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Lists are inexplicably difficult yet undeniably crucial for music nerds. We have to sum up the events of the year with numbers and bullet points or our brains melt and our hearts explode. Sad but true. It’s been in fashion of late to be more eclectic with lists, including everything from drone-core to bubblegum pop to crunk. That’s understandable; everyone seems to have broader tastes these days. It’s like the Internet is a giant iPod, and we’ve got it set to shuffle the highest-rated tracks. It’s almost communal, the year-end approval of our shared tastes, but goddamnit, if I see Kanye West on top of one more list, I’m gonna puke.
I considered making a local-only list, because so much killer D.C. music came out this year, but it’s nice to see overlooked locals alongside long-time indie staples. So here, in alphabetical order, are my top 10 favorite get-your-ass-out-of-bed, crank-up-your-shitty-stereo, embrace-the-rock-and-roll songs from 2010.
Aloha – Moonless March [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/02-Moonless-March.mp3]
Did you know mallet instruments make for great prog-rock songs? Maybe. But did you know said prog rock song can actually be catchy and not overwrought? Probably not. Aloha takes their complex sound and boils it down to a killer single propelled by some of Cale Parks’ most ferocious drumming to date.
Bodycop – Don’t Move [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/Dont-Move.mp3]
What waste-ridden swamp spawned Bodycop? Their sludgy, destroyed guitars, and the twisted, otherworldly vocals are disturbing in the best way. I loved this when it first came out and I’m still not over it. If ever I worried that D.C. music lost its danger, this track eased my fears.
Grinderman – Heathen Child [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/03-Heathen-Child.mp3]
Something is wrong with Nick Cave. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know why he constantly plumbs the depths of human depravity for his songs, but I hope he never gets fixed. Grinderman is as raw as you could hope for, and “Heathen Child” is pure evil.
Hume – Grip [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/03-Grip.mp3]
They’re one of the best rock bands to come out of D.C. in ages, and Hume’s newest LP is their best yet. While some of Penumbra’s deep cuts get lost in their own extended universes, “Grip” is straight-up on fire from start to finish. The ultra-tight rhythmic change-ups hearken back to a history of post-punk, but Britt’s surprisingly gentle and melodic vocals give the band a sound entirely its own.
Liars – Scarecrows On A Killer Slant [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/05-Scarecrows-On-A-Killer-Slant.mp3]
This song is terrifying. When I interviewed Liars this year, frontman Angus Andrew said he really “went for it” on this album, and he admitted there were even moments where he frightened himself with what came out. It shows. The music falls somewhere between Throbbing Gristle, Black Flag, and Nine Inch Nails, but it’s got a severe creepiness all its own.
Medications – Home Is Where We Are [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/09-Track-09.mp3]
I love this band. Hell, I once hired Devin to help my band make a record. Does that make me biased? I don’t care. This track from their very excellent Completely Removed combines the best of their technical badassery with a melody that shoves its ovarian tubes into your mouth and lays eggs in your skull.
Nice Nice – One Hit [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/02-nice_nice-one_hit.mp3]
Two dudes and a bunch of crazy-ass loops never sounded so good. This highly repetitive track is jarring and brilliant in equal measure. Cascading arhythmic weirdness atop an angrily simple beat that builds and falls apart. It’s on the outer fringes of rock and roll, but it’s sure as hell heavy.
Spoon – Mystery Zone [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/03-The-Mystery-Zone.mp3]
After so many years of pop perfectionism, 2010 marked Spoon’s first self-produced album. They retain their trademarked minimalism and add a number of intentional “mistakes,” often chopping off vocals mid-phrase. The bass in “Mystery Zone” stays on one note for almost the entirety of the song, and the drum “solo” doesn’t vary a lick from the verse. The end of the song isn’t even an ending, it just cuts off abruptly. Yet, somehow it all comes together with Britt Daniel’s genius melodic sensibility to demand repeated listens.
Ted Leo and The Pharmacists – The Mighty Sparrow [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/01-The-Mighty-Sparrow.mp3]
The latest Ted Leo LP is nothing new from the man. Yet, it’s fast becoming my favorite album in his catalog. Why? Because every song is raw and without pretense. It’s a fast-moving, classic-sounding record. “The Mighty Sparrow” is a fitting opener that gets my ass in gear every time I put it on.
Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union [audio:http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/files/2010/12/01-A-More-Perfect-Union.mp3]
A concept record about the civil war complete with readings interspersed throughout sounds overly academic, but Titus Andronicus pull it off. This, the opening track, rocks harder than most punk bands could ever hope, and with a hell of a lot of substance to back it up. It’s a rare and bold achievement, with enough grit to keep me coming back for more.