The 60 Best Songs of 2010

Journey back to 2010 for 60 slices of musical greatness highlighted by one of the most delightful expletive-ridden hits in pop music history.

Mutiny Within – “Awake”

To define the rapid evolution of metalcore over the past two years, one only needs to listen to this song. “Awake” is easily the most memorable metalcore song since Killswitch Engage’s Grammy-nominated “The End of Heartache”. Replete with Chris Clancy’s soaring vocal lines, Bill Fore’s razor-sharp technical drums, and an unbelievable guitar solo from Brandon Jacobs, “Awake” is the epitome of progressive metalcore, and the defining standard for all songs to come within their scene. – Chris Colgan

OK Go – “White Knuckles”

“White Knuckles” is one of the most danceable tracks of the year. It’s also one of the funnest, funkiest, Prince-iest songs this side of Purple Rain. OK Go is more amusement park than Paisley Park, though. The opening beats signal the heart-pounding, adrenaline-rushing roller-coaster ride to come. The melody begins to ascend, banking off the bass line, looping and lifting, diving and dipping, before swooping into the first drop with a spinning, spiraling, corkscrew of a solo, complete with soulful, life-affirming screams. The acceleration doesn’t stop there, everything continues to escalate until a pause at the peak of the song’s final climb as a clap sends all that energy over the top. “White Knuckles” is a little like leaving the loading platform and realizing this ride has no restraints. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating all at once. Life has no lap-bar; is it terrifying or thrilling? “Maybe it’s not so bad / Let your hair down now.” So have fun… but hang on! – Christel Loar

Darren Hanlon – “All These Things”

Wit is one gift of Australian troubadour Darren Hanlon, who released his best album in 2010. “All These Things” has wit and an infectious melody. It’s a litany of meaningful images: things that “follow you” through life, minor (fondue) or major (war). What kids hear adults say, what adults regret, dreams, heartbreak: all are woven together. It’s a calling card for a songwriter who specializes in human studies. It also contains truths, minor and major. That makes it stand out, among even the wittiest pop songs. – Dave Heaton

Mark Ronson and the Business International – “Somebody to Love Me”

Like many an ’80s pop casualty, Boy George’s career has been besmirched by infamy of late. So, leave it to Mark Ronson to pull a reverse Winehouse and remind us of Boy’s qualities rather than foibles, employing his vocal skills to such delightful effect on “Somebody to Love Me”. Standing in weathered contrast to Miike Snow frontman Andrew Wyatt’s falsetto, Boy imbues his lines with more longing and poignancy than any pop song this year. – Maria Schurr

Mama’s Gun” – Let’s Find a Way”

If you reside in the United States, you probably didn’t become acquainted with Mamas Gun in 2010. They’re a UK-based band that made the past 365 days a little funkier across Europe and as far-reaching as Japan. Comprised of Andy Platts, Rex Horan, Jack Pollitt, Terry Lewis, and Dave Burnell Oliver, the group specializes in crafting contagious rhythms and melodies of exquisite, soulful beauty. The latter is especially evident on “Let’s Find a Way”. Platts’ searing performance places him in an echelon of male vocalists who possess natural vocal charisma and actually sing in tune, a rarity among the Autotuned caricatures that have come to dominate modern pop music. 2011 will hopefully be North America’s turn to behold the brilliance of Mama’s Gun. For now, find a way to hear “Let’s Find a Way”. – Christian John Wikane

Here We Go Magic – “Collector”

A chugging stomper for the indie-inclined, “Collector” shows the potential power of Here We Go Magic when the quintet is firing on all cylinders. Fusing some fast paced, repetitive guitar interplay with a lean, funky rhythm and some vocal harmonies that reach to the skies, “Collector” is propelled by a mixture of persistent minimalism and frenetic energy. It has the light, airy indie-pop quality often associated with Brooklyn, yet buoyed by a carefree catharsis that’s both remarkable and irresistible. – Leor Galil

Daddy Yankee – “Vida en la Noche”

The sleekest electro-rock of the year comes from a reggaeton star. No necesitas hablar español to guess that “Vida en la Noche” depicts hardcore nocturnal clubbing with pretty ladies and fast cars — it’s all right there in huge mechanized backbeat and scuzzy guitars and Loverboy synths. When Daddy Yankee shouts out, “Welcome to the Jungle!”, he leaves no room for doubt. When he namechecks Hillary Clinton a little later, he leaves some room for doubt. But then the song just keeps kicking everyone’s ass. – Josh Langhoff

