Part two, in which I try to get this over with and start forgetting songs that I SHOULD have had on the list but forgot about, which I will justify by saying to myself "Well, if they SHOULD have been on the list, I would have remembered them ya'd think."
20. Shearwater - “Castaways” from The Golden Archipelago
Jonathan Meiburg's songs keep getting more and more epic. His vocals keep getting more full of conviction and there's almost a borderline sinister quality to them. He could make anything sound like some epic, end of the world jam. The Golden Archipelago is definitely an Album's album, but if it had a single, this is what it would be in my head. (Editor's Note: The Golden Archipelago DID have a single, and it was/is “Black Eyes,” my second favorite track from this record).
19. Hospital Ships - “Carry On” from “Carry On” 7”
Jordan Geiger is like some hidden gem of Lawrence's music scene. People tend to forget about Minus Story (present company included) and Hospital Ships seems like this dormant volcano waiting to blow up (and destroy a city, perhaps). “Carry On” is one of Geiger's best under his new moniker. This was one of the only 7”s I bought sight unseen (er, sound unheard). I saw it at Love Garden and suddenly it was on my turntable and I was listening to this brilliantly penned intimate bedroom pop song. It's a new local classic. Hopefully he doesn't move to Austin to fulfill his duties in Shearwater. Our stock of grade A songwriters has been greatly diminished and we can't afford any more losses!
18. Tokyo Police Club - “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” from Champ
(this video has puppies running about in it, which I REALLY love)
I don't know why I'd always pegged Tokyo Police Club as a dime a dozen dance punk band. Maybe they used to be. Maybe I'd never heard them. I DID hear them this year, though, when I got assigned to write a concert preview of some show they played in Kansas City this year and man, I was all “Holy shit this is some really catchy shit.” This song in particular, it's just well, a great fucking pop song. Catchy, ebullient and fit for jumping around a bedroom or something like that. I used to say stuff like "There's nothing special about this, but it's nice" but I think if you can write a song this infectious then it is especially special. It's like pop-crack rocks. (Note: I used to host a show called Pop Rocks! on KJHK and, in my head, it was a drug reference precisely for the aforementioned explanation of pop music being equal to drug addiction (which it isn't, but it's fun to pretend) (Note: No it's not))).
17. Girls - “Substance” from Broken Dreams Club EP
This felt like the biggest departure from Album. It's long, it's beautiful, it has female harmonies, and it feels like the next logical step. I think “Carolina” has been pegged as the top jam from Broken Dreams Club (an EP that's nothing but jams), but this one gets me every time. The way those guitar chords echo with Christopher Owens ever so sad vocals and the drums kick in. Oof. And then the female vocal harmonies that take it over the top. If anything, I'm impressed that they found a way to make the Dum Dum Girls singer sound compelling. I'm still under the impression that Owens made a deal with the devil to write songs that sound so immediatley timeless.
16. Tim Kasher - “The Prodigal Husband” from The Game of Monogamy
I don't think Tim Kasher's heart will ever mend. “Then why'd you decide to wear that if I can't come back,” he sings on this track, referencing some fancy underwear from Minnesota. Where my favorite album pick of the year was about moving on, Kasher seems to have been wallowing in divorce since Cursive's Domestica, and honestly, his steadfast devotion to the bitter love song is a bit of a triumph. The Good Life's Album of the Year was a standout of the last decade, and while the Game of Monogamy is, overall, a bit of a rehash overall despite it's lovely arrangements, “The Prodigal Husband” is full of all the miserable detail that Kasher is really great at condensing into three minute songs. And to be fair, no one does domestic misery quite like Tim Kasher.
