The song at #93 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the delightfully upbeat “Riptide” by Australian indie folk-rock singer-songwriter Vance Joy (born James Gabriel Keogh). With his ukelele as the primary instrument, he adds piano, guitar and percussion, and combines them with with a breezy melody and lovely backing harmonies to create an incredibly pleasing track. His heartfelt vocals convey an endearing vulnerability as he sings the lyrics about being besotted with a girl. “I love you when you’re singing that song, and I’ve got a lump in my throat ’cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong.”
“Riptide” was first released as a track in 2013 on his debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, and is also featured on his 2014 debut studio album Dream Your Life Away. The single has sold over 7 million copies (both physical copy and digital download) worldwide, and holds the record for the most weeks in the top 100 of the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Assn.) Singles Chart – 120 consecutive weeks. It also spent several wees at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart.
The song at #94 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Dreams” by Beck. Born Bek David Campbell in Los Angeles in 1970, the eternally youthful singer-songwriter, musician and producer has been making great music ever since the unexpected success of his breakout single “Loser” in 1994. Over his long, innovative and prolific career, he’s recorded and released an astonishing 14 studio albums, continually experimenting with an eclectic myriad of genres including alternative rock, folk, country, hip hop, soul, funk and electronic.
“Dreams” was released in June 2015, a few months after his Album of the Year Grammy win for Morning Phase. Beck stated he wanted to make a record that “would be good to play live“, and did he ever! The song is exhilarating, with a fantastic guitar-driven groove, cool psychedelic synths and the kind of strong thumping drum beat that I adore. The song was ultimately included on his 2017 album Colors.
When I last featured British electronic music project The Ocean Beneath on this blog in July 2019, it was to review his marvelous debut self-titled EP The Ocean Beneath (which you can read here.) The Ocean Beneath is the brain child of Leeds-based musician, composer and producer Matt Burnside. Influenced by bands such as Gunship, HVOB and Talk Talk, he combine 80’s synthpop elements with modern recording techniques, analogue synthesis and huge melodic grooves to create music that sounds retro, yet fresh and now.
He recently teamed up with Leeds-based singer-songwriter and electronic musician Fran Minney for their smoldering new collaborative single “Skin“, which drops today, September 29th. In their own words, the song “encapsulates the almost drunken touch-starved feeling a lot of us have experienced during lockdown these past few months with a beat to help you dance out that desperation.” Well, I must say that Matt and Fran do a superb job in capturing those desperate feelings of desire through their sensuous instrumentals, arrangement and vocals.
After listening to “Skin” a few times, it struck me how it has a somewhat similar feel as Everything But The Girl’s 1995 hit song “Missing”, not only because of the way it transitions back and forth from a calm, moody vibe to a sensuous dance groove, but also that Fran’s sultry vocals remind me of Tracey Thorn’s.
The song opens with enchanting glittery synths, then Fran’s lush vocals enter as the music expands with darker, more ominous synths and a crisp percussive beat. At the one minute mark, a throbbing dance beat ensues along with Fran’s haunting, echoed vocals, and lasting around 15 seconds before calming down, only to briefly return at 1:50. This back and forth pattern continues through the rest of the track, building to an exhilarating crescendo in the final chorus before calming back down at the end. It all serves to create a strong sense of tension and unfulfilled desire that makes for a very powerful song.
The days and the months The weight of your touch I’ve waited so long The dry thickened clay Baked deep in the layers I’m breaking away
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating Your skin, your, your skin, skin Your skin, your, your skin, skin
The sand and the blood A coarse thickened flood I waited so long The foam and the blue That brought me to you The pull of a truth
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating
I die a little each time x3 I die a little I die a little each time x3 Let me drown in this night
I am lost in your skin Feel the waves crash within I’m off my feet I’m floating
The song at #95 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “My Type” by Los Angeles-based Saint Motel. I loved this song the moment it first hit my eardrums back in late 2014, and it turned me into a big fan of the band. Their rousing, sophisticated sound is a nod to the brassy exuberance of the Big Band era, but delivered with a fresh, contemporary indie pop approach. “My Type” is a deliriously catchy song with a powerful driving dance beat and an exuberant horn-driven hook that make for a joyful and fun listen. It also has one of the best tongue-in-cheek lyrics ever: “You’re know you’re just my type. Oh, you’ve got a pulse and you are breathing.”
Band front man A.J. Jackson, who has a terrific singing voice, produced and directed the stylish video for the track, which was filmed in a cool Mid-Century Modern house in L.A.
Blurryface is my favorite album of the past 10 years, and twenty one pilots is my current favorite band. I love them, and their music brings out the 25-year-old still lurking inside my decrepit old body. I saw them in concert in St. Louis with my sister in August 2016, and the two of us were quite literally the oldest people there who were not chaperoning their children or grandchildren!
