Year-end lists. Publicly, we humbly apologize for them; secretly, we love them. They present wonderful opportunities to sort and catalog the cultural mile markers – music, movies, books, television, and events – that we passed along the highway of our memories in a given year. Following are the songs that comprised the soundtrack of my 2010.
#10 “Little Lion Man” | Mumford & Sons
One of the most well-deserved breakouts of the year comes from this quartet of London-based folk-rock harmonizers who epitomize the best of the nu-folk movement with this intelligent, banjo-frenzied track that will leave you wedged between knee-slapping hoedown and tea-sipping introspection. The riotous explosion of sound here – from the bluegrass banjos and acoustic guitars that take center stage to the piano notes and low-pitched upright bass that stand back a bit – contrasts sharply (and beautifully) with the song’s decidedly lamenting lyrics.
#9 “Heartbreak on Vinyl” | Blake Lewis
From his sorely underappreciated 2009 disc of the same name, this retro celebration of the vinyl format and those relics known as record shops is an infectious dance track with an undeniably 80’s nostalgic feel. This wistful dancepop anthem – with its cheery story-song ode to analog at its center – is like chicken soup for the dancefloor enthusiast’s soul.
#8 “Get Outta My Way” | Kylie Minogue
A contagious guilty-pleasure pop confection from the veteran pop diva’s impressive Aphrodite set. As mindless and mouth-watering as a sugary wad of bubblegum, this smart, irresistible club thumper was about as hook-smart and beat-savvy as anything gracing club sound systems this year. Minogue – the Australian Madonna – proves why she’s a mainstay on the club scene and dance charts after nearly three decades.
#7 “Soldier of Love” | Sade
After an eight-year absence, the veteran group – anchored by the distinctive and instantly recognizable vocal styling of the notoriously reclusive, press-shy Sade Adu – returned with this musical equivalent of a shot of espresso – classy, concentrated, and highly pressurized. Grounded by a deceptively simple military cadence that employs a straightforward regular kick drum and delayed snare, “Soldier of Love” insinuates itself with its radio-jazz sheen and ultra-cool lyrics like “I'm at the borderline of my faith, I'm at the hinterland of my devotion.” From the album artwork to the slick accompanying video, Sade proves that it still oozes hip nonchalance after dropping albums in four decades – and counting – while retaining its patent luxury brand of international intrigue and an aura of mystery.
#6 “Not Giving Up On Love” | Armin van Buuren vs. Sophie Ellis-Bextor
This gorgeously melancholy dance track pairs Dutch trance producer and DJ Armin van Buuren and English singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor, while the stunning Sophie Muller-directed video showcases the photogenic songbird lounging on the sun-drenched deck of a boat on the Mediterranean Sea and dancing the night away at a club on the party-island of Ibiza. Will be featured on the sinfully underrated Ellis-Bextor’s forthcoming 2011 set Make a Scene.
#5 “You Don’t Know Love” | Editors
Tom Smith’s monotonic, Crash Test Dummies-esque vocals ground this rhythmic track from the indie band’s 2009 set In This Light and On This Evening. With an urgent, propulsive tempo and its haunting, multi-tracked choral vocal bridges, “You Don’t Know Love” is sinister, foreboding, monochromatic moodiness at its very best. Recalls Real Life’s 1983 moody synth-goth gem “Send Me an Angel”.
#4 “The Suburbs” | Arcade Fire
The sublime title track from this well-deserved “Album of the Year” Grammy contender is an introspective lamentation on the innocence of adolescence fading into the cynicism of adulthood. Like a late summertime day captured through the grainy, golden filter of an old 8mm film projector, this song perfectly captures the melancholy essence of disillusion, while its repetitious, melodic chord progression compliments the lyrics in every respect.
#3 “Moneygrabber” | Fitz & The Tantrums
This slice of retro Motown hipness is as cool as a zoot suit. With lead vocal duties volleying between band founder Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Staggs, the brash, decidedly 60’s-influenced pop stylings of this infectious track make for one helluva foot-stomping throwback that had me swooning and crooning along. Thanks Criminal Minds for putting this one on my radar!
#2 “History” | Groove Armada featuring Will Young
With a career-changing featured vocal by the UK’s inaugural Pop Idol winner, this hauntingly eerie 80’s throwback calls to mind the falsetto luster of Jimmy Somerville’s days with Bronski Beat and The Communards. The irresistible Grum Remix takes this superb song to the next level of hypnotic trance.
#1 “Howl” | Florence & The Machine
This fierce, thumping tribal track from Ms. Welch’s brilliant 2009 set Lungs rumbles, roars, and then explodes into a musical bellow, impaling the listener with its raw, primal force. The musical equivalent to having your jugular ripped open during sex. Not an official single release, but it damn well should be.
Tomorrow: My Top Ten Albums of 2010