Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 50 Best Singles Of 2010: 30-21

[Welcome back to my yearly countdown of the finest individual tracks of the year. As always, the rules and regulations: This list is limited to commercial singles and/or videos released in 2010. Album tracks and fan-made clips, good as they might be, don't count. Official YouTube links are included when possible to avoid unwelcome deletions. Thanks and happy listening!]

30. Kanye West featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver & Nicki Minaj – Monster

Hard to think of a more appropriate title for one of the best posse cuts in ages: Bon Iver gets sinister, Jay-Z raps about zombies and vampires (and love), while Nicki Minaj basically destroys everyone in her path, fulfilling a year of hype with a guest verse miles beyond anything on her own album proper.

29. Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside

Here’s the best reason yet for breaking up the Shins, as James Mercer uses his new project to unleash a hidden soul streak (not to mention a mean falsetto) atop Danger Mouse’s gleaming beats.

28. The National – Terrible Love (Alternate Version)

Revisiting High Violet’s leadoff number for a deluxe re-release, The National swap the original’s murky build for a Technicolor explosion that takes an already classic song to even greater heights.

27. Maximum Balloon featuring Aku – Tiger

David Sitek (AKA TV On The Radio’s secret weapon) stretches his production muscles via assistance from Aku Orraca-Tetteh, resulting in a sprightly mix of modern electronica and Fela Kuti Afrobeat.

26. Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs – Beg Steal Or Borrow

LaMontagne wraps his still-astonishing pipes around gorgeous pedal-steeled country; improbable (but welcome) Grammy nominations quickly follow.

25. Janelle Monaé featuring Big Boi – Tightrope

“Retro” doesn’t have to mean “reserved,” especially when it’s Janelle Monaé complimenting her futuristic R&B with organic beats, daredevil horns, and one monstrous earworm of a chorus.

24. LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change

It says a lot about the greatness of This Is Happening when its acclaimed single—a desperate tale of love and bad poetry married to percolating Eighties synths—is only the fifth best song on the album itself. Saving something for 2011, Mr. Murphy?

23. Eminem featuring Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie

Superstars attach their personas to everything they touch, and nowhere was this better illustrated than on Em’s #1 summertime single, an unflinching look at domestic abuse given additional weight via the backstories of all involved parties.

22. The Black Keys – Tighten Up

Nine years into their career and the Keys finally get their first true breakout single, thanks to a skittering beat and a fantastic riff—plus the best whistling since “Young Folks.”

21. Kanye West featuring Dwele – POWER

The first glimpse of just how wonderfully, weirdly unhinged Kanye’s new record would be: that African stomp from “Jesus Walks” fused to a left-field King Crimson sample as ‘Ye takes down his own 21st century schizoid celebrity.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 50 Best Singles Of 2010: 40-31

[Welcome back to my yearly countdown of the finest individual tracks of the year. As always, the rules and regulations: This list is limited to commercial singles and/or videos released in 2010. Album tracks and fan-made clips, good as they might be, don't count. Official YouTube links are included when possible to avoid unwelcome deletions. Thanks and happy listening!]

40. Gorillaz featuring Mos Def & Bobby Womack – Stylo

Kudos to Damon Albarn for introducing a new generation to the raw, uncut greatness that is Bobby Womack; that sinister electro-funk groove is just a bonus.

39. The Hold Steady – Hurricane J

Craig Finn and company ended their run of consistency this year with the disappointing Heaven Is Wherever, but flashes of early greatness abound on this pounding single—particularly in its final thirty seconds.

38. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – From Above

North Carolina’s favorite piano-playing son turned out his best album in almost a decade thanks to novelist Nick Hornby; this jaunty track is merely one of many Lonely Avenue highlights.

37. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start

The Montreal collective revisit the go-for-broke energy of “Keep The Car Running,” turning it inward and down. “Businessmen drink my blood,” sings Win Butler, the entire weight of Dylan’s mantle on his shoulders.

36. Robyn – Hang With Me

Bouncy and effervescent on its surface, but of course nothing is ever that simple in Robyn’s world, and gradually “Hang With Me” reveals itself to be that rarest of love songs—one with eyes open and feet planted firmly on the ground.

