100 songs, one per artist, no particular order.
1. Kanye West – Runaway (feat. Pusha T)
The original 5 and a half version was great. We had Kanye vulnerable; Pusha’s impregnable swagger (‘You can leave if you can’t accept the basics’).The skitter-and-rumble of the east-coast drums thrown against the classical refinement of the plangent plink of that piano hook; that instantly bloggable hook. But, as was the case with much of the sprawling genius of MBDTF, the song had to go bigger, more ambitious to really achieve its potential.
The woozy post-break-up stumble sketched by the falling action of the third verse (Never was much of a romantic/ I could never take the intimacy) and the smashed champagne flute percussion in the chorus is more fully realised here. The strains of the string quartet, the cello stabs rubbing up against the hurt of Kanye’s wounded autotune wail, sounding like the loneliest little android this side of the milky way, are typical of the album’s demolition of the walls between high and low art, pop and classical, hip hop and everything else; the emotional sentiment it creates typical of the album’s relentless and brutal honesty.
MBDTF has a lot of highs (I had half the album shortlisted for my one Kanye track): Nicki’s destruction of everyone else on Monster, the Dropout recollecting soul-shimmer of Devil in a New Dress and the those hair-raising harmonies on Lost in the World, but there’s not a better, more affecting nine minutes of music to be found on it than this.
2. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People
3. Lady Gaga – Telephone
4. Robyn – Hang With Me
5. Ariel Pink – Round and Round
6. Young Galaxy – Peripheral Visionaries
7. Sleigh Bells – Tell ‘Em
8. Wavves – Post Acid
9. Crystal Castles – Not in Love (feat. Robert Smith)
10. James Blake – CMYK
Before he went all sexy, starting singing and begun harbouring a desire to be an R&B superstar of sorts (the album’s leaked, listen to it), James Blake made his trade by making wonky post-dubstep tracks like this. That CMYK hasn’t made it onto his self-titled debut isn’t an indication that he’s moved or improved on from earlier EP sketches. For better or worse the debut concerns itself with the bedroom rather than the dancefloor. Where other Blake productions creep and slither, exposing a bit of skin before snatching it sharply out of view, CMYK is a relatively straightforward, direct affair made to, you know, dance to.
Boasting relatively unoblique samples of Kelis and Aaliyah, CMYK still percolates wheezes and refuses to hold still like a James Blake song does. The synths sound warped like they’ve been left in the sun too long and vocoder vocals haunt the track in between the unregimented bass trills, but it’s all underpinned by those constant, mechanical snare hits. There are no nerve-fraying vortexes of silence half way through. It is, if anything, consistently inconsistent. And it’s still smart. When the beat switches up in the last minute and the whole song lurches forward as if it’s about to burst at the seams, it’s as if it’s losing its composure to Kelis’ pitch-shifted spurned love act, essaying the claustrophobia of being found out that the fucked-up synths hint at earlier. Not bad for the guy’s most pop number.
11. Caribou – Sun
12. Joanna Newsom – Soft As Chalk
13. Vampire Weekend –Cousins
14. Kelis – Acapella
15. Deerhunter – Helicopter
16. Matthew Dear –Put a Smell on Me
17. Nicki Minaj – Roman’s Revenge (feat. Eminem)
18. LCD Soundsystem – All I Want
19. Nika + Rory – I’m Not Going Anywhere
20. Ceo – Come With Me
Writing about love as a transcendental and spiritual experience isn’t anything new in pop music: partner’s providing zen-like calm and completeness; vanquishing existential doubts and becoming objects of worship are pretty common tropes. It’s something so familiar that it can be jarring to hear a song written in the same language about a relationship that might not be all that good or healthy; something that could be quite obsessive and poisonous. The reasons for a relationship going bad – sex, infidelity, jealousy, dishonesty – don’t really gel with the whole religious thing.
Through the woozy synths and repeating vocal samples, like the soundtrack to an unsettling dream or, more suitably, vision, ceo insists the love interest join him in his ‘reality’ and muses whether they’d ‘sacrifice this life to make it real’. The intent might be sincere and well-meaning. Sacrifices and promises of a better life are not that out there for a love song, and there’s a innocent, yearning teenage quality to the bridge’s ‘Oh baby’s and the way the dorky way he bends his voice in the ‘verses’, and the whole song sits half way between eminently catchy and a little perculiar, in some awkward mystery zone (hey, that’s the name of another song on this list!), but ultimately it’s the language of the equivalent ‘bad-side’ to religions: cults. You’re just drawn in and won over by the hooks before you realise it.
21. Janelle Monae – Tightrope
22. Freddie Gibbs – National Anthem
23. Spoon – Mystery Zone
24. Waka Flocka Flame – Hard in Da Paint
25. Women – Eyesore
26. Odd Future – Swag Me Out
27. Erykah Badu – Window Seat
28. Gorillaz – Empire Ants
29. Titus Andronicus – Battle Of Hampton Roads
30. Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
The Suburbs is a very, very long and very, very beige album at times; very serious and suitably serious sounding. Sprawl II is still very, very serious, but it’s the sound of Arcade Fire remembering that songs about suburban ennui don’t have to be as numbing as suburban ennui.
