November 14, 2010

AwkwardSound Presents: The 25 Best Songs of 2010

Following a disappointing year in all musical directions throughout 2009, it is with great relief to report 2010 is the type of year music fans really must appreciate while it lasts since they don't come around like this very often. The songs of 2010 in particular provided a balancing act of both fresh new sounds and established ones from across the board -- a stark contrast to the inundation of stale indie pop and Lady Gaga that ruled iPods in 2009. Without further ado, AwkwardSound presents to you -- commercial-free -- the 25 Best Songs of 2010...

25. Die Antwoord - "Evil Boy"

A fresh cut added to these Internet meme sensation's re-released formal debut on face value may sound like an ill-worded play on phallic humor. In actuality, it's a tongue-in-cheek criticism that confronts homophobia and cultural traditions within Die Antwoord's native Cape Town, South Africa. Culture-hopping producer, Diplo, got together with Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser to help give the rave-rap duo's take on the issue a danceable club groove that compliments their ability to be both wacky and novel while still being thought-provoking.

24. Sky Ferreira's "One"

If you've never heard of Sky Ferreira yet, you might want to start to fret. She happens to be an up-and-coming pop star unfortunately being shoveled into a pile of Lady Gaga-wannabes by her label, but something tells AS that behind her A&R people is a unique individual If there's "One" thing you'll want to know her for right now, it's this glossy and near perfect synth-pop single produced by pop innovators Bloodshy & Avant (Britney Spears, Miike Snowe.)

23. PS I Love You's "Facelove"

The Great White North has already brought more than enough indie goodness into the music world, so it's tough not to look at PS I Love You as another cliché. Luckily for this guitar-drum duo, their single "Facelove" makes good use of their Canadian contemporaries influences, with odes to the boisterous nature of Wolf Parade, fuzzy '90s alternative nostalgia via Japandroids and shredding metal riffs just for the heck of it.

22. Wavves' "Post-Acid"

On the heals of getting too big, too soon with a critically acclaimed debut album and a public breakdown at The Primevera Sound Music Festival in Barcelona, Wavves mastermind, Nathan Williams, silenced critics with his sophomore album's lead single, "Post Acid." The rambunctious and blistering pop-punk track ups the production value (as opposed to his debut's bedroom lo-fi approach) and is filled with a snot-nosed chorus which owns up to the fact that Williams may be a tortured artist, but still has ample talent to offer.

21. Mi Ami - "Latin Lover"

Spastic yet melodic, noisy yet danceable, Mi Ami's "Latin Lover" is a refreshing reminder that the era in music which brought us avant-noise rock bands like Black Dice and Lightning Bolt hasn't put its best days behind it, yet.

20. Tamaryn's "Love Fade"

It's been a great year for dark, moody singers, and this track off the debut album by these San Francisco nu-gazers is filled with ethereal vocals that bring to mind kindred spirits such as Mazzy Star and Galaxie 500. Tamaryn's voice glows amid resonating acoustics, which allows the soundscape on "Love Fade" to slowly burn and smolder into your heart.

19. Marnie Stern's "For Ash"

The first cut off Marnie Stern's 2010 self-titled effort is something very personal for the noise rock guitar virtuoso. Following the death of an ex-boyfriend, Stern turned to music as an outlet for her emotions. "For Ash" maintains the angular guitar riffs, splurges of electronic noise and wild drumming we've become accustomed to in past Stern tracks, but in this case, it means something so much more to Stern. This isn't just noise, it's Stern's heartfelt eulogy for a friend.

18. Charlotte Gainsbourg feat. Beck's "Heaven Can Wait"

This collaboration between a world-renowned musician's famous daughter and a seminal alternative songwriter is how collaborations should work: Two musicians from opposite sides of the world finding common thematic ground on the perils of daily life that we all must endure. "Heaven Can Wait" is every bit a piece of French pop à la Gainsbourg as it is a jangly number from Beck's Sea Change era.

17. Deerhunter's "Revival"

Deerhunter have tackled a wide range of styles in their music, but on the lead single from this year's Halcyon Digest, a stripped-down approach to their brand of indie-pop allows the Athens, GA band to shine exclusively as themselves. Lead singer Bradford Cox transforms the track into something like a spiritual endeavor with lyrics contemplating religion and identity, to which by song's end has him concluding that faith ultimately lies within. It's no wonder Deerhunter sound completely in their own with that mentality.

16. Liars' "The Overachievers"

While more often than not known for a complex noise sound, Liars delivered an punk rock adrenaline rush on this standout track off the rather subdued Sisterworld. Lyrically, the track sums up the bands feelings towards a yuppie class burning the candle at both ends with an energy that doesn't let up until the flame is extinguished.

15. Woods' "Suffering Season"

Lo-fi indie folk band Woods spruce up the production just a bit on this catchy track off their 2010 release, At Echo Lake. Filled with a deluge of backing vocals cooing and echoing underneath layers of jangly guitars and a bouncy riff, lead singer Jeremy Earl's soft-edged vocals lead a campfire reflection on a high-on-life message that we can't worry about what tomorrow may bring. And how can you upon hearing such a sunny song like this?

14. Arcade Fire's "Ready to Start"

Canadian indie rock all-stars once again invite us into their dark, cynical world on this fire starter off The Suburbs. A chilling new wave bass line is the track's pulse, as Win Butler divulges line after line of skepticism and fear from a narrator's point of view about the terror hiding behind the white picket fence. Never has the middle of suburbia sounded like such a dangerous place.