Josh Ritter- “The Curse”

Like the best Ritter songs, “The Curse” is a poem, short story, and song all rolled into one. Josh Ritter‘s lyrics let a stately piano waltz take a graceful lead as they track the lifespan of a romance between a mummy and an archeologist, from its unlikely birth to its bittersweet conclusion. “The Curse” is expertly crafted and moving, striking the perfect balance between craftsmanship and emotion, and providing more proof that Ritter is one of our finest songwriters. – Andrew Gilstrap

Foals – “This Orient”

Go back and listen to Cassius again and marvel how Foals ever got here. “This Orient” isn’t any less energetic than Foals’ earlier work, but there are grace notes here (the way those washes seem to plunge the track underwater every time the chorus hits) that the band never seemed capable of. And while their earlier lyrics were inscrutable or, frankly, a little dumb, “it’s your heart that gives me this Western feeling” is one of those great song lyrics packed full of connotation, until it reaches past dejection or elation (or both) to something more powerful and ineffable. – Ian Mathers

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – “The Game Gets Old”

Soul queen Jones is at her best on this bluesy old school tune about being fed up at losing in the game of love yet again. The band’s authentic rhythm and blues sound is a time machine that goes back decades, but Jones’ great vocals put a fresh twist on it. The production value is superb, from the deep groove and smooth horn lines to the perfect backing vocals. There’s a catharsis here for anyone who’s carrying around a disappointing heartbreak. – Greg Schwartz

Flying Lotus feat. Thom Yorke – “…And the World Laughs With You”

Am I crazy for craving a full album-length collaboration between Flying Lotus and Thom Yorke after hearing “…And the World Laughs With You”? This is electronic music imbued with the same gnawing loneliness as The Eraser, but Yorke’s production was never so jaw-droppingly dense. The vocal guest spot grabs our attention just long enough for goosebumps — desolate cries of “I need to know you’re out there” float like waves atop Ellison’s hyperkinetic stutter-synth whirlpool — but just brief enough for the producer to move on with restless abandon to his next wild idea (in this case, free-jazz excursion “Arkestry”). – Zach Schonfeld

The Roots – “How I Got Over”

“How I Got Over” functions as a transition track of sorts on the Roots’ masterful album of the same name: it shifts smoothly from the hopelessness of How I Got Over‘s downtrodden opening tracks to the inspired resolve of its latter half. But it’s also a stunningly potent slice of soul-flavored hip-hop in its own right. Black Thought and company don’t just throw in the R&B vocals and jazz keys for kicks; they capture the world-weary cadence and dusty energy of ’70s soul itself with startling confidence. Somebody’s gotta care. – Zach Schonfeld

Beach House – “Norway”

Breathless “ah-ah” vocal sighs, haunting detuned synth layers, and a seductive chorus (“Norway-ay-ay!”) that positively floats. “Every single step of the way, we’ve just tried to go more, go further,” recalled Alex Scally of Teen Dream‘s recording, and “Norway” typifies the sort of depth and climax that travels above and beyond 2008’s Devotion (which was pretty damn good already). Critics have been calling Beach House “dreamlike” for years. Here, in these blissful four minutes, is the culmination of that particular descriptor — layers of soaring dreampop heaven that call to mind more classic Slowdive and Mazzy Star than today’s indie landscape. Gorgeous. – Zach Schonfeld

Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith – “Not in Love”

Dear Doctor, when I said I required ‘The Cure’ for my broken heart, this is not entirely what I’d anticipated. Having said that, it has worked wonders. In no time I was back on my feet, dancing no less, beneath the mirrorball, arms stretched aloft, praying to the Gods of Electro Loveliness. In fact so potent were the powers of this medicinal compound I recommend it be widely prescribed alongside those other remedies you sent previously, namely Mr. Dylan’s “If You See Her Say Hello” and Mr. Cohen’s “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”. So, thanks Doc! – Matt James

Owen Pallett – “E Is for Estranged”

