December 23, 2009
And now, for the top three songs of the decade.
The first track off of Arcade Fire’s debut album Funeral, also the first of the four part “neighborhood” saga, is a dreamy track about a snowed-in neighborhood free of parental supervision. Tunnels kicks off one of the best, if not the best, albums of the decade, starts of with a wandering piano, painting a vivid picture of a snowbound town: “And if the snow buries my/My neighborhood/And if my parents are crying/Then I’ll dig a tunnel/From my window to yours/ Yeah, a tunnel from my window to yours”.Â Behind a heavy bass drum (hinting at things to come on Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) and the album closer Rebellion (Lies) later on the album) and an impressive collection of instruments (Arcade Fire is after all a band of 9-10 people), the song builds towards an impressive and frantic climax just a few seconds from the end of the song.Â The song works well as an opener (feeding later songs and setting the tone for some of the themes off the rest of the album), but it’s also remarkably successful as a single and is an exceptional piece of rock music.
Rarely does a song capture so much of both the rap and rock crowds, but “Hey Ya” did that better than just about any other track in my lifetime.Â Honestly, few songs fill a dance floor faster than this song and few songs have more memorable lines.Â Musically, the song is brilliant: it’s a unique beat, with superb lyrics and delivery.Â Â But really, it’s just that this song is just about the most original and most fun song that came out this decade (save for maybe Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad”).Â Because let’s face it: If you clicked the link and watched the video, you’re going to have this song stuck in your head all day. Whether it’s “What’s cooler than being cool” or “shake it like a Polaroid picture”, this song delivers some of the most memorable lines of the decade.Â Plus, it gave us one of this amusing acoustic cover from Scrubs.
No surprise here, if you know my tastes.Â I’ve been hooked on this song since the first time I heard it nearly three years ago.Â The wobbly piano guides a song about the pre-party build up, the party, the post-party, and dealing with growing up.Â It’s a simple beat, that basically doesn’t really change throughout the 7:21 seconds of this song.Â But this song is about the lyrics: they are clever and brilliant and they drive the song from the start to finish.Â James Murphy’s near-spoken delivery is pensive and uplifting.Â Even the throwaway lines are gold: “It comes apart/The way it does in bad films/Except in parts/When the moral kicks in”.Â But by the end of the song, you can’t help but feel better.Â “And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand,/you can sleep on the plane or review what you said./When you’re drunk and the kids look impossibly tan/you think over and over, ‘hey, I’m finally dead./Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand/you look contorted on yourself your ridiculous prop./You forgot what you meant when you read what you said/And you always knew you were tired, but then/Where are your friends tonight?”
December 22, 2009
You may not have high hopes for a song from the leading light of the coke rap genre, but it is undeniable that Grindin’ is one of the best hip hop songs of the decade.Â Brothers Malice and Pusha T, thanks not in the least to an absolutely brilliant beat from the Neptunes, exploded onto the mainstream hip hop radar with this hit in 2002 off their Lord Willin’ release.Â You can tell the duo is fully in their element on this track, from the tight lyrics and flow to the high pitched “gring-ing” that can’t help but catch your ear in the last 40 seconds of this song.Â Oh, and then there’s this: “And my weight, that’s just as heavy as my name/So much dough, I can’t swear I won’t change/Excuse me if my wealth got me full of myself/Cocky, something that I just can’t help/’Specially when them 20’s is spinning like windmills/And the ice 32 below minus the wind chill/Filthy, the word that best defines me/I’m just grinding man, y’all nevermind me”.
Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights was undoubtedly one of the most influential albums of the decade.Â PDA, the highlight of that album, is one of those remarkable alt-rock songs that manages to succeed despite being driven (for much of the song at least) on bass and drums rather than guitar.Â The dark music and nearly-spoken lyrics combine to create the image that the band recorded this song in a dank basement in Brooklyn.Â But while there are plenty of bands that can create that imagery, Interpol drops in some light-hearted (for their tastes anyway) about half way through, which creates such an eerie contrast that it’s brilliant.
Building on the sound of the Strokes earlier in this decade (as so many bands did), Franz Ferdinand made one of the best songs of this decade in Take Me Out.Â “Take Me Out” doesn’t succeed so much because it’s a perfect song…it works because it’s seemingly three different songs perfectly weaved together.Â From the very Strokes-esque guitar start to the damn-near-disco beat (though still paired with some solid guitar work) that backs the bridge to the climbing bass that comes in around the two minute mark, rarely does a song work so well with such a diversity of elements.Â Franz Ferdinand, seemingly hinting at their future direction, managed to put together one hell of a danceable song that stood well above it’s similar sounding compatriots (see: The Bravery, The Von Bondies, etc).
