CoS Year-End Report: The Top 50 Songs of 2010


    “When sober girls around me, they be actin’ like they drunk.”

    Who can’t relate to a line like that? It exudes confidence, makes you feel good. In fact, you won’t find many disagreeing that “Like a G6” was the feel good hit of the summer. If Far East Movement isn’t on your iPod, you’re lying to yourself, because it may be silly, but heck if it isn’t irresistible. Don’t get us wrong; we acknowledge that whatever hit blew up on radio in a given year isn’t necessarily among the best songs in that year. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be.

    Putting together a list of the year’s best songs isn’t exactly a science. With an album list, it’s easier to quantify exactly why one is better than the other — of course Merriweather Post Pavilion is better than Lungs, but it’s not as obvious why “My Girls” is a better song than “Dog Days Are Over”. It’s apples and oranges, and truly, 50 different writers could pick 50 different songs as their number one. Still, just because it’s hard to quantify something doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and we’ve done it, dammit.

    As long as 50 songs were released this year, it must be possible to rank the top 50 in descending order. It may seem a little strange to drop a bubblegum pop smash next to a sad indie anthem, or to juxtapose a film score cue with a rap song about drug recovery, but that’s the beauty of it! One of those works of art is superior to the other, and we’ve taken a position on which is which.

    Still, look at the big picture here: The 50th-best song is 50th out of what, 3,298 new ones that our staff has collectively heard this year? Any way you slice it, that’s one of this year’s best tracks. So scroll through this list, shake your head in anger or disbelief a few times, but know that — no matter where it appears on the list — if you haven’t heard any of these, you have some iPod homework to get to.

    -Harry Painter
    Associate Editor

    50. Far East Movement – “Like a G6”

    Really good pop music is like a virus: You have no defense from its lightning-quick assault, and it takes over your entire system. No track of 2010 was more disgustingly efficient in this respect than “Like a G6”. Thanks to an onslaught of synth, a particularly pounding 808 beat, and a chorus overflowing with sex appeal and the ecstasy of a good time, this beast came out of nowhere to trample our tastes and make its presence known. This might be from the fever, but this completely insubstantial little ditty made our year. -Chris Coplan Widgets

    49. The Dead Weather – “I’m Mad”

    Served with a mixture of lo-fi aesthetics and quality sound from the Jack White camp, The Dead Weather is definitely a dark horse in our favorite vinyl proponent’s arsenal. “I’m Mad” feels like two songs in one — the first half a slow strut in shadow, while the second gets all T. Rex on you. As awesome as The Dead Weather is, “I’m Mad” is only a fraction of that wide palette, and I’m betting it would sound stellar on Third Man Records’ custom headphones. -David Buchanan Widgets

    48. Band of Horses – “On My Way Back Home”

    This may become the defining song in the Band of Horses catalogue. The soft, acoustic trip of “On My Way Back Home” is a reminder that sometimes a song is good for no apparent reason. A listener does not always have to dissect every lyric or every note to understand a song. Infinite Arms was a release on which the band achieved a new level of maturity, and this track is the epitome of the plateau they were able to reach. No matter where you get on, this song makes for an enjoyable ride all the way back home. -Kevin Barber

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    47. The Thermals – “Not Like Any Other Feeling”

    This is tried and true Thermals here: the hooky guitar riff, the thoughtful lyrics, and the head-bobbing rhythm. Hutch Harris’s twanging guitar flies over Kathy Foster’s thumping, charging bass and drummer Westin Glass’s loose, fun time-keeping. But even standard Thermals is good enough to crack a Best of the Year list, so there you have it. -Adam Kivel Widgets

    46. Diddy-Dirty Money – “Coming Home”

    Maybe Jay-Z and J. Cole deserve to have their names in bold above instead, but Diddy and his new crew helm the tune handily. We’re not sure how necessary it is for him to have a new album, but as long as he puts out tracks of this quality and Detox is still unfinished, we’ll forgive him. -Harry Painter

    [audio:|titles=Diddy-Dirty Money – “Coming Home”]


    Buy: “Coming Home”

    45. Delta Spirit – “St. Francis”

    Showcasing frontman Matt Vasquez’s emotional, craggy voice over southwestern strums and horns, “St. Francis” is Delta Spirit at their best. The song blends various American styles with the kind of dirty paintbrush that the band wields so well. Themes rooted in the beliefs of the title’s namesake remind us to look for what’s really important in life, and that it’s often closer and simpler than we think. Small pleasures, like this track, are what make living so good. -Ben Kaye Widgets

