Having children has had a profound impact on my musical tastes. Will it make them cry? Will it teach them naughty words? Will it bore them? Then it doesn't get played around the house, which has resulted in my sharp turn towards the poppier side of modern. And really, once you've seen your three-year-old completely lose his shit when hearing a song with a chorus of "Na, na na na, na na na, na na na na na na na," it's hard to push anything on him that doesn't come armed to the teeth with the pop hooks. Mind you, I think the Ramones are a pop band too, so I'm painting with a pretty broad brush here. But make no mistake - these bands are pop bands, of varying stripes and shapes. If you fancy yourself a hipster, you'd be best to move on and check out one of the other writers' lists. I gave up being hip a couple years ago, and let me tell you: it's extremely liberating.
Note: Some of the notes at the end of the write-ups will offer suggestions of which songs to check out. Others actually offer the songs. If you see "Click here for a free download...", those songs are on our server, meaning you won't be dragged off to some site that asks you to give up your email address for a song. These puppies all come with no strings attached, so please download away.
1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D'Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until we get home.
Download these: "The Bike Song," "Somebody to Love Me," "Record Collection"
2. Hey Champ: Star
I'm a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ's "Neverest"
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ's "Cold Dust Girl"
3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990's Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don't make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Download these: "Let There Be Music," "Ride," "God Watch Over You"
4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it's a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band's two UK-only releases. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people's lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable "Human Chain" ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: "I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, 'cause the Devil, he's got all the tunes."
Download these: "See the Light," "Big Black Hole," "Come On"
5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I'm still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn't wait to sing its praises when it came out in April...only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase 'criminally underrated' was written about bands like this.
Click here for a free download of the Silver Seas' "The Best Things in Life"
6. Midnight Juggernauts: The Crystal Axis
The back half of "Lara Versus the Savage Pack" makes me positively giddy. Armed with a hypnotic six-note riff, this Australian trio lays on the strangest chord sequence before finally landing on the original chord in spectacular fashion, then sending one note climbing the walls, guaranteeing that everyone lucky enough to be in the club that plays this song will do the same. A little odder and more groove-oriented than their (awesome) alt-dance debut Dystopia, but one gets the sense that the Midnight Juggernauts are just getting warmed up. Sweet.
Download these: "Lara Versus the Savage Pack," "The Great Beyond," "Vital Signs"
7. Codeine Velvet Club: Codeine Velvet Club
The lead singer of the Fratellis hooks up with his wife's friend (not in that way) and makes what is arguably his best album yet, a collection of '60s-minded boy/girl songs that could be spy anthems or ballads that Nancy Sinatra would have killed for. They even had the guts to cover a song from one of the most hallowed English pop records of all time (that would be the Stone Roses' first album, see clip below). Yes, it's true: Fratelli wrote "I Would Send You Roses" for Roger Daltrey. (Click here to read our interview with Jon Fratelli.)
Click here for a free download of Codeine Velvet Club's "Hollywood"
8. Scissor Sisters: Night Work
It's officially time to recognize Jake Shears as one of the most versatile singers in music today. He has a baritone that would give Chris Difford pause and a falsetto that would give Barry Gibb a hissy fit. His band, meanwhile, chugs out the most awesome disco pop the world has heard since, well, disco. I get why these guys aren't chartbusters in the States - they're far too comfortable with their sexuality than most Americans are. Still, you'd think that their craft as songwriters would rise above what they do in their private lives. Sigh.
Download these: "Invisible Light," "Nightlife," "Harder You Get"
9. Trashcan Sinatras: In the Music
Ah, my beloved Trashcans. I hope they will forgive me for not putting them at the top of my list, but let's face it: they're in a different musical place now, and so am I. I still love them - I even made good on my promise to buy guitarist Paul Livingston a drink after their show in Chicago the weekend of Lollapalooza last year - but not quite like I once did. It's a beautiful record - it's just not the record I needed this year, hence its ranking in the bottom part of my list. I'll definitely play it more when the kids get older, though.
Click here for a free download of the Trashcan Sinatras' "People"
10. Home Video: The Automatic Process
I'm shocked that, in the Internet age, any band would give themselves the name Home Video. I even teased the lead singer for the Australian band Oh Mercy for the same thing earlier this year - who the hell is going to find your band among a million Google hits about Bob Dylan album reviews, or in the case of this electro-pop duo, old VHS titles? But when you're armed with a song that sounds like a modern-day take on Seal's "Future Love Paradise" (that would be "Beatrice"), then you can probably name your band any old thing you want. If you like the idea of Radiohead more than the band itself these days, definitely give this a listen. Doves fans should take note, too.