If you’re looking for a song that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, here’s a prime contender. “E Is For Estranged”, coming 10 tracks deep on Pallett’s 12 song Heartland, is the pivotal climax of the album, a song that the record gradually builds up to and then lets unfurl in all of its operatic glory. It’s lush, orchestrated, drop-dead gorgeous… and utterly harrowing. Lyrically, it’s a little reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game”, but “E Is for Estranged” occupies its own position on an LP that’s part of a grander concept. Strings swoop, pianos plink, Pallett croons and “E Is for Estranged” is ultimately a breathtaking song seemingly about the chiasmic divide between fathers and sons. Simply put, “E Is for Estranged” charts the growing maturity and sophistication of Owen Pallett as a songwriter. And it may just well break your heart. – Zachary Houle

Jonsî – “Go Do”

For anyone impressed by the way Sigur Rós have lightened up over their last couple of albums, lead singer Jonsî’s solo debut Go is an absolute treat. Album opener and lead single “Go Do” exemplifies the sense of fun the Icelandic vocalist seems to have discovered lately. The introduction includes soft, acoustic guitar, shimmering flutes, and high register piano before a pounding bass drum, handclaps, and stomping feet join in. Jonsí’s beautiful falsetto makes its full appearance shortly thereafter, singing the song’s joyous melodies in English. But the way Jonsí’s accent and tendency to run his words together makes most of the lyrics unintelligible. Instead, what sticks with you about “Go Do” is the way the melody, bright instrumental accompaniment, and especially that pounding percussion work together in a perfect package. It’s a song that marries unconventional instruments with pop sensibilities to create something that sounds exotic but feels familiar. Chris Conaton

Frog Eyes – “A Flower in a Glove”

Frog Eyes can be a difficult band. Frontman Carey Mercer has perhaps the greatest voice in indie rock, a bellowing growl that moves to a caterwauling falsetto in the same breath. That voice, combined with the band’s penchant for knotty compositions and patches of noise, frightens many listeners away. Fortunately for them and for longtime fans alike, “A Flower in a Glove” is the kind of guitar epic that Mercer has been building up to for his entire career. Immediate and gripping without sacrificing the sheer force and epic quality of Frog Eyes’s best songs, the track’s beauty and drama will leave you as breathless as Mercer after his staggering vocal performance. – Corey Beasley

Kylie Minogue – “All the Lovers”

Celebratory yet wistfully elegiac, “All the Lovers” is retro in the best possible way, Kylie’s disco fetishism channeled towards its most meaningful purpose yet. It is a song that could have just as easily been Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” in one circa 1978 past life, or Cher’s “Believe” in another turn-of-the-millennium incarnation, a fond farewell to the good times or a post-AIDS reawakening of romance and community. Now, fittingly, it is the rare love song that acknowledges the existence of both personal and cultural history, and the euphoric realization that these are things that brought us to who and where we are now. – Jer Fairall

Gil Scott-Heron – “New York Is Killing Me”

Gil Scott-Heron’s influence on rap is undeniable, but he barely released any music in the decades when the style was flourishing. Now, with his first studio release in 16 years, a raspy-voiced, world-weary Scott-Heron offers us a vision of New York profoundly different from the celebration one finds in, say, “Empire State of Mind”. The syncopated hand-claps that drive the song show why he was so influential. The lyrics that long for rest and escape, though, reveal someone with a different set of preoccupations compared to many of his followers. – Tomas Hachard

Surfer Blood – “Take It Easy”

Surf music saw quite a resurgence in 2010, and few bands took as much advantage of this genre — and accomplished it with so much use of cultural juxtapositions — as Surfer Blood. Blending the old-school sound and mixing from bands like the Beach Boys and Dick Dale, and the newer technique, phrasing, and tropes of indie rock, “Take It Easy” asks the listener to dance and chill all at once. Singer John Paul Pitts’ sweet-sounding voice both adds an otherworldly layer and prevents the song from wandering too far into dreamy obscurity. The song both ebbs and flows and strikes and swerves, analogizing the diversity of the ocean itself. While it captures perfectly the feeling and sound of summer 2010, it could just as easily be the Talking Heads’ attempt at surf music. And how cool is that? – Matthew Werner

Liz Phair – “Bollywood”

“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

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses – “Depression”

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

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

MGMT – “Flash Delirium”

Here’s proof that following the instant success of electropop 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

Eminem – “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 dance-punk, 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

Titus Andronicus – “A More Perfect Union”

