To help ease the pain, these personal favorites will be counted down in daily installments, complete with videos and, in many cases, links to our interviews with the artists who made them. I'm making no claim that these songs are the year’s best, since I’m not even sure there is such a thing.
Note also that No. 10 is a tie, which technically makes this a Top 11.
10B: Broken Bells, “High Road”
Shins frontman James Mercer and Brian Joseph Burton (aka Danger Mouse) are a surprisingly perfect pairing as Broken Bells, whose eponymous debut album brings out Mercer’s experimental side and Burton’s pop instincts. “High Road” is its hands-down high point, an atmospheric, plaintive and strangely uplifting track that never gets old.
10A: Nick Curran & the Lowlifes, “Reform School Girl”
The title track from Curran’s latest album is a perfect reinvention of the previously inimitable Phil Spector/girl group sound. A punk rock devotee who, against all odds, ended up recording and touring with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Curran reverses the “Leader of the Pack” formula, leaving the bad-girl-loving narrator in the lurch. It’s a surprising departure for Curran, and one worth pursuing.
9. Grace Potter & the Nocturals, “Tiny Light”
Grace Potter and cohorts were named one of Rolling Stone’s “Best New Bands of 2010,” an honor that overlooked the fact that they’ve been together since 2003. The 27-year-old Potter had already amassed countless critical hosannas for her stunning vocals, which are as powerful as Janis Joplin’s, but without the broken-glass rasp. Over the course of five minutes, “Tiny Light” travels from moody verses and uplifting choruses to an extended instrumental outro that pits Scott Tournet’s electric guitar against Potter’s worldless wailing. A breakthrough single, and deservedly so.
8. Plan B, “Stay Too Long”
After establishing himself in the world of British hip-hop and dubstep, Plan B surprised fans by letting out his inner crooner. “Stay Too Long” shifts between Lenny Kravitz-style retro soul and rap interludes vaguely reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine. A Top 10 hit in his native U.K., it has yet to be released over here.
7. Pigeon John, “Dude, It’s On”
The sole SoCal member of the Bay Area-based Quannum Projects collective, underground hip-hop artist Pigeon John covered a lot of musical terrain on this year’s Dragon Slayer album. But “Dude, It’s On” is the true standout, a down-tempo slice of pop brilliance that rhymes Motel 6 and Chick-O-Sticks. Seriously, what more could you want?
Look for more picks, videos and interview links tomorrow. Meanwhile, don't forget to share your own Top 10 with the rest of us.