2010, by and large represented the comeback of the single as an event instead of merely being a tool to drive album sales. This final bloc of songs features Kanye West’s debut as well as his battle with Joanna Newsom and Janelle Monae for supremacy. The song—as a sprawling epic—is back. Here goes:
1: Joanna Newsom
Good Intentions Paving Company
Any traveller by night will tell you that the long drive to (or back, depending) of any trip is the time most do their thinking. Put a broken-heart record on and your life falls into precious minutes of recollection. It’s a reduction that touches us all and here, finally, Newsom zeroes in on the terra firma that we felt her aesthetic was too highbrow for. With her harp tucked away for a melodic piano and drums, magically piped in at just the right moments, Good Intentions Paving Company rolls up so many different styles that it leaves one devastated with its humanness.
2: Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me
Who says a song can’t unspool like a finely-written novella? Surely not Newsom, a woman who is prone to sprawling, epic ideas that –when juxtaposed to the harpsichord—is like nothing else in contemporary music. The title track from her current album takes a beautiful leap near the two minute mark, delving much deeper into the life of Lola Montez than Wikipedia ever did. Over a span of eleven minute, we are treated to Lola’s encounters with King Ludwig I of Bavaria (lovingly called ‘Daddy Long legs’) and the emotional delusion suffered. Towards the end when things get truly frantic, Newsom tosses off breathless gaggles like, ‘I remember everything/down to the sound of you shaving-/ the scrape of your razor/ the dully-abrading black hair/that remained…’ and, ‘I saw a star fall into the sky/ like a chunk of thrown coal/ as if God himself spat/ like a cornered rat…’ with so much ease that the sheer mastery is blinding.
3: Kanye West feat. Rick Ross, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver
Conceived in Hawaii of all places, Monster flows red-hot like lava from a rampant volcano. The overriding theme here is violence and it matters little who grabs the mike and passes it along: Rick Ross thugs on it a lil’ bit then it’s unto Jigga , who rolls it to Minaj and she drops a lethal clocking before rolling it on to Yeezy who gleefully brings it on home.
4: Cee-lo Green
It’s only on a closer examination that one realizes that the target for Cee-Lo’s rant is the guy who’s stolen his woman from him but that doesn’t mean she’s spared; the line, ‘f-uck you too’, takes sufficient care of her. It’s a damning kiss off, one where he lists her need for materialism as greater for emotional connection and no one—I mean no one—can smooth-talk us into feeling his pain like him.
5: Kanye West
A marvel of construction, Power builds itself from a sample of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man, a fitting riff for Kanye to lose himself in. This funk riot long withheld is the best self-hate rap tale since Eminem dropped The Way I Am ten years ago.
The Canadian has long perfected his conscience rap shtick but Rose Garden rises to highest ground possible due to the smartly-configured one-liners (‘those who have eyes/ should act like it’) juxtaposed to some retro soul music.
7: Big Boi feat. T.I
Tasty rap treat.
8: Sufjan Stevens
Loosely based on Royal Robertson’s tumultuous life after his wife left in 1975, Sufjan soulfully twins it with his own apparent loss of faith recording this album.
9: Summer Camp
Even if you weren’t aware that Veronica Sawyer was the character Wynonna Ryder played in Heathers, the tone of lead singer Elizabeth Sankey makes the feminist intent resoundingly clear. The song conjures up a hazy imagery of all those cheesy parties in film where the heroine is the social outcast, underappreciated yet totally headstrong. Sankey manoeuvres her sublime vocals with so much sadness, that where she repeats the line, ‘I’ve got so much more than this,’, it becomes a frightening yet realistic mantra of what every youngster hates the most: the feeling of being trapped forever within their social limitations.
10: Janelle Monae
The fembot gets totally rocking.
11: Kanye West
So Appalled/ Devil in a New Dress
if My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is West finally embracing his inner demon then Devil in a New Dress grabs the women in his life—his rich, fabulous, sinful life—and its shady ties involved into one big, brilliant mess. So Appalled is its sinister twin and just as devastatingly brilliant.
Runs an exhausting six minutes but damned if it doesn’t crashes up against a wall of baille funk, ganja references and, most obviously, alcoholism.
13: Janelle Monae
More conventional blues than what we’re used to but yet again Monae bleeds more funk out of minimalism than all her contemporaries put together.
14: Janelle Monae
Tripped-out, space funk as only she can.
Squid Cat Battle
A lovely, screeching chaos.
16: The Morning Benders
A sad yet poignant tale of recollection.
17: Joanna Newsom
Soft as Chalk
Where our heroine, in her best Tori Amos-esque garb shrieks at us winningly the line, ‘there is no treason where there is only lawlessness’.
18: Xiu Xiu
Picks up where The Leash left off as Jaime Stewart unwinds his fidgety gayness into self-loathing.
19: Janelle Monae
Come Alive (War of the Roses)
Literally does just that under her screams and electronic guitars.
20: Joanna Newsom
A wicked experiment that juxtaposes her lovely voice with strings and violins. ‘I am easy/ easy to keep/ honey, you please me/ even in your sleep’, she croons, channeling Kate Bush lusciously throughout.