At seven minutes, there’s a lot to digest on “A More Perfect Union”. Where to start? A recited Abraham Lincoln quote, a frontman in Patrick Stickles who sounds like Paul Westerberg and paraphrases Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen in consecutive lines, references to everything from the Newark Bears to the Civil War, the best dose of lo-fi punk rock since Fucked Up came along, rousing sing-alongs, a Celtic jig, and a massive dose of teen angst for good measure. Ramshackle, literate, shamelessly romantic, impassioned, and positively exploding with energy, this was the rock ‘n’ roll call to arms of 2010. – Adrien Begrand

Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé – “Telephone”

“Telephone”, much like the workaholic singer herself, never shirks in giving you it’s all. Opening with the deceptively gentle strains of a harp, it morphs into a club-stomping paean to 21-first century girls who just want to have fun. Exploding with frenetically layered beats, discordant ringtones and diva rap cameos, it feels like you have been invited to hear three minutes of chaos at the fiery heart of the fame monster. It is the distilled essence of the Lady Gaga and the apex of her career to date. – Tom Fenwick

Justin Townes Earle – “Harlem River Blues”

Probably the most uplifting song about drowning yourself in the river that you’ll hear all year or any year. With its touches of laid-back rockabilly, country gospel choir backing, and vintage guitar fuzz, “Harlem River Blues” (and its album-ending reprise), set the tone for Earle’s most accomplished album yet. “Harlem River Blues” (and the album that shares its name) finds Earle developing his obvious natural gifts to create a distinctly American sound. – Andrew Gilstrap

Sade – “Soldier of Love”

The anticipation greeting “Soldier of Love” was nearly palpable. What would Sade’s musical statement be after a ten-year hiatus? The answer arrived in the form of a woeful trumpet melody and ambient wind (or was it muffled gun fire?) For five minutes, “Soldier of Love” momentarily erases the memory of all those familiar Sade hits. A compelling, militaristic rhythm track marches beneath lyrics that evoke a battle-scarred survivor nursing deep wounds. Sade Adu reconciles the excruciating pain of a broken heart, a heart whose beat is sustained only by the hope and the will to love again. A gripping performance. – Christian John Wikane

Caribou – “Odessa”

No song from 2010 manages to sound as silly as it is infectious and heartbreaking. Caribou’s “Odessa” has one of the best basslines all year with its funkified groove, and the percussion owes as much to house music as it does shoegaze and krautrock. And despite the songs saucy bassline and uplifting melody, Dan Snaith croons woefully about a recent break-up; the song itself ultimately capturing a relationship’s full-spectrum of emotions. – Stefan Nickum

Best Coast – “Boyfriend”

Despite a critically heralded debut album, Best Coast is really a singles band, following in the tradition of its early ’60s influences. This year, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno built up to the album’s release date with a string of songs that culminated with “Boyfriend,” the best single by far. Released at the beginning of summer, “Boyfriend” epitomizes the duo’s winning formula: simultaneously conjuring the lonely country of Patsy Cline and post riot grrl angry alternative rock. It’s the perfect summer song — for sitting in a dark room while the warm sunshine filters in through the window. – Scott Branson

The New Pornographers – “Sweet Talk Sweet Talk”

Together may not have achieved the heights of previous New Pornographer albums, but it did produce one of the band’s finest pop moments, which is a herculean task given their previous heights. “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” is a three-minute hightlight session for the band: deft wordplay that immediately latches into your head (“a mistake on the part of nature”, “silhouette shout it from the top”), A.C. Newman’s ability to make a song sweet without adding a drop of saccharine and great interplay amongst the key players. And oh, sweet Jesus, what a chorus. Expect a New Pornographers-themed episode of Glee if the creators get the slightest whiff of this pop masterpiece. – Sean McCarthy

Kanye West – “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”

Taken at face value, Kanye West’s “Runaway” offers up something of a dare. “You’ve been putting up with my shit for way too long,” West sings, imploring the song’s subject — as well as the listener — to “Runaway as fast as you can.” But how could we when the music is this good? Production-wise, “Runaway” is one of West’s most accomplished constructions yet, recalling the icy minimalism of Hell Hath No Fury-era Neptunes even as it piles on tracks. Lyrically, the song serves as a catalog of West’s hang-ups, a grandiose statement of vulnerability and self-doubt. But therein lies the trick: West understands better than most that for all of his strengths, it’s the weaknesses that we’re really sticking around for. – Mehan Jayasuriya

