My Top 101 Songs of the Decade

I listened to a lot of music this decade – scrobbling close to 180,000 plays of nearly 10,000 unique songs, if last.fm is to believed – but ultimately, I still didn’t venture as far from my comfort zone as I might’ve hoped. Heartland rock and indie pop dominated my habits, much as with the decade prior.

Perhaps that’s because, personally, it was a fairly stable decade, despite the tumult in the wider world. The 2010s mark my first full ten years with my now-wife, and nine years at my first job, which despite a number of shifts, mergers and acquisitions, I am still at now. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that this list is dominated by a handful of favourite artists, familiar faces who I return to time and again.

In a bid to broaden the field, I’ve restricted artists to five entries apiece. Ultimately, that didn’t affect matters too much, but it did mean my two favourites had an entry or two snipped: humble apologies to The National and The Gaslight Anthem.

Commiserations also to twenty-five close-runners: The 88‘s “At Least It Was Here”, The 1975‘s “Love It If We Made It”, Barenaked Ladies‘ “I Saw It”, Childish Gambino‘s “Kids (Keep Up)”, Danny and the Champions of the World‘s “Soul in the City”, Darker My Love‘s “Snow is Falling”, Dave Hause‘s “Paradise”, David Guetta & Sia‘s “Titanium”, Eminem & Rihanna‘s “Love the Way You Lie”, The Fratellis‘ “Slow”, Jimmy Eat World‘s “555”, Kanye West‘s “Devil in a New Dress”, Kip Moore‘s “Girl of the Summer”, Ludovico Einaudi‘s “Experience”, Magic Kids‘ “Candy”, Meat Loaf‘s “Going All the Way is Just the Start”, The Menzingers‘ “The Obituaries”, Morrissey‘s “Staircase at the University”, Ryan Adams‘ “I Just Might” and “Feels Like Fire”, The Shires‘ “State Lines”, Tim Minchin‘s “Thank You God”, Troye Sivan‘s “Strawberries & Cigarettes”, The War on Drugs‘ “Up All Night” and Will Echo‘s “Fly Away”.

As an addendum, I haven’t compiled a full blog post on my favourite albums of the decade, but I did put together a stripped-down, simple list: my top 101 albums of the 2010s is over at RateYourMusic.

Now, the list proper..

101. Patrick Wolf – House

(2011, from Lupercalia) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I love that here you live with me, gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known”

Baroque electro-pop tribute to the simple beauty of the familiar; Wolf’s domestic imagery is a roaring fire, a home comfort.

100. The Magic Numbers – A Start With No Ending

(2010, from The Runaway) – listen on YouTube
“I’m just a boy pretending, and you’re just a girl pretending”

The band’s usual twee folk-pop shifts into power-pop territory here, but those gorgeous vocal harmonies are present and correct, as ever.

99. Jon Fratelli – The Band Played Just For Me

(2011, from Psycho Jukebox) – listen on YouTube
“In her room, I was petrified and tried my best to hide how she could use me”

Jon Fratelli’s first solo record ventures a little more bar-band than his full band ever dared; this tune’s rapid, swooning shift of tempo is instantly magnetic.

98. Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z – Drunk in Love

(2013, from Beyoncé) – listen & watch on YouTube
“We woke up in the kitchen saying, ‘How the hell did this shit happen?’ “

This seductive semi-sequel to the iconic “Crazy in Love” layers skittering trap beats, haunting moans, and Beyoncé’s magnificent yearning vocal.

97. Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler – Home for the Holidays

(2011, from This is Christmas) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I pass the corner and the cinema we used to go to, it feels like nothing’s changed”

With commiserations to Kelly Clarkson, this is thr decade’s finest tribute to the Phil Spector Christmas record: nostalgic, reflective, and exploding with sound.

96. The Highwomen – Crowded Table

(2019, from The Highwomen) – listen on YouTube
“Let us take on the world while we’re young and able, and bring us back together when the day is done”

Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna team up on writing duties on this highlight from the remarkable country supergroup’s debut; its plea for strength in community is heartening.