Download these: "The Smoke," "Beatrice," "You Will Know What to Do"
Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Any question that "Fuck You" is the single of the year?
My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
Any question that “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” is the song title of the year?
Findlay Brown: Love Will Find You
The title track has my vote for video of the year that wasn't made by OK Go. So sweet I want to pinch his cheeks.
Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood
He had a hand in my favorite album from last year (that would be the concept album about cricket, The Duckworth Lewis Method), and that album's playfulness spilled over to his day job.
Devo: Something for Everybody
Absolutely better than it had any reason to be, and they killed at Lollapalooza.
The Coral: Butterfly House
This was the first I had heard from them in eight years. Nice to see you again.
Fitz & the Tantrums: Pickin' Up the Pieces
I was late to this party, but once I arrived, I couldn't stop dancing. We could use about a dozen more bands like this.
OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
My 19-month-old daughter still asks to see the doggie video.
Editors: In This Light and On This Evening
Good for them for getting out of their comfort zone.
Nitzer Ebb: Industrial Complex
Alan Wilder told us that Nitzer Ebb always had good rhythmic ideas, but lacked melodic content. The band listened.
Surprise of the Year
Shockingly good for a group of guys whose last good song is old enough to buy its own beer.
“He’s Not a Boy,” The Like (Click here for a free download)
It's like a female Strokes, only fun. And check out this video. Those '60s outfits just slay me. Va-voom.
“Closer,” Kylie Minogue
I'm still baffled as to how this hasn't been released as a single. This is the most epic three-minute bubblegum pop song I've heard in years. I bet Muse would do a killer cover of it. This version is a little sped up, to keep Kylie's label from throwing the hammer down, but you get the idea.
"Hot 'n Fun," N.E.R.D. featuring Nelly Furtado
How on earth was this song not huge? It's like a modern-day "Wanna Be Startin' Something," for crying out loud.
“Burn It Down,” Awolnation (Click here for a free download)
Little Richard surely loves this song, though I'm betting he opts for the version that doesn't say "motherfucker" in the chorus.
“How You Like Me Now,” The Heavy
A bit of a cheat, since the album came out last year, but the single came out this year. And it made for a hell of a Super Bowl commercial.
"Remedy," Little Boots
My pop star crush of 2010. She makes me tingly. (Click here to see the video, embedding disabled.)
“I L U,” School of Seven Bells
(Click here for a free download)
Breakup song of the year. It's also the best song My Bloody Valentine never wrote.
“Numbers Don’t Lie,” The Mynabirds
The video for this one totally won me over. Clever low-budget clip, and the lead singer is a total cutie.
“DHDQ,” Andy Bell
Think Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You" on synth steroids, about a Debbie Harry drag queen. Yep, that's what "DHDQ" stands for.
“From Above,” Ben Folds & Nick Hornby
Best song Ben Folds has sung in nearly a decade, and quite possibly the definitive 'ships passing in the night' anthem.
"Thinking Bout Somethin'," Hanson
Go ahead, you can laugh all you want (Ben Folds fans just nodded knowingly), but good luck getting this one out of your head. The video is about 16 different flavors of awesome, too.
Some other cool tunes
“I Want to See You Go Wild,” Andrew WK
“Don’t Turn the Lights On,” Chromeo
“We Don’t Want Your Body,” Stars
“The Coast,” Court Yard Hounds
“Back in Time,” Keane
“Bitter Pill,” Mt. Desolation
Amazing that they're just giving this stuff away.
Some of my favorite bands put out albums this year. Albums that I thought were merely...okay. Sigh. I hate it when that happens.
In a nutshell, Dan Bejar just made a better Bryan Ferry album than Bryan Ferry just made.
Click here to download Destroyer's "Chinatown"
Exit Calm: Exit Calm
Liam Gallagher and Mani from the Stone Roses love 'em. Big, loud, epic indie guitar rock.
Diego Garcia: The Girls Are Yours
If the first track from the former Elefant man (oh, I hate myself for typing that) is any indication, we have a guitar pop classic waiting in the wings.
Click here to download Diego Garcia's "You Were Never There"