100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #30: “Social Cues” by Cage the Elephant

We’ve now reached the rarefied top 30 of my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s, and the song at #30 is “Social Cues” by American rock band Cage the Elephant. With their wonderful bluesy style of alternative/indie/garage rock, they’ve been one of my favorite bands of the past decade. My love and devotion for them became even stronger when they liked several of my tweets and then actually followed me on Twitter!

“Social Cues” is the second of three songs by them on this list, with “Trouble” already having made an appearance at #78. Originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky and now based in Nashville, the band currently consists of lead vocalist Matt Shultz, his brother Brad on rhythm guitar, Nick Bockrath on lead guitar, Matthan Minster on guitar and keyboards, Daniel Tichenor on bass and Jared Champion on drums.

The title track from their fifth studio album Social Cues, “Social Cues” was released in July 2019, and now ranks among my favorites of their many great songs. The bouncy tempo is incredibly catchy, with a terrific bass line and guitars, and those chirpy synths are irresistible. But what I love most of all are Matt Shultz’s wonderful distinctive vocals that always sound so genuine. The rather poignant lyrics speak to the anxieties and insecurities of being a rock star: “Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over. Don’t know if I can play this part much longer. I don’t know if it is right to live this way, yeah. I’ll be in the back room, tell me when it’s over. People always say, ‘Man, at least you’re on the radio’.” The song’s production and arrangement are flawless.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #31: “Starboy” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk

The song at #31 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Starboy” by Canadian hip-hop/R&B singer-songwriter The Weeknd. The second song by him on this list (“Can’t Feel My Face” is at #90), “Starboy” was the title single from his third album of the same name. The song features music by French electronic music duo Daft Punk, who along with others, co-wrote the track with The Weeknd and collaborated on the album. It was a massive worldwide hit, reaching #1 in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

It’s a haunting and moody but beautiful R&B song with electro-pop elements and a captivating melody. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but generally speak to various trappings of celebrity life, including references to some of the expensive cars owned by The Weeknd, including his McLaren P1, Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, and a Bentley Mulsanne: “I’m tryna put you in the worst mood, ah / P1 cleaner than your church shoes, ah / Milli point two just to hurt you, ah / All red lamb just to tease you, ah / None of these toys on lease too, ah / Made your whole year in a week too, yeah / Main bitch out of your league too, ah / Side bitch out of your league too, ah.”

Many of The Weeknd’s videos tend to contain violent scenes, and the one for “Starboy” is no exception. Directed by Grant Singer, who also directed the videos for “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”, it has been described as The Weeknd’s attempt to murder his former persona, a sign perhaps that he was reinventing himself with his new song and album. It shows a masked figure, eventually revealed to be the Starboy incarnation of The Weeknd, killing his former self, and destroying posters and awards for his previous album Beauty Behind the Madness.

Top 30 Songs for November 29-December 5, 2020

  1. IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (1)
  2. BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (2)
  3. ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (4)
  4. MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (5)
  5. DOWNS – Roadkeeper (3)
  6. MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior (8)
  7. IDENTICAL – Phoenix (9)
  8. VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (13)
  9. CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (14)
  10. GIANTS – Dermot Kennedy (7)
  11. COME & GO – Juice WRLD featuring Marshmello (10)
  12. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow (6) 20th week on list
  13. VIRUS – Vanity Fear (15)
  14. BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars (16)
  15. FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (17)
  16. THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (18)
  17. LETTER TO YOU – Bruce Springsteen (19)
  18. THE LET GO – Elle King (12)
  19. SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (23)
  20. TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (26)
  21. TANGERINE – Glass Animals (11)
  22. NERVOUS – Au Gres (25)
  23. SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (28)
  24. DIRTY – grandson (29)
  26. AMOEBAS IN GLASS HOUSES – Moonlight Broadcast (20)
  27. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers (21) 20th week on list
  28. FEEL YOU – My Morning Jacket (22)
  29. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (24) 22nd week on list

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #32: “Take Me to Church” by Hozier

The song at #32 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Take Me to Church“, the debut single by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. This is one of two songs by him on this list, the other being “Nina Cried Power”, which appeared at #68. The darkly stunning song was released in September 2013 as a free download, as he was a struggling musician at the time, performing at open-mic nights in and around Dublin. He wrote the song while living with his parents, and recorded a rough demo in their attic. The song first caught the attention of independent label Rubyworks, where producer Rob Kirwan overdubbed the original demo with live instruments, played by Hozier and drummer Fiachra Kinder.

