25. The National – Conversation 16
The most affecting song on the sublime High Violet LP. It’s miserable, taut, cathartic and illuminating. Matt Berninger sounds more than sad, he sounds like he’s about to jump. Not possessing the strength to stop himself, he relents, “I was afraid I’d eat your brains…cause I-I-I’m evil…” A downtrodden ne’erdowell with a penchant for cannibalism is probably not ideal company. But when he’s this expressive and parallel-world romantic, I think most would glady acquiesce. The sound of a band at their scintillating best, I don’t see how The National can top High Violet and “Conversation 16”. An instant classic.
24. Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This
A song that I quite liked last year but one that I truly recognized this year — a vexing, haunted lament of a tune. This song has left me non-plussed because it starts out so jauntily and then when least expected, it goes all translucent harmony and transfixing. It’s a close-your-eyes, take-a-deep-breath-and-enjoy kind of moment. Radiant music supplemented by a beautiful lyric. Those poignant, unmitigated words, “I’m not whole, I’m not whole, you waste it all; oh you can wait for what I can give; you know what I am, so you know how I live; try to look proud, but you’re not in the slightest; it’s happening now and it’s always been like this.” Seminal stuff from this awesome English band.
23. Gold Panda – You
Loquacious stuff from Derwin Panda, a ballad containing an astonishing 550 words in under four minutes. Just kidding. Containing only three words, “you”, “and” and “me”, the song is vocoded, chopped and screwed yet somehow manages to end up sounding like it lives and breathes among human kind. The song is a fervent and rejoicing love song — incredible considering it repeats only three words, over and over and over. The best electronic music pushes through its technical definitions and seeks to find a connective element that resonates with the listener. Gold Panda has hit the jackpot in that regard. Affectionate at its lily-blossoming core, a love letter simply asking for more, “You” is me, us and everyone else. An impressive trick.
22. The Knife – Colouring of Pigeons
The bewilderment. The grand finale. The dare. The OMG they didn’t. The 2+2=tongue. Come again? The move from an upper-east side flat to the Amazon forest. The Darwin-inspired opera. The reuniting of Karen Dreijer Andersson and brother Olof. The sound of lifting up a sewer drain and having a three-eyed lizard invite you down for some crumpets and English Breakfast tea. The agitated, berserk, rabid genius. The sounds-like-absofunkinlutely-nothing-made-by-anyone-else-on-this-planet-not-that-anyone-could-even-if-they-tried opus. The cymbal at second one. The ominous prayer. The Guillermo Del Toro-style phantasmagoric. The insanity of it all. The growth. The not giving a shit. The crowning. The answer. What was the question?
21. Interpol – Memory Serves
“Obstacle 1”, “C’Mere”, “Slow Hands”, “The New”, “Evil”, “PDA”, “Roland”, “Pioneer to the Falls” and “No I in Threesome” are some of the best songs Interpol have ever done. “Memory Serves” has just joined the fracas. Tension-filled, as the self-titled LP was the last one to be recorded with lauded rhythmic gymnast Carlos D., the issues within the group bleed onto the record. It makes for a more interesting listen; a frenetic, guitars-crashing-in-waves clusterfuck of a song. Thankfully before he left, the band came up with this delerious, hyperkinetic slow jam. While the guitars do all the heavy lifting, the bass saunters in and smokes a cigarette whilst Paul Banks hypnotizes with his slow rolling delivery. The boys are back.
20. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill
Dreamy, playful, yearning and floating gently towards Plastic Beach. Gorillaz have had an awesome run over the past three albums, but “On Melancholy Hill” is probably the catchiest song they’ve ever put to record. It also wins the award for song sounding most like its title. The song is melancholic, and it’s knowing, as if on a hill of some kind observing a town or group of people, able to see their follies, but unable to send word of how to fix them. Damon Albarn sounds relaxed but anxious, contemplative but unsure, able but unwilling. The sound of unrequited love, “On Melancholy Hill” is simply a fantastic song.
19. Miike Snow – Cult Logic/Silvia
From the eponymous debut of October, 2009 (and also the deluxe edition release of 2010), “Cult Logic” is simply bad-ass. Its magnetism is instantly rewarding. From the opening second, the song hooks. Simple, straightforward and stirring, “Cult Logic” is St. Peter, waiting at the gates of Dance-pop Heaven, judging those wanting to get in. “Silvia’s” allures are harder to reach. It’s about a feeling. It’s about a point in time. It’s about a destination…You have to bargain with “Silvia” to truly receive its gifts, but the good thing is, whatever you end up giving it, you get more in return. Cascading synths, a consistent piano melody and free-roaming, emotive distortion of the vocals make “Silvia” utterly unique.
18. Marina & The Diamonds – Are You Satisfied?/I Am Not a Robot
The statement of intent and the statement of being. The call to arms and the construction of a moat. The question and the answer. “Are You Satisfied?” and “I Am Not a Robot” are amazing in equal measure however different the path they take to get there. “Are You Satisfied?”, the thrilling album opener from the unbelievable Family Jewels LP leaves no room for interpretation as to what Ms. Marina Diamandis is after — success. She’s welcoming stardom with a cheeky smile, prodding it with a stick and taunting it with a school-yard sing-along. This woman will get what she wants. There’s simply no other way. “I Am Not a Robot”, oh “I Am Not a Robot”. You are a stunningly vital piece of music. A defence mechanism of a song. Sung with chemical-weapon force, you can hear the exact moment when she becomes a Hypergiant star. The moment happens at 0:47 and things are not the same after that point. Sure, the song is jaunty like Madoff schemes Ponzi, but the sheer horsepower of Diamandis’ voice is what carries this song into another universe. I want to enter into a common law relationship with this song after only a few months of seeing it. We’ll see how things work out, but I’m so optimistic that I want to go furniture shopping and sign up for that joint bank account.
