Inane Thoughts: My Top 25 Singles of the Year

We’re almost at the end of 2010, a year in which Bon Jovi and U2 were the highest earners. However, do not despair because not all of the music out there was being made or sung by insipid, leather-waistcoated ninnies. Also, contrary to popular belief, not every song released was a cover of Don’t Stop Believin’, sung by the faux-outsider cockramps off of Glee, or a risible guaranteed-to-stop-the-party Black Eyed Peas “song”, in which a man who can’t pronounce the name ‘William’ creates yet another musical equivalent of a sweaty, corpulent middle-aged man grinding up against you on a dancefloor, whilst repeatedly using word ‘party’ as a verb.

Just to prove this point I’ve compiled two end-of-year-lists:

1. My top 25 singles of the year;

2. My top 10 albums of the year.

First up, my singles of the year. Tomorrow’s blog will deal with the albums.

1. Big Boi – Shutterbug

I’ve been pretty disappointed with most of the mainstream pop music this year. Cheryl Cole’s songs are all a bit forgettable. William and his Black Eyed Peas are still making music for cretins and/or the kids that think those ADHD kids are a bit too calm. All of which leads to the question: why on earth did this song flop? I’ve been pretty much unable to get the vocal bass line out of my head ever since I first heard it. In a righteous universe this should have been a summer smash. I’m therefore trying to lead a movement to get it to become a sleeper hit, like M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes’. It’s not working too well so far. Hollering at people as they walk past my flat doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

2. These New Puritans – We Want War

These New Puritans’ album, whilst easy to admire, became harder and harder to love the more that I listened to it, but this song still has some kind of indefinable power over me. It might be that it’s because it sounds like the music that would play at the end of the world. At least, I hope this is what the end of the world sounds like, as it doesn’t feel like we’ve got long left until the apocalypse. A ‘comedy’ meerkat, created by some men for an advert aimed at cretins, has a ‘book’ at number one in the charts. It does feel like the end of times. This song is the soundtrack for intense misanthropy.

3. Deerhunter – Desire Lines

This is my favourite song off of Deerhunter’s ‘Halcyon Digest’ album. The album’s really grown on me, in part due to this song, which sits bang in the middle of the album. It’s somehow both understated and epic at the same time. It’s the sort of song that Bono, Kings of Leon and Chris Martin should be forced to listen to day after day in a locked room, just to show them that there is a way to be epic (and include a bunch of “wo-oahs”) without resorting to heavy-handed bombast.

4. Four Tet – Love Cry

Kieran Hebden has always been capable of producing great albums and great songs (e.g. ‘My Angel Rocks Back & Forth’), but rarely has he written songs that you can actually dance to. This year he finally showed that he was more than a bedroom collector of rare jazz and electronic records, but was capable of writing not only a great danceable song, but a subtle great danceable song. These are nine minutes that go past way too quickly.

5. Avi Buffalo – What’s In It For?

“I walked in on a plan to dissolve all of your wishes/But I couldn’t help your mouth which I missed by two inches”. It’s a great opening line to a song that reminds me of summers spent listening to Neil Young records and endlessly shredding on my guitar. I’m pretty sure that this is what songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg has spent his teenage years doing. Except that he’s not quite out of his teenage years. The precocious so-and-so.

6. Vampire Weekend – Giving Up The Gun

In a fairly average year for guitar bands trying to get boys and girls on the dancefloor (The Script, Mumford & Sons, Scouting For Girls, anyone? I thought not.), Vampire Weekend were doing their best to buck the trend. This year felt like the year that, to paraphrase Morrissey, they accepted themselves. In doing so they got down to providing some of the best, most danceable indie-pop of the year. Graceful, charming and with a hook as large as a New York city block, this was the best of the singles from their Contra album.

7. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

The centre-piece of their High Violet album, this was a massive, soaring tune that was undercut with lyrics that recalled Michael Stipe’s ability to produce intense disquiet with seemingly throwaway phrases like: “I never thought about love, when I thought about home”.

