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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Top 100 Songs of 2010, 10-1

10. (tie) Miami---Foals and Rill Rill---Sleight Bells
        These two are funny companions for a number of reasons, both a perfect pair, and perfect opposites. The most clear similarity between the two is that both go against the grain of just about everything else on their respective albums. Where Total Life Forever was spacious and expensive, Miami is a tight, and conventionally constructed tune. Rill Rill, on the other hand, is one of only two tracks on Treats that turns down the volume, the elating, rushing crash of the rest of the album nowhere to be found. And this is where their similarities basically end.
        Miami is as tense as can be, the musical equivalent of making small talk when both you and your fellow conversationalist have something much bigger in mind. Foals is generally a band that makes its name on playfully hyper-kinetic guitars, but here it's the bass, thumping and sliding in monstrous fashion, that makes the song. Rill Rill, by contrast, doesn't have a drop of tensity to its name, immediately ushering in summer weather, and good vibes. It's basic: only a sunny, nostalgic guitar, basic drum-machine beat, and Alexis Krauss' cutesy, earnest voice. But simplicity is just the road that it takes to transcendence: the thing sounds like a classic the first time you hear it, and its charms simply never wain. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't let either one of these tunes not make the top ten, so here they are, right where they belong.
9. Shine Blockas---Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane
        Simply one of the smoothest beats I've ever heard, Shine Blockas is tailor-made to go down easy. As great as the backing music is through-out The Son of Chico Dusty, SB is the only one triumphant enough to outshine Big Boi, even if just barely. Just how good is it, you ask? So good that guest MC Gucci Mane, whose characteristically gravelly delivery has every reason to grate against this backdrop, churns out one of the most silky and laid-back verses of the year. Sure, it's hip-hop that you're supposed to drive to, but not speed: a Twenty MPH cruise through inner-city friday night is more what it calls for, something glamorous, confident, and classic. Relaxed isn't a word usually associated with great hip-hop, but blocking this one's shine ain't gunna happen, so don't try.
8. On Melancholy Hill---Gorillaz
         Balance is a big part of what Gorillaz does: the strange with the simple, the foreign with the familiar, etc. While it might seem as though having 50/50 ratios of these contradicting impulses would be the most captivating way to go, it more often turns out that their best songs are ones belonging to one distinct side, receiving just an assist from the other. By the band's standards, OMH is an extremely straight-forward song, synths that sound like rays of August evening sunshine swirling around, and encasing Damon Albarn's restrained vocal effort. It's truly a thing of beauty, as drenched in nostalgia as a standard you've known your whole life. But as always, there's still just the smallest lingering oddity to the thing, the woozy sigh of background singers and Albarn's occasional minor notes suggesting that the Melancholy Hill might just live up to its name after all. Old-school and modern at the same time, OMH is as likely to take your breath away as anything the band has done up to this point, and yes, that's quite the statement.
7. We Used to Wait---Arcade Fire
        Besides simply being my favorite track on The Suburbs, WUTW stands as the album's main number because of how it embodies the disc's whole. It swells with the best of the band's catalogue, but in a far more subtle fashion, almost tricking you out of thinking it's an anthem before the no-holds-barred final minute. Win Butler sings from behind a more experienced set of eyes, looking back on how times have changed due to technology and shifting societal paradigms. Extra instruments and vocalists pop in at just the right times, the female back-up during the chorus particularly romantic and perfect. The simultaneous desire for escape and return is the push-pull right at the emotional core of The Suburbs, and WUTW's half-jaded, half-rousing lyrics, along with Butler's impassioned delivery, make it the album's beating heart.
6. Odessa---Caribou
        It's not like I've been hugely into music forever, but Odessa simply has to be one of the most unique songs that I've ever heard. It enters with eerie, pounding bass, some strange, almost animalistic sample repeating in the background. As with all of Swim, Odessa is mind-blowing for it's ability to wholly make sense as a both a dance track and a musical freak-out. The steady stream of high-hat is nice, and the chaotic bells of its instrumental breaks are even better, but it's Dan Snaith's voice that ties the whole thing together. Depraved of either overt emotion or splashy musical decisions, Snaith delivers his story of domestic unrest in an other-worldly collected manner, each perfected and polite note belying the song's pitch-black tone in dizzying fashion. Odessa haunts me unlike any other tune from last year, Snaith's echo etched into the back of my mind from the first time that I heard it. But that doesn't mean that there's no fun in the thing, and that's just what makes it the stand-alone number that it is.
5. Terrible Love---The National
        Terrible Love is not the biggest anthem on High Violet; that distinction belongs to England (if ever-so-slightly), but it's the one with the most fire twice over. A simple, reverberating guitar riff sets the stage, beautiful remorse and helplessness tangible before Matt Beringer's broken voice even arrives. But TL proves to be a steady climb, starting with its smallest moment and ending with its biggest with the finesse of a master. The lyrics are both clear and cryptic, certain phrases repeated over and over again, shifting between literal and analogous mid-sentence. What could have been over-the-top and melodramatic is instead furious and heartbreaking, the percussion explosions of the choruses and Beringer's impassioned, repeated howl of, "It's a Terrible Love, and I'm walking with spiders," making the thing smart like an open wound. It's a foreboding march of dread, so honest in its devastation and rage that it demands to be heard over and over again in spite of its considerable weight.
4. Excuses---The Morning Benders
        Don't be surprised to see this one so high up; this is the lowest that Excuses was ever going to be. The hissing record and sliding guitar of its opening seem to evoke some long forgotten love, but this and the very ending are the only places in the song that appear to be set in present day. The rest lays its scene in some fondly remembered yesteryear, one marinated in romance and youthful vivaciousness. Perhaps it's just the album's cover, but for me, the song's swoon-worthy violins and splashy symbols always take me to the sea, where clear blue water crashes against the rocks on the warmest and happiest of days. Christopher Chu's voice is incredible: playfully sexy and genuinely adoring lyrics belted out in a rich, luxurious fashion. Excuses is one of those songs that I don't really expect its artist to ever recreate. Only a few bands get to be as good as The Morning Benders, but only a truly select number ever get to craft a song this golden and awe-inspiringly perfect. The antidote to grey skies and dull days, Excuses is technicolor brilliance, its jaw-dropping beauty matched only by its mind-boggling capacity for merrymaking.
3. POWER---Kanye West
        By his standards, Kanye West had been kind of sitting on his hands. His first four albums came out in a stretch of five years, innumerable guest verses for other MCs making him even more prolific. Then all of that bad stuff happened: Mom, Fiancé, Taylor, and all of those other stories that the media has rammed down our collective throat. So West decided to duck out of the spotlight for a while, and while that period only lasted just over a year, POWER is a reintroduction for the ages, thunderously announcing the return of a Kanye who still, after all of this, thought he was the world's greatest. In hip-hop, that's a pretty invaluable commodity. Here I am, writing about twice as much about Kanye as anyone else again, but the myth of the man is so dense and so closely hewn to his music that he always requires extra discourse. Now then, about POWER.