15. Seapony - “Dreaming” from the "Dreaming" 7"
Transmittens were my favorite local band before I even started playing with them. When we started the Kite Tails, I was frequently amazed by Jen and Danny's ability to not only tolerate my fumbling attempts at making music with my limited skills, but their ability to play along to anything I threw at them with ease. They made those songs sound good because well, they're just excellent musicians. And Transmittens kept getting better and better and still no one ever want to their shows and I sat there like “Why why why!” and then they moved to Seattle, tweaked the formula a bit (ironically, by adding another Ian on bass), changed their name, and started playing dreamier tunes which almost stand in stark contrast to the synth pop they were so good at. Seapony seems drawn from the lovelier, sadder Transmittens songs, and though they'll invariably get lumped in with the whole “beach scene” of bands that love the beach, I still hear dream pop.
14. The Tallest Man on Earth - “You're Going Back” from The Wild Hunt
A tough call from a capital-a Album. Every song works together so well, it's weird listening to them on their own. So, this spot here for the Tallest Man on Earth is going to have to be the title track because, well, it's what hooked me. It's that beautiful Nick Drake grace tied to the Bob Dylanny draw in a slight Swedish accent. It's engaging folk music in a time where guy and a guitar music is everywhere.
13. The New Pornographers - “Crash Years” from Together
Vintage New Porns with a modern twist. Neko Case proves she's still the Grand Dame on an album where her former stand-in Kathryn Calder proved that she could play in the same league as Case. But alas, Neko still sings the pop hits. This one's a soulful slow-burner added to a list of instant classics that Carl Newman seems to pull out of thin air and thrust upon the world in the most loving way possible.
12. The Hold Steady - “Hurricane J” from Heaven is Whenever
The loss of Franz Nicolay crippled the Hold Steady more than they probably think. Or maybe they know that it just isn't the same (despite the fact that he only joined after their second album). But there's evidence. When I saw them in Omaha, Franz's beaming, mustacioed face and back-up vocals were sorely missed and I could only focus on how bored everyone in the band that wasn't Craig Finn looked (“Some nights it's just entertainment/ and some other nights it's work”). Heaven is Whenever is exhibit B. It's not a terrible record by any means and I like it, it's just really incohesive, has a couple duds, and just doesn't feel up to the standard I've come to expect from my favorite working band. They're still my favorite band, but I was sad about it. “Hurricane J” is the Hold Steady finally achieving a bonafide arena rock anthem and doing it marvelously well. That bit after the bridge? Epic. I get that feeling like I'm a girl in the 70s, on a dance floor. It's a weird feeling. I feel like Jenny, who might love the Hold Steady more than me. I feel what she feels when she listens to the Hold Steady, and there's something transcendent about that. It's a blast to listen to, this song.
11. Rooftop Vigilantes - “Kitty Vacant” from Who Stole My Zoo? EP
MP3>>>Rooftop Vigilantes - "Kitty Vacant"
Rooftop Vigilantes sophomore LP Real Pony Glue would have made my top ten this year if it wasn't in limbo. I hear it's coming out next year on a proper label, but who knows. In the mean time, they put out the Who Stole My Zoo? EP on a lark and it was pretty good. It featured their first real clunker, but it also had “Kitty Vacant,” which is pretty much everything Rooftop Vigilantes does well jammed into just over two minutes of pop bliss. It's the misdirection that does it for me though. It's great, catchy, energetic, fun, all that good stuff I expect from a Roofie Vig jam, but then that mid-90s breakdown comes out of NOWHERE midway through and elevates the motherfucker to the the place where I don't understand how this band is still toiling away in Lawrence and aren't fucking huge and beloved by everyone everywhere. And I mean that, too. This isn't some rah rah local music is so great rant, because well, most of it's just OK. But man, this band would be great if they were from anywhere and by some twist of fate they're from Lawrence and I get to see them play on a fairly regular basis.
10. Wye Oak - “I Hope You Die” from My Neighbor, My Creator EP
I saw Wye Oak twice this year, opening for Shearwater and later in the year opening for the Mountain Goats. All I could think about was how I fell asleep during their set at the Merge Records showcase a few years ago at SXSW. And then I saw them live (twice) and both times I was like “FUCK FUCK FUCK THIS IS SO FUCKING GOOD WHAT WAS I THINKING!” I think I was thinking that their first album was just OK but their follow-up and subsequent EP (which this track is culled from) are really fucking good. This song, though, they played it both times I saw them and it was immediate. The conviction in Jenn Wasner's voice, that made me think that maybe she really DID hope the person this song was about shuffled off this mortal coil. There's something grim about that, but something emotionally devastating about this song that makes you get it because, well, who hasn't been there? I still haven't been able to get into their records as a whole, but man oh man, this song is so great.
