As my brother tweeted recently “Trying to figure out my Top 10 records of 2010, because I’m anal and have to make a list every year.”
So it’s that time again, and in the time honored tradition I am doing a best of list. As always, this list represents what I was into this year, not necessarily the best stuff out there. If anybody reading this like my tastes, possibly you’ll pick up something you didn’t previously know about.
As has become recent tradition I break this into a few different categories before diving into my 25 favorite songs. So prior to that let’s get going…
Craziest Jump From Pop Blip to Cultural Icon to ART-EEST
How did Lady Gaga go from being another Scissor Sisters-esque cult artist to suddenly being compared to Andy Warhol?
I’m not sure either, but watch the insanity that was the Telephone video, with 97 million views and counting and you may have some idea. Working with highly respected artists, taking risks such as showing up in a designer meat costume, and giving crazy interviews has somehow elevated her to another level in the pop lexicon, from Gay party tunes to voice of a generation. And you know what? She writes the tunes to back it up.
New Band Discovery that took way too long
Nouvelle Vague. This French four piece is solely a cover band. But my god do they do it well. New Wave and 80s punk songs are their target, and three albums in they are killing it. This is easily the most entertaining cover band since Me First, and you can probably already know their version of “Melt With You” from the Snicker’s commercial. I learned about them sometime around August and haven’t stopped listening since. Their version of The Clash - Guns of Brixton absolutely kills.
Best Ridiculous Pop Song Lyrics
Always one of my favorite categories. Mainly because why listen to pop music if you can’t giggle the whole way through it.
Taio Cruz - Dynamite
“I throw my hands up in the air sometimes/saying aaa yo gotta let go” Sometimes? Why on earth are we classifying sometimes in a pop song about reckless abandon. I mean you might as well sing the chorus and follow it up with “eh, I mean when I feel like it”. Not to mention the bridge, “I told you once/now I’ve told you twice.” Classic. This is the kind of song that recalls T-Pain bragging about writing a song in 5 minutes. I don’t think that’s a good thing sometimes…
Bonus points for the completely pointless video. Hot girls working in a junk yard, in very unsafe working conditions…in heels, and full makeup, and daisy dukes…riiiiight. I mean it’s kinda sexy, but I’m certainly not taking him seriously.
Enrique Iglesisas - I Like It (ft. Pitbull)
God this song is hilarious. It has all the elements essential to making me lose my shit. First let’s set in context that the beginning of 2010 the public was up in arms about the cheating ways of rich American males.
Now the song is essentially a man trying to convince a woman he met in a club to cheat on her boyfriend with him, while he simultaneously cheats on his lady. The rap verse is absolutely ridiculous as Pitbull brags he has a greater cheating prowess than both Tiger Woods and Jesse James combined. This is immediately followed by one of the funniest high pitched falsetto verses in recent memory as Enrique implores his lady in the least manly voice of all time to “don’t stop baby.”
Now MTV then picked this song to be the theme song for the new season of Jersey Shore, which was completely fitting for that train wreck of a show. There was a second video shot with freeze frames of each character in various stages of awesomeness.
Add it all up, and it’s easily the song I couldn’t get enough of.
Top Albums of The Year
1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I’ve made it no secret over the years that I am indeed not only sometimes a Kanye apologist, but a huge fan. I find the man absolutely fascinating, ambitious, and even in his most arrogant moments, honest. And it is that sense of authenticity that has always drawn me to him, and what I think makes him the most compelling artist of his generation.
Coming off a critically-divided album (808s and Heartbreaks), ostracized for his defense of Beyonce at the expense of Taylor Swift, and chastised by Oprah and President Obama, Kanye retreated into himself even further this past year. The great dichotomy of Kanye is his belief in himself and his own talents, combined with his notoriously thin skin. He is pompous, cocky, and wounded and hurt all simultaneously. His greatest fault, and for my money his greatest attribute, has always been his resistance to hide from his feelings. And so when making this record, he pushed his inner struggle to new heights. It’s all on display.
