10. Jimmy Eat World – My Best Theory/Higher Devotion
This one’s pretty simple. “My Best Theory” is the danciest, catchiest, most beguiling song Jimmy Eat World have ever done. An impossible claim, considering they’re one of the best rock bands alive, but it’s true. “My Best Theory” is euphoric in its playfulness; it’s the sound of a band rejuvenated. The whole song is like one elongated hook, but in particular the guitar melody in the chorus is jaw-dropping and as huge as number of pennies saved by Scrooge. The hi-hat dances like a tip-toeing burglar, as confounding as Brett Favre sending penis-showing photos to Jenn Sterger. “My Best Theory” cannot be contained. Shockingly, “Higher Devotion” is just as good. Intense and pop-savvy from the jump; the hi-hat dances with as much vigor as it does on “My Best Theory”. The fuzzed-out guitars drive the song, and lead to that staggering C-section beginning at 1:45. “Higher Devotion” sounds delicious, like star-gazing to Copernicus and simple counting with an abacus. I really liked JEW’s last effort, Chase This Light, but there is no doubt Invented is a better rock record; the band sounds like they’re having more fun than Caribana celebrants basking in the sun. Right on JEW. Keep it up.
9. Broken Bells – The High Road/The Mall & Misery
James Mercer and Danger Mouse are a match made in heaven. Both are pretty much fantastic with whomever they’re working with, but sound completely at home working together here. Both have preternatural pop instincts. Both make love to sound with “The High Road” and “The Mall & Misery”. “The High Road” slaps description in the face; but I’ll take a shot – it deserves the attempt. It’s a calculated, galloping ditty; a sublime piece of music from the first second until exactly 3:00. But then something…happens. For the next 52 seconds, “The High Road” turns into a lamenting, calm-but-venting, movement-preventing, movie-casting moment of indellible brilliance as Mercer repeats “it’s too late to change your mind; you let loss, be your guide.” Wow. Just wow. “The Mall & Misery” is the forgotten track, the symphonic album closer that’s as incessant as anything on the album. Both tracks are astounding and will stand the test of time. Probably a one-off effort from these two geniuses; it’ll have to do.
8. Metric – Eclipse (I’m All Yours)
I’m running out of ways to describe how awesome Metric are, and how quickly they keep adding to their personal pantheon of mega-sized, foot-stomping epics. In a non-album year, they release one of their best songs and one of the best songs of the entire year. Absurd. Never mind the Twilight affiliation, “Eclipse (I’m All Yours)” is its own beautiful animal. Emily’s vulnerable, phoenix-rising chorus and Jimmy Shaw’s wonderful guitar make sure of it. Metric go full bore or they don’t go. The sound of Canadian pop royalty distributing wealth amongst the dominion. The sound of love-soaring divulgence. The sound of youthful promises and endless possibilities. The sound of romantic commitment. The sound of taking the plunge, leaping eyes wide open; ascendence to a private cloud. I can’t stop listening to this song. Damn right I’m yours.
7. Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend/Hang With Me
I’ll say this: Robyn is the best pop star on the planet; Robyn has a knack for resonating deeply at an emotional level and instantly gratifying with her slick, forthright brand of electro-pop; Robyn is real. Her obsession with disco extravaganza is all-encompassing. Her might with the mic is flooring. She puts a spell on melody and the listener and doesn’t let go. “Hang With Me” and “Call Your Girlfriend” are equally stupendous. They have both been #1 on Antares since their release. Robyn governs Sweden by herself (at least she should). Robyn is clever, all the better because of her heart-on-sleeve charm. That doesn’t do her justice, but a neither would a non-stop, Twitter-flooding stream of plaudits, so I’ll stop with this: Robyn is one of a kind and essential.
6. Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Indispensable. The best track from the extraordinary Suburbs LP, “Sprawl II” is Arcade Fire taking an unforseen deviation in their path. Is there any room at the synth-pop table with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, Robyn, Metric et al? Yes, they made room. Not having done anything like “Sprawl II” in their uniquely awesome discography to date, the song takes the listener back and on a ride. You’ll need to buckle up, but the view is eminently enjoyable. The lyric is cautious and acerbic, belied in the way it’s sung by angel-voiced Regine Chassagne. The music is strong yet ethereal, focused yet dreamy, espousing a repetitive wont while sticking up a middle-fingered flaunt. AF are already knocking on the door of all-time greatness, and after only three albums, that’s an incredible and preposterous assertion indeed. Patently alive and bursting with pride.