9. Perfume Genius - “Mr. Peterson” from Learning
My introduction to Mark Hadreas brutal and brilliant songwriting style. Despite being about a teacher having an affair with a high school student, there is no wagging finger, no blame, just sadness for the teacher's eventual suicide. It feels like not taking yourself seriously as a band or a person is an ever growing trend, and hearing someone bear their heart and soul as Hadreas does on his excellent debut Learning is incredibly refreshing. Honesty counts for something.
8. Blitzen Trapper - “The Tree” (w/ Alela Diane) from Destroyer of the Void
A beautiful tearjerker of a song that expresses the nature of life in a way that feels like it should be simplistic, but it's such a beautifully crafted song that it makes me all teary eyed when I listen to it closely.
7. Titus Andronicus - “A More Perfect Union” from The Monitor
(Did not know they had a proper music video for this!! Awesome!!! But, for posterity, here is the full, un-singlefied version)
THIS is how you open a fucking album. With huge guitars, even bigger riffs, Patrick Stickles sounding like he's going to rip apart at the seams and a blatant, unabashed Springsteen reference that these guys totally get away with because well, they're carrying his anthemic rock and roll torch and keeping indie rock interesting. Also, invoking the Civil War as a theme for a concept album is pretty much like catnip for indie rock nerds who also happen to be history nerds. Think of two venn diagram's crossing over, and in the middle it's this song and, well, all the songs on this record. But this is the sink or swim moment. The moment where you realize that this is going to be a great album or the moment where you forgot what it was like to be a totally absorbed punk rock kid between the ages of 16-18 and how there was nothing wrong with and nothing embarrassing about that and, quite frankly, you were probably a more genuine person back then anyway.
6. Frightened Rabbit - “Nothing Like You” from The Winter of Mixed Drinks
(For SOME reason this is the alternate version of the video. The original is pretty boring, this one is my second favorite music video of the year, what gives?)
The heart of my favorite album of 2010, “Nothing Like You” delivers the line that's effectively the thematic core of The Winter of Mixed Drinks. “She was not the cure for cancer.” It's an album about moving on, the difficulties that come with that, and accepting that starting over is way better than being miserable. At first I was let down by The Winter of Mixed Drinks, thinking it lacked that raw openness and heartbrokenness of The Midnight Organ Fight. And then I noticed it wasn't a break-up record and thus, shouldn't be judged by the same standards. It was a close call between this, “Skip the Youth,” and “Living in Colour,” but like I said, this is the jam. This is the one song that is right in the middle of everything and conveys the album's themes in the most elegant ways.
5. Los Campesinos! - “A Heat Rash in the Perfect Shape of the Show-Me State (or, Letters From Me to Charlotte)” from Romance is Boring
Romance is Boring is both immature and brash and wise and the most mature thing Los Camp have put out to date. It's an album that continues to grow on me, which, this late in the game (I heard it for the first time about a year ago), that's an awesome thing. This song kills me, every time. Every single time I get this tense feeling in my chest when Gareth Campesinos sings the titular line and the chorus comes in with the horns and the chimes and the last great harmonies from the departed Aleks Campesinos. It's like a great lost Sarah Records track from the early 90s with manic arrangements from the future. It's reverent to its influences without being afraid to push things forward a little.
