It’s time to copy the same concept everybody had in the middle of last year! Why bother chatting about the past 5 years? Because lists are so much fun (shut up), and because most of my music-sharing is done in 140 character bursts these days. This is a space without such constraints and becomes fun (also, easier access) preservation for 5 years down the road. Maybe my tastes won’t be the same and I’ll think Japandroids are garbage! (Unlikely.) Maybe I’ll reconsider placement and give songs different levels of love! (Pretty likely.)
Anyway here are 10 of my favorite songs from 2010-2014. The other half will come in a few days. If you’re clever, you already know exactly where to find the full 20-song list and you needn’t even read this junk. Or maybe you will anyway. It’s up to you.
20. I Want the World to Stop by Belle & Sebastian (2010)
It’s all about that locked-in beat. The groove is the beginning, the end, the core of this song, one of the best standalone tracks in the impressive Belle & Sebastian catalog. The hallmarks of the band do make the journey here (charming guitar, careful orchestration, beautiful singing). The earworm this time is that bass, shifting and dancing atop that fabulous drum. You’re rewarded most when the strings and horns cut out around the 2:30 mark and the band rebuilds from nothing. The payoff is pure bliss.
19. It’s Real by Real Estate (2011)
Would that we could all have a love so simple and wonderful as this. “It’s Real” is sweet and tidy, ringing guitars echoing the singer’s straightforward bliss. While Real Estate would move on to an even better record, the complex sadness felt in Atlas never holds the same sunny nostalgia of the band’s best song.
18. Ain’t That The Way by Divine Fits (2013)
Britt Daniel is the greatest singer in rock today, and his throat gives “Ain’t That the Way” the soul needed to reach its heights. In a way this could be an excuse to toss another Spoon song on the list. In actuality, the influence of Dan Boeckner makes this a very different animal than Daniel’s other band. It’s here (and in partner song “Chained to Love”) that Divine Fits find confidence in their own sound, a promise for future work that’s grounded in rewarding rock right now.
17. Conversation 16 by The National (2010)
This is the song that cracked The National for me. Looking back, it’s weird I didn’t pick up on “Lit Up” or “Fake Empire,” but then those songs don’t have the same machine-gun drum. And more importantly, that guitar. That guitar. The chorus has this specific high, ringing guitar that accents as Matt Berninger sings, “Now we’ll leave the silver city, ‘cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams.” It’s the smallest of details, but for The National? That kind of thing speaks volumes.
16. Suburban War by Arcade Fire (2010)
Arcade Fire often gets linked to the big songs, the epic stadium songs. One of their best is the smaller sound of a haunting guitar. “Suburban War” plays best in a car in the deep of a lonely night. It’s fitting, after all, because the song isn’t directed at the masses. It’s a close personal reflection on the suburban sprawl, told to just a few others as they go for a drive. The band can’t help but direct their aim to a bigger topic in the whole album, but this is the case where the personal and the world intersect to devastating effect.
15. Dance for You by Dirty Projectors (2012)
“There is an answer, I haven’t found it. But I will keep dancing till I do.” I’ve always latched personal meaning to the song, so I can’t help but love it. It is this idea that the band is trying to save a loved one, be it from life state, mental health, or physical health. It’s that last one I especially put on it, the tighter focus version of “Race for the Prize.” The goal may be unknown or unattainable in this life. The reason for the pursuit is more than enough to keep pushing, to keep dancing.
14. Rocks in Paper by Alek Fin (2012)
The best Radiohead song of the past 8 years is not by Thom Yorke but by LA-based musician Alek Fin. “Rocks In Paper” sounds like the evolution of In Rainbows, the mathematical drums, the ethereal voice, the slight electronic bent are all there. The initial draw is the distinct similarity to the British group, the staying power is how Fin elevates past where a King of Limbs song would stop. Instead of being a forgettable pretty, “Rocks in Paper” has urgency to support the flash.
13. What You Know by Two Door Cinema Club (2010)
“What You Know” is straightforward, almost to the point of being too simple. Emo-quality lyrics, stupid addictive central guitar hook. And wouldn’t you know? It works perfectly. The danceable beat and wailing guitar dig under your skin. When the chorus pops, it’s already too late. It’s cheesy/sappy if you look at anything except the surface (“I can tell just what you want, you don’t want to be alone”) and somehow the whole package is an instantly memorable hit. Pop is weird.
12. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent (2013)
It’s hard to hear and process deep sorrow and regret with any kind of regularity. “Song for Zula” is one of the most affecting songs of the half-decade, and accordingly it is a tough journey. Musically, it’s beautiful with careful strings and a delicate bass. The horror lies in the lyrics as Matthew Houck shares his unending heartbreak. “I will not open myself up this way again,” he affirms. Yet there is also complexity here, a trapped anger that fuels the disappointment, as if he’s stuck in this place. He tells the unnamed subject, “I could kill you with with my bare hands if I was free.” “Zula” smolders and it’s incredible.
11. Oxygen by Swans (2014)
This is the crown jewel in the powerful To Be Kind. “Oxygen” looms large from the moment it arrives. Big guitar gives way to big bass, gives way to big drums, all falling in line with snarling vocals and screaming horns. The song hits a sweet spot, bringing terror and exhilaration out of the same diatribe. The incredible finish, the final four minutes, spins off in dizzying directions. Swans’ leader Michael Gira shouts and barks incoherent threats and against all logic you’ll nod in agreement. I find it oddly fitting that a song about oxygen removal comes as such a breath of fresh air.