My attention span is roughly that of a squirrel watching Looney Tunes, and I imagine yours is as well. It’s no wonder: busy people like you and me don’t have time to finish books, movies or even complete sentences without being distracted by
So rather than listing the 10 best songs I heard in 2010, I’ll list the 10 best fragments. I’m aiming for no more than 30 seconds; this way, you can get the full experience by listening to the samples at the iTunes store (assuming, of course, that they highlight the parts of the song I want them to, which is a ridiculous assumption to make). So enjoy! Only takes 300 seconds to know everything you could want to know about music.
10. Vocoder Solo in “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn
On her new album, Body Talk, Robyn combines fun techno-pop beats with surprisingly mature lyrics. I wasn’t as won over by the single “Call Your Girlfriend” as some critics – the melody felt a little 90′s-boy-band-y to me and the message uber-patronizing – but holy crap is there a perfect little piece of heaven in the middle. Robyn’s voice is twisted and splattered all over the sonic landscape, an incredible little dance that puts screaming guitar solos to shame. The whole gloriousness is propelled by the synth beats that power the whole song.
WIN TIME: 2:30-3:00
9. Choir’s entrance in “Sorrow” by The National
Sad indie bands, once my bread and butter, fell by the wayside for me this year as I decided that being a grown-up was tricky enough without aural suffering injected directly into the eardrums. But I made an exception for High Violet, the newest album by the masters of subtle, expertly-written indie pop, The National. The second track on the album, “Sorrow,” is an exercise in simple pleasures:straight-forward lyrics on top of guitars, strings, and pianos. It’s this simplicity that makes it so effective, and when Matt Berninger mumbles “I don’t want to get over you” in his low baritone, it’s heartbreaking. And then his dead dream is lifted to heaven by a multitude of heavenly hosts. Daaaang.
WIN TIME: 1:55-2:25
8. Nicki Minaj goes nuts in “Monster” by Kanye West
Both Kanye and Jay-Z appear earlier in this song, but Minaj’s verse is the one that caught my attention. She coos, growls, and screams her lines atop of Kanye’s minimal yet effective beat. “Yeah, I’m in that Tonka, colour of Willy Wonka, you could be the King but watch the Queen conquer,” she sings. I haven’t been terribly impressed when I’ve seen Minaj in other places, but she conquers these 30 seconds just fine.
7. The chorus of “El Capitan (the Dance-y Man)” by Greg Yoder
I’m almost never going to review things my friends and family do, because 1) I am so biased and 2) if I had any criticisms to make, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to say them. BUT! I’ve listened to this 30 seconds of music more than any other, so I might as well give it a shout-out. In “El Capitan (the Dance-y Man),” Yoder crafts a loopy, exuberant chorus that is guaranteed to cement itself in your brain after the first listen. El Capitan, Yoder croons in his trademark falsetto, is captaining the ship with his hips, his heart, and his hands, and anyone listening had better join in the dance-y fun. A bunch of retro synthesizers accompany this glorious, silly epic.
WIN TIME: Coming soon!
6. Disco returns in “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire
Sprawl II continues Arcade Fire’s exploration of the beige-est place on earth, the suburbs. As I wrote in my review, it’s mostly a depressing ride. But in the penultimate song of the albums, the Arcade Fire shower the listener with joy. It’s not unreserved happiness – the title refers to “dead shopping malls,” and there’s a tinge of menace in the bubbly music. Mostly, though, the disco beat and the Cindi-Lauper-esque synths turn the song into a glittery refusal to “just punch the clock.”
WIN TIME: 1:30-2:00
5. Bridge to the End in “F#ck You” by Cee-Lo Green*
A good bridge should contain a twist on the song, either musically or lyrically. The bridge in Cee-Lo Green’s wonderful hit single does both. As the chords go minor, Cee-Lo’s voice – and with it, his bravado – begins to crack. Though the first part of the song has Cee-Lo dismissing his former paramour (“I pity the fool that falls in love with you”), by the end of the bridge he’s wailing “WHYYYYY LADYYYYY” in a hilarious decimation of his earlier cool. When this wail transitions into the final curse-out chorus, it’s a jubilant ode to ex-bashing. It’s too bad the video, which is otherwise awesome, undercuts rather than underscores Cee-Loo’s insecurity at this point; it makes the ending a bit more mean-spirited. But listen, close your eyes and remember a time when you postured that you didn’t really care about someone who had ditched you. I bet it’s never felt as good as this.
WIN TIME: 2:46-3:16 (Contains Explicit Content, according to a report from Captain Obvious)
4. Sufjan adds too much in “Too Much” by Sufjan Stevens.
When you listen to “Chicago,” Stevens’ ubiquitous single from his Illinois album, do you think “this needs more instruments”? Sufjan Stevens has long been prone to piling on everything but the kitchen sink in his folk pop orchestrations, but he outdoes himself on his latest record, The Age of Adz. By this point, Stevens has exhausted all of his real instruments and so turns to electronic instruments to make all the bleeps and bloops one can imagine. None of this is sounding like a compliment on my part, but “Too Much” is a wildly creative song on a wildly creative album. I’ma choose a bit towards the end when Sufjan’s instruments seem to be imploding under their own density.
3. Beginning of “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” by the Magnetic Fields
Despite the internet, I still go in Record Stores every once and a while and listen to the albums they have on display. In Indianapolis, I listened to the beginning of the first track of Realism, the latest album by the Magnetic Fields and, on the strength of those first 30 seconds, bought the whole album. For that alone, those seconds deserve mention on this list. Wry, clever lyrics, a transcendent ascending melody line, a mock happy jangle of folk instruments…I loved it and the rest of the album didn’t disappoint either. I’m starting my snippet 15 seconds into the song so that you can hear the way Stephin Merritt rhymes “on your knees, yeah” with “sans anesthesia.”
WIN TIME: 0:16 – 0:46
2. Cecilia in “This is the Remix” by Girl Talk
Girl Talk, aka Greg Gillis, aka That Guy Who Makes All the Mash-ups, is perfect for this list, since his compositions are almost entire 30-second snippets from the best (and the guilty pleasures) of pop culture. In his latest and best album, All Day, Girl Talk samples Beyoncé, Talking Heads, NWA, Miley Cyrus, Electric Light Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, and everyone in between. My favorite moment, however, comes when Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” is paired with Lil Jon’s “Get Low.” Doesn’t that sound amazing? If you said no, I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.
WIN TIME: 4:12-4:42
1. Just about any moment from “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae’s album The ArchAndroid (Suits II and III), is a concept album based on Metropolis, a 1927 silent science fiction film. The album fuses pop, R&B, rock, funk, swing, soul and rap in a grandiose story of a messianic android. Even these ambitions wouldn’t mean much if Monae wasn’t so dang talented. But take a look at “Tightrope.” She sings and dances seemingly without effort; she has more charisma in her twitching shoes than some pop stars have in their entire crafted personas. Just about any moment from “Tightrope” would work for this list, but I’m going with the verse that immediately follows Big Boi’s interlude. Enjoy.
WIN TIME: 2:21-2:51
There you have it; there’s my song fragments of 2010. Feel free to comment away on all the great music I overlooked due to my short attention span. I may even read your comments…if they are short.
*I feel bad censoring the title in this write-up, since the radio edit of this song is so inferior, but having parents and grandparents as readers makes me want to be on my best behavior (even as I link to cuss factories).