25 Artists We Love Pick the Year's Best Music

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Rivers Cuomo / Florence Welch / Girl Talk / Robyn (clockwise from top left)
WRITTEN BY
Kevin O'Donnell

This time of year, every music publication puts out its list of the best albums and songs of the past 12 months (including SPIN). But what about the artists themselves?

To find out, we rounded up 25 of music's coolest names and asked them to select their favorite records and singles of 2010. (Ever the individual, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo chose the Beach Boys' 1966 classic Pet Sounds!). Check out the picks from Robyn, Wayne Coyne, Hayley Williams, Redman, Beach House, Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, and more, below.

  • Paramore's Hayley Williams

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Best Coast's Crazy For You
    It came out over the summer but it took me forever to pick it up. My boyfriend sent me their song "Bratty B" one time while we were far apart and I fell in love with the sound. It's part Shangri-Las, part hanging out at [SoCal all-ages club] Chain Reaction and then getting In-N-Out burger after. Only I don't do animal style.

    FAVORITE SONG: Arcade Fire's "Month of May"
    Nothing beats a song that seems like it was written to perfectly describe how you feel " so you don't have to say anything at all. Arcade Fire write a lot of songs like that, but this one really gets right down to the heart of things.

  • Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Drake's Thank Me Later
    I always find it hard to pick my album of the year, but according to iTunes, this is the 2K10 album I listened to the most this year. Rap, rock, cumbia, whatever" it's rare to find an album as stylistically and thematically unified as this. I know people like to debate Drake's merits as a rapper, but I think it's beyond question that he has a distinct point-of-view and vibe. "Shut It Down" is a mini-masterpiece and it wasn't even a single! "Karaoke" is beautiful and subtle and it's track two. That takes balls.

    FAVORITE SONG: Beach House's "Zebra"
    Honestly, I played the shit out of this John Mayer song "Heart of Life" after Rostam [Batmanglij, Vampire Weekend keyboardist] sent me an MP3 of it back in the spring. I'd never heard it before this year, but I realize it didn't come out in 2K10. Soooo, I'll pick "Zebra" by Beach House. We spent a wonderful month touring with them and I'd always hear them playing this song as I put on a clean shirt and practiced Muay Thai to prepare for our performance. It captures such a special feeling. "Don't I know you better than the rest?" " love that line. Someone should put out a special-edition 7" with "Heart of Life" on one side and "Zebra" on the other. I think they share something in common. Both are kind of sad, but hopeful. The cover should be a photograph of some sort of classical sculpture that evokes those feelings. This is gonna be great. I don't think I have John Mayer's e-mail address though.

  • Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Mavis Staples' You Are Not Alone
    Mavis Staples has just one of the most beautiful voices she's just so soulful. I have an enormous love and respect for soul music because, being in what could be called the whitest band in the country, I'm an admirer of things I can't do.

    When I heard Jeff Tweedy was making it with her, I was like, "I can't wait to hear this." I bought it on iTunes initially so I didn't have liner notes, but I remember hearing "You Are Not Alone," and thinking, I bet Jeff Tweedy wrote this song. There's the line, "I wanna get through to you / Open up / This is a raid." That's a Tweedy line right there. Turns out he did write it and it's really, really great. Just a very simple structure, and a traditional arrangement.

  • The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Sleigh Bells' Treats
    There are only a couple of really wicked albums that get me to say "Fuck! That's cool!" but this is one of them. The music is so simple but very distorted. There are hundreds of bands trying to do a similar sound who probably just suck. It's hard to say why I like this it's like saying, "Why do I like pizza? I just like the way it tastes." Their sound is so simple. Why didn't a million people think of this before?

    FAVORITE SONG: M.I.A.'s "Born Free"
    We played with her a couple times this summer and she's just a complete fucking freak. You gotta love it. This song just reminds you how cool, how radical, she is.

  • Robyn

    FAVORITE SONG: The Books' "A Cold Freezing Night"
    The song is smiting and it makes me wanna move. It's funny, but it's dark, too, and, for me, it's about stuff like feminism, that kids are people too, and violence, obviously. Maybe violence that you could call positive. I was introduced to the song by Diplo on Twitter with a link to the video that's as genius as the song. It's like a collage, with the finesse and sensitivity of something that has been carefully put together by someone who took their time to dig into something, but who is staying away from being too precious. Its repetition is something I dig a lot -- it's not just repeat, repeat, repeat. It's musical and fun! That might sound lame, but it's true. It's like how the song feels, like aaarrrrghhh, but in a good way.

