Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Playlist: Favorite Songs of 2010, 1-20

Now that the albums and guilty pleasures are out of the way, it's time to get into the massive undertaking that is figuring out exactly which songs from 2010 rank amongst the favorites.  It's tough.  Sometimes, whole albums feel like they should be included and it's near impossible to narrow the options down to a reasonable two or three.  Sometimes a sound dominates, or, the need arises to include things that might be amongst the technical best, but not a favorite.  So, because at the end of the day this is just a blog, and not a major media outlet, I've opted not to make this harder than it already is.  While looking over this list, know that there is no particular ranking system at work.  While some of the absolute favorites have made it to the extreme top, number 50 is no less valuable than 25 on any given day.  On some of these too, you may wonder how one can be a favorite while another of something similar made it on the guilty list.  It's personal, that's just the way it works.  Caveat: several of these videos will be lyrically or visually NSFW.

1. KANYE WEST / "MONSTER" - We've already established that the entire My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album is pretty brilliant.  With each listen, my favorite cut from the album shifts.  "Monster", though, is a standout rallying cry that cuts from one spot-on, brutal verse to another and comes to an absolute head not with Kanye, but with rap's self-proclaimed Black Barbie: Nicki Minaj.  On "Monster", Minaj kills it, delivering more schizophrenic, unhinged power in the song's final minutes than in anything on her solo Pink Friday album.

2. CARIBOU / "SUN" - The video gets it exactly right.  "Sun" has a ritual trance-like quality that grabs you at it's opening, echoing pronouncement and pulls you under.  It's oddly addicting.  Really.  True story: most plays on my iTunes of anything on this list.

3. JANELLE MONAE FT. BIG BOI / "TIGHTROPE" - You can't deny this is an awesome song.  Pure, unadulterated bad-assery combining James Brown soul with Outkast funkadelics; totally taut, totally in-control, no chance of taking a spill off the tightrope.

4. HOT CHIP / "I FEEL BETTER" - At first, I wasn't so sure.  Then, I embraced Hot Chip's oh-so-90's, oh-so-boy band approach (and, uh, for those who don't know, those dudes are not Hot Chip) to their own brand of overtly aware, clever indie.  It works.  The bombastic pop approach has a hook that kills, that eerie near-falsetto will stick with you (in the best, Jimmy Somerville way) long after the song is over.

5. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM / "POW POW" -  This song gives me all the lines I need to fill every work meeting I have to go to.  The first time you hear it, it's rambling over a back beat.  I honestly didn't think much of it.  A couple more run-ins, however, and it suddenly meshed completely with every aspect of this stress loaded life.  Is it too pretentious to say "Pow Pow" is a musical expression of a crisis of modernity?  Whatever.  It is. It begins to build into a complete thought, and that thought is pure David Byrne-influenced self-possession.  Oh, yeah, also, the video version is about half the actual song...the real one builds to a manic head.

6. THE BIG PINK / "TONIGHT" - Alright, so, the version of "Tonight" The Big Pink released as a single is actually different from the one on their debut album.  I prefer the album version, but you get the basic idea.  "Tonight" is a dreamy sort of rock song, and The Big Pink is an awesome reincarnation of shoegaze (but don't call them that), the kind of band that makes you wish you'd found them when you were 16.

7. GRINDERMAN / "HEATHEN CHILD" - Let's get visceral, visceral....and also: more eyeball laser beams!

8. SLEIGH BELLS / "RILL RILL" - The slickest, hookiest song on the overpraised Sleigh Bells debut.  Let's throw this over a really awesome slow-mo high school hallway scene.  It'll be amazing.

9. LINDSTROM AND CHRISTABELLE / "LOVESICK" - As previously mentioned, this album is effortlessly cool.  "Lovesick" is all you need to hear to know this. 

10. THE SCISSOR SISTERS / "INVISIBLE LIGHT" - With Night Work, the Scissor Sisters came of age.  Their 70's rock influence transitioned into the early 80's and entered a dark period at Studio 54, they've gone away from cheeky camp and dipped into a sexualized, club kid mode.  It's their best effort to date, and  "Invisible Light", the last track on the album, closes it out in a manner totally unexpected from the oft jangly band.   All that and it features an Ian McKellan voice over to rival Vincent Price's on "Thriller."

11. DEERHUNTER / "CORONADO"  - It's like Deerhunter was sitting around trying to figure out what The Strokes would sound like if they actually tried to do something that didn't replicate This is It, came up with the answer, and then decided to record it.  That's a good thing.

12. TAMARYN / "LOVE FADE" -  Again...the second coming of shoegaze.  "Love Fade" has such an outrageously big sound, it fills any space in its opening crescendo and can switch your mood in an instant.  Just lovely.

13. BIG BOI / "GENERAL PATTON" - This song is for three things: 1. preparing to win  2. being mad as hell  3. being awesome.  Also, the whole album is pretty good and makes for an interesting companion piece to Kanye West in the "nifty things hip hop was doing this year" category.

14. ROBYN / "NONE OF DEM" - Haven't you heard enough about Robyn?  Don't you know to embrace her already?

15. FOUR TET / "LOVE CRY" - Four Tet returns to bring stasis.  No, seriously, this song is 9 minutes of precisely controlled dance stasis.  Nine minutes long of slow growing repetition which, once it comes on, I can't seem to bring myself to shut it off.

16. CRYSTAL CASTLES / "BAPTISM" -  Crystal Castles.  What is there to say?  You either love them or you hate them, and the only way you really grow to love them is by experiencing something like Stockholm Syndrome.  It's a trap.  You like one of their prettier sorts of 8-bit chillwave, "Untrust Us" or "Celestica", and next thing you know you're suddenly enjoying Alice Glass's insane cacophonous screaming.  I'm sure "Baptism" is annoying to at least 80% of the world population, but I really have to admit that there's something about its rapid fire mood swings that makes me want to jump around like a crazy person.  Trust me, this noise can actually become music if you give it a shot.  Fun music at that.

17. KANYE WEST / "POWER" - Also good?  The Snap! incorporating "Power" remix available for free download as part of Kanye's G.O.O.D. Fridays.

18. M.I.A. / "BORN FREE" - It's winter now, but if you need a release I recommend putting this on and then running really fast in any direction you can.  It's worth mentioning that without the video, the song is significantly less disturbing. 

19. BEACH HOUSE / "SILVER SOUL" - Beach House's album Teen Dream is on the mellow side for me, but the sounds are so sweeping, so airy and unpretentious, I am swayed.

20. GAYNGS / "THE GAUDY SIDE OF TOWN" - What I love about the Gayngs album Relayted is that the whole damn thing is supposedly actually designed to be some sort of un-ironic tribute to smooth jazz/lite FM sounds, specifically 10cc's "I'm Not in Love."  My parents forced me to listen to an inordinate amount of that garbage for the first 11 years of my life, and as much as I hate to admit it, a little bit of it stuck.  "The Gaudy Side of Town" features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver delivering vocals that sound like they should be followed by some silky deep voiced DJ seducing you with a full three hour block of 'Night Moves'.  I'm thinking we'll follow it with either Enigma's "Sadeness" or Double's "The Captain of Her Heart."  That or, you know, sandwich it between the two.

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