Surfer Blood – “Swim”

“Swim” is the sound of these five golden boys throwing early Modest Mouse, Weezer’s Blue Album and the Pixies into a blender and punching the button marked “slay hard”. Anthemic surf-punk like this is done often, but rarely with such sterling results. This is exactly what made Surfer Blood worth giving a shit about: they wore their influences on their sleeves, but they wove them into jams that showcased some seriously high caliber songwriting chops. – Ben Schumer

Erykah Badu – “Window Seat”

So much press was given this year to Badu’s controversial and ultimately juvenile music video for “Window Seat” that few people gave the song itself an honest listen. This standout track from New Amerykah Part Two: Return of The Ankh opens with a mechanical snare drum cadence, suggesting the groove of a military march. However, the song’s spare piano-dominated texture is quickly established thereafter. The lyrics speak of the demands of juggling a career, a family, and a relationship and the desire to get away from it all. The result is one of the year’s great “chill out” tracks, whether you’re in a window seat on a commercial airline or in your office cubicle wearing headphones. – Jacob Adams

Blur – “Fool’s Day”

It came quietly, the sounds of “Parklife” shouted by tens of thousands in London’s Hyde Park still sending shivers up and down our spines. Blur’s reunion for a handful of shows in 2009 engendered enough good vibes among the Britpop quartet that their “love of all sweet music” apparently left them wanting more.

Lyrically, “Fool’s Day” reads like a mundane day-in-the-life tale like the Beach Boys’ “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” or “Blue Jay Way” by the Beatles, but with a considerably more satisfying emotional payoff. And ultimately, that’s what “Fool’s Day” is meant to be, a celebration of routine, and of knowing when something is good enough to not let go.

“Fool’s Day” was released in conjunction with Record Store Day in April, a single track in limited vinyl units followed by a free download. “We just can’t let go,” sings Damon Albarn, and it’s hard to argue as the music hovers, shifting back into another verse before the return of Graham Coxon’s gorgeous guitar reminds everyone why Blur’s final album, Think Tank, wasn’t quite what we hoped for.

“Fool’s Day” is four friends finding one another down the road, comfortable in themselves and where they are, in their own legacy and in the pure pleasure of playing music together. There’s more on the horizon for Blur, at least according to Albarn. If it’s half as warm a return as “Fool’s Day”, it’ll be welcomed with open arms. – Crispin Kott

LCD Soundsystem – “All I Want”

James Murphy has made his home somewhere in between dance and punk, but “All I Want” moves out of that comfort zone as LCD Soundsystem’s first straight-up indie anthem. Built on a theremin-like guitar refrain and spazzed-out keyboards from the thrift store Yo La Tengo shops at, “All I Want” isn’t one of those impeccable, micro-managed soundscapes Murphy’s recordings usually are — and it’s better for it. While critics have pointed out its resemblances to Bowie’s “Heroes”, “All I Want” stands out by highlighting LCD’s impromptu, intuitive side. – Arnold Pan

Joanna Newsom – “Good Intentions Paving Company”

On “Good Intentions Paving Company”, Joanna Newsom exchanges several of her compositional staples for relatively simpler devices — harp for piano, antiquated metaphor for literal love narrative, slow build for consistently upbeat tempo. The song is catchy in the sense that, aside from existing fans, it could appeal to well-informed music fans who have hitherto remained on the fence regarding Newsom; the Top 40 masses will remain utterly confused. Regardless, she has crafted perhaps the least formidable entry point into an ostensibly inaccessible catalog.

The term “otherworldly” is commonly employed by writers attempting to explain the allure of Newsom’s music. In that sense, “GIPC” does not elicit imagery of an alternate dimension paralleling the Celtic Renaissance. One could even imagine the Band performing it around 1969 with Richard Manual on piano and vocals. In other words, “Good Intentions Paving Company” sounds like it could have been composed somewhere in America around the Civil War era. If we tailor expectations relatively, this is perhaps both as earthly and as modern as Joanna Newsom’s music gets. – Anthony Henriques

Gorillaz – “Stylo”