35. Underworld – Scribble

Long after the fickle tides of dance music should’ve relegated them to the bargain bins, Underworld resurface with their best single in forever, as rapturous and expansive as anything from Second Toughest In The Infants. A marvelous, welcome return to form.

34. B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars – Nothin’ On You

The less said about guest-rapper-on-his-own-song B.o.B. the better; instead, treat this track as the coronation of Peter “Bruno Mars” Hernandez, whose of-the-moment production and sweetly naïve vocals were all over the charts in 2010.

33. Spoon – Written In Reverse
The minimalists of the indie world finally let their hair down and it suits them well. More throat-scraping vocals and atonal piano on the next album, please.

32. Mark Ronson & The Business INTL featuring MNDR & Q-Tip – Bang Bang Bang

Brit producer-turned-celeb Ronson ditched his trademark retro-soul this year (and Winehouse to boot), exchanging it for a new muse (Amanda Warner of MNDR), a new sound (ridiculously catchy electro), and the always-glorious return of Q-Tip.

31. No Age – Glitter

Easily the most accessible single yet from this no-nonsense punk duo, recalling the best moments of Nineties “alternative” radio with extra dollops of noise.

The 50 Best Singles Of 2010: 50-41

[Welcome back to my yearly countdown of the finest individual tracks of the year. As always, the rules and regulations: This list is limited to commercial singles and/or videos released in 2010. Album tracks and fan-made clips, good as they might be, don't count. Official YouTube links are included when possible to avoid unwelcome deletions. Thanks and happy listening!]

50. Band Of Horses Laredo

Jaunty county-rock standout from BoH’s otherwise underwhelming (and inexplicably Grammy-nominated) third album, Infinite Arms.

49. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Not in any way a validation of Katy Perry, but rather an acknowledgement of the continued greatness of Swedish hitmaker Max Martin; with the right vocalist (Gay Lead #2 from Glee, for example), this is a pop song for the ages.

48. M.I.A. featuring Jay-Z – XXXO (Main Mix)

Revolutionary-turned-spoiled-brat Maya Arulpragasam borrows a beat from Gaga and a guest verse from Hova for an uncharacteristically poppy single. About the emptiness of online hookups, natch.

47. The Band Perry – If I Die Young

Forget Taylor Swift: This was as good as contemporary county got in 2010, un-ironically heartfelt and unabashedly romantic.

46. How To Destroy Angels – The Space In Between

The new Trent Reznor project sounded a lot like the old Trent Reznor project, albeit with ex-West Indian Girl vocalist (and current Mrs. Reznor) Mariqueen Maandig handling “creepy vocal” duties.

45. Bruce Springsteen – Save My Love

A fantastic outtake from 1978 gets an E Street makeover thirty years after the fact, finding new life as the lead single from Springsteen’s justifiably-acclaimed The Promise.

44. Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé – Telephone

On its own, this Fame Monster track offers little more than a beat and a collection of producer tricks, but of course the music is only a part of Stefani Germanotta’s multimedia assault; as a soundtrack to the epic Michael-Jackson-meets-Tarantino video clip, “Telephone” works like gangbusters.

43. The Black Keys – Next Girl

A love song dressed in swamp-blues rags, skuzzy and infectious and further proof that the Keys could do no wrong this year.

42. Erykah Badu – Window Seat

The bare-it-all video grabbed most of the attention but did a disservice to Badu’s sultry, understated vocal, possibly her finest work since the glory days of Baduism and Mama’s Gun.

41. Rihanna – Only Girl (In The World)

Rated R only confirmed that dark and depressing doesn’t suit Rihanna, which made this Loud standout all the more intoxicating; freshly recast as a Euro-house-disco queen lost in 1998, she’s never sounded more alive.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Sounds Of Summer: 10 Songs For Your Summer Playlist

Yeah, I know, I know; summer's almost over and the kids are heading back to school any day now. So what? It's still 95 degrees every day, and these are the songs you need when the windows are down and the shades are on and the highway is wide open. If you're a close friend you probably already have a couple mix CDs with these songs (and others) attached. If not, download away!