This is as deep and ambitious a record as mainstream hip hop has ever tried. In this his fifth record, Kanye build upon every element of his back catalog. Built as a true album, it requires multiple listens from front to back to truly grasp the depth of the emotion being conveyed. But the effort is well worth it. Call it his Sgt. Peppers, call it his London Calling, this will be the definitive record of his career. He effortlessly mixes several genres, emotions, and guests throughout, ending the record on a simple question, “Who will survive in America?”
2. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
It’s hard to know where to start on this record. Do we start with the pained howl of Patrick Stickle’s voice? How about the spoken quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman and other Civil War luminaries? How about the mixing of metaphors comparing our Nation’s Civil War to an break up? Where do we fit in the gang vocals, every musical instrument you could think of, war time musical homages, and the epic 14 minute closing song?
We’ll go with this: It’s a hugely ambitious album, particularly from a band that is so clearly influenced by the heart on sleeve ethos of the punk movement that often spurns elaborate concept pieces. It’s raw, it’s edgy, it sounds as if Springsteen and Against Me! had decided to drink until the point of passing out and then decided to jam with the amps turned to 11. It makes me want to swill whiskey, crank up the stereo and bellow my lungs out. And for that, it is my favorite rock record this year.
3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Nobody on the planet makes better moody and ethereal albums than Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Each record has had a central theme that focuses on the disillusionment that comes when aspects of your own world turns out to not be what you had originally belived. It’s these universal and powerful themes, combined with layered and melodic music that has made them the indie darlings worldwide.
With Funeral it was the loss of childhood innocence. With Neon Bible it was religion, and with The Suburbs it’s the loss of the middle class dream. As the middle class continues to shrink, the younger generation flees for the bright lights of the city, and once proud areas become littered with foreclosure signs, it’s a particularly apt topic. And they nail it.
Aracade Fire has always had great songs, but not necessarily a full album that flowed as cohesively as this one does. It is meant to be listened to together, taking us through the flow of life in modern day western society. It begins with the bouncy beat of the “The Suburbs” and closes with a somber reprise that reminds us “If I could have it back/all the time we wasted/I’d only waste it again…”
4. Four Year Strong - Enemy of The World
If there was a thesis paper written on the pop-punk/emo scene of the 2000s this is it. It has it all. It has the double bass petal (Atreyu, AX7). It has the mutliple back and forth vocalists (Midtown, Taking Back Sunday). It has the funny song titles (Fall Out Boy). It has the pop rock sensabilities of hardcore with huge melodic hooks (New Found Glory, The Movielife). It has John Feldman production (The Used, Story of the Year).
It’s not new, it’s not original. But it rocks. Period. And for a guy who loves the aforementioned bands, it was one hell of a fun album to listen to.
5. Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork
Math Rock. I know Minus The Bear play this. I know a few other bands over the years that claim to play it. I don’t get it. I know it has to do with time signature, and precise layering of notes. Typically this is done with guitar, bass, and drums. It’s something I am not intelligent enough to explain, but I know it when I hear it. Maps & Atlases have made a very big name for themselves doing just that with their previous efforts.
But what if somebody took this format, applied its concepts to vocals, harmonies, pianos, tambourines, and expanded the sound to include more folk influences. Well, you find out with this lushly layered and beautiful record. Watch the video for “Solid Ground” here
6. Vampire Weekend - Contra
There is a certain backlash that accompanies any sort of success like Vampire Weekend encountered upon their debut release in 2007. Hell they were on SNL and they hadn’t even done a full tour yet. They were rich kids from Columbia and they sang Paul Simon style songs with large vocabularies while wearing boat shoes. Hell I found them somewhat annoying and pretentious. However, I like any band that gives the middle finger to its critics and decided to take the one thing the detractors make fun of them for and push it even further on the sophomore effort.
The opening number, “Horchata”, rhymes “horchata” with “balaclava” all the while being backed up by a latin drum beat. Basically a giant “Oh yeah, you hate this? You haven’t seen anything yet!” This album works because the songs are good. They took what worked on the first album for them, and they expanded on it. And for that they not only made a great album, but they converted one detractor.
Top 25 Songs - With Video When Applicable!
Reverse order, just to really get you excited to keep reading!
