About the only new music I got into in 2010 was Said the Gramaphone’s round-up of the best music of 2009. So a while back, I asked Twitter for help, scoured The Onion AV Club, sifted through Spotify lists, and then pretty much went with Said the Gramaphone’s round-up of the best music of 2010.
Since I’m embedding a bunch of tracks from their site, I’ll also copy their referral codes for the buy links so any kickbacks go to them.
Apologies to anyone who recommended me something that didn’t make this top ten – I listened to over 700 tracks over the course of three weeks, so it’s likely I overlooked some good stuff.
1. Tennis – Seafarer
The gentle crooning of Cape Dory would have made as much sense in the forties as today, and it’s about the prettiest concept album I’ve ever heard. The whole thing is a half hour holiday to a series of remote isles, each track a different nautical adventure among deserted beaches.
Marathon is the track Gramaphone picked – an almost too-sweet finger clicking ballad about exploring a coastline, and my favourite at first too. I ended up prefering Seafarer for the way it keeps shifting – I lose track of the number of hooks, and every time I find myself humming Tennis it turns out to be just a different part of this song.
2. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Company
I’ve never disliked a Joanna Newsom song, but they’re all so gentle and nice that I can’t distinguish between most of them. This is the one with a hook, and like a lot of artists who don’t usually do them, she turns out to be brilliant at it. The sharp curl of the chorus catches so beautifully on the way she rolls her unstressed syllables – she’s like if Holly Hunter was an elf.
It’s still sweet, and funny, it just happens to be catchy as well. So much so that I’m even happy to sit around while it takes a few meandering minutes to wind down at the end.
3. Sleigh Bells – Rill Rill
I love a song that can’t shut up, like there’s some itch in the vocal chords that tickles in every instrumental moment. Crown on the Ground was in last year’s Gramaphone roundup, but its poppiness is filtered through such a vicious assault on the ears I assumed the rest of their stuff would be something like a western Masonna.
Sleigh Bells are nicer than that, though, they just like seeing what your speakers can do. Rill Rill is a tumbling, clashing pop song with no unwanted teeth, which makes it the most listenable on the album. Elsewhere, Run The Heart has fun blending chorals with an oscillator and cutting in thick chunks of fuzz. Then Infinity Guitars jitters without momentum for most of its length before throwing itself through an unexpected brick wall of gut thumpingly thick noise.
They love to play with the texture of sound, and I love to hear them do it.
4. The Decemberists – Down By The Water
The King is Dead feels louder and brassier than the stuff that got me into the Decemberists in the first place. But that gives high points like Down By The Water a big, crisp satisfying sound that’s just fun to have around.
5. Menomena – TAOS
I had never heard of these guys, I have no idea what TAOS stands for, I don’t like anything else I can find of theirs on Spotify, but this track… God yes. Just the right mix of powerful riffs, fearless vocals and self-effacing lyrics that slowly turn sinister as the insecurities reveal their source.
6. Matt & Kim – Good for Great
Beep beepbeepbeepbeep beep. Beepbeepbeepbeep beep. Beep.
7. Belle & Sebastian – I Didn’t See It Coming
About the only one on this list I was able to figure out for myself – oh, Belle and Sebastian have a new album? You think I should listen to that? Good idea.
I Didn’t See It Coming is an anthem written to be shouted, a punch on every syllable, but sung as softly as possible. It’s really nice.
8. Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You
I love Fuck You for its incoherent impotence. It’s not a song about bragging – despite a disastrous ‘official’ second video that manages to miss both the point of the song and the video that made it popular. It’s not about self-pity, it’s not about betrayal, and it’s not even about putting someone down. It has plenty to say about the girl he’s lost, but she’s not the point either.
The chorus is addressed to someone else – the guy – and it’s a chorus for when you know why you’re pissed off, you know who you’re pissed off with, and you have absolutely no point to make about it. You’re not like, “Oh yeah? Well she’ll leave you too.” You’re not like, “Oh yeah? Well at least I’m better looking.” You’re not like “Oh yeah? Well I’ll get rich some day and make her jealous.” You’re like… fuck you.
9. Hello Saferide – Lund
A gorgeous band discovered via Duncan Geere’s excellent collaborative Spotify playlist: Sparse and Wintery. You can listen to the lovely Arjeplog there, and it was a close toss-up between that and Lund for my pic. Lund wins purely on music, that trickle of piano has a really distinctive atmosphere that reminds me of a time and place I can’t quite name.
10. Radio Radio – Nine Piece Luggage Set
I can’t stand hip-hop that’s about self-aggrandisement, money, violence or sluts. I am 100% behind hip-hop that’s about suitcases.
I can only understand about half the Acadian French in this song, but enough of it is in English to suggest they are, on some level, mocking the puerile materialism that leads hip-hop culture latch onto random accoutrements of anachronistic wealth ideals. But I love it for being so beautifully deadpan that after a few listens, you actually kind of lust after a really nice piece of luggage.