No matter how big a music nerd one believes oneself to be, it’s hard to comprehend the amount of music one can pass over, ignore, or flat-out miss in one year. No reasonable human being can be expected to wade through the sea of new record releases unleashed over the course of twelve long months. Wouldn’t it be nice if, at the end of the year, some friendly publication compiled all of the year’s best music into some sort of list and made said list available to the public?
Full disclosure: we did not come up with the idea of a top 40 countdown on our own. It turns out that a lot of publications have had the same idea, and we encourage you to peruse their countdowns as well. The purpose of the countdown, after all, is not to establish hipster superiority or to denigrate the tastes of others, but rather to introduce the reader to new music. With this goal in mind, we will be spending the next two weeks (!) sharing with you our favorite music of the year. Throughout this week, we will be counting down our 40 favorite songs of the year; next week, we’ll share our 40 favorite records. Each of our primary music writers contributed ten songs and ten records to the lists in an effort to establish as much diversity as four east-coast white guys are capable of establishing. Along the way, we’ll be sharing a few bonus lists pertaining to things music, bikes, drinks, and words. We hope that you enjoy the ride. Now, onto our Top 40 Songs of 2010 countdown.
Nas has mellowed with age, but he can still throw down a verse. This year, the Prince of Queensbridge released Distant Relatives, a collaboration with Bob Marley’s youngest son, who was only two years old when the reggae legend died. The album’s standout song, “Nah Mean” starts with a hot minute of Marley’s rub-a-dub before Nas explodes onto the track. -KM
There is a sweet sadness to “Helicopter” that follows a sleepy descent to unconsciousness. The opening crisp beats evoke the overhead chopping implied by the title; the melody follows, swirling with watery effects that become bleary and distorted. As the music becomes more distorted, the lyrics stand out for their clarity, reaching a crescendo with a repeated “now they are through with me.” Whether “Helicopter” tracks the realization of a single bad trip or something more sinister and final, we are left with an unmistakable sense of being alone. -PJB
2010 will be remembered as the year when the 1980s came rushing back like a handful of illicit white powder. While this revival will be evident throughout our year-end list, no band recalled the era of Olympic Boycotts and Goonies more than George Lewis Jr.’s Twin Shadow. While the majority of the group’s debut record Forget was recorded in Depeche mode, no track on the record echoes the Bunnymen more than album-opener “Tyrants Destroyed.” This song will fill you with so much nostalgia you’ll wish you could tape it off the radio. -LVL
Another theme of 2010: guys younger than me with bands who have re-discovered music that I, at their age, discovered. In the case of 19-year-old (Jesus) Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, the music in question is the lo-fi brilliance of 90s indie pioneers Guided By Voices. Yet to release a proper full-length record, Cloud Nothings have nonetheless bombarded blogs with tunes throughout the last two years, and they ended this year with the release of the four-song EP Leave You Forever. The EP ends with the wistful, nostalgic, and generally spectacular song “You Were Scared,” a song guaranteed to make you look back mournfully at your youth, unless of course you are already young. -LVL
Much has been written about the Rolling Stones’ 1971 summer at Nellcote, which produced the double-album Exile on Main Street, re-released in 2010 with eleven new or alternate versions of songs recorded during the original sessions. “So Divine (Aladdin Story),” stands out among the other new material. From the opening bars, Mick and Keith trade lyrics and guitar solo bursts that prowl, mocking “You think you’ve got me in your chains?” and then springing “When you first asked me in, I heard those violins/You quickly pulled the pin, you had no hesitation.” The song appears to have been forgotten during a highly productive (and rarely lucid) period for the Stones, which leaves the nagging question, “what else is out there that hasn’t been recovered?” -PJB
One of the few tracks with real energy on this year’s Forgiveness Rock Record, “All to All” shows progress and promise for BSS. The Canadian ladies are on the forefront, but the key to this song is the lush production and layering of instruments and vocals. Very BSS, but also very new. -PL
It’s hard to think of a figure more representative of the fractured pop-cultural world in which we live than Ariel Pink. The Animal Collective protegé’s record Before Today was lauded by indie publications far and wide, and album centerpiece “Round And Round” was described by Pitchfork as “one of indiedom’s most unifying and memorable songs of 2010″ and by PopMatters as “so pitch-perfect it could mark Pink’s place in history.” On the other hand, if you don’t spend much time on this type of web site, you don’t know who the hell I’m talking about.
Of course, I do spend a lot of time on these sites, but I’ll admit that I was slow to drink the Pink Kool-Aid. But, I’ve slowly and begrudgingly come around. “Round and Round,” and in fact all of Pink’s work, make lack the immediacy of many of the songs on this list, but something new is revealed with every listen. Why not give it a few? -LVL
Superfly lives! -PL
For those who have followed us closely, you know we like Wild Nothing. Although “Summer Holiday” is not the track most frequently featured, it strongly suggests positive things to come. Wild Nothing subtly applies its New Wave leanings to an upbeat take on distorted California surf rock (cf. Best Coast or Wavves). Like most other tracks on Gemini, “Summer Holiday” trades on nostalgia, in this case sweethearts sneaking around late at night, long after parents have gone to bed. Of course, lead vocal, singer/songwriter Jack Tatum is still only 21, so maybe this is how he spends his summer holiday. -PJB
While Gayngs is technically an indie supergroup, the clear star is Justin Vernon, better known as Bon Iver. Whether he’s singing lead on songs like “Spanish Platinum” or contributing backing vocals, Vernon’s falsetto cuts through the clutter and lends cohesion to the album’s chaos. Meanwhile, Vernon has continued to diversify his act, singing guest vocals on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare. Say hello to Veezy? -KM
Be sure to check in throughout the week for the rest of our Top 40 of 2010 Countdown.