Best Music 2010: Songs

As with the end of every year, the only thing that really seems to matter is what music was really good (oh yeah and our health, friends, family, blah blah, etc.). 2010 was no different and here I am to tell you what where it was at, musically speaking. Don't believe those other music sources - they were probably all paid off. I think I heard Kanye West sent a fancy fruit basket to all the majors this year.

"But Ronson!" you exclaim. "Why should we trust you? You haven't even heard the new Drake, Best Coast and National albums this year!" And to that I say: "...hm. Good point. Fair enough, you did your research." But shortly after I forget the entire conversation.

Without further ado, here's what caught my attention in 2010, starting with the top 25 songs:

25 "Stylo" Gorillaz featuring Mos Def & Bobby Womack Plastic Beach
In trends that surface throughout my top 25, my favorite music this year tends to be mash-ups of unlikely musicians along with groups I've come to rely on over the years. And right here you have both: Damon Albarn again adds his vocals to a recently rejuvenated Mos Def, finds legendary R&B singer Bobby Womack, mixes, garnishes and blammo! Awesome song #742. 

24 "Our Dreams" Meth, Ghost & Rae Wu Massacre
Wu Massacre was a victory lap for the Wu's solid 2009 (Blackout! 2 and Cuban Linx 2 were both met with critical and commercial love).  That this EP from the three Wu-Tang members who performed best last year only has a handful of successful results probably only reveals the fanboy-like respect I have for the group. "Our Dreams" shows Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon in "loverman mode" and is produced by RZA which is always a plus.  

23 "The Game Gets Old" Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings I Learned The Hard Way
That the old school soul revival hasn't caught on as quickly as the garage rock revival did is surprising to me. Perhaps Sharon Jones has upped the game so much, few are too fearful to try. I prefer 100 Days 100 Nights, but have yet to tire of her music, which takes old techniques and puts them in modern times. Apparently, others have taken notice too, as I was packed in with other soul lovers during her sold-out show in Cincinnati this year. Listening to Jones recount her previous trips, and the size of the crowds she played to at each show, made the triumph seem all the sweeter. Btw, if this were a live show countdown, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings would win, hands down.  

22 "I Can Change" LCD Soundsystem This Is Happening
This Is Happening is one of those albums that is difficult to break apart and listen to in pieces (minus maybe the "you-wanted-a-hit" follow-up single to "North American Scum," "Drunk Girls"). I pick "I Can Change" off the album as a standalone success - it's one of the few times James Murphy has attempted to write something that resembles a love song, but it's framed around a plea that somehow seems both lazy and desperate. Seems about right for the LCD aesthetic. 

21 "Round and Round" Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti Before Today
Of all influences to experience a rebirth of cool in 2010, my favorite has to be Ariel Pink's revival of late 70s AM Gold. "Round and Round" is an indicator that there's no shame in dusting off those Boz Scaggs and Alan Parsons Project LPs, though there's a decent chance that I'd be doing that either way. 

20 "The High Road" Broken Bells Broken Bells
Can artists be predictably good to a fault? In the case of DangerMouse and James Mercer, apparently so. This song cropped up everywhere in 2010, but as the year closes out, no one wants to admit they liked it. Would I rather have a new Shins album or for DM to get together with Cee-Lo again? Sure, but as he's proven with previous collaborators Beck and Damon Albarn, DangerMouse gets the indie pop music thing, and can produce some pretty catchy results. 

19 "Barricade" Interpol Interpol
Post-punk and Interpol seem to have been left in the early 2000s, but I still (pretty shamelessly) embrace it. This song holds up with the bands' best work (like Nas, they will forever be judged against their first, near-perfect album, and I'm pretty sure it will always handicap them), and wouldn't seem out of place on their fan-beloved second album Antics. What can I say? I'll always be a fan, as awkward as the lyrics get (and it kind of does).

18 "Read the Blessed Pages" Belle & Sebastian Write About Love
I rarely choose the precious side of B&S, particularly since they've transitioned to a more soulful side in the 2000s. This song would be the exception - I love the callback to early Belle & Sebastian, but be careful to watch the pronouns - they switch mid-song, from former muse Isobel Campbell to what turns out to be a tribute to Stuart Murdoch's father, both surprisingly touching. 

17 "Blue As Your Blood" The Walkmen Lisbon
There's a confidence in the last couple of Walkmen albums that you have to admire. Only Spoon and Deerhunter could produce music so frequently that is so comfortable in its own style. Here, the Walkmen have a particular swagger, starting this song out with simple guitar lope (slowly adding in drums and bass) for a full 40 seconds before the vocals finally get it rolling. It continues to unfold and by the time you reach the song's title, you're glad you made the trip. 

16 "Redemption Day" Johnny Cash American VI: Ain't No Grave
Who knew Cash had so much left in the vault? OK, we all did. When I finally got around to listening to American VI, his second posthumous release produced by Rick Rubin, I found this song particularly stirring, the production matches Cash's crumbling vocals perfectly and works suitably as the legend's final curtain call. 

A big story to me in 2010 was how Pitchfork pretty much turned their back on M.I.A., a star they kind of helped create. While she definitely had a weird 2010, but I'm not sure if there was an additional subtext that I missed (I mean Kanye acted as crazy as ever in 2010 and all you have to say is 10.0 there), but they took any dig the could get. And MAYA isn't really that bad an album (perhaps a step down from Kala, but can you even really rank M.I.A. alongside any other music?). All drama aside, I liked this club track that especially sounds good when you're on your way out for the night.   

