The 60 Best Songs of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

23 December 2010


40 - 31


Liz Phair

“Bollywood” came as the completely unexpected new direction of now reviled, once indie darling, Liz Phair. What Phair does better than any other artist is superbly baffle her listeners by constantly changing direction and adjusting expectations. At this point in her career I think it’s safe to say that Phair will never fulfill ridiculous dreams of duplicating her star-making debut Exile in Guyville. “Bollywood” sees Phair “rapping” about music business woes—a business that many listeners speculate over but are actually not very familiar with. The comedic timing and purposeful hilarity are nicely accented by intricate a-melodic structures and groove-inducing back beats. Whether Phair is taking the piss out of M.I.A. or not, “Bollywood” helped redefine an artist of true grit and substance who is in constant redefinition. Enio Chiola




Frightened Rabbit
“Swim Until You Can’t See Land”

While the chillwave kids are mumbling slack and fuzzy melodies on the beach, Frightened Rabbit is out among the waves, clawing its way exhausted into oblivion. For all its isolation, all it’s leaving behind, this song sounds downright triumphant. The opening riff drips along, bright and unassuming, and Scott Hutchison sounds almost hopeful, until the song starts to build. The guitars multiply, the atmosphere thickens, and the band takes on a desperate heft until it all builds to a crashing squall. Hutchison twists that titular refrain from quiet challenge to plaintive cry, and the song ends at its strained peak. This is maximalist pop at its finest, willing to shimmer and grow to win us over. In a year where the humblest sounds got the most attention, it’s nice to see a great band still willing to go for it. Matt Fiander



cover art

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses


Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses

Ryan Bingham and his cathartically gritty voice are at their best on this melodic blues rock tune that taps the cultural zeitgeist of 2010’s “Great Depression” like no other. Uncle Sam says “the recession” ended in 2009, but Bingham relays the Truth in this instant classic about love conquering the economic meltdown. When Bingham sings “I’d rather lay down in a pine box than to sell my heart to a fucking wasteland”, there’s a resonation that runs deep. Great riffing elevates the tune further and anyone who’s spent part of 2010 unemployed should relate. Greg Schwartz




“Stay Close”

Barcelona group Delorean makes late-night sing-along dance music for even the most narrow minded of Ibiza crowds. With vocal melodies awash in Animal Collective-like nostalgia and a bridge that urges “get up, get up, get up”, Delorean’s “Stay Close” is only that much more epic due to a recurring female vocal sample that soars into the future. Add bursting synths and the always-inviting tambourine and you have a pop song that is at ease in the Balearic clubs of the Spanish Riviera as well as the closet-like studios of Brooklynites. Stefan Nickum




Oneohtrix Point Never
“Returnal (feat. Antony)”

With a voice so singularly powerful, it’s surprising how malleable the Antony Hegarty persona has proven thus far. A brave and restless collaborator, Antony now follows an intriguing string of guest spots—you’ll recall his 2008 stunner, “Blind”, with Hercules and Love Affair—with a stark turn for breakout drone producer Oneohtrix Point Never. Remixing his own Returnal highlight, Oneohtrix mastermind Daniel Lopatin strips the original of its concentrated peaks, instead ushering Antony in on the track’s dramatically exposed, ivories-laced underbelly. Lyrics now complete laid-bare, Antony responds with one of his more subdued yet powerful performances, once again reminding listeners of his uniquely engaging, increasingly boundless talent. Jordan Cronk




“Flash Delirium”

Here’s proof that following the instant success of electro-pop with indulgent weirdo psych-fantasy pays off. Abjuring pop repetition, “Flash Delirium” is a linear psych travelogue down a rabbit hole to a land where the Zombies, Pink Floyd, and T. Rex form a supergroup. The self-restrained opening of whispering over a pulsing drum machine expands into shimmering synths and a background chorus that seems to have been pinched from a production of Annie. When the song ends abruptly yet triumphantly with a fast, harsh punk chant , MGMT effectively erases the memory of what came before. Scott Branson




The Hold Steady
“The Weekenders”

Even on a relatively off-album for them, the Hold Steady still know how to write a top-notch song. “The Weekenders” hearkens back to the band’s earlier days, where there isn’t a chorus, precisely, but Craig Finn’s lyrics take center stage. A follow-up to 2007 single “Chips Ahoy”, the song tells the story of what happened to that song’s small-time psychic heroine. Finn’s narrator looks back with regret at their choices, concluding, “In the end I bet no one learns the lesson.” The days when Finn spoke his way through the Hold Steady’s songs seems to be past, as his vocals are much more melodic here. Even with Finn singing, though, the catchiest parts of the song are left to the backing vocals, irresistible “Oh ohhh ohhh ohhh ohhh"s that soar over Finn during the makeshift refrains. And we’d be remiss not to mention the awesome, scathing retort that comes mid-song: “She said ‘The theme of this party’s the Industrial Age / And you came in dressed like a trainwreck.’” Chris Conaton




Sufjan Stevens
“Impossible Soul”

“I no longer have faith in the song,” Sufjan Stevens remarked last year while recalling the “existential creative crisis” he suffered following the completion of his multimedia project The BQE. On “Impossible Soul”, the schizophrenic closer to his most recent full-length The Age of Adz, Stevens shakes away his anguish over the limitations of the standard pop tune by adopting a Whitmanian “Song of Myself” approach to song craft. By incorporating a sweeping survey of the various musical modes of the age, including guitar freak-outs, Auto-Tuned vocals, electronic glitch and nearly everything else under the sun, “Impossible Soul” seeks to redefine the notion of the song by containing the musical maximum of the age. Eric Allen Been




“Not Afraid”

After Relapse‘s mixed bag left us wondering and doubting his future, Eminem came back triumphantly to complete the story. As of the year’s best and most significant hip-hop singles, “Not Afraid” goes beyond genre to become a universal anthem for the masses that’s infused with strength, hope and confidence. The fresh and rejuvenated beats and rhymes assure us that a clean and sober Marshal Mathers is still at the top of his game and sharper than ever. Like I hoped he would, he deftly makes right, strikes a new chord and courageously begins the next chapter. Chris Catania




Sleigh Bells
“Rill Rill”

“Rill Rill” is at once the centerpiece of Treats and completely unlike anything else by Sleigh Bells. The band’s poppiest track to date, “Rill Rill” floats like a butterfly, but still stings like a hive of bees. Built on a sample from Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”, the track is a proper homage that turns funk into dancepunk, with its shimmery riffs floating over shuffling rhythms and some bottom-heavy beats. In other words, “Rill Rill” is the sound of getting knocked off your feet by a feather. Arnold Pan


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