Smile Politely

Top 25 Local Songs 2010

Today we cap off our year-end music coverage with the top 25 local songs of 2010. The results from polling SP writers were the biggest factors in determining order here, but this list was modified a little bit by the music editors. To promote as many great local bands as possible, we limited our list to one song per band.

As opposed to the results in our album polling, this one was a runaway. There was number one and then there was everybody else. We’re pretty sure the top song would win best video of the year as well if we had done that.

(All writeups by Jeremiah Stanley, John Steinbacher and Ben Valocchi)

25. Vanattica – “Bury the Stars”

Vanattica is at its best when it emphasizes metal part of its pop metal equation, and that’s definitely the case in “Bury the Stars.” The aggression is the focus here. The lead guitar takes little time off, blistering straight through the song, and it never gets distracting.

24. Rusalka – “Lester Burnham”

While they technically hail from Mahomet, Rusalka have steadily been building a presence in C-U for the better part of the year. Listening to this song, it’s pretty obvious why: they fill and expand on the massive void in the post-rock scene left by the breakup of Oceans. Plus, you’ve got to consider how impressive it is that a band with several members still in high school was able to pull a track with this kind of scope off.

23. Solo Mono – “New Jersey Basements”

Released as the last track on the Punk’s Undead compilation earlier this year, “New Jersey Basements” does a fantastic job of bridging C-U’s two great 90s legacies — downtuned alt-rock ala Hum, and emotion-baring post hardcore from Braid. And if that doesn’t do it for you, check out the mathy guitar lines during the outro.

22. Agent Mos – “Descent”

The first minute of “Descent” is a near-acapella, AMS rhyming over only a jazzy trumpet. The experimentation with meter and rhythm in this section is impressive, but Mos’ ability to keep the skittish free energy going over the beat that eventually comes in is even more impressive.

21. Mean Lids – “Bring it On Down”

Most of the Mean Lids song are instrumentals, which may be part of the reason this particular song stands out. But it’s not just that. It showcases a band that takes it’s music seriously, but is certainly not above a little whimsy. We could all use a little more whimsy, especially when it’s backed by such marvelous music.

20. Jesse W. Johnson – “Coyote Scream”

Ah, the harmonica, overused by some, but capable of adding emotional heft at just the right moment. Which is exactly what happens at the end of “Coyote Scream”, when Johnson uses it to great effect, leading the charge to the end of the song.

19. Tricia Scully – “Curse Me”

Tricia Scully spent some time in France and this song sums up that whole disconnected “lost in translation” feeling. The line “it’s pointless to try to reason with statues and monuments” pretty much says it all.

18. DJ Belly – “Rough and Tumble”

This song starts innocently enough as a pretty typical eastern-influenced bass heavy dance track, but then 25 in seconds everything changes. Some kind of riff (it’s certainly not a guitar) takes the song on an expected propulsive direction. Then Belly does such a great job meshing the riff with the bass that the wiggling bottom end becomes the unexpectedly hypnotic centerpiece.

17. Kayla Brown – “Home”

“Home” is an understated song that highlights Brown’s ability to bring emotion to her vocals. The arrangement here shine, as a backward guitar (?) effect brings just enough oddness to make the sweet sadness of the acoustic guitar stand out even more.

16. The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra – “Rising Up”

This Way Up works best at an album, but there are a few clear highlights, including this optomistic stand against emotional loss. It’s like a microcosm of the album with Dave King’s sunny melodies and his motown crooning. Add in a nice vocal lead from Lorene Anderson and a great violin solo, now we’re talking.

15. Delta Kings – “Do You Got Love”

Perhaps we all take the Delta Kings for granted, but they put out a pretty nice collection of songs this year in 4 Chords and the Truth. “Do You Got Love” stands out for its easy vibe — shambling along in the best way possible.

14. Take Care – “Our Home”

This is the only song Take Care has ever released, but it’s a doozy. In the first couple of minutes guitar noises swirl in and out of the mix, while distortion and an occasional keyboard line create nothing more than mood. Eventually, a vocal line and “normal” guitar parts start, but it’s never straightforward, veering off course again five minutes in. Then at the seven minute mark we finally get the squall of noise that we feel like we’ve earned. But Take Care has the maturity not too give in for too long, taking it all back down for the last minute or so. Slow building crescendo rock seems to have fallen out of favor among most rock bands these days, but Take Care makes a pretty convincing argument for bringing it back.

13. The Diamond Stretch – “Clown Nouns”

The Diamond Stretch’s ultra-violent blast is perfectly encapsulated in the two minutes and fifty four seconds of “Clown Nouns”. You clearly hear some space rock influence creep into the second half of the song (rumor has it that guitarist Nick Brannock is a huge Cave In fan), but the overall center of the song still lies in the brutal, dual-screamo vocal leads.