    44. Lupe Fiasco – “The Show Goes On”

    Horns and a Modest Mouse-esque guitar line buoy the lead single from Lupe Fiasco’s forthcoming LP, Lasers, but the most amazing thing about the song is how catchy it is. While Atlantic Records was reportedly upset about Lasers’ lack of “radio hits,” this four-minute cut boasts one of the most instantly memorable hooks of 2010, and the song’s message about perseverance makes it play like the ultimate “never give up” anthem. –Ray Roa

    [audio:|titles=Lupe Fiasco – “The Show Goes On”]


    Buy: “The Show Goes On”

    43. Eminem – “Not Afraid”

    “Not Afraid”, the lead single off Recovery, did a lot of good for Slim Shady’s career and his own sense of well-being. He dropped a lot of the characters and voices he had held on to for so long, found a place of peace, and decided to bury a lot of his demons. It’s an anthem for those ready to move on and start anew, where the good of the world is a lot better than all those oh-so tempting vices, and where a little change is nothing to be afraid of. -Chris Coplan Widgets

    42. Hans Zimmer & Johnny Marr – “Time”

    Some moments in film beg for your flesh and blood. It’s not always the directing, though. Sometimes (actually, most of the time), it’s strictly the score. When Hans Zimmer tagged Johnny Marr to join him in scoring Christopher Nolan’s latest brainbuster – this past summer’s Inception – the indie online community reached for its box of Kleenex. While the film dusts off the eyes, the score tackles the ear, only to dig far down and clench your heart with a cold, icy fist. The perfect moment arrives at the film’s rousing finale, right when “Time” chimes in. With soft piano keys and minimal guitar work, the two musicians – Zimmer and Marr, to be exact – dance together in what may be the most hard-hitting theme to a motion picture in years. On its own, however, let’s just say…you wouldn’t argue having it played at your funeral. -Michael Roffman Widgets

    41. Miniature Tigers – “Bullfighter Jacket”

    As Coasts, Beaches, and Wavves are scarce in the Midwest, this summer single provided a surf-less gem for those without an ocean view. The opening “yah yahs” trump any indie hook of the year, and its breezy diffidence and matador metaphors create a perfect love song that is the concise sum of the last decade of indie music. Summer feelings last forever in this brief three-minute tune. –Jeremy Larson

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    40. Deftones – “Rocket Skates”

    Catchy, driving, and powerful, “Rocket Skates” from DeftonesDiamond Eyes is a song that sums up everything the Deftones are. The crunchy, grinding guitar riffs at the beginning are the perfect setup for Chino Moreno’s vocal journey, which encompasses melodic wails and eye-watering shrieks. During the climax, when he screams, “Guns, razors, knives!” and follows with a playful vocal fill of “whooo!”, you buckle up and hold on tight. -Karina Halle Widgets

    39. Devo – “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man)”

    Devo’s return has been nothing short of amazing. Something For Everybody rocked our year, and “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man)” is right there at the top of the track stack. It’s a high-energy, electronic joyride through Devo’s hall of modern peril – delightfully dancey, outstandingly cynical, and easily the most fun song of the year. Plus, it gets a million bonus points for working “don’t tase me, bro” into a dance song – pop art brilliance! -Cap Blackard Widgets

    38. Broken Bells – “The High Road”

    “Cause they know/and so do I/The high road/is hard to find,” sings James Mercer on the first single off of Broken Bells. The catchy indie hit put this odd yet delightful pairing of Mercer and Danger Mouse on the map. Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) not only lends his production skills but also plays drums. Mercer’s subtle sound is perfect vocally on this track, as he dabbles in a variety of ranges and lets us know something most of us already know about trying to find the high road. -Kevin Barber

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    37. Chromeo – “Don’t Turn the Lights On”

    Chromeo‘s Business Casual left something to be desired, but that doesn’t mean the guys didn’t put out an irresistible jam. “Don’t Turn the Lights On” is a simple groove, but it builds at the right moments, and how can you not love the message? -Harry Painter Widgets

    36. Surfer Blood – “Swim”

    In a year when Weezer can’t figure out who the hell they are, Surfer Blood seem to have a pretty solid stance of their own: “Swim” is the year’s most infectious indie rock track, hearkening back to a simpler time of old-fashioned fuzz riffs and shouted hooks. Swim on, gents. -Ryan Reed Widgets

    35. B.o.B. – “Don’t Let Me Fall”

    With a dreamy piano intro, “Don’t Let Me Fall” – the opener of B.o.B.’s stellar debut – is one of the strongest tracks of the year. Throughout, he talks of his dreams and whether they will be fulfilled, so it is fitting that the first lyrics on the disc are “Well it was just a dream/just a moment ago/I was up so high, looking down at the sky/don’t let me fall.” These confident yet vulnerable lyrics continue as he reaches new heights, but there always exists a fear that he may eventually come crashing down. What goes up always comes down, but “Don’t Let Me Fall” may continue to rise for years to come. -Kevin Barber

