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50 Ghost Train

Mystique is mostly missing from music these days, so the Summer Camp concept was beautifully designed. When this London duo harnessed the internet to broadcast their music but not their identities, the gossip grew as clamorous as the critical acclaim. Such expert buzz generation was the stuff of an NME journalist’s dreams – literally, in this case. Elizabeth Sankey, a contributor, turned out to be Summer Camp’s honey-toned chanteuse, while lo-fi troubadour Jeremy Warmsley – her beau – was the crafter of their woozy electro-pop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PaBweHpnNY

49 Sleep Forever

Prop 19 may not have passed into law, but so long as Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez keep making dreamy narco-pop of this calibre, California is in no danger of relinquishing its status as the stoner capital of the United States. Emboldened by James Ford’s shimmering production, this was the moment Crocodiles – almost in spite of themselves – got anthemic.

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=115348865001

48 Scissor

A hymnal, insidious creep of vocals and strings building with unbearably precise tension before releasing with whiplash ferocity into a deranged maenad stomp, ‘Scissor’ was the dark “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” gateway into ‘Sisterworld’, Liars’ finest album yet. Its horrific tale of finding a dying woman in a car park, stripped to elemental detail and seething with fear and blood, was matched by the creepiness of the video, in which Angus Andrew finds himself adrift at sea and plagued by killer rocks…

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=66947730001

47 Dreaming Of Another World

A songwriting masterclass here from the Twickenham boys. The moment Will Rees hit that triumphant top note in the chorus was the moment when Mystery Jets were confirmed as heirs to a legacy of eccentric British pop songwriting defined by The Kinks, Squeeze and Blur. A Number One hit in a better world.
SR

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http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=90576388001

46 Round And Round

Together with Gayngs and Kisses, former lo-fi excavator Ariel Marcus Rosenberg helped turn 2010 butter-smooth. This, the first song off his 4AD debut, has a lazy sax swagger to it that reeks of bad moustaches and funny dancing, and one day, when we’ve saved up for that yacht, will soundtrack our escape into the horizon…

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LS

45 (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love

If ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’ is your favourite Manics song, their gleaming reinvention in 2010 probably left you cold. But if you loved the anthemic quality of ‘Everything Must Go’, the lead single from ‘Postcards…’ was a goosebump-raising nostalgia-bomb, its cascading strings and radio-ready chorus serving notice that Nicky Wire and co intended to rage against the dying of the light.

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LL

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=596017565001

44 Bubbles

Frankly, Simon Neil could sing his Tesco shopping list or extracts from the Thomson Local in that gruff, gorgeous Scots brogue and it’d sound like angels from upon high. Yet even he excelled himself with the heroic ‘Bubbles’, which is basically three awesome songs for the price of one: perky punk-popper; anthemic stadium banger; and emo jam-out. Bargain! ’Mon the Biff, indeed.

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=74604711001

43 Constellations

A nursery rhyme sung by a man who has stared into the abyss of his Nietzsche textbooks once too often, ‘Constellations’ wore its bruised, isolated cosmic wonder with brilliant simplicity. Every time you think The Strokes are culturally spent, someone else tweaks their insights into fresh focus.

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GH

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=608801383001

42 Dancing On My Own

Songs about DJs and dancing have always been the most euphoric of them all, so it stands to reason that a song about feeling a bit emo in those circumstances, the inverse would apply. So it was with Ms Carlsson’s totemic comeback, which turned her now trademark emotional disco button-pushing up to the ultimate degree. Sad and staggering.

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=88062457001

41 This Orient

Saying “I love you” to someone in oriental languages is a minefield of propriety and playfulness, and when Yannis sings, “It’s your heart that gives me this Western feeling”, seemingly, that’s what he’s on about – that ineffable state which transcends all linguistic rule. As one of ‘Total Life Forever’’s less fraught moments, ‘This Orient’ is pure warmth, the likes of which rarely emanates from Foals’ torrid tickers.

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LS

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=73145940001

40 Tenderoni

With its cooing opening lines and synth-stabbing chorus, ‘Tenderoni’ marked a wholly different return from what we were expecting of the Bloc Party frontman. Rather than the maudlin whingebag of yore, Okereke returned as a mono-monikered electro partyboy with an arena-full of electro anthems in the making.

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AT

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=83079271001

39 Ready To Start

Leaner and more purposeful than they’d sounded for an age, ‘Ready To Start’ was the electrifying standout from ‘The Suburbs’, right down to
its cliffhanger ending. It’s the segue from the title track’s drive-time opener into the nerve-jangling intro that gets you there, though, gathering evil momentum like an unattended pram starting to roll down a hill. Masterly.