95. They Might Be Giants – The Communists Have the Music

(2018, from My Murdered Remains) – listen & watch on YouTube
“The fascists have the outfits, but I don’t care for the outfits”

The Giants’ humorous take on the battle for substance over style, in which our narrator pledges allegiance to ideology for aesthetic reasons, is an instantly-memorable gem.

94. Steven Page – Clifton Springs

(2010, from Page One) – listen on YouTube
“I’m going back to the place where they laughed in my face”

Following his departure from Barenaked Ladies, Page’s first solo record tries its best to look forward, but this atypical breakup waltz might be its most beautiful-sounding.

93. Sky Ferreira – Heavy Metal Heart

(2013, from Night Time, My Time) – listen on YouTube
“When my body starts to work like a machine, I can feel the pulse of my heavy metal heart”

Edgy, brittle synth-grunge that gives way to a driving lyric with a big heart. Ferreira’s vocals are poppy, with a stuttering kick.

92. Nate Ruess – Great Big Storm

(2015, from Grand Romantic) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Though we’re cutting it close, we won’t let go”

Ruess’s post-fun. solo record sands the stylistic edges from that earlier project, zeroing in more heavily on 70s and 80s rock. This is big-hearted, big-arena pop.

91. Ryan Hamilton & the Harlequin Ghosts – Far Cry

(2019, from This is the Sound) – listen & watch on YouTube
“You’re a far cry, but for cryin’ out loud, just breathe”

It’s no surprise to learn that E Street Band vet Steve Van Zandt has taken these guys under his wing: this is pulsating rock with a beating heart, hints of Petty and Springsteen swirling and crashing.

90. The National – Not in Kansas

(2019, from I am Easy to Find) – listen on YouTube [live version]
“I’m bingeing hard on Annette Bening, and listening to R.E.M. again”

Stream-of-consciousness meditation; fragments smash into fragments as Berninger reflects and projects, meandering through the memories, experiences and popular culture that made him.

89. Sia – Chandelier

(2014, from 1000 Forms of Fear) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight”

Dancing on the edge of the party life; alcohol is the solution, until it’s the cause. Sia’s vocals are propulsive, pleading.

88. Alex Lahey – Awkward Exchange

(2017, from I Love You Like A Brother) – listen on YouTube
“I need you to go but I want you to stay”

Lahey reflects on the battle between her heart and her head in a realationship of questionable merit, as urgent power-pop crests and falls.

87. Band of Horses – Factory

(2010, from Infinite Arms) – listen on YouTube
“It’s temporary, this place I’m in, I permanently won’t do this again”

Our down-and-out narrator ruminates on the mundane – there’s a verse about cinema candy! – as the dramatic, string-drenched backing soars.

86. Barenaked Ladies – Ordinary

(2010, from All in Good Time) – listen on YouTube
“How a melody can make up your mind, take a memory, and leave it behind”

A plaintive, folky meditation on loss, that builds to an irresistably simple chorus. Some gorgeous vocal melodies here.

85. Darlene Love – Forbidden Nights

(2015, from Introducing Darlene Love) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Why did you kiss me with all of your mind?”

Written by Elvis Costello and produced by Steven Van Zandt, Darlene Love’s magnificent vocal traverses a soundscape straight out of 1960s Brill Building.

84. The Drew Thomson Foundation – Pace Yourself

(2018, from Stay EP/The Drew Thomson Foundation) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Diet Coke and lime, don’t know how I became that guy, but it could be a whole lot worse”

Thomson’s first solo record feels very much like the start of a new era; here, the newly-sober ex-Single Mothers frontman focuses on sobriety and the benefits it has wrought, in a surprisingly catchy singalong rocker.

83. The Gaslight Anthem – Mae

(2012, from Handwritten) – listen on YouTube
“We work our fingers down to dust while we wait for kingdom come, with the radio on”

Brian Fallon’s take on “Thunder Road”: our narrator has one last chance to make it real. Beautiful imagery collides with an uncharacteristically slow-build sound for Gaslight, and it’s majestic.

82. Lorde – Green Light

(2017, from Melodrama) – listen & watch on YouTube
“All those rumors, they have big teeth”

Explosive dance-pop with a magnificent rush of a chorus; Lorde passionately sings of a breakup and her attempts to move forward, as Jack Antonoff’s production builds to catharsis upon catharsis.