  • Deerhunter's Bradford Cox

    FAVORITE ALBUM: MGMT's Congratulations
    Everyone hated this album before they even heard it but anybody that wasn't into this album just doesn't like pop music. I think it was a press invention, that this album was difficult. It's not even avant-garde or anything. I don't understand what the fuck there is not to be into. People don't listen for themselves anymore, honestly. Including me. I never listened to their debut album but Congratulations sort of sounds like later period Stereolab. It also sounds like them. It's a really well-executed album.

    FAVORITE SONG: Janelle Monae's "Tightrope"
    I flipped out when I first heard this, like, "What the fuck? This is amazing!" The rhythms, the horns, and her general presence and performance stylereally cool. I think as an artist she has unlimited potential. It depends on whether people decide to give her the chance.

    Her image reminds me of Bowie. She has that sort of retro-futuristic, I'm-from-space vibe, but it's not like she's Sun Ra or anything. The difference between someone like Sun Ra and her is that Sun Ra was actually probably from space. She seems pretty down to earth.

  • Adele

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Laura Marling's I Speak Because I Can
    She's at the forefront of this folk revival with bands like Mumford & Sons. She sort of discovered them, actually. We started gigging on the same circuit and I found her so eloquent. And her lyrics just kind of baffle me. She sort of sounds like Joni Mitchell at times ��" and she's only 18-years-old. She's a fucking child. It's incredible.

    FAVORITE SONG: Kanye West's "Runaway"
    He always goes way beyond my expectations. I think this song is quite fitting considering the brouhaha with Taylor Swift. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek: I can't tell if he's being serious of if there's another little dis in there. I chuckle and cringe at the same time. He's cheeky ��" and I like it.

  • No Age's Randy Randall

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Neil Young's Le Noise
    It's an amazing record, really brave and atmospheric. Given where he's at in his career, it doesn't seem like he's the kind of guy making newer-sounding music. But he's pushing the envelope. Trans is the only other Young record where it sounds like him playing into the times.

    FAVORITE SONG: Abe Vigoda's "Throwing Shade"
    A beautiful song from a great record. It has this kind of romantic, synthy, goth sort of vibe ��" a very dark thing. I've known them for years and they're very much a chameleon band. Their last record had this tropical punk thing going on and the new one has all these goth, synth, dark-wave progressions. It's a totally new side of them.

  • Wavves' Nathan Williams

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Curren$y's Pilot Talk
    He's this rapper that was on a bunch of Da Drought 3 tracks but now he's on Def Jam. His flow is perfect and he talks about interesting things ��" he doesn't try to be something he's not. His lyrics seem autobiographical. He's just going on about playing video games and smoking weed and hanging out.

  • Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Jónsi's Go
    I read this was supposed to be an intimate acoustic record but he blew it out of proportion and it became this happy, angelic album. Most of Sigur Ros' discography is quite dark and brooding but the reason I'm so attracted to this is that you can just hear him having so much fun. And I love to see them unleash that gorgeous, pretty, ethereal music. I want to play in his band every time I hear this.

    FAVORITE SONG: Joanna Newsom's "On a Good Day"
    Read the lyrics. She just weaves this beautiful story and there are some stupidly good lines. "On a good day you can feel my love for you / You leave me be so that we can stay true / To the path that you have chosen" ��" I read it and weep. It's a perfect pop track.

  • Girl Talk's Greg Gillis

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
    Big Boi has great flow and storytelling that's above and beyond a lot of other artists. And the diversity on the tracks is all over the place. There are party cuts and more serious tracks and deep, crazy synthesizers next to soul samples. It goes everywhere I want to go in a hip-hop record.

    FAVORITE SONG: Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard in da Paint"
    With all of the heavy rap music that came out this year, this may have been the heaviest. It goes toe-to-toe with Rick Ross' "Blowing Money Fast." Those two songs were so big and booming, I feel like that's what radio rap sounds like in 2010. It's very distinct, very different than what hip-hop sounded like five years ago.

  • Chiddy Bang's Noah Beresin

    FAVORITE ALBUM: J. Cole's Friday Night Lights
    He put out a bunch of mixtapes and this one is absolutely amazing. A lot of rappers just think of a few catchy, quotable lines and then do filler. J. Cole came into the game and was like, "Nope. No filler. I'm just gonna give you line after line after line." It reminds me of albums like Nas' Illmatic. Those kinds of hip-hop albums weren't constructed on dancey hooks; they were constructed on mid-tempo beats and they swung like classic hip-hop.

