Here they are then. From established pop and indie icons Robyn and Arcade Fire to promising newcomers Summer Camp, Tennis and Cults, these are the twenty five songs that we held most dear in 2010.
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from the Duck Duck Goose! EP [Secret Seven; July 2010]
Duck Duck Goose! was something of a departure for Californian trio The Sandwitches. Gone was the ’60s-referencing, quirky Americana that defined their fantastic 2009 debut, How To Make Ambient Sadcake, and in its place was a quieter and, strangely enough, more ambient feel. The tender hooting at the beginning of ‘Stardust’ surely must rank among the most hauntingly beautiful moments of any song of 2010. Equally stunning is the song’s vocal performance, which exudes melancholy over a slowly building canvas of acoustic strumming and gorgeously minimal piano keys. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
from the album The Big Black & The Blue [Wichita Recordings; January 2010]
The lead single from the Swedish sisters’ debut album, ‘Hard Believer’ is a wry, world-weary acoustic ballad that climaxes with a rousing, life affirming refrain that could well serve as the album’s motif: “It’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful!” Despite the certainty of their youth, none of it sounds mannered. ‘Hard Believer’ is about as defiant as the Söderbergs get.
from the ‘Lucia, At The Precipice’ 7″ [Too Pure Singles Club; February 2010]
‘Lucia, At The Precipice’ took the nightmare pop of Brighton trio Esben & The Witch’s debut EP 33 even deeper into the night with a stunning, howling epic that builds and retrenches with spooky precision. Rachael Davies’ echoing vocals work synergistically with the instrumental backdrop that moves from laconic and brooding to clattering and vibrant. If you were lucky enough to get hold of one of the limited edition vinyls, well, we salute you for your excellent taste. And we’re jealous.
from the album The Suburbs [Mercury; July 2010]
Arcade Fire are not the sorts you would normally associate with Blondie-style disco leanings, but there they are, loud and clear, on this powerful extract from the band’s third album. Régine Chassagne takes over the lead vocals from her husband Win Butler to deliver a poignant coming-of-age tale that you can dance to. Who would have thought it? A brilliant reinvention.
from the album Pink Friday [Universal/Cash Money; November 2010]
Rapper Nicki Minaj’s debut album may have tried a little too hard to be everything to everyone but the fire and guts of the self-styled Harajuku Barbie are undeniable on this brilliantly fierce track. Even guest star Eminem, one of the most shock-happy rappers of the last two decades, sounds flaccid and hackneyed next to Minaj’s Roman Zolanski persona, with his usual vomit of Silm Shady-styled misogyny struggling for attention next to her growls.
from the album Marnie Stern [Souterrain Transmission; October 2010]
Exploring her identity with her more personal third album, Marnie Stern indulged her wicked sense of humour with the dizzying standout ‘Female Guitar Players Are The New Black’, a razor-sharp exhibit of her enviable talents. Backed by Zach Hill’s machine-gun drumming and cartwheeling rhythms, Stern gives free rein to her winsome vocals and ferocious tapping. The “little foxes” of the lyrics may not be having much fun, but Marnie most certainly is.
from the album Tomorrow, In A Year [Brille/Rabid; February 2010]
As exotic, surreal and disturbing as anything The Knife have done in the past, the eleven-minute epic that is ‘Colouring Of Pigeons’ is notable for many things among the other tracks on The Knife’s Darwin-themed opera. Not least of these was the album’s only appearance of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s expressive stream-of-consciousness singing, bringing a welcome hint of thrilling familiarity to the all-encompassing strangeness. Simply unforgettable.
from the album Native Speaker [Kanine; January 2011]
Young Canadian quartet BRAIDS make melodic experimental pop music with the faintest hint of psychedelia. ‘Lemonade’, the first offering from their much anticipated 2011 debut, is a deceptively intricate slow burner spread out over seven glorious minutes. The construction of this track is fantastic, at first appearing to be a standard indie-pop song before building to an unexpected and ecstatic climax, with lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston blissfully yelping “All we want to do is love” with so much gusto you can’t help but believe her.
from the album Rivers [The Leaf Label; August 2010]
Sweden’s Wildbirds & Peacedrums took their trademark mixture of eerie vocals and erratic percussion to a whole new level with their third album, comprised of two very distinct EPs. Backed by the dozen-strong Schola Cantorum Reykjavík Chamber Choir, with arrangements by celebrated composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, ‘Bleed Like There Was No Other Flood’ set the unashamedly dark tone of the record as the choir echoes over frosty, barren percussion, allowing Wallentin’s lead to glide through unhindered with the cold glow of a Viking funeral ship, flames licking at its sail.
from the ‘Go Outside’ 7″ [Forest Family; March 2010]
‘Go Outside’ surfaced in February of this year amid a maelstrom of buzz. Adding to its intrigue was the enigma surrounding its creators, Cults, seemingly a nameless/faceless/Myspaceless person/group who had never performed a single live show. Flash forward ten months and Cults, now known to be a New York-based duo, have signed a major label deal with Columbia Records and are gearing up to release their debut album in the new year. Listening to ‘Go Outside’, it’s not difficult to understand their meteoric rise. There’s something about the tinkling glockenspiel, chirpy vocals and the light coating of reverb that is so very now.
