Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Songs of the 2000s

20. Evil
by Interpol
from Antics
2004 / Rock

Interpol always wore their influences on their collective sleeves. For Paul Banks, it was always Ian Curtis, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Bernard Sumner—good ones to have, but obvious ones as well (et tu, Justin Warfield?). What “Evil” lacks in originality, though, it more than makes up for in darkly anthemic gusto. The new character added to the list here would initially seem to be Black Francis, if Banks could even be bothered to howl like a lunatic. But the quiet-loud approach, the bleak/oblique nature of its lyrics, the halting, pointed guitar licks and the taut but rumbling backbeat (Carlos D’s bassline could only be described as a tribute to Kim Deal) clearly found its inspiration there. The lyrics paint a picture of a woman that Banks is obsessed with (weightless, exotic and semi-erotic, whatever that adds up to) even though she’s clearly someone he doesn’t want to keep bringing home with him, let alone to his mom’s place. The chorus is big and nastily boisterous, propelled by a charging beat, piled-on strings, the great line, “It took a lifespan with no cellmate to find the long way back,” and the begging-to-be-shouted-by-all-listeners plead, “Why can’t we look the other way?” It might not always make sense (why does Banks name this girl both Rosemary and Sandy?) but it’s as clamorous and catchy as almost anything released by the band’s heroes. Good company, remember?


19tangledplaid19. Tangled up in Plaid
by Queens of the Stone Age
from Lullabies to Paralyze
2005 / Rock

Around the time of Lullabies to Paralyze’s release, the good time trip of Joshua Homme seemed to transform into a sort of post-fix depression that left Queens of the Stone Age more bruised and paranoid than ever before. Not that they’d never succumbed to the allure of the dark side before, but there weren’t too many tongue-in-cheek long weekend shopping lists like on “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” or jaunty rhythm cracks like on “No One Knows” in their arsenal anymore. With eerie keys bringing us in, the gruesome strut of “Tangled up in Plaid” is groove-heavy, familiar in some ways with the aforementioned “Knows,” but slower, more lumbering, hamstrung and sinister. This shit is like crawling through back alley blues with criminal menace, haunted by bits of spectral falsetto and then chewed to pieces by an unnerving perversion of threat and demand (“A self-inflicted wound, your gift, impeccable aim, can really clear a room, all the bodies piled up in your way”). Normally, a Queens song like this would be about dark sexual desire, but considering the events leading up to Lullabies, it could also refer to the broken relationship between Homme and former bassist Nick Oliveri. Either way you like it, words are just seasoning to gritty rumble, creeping atmosphere and their usual batch of killer riffs that will always ensure that rock n’ roll can never die. The fiery climactic solo interrupts my train of thought whenever it comes roaring in and I submit like a grunting Neanderthal to it every time.

18pastgrotesqueanimal18. The Past Is a Grotesque Animal
by of Montreal
from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
2007 / Alternative

Kevin Barnes is way too diabolical and unhinged to play motorik like the inventors intended—even stretching out past eleven minutes, it’s simply too excitable. Sure, the rhythm is steady, insistent and compulsory, but Barnes might as well be on the Trans-Europe Express in a straightjacket, frothing at the mouth and riling up the other passengers into a revolt that not even Steven Seagal sans chef hat could defuse. He’s had love, been chewed up and spit out, and spews up thoughts of hatred and resentment like a crazed fool screaming on the street corner. “Things could be different but they’re not,” he glowers, and then references Virginia Woolf by shouting, “The mousy girl screams, ‘Violence! Violence!’ She gets hysterical!” Then the spectral ooh-oohs come flying in and the song really takes off by jumping the rails and plummeting towards the frightening future. “Let’s tear this shit apart!” he growls. “Let’s tear the f-cking house apart! Let’s tear our f-cking bodies apart! But let’s have some fun.” He takes part of the blame, of course (“Sometimes I wonder if you’re mythologizing me like I do you”), and even complains about romance’s idealism never realized in practice (“We want our film to be beautiful, not realistic”). Musically, Barnes and crew have never been so driving, unsparing and penetrating—hear the scraping undulation of keys that burn the eardrums during the final minutes—and lyrically, he’s never come up with so many evocative lines before (another favorite: “But even apocalypse is fleeting/There’s no death, no ugly world”) and not just because of quantity at length. Cut him and the audience bleeds.

