We’ve arrived at the home stretch – the best ten songs of the year. This is usually where the fights erupt, but I can’t really see the year shaking down any other way. 2010’s crop had some legitimately brilliant music, and with the death of the album in recent years, these singles and tracks have certainly established themselves to last for years to come. Without any further ado, I present to you…
Best Songs of 2010, Tracks 10-1
10. Cee-Lo – “Fuck You”
What can I write about this song that hasn’t been published already? Cee-Lo seemed to come out of nowhere in late August with this absolute gem, which had a soft release on youtube in the form of a lyrical video – a smart marketing tactic, as the buzz and momentum grew exponentially in a matter of days. The catchy blend of old school doo-wop and modern pop was genius, and the crassness of the lyrics only cemented it as a ballsy hit. Even the bizarre bridge wasn’t enough to derail this from becoming the two words for which every artist strives: “instant classic.”
9. Communist Daughter – “Not the Kid”
Johnny Solomon’s newest musical venture is named after a Neutral Milk Hotel song, and this Minnesota-based band is certainly an act to watch. There’s a brooding nostalgia present here, bordering on ominous, as Solomon creates harmonies with bandmate Molly Moore that would be perfect for a high school reunion. There is an upbeat arrangement present here that seems to betray the darker tinges of the lyrics, including references to “the shadows in my head.” Solomon is obviously battling demons with this song, but it’s not an entirely menacing concept in its execution. In the end, though, it somehow all works – and quite well.
8. Vampire Weekend – “Giving Up the Gun”
The boys from Columbia have reached their potential in this, by far their most polished and airwaves-ready song to date. The hooks and boisterous energy of the first album have matured past the gimmick of trust fund frat rock, with a serious contender for pop attention manifesting itself. Some may complain that it sounds too processed, but I dig the thumping drum beat, playful percussion, and relentless but creative bass. It’s almost like their attempt at synth-pop, but presenting us with their own perverted twist on it. Regardless of their intention, it’s endlessly appealing, and quickly entered my list for the best songs of the year.
7. Broken Bells – “The High Road”
What happens when you mix the musical stylings of James Mercer, the lead singer of Garden State staple The Shins, and Brian Burton, otherwise known as Danger Mouse/half of the duo Gnarls Barkley? You become fortunate enough to hear what will likely be the future of independent music as we know it. Highly melodic music is twisted and turned on its head through the electronic experiments of this vastly original duo, with acoustic guitar following samples. Slick keyboarding skills are on display in full force, but so is Mercer’s formidable tenor gymnastics. All in all, it’s a song that should have been inescapable this year.
6. Mumford & Sons – “The Cave”
For a band that exploded this year after “Little Lion Man” caught on with a decent contingent of the American public, it surprises me how few people have heard the far superior single “The Cave.” Showcasing some of the best guitar/banjo/dobro/mandolin/awesome-string-instrument work I have ever heard, the British quartet of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwayne infuse an aching pain and earnest desire to transform into the track. Furthermore, the crescendo of this song is one of the most heart-breaking and soul-stirring pieces of music I’ve encountered in years. You cannot help but be swept away by this song, and that truly speaks to me.
5. Kanye West – “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”
Easily one of the most prolific, well-known, and, in my opinion, most talented rappers of all time, Kanye West upped the game for everyone this year with his latest album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This was his second single from the album, and easily blew the rest of the game out of the water. Kanye’s known for one of two musical stylistic approaches – bombastic arrogance and painfully honest introspection; utilizing the latter, West discusses his own crippling insecurities, strips away his characteristic bravado, and bares his soul in the process. Some have said he delights in his flaws with this record, but I would argue he’s merely come to terms with them. In the process, he’s become infinitely more relatable, and ensconced himself firmly in the upper echelon of the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.
4. Aloe Blacc – “I Need a Dollar”
As yet another throw back song, this succeeds where so many others fail; harnessing 70s soul and funk with a spring-step beat and chorus with plenty of blaring horns, Aloe Blacc adapts his smooth vocal instrument to highlight the pain of unemployment and homelessness. Blacc’s protagonist shares a life full of anguish and disappointment as he sings from the position of a man on the street, begging for a dollar because his “ole buddies” have become whiskey and wine. He details losing his job and living in a harsh and unforgiving world, pleading with the truly haunting hook “Well I don’t know if I’m walking on solid ground/Cause everything around me is crumbling down/And all I want is for someone to help me.” For a year that went down in history books as pretty shitty, this song serves as an anthem of sorts for 2010.
3. Robyn – “Dancing On My Own”
As one of the singles from arguably the best albums of the entire year (in contention with West’s effort, natch), Sweden’s resident pop queen brought her A game and put literally every other dance/pop act in the world to shame. She’s constructed a strangely inspiring song revolving around a woman seeing her ex-boyfriend and his new lover at the local dance club. Alternating between resolute strength and an absolute breakdown, Robyn sings “I’m in the corner/Watching you kiss her/I’m right over here/Why can’t you see me” and talks about how she’s become far too inebriated. Losing utter control over her emotion, her protagonist continues to dance to the beat, as she can’t stop moving: “Stilettos and broken bottles/I’m spinning around in circles.” Try listening to it while strutting down the street, or, better yet, while drinking a few beers and dancing in your boxers. In my book, it’s easily one of the best pop songs to ever exist.
2. Ryan Bingham – “The Weary Kind”
Now it’s time to flesh out my country background – in case you haven’t seen Crazy Heart, you’re missing out on a true masterpiece of desolation and new beginnings. The theme to the film, written and performed by Ryan Bingham, is a true study in heartache. Jeff Bridges’ character in the film writes it slowly throughout, piecing together his triumphant comeback through one song, but Bingham’s interpretation is hands down a better track. The sparse arrangement of his own acoustic guitar, a slide guitar, an accordion, and very little else works wonders with his tormented husk of a voice. Lyrics like “Your body aches/Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate/The days and the nights all feel the same” and “Your lovers won’t kiss/It’s too damn far from your fingertips/You are the man that ruined her world” highlight the sorrow and suffering that few expected from such a young artist. Phenomenal work all around; let’s be honest, there’s a reason it won the Oscar for Best Song.
1. Foster The People – “Pumped Up Kicks”
Finally, it’s time for the best song of the year. This sun-drenched ditty from southern California is equal parts chillwave guitar and distorted vocals, sounding almost like lead singer Mark Foster’s voice has been passed through an intercom. Zach “Reazon” Heiligman, Mark Pontius, and Cubbie Fink join him for what is sure to be a massive band in the coming years. Let me put it this way – if Max Martin forced MGMT to mate with Peter, Bjorn, and John, he still couldn’t hope for something this stunning. The whistling, the hand claps, the lyrics about kick ass shoes?! You simply cannot top this slice of sheer musical heaven. A friend of mine likened the song to drinking a cold beer – it goes down so smoothly, it just makes you want another. Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe this beaut, so why not give some space to NPR’s attempt?
“A killer melody floats lightly over a surf guitar lick as mellow as low-tide. Ambient synths echo a distant cicada buzz creating a hazy summer feel. It’s an indie-pop jam that exudes sunny californian vibes.”
In short, get excited about impending warm weather, because you will throw this track on a CD, put all of your windows down, and jam out on repeat while the sun kisses your skin. It is THAT GOOD.