1. Little Boots - "Stuck On Repeat"
The real euphoria kicks in during the first breakdown when we're left with just one steady synth and a fugue of background vocals. It steadily builds and you know where it's heading next. Another wave of bubbling synths will eventually come in along with the drumbeat, but the breakdown is extended for so long that it almost teases you, and when it finally comes together, you're reminded of how exhilarating dance pop can be when it's handled with a mature approach.
2. Janelle Monáe - "Many Moons"
Whenever I listen to this song, I just feel like doing the Mashed Potato or The Twist or some other dance from the 50's. It has an undeniable boogie that's part sci-fi hop and part Atlanta funk, but the cadence that Monáe delivers her lyrics in during the chorus make feel like I'm at a sock hop. As I've mentioned before, the songs are best enjoyed in the context of the CD, but it won't matter since "Many Moons" has enough visuals on its own to keep your interest. This song continues the groundwork laid by Outkast and Gnarls Barkley by bringing adventurous R&B and hip hop to the masses and besides, I haven't seen anyone this exciting on BET or MTV in quite some time.
3. Dungen - "SÃ¤tt Att Se"
In the beginning, your first thought is, "Wow, Dungen on the Coltrane or Sun Ra tip?", but then that distorted guitar hits and an eyebrow is raised. It's probably as reserved a song as they've ever done, but it maintains all the psychedellic elements that have become their bread and butter over the past few albums. Seriously, who needs drugs when you can listen to something like this? Intoxicating doesn't even begin to describe it.
4. Nas - "Queens Get The Money"
From "Bridging The Gap" to "Can't Forget About You", Nas has tackled some of the most challenging productions this side of a major label MC. While those songs can't be mistaken for anything but hip hop, they swayed very heavily towards genres that had their heyday in the first half of the 20th century. On "Queens Get The Money", Nas raps over a sample of the score to the 2003 German film, "Good Bye Lenin!", which is essentially nothing but a somber piano. I couldn't see anyone else in the big leagues having the balls to take on such a minimal track. Not only that, Nas is in prime form on the mic and the lack of instruments shine the spotlight on him and his vivid rhymes. It's probably the best album opener of the year.
5. Solange - "I Decided (Part 1)"
When early word was out that Solange had released a very quality single, I didn't pay it too much mind—after all, it was Solange, but when I heard the Freemasons' remix of "I Decided" in a club recently, I realized that the rumors were true. I was immediately struck by the chorus, which had more than the usual amount of sustains in an American pop song. I could have sworn it came from some hot new diva from the U.K. or Sweden, but alas, I was shocked that it was the Solange Knowles. The original version is a Motown-esque declaration of young love gone right complete with piano tinkling and hand claps that will conjure up images of The Supremes. It's the first R&B single in a few months that's consistently been on repeat for me.
6. Pas/Cal - "Glorious Ballad Of The Ignored"
Even when singing about the rejects of the world, Pas/Cal can't help but to record a song that sounds impossibly gorgeous. "Glorious Ballad Of The Ignored" has your typical indie pop layers of piano, strings and guitars, but there is nothing ordinary about their spastic arrangements. It almost feels like every measure after the first chorus will be damned if it doesn't grab your attention. Fills, stops, rolls, the works. All topped off with beautiful melodies and a biting wit.
7. Little Jackie - "The World Should Revolve Around Me"
If there were any justice, this song would be a summer hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It's the kind of lively alternative pop song that used to flood the airwaves in the late 90's with a hook that's perfect for singing along to in the car after the 4th or 5th time you hear it. The traces of soul in the production and Imani Coppola's sing/rap delivery help to emphasize the sunny nature of the song and remind you of that emotion that there is far too little of on the charts nowadays: joy.
8. Joe Budden - "Who Parts 1 & 2"
Would this song even exist if Budden was still on Def Jam and enjoying steady airplay? I can't imagine that he would have much to complain about if he was living a few floors higher, but his lack of fortune is our gain since it has delivered us "Who", a wonderful dissection of the current state of hip hop that's searing but heartfelt. I don't even get the sense that this is all sour grapes, but that he's very passionate about hip hop and its decline as an art form and a vital genre. There is a part 3 floating around there somewhere, but this is definitely more than enough for right now. Now if only someone on a major label had the guts to release a song as honest as this...
9. Late Of The Pier - "Heartbeat"
The new wave sheen of this song is coupled with a dark edge remniscent of Klaxons, but I think Late Of The Pier probably has more fun in the studio than their brainier (but still enjoyable) contemporaries. I can imagine them rockin' out in the booth with big smiles on their faces as they're trying to figure out what synthesizer sounds will get people to freak out the most. They were probably snickering to themselves when they started off the song in a simple synth pop direction, only to turn up the distortion and create a raved up disco fest for the chorus, knowing full well that it would keep dumbasses like me on the dance floor.
10. Monotonix - "On The Road"
So, apparently I haven't lived till I've seen these guys live in a club. Can you imagine being at eye level with these guys as they're banging out classic hard rock riffs with the fervor of Thin Lizzy and Cream and a bunch of sweaty dudes surrounding them? A little scary, sure, being on the same floor they're on as if you were at a house party, but the intensity shown on this track and the rest of their debut EP, Body Language would make the whole experience a little tempting, I should say.