The Top 100 Songs of 2010: #100-81


I won’t soften my words any more than this—this year was usually pretty disappointing when it came to album releases. Unless I haven’t heard most of the year’s best records (and judging by the common honorees on various publications’ year end best-of lists, I actually have), there haven’t been too many long-anticipated LPs or breakout full-lengths that managed to live up to the (often unfair) hype. Inconsistency was the real drag, followed by a general malaise in thematic songwriting, and then the unreasonable expectations that automatically put groups like the Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, M.I.A., the Daft Punk soundtrack, Kanye West and others at a disadvantage (either coming up just short or stumbling into a crevasse was their own doing, though). Hell, my favorite album of the last twelve months has a couple of dry spells, and the high and low points can be spotted from a hundred paces. Which brings me to the slight upswing: if not too many kept me transfixed from start to finish, that left ample room for the occasional great song to slide or blaze out of my speakers. That aforementioned fav album had at least six cuts alone that deserved exclusive merit among the best. So, since we’ve already presented our best albums of the year, allow me to now share with you the songs that kept me charging my iPod all year long.

“Disappointing” is the key word, though. It wasn’t necessarily a “bad” year for albums; in fact, my second favorite album of the year contained almost no “real” songs, so it barely even gets an honorable mention here. But primarily, I’m talking about the handful of new acts that astonished. Without a surplus of preconceptions or anticipation, artists like Zola Jesus, Gonjasufi, Sleigh Bells, Gold Panda, and others came with very little hype baggage and delivered promising (if not outright excellent) debuts/breakthroughs. Of course, the barbed hook with that is that we’ll now expect too much for their tricky follow-ups. Human nature, what a bitch.

I will be unrolling my favorite tracks of the last year one day at a time until the end of the work week. Where available, links to You Tube search queries are provided so you can listen while you read (or catch up on tunes you might have missed). Same as it was in 2008—I was too busy finishing the Top 100 songs and albums of the 00s to get around to a list for ’09—I’m only considering songs released between January and December of this last year (with minor wiggle room for really late entries from the end of the last decade), and no songs from grab-all compilations or performed for a live audience. Unlike 2008, though, I’m removing the restriction on the number of songs per artist I can include so I can be more honest; the wealth is still spread pretty nicely, anyhow. And as with all of my lists of bests and favorites, I strive for some manner of variety. Though personal preference remains garishly visible, I have made room for a couple types of music I typically don’t favor, a wide selection of genres, and, yes, even a guilty pleasure or two.

Before the meat, here are fifty songs that just missed the cut, presented in alphabetical order by artist name:

Antony and the Johnsons – I’m in Love
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Beverly Kills
Autolux – Supertoys
Badu, Erykah – Fall in Love (Your Funeral)
Beach House – Norway
Beach House – Silver Soul
Belle & Sebastian – The Ghost of Rockschool
Big Boi – Shutterbug
Blake, James – I Only Know (What I Know Now)
Broken Bells – The High Road
Broken Social Scene – Chase Scene
Broken Social Scene – World Sick
Bullion – Say Goodbye to What
Chakras, The – Build Me a Swan
Crystal Castles – Baptismal
Das Racist (feat. Lakutis) – Rapping 2 U
Deerhunter – Coronado
Drums, The – Me and the Moon
Dum Dum Girls – Rest of Our Lives
Emeralds – Candy Shoppe
Field Music – In the Mirror
Flying Lotus – Do the Astral Plane
Fol Chen – In Ruins
Fresh and Onlys – Waterfall
Gold Panda – Same Dream China
Gonjasufi – Kowboys & Indians
Gorillaz – Stylo
Jay Electronica – Exhibit C
Jónsi – Go Do
LCD Soundsystem – Home
Les Savy Fav – Let’s Get Out of Here
Los Campesinos – Romance Is Boring
Magic Kids – Hey Boy
Marling, Laura – Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)
Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man
New Pornographers, The – Crash Years
Of Montreal (feat. Solange) – Sex Karma
Povo – The Yellow of the Sun in You
Radio Dept., The – Heaven’s on Fire
Robyn – Cry When You Get Older
Roots, The (feat. John Legend) – The Fire
Salem – King Night
Slow Club – Giving Up on Love
Stornoway – I Saw You Blink
Tallest Man on Earth, The – Kids on the Run
Vampire Weekend – Run
West, Kanye (feat. Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Bon Iver) – Monster
White Hinterland – Icarus
Wild Nothing – Chinatown
Zola Jesus – Lightsick