“Stylo” surfs along easily enough for a couple of minutes, nestled snugly into a textbook Gorillaz electro-funk groove. Opening with a Mos Def verse and a subtle Damon Albarn pop melody as warm as an overheated circuit board, there’s a pleasant earworm burrowing away here, but nothing earth-shattering. Then soul legend Bobby Womack swoops into frame like an avenging angel, and the earth shatters. There’s never been much doubt that Gorillaz’s love is electric, but with Womack’s help on “Stylo”, it flows on the streets. – Ross Langager

The New Pornographers – “The Crash Years”

When the New Pornographers roared through “Crash Years” at Lollapalooza this summer, the guy next to me asked, “Wow, what was that song?” As America suffers through its worst recession in decades, “Crash Years” was born fully formed into the pop ether. A catchy start-stop guitar hook is quickly overtaken by Neko Case’s siren song: “Light a candle’s end / You are a light turned low.” “Crash Years” is a shimmering gem in the darkness, a perfect expression of hope in desperate times. – John Grassi

Robyn – “Dancing on My Own”

When Robyn released her eponymous masterpiece in 2005 (or 2008 if you’re Stateside), she managed to merge singer-songwriter catharsis with undeniably catchy dance beats in a way that no one had quite heard before, as she played both extremes to their end: the songs never left your head, but the lyrics were filled with so much sting and heartbreak that it was almost impossible not to sympathize with her tortured characters. Proving that Robyn was no fluke, this year’s trilogy of Body Talk mini-albums upped the game by almost completely ditching guitars and strings and instead tried to replicate Robyn’s humane lyricism with the help of nothing but synthesizers.

Rather making her songs sound cold and mechanical, though, Robyn was still able to find the real emotion in such stark surroundings, emphasized no better than by “Dancing on My Own”. Opening with a rapid-fire mechanical pulse, it’s not long before Robyn begins describing the undeniable pain of a one-healthy relationship: going to a club only to see her former flame dancing with a “new friend”, trying to make face by dancing all night even as it rips her up inside (this contrast captured brilliantly by the line “stilettos on broken bottles”).

It’s a song that’s even more immediate than “With Every Heartbeat”, and yet somehow, even with all of this pathos, it’s even more danceable. Listen very closely to the bridge, and faintly in the background you can hear a phone ringing, sounding like it was coming from a studio booth. Perhaps the technician forgot to edit it out or maybe no one at the label caught it, but its presence on the recording proves a very important point: no matter who was trying to get a hold of Robyn at that moment, she wasn’t going to pick up — she was doing something far more important in front of that microphone. – Evan Sawdey

Spoon – “Written in Reverse”

On a Spoon album that doesn’t sound like anyone else (Spoon included), lead single “Written in Reverse” carries a note of the more unhinged Paul McCartney circa 1971, letting loose in some rundown barn with nothing but a dusty piano, a frayed amp and two drums. Beatlemania is always fashionable, but so are biting love letters, and Britt Daniel brushes a few choice phrases like wood shavings on the rugged beat. That throat-shredding second scream (“IIIIIII’m not standing here!”) let’s his lover know what fans knew all along: he’s not fucking around. – Alex Bahler

Sleigh Bells – “Tell ‘Em”

All rise for your new national anthem: where-ever you live, whatever you like, “Tell ‘Em” is for you. The opening shot from noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells kicks off with a triumphant guitar line and machine-gun laptop blasts, and frontwoman Alexis Krauss sings something about doing your best today; it sounds pretty motivational, but frankly, she could be explaining that the Icelandic volcano eruption was an inside job and I’d still be on board. It works fine on shuffle, but be warned: “Tell ‘Em” may jolt you with the overwhelming desire to: (a.) throw your fists in the air, (b.) drop what you’re doing and listen to the rest of Treats immediately, or (c.) listen to “Tell ‘Em” again. – Jesse Hassenger

Janelle Monáe – “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a triumphant follow up to Monáe’s 2010 death-defying single “Tightrope” and is a standalone anthem from an eclectic concept album about android Cindy Mayweather. Positively bursting, “Cold War” moves rapidly from the get go with its kinetic drum beat, futuristic fuzzed guitar and Monae’s anxious vocals. The music video reveals her heart-rending tensions and internal struggles filmed in an intimate (lip-synced) performance. Fortunately, Mayweather’s experience is not merely fraught with alienation, by the end she can justify vindication. – Sachyn Mital