5. Marina & The Diamonds – Shampain
Seeing as how Yeezy’s been spitting dragon fire for years now, Arcade Fire are Indie royalty and Robyn broke in 2005, there is no question that the breakout star of 2010 is Marina Diamandis. A nuclear-powered voice and the most consistently addictive pop hooks on either side of the Atlantic have made sure of that. “Shampain”, the first Marina & The Diamonds song I was introduced to, is the pop masterpiece from The Family Jewels LP. Synth- and hook-laden throughout, it begins with a pop ferocity so huge you’re immediately seeking refuge from the deluge. A microcosm of the entire album, “Shampain” demands success and latches onto anything that might resemble it. Considering the songs still to come on this list, “Shampain” is the best pure pop song of the year. “Shampain” is the Dom Perignon of pop songs, the codeine-infused cough syrup of Weezy’s addiction. “Shampain” is like fame to Julian Assange, ill-advised decisions to LeBron James, money to Oprah and sexual intercourse to Tiger Woods. I believe Rick James said it best when he said, “cocaine is a hell of a drug.” We don’t need to limit that unimaginably wise assertion; addiction comes in many forms. “Shampain” is proof.
4. Future Islands – Vireo’s Eye
The most immediately pleasing song of 2010. It is fresh and buoyant; it is 1984. It is heart and soul and sweat and defiance mixed with two cups of brown sugar, cinnamon, and eye of newt. That propulsive, dark, steady, sans-bullshit bassline. The synthesizers. Those synthesizers; matching the lamenting vocal pleas like an endentured servant, deed for deed. The hooks. Those hooks; inundating the listener like paranoia to a solitary confinement prisoner. The sound of New Wave having a baby with Dr.Frankenstein. The sound of Bobby “Boris” Pickett (guy who sings the Halloween “Monster Mash” song) fronting a New Order cover band. Let’s say you were watching a cartoon one day and magically, the cartoon sucked you into its plot, this is the sound of you trying to get back from whence you came. The gasping, heartbroken lyric. Here are those magical, wounded words…
“A loose, and hazy time,
When you were not my clementine, and I was not your diamond’s eye;
Bereft, as daisies lie
For our love was lost in style, you were strong, I was a child;
We…We’re not kings here, we’re not kings here, we’re just strangers;
A love, has died in song,
Carried down by ancient tongues,
Ferried round the water’s thrum;
And light, along a line,
Along a whirl, a lonely girl;
To be, to see, to sweat, and bleed;
To fall, on your sword, on your sword, on your word;
We, we’re not kings here, we’re not kings here, we’re just strangers;
Be still, by my side,
For you are not my clementine, and I am not your diamond’s eye;
To sleep! By right of you I can’t endure,
In the light of things I can’t ignore,
In spite of all the rose’s thorns,
And hopeless words,
These hopeless words;
We’re not kings here, we’re not kings here, we’re just strangers… and angels.”
3. Scissor Sisters – Invisible Light
The most fun a song had all year. Drama in disco-excess-wrapped ebullience. This party is intense. You’re going to want to drink a lot of water afterward, lest you become deathly ill. While it’s happening though, you don’t care about anything else. It’s the subtly killer “whoooo’s”. It’s Jake Shears’ falsetto. It’s Jake Shears’ tenor slitherings towards the end. It’s the Invisible Light. It’s the opiate utopia. It’s far and away, the best song the usually awesome Scissor Sisters have ever done. It’s the crescendo at 5:03 that’s the best come-in of the year. It’s the instant and beautiful comedown at 5:55. It’s Stuart Thin White Duke Price bringing his best production effort of the year. It’s Sir Ian Fucking McKellen. When Gandalf comes on your track and starts waxing poetic about Babylon, Bricks & Mortar, Sailors, Lust & Swagger, Penetrating Lazer Gazes, Painted Whores and Sexual Gladiators, you know you’re up past your bed time. A scary, enthralling, swingers-sex-club-romp of a song. When does it open again?
