For whatever reason, 2010 has been a generally disappointing album year for me. Good albums were made, of course, but often by artists who simply could have done much better, or with just as many bad or annoying tracks as decent ones. I haven't heard enough good 2010 albums to make an end-of-year album list, so I'm not. However, on these mediocre-to-decent albums, none of which I would award more than a B, a few gems have sprouted. Quite a few, really, even in the infamous popular music scene plaguing America and Europe. 2010 has been a satisfying year for songs. Here are my top 10 of the year, and why. Oh, and I didn't put album covers, I think you can suffice without.
Also, don't think the diversity in genre of the list was intentional...it's just how it turned out.
10. Magic Kids - Hey Boy from Memphis
I saw these guys play a happy, sunshiney set at a record store near my house, and I enjoyed hearing the music but I really didn't think it was anything far above most indie pop. Nonetheless, I bought the album, got it autographed, and brought it home. Weeks later, when I finally got around to listening to its brief 29 minutes, my opinion stood. Except for one song, which I vaguely remembered from the concert. Hey Boy may be a shameless imitation of circa-1963 Beach Boys, but it's as good of a pop song as Little Deuce Coupe or Fun Fun Fun. And it's so happy. So fucking happy.
9. Brian Eno - Emerand and Stone from Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Brian Eno, as we all know, is the king of non-music. He's really become a god in the musical world. So when he collaborates with Jon Hopkins (the guy who composed the electronic piece bookending Coldplay's latest album, which Eno produced), it's no surprise to anyone that it winds up being great background music. But not much else. Yet, in the middle of brief percussive pieces and through-the-keyhole miniature soundscapes (neither of which are at all unpleasant) comes a short ambient piece, barely breaking two minutes in length, but with all the beauty Eno and Hopkins spent the whole album trying to muster. Though not much more than a piano on top of a soft synthesized texture, and certainly not trumping anything on Another Green World or Music For Airports, Emerald and Stone is a fantastic piece describing everything Eno must be acknowledged for.
8. Menomena - Queen Black Acid from Mines
Menomena is one of those great bands who I was expecting more from with their 2010 release. The longer Mines goes on, I feel, the more sloppy it sounds. Thus, it would be expected that the best song on the album would be the first songs, and indeed it is. I don't know why on so many albums the first song is the best, but it's true. Here, Menomena stripped down as much as they would on the whole album, being as minimalistic as their phenomenal debut and creating a song that is their best since that debut. Queen Black Acid is fairly straightforward indie. It's in the same vein as Modest Mouse, and doesn't do anything particularly new. But with its sparse instrumentation and soulful singing, it succeeds as something that's unique to its album and unique to itself.
7. Planning For Burial - Wearing Sadness and Regret Upon Our Faces from Leaving
It's post-rock. It's shoegaze. It's slowcore. It's everything. And although it's the only song I've heard from this small-time New England band, it's certainly one of the better compositions of 2010. It begins with slow guitars which build into a dark, mischevious wall of sound that, at times, verges on being metallic. Its hymnal vocals and acrobatic crescendos make it a composition comparable to a noisy Low or a slowed-down Slint. And it's definitely the best post-rock track of 2010.
6. LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean from This Is Happening
This Is Happening is one of my favorite albums of the year; I think it's almost as good as, and at least more consistent than, Sound Of Silver. And like all my favorite LCD Soundsystem tracks, Dance Yrself Clean builds itself up until it's the most danceable shit out there. It opens the album (which is one of my favorites of 2010) with an introduction. James Murphy begins with a mostly vocal performance, in which he sounds like David Byrne, accompanied only by slow bass and percussion. It reminds me of Byrne opening Stop Making Sense with a drum machine and acoustic guitar. Murphy is joined after three minutes by noisy synths and more danceable percussion, and turns the introduction into a funky 9-minute dance song that really sounds exactly how I feel 2010 is supposed to sound. It's fresh as fuck, and you can certainly dance yrself clean to it.
5. Kanye West - Runaway from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably my favorite hip hop album, so it's fitting that Runaway, its best song, is one of my favorite hip hop songs. And it certainly is. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of hip hop, so it's not saying much. But seriously, the piano intro plus that incredible beat just immediately say that Kanye's a force to be reckoned with. And his chorus about having "a toast for the douchebags" is as world-weary as it is self-centered. Kanye realizes he's a douchebag, and he embraces it, and he writes a damn good song about it. And then the whole thing is so intense that it takes a 3-minute outro, which is absolutely beautiful, and makes the nine minutes completely worth it.
4. Arcade Fire - Half Light II (No Celebration) from The Suburbs
I admit it. If the parentheses in the title had been replaced with a colon, it would sound like the crappy sequel to an already-crappy horror movie. But this is music, not film, and Arcade Fire still, after three albums, can do no wrong. Now, The Suburbs was one of those disappointments to me. Funeral was sheer genius, and Neon Bible was pretty damn close. I was expecting more. Nonetheless, The Suburbs is really good. And in the middle of it all comes this little gem. I love it because it draws upon the Funeral or Neon Bible sound, except it's more electronic and synthesized and it works wonderfully. It's beautiful, needless to say. It feels like dance or pop, while still being distinctly Arcade Fire.
3. Cee-Lo Green - Fuck You! from The Lady Killer
What can I say? It's just about as sincere lyrics as you can get. It's punk. Except it's not even the slightest bit dirty or nasty or rebellious. It's clean, polished, and perfected. Cee-Lo's singing is phenomenal. I honestly wasn't sure how well he could do without Danger Mouse behind the scenes, but while Danger Mouse makes the sound of the future (currently with Broken Bells), Cee-Lo Green is doing a throwback to Motown, to soul, to classic R&B. Yet, it couldn't have been made any time but now. Except the part where he sounds like a colicky baby, which could have been made when Cee-Lo was about 35 years younger. But still, this is an incredible song.
2. Beach House - Zebra from Teen Dream
Right off the bat, I'll tell you that it took me the longest time to figure out that Victoria Legrand, lead singer of Beach House, was a woman. I had never seen her name, and she sounds so androgynous, but I guess that's okay. It suits her music. And on the phenomenal Teen Dream, which sounds like a float above heaven, looking down but not quite being able to reach it, Zebra is the crowning moment. It's the first song, the first time you see this heaven. It's like taking an ecstatic drug, losing your virginity, having a massive adrenaline rush. It's never the same the second time. And with the beautiful first riffs throughout Legrand's increasingly dreamy vocals, Zebra is a jewel of 2010.
1. Vampire Weekend - I Think Ur A Contra from Contra
And my favorite song of 2010. It closes the rather unsatisfying (in my opinion) Contra album, the follow-up to Vampire Weekend's extravagant debut, and it is unlike anything the band has done in the past. It is defined by Ezra Koenig's ridiculously talented vocals, on top of an ambient soundscape which begins only with Enoesque vocorders and faint synths, and gradually add piano, strings, Spanish guitars and African drums. It defies classification endlessly, and I can only hope to God that Vampire Weekend pursues this sound a little more on their next album. Until then, it's only the song of the year.