Top 20 Songs of 2010
Around this time every year, reviewers begin to release their year-end music lists. Best album of the year, best songs, etc.
This was a fantastic year for music and whittling these choices down to only 20 was a formidable task. I can easily think of over 100 songs that I believe are worthy of being on this list, but 20 is the number so here they are. These songs are in no particular order. If your favorite song of 2010 is missing from the list, please feel free to comment below. Without further blabbering, here are my choices for the 20 best songs of 2010.
1. The Tallest Man on Earth – “The Dreamer”
“I’m just a dreamer, but I’m hanging on,” is the simple opening line to “The Dreamer.” Kristian Matsson’s voice, an electric guitar and heartfelt lyrics are all the track needs. It begs for patience, within relationships as well as with the world at large. With lines like “I’m just a shadow of your thoughts of me/ but sun is setting, shadows growing,” sung in earnest by Matsson, it leaves you no choice but to form some emotional connection with the artist as he weaves his tale. It’s as if he feels fated to fail, but somewhere inside he knows it doesn’t have to end the same way each time. “There’s just enough dark to see, how you’re the light over me,” are the last lines of the chorus and the song. The beauty lies in that sliver of hope, however small it might be.
2. Menomena – “Dirty Cartoons”
I can’t put my finger on why I like this song so much. Maybe it’s the saxophone. Yeah, I said saxophone. Maybe it’s the drums that cascade in. Maybe it’s the simple guitar intro, abrupt chord change and unaffected vocals singing simple but truthful lyrics. After all, don’t we collectively hate it when those we love want us to do what’s good for us, because they love us? “You’ll keep me honest, for old time’s sake/ I’m begging of you, go home, go home,” they sing. The band’s recording method is unorthodox; the members are hardly ever together during the recording sessions. They start out with a beat and each member adds layer upon layer until a full sound is fleshed out. I’ll let it slide on this one occasion, because this is a case of the whole definitely being more than just the sum of its parts.
3. Spoon – “Got Nuffin”
“Got Nuffin” is prototypical Spoon: New Wave drum beats, steady bass line, fuzzy guitar riffs and Britt Daniel’s unmistakable vocals. Daniel’s lyrics pull you in from the start; “When I’m with you, all my brothers, oh/ I feel like a king, it feels like I’m dreaming.” Spoon has been quietly making great records for more than a decade, beginning with 1998’s “A Series of Sneaks.” Their discography reads like a best albums of the oughts list; “Girls Can Tell,” “Kill the Moonlight,” “Gimme Fiction,” “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” and “Transference.” No band has continually delivered like Spoon. If this is the first time you’re hearing their name, do yourself a favor, get acquainted. It’s the kind of music that will deposit certain melodies or lines from a song into your brain and simply won’t leave. The music entices you, but it’s the lyrics that will bring you back time and time again.
4. Sleigh Bells – “Tell ‘Em”
Ready yourself for a bombastic aural assault. This Brooklyn-based band likes it loud. The song announces itself with machine-gun like drums, weaving guitar riffs and what sounds like finger-snapping. Then, in the midst of this chaos, you’re greeted by the angelic vocals of Alexis Krauss. Krauss, along with Derek E. Miller, make up the band. They utilize fuzzy riffs, hip-hop time signatures and Krauss’ voice to devastating effect. This song is like nothing else you’ve heard this year. I promise.
5. Rick Ross – “Aston Martin Music”
It’s well documented the “Boss” hasn’t lived the life he perpetuates in his music. With his newest album “Teflon Don,” he goes deeper into the life of a cocaine magnate. How does it work, knowing what we know? Ross is a hell of a salesman. He paints such an all-encompassing picture that the listener has no choice but to go along for the ride. This is reality television for your ears; it’s sunny, it’s Miami and everyone drives cars you can’t afford, lives in houses you can barely dream of and dates women who look like they belong in a lingerie ad. Who doesn’t want that life? Even if it’s only vicariously.
6. Robyn – “Dancing On My Own”
Never heard of Robyn? Are you asking yourself, “Who is this Swede with the audacity to use just one name?” The fact that she isn’t a much bigger star on this side of the Atlantic is a shame. All in due time, I suppose. In 2010, she released “Body Talk,” parts 1, 2 and 3. The three EPs were compiled into one album, “Body Talk.” The music is dance/electronica, so why I am interested? There’s real emotion here. Beyond the blips and the drums and the electro- pop exterior, there’s a person who is crying out to be heard. “Stilettos and broken bottles, I’m spinning around in circles / I’m in the car now, watching you kiss her, I’m right over here, why can’t you see me/ I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home,” she sings in the chorus.” With “Body Talk,” she’s announced herself to the world. Is anybody listening? If they’re not, they should be.
7. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – “God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise”
Simply one of the most beautiful songs you will hear this year. It truly has it all; love, longing, nature and beauty. The song weaves the tale of a cattleman who laments how the trail is wearing him down and how much he longs to go home again. There’s an almost elegiac quality to the lyrics. “Caroline, in the mountains, the sun sets up in ribbons high / I don’t ever wanna get old, I never wanna die,” he sings. Almost as if he knows he won’t make it home, and so remembers it as it exists in his mind; perfect, beautiful, peaceful and his wife by his side. The chorus doesn’t surface until the last minute of the song and is only sung once, but it’s so achingly beautiful, you’ll find yourself listening to the song over and over again, just to hear that last glorious minute.
8. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – “Bang Bang Bang”
An English DJ, Ronson is probably best known for producing Amy Winehouse’s 2007 album “Back to Black.” His pop sensibilities are on point and it doesn’t hurt to have one of hip-hop’s all time great emcees, Q-Tip, providing the verses. With a chorus that’s delivered half in French, half in English, it could come off as a bit tedious or seem to be trying just a bit too hard but in all honesty, it simply works. Q-Tip delivers the requisite amount of swagger to pull it off and the beats keep everything feeling very sexy.
9. Band of Horses – “Blue Beard”
BoH has gone through several lineup changes over the last few years but lead singer Ben Bridewell still remains. “Beard” is equal parts indie and 70s AM gold. When you first hear the voices, drenched in reverb, you can’t help but know you’re in for a treat. “Infinite Arms” is BoH’s third album and after suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, they seem to have found their footing here. They can do upbeat rock as well, evidenced by songs like “Laredo” and “NW Apt.” The one constant that remains, the one thing holding it all together, is Bridewell’s voice.
10. Kanye West – “Runaway”
What’s left to say about Kanye West? If he had over-promised and under-delivered, I’d be the first one in line to point the finger at him. Problem is, he made good on his promise. So now what are we supposed to do? “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is Kanye’s most experimental album yet, even more than “808’s & Heartbreak.” He has moved, ever so slightly, beyond his comfort zone and from the sound of things, he’s OK with it. Beyond the bluster that normally populate his songs, though still present in doses, he has made himself more available than ever before. He’s saying, “Look, I’m an idiot, just like everyone else,” and it’s refreshing to hear. I came to my conclusion that “Runaway” is the best song on the album after listening to it several times in a row. The track is a nine-minute-plus opus, with an intro that lasts about a minute. There are only five minutes of vocals and the remaining three are instrumental. Never, not once, did I think about pushing stop once the vocals faded out. The three-minute instrumental is just as emotional and necessary as anything vocalized in the song. It’s an honest look at West as he raps about his shortcomings and character faults. “And I always find something wrong,” he begins the song. “I don’t know what it is with females,” he raps later in the song, “ but I’m not too good at that shit / See I can have me a good girl, and still be addicted to them hoodrats / And I just blame everything on you, at least you know that’s what I’m good at.” It’s the most candid West has been and at the very least, we know there’s someone home, even if the lights aren’t always on.
11. Jonsi – “Boy Lilikoi”
Jon Thor Birgisson is probably better known as the lead singer of Icelandic band Sigur Ros. On his debut solo album, “Go,” he takes the music to a much more happy and uplifting place. “Lilikoi” is a celebration of life, in all its Technicolor beauty. Flutes and rolling drums take their place beside Birgisson’s voice and lift the song to ethereal heights. If you are ever down, just put this song on and four an a half minutes later all will be right with the world. It works better than antidepressants and it’s cheaper.
12. Kid Cudi – “Ashin’ Kusher”To some, it might appear Cudder has hoisted hip-hop on his shoulders and is valiantly trying to move the entire genre forward, all by himself. I don’t think he’s necessarily interested in taking the genre forward. As he continues to explore structures and textures that other artists either won’t or can’t try, he’s simply leaving hip-hop in his wake. When rap is blended with other elements of music, such as rock or jazz, it can often be awkward for many reasons. Cudi is nothing if not authentic. There isn’t a beat out of place. “Kusher” plays out over a skeletal bass line and muted guitar and synth. He’s taken hip-hop, and through experimentation, created something genuine and new. To drop the cherry on top of this sundae, Cudi is brutally honest about himself, warts and all, and the honesty only makes the album better. Cudi has stepped out on a limb here, in more ways than one. I think it would be wise to follow him, at least to see where it leads. Don’t worry, I think the limb will hold us all.
