► Part 4: #25 – #01
25. The War On Drugs – ‘Under The Pressure’ (2014)
Adam Granduciel’s rise to rock stardom wasn’t as surprising as one might think. Right from the opening track of his breakthrough album “Lost In The Dream” you sense that there’s greatness waiting for the rest of the world to be discovered. The nine-minute long epos is a reflective yet very uplifting start into a new chapter for its protagonist and you literally want to join him for this cruise along the highway.
24. IDLES – ‘Danny Nedelko’ (2018)
The boys from Brighton deliver an angry love song, one that praises acceptance while being a kick in the stomach of all those regressive forces that are currently destroying the band’s home country (and many others all around the world). The fact that Joe Talbot names Freddie Mercury and ‘a Nigerian mother of three’ in the same sentence shows the whole absurdity of that whole xenophobia bullshit. This is an angry call for unity, delivered by one hell of a catchy sing along.
23. The National – ‘I Need My Girl’ (2013)
The relatable moments in Matt Berninger’s lyrics are the ones that stick with you and they are the special ingredient that will emotionally connect you with The National forever. This might not have been their biggest smasher but it represents the universal desire to simply be with your significant other in the most charming way by talking about funny anecdotes (the drunken encounter with the pines) and honest sceneries (the party you simply don’t want to attend). That’s what a good love song is all about.
22. Wild Nothing – ‘Paradise’ (2012)
Jack Tatum’s dream pop was never as efficient as on this 80s-infected piece of floating beauty that sounds indeed quite paradisiac. Righting on a wave of gentle synths a funky bass it really needs only a few second to make you all in love with it.
21. Sigur Rós – ‘Varúð’ (2012)
While the band’s 2012 record “Valtari” showed a quieter and more introspective side of the Icelandic sound gurus this track really stands out. ‘Varúð’ builds up quite slowly but reaches an epic climate towards the end, one that never fails to send shivers down your spine. It didn’t need another musical testament for the band’s brilliancy but here you get one anyway.
20. James Blake – ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (2011)
When James Blake arrived on the musical map there was literally no other artist that sounded like him. The reduced piano, the electronic flickering, the heavy basslines and then this quite estranged vocal performance gave his self-titled debut album an almost out-of-space-character and this song represents that sound in the best possible way. Luckily the stubborn artist continued to play in a league of its own.
19. Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We’re Only Going Backwards’ (2012)
The ringleaders of new psychedelia were best right before they reached into commercial territory. This dreamy anthem really managed to take the trippy feeling of the 1970s and turned it into something more contemporary. They introduced an entire generation to a familiar sound and also inspired countless other groups to follow this path.
18. Beach House – ‘Zebra’ (2010)
Victoria Legrand’s voice feels like the warm shimmering sun that guides the listener through the haze. On their third full-length “Teen Dream” she and her partner Alex Scully took the spheric sound of Beach House to new heights, opening a whole new musical world rich in colours and sound. It’s a song that hasn’t lost its magic ever since.
17. Daft Punk – ‘Get Lucky’ (2013)
Every few years the French robots return to provide much needed guidance for the dance music scene and show a way into the future. Tired of the big and shallow EDM monster they originally helped creating their triumphant 2013 record “Random Acesss Memories” searched for the future by looking at the past, visiting dance music’s soulful and funky origins. This track single-handedly saved Pharell Williams’ career and introduced an entire new generation to Nile Rodgers. And it’s still one of the best pop songs of the past ten years.
16. Lorde – ‘Perfect Places’ (2017)
It takes quite a talent to sum up the existential fears and desires of an entire generation but the closing track of Lorde’s second album does it in am way that’s both melancholic and uplifting. A new generation is desperately looking for something to hold on two while the world is slowly losing its grip. “All of our heroes fading / now I can’t stand to be alone” she sings with stubborn determination, fighting the creeping isolation. That’s the stuff defining pop songs are made of.
15. Robyn – ‘Dancing On My Own’ (2010)
After a first career as manufactured Major label pop puppet in the late 90s the Swedish singer’s comeback in 2007 showed that she got way more to offer. Another three years later her “Body Talk” EP trilogy took her to even higher heights and into the reign of international superstardom. However, Robyn remained true to herself and her artistic vision. She kept on dancing on her own and this confident anthem is the definition of it. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” finally found a proper successor.
14. Rhye – ‘Open’ (2013)
First there was nothing just this incredible voice that was hard to define. Was it a man, a woman or even Sade herself? For a long time singer Mike Milosh and his musical partner back then, Robin Hannibal stayed in the shadows and decided to let the music do the talking. By doing that the songs of their debut album “Woman” created their own world. It’s pure, sensual, intimate and honest in a delicate but very mature way. It’s close to musical perfection.
13. Kanye West – ‘All Of The Lights’ (2010)
These days it’s kind of easy to forget that Kanye West used to be a progressive leader in the world of pop only ten years ago. And a song like “All Of The Lights” reminds you about that with its shear overambition and epicness. Just take a look at that guestlist … Rihanna, Drake, La Roux’ Elly Jackson and even Elton freakin’ John! It’s monumental craziness that already hinted that this man doesn’t have a problem with certain delusions of grandeur. Hopefully he’ll return to this form one day.
12. Alt-J – ‘Breezeblocks’ (2012)
To this day the cult status of Alt-J’s debut LP ‘An Awesome Wave’ feels like an abnormality in the history of pop. Still, there was something about that sound that felt new, fresh and adventurous. The trio mixed elements that shouldn’t work together but made them sound quite naturally and somehow also catchy. “Breezeblocks” is the archetype of the Alt-J sound – dry and trippy, hypnotically haunting and still quite fragile and raw despite a certain complexity. Almost a decade later we fail to analyze it properly, it seems.