81. Mark Morriss – Consuela

(2014, from A Flash of Darkness) – listen on YouTube
“I wish you’d just stop trying, or slip something in my drink”

The ex-Bluetones frontman delivers a straight, sharp shot of power-pop, with Latin rhythms lurking at the edges.

80. Los Campesinos! – Straight in at 101

(2010, from Romance is Boring) – listen on YouTube
“I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock”

A love of football and demanding dietary restrictions damage our narrator’s sexual relationships, in this comic pop joy from the masters of indie wit.

79. Jon Fratelli – Oh Shangri-La

(2011, from Psycho Jukebox) – listen on YouTube
“This jukebox won’t play no Sinatra, it just curses all night long”

The solo Fratelli swings hard for the retro here, drawing on ’50s doo-wop, ’70s rock and ’90s Britpop to triangulate an incisive, catchy gem.

78. Kanye West – Runaway

(2010, from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) – listen on YouTube
“I’m so gifted at findin’ what I don’t like the most”

It may not be my personal favourite Kanye song (that’s further down the page), but it is unquestionably the most Kanye song, nine minutes of raw self-examination with more production flourishes than most artists toy with in a lifetime. Deal, or run away.

77. Against Me! – White Crosses

(2010, from White Crosses) – listen on YouTube
“I don’t know what’s going to cure my unsettled stomach”

Hook after hook; the catchiest punk rock of the decade unfolds as Laura Jane Grace explodes with passion and frustration.

76. Better Oblivion Community Center – Chesapeake

(2019, from Better Oblivion Community Center) – listen on YouTube
“I was all covered in sound, ear plugs so it wasn’t loud”

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst calmly juxtapose the corruption of the music industry with the innocent, pure joy of childhood concertgoing. Quietly heartbreaking.

75. Brandi Carlile – Sugartooth

(2018, from By the Way, I Forgive You) – listen on YouTube
“He was a liar, but not a fraud, living proof that there was no God”

Carlile’s warm and generous character study of a man unable to kick a drug habit is a heart-wrenching affair.

74. Butch Walker – Wilder in the Heart

(2016, from Stay Gold) – listen & watch on YouTube
“When our minds were young and we were wilder in the heart”

Walker’s Stay Gold record draws heavily on heartland rock, and that’s true most of all here, a Springsteenian reflection on the passing of passionate young love.

73. Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future

(2012, from Elysium) – listen on YouTube
“It’s taken me all of my life to find you”

Moody electropop meditation on fate, happenstance, and the role of free will in our lives; it’s weighty stuff, compacted into a four-minute pop song.

72. R.E.M. – It Happened Today

(2011, from Collapse Into Now) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I have earned my voice”

R.E.M.’s final record did, in hindsight, give us all the clues that the band was done, including this jangly, sunny tune that shifts from Stipe having “earned his voice” to an extended, cathartic, wordless outro.

71. Keane – Sovereign Light Café

(2012, from Strangeland) – listen & watch on YouTube
“You can run away, boy, but you won’t go far”

The underrated post-Britpop band offer their spin on “Girls in their Summer Clothes”, as Tom Chaplin finds solace in local attractions imbued with memories.

70. Bleachers – Rollercoaster

(2014, from Strange Desire) – listen & watch on YouTube
“It’s a hundred miles an hour on a dirt road running away”

This peppy synth-pop track lives up to its name, as Jack Antonoff’s cheery, giddy-in-love narrative careens through choruses at breakneck speed.

69. Brian Fallon – Watson

(2018, from Sleepwalkers) – listen on YouTube
“Watching detectives chase the one that got away”

Fallon references the Magnetic Fields, Elvis Costello and, yes, Sherlock Holmes in this emotional tribute to a lover he can’t live without. His vivid portrait of the elderly man seeking his old flame through London’s underground is top-tier songwriting.

68. The Echo-Friendly – Same Mistakes

(2012, from Love Panic) – listen & watch on YouTube
“My friends are all adults, I’m still a teenage girl”

This doleful portrayal of arrested development is simultaneously self-aware and sincere; music for anyone who’s ever felt stuck in a rut.

