29 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 10-1

10. Nina Nesbitt - "Chewing Gum"

Raging synths and big walls of drums fuel this powerhouse production, a track that somehow manages to exude confidence and self-deprecation at once. She's warning someone that she is a mess, and also that they don't mean shit to her. Really makes you think twice about the line "I'm just chewing gum," doesn't it?

9. Lady Gaga - "Perfect Illusion"

Though released with significantly less pageantry than past first-of-a-new-album-era singles, the impact of this track on Gaga's Little Monster fanbase was undeniable. She's on top of her songwriting game as she's ever been.

8. Troye Sivan - "Youth"

It's a very cool thing to watch someone find the right platform to express themselves. I remember looking up his performance of this track on The Tonight Show and seeing a comment that said "I remember when Troye wouldn't leave his room lol." That's the amazing thing about the era in which we live; many people have watched this guy go from a shy boy making YouTube videos for no one but himself to an internationally touring pop singer. The whole album is great, but this first single is just so perfectly Troye that it was hard not to pick it for the list.

7. Tegan & Sara - "U-Turn"

I saw Tegan & Sara live a couple months ago, and midway through their set, the other members of their band left the stage so that they could begrudgingly perform a few songs from their older albums. "I don't know about you guys," Sara said before they began this portion, "But our old stuff didn't make me want to dance." Truly creative artists evolve, and the resulting relationships it creates with both their fans and their art are interesting to watch, especially as an outsider. I'm just here to dance, ladies. Keep it up.

6. Absinth3 ft. Chelsea Owen - "Trust Is A Curious Word"

If you had played this song for me with no explanation or context, I'd have assumed it was an album cut from some one-named, one-album dancepop wonder from 1988 that I'd somehow missed in all my years of digging through record store bins and scouring Discogs, YouTube, and various retro message boards. That's how carefully 16-year-old Absinth3 has studied this aesthetic and perfected his ability to create faithfully in its image. Perfect use of a syncopated rhythm and marimba-like synth voices. (Full disclosure: He was cool enough to produce and publish a version of one of his songs with a vocal track that I wrote and performed and we're now friends and you should check it out too, but this song would have made the list even if he hadn't been so nice.)

5. Highasakite - "Deep Sea Diver"

They're like a really eccentric modern version of a-ha, kind of. This song makes me feel like I'm riding a jetski over increasingly tall waves, crashing down further each time but not caring because I'm having so much fun. Unfortunately, the studio version of the track is nowhere to be found on YouTube for quick listening, but you can listen to it on Spotify or roughly the first minute of it in this "behind the scenes" clip of a music video that I guess no longer exists.

4. FM-84 ft. Timecop1983 & Josh Dally - "Let's Talk"

Originally released last year by Timecop1983 ft. Josh Dally on their Reflections album, FM-84's mix of this track (which is included on his brilliant album Atlas) took it to the place that it really needed to be. The vocals are so incredibly powerful, and juxtaposed against this tall snare drum they create a tidalwave of sound that crashes right down on you.

3. Rihanna - "Kiss It Better"

I knew three tracks into Rihanna's 2016 release Anti that I'd just heard one of the years most brilliant songs. It starts with a bossa nova beat from what sounds like the drum machine that came with a 1970s home organ and very soon crashes into a sexy modern pop slow jam. The drums are rather minimal, but they flawlessly tie together razzy synth bass riffs and distorted electric guitar motifs. This is my favorite song she's done since "Umbrella," and kind of feels like a half-speed callback to another of my favorites, "Shut Up And Drive."

2. DownVega - "Give You My Love"

This track became my walking theme this year. Any time I had to march somewhere, especially with any kind of confidence or determination, it played in my head. This makes absolutely no sense in regard to the song's lyrical content, but the driving drum track is a hell of a march time keeper. I just really love this front to back, from its rhythmic opening to its very synthy ending.

1. Abra - "Crybaby"

Absolute dancepop perfection. Atlanta's Abra created this sleek, sexy jam about gaslighting that changes gears enough times to keep it from ever feeling its nearly six-minute duration. It recalls the 1990 sound of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, but avoids the clichés of something that is trying intentionally to sound retro. Her soft - yet at times, almost wailed - delivery gives the song an appropriate tone of vulnerability, switching to a more confident, leering sneer in the bridge as the lyrics shift in tone too. It's a shame people seem to be sleeping on her; this would sell out arenas.

28 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 20-11

20. Mitch Murder - "Call Waiting"

The intersection I've been waiting for between two of my favorite nascent genres: synthwave and vaporwave. Sweden's Mitch Murder found (what is to me) their crosspoint, and it is this song. It works as well for a montage as it does putting on makeup as it does over an educational video of how fruit roll-ups are made. It is everything warm and comforting.

19. Sunflower Bean - "Easier Said"

There isn't much rock music that's doing it for me these days, but every now and then something like this comes along and perfectly scratches the itch. The layered vocals are so beautiful, and that guitar is just deliciously '90s alt-rock.

18. D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"

Is there any more appropriate way to describe how so many of us are feeling these days than "beyond all that fuck shit"? I'm willing to look the other way on so many other terrible lyrics (such as rhyming "slogan" with "Hulk Hogan") because it's just too goofy not to love. I can't not love a mindless party jam, and that's exactly what this is. The recorder motif might as well be straight out of EarthBound.

17. Carly Rae Jepsen - "First Time"

With the release of last year's Emotion, Jepsen solidified her spot as the queen of modern mall-pop. (Malls aren't much of a thing anymore though; Amazon-pop just doesn't have the same ring.) This year, Carly (in true mall-popper fashion) gave us an album of b-sides (!), headed by this brilliant saccharine romp.

16. Mike Posner - "I Took A Pill In Ibiza (SeeB Remix)"

Genuine vulnerability is hard to pull off when you're a famous person, especially if you haven't earned it through some sort of publicity crisis. Posner hasn't had one of those, but he comes across in this track like a friend you haven't seen in a few years who's sitting on your couch and telling you what he's been going through and why he hasn't been around. It moved me because I can't recall the last time I saw this kind of humanity lain on the table so voluntarily and so thoughtfully.

15. Daya - "Sit Still Look Pretty"

The "I'm (not) gonna be a good girl" song is not a new thing, but previously it's been generally presented as a way to please a man, usually a boyfriend or a dad. Not Daya though, she's not here for anyone but herself, and I like that girls of this generation are growing up hearing what she's saying. Killer production

14. Oshwa - "Ultraflourescent"

I go absolutely gaga for that warm 1988 garage rock / 2005 indie rock distorted guitar sound. Chicago's Oshwa nails this ode to loving everything about yourself with a quiet, confident coolness that's impossible not to smile at.

