Not content to merely list off my favorite records of 2010 and risk overlooking some really great music that didn't quite make the cut, I'm once again running through my favorite tracks of the year. You're about to embark into part two of my 36-song list—if you missed part one, you can find it right here. So, let's wrap this up—here's the second half of my list of my favorite tracks released this year, arranged alphabetically by artist.
Kings Go Forth - "Now We're Gone"
This Milwaukee-based neo-soul band was one of my favorite musical discoveries of 2010, cemented by their killer live show at the Double Door this past summer. Lead singer Black Wolf howls his way through this joyfully forlorn track, backed by a formidably tight horn section. Record store owner and band leader Andy Noble has undoubtedly done his crate-digging homework, arranging one of the most stirring nods to the classic soul sound without a Daptone logo on the spine.
Buy: The Outsiders Are Back
Maps & Atlases - "Living Decorations"
The topography-obsessed group's latest record strips away some of the overtly technical finger-tapping fret-play of their earlier work in favor of a more rootsy, percussion-based sound. "Living Decorations" is the most rousing demonstration of this new direction, replete with ample rapid-fire rhythms and melodies. It's a reminder of the unique musical territory this band occupies—bringing a heaping dose of musicianship to the realm of pop-rock.
Buy: Perch Patchwork
Marco Benevento - "Greenpoint"
Keyboard extraordinaire Marco Benevento showcases all his toys on this track from his latest release, seamlessly shifting from piano to organ to circuit-bent electronics over the course of six minutes. It's not a showy piece, but rather a calculated, atmospheric arrangement—a veritable symphony created by way of fingertips on keys. It can be difficult to take in all at once, but it makes for an immensely rewarding list from an artist clearly testing his own limits.
Buy: Between the Needles and Nightfall
Mimicking Birds - "Pixels"
I'm still not exactly sure if lead singer Nate Lacy is trying to sound exactly like Issac Brock, but if his intention is to provide the antidote to Modest Mouse's current overtly-pop tendencies, he's succeeding. This track in particular evokes the headier, less hook-ridden days of Brock's de facto outfit—that the trio still manages to find a voice of their own is an even greater accomplishment. It'll take some serious effort to come out from under their mentor's shadow, but a song like this proves they just might have the chops to pull it off.
Buy: Mimicking Birds
The Mynabirds - "Numbers Don't Lie"
Over the course of this track—as well as the record from which it originates—frontwoman Laura Burhenn joins the likes of Neko Case and Lætitia Sadier on my list of favorite female vocalists. Beginning with its wavering organ intro, the song quickly settles into a Motown-tinged groove, anchored by a jangling piano and some great back-up singers. To cap it off, production work from the amazing Richard Swift makes it all leap from the tape straight to your ears in the most pleasing way possible.
Buy: What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"
If you ask me, "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is a song about growing up and coming back to its titular state—something I've been doing quite a bit of myself as of late. As usual, Matt Berninger's wonderful baritone is carried on top of the Dessner brothers' atmospheric instrumentation, creating the moody sound for which this group is known. It's a track with an epic tone derived from sweeping moments of grandeur and a relentless sense of purpose.
Buy: High Violet
The Nels Cline Singers - "Red Line to Greenland"
The Singers have always been an outlet for Cline's incessant noodling, and as such, I can forgive the three minutes of effervescent noise that preface this track. When the main riff kicks in, Cline quickly proves why he's one of the best guitarists around, building a shifting post-rock melody with help from his able-bodied rhythm section of Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola. No one can do a six-string freakout quite the way Cline does, and as a showcase of that talent, "Red Line to Greenland" is a rousing success.
Percolator - "Deduction"
Discounting the fact that I'm friends with the good folks of Percolator and even helped with the creation of the music video for this track, my love of this song transcends my association with it. The band's polyrhythmic, math-rock riffage is in full effect here, presided over by an oblique set of lyrics that would make Stephen Malkmus proud. It's something I would be listening to even if I didn't have a personal connection to it—is that high enough praise?