1. Robyn - "Dancing On My Own"

My pick for Single Of The Year until something better comes along. Gorgeous Swedish heartbreak wrapped in thrilling club music duds, as if to prove that Top 40 can aspire to heights beyond mere ear candy.
Available on: Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)

2. Sleigh Bells - "Tell 'Em"

Drum machines + metal guitar + lighter-than-air female vocals? It's a formula that has no business sounding this good blasting out of crappy car stereo speakers, pummeling pop with a sticky-sweet center.
Available on:
Treats (Mom & Pop Music)

3. LCD Soundsystem - "All I Want"

James Murphy's third (and best) album is a love letter to Seventies post-punk and art-rock, channeling Eno as filtered through Bowie and Iggy, most gloriously on "All I Want." Yeah, it's a definite homage to "Heroes," but only Murphy could go beyond mere parody to recontextualize the actual spirit of the original, turning it inward and downward. Desperation in anthem-sized form? Perfect.
Available on:
This Is Happening (Virgin)

4. Arcade Fire - "We Used To Wait"

A highlight on an album stuffed with 'em, as Win Butler bemoans the death of letter-writing while the AF collective builds a slow-burning epic behind him. Still wondering if this band validates five years of critical acclaim and hype? The first release of that to-the-sky chorus ("Oooh, we used to wait") is concrete proof.
Available on:
The Suburbs (Merge)

5. Best Coast - "Boyfriend"

Sun-kissed girl-group vocals straight out of the Phil Spector handbook, atop a riff borrowed from The Cure circa-1987. The perfect soundtrack for August sunsets and long, ugly break-ups on the beach.
Available on:
Crazy For You (Mexican Summer)

6. The-Dream - "Yamaha"

Smack-dab in the middle of Love Kingan otherwise by-the-numbers set of current R&Bcomes the best Prince track since the Purple One changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. What follows is a glorious twelve-minute suite showing The-Dream (the same man who gave us "Umbrella" and "Single Ladies") at his absolute peak, a reminder of the creative possibilities still lurking in mainstream urban production.
Available on:
Love King (Island Def Jam)

7. Underworld - "Scribble"

More than a decade removed from their chart-topping peak, Underworld return with their best single in forever, as rapturous and expansive as anything from Second Toughest In The Infants. A marvelous, welcome return to form.
Available on: Barking (Om/Cooking Vinyl)

8. Janelle Monáe - "Cold War"

One of the few completely unique voices in modern R&B, Monáe walks the thin line between defeat and defiance on this standout from The ArchAndroid, backed by a track that feels like OutKast's genre-melding sound updated for 2010 in full-blown Technicolor.
Available on:
The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

9. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl - "Bang Bang Bang"

God bless UK producer extraordinaire for bringing Q-Tip back to the radio. The fact that this track also kicks like a '60s garage band trapped inside an early Nineties disco? Bonus.
Available on: Record Collection (Columbia)

10. The Roots featuring Monsters Of Folk - "Dear God 2.0"

The Roots' finest album since 2001 works for a variety of reasons, not least being the seamless integration of contributions as disparate as Joanna Newsom, John Legend, and My Morning Jacket's Jim James. It's the latter at work here, as James' high-and-lonesome croon provides the perfect counterpoint to Black Thought's gritty, grungy soul-searching, the age-old quest for spirituality blown up to the level of street symphony.
Available on:
How I Got Over (Island Def Jam)

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Embarrassment Of Riches...

Hard to remember a time when I've been more excited about all the new music coming down the pike. In the coming months, no less than three different artists who placed albums inside my Top 25 of The 2000s will be debuting their latest efforts... and in the past week alone, it seems like the Internet floodgates burst wide open. Here's a quick rundown of what's grabbing my attention, along with the official links where you can listen:

The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

Exactly as dark and epic as you'd expect, with lyrics to match: "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees/ I never married but Ohio don't remember me." Based on the handful of tracks I've heard, High Violet—due on May 11th from 4AD—feels like the early frontrunner for album of the year. Stay tuned.

Download the MP3 from

The Hold Steady - "Hurricane J"

Not quite as gripping as "Stuck Between Stations," sure, but that final thirty seconds is pretty damn awesome. And how about that album cover? May 4th on Vagrant.

