Yet again, we find ourselves at the year's end and as I did last year, I find myself blessed with far too much music to fit into a simple 'Favorite Records' list. To remedy this dilemma, and heap some recognition on records that didn't quite make the cut, I'll once again be running through my favorite tracks of the year. This one's going to be a two-parter, so bear with me as we dive into the first half of the year's best tunes, arranged (as usual) alphabetically by artist.
Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs"
The Canadian indie-superstars' latest record still hasn't entirely grown on me, but there's no denying the strength of its title track. Pairing a bouncing piano line with group's requisite string arrangements, Win Butler and company stretch a fairly simple arrangement to its most epic conclusion. Amidst an album chock full of shmaltz, this one hits home the most—and with a beautiful melody to boot.
Buy: The Suburbs
Baths - "Lovely Blood Flow"
Chopping beats is all well and good, but finding a way to layer some vocals on top always manages to impress me. Such is the case with this track from Baths, the latest artist to come from LA's beat scene. Amid the stuttering drum hits and atmospheric static, Will Wiesenfeld's admittedly odd voice joins the fray, bringing a strange sense of union to this offbeat gem.
Belle and Sebastian - "I Didn't See it Coming"
The first time I listened to this song—the opening track on Belle and Sebastian's latest album—it was like reconnecting with an old friend. Sarah Martin greets you gently, breathily intoning over gently swelling piano chords. By the time Stuart Murdoch joins in, it's as if these Scottish twee-pop giants never left our sides. "Money makes the wheels of the world go round" sings the pair—a fitting chorus for a priceless song.
Buy: Write About Love
The Besnard Lakes - "Albatross"
Shoegaze has been slipping in and out of vogue for years since its heyday in the late '80s and early '90s. Today, few do it better than Canadian post-rockers The Besnard Lakes—a fact which this track exemplifies. All the tropes are there, from the wailing, pitch-bending guitars to the ethereal vocals provided by Olga Goreas. "Things got weird for a bit" she croons, just before a surge of distortion takes hold—a sonic demonstration of the powerful feelings this group expertly harness.
Buy: The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
The Black Keys - "Ohio"
Why this track wasn't included on the group's latest record is beyond me, but releasing it online, free-of-charge certainly doesn't elicit any complaints. The duo's ode to our shared home state is a straightforward, heartfelt song about coming back to the place you love, wherever that may be. Personally, it's my front-runner for replacing the woefully outdated "Hang on Sloopy" as our state rock song.
Born Ruffians - "What To Say"
For a song about being unsure what to say, Luke LaLonde spouts off a fairly verbose set of lyrics that cleverly tackle the subject at hand. Backed by a stuttering beat and some minimalistic guitar and synth work, the trio effortlessly turn in what is easily one the year's catchiest tracks. I know it's one I found stuck in my head—oftentimes when I should have been planning my next sentence a bit more carefully.
Buy: Say It
Broken Bells - "October"
Every year I find a reason to sing my praises of Danger Mouse, and this year that reason was super-duo Broken Bells. Joined by James Mercer of the Shins, this track finds the pair drowning in a sea of string pads, Rhodes piano and flanged guitars. It's yet another demonstration of Brian Burton's immaculate pop-sensibilities, further heightened by Mercer's seasoned vocal work. Songs like this leave me hoping this will be more than a one-off.
Buy: Broken Bells
Broken Social Scene - "Forced to Love"
I think my favorite thing about this track is how clearly you can hear producer John McEntire's auditory fingerprints. Whether it's subtle synth drones or the relentless, prominent percussion—it's all the sound of one of America's foremost musical minds meeting with the art rock tendencies of this Canadian collective. Even for a song premised upon forced emotions, it's hard to come away from this one feeling anything but unbridled love.
Buy: Forgiveness Rock Record
The Clientele - "Jerry"
It seems as if Alasdair MacLean has been threatening to disband the Clientele for several years now, but it's songs like this one that make me glad he hasn't made good on that threat just yet. "Jerry" finds the group engaging in their usual water-tight arrangements, presided over by Alasdair's reverb-drenched voice. It's when the distortion pedal gets hit and the song's decidedly uncharacteristic bridge starts that things get really interesting. Never a dull moment with these blokes—here's hoping for more.