And now, the first twenty:

2010radioactive100. Radioactive
by Kings of Leon
from Come Around Sundown

Make no mistake about it: Come Around Sundown was just as lousy as Only by the Night (if not worse), but at least it had a single to sell that didn’t make you wanna jam a screwdriver into your earl canal, giving us brief, flickering hope. A locomotive groove, basic but effective bass hook, surging chorus that puts Caleb Followil’s often unbearable vocal to good use…as for the often unbearable prose, it’s easily forgiven for a chunk of tidy, appealing radio rock—so rare these days, and one of only two of the corporate variety you’ll find here.

99. Acá Entera
by Javiera Mena
from Mena
[Electronic / Pop]

Chile seemed an unlikely place for electro-pop breakthroughs, but on the heels of RH+ comes Javiera Mena, who impresses with a song that sounds like the country just discovered the sort of shiny, synth-swishing pop all the rage in the States during the late-80s. Not understanding a word Ms. Mena sings is no distraction (lyrics never managed even in this style’s few effective exercises), but no one needs a translator for those sticky chirp n’ chime hooks. Tasty candy.

98. Written in Reverse
by Spoon
from Transference

The best song off of Transference was actually “Got Nuffin,” but that one’s a holdover from the same-named EP from the year before. With “Written in Reverse,” though, Spoon proves that they don’t need to be spartan, but it helps to be breathy, and the backbeat is crucial. A pounding but agile rocker with big keys and bigger drums, it guarantees to pound against your walls even while your brain races to figure out what all the fuss is about.

2010blackkeys97. Black Mud
by the Black Keys
from Brothers
[Blues / Rock]

Brothers was a little long on the familiar for the Black Keys, especially considering their limited arsenal (accurately suggesting a better live show than studio outing) and inability to capitalize on Danger Mouse’s influence for a broader aesthetic, so maybe it’s not too shocking that the just-over-two-minute instrumental “Black Mud” was the most memorable. No boilerplate lyrics or edgeless hooks here: just a lot of canny late-60s wail and early-50s stomp, Creedence taking on Howlin’ Wolf, or just two dudes flexing the muscle of blues.

96. Big Wave
by Jenny and Johnny
from I’m Having Fun Now
[Pop / Rock]

Jenny Lewis doesn’t wander far from her comfort zone with boyfriend Jonathan Rice on I’m Having Fun Now, but she excels in that place, so why carp? “Big Wave” tackles the timely topic of financial crisis (“We work hard for our living wage but still the banks gotta break”) and promptly shoehorns it into one of the loveliest, most upbeat melodies of the year, melding sighing sunshine pop, country twang, and polished indie rock. Blake who?

2010bigboi95. You Ain’t No DJ
by Big Boi (feat. Yelawolf)
from Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
[Hip Hop]

Label disputes was considered the primary reason for André 3000 not making a guest appearance on Big Boi’s “true” solo debut, but that didn’t prevent him from co-writing and producing one of the tracks—“You Ain’t No DJ.” Taking advantage of both Big Boi’s and guest Yelawolf’s speedy, free-meter deliveries, they rap about rolling with pimp scholars, being the “lyrical Darth Vader,” and insisting they’re the Hansel to the DJ’s Gretel. Hip hop’s usual sexist insults can be forgiven when the flow and clanking beats are this prime.

