2010: Chocolate Grinder Mix 2010
Our favorite songs of the year in mix tape form

2009 was the first year that TMT finally provided the music for one of our “mix tapes” instead of just a shopping list of tracks to scavenge for. We figured that after so many years of slogging through record stores, scouring online shops, and even trolling the internet’s black market, you guys deserved a break. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves again this year to find and mix together 20 songs as picked by individual TMT writers. There’s no consensus here, no debate, no tallying. Just 20 writers choosing a track they dug and then writing a blurb to give it some context. After some sweaty late-night IMing with Keith Kawaii and Mr P, I narrowed down the tracklist to what you see below and mixed it together using my trusty MIDI crossfader. We’ve split the mix into two parts so you can easily fit both sides onto that blank cassette you bought in anticipation of our year-end celebration. Enjoy! —munroe

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(Chocolate Grinder Mix 2010 Download)

SIDE A:

01. James Blake - “CMYK” (CMYK EP)
• Start time: 0:00; Label: R&S

If the banger got nuked off all hip playlists sometime in 2008, “CMYK” is its mutant kin rising darkly from the rubble, strange and radiant. Burial’s long been pitchshifting R&B pop to make dubstep this haunting, but hell if it’s ever hit this hard (or catchy). Kelis sounds like Timberlake, Aaliyah sounds like the king of the damned, and the deep-background synth comes in like some sad echo of the rhodes from Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us.” The way these spare elements come together would be a surprise — if this young’un James Blake hadn’t released three EP loads of experimental and ambient paced just as well this year alone. —Jakob Dorof

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02. Oneohtrix Point Never - “Pelham Island Road” (Returnal)
• Start time: 3:23; Label: Editions Mego

The history of American pop music is inconceivable apart from the American highway system. “Rocket 88,” “Maybelline,” “Roadrunner” etc. “Pelham Island Road” both reflects this tradition and, with its synthesized shifts and swerves, literally outstrips it. The song begins with a series of quick lurches, but then settles into a beautiful coasting motion; the listener is carried away on a land cruiser of sound that feels both rubber-on-road physical and sine-wave abstract. As Brian Wilson once exclaimed, “I don’t know where, but she takes me there.” Both bound to earth (Wareham, MA, to be exact) and arcing away from it (towards Tatooine, perhaps), the song does what all good road songs do — provides a new map, a more thrilling way of crossing an otherwise tired landscape. —Ed Comentale

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03. Liars - “Scissor” (Sisterworld)
• Start time: 10:22; Label: Mute

Remember the Winkies Diner scene in Mulholland Drive? A man dreams of a terrible face waiting for him behind the diner and, in waking time, visits Winkies to find out if the face is really there. It is. “Scissor” contains that same Lynchian atmosphere of dread, a physical dread. This could be something inherent to Los Angeles, where freaks meet mirrors and there’s a kind of romantic gothicness to the city’s weird. Do you dream? The opening track of Liars’ Sisterworld — an album exploring the alleyways of Los Angeles — is a gorgeous, gnashing animal with silky fur but bloody teeth. The song begins with pretty gospel harmonies before exploding into thrashing punk guitars, pounding drums, and lead singer Angus Andrew’s creepy whine. This is Sisterworld, where one can find terrible faces casting shadows behind a diner. —Lorian Long

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04. tik///tik - “NO09” (hatin on yr decade EP)
• Start time: 13:46; Label: Self-Released

Released at midnight on New Year’s Eve, this 2010 anthem predicted uncanny levels of innovation and exploration for the world of DIY pop. tik///tik’s ghetto-diva digi-noise typically takes on the form of a soundscape, but the short song format of “NO09” revealed that the bleeding edge could be dead center through a seamless combination of the experimental and the traditional. In a year where hordes embraced Die Antwoord and an ambient remix of Bieber, the prediction wasn’t far off. While “NO09” was born free, tik///tik’s personal resolution saw light in his glitch-punk album I Punch With My Eyes Closed (on Entropic Tarot). —Charlemagne Lazarus Kinsman

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05. Lee Noble - “Life Under A Double Sun” (Our Star, The Sun)
• Start time: 15:14; Label: Moon Glyph

