The Top 100 Songs of 2010: #40-21


Blah, blah, blah. On with the countdown.

2010angelechoes40. Angel Echoes
by Four Tet
from There Is Love in You

The tock-tock wood block doesn’t warn you, but the winding tape loops do—who would have assumed that one of the best vocals of the year would be a warped, broken, unintelligible stutter? Naming it so is unfair, though, and not just because of its digital alteration. It’s not a vocal at all, really, but rather just another of the omnipresent textures that ripple out of Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden). Declaring the fairly concise and warmly digestible “Angel Echoes” one of the year’s best might seem counterproductive to establishing the greatness of the sometimes difficult and ponderous alleyways of There Is Love in You but (please forgive the pun) this one echoed the deepest.

39. Undertow
by Warpaint
from The Fool
[Alternative / Rock]

The early passages of “Undertow” (especially the dark bliss of its wraithlike twin vocal) are so reminiscent of Cat Power that comparisons are not merely instinctive but necessary. As the subtle-psych tune progresses, though, the succor of the shadowy bassline pays off and it begins to gather restless, until the dirge is dashed by a galloping rhythm and nimble guitar lick that almost sounds anthemic—all without losing track of the sinuous web of black dreams and serene disquiet. Surrounded by all of the hushed, furrowing discomfort, lines like, “Your brown eyes are my blue skies, they light up the rivers that the birds fly over,” take on twisted new potentials.

2010herewegomagic38. Collector
by Here We Go Magic
from Pigeons
[Alternative / Rock]

Judging by the shimmering background and restless, stumbling rhythms as well as the cymbal crashes and melodic business, “Collector” might have come from Broken Social Scene if joined by Glenn Mercer, but instead is the product of former folkie Luke Temple and his Brooklyn-based indie rock act Here We Go Magic. Nothing more than the bashing ripple of the hi-hats and jumpy vocal chants would have been necessary for its show-stopping two-minute coda, but the niggling guitars and synthesizer riffs both overt and buried lift it even higher.

2010david37. David
by the Radio Dept.
from Clinging to a Scheme
[Alternative / Pop]

The Radio Dept.’s Clinging to a Scheme had no shortage of standout tracks, but while most people seem to be touting “Heaven’s on Fire” as the best, I relegated that one to the honorable mention and instead went with “David.” It marries a remorselessly grainy vocal track and near-industrial drumbeat with chamber pop orchestration, twinkling keys, synth knives and chiming hooks, and throws in the occasional vengeful staccato guitar clang when it feels like it. Maybe it’s too much of the “vogue” today to recast harsh, off-putting elements in a divinely gorgeous light, but no one’s doing it quite like this Swedish indie pop crew.

36. I Can’t Stand
by Zola Jesus
from Stridulum EP
[Electronic / Rock]

Last year, Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus) debuted as a force in experimental, lo-fi electronic goth rock, but now she took a turn towards a deeper, sharper accessible sound that emphasized the incredible impact of her operatic voice and cunningly incorporated more majestic hooks into the midnite melodies she haunted. “I Can’t Stand” initially seems dedicated to the beat and spooky synth-scapes, but as soon as her powerful voice comes lunging in, the rhythm fades into the background and the electronic bleed shifts just underneath her lungs. The lyrics can be reduced to trite sympathy—“It's not easy to fall in love but if you're lucky you just might find someone”—but Danilova makes it sound like earth-shattering drama.

2010gonjasufi35. Duet
by Gonjasufi
from A Sufi and a Killer
[Electronic / Hip Hop]

Whether you loved it or not, Gonjasufi’s A Sufi and a Killer was unforgettable—strange, vaporous, trippy, scattered and hugely distinctive. Like fellow brother-in-weird-arms Flying Lotus (who co-produced this debut), it was difficult cherry-picking favorites from its heady stew, but “Duet,” with its whippoorwill phased guitar, brittle electronics, trip hop beats, and smoky R&B-ish vocal, comes closest to being the composition I’d select first as an introduction to outsiders. Marvels in a vintage sound, yet feels way ahead of its time.

34. Snow
by the Chemical Brothers
from Further

You can have “Swoon” if you like (it’s pretty good), but the opening track of Further, “Snow,” was head-and-shoulders sweeter to the ears, a Chemical Brothers track entirely lacking in drums and drifting like a slightly less druggy Spaceman 3 with better giddy pop chops. Lacking the pounding beat that has become synonymous (to a fault) with the Chemical Brothers allows the song to stir in some imaginative sound effects and stew languorously on ethereal psychedelia. Multiple vocals murmuring, “Your love keeps lifting me…lifting me higher,” like an opiated mantra is bound to rattle in the noggin for a while.

