Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best of 2010: Songs

10. Rihanna – Only Girl in the World

A huge radio hit for a reason, this song features a colossal beat and fantastic production, just like most of Rihanna's songs. What separates it from her previous work is the strength of the vocal, which is a lot more raw and forceful than on something like “Umbrella.” There were a lot of big synth pop songs this year, but none was as huge as this one. Particularly notable is the techno influenced addition and removal of the bass line to make it even more impactful.

9. My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na

A lot of the track's initial appeal came from its stylish, Grant Morrison starring video, but the song itself more than holds up as a standalone entity. The anthemic chorus and massive riffs aim big, and give the track a very epic feel. The sheer amount of changeups, catchy pieces and two great guitar solos make it a world unto itself.

8. Goldfrapp – I Wanna Life

This track juxtpaosesAlison Goldfrapp's unique voice and great synth production in a way that makes it sound simultaneously 80s and utterly timeless. It's a haunting plea for excitement that doubles as a great dance track. The mid track keyboard solo is a particular highlight.

7. Chromeo – Don't Turn the Lights On

Chromeo's Hall and Oates meets French nightclub aesthetic finds a perfect balance here, with a track full of retro atmosphere, lush synths and a bubbling bass line. It's a great slow build that lets you just get lost in a moody disco world. The juxtaposition of the chorus with a subtle guitar line puts the song over the top, creating a great call and response feel. Throw a cheeseball talkbox sounding guitar solo in the mix and you've got a great song.

6. Bryan Ferry – Song to the Siren

“Song to the Siren” is already a modern classic, with an absolutely haunting version by This Mortal Coil. But, Bryan Ferry takes hold of the song with his dreamy, enveloping take. It's a song that feels absolutely transporting, a soundscape that draws you in and serenades you with his trademark silky smooth vocal, subtle strings and some great saxophone. I've been listening to a lot of Roxy Music this year, and this song recalls the absolute best of their output, from the Avalon era in particular. It has something of an 80s feel, but his vocal has the feel of a classic 40s crooner. To take a song that seemed to be definitively covered and just totally own it is quite a feat, but Bryan Ferry now owns this song.

5. Usher – Lil Freak

On the surface, this doesn't seem like a particularly notable song, and the first verse seems like fairly standard Usher stuff. Then, it goes to the chorus, backed by a huge orchestral sample, and this tale of trying to have a threesome becomes an epic saga. The Nikki Minaj verse is not “Monster” level, but still great, particularly the ending transition back to the chorus. Then, rather than a typical midsong slow down, everything gets dirtier with a clapping/bass breakdown and things close out with a string outro that I wish would go on and on.

4. Kanye West – All of the Lights

It's hard to pick one track as a high point of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy since it's such a cohesive work, and each piece gains a lot from its context in the album. But, I think the highlight for me is this epic song. It features perhaps the most ridiculous guest list of any single song in history, and everybody gets a nice moment to shine. But, what jumps out at me is the horn line and marching band drums, calling back the imagery of the “Runaway” short film. The best moment of the song is the breakdown with Elton John's piano work and the “Getting mine...” vocal a great contrast to the more triumphant opening of the song. Throughout, it's an epic with some of the biggest samples I've ever heard in a hip hop track, and is absolutely bursting with amazing moments. On the biggest hip hop album of all time, this track still jumps out as absolutely colossal.

3. Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Most of the Arcade Fire songs I really love are the huge, anthemic epics. This one's a bit more low key, fusing the traditional Arcade Fire aesthetic with an Abba influenced symphonic pop sound that shows off Regine Chassagne's gorgeous voice like no other song in their catalogue. The instrumental backing is lush and the repeating synth line propels the song forward through dreamlike motion and a fantastic instrumental breakdown. It's a great testament to the band that they can break out of their comfort zone and still produce a fantastic song that's uniquely Arcade Fire.

2. Scissor Sisters – Invisible Light

On an album filled with great songs, this one leaps beyond everything the band has done to date for a song that's simultaneously bringing the same danceable 70s influenced pop rock style as their best work and adding a veneer of mystery and intensity that turns it into something altogether different and strange. The video is a standout, but the song itself already had a mysterious, dark magic world on its own, aided by the fantastic Ian McKellen voiceover. It's amazing that the song can be creepy, intriguing and still be as exciting a pop song as anything they've ever done. A career high point for one of the best bands out there today.

1. Robyn – Dancing on My Own

I'm always partial to songs that combine huge dancefloor sounds with big emotional hooks, and this track is one of the best I've heard. The bass is massive, and contrasts with Robyn's high pitched, fragile vocal to create a song full of a tension between the emotions she's feeling and the surrender she wants. It's about the nightclub as emotional gauntlet, the desire to surrender to the music versus the pain she's feeling. All that emotion is conveyed not through the words, but through the music, and the end of the song feels triumphant, a pass through the night and emergence back into abandon.