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    34. No Age – “Glitter”

    With their second album titled Everything in Between, No Age are clearly striking for an LP that accurately portrays the ins and outs of growing up; “Glitter” is the song that does that best. It’s a lot of junk noise and beats and effects coupled together with a steady rhythm and a flourish of guitar. It’s a hybrid of their sensibilities and styles, all held together by the glue of a couple guys looking to finally get a much needed win. Isn’t that something we can all get behind? -Chris Coplan Widgets

    33. Menomena – “TAOS”

    Densely layered with loops of piano, hellacious saxophone riffs, Pet Sounds harmonies, dirty, fuzzy garage rock riffs, and unrelenting percussion, the two-act “TAOS” is the perfect introduction to the world of Menomena. Although the tune is the Portland trio at their most explosively chaotic, it’s also accessible. -Frank Mojica Widgets

    32. The Soft Pack – “Answer to Yourself”

    As one of the least complicated surf-rock anthems of 2010, “Answer to Yourself” has a guitar line that saws its way into your head. It’s a slice of rock individualism, an ode to the perpetual losers of the world, and a reminder that no man is an island. The hopeful tones and nihilistic tinge make it all the more alluring, crushing the competition in a blast of surf-rock angst. Cowa-fucking-bunga. -Chris Coplan

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    31. Japandroids – “Younger Us”

    Cleaning up their characteristic fuzz and indulging in an emotional, nostalgic plea for better times, Japandroids vocalist Brian King cries “Give me younger us”, while he and drummer David Prowse show their older selves. With their trademark spastic enthusiasm, we’re inclined to oblige. -Caitlin Meyer Widgets

    30. Local Natives – “Sun Hands”

    “Sun Hands” exemplifies everything that was wonderful about Local Natives‘ debut. Snappy at times and downright rocking at others, every band member shines through. Dissonant tones and plucks chug along under shimmering layers of vocals, giving you the perfect embodiment of the breed of indie rock these L.A. boys serve up. What’s more, the lyrics are just as strong as the music. Poetic without neglecting crowd-pleasing chants, the words are imbued with creativity both in design and implication. Is it about a quest for some ideal, natural beauty, or about watching a perfect woman walk away, wondering if you’ll ever hold her again? Either way, it’s as stunning as it is chill, chill as it is rocking. -Ben Kaye Widgets

    29. Deerhunter – “Desire Lines”

    On the whole, Halcyon Digest is a blissfully atmospheric re-examination of drugged out 60’s psychedelic-rock that breezes between ethereal dream-pop textures and hard-hitting rock. But perhaps it is guitarist Lockett Pundt’s “Desire Lines” that best encapsulates the record’s greatest strengths. Structurally exhilarating, it rides in slowly on spacious, pounding drums before turning into a steadily shuffling rocker. Steeped in lyrical nostalgia, Pundt’s pseudo-lackadaisical delivery solidifies over the rest of the song’s ghostly haze, bellowing about the merits of youth-bound naiveté. Regular frontman Bradford Cox wordlessly wails away behind a veil of reverb alongside bright, echoed fingerpicking and snare-heavy hallway drums. Then the song wanders into a dreamy shoegaze soundscape of glowing whirs and bright guitar tones before ultimately fading out. -Drew Litowitz Widgets

    28. Hot Chip – “I Feel Better”

    Hot Chip has never been a one-trick pony. Ever. Looking at their back catalog, they touch down just about everywhere: the guitar-pop of “One Pure Thought”, the balladry of “Made In The Dark”, and the club-heaviness of “And I Was A Boy From School”, to name a few. Hot Chip can roughly be defined as electropop, but to box them in like that is criminal. The musical capabilities of the English five-piece are far-reaching and flirting with being limitless. So, it should come as no surprise that “I Feel Better” was dissimilar to every Hot Chip song that came before it. Filled to the brim with frantic strings, a whole lot of Auto-Tune, and Alexis Taylor’s signature tenor, this was the most memorable track from One Life Stand. Oh, and staying true to form, it was accompanied by a very innovative/hilarious video. -Winston Robbins

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    27. Jónsi – “Grow till Tall”

    Go, Jónsi‘s debut solo album, is cinematic and epic in the most fanciful sense, breaking away from the oft-somber ruminations of his main gig, Sigur Ros. “Grow till Tall”, the album’s penultimate track, is an exception to that rule of immediacy. It would have fit perfectly on either of Sigur Ros’ last two releases, working its way around a precious, instantly recognizable Jónsi vocal melody, swirling in a light bath of electronic twinkles and reverb. It serves as a much-needed comedown on Go, balancing the sweetest of the album’s many sugar highs, proving that it’s nice to branch out and all, but you shouldn’t forget about your bread and butter. -Ryan Reed Widgets