2010glasser33. Apply
by Glasser
from Ring
[Electronic / Rock]

“Apply” dates back almost two years when an early version appeared on an up-and-comers compilation, but the version produced for Cameron Mesirow’s debut LP (as Glasser) is stronger—heavier on the tribal beats and scraping synths, which makes the rich, skyward vocals burst even larger. Like the whole “shoegaze pop” and “chillwave” things getting played out ad nauseum, the rebirth of gothic electro-pop mysticism (including Bat for Lashes, Florence and the Machine, Austra, Zola Jesus, and many more) might be running its course too quickly, but then it’s entirely possible I’m too much of a dork to resist Renaissance Fair witchcraft in a science fiction/horror landscape.

32. Snow & Taxis
by Gold Panda
from Lucky Shiner

The first few seconds of that hammering beat convinces that this song is going to be on the offensive, but then you remember that you’re listening to Derwin "Gold" Panda, and even his attacks are flush and dreamlike. Because diversity is not a strong suit and because there were at least four songs off Lucky Shiner that competed for a spot, I could have dismissed GP as another singles act (and considering electronic instrumental music’s pedigree, that would be easy company to fall into). But nearly the entire album is good—one of the year’s best first full-lengths—and those wiggling synths and Eastern chimes are far too pleasurable to sour in this tune’s company.

2010synchronize31. Synchronize
by Discodeine [feat. Jarvis Cocker]
from the Synchronize single
[Electronic / Pop]

There are those under-the-radar pop songs you kinda like right away even if you’re not sure why (and couldn’t possibly declare it a classic until a decade later). Then there’s “Synchronize.” From French electronic duo Discodeine, “Synchronize” features smarm-croon vocals from Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, but it’s the vintage-warped string arrangements and slick disco jabs over a house-motorik beat that latches on immediately. Bridges a previously unnoticed gap between chic 70s club and “Your Woman”; before it’s even over that first time, it’s completely won you over.

30. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
by the Arcade Fire
from The Suburbs
[Alternative / Pop]

By the time that “Sprawl II” had arrived, it was no longer necessary for Win Butler to wax endless on his perception of the sights, sensations and ennui of suburban America…so he let Régine Chassagne tell it? There’s no room for that kind of sardonic observation with this one, though; outside of the Arcade Fire’s usual bag of tricks (but still within shouting distance), “Sprawl II” interlaces the “dead shopping malls” with a Blondie-esque disco pop melody. Followed by a brief coda called “The Suburbs (Continued),” it also helps continue the AF tradition of closing their album on a mild, quiet note after a stirring penultimate track.

29. Hustle Blood
by Big Boi [feat. Jamie Foxx]
from Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
[Hip Hop]

Although he is highly regarded for the velocity and agility of his flow, Big Boi had long displayed a silky finesse to his rhymes (the street-savvy crunk player to André’s outer space funk-stronaut). Paired with Jamie Foxx for “Hustle Blood,” the two pull off a Rakim—they’ve got soul. But that soul has a razor edge as exemplified by rhymes both insightful (“A hustler, always loyal to the customer, in love with the only example of family”) and sordid (“I’m a straight go-getter, trendsetter, make a mo when a nigga bust. Dude, I keep her soakin’ wet to the touch”). Not a popular fav pick from the acclaimed Sir Lucious LP, but no other track so seamlessly combined slick production (from Lil Jon!?), memorable hooks, and a mix of ruthless non-sequitors and mindful phrases.

28. Little Golden Age
by Wolf Parade
from Expo 86

Wolf Parade still haven’t produced an LP as consistently exceptional as their Apologies to the Queen Mary debut, but they keep churning out their fair share of great songs. “Little Golden Age” weaves intricately, rolling circuitously on dazzling guitar lines and nimble twitches to the sequence without unwinding on their less-spectacular prog noodles. But it’s also hugely anthemic, as brazenly excitable as anything from Spencer Krug since his Handsome Furs’ out-of-blue fist-pumper “Radio Kaliningrad.” Way back on #77, I confessed difficulty in figuring out if I enjoyed Spencer or Dan more; with “Kaliningrad” and both Wolf Parade songs on this list, I think I know which way to start leaning.

2010fuckyou27. F-ck You
by Cee Lo Green
from The Lady Killer
[Soul / Pop]

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting a song called “F-ck You” to be one of the fizziest, merriest songs of the year, but there’s no arguing that it wasn’t. Even though the sentiment isn’t ironic—no, Cee Lo really does mean it when he says “f-ck you” to that snarky player and the gold digger he digs—the bouncy, soaring spirit of the arrangement and the ubiquitous rallying cry of, “I still wish you the best with a…f-ck you!” is as crowd-pleasing as pop music ever gets. Right now, the only reason I can think of to watch the Grammys in another month: studio execs scrambling for the censor button every time it wins some hardware. And if it doesn’t win in another typically barren field of lousy competition? F-ck you!

