Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 50 Best Singles Of 2010: 10-1

[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!]

10. Crystal Castles featuring Robert Smith – Not In Love

Covering a lost 80’s nugget by Platinum Blonde for your second studio album is an interesting concept; getting The Cure’s frontman to recut the vocal for single release is a stroke of genius. This is new-wave for a new century, one of the strongest electronic tracks in ages and quite possibly the best thing Robert Smith has lent his voice to since Wish.

9. Janelle Monáe – Cold War

The centerpiece of the ambitious The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III) finds the middle ground between Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and OutKast’s “B.O.B.,” defiant heartbreak in a propulsive package.

8. Sleigh Bells – Tell ‘Em

Like a mouthful of Pop Rocks, Treats is fizzy fun best enjoyed in small doses, and no single track from Sleigh Bells’ debut offers a bigger jolt than “Tell ‘Em.” If the anarchy cheerleaders from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video started a band, this is exactly what they would sound like.

7. 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 moves “Yahama” beyond mere homage is Terius “The-Dream” Nash’s absolute mastery of production technique; he understands the DNA behind those early Prince cuts, and it shows in every detuned drum track and keyboard blast, reminders of the creative possibilities still lurking in mainstream urban music.

6. Arcade Fire – We Used To Wait

By now, no one doubts the AF collective’s ability to craft a slow-burning epic or send another chorus straight into the rafters, but even on an album stuffed with nostalgia, “Wait” stands out. “I used to write letters/ I used to sign my name” is more than mere eulogy for the written word; it’s a paean to the band’s own youthful power, even as the rest of this magnificent track points the way towards a wide-open adulthood.

5. Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man

Lyrically, this non-traditional folk quartet play their cards close to their (old-timey) vests even when the music surges forward with abandon; that’s why it’s such a kicker when “Little Lion Man” appears midway through Sigh No More and that pounding chorus—complete with a very non-traditional F-bomb—finally kicks in. Self-laceration has never felt more intoxicating.

4. Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over

Florence Welch’s fantastic debut, Lungs, appeared in 2009 to much critical fanfare but few American sales. That all changed this year, thanks to the release of a demand-your-attention single that put all focus square on the band’s most primal ingredients: a beat that dared to make handclaps cool again, and a voice powerful enough to stop trains.

3. Kanye West featuring Pusha-T – Runaway

Building up from a naked piano chime into arguably the most ambitious moment of Kanye’s already-ambitious career, “Runaway” is more than just a simple response to a year’s worth of controversy; this is every facet of the man—apologetic yet arrogant, pensive but puckish—in one spellbinding single.

2. Robyn – Dancing On My Own

Club music, on its surface, is mindless; no one cares about deep thoughts once the beat kicks in. What makes Robyn one of the most vital artists in any genre is her ability to ignite the crowd without sacrificing an ounce of her humanity, and lurking behind every insistent rhythm is real pain, the kind of melancholy that doesn’t disappear even on a crowded dance floor.

1. Cee Lo Green – F*** You

The genius of the best single of 2010 isn’t its viral popularity—although 35 million views is nothing to sneeze at—nor its ridiculously-catchy-yet-completely-radio-unfriendly chorus. Nor is it the brilliant Motown-for-the-21st-century production, or even the hilariously spot-on mood swings (from “I really hate your ass” to “I still love you”) behind that four-letter title. Nope, the real triumph is that every person—even the ones who despise the song—instantly remember where they were when they heard their first “F*** You,” and how many songs in the last decade can you say that about?

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