Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rounding Out The Top 15

Because a top ten just isn't enough...

2010 has proved to be an exciting and high-energy year for music. Lady Gaga got weirder, Justin Bieber’s hair got silkier, Rihanna became empowered, Lil’ Wayne became more criminal, and Miley Cyrus tripped out. Among all of those juicy and gossip-heavy happenings were a lot of other important musical moments that got the town talking. Artists we all know and love became better, tried new things and continued to open our eyes to the possibilities hidden within an instrument and the song-writing process.

Looking back on 2010, many things stood out to me musically. There were several points in time this year when I was buzzing with anticipation for a new album or restless to know how an artist’s personal trials would translate into their next release. Xylophones chimed, guitar licks seared and pensive voices floated like ghosts atop clever melodies. Needless to say, I was infrequently disappointed and repeatedly intrigued by the additions to my beloved collection and number of times that my heart pitter-pattered when first listening to novel treasures.

I'll let you in on the singles that I loved, but for the most part, these singles were part of larger and equally as thrilling compilations. In no particular order, here is what sent me soaring in 2010, and what I will carry over to the next chapter:

1. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire: Off the rightfully-acclaimed The Suburbs, female protagonist Régine Chassagne shows her bouncy and powerful pipes on this Blondie-reminiscent taste of youthful jubilation. Chassagne accurately encapsulates the dubious feelings of a lighthearted adolescent soul who is forced to grow up and survive in the “sprawl” (which is creatively described as “dead shopping malls that rise like mountains beyond mountains”). The 80s dance-pop feel of this song perfectly straddles the line between the beauty and harsh reality of adult life.

2. What’s My Name? – Rihanna featuring Drake – The urban beat of one of this year’s hottest rap ballads is infectious, with Rihanna spitting out conviction against Drake’s monotone rhymes. It’s catchy and well-suited to any West Side Story love affair in a modern-day metropolis, as it can be spun happily on a dance floor or intimately in the confines of your home.

Free Energy
3. Something in Common – Free Energy: This group of hopping and bopping hippies represent exactly the words of their name. They are naively happy young boys who dance to the beat of their own drum. On this track, their drum is like a groovy side-step, boogying alongside a likeable bassline and dance guitar. Give in to their pleasant advice and just shake it when they say, “Beginning tonight/ Well you can change your mind/ You know it's never too late, you're gonna be alright/ We can trust there's something in common between us.”

4. Laredo - Band of Horses: Off their third studio release, this country-rock piece of Americana goodness was pinpointed as a great moment in the Infinite Arms line-up. In all honesty, despite them being one of my favourite bands, I can admit that this album didn’t fare in comparison to their first two releases. It was a lot of mediocre and this track came out on top. It’s scorching guitar and twanging Texan story is essential for that voyage on down the baking countryside dirt roads.

5. Awake My Soul – Mumford and Sons: Despite adoring their debut upon it’s release in 2009, London-born Mumford and Sons' Sigh No More has only recently been uncovered by the masses as absolute musical gold from start to finish. Building momentum and both gentle and hurried indie-folk instruments are the signature facets of this mature-beyond-their-years quartet. This modestly meaningful and eclectic compilation includes my personal favourite “Awake My Soul,” a weighty poem that expands into howling harmonies and a beautiful bluegrass pace.

Florence, sans Machine.
6. Cosmic Love – Florence and The Machine: It’s about time that Florence Welch, the operatic indie redhead that has only released one album yet was nominated last year for a Mercury Prize, is exploding at new heights. Her 2009 album Lungs sent her like a shooting star into the wavelengths in the latter half of 2010 – with hits like “Dog Days Are Over” and “You’ve Got The Love” finally garnering some airtime. “Cosmic Love” is without a doubt the most stand-out track of the album – as it pulls off one of (in my mind) the most special musical feats. When I hear this song, I really do hear what a cosmic love (or Florence’s definition of it) would sound like. I start to feel starry-eyed, light and full of love. The picks of the majestic harp strings and the way her big, fiery voice epically builds to scream over the crashing drums and is absolutely inspiring and difficult to exhaust.