2010grinderman26. Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man
by Grinderman
from Grinderman 2
[Alternative / Rock]

Nick Cave’s Grinderman project emphasizes roaring garage rock over the Bad Seeds’ gothic punk-blues formula, which isn’t a huge difference to begin with. So I don’t feel too sheepish about suggesting that “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” like Howlin’ Wolf and PJ Harvey making a dirty, smoke-stained baby together, is the most memorable number from Grinderman’s latest outing. Psychedelic blues, punk fury and Cave’s grim, intractable imagery (“I'm looking down below/See a lupine child/With her hair on fire/Little burning girl!/Looking up at me!”) collide on an unforgettable performance that leaves the listener breathless. And it’s only the first song on the album!

25. The Holograms
by Fol Chen
from Part II: The New December
[Alternative / Electronic]

Their fusion of noise rock, synth-pop, dance punk and alternative isn’t entirely unique, but on the occasions when Fol Chen makes the aesthetic their own, they sound unstoppable. If Part II: The New December was set up unfairly, it’s because right off the bat they crank out “The Holograms” and “In Ruins,” the two best songs they’ve yet recorded. The former isn’t as instantly pop-satisfying as “Ruins,” but it digs down in even quirkier ways, some kind of exotic electro-funk puzzle gasping through the calculated clutter for air. The scattered rhythm initially looks in disarray until the brain organizes it; grinding keyboards and air hisses bounce off each other until a breakdown arrives letting you organize your innards. Choppy, manic, but precise to the millimeter.

2010tellem24. Tell ‘Em
by Sleigh Bells
from Treats
[Alternative / Punk]

Sleigh Bells’ aptly-named Treats was one of the most refreshing and invigorating debuts of the year. Not a whole lot of ambition or complexity (though they do manage a few intriguing curveballs and soundscapes); just a lot of extremely loud, extremely volatile noise and energy, pummeling the listener with considerable consistency for all thirty-two minutes. The grabbiest offering? Not “Rill Rill,” as most other devotees are suggesting, but instead “Tell Em’,” coaxed in equal parts axle grease and cinnamon, bouldering away with vengeful synth assaults and winsome shrieks. Think “Die Slow” by way of “Watching the Planets,” but still pretty unique in its disarming rush. The sensibilities of both artists’ histories suggest a truly odd couple pairing (he of hardcore punk, she of teen bubblegum pop), but when you hear this explode out of your speakers, you simply shrug and think, “That sounds about right…”

23. I Can Change
by LCD Soundsystem
from This Is Happening

James Murphy starts out by singing, “Never change, never change, never change: that's just who I fell in love with.” Precious. By the second refrain, though, he’s saying, “I can change, I can change, I can change if it helps you fall in love.” Bullshit. He knows it, of course, but everyone makes promises that they can’t keep when backed into a corner. And there go the halcyon days and the waning days of a romance; fantasy trumps reality every time. Contextually (and rhythmically) a club-friendly song—early on, he even croons, “Open your arms, dance with me until I feel all right”—but it doesn’t feel as robotic and perfunctory as that. Hear the wriggles beneath the static melody and the hollow snap of the percussion and the towering drawn-out keyboard notes that reach beyond the glitter ball. And then listen to his voice and the vulnerability that seems to drip from the vowels. He certainly changed something.

2010corintuckerband22. It’s Always Summer
by the Corin Tucker Band
from 1,000 Years

It’s probably a good thing that Corin Tucker played it loose and mellow for most of 1,000 Years; attempts to replicate Sleater-Kinney’s primal attack seemed destined to fall short (and, besides, who wants an artist to go solo and regurgitate familiar tricks?). With inflections of country, pop and folk, “It’s Always Summer” might seem more Neko or Rilo than Corin, but like many of these songs, it’s very personal, devoted to Tucker’s reflections on a new family and being apart from her husband. She paints some truths in metaphors (“I’m on a phone call ten years long/Is our connection breaking down?”) but the unadorned lament, “Without you the night is long,” is almost shattering in its simplicity, and the warm undertow of the refrain hook perfectly captures the magnetism of longing.

2010brokensocialscene21. Sentimental X’s
by Broken Social Scene
from Forgiveness Rock Record

Emily Haines, Leslie Feist and Amy Millan all contribute vocals to “Sentimental X’s,” an elusive but instantly memorable song that begins mellow and bubbling, picks up to a skittering skip as tension begins building, and finally releases at the climax in a decadent exhale with the instruments pushing all three voices through the roof. “A friend, a friend you used to call when your back me up was gone,” it opens as the obscure tale unfolds. “We’re taken along, is it timeless? Shouldn’t we keep it as a promise?” wavers between heartbreak and frustration, confusion and distrust. Until the final mourn of, “All of you,” when you strain to hear it transform into, “I love you,” and you don’t know exactly what to think anymore. But you play it again.

(#100 - 81)
(#80 - 61)
(#60 - 41)
(#20 - 1)

Matt Medlock


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