11. Arcade Fire – ‘Reflektor’ (2013)
Anton Corbijn video and David Bowie backing vocals? If there was ever any doubt that Arcade Fire are the biggest alternative band of the past decade they washed it all away with the mighty title-track of their fourth full-length. The visual concept was another important aspect here but apart from that the song is just a really impressive piece of progressive stadium pop.
10. Grimes – ‘Oblivion’ (2012)
In retrospect the whole idea of female future pop wouldn’t have been possible without Claire Boucher’s first steps in that field. She made bedroom pop sound like a proper state-of-the-art superhit and led the way for artists like Billie Eilish and Charli XCX. Without knowing it back then Grimes became the gang leader of a new digital self-conception in music, making ‘Oblivion’ one of the biggest smallest hits of the decade.
09. Father John Misty – ‘Pure Comedy’ (2017)
While it was written before Donald Trump got elected Josh Tillman’s epic anthem arrived just in time for America’s post-election blues. In a time when everyone was asking whether the world has gone insane the charismatic songwriter calms you down by simply saying “Well, this realization isn’t entirely new.” In six and a half minutes Misty sums up most of humanity’s absurdity and that challenge itself deserves all the credit in the world. All the flaws, all the madness, all the unnecessary conflicts, dogmas and beliefs – what’s it worth in the end if we’re blowing us all to hell anyway? So much existential truth packed in one song, delivered by one of contemporary music’s finest lyricists.
08. Future Islands – ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ (2014)
Future Islands were always good, especially live and in the decade leading up to their breakthrough record “Singles” they already gained a small cult following. But then came this record, this song and this unforgettable moment in modern television history when the world finally got introduced to Samuel Herring’s iconic dance moves and stage persona. The entire band stepped up their songwriting game on this record and we couldn’t think of a band that deserved this triumph more than these guys.
07. Frank Ocean – ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ (2012)
In its core “Thinkin’ Bout You’ is a love song about desire, shame and this unstoppable feeling of wanting to be with someone. It’s pure, simple and honest but when Frank Ocean released it the fact that he actually sang about a boy slightly overshadowed the track’s musical brilliancy. However, this knowledge helps to make the artist’s struggle sound even more authentic.
06. Foals – ‘Spanish Sahara’ (2010)
Following their furious debut album Foals made sure to surprise the audience with the first single from the follow-up by starting in the most silent way. A restless sea, a gentle guitar and Yannis Philippakis singing gently in the darkness – “Spanish Sahara” showed a totally different side of the band and proved that they are a musical force to measure with. The build-up takes its time before resulting in a pretty furious finale that takes the listener into a different stratosphere. “It’s future rust, it’s future dust” – this song still makes us forget all the goddamn horror.
05. Bat For Lashes – ‘Laura’ (2012)
We surely hope that Laura got her life back on track by now. Back then, Natasha Khan’s ode to a friend felt like a bittersweet reflection to her adolescent past. Parties, glitter, drinks and countless affairs are the things her life circles around while many other friends already moved on. Khan addresses her old friend in a heart-warming and bittersweet way, offering her a hand to leave the nightlife behind and move forward. “You’ll be famous for longer than them,” she sings and to this day this haunting ballad is pure goosebump material. Cheers to you, Laura, we hope you’re doing better.
04. David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ (2016)
The first part of the final chapter couldn’t shake of his gloominess right from the beginning. The words and the accompanying music video are packed with references and hints on the artist’s impending demise, even if he – according to Tony Visconti – never intended to use it for that. There is a musical hunger sensible in “Blackstar” that makes you miss this man even more. The furious and spacey jazz, the tender gospel moment, the cinematic strings, the twists and turns that see Bowie crooning as in his heydays. It’s one more piece of musical greatness before the curtain close, it’s Major Tom leaving the earth again to find peace in the depth of space. We surely hope he continues to watch over us from wherever he currently is.
03. M83 – ‘Midnight City’ (2011)
This euphoria, this groove and that goddamn saxophone solo at the end! Anthony Gonzalez’ project delivered plenty of great pop moments before this one but “Midnight City” took M83 to a whole new level. A hands-up laser-driven celebration of the nightlife and all the temptations and possibilities that come with it. “The city is my church,” sings Gonzalez and so is the club and the party and life in general. It’s this overdose of naive euphoria that makes this song so irresistibly joyful.
02. Bon Iver – ‘Holocene’ (2011)
It took a few years (until this year actually) until Justin Vernon finally accepted the superstardom of his folk project but you can only imagine how hard it must have been when suddenly everybody started to praise him for his second studio album. Leaving all the Grammies and Kanye collaborations aside it’s the brilliancy of these songs that convinced the entire world to listen to this bearded guy from Wisconsin. “Holoscene” takes the strength of his early ‘alone-in-the-wood’-recordings and adds depth and wideness to the sound without sounding pretentious or forced. It was and still is, despite what Vernon sings, pretty magnificent.
01. The xx – ‘Angels’ (2012)
How do you follow the big bang of your reduced debut album turning into a global hit sensation? For the follow-up to ‘xx’ the British trio made the right choice and went even simpler on its first single. “Angels” reduced the beloved The xx formula to its bare essentials. Plenty of space, a tender guitar and Romy Madley Croft’s fragile vocal performance and that’s all it needs, apart from a few additional electronic elements in the end. It’s this sheer simplicity and emotional authenticity that carries the song, making it sound like being from an entirely different planet. The xx were never as good as within these three minutes and you all know that.
Find a few (but not all) songs from this list in our special 2010s indie playlist on Spotify.