    26. Against Me! – “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”

    Is it punk? Is it an example of Against Me! watering down their sound for the mainstream? Let’s be honest: Who cares? “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” will get your pulse racing with its simple but aggressive guitar riff. The moment everyone will remember most of all is the chorus that slams into your body and rattles your ribcage. “Do you remember when you were young/And you wanted to set the world on fire?” Tom Gabel screams out, making you want to return to days of teenage rebellion where it’s you against the world, the days when a song could lead to a revolution. -Joe Marvilli Widgets

    25. Sufjan Stevens – “All Delighted People”

    “All delighted people, raise their hands,” the enigmatic Sufjan Stevens cheers over a massive heap of instrumentation. Lushly honking horns, screeching electronic swells, melancholic strings, and, of course, a gorgeous chorus of female voices all build together under Stevens’ direction. The Suf’s delicate vocals are more precise than ever, more full-bodied and wavering. Stevens returns with a sprawling epic that works as a simultaneous ode to “The Sounds of Silence” and a contemplation of human nature’s dark desire for external validation. At nearly 12 minutes, it breezes in atop deeply warm and ominous choral vocals, crashes with heavy guitar and regal brass, burns into chaos, smooths out again, and gets lost in a sea of entangled strings. It’s the sort of song you can’t really criticize for being anything but over-ambitious. This guy has an intense sonic vision and seemingly effortlessly brings it into fruition without an ounce of fear. All delighted people, raise your hands. -Drew Litowitz

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    24. Joanna Newsom – “Baby Birch”

    Of all the depth on Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom remains at her best through her labyrinthine compositions that can infinitely unfold into a detailed and surrealist canvas full of mysterious parables, wounded love, and of course, her impeccable harp-work. Fragility is an emotion curiously absent from many artists’ work these days, but Newsom traffics in it with powerful results on “Baby Birch”. The song marries the simplistic structure of her earlier work to the dense and prolific lyricism of her Ys material and adds to both a masterful, instrumental arrangement full of delicate crescendos and diminuendos. In the final verse – the climax – her vocal melody finally falls in sync with the harp’s off-beat time-keeping in a whirl of lyrical gymnastics that could easily serve Newsom’s bid as the foremost singer-songwriter of this generation. –Jeremy Larson Widgets

    23. Arcade Fire – “We Used to Wait”

    After decades of apprehension, the “future” has arrived. It’s 2010. It’s not what we expected, but it’s here, and the world has dramatically changed. With “We Used to Wait”, Arcade Fire channels the loss of the world as we understood it, reminding us of the human tradition of waiting for letters and the romance and tragedy in that act. It’s a simple but profound observation that perfectly characterizes this transitory space we now exist in – right as humanity steps into a new age. It’s 2010, and many of us will keep on marching into the world of tomorrow, but some of us can’t bear to forget the analogue age. “We Used to Wait” is a fitting elegy for that simpler time and a beautiful way to remember the year that we looked out across the valley to see one day end and another begin. -Cap Blackard Widgets

    22. LCD Soundsystem – “Home”

    It’s nearly 2011, but looking back, James Murphy and his band – you know, LCD Soundsystem - just finished what could arguably be their career peak. With great shows and a fantastic record, the group entertained millions with an equally impressive arsenal of new songs, one of them being the closer to this year’s remarkable, This Is Happening. More recently, “Home” has become a live staple, and it’s easy to see why. With one of the most pleasant and upbeat hooks, accompanied by unique choices in percussion, Murphy’s singing and instrumentation tickle the heart and the mind with a dazzling gallery of images, all stemming from some whiskey-embraced nostalgia to a newfound respect for commonality. Chilling, but in the best way possible.  -Ted Maider

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    21. Janelle Monae – “Tightrope”

    For a genre that largely prides itself on recreating the traditions of the past, Janelle Monáe goes against that truth, reinventing R&B to fit her own unique thematic vision. While “Tightrope” remains nestled in the middle of The ArchAndroid’s futuristic statement, the song showcases Monáe’s versatility as she busts out this irresistible number. While this budding star shines at the front and center of this funky five-minute strut, it’s her supporting cast that takes her to the top. Between arguably the best bass line of year and an equally dynamic drumbeat, Monáe’s rhythm section provides her with the tightrope that she balances upon. Add in a verse by Sir Lucious Left Foot (Big Boi) himself and some classy brass, and “Tightrope” is a no-brainer. -Max Blau Widgets

    20. The Tallest Man on Earth – “King of Spain”

    Kristian Matsson may not be the tallest man you know. In fact, he comes in at a few inches under six feet, but listening to the triumphant “King of Spain”, you’d never know that.