67. The Fratellis – Laughing Gas

(2018, from In Your Own Sweet Time) – listen on YouTube
“You and I know this joke soon will pass”

Rattles by at such a pace you fear the record may spin right off the turntable, a bouncing tribute to the lighter things in life with a chorus that burrows its way into your brain for days on end.

66. Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers – The Airplane Song

(2018, from Bought to Rot) – listen on YouTube
“All trips come to an end, some of them never begin”

The standout from Grace’s first solo record depicts a solo airplane rider, apparently post-breakup, still “torn between two lovers”. It ably leaps between trains of thought, as frantic guitar and drums drive to a frenetic climax.

65. The Magnetic Fields – You Must be Out of Your Mind

(2010, from Realism) – listen on YouTube
“I no longer drink enough to think you’re witty”

Low on electric guitar and synth-free, Realism is the Magnetic Fields’ most traditional-sounding album; this gorgeous, folky melody juxtaposes with the violent imagery lurking in the confrontational lyrics.

64. The National – Sorrow

(2010, from High Violet) – listen on YouTube
“I live in a city sorrow built, it’s in my honey, it’s in my milk”

Nails how all-encompassing depression can be; it pervades every fragment of every day. Berninger’s baritone is the perfect delivery method.

63. Hawksley Workman – Battlefords

(2018, from Median Age Wasteland) – listen & watch on YouTube
“They say that wealth is revealed in the teeth, that’s why we’re all wearing braces”

A wry and warm-spirited tribute to small-town Canadian childhood, Workman nails the specificity that makes this subgenre really click (“rocky road, and tiger tail, and bubblegum”).

62. Haim – Don’t Save Me

(2012, from Days Are Gone) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Take me back to the song how it used to go”

’80s influences loom large on this tremendous reflection on a relationship that has changed and shifted beyond repair.

61. The Gaslight Anthem – Orphans

(2010, from American Slang) – listen on YouTube
“We were orphans before we were ever the sons of regret”

Lost youth is a favourite topic of mine, and “Orphans” absolutely nails it, a careering freight train of reflections on what’s been lost to time: the “clothes I wore”, the “diamond Sinatras” we once were.

60. fun – Sight of the Sun

(2013, from Girls OST Vol. 1) – listen on YouTube
“For once there is nothing up my sleeve, just some scars from a life that used to trouble me”

A string-heavy indie-pop portrait of the moment at which a relationship becomes real, a genuine shot at “the one”.

59. Emmy the Great – Social Halo

(2016, from Second Love) – listen on YouTube
“I see you, sometimes when I’m in Soho”

Second Love sees Emmy experiment with broader soundscapes, and electronic haze of “Social Halo” is the perfect accompaniment to a narrator who’s having difficulty grasping the motivations of those she loves.

58. El Vy – Silent Ivy Hotel

(2015, from Return to the Moon) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Pool-water martinis and a towel under the door”

It may be from the National frontman’s side-project, but this still bears the distinctive fingerprints of Matt Berninger: specific imagery, ambiguous emotional headspace.

57. Deacon Blue – That’s What We Can Do

(2012, from The Hipsters) – listen on YouTube
“We trust, we change, we move from one place to another, ‘cos that’s what we can do”

Driving power-pop from the Scottish rockers; it’s all jangle and sunshine and buoyant pep.

56. Dr. Dre – Talking to My Diary

(2015, from Compton) – not available on YouTube
“I’m just staring at the sky, you probably thinkin’ I’m high”

Heavily associated with the contemporaneous Straight Outta Compton biopic, Dre reflects on his life and successes, paying tribute to those who helped along the way. A surprisingly emotional capper.

55. Bishi – Ship of Fools

(2012, from Albion Voice) – listen & watch on YouTube
“So why don’t you come with me, to the sea in the ship of fools?”

Multidisciplinary talent Bishi blends disparate sounds and styles; her live performances are magnificent multimedia showcases. “Ship of Fools” is her finest moment, a joyous fusion of Eastern and Western.

54. Jeff Rosenstock – Beating My Head Against A Wall

(2018, from POST-) – listen on YouTube
“Talk-talk-talk-talk-talking to you, but you don’t wanna hear me speak”

One-hundred seconds of spiky, abrasive punk that somehow packs an album’s worth of hooks.