7. 11th Dimension – Julian Casablancas: The Strokes’ raspy-voiced front-man pulled off quite the pop-rock dance party this year with his solo debut Phrazes for the Young. The spacey, ultra-80s rock release takes notes from both The Cure and his own group’s garage-pop. Most likely, you'll find the most fun within the contagious “11th Dimension,” a bottled remedy for those who don’t like dancing.

8. Sweetest Kill – Broken Social Scene: This mellow indie ballad is one of Kevin Drew’s finer moments, even semi-resembling his own crackly croons from the 2002 single “Lover’s Spit”. This ever-changing and legendary Canadian collective created a memorably ambient beat with “Sweetest Kill”, which slides in nicely amongst the other tracks on the equal parts jacked-up and soothing Forgiveness Rock Record. Other winning tracks include “Sentimental X’s” and “Texico Bitches.”

9. Nothin’ On You – Bruno Mars feat. B.O.B.: It’s only right that this song was such a smash, seeing as two break-out stars like this should mathematically amount to something else. This city-strollin' love song consists of all the right ingredients – B.O.B.’s conversational rapping and Bruno Mars’ boyishly pure serenading. The drumkit percussion and sweet piano melody made women everywhere swoon, as if these two charmers were speaking right to us.

10. Sorrow – The National:  High Violet was without a doubt the most gorgeously perfect album of 2010, featuring fascinating confessions like “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” “Runaway” and “England.” This song is a profoundly frank and melancholy tale for the unfortunate in which Matt Berninger’s deep resonance is eerie and beautiful. There isn’t much to discuss surrounding this song, as it all lies in the haunting instruments, hollow beat and brutal honesty. “Sorrow found me when I was young/ Don’t leave my hyper heart alone on the water/ Cover me in rag and bone sympathy/ ‘Cause I don't wanna get over you.”
Janelle Monae

11. Tightrope – Janelle Monae: Well, this little firecracker sure put some spice on the scene this year. Monae, a pint-sized, James Brown-footed, suit-wearing powerhouse, is without a doubt ready to take over the Billboard and hold it to herself. In every way part of the next installation of R&B superstars, Monae and her “Tightrope”-walking (as well as the impossibly wicked music video) stole the show.

12. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear: Grizzly Bear, a seemingly inaccurately-named foursome of respectable young men, struck excellence with this waltzy piano-driven track. The marching-band drums and layered Beach Boys-esque harmonies made for (in my mind) one of the most wonderfully addictive tracks of the year. A truly “day in the life” tune made for everyday exploration. For some extra bump, check out the mash-up of this and Dead Prez's "Hip Hop."

The Keys
13. Never Gonna Give You Up - Black Keys: This soulful snack of Jerry Butler's original motown-blues is confirmation that the Black Keys are emerging as legendary leaders who channel forefathers of theirs like Led Zeppelin and Clapton. This well-rounded rock duo mixes thick, bluesy guitar with clanging percussion and sweltering smooth vocals - a merger that has steadily nudged them into the limelight this past year. The Keys' breakthrough album Brothers is full of these sort of classics-to-be, so I insist you jump in on this bit of history-in-the-making to see what I'm talking about.

14. Devil in a New Dress - Kanye West: The clash of the old-school drum, sampling and electric interjections mixed with Kanye's romantic preach-hop rhymes make this track one of the highlights off 2010's critically-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The trump-all compilation was needed by Yay, and is notably a huge step up from the shallow autotune of most of 808 and Heartbreak. This nutty album features bluntly offensive but clever lyrics, innovative melodies (he samples Bon Iver's "Wolves")  and everything else possible to re-affirm to his fans that although he is egotistical and entirely bonkers, he is larger than life.

15. Easy - Dragonette + Mary - KOL – Previously mentioned, but by no means less important. See past posts for info on why I love this Canadian electro-princess and group of Tennesee Kings.

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