If Dan Snaith's truest mission with Swim really was to make dance music that sounded as if it was created from water, then Bowls is his greatest triumph. A mess of bells, woodblocks, and white noise, Snaith forgoes singing on the six-and-a-half minute track in favor of creating something dark and mysterious, a strange sort of oceanic current and sway never leaving it. My favorite instrumental track of the year by anyone.
24. Diplomat's Son---Vampire Weekend*
Vampire Weekend's sound doesn't seem like it would spread well across six minutes, their fussed-over pop aesthetic seemingly too tight to allow for such a thing. But Diplomat's Son not only works; It's my personal favorite on Contra. Sampling M.I.A. and Toots and the Maytals, VW creates something just as happy and perfect as the rest of their catalogue, but much more spacious and enveloping. Its brand of sway and languid pace aren't exactly par for the course for these guys, but they look really, really good on them.
23. Zebra---Beach House
When Zebra opens up Teen Dream, it seems to invite you to a place as much as an album. Alex Scally's guitar plucks a few simple, unadorned notes before his and Legrand's voice slowly seep in, seemingly singing in the form of mist. Like much of TD, every passing second of Zebra is tenser and bigger than the last, the symbol-crashing finale providing sublime release. You might want to take a breath afterwards.
22. World News---Local Natives*
Despite being expertly measured, Local Natives' best song to date is also one of their very most fun. The band's harmonies, always beautiful and exacting, follow an undeniably playful vocal line, the backdrop swelling and swelling behind them. From its hushed opening moments to its explosion, and subsequent fade-out, WN sounds like summer; deceptively gentle, and endlessly warm.
21. Ambling Alp---Yeasayer*
More so than almost any other song this year, Ambling Alp flagrantly outshines the album that contains it, no other tune even approaching its heights. The thing seems to bubble into existence in about as literal a sense as possible, morphing into something joyous and jittery. It's a testament to the captivating backing music and the honest delivery of the lyrics that a chorus like, "Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else done," is not only acceptable, but actually pulls off the rousing, motivational tone that it's shooting for. Throw in the absurd falsetto harmonies of the bridge, and the speedy synth shakedown of its outro, and you've got a winner.
20. Ghost Pressure---Wolf Parade*
Blaring like fog-horns upon arrival before crashing into gritty existence, Ghost Pressure sets out to be a dirty rock shakedown, and absolutely obliterates its target. The song serves as a perfect example of how two singularly talented individuals like Krug and Boeckner can really benefit from teaming up; the former's echoing keyboard chorus plays off of the later's distorted guitar and raspy voice with a sense of rock craft mastery. And for possibly the first time in the group's existence, the drums manage to stand out, hyper-driving behind Krug's keys, chipping in spectacular percussion-fills just when you think it can't get any better. Please don't break up, Wolf Parade... please.
19. Shutterbugg---Big Boi feat. Cutty
Shutterbugg opens to the sound of shattering glass, which is all too perfect: Big Boi is looking to wreak things on this one, so you had better get out of the way. The song is an explosive, in-your-face jam, an instant party classic before the chorus about double-fisting even hits. Thunderous and smooth at alternating turns, the beat is made out of voices, synths, and bass, all danceable to unthinkable degrees. And then there's the MC, ever-plugging away with his signature shape-shifting flow, able to squeeze and stretch words with the authority of someone who wrote the dictionary. Why was this not on the radio more?
18. Fast Jabroni/Slow Jabroni---Surfer Blood*
Yeah, I know, this is at least kind of cheating, but you'd better get used to it, because #14 is the same way. The two songs that make up Astro Coast's core are inextricably linked to one another despite being sonically worlds apart. Fast is the album's finest pop moment, happily recalling 90's alternative while avoiding sounding awkwardly aged. Slow, on the other hand, is... slow. Literally the only down-tempo tune on the disc, Slow has a slithering chug that you can feel building despite the utmost minimal changes, and when the thing finally opens up, it's all relief and sing-a-longs. The Jabroni twins, Fast and Slow, might be just as different as hot and cold, but they play off of each other like a miracle. Like picking teams back at recess, these two only come as a package.