14 "Wondaland" Janelle Monae The ArchAndroid
I was listening to this album pretty nonstop for much of this year, and I still think my favorite song is this bright, bouncy song about... umm, ancient supernatural beings loving mortals (or something). Anyway, I really like the line "I'll be your secret Santa/do you mind?" and the middle eight section. 

13 "Take It In" Hot Chip One Life Stand
While I found it tough to completely buy into the sensitive side of Hot Chip (electronics and warmth have always been an awkward pairing), but I was particularly taken by the last song on the album, which lands in my 13th spot. If you can say something like "my heart has flown to you just like a dove" and I'm buying it, that's impressive.

12 "Ready to Start" Arcade Fire The Suburbs
As a concept album, The Suburbs is kind of tough to pick apart, but there are standouts - I would list "Month of May," "Sprawl II" and this song. There are a few songs before it, but as the title implies, this is the real beginning to a great album.

11 "Shutterbugg" Big Boi Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty
Big Boi proved he can go it alone. I miss Andre 3k, but Chico Dusty and "Shutterbugg" are proof that good Southern rap can exist in a post-OutKast world. Big Boi is lyrically clever as ever (no surprise there) and the backing track is just as creative and forward-thinking. It's nice to think that there's music that 2010 is capable of producing music that is uniquely fit to its time. 

10 "Tighten Up" The Black Keys Brothers
I get the sense that people are kind of "done" with The Black Keys' routine, but for me this was the first album/song that I really found captivating (since Rubber Factory at least). Sure the formula basically stays the same (the video is excellent btw), but for the first time, the Keys seem to have an ear for a tune that goes beyond they're usual garage blues mimicry. I for one say "follow that up, guys!" And don't break up. There are only two of you. 

9 "Rill Rill" Sleigh Bells Treats
This took me by surprise - hidden in the middle of the blown-out L-O-U-D mixes of Sleigh Bell's debut, is this fun, Funkadelic-copping tune with lyrics that recount grade school memories ("wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces") that seem made for the backing track. That's the mark of a band with big potential.    

8 "Cousins" Vampire Weekend Contra
Speedy, fun and ingratiating, much like Vamp Weekend themselves, this was one of the first songs that entered my conscious in 2010. Since it's managed to stick around all year, I think that's worth a high rating. I honestly thought these guys might be a "one-and-done" band, but Contra avoids the sophomore slump with style.

7 "Desire Lines" Deerhunter Halycon Digest
There's an epic quality to this song, yet Bradford Cox's voice sounds so relaxed and inviting. Like everything on this album there's a lot to revisit with each listen from the guitars to the drums (especially in a nice extended instrumental coda at the end), so I think of this song like the climactic end to a great mixtape. I also like any song with a "whoa-oh" part. 

6 "Albatross" The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
The guitars are barely keeping together here until the explosion about mid-way through the song. I also love the vocals and the lyrics that are tell a vague, awkward love story that I found - despite being opaque as hell, very touching and a little sad. I love the Besnard Lakes and think it's a crime that most music pubs forgot about them at the end of the year (Fun fact: I ranked their 2007 album in my top 5 waaaaay back when).

5 "You Won't Let Me Down Again" Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Hawk
As instantly captivating a song that Isobel and Mark have put together in their side project (and really the best song either has created in both of their now-lengthy solo careers) I can even begin to explain how much I love this song. I'm a sucker for the Nancy-&-Lee style of duets, and this song perfectly merges the strengths of their voices to form my second-most unlikely pairing in the top five...

4 "Right On" The Roots featuring Joanna Newsom & STS How I Got Over
...And here's number one. This song gets big points for making Joanna Newsom tolerable (she's fortunately regulated to the chorus) over the other songs I really like on the album ("Walk Alone" and the title track come to mind). ?uestlove may never get his dream of making the perfect crossover hip-hop album, but you have to admire the gymnastics of putting something like this together and not having it sound totally, ear-achingly bad. In fact, it sounds really good.

3 "Get Real Get Right" Sufjan Stevens Age of Adz
Wait a sec, "Christian rock" is supposed to suck. Whatever your idea of what Sufjan does, devotion does seem to play an important part of the equation, even if it's his constant struggle of dealing with it. The kitchen sink build-up of a choir, woodwinds, brass and robotic voices to the solo vocal that nakedly admits he must "get real, get right" might be enough subterfuge that you miss (or even care) that the last bit concludes with "with the lord." Religious context or not, it's a damn catchy and complex song and earns the 3 spot from me.

2 "Fuc* You" Cee-Lo The Lady Killer
Everyone loves this song. So do I. A kiss-off that is happier than most relationships. Could've probably been my number one, but I like being difficult.

1 "Power" Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
So here's where I throw my love of Kanye on top of the fire. Kanye is my favorite kinda of celebrity, he creates his own problems - Obama even hates him - and he has the guts to sample King Crimson. He's complicated and he understands that dealing with those complications leads to great art. "Power" makes an attempt to comment on all of that. I also recommend the remix featuring Jay-Z that goes into an extended Snap! sequence and is completely bonkers. It's free on his Web site.