from the Young EP [Moshi Moshi; September 2010]
Like Cults, the band Summer Camp emerged shrouded in mystery, claiming to be a Swedish seven-piece with a Myspace profile featuring some dodgy old photos of awkward adolescents and some rather lovely music. Unlike Cults, the true identity of the band was one of the worst kept secrets in music, transpiring to be British girl-boy duo Elizabeth Sankey and solo artist Jeremy Warmsley. The release of the Young EP saw them develop their signature sound of playful ’60s-influenced pop, reverb (what else?) and fierce vocals courtesy of Ms Sankey. ‘Was It Worth It’ featured some of the most charming lyrics of the year (“My brother’s huge, he’s gonna take care of you, take care of you / don’t tell me to calm down, I’m gonna make a scene, make a scene”) as the sassy frontwoman lambasts her no-good boyfriend. Equal parts vulnerable and feisty.
from the album Crystal Castles [Polydor; April 2010]
Through a combination of their fantastic eponymous debut album, their mind-blowing live performances and their indifferent and often hostile attitude to both their fans and the media, Crystal Castles defined a new era of punk-influenced electronica. For their second album, the confrontational duo allowed some softness to spill in, redefining their sound while still retaining everything that made them shine. First single ‘Celestica’, a soft-focus sure-shot with blissed-out synths and lush vox, signified to the world that Crystal Castles are all grown up (though still not averse to the odd temper tantrum) and have a legitimate and often brilliant contribution to make to music.
from the album Treats [Mom & Pop; May 2010]
When you’re overwhelmed by a wave of hype despite only having a handful of songs to your name, which is the best course of action to avoid being tossed aside by the notoriously fickle indie music scene? Well, if the “you” in question is Brooklyn Dduo Sleigh Bells, the answer appears to be “make an album so loud it can’t possibly be ignored”. On ‘Infinity Guitars’, vocalist Alexis drops all pretence of sweetness as she rallies the infinity guitars to “go ‘head”. As with many Sleigh Bells songs, noise and melody jostle for supremacy, but as the deafening guitar kicks in halfway through the track we’re left with little doubt as to which will emerge victorious. Permanent ear damage has never sounded so good.
from the album Wild Go [Supply & Demand; October 2010]
Dark Dark Dark’s Nona Marie Invie has a voice that’s magically transformative in the same way as Beach House’s Victoria Legrand can elevate snatches of a mundane repetitive lyric to heartstopping levels of beauty. ‘Daydreaming’ – a response to Elephant Micah’s ‘Wild Goose Chase’, itself a response to Hazel Dickens’ ‘Ramblin’ Woman’ – reclaims the waltz for modern music. It builds in intensity, taking a melancholic turn with a sincere delicacy. “Oh the unspeakable things,” cries Invie over and over again as an expertly restrained backdrop of reverbed guitar, sparse drums, distorted banjo and accordion swells beneath her. Simply gorgeous.
from the single ‘When I’m With You’ [Black Iris; August 2010]
While Best Coast’s debut album Crazy For You is undeniably a great record, it was ‘This Is Real’, the B-side to the single ‘When I’m With You’ which best illustrated what a great songwriter frontwoman Bethany Cosentino is. The Californian has a gift for penning songs of such warm, sunny texture you practically get a tan through your speakers. In her hands, the most banal lyrical clichés are turned on their head and given new life. Here, she serenades the lover whom she knows is perfect for her, even if nobody else feels the same. Charming lo-fi pop at its very best.
from the single ‘Whip My Hair’ [Roc Nation; October 2010]
When most nine year old kids run up to their mothers and squeal “Mommy, Mommy, I want to be a popstar” they get rewarded with a patronising smile or eye roll. However, if you’re Willow Smith, daughter of one of the most famous couples in the world and resident member of the front row at fashion weeks the world over, things work a little differently. Complete with a high gloss video and widely emulated dance routine, ‘Whip My Hair’ was one of the internet sensations of the year, and projected the now ten year old girl to stardom in her own right. What was most surprising about Smith’s success though was just how damn good her song is. Sure, her juvenile voice is AutoTuned to within an inch of its life, and the lyrics are frankly ridiculous for someone of her age. But, girlfriend’s got swag and holds her own over the propulsive, drum-heavy beats, which demand to be danced to. Bringing neck injuries to a dancefloor near you…
from the album Cape Dory [Fat Possum; January 2011]
Tennis are a delightful husband-wife partnership from Denver, Colorado who are set to make a big impact in 2011. Prior to forming the band, the couple spent eight months sailing together along the east coast of America, which has had a very clear influence on their infectious lo-fi pop. ‘Marathon’, an account of the couple’s first experience of night sailing charmed up this summer, its innocent grace and lush harmonies captivating us from the opening second.
