Every year I seem to do this a little differently. This time I have created a list of my 30 favourite songs released in 2010. My selection criteria was pretty simple. Go through my top rated songs of the year, determine which ones I still wanted to hear, and rank them in order of how enthused I was to hear each song again and again. Would this change if I re-did the tomorrow? You betcha. But really, why worry about pragmatics, let's talk about some great music.
Tracks #6 through #1 can be heard in their entirety in Too Much Rock Podcast #153.
This is a delightful little twee pop gem full of bold guitar choices, '60s tambourine hits, and a crazy little groove running through it all. Elizabeth Morris' vocals are effervescent and out of control in just the right way.
This twee song that is equally fluff and filth. Snapping drums, chiming guitars, and everything that the genre was built to be. And no wonder Tender Trap is lead by two members of Heavenly – the band that built the genre in the UK.
Three bands and all of them indie pop from the UK. Go figure. This song has a angelic flowing vocal over a shuffling rhythm. An tasteful organ pops up in the middle of a great bass run. Slide guitar? Synthesizer? Sure they're buried in there too. If the melody introduced by the very first a cappella vocals doesn't stick with you, then just move on to the next track now.
After vanishing for years the Scottish indie popsters are back. While much of the album is buried under the band's thick signature guitar squall, this track is largely an acoustic affair with chiming bells and a soaring chorus resting on strings.
Walter Schreifels's (Quicksand, Rival Schools) first solo album includes this delightful shambling pop song built on acoustic guitar, tumbling drums, and Rhodes piano. This tune is Sunday morning. Make sure and watch the video for this one as well.
This folky number is defined by Kristian Matsson's hyperactive, Richard Thompson-esque guitar work, but topped by his sincere throaty vocals. A man, his guitar, and a great song. It's that simple.
If the delightful Scottish lilt doesn't get you, then surrender to the thick backing vocals or the rich and graceful indie pop accompaniment that engulfs you like the waves vocalist Scott Hutchison sings about.
If indie rock isn't dead, then it's because of Broken Social Scene. This driving rocker is all about a simple guitar line and pounding drum track. Where you'd expect vocals there's a short yet effective guitar lead, and when we swell to the chorus it's strings that provide all the energy. A cathartic soundtrack suitable for all your sucesses.
The word "anthem" is right there in the band's name. Somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and The Hold Steady (and there's not much more room there) you'll find this soaring rock number with a chorus that is as good as any rock song ever written. Brian Fallon's scratchy vocals are a warm embrace for those of us raised on heartland classic rock.
Craig Finn is still telling stories I want to hear, Tad Kubler is still providing big guitars, and (on this album at least) Franz Nicolay's is still creating twinkling piano that makes these rock numbers sparkle. The dynamics and shifts make this song stand out on what is a very good album.
Stars have created a haunting duet built on hushed boy/girl vocals that stand above electronic washes, warm strings, and ever-so-slight percussion. Somehow all of these understated elements combine to create a big impact.
Brian Briggs vocals are just breathtaking on this minimalist chamber pop number. The string and synthesizer subtleties are striking, and that chorus – oh that chorus – is one of the year's most memorable musical passages. Emotions run close to the surface on this one, so don't be surprised if you feel the need to hug Briggs when the music softly fades away.
This is an indie pop masterpiece wrapped in revved up indie rock. The harmonies are great, the chorus blue-album Weezer, the wavering guitar lines uniquely SSLYBY. You'll want to beat on the steering wheel while listening to this one, and it'll never be too cold to have the windows down when this song's on.
Zooey Deschanel's vocals, that chiming '60s rhythm, girl-group backing vocals, a constant piano hit, and a great guitar solo from M. Ward make this could-have-been AM radio classic a stand out on what was undoubtably my favourite album of the year.
This indie pop number is rich with instrumentation including an understated banjo line and shimmering bells. A pounding 4/4 rhythm is smoothed out by a flowing guitar line and a charmingly haphazard chorus of vocals. Somehow this song brims with a charmingly ramshackle naivete and yet still meticulously arranged. Ignore the haters.
Guitars are traded in for a reverb-rich piano, and Kristian Matsson vocals carry the weight on this emotional ballad. We never get the grand chorus that we're expecting, but somehow all the tension is released when Matsson sings – no, stage whispers – the titular line. Antony eat your heart out.
On Ra Ra Riot's new album Wes Miles's vocals are strong and sure in a way that they have never been before. Here, they alone command a bright indie pop song leaving just enough to room for the nearly transparent rhythm track and lifting violin. It all works together flawlessly.
Bandleader Nick Goss guides this chamber pop ensemble through a track that owes as much to Aaron Copland as Ennio Morricone. The song rests on galloping rhythms that are connected by flitting strings and vocals. A piano bridges it all together in a fantastic arrangement.
