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.