The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Tracks of the 2010s

030. Grimes – ‘Flesh Without Blood’ (2015) (4AD)

Few expected Claire Boucher to go full-on pop after the slow-burning success of 2012’s Visions, or were even clamouring for it, but a sign of a truly great artist is generating a demand for something that people didn’t even know they needed. Welding a giddy pop-punk guitar riff and a swirling, breathy vocal melody to Boucher’s trademark dark, synthetic minimalism, ‘Flesh Without Blood’ was a massive sugar-rush of a hit, indicating the electronica/pop firecracker that Art Angels would be. (LISTEN)

029. Beyoncé – ‘Formation’ (2016) (Parkwood / Columbia)

At the height of Black Lives Matter’s prominence in the American media, Beyonce’s ‘Formation’, debuted at the 2016 Super Bowl’s half-time show, celebrated Black excellence and hustle culture by producing an unlikely hit with its peculiar minimalism and slow groove adorned in Southern references. (AS) (LISTEN)

028. Jamie xx ft. Romy – ‘Loud Places’ (2015) (Young Turks)

On ‘Loud Places’, Smith’s xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft popped up for one of her trademark performances, her insecurities somehow amplified despite her soft, semi-muttered delivery. But the muffled thump of the skittering drums and the clever vocal sample from Idris Muhammad’s 1977 track ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ propelled the whole thing onto the dancefloor, and the whole thing became about comfort and deliverance, of losing yourself in good company and good music. (LISTEN)

027. David Bowie – ‘Lazarus’ (2015) (ISO / Columbia)

David Bowie, aware of his fatal prognosis and sensing his imminent death, decided to go only after making art out of his own death and mortality in a way that only he could. ‘Lazarus’ was one of the lead singles off of his barely prehumous swansong Blackstar and is a tragic, if self-aware and borderline witty, ode to dying and the morbid freedom that comes with it. It was also Bowie winning all art, and cementing his myth and legend. (EW) (LISTEN)

026. Frank Ocean – ‘Chanel’ (2017) (Blonded)

Hailed as a bi-sexual anthem immediately after its release, a stand-alone single following the critical smash of Blond, Frank Ocean’s ‘Chanel’ still stands as a prime example of the kind emotional, stripped back, modern R&B that makes Ocean’s work one of a kind. (EW) (LISTEN)

025. Christine & The Queens ft. Dâm-Funk – ‘Girlfriend’ (2018) (Because)

Refusing to fit into tiny societal moulds, Christine & The Queens’ swagger-filled track ‘Girlfriend’ is pop dessert with its insouciant yet relaxed Prince vibes and synths galore. (AS) (LISTEN)

024. FKA twigs – ‘Two Weeks’ (2014) (Young Turks)

With twigs’ signature micro-beat production constructed in the most careful of ways to envelope and bolster her breathy vocals, ‘Two Weeks’ was a hummingbird of a song, a ballad about lust and the high of sex and intimate physicality. (AS) (LISTEN)

023. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (2013) (Domino)

Striking up a colossal guitar riff and slowing the tempo right down to Sabbath / Zeppelin levels of grandiosity, the rumbling glory of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ immediately signalled to Arctic Monkeys fans that this was the end-point for all of the experimentalism of Humbug and Suck It And See. The psychedelic-infused desert rock was still there, but was revamped and re-tooled for arenas. Making them a Top 10 affair once again, this was the point at which Alex Turner and co. incontestably became one of the greats. (LISTEN)

022. Young Fathers ft. Leith Congregational Choir – ‘Only God Knows’ (2017) (Polydor)

Hailing from Edinburgh and standing as one of the decade’s true innovators in British music, it made absolute sense for Young Fathers to have such a prominent part in the T2 soundtrack. Achieving the same blood-pumping, amphetamine energy as ‘Born Slippy’ did for the first Trainspotting, the pounding, buzzsaw urgency of the punk-gospel hybrid ‘Only God Knows’ found the thematic heartbeat of Danny Boyle’s 2017 sequel, with backing from the city’s Leith Congregational Choir. (LISTEN)

021. PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’ (2011) (Island)

Anyone who watched Polly Jean Harvey pointedly perform ‘Let England Shake’ in April 2010 on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’, in front of then-PM Gordon Brown, realised that she was gearing up for a major statement with her next album. Set to chilly autoharp and a nimble, haunting melody, it’s a track about the failure to recognise national decline, of mass delusion running into the unforgiving coldness or reality. In the febrile context of Brexit, ‘Let England Shake’ has remained heart-racingly urgent and relevant. (LISTEN)

020. David Bowie – ‘Love Is Lost’ (‘Hello Steve Reich’ remix by James Murphy for the DFA) (2013) (RCA)

It turns we out we have David Bowie to thank for the LCD Soundsystem reunion! After the group’s singer and DFA label head James Murphy did a stunning job remixing The Next Day’s diffident ‘Love Is Lost’ – building a hypnotic rhythm around elements of Steve Reich’s minimalist 1972 piece ‘Clapping Music’ and stretching it out over an epic 10-and-a-half minutes, dropping in the Thin White Duke’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ for good measure – and improving the original markedly, Bowie apparently told him that LCD had cut short their career too early. When the great man passed a few years later, Murphy felt he had no choice but to make the comeback happen. (LISTEN)