38 Bang Bang Bang

Forget sampling (or trumpets), Mark Ronson threw down the gauntlet to his fellow producers and created. No psychedelic French pop for your hook? Summon MNDR. Need a synthy backing for Q-Tip? Convert your band of skilled veterans into a keyboard orchestra. ‘Bang Bang Bang’ sounds like it should have been constructed from the stolen parts of classics; instead Ronson gave 2010 a timeless track of its own.

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PS

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=614699617001

37 Sleepless In Silverlake

‘Root For Ruin’ was, if you will, Les Savy Fav’s middle-aged angst album, lead scragglepuss Tim Harrington (left) shedding clown tears behind minimal art-rock façades. The Brooklynites land uncomfortably in hipster LA here and don’t dig becoming lost in a world where “their teeth are bleached and their tits are tanned” – a paranoid peak.

36 Home

Penetrating whale song vocals, violent attacks on a xylophone, the relentless clapping of hands. It’s what aggressive sex with an orca in the school instrument cupboard with the whole class watching would sound like. This was the perfect introduction to the year’s rarest new voice.

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MW

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LITpWG9_Prw

35 Colouring Of Pigeons

The Knife stand out as the only group featured in these pages to be commissioned to write an opera about Charles Darwin. ‘Colouring Of Pigeons’ was its spine-tingling centrepiece – a full 10 minutes of portentous, percussive grandeur that summoned all the wonder and terror Charlie D must have felt when correctly concluding that monkeys were our bros.

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SR

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tN6_Nn29ujM

34 California Gurls

Like her reformed hubby, Perry manages the same weird feat of being sweet despite the hindrance of being annoying. ‘California Gurls’ is her best single: candy-striped, picture-postcard smutty, West Coast house with a pop chorus liable to make you shoot whipped cream out of your nips.

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AD

33 Shutterbugg

With a throbbing talkbox effect over a skittering old-school beat, ‘Shutterbugg’ was a stylish official first outing for Georgia’s Antwan Patton, though to all intents and purposes he’s been solo for a long time now. This Soul II Soul-referencing stonker of a track suggests going back to life (badoom-tish!) with OutKast would be wholly unnecessary.

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JA

32 Flashover

Although they weren’t ever really of planet Earth, or any of our close stellar neighbours, Klaxons (left) must have got re-abducted before the release of their intergalactolyptic second album (having had their first go at it seized by label droids). Whereas their earlier material was zany in a sort of wear-a-colander-on-your-head kinda way, ‘Flashover’, with its smash’n’crash Space Invaders chaos, comes from a totally different realm.

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AT

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4jxVIXj_fw

31 Fuck You

Forget disfigured radio-friendly versions and misguided theories concerning counterculture-level statements. ‘Fuck You’ was 2010’s finest Number One single (and also went Top 10 in America). Rarely has any artist dismissed a female foe with cussing so jauntily dispensed, a melody for milkmen to whistle despite the footballer’s vocabulary in that chorus. Or, in two words: fuck, yeah.

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DW

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=594379141001

30 O.N.E.

On paper, ‘ONE’ still sounds horrific: a plastic pirate calypso with echoes of Culture Club and slick-backed white funk, made using only a fretless bass and a salvo of the naffest preset sounds from a ZX Spectrum computer. Yet Yeasayer’s unwavering dude-like sincerity turned it into something joyous and wonderful.

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SR

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=71407807001

29 Na Na Na

How do you follow a concept album about cancer and the creation of the ‘cult’ of Noughties emo? By smashing the whole thing to smithereens with a cartoonish pop-punk sing-along like ‘Na Na Na’, of course. Driven by ridiculous lyrics and a quite deranged delivery, really, what else could we expect but a complete volte-face from some of rock music’s greatest innovators?

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=636462647001

28 Forever And Ever Amen

On a debut album defined by gawky romance and childlike sweetness, this was the motherlode: a starburst of a song, all about everlasting love and stars and flowers and hearts and bunny wabbits (OK, maybe not the wabbits). Sure, it’s a little sugary, but can you honestly say you’ve never felt like this?

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LL

27 Pass Out

In a rare display of good taste from the track-buying mainstream, Tinie Tempah became THE breakout act of 2010 when this single rocketed to the Number One spot in March. An infectiously brooding grime anthem complete with reggae breakdown and drum’n’bass outro (wha?), ‘Pass Out’ introduced us to a major star in the making. Scunthorpe’s loss was south London and the world’s gain.

