You know the recession is on when your favorite song of 2009 is Animal Collective’s “My Girls” — a track that uses kaleidoscopic electro-psychedelia to sing the praises of financial stability. Clearly, for better or for worse, Pitchfork’s best songs of the year say something about its (young, educated, cosmopolitan, indie-leaning) audience’s preoccupations. With that in mind, we’ve examined their top 10 tracks of 2010 and attempted to tease out what they say about us.
10. Janelle Monáe feat. Big Boi — “Tightrope”
We are longing for a sci-fi future. The music we love and the heroes we choose are informed by the classics but represent a brand-new fusion that isn’t merely rock or R&B or hip-hop but a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Monáe is a true diva, but she’s also no Beyoncé — she’s a star we barely have the vocabulary to describe because we just haven’t seen anyone quite like her before. This is a very good omen.
9. Arcade Fire — “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Technology is overwhelming us. The Arcade Fire are right there with us — and their critically worshiped album The Suburbs reflects that, both lyrically and in its nostalgic sound. In this track, Régine Chassagne channels Blondie in a lament about urban sprawl and the need to unplug.
8. James Blake — “I Only Know (What I Know Now)”
We’re moving beyond Girl Talk. Look, we all enjoyed All Day, and we’ll certainly be putting it on our dance-party playlists. But genre fusion is becoming more sophisticated and less hyperactive: in this minimal dubstep track, the samples are pure soul, so wholly abstracted from their source material that they sound almost ghostly. Within a few years, the mash-up artist will be history, while truly progressive music will seamlessly bind genres and eras.
7. Joanna Newsom — “Good Intentions Paving Company”
Musical fads come and go, but there’s always room for a compelling storyteller. And a witty song title never hurt, either.
6. Kanye West feat. Dwele — “POWER”
We love an inspiring comeback even more than tabloid-worthy fall from grace. Also, genre mixing is the new cultural literacy, part 476: one of the best hip-hop songs of the year lives and dies on the hook from one of 1969’s weirdest rock hits.
5. Big Boi feat. Cutty — “Shutterbugg”
Das Racist weren’t the only ones who didn’t buy Sasha Frere-Jones’ pronouncement, last year, that hip hop was dead. As Big Boi, Cee Lo, Kanye, and many others have proven this year, the genre is only getting more eclectic and creative — and its audience is only growing larger as a result.
4. Robyn — “Dancing on My Own”
We are down for interesting pop music! There is room in the indie-sphere for high-production-value party anthems. And we will never get sick of dancing to songs about ladies liberating themselves from bad relationships, á la “I Will Survive.”
3. LCD Soundsystem — “I Can Change”
No one has ever taken hipsters’ collective temperature better than LCD Soundsystem. We’re evolving with James Murphy, from smirkingly self-mocking (“Losing My Edge”) to scared and wistful (“All My Friends”) to repentant (“I Can Change”).
2. Kanye West feat. Pusha T — “Runaway”
Our attention spans aren’t nearly as short as they’re supposed to be. And if anything proves we’re entering a new era of unprecedented sincerity — perhaps fostered by the omnipresence of Facebook, Twitter, and all the other embarrassing ways technology keeps us honest.
1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti — “Round and Round”
Actually, encouragingly, there’s some hope here: “We die and we live/ And we’re born again” may be about the circle of life, but it’s somehow more liberating than your typical downer, Nietzschean eternal recurrence trip. Whenever we can afford to celebrate songs about musical abandon, we’re on the road to happier times.