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.