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CP

26 Perfect Stranger

Like a giant adrenaline needle punched through your ribcage, ‘Perfect Stranger’ was a lovesick rush that killed yawnsome arguments about Magnetic Man’s relevance and integrity instantly stone dead. The nagging pulse that jerked your heart into your mouth, that sudden, butterflies-in-your-stomach drop, Katy B’s phenomenal voice crooning “Your energy when you touch me lifted me off the ground”… nothing in 2010 summed up the synapse-shorting overload of pure lust so well.

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EM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V-xXa6jxds

25 Telephone

It’s 11 years since Beyoncé made the original stop-calling-me anthem with Destiny’s Child, the seminal ‘Bug A Boo’. Since then advances in phone technology have created a thousand new ways to annoy your girlfriends while they’re out. Yet G and B’s point is the same: they’re having way more fun than you.

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SW

24 Schoolin’

Powered by a frenetic, fretful energy, that cheeky whistle, that booty-shakin’ bass and Jonathan’s neurotic gasps, chirrups and gabbles, this was the best prog-pop-R&B nervous breakdown we heard this year. Plus, bonus points for rhyming “fire hydrant” with “tyrant”.

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EM

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=90849301001

23 I Can Change

Few bands are as polarised as LCD, in the sense that the two things they do very best are ridiculous mind-loss bangers, and also on the flip side, the sort of desperately sad, sweet tracks you want to make a little nest in your heart for. As James Murphy crooned in that broken-Kermit voice “Tell me a line, make it easy for me/Open your arms, dance with me until I feel alright”, we were putty.

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EM

22 Ambling Alp

Just as rock star pals MGMT were insisting there were “no singles” on their second album, Yeasayer unleashed a follow-up of wall-to-wall radio-friendly belters, of which ‘Ambling Alp’ was the biggest and boldest. “Stick up for yourself, son/Never mind what anybody else done” went a high-octane chorus more suited to a Karate Kid remake than a Brooklyn art gallery. This was a poptastic left hook to those who had them pigeonholed as unpigeonholeable psych-folk avant-gardists hooked on “pan-ethnic spiritualism” (cheers, Pitchfork!).

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=52537742001

21 What’s In It For?

One of those songs that suggests there’s once-in-a-generation genius behind the chords. These five minutes instantly suggested Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg could become the new Neil Young one day – all in the year he turned 20.

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JF

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=83011539001

20 Acapella

It may have been about the big man upstairs – yawn – but God-bothering subject matter aside, ‘Acapella’ was a musical slap around the chops. Think Gaga’s the only innovator? Think again. This was four minutes of sultry electro, fashion-forward batty outfits (in the vid) and a naggingly catchy chorus. Result? Pop perfection.

19 Celestica

Proving that they had range to grow beyond just the one shrieks’n’bleeps setting, the sweepingly melodic ‘Celestica’ found CC embracing simple, calm beauty, and, bizarrely, daytime radio playlists. The churchyard-set video highlighted the sense of spacious spirituality in the track, Alice and Ethan like repentant creatures of the night humbly returning to grace.

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=97789788001

18 Rad Pitt

Coming out of the traps sounding fully formed and ready to prove it, Manchester’s new enfants terribles’ finest moment stutters with the same shakes as vintage New Order, while of course also employing one of the finest Cure rip-off riffs ever invented. Not half bad considering how enviably apathetic frontman Alex Hewett manages to soundas he cooly slurs his tale of teenage boredom and lethargic bliss.

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DM

17 Bloodbuzz Ohio

When The National started playing this track live last year, it was an intense, plodding number. By the time of its release, clattering in with taut drums, Bloodbuzz Ohio’s new pace folded brass chords, piano loops and cymbal-rolls into a slow build, exploding into the chorus like a rush of blood to the head.

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HS

16 Boyfriend

No song about the pains of unrequited love should be as bushy-tailed as this standout from ‘Crazy For You’ with its sassy, soaraway chorus and irresistibly summery Dinosaur Jr-style guitar. “I wonder if he knows how much I want him?” sighed Bethany Cosentino and all we could do was grin in heartless glee.

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EM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y40TsOIpuEU

15 Undertow

Few were the folk who didn’t totally fall in love with Warpaint in 2010 (particularly in the NME office), and the reason was songs like this, the track that best shows off their melodic, spacious beauty.

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HM

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=640901222001

14 We Want War

If ‘Hidden’ is a bracing, futuristic sonic battleship, ‘We Want War’ is its autonomous killer droid. Industrial drums, choir, lazer brass, knives sharpening and Jack Barnett’s snide vocal all violently point out how far ahead of the game These New Puritans are.

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LT

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=61435864001

13 Drunk Girls

This nicked Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ and turned it into a typically Murphy-esque tale of bafflement at the behaviour of the dickheads around him. Basically made social awkwardness sound like the most fun thing in the world.

