We’ve made it! After one really long week and a TON of writing, this is the final section of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2010. It’s been a wild ride, we’ve gone through 40 individual artists and songs so far, and I couldn’t be more pleased to put this to bed. Typically there’s at least one artist that has two songs on this countdown every year, but I’m pleased to say that this year there are 50 songs by 50 different artists. All of them are blockbusters, and if you haven’t heard them, I do recommend downloading either for free from the links I’ve provided below (when available), or buying the music via some sort of retailer. Next week begins Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2010, and that’s another gigantic adventure unto itself. Thanks for sticking around and reading this week, hopefully you’ve learned something and discovered something too. Here’s the quick links for a rundown of what we’ve covered so far:
So without further ado, I’m proud to present my Top 10 Songs of 2010! Oh, and as always I’m interested to hear your comments on this list or your personal list. Just leave them below. Thanks!
10. Robyn – Dancing On My Own
“Dancing On My Own” is a song about, in essence, the use of a dancefloor as a place of refuge from the world. It is a metaphorical heaven, a place where no matter what your problems may be, there’s nothing some heavy beats and strobe lights can’t cure. In the case of Robyn, her ex has found someone new, and so she’s “all messed up, so outta line”. The good news is that she’s in the club, so she dances away the pain, heels strapped on and surrounded by broken bottles. Robyn’s pain though, is our pleasure. The beat is killer and so is the hook, as one might expect from a Robyn track. The unexpected part is derived mainly from the lyrics, because heartbreak isn’t a normal part of the equation. The purpose of dance tracks in general is to induce a feeling of euphoria brought on by the aural and visual stimuli. That “Dancing On My Own” doesn’t fully abide by such conventions yet still works to the same effect is a big reason why it’s one of the absolute best songs of the year. The entire triple dose of “Body Talk” we got in 2010 was pretty incredible when you think about the quantity vs. quality aspect of it. “Dancing On My Own” stands out as the most beautiful, heartbreaking and inventive of the bunch.
9. Janelle Monae – Tightrope (ft. Big Boi)
Janelle Monae is a superstar. Janelle Monae is a showwoman. She’s the hot to your cold, the day to your night. She’s one of the most exciting things to come out of music since Andre 3000, and thanks to “Tightrope”, she can claim to have written a song that’s on par with his biggest break of “Hey Ya”. It’s almost ironic then that Andre 3000 made his name from Outkast and now his cohort Big Boi is doing a guest verse on this amazing Janelle Monae song. Yet Big Boi himself hasn’t quite pulled off a huge hit, even if his latest album is pretty damn good. Anyways, back to “Tightrope”, while Monae has an odd fascination with science fiction and specifically robots, here’s a song that’s very strictly old school funk. The main melody, in particular the take-it-for-a-walk bass, feels straight out of the 60s. The song moves at a good clip and the horn section really adds more pizazz that sells it even more than would normally be necessary. Of course Monae’s lyrical and vocal contributions to the whole thing are what ultimately dominate. She’s preaching about maintaining balance in your life through all the highs and lows, but her wordplay is dynamite and she’s got this fast-paced not-quite-hip-hop way of delivery that’s positively compelling. Match that with a catchy chorus that has her stretching out her vocal chords into a powerful wail, and you’ve got one of the most fun and funky songs of 2010.
8. LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change
The way that James Murphy writes his lyrics makes them come across as intensely personal. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but the truth is less important than whatever we choose to believe. The endgame is all about connection; that we buy into the notion that Murphy really is disheartened by losing touch with his friends or is willing to change every fiber of his being just to keep a relationship. Of course these aren’t the most bogus or unrelatable topics in the first place, but the emotional investment we place on a particular song often brings with it deeper meaning that we’re searching for in most every piece of music that reaches our ears. That’s why “All My Friends” was not only the best song of 2007, but may even have a place among the greatest of all time. The highlight of the newest LCD Soundsystem record “This Is Happening”, on what’s really an entire record worth of highlights, would be “I Can Change”. On the surface, here’s a song that with its poppy synths and pleading lyrics is probably closest cousins with some classic 80s ballads. What elevates it above all the other 80s-baiting songs in recent memory is that it carves its own path to equality with those classics rather than trying to pay tribute to them.
7. Liars – Scarecrows on a Killer Slant
This is the music that nightmares are made of. In fact, “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” deserves prominent placement within a big budget horror film. Might I suggest “Scream 4” next year? This was actually the only song this year that I actively came up with a “plot” for a music video. You could actually make a pretty great and accurate video using only clips from the cult classic “American Psycho”. Here’s a song about killing, as the title suggests, but it’s not really killing just one person, it’s a LOT OF PEOPLE. By the middle of the song, with buzzsaw electric guitars chugging along full steam, the chant becomes, “Stand them in the street with a gun/AND THEN KILL THEM ALL”. The “them” being referred to there is specifically “cretins” as defined in the lyrics, but even that can be broadened to say “anyone that bothers you”. There’s so much anger and rage and explicit violence in this song that it borders on…wait for it…overkill. It doesn’t get there largely because: a) There’s a couple of brief respites from the guitar attack, maybe as moments of “mental calm” between murder victims and b) By the end, the song pretty much wears itself out. Yet in the final seconds of the song, the much quieter carefully plucked guitar holds the same stab-and-run pattern that was all over the loud part, as if to suggest the desire to kill still remains. I really hope nobody uses this song as justification to become a serial killer.
6. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round (MP3)
If you’ve heard any of Ariel Pink’s older material, specifically most of the stuff from his years signed to Paw Tracks, you know it pretty much takes the term “lo-fi” and obliterates it. That stuff was LOWER than lo-fi, a quality so ripped to shreds that it’s something of a wonder the guy got enough interest to first get signed and then move up the ladder to 4AD this past year. But that step forward has been the right one in every possible way for Ariel Pink, who did wonders with a little bit of studio financing. With his music taking on a much clearer, produced quality, he re-recorded some older songs and prepped some new ones for “Before Today”, a record that’s sure to land among many a “Best of” list. As we’re talking purely about songs though right now, “Round and Round” was the first taste we got of the “new” Ariel Pink, and mindblowing is a pretty great descriptor to use. The 70s/80s pop nostalgia sound he’s been running with these past few years takes on new life and feels fresh once again thanks to a really creative and unique arrangement. There’s some, but by no means a traditional structure to the song. What happens is you get a small set of concepts where each hangs around for a brief bit before segueing perfectly into the next before cycling around again (hence the song’s title, “Round and Round”). While the verses themselves are solid, it’s the two separate and almost equal choruses that truly stick with you. The “merry-go-round” and the “hold on, I’m calling” parts are both classic and beautiful as only the best songs can be. It’s the 80s pop synth sheen mixed with those vocal harmonies that sold me completely on it, and if you’re not yet buying in, try it twice in a row and tell me it doesn’t grab you by the throat in the best way.
5. The Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
There are very few people in this world that haven’t gotten the full “suburbs” experience. I’m not talking about the record here, I’m talking about those smaller towns you can find just outside of city limits. The majority of Americans have grown up or at least have lived for a time in the suburbs, so the whole lifestyle and aesthetic is understood, as is the vast difference between city and suburban life. Spend enough time in the suburbs, and while you may enjoy the vast quantities of big box retailers and strip malls as far as the eye can see, there remains something exciting and enchanting about city life. The hustle and bustle of it all, the huge skyscrapers, the posh restaurants, the high-end boutiques. For some of us, it’s also the beck and call of living in an artistic community, where apartment buildings are packed with young artistes painting, making music and all sorts of other art. It’s this difference, the relative quiet but corporate community vibe of the suburbs vs. the loud and artistic community vibe of the city, that “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” chronicles. There’s boredom and domestication in those suburbs, and thrills and fun in the city. Is there truth in the song? A romanticized version of it, yes. Despite this, the way the song is constructed, with boredom giving way to hope, is simply brilliant. Regine’s vocals convey that perfectly, from the perspective of a suburbanite choosing to pursue that city living dream. To have this come in as a late-album surprise on “The Suburbs” (album) makes it that much more interesting, and in terms of Arcade Fire’s catalogue, it easily ranks among the best songs they have ever done.
4. Beach House – Zebra
“Zebra” is the first track on “Teen Dream”, and from the very start you’re greeted with Alex Scally’s familiar guitar picking that has Beach House written all over it. Soon enough, some overdubbed harmonies offering up sugar-sweet and sleepy “aahs” enter the picture, along with a barely-there tambourine to help keep the beat and some keyboard for good measure. Victoria Legrand’s female-deep lead vocals then come in for the duration, as does a lightly tapped bass drum to help out percussion-wise. After the first chorus strikes pretty hard with a hook, cymbals rise up in rebellion, and suddenly there’s actual drumming, a shaker, and a bass guitar, all of which take this subdued performance and give it some serious pep. The track actually gets exciting, and you can’t help but think about a real-life zebra galloping around some open field someplace having the time of his or her life. While the lyrics do discuss a “black and white horse/arching among us”, the way the animal is described throughout with almost human-like qualities brings into question whether the situation is actually reversed and Legrand is actually speaking about a person with zebra-like qualities. How is it that a zebra can be deceptive, other than perhaps the way it blends in among other black and white objects? This is likely left open to interpretation, which leads you to question whether or not we’re the ones being deceived. As gorgeous and smartly constructed as this song is, it’s also a big signal of a sea change for the band. Right from the start of the record they’re telling us to expect more excitement and drama this time around than ever before. Funny how Beach House knows exactly what to give us exactly when we need it most.