The Gaslight Anthem - "American Slang"

Three for three from the "The" bands. For myself and others, The '59 Sound was one of 2008's undiscovered gems, so here's hoping the third album from The Gaslight Anthem makes a bigger splash this time. For those of you awaiting a new Springsteen record, this'll do nicely in the interim. Out on June 15th from SideOneDummy.

Stream the track from the band's MySpace page.

Robyn - "Fembot"

How much do I wish this was the cover art for Robyn's first release since her self-titled breakthrough? No details on album title or release (June?), but you can stream the first single at her website right now. Deceptively simple, winkingly modern, and ridiculously catchy. More, please...

LCD Soundsystem - "Drunk Girls"

A bit underwhelmed by the leadoff single from James Murphy and company... but then again, "North American Scum" wasn't exactly representative of the magnificent Sounds Of Silver, either. Here's hoping this is the goofy throwaway on an otherwise worthy follow-up. Out May 18th on DFA/Virgin.

MGMT - "Flash Delirium"

And finally, speaking of deflating expectations: The new MGMT has already gone from "highly anticipated" to "epic collapse" in the brief time it took this baffling first single to dance around ye olde World Wide Web. Take all the psychedelic filler from Oracular Spectacular, remove any trace of what made "Kids" or "Time To Pretend" so invigorating, and you're left with "Flash Delirium." Oof.

In a bold—or foolhardy—move, the entire album, Congratulations, is now streaming at the band's website. Be advised, it doesn't get a whole lot better. Out April 13th on Columbia.

Friday, March 19, 2010

R.I.P. Alex Chilton

Like any good music geek, I discovered Alex Chilton through music magazines, the words of critics from a generation removed loudly proclaiming the genius of this great, undiscovered cult band called Big Star. I bought #1 Record/Radio City through one of those (now extinct) record-and-tape clubs without hearing a note of music. Arguably, it was the best blind purchase I ever made in my entire life.

Big Star's small, perfect body of work is older than I am, and yet it hasn't aged a minute in nearly forty years. They should've been famous in their heyday; instead, they became cult legends long after their break-up. You can hear their influence hang heavy over R.E.M., the Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, and almost any other melodic guitar band of the past two generations. Chilton's songs have been covered by everyone from Wilco to The Bangles to Jeff Buckley, and Cheap Trick's version of "In The Street" still blasts from TV sets every night in syndication as the theme to That 70's Show.

Alex Chilton changed the world before he turned twenty-five. Wednesday night in New Orleans, the godfather of power-pop passed away at the age of 59. Below are ten essential moments from the canon of Big Star, along with one of the finest tribute songs imaginable. Enjoy.

September Gurls (from Radio City)

Thirteen (from #1 Record)

In The Street (from #1 Record)

Back Of A Car (from Radio City)

Kanga-Roo (from Third/Sister Lovers)

You Get What You Deserve (from Radio City)

The Ballad Of El Goodo (from #1 Record)

What's Going Ahn (from Radio City)

Nightime (from Third/Sister Lovers)

Watch The Sunrise (from #1 Record)

The Replacements - Alex Chilton (from Pleased To Meet Me)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ten Thoughts On The Glorious Train Wreck That Is The New Lady Gaga Video

With over half a million views in the first 12 hours (and the official YouTube vid rapidly closing in on 18 mil as of this writing), Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video is officially The Biggest Pop Music Event Of 2010 Thus Far (TM). Below, the not-remotely-MTV-approved clip itself, followed by ten (mildly snarky) observations:

10. Is product placement less annoying when it's funny (a la 30 Rock)? The advertising of Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread garnered a chuckle; crass positioning of Virgin Mobile, not so much.

9. Nice shout-out to the "Gaga is a hermaphrodite" controversy there.

8. Caution tape as wardrobe? Not remotely clichéd at all. (And yes, I know this is probably just an ironic comment on caution tape as cliché, or something...)

7. Like another multi-platinum dance diva before her [Obvious Madonna reference #1], Lady G is not a good dancer (but dances constantly), is not particularly attractive (yet still insists on shedding her clothes on a regular basis), is not an especially gifted singer (which is why she writes to her strengths), and wears outfits that no human on earth could pull off convincingly (although she comes close). So why is she the biggest pop artist on the planet? Attitude.

