This is a continuation from last week’s post of some of my favorite music moments from 2010. Below, the list concludes with five more selections.
Groove Armada’s “whatever works” approach to dance music can have decidedly mixed results; I often find much of their output (for the exception of their debut, Vertigo) unlistenable, yet one or two singles off each album are exceptional, the vessel of which often comes in the form of a massive, catchy hook. The 2010 single “Time and Space” follows the trend, grabbing the listener’s attention with the first chorus driven by swirling, fuzzed out guitars mixed together with high pitched electronic bleeps. It’s a rousing change from the more mellow intro and verse portion and loses little of its appeal with repeated listenings.
Many reviews of Massive Attack’s Heligoland noted the standout nature of this track, with its great vocals by Horace Andy, and a surprise (for Massive Attack) horn section augmented by a driving low bass and kick drum. I’d agree with that assessment, giving special attention to the bridge midway though the song; Andy’s vocals slide away, and for a few moments the listener is left to contend with just that sparse bass and drum combo. For a few moments it’s a very dark, almost menacingly aggressive place, harking back to the band’s 1998 classic Mezzanine.
The National have always been a band on the more heartfelt, emotional side, with the frankness and working American themes that give them comparisons to a Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen. I found their 2010 release High Violet to be a continuation of that signature sound, but with a polish and refinement I rarely heard in their earlier work. It’s exemplified on ”Afraid of Everyone”, a soaring track which starts with mostly a vocal solo that really kicks into epic territory during the first chorus. At that point the vocals raise noticeably in pitch as lead singer Matt Berninger yells “With my kid on my shoulders I try/not to hurt anybody I like.” It’s a powerful moment that pretty much sealed my vote behind High Violet being one of, if not the best, rock release of 2010.
When I first heard the news of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his longtime producer Atticus Ross putting together the soundtrack for, of all things what at the time was “the Facebook movie,” like many others, I was skeptical. It was a puzzling choice, and I feared a Downward Spiral-era industrial rock drowning out rapid fire dialog by the film’s young protagonists. But then I saw the film and, as the score began with ?Hand Covers Bruise? over the opening credits, I was won over immediately. The track begins with a dissonant violin reverberating over itself, something organic yet very unnatural. It’s deeply unsettling, and helps set the darker tone of the entire film with a firm but subtle touch.
Pretty much every music critic on the planet has crowned Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the best album of 2010. Given the consistency and album’s production value, it’s hard to argue, especially with repeated listens to “Runaway”, the most sprawling song on an already maximalist album. In contrast to the paranoid boasting and bombast of the first half of the album,”Runaway” is a dialed back, emotionally sad piece, and what holds it together is a shockingly (remember it’s hip hop and Kanye West we’re talking here) simple three note beat on a piano. After a few measures of the piano on its own, a rolling trip hop beat jumps on top. At this point, electronics, piano and hip hop all come together pretty much perfectly. As a big electronic music fan that’s rarely heard the genre mixed in well with rap (e.g. Kanye’s fairly plodding 808 and Heartbreak), I found it to be an awesome moment.