13. Adele - "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"

Though her very devoted fanbase seems to feel differently, to me, this is the most interesting single Adele has ever released. The snappy production is uncharacteristically sleek, despite the percussion coming from little more than a drum machine's kick and what sounds like a fist pounding on an acoustic guitar, with some claps peppered into the choruses and bridge. It relies on this push-pull mixing rather than her powerful voice to drive the song; the fact that she sings with noticeable restraint shows that she knows this and truly has the mind of a producer.

12. FM-84 ft. Ollie Wride - "Running In The Night"

This is such a flawless pop song on so many levels. The hook is instantly singable, the drums make it a toe-tapper throughout, and the vocal performance is spot on. Check out this random YouTuber's addition of a guitar track -- good stuff.

11. Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign - "Work From Home"

It would be hard to argue anything else as the Top 40 jam of the year. I don't know anyone who didn't immediately dance and/or sing along when this came on at the bars. Seriously though, what the hell is that weird toddler whine / dog squeak thing we start hearing in the second verse?

26 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 30-21

30. Midnight To Monaco - "One In A Million"

LA's Midnight to Monaco describes themselves on their Facebook page as "taking '50s doo wop harmony into the future," which is not a description I'd have come up with to describe them, but it certainly works. Who'd have thought "futuristic greaser" could be a coherent aesthetic?

29. Metronomy ft. Robyn - "Hang Me Out To Dry"

What an odd little song this is. A jangly, syncopated hook sung by one of the most recognizable and respected voices in modern dance music, bookended repeatedly by soft, glowing, murmured verses that occasionally pace into the same ferocity of the chorus. Robyn is such a powerful force, and her talents are put to very interesting use here.

28. ROOM8 ft. Christina - "Better Than Music"

Just a few years ago, all a song had to do to garner comparisons to '80s music is have a drum machine or a synth motif, regardless of the spirit with which this devices were used. Recent years have seen the rise of artists who actually get '80s pop music, love it unironically, and are producing tracks with modern equipment that capture the spirit of late-'80s dance-pop albums. ROOM8 absolutely is one of those artists, and although this track doesn't have the dancefloor fire of 2014's brilliant "Visions Of You," it is a glorious pop song. (Further up this list will appear one more song that I think captures this same spirit only slightly better than this track. Tease tease!)

27. Eric Prydz ft. Rob Swine - "Breathe"

When Eric Prydz released 2004's "Call On Me," he quite literally changed the course of retro dance music. He finally released a proper album this year, and this gorgeous downtempo banger was my favorite.

26. Bastille - "Good Grief"

I lost one of my best friends a few weeks ago. This list was already completed by the time he died, but I found it fortuitous that I'd included this great song about the confusion that comes with grieving. There are more emotions to the process than anger and sadness, and this song really explores them well.

25. Ricky Montgomery - "Don't Know How"

Everybody has felt the scourge of unrequited attraction. I love the way Montgomery chooses to present his feelings, as a multitude of ways in which he might feel important to this person, almost as a way to get back at them for the feelings he's had to suffer through on his own. It's nice to hear a song like this that doesn't feel too Nice Guy™. The video is probably my favorite of the year.

24. Shura - "What's It Gonna Be?"

The underground hit "Touch" overshadowed this follow-up single from British singer Shura's debut album, which is a shame, because it's just a beautiful song.

23. Bruno Mars - "Versace On The Floor"

I'm not a Bruno Mars fan. I find his persona irritating and his music mostly very, very basic. The production on this song is such a damn perfect slap of nostalgia, even if it shows the limitations of his voice (which results in some seriously cringy moments).

22. Sia - "The Greatest"

If one could pin Sia's songwriting abilities to a specific "knack," it would be turning tragedy into art. She wrote this in the wake of the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting, and it respectfully and meaningfully captures the feelings many of us dealt with in its wake.

21. Lindstrøm - "Closing Shot"

Pure post-disco fun.

24 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 40-31

40. Ariana Grande - "Side To Side"

Top 40 didn't do much for me this year. Most of it seemed unusually uninspired and formulaic, and this is coming from someone with a deep, deep love for pop music. This track, however, stood out. Grande is uncharacteristically restrained, which fits the chill nature of the track. And there is pretty much no song that isn't improved by a Nicki Minaj verse.

39. Moby & The Void Pacific Choir - "Hey Hey"

I'll be totally honest; this is the first Moby album I've ever listened to, and boy was it a pleasant experience. I don't know enough about his career to know why he decided to essentially assemble a band and release an album with them (all while in the same calendar year releasing a free album of gorgeous ambient tracks), but it seems like a tribute to early new wave. I'm here for it.

38. Lost Years - "The Connection"

Lost Years was the artist who got me into the (still sort-of nascent?) synthwave genre a few years back when he released his brilliant sophomore album Amplifier. I still think he does it better than pretty much anyone else in the game (I say that knowing full well that there are two synthwave artists higher than he on this list), and his third album Venom was proof of that. This track was my fav from that release. It's a midnight chase through a neon city in pursuit of Carmen Sandiego.

37. CL - "Hello Bitches"

I'm honestly not sure why KPop hasn't fully crossed over in the United States. I really thought Psy's breakthrough a few years ago would be the final breaking down of the barrier, but it wasn't. This one had that same chance. CL is part of South Korea's (arguably) best-known pop group, 2NE1, but has consistently released solo material for the last few years. She's a solid enough rapper that even if you don't speak the language in which she's flowing, you have to nod your head. Bitches.

36. Jessy Lanza - "VV Violence"

I'm a sucker for a singer who can control their high register. This track combines sweet, high vocals, vintage drum machine sounds, and lyrics about confronting someone who's too cowardly to talk shit to your face. Gotta love it.

35. Lady Gaga - "A-YO"

Whether you were into it or not, I think every Gaga fan would agree that Joanne was not the album anyone was expecting for her 5th release. This is one of the album's best, a line-dance-pop hootenany that is somehow still perfectly in Gaga's sultry style.

34. Shura - "Touch"

A deceptively complex production consisting of a drum machine clap, warm synth pads, and a beeping little motif, all tied together with breathy, whispered vocals. It's as sexy as it is beautiful.

33. Kanye West - "Fade"

Probably the most talked-about music video of the year served as the in-your-face delivery of West's ode to the classic Chicago house sound. It's Flashdance meets Cats, starring Teyana Taylor!

32. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk - "Starboy"

You can put this collab on the list of "stuff you didn't know you wanted to happen until after it happens." It's odd for Daft Punk to take a backseat like they do on this track, but it works. It's hard not to imagine that The Weeknd was more than a little self-referential when writing the lyrics, but you have to appreciate that level of self-awareness. Few celebrities have that kind of control over their own egos.

