Deeper cuts: Ann Powers picks 25 songs you might not have heard in 2010
I have always been vocal in my opposition to year-end Best lists, but lately I find myself becoming somewhat addicted to them. My change in attitude, I think, is related to the realization that my list really doesn’t matter -– it’s just a blood drop, spreading out until it’s imperceptible within the busy, empty space of the hive mind.
I’ve presented the world with my pop Top Ten, and I’m not worrying about it anymore. What follows is not a “best” list, but a scrapbook of sonic memories from a seemingly bottomless musical year. It features efforts that made an impression on me, though most never came anywhere close to the mainstream. These songs are available on those old things called “albums” as well as via the newfangled “Internet download.” Seek them out.
Sharon van Etten, “A Crime,” from "Epic": A fearless woman bares what matters -– her soul -– in this confessional lament.
Chocolate Genius Inc., “Lump,” from "Swan Songs": Many hits used profanity this year. This song by Marc Anthony Thompson, seasoned examiner of viscera, meant it.
Ryan Bingham, “Depression,” from "Junky Star": That word has a few meanings; this young Academy Award-winning country outlaw gets to all of them.
Champagne Champagne and Thee Satisfaction, “Magnetic Blackness,” from the split single with “Bird Lives!”: Seattle, formerly ruled by messy-haired hard rock boys, has found its hip hop soul in super-fresh crews like these.
Susan Cowsill, “River of Love,” from "Lighthouse": This ragingly heartbroken version of a song by her brother Barry, who died in Hurricane Katrina, anchors Cowsill’s fierce tribute to the family’s adopted hometown.
Das Racist, “Ek Shaneesh,” from the mixtape "Shut Up, Dude": Joke rappers or serious political subversives? Both. Also, fans of both Rumi and the Notorious B.I.G.
Sam Amidon, “How Come That Blood,” from "I See the Sign": This plain-voiced troubadour presents himself as an innocent wandering through the old, weird America, but those synths he triggers show that he’s a canny bastard.
Villagers, “Home,” from "Becoming a Jackal": A bewitching folk-rock retelling of the classic family romance.
The Lonely Forest, “Turn off This Song and Go Outside,” from "The Lonely Forest" EP: Indie rock bliss the way it should be done, plus the title makes a great suggestion.
Cody Chesnutt, “Come Back Like Spring,” from The Believer magazine music issue CD "We Bumped Our Heads Against the Clouds": This earthy little handful of well-crafted soul bodes well for a comeback from the outsider artist who once gave us “The Seed.”
Sade, “Babyfather,” from "Soldier of Love": Rock-steady sweetness from Our Lady of Quiet Miracles.
Aloe Blacc, “Femme Fatale,” from "Good Things": Few might have ever thought that this Velvet Underground classic could be reborn as lush retro-soul. A tellingly eloquent reinterpretation.
Drive By Truckers, “Daddy Learned to Fly,” from "The Big To-Do": Yeah, they’re a “Southern rock” band, but this is the best hard country song of the year.
Massive Attack, “Flat of the Blade,” from "Heligoland": Bristol’s downtempo geniuses can still raise goosebumps with this paranoid slice, featuring a great vocal monologue by Guy Garvey of Elbow.
Fistful of Mercy, “Father’s Son,” from "As I Call You Down": Dhani Harrison takes the lead on this roaring blues by the singer-songwriter supergroup as his partners Joseph Arthur and Ben Harper chase him around the block.
Titus Andronicus, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” from "The Monitor": A quarter-hour’s worth of Woody Guthrie-esque, totally punk, foaming-at-the-mouth majesty. Plus bagpipes!
M.I.A., “Lovalot,” from "Maya": All the fuss over Ms. Arulpragasam’s personal life led many to forget that she’s at her best when creating and inhabiting powerful characters, like the teen terrorist bride in this song.
Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, “Ride Friendship,” from "I Love You! I Love You! I Love You and I'm in Love With You! Have an Awesome Day! Have the Best Day of Your Life!": Art school weirdos screaming at the top of their lungs can be irritating, but this merry band from upstate New York makes it work.
Mirah, “NOLA,” on "Dear New Orleans": One gentle West Coast girl’s attempt to understand the enormity of Hurricane Katrina, included on an outstanding compilation whose proceeds benefit Crescent City artists and other good gulf causes.
Eden Brent, “My Man,” from "Ain’t Got No Troubles": This Mississippi-raised ivory tickler deserves to escape the blues-festival box; she’s as dirty-sweet as any number of more fashionable retro-modern honeys, and more skilled.
Liz Phair, “U Hate It,” from "Funstyle": Laurie Anderson meets Dr. Demento in the indie queen’s kiss-off to critics.
The Extra Lens, “Communicating Doors,” from "Undercard": Mountain Goats main man John Darnielle hardly ever writes a bad song. But on this collection of songs about bent and broken desire, his collaborator and fellow indie-pop reliable Frankln Bruno wrote my favorite. Great metaphorical hook.
The Books, “A Cold Freezin’ Night,” from “The Way Out”: Good-hearted sound collagists find happiness through audio thrifting, crafting modern fairy tales from the noises people have left behind.
R. Kelly, “Taxi Cab,” from "Love Letter": Just in time for the holidays, Kells serves up some hot buttered love.
-- Ann Powers
Top photo: Sharon Von Etten performs at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Credit: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/MCT.
Middle photo: R. Kelly at the 2010 Soul Train awards. Credit: David Goldman /Associated Press
Bottom photo: Robyn. Credit: courtesy Robyn/Funstar