2. Miike Snow – Sans Soleil
The dream of waking up next to your soulmate. The realization that it could be gone if you don’t protect it. The love letter years in the making. The vows. The softest song of the year. The most peaceful. Instant gratification incarnate, and yet…there’s more to it. Purportedly sans soleil, it’s the sound of 1,000,000 suns making rapturous heat. Produced with electronics, “Sans Soleil” is brought to life by its humanity. A plaintive croon. A perfectly-paced love story. The piano wailing quietly. The rising and receding tide. The part where you think it’s over at 3:25. The part where it comes back. The snapshot of a moment in time. The chronicle of unfolding life. The sweetness. My favourite song for much of the year. The infiltration of my thoughts. My precious.
1. Yeasayer – Madder Red
I’ve noticed a pattern with songs that end up being my favourite of the year; whether it was Animal Collective’s “My Girls”, The Killers’ “Human”, Helio Sequence’s “Hallelujah” or Beirut’s “Elephant Gun”, they all have at least one thing in common — euphoria. Euphoria, elation, transcendence, nirvana, and pie-in-the-sky, heart-palpitating joyousness — whatever you want to call it, the songs I favour most make me feel like exulting. Such is the power of music, of the songs we connect most closely with.
It’s no surprise then, that I’ve come to Yeasayer’s “Madder Red” as my favourite song of the year. It has struck me with the aformentioned feelings — a song like no other this year — left me spellbound and ready to give praise, unsure of where to direct it. I want to direct it everywhere. I want to go inside this song and feel its innards, caress its skin, make it breakfast and ask it — beg of it — how it came to be. I want to know more…
From the album Odd Blood, allegedly inspired by an LSD-fueled trip to New Zealand, “Madder Red” is the pop masterstroke of the LP. Its charms are countless; its pleasures myriad. It sounds like a night stroll in the Shire only to come upon Gandalf and begin smoking from his pipeweed instantaneously and without introduction. It sounds like a ritual of sacred proportions. It sounds like falling stars racing each other through galaxies. It sounds like a warning. It sounds like blue fire. It’s a shaman’s chant, a lover’s rant, a colony being built by ants. “Madder Red” is at peace with the world but fighting itself on the inside.
Musically, the song is a concoction of undulating rhythms layered one on top of the other, achieving a nuanced sonic template. The synths, the guitars, Anand Wilder’s vocals, the bell rings, the woo’s, the bass, and the drums all serve one another in stark and often disparate ways. At times, the sounds seem at odds with each other — weird because this song is not just a slice of pop majesty, not even a whole bakery of pop majesty; this song is a chain of mother-funking pop majesty bakeries. (What does that mean? Don’t worry.) A sonic pallette of otherworldy pulses adorns this song and it sounds like it could have been recorded on Mars or Betelgeuse. It was actually recorded in New York, so maybe I’m not far off with that one.
Clearly, I’m beyond smitten with the musical arrangement of “Madder Red”, but there are other pleasures here. I do not believe that Anand Wilder’s lyric has to do with religion, but a few word and phrasing choices lend credence to the idea that this song is hymn-like. Also, like my other favourite songs of the past few years, “Madder Red” seems to beckon a higher power. It doesn’t have to mean God. It’s just…something. A power that we don’t know. It’s better that way.
The other pleasure here is the story, and not simply the lyrical story, but moreover the sonic one. The music is mysterious from the jump, itchy and spastic at times, preaching serenity and calm at others. It’s just after the middle part of the song that the story truly begins to unfurl. Beginning at the 1:54 mark, four electric guitar licks, punctuated by a deviously elongated one at the end, break down the core of the song and break down the listener.
Picture yourself in the Sahara desert; tired, beat down, thirsty, unaware of how you got there but desperate to survive and get home. Suddenly, you’ve been chopped down to your feet by an unknown entity. You don’t see anyone or anything around you, but you’re on your ass nevertheless. Then quickly, from the 2:00-2:03 mark, a questioning synth comes in. It’s the sound of getting up. It’s the attempt to gain bearing. It’s the kick to move forward. As soon as you’re up again, that questioning synth re-emerges at 2:15, but it’s slightly different this time. For three seconds, that synth serves to confuse, daze and make weary. You’re down again and seeing double. Trying to shake it off, you see the semblance of water appearing on moving horizons right in front of you. Is it an oasis? Is it a mirage?
At 2:18 we find our answer. All sounds come in at once; it is the oasis we had hoped for. The guitars soar, the vocals woo in unison; your thirst is whetted, anything but relief is lilliputian. Musically, the song explodes and an omnipotent being descends to take you home. Anand Wilder breathes: “please don’t ask me why.” We needn’t ask such a silly thing. We know why. The music told us the second it began.