31. Volbeat - "Seal The Deal"

I happened across this rock-o-rama on a "New Music Friday" playlist back at the beginning of summer and immediately started headbanging along with it. How the hell can you not? This is everything I love about a great rock song. The lead singer's hyper-affected delivery really - if you'll pardon the expression - seals the deal.

23 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 50-41

50. Wet - "These Days"

The world finally got to hear Wet's debut LP back in January, and it was worth the wait. There were a handful of songs that those of us who've seen them live over the last few years recognized, alongside some beautiful new surprises. This track closes the album and finds lead singer Kelly Zutrau in the highest highs of her register, calling into the night after a departed lover.

49. Khia - "Santa Baby"

We were long overdue for a new Christmas classic. It didn't seem to capture much attention on release, but I hope that just means it's going through the usual path of American pop Christmas tunes that end up becoming standards by going unnoticed for a few years first.

48. M.I.A. - "Go Off"

M.I.A. is nothing if not consistent. She's delivered what is indubitably a signature sound for over a decade now. This little slow burner from her latest (and supposedly final) release has a super cool music video to accompany it of a bunch of shit blowing up being filmed from a helicopter. Doesn't really get more M.I.A. than that.

47. Era Istrefi - "Bonbon"

Probably the most fascinating pure club tune of the year. Superficially, it blends in with plenty of other unmemorable club tracks you'd hear on the floors today, but there are intricacies in the production that make it stand out. In particular I love the razzy synth bass line.

46. Ninja Sex Party - "Cool Patrol"

An ode to being aggressively uncool told by a bunch of folks who are undoubtedly walking that walk.

45. Dodie - "Sick Of Losing Soulmates"

I love this one because of the tacit admission that it's possible to feel a soulmate connection more than once in your life. Usually, songs that deal with the topic of begging a lover to return put the entire universe on that person, but Dodie admits that she's felt this way before about others and that frankly it's getting exhausting.

44. Years & Years ft. Tove Lo - "Desire"

A song about the benefits of hooking up, because love hurts, or something? Honestly the lyrics seem a bit disjointed to me, but the production and his voice are just so solid. Great stuff.

43. Raylo - "Winner"

The song from the greatest commercial of all time finally gets a proper release. A perfect track to get you hype as hell.

42. Jean-Michel Jarre - "Oxygène Pt. 20"

Part 1 of the Oxygène series was released back in 1976, with Part 2 following in 1997. Now here with are with the next movement of the piece. The idea of creating one long piece across three albums and 40 years is simply stunning, and man does Jarre nail it. Electronic music was born in France in the 40s and 50s, and it's pretty safe to say that Jarre drew from those early "musique concrète" pieces and was an early pioneer of what we now call "ambient" music. This is the final cut on the album, and it's a perfect example of his ability to take the listener on a ride with his vivid soundscapes.

41. Computer Magic - "Been Waiting"

Her husky voice, those puffy snares, that little popcorn motif -- this is just everything that's great about modern synthpop.

07 November 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 56. stefy - "chelsea"

From the Eurythmics-esque opening synth hook that punches hard to the saccharine flow of Stefy Rae Eustace's voice in the verses to the fabulously hooky chorus, this is flawless modern synthpop through and through.

The album as a whole has a California/Orange County tinge that seemed to permeate a lot of media during this time. Maybe it's because The OC was popular, or because California has always been cool, but I think it's largely something else: This album came out in fall 2006, when social media was nascent enough to not yet be the pop culture pipeline that it became. Americans still looked largely to traditional media for what was cool, and traditional (entertainment) media has always been centered around New York and California.

I think this album acts almost as a final glimpse into that "what's cool" window.

This song in particular is simply incredible. Her voice is perfect for it, and you'll be singing it the rest of the day after one listen.

top 100 of the '00s | 57. ladyhawke - "paris is burning"

When this came out in fall 2008, pop music was starting to trend back toward electronic pop, a pivot from a decade of hip-hop domination.

Alternative music was only a few months behind. Indie rock had been the driving force of that scene since the end of the '90s grunge era. Around 2005, some of these bands started incorporating keyboards, but since the music was still heavily traditional rock it was branded "dance rock" (think LCD Soundsystem, Franz Ferdinand, etc.).

I found Ladyhawke on a blog that I followed at the time of cool new electronic music. I was in love instantly and knew I could get away with pitching it for rotation on the campus radio station because of its undeniably rock orientation. This was September. I wouldn't feel truly validated until March, when I attended the SxSW conference and heard multiple DJs spin it.

There isn't even much to say about it musically; it's just a great song. Both verses and hook are instantly singable, and the pleasant little bell synth motif in the song's final act is simply radiant.

03 November 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 58. gnarls barkley - "crazy"

It's now been over a decade since this track's release, and I can say with decent confidence that I've still not heard another song that sounds quite like it does. It samples a song from a 1960s Western film significantly enough for its composers to receive a writing credit here, but subtly enough that ears in 2006 would not immediately make that sonic connection.

Instead, it comes together as a sort of Motown throwback for the modern era, its orchestral section acting as a lifter for Cee Lo's high-pitched voice. There are moments where his singing and the violins are nearly indistinguishable.

It's certainly got staying power and shows all signs that it's on its way to being regarded as a classic. No disagreement here.

02 November 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 59. randell & schippers - "alice in wonderland"

At one of our weekly college radio staff meetings back in 2005, our general manager and host of the Tuesday night goth music show slid me a promo CD she'd received in her mail that week, saying she felt it was more appropriate for my retro club-oriented show -- "It has that sheen," she said.

I don't know what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what I heard. This is a perfect mid-'00s house thumper that has very obvious influences from '90s eurohouse, but it's so much more than that. It's a fairy tale, one that we're all familiar with in every sense of its subject matter.

We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland, and the version told here is not the traditional one. Instead, we meet characters like Mr. Jive Turkey and Mr. Do-Good Stranger as we follow Alice from her financially-troubled father's removal of her silver spoon to her journey into the big city.

The hardest part of growing up is the destroying of the set pieces we've been accustomed to throughout our childhoods and being forced to look at the actual moving parts on the stage. Being able to laugh about it feels nice.

03 October 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 60. tomcraft - "overdose"

By the end of the '90s, the club scene had transitioned almost entirely away from the eurodance that had dominated the decade, and things were swinging quickly toward progressive house and trance. Both of these genres were respectively extensions of the o.g. club genres of house and italo-disco.

This particular cut falls comfortably into the trance pocket. Though snobs and casuals alike have written myriad blogs and books on exactly what defines trance music, everyone seems to (very generally) agree that the hallmarks are an uptempo BPM and a "rise and fall" form that generally includes beat drops.

