Kid Cudi

“Erase Me” (Feat. Kanye West)

[G.O.O.D. Music / Universal Motown]

I’m on the fence about Kid Cudi as a whole—his constant self-loathing can grow tiresome, and he is at best a middling MC. But he’s always had an ear for hooks, and this single from his second album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, is right in his wheelhouse. “Erase Me” is something of a curveball: it has more in common with Third Eye Blind than 808s & Heartbreak. This lighthearted tone plays to his strengths and nicely contrasts some of the drearier material that weighed down Mr. Rager.

– Sean Highkin



“Living/Breathing” [Original Version]


The fact that the original version of “Living/Breathing” is here instead of the newer, more lush version that kicks off the EP of the same name isn’t meant to in anyway degrade the more recent effort. But rather – for myself at the very least – this is where fans began growing mounds of love for this song and if they are anything like me, they will always have a place for this original version to remind us of how we fell face first in Mesita’s world of gloriously uplifting music. It’s quite amazing though that when you strip the song back to its acoustic core it still has that irresistible warmth. All the essential moments are still there, from the riff that bounces back and forth to the utterly divine piano that demands to played along with your best air-instrumentation skills (or is that just me?). James Cooley says it best himself: “There’s something magical here.”

– Ray Finlayson


LCD Soundsystem

“All I Want”

[DFA / Parlophone]

James Murphy has never been afraid to steal wholesale the best ideas of his musical heroes, and while this has caused some to level charges of plagiarism or hackery, such criticism misses the point. More than any of his contemporaries (save maybe Ryan Adams), Murphy’s appeal is the ways in which he’s not so much a rock star as a shlub who is playing the part — it’s just that lucky for him (and us), he does it so damned well that you’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference. In that sense, you’ve almost got to tip your hat to the man for cribbing Bowie’s seminal “Heroes” as he does here; it’s one of the greatest and most adored songs of the rock era, but rather than treat it with a hushed reverence, Murphy grabs the central riff, tweaks it here and there, and constructs an achingly beautiful ballad from it that’s of an entirely different sort. Bowie’s singing of longing for connection, a desire to transcend society’s barriers; Murphy, meanwhile, is searching for a different kind of connection, the kind experienced not through mutual acceptance, but pain. Indeed, as the song lurches towards its finish, he drowns out his plaintive moans with a series of screeching effects that sound like nothing less than a dying flock of birds. The shame, here, is hardly on the other side — it’s all around us. And that’s just how he wants it.

– Elias Isquith


The Tallest Man On Earth
“King of Spain”

[Dead Oceans]

Just when you get comfortable with The Tallest Man On Earth, the staple sound of guitars backing a strong and touching voice almost screaming out evocative lyrics, a curveball gets thrown. “King of Spain” is that curveball. The opening is, frankly, astounding. It’s fast – almost acoustic chord shredding, and it carries a strong melody, a trait usually reserved for the vocals. And still throughout the song the guitar doesn’t subside, it’s high enough in the mix that it’s almost outdoing the vocals, with the exception of the second verse. Oddly enough, the vocals are almost indecipherable. I won’t say “nonsense,” but there’s not that much of a personal touch. But, of course, that doesn’t really matter because the rest of the song is thrilling enough.

– Daniel Griffiths


The Morning Benders


[Rough Trade]

Some songs just sum up a mood or feeling so perfectly, and The Morning Benders’ tuneful charm consistently recalls summer memories all across their album Big Echo, but never more effectively than on the opener “Excuses.” The baroque pop is lightweight-yet-rich and glowing with sparkling pianos, rich acoustic guitars, quivering strings, but it’s the vocals that steal the show. The innocent little number about youthful romance is transformed into a full-on flight of fancy when the interlacing loops of gorgeous vocals take control in such a way that makes you want to sing your heart out.

– Rob Hakimian



“Rhinestone Eyes”

[Parlophone / Virgin]

In all honesty, you could pick any track from Plastic Beach to go forward and be on a top tracks list–such is the strength of the album. So why “Rhinestone Eyes”? Well, it’s here that we feel the full force of Gorillaz’ electronic sound for the first time, as if the previous three tracks were just a prelude to this. The use of synths to continuously take the track up a notch as each verse/chorus goes by is a genius move: by the end you’ve got a song that’s become incredibly epic and spine-tingling. More so, it’s a statement of intent from the band, a glimpse of what’s going to follow on Plastic Beach.

– Daniel Griffiths


Kanye West

“Gorgeous” (Feat. Kid Cudi)

[Roc-a-Fella / Def Jam]

Kanye West had to contend with a lot of things right before (and during) his post-Taylor Swift exile, and one of those was blatant racism. One has to wonder if deeply-ingrained prejudice played a role in how people reacted to the situation, and on “Gorgeous,” Kanye wonders that too. The song serves as a meditation on what it means to be a different color in a country that’s grown more diverse, but also more scared and more hateful. “Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon,” ‘Ye points out in a series of painful and suspicious patterns all-too common in modern America. The song is led by Cudi’s raspy, drawling delivery and a fuzzed-out guitar line that’s proggy and, well, “gorgeous.”

– Arika Dean



“The Mermaid Parade”

[Dead Oceans]

There are some songs wherein the mood of the singer is transferred brilliantly onto the listener, giving it a whole new level of meaning and “The Mermaid Parade” is certainly one of them. Listening along to Matthew Houck’s tale of an unstable yet passionate relationship falling apart almost inexplicably gives us a hit of anger, anguish, remorse, regret, sadness and frustration to name but a few of the nuances. Accompanied by some of the finest guitar work of 2010 we feel it all physically. At the culmination of an emotional second verse when Houck sings “God damn it Amanda, oh god damn it all,” more in defeat than frustration, he duly delivers the heaviest emotional gut punch you’re likely to experience through music for a while.

– Rob Hakimian



“Make Up Bag” (Feat. T.I.)

[Def Jam]

Terius Nash’s solo albums often explore the weirder reaches of his R&B-loverman persona, but the man who wrote “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies” has always been most in his element writing hits. And “Make Up Bag,” from his solid third album Love King, is up there with his best work. Riding a snaps-and-claps beat and swirling synths, Nash and T.I. extol the virtues of buying designer handbags for their girlfriends as a form of damage control.

– Sean Highkin


The Tallest Man On Earth
“The Wild Hunt”

[Dead Oceans]

The greatest thing about The Tallest Man On Earth is the variety of his songs. Granted, it’s all within a set structure of one man and his acoustic, but tempo and tone are constantly changeable. On “The Wild Hunt,” we see Kristian Matsson employ a fast tempo, not too dissimilar to Cash’s train-like rhythm, a major tone and lyrics that far more triumphant and positive than anything on, say, the Sometimes The Blues…EP. It’s all about “Rising out of the darkness” and letting “the spring and soul return,” and not giving a care about being remembered. It’s a wonderfully positive message, or maybe it’s just because it’s uptempo. Either way, it’s wonderful.

– Daniel Griffiths


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