94. Take a Load Off
by Stone Temple Pilots
from Stone Temple Pilots

Sandwiched between turgid riffs and underwhelming hooks, “Take a Load Off” was the easy highlight from the first STP album in nearly a decade; it might not be able to compete with their absolute best from yesteryear, but it does showcase Scott Weiland’s slithery capability to croon, growl and wail at whim, and prove that when your song has three different chorus hooks, at least one of them is gonna get stuck in your head.

93. Yamaha
by The-Dream
from Love King

R&B seemed as good as dead these days, but then that little LP called The ArchAndroid came around to give it a new lease on life. In Janelle’s shadow—The-Dream. The overworn clichés were not Terius Nash’s friend, so his wildly uneven full-length Love King was responsible for defacing the eardrums as much as coating them in honey. But on “Yamaha,” he goes wild with Prince-ish lust and blazing hooks, feeding the hype (and hope) with an extra spoonful of gravy.

2010unthinkable92. Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)
by Alicia Keys
from The Element of Freedom

Speaking of hope in R&B, Alicia Keys seemed lost after a promising debut led to forgettable outings. Slather the praise on this one instead of her merely serviceable #1 collabo with Jay-Z “Empire State of Mind” or that curiously popular piffle called “No One.” Co-written by Drake, of all people, “Un-Thinkable” starts out sounding like it’s going to be melancholy and introspective, but instead winds up being startlingly seductive—a top drawer sex jam minus the lascivious element.

91. Alive
by Goldfrapp
from Head First
[Electronic / Pop]

Allison Goldfrapp’s obvious obsessions with surface fashion only hinted at her group’s ever-shifting stylistic diversions. With Head First, she began to really look the part. The Xanadu-esque music video for the shamefaced, earworm-heavy “Alive” features Ms. Goldfrapp as an aerobic instructor for Satanists, where spandex-garbed workout enthusiasts morph into vampires and suck neon goo out of the Seether-rejects’ throats. So I guess the message is that there’s far worse evil in the world than goth basketcases—applicants for Jane Fonda workout videos.

2010frosthammer90. Frost Hammer
by High on Fire
from Snakes for the Divine

The gravely Cookie Monster growl found in waaay too many metal bands these days gets old fast (almost the instant you hear it for the first time), but Matt Pike’s sounds brawnier and more authentic than most. Pitted against metal trio High on Fire’s brand of stoner doom/dinosaur roar, it just increases the compound snarl and brute force on display. “Frost Hammer” is belligerent but intricate, and gives room for Pike to actually sing and then shred his throat screaming the title four times. The beastly instrumental performances are interwoven well yet no piece is overlooked as it churns through the earth with skull-shattering menace.

89. Year’s Not Long
by Male Bonding
from Nothing Hurts
[Punk / Alternative]

Made up of Robin Christian and two members of noise rock hellions Pre, it would have been a safe assumption that Male Bonding would be another spastic, bludgeoning experimental act consumed with the desire to leave the stage a smoking ruin. But this gang is cleaner, sturdier, kinder (considering the source, surround those descriptions with quotation marks if you like), owing more to the likes of Archers of Loaf and Hüsker Dü than anything resembling pogo-hardcore shriek. “Year’s Not Long” won’t send you through the ceiling, but the life they breathe back into the “ancient” indie rock workhorse is more formidable than merely nostalgic.

88. Two Finger Symphony
by Stereolab
from Not Music
[Alternative / Pop]

Stereolab suddenly announcing an indefinite hiatus was probably the most devastating “amicable halt” since Sleater-Kinney hung it up in ’06; consider it a gift in grace that they had some Chemical Chords leftovers to give us this year. Rhythm rules the day on “Two Finger Symphony,” heavy on unobtrusive drum rolls, plinking percussion, pounding keys and tambo shakes, while the demure but ethereal vocals and sci-fi wave spurts keep reminding us just who’s behind this delightful gem.

