Though this is coming later than the various year-end lists that most publications have been producing, I figured I should contribute to the 2010 best of lists with a few of my own. First: top ten tracks of 2010.
10. Guido – “Mad Sax”
Songs like “Mad Sax” are few and far between. Sampling a two-bar sax line that sounds like it’s from a smooth jazz collection, Guido turns the echoing atmosphere into a claustrophobic mess of snapping snares, metronome hi hats, and orchestral synths. “Mad Sax” is the kind of song that Jay-Z should’ve been rapping over on The Blueprint: it’s huge but not impenetrable and has all of the R&B stylings of early Kanye West beats. Instead, it’s left to its own devices and has made Guido an entity in the electronic game.
9. The-Dream – “Florida University”
“Florida University” is a funny song. If you don’t pay attention to it, it comes off as an anthemic pop track that any one-off Southern R&B act might pull off: it has bubblegum production, a killer melody, and playful joy about it. Until you realize that not only is it a song about telling off your ex, but the “Florida University” part is just a crafty way not to have “fuck” censored 100 times on the radio (Cee-Lo, take notes). The Dream’s recent spurning manifests itself in comedic vengeance (“What rhymes with asshole? / Asshole”) as he tears through an ex that left him and now wants him back. The incessant chorus (“This is short for Florida University / F U, F U, F U…”) is just subtle enough to be a pop hit but still gets the message across. “That’s a hell of a clean version.”
8. Mount Kimbie – “Mayor”
Outside of professional athletes, Mount Kimbie may have had the best 2010 of anyone in their early-20s. After dropping various singles throughout the year, their debut LP Crooks & Lovers opened to universal acclaim, making Mount Kimbie instant critical darlings. “Mayor” is everything that’s great about the group boiled down to its purest form: glitchy vocal snippets, warbling synths, chest thumping backing beats, and rapid movement. While other tracks on the album may be more dynamic, “Mayor” is Mount Kimbie doing absolutely everything right.
7. James Blake – “CMYK”
Joining Mount Kimbie as the breakout stars of the year, James Blake spent most of 2010 reinventing music in his image. He went from the R&B stylings of the techy funk of The Bells Sketch and CMYK EPs, and finished the year with the subdued Klavierwerke. And while the breadth of his work is impressive, “CMYK” is still the icing on the cake. Blake mixes Kelis and Aaliyah samples into his own caustic screwed and chopped masterpiece. The track never slows down or lets up; it’s an onslaught of cashmere synths and frantic percussion laid behind lawn-mowed samples. And while his recently leaked LP is a step further away from this kind of techy funk, this track will always be part of his legacy.
6. Phosphorescent – “The Mermaid Parade”
Phosphorescent’s “The Mermaid Parade” may hold a special place in my heart because of a breakup I experienced earlier in the year, but the fact remains: few artists have condensed the emotions and events following a long distance breakup quite as well as Matthew Houck does here. A transcontinental marriage gone awry, Houck tries to deal as best he can, but ultimately finds it all too surreal to handle, walking the beach imaging a mermaid parade. But not all of the track is quite this nebulous: “Yeah, I’ve got a new girl too / And yeah she’s pretty and small / But goddammit Amanda / Oh, goddammit all”. Houck finds a way to expose just enough emotional without becoming a victim, which is difficult to do in love-lost anthems.
5. Actress – “Hubble”
This is a weird inclusion on a singles list. It clocks in at over eight minutes, has few discernible features outside of a rumbling bassline, and is content rolling along without much change. But there’s a depth to “Hubble” that you don’t often find in minimalist electronic music. It’s constant baritone backdrop is spiced with sharp digital twitches and an infinitesimal vocal sample thrown into the mix. But if you’re not enjoying this at high volumes in a secluded area, you’re likely not to get it.
4. LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”
LCD Soundsystem are best when they spend five minutes crescendoing into a cacophony of funk, punk, and electronic (see, “All My Friends”, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, “Get Innocuous”). And they seem to have one or two of those tracks on each album. “Dance Yrself Clean” is This Is Happening‘s. It doesn’t deal with any new concepts or feelings: New York is killing James Murphy and he hates all of his friends. But then again, LCD Soundsystem’s originality has never been their strongest attribute. Sing about the same thing on every song. I don’t care. Just give me something I can shake my ass to.
3. T.I. – “I’m Back”
T.I. is in rare form on “I’m Back”, a track released just after his return from a year-long prison sentence. Then again, he hasn’t had production this unflappable since “Rubber Band Man” sent him into the public’s consciousness. Sounding more like a Polow Da Don track that Rich Boy should be flowing over, T.I.’s boisterous cries ring out truer than ever: he’s still the king and he’s back to reclaim his throne. In a relative down year for hip hop, one that was dominated by Kanye West’s overrated opus, “I’m Back” stands as a firm reminder that T.I. is still the one running this game.
2. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg”
“Shutterbugg” is a difficult song to describe. It features the best beat of 2010 and has one of hip hop’s more dynamic rappers flowing over it. It’s the one song in the last 5 years that can really go toe-to-toe with last year’s immovable “A Milli” by Lil Wayne.
I was watching a documentary about Weezy a few months ago, and Birdman said something to the effect of, “The beat on ‘A Milli’ is amazing and Wayne came in and laid down the perfect vocals.” I feel the same way about “Shutterbugg”. Though people will invariably cop the song for mixtapes months and years from now, no one will top Big Boi’s flow over Scott Storch’s colossal bubbling bass line and timber handclaps.
1. Joker – “Tron”
By my estimation, it was a really good year for electronic music. Then again, that may have just been because I just began to really dig into the genre. “Tron”, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest. Wunderkind Joker lulls you to sleep with a hazy intro before absolutely demolishing your speakers with overwhelming mids and freight train synths. Though Joker can be a little more diffuse and sparse with his work, “Tron” is an IV of searing keyboards and pulsating bass. If you can listen to this and not bounce your head in adrenaline-fuel necessity, you’re a better man than me.
Vampire Weekend – “Giving Up the Gun”; M.I.A. – “XXXO”; Rick Ross – “B.M.F.”; Robyn – “Fembot”; Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em – “Speakers Going Hammer”