    FAVORITE SONG: Meek Mill's "Rose Red"
    He's a rapper from Philadelphia and he had this street smash out this year. Philly is a bubble-y scene so he may not have extended beyond that, but I see him expanding outside that. This song is definitely very street, very Philadelphia. But he does things lyrically that you don't see in a lot of other people, very rapid fire and staccato. He's able to transcend the super slow, Dirty South beats that are everywhere. He definitely stuck out from the gangsta rap scene this year.

  • Corin Tucker

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Versus' On the Ones and Threes
    They haven't made a record for ten years or so and this one is much more elegant and the songwriting is just beautiful. They're definitely a rock band, but they've always had beautiful harmonies that are almost church-like. I'd say they sound like the Beatles meets the Velvet Underground ��" edgy songwriting. And great guitar lines! I really love it when a line will come in for just a moment and then disappear quickly. You get a taste of something that you totally crave and you have to wait for it to happen again.

  • The Damned Things' Joe Trohman

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Black Mountain's Wilderness Heart
    I love any take on groovy, classic rock and I think there's a lot of Zeppelin-y, Sabbath-y vibes on this album. They just stay completely in the realm of rock. I especially like the track "Radiant Hearts." It's such a beautiful song and the melodies and harmonies are phenomenal. I think each new Black Mountain record is better than the last.

    FAVORITE SONG: The Black Keys' "Everlasting Light"
    I like the production on it a ton, love the groove, very, very catchy. I don't see how those guys could continue to make blues records that are boring.

  • Beach House's Victoria Legrand

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Lower Dens' Twin-Hand Movement
    Like any thing worth waiting for, here is an album to be courted. Listen to it over and over and let its intricacies, its tastefulness, its deceptive precision and grace, haunt you. I haven't heard a record in a long time that makes me want to fall in love like a teenager and be destroyed as much as this one does. Simply put.

  • Beach House's Alex Scally

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's Before Today
    It is hard to describe why music is compelling, but I think many artists fail to express the confusion of a feeling, instead simplifying it to a generic, one-dimensional thing. Before Today never does this.

    FAVORITE SONG: Lower Dens' "I Get Nervous"
    This seems to be a perfect love song. Simple, but not in a bad way.

  • Rivers Cuomo

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Beach Boys' Pet Sounds
    I know it didn't come out in 2010, but I didn't listen to anything this year except Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. It's perfect.

  • Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Here We Go Magic's Pigeons
    I like how this record sounds like it wasn't made by kids. There's a maturity to it. When I think of what the big jams were this year, "Casual" pops up. I first got turned onto them with their first album ��" the one that was mainly done by Luke Temple. And from there I was pretty keen to get them to open for us. We got along really well, and as musicians, I can relate to them more than I can with a lot of artists in the modern rock category.

  • Redman

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Rick Ross' Teflon Don
    You have a lot of cats from my era who are like, "I ain't fucking with that new shit." But what I like about Rick Ross' album is that it shows progression. I like when rappers or MCs progress. Rick Ross came away from the battles of 50 Cent, too. He's the only one who survived the 50 Cent massacre. They tried to throw on him that he was a cop or a CEO or whatever. But he beat that. He beat all that baby mama drama and 50 Cent ��" and he did that shit with his music. "B.M.F." and "MC Hammer," those two records are his signature and they got energy. For that big fat motherfucker, he moves and I can tell that he enjoys what he does. He enjoy this music.

  • Duke Spirit's Liela Moss

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Beach House's Teen Dream
    It's just got simple production, but great sound, beautiful harmonies, and solid songs.

    FAVORITE SONG: Robyn's "Dancing on My Own"
    I love dancing around my kitchen to this song. She tells a succinct, spiteful tale in not too many words. And it's just fucking catchy!

  • Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs
    I love Arcade Fire. When I heard Funeral for the first time, I had to sit down and listen to the whole thing. It isn't background music. It felt melancholy and uplifting and orchestral all at the same time. It completely changed my perspective about what kind of music I wanted to make. I realized I wanted to make something that wasn't just bluesy and rock-y but could be beautiful and grand.

  • Yeasayer's Anand Wilder

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Ken Seeno's Open Window
    I DJ'd this entire album at one of [bandmate] Ira [Tuton]'s outdoor backyard parties this summer. It was really windy; the whole evening, we were just on the edge of a storm, and every time there was a gust of wind, the branches of the trees would part and let in all this sun, and the entire lighting of the party would change. And the album was such a perfect accompaniment. I came to the conclusion that at a certain party, you don't need music with vocals, because the people talking at the party are providing that lyrical layer. People kept asking what it was and kept telling me not to change it, that it was perfect music.

