2010: Top 75

1. Niki & the Dove – Under The Bridges

I don’t think anyone’s yet written a similar deconstruction of this (relatively) obscure track by Moshi Moshi-endorsed Swedish newcomers Niki & the Dove, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with my inadequate words. I briefly wondered if I was being a little premature in naming this my favourite track of the year, but then gave myself a good slap in the face. I’ve been living with this, and it’s near-equally awesome twin DJ, Ease My Mind, for months now, and just because it wasn’t a hit doesn’t mean I can’t stick it where it deserves to be.

An easy cop-out might have been to name the double A-side of this and ‘DJ’ as my ‘single of the year’, but this is now about tracks, not old money singles, so I had to pick. Like choosing a favourite child, but far more important. Of course. DJ, Ease My Mind is wonderful in itself, bringing to mind a bunch of obvious and oft-referenced touch points (Kate Bush, The Knife, Bat For Lashes), and carrying as much aching pop beauty as anything Robyn produced this year.

Under The Bridges, though, is more than all of that. While it still hints at those same references (notably The Knife in their almost-pop prime), it builds on that to produce a seven minute epic that, while immediately accessible, is also joyfully over-ambitious. And despite employing a fair degree of repetition, it subtly works itself up into a real journey of a track. Such that when the first wave of chorus gently laps up after less than a minute, it does little more than tickle your feet. By the second hit, you’re definitely on board. It then wanders around for a while, a tactic that doesn’t really pay off on first listen, only when you know what’s coming next. When the third chorus hits after the three minute mark, every time I hear it (and I’ve heard it many, many times) I can literally feel my head being knocked back by some sort of invisible musical force. (And yes, I do know what literally means, thanks.)

After that fantastic ride, what follows is approaching four more minutes of relatively abstract doodlings. Out of context, it could all sound a bit pointless. In context, it’s recovery time; sit back and make sense of everything time. You can accuse this song of sounding like other things in places, of being indulgent, or a little obscurist. But, for me, what’s more valuable than the (perhaps more universal) concept of originality in sound, is originality for the listener in their emotional experience of a song. Undoubtedly more subjective, but much more precious.

2. Robyn – Hang With Me

It’s very difficult to describe quite how much I love Robyn. I’ve been a relatively big fan for years now, but her blindingly consistent 2010 has turned that into total adoration. Her Heaven show (which I’m pretty sure crops up briefly in this vid) was definitely my best of the year, and across 2 EPs and a compilation album (not quite the billed trilogy, sadly) she barely put a single foot wrong.

Like several artists already mentioned, choosing a single track wasn’t easy. Contenders? Numerous. Dancing On My Own seems to be – fairly enough – the critics’ favourite, the near-hysterical Indestructible is equally great, I’ve already been over my soft spot for Dancehall Queen, and Cry When You Get Older was to my mind inexplicably left off the compilation.

So why did Hang With Me nudge it? I think, for me, it’s because the best music (/art) sounds straightforward while being anything but. It evokes conflicting emotions at the same time. The lyrics are all ‘this is AMAZING but also TERRIBLE yet that in itself is AMAZING’. And the mood of the music somehow manages to translate that perfectly. If that’s not enough (and it isn’t), then go and read this brilliant analysis of where this song came from, what it’s all about, and ultimately why it’s basically incredible.

3. Kanye West (ft. Nicki Minaj & some other chaps) – Monster

Oh how I wish the video for this was out in time for the list. It’s clearly been made, and looks utterly incredible, but ho hum. First, the obvious, if this list was celebrating ‘best bit of a song’ then the Nicki Minaj verse (kicks off around 3:30) would win hands down. Beyond that though, Kanye’s beats are the best he’s done in years and mean that Monster would (probably?) have been there or thereabouts even without Nicki. The other guest appearances are of generally lower quality, though Rick Ross’s bit is pretty funny and Kanye himself is fine. It could probably have done without Jay Z sounding pretty befuddled, and I’m still torn as to whether the Bon Iver bookending brings the track together or just sounds pointlessly bolted on. In any case, a definitive 2010 track.

4. Katy B – Katy on a Mission

So once a BRIT School artist is the public face of (increasing inverted commas) “dubstep” we know it’s properly in the mainstream. Such a relief, then, that the track chosen to launch her career was so awesome. Very much part of the whole Magnetic Man stable, her track with them – Perfect Stranger – is also ace, and that’s before you even get to Lights On, her latest single with Ms. Dynamite. Generally awesome year, then. But back to the track – on a personal level, it works because it soundtracked (on heavy repeat) a brief little period this year where things seemed to be going really rather well. This right here I swear will end too soon. Still awesome though.

5. Sky Larkin – Still Windmills

It’s been quite a while since a relatively conventional indie-rock tune grabbed my attention this immediately. Not wildly original, nor particularly ‘pop’ in the sense that you’d usually find on this blog, it nonetheless found its way to being one of my most played tracks of 2010. Normally that’s the death-knell for a previously loved tune, but this one just kept coming. Its relentless rhythm is what hooks you in, but the little twists and turns that keep you coming back, shooting the replay value into the stratosphere. Lyrically lovely too, frantically railing against the idea of just hanging around, presumably where love’s concerned. Why wait?

