15. Sufjan Stevens - "Now That I'm Older" from The Age of Adz
Amidst the track's five minute electronic swirl lies a beautiful melody and build that could be pared down to a simple acoustic guitar and vocals arrangement. Obviously that wasn't the M.O. here--this is a song (and album) that strives for something greater, a comprehensive sonic environment that Sufjan would rather not leave to the listener's imagination. I'm most struck by the vocal swells that ebb and flow in stereo around the lyrics, be they Sufjan's or a (perhaps synthetic) female accompaniment. It's a song meant for chunky headphones, just one of several easily recognizable elements--also the harp, the vocals--the song shares with Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack".
14. Arcade Fire - "Half Light II (No Celebration)" from The Suburbs
The Suburbs provided a wealth of fodder for this list--most of the sixteen songs were worthy of selection--but I settled on "Half Light II", the throbbing, far-reaching anthem which marks the end of the album's first half. The song deals with the retreat of a person or people to their childhood home, perhaps victims of the recession. While its sister song, "Half Light I", is reflective and at peace, there's a sense of bitterness that defines "Half Light II"--its parenthetical addendum doesn't exactly hide the fact that there's no joy in this song. I read it as a commentary on the mass exodus that many American adults eventually undertake, abandoning city life for the prefabricated safety and comfort of the suburbs.
13. Eels - "A Line In the Dirt" from End Times
Not unlike Will Oldham, Eels frontman E has a way of injecting a bit of humor into his pained lyrics. The first line of "A Line In the Dirt" is "She locked herself in the bathroom again/so I am pissing in the yard." It's a silly scenario, but also a little depressing in a "How did it come to this?" kind of way. The song is a tears-in-your-beers barroom ballad, featuring a whispered chorus and a drunken horn section bridge. It's the type of thing E does best--dark humor and lyrical realism. There's no better example on either of his 2010 releases than "A Line on The Dirt".
12. Toro y Moi - "Minors" from Causers of This
Bleeding out of album opener and bona fide chillwave hit "Blessa", "Minors" rushes out like hot Atlantic waves and creeps along at the pace of beach traffic. Especially during the choruses, the song fills a ton of sonic space via droning synths that sound like melodic jet engines, and double-tracked vocals delivering wiredrawn notes. The lyrical set is a classic love-lost reflection, which is in line with most of Causers of This. "Not even a year has gone by/already you've got him/I want to see where I am" is the chorus that bookends the song, charting the progression of an ex in a way to which most can relate. Like much of the genre, the utility of the song needn't go beyond a spot on a party soundtrack. But wade through the walls of synth, and it stands on its own as a quality break-up song.
11. Deerhunter - "Coronado" from Halcyon Digest
Despite its Hispanic title, "Coronado" oozes New York, from the city-lights sax to the overt Julian Casablancas impression. Bradford Cox is something of a chameleon, capable of vocal shapeshifting with staggering versatility. He adapts to the feel of the song, which is perhaps why in this case he decided to mimic the Strokes frontman. Of course that's speculation, but it's an easily drawn comparison. "Coronado" is the penultimate track of Halcyon Digest, perfectly placed on the album to tie together the diverse crop of tracks preceding it. Lyrically it's anyone's guess--far be it from me to decipher his message. I know it's a lazy thing to say, but I just love the feel of the song. Sometimes you can't objectify enjoyment, right?