I enjoyed making my list of favorite albums of the year more than this list, because it’s easier to think of things to say about an entire album than it is a single song, but this list is probably more appropriate for the times in which we live. It also allowed me to include some stuff that couldn’t make the albums list because it is from an EP or an otherwise unspectacular album.
A few notes: If the song was released as a single, I generally used the single’s release date, if only to get some great songs from albums released in 2009 on the list (notably the two Florence + the Machine songs near the top). Also, sorry that this takes a minute to load; I think I’m going to have to start breaking up these video-heavy entries up into multiple parts. As always, this is not a list of the best songs of the year, which I don’t necessarily feel qualified to write, and rather just a list of my favorites.
Remind to listen to some more hip hop in 2011. All that really made the list here is Kanye, and that doesn’t even completely sound like what I think of as hip hop anymore. I miss it.
40) MNDR – “I Go Away”
As I’ve said before, I’m very charmed by MNDR, even though normally someone with as many affectations as she obviously has would drive me crazy. OK, by “many affectations” I really just mean her crazy, unnecessary glasses. That’s pretty much all I know about her. Also, yes, I know it’s technically a duo, but c’mon, you know what I mean. Don’t be that person.
39) Active Child – “When Your Love Is Safe”
I was introduced to this band and several others on this list by this great post over at Stereogum, so props to them. This song sounds like it could have been an outtake from that Holland album Beirut put out under the name Realpeople. You know, falsetto vocals on top of pretty electronic music. Although, in the video below it isn’t electronic.
38) Arcade Fire – “Rococo”
The first song from Arcade Fire on this list also happens to be the first song I heard off of The Suburbs before the album was released. It turns out I was correct to be really excited by it.
37) Kelis – “4th of July (Fireworks)”
This whole Kelis album is really good, actually; I was really surprised by it. I’m not afraid to recycle material, so I’m just going to repost a tweet from around the time I first listened to it:
I was first introduced to this song by a YouTube video I found that played it over old footage of marathons, so it isn’t surprising that it has turned into a favorite “running at the gym” song of mine.
The same guy who made that video made the awesome Daft Punk/Cosby Show mashup that I posted a while back. Go watch it if you haven’t seen it; it’s much better than anything in this post.
36) Beach Fossils – “Daydream”
I love the guitar line in this song so much. It sounds like a Smiths song being played on a radio with really bad reception. I mean that in the best possible way.
35) Vampire Weekend – “Giving Up The Gun”
Everyone that signed on for a cameo in this video gets a career pass from me, because it makes me really happy. Also, you know what? I think I might be a Joe Jonas fan. Granted, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a Jonas Brothers song, but every time I see him he comes across as a nice guy with a good sense of humor.
34) Wild Nothing – “Live In Dreams”
Here’s another one that sounds a bit like a lost Smiths song, except slowed down a lot and with someone who is clearly not Morrissey singing.
33) Broken Bells – “The High Road”
This is maybe the most Shins-esque song from this album, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Speaking of, are we ever going to get another album from the Shins? I know everyone LOVES doing side projects with Danger Mouse, James Mercer, but that doesn’t mean you get to just quit on the Shins.
32) Caribou – “Odessa”
This and “Kaili” are my two favorite tracks from Swim, which very nearly made my list of favorite albums this year.
31) Dominant Legs – “Young at Love and Life”
This is the most recent of a long line of songs that causes Johanna to ask, “Who is this?” every single time it comes on my iPod.
30) Janelle Monáe – “Cold War”
I really like the album this song came from, The ArchAndroid, but while everyone else seems to be impressed with its originality, to me it seemed really derivative. I mean, each song is really different, so it’s derivative of a bunch of different things, but still. For instance, this song:
Sounds A LOT like this song, by Gnarls Barkley:
You be the judge!
29) The Morning Benders – “Cold War”
Second song in a row entitled “Cold War”! That’s kind of fun, right?
28) Ra Ra Riot – “Boy”
Johanna said she didn’t like Ra Ra Riot’s second album as much as their first, and said that it sounded a bit too much like a jam band. I can’t help but agree; the band has definitely lost a bit of catchiness and meanders a bit too much on The Orchard, particularly on a song like “Massachusetts,” which sounds like a bad Dave Matthews Band song. But the looseness serves this song well, actually. I particularly enjoy the bouncy bass that always seems just on the verge of going out of control.
27) Sufjan Stevens – “Futile Devices”
I’m not surprised that the only song from The Age of Adz that made this list was the opening track. It seems like the first song on almost every album by Sufjan Stevens ends up being my favorite. I think it has something to do with the fact that all of his music has a very specific mood, and it’s always fun to settle into that mood when I first put the album on.
26) Surfer Blood – “Swim”
Weezer + a few extra vocal effects = Surfer Blood. Not that that’s a bad thing.
25) Cee Lo Green – “No One’s Gonna Love You”
Cee Lo takes what was already a hauntingly beautiful song and adds like sixteen layers of epic to it. Even though we knew it was about a break-up, my wife and I had the Band of Horses version on the shortlist of songs for our first dance. We were willing to be like the people who use “Every Breath You Take” by the Police even though it’s about stalking. Watching this video makes me glad we didn’t choose it.