6. Massive Attack (ft. Hope Sandoval) – Paradise Circus

The best-executed collaboration of the year. Massive Attack at their most delicate, deliberate and devastating, joined by one of most beautiful voices in modern music. Near-perfect.

(Lovely remix by the always fantastic Gui Boratto, too.)

7. Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground

So which track to pick from debut album of the year Treats? The full-force onslaught of opener ‘Tell ‘Em’? The uncharacteristically gorgeous strumalong ‘Rill Rill’? Maybe the anthemic ‘Infinity Guitars’? Amazing one and all, but sod it – let’s just go for the big old shoutalong party tune. Done.

8. James Blake – CMYK

There’s very little left to say about London producer James Blake. Rightly hyped for 2011, we’ll see soon enough how it all works out when the album drops in February. Anyway, amidst the hype and chatter and Feist cover versions were some incredible songs, most performing Blake’s trademark trick of twisting and melding R’n’B samples into something brand new and barely recognisable. CMYK, with snippets of Kelis and Aaliyah amongst lots of other buried noises, is not quite pop, but not quite definable as anything else either. Much of his output, while self-evidently decent, was a little murky and downbeat for my tastes. This, on the other hand, is beautiful noise fit for a dystopian sci-fi disco.

9. Underworld – Scribble

The mini-D’n’B theme that’s threaded its way through this list finds its way to the top 10. For many, Underworld’s Barking was a cop out, too mainstream and less intelligent/interesting than its predecessor, Oblivion With Bells. Boo to that, say I. Narrowly edging out the similarly awesome ‘Always Loved a Film’, we have this little beauty. Co-written and produced with Welsh producer/DJ High Contrast, DnB beats are present are correct. However, the build and release is pure Underworld. In its full, 6 minute album version, it’s a proper arm-waving epic of the kind they haven’t produced since ‘2 Months Off’. Banging.

10. Delorean – Stay Close

Spanish former indie-rockers/ wannabe acid house revivalists with a track that can only really be described as ‘blissed out’. It’s the law. Debut full-length Subiza proved they’d come a long way in a few years, but live shows suggested there was still some distance to go in terms of translating the record’s subtle punch in a stage setting. One of several tracks though, in a year where I failed to leave these shores, that did a relatively decent job of allowing me to pretend for a few minutes that I was chilling out on a beach somewhere.

The rest in full: 75-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | Spotify playlist

11. Crystal Castles – Baptism
12. Magnetic Man – I Need Air
13. Kelis – Acapella
14. Parenthetical Girls – Young Throats
15. The Chemical Brothers – Swoon
16. Ocelot – Beating Hearts (Louis La Roche Remix)
17. Kid Sister – Daydreaming
18. Teeth – See Spaces
19. Sunday Girl vs. Diplo – Four Floors
20. Janelle Monae – Cold War
21. Kylie Minogue – All The Lovers
22. Rusko (ft. Amber Coffman) – Hold On
23. Alphabeat – Heat Wave
24. Chilly Gonzales – I Am Europe
25. Sia – Clap Your Heads
26. Christina Aguilera (ft. M.I.A.) – Elastic Love
27. Class Actress – Adolescent Heart
28. DJ Fresh & Sigma – Lassitude
29. jj – Let Go
30. BURNS – Fourteen
31. Hot Chip – I Feel Better
32. Caribou – Odessa
33. Kisses – A Weekend In Brooklyn
34. Netsky – Eyes Closed
35. Hurts – Better Than Love
36. Miami Horror – Sometimes
37. Ratatat – Sunblocks
38. Tim Berg – Bromance (Avicii’s Arena Mix)
39. Nicki Minaj (ft. Sean Garrett) – Massive Attack
40. The Golden Filter – Hide Me (Clock Opera Mix)
41. Tensnake – Coma Cat
42. Karl X Johan – Flames
43. Yeasayer – O.N.E.
44. The Hundred in the Hands – Pigeons
45. Wolf Gang – Back to Back
46. Hooray For Earth – Surrounded By Your Friends
47. Mark Ronson & the Business International – Bang Bang Bang
48. Tim Kasher – Cold Love
49. Bright Light Bright Light – Love Part II
50. Nika + Rory – I’m Not Going Anywhere
51. of Montreal – Coquet Coquette
52. Lucky Soul – White Russian Doll
53. Big Boi ft. Janelle Monae – Be Still
54. Marina & the Diamonds – Hollywood
55. Kano ft. Michelle Breeze – Upside
56. Goldfrapp – Rocket
57. The Magic Theatre – Out There
58. School of Seven Bells – Windstorm
59. Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Bittersweet
60. Mystery Jets – Dreaming of Another World
61. Twin Shadow – Castles in the Snow
62. Fake Blood – I Think I Like It
63. Twin Sister – All Around and Away We Go
64. Wild Nothing – Golden Haze
65. ceo – Come With Me
66. Aeroplane – Superstar
67. Magic Kids – Summer
68. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Say No To Love
69. Penguin Prison – Something I’m Not (Krispin Korg Remix)
70. Violens – Acid Reign
71. M.I.A. – XXXO
72. Allo Darlin’ – Dreaming
73. White Sea – Mountaineer
74. Spark – Revolving
75. The Ruby Suns – Cranberry