53. The War on Drugs – Holding On

(2017, from A Deeper Understanding) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Hiding in the seams, I keep moving past”

The War on Drugs build expansive, immersive, landscapes that shift in and out of focus, simultaneously haunting and calming; this adds reassuring ’80s rock hallmarks to the mix too.

52. Travis – 3 Miles High

(2016, from Everything At Once) – listen & watch on YouTube
“We can’t come down, ‘cos we’d burst our little bubble on the ground”

Wistful rumination on the futility of it all, a brisk yet tender plea to live in the moment.

51. The Menzingers – Farewell Youth

(2019, from Hello Exile) – listen on YouTube
“I was always hanging out with the older kids”

It’s been a remarkable decade for these guys, traversing the shift from punk to rock as deftly as the Gaslight Anthem. Their career highlight to date: this devastating finale from their latest record, using an old friend’s wake as a jumping-off point to reflect on adolescence.

50. Brandi Carlile – Hold Out Your Hand

(2018, from By the Way, I Forgive You) – listen & watch on YouTube
“There will be colour and language and nobody wanting to fight”

Carlile is rousing and defiant in this call to empathy, the rat-a-tat verses the perfect contrast to the call-to-arms chorus.

49. Bruce Springsteen – Moonlight Motel

(2019, from Western Stars) – listen on YouTube
“Then it was one more shot poured out onto the parking lot, to the Moonlight Motel”

Heart-wrenching tribute to past times and lost love; its ambiguous conclusion ricochets and reverberates, long after the album-closer concludes.

48. The Gaslight Anthem – Desire

(2012, from Handwritten) – listen on YouTube
“Does it hurt you at night? Or does it keep you alive and set you on fire?”

Maybe as full-on pop as Gaslight ever got, a marvellous heart-on-sleeve rush of hormones, bravado and, yes, desire.

47. The Hold Steady – Big Cig

(2014, from Teeth Dreams) – listen on YouTube
“We power down and try to socialize”

Craig Finn’s nonpareil eye for detail is in fine fetter here, sketching a smoke-strewn portrait of a casual relationship skating by on fetishistic lust.

46. Katy Perry ft. Juicy J – Dark Horse

(2013, from Prism) – listen & watch on YouTube
“So you wanna play with magic”

Perry draws on trap and techno for her most impressive stylistic experiment to date, a mystical exploration of the point at which dark arts and sex intersect.

45. They Might Be Giants – Can’t Keep Johnny Down

(2011, from Join Us) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Beneath my dignity to flip off the guy, when he pulls up alongside to say my gas cap is unscrewed”

The downbeat narrative set to peppy pop is one of the Giants’ specialties, and “Johnny” is a quintessential example, as a grouchy protagonist moans about other people’s minor misdeeds to sun-drenched rock.

44. The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

(2017, from Sleep Well Beast) – listen & watch on YouTube
“We’re in a different kind of thing now, all night you’re talking to God”

At first fluttery, then stately, and finally heavy and brutalist, this is a song that careens and thunders through murky waters, ever on the precipice of something foreboding.

43. Danny and the Champions of the World – Talkin’ About the Weather

(2013, from Stay True) – listen on YouTube
“Talking about the weather is a waste of time”

Good old-fashioned country sets the scene for this rumination on outgrowing your surroundings (complete with a friendly jibe at Brits’ love of, er, talkin’ about the weather).

42. Butch Walker – Stay Gold

(2016, from Stay Gold) – listen & watch on YouTube
“While the locals all work for coffee, remember that you own this town”

Butch’s impassioned plea to stick out from the crowd skirts well-worn territory to come up with something genuinely fresh and inspirational; his portrait of small-town mundanity is magnificent.

41. Michael Kisur – Who You Wanna Be

(2011, from Dark Horse OST) – listen on YouTube
“Today is gonna be the perfect day to step into your life and make anything change”

A perfect partner to #42; an impossibly catchy anthem that empowers us to change, to be the selves we always were. Michael Kisur should be a household name.

40. Barenaked Ladies – You Run Away

(2010, from All in Good Time) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I’ll give you something you can cry about”

On their first record since Steven Page’s departure from the band, Barenaked Ladies struggle to reconcile their emotions; “You Run Away” is a defeated, dejected attempt to grasp the situation.