8. Yeasayer – O.N.E.

Whilst their album tried to combine a smorgasbord of styles and occasionally ended up sounding like a bit of a mess, but this song got it spot on. A real treat of bubbling synths, squelching basslines and falsetto vocals.

9. Peter Broderick – Human Eyeballs On Toast

All of you should go and download this now. I don’t know much about Peter Broderick, but on a grey, drizzly day, I heard this song on Jarvis Cocker’s 6Music show and it was so good it genuinely seemed to warm me up.

10. Best Coast – When I’m With You

In 1977 Joe Strummer said about love songs that “the subject’s been covered”. Whilst the punk sentiment behind these words was admirable and at times it feels like we’ve reached saturation point, Joe, with the greatest respect, you were wrong. Every now and then someone comes along and finds, if not something new to say, then a new and inventive way of saying it. Magnetic Field’s ’69 Love Songs’ and Joanna Newsom’s latest album are both great examples of this. Best Coast’s album is not.

On paper lyrics like, “when I’m with you I have fun” are incredibly trite. So why is it then that Best Coast’s record was such fun? Maybe it was the directness of the sentiment, the us-versus-them singularity of the love she was singing about. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is, but through guitars doused in reverb, to the self-assured slacker vocals, this was a direct shot of infectious surf-pop that was impossible to resist.

11. The XX – VCR (Four Tet Remix)

Kieran Hebden was a busy boy this year. Along with creating one of his best, most coherent albums to date, he was also producing the best remix of the year. The bass line that kicks in around the halfway mark is out of this world and it floats along gloriously from there. This isn’t a song that merely reminds you of the original, but like the very best remixes, it works as an entirely separate entity from the original song. The sparse production of the original is nowhere to be found, this is a song propelled by the wobbly bass line at its core, but the understated sounds that float around this core are just as key to the song’s brilliance.

12. LCD Soundsystem – Home

If this is, as James Murphy has promised, the last ever LCD Soundsystem song, then what a way to go out it is. “If you’re afraid of what you need/Look around you, you’re surrounded/It won’t get any better… until the night”. To paraphrase Nathan Barley, it totally sums up their credos.

13. Gayngs – Cry

The rumour goes that the Gayngs album was conceived whilst Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and his friends were having a drinking session. They were listening to 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and decided that this was such a great song that they’d do an entire album of songs around the same vibe and the same low BPM. It was music for late nights, but not the sort of coming-down-off-ten-pills-at-Ibiza-and-sticking-Lighthouse-Family-apologists-Morcheeba-on-the-stereo late nights, this was for behind closed doors late nights. It was breathless, it was affectionate and it was damned sexy.

14. Belle & Sebastian – I Didn’t See It Coming

How many great pop tunes do Belle & Sebastian have to write to convince people that they’re not just twee, fey, bedsit botherers, with a well-worn Vashti Bunyan album and the world’s largest collection of cardigans? This may have lacked some of the lyrical wit and dark undercurrents of earlier songs such as ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ or ‘Lord Anthony’, but it was one hell of a cracking pop song. Even if they’re never going to convince the wider public, they’re keeping their fans happy with little gems like this.

15. Sufjan Stevens – Too Much

Sufjan Stevens is the master of intricate arrangements, sometimes veering a little near to territory marked “overblown”, but never actually crossing the line. His latest album ‘The Age of Adz’ has been given the tag of “difficult”, but this somewhat stretches taht definition- it’s not exactly Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’. There are tunes a-plenty on the album and ‘Too Much’ is chock full of them. The backing is all industrial noise and breakbeats, but there’s not one, but at least three killer tunes at the heart of all of this – even when the song climaxes into a flurry of horns, strings and electronic noises. Sufjan, you’re too hard on yourself, this isn’t too much, as usual it’s just right.

And the rest…

16. Beach House – Norway

17. Foals – Spanish Sahara

18. Efterklang – Modern Drift

19. Best Coast – Boyfriend

20. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round

21. John Grant – Queen of Denmark

22. Deerhunter – Helicopter

23. Bear In Heaven – Ultimate Satisfaction

24. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill

25. Oberhofer – Awy Frm U

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