Best Songs of the ’10s: #30-21

30. Ezra Furman, “I Lost My Innocence”
Gender-bending glam punk rhymes “Box of Girl Scout Thin Mints” with “Pack of Winstons” within a jaunty ode to deflowering that Dr. Frank-n-Furter could sing in his/her cabaret act.

29. The Ting Tings, “Guggenheim”
I’ve played this curious, bratty ditty to the point of exhaustion and it hasn’t worn me down yet. Debbie Harry wannabe Katie White sings, “I’ll paint my face like the Guggenheim”; it still sounds like “play my bass” and both are magnificent nonsense.

28. The Rapture, “How Deep Is Your Love?”
Not a Bee Gees cover, but much better than that could possibly ever be. That breakdown in the middle just slays.

27. Eleanor Friedberger, “When I Knew”
This ex-Fiery Furnaces vocalist going trad-pop has given me more pleasure than I ever imagined it could. “She was wearing a pair of overalls, so I played ‘Come On, Eileen’” is just one of several terrific lyrics in this disarming declaration of lust.

26. Jenny Lewis, “Late Bloomer”
A throwback to classic-rock story-songs like “Maggie May” but filtered through Lewis’ puckish demeanor, “Late Bloomer” sports a melody and an arrangement both so inviting and generous I remain flummoxed as to why this isn’t more of a standard.

25. John Grant, “GMF”
The title’s a NSFW acronym that’s also too brilliant to reveal; with backing vocals from an interpreter of his work (see #39), this dyspeptic declaration of self is as bold and necessary now as Walt Whitman’s own was in his day (he might’ve liked the lyric, “So go ahead and love me while it’s still a crime.”)

24. Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Deadly Valentine”
Gainsbourg returned from a recording hiatus with this sinister orchestral disco banger that would’ve surely made her father proud. Even though it’s entirely in English, the words barely register or matter—that insistent, loping groove and descending melody (and countermelodies!) steady the song with an aura of an opulent dream.

23. The War On Drugs, “Pain”
I adore the intro here: drumless, airy, all those reverb-heavy guitars just gradually falling into place. As the beat kicks in and the melody, enhanced by Adam Granduciel’s croon keeps circling back to that opening, “Pain” grows richer and deeper, its layers crystallizing into a glistening whole.

22. Orville Peck, “Dead of Night”
A one-of-a-kind voice that nearly stopped me dead in my tracks when I first heard it: sonorous, robust and a bit camp, you could compare Peck to many other baritones (from Chris Isaak to Stephen Morrissey), but this song’s minimalist arrangement and vast sense of space further set him apart.

21. Sufjan Stevens, “Mystery Of Love”
Call Me By Your Name would’ve been great without musical contributions from Stevens, but their presence arguably makes it even better for how well they complement and contextualize the visuals. Still, I could sense how special the film might be when I first heard this weeks before actually seeing it.

2012: My Life Has Just Begun!

Two-thirds of the tracks below are culled from two Spotify playlists originally posted at the end of 2012: Someone Who Looks Smashing In Athletic Wear (a lyric from Sinead O’Connor’s ferocious cover of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark”) and You Enjoy Sucking On Dreams (a lyric from “Serpents”, the first Sharon Van Etten song I ever heard.) Scanning my music library, I came up with a dozen more tracks I encountered in subsequent years (many of ’em in 2013, like “Default”, “I’m Getting Ready” and “The Diaz Brothers”.) Also made a few substitutions (“Sovereign Light Cafe” a more enduring Keane song than “On The Road” (but not by much, really); “Dirty Paws” one of my favorite songs ever as opposed to the merely catchy “Mountain Sound”) and a handful of subtractions (Deep Sea Arcade, The Shins, Regina Spektor)–to keep this at forty tracks, process of elimination inevitably sets in.

Looking over what’s left, I sense a lack of cynicism and weariness I’ve cultivated in the years since—to me, this looks like an utopian ideal of an annual mix: career highlights from Saint Etienne and Stars (both of whom I saw in concert that year), great returns from such veterans as Aimee Mann, Dr. John, Fiona Apple and Patti Smith and a few oddities that continue to age beautifully: Claudia Brucken’s late-period Bowie cover, Emm Gryner’s cool Hall & Oates cover, Josephine’s out-of-time cabaret-pop ballad (discovered by me three years later on an episode of Quantico, of all places) and a cheeky, sublime novelty from The Ting Tings’s flop follow-up LP to their 2008 hit debut: “Next time I’m gonna get it right / I’m gonna paint my face like the Guggenheim,” yelps Katie White, incessantly. Fun fact: until I looked up the lyrics today, I thought she was singing “play my bass at” instead of “paint my face like.” Either way, it’s glorious gibberish.

Click here to listen to my 2012 playlist on Spotify.

  1. Saint Etienne, “Tonight”
  2. Tanlines, “All Of Me”
  3. The Magnetic Fields, “Andrew In Drag”
  4. Django Django, “Default”
  5. Diamond Rings, “Runaway Love”
  6. Stars, “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It”
  7. Jens Lekman, “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder”
  8. Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments”
  9. Hot Chip, “Let Me Be Him”
  10. Rufus Wainwright, “Bitter Tears”
  11. Sinead O’Connor, “Queen of Denmark”
  12. The Ting Tings, “Guggenheim”
  13. Aimee Mann, “Labrador”
  14. Imperial Teen, “Out From Inside”
  15. Miike Snow, “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)”
  16. Twin Shadow, “Run My Heart”
  17. Martha Wainwright, “I Wanna Make An Arrest”
  18. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”
  19. A.C. Newman, “They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”
  20. Metric, “The Void”
  21. Calexico, “Splitter”
  22. Sharon Van Etten, “Serpents”
  23. Gossip, “Move In The Right Direction”
  24. Dr. John, “Revolution”
  25. The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man”
  26. Keane, “Sovereign Light Cafe”
  27. Bat For Lashes, “Laura”
  28. Emm Gryner, “She’s Gone”
  29. Michael Kiwanuka, “I’m Getting Ready”
  30. Patti Smith, “April Fool”
  31. Andrew Bird, “Lusitania”
  32. Josephine, “House of Mirrors”
  33. Ben Folds Five, “Away When You Were Here”
  34. The Mountain Goats, “The Diaz Brothers”
  35. Bettye LaVette, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”
  36. Of Monsters and Men, “Dirty Paws”
  37. A Fine Frenzy, “Now Is The Start”
  38. Field Music, “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing”
  39. Claudia Brucken, “Everyone Says ‘Hi’”
  40. Beth Orton, “Mystery”