On on album that was a bit of a disappointment, the striking indie rock of Block after Block is an oasis. The song is all about the pulsing organ and electronic handclaps combined with Matt Johnson's energetic and eager vocal line. Every time I hear this song, it's better than I remember it being. Every time.
While I hear Blondie's "Heart of Glass" under it all, the vocal performance by Régine Chassagne is so direct and true that it's impossible not to feel this song. The phrasing of the chorus is simple infectious, and it doesn't hurt that the teenage suburban ennui and confusion that the song's lyrics describe ring universally true.
I'd love to claim I was too cool for this song, but it's just not true. The band built a fantastic song with a kick drum, a thumb piano, and the direct vocals of Ezra Koenig. I'm still not sure what the vocals mean but it's so sunny I still can't resist it no matter how hard I've tried.
Hold Steady's second appearance in the list is smoother with an ebbing bridge that makes me want to sway with a lighter. Craig Finn's wordplay is divine here. "You can't get every girl. You'll get the ones you love the best. You won't get every girl. You'll love the ones you get the best. You can't kiss every girl, you gotta trust me on this one."
Are you familiar with the Skeeter Davis version in 1964? Well this isn't so different. It is , however, brilliant. Whoever dug up that version of this oft-covered track and paired it with Zooey Deschanel's voice has done the world a service. There's pop and bounce and just enough defiance in this track to add some gravity. If you don't like this then you don't like pop music. It's really that simple.
While I've always been a casual fan, the latest album from this super group made me a lifelong fanatic. This song combines a giant low string riff that couldn't have been bigger if played by Jimmy Page on a thousand Les Pauls. Both verse and chorus are catchy as hell so prepare to have this melody stuck in your head.
Like most indie pop kids, I thought Belle & Sebastian were Gods in late 90s. And again like most indie pop kids the band has slipped from my favour ever since. But this track is the best thing in decades. It's bouncy '60s pop with a strong bass line, twinkly bluesy organ, and great backing vocals from actress Carey Mulligan. Did we need another reason to crush on this English pixie?
Little known Chicago band Canasta has floored me with this soft and flowing orchestral indie pop gem. This is one of those beautiful songs that I have just have a hard time believing that someone wrote. The strings, the piano, the drums, the cascading backing vocals, those brilliant shifts, changes and movements, and oh my goodness that gorgeous repeated refrain. This is simply perfection and you will sing along.
Are you tired of hearing about She & Him yet? A driving drum track and flowing strings swirl around Deschanel's perfect voice. The melodic piano break, and Deschanel's doubled vocals make this the best song on what is a marvelous album. But you already own this so why am I blathering on.
Brightly strummed acoustic guitar and slow moving organ support a wonderfully soft vocal and brilliantly laid out lyrics. Through in a twangy Glen Campbell-esque guitar solo and this two minute 25 second song is everything that a pop song could be.
With Kansas City's Hidden Pictures, vocalist/guitarist Richard Gintowt has created a picture perfect song of romantic longing. The sort of song that you never want to end. The sort of song that you want to see a movie made from. It's the little things like Michelle Sanders' backing vocals, the strings, the ice-rink organ, and the layers of auxiliary percussion (glockenspiel, sleigh bells, guiro., etc.) that build up this little acoustic-based indie pop song into something that stirs the heart.
It would have been impossible to guess that my favourite song of 2010 would come from a self-released album by a local band, but here we are. Mammoth Life is as much a cult as a band, with costumes, a large shifting line-up, and a mostly behind-the-scenes band leader who speaks like an 19th century English poet. Big ideas spring from this well, and "Boy Blue, An American Lion" is part of a superbly realized chamber pop concept album. Layers upon layers of intricate orchestration prevail, but it's the violin melody that makes this song stand out as the song of the year. Simply the catchiest tune you're likely to have heard this year.
Now, I'd like to take just a moment to recognize a couple of songs that were released in 2009, but didn't make it to my music library in time for last year's list. If I would have heard these in time, they surely would have been included. So, in no particular order:
This is a simple acoustic Americana tune defined by a tumbling banjo, a picked acoustic guitar, and vocals. Drums and bass are later added as the song builds and the lyrics tell of a couple's uplifting planned nuptials. If this doesn't make you believe in marriage nothing will.
Bill Callahan's deep direct voice and sagely lyrics are supported by a insistent piano line, occasional drum hits, growing strings, and soothing horns. Bill struggles to forget a lover but the memory even invades his dreams. This is another song that should be a movie.
We heard about Allo, Darlin' way back at #30, but it's this song from an earlier 7" single that swells my heart and sends my toes tapping. I love the horns, I love Elizabeth Morris' vocals, and the lyrics documenting the incompatibility (not maybe not?) of twee girl and her punk rocker boy are so sweet.
So there you have it. That's what excited me this year. Of course I didn't hear every album released in 2010 (though iTunes tells me I did add 149 complete albums that were released in 2010 to my library) so maybe when we count them down for 2011, I'll have to include some 2010 stragglers too.