They’ve done disco before. Amongst the baroque grandeur of Funeral there were splashes of it; Neighbourhood #1 has a subtle hi-hat ‘groove’ of sorts that winds through it, and along with Crown of Love crescendos into dancefloor catharsis at its climax.
Sprawl II is a more complete surrender to that tendency. It’s a disco track out-and out. The twirling, sparkling synths and the way Regine’s breathy vocals channel a long-forgotten disco chanteuse from the continent stands in deliberate contrast with the rest of the album’s terse Springsteenian mannerisms. It doesn’t sound as much like Heart of Glass as everyone says it does, but the same New Wave DNA is there.
And it’s still so serious. Memories of an earlier and freer adolescence (We rode our bikes to the nearest park / Sat under the swings and kissed in the dark) come under siege from the pressures of growing up and getting on (Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock). As anthems of teenage defiance go, it’s pretty good. As a reminder of the necessity of the same underdetermined, free teenage spirit in their music, it’s vital.
31. DOM – Living in America
32. Big Boi – Shine Blockas
33. Dent May – Eastover Wives
34. Yeasayer – O.N.E
35. Four Tet – Sing
36. Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside
37. Beat Connection – Theme From Yours Truly
38. Panda Bear – Slow Motion
39. Teengirl Fantasy – Cheaters
40. Katy Perry – California Gurls
Snoop Dogg makes a lot of guest appearances. There’s another one on this list alone and he could be on it another half-dozen. It’s often quite perfunctory, the guy hasn’t been relevant or very good for quite a while, but he is Snoop Dogg; he does laid-back cool better than most. But here there’s a nice hap-tip to his oeuvre, and a necessity for him to be there beyond ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have Snoop Dogg on our track’.
Beyond the west coast reppin’ of the title, the guttural slapping bass line, vocodered vocals and wah-wah guitar gives the song the feel of the same p-funk that Snoop was paying homage to at the start of the 90s. So when he shows up, he’s just another necessary texture. Doing p-funk? Want a rapper on it? Get Snoop Dogg.
Plus, Katy’s pretty good here, too and the hook’s huge. One of the stronger post-Bad Romance chart hits.
41. Best Coast – When I’m With You
42. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – Bang Bang Bang
43. M.I.A – XXXO
44. Cults – Go Outside
45. Avey Tare – Laughing Hieroglyphic
46. Jay Electronica Exhibit C
47. Tame Impala – Solitude is Bliss
48. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Time of the Assassins
49. Neon Indian – Sleep Paralysist
50. Games – Strawberry Skies
Artists can keep pastiching the 80s as long as it sounds this good. The constant tease of the chorus that doesn’t come until like 2/3rds of the way through the song is never annoying. The groove of the verses and Laurel’s airy vocals are plenty engrossing enough on their own without the help of something as typical as a chorus. And then it comes; the whole song lifts off skyward and you get that delayed gratification you didn’t even know you were craving. Then it’s time to play it again to really anticipate and enjoy it this time.
51. Hot Chip – Thieves in the Night
52. Beach House – Zebra
53. Owen Pallet – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt (Dan Deacon Remix)
54. Curren$y – Seat Change (feat. Snoop Dogg)
55. Zola Jesus – Night
56. The National – Lemonworld
57. Gil Scott Heron – New York is Killing Me
58. Gonjasufi – Kowboys & Indians
59. Flying Lotus – Computer Face: Pure Being
60. Das Racist – hahahaha jk?
If you’re looking for an introduction into the music of Das Racist, this is where to start. It’s all here: the meta-ness, the self-referentiality, the pop-culture referencing and the smart, smart, smart lyricis, flow and wordplay.
True, if you’re really serious about your Hip Hop, like, The Suburbs serious, then you might not get Das Racist, There are jokes, a lot of jokes. In the first minute alone there’s the forgetting to remove the Macdonald Carey intro from the Days of our Lives sample, “we’ll take that out”, the fact that they’re sampling the Days of our Lives theme music, the blinged-out jangling chain caught on the mic, the poking fun at mindless rap preamble whilst they’re waiting for the beat to drop ‘should we talk shit at this part?’, and the achingly topical ‘I’m so wild they call me Four Loko’.
But you’d be wrong if you had them down simply as frat-house, joke-rap pranksters. Just hang around long enough to witness Hima’s endless run of intricate internal rhymes and Vazquez’s mimicking, mechanical truncation ‘chug it, cut it, print it / I think it’s finished but really black’. The reverence they have for Hip Hop is obvious. And they can really rap. The zeitgeist might move too fast in the tumblr-age for another Paul’s Boutique, but they’ll try anyway.
