5. Phosphorescent - "Mermaid Parade" from Here's to Taking It Easy
I know I always go on about challenging ones musical limits as if I'm some sort of avante garde junky, but sometimes all you need is a country ballad with a simple progression and a couple of dueling guitars. Not only is "Mermaid Parade" all of that, it also features the saddest chunk of lyricism you'll hear this year. The story of the swift dissolution of a marriage, the narrator takes stock of his situation while watching a summer parade. The song fades in and out like a warm sunset. But unlike the sunset, you can restart "Mermaid Parade", as I did again and again.
4. Walkmen - "Angela Surf City" from Lisbon
If the Walkmen do one thing well, it's uptempo rock numbers featuring chimey guitars and screechy vocals. Such is "Angela Surf City", the lead single from Lisbon. It features a triumphal chorus, with Hamilton Leithauser screeching words until breathless. Props as always to Matt Barrick's drumwork--I bet dude did some time in a punk band or two. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about "Angela Surf City"; just an effortless (and stellar) single, and another win for the Walkmen.
3. Tallest Man on Earth - "Burden of Tomorrow" from The Wild Hunt
It'd be easy for Kristian Mattson to pack his songs so full of words that only the most lyrically-minded Dylanites could embrace them. And while he's probably guilty of that sometimes, "Burden of Tomorrow" he keeps the lyrical onslaught at least managable. And it's all framed in an attractive melody and bounding tempo that sweetens the deal for those listeners who might be overwhelmed by a lyrics-first type song. If he sang "la la la" the whole time, "Burden of tomorrow would still be eminently likable.
2. Local Natives - "Shape Shifter" from Gorilla Manor
It was a dead heat between this one and "Who Knows, Who Cares"--but I thought "Shape Shifter" was a better representative of the album as a whole. The song starts innocently enough, with a few quiet little piano/guitar measures, but as soon as Taylor Rice sings "My kingdom humble before you," you almost get the feeling that this song is up to something bigger. Indeed, at about :45 in, drums arrive and the build is on. The theme of the year in this list as a whole seems to be quality choruses, and few if any are better than "Shape Shifter". It's a flourish of cymbals and harmonies, and its addictive. It geysers out of the verses with such oomph, you can almost feel it rush over you.
And taking the top spot this year...
1. Spoon - "Out Go the Lights" from Transference
The first thing you might notice about "Out Go the Lights" is that there's really nothing flashy about it. Despite stating in the above entry the importance of choruses to this list, "Out Go The Lights" has a chorus that hardly distinguishes itself from the rest of the song. So why is it my top tune of the year? I suppose that this song, like no other from 2010, invokes a particular state of mind. It radiates a thoughtful coolness that arrives naturally to Britt Daniels and crew. The structure is simple: mellow guitars pick apart chords in stereo. We also hear classic Spoon techniques like an unflinching drum beat and subtle instrumental textures throughout. There's an extended instrumental outro that strips away instruments one by one, leaving the drumbeat all by its lonesome. Lyrically, it seems cautionary. It takes a more subtle approach than similarly-themed "The Underdog" from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The lyric "you will remember the way/They fall for you like a brick/Oh but nobody loves you/Or woos you when you're down or kicked" suggests that, in a time of struggle, it's the help you do or don't get that defines us. I've heard some folks dismiss Transference as a rare miss for Spoon; while I vehemently disagree with that, I at least hope detractors could tip their hat to "Out Go the Lights".
That's that. Will post a link to download all 20 tracks sometime tomorrow hopefully. And then it's on to my top 25 albums of 2010.