12. The Leadership – “Thank You”

These guys came out of seemingly nowhere at the end of the year, dropping their album Frontiers just last week. The dizzying guitar start on “Thank You” quickly gives way to a fantastic southern stomp. It’s such a timeless splash of rock ‘n roll goodness, that we wouldn’t bat an eye if we heard it on WGKC, the WHIP or on WPGU.

11. Horrible Things – “Jurassic Park on Laser Disc”

On the surface, “Jurassic Park on Laser Disc” is a band going for archetypical bratty suburban pop-punk and absolutely nailing it. But looking under the surface, there’s a power-pop jangle that’s just as indebted to the Replacements and Cheap Trick as it is to Motion City Soundtrack.

10. Materielle – “In Dreams/City Below”

Listening to the Dreams EP, you can tell that Chris Howaniec has done his research. Effortlessly drawing from dubstep, trance and broken Flying Lotus beats, “In Dreams/City Below” is clearly the work of someone who approaches music from the standpoint of a listener as well as creator. Perhaps that accounts for the song’s most immediate (and best) part, the hypnotic sample/synth buildup that begins at the 4:25 mark and sucks up the last three minutes of the track.

9. The Fresh Kills – “We Are the Young”

The older you get, the harder it is to appreciate punk rock. When you hit your thirties, it’s just hard to keep getting excited about the same rebellious themes. But then along comes a song like “We Are the Young” and totally reminds you what’s great about punk rock again. The guitars crackle with energy, the bass bounces around and the vocals have the perfect amount of desperation. Plus there’s some Goonies Stand By Me up in here.

8. World’s First Flying Maching – “Red is Turning Blue”

The last song on The House Youre Living In, “Red is Turning Blue” isn’t the flashiest or most immediate tune on the album. Rather, it’s the perfect end to the intense, prolonged blast of emotion that occupies the rest of the album. Rarely has catharsis been this enjoyable, or featured a banjo.

7. Jay Moses – “Hello Summer”

Jay Moses made some big moves in the local hip hop scene this year, but this was a definite highlight. Released just as the season turned, the music on this track doesn’t scream “summer jam.” The backing beat is slow and ominous and it completely disappears at points in the song. And despite lyrics that seem to embrace the season, the delivery reveals a Moses who is hesitant to embrace the freedom of summer and the lovely ladies that come with it. By the time Moses let’s out the last “it’s so good to see you again”, there’s little doubt his definition of summertime madness is a different than the Fresh Prince’s.

6. New Ruins – “Bad Math”

More than any other previous New Ruins song, “Bad Math” sticks with you. Maybe it’s because the vocals have finally made their way high in the mix, but we finally find ourselves singing along with Elzie Sexton. And most importantly, the clear vocals don’t diminish at all from the reliably big, crunchy guitar we’ve come to love. In fact, there’s an added je ne sais pas to the guitar parts toward the end after the vocals cut out. More like this, please.

5. The Dirty Feathers – “Pistol Hills”

Pistol Hills is a slow grower, no doubt about it. The first time you hear it you think, it’s a nice mid-tempo rock song. The second time you listen, you start to feel the growing tension. The third time you’re hooked, especially as it all culminates in the big blues/keyboard riff at the end paired with a desperate wail of “have you figured it out.” Not a bad opening salvo from one of C-U’s best new bands.

4. Santah – “No Other Women”

From the thumping drums and pounding keys to the massive hooks and Stan McConnell’s slightly drunken sounding and ridiculously epic “whoa-oah” at 2:15, “No Other Women” is one tight package. There’s not a note played or word sung that isn’t essential to the song as a whole. Plus, like all great pop songs, it’s is just too catchy not to like.

3. Common Loon – “Happy Ending”

This song’s sunny, dreaminess makes me want to sway, bop and nod with my closed eyes while I dream of the West Coast. That’s only a bad thing when I’m driving in my car; otherwise, it’s pure bliss. 

2. Grandkids – “Hyacinth”

A perfect distillation of all of the elements that make Grandkids such a riveting group. Spiderweb guitar parts move over barely-audible cello, cymbal swells and toms while Vivian McConnell’s vocals warmly draw in the listener. When snare and tasteful electric guitar enter just before the two-minute mark, the songs blossoms into a gorgeous wash that’s nigh-impossible to resist.

1. Elsinore – “Chemicals”

If you’ve been around town for a couple of years and gone out to the bars in Champaign you’ve probably had an encounter with two dollar Margaret. Elsinore found inspiration in her pseudo-homelessness and wrote this song so that we can never forget her. “Chemicals” is Elsinore at it’s absolute best: Ryan Groff’s soaring vocals, rollicking guitars, a keyboard breakdown the completely changes the song’s direction and lyrics that translate a local encounter into universal truth.

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