Formed in 2009 and based in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, twenty one pilots consists of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun (who joined the band in 2011 after two of the previous founding members left). Incorporating a ridiculously eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.
Released in May 2015, Blurryface was the band’s fourth studio album. Although they’d been putting out music since 2009, it wasn’t until April 2015 that I learned of them, when I first heard their single “Tear in My Heart”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a huge fan. I downloaded Blurryface on iTunes as soon as it was released, and also binged on their back catalog of music, especially their brilliant 2013 album Vessel. I burned Blurryface onto a CD, put it into my car stereo, and played it every time I went anywhere for months, turning many friends onto it as well.
The album is named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.” The album is of such high caliber that every one of its 14 tracks could be a hit song, and in fact, in 2018 it became the first album in the digital era to have every track receive a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. It spent 276 consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 Album chart, peaking at #1. It finally dropped off the chart three weeks ago, but then re-entered the following week, and as I write this, it’s enjoying its 278th week on the chart.
Although I love every song on the album, I’ll discuss my favorites to keep this write-up from becoming tedious. The first is “Tear in my Heart”, the second single released from the album and, as I stated earlier, my introduction to twenty one pilots. It’s a delightful song of love inspired by Joseph’s marriage to his wife Jenna a month earlier. Not only do I adore the song’s exuberant arrangement, arresting stop and start melody, colorful instrumentation, and Joseph’s wonderful plaintive vocals, I also love the endearing lyrics about the contradictory emotions of joy and agony that often come from romantic love: “The songs on the radio are okay. But my taste in music is your face! And it takes a song to come around to show you how. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m alive. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m on fire. She’s the tear in my heart. Take me higher than I’ve ever been!”
The video shows Joseph and Dun performing the song in L.A.’s Chinatown, with the people around him barely paying attention. Eventually, the surrounding buildings begin crumbling as Joseph notices Jenna in a group of people, and follows her down an alley and into a restaurant. She sings to him the opening lyrics of the song: “Sometimes you’ve got to bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul“, to which he responds: “but it takes someone to come around to show you how“, whereupon she starts beating him until he’s bleeding. The video ends with them kissing.
The pinnacle track on the album is “Stressed Out”, which is my favorite of all their songs, and now ranks among my favorite songs of all time. It’s a catchy and brilliant song with a relatively simple alternative rap-rock melody. The lyrics speak of facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood, while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” The song also references the album’s title and Joseph’s alter-ego Blurryface, expressed in the lyric “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think.” I especially love the strong drumbeats, spacey synths and contemplative piano keys. The song was a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. The delightful video, which has been streamed more than 2.1 billion times, portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval.
“Ride” was the fifth album cut to be released as a single, and was also a big chart hit. It’s a deliriously upbeat alternative hip hop song with a strong reggae undercurrent, and I love Joseph’s extraordinary vocals that go from earnest to rapping to falsetto to impassioned wails. He’s a really talented rapper, with an ability to deliver lyrics in a hard, staccato style of fast-paced rapping that only a handful of artists like Eminem are good at. The lyrics speak to uncertainties and anxieties over the meaning of life, with references to thinking about death, which Joseph raps about at high speed: “‘I’d die for you,’ that’s easy to say / We have a list of people that we would take a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room / But I don’t seem to see many bullets comin’ through / See many bullets comin’ through / Metaphorically, I’m the man / But literally, I don’t know what I’d do / ‘I’d live for you,’ an’ that’s hard to do / Even harder to say when you know it’s not true.” At the end, he concludes “I’ve been thinking too much, help me.” Dun’s power drumming is amazing, and the organ is a nice touch as well.
The guys show their darker, edgier side on album opener “Heavydirtysoul” which was the sixth and final single released from Blurryface. A melodically complex song with harsh industrial synths, crushing drumbeats and Joseph’s frantic rapping, several critics named it the best track on the album. They typically opened their sets with this song for their tours promoting Blurryface.
“Lane Boy” is a perfect example of how they blend together an unorthodox mix of music styles like dubstep, hip hop, jungle, ska, EDM and rock to achieve a thoroughly original and melodically surprising sound. And Joseph’s rapping on this track is particularly mind-blowing. The song challenges the idea that artists should stay in a ‘lane’ or be defined by a particular style, sound or genre, and not stray or vary from that expected formula for fear they’ll alienate fans or confound music critics: “They say, ‘stay in your lane boy, lane boy,’ but we go where we want to / They think this thing is a highway, highway, but will they be alive tomorrow?”