Raised as a Protestant Quaker, Hozier now identifies as agnostic, and was inspired to write the song by his frustration with the Catholic Church, which he saw as a negative dominant force on social and political life in Ireland. He told Rolling Stone, “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. The history speaks for itself and I grew incredibly frustrated and angry.” (As a still-recovering Catholic myself, I completely agree.) In another interview with New York magazine, he stated: “Sexuality, and sexual orientation…is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.

Hozier uses religious terminology in the lyrics to describe his feelings of romantic and sexual obsession with his lover, while also condemning church dogma: “My lover’s got humor. She’s the giggle at a funeral. Knows everybody’s disapproval. I should’ve worshiped her sooner. If the Heavens ever did speak. She is the last true mouthpiece. Every Sunday’s getting more bleak. A fresh poison each week. ‘We were born sick’, you heard them say it. My church offers no absolutes. She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom’. The only Heaven I’ll be sent to is when I’m alone with you. I was born sick, but I love it. Command me to be well. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

The darkly disturbing black and white video produced for the song was conceived by Hozier, Brendan Canty and his writing partner Emmet O’Brien. It was directed by Canty and Conal Thomson, and filmed on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland. The video, which is at times difficult to watch, tells the story of a gay relationship in Russia and the violent homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men’s sexuality. Upon its release in September 2013, the video quickly went viral, leading to Hozier’s subsequent signing with Columbia Records in the U.S. and Island Records in the UK.

“Take Me to Church” became a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in 12 countries and reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #1, however, on the Alternative, Adult Alternative, Adult Top 40 and Hot Rock Songs charts, where it spent 23 consecutive weeks at the top. It was also nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, and has sold over five million copies in the US.

For those too squeamish to watch the video, here’s a Spotify link:

SKAR DE LINE – Single Review: “Satisfied”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, charismatic and creative young artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. He’s also front man and lead vocalist for London electronic rock band Heist At Five, who I just featured two weeks ago when I reviewed their latest single “Faceless”.

Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, Skar de Line explores them through the creation of his dark and unconventional music. Drawing on his love for cinematic soundtracks by composers such as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi, he fuses those stylistic elements with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create his own unique sound that excites, pushes boundaries and gives us a lot to think about.

In October 2019, he released his superb debut single “In Charge”, which I also reviewed. Now he returns with his latest single “Satisfied“, which drops today, November 27. It’s a darker, more intense song than “In Charge”, while still featuring many of his signature cinematic and electronic elements and complex melodic song structures that I love. He uses a swirling mix of dramatic industrial synths and ominous sounds, set to powerful dubstep-style beats, to create an intense, almost menacing soundscape. As always, his deeply emotive vocals are wonderful, going from sultry croons that seduce us one moment to impassioned cries that bring chills the next, and all delivered in his charming Swedish accent.

Lyrically, Skar de Line ponders what is it that satisfies us, specifically, do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want? He elaborates: “‘Satisfied’ deals with the power we have over our own perception of ourselves, and on the contrary, the alienation we feel around people we don’t understand, the loss of control we have over someone that doesn’t have anything left to lose. It’s about the disorientation we get when we accomplish what we set out to do, when we no longer have a purpose.” Taking this idea further, it would seem that those who generally get most or all of everything they desire – like super-wealthy people for instance – would never be totally satisfied.