39. Brian Fallon – Smoke

(2016, from Painkillers) – listen on YouTube
“You just became something like some smoke that I tried too hard to hold”

A low-key stream-of-consciousness gem from Fallon that deals with the impossibility of reconciling early relationship magic with the drudgery of daily life.

38. The Shires – All Over Again

(2015, from Brave) – listen & watch on YouTube
“We’ve been too caught up in all that stuff we call life”

The Shires quickly became one of Britain’s all-time most popular country-pop acts, and this immensely likable treasure is probably their crowning gem. Swooning vocal harmonies abound.

37. Taylor Swift – Getaway Car

(2017, from reputation.) – listen on YouTube
“I knew it from the first Old Fashioned, we were cursed”

Crime scene getaway as a metaphor for painful breakup; Swift and producer Jack Antonoff work synth-pop magic, hooks and key changes that threaten to swallow you whole.

36. The Muppets – Life’s A Happy Song

(2011, from The Muppets OST) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Life’s a happy song, when there’s someone by your side to sing along”

A joyous tribute to partnership and companionship in life; a sweet and witty earworm. My wife & I’s wedding song.

35. Lady Gaga – The Edge of Glory

(2011, from Born This Way) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I’m on the edge with you”

Lady Gaga marries her irresistible disco-pop with a Springsteen-like structure and a Clarence Clemons sax solo; pure pop magic.

34. Kacey Musgraves – Happy and Sad

(2018, from Golden Hour) – listen on YouTube
“I’m the kind of person who starts getting kinda nervous when I’m having the time of my life”

Utterly nails that specific anxiety of anticipating the low while still cresting the high. Musgraves’ vocals are utterly heavenly.

33. The Fratellis – Baby Don’t You Lie to Me

(2015, from Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied) – listen & watch on YouTube
“You can kill me with your repartee, but baby don’t you lie to me”

Spirited rock’n’roll delivered with a cheeky grin – maybe the finest example of the Fratellis’ best-known stock-in-trade. A boisterous blast, both live and on record.

32. Better Oblivion Community Center – Dylan Thomas

(2019, from Better Oblivion Community Center) – listen & watch on YouTube
They say you’ve gotta fake it, at least until you make it; that ghost is just a kid in a sheet

Indie pop in the era of fake news, a sweet-sounding, acerbically-worded toast to the universal existential crises of 24/7 political pageantry.

31. Dave Hause – C’mon Kid

(2011, from Resolutions) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Everybody needs a hand sometimes, everybody needs a brother”

A personal pep talk with universal resonance and a killer chorus; Dave Hause is the great overlooked rock poet of our time.

30. Smallpools – Centerfold

(2017, from The Science of Letting Go EP) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Shamed, you’ve come to face your flaws, on the centerfold”

Drawing on ’80s synth-pop and ’60s psychedelia, surf pop trio Smallpools turn in the kind of record you swear you’ve known your entire life. The familiar sound and unusual turns-of-phrase instantly connect.

29. M83 – Midnight City

(2011, from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming) – listen & watch on YouTube
“At night the city grows, look at the horizon glow”

Dreamy electro-pop that came to inspire the sound and feel of the decade’s synthwave movement.

28. Kanye West – All of the Lights

(2010, from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Turn up the lights in here, baby, extra bright, I want y’all to see this”

West layers vocal upon vocal, sound upon sound, creating intricate textures unmatched by any artist this decade, as he publicly reckons with the pressures of fame.

27. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

(2014, from The Voyager) – listen & watch on YouTube
“No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys, there’s a little something inside that won’t let me”

Lewis considers societal pressures, gender stereotypes and the challenges of growing older in this swooning indie pop beauty.

26. The Gaslight Anthem – Blue Dahlia

(2012, from Handwritten – Deluxe Edition) – listen on YouTube
“Where’d you get them scars? How blue is your heart?”

Remarkably relegated to mere “bonus track” status, this Handwritten off-cut builds and builds to a monster chorus, as our narrator reckons with a history of broken relationships and his fears for a new one.

25. fun. – Why Am I The One

(2012, from Some Nights) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?”

