Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2010

Every December TMI likes to take a look back at the year and do a quick round up of what was great during the past twelve months. It's also an opportunity to throw TMI's two cents in the mix with a 'best of' list of our own; Lord knows every other blog/site/publication does it. Honestly, it's too much fun not to.

Anyway, 2010 was a good year. We waded through buzz around Arcade Fire and Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack, then Kanye swooped down and somehow managed to land at the top of, if not close to, multiple 'Best of 2010' lists, and at the last second, no less.

Spoon, Frightened Rabbit, The National, Sufjan Stevens– they all made killer albums ranging from raw and tense to densely layered. I'm still getting to know Sufjan's The Age of Adz. There's a lot to sift through there and a handful of listens won't do the trick.

Alas, they are all well-loved artists at TMI, familiar dwellers of my iTunes library and therefore ineligible for The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2010, but that's okay because what follows is a list of new discoveries that aggressively laid claim to the "most played" category on iTunes.

As always, here are the rules for how songs can make the list:

1. It can be any artist or band that was unheard by TMI before January '10.
2. Songs have to be good. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Sure, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either.

Fairly simple, no? Here's what survived the year at TMI.

1. Dance Floor : The Apples in Stereo

Hands down, this infectious, somewhat cheesy dance number dominated my year from the moment I watched their music video staring Elijah Wood. I was absolutely shameless in the frequency with which I played this song. It was unhealthy. Groove aside, I really took to the feeling of nostalgia for something that no longer exists (said the kid about to graduate form college.) Front man Robert Schnieder sings "the dance floor isn't there no more, but my body's still moving. Tell me, do you know, where are we to go when the world is so confusing." Words and music, baby, straight to the heart. Listen

2. 1901 : Phoenix

Every once in a while you hear a song that's so good that you can hardly believe it exists. This was one of those songs this year. From the sonar blips and buzzed out guitar to enigmatic lyrics, "1901" hit on an unshakable vibe. I resisted Phoenix for a long time but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix wound up being one of the best albums I bought all year. It had that special something that kept me playing it almost every single morning this summer. "It's not a miracle we needed, and I wouldn't let you think so." Sometimes you've got to believe the hype. Listen

3. The High Road : Broken Bells

Here's another example of a song that turned into a mild obsession for me this year. When it was announced that Danger Mouse was teaming up with James Mercer, the indie community collectively wet its pants. The product, a self-titled album of quirky, retro tunes from outer space, was totally worth the change of knickers. "The High Road" is cool in a way that has everything to do with the most deliberate usage of the word. Of course, after going so long without any new material from The Shins, who wasn't happy to have Mercer and all his musical sensibilities piped in through their speakers once again? Listen.

4. Other Hearts : Michael Huff

It's really hard to pick one song off this dude's EP, so I figured I'd go with the title track. Last January I interviewed Huff for the Belmont Vision. Much in the way Andrew Bird snagged an early spot on the list in January '09, Huff and his wise, warm songs were a no-brainer. Melancholic and comforting all at the same time, it's difficult not to return to this album for a periodic pick-me-up. "Other Hearts" is one of the more up tempo tunes. It's really a sweet song. The challenge in writing the piece for the Vision was staying objective when all I really wanted to say was "I'm madly in love with this EP and I think it'll get you too." There's not a video for "Other Hearts" so I'm linking to "Too Far Off" instead. Listen

5. Sleepyhead : Passion Pit

This song officially whetted my appetite for electro/pop. The first time I heard "Sleepyhead" I really did not dig it at all, but somehow it grew on me and represented the greatest musical catharsis I heard all year. It sounded reckless and young. I made it my ringtone. But in all seriousness, this song is a flat out contagious good time. "Everything's going to the beat." Some days that's exactly how it feels. Listen

6. Say La La : Keegan DeWitt

Moving on to a more recent discovery, I heard "Say La La" at The Basement in Nashville during the Next Big Nashville music festival this fall. Initially, I was outside but there was such energy and effervescence pouring out the doors, I wasn't out there long. DeWitt has a great voice. The song itself is really lively– sounds like a whole bunch of people are having a blast. I think we need to keep an eye on this fellow. That way, we can remind people he's from Nashville. Listen

7. Shadow People : Dr. Dog

While I'm typically critical when folks try to channel Bob Dylan with raspy vocals and a mild disregard for melody, Dr. Dog manages to pull it off with "Shadow People," a song with roots running deep into some other decade. The best part of the song is definitely the lyrics. There's something wistful about it all without being glum in any way. Favorite line? "In some backyard, in some plastic chair, hoping these cigarettes will save us." That's a very real and familiar visual. Listen

8. Home : Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Speaking of roots running into a different decade, my immediate attraction to "Home" was how much it sounded like something about forty years older than it actually was. And wow, singer Jade Castrinos has some pipes on her. This song came at a good time in January/February when I was shunning anything electronic. "Home" only served to reinforce my love of raw, rootsy, Americana. Listen

9. Go Do : Jónsi

Icelandic music (read: Bjork) has never really caught my fancy. I've had plenty of friends sing the praises of Sigur Ros, but again, I never got into them. Fast forward to this summer when Sigur Ros front man Jónsi released his first solo album and I found "Go Do" on a commercial for paint. Oh man. The juxtaposition of his delicate vocals and that pounding drum is really intriguing. Of course, I really like the sentiment of "Go Do." It comes off like an awkward verb translation but there's a certain purity of meaning. This gets the prize for most gorgeous song on the list. Listen

10. King of Spain : Tallest Man on Earth

Picking #10 was a doozey. In truth, I could have created a list of about 20 songs including Mayer Hawthorne, Jason Collett, Samantha Crain and the Spinto Band, but I finally decided to settle on a song that is definitely the most recent discovery for me, and one that I think I will pursue into 2011. With that, I give you "King of Spain" by the quirky little fellow who calls himself The Tallest Man on Earth, Kristian Matsson from Sweden. His voice sounds absolutely shot, but his guitar playing is as lovely as the poetry he spins. For that, he gets the final spot.

Here's to 2011.

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