 Satisfied, feeding a legend, feeding the myth 
 Feeling safe, staring down into my own abyss
 Can you push, a man who has lost the sense of his gravity?
 Please try, and tell me now, now tell me how
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 You believe that I still can be saved
 That I’m too profane for this place, you're a god, 
 Come to save, the human race, from my blood 
 As a fulltime martyr now
 It’s a fascinating religion you’ve come to give your whole life for 
 Come on and tell us how
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself
 I’m your bat, you’re a dog, you’re my fuel, I can’t stop
 And it touches my heart that you run for me
 Cause I’m the splinter embedded deep inside of your mind
 What itch would you scratch when you got me out?
 I don’t wanna stay alive, I wanna feel alive
 Will it satisfy when you’re satisfied?

Skar de Line premiered a new cinematic music video for “Satisfied” on December 4th. Filmed in London, and directed and edited by himself, it’s his most ambitious film yet.

Follow Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on  Amazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #33: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by The National

The song at #33 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the gorgeous “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by American alternative folk-rock band The National. The group have been putting out consistently good and well-received music for over 20 years, and one of their finest works was their critically acclaimed and Grammy-winning seventh studio album Sleep Well Beast. The lead single from that album, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a phenomenal track, and one of the best of 2017. I was shocked to learn this was the band’s very first single to ever appear on any Billboard chart, going all the way to #1 on the Adult Alternative chart.

The song opens with a dreamy a cappella female vocal, then lovely piano chords and gnarly guitars ensue, propelled by an urgent drumbeat. The band uses a palette of richly-layered instrumentals, including a subtle trumpet fluttering over propulsive percussion to create a dramatic backdrop for singer Matt Berninger stunning and heartfelt baritone vocals. Aaron Dessner’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge, unusual for The National, is a highlight of the song.

The band has never been afraid to express their liberal political views in their songs, and while “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is not political per se, it was inspired by the political mood in America and the election of Trump. In an interview with Pitchfork, Berninger stated that the song is generally about “the strange way our world and our idea of identity mutates—sometimes overnight, as we’ve seen recently. It’s an abstract portrait of a weird time we’re in.”

Maybe I listen more than you think
I can tell that somebody sold you
We said we’ve never let anyone in
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets

The system only dreams in total darkness
Why are you hiding from me?
We’re in a different kind of thing now
All night you’re talking to God

I thought that this would all work out after a while
Now you’re saying that I’m asking for too much attention
Also no other faith is light enough for this place
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets

The system only dreams in total darkness
Why are you hiding from me?
We’re in a different kind of thing now
All night you’re talking to God

I cannot explain it
Any other, any other way
I cannot explain it
Any other, any other way

The song’s surreal video features digitally-altered imagery in mostly black and blue colors.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #34: “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele

At last, British superstar Adele makes her first of two appearances on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s with her stunning anthem “Set Fire to the Rain“, which bows in at #34. Born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, the remarkable singer-songwriter first came to prominence in 2008 with her debut album 19 and hit single “Chasing Pavements”, for which she was awarded Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal. In 2011, she released her second album 21, which became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album on the planet both in 2011 and 2012. As I write this in November 2020, 21 has spent 492 continuous weeks and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. That’s nearly nine and a half years!

The album’s third single, “Set Fire to the Rain”, was also her third consecutive single to reach #1, and is one of my favorites of Adele’s many songs. The song was co-written and produced by Fraser T. Smith, and it’s a sweeping, piano-driven anthem, with the kind of lush orchestration that I love (though a few prickly critics called it ‘over-produced’ and a ‘misfire’, and to them I say fuck off!). The dramatic arrangement creates a cinematic wall of sound befitting Adele’s soaring, emotionally-charged vocals. The lyrics speak to the contradictions that occur in some relationships, how a partner can seem so wonderful at times, yet awful at others: “You and me together, nothing gets better. But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew. All the things you’d say, they were never true, never true. And the games you play, you would always win.”

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #35: “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities

The song at #35 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the wonderfully ebullient “Safe and Sound” by Los Angeles- based electro-pop duo Capital Cities. Consisting of singer-songwriters Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant, they seem like nice, down to earth guys who’d be fun to hang out with. They formed their music project in 2010, a few years after Merchant responded to a Craigslist ad by Simonian, who was looking for music production jobs. Their lineup includes other musicians who assist in the recording of their songs and for live performances.