        Like We Used to Wait, POWER is not only the best song on its respective album, but also the one that embodies the whole work most fully. It's not the trickiest beat, composed of chanting women, steady clapping, and a nice, firm bass thump, but the whole is unimaginably bigger than the sum of the parts: For all Five minutes of its existence, POWER sounds like an event. That of course goes without noting that the song contains some best-ever West verses, his almost sickening denouncement of anyone not named Kanye and fixation on the superficial (How 'Ye doin'?/I'm survivin'/I was drinkin' earlier/ Now I'm driving/Where the bad Bitches, heh?/Where ya hidin'?) juxtaposed against miraculous moments of self-realization (Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic... My childlike creativity, purity, and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts). A breathless affirmation of its creator's mad-cap, split-personality brilliance as well as a monstrous jam, POWER is the twisty, pulse-raising offering of an increasingly broken individual. I wouldn't want to be him, but I can't help but think the world would be a little less interesting without Mr. West.
2. All I Want---LCD Soundsystem
        LCD functions as a dance/disco band first, so it's kind of amazing that they also have something like a side job of making gorgeously crafted, straight-to-the-heart epics as well. Wedged right in the middle of their last groove-fest, Sound of Silver, were Someone Great and All My Friends, two miraculous confessionals that took an otherwise really good album into greatness territory. This is Happening has just as many such songs, All I Want being one of them. About Twenty seconds of mid-tempo drum build-up is all that it takes before the hardiest guitar part of the year slips in, tugging at heart-strings straight off. In comes James Murphy's voice, but it refuses to overwhelm the thing, his volume only ever reaching that of the guitar, and never passing it. His longings are far less beautiful than the song (All I want is your pity/All I want are your bitter tears) but no less captivating. The words invoke the pain of rejection, and the desire to be vindicated, even at the expense of the one you love. They're a few feelings that no one who has ever been spurned would like to admit to; the simple, human response to the word, 'no,' that everyone wishes they were above, while no one is.
        As with most of the LCD catalogue, the song doesn't have dramatic shifts as much as it evolves, a mesmerizing keyboard being added just before the three minute mark, and then another as the song concludes. It's a tune that wraps itself around you, and invites you inside, the warmth of its sound making quite the cocktail with its icy lyrics. But the warmth wins out every time, and the second that the band rips the plug right out of the thing after letting it slowly de-evolve is the same second that you'll be reaching for the replay button.
1. Home---LCD Soundsystem
        You will not believe how hard I tried to make this not happen. I've listened to just about every song in my top 100 about a bajillion times over in the last month while I thought about this list. The truth of the matter is that this song has always been my Number One, the only song even within striking distance being All I Want. If that makes me bias, then I guess it makes me the same as everyone else, and there's simply no use in lying about how I feel to anyone who took the time to click here, and see my opinion. Like many LCD songs, Home practically cites another artist in terms of sound (Talking Heads), but they bend it and mold it into something deeply personal that has their authorship written all over it.