from the album Have One On Me [Drag City; February 2010]
Among the very personal songs of Joanna Newsom’s third album, the eleven-minute epic title track stuck out like a beacon of strangeness, providing an imaginative spin on the biography of nineteenth century courtesan Lola Montez (who lends her name to both a mountain peak and lake in Newsom’s home county). Mirroring Montez’s extensive travels, arranger Ryan Francesconi imbues the song with exotic instrumentation from Australia and the Balkans as Newsom cavorts between scenes of sombre songbird reflection and defiantly coquettish mischief. Intoxicating in the extreme.
from the album Rated R [Def Jam; November 2009]
2010 was the year in which Rihanna freed herself with from all associations with the Chris Brown debacle and assumed her rightful position as one of the biggest pop stars on the face of the planet. Ruling the airwaves with a number of excellent singles, it was ‘Rude Boy’ way back in February which best expressed her new quest for world domination. Rihanna’s idiosyncratic voice oozes sex as she moans the song’s provocative lyrics (how the couplet “Call me rude boy boy can you get it up? / Call me rude boy, boy is you big enough?” didn’t get censored is a mystery), sitting perfectly with the jumping dancehall beats of the backing track to create the ideal theme song for a drunken grope on the dancefloor. That’s a compliment in case you’re unsure.
from the mini-album Stridulum II [Souterrain Transmission; August 2010]
Her much talked about mini-album saw lo-fi goth princess Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) explore the electronic influences touched upon in 2009′s excellent The Spoils and embrace more polished (relatively speaking of course!) production to mind-blowing effect. On ‘Manifest Destiny’, industrial synths and droning drums are no match for Danilova’s soaring voice, a powerful instrument that sets the hairs on the back of your neck erect, as she showcases her vulnerability. This is the sound of a prodigious talent coming in to its own.
from the album The ArchAndroid [Bad Boy/Wondaland; February 2010]
Janelle Monáe has more star power in her little finger than most popular singers can even dream of. From her jaw-dropping voice, iconic style and fabulous strut to her clear and unique artistic vision, everything about the twenty five year old American screams of a virtuosic talent who can seemingly do anything she wants to with ease, as evidenced by her genre-defying debut album. The jewel in the crown of Monáe’s dazzling opus is ‘Cold War’, an emotional yet defiant statement of self-belief and artistic integrity buoyed along by her phenomenal voice. “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me,” she observes towards the end of the song – we thank our lucky stars that she stayed true to her self.
from the album Body Talk Pt. 1 [Universal/Konichiwa; June 2010]
In the fickle and ephemeral world of pop, Robyn’s consistency has always been impressive. Choosing to ignore popular trends and focus on her own sound, the Swedish star’s music always sounds effortlessly current and is, generally speaking, head and shoulders above her competition in terms of quality. ‘Dancing On My Own’, the first single from the Body Talk mini-album trio, is pure ’80s dance pop skilfully modernised, borrowing the droning synths from Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’ and proclaiming an elegant, melancholy refrain over its shimmering synths and drum beat. The chorus, well supplied with Robyn’s inimitable harmonies is infinitely singable and strikes a chord with anyone who ever liked someone who wasn’t interested in them back. Touching, interesting and brilliant fun to dance too, ‘Dancing On My Own’ is easily the pop song of the year.
from the album The Fool [Rough Trade; October 2010]
Warpaint are not one of those bands known for their keen interest in conventional song structures, having given anything so typical as a chorus the widest of berths in their previous work. ‘Undertow’, the magnificent first single from their full-length debut, changed all that. Gorgeously mesmerising, the lyrics and melody wrap around another so effectively that you are literally pulled (all too willingly) into the song’s current. We can’t stop drowning in it.
from the album Teen Dream [Bella Union; January 2010]
Truly great songs have a melody so beautiful that no words are needed to convey their meaning. The romantic guitar riff and tender organ sounds on ‘Walk In The Park’, the greatest achievement on Beach House’s third album, simultaneously express an intense sadness and sense of optimism, almost that things will get better regardless of how bad they seem. All this before Victoria Legrand even opens her mouth to sing, which, let’s face it, is what makes Beach House stand out from every other band out there. Lyrically she has never been more direct, effortlessly reinventing the old adage “time heals all wounds” in her breathtakingly gorgeous voice to create an image of heartbreaking loss.
from the album Ring [True Panther; July 2010]
First things first, we know what you’re thinking. Didn’t ‘Apply’ come out in 2009? Well, yes, it did, but the updated version that found its way onto Cameron Mesirow’s debut album packs way more of a punch. More knotty and tribal than before, it takes Mesirow’s wide-eyed, almost cabalistic theme to a whole new, more exciting level, her exuberant yipping and dreamy refrains proving dangerously addictive.
Tagged arcade fire, beach house, best coast, BRAIDS, crystal castles, cults, dark dark dark, esben and the witch, first aid kit, glasser, janelle monae, joanna newsom, marnie stern, nicki minaj, rihanna, robyn, sleigh bells, summer camp, tennis, the knife, the sandwitches, warpaint, wildbirds and peacedrums, willow smith, zola jesus