Best Songs of the ’10s: #20-11

20. K.D. Lang & The Siss Boom Bang, “The Water’s Edge”
The highlight from Lang’s underrated 2011 album Sing It Loud, it has all of her strengths, from that one-of-a-kind voice to her refusal to play by genre rules. Timeless and deeply felt, it’s the song from her post-Ingenue catalog that should be as ubiquitous as “Constant Craving”.

19. Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”
Possibly the decade’s best singles artist, this initial peek into her first great album solidifies all of her obsessions and aesthetic proclivities but also recasts them into something more intimate and direct and yet stylish enough to pull off that harpischord twirl in the intro.

18. M83, “Midnight City”
I resisted at first—what a blatant ’80s pastiche! Within weeks, however, I found myself genuinely thrilled to hear that dramatic intro, that moment when the beat wallops in, that breakdown after the second chorus, that shameless but transcendent sax solo at the climax.

17. Kelsey Lu, “Poor Fake”
Always on the lookout for weird new female artists that have at least a little Kate Bush in them, I instantly fell in love with this when it appeared on my Spotify “Discover Weekly” playlist. An orchestrated, danceable will o’ the wisp concerning art forgery? Yes, please.

16.Imperial Teen, “How We Say Goodbye”
As perfect a three-minute power pop song as you’re ever likely to hear; deceptively simple, it so effortlessly builds from verse to chorus that by the time it reaches the title hook at the end, you’re so caught up in the melodic rush of it all you might not realize how they’ve achieved so much with so little.

15. Emm Gryner, “Imagination”
From “Summerlong” to “Ciao Monday” this Canadian singer-songwriter has a talent for big hooks that you want to tell the whole world about; this one, a bold, technicolor, neo-psychedelic wonder, shows that two decades in, she still has the knack for them.

14. Florence + The Machine, “Queen of Peace”
She hasn’t topped Lungs yet, but she’s come close a few times, most noticeably on this track from her third album which tricks the listener into thinking it’s one kind of song (an aria, or a power ballad?) until the unexpected Motown-style beat appears and it suddenly transforms into something else altogether—just as exciting, and you can dance to it.

13. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Boy Problems”
Who knew teen-pop could be so utterly sublime? I admit I did not until this gem from her beloved E*MO*TION album wore me down (and it didn’t take long.) It’s as calculating a pop song as you’re ever likely to hear, but so sincere and yearning that the giddy high it produces is well worth whatever it does to get to that rare, heavenly place.

12. Tracey Thorn, “Dancefloor”
Thorn’s solo career continues to impress for its conciseness; this final track from Record is both a declaration and an epiphany: “Someone’s singing and I realize it’s me,” she notes over vital electro-beats, and I can’t imagine anyone who has ever loved singing along to music whether in a club or in the shower not being able to relate.

11. Of Monsters and Men, “Dirty Paws”
I ignored this in favor of hits like “Little Talks” until I heard it in trailer for Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty—its dynamic build, chiming notes and over-the-top shouts of HEY! got my attention, and I love how it goes out on a limb to risk seeming foolish or uncool, and ends up sounding rather glorious.

2015: I Know That She’s Right

A standout year for new music—I know, every year produces its share, but 2015 was for me another 1992 or 2004. That I wrote about three albums from this year (the most for a single year in a decade) speaks to it, along with all the great ones I didn’t include: Edge of The Sun, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, FFS, Art Angels—all of them worthy of their own entries, denied primarily for space restraints (this project isn’t called 100+ Albums), each one represented here by a standout track, with “Nobody’s Empire” increasingly looking like Stuart Murdoch’s best song nearly two decades after If You’re Feeling Sinister.

At this year’s end, I even sent out an annual mix CD to friends, something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and haven’t again at this writing.) The first 17 tracks here more or less replicate that mix: a parade of perennials (Marling, Cracknell, Gryner, Sufjan, etc.) with a few one-offs and some newbies woven in (Vampire Weekend’s bassist’s side project Baio; Courtney Barnett cannily channeling The New Pornographers while still sounding like her eccentric self.)

The remaining 20-odd songs are split between good stuff I couldn’t originally fit on an 80-minute CD (Grace Potter’s disco-rock extravaganza, Listenbee’s EDM-folk mashup, the first good Madonna song in a decade) and, as always, gems I didn’t encounter until the following year or two: Susanne Sundfor’s superior Swedish synth-pop, Natalie Prass’ classy, out-of-time balladry, and of course, Carly Rae Jepsen. The much-praised E*MO*TION is more a solid collection of singles + filler than a Classic Album to me, but oh, what singles, especially “Boy Problems”: so blissfully, self-assuredly perfect and sophisticated teen-pop, it nearly got me through the following year.

Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 2015 on Spotify:

  1. Belle and Sebastian, “Nobody’s Empire”
  2. Years & Years, “Shine”
  3. Florence + The Machine, “Queen of Peace”
  4. Destroyer, “Times Square”
  5. Laura Marling, “False Hope”
  6. Baio, “Sister of Pearl”
  7. Calexico, “Miles From The Sea”
  8. Robert Forster, “A Poet Walks”
  9. Sarah Cracknell, “Hearts Are For Breaking”
  10. Twin Shadow, “When The Lights Turn Out”
  11. Emm Gryner, “The Race”
  12. Jose Gonzalez, “Let It Carry You (Dino Soccio Mix)”
  13. Roisin Murphy, “Unputdownable”
  14. Sufjan Stevens, “Fourth of July”
  15. Metric, “Fortunes”
  16. Courtney Barnett, “Elevator Operator”
  17. Marina and the Diamonds, “I’m A Ruin”
  18. Hot Chip, “Dark Night”
  19. Jamie xx/Romy, “Loud Places”
  20. New Order, “Academic”
  21. Susanne Sundfor, “Fade Away”
  22. Lianne La Havas, “Tokyo”
  23. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Boy Problems”
  24. Matthew E. White, “Rock & Roll Is Cold”
  25. Grimes, “Flesh Without Blood”
  26. The Weepies, “No Trouble”
  27. Grace Potter, “Alive Tonight”
  28. Deerhunter, “Breaker”
  29. Natalie Prass, “Why Don’t You Believe In Me”
  30. Beirut, “Perth”
  31. Tanlines, “Pieces”
  32. Listenbee, “Nottamun Town”
  33. Madonna, “Joan of Arc”
  34. Lord Huron, “Dead Man’s Hand”
  35. FFS, “Piss Off”
  36. Christine and The Queens, “Tilted”
  37. The Radio Dept., “This Repeated Sodomy”
  38. Ivan & Alyosha, “It’s All Just Pretend”
  39. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, “I Need Never Get Old”
  40. Tracey Thorn, “Let Me In”