    FAVORITE SONG: Das Racist's "Luv it Mayne"
    JayTram, Sinkane and I were cracking up listening to the Das Racist mixtape backstage in Warsaw, Poland, celebrating the end of our European tour. Best line: "Catch me at the Opera with your mama and your papa just for fun like where you at, man? I'm with your family, dog."

  • Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Beach House's Teen Dream
    I'd listen to this all the time on tour, especially on dreary, gray days, when it's dark and gloomy out. I think Victoria Legrand has such a unique sounding voice. It's kind of raspy and deep and sounds like she smokes a lot of cigarettes. Really beautiful and haunting. And the stuff that Alex Scally plays with the slide guitar is really, really cool. It doesn't sound like music anyone else is playing.

    FAVORITE SONG: Drake's "Up All Night (Featuring Nicki Minaj)"
    I love this because Drake's my favorite rapper and Nicki's my second favorite. She just came out of nowhere, it seems. She was always that girl who was on other people's songs and now she's doing her own stuff. Whenever I see her, she just owns it. She's kind of a freak. She makes crazy faces. She doesn't give a fuck. And her verse on this song is just awesome.

    I love Drake, too, because he's so good at singing, which is rare to find in a rapper. They usually suck at singing. And I love his lyrics, which are super emo. If you listen to the whole record, it's all about him being bummed out and going through a bunch of shit. I like hearing rappers going on about heartbreak.

  • Marnie Stern

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Tera Melos' Pentagonian Rats
    The record has a definite pop sensibility while maintaining a technical and experimental feel. The textures and use of noise creates a cohesive album, without losing the musicality aspects that make this band so unique. Blending all of these intricacies is a challenge and they pull it off seamlessly.

  • Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles

    FAVORITE ALBUM: Free Energy's Stuck On Nothing
    My favorite record of 2010 is Stuck on Nothing by Free Energy, and my favorite song is "Bang Pop" from the same album. We played with the band at SXSW (having previously met them at a concert at Georgetown University), where they furnished us with a promotional cassette. This cassette quickly became the most coveted item in the van, and we blasted its contents from sea to shining sea all spring. What was so great about it? Lots of things.

    Stuck on Nothing is just the latest in a long tradition, one that lots of bands try to insert themselves into unsuccessfully. Of course, I am talking about the debut album that is instantly canonical, the fully formed musical entity that bursts forth from the head of Zeus, definitive statement in hand, usually (this case included) some kind of pop classic, a concise collection of non-stop hooks. Previous entries might include Weezer's Blue Album, Is This It by the Strokes, or even Violent Femmes or Stone Roses. The last record to grab for that brass ring was maybe the self-titled debut of Franz Ferdinand, but this record is better than that one. I have heard them called "BBQ" albums, the sort of album you will put on ten years later and be amazed that you still know all the words.

    Stuck on Nothing will definitely be that sort of album for me, as it will be, I think, for many who hear it, for such a collection of songs as this is rare indeed. Each carries their own weight, and fits snugly within well-established aesthetic parameters without becoming redundant. The hooks come so fast and in such great numbers that resistance is futile ��" a true pop blitzkrieg. Between that and the generous guitar solos (Scott Wells is easily the hottest guitarist to come along in our young decade), the listener is putty in the Freebies' hands, making their message of hope and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity all but undeniable. The back story, of their being the phoenix which rises from the ashes of the dearly departed Hockey Night, makes the whole thing all the more inspiring ��" the record begins with the words, "We're breaking out this time," and who wouldn't believe it?

    As for "Bang Pop," it encapsulates all that is great about the record as a whole ��" the duck's-asshole-tight rhythm section lays the foundation, the past is nodded to (the chord progression is "Louie Louie"), the lead guitar rips church-door holes in the space-time continuum, Paul Sprangers is the lovable everydude fixated on making love to an alien, and that chorus ��" hoo boy! Roll down the windows, and wherever, whenever you are, it is the first Saturday night of summer, and all the wonders of the wide world are laid out before you.

    We spent a month on the road with these guys, and the songs hold up to a test that no song can be put to fairly ��" yes, kids, they still sound awesome after hearing them performed thirty nights in a row. Also, big ups to James Murphy; I never listened to LCD Soundsystem too much, but on this record, but as producer, he puts the boys behind the wheel of a vehicle as sleek as a Jag and as muscular as a Trans Am.

    Well, I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

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