contributes to a sense of something dark just over the hill that is then redeemed in its last soaring minute.
“And his heart was full of fire for the man he had become.”
19. Broken Social Scene – Sentimental X’s
There was a night when, I kid you not, I listened to this song fifteen times on repeat. Few songs can withstand even two repeat plays in my library, so it’s a bit of a feat for this song to stand up for fifteen go’s. Its infectious electronic loop and slow-building sound, adding in gradually guitar lines on guitar lines and vocals on vocals and electronics on electronics keep the song going through its deceptively simple lyrics. The lyrics of this song boggle my mind a bit, as their meaning slowly warps and turns from light to dark.
Admittedly, it’s a song for the sentimental and I’m a sucker in that demographic.
18. Local Natives – Who Knows Who Cares
I feel like I’ve been talking about this song for decades. Something about it is so strikingly timeles, as if it’s been a standard for summer joyrides and picnics since your dad’s time. It’s a quality I don’t think can be easily attained and it’s somehow all over Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor. The song is absolutely soaring in its harmonies and develops slowly into a bltiz of a rocker. Turn it loud and go driving on a summer day and sing it with some friends and it’ll be a better conveyance of what I’m trying to say than any of these words.
17. Kanye West – Blame Game (ft. John Legend)
This one just crept up and up the list each time I listened to it. It helps of course that I’m huge fan of the original sample, Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th” and John Legend. But it’s neither of those two things that pushes it to a top twenty position. It’s West’s astounding exploration of the dark parts of a broken relationship. When the vocals seperate into three rotating voices, altered version of West’s own, it’s schizophrenia is all too perfect a representation of a conflicted mind. Chris Rock’s monologue is hard to take seriously, but in the actual context of the song it works all too well as a representation of West’s ex’s next relationship. It’s a dark thought to think of West hearing all this. Masterful, Mr.West.
16. Titus Andronicus –
The Battle of Hampton Roads
Ho, boy. This is a big one. For starters, it’s 14 minutes and it grows and grows. It’s full of excellent lines and big, big moments. It name-drops the Boss himself. It’s grandiose got multiple parts and I don’t know where to start with it. Lyrically, it covers a lot of ground and not a lot of it is light. But it is a rewarding listen if you stick with it, it doesn’t hit a sweet spot until 4 minutes when the guitars really get into a groove and even after that the song returns to the less immediate sound (but really, give the lyrics a solid listen) only to explode again. It’s long, yes, but its length gives it an inspiring feeling of being epic. The kind of epic you’d expect from a song named after the first battle between two ironclad naval ships by a band who got their name from Shakespeare’s most gruesome play.
The best part of the song, in my opinion, is its utterly huge ending with a catchy guitar line that I swear to god is from something.
If you’ve made it to the bagpipes, stick it out. Trust me.
15. The Tallest Man on Earth – Love is All
After the blitzkrieg of Titus Andronicus, The Tallest Man on Earth’s dark, warped guitar is a welcome comedown. This emotional track is the second “Must Listen.” Admittedly, I love virtually everything Kristian Matsson does; his voice’s easy emotionality and striking sound are endearing–he could sing ‘Mary had a Little Lamb and I’d probably love it–but his ability to write songs is what really does me. “Love is All” is beautifully written. It has a memorable guitar line and I don’t know if there’s a starker moment from 2010 as “Here comes the tears and like always I let them go! Wo oh oh oh…”
But then almost every line of this song is worthy of quotation marks.
“The future was our skin and we don’t dream anymore”.
14. Sleigh Bells – Rill Rill
Sleigh Bells got a lot of attention this year. A verifiable buzz band for their album Treats. I hated Treats. It was loud obnoxious and grating. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that the first song I heard from it was the absolutely awesome “Rill Rill.” Sampling Funkadelic and dripping all over it with catchy melody, “Rill Rill” should have been the pop song of the summer. It was played at a party I was at and some girl was really hating on it, much to my surprise. Granted, this was a party where “Black and Yellow” was played at least three times. Probably further proof that I’m going to the wrong parties.
Nowhere else on Treats is there a moment where it all lets go and Sleigh Bells lets the melody take its own credit as they do towards the end of “Rill Rill” and I think it’s the moment that reveals, in a small way, that it’s actually a solid song underneath all that insane catchiness.
13. Shearwater – Hidden Lakes
This song was originally placed here as a placeholder; I expected it to move as I added songs to the rest of the list, but with each song I added it stayed. “Hidden Lakes” is exceedingly, unrelentingly beautiful. Jonathan Meiburg’s voice is a big contributor to this fact. Its milky smooth texture and sheer elegance astound me. And while the rest of Shearwater’s Golden Archipelgio is much more rock-focused, the piano ballad format seems to fit with Meiburg’s voice. I can only imagine how fast a lullaby from this man would lull me to sleep. “Hidden Lakes” isn’t a complex or demanding song by any means, but it is one that is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
12. Anais Mitchell – Way Down Hadestown
In picking a representative track from Hadestown, there’s a lot of great options. I picked “Way Down Hadestown” simply because it is an excellent song that is catchy, surprisingly danceable, swinging and fun. Full of influences that paint the rest of the album, the jazz nightclub sound is one of my favorites and it’s the biggest on this track. It’s dynamic and fun and sounds like a bunch of musicians having a bunch of fun. Pretty much every contributor that shows up on the album hits a section of this track, my favorite being Justin Vernon’s. Even though it functions as a story element in the awesome concept that drives the album, “Way Down Hadestown” stands well on its own. It may not ever been entirely seperatable, but damn is it fun.
11. Eyes Lips Eyes – Tickle
I posted about this song only about a week ago, so it feels a little silly to be writing about it again. The key to liking this song is to listen to it in a car full of friends, driving too fast for your own good and turning the volume way the hell up. If you do that, I don’t think there’s any way not to like this song.
If you don’t have a car or friends, my suggestion is to listen to it and love it anyway. It’s fun as hell and if you can’t recognize that, then that’s probably why you don’t have friends. I mean, it drops a Goonies reference for Christ’s sake.