Every once in a while, a veteran band comes from relative obscurity with a remarkable piece of pop gold.Â In 2009, Phoenix did it not once, but twice with Lisztomania and 1901, both from their Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Album (1901 could easily be on this list too).Â But Lisztomania gets the call here partially because the song itself seems to be about pop music (The title is a allusion to the frenzy that followed German pianist Franz Liszt’s early performance).Â This song is basically the perfect pop song itself, with a catchy and infectious beat, clever and playful lyrics, and flawless delivery.Â The fact that it all feels relatively effortless puts this song a level above.
The story behind the album is well known at this point: Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) got dumped and retreated into the cold Wisconsin wilderness.Â While there, he recorded the sparse and beautiful For Emma, Forever Ago, which compares favorably to every folk album this decade save for arguably Fleet Foxes.Â The pseudo-title track is set as a conversation between a man trying to find meaning in breakup and a woman complaining that her knees are cold.Â It sounds ridiculous, but the horn section paired with Vernon’s voice (and excellent lyrics) makes this song thing of beauty.Â As a bonus, it makes for an amazing a cappella song as well (if you click any links, make it this one…starts at about the 1:30 mark).
December 21, 2009
Note: For Part 1, see here.
Who would have predicted that Justin Timberlake would not only be relevant by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, but would have released some of the best pure pop music of the last 10 years?Â SexyBack, from Timberlake’s second solo release, marked JT’s best chart performance to date, spending 7 weeks atop the Billboard Top 100.Â More importantly, this Timberland-produced track was just pop gold: you couldn’t escape the song for nigh two years, and somehow, everybody was still OK with that.
Rarely does a NY Times review of something stick with me for so long, but I remember reading the review for Hot Chip’s The Warning, which came complete with praise for “Ready for the Floor”.Â I cannot find the link/article (ugh), but it was something like “It’s so catchy, it’s so confident, it’s so gay, and it’s your new favorite song” (The “Gay” comment comes from the fact that one of the most prominent lines in the song is “You’re my number one guy”).Â And that’s really what this track is all about: the perfect combination of clever and memorable lyrics and a catchy and unflappable beat to which you can’t help but nod your head.
Before starting this list, I decided that I would only choose one song per artist (this will come up again later); otherwise, I could have a number of Radiohead songs on this list.Â They put out four albums this decade, culminating with In Rainbows in late 2007.Â But the decade started with Kid A (Which claimed the number 1 spot on many a list for album of this decade), with it’s spacey electric sound.Â Idioteque, easily the most energetic song off of that album, also marks perhaps the high point of that album.Â The song itself seems like an urgent plea from Thom Yorke, for action on some sort of crisis (“We’re not scaremongering/This is really happening”).Â Â It marks one of the most ambitious (and ultimately successful) songs for a remarkably ambitious band (Musically, Radiohead is probably the most ambitious mainstream act out there).Â Idioteque is the kind of song that creates that all-too-rare convergence of music snobs and mainstream rock fans.
Aside from spawning one of the best rap songs of the latter part of this decade (“Swagga Like Us”, by T.I. F/ Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne), Paper Planes is just a brilliant and bold piece of pop music.Â Need proof? The song builds itself a successful chorus by somehow making a combination of gunshots, a cash register, and children singing and actually makes it work.Â That alone is worth recognition.Â This song truly feels like a product of the world (not least because M.I.A. is an ethnic Tamil from London) and therefore deserves some recognition as product of the globalized era.
One of the hardest decisions for this list was which Kanye West song to put on here.Â Say what you will about the guy as a person, but the guy has put out more hits this decade than just about anyone else.Â “Diamonds Are From Sierra Leone”, to me, is just pure, vintage Kanye West.Â The beat is one of the coolest of any rap songs of the decade and Kanye is on point with his lyrics for the entire song.Â This song feels like Kanye’s realization of his own weight in the music industry: from the opener (“And I’ve realized that I’ve arrived, cos/It take more than a magazine to kill my vibe”)Â to the closing line (“R-r-r-right here stands a man,/With the power to make a diamond with his bare hands”), the song brilliantly captures the meteoric rise of Mr. West.Â Oh, and need further proof of Kanye’s cockiness? The dude has the balls to go with a 90-second 2nd verse and the flow to pull it off without flinching.