"Overdose" typifies the trance sound of this era, and has the added bonus of containing a bizarrely singable hook that happens to be about someone dying. After hearing it on the floor, you'll wake up thinking, "What the hell did I sing along to last night?"

24 September 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 61. m.i.a. - "paper planes"

Art is, by nature, political, so I always love to see an artist who embraces that fact. M.I.A. goes beyond embracing; she cuddles with this fact like a body pillow.

Written in frustration in the wake of difficult treatment by the US government, the chorus is a mouthful that hits on both the difficulty of immigration to the US and the treatment and stereotyping of immigrants once they're here. M.I.A. told The Fader that she used sound effects instead of lyrics in part of the chorus to leave it open to interpretation, a call that had every chance to be awkward but works incredibly well here.

The hypnotizing beat will have you swaying side to side, snapping your fingers, and questioning your stances on a globalized economy.

23 September 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 62. holiday - "echo in my head"

There isn't really a single thing special or remarkable about this song, but 10 years later, it's like a PB&J in the brain as soon as I hear those opening notes. It's with me the rest of the day.

It's a classic pop rock progression played just grungy and low-fi enough to be interesting to a college radio audience. The vocals are a perfect match. Not one thing is out of place, yet it doesn't feel overproduced.

They really just knocked this out of the park. It typifies to me everything that was done right by indie pop/rock artists of this era.

10 September 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 63. toadies - "song i hate"

I have done no scientific data collection to back up this statement but roughly 99.8% of songs are breakup songs. The first song ever written was probably a breakup song. Some caveperson probably went back to their little cave home, feeling all brokenhearted and confused and tenderfooted (they didn't have shoes) and let it all out by banging rocks together and wailing into the night sky, and they rhymed "you" with "do."

However, as recently as 2008, people are still finding creative new ways to write them, presumably because people are still breaking up, and they have to do something with those feelings, so here we are.

I love the idea of an ex being an obnoxious earworm. It's a fair parallel: Something that you loved the first time you encountered it, but it betrayed you, or was too annoying, or made you feel things you didn't want to feel, so it had to leave your life. But you can't quit thinking about it, because the parts that you liked are still infesting the corners of your brain.

I'm in a weird mood today. This is a great song. Thanks for this one, Toadies. You rock.

07 September 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 64. corinne bailey rae - "put your records on"

A sweet ditty of empowerment sung with angelic delicacy. Bailey Rae's beautiful voice floats like a leaf in the fall breeze across sweet guitar motifs and a minimal drum track, neither of which overpowers her (mostly) soft singing.

It's as if she wrote this song to her younger self, much like Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me." Be yourself loudly and proudly, she encourages, and never let anybody make you feel bad about yourself.

Everyone has things they'd like to say to their teenage self, so cheers to Bailey Rae for wrapping a bunch of them up into this sonically sweet little package.

02 September 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 65. my chemical romance - "cancer"

Pulling off a concept album geared toward teenagers in 2006 is an accomplishment that needn't be overlooked. I was 20 when this album was released, and would never have even considered listening to it were it not for the encouragement of a couple of friends about four years after its release. Granted, I was a bit more closed-minded about the music I listened to then and was quick to judge, but the band's aesthetic and reputation had nothing to do with it; they simply weren't on my radar. I had long ago written them off as emo kid stuff, and that wasn't my thing.

The album follows a character known only as "The Patient" through the last bit of his life, his death, and his crossover to whatever happens after death. It's dramatic, it's sad, and it's a bit kitchy in places, but it's incredibly well written and can touch your heart even if you aren't a 2000s teenager.

This track takes place in the moments before The Patient's death. He has already accepted his fate and is now coping with the sadness of leaving those he loves behind and the deterioration of his body. In the context of this album, it's a piece in a big, dramatic puzzle, but taken as a solitary work, this song can be extremely comforting to anyone who's had to watch someone they love suffer from a terminal illness. It can help you see things from their perspective and understand their real pain.

28 August 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 66. the epoxies - "everything looks beautiful on video"

The Epoxies took new wave rock and performed it with modern punk sensibilities. They released two albums of consistently clever candy-coated guitar riffs and Roxy Epoxy's husky-yet-humble vocals.

This cut has always been my fav, because it came out around the time that I solidified my career path decision to work in live TV, and it became somewhat of an anthem to me. To the band and all other listeners, though, it's a song about how pictures and video give us a tool to be whoever we want to be, despite how inadequate we may feel in person.

Some time after this album's release, I saw on Roxy's MySpace (lol) that she was doing a show on a college radio station in Portland. I Googled and called up their request line, and to my surprise, she answered, and I got to tell her that I was playing her music on my college station. How cool is that?

The Epoxies - Everything Looks Beautiful On Video by hillslink

24 August 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 67. heloise & the savoir faire - "trash, rats & microphones"

Dance music was in such a bizarre place during this decade. For the first half, the majority of it was sleek, trance-inspired eurodance. As we neared the end of the decade, it still wasn't quite cool to like '80s music again yet, so disco had a resurgence in kind of a weird way. It sort of blended with the electroclash sound that had risen in the early '00s and became this hybrid of old and new that worked really well when it was done correctly.

Heloise & The Savoir Faire are a great face for this movement. They were all over this -- as I call it -- "trash disco" sound, making songs that aren't exactly fit for club floors but definitely aren't headbanging rock songs either. It's just sort of this super gay, super glittery, kinda synthy, kinda dance-rocky groove that white people in their 30s were just all over at this time.

This track was included on Heloise's debut EP, which a friend brought back to me in 2007 from his SxSW trip. I immediately fell in love and got it into rotation on the college station, but was bummed when they finally released an album a year and a half or so later, titled it Trash, Rats, and Microphones, and then left this song off.

The song is so rare, in fact, that this YouTube posting seems to be its only digital presence. I shot it myself when I saw the band live in fall 2007 at the CMJ music fest in New York at a bar called Mo Pitkin's, which was evidently only open for two years. I remember talking to Heloise after the show and telling her that this was my favorite of their songs, and she said, "That song is my diary." So don't let the disgust she feigns at the beginning of this video or its eventual omission from their album fool you; it's in her heart.

17 August 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 68. kelly clarkson - "my life would suck without you"

I remember thinking how cool and edgy it was for someone to use the word "suck" in the title of a Top 40 song, almost exactly one year before Cee Lo dropped his solo debut on the world.

The layering of guitars and synths is just perfect here. It pushes and pulls between verse and chorus, working in tandem with the emotional roller coaster of the singer.

It was the first song since Sheryl Crow's "My Favorite Mistake" to put some hope into the idea of being stuck in (what often feels like?) a hopeless relationship.