25. Vampire Weekend - Cousins
First off this is a terrific music video in its simplicity: one single dolly track, a New York Alley, confetti, and masks. Secondly the propulsive guitar riffs and snare drum are some of the most entertaining of the year.
24. Dr. Dog - Mirror Mirror
While Shame, Shame didn’t make my Top 5 albums list, this song was stuck in my head for days. The harmonies in the chorus is beautiful and the amount of times I tried to rock out to the guitar hook is uncountable. This song truly took my air guitar game to a whole new level.
23. Against Me! - Spanish Moss
This was the first time in 3 albums that AM! haven’t topped my list for Best Album. They are my favorite current band out there. And while the overall effort of White Crosses may have missed the mark, there were several fantastic songs. This is one of them. The theme of starting over, of making the most of what time is left on earth was a pervasive theme throughout the album, and this is no exception. “In a world run by gangsters/you’re stuck standing in a bread line/you just need to find/someplace to get away/you can forget your name/and there is no need to apologize.”
22. Broken Bells - The High Road
Even if a killer collaboration doesn’t result in a terrific album, it is almost guaranteed to yield a few great results. Broken Bells is a collaboration between the lead singer of The Shins and Danger Mouse, the DJ and producer behind Gnarls Barkley. The vocals here are given front and center treatment with a layered and lush mid tempo track behind it. Perfect to listen to in headphones it makes everything appear to move slower than it really is.
21. Jimmy Eat World - Coffee and Cigarettes
Oh Jimmy. How I will always have a place for you in the Top 25. This song is another “small town kid packs up and moves to the big city” number. But instead of looking forward with stars in his eyes, the narrator has all so briefly looked back over their shoulder to remember. “I’ve been a lot of places since/but nothing can compare/to easy times and easy eyes/to meet you in a stare.” “Of all the things I think I’ll miss/staying up with you/coffee and cigarettes.” Emo is timeless, because it feeds on nostalgia like this, and nobody does it better than Jimmy.
20. Mark Ronson - Bang Bang Bang
Coolest video of the year? Coolest video of the year. Ronson is effortless again, as he takes the same pop knowledge that turned Amy Winehouse into an international sensation and uses 80s electronic with modern sensibility to perfection. It feels soul, new wave, hip hop, and pop all at once. Fantastic verses by Q-Tip.
19. Four Year Strong - It Must Really Suck to Be Four Year Strong
The opening track from Enemy of The World this song starts with dueling and driving guitar lines, introduces three vocalists in a span of 5 seconds, and explodes into a huge hook less than a minute in. “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken yet/don’t regret it if it hasn’t happened yet”. It is the beautiful sound of being in 18 all over again.
18. Wale - The Soup
Wale put out another installment of his wildly successful mixtape, A mixtape about nothing this summer. The concept for the original tape and its follow up More About Nothing is to loosely string his verses and songs around lines and scenes from “Seinfeld”. This particular track centers its concept around the famous Soup Nazi episode, with the hook of the chorus being, “I’m eating real good/No soup for you!”
The verse starting around 1:54 is got to be my favorite verse of the year. Is it the sports references? Pitchfork? His great rhyme about “being all over the beat like a stethoscope?” All of the above.
17. Surfer Blood - Swim
I saw this young band twice this year. I got the distinct impression that they were quite content playing for their friends in Florida when somebody at Pitchfork miraculously got a hold of their record and decided to make them young hipster all-stars. The good thing for the rest of us: They’re starting to embrace it.
The breakout band at SXSW this year, these guys are going to be big in all circles if they keep this up.
16. Motion City Soundtrack - Pulp Fiction
The alternate acoustic take of this song was my favorite from these Minnesota staples of the punk/emo scene. The song’s propulsive beat calls to mind the famous Eve 6 song “Inside Out” which is one of my favorites of all time.