Buy: None of These Are Words
Pomegranates - "Anywhere You Go"
If there's one thing that really brightened the end of my year, it was the Pomegranates' particular brand of psychedelic space-rock, as exemplified on this track. "I like you / I really like you" screams Issac Karns, vocalizing a yearning which permeates this song, informing its ever-shifting dynamics and moods. It's the kind of finessed angst and hopeless romanticism that actually serves a purpose, coalescing in a song that is at once weird and beautiful.
Buy: One of Us
Quasi - "Repulsion"
Between Sam Coomes' gut-punching guitar-line and Janet Weiss' pummeling turn on the skins, fuzzed-out Portland rock and roll from a pair of former lovers doesn't get much better than this. Top that off with one of the best choruses to grace a song this year and you get an album-opening track that doesn't make any effort to hold back out of the gate. Vehemence, thy name is Quasi.
Buy: American Gong
Retribution Gospel Choir - "White Wolf"
You might never suspect it, given Alan Sparhawk's better-known day job as frontman of slowcore superstars Low, but the man can pen one hell of a rocker. Such is the case here, on the pick of the litter from Retribution Gospel Choir's second LP—a track dominated by '80s-style drums, a pulsating banjo line and beefy guitar chords. It's a rollicking good time that is as genuinely enjoyable as it is out of character.
Santah - "Chips of Paint"
"How am I gonna be normal?" exclaims Stanton McConnell over this track's earnest opening strains—a question answered only by a song that transcends mere normalcy. With it's serpentine guitar leads and an exceptionally harmonious solo, the Illinois quintet create a phenomenally varied sonic composition with palpable emotional heft. Even its subdued last minute makes perfect sense, providing a sensible cool down after three-and-a-half minutes of meticulous intensity.
Buy: White Noise Bed
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "I Learned the Hard Way"
When a voice with the commanding presence of Sharon Jones' talks to you about love and loss, you listen up. Backed by the indomitable Dap-Kings, Jones' message is all the more powerful, riding atop the big brass sound of one of the most seasoned groups of players around. By the track's end, its abundantly clear that Sharon learned the hard way so we don't have to—she puts the 'soul' in resolution.
Buy: I Learned the Hard Way
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - "All Hail Dracula"
Over the summer a colleague of mine proposed that this track was about the record industry's blood-sucking tendencies. Singer Jonathan James shrugged that theory off and said the song was merely based off of a cool-sounding headline he read. That's an indicator of the fun-loving attitude that permeates the group's latest, Chris Walla-helmed effort. SSLYBY don't take themselves too seriously—the perfect attitude for a pop-rock treasure such as this.
Buy: Let It Sway
Stornoway - "Zorbing"
There's something about Brian Briggs' voice and the minimalist arrangement present on this track that evokes the pastoral English landscape that undoubtedly served as inspiration. Fleshed out with rumbling baritone harmonies and a jubilant horn section, "Zorbing" quickly takes on all the trappings of a left-of-center pop hit. It's no small feat for such a young group, but on a record full of similarly wonderful songsmanship, it's almost assuredly not a flash in the pan.
Buy: Beachcomber's Windowsill
Superchunk - "Digging For Something"
As the punk rock riffs and Mac McCaughan's nasally drawl come into sharp focus on this track, it's refreshing to hear just how little Superchunk has changed in the nine years since their last record. Age hasn't slowed down these pop-punksters—they sound as raucous and raw as ever, with years of experience to back it all up. It may have taken a bit of digging, but this track proves that these guys can still muster that magical sound.
Buy: Majesty Shredding
The Walkmen - "Angela Surf City"
It takes about a minute for this track to hit its stride, transitioning abruptly from a cursory ballad to a boisterous rocker. "Life goes on all around you" belts frontman Hamilton Leithauser, propelling this song forward with some of the most powerful pipes in the biz. For a group that have quickly become regarded as elder statesmen of indie rock, the Walkmen firing on all cylinders are still a beautiful sound to behold.
White Mystery - "Take A Walk"
The latest project from Alex White (who formerly headed up the Detroit-based Red Orchestra) finds the red-headed guitar-slinger teaming up with her similarly coiffed brother Francis to create heavy-hitting garage rock. On this track, White takes some simple lyrics about walking around Chicago and turns them into a blistering two-and-a-half minute showcase of joyous musical energy.
Buy: White Mystery
Keep an eye out for my Favorite Albums of 2010 list—guaranteed to be up before year's end!