61. Still Corners – Endless Summer
62. Holy Ghost – Static on the Wire
63. Fol Chen – Holograms
64. El-P – How To Serve Man
65. The Walkmen – Angela Surf City
66. Warpaint – Undertow
67. Tennis – South Carolina
68. Girls – Heartbreaker
69. Mellowhype – Loco
70. Rick Ross – MC Hammer
Rick Ross isn’t a complicated character. His rapping has only one setting that principles shouting the loudest and emphasising as many syllables as possible. There’s not much technical nuance here, it’s just chest-beating, recession-proof swagger. For all intents and purposes he’s a cartoon, a caricature of all of rap’s worst and best excesses, but in a year that saw rap turn the mirror back on itself, find new shades of grey and get all emotional and vulnerable, he’s the perfect counterweight.
The supervillain-heralding sample strings, Ross’s slightly unhinged ad-libs (‘Wooooooooooooo’) and that rumbling bottom end, MC Hammer is the sound of someone going for broke. Perhaps because it’s known he used to be a correctional officer that something as ostentatious as this is enjoyable rather than irritating. The boasting of sexual conquests and material wealth has the same quality as that kid in your class whose uncle brought him back a PS3 from China. You never know, perhaps he’s hiding some more human insecurities. It’s hard not to think that even the Teflon Don himself is aware of it. How else can you interpret ‘I’m thinking money, every moment thinking money / I bust a nut then I’m back to thinking money’?
It’s unlikely that he’s doing the same knowing glances down the camera as Das Racist, but there’s something alluring in the ‘fuck the world’ revival of boom-era rap. An era when it felt like every moderately successful rap star could afford a music video that looked like it’d been directed by Michael Bay and featured an endless stream of premium sports cars and scantily-clad models. Sometimes it’s nice to live in a fantasy.
71. Gauntlet Hair – I Was Thinking
72. Washed Out – You and I
73. Ghostface Killah – 2getha Baby
74. Scissor Sisters – Invisible Light
75. El Guincho – Bombay
76. Memoryhouse – Lately (Deuximie)
77. Twin Sister – All Around and Away We Go
78. Dum Dum Girls – It Only Takes One Night
79. Surfer Blood – Take it Easy
80. Earl Sweatshirt – epaR (featuring Vince Staples)
There’s something to be said about the double standards that rap music faces in terms of artistic freedom. Verisimilitude be damned, any deviancy linked to the ‘I’ of the storyteller is an implicit encouragement and advertisement of said act. It’s terrible and hypocritical when what rock music has gotten away with is taken into consideration, but Earl – Odd Future in general – really pushes limits.
It’s been done before, yet that sensible voice in your head can’t help but give way to slight offense and knee-jerk indignation round about the time Vince takes the mic, intent on out-appalling you. ‘Chilling with a possible victim, she was 18’ ‘Look, you know it’s not rape if you like it, bitch’ accompanied by the shrill scream-imitating synth. It’s so crude, so indecent. How can they?
Yet, like most shocking media/art – Clockworm Orange, American Psycho, GTA – there’s payoffs all over the place; funny ones, too. Even whilst the body’s being disposed of, the ‘You’re Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book’ line raises a grin. It’s funny. It’s smart. In the finest traditions of someone like Eminem – an acknowledged and earnestly uncool influence – Earl’s storytelling is vivid and literary. The alliteration and light imagery of ‘Damn right, red light ran right through it’ that’s picked up towards the verse’s conclusion – ‘Red, white, blue lights in the rear-view’ – says all that needs to be said with the utmost of economy and poetry. Is ‘Miss Fuck-with-the-music’ listening to The Blueprint 3, or is she listening to the original and took 3 seconds to turn blue?
It’s crude. It’s indecent. But when the results are this good, it’s hard to be too much of a hypocrite.
81. Twin Shadow – I Can’t Wait
82. Los Campesinos! – The Sea Is A Good to Think of the Future
83. The Roots – Dear God 2.0
84. Laura Marling – Hope in the Air
85. Cut Copy – Take Me Over
86. The Knife – The Colouring of Pigeons
87. Gold Panda – Snow and Taxis
88. Mike Bigga – Swimming (prod. By Flying Lotus)
89. Neil Young – Walk With Me
90. Usher – Little Freak (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Nicki Minaj had a great 2010 everywhere she turned up apart from on her own album. Whilst Santa doesn’t have a reindeer called ‘Dixon’ this is another one of her special rap-tacular guest appearances. On-the-prowl and recruiting for a threesome, the ‘is she isn’t she?’ outfit gets dusted off from her dress-up box and used in a typically assertive manner; the already spared-down production – inspired by the ‘A Milli’ no music school of production – melts away further to give her centre stage. There’s no ‘ooh, Lesbians!’ exploitation here. She’s in charge, and, when you think about it, it’s a big display of humility for Usher to understand that, far from being god’s gift to all women, sometimes there’s someone better than him out there at recruiting women for a threesome in his own single.
Plus, that Stevie Wonder sample.
91. Major Lazer – Jump Up (Thom Yorke remix)
92. Madvillain – Bistro
93. Japandroids – Heavenward Grand Prix
94. The Samps – Peppergood
95. Rihanna – Only Girl (In The World)
96. Discodeine – Synchronize (feat. Jarvis Cocker)
97. Animal Collective – Screens
98. Anika – Yang Yang
99. Cee-lo Green – Fuck You
100. Delorean – Real Love