17. You're Going Back---The Tallest Man on Earth
Since The Wild Hunt is such a spirited album, it's hard to tell just where its heart lies, but You're Going Back is at least in close proximity. Matsson's voice is always a bit unruly, but this is the one where he really lets it rip, his chastising of a former lover so genuine and deep in feeling it could cut to the bone. YGB is the only song on the album to feature a swear word, and when it comes, it hits with all of the force of someone who saved their hardest punch for when they were really against the ropes. So believable and real that it hurts and haunts just as much as it soars and elates.
16. Lemonworld---The National
There are two kinds of songs on High Violet; the enormous and earth-shattering, and the subdued and quietly tragic. Lemonworld is the champion of the later category, standing just over three minutes long, and never raising its voice for even a moment. But that's just the point. As the chorus goes, Lemonworld is a place where Matt Beringer wants to, "Sit in and die." Nothing big. Nothing attention-grabbing. Beringer seems to moan his lyrics more than sing them, the musical backing hushed, and delicate. Lemonworld is the perfect song for that mysterious place where depression and apathy meet, where the pain isn't a searing constant so much as a lingering emptiness.
15. Fuck You---Cee-lo Green*
Words don't have to have only one meaning, but I guess that's not really a game that the FCC is willing to play. Sure, Cee-lo's wailing of the song's title is both profane and spiteful, but it's also triumphant and cathartic, Green seeming to shake off all of the bad vibes of his unfaithful lover through the act of gleefully shouting exactly what he means. The song still survives as a pop phenomenon, its Mo-Town excitement and Green's solid-gold voice simply too much to deny. But the fact of the matter is that the word 'fuck' is what makes the song, because each time that that Cee-lo shouts it, another five pounds seem to slip right off of his back. Fuck You proves that naughty words can be therapeutic in their utterance, and that relief is just what made it the breakout shout-a-long that it is. Fuck Forget You
14. Half Light I/Half Light II (No Celebration)
The Suburbs is a long album, just over an hour to be exact, and Arcade Fire is smart enough to know that an offering that large could use an intermission. But an intermission is nothing without an Act One finale, and that's just where the Half Lights come in. Part I is a slow-moving wonder, beautiful violins fading in and out as Win Butler or Régine Chassagne harmonize in a way that makes it difficult to tell which voice is which. That harmony is about the only thing that remains in Part II, the build of Part I cashed in with an electro-pulse, and pounding percussion. Part II starts out big and only proceeds to get bigger, a simple, fiery guitar solo ushering us into the epic closing chant of, "One day they will see it's long gone." The two make a beautiful and devastating pair, comprising the first big finish of the only 2010 album ambitious enough to have two.
13. The Wild Hunt---The Tallest Man on Earth*
The Wild Hunt is not a big song; In fact it might even be a small one, opening the album of the same name with a beautiful whisper rather than a clamorous announcement. Not many can make music this full and captivating with only one instrument, and Matsson does it with the ease and grace of a person who knows how to play and write as a sort of instinct. Though his unique voice is always the stand-out, Matsson's craft boasts of subtle nuance at every turn, the extra few notes that float away in the background as he croons, "I'll be leaving in the fall," just as important as anything else in the song. The scale may be small, sure, but The Wild Hunt is as likely to make a heart swell as any other song this year, one of the best works to date by a man who will be called a master sooner than one might expect.
12. Walk in the Park---Beach House*
The best song on Teen Dream by virtue of its variance, WitP begins with the same drum-machine, sudden-guitar-appearance formula as many of the album's other tracks, but there's a unique sense of brightness to it. More so than any of TD other tunes, Legrand invites listeners to sing along on this one, its passionate, shouting chorus impossible to not join in on. But then, with just under two minutes left, a new section reveals itself, swirling keyboard incasing Legrand's pleading howl. It's a welcome curveball from a band not too accustom to throwing them, the most beautiful song off of the year's most beautiful album.
And yes, today's post stops at 12 because (*Spoiler Alert*) there's a tie in the top 10. Get excited.
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