With a little less than half the year remaining, it seemed like a good time to try and launch a preemptive strike in the Top Ten Wars; what I didn't realize was how hard making this list was going to be. It's been a great year for albums, but great radio singles, hot downloads, and three-minute masterpieces have been few and far between. It also seemed important, for some reason, to not have this list just be a "best track from all the good albums" list, which is hard not to do. So, here's what I've come up with: the ten best songs, just songs, so far this year. I'm sure I missed something, but post it in the comments, don't call me at home.

mojo-cover-lilmama.jpg 10. Li'l Mama - "Lip Gloss" (from the forthcoming album Voice of the Young People on Jive) (YouTube, MySpace, iTunes)
The teen rap sensation (born Niatia Kirkland in Brooklyn) may have aimed her talent at this most, uh, superficial of topics, but the defiant shouts of "what you know 'bout me?" prove she's no lightweight. The backing track, just a stomp and a handclap, is somehow just as infectious as her rhymes: "The boys really like it, the girls don't speak / They rollin' they eyes, 'cuz they lip gloss cheap."

mojo-cover-ofmontreal1.jpg9. Of Montreal - "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" (from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? on Polyvinyl) (MySpace, iTunes)
This glammy, poppy Georgia band backs up their silliness with incredibly strong songwriting. "Curse," despite its unwieldy title, comes off like the Flaming Lips covering "Kids in America:" undeniably weird, but instantly accessible. Singer Kevin Barnes repeats "come on, chemicals" in the chorus, but apparently doesn't mean drugs, he means the natural chemicals in your brain, making the lyrics oddly fatalistic.

mojo-cover-khaled.JPG8. DJ Khaled - "We Takin' Over" (from We the Best on Koch/Terror Squad) (YouTube, MySpace, iTunes)
A song whose chorus ("we takin' over, one city at a time") also exists as its manifesto, considering it features every rapper of the moment, from chart-toppers Akon and T.I. to stoner Lil' Wayne. With a beat similar to Akon's "Smack That," Palestinian-American Khaled somehow makes a track that feels less frivolous (with its minor chord arpeggios sounding out like alarms) but just as much fun.

mojo-cover-amywinehouse.JPG7. Amy Winehouse - "Rehab" (from Back to Black on Universal) (YouTube, MySpace, iTunes)
Okay, okay. Yes, this came out last year, the album was already certified platinum in the UK by the end of the 2006. However, it didn't get an official release in the US until March, plus the song is currently #9 on the Billboard Top 10, and besides, I didn't like it as much then as I do now. So, nyah. The song's retro novelty seems balanced by flawless musicianship and an utterly contemporary subject matter; if it keeps going like this, we have a contender for song of the summer, and potentially, tour of the fall.

mojo-cover-whitestripesicky.jpg6. The White Stripes - "Icky Thump" (from Icky Thump on Warner Bros.) (YouTube, MySpace, iTunes)
Like Led Zeppelin filtered through an AM radio and reconstituted south of the border, "Thump" has none of the irresistible hook-based propulsion of "Seven Nation Army," but doesn't suffer for it. Despite winding around vintage synth solos and tempo changes, it grabs you and won't let go. Add a "you tell 'em, Jack" political edge with lyrics about the hypocrisy of the current immigration "debate" (and a video that makes the connection explicit), and the dynamic duo have never been more relevant.

mojo-photo-slowdown1.jpgWith live music venues around the country struggling and even closing, it's rare to see a new club start up, and practically inconceivable for one to emerge as part of a brand new mixed-use development in a medium-sized Midwestern city. But that's just what happened in Omaha last month, when the folks behind Saddle Creek records launched Slowdown, a 500-capacity venue. The club is part of a snazzy new two-building complex developed by the label (home to Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint) that houses their headquarters, apartments and an art-house theater, and soon, a restaurant, coffee house, and (cough) an Urban Outfitters. (Yeah, I know, I shop there too.)

It was a broiling hot Nebraska afternoon when I stopped by last week, but it was nice and cool inside Slowdown. The space is sleek and modern, complete with black tile and polished concrete; moreover, since the building is new, everything is, well, clean -- those of us used to clubs coated with 40 years of grime might feel a bit odd. Booker Val Nelson proudly showed me around the backstage area, built to their specifications: a driveway for load-in is mere feet from the stage, for instance, and the dressing room (complete with washer and dryer) is nicer than my apartment.

Mostly, though, it's just going to be a great place to see a band, with state-of-the-art sound and a comfortable layout. Groups like Built to Spill, Jimmy Eat World and the Rentals are already booked. Saddle Creek manager Jason Kulbel downplayed the significance of the label branching out, saying Slowdown just filled a gap: "Typical larger cities, and even some the same size of Omaha, often have many nice venues to choose from." Sure, but they don't have minor indie rock celebrities filling in as bartenders, and a record label for a landlord. Nebraska music fans, I never thought I'd say this, but I envy you.

Some photos and a calendar of upcoming shows after the jump.