Is there a unifying aesthetic driving Pitchfork’s top tracks of 2010 list? If there is, I can’t see it. In the top slot, “Round and Round” by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, supposedly earns its marks “because every chord change and turnaround and melodic leap is in exactly the right place.” The number one pick ought to be the most revealing, but this isn’t. Calling out “Round and Round” for its pacing doesn’t tell you much because there isn’t much else to its competent, workmanlike construction and execution. It’s also a music critic’s crutch; when you can’t figure out why a pop song is great, you can pretty much always say it’s because of the pacing. If anything, I think it’s far more telling that the first half of the remarks on Pink’s track get spent remembering last year’s number one pick, Animal Collective’s “My Girls” — a far stronger pick that anchored a far more coherent list.
At the surface, you might say there’s a refusal to go for the most obvious picks: Kanye West’s guest-epic “Monster,” for example, gets a namecheck but doesn’t actually make the list. This is strange not only because the song’s Nicki Minaj guest-spot was probably the most raved-about verse of the year, but because Pitchfork bestowed a “best new music” tag on the track when it first showed up online. Meanwhile, the only track from Sleigh Bells’ go-for-bonkers Treats to make the list was the comparatively easy-going, sing-songy “Rill Rill” at number 13. Pitchfork’s writers clearly liked the whole album; it nabbed an 8.7 on release and made the number 16 slot on the site’s 2010 best-albums list. But somehow they managed to choose the most unrepresentative track from the record for their top singles list.
Yet the list isn’t entirely built around avoiding the obvious; Janelle Monae’s ebullient “Tightrope” made the top ten, as did Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and two separate Kanye tracks, including the single “Power.” These are favorites from the indie mainstream to which Pitchfork caters, and the sort of tracks you would expect to be on a list like this. It’s not clear, though, why these tracks deserved top slots and other equally obvious tracks didn’t.
Is it random? Or just the inevitable product of trying to reconcile the likes of a whole slew of critics in a single list? Maybe.
But of course, there are also two LCD Soundsystem tracks in the top 12. This isn’t too surprising given Pitchfork’s history of excessive fawning over the pretty-good band. And hey, I firmly believe that every critical outlet deserves an exception or two for its obsessions. But it just shows that when it comes time for reflection, Pitchfork may not be able to make a coherent statement about what makes a great single, but it remains highly interested in itself.