24) Broken Bells – “The Ghost Inside”
This song has TWO great videos. The official one, which is actually sort of boring, but features Christina Hendricks:
And this really great fan-made Hall & Oates video mashup:
23) Tennis – “Marathon”
Here’s another one I first heard about on Stereogum, I think. I only have their three song EP; it might actually be all that’s available; I’m not sure. Of those three songs, though, two of them are on this list and the third is also really good. They have an LP coming out in January that I’m really excited about.
22) Yeasayer – “O.N.E.”
For a while I kept confusing this song:
With this one by Peter Bjorn & John that features a sort of similar chorus:
21) Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – “Bang Bang Bang”
My new infatuation MNDR teams up with my long-time love Q-Tip and my occasional acquaintance Mark Ronson.
20) The Drums – “Let’s Go Surfing”
So I guess this song is making fun of the resurgence of surf rock or something? I don’t know; I don’t really pay too much attention to the lyrics, let alone the implied meaning in the singer’s voice. Whatever, great song!
19) Hot Chip – “I Feel Better”
With the rise of the music video on YouTube and Vimeo we are really experiencing a renaissance in a medium that most thought was dead, or at least dying. At the top, of course, you have your Lady Gagas and Justin Biebers with their millions and millions and millions of views, but there are also a lot of smaller bands making videos now that they don’t have to worry about cracking the rotation on MTV to be seen. The visual winners this year were definitely Kanye West and Arcade Fire with their multimedia extravaganzas, but of the more traditional music videos, this might be my favorite.
18) Best Coast – “Boyfriend”
I’ve described this song previously as “a really great surf-rock-meets-girl-group song that sounds like a dusty record someone found in his garage” and I’m sticking with that.
17) Local Natives – “Wide Eyes”
This is my favorite song from a great album that was one of the first this year to really grab my attention.
16) Beach House – “Zebra”
If this were a list of my favorite lullabies of the year, this would be number one.
15) Robyn – “Indestructible”
Here’s a relatively late addition to the list that has been climbing over the course of a lot of gym listens. The bit where she sings “And I never was smart with love/I let the bad ones in and the good ones go” is a particularly pleasing few seconds to me every time I hear it.
14) Vampire Weekend – “Run”
I realize that Ezra Koenig is no Freddie Mercury or whatever, but I think this song is what made me realize how much I like him as a vocalist. The bit that starts with him saying “’Cause only with you-who-ooo-who/it’s the only honest way to go,” where he sings with only spare support from the drums and bass really shows off his sweet-but-slightly-smoky vocal style.
13) Kanye West – “Runaway”
I’m going to attempt to not be the most recent in what is becoming a long line of people trying to parse through the psychology of this song, either surface-level or deeper. His performance of this song to close the 2010 MTV VMAs was the highlight of the evening. At the time I was hoping they would bring Taylor Swift out on the stage in some capacity, but in retrospect I’m glad he didn’t let producers use this performance as a gimmicky punchline.
12) Deerhunter – “Coronado”
In my list of favorite albums of 2010 I mentioned that all it took to get me to like Deerhunter was a little bit of saxophone. This is the song with the saxophone. I was joking, of course, and normally saxophone in a rock song would bring to mind only Dave Matthews Band or Bruce Springsteen, but it actually is pretty awesome here.
11) Arcade Fire – “Ready To Start”
Is it possible that Arcade Fire recorded this song solely so that they could open with it instead of “Wake Up,” moving that song to the end of the show to serve as the perfect encore song? That seems possible, right?
Because, seriously, “Wake Up is the perfect encore song. When I saw them at Lollapalooza they closed with it and the place went B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
10) Tennis – “Baltimore”
I’m a little bit surprised to find this song in my top ten, but I do really love it. As I said, all I’ve heard from Tennis is a three song EP, and I know next to nothing about them, but I love the lead singer. Let me go look up her name.
OK, I’m back. Her name is Alaina Moore, and the other person in the band is her husband, Peter Riley. This is a really fun vocal performance from her. I actually have fun listening to her sing the chorus. The sound isn’t great in the live performance above, so here’s one of those videos where someone just puts the album cover up as the video while the song plays. I hate these videos, but it’s the best I can do.
9) Vampire Weekend – “White Sky”
Speaking of vocal performances that are fun to listen to, here’s another strong offering from the man who is my favorite male vocalist of the year, I guess? That seems strong. Also, speaking of homemade YouTube videos, I love when people make stuff like the video below nearly as much as I hate it when they just use a still photo of the album cover.
8 ) Florence + the Machine – “Cosmic Love”
This and the number 3 song on this list are sort of a cheat, in that they are both from an album released in mid-2009. But they were released as singles in 2010, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard them until this year, so, whatever. They make the list.
This song came on in the car the other day, and when the song kicked in epically after a bit of a slowdown, Johanna said, “So that’s her thing, huh?” Yes, it is, and I love it.
7) Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp”
I like that the guys in Yeasayer all seem to be legitimately weird, nerdy, new-agey goofballs. Hopefully it’s not an act. It’s nice to have a few bands that make completely irony-free music and seem to be oblivious to the fact that they occasionally skew a bit cheesy.
