2010 was a great year for music. Instead of compiling a list of favorite holiday songs like I have in years past (Merry Xmas Mix and That Was The Worst Christmas Ever), I decided to make an album with 18 of my favorite songs from the year. To qualify for my Merry un-Xmas Mix, a song only has to meet two standards: 1) I enjoyed listening to it in 2010. 2) It is family-friendly. Cee-Lo, Jonsi, Kanye West, and Mumford & Sons all had songs disqualified for failing to meet the second standard.
The songs, and how and why they made my list follow.
1. Arcade Fire: “City With No Children” from The Suburbs
I love the entire album because it is direct and passionate and purposeful; the songs are powerful and the lyrics meaningful. I picked “City With No Children” because the seamless transition from borderline pretentious pleading to self-doubting introspection in lyrics like:
Never trust a millionaire
Quoting the Sermon on the Mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I’m beginning to have my doubts, my doubts about it
2. Band of Horses: “Compliments” from Infinite Arms
Pandora introduced me to Band of Horses. Lots of friends are fans possibly due to the band’s Atlanta connections. I’ve not become a big fan, but I do enjoy the album and I like this song in particular. It’s comfortable, anthem-light southern rock.
3. Beach House: “Zebra” from Teen Dream
Beach House is a dream pop band that is new to me. In fact, the term “dream pop” is new to me but it is just what it sounds like. ”Zebra” is my favorite song from the album, equal parts angelic and daydream-inducing.
4. Broken Bells: “The High Road” from Broken Bells
A guy famous for mashing up the Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album collaborated with the lead singer from The Shins to make an album. Natalie Portman’s character in The Garden State says their song “New Slang”, which has one of my all-time favorite lyrics: “Good teeth and the curse for this town / All in my mouth”, will change your life. My favorite part of the Broken Bells song, and the reason I love it, is the reprise, where he repeats “It’s too late to change your mind. / You let loss be your guide.”
5. The Decemberists: “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)” from The Hazards of Love
The Decemberists is another band I discovered via Pandora. The Hazards of Love is a rock opera that culminates with the lovely “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”. It is a sad tale, beautifully told, that ends in death. Happy New Year!
6. Jars of Clay: “Eyes Wide Open” from The Shelter
This was a tough choice because The Shelter is my second favorite album of the year. The album is a collaboration of modern worship songs written by Jars of Clay, performed by Jars of Clay and friends. The lyrics are honest and thoughtful. One of my favorites, from “Eyes Wide Open”: “It’s so hard to win this fight and love you at the same time.”
7. Jonsi: “Go Do” from Go
What is a compilation without some Icelandic artistry? Go, a solo effort by Jonsi from Sigur Ros, is a fun, upbeat album with a couple standout songs. My favorite is “Animal Arithmetic” but that song sneaks in the F-bomb in a couple of spots. ”Go Do” is a good second choice.
8. Kanye West: “Amazing” from 808s & Heartbreak
One thing about moving from Atlanta back to the Maryland/DC area I really looked forward to was being able to go to more high quality soccer games. My dad and I attended Maryland’s last two tournament games at Ludwig Field, where I discovered “Amazing” using SoundHound on my iPhone. It’s a strange choice for a pre-game song, but it is very catchy and my daughter and I love dancing to it.
9. LCD Soundsystem: “Dance Yrself Clean” from This Is Happening
I do not like LCD Soundsystem, and I do not like this album. It made many “best of” album lists and most people who have similar musical taste as me love this one-man “band”. I just haven’t been able to get into the electronic/funk/digitized sound; not to mention I have a very hard time getting over the spelling of “yourself” in the song title. All that said, this song is very good and I listened to it often not just because lyrics like the following really resonated with me:
Talking like a jerk
Except you are an actual jerk
And living proof…
that sometimes friends are mean
10. Lou Reed: “Perfect Day” from Transformer
During the Olympics, the soundtrack of an AT&T commercial was “Perfect Day”. Being a fan of The Velvet Underground and John Cale, I was surprised I hadn’t come across this song or album before. Even if it can’t provide reasonable coverage for my phone, at least it can broaden my musical horizons. Thanks, AT&T.
11. The Low Anthem: “Charlie Darwin” from Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
I solicited musical recommendations when I was sitting on some amazon mp3 credits and a friend said if I wasn’t listening to “Charlie Darwin” I wasn’t experiencing life. What seemed like extreme hyperbole at the time now, in hindsight, rings true. The entire album is awesome, tremendously diverse and wonderfully constructed. I could’ve chosen “Ticket Taker”, “The Horizon is a Beltway”, or “To Ohio” and been equally happy, but decided to go with the haunting hymn “Charlie Darwin” because it is a tad more accessible.
12. Mumford & Sons: “Winter Winds” on Sigh No More
Another great album. I got it shortly after my daughter was born in January and we spent many nights pacing around the kitchen singing (i.e. me singing, her screaming) along with the English bluegrass/folk Indie rockers. The album is unabashedly literary, even to go so far as to quote Shakespeare in a couple of songs. It gets a bit dark in spots, but has very good balance. I would not hesitate to stand up any of the songs from the album on its own. I chose “Winter Winds” for its lovely poetry and accessibility. What some might call cheesy or lame, I find raw, unpretentious, and endearing. For example, “Winter Winds” opening:
As the winter winds litter London with lonely hearts
Oh the warmth in your eyes swept me into your arms
Was it love or fear of the cold that led us through the night?
For every kiss your beauty trumped my doubt
13. The National: “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from High Violet
High Violet is my favorite album of 2010. The National has perfected its craft as far as I’m concerned: it produces the most musically cohesive rock songs. The lyrics are esoteric ramblings of a semi-coherent singer, intertwined with clever quips like “I still owe money to the money, to the money I owe.” I had half a mind to buy my family and friends High Violet and call it a day, but where’s the fun in that?
14. Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs : “New York City’s Killing Me” from God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
I’m a big fan of Ray’s simple, whispered songs. That’s just what this song is: Ray soulfully sings about his longing to get out of the city. It was particularly fitting to me that my favorite character from my favorite television show (Adam from “Parenthood”) is also a big fan.
15. Rufus Wainwright: “Martha” from All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Rufus airs his family’s dirty laundry in a typically dramatic Rufus way. This album is a bit more manufactured glitz than I like. ”Martha” is about as simple as it gets. For me, for Rufus, the less accompaniment there is, the better.
16. Sleigh Bells: “Rill Rill” from Treats
I love the story of how Sleigh Bells was formed. It is a two person dance punk/noise pop band that formed after a waiter at a Brazilian restaurant in Brooklyn waited on a kindergarten teacher and her mother. He mentioned he was looking for a female vocalist to work with on a musical project and the teacher’s mother immediately volunteered her. ”Tell ‘Em” is a great, foot stomping, shake your booty single, but my favorite song from the album is the interminably catchy “Rill Rill”.
17. Sufjan Stevens: “Heirloom” from All Delighted People EP
I decided to pick only one song per artist and my favorite Sufjan song of the year came on the surprise EP released before the full-length The Age of Adz. It is the simplest song from the two albums, one wonderfully crafted and beautifully delivered.
18. Vampire Weekend: “Holiday” from Contra
If I’m being honest, Contra disappoints me. None of the songs from Contra grab me like “Oxford Comma”, “Mansford Roof”, and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” from their self-titled debut. Regardless, I couldn’t resist including a catchy, poppy song named “Holiday” on a decidedly un-holiday album, even if Honda ruined it.