It's that time of year again! When everyone starts navel gazing to reflect on the year that was and the year that might be. I am not immune to the impulse, of course, though I recognize that our system of tracking time is highly arbitrary and other cultures mark the new year very differently. Still, I find it somewhat helpful to use the turning over of the calendar year as a time to take stock and make plans.
It's part of why I do my "Best of" mixtape each December (officially going on four years now). I love the hell out of music, and putting together a compilation of my favorite tracks to come out each year kind of provides me with further motivation to, y'know, keep up with things.
I remember a few years before I started doing these mixes when I'd get to everyone's year-end lists and realize how much great stuff I'd missed out on. No more! And this was a damn fine year for new tunes. I tried to create a list that was somewhat diverse, or at least reflective of my various musical tastes. If you know me in Real Life you're likely to get a copy as my holiday gift to you (and feel free to ask for one if I miss you!). Otherwise, here's the digital version, for your edification:
Em's Best of 2010 Mixtape: "Throwbacks and Future Love"
1. "End Love" by OK Go, from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.
Put aside the fact that OK Go consistently creates some of the most mind-bogglingly awesome videos to accompany their songs and you're still left with really solid music. The whole of this album is more than worth a listen (and a look, of course), but this particular track is one of my favorites. Catchy, melodic synth-pop with feeling. [Watch the video]
2. "Cold War" by Janelle Monae, from The ArchAndroid.
This woman (err..android, sorry), I swear. The album is a fascinating collage of styles - from the upbeat funk/bop of this particular track to some seriously psychedelic stuff, it's a daring enterprise. I don't think Monae has quite reached her full potential with this record, though - which is awesome, because she's already phenomenal and I can barely begin to imagine where she'll go from here. [Watch the video]
3. "We Used to Wait" by Arcade Fire, from The Suburbs.
So Arcade Fire was supposed to be one of those new hotness indie bands that went away after their first record. Or that's what I had in my head for some reason - probably because everyone and their mother wouldn't stop gushing over Neon Bible when it came out. Turns out I'm a moron and this band is actually really very rad. Their newest record, The Suburbs, is gorgeous and plays like a concept album but with very little pretense. [Listen here]
4. "Apply" by Glasser, from Ring.
I admit, this was a last-minute addition to the list after I heard it on the recent NPR All Songs Considered podcast listing albums they'd missed this year. I can't help it, though, it's a fabulous track and so far the album is proving to be pretty unique and interesting as well. [Watch the video]
5. "Dreaming" by Goldfrapp, from Head First.
Oh Goldfrapp, I just can't quit you. Every record this outfit releases is almost entirely different from the last and I love it. Head First is like an '80s electro-pop album but with far better mastering and a deeper sense of...well...everything. It's fantastic. And so are you. [Listen here]
6. "Shades of Marble" by Trentemøller, from Into the Great Wide Yonder.
This record. Holy shit. So good. I was first introduced to Trentemoller through his excellent remix work - and frankly, when I heard about the album I was a little hesitant. There have been far too many instances of an artist I love for remixes who then releases original music that is, simply put, terrible. Happily, that is not even remotely the case here. And this track does a good job of representing just how versatile and lush Trentemoller's original work is. [Listen here]
7. "Paradise Circus" by Massive Attack, from Heligoland.
Although the album itself is far from being Massive Attack's best work (um, Mezzanine anyone?), it does contain one particularly stand-out track in "Paradise Circus." Moody, melodic, beautiful - everything I've come to know and love from this group. Check out this fabulously understated remix of the song by Gui Boratto, too. [Listen here]
8. "Snowden's Jig" by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, from Genuine Negro Jig.
I had hardly heard this trio before they came to Madison over the summer and played to an ecstatic, packed crowd at the Orton Park Festival. And boy howdy are they talented. Plus, this is some really great, classic bluegrass - I mean old school. But with a bit of modern flavor and youthful vigor thrown in for good measure. It's awesome to see my fellow young folks learning from the old and bringing back styles and traditions that were at risk of dying out entirely. This track in particular I find haunting and gorgeous, and there's something weirdly unsettling about it, too. Read about the band here. [Listen here]
9. "If I Had My Way" by Patty Griffin, from Downtown Church.
Patty Griffin can do no wrong. That voice! I mean c'mon. And I love that she explores a different theme on each record. She is a consummate storyteller, a folk singer in the best sense of the word, and on this album Griffin takes a look at more traditional spiritual music and style. [Listen here]
10. "Better Things To Do" by Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, from I Learned the Hard Way.
I have Stephen Colbert to thank for introducing me to Sharon Jones, which is really a shame for me because she's been around a lot longer than that, being equally as awesome. This is a great R&B/soul record, a sort of throwback to the '60s-era Motown style right down to how they physically recorded it. [Listen here]
11. "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green, from The Lady Killer.
The summer jam of the year and you couldn't even play it on the radio! Ballsy. Brilliant. (except for the part where his label, I presume, made him do the public-friendly version called "Forget You" that was then covered, just to really kill its spirit, by Gwenyth Paltrow on an episode of "Glee" - gross). [Watch the video]
12. "Awakenings" by Sarah McLachlan, from Laws of Illusion.
My girl! Awww yiss! While 1994's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy will forever remain my number one favorite album of all time (for various reasons), her newest opus ain't no slacker. It took a little while to grow on me, and certain of the tracks still feel...forced...but there's plenty to like here, too. Including this track, which I love. [Listen here]
13. "Madder Red" by Yeasayer, from Odd Blood.
This was another band I'd decided was just a hipster approved flash in the pan, but then the damn album grew on me. Plus then Kristen Bell, my secret girlfriend, did this really bizarre/hilarious music video for this song, so really, what was I to do? Anyway, good stuff, and very much their own sound. [Watch the video]
14. "I Found A Whistle" by MGMT, from Congratulations.
You have to respect a band that can go from having a wildly popular, omnipresent, dance-friendly first album to doing what MGMT did with Congratulations, which is to pretty much do an about face and try something entirely new. [Listen here]
15. "Soldier On" by Little Red Wolf, from If Only We Were Just Like We Are.
Um, so this is my own band. Is that tacky? I don't even care. I can't properly put into words just how excited I am that we're finally releasing our first full-length, so instead I put it onto this mixtape. [Listen here]