The battle to self-preserve as a relationship slowly destructs, arguments become more frequent, and exhaustion sets in. Maybe fun.’s most majestic-sounding record: the strings add real drama.

24. Bruce Springsteen – Rocky Ground

(2012, from Wrecking Ball) – listen & watch on YouTube
“The floodwater’s rising, we’re Canaan bound”

Perhaps Springsteen’s most adventurous sonic experiment to date, a haunting union of tortured gospel and defiant hip-hop. A paean to the enduring power of the soul; a hymn of rare beauty.

23. Bleachers – I Miss Those Days

(2017, from Gone Now) – listen & watch on YouTube
“It feels like everyone is changing, and the storefront’s rearranging”

Jack Antonoff appears to wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before they were gone; he imbues this nostalgic trip with a Christmassy wall-of-sound vibe, ratcheting up those halcyon feels.

22. Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel

(2014, from Transgender Dysphoria Blues) – listen on YouTube
“You should’ve been gone from here years ago, you should be living a different life”

Laura Jane Grace reckons with the everyday challenges of life as a trans woman, and the spiritual and personal battles her coming out has brought with it. A profoundly powerful song, sung with winning defiance.

21. College & Electric Youth – A Real Hero

(2010, from Innerworld) – listen on YouTube
“You’re emotionally complex”

Most frequently associated with the movie Drive, “A Real Hero” stands on its own merits when divorced from that neon spectacle; enchanting synth-pop that lays haunting vocals against a driving rhythm.

20. CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share

(2013, from The Bones of What You Believe) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Come in misery, where you can seem as old as your omens”

Lauren Mayberry’s twinkling vocals crest against a towering wall of synths and keyboards. The central lyrics is ambigious; my preferred interpretation is that in which Mother Earth is being described.

19. Dave Hause – With You

(2017, from Bury Me in Philly) – listen on YouTube
“You clap in time, I’ll make it rhyme and we’ll pretend we’re in our prime”

Hause pays tribute to the power of shared experience: whether reliving youth at a rock concert or finding solace in lifelong companionship, he wants to do it with you.

18. Steps – Neon Blue

(2017, from Tears on the Dancefloor) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Come out, come out, and dance with me, if you’re down it’s a remedy”

Steps’ turn-of-the-century bubblegum pop soundtracked my childhood; their 2017 comeback record is everything one could want from the band two decades later. Highlight “Neon Blue” is a masterclass in pop production, packing a jubilant chorus and a strong message.

17. The National – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

(2010, from High Violet) – listen on YouTube
“All the very best of us string ourselves up for love”

The bloodletting that closes out the decade’s most stirring record: strings soar and drums boom as Matt Berninger presides over an outpouring of tears, howls, and catharsis unbound.

16. Lori McKenna – The Lot Behind St. Mary’s

(2018, from The Tree) – listen on YouTube
“We can’t get back to when September was our only adversary”

McKenna utterly nails the detail in this beautiful reflection on young love, aching and quavering with heart-wrenching nostalgia.

15. Jimmy Eat World – You With Me

(2016, from Integity Blues) – listen & watch on YouTube
“What makes our love so hard to be? Is it you – or is that, you with me?”

Jim Adkins muses on the battle to keep relationships vital; change is the only constant here, both lyrically and musically, as the angelic opening gives way to jittery pop-rock.

14. The Fratellis – Rock’n’Roll Will Break Your Heart

(2013, from We Need Medicine) – listen on YouTube
“I’m the man who shot the moon and cried, ‘Let those thieves and bastards all collide'”

Jon Fratelli gets a little more introspective on the band’s crowning achievement from a strong decade: our narrator seeks redemption in hard living, but comes up short. A minor epic.

13. Barenaked Ladies – Odds Are

(2013, from Grinning Streak) – listen & watch on YouTube
“But it’s twenty-three or -four to one that you could fall in love by the end of this song”

For their many forays into adult-contemporary and folk-country, it’s shamelessly shiny, wordy pop where BNL shine best. “Odds Are” may be their best yet: Ed Robertson finds hooks where none should live, every phrase another earworm.

12. They Might Be Giants – Canajoharie

(2011, from Join Us) – listen on YouTube
“Don’t look at me, look at where I’m pointing”

The chug-a-chug rhythm of a steam train drives this earworm about the way location and memory intersect, become inextricably linked. Like most TMBG songs, the specifics are up for debate, but few could deny the irresistible pull of the chorus.