The lyrics in this song are also vintage MCS as they range all over the pop reference map in pointing out personal neurosis and imagining his own murder at the hands of jealous lover. Justin Pierre’s voice is fantastic as he croons, “the plot sucks/but the killings are gorgeous”
15. Arcade Fire - We Used To Wait
A big part of the disillusionment of many in this country, I am convinced, comes from a generation gap that is created as technology has rapidly advanced and an ever increasing rate. We live our lives in this hyper context of never ending information. With smart phones we have instant access to anything we want, and yet the institutions we rely on to govern ourselves and operate our lives are operating under the premise that technology is the same as it was decades ago.
In this song Win Butler deftly discusses this rapid acceleration of technology and lifestyle “Now are lives are changing fast/hoping something pure can last. It seems strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive/but stranger still was how something so small could keep you alive.”
14. Maps & Atlases - The Charm
“I don’t think there is a sound that I hate more/than the sound of your voice/when you say you don’t love me.” This is the opening line to The Charm and the first words in the beautiful Perch Patchwork album. Three percussionists with layered vocal harmonies propel the songs forward. And by the time the singer peaks the emotional palette with “and after all you felt so small in his arms” you realize that while he may be heartbroken, he clearly understands.
13. Ima Robot - Sail With Me
Oh Alex Ebert. After achieving the huge success with his side project Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes, Ebert returned to his main band, without a label and with new ideas on how to propel the Robot sound. Taking inspiration from the Zeroes, the new Ima Robot album throws away the quick electronic pop formula to take a longer, more introspective look. But with the electronic instruments still in play, the result is something unique.
This song moves along nicely, but the real gem is the explosion of harmony and layered vocal arrangements in the second half. “Sail with me/to the sun” with a chorus of “la la la’s” underneath. It’s expansive, beautiful, and once again proves that his best work is still to come.
12. Vampire Weekend - Giving Up The Gun
How hip are Vampire Weekend? Well they got The RZA to play a judge in their futuristic tennis tournament. They got Jake Gyllenhall and Joe Jonas to be the players, and they got Lil Jon to play a life coach.
And the song is really good too…
11. The Wombats - Jump Into The Fog
My favorite young British band, these lads have released a few new tracks from their forthcoming second album which is scheduled to hit in the Spring of next year. This is my favorite. A mid tempo hazy track about making bad decisions late at night.
This band is fantastic at capturing the mischievous side of young rock and roll royalty with one of my favorite lines of the year, “I’ve had my share of mistakes/i’ll admit that freely/but life tastes sweeter when it’s wrapped in debauchery.” Indeed.
10. Titus Andronicus - A More Prefect Union
The first track on The Monitor, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. The single version is cut down about half, as the song is really three parts. The video only shows the second stanza, but it captures the essence of the album, with the band marching and playing in the snow. Well worth the viewing.
These guys live were easily my favorite show I saw all year, and this track is the best representation of why. It’s rambunctious, energetic, passionate, and defiant all at once.
9. Against Me! - Bamboo Bones
“What god doesn’t give to you/you have to go and get for yourself.” This is the central theme of the band’s ethos and the running theme of White Crosses. It doesn’t get any more clear than the album closer, Bamboo Bones.
These guys had a tumultuous year in 2010, replacing long time drummer Warren Oakes, releasing White Crosses to mixed reviews, and finally canceling a tour, then leaving their label Sire. But if they listen to their own advice in this song, something tells me 2011 will turn out just fine.
8. Katy Perry - California Gurls
7. Ke$ha - Tik Tok
Let me be the 1,000 person to point out that these are practically the same song. Then let me say, the dude behind these tracks, Dr. Luke, is a freaking musical genius. Bear with me here. Listen to the layering of the percussion, the way the bells and whistles slowly build and combine. The way the chorus hook hits just right. Melodically and theoretically these are near perfect pop songs. They are stuck in your head for days.
Now the similarity between these two has been noted many times before as well. They’re less well known for their music as they are their back stories and off the record antics. Not my concern here. They are fantastic pop songs, end of story.
Also this always brings up one thought. The Katy Perry video is almost as bad as going to a high end strip club it’s such a tease, and yet Ke$ha makes me feel like I’m hanging out with a cool stripper after she gets off work…so it is kind of a nice synergy…just saying.