17. Glasser – Home/Apply
“Home”; the caressing, tender, slow-building ode to familiarity. “Apply”; the ritual, the fire, the unknown. Cameron Mesirow has authored two staggeringly different and affecting songs with “Home” and “Apply”. Chanting home over and over again, Mesirow sounds like she’s yearning and celebrating — the difference is irrelevant. When the elevating synth comes in at 1:11, it propels the track to mountain tops like Eyjafjallajokull chose to randomly pop. “Apply” stalks the listener, like a pack of lions moving with calculation toward a zebra — the black and white coloured animal doesn’t stand a chance. Neither did we. The sound of a woman birthing a fantastical intention. Surreal and dazzling.
16. Manic Street Preachers – Some Kind of Nothingness/Golden Platitudes
I’m going to limb out and say that Manic Street Preachers are the most underrated English band of the past 25 years. Hell, they might be the most underrated band on the planet. Anything you could possibly want from a vital rock band — scathing, earnest wit; raw, biting rock ‘n roll; luscious, angelic melodies. James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and the ghost of Richey Edwards have done it all. The Holy Bible, Everything Must Go, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, Journal For Plague Lovers and now Postcards From a Young Man are proof that the Manics are capable of anything. Self-described as the “singles” album, Postcards From a Young Man, a stark departure from the awesomely coarse previous effort JFPL, it’s the sound of the band taking a long, relaxing cruise with melody and making sweet love to it on a nightly basis. Man, did it produce some pretty babies. “Some Kind of Nothingness” is nostalgic and love-torn, erupting into the choir-led refrain, “Remember you? Stretched ouuuuuuttttt in the sun. All alone forever, conclusions foregone…” “Golden Platitudes” is equally awesome. JDB longs for the bygone, but damn does he sound great singing it. Again, a choir joins to refrains of “La la la la la lahhh” and the band sounds like they’ve just created a religion with their exuberance. Wildly impressive stuff — again — from the Welsh vets.
15. The New Pornographers – Crash Years
The catchiest thing they have done in a lonnnnnggggg time. Usually, The New Pornographers charms are hidden — purposely — as they, generally speaking, have more fun that way. “Crash Years” is different. It’s smack-your-face instant. It’s the whistling. It’s the “tonight will be an open mic.” It’s Neko. It’s always Neko. Grab a hand and sing-along. There’s nothing else to do.
14. Foals – This Orient
An awe-inspiring, fast-paced, thrilling, layered, nuanced song from the Total Life Forever record. The Oxford, England band achingly repeat: “it’s your heart; it’s your heart, that gives me this Western feeling.” They keep saying it’s someone else’s heart that makes them swoon, when in actuality, it’s theirs all along. Foals’ Statue of David. Electrifying.
13. Brandon Flowers – Crossfire
Crossfire would stand up as one of the best Killers’ tracks, and it most certainly is the best Brandon Flowers track on the otherwise disappointing Flamingo (excepting “Welcome to Vegas”). It’s possible BF is saving the rest of the A-material for the next Killers record. God I hope so. Nevertheless, “Crossfire” is a commanding, smashing standout of a song. Brandon Flowers has never really used his falsetto like he does in this song, and the result here is gorgeous. A pop-rock juggernaut of a song. Well done BF. More please.
12. Kanye West f. Dwele – Power/Blame Game f. John Legend & Chris Rock
“No one man should have all that power?” Really? Because that sounds like an awfully facetious statement by Kanye, considering he’s the most powerful dude in music. I didn’t really like “Power” at first. I thought it was a decent beat, but it didn’t hit me. Then, after a certain number of listens, I was bludgeoned over the head with a stick and that has allowed me to see (hear) much more clearly. Kanye is burning in “Power”, and his smouldering presence is hella palpable. It’s the choir led-loop to start the song. It’s the lyric. It’s the deep-breath comedown at 3:20. Bonus points for how “Power” fit so well with The Social Network teasers. “Blame Game” is a different animal. It’s the prettiest melody Yeezy’s ever been a part of. Sure, it samples Aphex Twin’s gorgeous “Avril 14”, but that shouldn’t take anything away from “Blame Game”; Kanye makes it his breathtaking own. It’s the aching violin. It’s the angelic piano line. It’s the supportive bass. The music is resplendent, awesome considering its belied by one of the dirtiest, biting lyrics of the year. John Legend sounds great, Kanye slays and Chris Rock is a riot. Bonus points to the hint of laughter from Yeezy’s ex-chick as she tells Rock who, ahem, reupholstered a certain part of her anatomy. Yeezy learned. Now Yeezy teaches.
11. Hot Chip – Take It In
It’s pretty simple: “Take It In” was in my top 50 songs of 2009, and I had listened to it quite it a bit. In 2010 though, I saw it for what it is, namely, the sweetest, warmest, most comforting song of the year. Buoyed by that bewitching, once-in-a-lifetime chorus, “Take It In” is the best song the amazing Hot Chip have ever done. There’s just not much more to it than that. Supreme and vital.