11. Bleachers – Like A River Runs

(2014, from Strange Desire) – listen & watch on YouTube
“I will remember your light”

Echoing drums and pained backing vocals propel this stadium-ready assault on the senses, a sad depiction of a narrator haunted by romantic ghosts. Sia’s haunting cover version is also beautiful.

10. Childish Gambino – All the Shine

(2011, from CAMP) – listen on YouTube
“No matter how far the hood seems, we all still got hoop dreams”

Newly on his path to mass media domination, Donald Glover raps about the struggle to be taken seriously in the hip-hop scene. The backing music swirls and spins as Gambino puns and rhymes his way through a surprisingly heartfelt mission statement.

9. Against Me! – Because of the Shame

(2010, from White Crosses) – listen on YouTube
“Because of the shame I associate with vulnerability, I am numbing myself completely”

A gut-wrenching tribute to a departed Springsteen-loving friend, Laura Jane Grace is  direct with her phrasing, dealing head-on with unresolved spectres of the past throughout a breathless four minute reimagination of “No Surrender” on uppers.

8. Brian Fallon – A Wonderful Life

(2016, from Painkillers) – listen & watch on YouTube
“Most of this life’s been a drag of a high, and lows like a blow in a paid, thrown title fight”

Fallon sets a new heartland rock standard for the 21st Century, an instantly-memorable tribute to seeking out the treasures in life, replete with handclaps, glockenspiel and “whoa-oa” backing vocals.

7. Butch Walker – Spark: Lost

(2016, from Stay Gold) – listen on YouTube
“Now you’re leaving LA for Nashville, with Georgia on your mind”

Walker draws on country-Western soul, sound and mise-en-scene to populate this lovelorn tribute to a relationship gone South. There’s an entire novel contained within these four pained minutes.

6. Emmy the Great – Phoenixes

(2016, from Second Love) – listen on YouTube
“My screengrab beauty queen, typing something out in green, like we were seventeen”

Emmy uses the Phoenix siblings as a jumping-off point to reflect on teenage dreams, the passage of time, and shifts in communication technology. She paints a magnificent portrait, projected through a widescreen soundscape wherein music and space commingle.

5. Steven Page – Over Joy

(2010, from Page One) – listen on YouTube
“Things get easier when I’m not there”

My favourite exploration of depression in rock music this century; direct and honest, its catchy pop burrows its way into your brain as Page acknowledges and confronts his battles with mental health.

4. Danny and the Champions of the World – Every Beat of My Heart

(2011, from Hearts & Arrows) – listen on YouTube
“I’ll be the one of that crazy night bus home, head inside a Bucketfull of Brains”

Bar band rock doesn’t get any better than this: a passionate, pounding tribute to the joy of communal music, the memories you make along the way, and the desire to recreate those seminal moments.

3. Band of Horses – Dilly

(2010, from Infinite Arms) – listen & watch on YouTube
“It really took a tall one to see it, two to believe it, three to just get in the way”

In some ways, the definitive ’70s soft-rock anthem – that just happened to arrive four decades too late. Band of Horses blend their trademark alt-country with doo-wop and pop to create something quietly majestic, as vocals and keyboards pile up on resigned country swagger, our narrator seeking answers at the bottom of a bottle.

2. The Gaslight Anthem – The Diamond Church Street Choir

(2010, from American Slang) – listen on YouTube
“They know the meaning of staying out very, very late”

Fallon and co remind us not to forget where we came from, in this triumphant tribute to their hometown. It’s all finger-snapping, cheery riffs, and impassioned salute to those who were there on the way up. Tremendously spirited and entirely unforgettable.

1. The National – England

(2010, from High Violet) – listen on YouTube
“Someone send a runner through the weather that I’m under, for the feeling that I lost today”

Stately eulogy for a lost relationship, yes, but also for a departed state of mind; Berninger’s rainy London and distant England serve as metaphor for the unreachable. His message gets more wrought, more confused, as the tight, taut orchestra build from reflective calm to unforgiving storm. A majestic cacophony, unsurpassed this decade.

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