We probably are not, in fact, better off without most people who piss us off.

22 July 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 69. little t and one track mike - "shaniqua"

There are very, very,


few things that I like about white-dude hip-hop culture, but this song will always be one of them.

I think it really hearkens back to some of the goofy things rap was doing in the '80s (e.g. Bobby Jimmy and the Critters). It's just some goofy bullshit about moving into a place with a former tenant who was really popular, and you're tired of getting her calls. Like, who can't get into this?

This song dropped in early 2001 and was a big MTV hit, but although this duo went on tour with Blink-182, Green Day, and even Outkast (!), fate was not on their side. A large release party was planned for their well-reviewed debut album, scheduled to happen on -- you guessed it -- September 11th of that year. They broke up the following year.

I wonder if the real Shaniqua still listens to this song and smiles? I know if I annoyed someone (by doing literally nothing) enough for them to write a song about it, I could die happy.

17 July 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 70. tullycraft - "the punks are writing love songs"

This was the only Tullycraft song I ever got into, but it really is a stroke of musical brilliance.

"Twee" was very much an established *whatever* (scene? sound? thing?) in the indie rock world by the time this album dropped in 2007, and Tullycraft's name seems to be associated with its genesis dating all the way back to the mid '90s. (Imagine what going to a "twee" show was like in 1995 -- it's pretty funny.) For the uninitiated, twee is lighthearted, lo-fi indie pop, sung in a carefree, almost jaunty manner and with no abrasive instrumentation. It's like the musical embodiment of a children's book or that guy at the office who has potted plants on his desk.

What Tullycraft did so cleverly here is draw a very clear connection between twee and '80s punk. It's a pretty clear nod in particular to the Dead Kennedys.

I took this as their own little way of saying that twee was, in fact, not all that different than punk. It's just its less-aggressive little brother.

10 July 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 71. gorillaz - "dare"

Gorillaz' second album Demon Days was released in 2005. They used it to expand upon the aesthetic they established with their 2001 debut, comprising dark, kinda-weird hip-hop with a gritty anime shell.

"DARE" is the album's farthest reach, but is also its biggest success. The three "dude" members are swept aside and sweet lil Noodle is given the spotlight, gently singing (voiced brilliantly by singer Roses Gabor) as Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays mechanically coughs out a few phrases.

If this doesn't make you dance your ass off, nothing will.

07 July 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 72. battles - "atlas"

Nine years have passed and I have still never heard another song that sounds like this.

Battles was formed in NYC in 2002 and, after a few EP releases, they finally put out their debut album Mirrored in 2007. This was the first single. It did not chart, but it received considerable music blogger and college radio buzz.

This track is nerdy, mechanical, noisy, rhythmic, and catchy. You'll stomp your feet through the whole thing but probably won't understand why.

05 July 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 73. green day - "american idiot"

Green Day is one of those few musical artists that's managed the intricate balance of maintaining a core sound while also growing as an artist.

Their 1994 album Dookie is one of my favorite albums of all time. It brought so-cal punk-influenced alt rock to the mainstream, and is just a flawless set of killer, memorable tracks. If you go back to their two earlier EPs and one album that they released on smaller labels -- 39/Smooth, 1,000 Hours, and Kerplunk -- you'll find that their sound didn't really change in between. They pretty clearly just got access to better equipment when writing and recording Dookie.

Their subsequent albums have followed this trend. They explore new themes (usually finding new targets for their ever-aging angst), but what is distinctly Green Day has always remained.

The W Years effected a resurgence of punk and protest music the likes of which the world hadn't seen in over 20 years, so it would have been ridiculous for Green Day not to chime in. And when they did, they followed through on what we all expected of them, saying what many of us were feeling at that time.

30 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 74. jennifer lopez - "play"

Though barely on my radar when it came out, I ended the decade with a deep, deep respect for this track.

It wasn't until about 2010 -- well into the era of digital pop -- that I realized just how ahead of its time this song was. When it was released, no one was doing this exact type of electropop. Top 40 radio was dominated by shitty boy bands, hip hop, and the butt rock that was forming from the sludge leftover from '90s alt rock.

J-Lo had already cracked the Top 10 with a relatively straightforward electropop track in "Waiting For Tonight," but that track was indubitably produced with '90s eurohouse sensibilities. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

"Play" -- from her sophomore album -- was looking forward. It was a harbinger of what electropop would become 7 or 8 years later. Laying ears on it in 2016, you'll have a hard time believing this track came out way back in January 2001.

29 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 75. jill scott - "a long walk"

When I first heard this track, it was from seeing the music video on VH1 during a new music showcase. I was a sophomore in high school. I was fixated, because I had never heard a song with this exact sound. It wasn't really jazz and it wasn't really R&B, but it certainly had elements of both. (I would not learn the term "neo-soul" until three years later at the college radio station.)

Moreso, though, I was fascinated with the lyrics. I remember listening to her sing for nearly five minutes about how she just wanted to take a walk with some dude through the park, and talk to him about various rhyming things, but really being thrown for a loop when she added "or just be silent."

"Is this what adult relationships are like? Do people just sit with each other in silence? Is it that big a deal to go walking through the park?" These were my 14- to 15-year-old concerns with this track at that time. As an adult now, I of course understand a bit more where Ms. Scott is coming from (we can certainly all appreciate a little silence at the right times), but the fact that she was able to make my brain churn when I had no perspective at all stands to me as a testament to her power as an artist and this song's accessibility.

28 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 76. peaches - "set it off"

Electroclash music was just the best. It was kind of an extension of late-'80s industrial music, but fused with modern indie rock composition and Bush-era bleakness. We knew it would have a short lifespan, but damn was it fun while it lasted.

Peaches was probably the first face of electroclash. She(?) was an absolute expert in performance art and using her medium to challenge societal norms and conventional wisdom in meaningful ways. My favorite of all her stunts was her growing her very own beard for her second album, Fatherfucker.

This was the first Peaches song I ever heard, which was probably a big part of it being the one that made this list. I do think, though, that it typifies her sound and her attitude and is a great introduction if you've never heard her music (though most of her fans would probably direct you to the more well known "Fuck The Pain Away."

I'll link the music video for this track as well, but I didn't share it in the big window below because I think the album mix (which is posted below) is far, far better.

23 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 77. halloween, alaska - "you and me both"

Lo-fi indie rock tinged with new wave synthpop sensibilities. I love the juxtaposition of bleak guitar sounds and peppy synth motifs.

It even almost touches into psychedelic rock territories in the chorus with the echo vocal effect.

You know how some tracks "sound like" a certain time of year, or a season, or a place, or a memory? This track is a beautiful, chilly autumn day on my college's campus.

