05. Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”
When Katy Perry first entered our shared musical consciousness, it was in the role of free-wheeling wild child, the omni-sexual beast who kissed girls and accused her boyfriend of being gay. There was an energy to her that put her in a class above the prissy, faux sexual pop divas she shared the charts with. Then, perhaps as a means to avoid the sophomore slump and pump her position up a few notches, she returned as a stifled version of her former self on tracks like California Gurls, where that sharp wit was replaced with a bizarre sexbot who had stopped winking to indicate a sense of humor and had completely given herself to the machine of uninspired pop music. Also, she started shooting whipped cream from her boobs.
If Teenage Dream (the album) had any redeeming qualities, something to remind us there still existed a shred of the Perry of old, it lived in the title track. While the more popular California Gurls showed a total obedience to air-headed inhibitions, Teenage Dream is romantic, a recalling of the highlights of a relationship and a plea to never let the fire die. Its complete rubbish in comparison to some of the more mature tracks from her first offering, but Teenage Dream is what we think the formula of Katy Perry is really about: Theres a bit of sentimentality we can all latch onto, an inoffensive and wholly appealing musical arrangement, and a slight glimmer of humor while still being an actual dedication of genuine love and devotion, one that probably actually happened. Its hard to accept this new Katy Perry for everything she gave up, not to mention the kinds of tactics she decided to utilize, but Teenage Dream gives us hope that young love can make it and that we can still adore Ms. Perry despite all her flaws. -Chris Coplan
04. Vampire Weekend – “Cousins”
At this point, it’s fair to say that Vampire Weekend have a trademark “sound”: bouncy rhythms, that infamous African sheen, and lyrics about high class and low expectations. The best thing about “Cousins”, the standout track from their sophomore slump-slaying Contra, is that it throws the trademark out the window.
Opening with a punky, almost discordant electric guitar riff, the song blooms into a weird, ever-shifting diagonal somersault, Chris Tomson’s crackling snare furiously marching against Chris Baio’s fuzzy bass, Rostam Batmanglij’s giddy, rapid-fire descending guitar figures, and Ezra Koenig’s surreal lyrics about sweaters on ocean floors and turning your back on the bitter world, delivered in a tricky rhythmic free association. Once you think you’ve finally grasped the structure of the complicated verses, the chorus hits like a sing-along brick. It’s the musical equivalent of a simultaneous handshake/bitchslap. And it’s one of the most singular, unforgettable songs of the year. -Ryan Reed
03. The Black Keys – “Tighten Up”
This moment was eight years in the making for the Akron, OH duo. With Danger Mouse at the helm again, Tighten Up broke The Black Keys out of the college radio circuit and got them as close to the mainstream as it gets, Grammy nominations and all. Its a well-deserved accolade for the band, one that started with Attack and Release and ended with one of the most enjoyable unions in music. Tighten Up is the culmination of that journey, and arguably the best song to come from the band to date. The stage is now set, The Black Keys have crossed over, and the world just got a little bluesier.
Three years ago, The Black Keys were the unlikeliest of bands to score a mainstream hit. Tighten Up was their first real stab at a pop song, though their intention was nothing more than to continue in a direction to see where it went next. The combination of roots rock revival and Danger Mouse’s presence went straight back to the Motown formula for success: just add R&B. Dan Auerbachs vocal chops are as smooth as his guitar work. Patrick Carney carries his weight, offering up some of his best drum work during the verse. Hooks lay all over the track, from the opening whistle to the guitar lick that makes up the chorus. The tempo change part way through for the breakdown takes The Keys from Motown back to the Delta for a heavy blues finish. As a single, it was the perfect way for The Black Keys to be introduced to the mainstream — catchy but never compromising. They wear their sharpened sound quite naturally, making music this cool look easy. And with a boost from Danger Mouse, they gave us another stellar song that ranks high not only for The Black Keys, but for all of 2010. -E.N. May
02. LCD Soundsystem Dance Yrself Clean
Its not about dancing your cares away, like so many pop singles. Its about the exact opposite, stasis and seizure. In Dance Yrself Clean, Murphys pointed lyrics fall right into his wheelhouse: How come the modern age, love, and partying never get along? His pop-sociological rants on 21st century culture underpinning the song run parallel to an always phenomenal DFA production (including one of the best beat drops of 2010), and Murphys vocal performance may be the most notable component.
For nine minutes, theres hardly a pause in Murphys performance. His voice feels like another instrument painstakingly produced in this mix, not just like a DJ over a dance beat. If hes not resignedly calling someone a jerk, hes wailing at that same someone to put their little feet down and hang out. Hes got ahhs like a choir and ohhhs like a wounded man. His fury waxes and wanes like an epic argument. The vitriol hurts, but the calm after the storm is somehow more poignant and cutting. Murphys acerbity has never had this much heart and soul, but, as corroborated by his live shows, this song incites dance riots in audiences unaware of the intrinsic irony happening as they put their little feet down and hang out. Perhaps were the punch line of Murphys joke, and were all too distracted to notice the horrors of age, love, and partying. Ah, fuck it. Just dance. -Jeremy Larson
01. Kanye West – “Power”
Between the releases of Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye Wests public perception nosedived from an enigmatic hip-hop visionary to public enemy number one. During the past three years, Wests legacy has been largely defined by his schizophrenic tweets, fish sticks, paparazzi confrontations, Taylor-gate, and last-minute tour cancellations. No matter how scrutinized and criticized West remained over this period, what became increasingly overlooked was the fact that he was a grieving man, coping with the sudden, traumatic loss of his mother. After all these trials and tribulations, West is finally learning to come to terms with his own demons. After three years, he has re-emerged from the depths of his self-pity and heartache with resolve. Power represents Wests evocative gaze into the rearview mirror of his recent past.
So what does West see? He sees himselfway too much of the man in the mirror. West assertively questions the amount of attention the world has bestowed upon his life and how it subsequently affected him (Got treasures in my mind, but couldnt open up my own vault/My childlike creativity, purity and honesty/Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts). But on Power, West has retained custody of his creativity in formidable fashion. While his selection of King Crimsons 21st Century Schizoid Man rests as his most ingenious sampling since Daft Punk on Stronger, he juxtaposes it with an equally compelling use of Continent Number 6s Afromerica. The cohesive mixing of genres as distinct as prog-rock and worldbeat into a hip-hop track is difficult enough, but its the prominent arrangement of these songs that makes his sampling so masterful. As Power concludes, West simply states, You got the power to let power go. Those eight words say it all for Kanye. Rather than playing the role of creative genius, hes back to letting his work speak for itself. Thats always what hes done best, and this time is no exception. Welcome back, Mr. West. -Max Blau
[audio:https://consequenceofsound.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/03-power.mp3|titles=Kanye West – “Power”]