And we’re back, still counting down my favorite tracks of the year … or at least those by artists not represented on my ranking of albums of 2010. You can read all about the whole convoluted reasoning, plus tracks 30-21, here.
Everything from teen pop to mainstream-ish country to (surprise, surprise) folky indie rock is represented below. Each song found its way to the top of my “most-played songs of the year” list. It’s a total meritocracy around here, folks.
20. “Congratulations,” MGMT
I still don’t quite know what to make of MGMT’s sophomore album, which is generally lacking the obvious hooks that made the New York indie band’s debut a breakthrough success. This sleepy, melodic title track concludes the follow-up, and it’s a rather uncharacteristic tune on an album full of hopscotching psychedelia. It is probably the easiest transition for anyone who was a fan of “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” but might be willing to follow the band into more adventurous territory. Be forewarned: The video is extremely memorable — and not necessarily in a good way.
19. “Empty Room,” Arcade Fire
I wasn’t blown away by the Montreal band’s third album of high-concept, swing-for-the-fences indie rock — not as much as all the folks who have hailed it as one of the year’s best albums, even throwing a few Grammy nominations its way. The Suburbs isn’t bad, though, and this track’s combination of hyper-baroque strings with heavy swells of guitar noise won me over. On previous albums, I haven’t been the biggest fan of the tracks with Régine Chassagne on lead vocals, but this time her wispy voice provides a comforting center to all the musical turbulence.
18. “It Didn’t Make a Sound,” Court Yard Hounds
The sisterly 2/3 of Dixie Chicks decided they didn’t want to wait around for Natalie Maines to start feeling like recording another album, so they made one on their own featuring Emily Robison’s original songs. This one has everything you’d expect from a Dixie Chicks hit: poppy melodies, banjo with a backbeat — everything except Maines. Like much of the rest of the album, Robison uses this song to express feelings about her 2008 divorce from fellow country singer Charlie Robison.
17. “Whoop and Hollar,” Ray Wylie Hubbard
The veteran Texan singer-songwriter went dark and apocalyptic with an album of old-time blues and roots music. This rollicking, a cappella gospel number wouldn’t be out of place at a tent revival and is guaranteed to make even the most skeptical atheist feel at least a bit of spirit.
Looking for a way to embed the album version proved futile, but you can hear it here, or here is Hubbard performing it live:
16. “White Crosses,” Against Me!
On the opposite end of the religious spectrum, the Florida punk band is causing trouble and singer Tom Gabel is snarling about how he dreams of smashing all the white crosses dotting some church’s lawn. As the narrator pounds the pavement of one of St. Augustine’s main drags, his paranoid mind seethes with derision for the young panhandlers, jogging college girls, tourist bars and just about everything else he encounters.
15. “S.U.,” Fields of Industry
Of all the indie music from Michigan I heard in 2010, this was the only tune to make the Top 30 cut. The Lansing experimental rock band found a darker, grittier sound; a rediscovered appreciation for Velvet Underground; and, especially on this song, some bluster and callousness. Having met singer Joshua Barton on a few occasions, I can pretty much assure you that he is assuming a less polite alter-ego for “S.U.,” which I think stands for “shut up.”
14. “Fool’s Day,” Blur
“This is Blur,” Damon Albarn announces at the beginning of this track, released exclusively on vinyl as part of Record Store Day. The declaration is a pleasant surprise: This is the first new material the Britpop mainstay has released since 2003. The song has a bit more guitar than that other project that’s been taking up Albarn’s time, but it finds him in a familiar, funky funk.
13. “Sweet Days Waiting,” Teenage Fanclub
A gorgeous lullaby of a track from the Scottish band, still going strong 19 years after the release of the revered, pop-grunge album Bandwagonesque. The group’s guitar tones are considerably cleaner these days, and this tune floats along on a gently descending bass line and some charming, slow-mo drum fills.
12. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind,” The Magnetic Fields
Grounded in blunt lyrics and acoustic instrumentation that ticks like clockwork, Realism is the polar opposite to the New York City band’s previous album, Distortion. For the lead-off track, Stephin Merritt — in his usual droll, deep bass voice — and a chorus of compatriots sing about all the reasons that it’s impossible to “simply press rewind” on a relationship.
11. “One,” Sky Ferreira
If there was one thing that music fans of all stripes could agree on when it came to pop music in the ’00s, it’s that Britney Spears’ “Toxic” was an awesome song. Everybody from teenie boppers to jaded hipsters thought that song rocked. The same Swedish production team of Bloodshy & Avant also crafted this fembotic jam for 18-year-old American singer Sky Ferreira, using more of those effervescent, très Euro, electro-pop beats.