For the past three years, I’ve made a “Best Of…” mix, ending the year by looking back & reflecting on the songs that meant the most to me. I didn’t subscribe to the rule that they had to be released in that year, just that they were the soundtrack of my last twelve months. I would spend weeks thinking about this, first making a list of the songs that I remembered listening to the most. Then I would go back through DailyTuneage (which sadly, is anything but Daily these days), looking at Last.fm logs and iTunes play counts and end up with hundreds of songs that I loved. Far too many to fit on one CD (which is my limit, for those of you who still listen to things like that) so I’d often create a B-Side Mix that were a few that just missed making the list.
This year, I decided it wasn’t enough, and set out to complete monthly “Best of” Mixes, which I was successful in doing, save for May & June when I was all busy and HAPPY or something equally annoying, which now irks my Type-A self as I really, really wanted to have twelve complete months of what I was listening to. (I’ll try better this year, promise. As for the happy? Working on that, too.) But when it came to the end of the year, my December Mix was as challenging as ever to compile, but my Best of 2010? Much easier. I simply reviewed my monthly “Best Of” mixes, checked a few other songs that I was into, and then made the difficult choice of deciding what songs made were deemed the Best of the Best. And, unlike years past, I put them in chronological order instead of my MasterMixMaking Algorithm™, which totally doesn’t exist but would be super if it did. And so for the last week, I’ve been listening to this mix, and taking a literal chronological trip down memory lane, which I’ll share with you now.
1. Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons (JANUARY): I remember first hearing about them in late December, courtesy of my friend Jake, who sent me this song and I was instantly in love, trying to find the album (which was only available in the UK) and listening nonstop. It made my January mix, and over the last twelve months it’s become more and more fitting with some of the lyrics. (Yep. You know which ones I’m talking about.) And since then, they’ve found HUGE success, selling out venues galore. (I saw them 3x; once at Slim’s in SF, once at Lollapalooza and a third time at their last paid North American show at Terminal5 in NYC. They’re great performers.) So maybe you heard them here first…that would be nice.
2. Broken Horse – Freelance Whales (JANUARY): Not sure how I found out about these guys, but I did, and I’m so glad I did. A lot of people gravitated towards their “Generator” songs, or “Hannah” (which is my second-favorite) but for me, this sad, slow ballad resonated most. Though I got to see them a few times as well, the one I think back on most was at Rickshaw Stop on a Friday in San Francisco in the midst of one of the more confusing months of my life. (Commonly referred to as “August”.) Still love this song, though.
3. Ring Ring – Sleigh Bells (MARCH): I first brought y’all Sleigh Bells back in February with the insanely catchy song ‘Crown on the Ground’ (which I just embarrassingly saw that I used the exact same adjectives to describe it then…THIS, friends, is why I’m not a music writer) and while I still love it, I ended up listening to “Ring Ring” a bit more. Note that I had their pre-release, and this is the original version of the song; on their full album it is called “Rill Rill and frankly, I think the newer version loses some of its awesome. I saw them at SXSW – dragged Ryan, Prager and Charlie to an NPR showcase and made them stay all afternoon waiting for their set (the $1 PBR’s didn’t hurt) and despite some technical issues, was one of the best shows I saw all week.
4. The Loneliness and the Scream – Frightened Rabbit (MARCH): Oh yes, Frightened Rabbit, you know I love y’all. And when I first posted this link back in March, I hadn’t yet met Scott and Grant and Billy and Andy and Gordy. I just loved this song, and couldn’t wait to hear it in person, as it was off their upcoming album, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”. I loved that it was orchestral, and thought it would resonate well in concert. (It SO does.) So this song makes me think of how fortunate I was to get to meet and get to know this fantastically talented band this year…from a Twitter @reply to helping coordinate an acoustic show here in SF (and have Revision3 film it in all its glory!) to seeing them backstage repeatedly…yeah. I’m beyond lucky for these experiences, but also to have found good friends in these guys.
5. Bear – The Antlers (MARCH): Found out about The Antlers first from Jay Parkinson, who linked me to the beautiful and haunting song, Kettering (which was on my Best of 2009 Mix). Got to see them open for The National during Lollapalooza at The House of Blues in Chicago…a fight broke out (read: drunken assholes) but I was with dear friends and was so happy to finally be seeing them live.