Miranda Lambert – “The House That Built Me”

While the first two singles from Miranda Lambert’s 2009 powerhouse Revolution eased her gradually back up the country charts, it was the record’s third, “The House That Built Me”, that was the game changer, the ballad that made her a superstar. 2010’s best country song helped the Lamb step away from her shotgun-and-chicken-fried-steak persona in favor of some deeply felt nostalgia, although the kind that, thanks to artful lyricism and a goop-free acoustic-guitar arrangement, avoids the kind of sentimentality that has been Nashville’s cash crop. And like everything else she touches, Miranda sings the holy hell out of it. – Steve Leftridge

Deerhunter – “Helicopter”

Who better than Deerhunter to make a song about a murdered Russian prostitute sound positively triumphant? Their astounding Halcyon Digest is full of hazy pop hammered together in a junkyard studio yet it’s the ethereal “Helicopter” that cuts the deepest. The song, built on quavering guitars and watery ebb-and-flow atmospherics, moves forward in small circles as our protagonist inches toward his fate. When the floodgates are finally breached, Bradford Cox is left to sing “Now they are through with me” over and over until it becomes an expression of relief, not despair. We can only hope that whatever’s on the other side sounds this gorgeous. – Daniel Tebo

Gogol Bordello – “Pala Tute”

The joy of sex is rarely so joyously — and unmistakably — captured as it is in this happiest, heart-pounding, butt-shaking of songs. Eugene Hütz’s rough voice, rooted in Romani, belies his experience in this area, but the subject matter of the song is a boy just on the precipice of this brain-bending discovery, and oh, gawd, he’s eager to dive in. The hard-rocking, gypsy punk music shakes us to the core and throws us at the mercy of this most basic thing that keeps us spellbound — perhaps most intensely when we’re young. It’s in the primal beat, and the intense musicianship.

Listening to “Pala Tute”, we become that boy, looking at that girl, who’s looking right back at him. But first, his gypsy right of passage must be met: he wants to get the girl? He must learn to play the guitar. Need I say that he masters the instrument quickly? By the end of the song her breast is heaving, his breast is heaving, your breast is heaving — and we’re all just grinning and panting like the happy sinners that we are. Whoo! That was fun! – Karen Zarker

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Round and Round”

The lead single and best song off of Pink’s Before Today, hell, the best song in his expansive oeuvre, “Round and Round” seems at first listen to be the kind of song that causes jaded music critics to lament, as Greg Kihn once said, “they don’t write ’em like that anymore.” But then you realize that they never wrote them like this: disco beats, effervescent chorus hooks, murky chords in odd time progressions, an intermittent phone call, odes to air guitar, et al. As it turns out, Pink, like those who imagined that this was once the norm, remembers the past different than it actually happened. That this is his rock star bid means that perhaps he is pulling part of some alternate dimension back with him, in defiance of the robust digital idyll of our own. – Timothy Gabriele

Big Boi – “Shutterbugg”

“Shutterbugg” is a four-minute smash that pushes the boundaries of the 21st century Southern funk that Big Boi has pioneered as half of OutKast and a key member of the Dungeon Family in subtle, but significant ways. The beat is harder and more insistent than before, the flow is smoother and more relaxed than before. Big Boi has always seemed like a great conductor, masterfully coordinating and blending so many elements into one beautiful masterpiece. On “Shutterbugg”, he creates one of his greatest symphonies of pure, unadulterated funk. – Tyler Lewis

LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”

If This Is Happening does indeed prove, as promised, to be James Murphy’s swansong, “Dance Yrself Clean” provides specific instructions as to how to properly mourn LCD Soundsystem. The song encapsulates everything that makes Murphy’s band so great: a relentless build, lyrics at once soaked in pathos and dripping with belly-laugh humor, and an energy contagious enough that it should be examined by the CDC. When that Everest-sized beat kicks in at the three-minute mark, it may be the single most thrilling moment any track delivered all year. We’ll miss LCD Soundsystem, but we won’t do it standing still. – Corey Beasley

Kanye West – “Power”

Implored to ponder, neither maestro nor philistine could argue against preservation of a childlike imagination as an indispensable device in the creation of great art. A caveat of maturity and the empathy gained through culturally imposed wisdom is the risk of inflating the superego with altruistic morality and thus repressing the narcissistic nature of all humans to a point rendering true self-examination and thus self-expression virtually impossible.