3. Cults – Go Outside (MP3)
Are Cults the true breakout band of 2010? Arguably, yes. Their rise to indie stardom began when Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin decided to take their romantic relationship to the next level by making sweet, sweet music together. They wrote and recorded a couple songs on their own, which they then posted on Bandcamp so some of their friends could hear and download them. Well, somebody somewhere in the blogosphere stumbled upon these tracks and they began to make the rounds online. After a very short while, the song “Go Outside” was a bonified hit, to the point where Chris over at Gorilla Vs. Bear made them the first signed band to his brand new Forest Family Records. An initial 7″ pressing of “Go Outside” sold out quickly. A second pressing also sold out. Then, with a bunch of high profile record labels trying to sign them, Cults ultimately put pen to paper with Columbia Records about a month ago. They’ve got their debut album due in the spring. All this from just a very small handful of songs posted online. Sure, hype had a lot to do with their success, but no way will I tell you that hype isn’t justified. “Go Outside” is an immensely fun slice of indie pop, but also so much more than those few words can describe. There’s the tongue-in-cheek opening to the track, in which famed cult leader Jim Jones claims that we should be afraid of living (not dying). Cults then use the rest of the track and one hell of a catchy, sing-along chorus, to obey the title of the song and actually experience the outdoors. There’s glockenspiels, there’s echo-laden vocals, and above all else, there’s a child-like innocence that you simply can’t help but embrace. Scientists say that sunshine is the best all-natural anti-depressant. So is this song.
2. The Morning Benders – Excuses (MP3 via Stereogum)
When the Morning Benders’ album “Big Echo” came out this past spring, I was only lukewarm on it. I proclaimed that after the first two tracks, which were “Excuses” and “Promises”, the album lost all the momentum it had going for it and simply fell flat on its face. This was in contrast to a number of other, much higher profile reviews that said a lot of nice things about the band and the record. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and upon giving “Big Echo” a lot more listens, I finally warmed up to it as a whole rather than just those first couple songs. On the other hand, as the entire album grew in my esteem, those two songs continued to grow as well. It wasn’t until I saw The Morning Benders perform at Lollapalooza this year that “Excuses” jumped out at me to be not only my favorite song by the band, but quite possibly my favorite song of 2010 altogether. In that Lolla set, I watched as frontman Chris Chu turned a 5 minute upbeat indie pop song into an 8 minute construction project of sheer genius. The bridge of the song, during which there are multi-part harmonies, was the key to everything. Chu encouraged the crowd to sing the parts along with him as he recorded each one into a looping program and built the whole thing right there in front of us. Pure magic. After that, I caught the Yours Truly version of “Excuses”, which had the backing of the “Big Echo Orchestra” that included such notables as John Vanderslice, Golden Gram (of Rogue Waves/Port O’Brien) and Christopher Owens (of Girls). That’s yet another performance of the song that’s essential viewing. In other words, I’ve never heard a bad version of “Excuses”, only increasingly better ones. For a hook that’s essentially just words like “wood” and “dust” stretched out and harmonized, you can’t get much better than this song. I wonder how many girls have fainted at a Morning Benders show this year after Chris Chu says the line “I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body”.
1. Sleigh Bells – Rill Rill
Song perfection, science apparently claims, is 3 minutes and 30 seconds. That is, at the very least, the average length of a song and the time people are most accustomed to hearing when they turn on the radio. Statistically speaking then, if you made every single one of your songs 3:30, you’d have a higher percentage chance of scoring a hit than the artist whose average length is 2:30 or 4:30. That’s even if your proposed “hits” all majorly sucked. Why bring this up? Well, Sleigh Bells’ “Rill Rill” is not 3:30 on the dot, but give it a 20 second leeway and it shoots and scores. It is, to my ears, a perfect song. The small bit of irony is that nothing else on “Treats” sounds like it. Maybe that’s also why it’s so appealing; not a whole lot else period sounds like it. Yet it’s not even a completely original product – the acoustic guitar part is ripped and looped from the Funkadelic song “Can YOu Get to That”. What it does with that acoustic guitar bit though is mindblowingly good, backing it up with some piano, machine gun percussion, finger snaps and bells to turn it from minor chord to major anthem. As to the lyrics, they’re also the most complicated Sleigh Bells have gotten to date. Unlike a track like “A/B Machines” where there’s only two lines that repeat over and over again, “Rill Rill” has dozens, and many are different variations and/or rhymes based on ones that came before them. Most of it doesn’t make much of any sense, but that’s basically the point. This is a song built for jumping rope. Alexis Krauss breaks out a sing-songy vocal performance that practically screams innocence, pigtails and playground. You could always take the line “wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces” quite literally back to the pain and frustration those caused back at age “sixteen six six six” (whatever, or whichever, that means). But this is the sort of song that could be analyzed to death, searching for meaning in what might just be a pure stroke of luck pop song. Sleigh Bells might have been lucky in making this, but we’re equally lucky to have it in our lives. The catchiest thing 2010 has to offer, and that’s counting bed bugs and the swine flu, “Rill Rill” has that rare indefinable quality that is so often applied to classic songs. In fact, you may even feel like you’ve heard this song before; as in a long time ago. Ask a local grade school kid – they’ll give you all the details.