16 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 78. the foxglove hunt - "the life highrise"

A lifetime of listening to and loving '80s new wave and synthpop finally started paying off for me in the later part of the '00s when it started to come back in vogue. Indie artists started digging out old synthesizers and experimenting with and expanding on the ideals of new wave: Punk music played on pop instruments.

This track is very clearly inspired by the likes of New Order, but it doesn't feel reductive. The vocals are all '00s indie pop, as is the distortion guitar.

The result is a saccharine yet gritty toe-tapper that seems to be about some sort of spy fantasy.

14 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 79. aberfeldy - "summer's gone"

The sound of "twee" is somewhere between indie rock, indie pop, and emo. It's not angry at all, but the lyrics are generally morose -- often whispered as a stilted suggestion rather than belted triumphantly in defiance.

Young Forever was Aberfeldy's debut album, recorded in a studio in Edinburgh apparently with just one microphone. They were dropped by their label after the second album's release three years later, and released a third in 2010 without much fanfare.

This is their standout track to me not just because it's a shining example of twee, but because it's relatable in its simplicity. "I can't wait anymore for you," they sing to an unrequited lover, but you can almost hear the instant regret.

Where's the line? Is there such a thing as too much effort put toward someone you're in love with? You can tell that the singer probably has no answers to these questions, and they plan to continue in their holding pattern.

09 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 80. mark ronson ft. amy winehouse - "valerie"

Many people seem think that a great cover should remain true to the original. I do not agree.

I've always thought that great cover songs showcase what is great about the covering artist and what is well-written about the original song. By that metric, this is a perfect cover song.

The original "Valerie" by The Zutons is not anything special. It's a fairly generic, droning rock song that doesn't stick out from the sea of mid-2000s tracks trying to sound like they were from the 1970s. Its strengths are its poetic lyrics and the cadence of their delivery, both of which are magnified when performed by Amy Winehouse. Throw in Mark Ronson's far better take on the instrumentation and tempo, and you've got one hell of a song.

Though mainstream US audiences wouldn't get a real dose of Mark Ronson's pop prowess until 2014, this track made a little splash in US college radio markets and was a big hit in the UK.

08 June 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 81. mya, pink, lil kim, christina aguilera - "lady marmalade"

Editor's Note: My apologies for the gap in a couple of weeks between posts. I finalized my list before ever making the first entry in this project, and a closer look revealed that two songs did not belong on the list because they were released outside the 2000-2009 window. We hadn't reached either in the list. I had to replace and readjust, and I'm now ready to resume. Thank you for understanding.

Movie songs aren't the pop culture staple that they were in the 1990s and earlier, but every now and then still a great one comes along.

The most interesting thing about this one, of course, is that it never appears in the movie, and is basically in another quadrant of the galaxy in terms of tone. Moulin Rouge is a modern musical with orchestral-pop-centric numbers -- soft, calculated tunes you'd expect to hear in a stage production. This hit from the soundtrack, however, was a big-bassed radio smasher with pop princess prowess.

I'm totally gay for duets, so naturally a quartet had me doing wallkicks like the bartender from that Rick Astley video. They really diversified the vocal ranges and qualities too; Mya is soft and sweet, Pink is rough and tough, Lil Kim is classy/trashy, and Xtina is the powerhouse. Missy Elliot is just the little bit of whipped cream on the mocha latte: Never overpowering the main event but a very nice way to finish it.

Man, I wish movie songs would make a comeback.

22 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 82. dogs die in hot cars - "i love you 'cause i have to"

Ska music came from Jamaica in the 1950s. In the late 1990s, it found its way into the US alternative rock scene, and by the early aughties, it was a full-blown revival.

The US blend of ska was characterized by short, cutting songs that were often insulting or self-deprecating in nature, with a backbeat hammered out behind three-chord guitar riffs.

There's some great wordplay at work here, and I think in the end we -- like the singer -- aren't really sure if he's better off with or without whoever he's singing about.

20 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 83. mstrkrft - "easy love"

Disco made a huge comeback in the mid-aughties. Electronic music producers realized that they could produce the kind of dance music that they listened to as kids, but do it on modern equipment and give it a more current sheen. I actually found most of it pretty boring, but every now and then you'd get something awesome like this.

Really, the most surprising thing about this track is that it only has four lines of lyrics, but still manages to flesh out into a complete (or at least complete-feeling) pop song. This is something that it took Daft Punk four studio albums to figure out how to do.

MSTRKRFT is releasing a new album next month, so fingers crossed that they can deliver us more of this awesomeness!

18 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 84. stereophonics - "dakota"

Memories are weird. Scientists barely understand how they work. You have virtually no control over them, whether it's retaining pleasant ones, erasing unpleasant ones, or recalling them when you need them.

Most memories aren't crystal clear. They're fractured, fuzzy images, sights, sounds, smells, and textures -- small details that we cling to because they happened to stand out at a particular moment in time. Sometimes even grand, important details are lost when minutia remains in our brain.

This track taps into that hazy nature of memories. Our singer is fondly recalling moments spent with someone lying in the grass, sleeping in his car, chewing gum -- but he notes that he isn't quite sure what month it was. Staccato images -- a wake up call, coffee and juice -- remain vivid, but we get the impression that the memories are either unclear, or perhaps too painful to engage.

I'm quite certain that there will be a time far later in my life when I will have a similar ordeal trying to recall this track.

14 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 85. the bran flakes - "stumble out of bed"

Built mostly around a sample of Dolly Parton's "9 To 5" and ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," (with a little bit of The Osmonds dropped in there too), this goofy cut-up track just works.

You're hooked from Dolly's first vocals, instantly bouncing and singing along. It builds up with a struggle quite similar to the one we face when getting out of our own beds: At first a little rickety, but once we hit the kitchen, it's all good.

The Bran Flakes have been at it since the late '90s and have actually maintained a pretty consistent sound. There isn't too much biographical information available about them, but I get the sense that there are a lot of them and that cut-up music is their passion project, and they release an album every several years when they finally have enough tracks.

13 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 86. tegan & sara - "walking with a ghost"

The soprano songstress duo Tegan & Sara could easily be argued the faces of 2000s indie rock: Personal and touching lyrics, a grungy image, and production that is mostly traditional but doesn't shy away from electronics.

Though they were three albums deep with the 2004 release of So Jealous, it was this single that got them noticed by American college radio and subsequently a much larger audience. Indie rock mavens The White Stripes liked it enough to release a cover.

I like the idea of dealing with hurtful past memories by pretending that the involved parties are no longer alive. It's an interesting coping mechanism, a way to remove the power that someone no longer in your life may still have over you.