019. Foals – ‘Spanish Sahara’ (2010) (Transgressive / Sub Pop)

Objectively Foals’ single greatest musical accomplishment, ‘Spanish Sahara’, underpinning their second LP Total Life Forever that saw the group refine and underscore their key strengths, remains the one moment in their increasingly punchier and heavier live set where the audience stops its moshing to shed a tear for the future rust and future dust. (EW) (LISTEN)

018. Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ (2012) (Modular)

Sounding as if he’s drowning at times, Kevin Parker’s voice is muffled and echoey on ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, fuelling our modern nostalgia for psychedelia. The emotional centrepiece of Lonerism, and a moment where Parker sees the world in a clear-eyed way amid the confusion of the rest of the record, both the indie scene and the mainstream seemed to be subsequently single-handedly washed over with the overwhelming popularity of Tame Impala. (AS) (LISTEN)

017. Grimes – ‘Genesis’ (2012) (4AD)

Bringing Claire Boucher’s Grimes project into focus on her breakthrough album Visions, ‘Genesis’ was the first eye-to-eye meeting the general public had with the eccentric artist, presenting an elusive take on instrumental electronica that always favoured the blurry over the exact. (AS) (LISTEN)

016. Kendrick Lamar – ‘The Blacker The Berry’ (2015) (Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope)

Attracting controversy for its line “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street / when gang-banging make me kill a n**** blacker than me? Hypocrite!”, which some critics perceived as the rapper judging and condemning the black community, the cinematic and highly emotionally charged ‘The Blacker The Berry’, if nothing else, proved that Kendrick Lamar was unafraid of turning his high-powered lyrical microscope on himself, amid the raging, excoriating politics of its parent album To Pimp A Butterfly. It also helped that it was the most laser-focussed performance of his career so far. (LISTEN)

015. Solange – ‘Cranes In The Sky’ (2016) (Saint / Columbia)

Beamed down from way up in the heavens, Solange’s slowly blossoming ‘Cranes In The Sky’ was an ode to self-healing and escapism, featuring some of the most subtle instrumentation and vocal writing of the decade. No more would she be regarded merely as Beyoncé’s sister. (AS) (LISTEN)

014. Bon Iver – ‘Holocene’ (2011) (4AD / Jagjaguwar)

As beautiful now as it was back when it released, ‘Holocene’, with its layered acoustic guitars and Justin Vernon’s signature falsetto singing lines like “once I knew I was not magnificent” and musing on the significance of the realisation that human life is transitory, was Bon Iver at his most simple and grounded. Sparse and hauntingly beautiful to the extent that it could have been an off-cut from his reputation-making debut For Emma, Forever Ago, it stood out starkly from the earthy richness of Vernon’s second album. (EW) (LISTEN)

013. Childish Gambino – ‘This Is America’ (2018) (mcDJ / RCA)

A stand-alone single referencing gun culture, racism and systemic inequality, ‘This Is America’ was an immediately arresting mash-up of gospel, soul, hip-hop, trap and other references to Black art throughout American history that spawned about a thousand think-pieces within the first 24 hours of going live, partly because of its complex and compelling music video. As one tweet put it: “When god closes a Kanye he opens a Childish Gambino”. (EW) (LISTEN)

012. LCD Soundsystem – ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (2010) (DFA / Virgin / Parlophone)

Although they’ve subsequently reformed (and, for some, will always now be the ‘band who cried wolf’), James Murphy really was determined to send LCD Soundsystem off with a bang back at the turn of the decade. ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, the opening salvo from their intended final album This Is Happening, was more grandiose and elegant than anything they’d attempted before, beginning with the tiniest patter of drum machines before exploding in sleek synthesiser stabs to lay down a monstrous, thudding groove, as he reflected bitterly on the nature of friendship and the distance between people. It represented Murphy cashing in his entire cultural capital for this one statement, suspended in time, and it resonated with emotion. (LISTEN)

011. Beach House – ‘Walk In The Park’ (2010) (Bella Union / Sub Pop)

The dolorous, pendulum-like drums, Alex Scally’s shimmering, descending guitar line in the chorus and Victoria Legrand’s twinkling keyboards and siren-like vocals on ‘Walk In The Park’ were pretty much par for the course for most of Beach House’s breakout record Teen Dream, a record whose brilliant reputation was based on its ruthlessly singular mood and ambience. Furthermore, American bands dealing in laid-back dream-pop haven’t been in short supply. But what made this specific song, by this band, so special? Basically, it’s completely impossible not to fall under the spell that the duo casts here. When Legrand keens “in and out of my life” in a voice that sounds like it’s about to crack, it’s never defined but you feel it applies to higher ideals like innocence, love and heartbreak, as well as more baser instincts like jealousy, lust and sex. ‘Walk In The Park’ perfectly demonstrates how Beach House can essay those deep, ineffable feelings that strike us at various critical points in our life. (LISTEN)

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.