13. The National's "Terrible Love"

The opening track to High Violet starts the album in a quiet manner, much like where we left off with The National on 2007's Boxer. However, this quietness soon takes on a broodingly different tone that builds and burrows its way through Matt Berringer's gruff vocals and the band's intricately laid instrumentation until it festers into an angry boiling point. Where love once used to be either hopeful or acceptably heartbreaking in The National's world, they transform it into a much uglier experience this time around.

12. Zola Jesus' "Night"

Amid the many amazing offerings to come our way this year from Zola Jesus, "Night" is the most haunting and beautiful of tracks from the goth-pop chanteuse. Her voice commands direction over the music as the drums beat with her heart and breathy whispers swarm the atmosphere to create one of the year's most eerie love songs.

11. No Age's "Glitter"

LA noise rock duo grew up big time on 2010's Everything In Between, and "Glitter" is a fine example of how Dean Spunt and Randy Randall reinvented themselves from makers of fuzzed out pop punk to recorders of intricately layered noise reminiscent to luminaries Sonic Youth and Pavement. Spunt's vocals are now enjoyably monotone rather than nasally on this mid-tempo number, as Randall's talents on guitarist shine as he swallows the beat into both hints and excess of feedback and distortion.

10. WOMEN's "Eyesore"

Calgary art-rock quartet, WOMEN, get it all right on the final track to their 2010 sophomore effort, Public Strain. It's a track that revolves around repetitive verses that break free through shifting measures and a climactic closing jam that can't get any better. It seems like it could go on forever, if only it weren't for the fade out, and fans of guitar-based indie rock will wish it would do just that.

9. HEALTH's "USA Boys"

It becomes more apparent with each new HEALTH output that the Los Angeles noise rockers are edging into an experimental electronic direction like their former touring partners, Nine Inch Nails. "USA Boys" was in fact recorded in Trent Reznor's home studio and mixed by renowned producer Alan Moulder (My Blood Valentine, Depeche Mode) so it's no surprise that this track steers slowly through a creepy yet sexy electronic beat that will forever haunt you.

8. Beach House's "Silver Soul"

While their 2010 breakthrough, Teen Dream, is beautiful from start from finish, it's "Silver Soul" that captures the best elements of Beach House's sound. The prodding guitar in the style of shoegaze by Alex Scally and twinkly keys slowly writhing their way around Victoria Legrand's husky voice gives this track a hazy, humid feel, allowing your mind to drift off into a serene daydream.

7. Sufjan Stevens' "Too Much"

Following years of tossing and turning over an extreme case of writer's block, Sufjan Stevens finally found himself once again -- albeit, in a brand new way -- satisfying the indie-pop icon's pretentious expectations of his artistry. Unlike the baroque orchestral outtakes and intimate indie folk numbers heard on past Sufjan releases, "Too Much" is a reinventive take on experimental pop, filled with electronic blips, samples and surprisingly, hip-hop vocals.

6. Yeasayer's "O.N.E."

The hazey cloud from Yeasayer's brand of spaced out pop is lifted and surprisingly makes visible a disco ball-shimmering dance floor on this standout single from Odd Blood. "O.N.E." takes full advantage of an addictive synth beat and a bridge that creates a match made in gay marriage heaven between '90s dance house and psychedelic indie rock.

5. Japandroids' "Younger Us"

Nostalgia reigns supreme as Japandroids crash full-throttle through the speakers in this '90s emo-driven rocker that conjures up memories about the days when we were all young, running wild and free. For all the energy and the wall of sound created by this Canadian guitar-drum duo, there's no doubt they're giving it their all. For that, Japandroids' "Younger Us" is probably more genuine and in touch with what youth culture actually means than 99% of what's heard on the radio coming from the mouths of 16-year-old pop stars.

4. Best Coast's "Boyfriend"

If you somehow managed to escape being pulled beneath the undertow of beachy lo-fi in 2010, consider yourself lucky. While most music from the scene relatively lacks a unique identity, Best Coast's "Boyfriend" is the genre's premier standout and only song you'll need to hear, marrying Bethany Cosentino's vision of girl group noise pop bliss with timeless romance-gone-awry lyrics.

3. Kanye West feat. Pusha-T - "Runaway"

A year of reflection and renewal after some public personal lows served Kanye West due purpose when he returned to the music world. "Runaway" finds West at his most critical in a creepy beat with lyrics as every bit humiliating as they are self-praising. When a synth riff that is reminiscent to "Nothing Compares 2 U" hits during the track's bridge, you kind of get the feeling that the only thing West learned during his time out is that adulation will always be a one-way street. +1 for finally putting Auto-Tune to good use at the song's conclusion.

2. Robyn's "Dancing On My Own"

Pop music's most underrated star, Robyn, began her comeback mid-way through last decade and solidified it as the real thing in 2010 with this -- A independence heartbreak anthem with a genre-transcending sound not heard since Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." While the mainstream world's biggest stars stick to tired and tried electro-pop formulas, there is no false advertising to the song's title: Robyn is in a league all her own.

1. LCD Soundsystem's "All I Want"

James Murphy is a perfectionist at what he does by combining the best aesthetics of punk, electronic and disco. On each of his releases, there always seems to be that one song which acts as the album's centerpiece and strikes at the core of human behavior. "All I Want" is that centerpiece on 2010's This Is Happening, with its swirling keyboards, an addictive scaling guitar loop and a steady climb toward a climax with Murphy's vocals leading the way. When Murphy and LCD Soundsystem reach that peak, they decide to remain atop this mountain of emotion. That's how you write the perfect song.

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