    Matsson jokingly toys with his status as a songwriter, claiming to “Settle in Pamplona” and “Provoke the bulls with words.” He even shouts out to Dylan with his “Boots of Spanish leather.” Jokes aside, the song is about love and transformation and is, frankly, irresistible. With his characteristic rapid guitar strumming in top form and raspy, passionate vocals paired alongside an exuberant love for love, the Tallest Man is in top form with this revival tune. -Caitlin Meyer Widgets

    19. Robyn – “Dancing on My Own”

    Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own” is the kind of pop song an indie rocker can get behind: incredibly catchy (but not annoyingly so), lyrically detached and melancholy, and dominated sonically by chilly, dense, synthesizers. Kanye might be the pop star of 2010 in terms of sheer “can’t ignore me if you try” hooks, but with this masterful comeback single, Robyn gracefully and subtly dominated the dance floor. -Ryan Reed

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    18. Wavves – “King of the Beach”

    Kicking off one helluva fun album is this super-charged, rollicking beach jam. Nathan Williams and Co. set the tone with an anthemic shout-along about his sand dominance. The thrashing chords and rapidly rolling drums provide a pretty standard (yet great) power-pop gem before a wide-open, whammy-bar bridge and chord change crash in to keep things fresh. -Adam Kivel Widgets

    17. Sleigh Bells – “Tell ‘Em”

    “Tell ‘Em” is Sleigh Bells. There’s no other track on Treats that better does what “Tell ‘Em” does, because the opening riff – the one that sounds like a Jock Jam shredded out on cocaine – is definitive. Derick Miller’s instrumentation attacks your every pressure point, from the EQ’d guitar sound that is sorely missed in most indie music, to the industrial spine supporting the track, to the hand-claps and snaps replacing the snare and hi-hat. Over each meticulous element, Alexis Krauss speeds through her thoughts on youth, suggesting insignificance in both style and substance, a timely quality that couples well with the substance of Miller’s guitar. The definitiveness of “Tell ‘Em” goes beyond the album, too. Sleigh Bells’ sound might be the most exciting debut of 2010, sounding like everything and nothing, full of fluff and substance, and this song is their battle cry. –Jeremy Larson Widgets

    16. Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”

    Broken Social Scene is a band that’s always done drama: strained inter-band relationships, a rotating cast of musicians, and a discography of melodramatic soundscapes. But “World Sick” tops them all. The song is the perfect slice of Broken Social Scene melodrama. It builds slowly with a gorgeous riff and mounts into an anthem. It’s the sort of song that begs for you to have an embarrassing fist-in-the-air-at-a-concert moment, and really, with lyrics like “I get world sick every time I take a stand,” it’s easy to imagine the song being a sappy train-wreck. But Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, and Co. instead take that sentiment to a beautiful, epic place. -Evan Minsker

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    15. Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp”

    When “Ambling Alp” first came out during the latter portions of 2009 (technically), it not only stood as the first glimpse of Yeasayer’s 2010 sophomore record, Odd Blood, but it also laid to rest any concerns about the Brooklyn trio falling short of expectations set by 2007’s All Hour Cymbals. Earlier tracks like “Sunrise” and “2080” may have brought the psych-pop trio to our attention, but “Ambling Alp” convinces listeners of Yeasayer’s staying power. From its onset, “Ambling Alp” memorably lifts through the song’s upbeat harmonies, determined lyrical optimism, and poly-rhythmic percussion. In a year’s time, Yeasayer has transformed from a nice, intriguing blend of worldly fusion and indie rock to a band that seems determined to stick around for a while. And if they continue to write tracks as compelling as “Ambling Alp”, that’s something we can all live with. -Max Blau Widgets

    14. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg”

    It’s been a bleak period in popular hip-hop, and half of that dry spell has to be because Outkast hasn’t released a single in quite a few years. This year, though, marked the release of Big Boi’s solo effort, Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty, and along with it came “Shutterbugg”. Big Boi’s rhymes are as crisp as ever, referencing Wu-Tang, comparing himself to a beehive, and “twisting his A-cap.” Not to mention the fact that the production was fantastic, with a bizarre rhythm section, including a vocal instrument track, one of the catchiest hooks of the year, and proof that Outkast truly is everlasting. -Ted Maider Widgets

    13. Cee-Lo – “Fuck You”

    Singing in public is always a fun activity. Singing “Fuck You” in public is doubly so. Sure, you may get some weird stares, but the catchiness of the song is undeniable. With a strong Motown feel that brings you back to the ’60s, somehow the cursing that you might think would detract from such a song manages to slip right in perfectly. Combined with a catchy piano line and an amazingly artistic music video, Cee-Lo Green definitely scored a hit with this. -Dana Grossman

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    12. Best Coast – “Our Deal”

