2010s: Favorite 100 Songs of the Decade

"Psychadelic Passion" by Devante Xiyon

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series



BED · OFFICE · GYM · BATH · COUPE
ALLEY · BONFIRE · CLIFF · VOID · BEYOND

You’re finally alone, sitting at your contemplation spot on the CLIFF. Shifting from the complexities of community to the crisis of the individual, your concerns gently move inward, where it feels like everyone has disappeared and everything is embarrassing. “Who am I?” you wonder, expecting no response.

PART 8: “CLIFF” mixed by B. Levinson


Beach House

“Silver Soul”

[00:02]

[Sub Pop]

Everyone has disappeared, because I fucked with the mood when I changed the song. What drew me into another room, what made me collapse into a pile of dresses, heaving like a river, was language moving inside her mouth, close to my clavicle, where it condensed, humid and phenomenal. Syllables round as pearls that I could hold, or winged like thrushes. I gathered what I could and braided my hair, then slid my blouse down my shoulders. In this fantasy, I know how to sing, it is happening again, it is happening again.


Sky Ferreira

“Everything Is Embarrassing”

[04:44]

[Capitol]

While the rest of Ghost struggled through mainstream congestion, “Everything Is Embarrassing” retreated onto its own plot of 1980s dreamland, where lyrics shielded by auto-octave idealism strove for romantic hustle and elbow-grease affirmation. Slap bass bubbled out of tar-pit reverb, glam drums flumped their butts down over the mix, and hi-hat hits slid across the asphalt like skipping stones. Woozy keyboards showed early symptoms of cassette deck lovesickness, contrasted by the evocative simplicity of firm piano chords encapsulated in chorus. Above the viscous mix, Ferreira’s voice blue-skied like a lovelorn eagle.


Angel Olsen

“Stars”

[09:04]

[Jagjaguwar]

Angel Olsen had just picked up stakes and began what has become a career of redefining her musical self. “Stars” was her first freeing moment, car windows down in the stark blackness of a clear night. The beauty of wearing your heart on your sleeve and hanging it out of the car door in a trail of rubber smoke and choking exhaust. While it seems so hard to leave a life lived from a comfortable passenger seat, Olsen grabbed the wheel to steer toward a new destination. But the drive was scenic, and sometimes it’s the journey that matters.


Amen Dunes

“Bedroom Drum”

[13:38]

[Sacred Bones]


Psychedelia as self-help was a relatively new space to inhabit early in the decade. Since then, it’s become fad-as-mantra. Yet “Bedroom Drum” has resonated throughout, largely due to its massive buzz and simple percussion, harnessing the isolation of its titular space. Damon McMahon was a young man here pacing the floor, banging out an incessant melody across a reverberating room to find inner peace in a stuck melody, while also acknowledging a scary truth: this will eventually become his burial plot.


Mitski

“Your Best American Girl”

[17:48]

[Dead Oceans]

While most songs on Mitski’s Puberty 2 explored either the desire to live with abandon or the inevitability of settling, “Your Best American Girl” dwelled somewhere in between: a torch song of a woman who was done contorting herself into an alien shape to please her beloved. “Your mother wouldn’t approve/ Of how my mother raised me/ But I do, I finally do,” she declared, seeming to locate a confidence proportionate to the thunder of her guitar. Yet it was doubt we heard creeping back into the song’s final moments, a yearning for the wholeness wholly deserved, yet still out of reach.


Grouper

“Clearing”

[21:44]

[Kranky]


When I first heard Elizabeth Harris’s voice, I was subleasing a basement apartment for an especially sultry Wisconsin summer. I didn’t have a bed, but it came with a couch that appeared much, much larger than its actual reclining space; I stretched a fitted sheet over it so I could justify sleeping on it for three months. As it happened, bad weed stench permeated everything, and my summer toilet would periodically flush itself and overflow; I didn’t spend much time there, but when I did, I would lie bent sideways on that big brown turd of furniture and blast ambient music recommended by friends who read Tiny Mix Tapes. Replica, Beaches and Canyons, and Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill would envelop every creak and gargle by drawing it all in rather than drowning it all out. Grouper eventually became part of that space, inseparable from its smells and sounds and sights; it transformed that blanket of malaise I was living under into one of comfort. When Grouper released Ruins in 2014, I was inundated, but “Clearing” remains the only Grouper song I can recall melodically without hearing it. Imagine a sound so strong it becomes not just a part of your world, but a part of your body, one you can love without limits.


Mount Eerie

“Soria Moria”

[26:22]

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]

How about a little Turing Test, courtesy of Phil Elverum? Ready?

I saw fireworks many miles away but didn’t hear them
And I felt a longing, a childish melancholy
And then I went to sleep
And the aching was buried, dreaming, aging, reaching for an idea of somewhere other than this place
That could fold me in clouded yearning
For nowhere actually reachable, the distance was the point.

Results:

• If you are really an artificial intelligence, I’m sorry, but you are now broken.

• If you are really a human being, I’m sorry, but you are now defeated.


Sufjan Stevens

“Death with Dignity”

[32:48]

[Asthmatic Kitty]

Trebly fingerpicking conveyed the anticipation of tears, emotion rising to the throat as the death of a “tired old mare” — his mother — drew near; Sufjan Stevens’s vivid landscapes and still lives belied his claim to not know where to begin. Elsewhere on the album, strikingly contemporary subject matter collided with ancient mythology, but “Death with Dignity’s” setting was strictly rural mid-20th century: the “amethysts and flowers on the table” were perfunctory well-wishing; a signal searchlight was a metaphysical guide. Its simple structure — a naked piano bridge linking the anticipation of death to its aftermath — only amplified the crescendo to a final acknowledgement that “you’ll never see us again…”


boygenius

“Me & My Dog”

[37:01]

[Matador]

I dare you to find a taller, sheerer, “cliffier” CLIFF on this mix than Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers’ loosely strummed homage to golden-era, Liz Phair indie folk, in which the only counterfactual that could possibly match the hugeness of the pure human feeling being presented is to find oneself “on a spaceship/ just me and my dog and an impossible view.” In the truest spirit of “friends strumming guitars and singing about all the bittersweet shit they see and feel,” the trio of 20-somethings had never even stepped into the same room all at the same time before meeting to tour and record their eponymous EP (having, naturally, traded riffs and ideas and encouragement via the internet). As usual: the results of not-giving-too-much-of-a-fuck-about-transcending-humanity were transcendentally human.


Julia Holter

“I Shall Love 2”

[40:25]

[Domino]

It could be rising against anything. In a wave, it pushes and resists constriction. Overcoming, it undoes me, this rapturous attention to another. This quickly forgetting being alone and quickly projecting a new foundation. Quickly losing and stretching. Reaching forth for all that’s left when there is nothing else. And, really, there is nothing else, just desire pulling. That is all, that is all. Loving again, unfairly. Economic with words because they just keep losing me. The few changes here are a fertile ground for sowing. Or building. A very gradual build through yearning, the push and pull of it. I am in love, what can I do.

Click to the next page to hear the “VOID” mix by Colin Fitzgerald.

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series


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