On “Power”, when Kanye West raps “for my inner child I’m fighting for custody”, he is referring precisely to the same element of the id that Bob Dylan spoke of reclaiming during his infamous 1963 ECLC Tom Paine Award acceptance speech and on the brilliant “My Back Pages”. The qualities that earned Dylan the reputation of an immature, bratty asshole in the 1960s also afforded him unprecedented insight into the collective unconscious of his era — something inaccessible to the non-egocentric. Without the facets of Kanye’s ego that have caused occasional lapses into naïveté and narcissism, his work as the most brilliantly introspective and humorously self-deprecating rapper in history would not exist.

On “Power” — his first single following his notorious fallout with (white) America — he is stating just that. To remain relevant, genius and egomaniac can not be mutually exclusive entities of Kanye West’s psyche; those incapable of appreciating that duality unadulterated have no business listening to his music. –Anthony Henriques

Never has the mission statement of a musical comeback arrived so perfectly formed. With portentous tribal chants, wailing sirens and a heavy drum-line, “Power” opens like a soundtrack to the end of the world, but as West begins to rap you realise this is less about unceremonious endings and more about exultant beginnings. In a heart-stopping four minutes he will reduce, rebuild, shame and exclaim his ego and all with the audacity to build it around a King Crimson sample. Sonically and lyrically “Power” is the equivalent of a revelatory Frankenstein’s monster, who sees its own reflection… and sneers back. – Tom Fenwick

The National – “Bloodbuzz, Ohio”

Matt Berninger is acting out in some pretty awkward ways. Flashing lovers from the foot of their bed, going face down on a car hood. Of all his peculiar lyrics, this set may be the strangest. His speaker seems to go all over the place — from odd loneliness to worries over debt — but it all becomes clear when he drops that word. “Bloodbuzz”. This isn’t some typical drunk. This is a bone-deep malady, something permanent. And the thundering stumble of the drums, the hard edge of the guitars, the chasm of echo around Berninger’s voice, it all points to that same disconnection. This song is the best distillation of the National’s whole sound. You can’t name what they’re worrying over, but you recognize it immediately. – Matt Fiander

Arcade Fire – “Sprawl II”

A bouncy ditty at the end of the Arcade Fire’s mammoth third album, The Suburbs, “Sprawl II” is a pleasant surprise. Though the record is stuck in the muck of suburban plight and existential quandaries, “Sprawl II” sounds positively jubilant in spite of — or because of — these themes. The song slowly unfolds as Régine Chassagne’s voice leaps from the desperate circumstances she sings about, peaking with an emotionally rapturous chorus that informs the best of the band’s songs. – Leor Galil

Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope”

When Janelle Monáe frequently closes her live performances with “Tightrope”, it’s no mere act of coincidence that someone comes on stage to place a cape over her while she’s belting — a direct homage to James Brown that is both fitting and earned, as Janelle Monáe has positively busted her hump to get to that moment. Effortlessly mixing one of the funkiest basslines this side of Daptone Records with a swinging horn section and scat-like vocals, this song is an empowerment anthem, a dance craze, and the highlight of your day all at once. Monáe’s expertly calculated vocal delivery allows her to fit in as many verses as she can without ever fully tipping over into rap, although when OutKast’s Big Boi steps in with a verse of his own, the transition is seamless.

When you add it all up, “Tightrope” isn’t merely the song that pushed Monáe closer to the mainstream, but instead the one song that proved that in 2010, genre was almost a tertiary consideration to the average listener. You can call it pop, you can call it soul, you can call it funk, rap, retro-revivalism, or just about anything else, but just make sure you call it by what it really is: hands down one of the greatest singles released all year. – Evan Sawdey

Cee-Lo Green – “Fuck You”

We were all one nation under a “Fuck You” in 2010, as Cee-Lo Green brought the fresh decade its first real anthem with his sugar rush of cheerful profanity, exuberant classic R&B homage and endlessly relatable (and even warmly empathetic) sentiment. Credit Green’s impeccable pop smarts as much as any novelty factor, the ease with which he condenses a half-century of heartbroken laments from Motown to Kanye into an instant classic. Mark my words, your grandchildren will still be singing along to this one. – Jer Fairall

This article originally published on 23 December 2010.