6. Fixed – Stars (JULY): The first song I heard off of their new album, the whole of which I don’t think I’ve played enough, even though I did get to see them three times and hang out with them backstage at Lollapalooza. The line – which I think I actually have wrong – “After when I’m caught, touch turns into fisticuffs, It’s all in your head, wonder if I’m fixed or cuffed.” – hit home in mid-July. What happens when you fall right back into what you were dreading the most?
7. Breakneck Speed – Tokyo Police Club (JULY): I didn’t listen to this album as much as I should have, but this song & “Tessellate” both stood out. Got to meet them at Lollapalooza, and see them a few times, including at that same show at Rickshaw Stop with Freelance Whales. Already talked about that, so…next.
8. Stranded – The Walkmen (AUGUST): First time I met The Walkmen, they were nice enough, but had no desire to be my BFF and hang out and do shots with me. (Not that, err, I tried.) I had them play the Digg party at SXSW, and the first time I heard this song was from side-stage as they previewed their new album, Lisbon. I later found out that they were nervous, playing many of these songs that weren’t fully released until the late Summer for the first time in front of an audience. I then got to see them at Lollapalooza, and as chance will have it, ran into Hamilton at the Wine Bar before seeing them at The Fillmore in September. Still my favorite song off the album, probably because of the horn section. I love me a horn section (not a euphemism.)
9. You Were a Kindness (Unreleased) – The National (AUGUST): I can’t speak about this song…still too much. Just know it was released on the very day that I needed it to, that I heard it on a live recording, spent over an hour trying to download it, and transcribed every lyric. “Why would you shatter someone like me?”stood out, probably because the song – and the time that it described – very nearly did. Note that this version was off the remastered “High Violet”, which (spoiler alert!) was tied for my best album of 2010.
10. Truth – Alexander (SEPTEMBER): Yet another one that I tracked down from the Internet…heard it on Sirius XMU and the amount of Boolean searches in creative ways, trying to yield this gem, is embarrassing. But alas, found what may be the only copy of this track, as it was only given to Sirius XMU and still isn’t yet released. Other music nerds feel the same way, and can’t wait for Alex Ebert – the frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (who I got to see side-stage from Austin City Limits!) – to release his new album. Apparently it will be on it.
11. Ready to Start – Arcade Fire (AUGUST): Oopsie. My magical plan to list these in order of month was foiled by this last-minute addition. August, September…same diff, right? Anyway, I SAW Arcade Fire in September at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, which was an awesome show…I hadn’t seen them since four years previous at the same venue. Calexico opened, and they were pretty good, but didn’t hold a candle to Arcade Fire, which many said produced the best album of the year. (It was up there, but no cigar.) Incidentally, they opened the show with this song.
12. Love is All I Am – Dawes (OCTOBER): I feel it’s time to go on record and publicly declare to Taylor [Dawes’ lead singer] that I am not, in fact, stalking him. Despite much evidence to the contrary. I first met him backstage for Frightened Rabbit during Lollapalooza; then saw him when they played the next week at The California Academy of Sciences, and he gave me the hugest hug. Then saw him the NEXT day at Outside Lands here in SF, where we chatted for a bit; then front stage at Austin City Limits & in the Artist Lounge there. I will also go on record and say that Taylor is one of the most gracious & kind musicians that I’ve seen with his fans…so friendly. (Also, pretty hunky.) But enough about my non-stalking…back to the music. This song was another one whose lyrics offered the words that I was looking for when I needed a way to articulate something difficult. So thanks, Taylor, for that. And for not issuing a restraining order.
13. Fader – Temper Trap (SEPTEMBER): Damnit, I did it again. Apparently the Fall was a whole August-September-October mishmash of awesome songs. Which I’m fine with…Autumn was good for me. I *needed* this Autumn…it was the first steps in finding the way back home. (More on that to come…) I got to meet the guys from Temper Trap – Melbourne-ians, at that (and we know I love me some Aussies) at Lollapalooza, and saw ’em again at Outside Lands. “Sweet Disposition” was one of my favorite songs from last year, and both this (and “Love Lost”) made Best Of mixes this year.
