10. Titus Andronicus – “The Battle of Hampton Roads”
For the better part of an hour, with gut-wrenching fury, Patrick Stickles’ quivering yelps denounce “the enemy”–whoever or whatever its form. To the angsty poet, “the enemy is everywhere,” polluting our sense of self-worth with nasty remarks and backwards pathology. But there are few moments in rock as heartbreaking, truly revelatory, or thematically beautiful as when the apprehensive frontman pleads, begs, and reasons with the very source of all his woes, the enemy he rails against so vehemently. At the record’s culmination, Stickles realizes something profound: With nobody to set yourself against, you really are nothing much at all. “I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave,” he cries repeatedly over fumbling, swelling chords and funereal horns. In doing so, Stickles defends “the enemy’s” requisite, harks back to all of The Monitor‘s complex war-torn themes, and expresses the feeling that we, as listeners, experience as the record concludes. Please, don’t ever leave. -Drew Litowitz
09. Beach House – “Zebra”
Somewhat rarely is the opening track to an album far and away the best of the album. But I think Beach House did it on purpose. The leap from their previous album, Devotion, into the mainstream with Teen Dream was one of massive proportions. Gone are the days of their signature minimalism; a wonderful, expanded sound has gladly replaced it. Beach House instantly went from underground dream-pop darlings to full-fledged indie stars. The success of Devotion, the BFF affiliation with Grizzly Bear, and the expansion into a deeper, broader sound made way for a very successful follow-up album.
There is no doubt that the band picked this track to lead their listeners into their new, more perfected sound. Victoria Legrand’s brooding, husky vocals had a new quality to them, something more confident. The backing musicianship had obviously been expanded upon; especially noticeable were the live drums that replaced the old drum tracks they had set a foundation on. No longer tentative, Alex Scally had taken absolute control of the melody with his slow and steady guitar riffs. And with those expansions, we have ourselves a Beach House that has come into their own. We watched as they made their way through the stages of indie infancy with their self-titled album. We watched as they conquered the world with the obvious, yet inhibited talent of Devotion. And we watched as they released Teen Dream – the album that solidifies their position as a dominating force in the indie music scene. -Winston Robbins
08. Kanye West – “Runaway”
Just one note on the piano. In its simplicity, it’s one of the best moments of any song this year. One note repeated over and over without any clue as to when the song is going to begin. The strength and foundation of Kanye West‘s biggest statement lies on one note. And the rest of “Runaway” is given a pretty straightforward presentation; the lyrics spill it all on the table. He always finds something wrong. He was never much of a romantic. He showed this bitch a picture of his dick (or, if you prefer, his “HEY!”). Top all that off with Pusha T, who shows up on the track, vicious with language.
After its debut at the VMAs, a lot of people tagged the song as an apology to Taylor Swift, but it’s nothing so juvenile. It’s not even a tongue-in-cheek toast for all the douchebags/assholes/scumbags/jerk-offs. It’s a self-reflection of how he treated another woman (presumably the one on the other end of 808s & Heartbreak). It’s a song that’s got Kanye singing with desperation at the climax and closing with an Auto-Tuned mumble of the song’s central lyrics. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable you’ll hear the man, which is saying something for a guy who has spent hours on Twitter and his blog talking about his feelings. “Power” let Kanye pound his chest again. “Runaway” is on the other side of the spectrum — his catharsis. Damn if it isn’t one of hip-hop’s greatest self-reflections. -Evan Minsker[audio:https://consequenceofsound.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/09-runaway-feat-pusha-t.mp3|titles=Kanye West – “Runaway” (feat. Pusha T)]
07. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”
There’s a lot that comes to mind during “The Suburbs”. The title track to Arcade Fire‘s recent third entry in their highly celebrated discography merits some deep, deep analysis. Is it about lost youth? Reckless abandonment? A quarter-life crisis? The end of the world? So many broad descriptions that produce so much angst. So much. Songwriter Win Butler orchestrates this haunting introduction that reads like a lost Hemingway passage, only it sounds like a rusty Neil Young ballad gone awry.
Whereas Young keeps things fairly grounded, Butler tends to a scatterbrained painting here, recalling how “the first bombs fell” and the (possibly) murky desire to “want a daughter while [he’s] still young.” It’s all very vague. What’s arresting, however, is how easily you can identify with this song. On paper, the song feels distant, as if Butler’s writing post-modern science fiction, all sewed up with literary themes stripped from ancient Americana. But, in its brute form, as a song that is, “The Suburbs” creepily unravels the threads to your heart, one by one, and even if you might not understand exactly what’s going on, you’ll feel it. Sometimes that’s all that matters. Sometimes that matters even more. -Michael Roffman
06. The National – “Terrible Love” (Alternate Version)
When The National debuted “Terrible Love” on Jimmy Fallon in March, my initial reaction was “Wow, that’s good. Like, ‘Mr. November’ good.” That perception was reaffirmed 24 hours later when the band chose to close their set at The Bell House in Brooklyn with this new track, thus bumping longtime set closer “Mr. November” to second-to-last song. It’s easy to understand why the Brooklyn band made that decision and have continued to do so with every performance that has followed. “Terrible Love” features 2010’s best musical climax, transitioning from a slow and atmospheric beginning to a pulsating, guitar- and drum-driven peak. Yet when fans first spun High Violet, the opening track that previously heard intensity was noticeably lacking.
When I asked guitarist Aaron Dessner about the differences, he explained that the band “loved the murky and kind of ugly Velvet Underground aesthetic of the album version of the song,” but after performing it live for the first time, “We realized it would be a really big song live. We also realized our fans might be a little disappointed that the album version doesnt kick in as forcefully in the drumming as it does live.” So, six months later, The National unveiled a new, alternate version of “Terrible Love”, and as Dessner admitted, “In some ways its a more effective or forceful realization of the song.” Either way, we’re left with two versions of one brilliant song. -Alex Young