4. Superchunk - “Everything At Once” from Majesty Shredding
There are too many great tracks on Superchunk's first album in 10 years (or whatever). It was a bitch picking one for the list. “Learned to Surf” was on last year's and I still consider “Crossed Wires” to be a 2009 song. However, after dozens of listens, I think despite the aforementioned 2009isms, “Everything at Once” is the most amazing song on that record. “Digging for Something” is a great, fun single, and “Rosemarie” has that killer chorus and “Fractures in Plaster” is a majestic slow-burn beast, but “Everything at Once” is fucking transcendent. It's pure bliss. Everything about it is solid gold, warm light like at the heart of the island on “Lost.” The guitars are just the right amount of distorted, the harmonies are just the right amount of “ooo,” the bass is turned up to just the right level in the mix, and the guitar soloing is in all the right places. And it's deceptively simple. “So here's a song about nothing and everything at once,” Mac sings. It plays at reflexivity but cuts through to what feels like uncharted territory. Well, not uncharted, but the path less traveled. It's glorious.
3. John K Samson - “The Last And” from Provincial Road 222 7”
Though the Weakerthans are due for an album any year now, I'll take frontman John K Samson's 7” series when I can get it. This is the lead-off track to his second installment (each one is dedicated to a different road running through his home province Manitoba). Though Samson admits that the song is rooted in the relationship of Ms. Krabapple and Principal Skinner on the Simpsons, it was the most devastating song I heard all year. A teacher carrying on an affair with her married boss, and the principal calling it off. It's full of all the remarkable details that Samson is so good at. The details that make him one of my favorite songwriters. “I remember how you made me feel/ I was funny, I was thoughtful, I was rare/ But like the jokes about my figure, kids think I don't understand/ I know I'm just your little ampersand.” On the last Weakerthans LP, Reunion Tour, samson wrote 13 songs about 13 different characters, both real and imagined. He's really good at it, and “The Last And” is another intimate portrait of someone who isn't real on paper, but is out there somewhere.
2. Owen Pallett - “Lewis Takes His Shirt Off” from Heartland
(This video moved me to tears the first time I saw it last last year. I think he knows it's one of those songs that's so good, if you were to die playing it things wouldn't be so bad.)
Last year I saw a video of Owen Pallett playing this song in the rain at some festival. The stagehands wanted him to stop as the rain beat down harder on the stage, but he kept stalling them in between breaths. He kept stalling them because this song is his masterpiece. This is elegant but fun pop music at its finest. Adventurous and playful and seriously profound and affecting at the same time. All of Heartland is like that, but this is the peak. Where the refrain of “I'm never going to give it to you” becomes a mantra of sorts for the album's protagonist Lewis, standing up in defiance of his god. It's a triumphant goddamned piece of work.
1. The National – “Terrible Love” from High Violet
As much as I wanted to love High Violet, I didn't. I've been over this already. The opening track though, that just might be my favorite National song ever, and I wish the rest of the album had this much vitality. This much beautifully recorded, bottom of the gut energy and conviction. It's their practically patented slow-burn up to that goddamned destructive chorus. It doesn't need big guitars, it doesn't need to make things incredibly ornate. Just an interesting, almost martial drum pattern, some reverby guitars in the background, and then it all drops off. “It takes an ocean not to break.” And that's just the first half of the song. You've heard it, you know how good this song is, and I hope you can't deny how good this song is. This is buttoned-up prim and proper indie rock at its finest, and despite my middling feelings about High Violet, I still reserve the right to change my mind a couple years from now because I think the National are going to be one of those bands that makes indie music respectable again and one of those bands that pushes it into the realm of popular culture without selling out, without pandering to the people, without doing anything but constantly crawling down that rabbit hole and developing their sound in new and exciting ways every time out. High Violet felt like a risk, which seemed weird because the National have such a great formula that they've been refining album after album, but it felt fresh and different. Well, half the time. The other half I still think is repetitive and boring, but the tracks that hit, the ones that pull off grandeur without pompousness, THAT'S where it's at. And that's where “Terrible Love” is at. I won't forget them debuting this song on Jimmy Fallon and how my heart was pounding in my chest. Somehow they managed to carry that energy over into the recorded version, and in a year of let-down albums, I realized that great songs are oftentimes more important than great records. It depends on the day, the month, the mood or whatever, but I'll take a perfectly crafted song over an everyday great record pretty much any day.