6. Cee-Lo Green - Fuck You
What does it say about our society that in 2010 a song titled, “Fuck You” can be nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year. I think it means our society has finally relaxed, embraced the fact that words are in fact just words, and let loose some of our strict religious morals. Just as evangelists ramp up, the artist left is pushing hard the other way.
And again Cee-Lo has an uncanny ability to mix the past and present in pop bliss. (See: Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”) The test of a truly great song is the way it is embraced by various segments of society. Even despite the controversial lyrics the song was embraced everywhere from hipster blogs, to MTV, to an episode of Glee where it was sung in it’s toned down radio friendly “Forget You” version.
It’s beloved because it’s a time honored theme. It’s the anti Money can’t buy me love. “Oh shit she’s a gold digger/just thought you should know” and a prefect kiss off from the man not rich enough to get what he wants.
5. Kanye West - Runaway
Do yourself a favor. Watch the video linked above. Yeah, it’s 35 minutes. Yes it’s convoluted and crazy and involves a whole race analogy that’s too weird for words. But halfway through the 9 minute ballet sequence, you might start to understand what he’s attempting here. There is a thin line between the grace and beauty of the dancers and the honesty pouring out of Yeezy as he toasts to the douche bags and the assholes. He has spent a year torturing himself in an attempt to make art and beauty of his pain. He acknowledges his faults, and they become all too apparent as he is surrounded by innocence and beauty.
Even if you can’t get behind the analogy above, the song is one of the best Kanye has ever done. It cuts to the core of why Kanye is compelling in the first place. It is simultaneously self loathing and arrogant. It is all at once acknowledging faults and pleading for someone to leave, while acknowledging that he needs them to stay. And it’s not even the best song on the album.
4. Japandroids - Younger Us
A straight forward throwback. An ode to being young, idealistic, and embracing every moment life gave to you. “Remember saying things like we’ll sleep when we’re dead?/and thinking this feeling was never going to end?” A pulsating 3 and half minutes that instantly recalls long car drives, house parties, and every summer job you ever had.
It feels like Jawbreaker, like Saves The Day, a heart on sleeve punk classic. “Give me younger us!”
3. Four Year Strong - Find My Way Back
If the Four Year Strong record was a thesis paper on the latest pop-punk movement, this would be its main argument. It’s all there. Nearly every punk band writes an obligatory song about being lonely on tour for their second album. (See, um…every band) So we got that going for us. There is the massive hooks, the pause for the solo, the backup chorus, the breakdown with hand claps, the “whoa’s”.
In 2003 this would have been a number one hit. Now, with the genre exhausted and the “cool” tide turned away from punk, this gem will probably be lost to time. But it shouldn’t be. This song uses a tried and true formula, but from several different sources. It’s big, brash, powerful, slick, but most of all it reminds me why you listen to music in the first place, it makes me smile and sing as loud as I can.
2. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
The penultimate track of The Suburbs, this song’s themes are universal for anyone who grew up feeling like one of many. This is suburban angst at its finest. “At night the city lights shine/they’re calling at me/come find your kind/sometimes I wonder if the world is so small/that we can never get away from the sprawl.”
At a time when the suburbs are housing more people living underneath the poverty line than urban cities, a line like “dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains/and there is no end in sight” becomes all the more poignant.
The Arcade Fire claim the album is neither for or against suburban sprawl, but rather a product of it. Having spent the majority of my life in its environs, I can’t help but agree.
1. Kanye West - Power
Has there ever been a better comeback single? At the depths of his self-imposed exile Kanye released this magnificent defiant middle finger upon the world sometime mid summer. Even more so than Runaway it captured the conflicting emotions of a man in turmoil. Using samples from genres that had no business being on a record together, Kanye created the catchiest, hardest, rocking-est(yeah, I made that up), bad ass song he’s ever done.
The song starts with an African chant, builds with a deep bass beat, a swooning guitar solo, and punctuates with a sample from aptly, “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The lyrics are some of the fiercest of his career as he takes us through his wave of emotions, “They said I was the abomination of Obama’s Nation/that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation” through extreme bravado “I don’t got to power trip/who you going home with?” to imaging jumping out a window to his death. All because “No one man should have all that power.”
Have a safe and happy Holiday everyone!