Another favorite is the beautiful track “Hometown”, which shows that the band is equally skilled at producing a more conventional EDM-styled song. I’m a big fan of this kind of electronic dance music, and the lush sweeping synths and driving beats are cinematic and glorious. The lyrics seem to address questions of faith, self-identity and depression: “Where we’re from, there’s no sun / Our hometown’s in the dark / Where we’re from, we’re no one / Our hometown’s in the dark.”
Album closer “Goner” is a melancholy song about defeating the darkness and fears represented by Blurryface once and for all. The track starts off with a gentle piano melody as Joseph plaintively sings “I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath / I wanna be known by you.” The music gradually builds with added percussion as he pleads “I’ve got two faces, Blurry’s the one I’m not / I need your help to take him out.” At the three-minute mark, the song erupts with explosive percussion and screaming synths as Joseph passionately wails “Don’t let me be / I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath!“, abruptly calming down at the very end and leaving us spent.
Twenty one pilots would go on to release an equally outstanding follow-up album Trench in 2018. A concept album about the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema ruled by nine bishops, Trench was produced by Paul Meany, front man of alternative rock band MUTEMATH (who opened for twenty one pilots on their Emotional Roadshow Tour), and reflected a somewhat more mature and even more complex sound for twenty one pilots. Nevertheless, Blurryface remains my favorite of their albums.
The song at #96 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Wander” by Vox Eagle, featuring rap vocals by Pierre Fontaine. Vox Eagle is the music project of Australian-born and now Colorado-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Crosby. One of the tracks from his outstanding 2018 album TriumAvium, “Wander” is an enchanting mashup of melodic dream rock and hip hop, and when those magical keyboard and string synths wash over us like a shower of tiny diamonds, it’s absolute bliss. Eventually, a trip hop beat ensues as Andy freestyles about how communication has broken down in his relationship, his vocals going from sultry to falsetto as he sings: “We don’t talk no more, baby girl, we just wander.” Guest vocalist Pierre Fontaine’s smooth rap vocals take over on the last third of the track, adding another wonderful textural element to this stunning track. I love this song so much I’ve probably listened to it five hundred times.
Luke Mock is a 19-year old singer-songwriter from Auburn, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He writes heartfelt indie pop songs and brings them to life with his fine guitar playing and pleasing vocals. His debut single “Universe”, released this past June, has already garnered over 55,000 streams on Spotify. Luke has opened for such acts as Ryan Quinn, John Gorka, Paul Elia, Mark Doyle, Joe Whiting and Neyla Pekarek, and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019.
He’s just released his second single “Better“, a bittersweet folk-pop song about the pain and heartache that remains after a break-up. With his acoustic guitar as the primary musical instrument, Luke skillfully layers subtle synths and additional guitar notes to fashion a lovely soundscape for his fervent vocals. I like how his vocals become more impassioned as the music builds, accompanied by his own backing harmonies that add depth to the song and effectively convey the pain expressed in the poignant lyrics.
The song is directed to a former girlfriend, recalling some good times and asking her if she misses him or still hurting like he is, or has she moved on and feeling ‘better’: “Guess I should have known by the way you looked at me, that you lost feelings, and we’re not meant to be. Do you miss my voice like I miss your heartbeat? Do you feel the pain in my soul through your phone screen? And are you falling apart, torn by the seams like me? Or are you better, whatever that means?” It’s a wonderful song, and I’m pleased to choose it as my New Song of the Week.
The song at #97 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the gorgeous “Loving You is So Easy” by Liverpool new wave/indie pop band Wide Eyed Boy. The UK has a thriving music scene today, perhaps the best since the late 1970s, and Wide Eyed Boy are among the best acts I’ve come across. I’ve featured them several times on this blog, beginning in March 2017 with my review of their superb debut single “Wolves”. That song is so good that I didn’t think they could top it, but I was wrong, as “Loving You is So Easy” is absolutely magnificent. The swirling guitars, sultry bass line, crashing percussion, and lush, sweeping industrial synths are all breathtaking, creating a stunning backdrop for singer Oliver Nagy’s beautiful and electrifying vocals. And then there’s that xylophone, adding a dash of enchanting magic to the track!
The song lyrics are fairly straightforward – “I don’t care the way you care. I can see it in your stare. But the way that we collide, it’s getting harder every time. Loving you is so easy. Easy when I’m down, down, down” – but Nagy delivers them with a smoldering seductiveness before launching into a soaring falsetto in the chorus that raises goosebumps.
The video produced for the track is visually stunning, with a minimalist set and subdued lighting, accentuated with background fluorescents, creating the perfect mood for this charismatic band’s dramatic performance.
Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.
Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering.
The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”
It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.