December 18, 2009
So a couple weeks ago, I started working through my iTunes collection and building a CD-length playlist featuring my personal picks for the best songs of the decade.Â Now, I did this because 1. I listen to a crazy amount of music and 2. I got a new MacBook Pro and was able to have a laptop that didn’t die after 10 minutes of use.Â Woo! Technology!
First the criteria: I started out thinking that I would have set criteria.Â This didn’t really work out, because, frankly, I’m not that rigid and this isn’t work.Â At work, I have to adhere to criteria and to be objective…On music, not so much, because it’s ALL subjective.Â So this list is composed of songs judged on some loose criteria, including general enjoyability, longevity, uniqueness, innovation, and musical quality.Â Also, the first step to making the list is that I actually have to LIKE the song.Â So, I know there is a lot of music out there that I don’t love, and those songs aren’t on that list (Though I do have a broad taste, as you will see from this list).
I’m gonna do this is four parts.Â Three posts of five unordered songs, and then a final post with what I have judged to be the best 3 songs of the decade.Â Without further ado, I’m going to present to you the first five of my choices.
If you are familiar with my music taste, as some of you are, you’ll know that I am a huge Killers fan.Â Some people didn’t like Sam’s Town and more people didn’t like Day & Age…I’ve loved all of it.Â But it all started with Hot Fuss and Somebody Told Me (which did come out before the slightly over-rated Mr. Brightside…I looked).Â But this song, with it’s roaring guitar opening, driving beat, and slightly lo-fi vocals is an infectious piece of pop-rock music (and it even features the crowd-pleasing Wooho-Woooo in the bridge).Â This song was a powerful debut that catapulted the Killers to being undeniably one of the biggest bands of the decade.
Fleet Foxes quietly rolled out one of the best albums of the decade with their self-titled debut in 2008…And by quietly, I only mean literally, because this album rightly got a lot of hype after coming out (It was Pitchfork’s album of the year after all).Â And the finest work off of that album may be the shortest track.Â At just under two and a half minutes (and with just about 7 lines of lyrics), Fleet Foxes kick the song off in almost a round and then manage to turn in one of the finest vocal harmonies you’ll ever here in modern pop music.Â The lyrics themselves are almost inconsequential, almost as if they are just another instrument in this intricate and masterful track.
While intricate harmonies and mellowness that make White Winter Hymnal a fantastic song, Wolf Like Me takes the exact opposite approach.Â After just a few seconds of guitar intro,Â the heavy bass and drum combo take over from there, driving this song at full speed for most of the next 4 minutes and 30 seconds.Â This song–ostensibly about werewolves, but tooootally pre-twilight–thrives on pure intensity.Â Even as the bridge tries to slow you down, you can feel that the bass is going to bring back the fever pitch.Â And from there, the frenzy just takes over: “Hey hey my playmate/Let me lay waste to thee/ Burned down their hanging trees/ It’s hot here hot here hot here hot here”.
It was perhaps the decade of mash-up music.Â And perhaps the finest example (other than perhaps the entire Feed the Animals Album from Girltalk) comes in this unique pairing of Jay-Z’sÂ “Change Clothes” with the Beatles’ “Piggies” and “Dear Prudence”.Â As this song kicks off with the meandering guitar and Jay-Z shouts, you can feel that something special is about to follow…not something derivative of Jay-Z or the Beatles, but a piece of music that is a completely new and unique piece of music.Â Plus, there’s something that’s undeniably fun about Pharrell chanting “sexy, sexy” over the jaunty guitar.
The National’s 2007 release Boxer strikes me as another of the finest albums of this decade (honestly, who says the album is a dead format).Â And though songs like “Mistaken for Strangers” or “Fake Empire” are more hyped (and fantastic in their own right), “Guest Room” is a song that captures the album’s angst and unease perhaps better than any other track on this collection of songs about the pains of adulthood. The combination of Matt Berninger’s baritone lyrics (“We miss being ruffians/going wild and bright/in the corners of front yards/getting in and out of cars/we miss being deviants”) and the snare make this song a simple, yet fantastic piece of song-smithing.