    Let’s be honest. This past summer belonged to Best Coast‘s Bethany Cosentino. Sure, her earlier EPs peaked online around January or February, but by the time she issued her LP debut, Crazy for You, everyone was running around in boardshorts and Wayfarers. Some might argue that her simplistic lyrics sound downright juvenile; however, they’d be missing the perspective she’s coming from… and they’d just be flat-out wrong. On “Our Deal”, Cosentino croons, “I wish you would tell me/how you really feel/But you’ll never tell me/Because that’s not our deal” over an afternoon melody, the sort that’s reserved for exclusive private beach picnics or icy piña colada dates out by an apartment complex’s pool. It’s melancholy but sunny. Lyrically, it is simplistic, but the images open up to something so much deeper. She probably sounds best here, too. But that’s a whole other deal. -Michael Roffman Widgets

    11. Gorillaz – “Stylo”

    Catchy bass lines aren’t anything new to the Gorillaz; just try and tell us that you got songs like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” out of your head quickly. “Stylo” is another such earworm, the bass taking the spotlight…instrument-wise, anyway. Bobby Womack’s impassioned vocals (with completely improvised words, at that!) are what really are most notable about the song. Finally, there’s the music video. Bruce Willis is in it. I need not say more. -Dana Grossman Widgets

    10. Titus Andronicus – “The Battle of Hampton Roads”

    For the better part of an hour, with gut-wrenching fury, Patrick Stickles’ quivering yelps denounce “the enemy”–whoever or whatever its form. To the angsty poet, “the enemy is everywhere,” polluting our sense of self-worth with nasty remarks and backwards pathology. But there are few moments in rock as heartbreaking, truly revelatory, or thematically beautiful as when the apprehensive frontman pleads, begs, and reasons with the very source of all his woes, the enemy he rails against so vehemently. At the record’s culmination, Stickles realizes something profound: With nobody to set yourself against, you really are nothing much at all. “I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave,” he cries repeatedly over fumbling, swelling chords and funereal horns. In doing so, Stickles defends “the enemy’s” requisite, harks back to all of The Monitor‘s complex war-torn themes, and expresses the feeling that we, as listeners, experience as the record concludes. Please, don’t ever leave. -Drew Litowitz Widgets

    09. Beach House – “Zebra”

    Somewhat rarely is the opening track to an album far and away the best of the album. But I think Beach House did it on purpose. The leap from their previous album, Devotion, into the mainstream with Teen Dream was one of massive proportions. Gone are the days of their signature minimalism; a wonderful, expanded sound has gladly replaced it. Beach House instantly went from underground dream-pop darlings to full-fledged indie stars. The success of Devotion, the BFF affiliation with Grizzly Bear, and the expansion into a deeper, broader sound made way for a very successful follow-up album.

    There is no doubt that the band picked this track to lead their listeners into their new, more perfected sound. Victoria Legrand’s brooding, husky vocals had a new quality to them, something more confident. The backing musicianship had obviously been expanded upon; especially noticeable were the live drums that replaced the old drum tracks they had set a foundation on. No longer tentative, Alex Scally had taken absolute control of the melody with his slow and steady guitar riffs. And with those expansions, we have ourselves a Beach House that has come into their own. We watched as they made their way through the stages of indie infancy with their self-titled album. We watched as they conquered the world with the obvious, yet inhibited talent of Devotion. And we watched as they released Teen Dream – the album that solidifies their position as a dominating force in the indie music scene. -Winston Robbins

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    08. Kanye West – “Runaway”

    Just one note on the piano. In its simplicity, it’s one of the best moments of any song this year. One note repeated over and over without any clue as to when the song is going to begin. The strength and foundation of Kanye West‘s biggest statement lies on one note. And the rest of “Runaway” is given a pretty straightforward presentation; the lyrics spill it all on the table. He always finds something wrong. He was never much of a romantic. He showed this bitch a picture of his dick (or, if you prefer, his “HEY!”). Top all that off with Pusha T, who shows up on the track, vicious with language.

    After its debut at the VMAs, a lot of people tagged the song as an apology to Taylor Swift, but it’s nothing so juvenile. It’s not even a tongue-in-cheek toast for all the douchebags/assholes/scumbags/jerk-offs. It’s a self-reflection of how he treated another woman (presumably the one on the other end of 808s & Heartbreak). It’s a song that’s got Kanye singing with desperation at the climax and closing with an Auto-Tuned mumble of the song’s central lyrics. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable you’ll hear the man, which is saying something for a guy who has spent hours on Twitter and his blog talking about his feelings. “Power” let Kanye pound his chest again. “Runaway” is on the other side of the spectrum — his catharsis. Damn if it isn’t one of hip-hop’s greatest self-reflections. -Evan Minsker

    [audio:|titles=Kanye West – “Runaway” (feat. Pusha T)]


    Buy: “Runaway”

    07. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

    There’s a lot that comes to mind during “The Suburbs”. The title track to Arcade Fire‘s recent third entry in their highly celebrated discography merits some deep, deep analysis. Is it about lost youth? Reckless abandonment? A quarter-life crisis? The end of the world? So many broad descriptions that produce so much angst. So much. Songwriter Win Butler orchestrates this haunting introduction that reads like a lost Hemingway passage, only it sounds like a rusty Neil Young ballad gone awry.