6. Beyoncé, despite her outward appearance as the "anti Gaga," is far more convincing in this video than in any of her actual "acting" roles. And to think this was almost Britney....

5. While we're on the subject: Why is the word motherf**ker "bleeped" when uttered by Ms. Knowles, but not Miss Gaga? Does Honey B have a Disney movie coming out in the third quarter or something?

4. Is this all just an elaborate plan for Lady G to sell 400,000 copies of the "Telephone" video on VHS DVD Blu-Ray for $9.99? [Obvious Madonna reference #2]

3. And shouldn't she have ponied up the extra cash to hire the director of Kill Bill, rather than the director of "Smack My Bitch Up" and "American Life"? [Obvious Madonna reference #3]

2. Cost of 56 dancers and extras: $200,000.
Cost of film crew, lights, and locations: $375,000.
Cost of Gaga wardrobe: $12.50 (approximate).
Seeing Beyoncé driving the P**sy Wagon: Priceless.

1. Yes, it's an overlong, extravagant, nonsensical, Day-Glo mess... but give Lady G some credit: When was the last time there was this much attention paid to a single music video?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscars Edition Part 2: The Best Under-The-Radar Films Of 2009

While I certainly don't catch every movie released in a given year, I do watch my fair share... including a handful of stellar efforts that didn't have the benefit of lavish studio campaigns or hefty promotional budgets to draw attention to themselves. Not one of these films grossed over $5 million in America; some of you might not even be aware of their very existence. Now easily available on DVD and Blu-Ray, each is well worth seeking out.

In The Loop

This British effort, released through IFC Films in the U.S., is easily the smartest—and most uncomfortably accurate—political satire since Wag The Dog. But don't let that scare you off, because In The Loop is also violently, profanely, jaw-droppingly funny, with so many quotable lines coming fast and furious, multiple viewings seem almost a necessity. A well-deserved "Best Original Screenplay" nomination, plus the presence of James Gandolfini (as an American general crunching troop numbers via a talking toy calculator in one priceless scene), should entice those who like their comedy smart and adult, but the film's secret weapon is Scotsman Peter Capaldi; as British communications chief Malcolm Tucker, he wields obscenity like a saber, precise and gut-splitting.

Bonus Features: Unlike most "Deleted Scenes" extras, these bits are actually worth watching. Trimmed off the film's original four-hour (!!) running time, they're every bit as hilarious as anything in the final edit.


In a perfect world, Sam Rockwell would've scored multiple awards for his one-man tour de force in Moon, a thought-provoking meditation from first-time director (and son of David Bowie)Duncan Jones. The film itself is a winking nod to 2001, right down to GERTY, the HAL-influenced computer voiced by Kevin Spacey. But where Kubrick strove to blow your mind apart, Jones is content to let his feature unfold quietly, allowing Moon's twin themes of loneliness and corporate greed to sneak up on the viewer, unannounced. The result ranks amongst the best science fiction of the last decade, proving that bold execution trumps big budget every time.

Bonus Features: Several strong "Making Of" documentaries, which capture Jones' charming enthusiasm and shed light on how to produce top-notch effects with a (relatively) shoestring budget of $5 million.

The Damned United

Thanks to standout roles in Frost/Nixon, The Queen, and now The Damned United, Michael Sheen is fast becoming one of my favorite actors to watch in practically anything. Taking on the real-life role of legendary football manager Brian Clough, Sheen unveils a complicated, complex, and utterly fascinating character study, aided on all sides by stellar British ensemble acting from Colm Meaney (AKA the great Gene Hunt of Life On Mars) and Harry Potter "alums" Jim Broadbent and Timothy Spall. Like most Americans, I have no real interest in soccer, no knowledge of Leeds United or the European Cup or First Division standings... and yet, I was completely enthralled for all 98 minutes. Here's betting you will be, too.

Bonus Features: Strong, fully-produced deleted scenes, plus documentary footage of the real Brian Clough, every bit the character of Sheen's portrayal.