Matt & Kim
“No time for cameras, we’ll use our eyes instead” is the celebratory chorus to this underrated pop gem. The lyrics make perfect sense for a song that is more about feeling rather than analyzing. With an over-the-top horn beat (one that would really be perfect for hip-hop), the track hits hard and never lets down. Even when the track breaks from the beat, the chorus explodes with ’80s glam bravado. Sure there are plenty of catchy songs that came out this year (see Robyn), but the minute this song starts, you’ll want to start rocking your body. Matt & Kim want the listener to experience the music firsthand instead of experiencing it through a lens. Considering most concerts today are filled with people taking pictures with cameras and cell phones, it’s an appropriate metaphor. Regardless, this is a song with a lot of emotion and feeling. Its over-the-top sound makes it one of the best pop anthems to come out this year.
– Brent Koepp
While his early efforts as Manitoba were lumped in with the “folktronica” of Four Tet’s early work, “Odessa” is something different entirely. Dan Snaith has been making music for nearly ten years under his various monikers, and with his latest effort Swim (and “Odessa” in particular), he’s fully achieved what he has termed “liquid dance music.” This is perhaps an accurate moniker in the sense that “Odessa” sounds a bit like what Four Tet’s latest album might sound like if you played it underwater. The typical Caribou sounds are still there, they’re just a bit more vaseline coated. While that may sound like he’s jumping on the hazy bedroom pop bandwagon, Snaith doesn’t fall prey to using the underwater sound as an end. Its just another way to get people on the dance floor.
– Colin Joyce
[Bad Boy / Wondaland Arts Society]
OutKast protégé Janelle Monáe’s stellar debut, The ArchAndroid, features forays into everything from classic soul to Broadway, but at the core of all of the album’s genre exercises is her voice, a nearly flawless instrument capable of both power and vulnerability. And “Cold War” is perhaps the best use of that voice on the album. It’s a propulsive piece of synth-rock that straddles styles the way Monáe straddles moods. Its adventurousness acts as a microcosm of The ArchAndroid as a whole, but it’s a terrific pop song in its own right.
– Sean Highkin
It always seems like Bradford Cox gets all the credit for Deerhunter’s genius, but Lockett Pundt has quietly been contributing astounding songs the whole way. While Cox has always been known as the gregarious frontman, Pundt fills a different role. His songs have always seemed the understated counterparts to Cox’s fever dreams, and “Desire Lines” is no different. The opening guitar line calls to mind Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies),” but from there the song unfolds in typical Pundt fashion. The lyrics here suggest a deep yearning for times and attitudes long past, but perhaps more notable is his delivery. Pundt has always resided in the Stephen Malkmus camp of emotional detachedness, and this detachedness is at its peak in “Desire Lines.” The nostalgia presented is more effectual through this deadpan delivery than it could ever be with wild sentimentality. He’s always been mature as a songwriter, but this song could be his best work to date.
– Colin Joyce
“Shutterbugg” (Feat. Cutty)
After years of moving between the drawing board, Jive Record’s negotiation rooms and the studio, Sir Lucious Left Foot finally reached our ears in 2010. It’s as eclectic as anything OutKast has ever done, and “Shutterbugg” is the lustrous centrepiece that holds it all together. Big Boi’s slippery flow is as charming as ever and every detail –from the choice of samples to the vocoder effects– is perfectly sketched out and executed. For an artist who is still “shittin’ on niggas and peein’ on the seats” he’s aging as gracefully as you could hope.
– Brendan Frank
There are plenty of highlights on The Suburbs, but “Suburban War” is the album’s centerpiece, both musically and thematically. It builds from a subdued verse to an explosive sort of half-chorus/half-bridge, as a lot of Arcade Fire’s best work tends to do, but there’s a darker undercurrent to this one, amplified by the song’s affecting lyric about growing apart from people you grew up with, whether by choice or not.
– Sean Highkin
“Dancing On My Own”
[Konichiwa / Cherrytree / Interscope]
Once upon a time Madonna admitted that she was “tired of dancing here all by myself/ Tonight I wanna dance with someone else” before instructing us to “get into the groove.” A quarter century later, Robyn knows the feeling, dancing alone all night while her crush hangs with another girl. But this ain’t no weepy, pity-me performance; no, for Robyn, the dance floor is cathartic and therapeutic, and dancing on it becomes a source of salvation. That these things can be said of Madonna doesn’t make Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” derivative; with a pulsating beat and driving keyboards, she releases the ferocity of her romantic disappointment in the music that backs her strikingly sincere vocals. And just like Madonna, Robyn knows that alone or not, the dance floor is a place for fun. The beat treats her better than any man could.
– Josh Becker
After the hazy philosophical explorations of All Hour Cymbals, a song about a deceased heavyweight champion is probably the last thing you would have expected Yeasayer to do for an encore. It’s an impressive shift from their first effort both thematically and musically. Droning sitars are replaced by wet, rubberized synths handpicked out of Animal Collective’s unused pile. Paired with massive drums they set the backdrop for a marvelously blissed-out melody and an well-worn message. It’s the happiest thing they’ve ever done. Like a lot of tracks from Odd Blood, everything has been scaled up to a level that seems to have taken most people (including the band) by surprise.
– Brendan Frank
Cee Lo Green
Fuck you. These two words propelled Cee Lo Green from “That Guy from Gnarls Barkley” to The Lady Killer. This song was all over the place this year, and was even covered by William Shatner and Gwyneth Paltrow (separately, of course). “Fuck You!” became an anthem, not just for jilted lovers, but for anyone who felt it necessary to sing those two words at the top of their lungs. Although the radio version, which substitutes “fuck” for “forget,” didn’t gain popularity like the original, the catchy combination of R&B, funk and Green’s falsetto crooning helped “Fuck You!” become the pop gem that it deserves to be.
– Nicholas Preciado
“Runaway” (Feat. Pusha T) [Album Version]
[Roc-a-Fella / Def Jam]
When Kanye West debuted “Runaway,” the second single from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, on this year’s VMAs, we were supposed to be excited because it was a “response” to the previous year’s Taylor Swift fiasco that MTV was still trying to play up for ratings. But the beauty of “Runaway” is that it resonates beyond this incident: it can be viewed as a culmination of everything we’ve learned about Kanye—and, for that matter, everything he’s learned about himself—in the three years since the death of his mother radically shifted his career track. He’s still arrogant as hell, but now he’s looking inward and recasting his most fundamental personal flaws as strengths. Plus, it’s not every day a song with a four-minute vocoder solo becomes a hit on mainstream rap radio.
– Sean Highkin