So it's no secret that the first six months of 2010 have been absolutely saturated with great music. In fact, attempting to compile an AOTY list counting only January through July would be tremendously difficult, much less the best songs. Of course, trying to cram all the great stuff from the last six months into a list of six is a total joke, but I figured I'd try all the same. This list could easily be different in another month or so, but as of right now these are the ten songs of 2010 that have stuck with me the most. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Farewell, Mona Lisa
Mathcore, hardcore, progressive metal, it really doesn't matter what you call it, it's some pretty amazing shit. This isn't necessarily the best song on the album, but it's easily the best intro so far this year - the low, almost surf-rock sounding opening riff is almost inviting, but when Greg Puciato takes that deep breath, in that moment you know a shitstorm's about to hit. And it hits hard, harder than anything that was on Ire Works, at least. The first half is classic Dillinger; furious screams, intensely technical drumming, and forcibly merging time signatures together in a way that never quite makes sense until after a few listens. The second half is a rather dramatic, prog-ish bit that almost resembles Tool in its ambition, but obviously far heavier, made all the more gripping by Puciato's raging delivery. The two halves really shouldn't work together, but somehow they pull it off, and it flows impressively all the way to the song's dying strains.
Whitey - Count Those Freaks
A bafflingly unpopular indie act, Whitey started out toying with a basic lo-fi sound and has evolved into quite an eclectic sound. On Count Those Freaks, he tackles a basic swing sound and shows off his knack for catchy melodies with a very dark, twisted, and paranoid approach. The way he piles on new sounds as the song progresses is rather inspired as well, and the result is a demented, almost danceable track that builds up to tremendous effect.
Eminem - Almost Famous
It's nice to see that while with Relapse, where I was in a group of maybe six people in the world who actually liked it, Eminem's new album Recovery is getting the general praise that it has. I wouldn't quite call it a return to form (given my fondness for Relapse), but there's no denying that he's firing on all cylinders here. Em has a remarkable way of letting his flow go off in its own direction independent of the beat, but somehow making it fit in the confines of the song and sound as if it shouldn't have been any other way. And the flow here is outstanding; over DJ Khalil's organ driven beat, he goes from funny to clever to inspirational, and by the end of each verse he sounds absolutely unstoppable - as if he could easily have kept going for another ten minutes when Liz Rodriguez steps in with her best Karin Dreijer Andersson impersonation for the chorus. Squeezing Abraham Lincoln off of a penny, working 'antidisestablishmentarianism' into a rap, making hilarious David Carradine references... yup, Em just got relevant again.
The Chemical Brothers - Another World
What with their following the law of diminishing returns a little too well after 1997's genre-defining Dig Your Own Hole, it feels great to enjoy a new Chemical Brothers song again. Largely abandoning the whole big beat sound, the Chems' latest is a much more laid back affair, and this song is perhaps its finest moment. Another World is definitely chill, but it's got quite a lot going on, least of all those manipulated synths that give it such a psychedelic, trance-ish feel. It masterfully meets that middle ground between electronica made for headphones and the dancefloor, managing to be both ethereal and fun, and that's really where the charm of this song lies.
Flying Lotus - Do the Astral Plane
Yeah, this is the one every FlyLo fan, their mother, father, and creepy uncle who never married are in love with, and for damned good reason. Do the Astral Plane is the perfect representative of Cosmogramma's sound - all the directions it goes in are nearly overwhelming, but somehow he manages to keep it just accessible enough to enjoy. It does what every great dance track does, it opens with a catchy hook that is so instantly likeable that nobody would mind if he simply put it on loop - and then he doesn't. The track goes through so many changes throughout its near four minute length, sampling house, jazz, hip-hop, funk, electro, and so on and so forth, yet it never spirals out of control, keeping its initial sound buried in the mix just enough to be mildly obscured but still identifiable. Not to mention that it was practically made for blaring while driving with your window down on a summer night... oh crap, this is going to end up on a car commercial, isn't it...
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Like most Arcade Fire fans, I was rather underwhelmed by the singles released from their upcoming album upon first listen. My first impression, at least, was that it sounded like more traditional indie than an actual Arcade Fire song, much like Broken Social Scene's somewhat disappointing recent album. However, what really gives this song its quality is the sheer emotional weight. I've always had a soft spot for deliberately hoping in the face of hopelessness, which is what The Suburbs feels about to me. Hearing Win Butler talk about wanting a daughter so he can show her the possible beauty in the world before the inevitable damage life can incur on people is devastating, namely when coming not even a minute after going on about everything's inevitable end, singing "It meant nothing at all, it meant nothing."
Far - Pony
If you don't remember when Ginuwine's Pony was the smash dance hit it was way back when, don't worry - its phenomenon lives on to this day. Pony is one of those songs that does something to people, it just fills them with an unspeakable lust that they can't really explain. I can't tell you how many times I've heard this at a club, and suddenly the girls on the floor just... they look hotter, and for a moment I have no idea why, until I think "oh, Pony's on." Enter Far, a much loved post-hardcore band from the late 90s who suddenly re-emerge in 2010 with a... well, a less than stellar album, but certainly not without its moments - this cover being the finest by a country mile. Despite the heavy rock interpretation, it retains all the sleazy groove of the original, and while Jonah Matranga is no Ginuwine, he still expresses that sexual energy pretty damn well.
Sarah Jaffe - Clementine
This one is a real heartbreaker. Sarah Jaffe has never been the most impressive singer-songwriter, but she really hits pay dirt here. Musically, what catches you are the various and spare strings that chime in at just the right moments, which keeps the gloomy, minimal nature of the track while making it feel just a little busy. It's the lyrics that kill, though - it basically details that moment when heartbreak turns into that cold, emotionless state. It may sound a bit extreme, but really we've all been there, when love sounds like the least appealing thing in the world, not necessarily because you think it's worthless, but because in your mind no matter how great it could be, it could never be bigger than the hurt it can bring.
Noisia - Alpha Centauri
Hands down the best drum & bass I have heard in a long, long while. Noisia bring a creativity to the genre that rivals Pendulum's best moments, and Alpha Centauri serves as an excellent example. It's all about the build up here, and while the minimalist intro has its own pull, it's not until a good minute and a half in that the warped and distorted main synth comes in, and things get really interesting. Once the beat kicks in, it's a fuckin' banger, with a heavy, futuristic sound that borrows equally from house, dubstep, and dnb. Utterly mesmerizing.
The Black Keys - Everlasting Light
The Black Keys have been around about as long as the White Stripes, and tackle more or less the same bluesy sound, but have sadly never achieved anywhere near the same level of popularity (despite having a far more consistent catalogue). Everlasting Light has a great blues rock groove to it, and gets amazing mileage from its rather simple hook. The falsetto croons and vocal fills are what really give the song its soul though, and while like I said, it's a very simple song, it's just got such an uplifting swagger to it - you can really feel like hot shit driving around blaring this. Er... not to suggest driving up to girls and saying "hey I'm playing Everlasting Light, wanna fuck?" will work or anything. But hey, you never know... the world's a twisted place.