11 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 87. the b-52's - "funplex"

There is no band on Earth that has had a career as long and consistent as The B-52's. Since their self-titled debut in 1979, they have been the world's greatest party band. Perhaps more impressive, though, they have maintained a signature look that is undoubtedly their own: Swirling, curly-q letters; bright, backyard garden party color schemes; and various other kitsch.

Released 30 years after their debut single, this track has the exact same quirky pizzazz. Both the guitar riff and the call-and-return between Fred and the ladies is reminiscent of "Private Idaho."

This is their way of saying, "fuck you, we will NEVER stop partying," without any blatant lyrical references to aging (except maybe "it's time for a pill," but he never mentions what kind of pill). It was the last track I ever played during my last shift as a college radio DJ, because I hope that when I'm in my golden years I'll still be meeting my weird friends at the mall and freaking everyone out around us.

10 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 88. the killers - "somebody told me"

Indie rock's popularity skyrocketed in the early aughties, and within a few years it started to splinter into a few blends and flavors. The Killers were one of the first bands to combine the staple sounds of indie rock with the sensibilities of new wave music, peppering in synth sounds and singing like Joe Strummer.

Does anyone actually know what the hell this song means? Lead singer Brandon Flowers willingly admits that it's a dumb song, but a fun one nonetheless.

I guess it doesn't really matter, though, does it? Everyone remembers that hook, despite it not making a lick of sense.

08 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 89. s3rl - "pretty rave girl"

Happy hardcore music was invented in Europe in the early '90s, but it had a surge in popularity in some U.S. subcultures in the '00s, probably due at least in part to the popularity of rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution. It has sonic similarities to trance, jungle, and drum n bass music, but is characterized by high BPMs and melodic riffs.

This particular track encapsulates everything that I like about happy hardcore music. It's insanely fast, it's happy, and it makes you want to move. Listening to it actually increases my heart rate. A friend once told me that this played when he was at a rave at age 16, and someone wrote the word "BROTHERHOOD" on his arm in a highlighter. I think about that every time I hear it.

S3RL is an Australian DJ. He built this track around a late-'90s French eurohouse track called "Daddy DJ" -- the same one that Basshunter later turned into "All I Ever Wanted."

07 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 90. paramore - "misery business"

The whole "I like him but he doesn't like me back" story has been told in every way humanly possible. This is not one of those stories.

This goes to a new level: I like him, and the girl he's dating knows it, and she is actively aggressive to me.

It's a cocksure reply to an insecure lover who's in over her head. She probably spends a lot of time shooting catty glances, starting rumors, engaging in PDA in front of the right people, etc., but the singer just doesn't give a shit, because she knows she's got the dude in the bag.

And that's a great feeling.

06 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 91. blu cantrell - "hit 'em up style (oops!)"

R&B of this era was really big on mixing in electric guitar motifs (see also: "Let Me Blow Ya Mind") and themes of female empowerment, and this fabulous track features both prominently.

I suppose thievery is the best kind of revenge? I mean, you're still stealing things but at least no one's getting hurt. Plus, if your dude didn't want to buy you stuff for the crib and the car, then he shouldn't have messed up. Typing it out like that actually does cause it to make a frightening amount of sense.

This was Cantrell's debut single and earned her two Grammy nominations (!). She had one more hit everywhere but the U.S. with the song "Breathe" after she cut a duet version with Sean Paul, but faded into obscurity shortly thereafter.

04 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 92. nine days - "absolutely (story of a girl)"

2016 Max realizes that this is a douchey, problematic song that is dismissive of the titular girl's feelings and finds the singer asking for a cookie for "staying" and "putting up with this shit day after day" (yikes -- he really says that??). He knows that it is lyrically reductive and repugnant. Just getting that out of the way.

2000 Max loved this song for being a perfect alt-pop-rock crossover from a band that was so obviously doomed to one-hit wonder status from the opening chords.

2016 Max holds this song in fond memory despite its awful lyrics because he recognizes that, musically, it is a culmination of everything that pop rock got right in the '90s.

2016 Max also promises that in tomorrow's post he'll go back to referring to himself in the first person.

03 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 93. zeigeist - "dawn/night"

Swedish music/art project Zeigest formed in 2006. They started out as a menagerie of musicians, artists, and fashionistas, focusing on sharp, dark electronic music and elaborate live performances. The following year, they released their only album, The Jade Motel.

My favorite expression for this kind of music is "hard candy" -- light on the ears, but having some quality that is gruesome, grotesque, or macabre. I love the juxtaposition of airy synth motifs over lyrics like "your dead meat taste like piss."

I wish I could have seen one of their notoriously extravagant live performances before they called it off, but Sweden certainly wasn't in my college student budget. Thus is life.

Also of note: Check out their unusual yet excellent cover of Kylie Minogue's "Giving You Up."

02 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 94. andrew thompson - "we're in business"

Summer 2005: I check my school e-mail one day, and a friend I have made during my just-completed freshman year of college has sent me a song and says I need to check it out immediately. I click the link he's sent me to this indie label's website and am quickly grinning ear to ear listening to it.

During my first visit back to campus, I head up to the campus radio station, where I spent most of my time. Our newly hired music director was hanging out in a production booth adding new music: Perfect. I tell him I have a song for him. He skeptically begins to listen, but as soon as the robot growls, "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU," he leaps out of his seat and says "GET THIS IN ON THE AIR NOW!"

We went into the on-air booth and, after I gave it a brief introduction and explanation, he played it. From that one play, it became the most-requested song throughout my five-year tenure at the station. I'm pretty sure it was never even officially added to the rotation logs; people were just nuts about it and called to request it all the time. Each new semester, at least one freshman would re-discover it, play it during their shift, and the cycle would begin again.

It's really hard not to love this song. It's irreverent, it's cute, and it's pretty funny. It's just an electronic drum kit, one keyboard, and his voice (though the live version is performed with a full band, and it's pretty awesome).

After the song took off, I tracked Thompson down and did a phone interview with him. He told me that he wrote this simply out of a fear of technology that he was being forced to use but didn't want to (computers, cell phones, etc.).

01 May 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 95. the jezabels - "disco biscuit love"

Everybody knows someone who makes bad decisions when they're intoxicated. It's that friend that you always feel obligated to keep one eye on even when engaged with others at the bar, lest they do something they'll regret later.

The hushed opening lines of the song refer to a girl named Trudy in the past tense. Our singer begrudgingly says that her friend "is in self-destruct mode," in search of "one big night to end it all." We get the sense that she's had this conversation with Trudy before. We can't tell if she's annoyed, worried, or both.