14. I Walked – Sufjan Stevens (SEPTEMBER): I love Sufjan. LOVE. Saw him a few years back at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, and he had inflatable Superman dolls fly down from the ceiling during “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”. Sadly, I was traveling during his jaunt to SF, so he’s one of only two bands on this mix that I missed seeing live this year. This song still made the mix, based on the fact that I listened to it on repeat for nearly a week. (Might be blasphemous saying it, but the full album didn’t resonate with me as much as it did with some of my friends.)
15. Terrible Love (Alternate Version) – The National (NOVEMBER): Last year, I was obsessed with “About Today”. I listened to it over and over again, to numb myself through a horrible breakup. I had just started listening to the band in earnest; two of my close guy friends were huge fans, and I started 2010 rediscovering the awesomeness that was “Boxer” and their eponymous first LP. So when we got a pre-release of “High Violet”, this year’s release (that many agree is the best album of 2010), I was anxious to hear it and to love it. And it didn’t disappoint…I think I have listened to this record (both digitally, and on vinyl) more than any other one. I definitely saw them more than any other band; I flew to LA in May and saw them two nights in a row; saw them at House of Blues Chicago, then the next night went side-stage and saw them in front of 50,000 people; caught them at Austin City Limits (yep, side-stage again) and finally at Treasure Island Music Fest. SIX TIMES. Anyway, this song was one that grew on me; when they released the remastered version in November, it fast became my favorite on the album, as this version plays up the horn section more than the original, which concentrates heavily on the drums. I’d embarrass myself if I told you how often I listened to it, but I’ll put it this way: I have it on a vinyl single. Yep.
16. FootShooter – Frightened Rabbit (NOVEMBER): Another album that was amazing from the get-go, but somehow still grew on me (especially after I heard it on vinyl) was Frightened Rabbit’s “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” – it’s cheerier than their highly-lauded “Midnight Organ Fight” but I think features their talent a bit more. I don’t want to call it mature – though it is – as that takes away from the brutal honesty that are featured in their lyrics that fans love. This song, in fact, is about Scott being “vocal when [he’s] loaded”. BRILLIANT. Alas, tied for Best Album of 2010.
17. Dirty Cartoons – Menomena (DECEMBER): First listened to this album in Jay’s back garden in Williamsburg. Buddy (his dog) was running around, it was a warm – but not hot – Autumn night, and we were sharing a bottle of wine after a lovely dinner. I had heard that this album was good but WOW. It blew me away. Sounded like three or four different bands – ones that I love – all compiled into one. I’ve since purchased it on vinyl, and HIGHLY suggest you do too. I missed seeing them in SF (they were playing the same night as Arcade Fire) but it’s highly on my 2011 to-do list as I hear I’d be blown away.
18. The Way Back Home – Band of Horses (DECEMBER): I think this may have been my highest-anticipated album of 2010 after seeing them at SXSW, and hate to say it, but didn’t hit home with me that much. The songs were all catchy, and sure, I played it a bit in the Spring, but it didn’t have that sticking factor that makes you want to listen to it on repeat, as “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” or “High Violet” did. Yet there were a few standouts, and my favorite song off the album was this ballad. I didn’t listen to it in earnest until the last few weeks of the year, but as 2010 came to a close, it fit. Made sense. Was like a contented sigh after a year of ups and downs, of emotion both high and low, a subtle tying up of loose ends.
And so I named my Best of 2010 after this last track, “The Way Back Home.” It was the closing song to this retrospective, my year in music, the year I’ve learned more about myself than any other. Also the year where I’ve seen more shows than any other, was lucky enough to meet some of my favorite bands in person, and developed a love for records in all of their vinyl amazingness. I feel at home, finally, after traveling more than I thought possible – at least in terms of maintaining my sanity – and as I head into 2011, I’m genuinely excited about the days and months to come. I’ve made my way back home, and I intend to stay.
So please, enjoy my musical retrospective, and here’s to making many more amazing memories, set to your own personal soundtrack, in the year ahead.
Not enough? Fine, fine. I’m a giver. Enjoy the past few years in tuneage. (But don’t forget to please, PLEASE buy music. You’re supporting amazing artists like these, who our lives would be so boring and silent and unfulfilled without.)