Back in March, the curiouser and curiouser pairing of Gnarls Barkley madman Danger Mouse and Shins brooder James Mercer formed a humble side project called Broken Bells. Not exactly the most press-hungry tandem, this shy duo proved melodic, mellow — and downright brilliant. And at the risk of killing any and all suspense from the following best-of pop list, I'll tell you right now: Broken Bells' self-titled debut, filled as it is with space burbles, '70s-style swirls and lost-in-the-world malaise, was my favorite album of 2010. No contest really.
Such was my fanboy frenzy, I bought the Broken Bells album on vinyl, too. As a result of that old-school return, I've once again perfected the art of the "needle drop," carefully lowering the stylus onto just the right groove. Talk about taking you back — wow. There's a moment on a certain Broken Bells song that's so bizarrely beautiful, I "needle drop" onto that sucker every other night. But for that reveal, you'll have to read on.
So here you go, a tasty list of the best "needle drops" on the best albums of 2010. Fire up the ol' Victrola, boys and girls, but don't scratch those records.
10. Kings of Leon
Album: Come Around Sundown (RCA)
Needle drop: 1:47 of The Face
After setting all that sex on fire, the world-turning Followill boys headed back south, looking for something real in the glaring light of fame. This moment on The Face slays me: a hungover rocker finding solace in true love.
9. The Dead Weather
Album: Sea of Cowards (Warner Bros.)
Needle drop: 1:45 of The Difference Between Us
Alison Mosshart and Jack White continue their bluesy, bloody battle of the sexes, unloading guitar crunch and arrhythmic drumming. This "needle drop" is the sound of divorce — the hard way.
Album: Maya (Interscope)
Needle drop: 0:26 of XXXO
Maya Arulpragasam took hits for her hypocrisy — basically, she cries rebel but lives rich — and yet there's no denying the Sri Lankan is hip-hop's most intriguing oddball. XXXO claims M.I.A. will never be our Britney, but at the 26-second mark, feel free to dance to the disobedience.
7. Beach House
Album: Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Needle drop: 1:33 of 10 Mile Stereo
This Baltimore dream-pop duo strives to stone you with gauzy synth washes and the angelic coo of the exceptionally named Victoria Legrand. But every now and then — for instance this wake-up call on 10 Mile Stereo — the boy-girl team gooses you from your somnambulant state.
Album: B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray (Atlantic)
Needle drop: 1:15 of Magic
Rap newbie B.o.B. had bigger chart success dueting with Paramore's Hayley Williams (Airplanes) and Bruno Mars (Nothin' on You), but signing up Weezer's Rivers Cuomo to sing the hook on this frenetic piece of pop prestidigitation was nerd genius.
5. Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
Needle drop: 0:59 of Lost in the World
Love him or hate him (or blame him for the lowest moment of your presidency), but 'Ye lets it all hang out on his records. This track — especially when it takes off at the minute mark — is a disco ball in a funny farm. "I'm up in the woods, I'm down on my mind." BOOM!
4. Vampire Weekend
Album: Contra (XL)
Needle drop: 1:54 of Giving Up the Gun
The upturned-collar Columbia U. crew may seem unlikely (or at least dorky) masters of Afropop, but cue up this stop-start gem and you'll find a band of misfits who excel at tricky tempos and shifting rhythms.
3. Arcade Fire
Album: The Suburbs (Merge)
Needle drop: 2:26 of Wasted Hours
As a music critic, I'm preprogrammed to enjoy this brainy Montreal outfit. But truth be told, my love of The Suburbs has more to do with growing up among the townhomes. I don't want to spoil the 2:26 twist on Wasted Hours, but let's just say Win Butler has some cruel news for kids "longing to be free."
2. Jamey Johnson
Album: The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville)
Needle drop: 2:43 of Heartache
The Alabama yeti is a chart-topping iconoclast, an old-school country grunt who can keep sales pace with the pretty kids. On this wicked track, Johnson plays the role of Heartache personified. Truth be told, I'd rather deal with the devil. ". . . Elvis and Priscilla, Charles and Diana, I'd say I've had some pretty good days . . ."
1. Broken Bells
Album: Broken Bells (Columbia)
Needle drop: 2:10 of Vaporize
And here it is, the best moment of the best song on the best album of 2010. A weary James Mercer tries to convince himself, "It's not too late to feel a little more alive . . ." and Danger Mouse turns sentiment into sound: a 1984 keyboard line and, lo and behold, a trumpet. It's hard to describe, awesome to behold. Drop the needle and see for yourself.