“Life Under A Double Sun” starts out with a recording of a woman demanding for a man, and the audience to cooperate. Soon, their voices are obfuscated by synths and a plaintive acoustic guitar. Each instrument attempts to erase another without overbearing droning, resulting in a melody that is somehow both haunting and fleeting. Lee Noble describes Our Star, The Sun as, “leaving small memories behind when you look at the scale of the universe.” “Life Under A Double Sun” goes further, by searching to resolve and then forget old memories, before cognitive atrophy takes hold. —Matthew Horne

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06. Gonjasufi - “DedNd” (A Sufi and a Killer)
• Start time: 19:20; Label: Warp

The unraveled remains of Sumach Ecks’ brain — complete with p-noid third-person pronouns that never get a name (“They don’t know where God’s at”) and puddling uvular groans — are nothing new by this point in A Sufi and a Killer. What is new, and what allows “DedNd” to stand as the album’s peak, is the particular cosmic party his brain is sloshing around in. Over Gaslamp’s clumpy loop, that vocal sample (“Eastern dreams going ‘round my brain/ Eastern dreams driving me insane”) sounds almost triumphant, celebratory. That’s why it’s heinous to enjoy this song so much: if we’re actually hearing triumph, that’s because Ecks’ darkness has won, and his gnarled finger is pointed at us. —Collin Anderson

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07. Das Racist - “You Can Sell Anything” (Sit Down, Man)
• Start time: 22:50; Label: Mad Decent/Mishka/Greedhead

When did Das Racist become likable? Scientists have yet to pinpoint that one, but “You Can Sell Anything” is about the best proof that it did, in fact, happen. Massive credit goes to Diplo’s production here, a sauntering claps ‘n’ whistles creature sporting a natural full-face grin. But it’s a production done well by the guys on the mic, whose once stilted flows have thankfully evolved into an agile bounce. These fellows are still pretty much just riffing off their own weirdo, stream-of-consciousness inner monologue, but they’ve made it work, successfully leaving “clever” behind for legitimately funny. For just a second there, it even sounds as if Himanshu Suri channels MF DOOM, someone whose own strange position in hip-hop is something these guys could realistically aspire toward. Odder things have happened. —E. Nagurney

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08. Sam Prekop - “Brambles” (Old Punch Card)
• Start time: 25:30; Label: Thrill Jockey

In a year when Thrill Jockey reasserted itself as an experimental haven, it only seemed fitting that pop icon Sam Prekop would follow suit on his third solo album. The chaotic “Brambles” delivers a quixotic take on the old melodies of Prekop’s immediate past, deconstructing catchy rhythms into 2001 devolution; pre-man aimlessly banging at rocks with rudimentary tools as Prekop’s black obelisk of technology descends upon the frightened mass. Electronic synapses litter the pop serenity teased throughout “Brambles,” Prekop playing with a wealth of ideas and somehow making them work in symmetric motion akin to the perfection of the wheel. “Brambles” is the past and the future, and rarely do we witness their convergence with such anxiety and glee. —Jspicer

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09. Dirty Projectors + Björk - “When the World Comes to an End” (Mount Wittenberg Orca)
• Start time: 28:52; Label: Self-Released

Surprisingly, one of the highlights of this astounding for-charity EP is a song that doesn’t feature Björk, but not because she doesn’t sound great where she is featured. It’s just that “When the World Comes to an End” showcases Dirty Projectors at their guileless best. It’s a straight-up love song with unannoying lyrics and the least Santana-esque guitar solo you’ve ever heard. In the background — or, as much in the background as such potent vocals can be — the girls’ bell-clear tones ricochet off each other in exquisitely precise call-and-response. They make the perfect counterbalance to the unpolished, unbridled earnestness of Dave Longstreth’s belting and crooning, as they alternately cradle him and nudge him forward. Whether taken alone or as part of a whole, this song proves that on Mount Wittenberg, the hills are alive — with the sound of awesome. —K.E.T.