    Whereas Young keeps things fairly grounded, Butler tends to a scatterbrained painting here, recalling how “the first bombs fell” and the (possibly) murky desire to “want a daughter while [he’s] still young.” It’s all very vague. What’s arresting, however, is how easily you can identify with this song. On paper, the song feels distant, as if Butler’s writing post-modern science fiction, all sewed up with literary themes stripped from ancient Americana. But, in its brute form, as a song that is, “The Suburbs” creepily unravels the threads to your heart, one by one, and even if you might not understand exactly what’s going on, you’ll feel it. Sometimes that’s all that matters. Sometimes that matters even more. -Michael Roffman Widgets

    06. The National – “Terrible Love” (Alternate Version)

    When The National debuted “Terrible Love” on Jimmy Fallon in March, my initial reaction was “Wow, that’s good. Like, ‘Mr. November’ good.” That perception was reaffirmed 24 hours later when the band chose to close their set at The Bell House in Brooklyn with this new track, thus bumping longtime set closer “Mr. November” to second-to-last song. It’s easy to understand why the Brooklyn band made that decision and have continued to do so with every performance that has followed. “Terrible Love” features 2010’s best musical climax, transitioning from a slow and atmospheric beginning to a pulsating, guitar- and drum-driven peak. Yet when fans first spun High Violet, the opening track that previously heard intensity was noticeably lacking.


    When I asked guitarist Aaron Dessner about the differences, he explained that the band “loved the murky and kind of ugly Velvet Underground aesthetic of the album version of the song,” but after performing it live for the first time, “We realized it would be a really big song live. We also realized our fans might be a little disappointed that the album version doesn’t kick in as forcefully in the drumming as it does live.” So, six months later, The National unveiled a new, alternate version of “Terrible Love”, and as Dessner admitted, “In some ways it’s a more effective or forceful realization of the song.” Either way, we’re left with two versions of one brilliant song. -Alex Young Widgets

    05. Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”

    When Katy Perry first entered our shared musical consciousness, it was in the role of free-wheeling wild child, the omni-sexual beast who kissed girls and accused her boyfriend of being gay. There was an energy to her that put her in a class above the prissy, faux sexual pop divas she shared the charts with. Then, perhaps as a means to avoid the sophomore slump and pump her position up a few notches, she returned as a stifled version of her former self on tracks like “California Gurls”, where that sharp wit was replaced with a bizarre sexbot who had stopped winking to indicate a sense of humor and had completely given herself to the machine of uninspired pop music. Also, she started shooting whipped cream from her boobs.

    If Teenage Dream (the album) had any redeeming qualities, something to remind us there still existed a shred of the Perry of old, it lived in the title track. While the more popular “California Gurls” showed a total obedience to air-headed inhibitions, “Teenage Dream” is romantic, a recalling of the highlights of a relationship and a plea to never let the fire die. It’s complete rubbish in comparison to some of the more mature tracks from her first offering, but “Teenage Dream” is what we think the formula of Katy Perry is really about: There’s a bit of sentimentality we can all latch onto, an inoffensive and wholly appealing musical arrangement, and a slight glimmer of humor while still being an actual dedication of genuine love and devotion, one that probably actually happened. It’s hard to accept this new Katy Perry for everything she gave up, not to mention the kinds of tactics she decided to utilize, but “Teenage Dream” gives us hope that young love can make it and that we can still adore Ms. Perry despite all her flaws. -Chris Coplan Widgets

    04. Vampire Weekend – “Cousins”

    At this point, it’s fair to say that Vampire Weekend have a trademark “sound”: bouncy rhythms, that infamous African sheen, and lyrics about high class and low expectations. The best thing about “Cousins”, the standout track from their sophomore slump-slaying Contra, is that it throws the trademark out the window.


