And now the exciting conclusion to Rankstravaganza 2010, featuring the 10 songs I listened to most … other than songs from my Top 15 favorite albums of the year. Just go with it.
Before we get started, perhaps you would like to review the other entries in this thrilling series? Here they are, for your linking pleasure:
For whatever reason, Canadians dominated the top of this list, I just noticed (not to mention the albums list). Go fig.
10. “History Lesson,” Motion City Soundtrack
The Minneapolis band melded its usual pop-punk song to some Celtic rock for this track, and it must have worked because it makes me want to swing around a pint and yell along, “It’s not my goddamn history!” And I don’t even know what that means.
9. “Factory,” Band of Horses
Seattle South Carolina indie band’s third album kicks off with a wall of woozy synths and guitars, contributing to a dream-like description of a man living in a messy hotel room. He’s eating out of vending machines and falling asleep with the TV on, perhaps having been kicked out of his home by an estranged wife or girlfriend. He feels awful, but he never wants to come back home.
8. “Peepers,” Polar Bear
I never would have guessed that an instrumental track by an English experimental post-jazz outfit with two saxophones would crack the Top 10 of this list, but it did. It helps that the saxes, which trade fluid solos then periodically combine in lockstep honking, are backed by a cool, garage-rock groove. [free download]
7. “Christchurch Woman,” Justin Townes Earle
Just like his old man, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter can write a humdinger of an Americana tune about pining for a beautiful woman. In this case, Earle says he wrote it about fetching New Zealander he met while on tour in Australia. In the song — a slice of mournful Memphis soul complete with some Stax-style horns — he’s been stood up on a rainy Friday night, but he stays until closing time just in case she comes walking in. That’s some good heartache.
6. “Hang With Me,” Robyn
Why are the Swedes so good at making ridiculously poppy music that plays just as well in clubs as it plays with critics? Whatever the reason, Robyn is the queen of Swedish pop, and this bubbly, dangerously catchy dance tune is all the proof you need.
Laugh all you want, but this viral video by the guys behind Auto-Tune the News re-wrote the rules of what a pop song could be. No longer does a songwriter have to labor over finding the perfect hook; a producer can simply take an sound clip and turn it into a jam that cracks the Billboard Hot 100. Not only that, but a horrific, real-life event like a sexual assault can be turned into a novelty song that brings amusement to millions, makes the perp a laughing stock and allows the victim to buy a new house. Run and tell that, homeboy!
4. “Marching Through Your Head,” Zeus
And why are Canadians so good at writing ridiculously catchy power-pop that no one but me follows? The Toronto-based backing band for Broken Social Scene member Jason Collett struck out on their own with a debut LP full of songs sure to appeal to anyone else out there that enjoys Sloan and The New Pornographers. This tune is the best of the bunch, a slice of musical advice for a friend who can’t stop thinking about a girl who just makes him miserable.
Punch Brothers, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile’s new band, were all over the place this year — releasing a sophomore LP of progressive bluegrass, backing Dierks Bentley on his acoustic roots album, touring all over and covering Radiohead — but this was my favorite thing they did. Not to mention, hey, Fiona Apple is back in the recording studio with the producer who brings out her best quirks. They all collaborated on this song, their version of a composition by a bunch of fifth graders (hence the lyrics about Gummi Bears), written as part of a songwriting class offered by the nonprofit tutoring center 826LA. I can hardly imagine how cool it must be for those kids to put this song on and say, “Yeah, I wrote that.”
2. “World Sick,” Broken Social Scene
Hey, Broken Social Scene! We were just talking about you, and now here you are. The Canadian musical collective released its fourth album of lush indie rock this year, and nowhere is the pop sound so huge as the epic opening track. It sounds like every musician in Toronto is playing during the instrumental breaks on this song.
1. “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” Owen Pallett
Who is Own Pallett? He’s the Canadian composer who arranges string parts for Arcade Fire and released two albums under the name Final Fantasy before Square Enix told him to cut it out. Who is Lewis? He is the “young, ultra-violent farmer” from the fantasy world of Heartland who serves as the protagonist of Pallett’s third album, a series of musical monologues featuring Lewis arguing with his creator, whose name, tellingly, is Owen. Why is he taking off his shirt? Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the way the electronic polyphony melds with the symphonic flourishes, and get ready to sing along with Pallett on the rabble-rousing chorus: “I’m never gonna give it to you!”