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10. Ariel Pink - “Round and Round” (Before Today)
• Start time: 31:53; Label: 4AD

After years of releasing strange homespun records to a small-ish group of devotees, Ariel Pink crossed over to a more general indie rock audience this year by making, well, a very typical Ariel Pink record. Except this time around, he recorded in a studio with professional musicians. Structurally, “Round and Round” is just as convoluted and distancing as ever (really, Ariel, who was calling that you couldn’t wait to pick up until after you were done recording?). And as always, warped pastiche is the modus operandi: the two defining hooks could be described as “choppy ‘Billy Jean’ bassline” and “Hall and Oates as sung by a chorus of disembodied hippie burnouts.” In between, there are a few potentially momentum-killing excursions that are first patiently endured and later cherished for their wonderful unlikeliness. When the tune winds its way back to that big payoff (“And we’ll dazzle them all, hold on”), it’s a triumphant moment for listener and artist. —Brendan Mahoney

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SIDE B:

01. Andrew Cedermark - “Hard Livin’” (Moon Deluxe)
• Start time: 0:00; Label: Underwater Peoples

Unlike the noxiously summery disposition pursued by the majority of his Ridgewood, NJ brethren, former Titus Andronicus multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cedermark isn’t afraid to explore the brutal, wintry regions of his past without a coat made of buzz-hungry nostalgia-myth. On “Hard Livin’,” Cedermark combines Phil Elverum’s foggy mystique, overblown amplifier grit, Americana harmonica harmonizing, massive Neil Young-inspired guitar phrases, and, dare I say, so-emotional-they’re-terrifying SCREAM-vocals reminiscent of early-Bright Eyes. When he yelps, “At first I didn’t believe that the key to success in this world is to leave shelter, because shelter’s slavery, and comfort is the enemy,” he’s surely reflecting, but he’s not wallowing: he’s pushing beyond and he’s doing it with the angst-fuel and guitar-fire that got us all hooked on indie music in the first place. —Elliott Sharp

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02. Motion Man - “Porno Mustache” (Adult Situations)
• Start time: 3:31; Label: Four Four Two

Motion Man’s 2010 release Adult Situations is a loosely-connected follow-up to Kool Keith’s 1997 album Sex Style. It’s also more relatable to the listener by toning down his lyrics about drinking urine and defacating into purses. “Porno Mustache” features Motion Man and guest Lyrical C goofing off with a ridiculous concept, rhyming off pop culture figures who have sported pushbrooms at some point in their careers. Neither Motion Man nor Lyrical C take the concept too seriously, and there are a few spots when you can hear them trying to hold back a chuckle. While this track may not represent artistic excellence, it has a meaty bassline, a great hook, and name drops both Carl Weathers and Yosemite Sam — two characters everyone at the TMT offices would love to see optioned for a soft-core greasy flick. —munroe

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03. The Books - “A Cold Freezin’ Night” (The Way Out)
• Start time: 6:05; Label: Temporary Residence Limited

Thrift store Tiger Talkboy cassettes, de-tuned acoustic guitar slaps, wooden drum-sticks, and left-field harmonica fills. Only the brainiac duo in The Books could spin these ingredients into something not only listenable, but transcendent of genre and emotional orientation. Part Lord of the Flies-freakout (“I can kill you,” a boy taunts, “[…] by cutting your toes off and working my way up towards your brain”) and part 90s-LOL fest (Home Alone 2-nostalgia, a young lad belting lead vocal to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” etc.), the track is cutesy, comical, and not the least bit terrifying. If you’re unsure how to react to children spouting lines about being “assholes” and “killing” one another, you’re probably in the right place. It’s exactly where albums like The Way Out want you to be. Thankfully, being confused rarely sounds this good. —D-BO

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04. Big Boi - “Shutterbugg” (Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty)
• Start time: 9:21; Label: Def Jam/Purple Ribbon

Like some mad ‘Kastaway from the island of mainstream hip-hop, Big Boi roared to life in 2010 with a Herculean work ethic and a much-anticipated monster of an album. Choicest among Sir Lucious’ many fine cuts was its club-bangin’ centerpiece, “Shutterbugg.” Big’s wild-eyed compositional ambition was striking, but even more exhilarating was his renewed commitment to the Dungeon Family future-funk of yore. “Shutterbugg” was a triumphant resurgence of a mood and an attitude we didn’t realize was missing until it came right back to slap us in the face. ‘Course, that man 3000 was nowhere to be found. One day. —Gabe Vodicka

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05. Noveller - “Bleached Beach” (Bleached Valentine split LP with unFact)
• Start time: 12:36; Label: Saffron/Ox-Ghost

