Hindsight 2010: John S on the Best of Music

I know what you’re thinking: “What the hell? Another Hindsight 2010 post? It’s January 27th!” Well, chill out, man, if you think it’s too late for a review then consider this incredibly premature nostalgia:

Top Ten Songs of 2010

10. “Hurricane J” — The Hold Steady

From an otherwise forgettable album, Craig Finn shows off his knack for guitar hooks and great melodies in a song that also features one of the band’s rare great vocal harmonies.

9. “Love the Way You Lie” Eminem ft. Rihanna

As far as pop songs with massive radio play, this is about as interesting as they come. It’s also a lot of fun.

8. “Giving Up the Gun” — Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend illustrates all the good things that can happen when they give one of their twee melodies enough depth and substance to last more than three minutes.

7. “Next Girl” — The Black Keys

The blues licks featured throughout Brothers are the kind that grow on you and reward repeated listens, but “Next Girl” finds beauty in simplicity. The simple guitar line on this  is easy to love from the start, and makes you want to listen to it over and over again.

6. “ONE” — Yeasayer

There’s so much going on in this song that’s easy to overlook how flexible the vocal work of Chris Keating is, and how it lends poignancy to such a dense and danceable song.

5. “World Sick” — Broken Social Scene

Is it still cool to like Broken Social Scene? I remember it was in high school, and the first track on their new album completely won me over again. The refined discipline of how this song slowly builds to the chorus, then strips itself back down and builds itself up once again is very impressive.

4. “The Mall & Misery” — Broken Bells

This song goes through about six subtle different shifts in tone in the first minute, before unleashing itself in a smooth, dynamic melody that showcases James Mercer’s delicate vocals as well as any Shins song.

3. “Runaway” — Kanye West

There’s no question that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the most overrated album of 2010, but there’s at least one masterpiece on it, and that’s “Runaway.” From the hauntingly beautiful intro to the self-deprecating chorus to the indelible piano melody that runs throughout the song and the daringly abrasive coda, “Runaway” is an illustration of the good things about Kanye’s quest to impress. But the less said about that video the better.

2. “Dance Yrself Clean” — LCD Soundsystem

Originally I had this behind “Runaway,” mostly because Kanye’s song is more recent and fresh in my mind. But then I tried to listen to the opening track on This Is Happening as if it were my first time again, and I remembered how much I loved this song when I first heard it. From the 3:05 mark to the 3:35 mark are the best 30 seconds in music from 2010, and then there’s the other eight or so minutes of brilliant James Murphy lyrics and a typically exhilarating LCD beat.

1. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” — Arcade Fire

The perfect climax to a perfect album, “Sprawl II” functions on so many levels: The vocals of Regine Chassagne are blissful; the lyrics are deceptively deep; the melody is both catchy and dense, while building to a fitting crescendo. This last part is the biggest reason to love “Sprawl II”: The song is great on its own, but it serves as such a fitting catharsis to The Suburbs, simultaneously echoing the sounds of earlier songs and sounding completely unique. It’s the kind of song that, as it fades away over the last minute, you instinctively know that you want to play again. It is the best song of 2010.

Top Five Albums of 2010

I’m hesitant to even rank my favorite albums of 2010, for the very basic reason that I don’t really know what they are yet. For me, at least, albums take a long time to digest, often several months, and it hasn’t been that long since a lot of 2010’s albums were released. When an album first comes out, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and anticipation (see: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), or to not fully appreciate it on the first few listens. When I ranked my favorite albums of the Aughts, I pointed out that my favorite album of the decade only finished fourth on my year-end list the year it came out—it’s just as likely that my 2010 list will be similarly flawed at the end of the 2010s.

So, keep in mind while you read this, that I’ll probably have recanted it by the time you finish reading:

5) EXPO 86 – Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade, the old “it band” of 2005, is currently on an indefinite hiatus, and I kind of hope they break up. As much as I liked EXPO 86, the best of the band’s three albums, it’s obvious from this album that Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug are heading in different creative directions—if you told me that the two of them were in different rooms when they recorded the album, I wouldn’t be THAT surprised. Still, EXPO 86 serves as an excellent showcase of the balance the two have. The layered classic rock that Boeckner puts on display in songs like “Little Golden Age” is the yin to the yang of Krug’s quirky pop melodies, like the ones featured on “Two Men in New Tuxedoes” (personally, I probably prefer Krug, but that’s me).

4) Broken Bells – Broken Bells

This album leaked so far in advance of its March 9th release date that it almost feels weird to include it on a Best of 2010 list, since it’s effectively been out for over a year. It’s also an album that I didn’t expect to still be listening to at this point. James Mercer and Brian Burton’s music is so palatable that it almost seems simplistic at first, and yet, almost 12 months since I first listened to it, the record is still rewarding multiple listens. Mercer/Burton’s collaboration proved to be more than just a novelty, and I’m eager for their follow-up.

3) Brothers – The Black Keys

Without a doubt, this album had my favorite cover art of the year. It’s also the album on this list that I’m currently listening to the most (not that this means anything, really). On my first listen, I thought it had a few great songs (that would go on to appear in several commercials), but considered the album overall to be uneven. More recently, though, I’ve come to realize how fully the Keys explore the depths of their bluesy sound on this record, ranging from heavy to smooth without ever sacrificing their edge. One of the richest albums of 2010, it’s a great example of why albums often take a few weeks to truly appreciate.

2) This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem

Just as time can be fairly favorable to an album like Brothers, it can also be unjustly unkind to an album like This Is Happening. Whereas I dismissed the former only to come back to it later and realize its greatness, I listened to This Is Happening so often when it first came out that by the fall I had moved on to newer albums that I hadn’t overplayed. So by the time End of the Year List season came around, I had basically stopped listening to it. It was only a matter of time, though, before I started listening again, because This Is Happening is a masterful example of James Murphy’s ability to break down music and build complex, dense, and beautiful songs.

1) The Suburbs — Arcade Fire

In case you forgot, I really liked this album when it came out… a lot. And while the intensity of my feelings about The Suburbs has waned (the candle that burns twice as bright and all that…), I still think this album is in a class by itself. I shuffled the order of the rest of this list throughout the last few weeks, but I never even considered bumping Arcade Fire’s third album from the top spot. It is everything you want a great album to be: daring, innovative, comforting, and fun. If I could only have one album from 2010, I’d easily choose The Suburbs.

One response to this post.

  1. […] think that this would make compiling a Best Of list easier, but it did not. Unlike last year, when my number one album was never in doubt, 2011 lacked a standout record. This is not to say there weren’t great albums released, but there […]


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