I guess what I’m saying is, keep making hilariously terrible videos like the one below, guys!
6) Cee Lo Green – “Fuck You!”
You know what song this sort of reminds me of? “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. And not just because they both have two-word exclamations as titles. What is it about the Atlanta scene that makes the artists coming out of it able to produce these singular songs that sound so perfectly familiar but also very different from everything else going on at the time?
5) Kanye West – “All Of The Lights”
In my list of favorite albums of 2010 I mention that while I don’t think Kanye West is my generation’s version of The Beatles, I do understand why some people want to make that comparison. And I think this song is his “A Day In The Life.”
I was worried that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy might be a bit anticlimactic since I had heard a lot of both “Power” and “Runaway” before its release and thought they would be the album’s highlights. This song is at least the equal of those two.
There was something that I immediately loved about this, but it took me a few listens to figure out that it was the method of storytelling. It’s rare in most popular music, but particularly in hip hop, to hear a song told from the point of view of someone other than the singer/rapper. Kanye is basically rapping in character here, and it’s just one more sign of his growth as a lyricist. People are still saying Derrick Rose can’t make long jumpers even though he’s shooting almost 40% from behind the three-point line, and people are still saying Kanye’s lyrics are his Achilles’ heel even though he’s writing songs like this.
4) Florence + the Machine – “Dog Days Are Over”
Like I said up there at number 8, the album that this song is on came out in 2009, but it was released as a single this year, so I’m including it. This song washes over me in a very embarrassing way; I react so strongly to it, get caught up so completely in it, that it makes me feel like I should probably stop judging people for liking things like Glee so much. The same part of me that loves this song had to fight off tears of joy during the ending montage of 127 Hours and while seeing a live performance of the musical Wicked. Deep down somewhere, I’m pretty much a teenage girl.
3) Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”
Even on an album as great as The Suburbs, this track manages to stand out. And even in an artistic year as great as 2010 was for Arcade Fire, the video/browser experiment that uses this song as its score, The Wilderness Downtown, stands out as perhaps the high point. If you were hanging around Twitter or Facebook at all in the few days after it hit the internet, you’ve seen it already; feel free to skip it and just watch the live performance below. If you haven’t experienced it yet, go check it out.
2) LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”
The first thing I did after listening to this song for the first time was check to make sure there was nothing wrong with my iPod or earbuds. After determining that the whisper-to-shout transition that happens three minutes into the track was a decision by James Murphy and not a technical issue on my end, the next thing I did was email a few of my friends to ask them if they had heard it yet. Actually, that might have been the third thing; I’m pretty sure the second thing I did was put the track on again and dance around to it a little bit.
Speaking of the whisper-to-shout aspect of this song, the video below edits out most of the whisper, but I still thought it was pretty great, and there is no official video for this song.
1) Kanye West – “Power”
To me this is without a doubt the anthem of 2010, the song I will most closely associate with the year, and the strongest statement from an artist who really dominated the musical landscape of the past twelve months, at least as measured by any metric I care about. Were I judging them in a vacuum, completely objectively and with no context, I think I might choose the Kanye song at number five as the best musical statement of the year. But that’s not the nature of these lists, and the raw (pun not intended and actually somewhat embarrassing to me) power of this song can’t be resisted.
After a string of personal setbacks, missteps, and breakdowns, I expected Kanye to step back, calm down, and show a bit of reticence. He went in the opposite direction and is better off because of it. He continues to break himself down and build himself up publically, seeming to alternate between being blissfully self-absorbed and unaware of his surroundings one day and overly concerned with everyone’s expectations and judgments of him the next. He’s wildly zigzagging his way through life, but I have the sense that he knows where he’s headed. Regardless of one’s opinions of the man (and I’ve revised my own quite a few times), he’s incredibly fun to watch, and it becomes even more surprising that he’s able to continue producing work of such real depth and artistry.
Honorable Mentions: Abe Vigoda – “Pure Violence”, Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”, Avi Buffalo – “What’s In It For?”, Band of Horses – “Factory”, Beach House –“Used To Be”, Beach House – “Lover Of Mine”, B.o.B. feat Hayley Williams – “Airplanes”, Caribou – “Kaili”, Cults – “Go Outside”, Deerhunter – “Revival”, Deerhunter – “Desire Lines”, The Drums – “Saddest Summer”, The Drums – “Make You Mine”, Duck Sauce – “Barbra Streisand”, Hot Chip – “Thieves In The Night”, Kanye West – “Monster”, Kanye West – “Gorgeous”, Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”, Local Natives – “Camera Talk”, MNDR – “Fade To Black”, The Morning Benders – “Hand Me Downs”, The Morning Benders – “Excuses”, Perfume Genius – “Learning”, The Radio Dept. – “Heaven’s On Fire”, Sufjan Stevens – “Too Much”, Surfer Blood – “Twin Peaks”, Taio Cruz – “Dynamite”, Tame Impala – “Solitude Is Bliss”, Warpaint – “Undertow”, Yeasayer – “Madder Red”