“Bleached Beach” is merely a spec of ethereal guitar-saturated dust in this year that proved to be the year for Sarah Lipstate. Yet this gem tucked away amongst a prolific assortment of releases in 2010 showcases her distinct sound and penchant for collaboration as properly and simply as any. What is captured here matches the swirling guitar meditations found on Paint on the Shadows and Desert Fires: it is Noveller’s ability to focus her attention to the underbelly of her music, the deep unassuming textures that make it a distinctly Noveller track. It’s spoken as a hurried invitation to a beach of fluorescent decay, but just as the piece is ending, the invitation is revoked. —Harold Shueberg

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06. Marnie Stern - “For Ash” (Marnie Stern)
• Start time: 18:13; Label: Kill Rock Stars

Mourning the suicide of a former boyfriend, Marnie Stern’s “For Ash” is one of the most emotionally complex songs of the year. Stern’s vocal moves in shuddering waves, from a keening wordless lament to frantic eulogizing to a reverent hush: “How can it be and I’ll never, I’ll never know why.” Usually Stern’s guitar lines mutate as quickly as Zach Hill’s drum fills, but here the main riff tolls from the edges of the measures like a heartbeat. This is the source of the song’s profundity — amidst the song’s unpredictable shifts and frantic verbalizations, life goes on, mysterious and inexorable. —Ian Latta

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07. Umberto - “Night Stalking” (Prophecy Of The Black Widow)
• Start time: 22:29; Label: Not Not Fun

I love that “Night Stalking” appears on an album released by Not Not Fun, a small DIY record label that most probably assume only releases weird, noisy albums. Peripherally, Umberto (a.k.a. Matt Hill) shares many qualities with cult or outsider music — his appropriation and clear respect for old Italian horror soundtracks, his interest in limited cassette and CD-R releases, touring with space-psych band Expo 70 — but “Night Stalking” defies the cliché that limited-run releases are obtuse or drenched in harsh noise. This track is pure, creepy, poppy joy; a blast of synth rock that, removed from all contexts, could exist under almost any musical umbrella today, whether it be a major, indie, or boutique outlet. If anything, Umberto proves that musical content isn’t tied to a marketplace model, that sometimes the most “experimental” music is in the Top 40, while the catchiest is hiding on a label like Not Not Fun. —Keith Kawaii

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08. Kanye West - “Monster” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
• Start time: 28:49; Label: Roc-A-Fella

2009, we hold these truths to be self-evident: Kanye’s strength has never been MCing; Nicki Minaj is too ridiculous to be any good; Jay-Z would never crib to imitating Lil Wayne, especially not on a feature verse; Rick Ross can’t flow; Bon Iver doesn’t care about black people. Who knew that all of those things would turn out to be untrue in the same song, and that the best line of that song would be “put that pussy in a sarcophagus”? 2010, you are indeed a brave new world. P.S. Wear sunscreen or Minaj WILL MELT YOUR FACE. —Brian Richardson

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09. Holy Other - “YR LOVE” (“YR LOVE” b/w “We Over” 7-inch)
• Start time: 35:06; Label: Transparent

Some people are calling it dubstep, but this is something wholly other — electronic and dark, British and warmly analogue, yes, but more about deep ecstatic harmonies than fidget and break. Not the only one in 2010 to give electronics life with dissected vocal ghosts, but certainly the most expert spread of buttery warm analog synth, deep rounded bass, and rotary stereo panning. And well, okay, this track comes alive when a slowed-down house thump catches feelings from splintered handclaps that shudder chanting on down the line. —David Morris

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10. Joanna Newsom - “Kingfisher” (Have One On Me)
• Start time: 39:31; Label: Drag City

On Have One On Me, Newsom tosses on and off styles like she’s playing dress up, and everything fits like it’s tailored. “Kingfisher” pairs the duds of 2006’s Ys — madrigal outfit accessorized with a fat thesaurus — with Have One’s more casual saunter. Her harp-plucks are as slow as the lazy drawl of the cypress — and drought-heavy West Coast the lyrics evoke, but that just makes it seem brighter when the landscape eventually turns volcanic, the music melting into a glowing lull that’s foreboding as still lava. Unexpectedly, this nine-minute epic showcases how successfully Newsom has finally mastered restraint, while the finale’s explosive lack of it shows how useful that skill can be: repeating the song’s motifs all at once, it makes clear just how far we’ve traveled without even getting tired. —Benjamin Pearson

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(Return to the 2010 year-end map)

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