"He only loves you when he's on pills," the singer pleads with her friend. A "disco biscuit" is (slightly outdated) slang for ecstasy, after all.

The singer refers to Trudy in both the present and past tense throughout the song, but the closing remarks about "falling asleep at the disco" suggest that her fate was not a good one. It's a great lyrical device, because after you've just lost someone it can be incredibly difficult to refer to them as if they are no longer there.

Just a really nice piano-driven, heartfelt track that is very relatable if you've ever loved someone who never learned to love themselves. It touches all of the exhausting emotions involved.

30 April 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 96. hoku - "perfect day"

A goofy, teen-oriented pop rock song written for an equally goofy movie. Jangly, candy-coated guitar riffs and a happy-slappy singer are the driving force behind unabashedly optimistic lyrics. It's the most pleasant "don't fuck with me" song ever written, probably.

Believe it or not, Hoku actually had a Top 40 hit, and it wasn't this song; her single "Another Dumb Blonde" peaked at #27 (!) in summer 2000. This track, released the following summer, has been her only other single release.

Also of note: Her dad is Hawaiian singer Don Ho of "Tiny Bubbles" fame.

I love this song so much because, to me, it represents the inextinguishable spirit of pre-9/11 America. Isn't this really how we all felt? Fuck no, nothing's gonna ruin my day! I'm a goddamn American!

I say all this without an ounce of sarcasm or cynicism, too -- there is something charming and sweet about that spirit and I think this track preserves it perfectly. On the right day, listening to it makes me remember what that felt like.

29 April 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 97. rachael cantu - "saturday"

This is the way, this is the way I want it to be, with your lips, your hips right in front of me

There is so much calm in those lyrics, and that's really what's at the core of this track: Warm, cuddly, contended stillness. It's lying in bed after the sun has risen on a day you don't have to work, feeling it on whatever skin is out of the cover of the sheets, being at peace with the world.

Yes, the lyrics take a slightly morbid turn in the second verse, but this is - to me - still a happy song. You don't know if she's singing about a current or a former lover, or the nature of the memory she's recounting. Whatever happened to her on that Saturday (at a birthday party, maybe??) impacted her enough to put it in a song three years later. In those graphic final lyrics, I hear trimpuh.

It's a perfect snapshot of everything that was great about singer-songwriter indie rock in the mid-'00s. It is a simple production of a simple melody, giving the singer's sweet voice and the airy lyrics just enough room to dominate without seeming overwhelming.

This was on Cantu's debut album, released as she was on tour with and opening for Tegan & Sara, which explains why Tegan appears in the background of this track. Though she faded into obscurity, this track has never left my mind since the first time I heard it.

28 April 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 98. kings of leon - "notion"

The first time I heard "Notion," I thought it was something from my dad's 1970s college radio years that I'd missed. It has both the melodic and vocal qualities of a great classic rock song, but still fits in with the rest of whatever the hell Kings of Leon are doing. I love the way piano twinkles subtly in the background.

Lyrically, it's an unsubtle reminder not to judge.

27 April 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 99. Vanessa Carlton - "A Thousand Miles"

It's a real achievement to write a riff that is instantly recognizable. It's an even bigger achievement to have a Top 10 single with a piano song during an era in which they most definitely were not en vogue.

Carlton wrote the core of "A Thousand Miles" when she was 18. A demo of it made it to the head of A&M Records, who called her "stubborn" over her refusal to sharpen what he knew was a hit. She eventually caved and the two worked out a new arrangement, resulting in the track we now all know.

It's a great pop tune because, though emotive, it's also innocent and therefore accessible. That's all the makings of a hit right there.

I also love that both the song and the music video end exactly where they began.

26 April 2016

top 100 of the '00s | 100. Cobra Starship - "Bring It (Snakes On A Plane)"

Movie songs were a big part of the 1980s and 1990s, but they took a sharp downward turn in popularity around the millennial mark. That's why it was such a pleasant surprise to see this pop up in 2006 attached to a movie that already had a ton of campy hype behind it.

And not just a movie song -- a freakin' musical supergroup performing it! Now we're talking: Emo, pop-punk, indie rock, and indie hip hop joining forces to do battle with reptiles and the Billboard Hot 100!

This debut single really drew all four of those sounds together flawlessly, too. After a quick audio clip from the film (which was a brilliant call), it kicks off with the "fuck you dad" snarl of Midtown's Gabe Saporta over a poppy yet distorted guitar riff. The Sounds' Maja Ivarsson begins a call and return with Saporta, leading into The Academy Is' William Beckett picking up the vocals in the chorus with his emo kid wailing. Finally, we get a rap bridge from Gym Class Heroes' Travie McCoy.

Sadly, this single would be the only release with this lineup of the band, with Saporta writing their entire debut album himself and then continuing on for nine more years (which I'd have bet my life against in 2006) with other musicians. At least we'll always have this track that is somehow both a movie song and an ode to movie songs.

25 April 2016

why timbuk 3's "the future's so bright i gotta wear shades" is the ultimate '80s song

Much of my all-time favorite music was made in the 1980s. The pop culture of that era somehow managed to simultaneously celebrate avant-garde, gaudy self-expression and calculated, geometric sleekness. The New Wave movement, for example, gave us tracks with carefully programmed synths and drum machines being wailed over by singers that were expressive but not (necessarily) technically impressive.

In determining what track truly is the Ultimate '80s Song™, I came up with the following criteria: It had to represent the aforementioned discord in a very clear way. It should reference, either lyrically or sonically, the Reaganite excesses of the era. It should also reference, though, the unbridled optimism of the era's youth, either in the face of or because of the aforementioned excesses.

Piecing together this criteria was like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, and once it was complete, the picture was clear: Timbuk 3's "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" is the ultimate '80s song.

At face value, the lyrics are a shimmering ray of hope: "The future's so bright I gotta wear shades!" Awesome dude! "I got a job waitin' on my graduation - 50-thou a year'll buy a lotta beer!" Damn right it will! It captures that magical feeling when you've successfully set up the next big step in your life, and you know it's going to solve a lot of problems for you. You feel like a champion.

Diving even slightly deeper beyond the surface, though, reveals the song's not-so-hidden undercurrent of (what felt like the inevitability of) nuclear war and total annihilation. The singer's "x-ray" vision probably didn't happen on purpose -- and that crazy teacher knew why he needed those dark glasses.

Yet still, even though the bleak message couldn't possibly be more obvious, this song is still played at graduations everywhere. I can't think of a better metaphor for the Reaganite era.

Sonically, it hits on a handful of genres that defined the era. It has the synthpop drum machines, the new wave vocals, and the cowpunk melody and instrumentation, and a wind-instrument solo.

This song is the 1980s in 3 1/2 minutes.