Top 50 Songs of 2010 :: 20-11 [My heart hides in a cassette tape]

20. Owen Pallett - "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt"

The big news this year was Pallett stepping out from behind his old moniker, Final Fantasy and becoming, in no uncertain terms, himself. And then he released a nearly perfect concept record about bipolar farmer, Lewis, and the problems of his magically real universe. Pallett's signature strings come on like a storm, building and menacing at the edges before washing over the arrangement with a fury and taste for renewal. The lyrics, beautiful and delicate, end up settling on single edict, "I'm never gonna give it to you." It is beautifully oppositional, independent and wholly itself.

19. Fang Island - "Daisy"

A 2010 reviewer called Fang Island the sound of "everyone high fiving everyone." On "Daisy," an explosive, decentralized rock song, the band traffics in nonsense lyrics and chord resolutions so big they pull the plane out of the nose-dive, reset the financial markets and, yes, organize a six billion person high five at the apex of an arrangement built to crest. In a year with too much anxiety for too many people, Fang Island took this gospel of freedom on the road and to the people: Less worry, more hand slapping.

18. Band of Horses - "Dilly"

Band of Horses did the crossover this year, making more money than ever before and managing to frustrate some of their loyalists. The record was too pop. It was being sold in Starbucks. It was built for sync. "Dilly" cut through the hype and the criticism to divine one of the great choruses of the year. Modulating between three pitches and settling on easy rhymes and platitudinous lyrics, "It took a tall one to see it/two to believe it/three to just get in the way," made it instantly memorable, singable and infectious. In 2011, this will be the soundtrack for some dreadful movie trailer. The crossover is dangerous, but it works.

17. Computer Magic - "Running"

We have a certifiable music crush on Danz from Computer Magic. Her string of one-off singles dominated 2010 in intervals of her choosing and with shocking consistency for an artist that admits she's only been making music for a few months. On "Running," uneasy synths swirl and sway in the ether, as her voice sheds pretension and asks the simple, if fleeting question, "And I'm running all the time/Can you catch him before I go?" No one is making better laptop pop anywhere right now.

16. French Films - "Golden Sea"

It was a year dominated by the surf rock of the Drums and the Weezer-beach vibes of Surfer Blood and the stoned summer of Wavves and Best Coast. Amongst all this coastal music, everyone missed the Finnish upstarts French Films and their buzzing and propulsive "Golden Sea." Track one of the Golden Sea EP, one of the best of the year, the song of the same name takes us to the water, but there is a trick. The slurring lyrical delivery sharpens around the final chorus, "It was only a dream," as plinking synths erupt like children let out for recess, proving the best beaches are the ones we go to in our minds.

15. The Naked and Famous - "Young Blood"

It was the wanton hopelessness of the central lyric, "fall back in love eventually," that kept "Young Blood" from being one of those blind anthems of youth. The Naked and Famous explored the concept of unfettered younger days with a hint of the despair that always creeps near the edge of such meditations. Fact is, lionizing youth is a losing battle, every day the romance a little less intense, each moment a little less pure. It was those words, "fall back in love eventually," that gave a certain, hopeless and hopeful finality to these breathless, sparkler-holding, bleeding-from-the-arm, jumping-in-the-deep-end days of miracle and wonder.

14. Frightened Rabbit - "Nothing Like You"

The next move is never clear for a band who made their name by being miserable and now, against the odds and better advice, are happy. So it was not by choice that Frightened Rabbit fostered a different sense of pathos on 2010 release, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. The band was famous now, and the lead singer was in a relationship that he repeatedly and fondly referenced on stage. The only thing worse than being happy is trying to fake misery. So, Frightened Rabbit angled to describe how they got happy. The pointed and furious "Nothing Like You," took the romance of the platitude in the title, turned it entirely around, not as a compliment but as an accusation. The most damning line is the first one, "This is a story and you are not in it," before offering a shovel for this previous love to bury herself.

13. The Radio Dept. - "Heaven's On Fire"

On the cusp of super-stardom, Sweden's the Radio Dept. released their best record, Clinging To A Scheme in 2010. Sunny single, "Heaven's On Fire" hid something darker, a perfection inflamed, maybe by an arsonist, from just one look at "you." The power of this significant other - and here we mean this literally - is not unidirectional; its capabilities both productive and able to destroy. Over bouncy keys and lighter-than-air drums and guitars, the vocals belay this danger. One of the best songs of the year, hiding in plain sight, ready to light your perfect world on fire.

12. Magic Man - "Monster"

Boston's Magic Man released one of the best truly independent records of the year, Real Life Color, a twinkling bit of electro-pop that made no apologies. On "Monster," a nearly six-minute epic, there are three distinct movements, each colliding into final marching orders, "Find your monsters, don't tell you friends," turning human psychology into a gigantic internal game of Manhunt. As for the outside world, they tell us to, "leave the world in a jar but come back to it." We are reminded of the great frontier inside, of the terror and beauty that lie within us, and of the stunning little keyboard band in Boston.

11. Blair - "Hearts"

It was a little guitar record from a girl in Brooklyn that grabbed us by the throat in 2010. While at times it was reminiscent of a twenty years later Exile In Guyville, this wasn't so angled against love or at sewing up a busted heart. If anything, Blair's Die Young, and its most seminal track, "Hearts" is about being in love with youth, what she calls the yearning and aching of young life. In her fortune cookie wisdom, Blair confides, "my heart hides in a cassette tape", one of the most subtle and winning lyrics of the year. The final minute finds a spinning conclusion with the hyperventilating title lyric recast as texture. We never had this song on cassette, but we spent most of the year hiding in this digital record, a new, modern love.

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