Deerhunter - "Revival"
For as long as I've been following his work, Bradford Cox has been a reliable source of dreamy, well-constructed nuggets of pop-rock. "Revival" continues the trend—a short, percussion-heavy number with dollops of fuzzed out bass guitar. It's over before you know it and if you're anything like me, you'll quickly find yourself skipping right back to the beginning (again).
Buy: Halcyon Digest
Dosh - "Call the Kettle"
For his latest record, Martin Dosh dug into his back catalog to refashion a three minute track from his Powder Horn EP into the dazzling five-and-a-half minute showpiece present on Tommy. Dosh lays his usual drums and Rhodes groundwork as saxophonist Mike Lewis twists his accompaniment around the underlying melody in strange and beautiful ways, adding facet upon facet to this instrumental wonder. Chalk this one up as another densely layered success for the Minneapolis loop wizard.
Dr. Dog - "Where Did All the Time Go?"
It's a tall order to write a song that will undoubtedly be used as the soundtrack to a flashback montage in some sort of biopic in a couple of years. Luckily, psychadelic pop-rockers Dr. Dog are more than up to the task, delivering a track that revels in the group's timeless sound while being careful to not overindulge in nostalgia. Bolstered by production that accentuates the group's vocal harmonies and instrumentation, the Philly quintet make this little song sound appropriately gigantic.
Buy: Shame, Shame
Dreamend - "Magnesium Light"
The twangy weirdo-folk of Graveface Records owner and Black Moth Super Rainbow guitarist Ryan Graveface can admittedly be a tough pill to swallow. However on this dreamy, banjo-driven track, you can almost hear some of that initially off-putting strangeness melting away. Even as the noisier elements kick in part way through, there's an earnestness that makes this song (and the album its culled from) extremely listenable.
Buy: So I Ate Myself, Bite By Bite
Dungen - "Skit I Allt"
It's nice to know that somewhere in the cold expanses of Sweden, there's a group of guys celebrating the seemingly under-represented sound of '70s British prog. Many of the genre's usual devices are present on this track—from the wafting flute-line reminiscent of Ian Anderson's to guitar riffs that echo the likes of Andrew Latimer and Robert Fripp. Indebted as they may be, Dungen's modern sensibilities mesh with their influences to create a sound you won't hear elsewhere.
Buy: Skit I Allt
Elf Power - "Goldmine in the Sun"
The Elephant Six Collective mainstays' latest self-titled release came with no shortage of succinct indie pop statements—none better than this particular cut. "Goldmine in the Sun" finds the group laying down a wall of chords as Andrew Reiger spins one of his apocalyptic tales over top. The wonderfully simple guitar-work on the ending breakdown caps off a track that isn't so much a return to form as it is a reminder of this band's continuing prowess.
Buy: Elf Power
Girls - "Heartbreaker"
From time to time the buzz surrounding a group is well-deserved—such is the case with Girls, whose delicate, brilliantly-produced pop songs found their way to my ears despite the overwhelming wave of hype heaped upon them. Christopher Owens lyrics on this track get straight to the point, but the refined instrumentation surrounding them bring an authenticity to his bluntness. On an EP resplendent with heartbreak, this one lives up to its name.
Buy: Broken Dreams Club
Jaga Jazzist - "One-Armed Bandit"
Norway's premiere (and only?) nine-piece progressive jazz combo flex their musical muscle on this track, the best of the bunch from their LP of the same name. A constantly-shifting beast of a song, the group establishes a unifying theme and then take every opportunity to move away from it. The icing on the cake is the John McEntire superb mix which distills what could easily have been a mess of notes into a unified instrumental masterpiece.
Buy: One-Armed Bandit
Jonsi - "Tornado"
There were plenty of moments on Jonsi's inaugural solo release that were far removed from his work with Sigur Ros, but I think it's telling that the record's best song doesn't stray far from that group's sound. The simple piano melody, accompanied by a grandiose string arrangement and the otherworldly tones of Jonsi's unmistakable voice make for track with all the power of its titular whirlwind.
Part II can be viewed here—Favorite Albums of 2010 coming soon!