87. Invisible Light
by Scissor Sisters
from Night Work
[Electronic / Pop]

Combining early-80s Italo, Pink Floyd R&B, and a ludicrous passage with Ian McKellan taking on Vincent Price’s “Thriller” role, “Invisible Light” is an ultra-campy disco epic that’s gaudy, goofy, and—yes—really, really gay. But a glimpse of its parent album cover’s close-up of a man’s flexed buttocks told you that long before pressing play. That temperament didn’t spoil their deservedly vaunted pop chops last decade, nor does it tailspin a song so close to being awful that it really can’t help but be awesome. God bless their bravery.

2010austra86. Beat and the Pulse
by Austra
from the Beat and the Pulse 12” single

It was a good year for sensational electro-goth even beyond Zola Jesus—Toronto-based Austra (fronted by Katie Stelmanis) had their own minor breakthrough with their debut single, “Beat and the Pulse,” replete with Stelmanis’ propulsive, ghostly voice burning black through skipping drum machines, spluttering organ spikes, and stumbling synthesizers. The beat shimmies and the pulse flickers, but the sensation you remember most is one of intense brooding.

85. Looking Glass Blues
by Charlotte Gainsbourg
from IRM (Digital Edition bonus track)

“What can you see through a looking glass?/The opposite of everything that you can’t have.” Charlotte Gainsbourg wouldn’t be the first musician to reference Alice in Wonderland, but she’s a rarer breed to eschew its trippy imagery and oblique drug inducements to get at a melancholy, if not outright resentful, outlook. Initially sensed as dispassionate, the vocals are later revealed to be immensely vulnerable; the drama is earned in measured breaths.

2010joananewsom84. Good Intentions Paving Company
by Joanna Newsom
from Have One on Me
[Folk / Pop]

I still have difficulty warming up to Newsom’s unconventional warble (like a mash of Björk and Tiny Tim), so getting through her occasionally exceptional 2-hour-plus triple LP Have One on Me was tough going at times. But even though she adds more than a dash of Dolly Parton in her inflection for “Good Intentions Paving Company,” the meandering suite melodies and incisive lyrical metaphors provide unavoidable reasons to return again and again. Not a chorus in sight, either. Good intentions on this road to hell, and it feels awfully divine.

83. All Come Down
by Steve Mason
from Boys Outside
[Folk / Electronic]

Steve Mason, formerly of the Beta Band, Black Affair and others, was responsible for one of the year’s most beautiful and assuring songs, “All Come Down,” an ethereal, optimistic embrace of the untold possibilities of the future. Arular’s Richard X serves as producer and brings his flair for the experimental to a rich, hazy melody that would have been sweet even without it. But the borderline-trip hop beats serves to lift the tender acoustics and fogs, ensuring that the tune sounds like it’s coming from beyond sight in the clouds.

82. Girlfriend
by Ty Segall
from Melted
[Punk / Rock]

Previously a one-man band cranking out floor beats, snarling chords and primal howls, Ty Segall has beefed up his sound with Melted; that it frequently sounds like his earlier in-the-red output proves how rotation in garage/punk/rock only hurts when it’s songwriters and impresarios getting swapped. “Girlfriend” is what the Vines were trying to do but only brushed against on their best days. It’s what your friends thought they could do before ditching the secondhand amps for college or nine-to-fives. It’s…well, it’s what rock n’ roll is.

2010twista81. The Heat
by Twista (feat. Raekwon)
from The Perfect Storm (Bonus Track)
[Hip Hop]

Twista’s verbal skill gets plenty of accolades while his rhyme-writing is considered jumbled, obvious and/or forced. Lucky for him, his speed impresses mightily and reaches such a velocity that you can barely keep up with the words in the first place, so the verbiage’s mediocrity can be easily overlooked in individual doses. Raekwon’s more controlled flow offers a nice contrast on “The Heat,” but it’s the vintage organ blares of the refrain hook that sends this one into the must-hear echelon.

(#80 - 61)
(#60 - 41)
(#40 - 21)
(#20 - 1)

Matt Medlock


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