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MR

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=78798563001

12 Lying

The London trio’s noise may carry a flavour of many genres – drone, industrial, punk, even electro-pop – but, above all, this is music that doesn’t crave approval, and for that reason demands it. In a world full of bands pleading for popularity, Factory Floor strive instead for catharsis – and what works for them works for us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEqoYtnwu9s

11 Born Free

That waspish Suicide riff just ticked over and over and over, like someone jabbing their forefinger repeatedly into your temple to get you to see it their way. Working equally as an eloquent assertion of the fundamental rights of man, or as a slamming call to fuck shit up, as comebacks go this one was a printer cartridge in the cargo plane of music.

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Gavin Haynes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZQJaG7Zer0

10 Bury Pts 2 + 4

As the “Sons Of Mumford” can testify, Mark E Smith is not a man to mess with. So when the only constant member of The Fall snarls at you: “I’m not from Bury”, believe him, yeah?

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AD

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=83334760001

9 Night

“I believe it is at the darkest edges that you find change,” Nika Danilova mulled earlier this year, and ‘Night’ remains her most elegant embodiment of that ideal. The moment at which her goth-pop caterpillar became a full-fledged art-noir butterfly.

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GH

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=87619785001

8 Heathen Child

With the dirtiest of grooves offset by squalling sirens and a predatory wolfman, ‘Heathen Child’ saw the sexy uncles of rock in rambunctious mood. Anyone scared of the shower after watching Psycho might think twice about sitting in the bathtub too, following this fornicating fairytale
of fright.

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JA

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=479890348001

7 Swim

A song so huge it threatened to overshadow Surfer Blood’s quite magnificent album, ‘Swim’ was a soaring, dramatic, echo-laden ode to… what? Suicide? That or swimming. It had a lo-fi wall of sound that many bands scaled this year, but few quite so jaw-droppingly.

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MR

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AEldiUP408

6 Stylo

In lesser hands the collision of Bobby Womack’s force-of-nature vocals, Mos Def’s rhymes and the Knight Rider theme on heat would have ended up in its own car crash. However, with Damon Albarn holding the cocktail shaker, ‘Stylo’ proved a smooth, soulful, irresistible groove. As if we really thought Albarn would drop the ball.

5 We Used To Wait

It took less than 10 seconds of minor chord piano stabs and Win’s troubled lament to the days when he “used to write letters” to reassure us that this was Arcade Fire as we knew them; a band out of time, of the people, and, with their heads now dislodged from their evangelical arses, the best rock band in the world.

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MW

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLjrQ3cwzJ4

4 Power

The Twitter posts; the outspoken comments; the free songs every 30 seconds; the short films… for certain, the post-Immaletyoufinish Kanye West bestrode 2010 like a kind of school bully/teacher’s pet colossus, irritating and entertaining at every last turn. Thing is, though: when he put out genius songs such as this one, it was simply impossible to side against him. He sampled King Crimson, for god’s sake! ‘Power’ was a rare example of a global megastar putting out exactly the right record that said exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

3 Tightrope

Tightropes are a good metaphor for the music of Janelle Monáe. With wildly ambitious debut ‘The ArchAndroid’, the Atlanta-based star toed a fine line between brilliantly fashion-forward pop and dues-paying doffs of the cap to past masters like Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and James Brown. Basically, Monáe is African-American music’s past, present and future in one outrageously coiffed package.

In sound and video alike it’s a virtuoso performance; the song’s structure perfectly mirroring the high-wire act of the title.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjWj5gJ6Kvc

2 XXXO

By July the MIA backlash was well underway; gingergate and, um, truffle fries had turned the world against her. ‘XXXO’ was the counterstrike, the moment where she not only answered her critics but did it while authoritatively assuming the apparatus of the global pop star that we always suspected she was. On first listen it sounds like the usual hook-driven radio fare – the gloss over the fissures in her sloganeering – but Blaqstarr and Rusko’s dissonant production and tinder-dry percussion suggests, as always, there’s more.

1 Spanish Sahara

Opening with Mogwai-style ambience and featuring an uncharacteristically delicate vocal from Yannis, ‘Spanish Sahara’ was our first taste of ‘Total Life Forever’ and served notice that Foals had matured. Inspired by a bleak moment gazing out at the Aegean Sea, lyrically it was Yannis’ attempt to capture the intensity of Greek myth. The way the song builds from calm to rancour is supposed to conjure the classical concept of ‘furies multiplying’ – though you don’t need to know that to appreciate the magnificence of the song’s final section.

http://players.brightcove.net/19012535001/default_default/index.html?videoId=69189946001