13. Bun B – “Put It Down(feat. Drake)”
“Now when it come to making money, I’m a printing press / And when it come to being trill, I’m the litmus test,” is how Bun begins “Put It Down” and with the release of his third solo album,” Trill O.G.,” he’s letting the young guys know he can still handle his business. Bun was one half of legendary rap group UGK. Hailing from Port Arthur, Texas, UGK was a major force in putting southern rap on the map. His flow has always been impressive, the end of one line melting into the beginning of the next one, without skipping a beat. Bun makes no apologies and continues to spit tales of love, life and death. “The dirty South’s finest, and dirty South’s behind this / Now that’s a plus on the report card, not a minus / Keep your security blankets, cause I’m not your Linus / You got a problem with us, you know just the spot to find us,” he raps. This is southern rap at its finest.
14. David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland – “When Love Takes Over”
Borrowing the piano part from Coldplay’s “Clocks,” David Guetta constructs something wholly his own. If you can listen to this song and keep from tapping your feet, nodding your head, etc., you might want to get yourself checked out. The beat is infectious and Rowland delivers impressive vocals. This song was built for the club and it’s bound to get people moving.
15. Arcade Fire – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
“Sprawl” starts out sounding a lot like the Cure (not a bad thing) and finishes up sounding a little like Arcade Fire. While it might not sound like a ringing endorsement, understanding what is in between is what truly matters. With “Sprawl,” Arcade Fire expand on their tales of suburbia and its disaffected inhabitants. “They heard me singing, and they told me stop / Quit these pretentious things, and just punch the clock,” are the first lines in the song. There’s talk of traveling to the city, to find their “kind.” This is an album and a song that speaks to a generation affected by the rise of suburbia. “Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small, that we can never get away from the sprawl,” they sing. Not an entirely crazy point to ponder.
16. Cee Lo Green – “Bright Lights, Bigger City”
Stabbing synth lines lead to a throbbing bass line that sounds eerily similar to “Billie Jean.” No matter, Green is in a groove and with “The Lady Killer,” he’s fully realized his vision of retro. No matter how retro the songs sound, it’s his voice and his vibe that snap you back to reality. He dabbles in a bit of every kind of pop music; Motown, check. 70s soul, check. He also takes certain songs into the future and gives us a glimpse of what retro might sound like 10 years down the road. Easily his best solo record, “Ladykiller” has exposed a whole new crowd to Green’s abilities. Without a beat out of place, every single piece, whether it be background singers or various instruments, is complimentary and valuable. You can’t imagine the songs sounding any other way. This speaks to long hours in the studio, a penchant for detail and above all, musical genius. The sound and vibe of this album summed up in one sentence; Cee-Lo Green is the coolest guy in the room, regardless of the room.
17. The Black Keys – “She’s Long Gone”
The sixth time must be a charm. With “Brothers,” their sixth album, the Black Keys have finally hit the big time. The band has spent the last nine years steadily building a fanbase. Each album has been a progression from the last and with “Brothers” the guys have polished up their sound without losing the key elements; Dan Auerbach’s voice and Patrick Carney’s drumming. They manage to incorporate soul and old-school R&B while maintaining the grit and sweat that colored their initial albums. “She’s Long Gone” is a slow burn but captures both the new and old coming together in beautiful harmony. If you’ve slept on the Black Keys up until now, I actually envy you, because I would love to be able to hear them again for the first time.
18. Unknown Component – “Electric Dissolution”
Keith Lynch is Unknown Component. In the middle of Nowhere, actually it’s Iowa, Lynch writes, performs and records everything in his home studio. “Electric Dissolution” is a moody and haunting piece of pop, and a befitting end to “The Infinite Definitive,” Lynch’s seventh album. Against the backdrop of piano, guitar and strings, his voice strains as it reaches from underneath to catch the notes. The result is something extremely melancholy, yet, strangely beautiful. The song muses about life and reality and asks a poignant, but for most, a very frightening question; at the end of the day, when you turn out the light, what’s left?
19. Hot Chip – “Take It In”
This song is such a beautiful lesson in contrast: the sinister, minor-chord, 80s synth of the verses against the explosion of sunshine the chorus brings. A wall of voices rise and fall, singing about love, doves and flying hearts, and suddenly you’re dropped back into the quagmire of the verses. The stark difference is the true beauty. That these two halves can occupy the same song is reaffirming, to say the least. Beauty wins in the end, as it should
20. Best Coast – “Boyfriend”
Motown lyrics and sensibilities, by way of California. Barely two and a half minutes, “Boyfriend” is lo-fi pop at its sunburned best. The chorus has been allowed to lay on the beach for awhile and is drenched in lovely reverb-soaked vocals that swirl around in your head, long after the song is over. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s not really about that. Did I mention how addicting it is? As soon as it finishes, you’ll want to hear it again. In fact, I want to listen to it right now.