    Opening with a punky, almost discordant electric guitar riff, the song blooms into a weird, ever-shifting diagonal somersault, Chris Tomson’s crackling snare furiously marching against Chris Baio’s fuzzy bass, Rostam Batmanglij’s giddy, rapid-fire descending guitar figures, and Ezra Koenig’s surreal lyrics about sweaters on ocean floors and turning your back on the bitter world, delivered in a tricky rhythmic free association. Once you think you’ve finally grasped the structure of the complicated verses, the chorus hits like a sing-along brick. It’s the musical equivalent of a simultaneous handshake/bitchslap. And it’s one of the most singular, unforgettable songs of the year. -Ryan Reed Widgets

    03. The Black Keys – “Tighten Up”

    This moment was eight years in the making for the Akron, OH duo. With Danger Mouse at the helm again, “Tighten Up” broke The Black Keys out of the college radio circuit and got them as close to the mainstream as it gets, Grammy nominations and all. It’s a well-deserved accolade for the band, one that started with Attack and Release and ended with one of the most enjoyable unions in music. “Tighten Up” is the culmination of that journey, and arguably the best song to come from the band to date. The stage is now set, The Black Keys have crossed over, and the world just got a little bluesier.

    Three years ago, The Black Keys were the unlikeliest of bands to score a mainstream hit. “Tighten Up” was their first real stab at a pop song, though their intention was nothing more than to continue in a direction to see where it went next. The combination of roots rock revival and Danger Mouse’s presence went straight back to the Motown formula for success: just add R&B. Dan Auerbach’s vocal chops are as smooth as his guitar work. Patrick Carney carries his weight, offering up some of his best drum work during the verse. Hooks lay all over the track, from the opening whistle to the guitar lick that makes up the chorus. The tempo change part way through for the breakdown takes The Keys from Motown back to the Delta for a heavy blues finish. As a single, it was the perfect way for The Black Keys to be introduced to the mainstream — catchy but never compromising. They wear their sharpened sound quite naturally, making music this cool look easy. And with a boost from Danger Mouse, they gave us another stellar song that ranks high not only for The Black Keys, but for all of 2010. -E.N. May

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    02. LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”

    It’s not about dancing your cares away, like so many pop singles. It’s about the exact opposite, stasis and seizure. In “Dance Yrself Clean”, Murphy’s pointed lyrics fall right into his wheelhouse: How come the modern age, love, and partying never get along? His pop-sociological rants on 21st century culture underpinning the song run parallel to an always phenomenal DFA production (including one of the best beat drops of 2010), and Murphy’s vocal performance may be the most notable component.

    For nine minutes, there’s hardly a pause in Murphy’s performance. His voice feels like another instrument painstakingly produced in this mix, not just like a DJ over a dance beat. If he’s not resignedly calling someone a jerk, he’s wailing at that same someone to “put their little feet down and hang out.” He’s got “ahhs” like a choir and “ohhhs” like a wounded man. His fury waxes and wanes like an epic argument. The vitriol hurts, but the calm after the storm is somehow more poignant and cutting. Murphy’s acerbity has never had this much heart and soul, but, as corroborated by his live shows, this song incites dance riots in audiences unaware of the intrinsic irony happening as they put their little feet down and hang out. Perhaps we’re the punch line of Murphy’s joke, and we’re all too distracted to notice the horrors of age, love, and partying. Ah, fuck it. Just dance. -Jeremy Larson Widgets

    01. Kanye West – “Power”

    Between the releases of Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West’s public perception nosedived from an enigmatic hip-hop visionary to public enemy number one. During the past three years, West’s legacy has been largely defined by his schizophrenic tweets, fish sticks, paparazzi confrontations, Taylor-gate, and last-minute tour cancellations. No matter how scrutinized and criticized West remained over this period, what became increasingly overlooked was the fact that he was a grieving man, coping with the sudden, traumatic loss of his mother. After all these trials and tribulations, West is finally learning to come to terms with his own demons. After three years, he has re-emerged from the depths of his self-pity and heartache with resolve. “Power” represents West’s evocative gaze into the rearview mirror of his recent past.


    So what does West see? He sees himself—way too much of the man in the mirror. West assertively questions the amount of attention the world has bestowed upon his life and how it subsequently affected him (“Got treasures in my mind, but couldn’t open up my own vault/My childlike creativity, purity and honesty/Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts”). But on “Power”, West has retained custody of his creativity in formidable fashion. While his selection of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” rests as his most ingenious sampling since Daft Punk on “Stronger”, he juxtaposes it with an equally compelling use of Continent Number 6’s “Afromerica”. The cohesive mixing of genres as distinct as prog-rock and worldbeat into a hip-hop track is difficult enough, but it’s the prominent arrangement of these songs that makes his sampling so masterful. As “Power” concludes, West simply states, “You got the power to let power go.” Those eight words say it all for Kanye. Rather than playing the role of creative genius, he’s back to letting his work speak for itself. That’s always what he’s done best, and this time is no exception. Welcome back, Mr. West. -Max Blau

    [audio:|titles=Kanye West – “Power”]

    Buy: “Power”


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