        Home is a journey of a song, slowly morphing into existence behind a swirling keyboard, and rampant woodblocks and cowbells. If you don't count his delicate repeating of the song's title near the beginning, it takes a whole two minutes for Murphy to get invited to the party, his voice ever-treated like any other instrument in the band. Describing the song's tone is near impossible; just about every emotion in the book is contained within its eight minute span despite the fact that, as always, it's more about song evolution for these guys than distinct sections. The relationship at the song's center is a beautiful mess, Murphy proposing elating escape (So grab your things/and stumble into the night/so we can shut the door and shut the door and shut the door/On terrible times), reflecting on fondly distant memories (Still you should not forget/No don't forget/The things that we laughed about), and chastising sordid life decisions (And after rolling on the floor/And thankfully, a few make sure/That you get home/And you stay Home/And feel better). 

        It's a love song that depicts the way that love actually works: all messy, convoluted, and full of soaring highs, and perilous lows. It doesn't have to be romantic love; Murphy's words are seemingly just as often about friendship, and no names or genders crop up here. The line "You're afraid of what you need/Yeah, you're afraid of what you need/If you weren't/If you weren't/I don't know what we'd talk about," is stingingly honest and crystal clear, and if you've never had a friend whom it applies to, you're either really lucky, or just need more friends. Twice in the song, Murphy recalls the harmonies of the album's opener, Dance Yrself Clean, breaking into a show-stopping variation with about two minutes left, before the whole thing disintegrates at the same languid and organic pace that first came to be. It's a marvel of both masterful craftsmanship, and emotional truth, and if it's not everyone's banner carrier for 2010, there's simply no denying that it's mine.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2010:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2010:


  1. Mr. Elwyn, assuming you use iTunes ('cause who doesn't?), what are you most listened to tracks?

  2. Sorry to give you a lame answer, but I only got my current laptop about a year and a half ago, so just from looking at that, my most played looks an awful lot like this list.