A sleeper hit, “Safe and Sound” was originally released in January 2011, but didn’t chart until 2013, when it was included on their terrific debut album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (the album title is from a lyric in the song). The song reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart that June, and was the #2 song of 2013 on that year-end chart. The song has a catchy synth-driven melody with an infectious dance beat, but the real highlight is the exuberant trumpet line that gives the track incredible texture and energy. The guys’ vocal harmonies are pretty great too.

In a 2013, interview with USA Today, Simonian explained that “‘Safe and Sound’ is an ode to humanity and all living things. We want people to recognize that life can be good, things are getting better.” Though the lyrics are quite simple – “I could lift you up / I could show you what you wanna see and take you where you wanna be / You could be my luck / Even if the sky is falling down I know that we’ll be safe and sound” the song is just so damn upbeat that it brings me immense joy every time I hear it.

The delightful official video, directed by Grady Hall, was filmed in the historic Los Angeles Theatre, and shows Capital Cities performing on stage as dancers emerge from pictures on the wall and film clips from different time periods in the theater’s history, and compete in a dance-off. Simonian and Merchant took lessons so they could dance in the video. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #36: “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

The song at #36 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Counting Stars” by pop-rock band OneRepublic. I’ve been a big fan of OneRepublic since falling in love with their beautiful song “Apologize” in 2008, which ended up at #8 on my Top 100 Songs of the 2000s. Their fantastic song “Counting Stars”, was released in June 2013 as the second single from their third album Native. It was a huge hit around the world, reaching #1 in Canada, Brazil, Finland, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, Israel and the UK. In the U.S. it peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Adult Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts.

The song has an infectious and powerful beat-driven melody, with touches of soul, gospel and dance-pop that make for a colorful and exciting listen. Band front man Ryan Tedder wrote the song while staying in a house in the Hamptons being rented by Jay-Z and Beyonce, and said it’s about “laying in bed awake at night when you’re stressed out of your mind, thinking ‘How are we gonna make ends meet? How are we gonna pay the bills?’ You know, all those things you wanna do with your life – how are we gonna make them work? How’s this actually gonna happen or come to pass? So, instead of counting sheep, we’re counting stars.” For me, the highlight of the song are Tedder’s beautiful vocals.

The music video for the song was filmed in New Orleans, and shows the band performing the song in a dusty, decrepit building – complete with a roaming alligator – while a church revival service goes on upstairs. As of November 2020, it has received over 3.1 billion views, and currently ranks as the 14th most-viewed YouTube video ever.

A CHOIR OF GHOSTS – Single Review: “Skin & Bones”

This past April, I featured Swedish alternative folk artist A Choir of Ghosts when I reviewed his exquisite debut album An Ounce of Gold. It’s an impressive and stunning work that turned me into a fan of this talented young man. The musical alter-ego of British-born but now Sweden-based singer-songwriter James Auger, A Choir of Ghosts creates beautiful songs drawing from folk, Americana, and pop-rock influences. He’s now returned with a lovely new single “Skin & Bones“, released on November 20th through his label Greywood Records.

Auger provided a bit of background for his inspiration in writing “Skin & Bones”: “The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go. It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”

“Skin & Bones” has a simple but enchanting melody, highlighted by his beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar work and warm, comforting vocals that make for a pleasing listening experience. His vocals grow more emotional in the chorus as he assures a loved one that she has his support while she works through her issues:

It’s cold when you’re not home
Holding on to our skin and bones
You said it’ll be alright
But I can’t be there, to take the fight
Hold on darling,
You won’t get nowhere if you run
I’ll pray for you
Till the morning comes
The silence when we speak
Our dreams are far too weak
I can see it on my own
The wuthering heights, and the crushing lows
Hold on darling,
You won’t get nowhere if you run
I’ll pray for you
Till the morning comes

The video was filmed and directed by Dorian Vergensson this past summer in the beautiful Swedish countryside.

Connect with A Choir of Ghosts:  Website / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Greywood Records