"The Past Is a Grotesque Animal"

17sidewalkserfergirl17. Sidewalk Serfer Girl
by Super Furry Animals
from Rings Around the World
2001 / Alternative

The Furries’ dalliance with pop music is, to say the least, a bold venture. Rhys Ifans’ lilting warble and the band’s heavenly melodies might seem ill-suited for songs whose pounding, near-industrial metal riffs pummel so mightily and whose arrangements are so dense with sonic accessories that calling them cluttered would be a kindness. But while SFA could pen lush and lovely tunes (check out most of their all-Welsh Mwng), they’re also gifted at making their beleaguered pop entrancing instead of exhausting. Take “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” as the best example, which has a tune that floats mellifluously and pauses over harmonies so rich that even the Beach Boys might get jealous, but also comes stuffed with jarring breakdowns, stuttered vocal splinters, electronic howls, whines, loops, skitters and knives, and those wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am heavy chords. “Sidewalk serfer girl, I’d do anything to catch you falling/Sidewalk serfer girl, I’d do anything to be with you,” makes it sound like a romantic ode, but keep in mind that the girl in question was in a fifteen-year coma, woke up and ordered a pizza, and now spends her nights cruising the scene and ignoring the narrator. The Furries almost never wallow in gloom, but do any of their stories have happy endings? Do any of them end at all? At least Ifans has good sense (“Return the difference, don’t retake me, I’m no pawn”). The musical instincts of the band might stray far from the norm, but damn they can pen a great tune when they try.

"Sidewalk Serfer Girl"

16songfordeaf16. Song for the Deaf
by Queens of the Stone Age
from Songs for the Deaf
2002 / Metal

Let me backtrack for a minute—remember when I said just three entries up that Queens went darker than usual for Lullabies? Perhaps I should clarify: Queens of the Stone Age had never been so downtrodden, grim or hostilely repulsed before then, but they had been deliciously ominous and belligerently demented. One needs look no further than “Song for the Deaf,” which is one of the band’s biggest, heaviest and most thundering acts of demolition.  Instead of merely thrashing mindlessly as most hard rock/metal acts do (though the riffs are “wet your pants and weep” good), they build an unsettling atmosphere. Haunted house effects peel away above the distortion (the squeals sound like a whale screaming through a harpoon), the passages lurch from one devious denizen to another, Nick Oliveri gurgles during a portentously quiet spell, “The blind can go get f-cked, lie beside the ditch. This halo ‘round my neck has torn out every stitch.” Broken, disgruntled and coal-black, it takes away the combative rancor of their brethren in the metal landscape and simply makes it combust, leaving behind only a shower of contrail fire. Or to be more boneheaded about it (as this sort of base pleasure/pain music eases you toward), it’s some of the sickest playing of the era. “Sweet, soft and low,” Joshua Homme mercifully wails, “I will poison you all. Come closer, racing to your tongue.” And amidst halting yelps and bloodcurdling screams, he sings, “Beautiful cancer, infiltrate and forget. I saw you coming, I heard not a thing. A mistake not to listen when I knew where’d you been.” It could have been the most crushingly intense great song of the decade…if it weren’t for the track in the very next slot.

"Song for the Deaf (live)"

15cooker15. Cooker
by Made out of Babies
from The Ruiner
2008 / Metal

The first four-and-a-quarter minutes of “Cooker” are very good, starting with a warped guitar riff and virtually unintelligible, insane asylum vocals from Julie Christmas, and then delivering bone-crushing licks and cannonade drums for uncontrollable headbanging (that act is still vogue, right?). The band stews in pitch and hot embers for the verses (you better believe it when Christmas threatens, “Hands on the table right where I can see them!”) while the guitar bays and shrieks in the back and big lung harmonic howls intensify the environment with the epic, theatrical vision of a Wagnerian opera. And that opera meets its apocalyptic climax after those four-and-a-quarter minutes, and a very good song becomes almost impossibly great, one of the loudest, densest, meanest, scariest, most shattering but fundamentally gorgeous wrecks of terror I have ever witnessed. I don’t know what flattens with more devastation—the impenetrable instrumental blitzkrieg  or Christmas’s chillingly severe voice as she screams, “Run! Run for your life! Run for the beating! The heart! The feeding! The taking!” All around her, the arpeggios and crescendos tear apart the landscape; so heavy, so pressurized, you swear that if you turned your speakers towards each other, you could turn lumps of coals into diamonds in seconds. It’s a huge choir of angels erupting with frothing blood and brimstone…so, uh, beware. Your tolerance/fondness for bloodcurdling screaming will certainly affect how much you admire this song. As for me, I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and its spell over my visceral fascination with macabre aggression detonating like a neutron bomb cannot be equaled anywhere else.

14useit14. Use It
by the New Pornographers
from Twin Cinema
2005 / Pop

The New Pornographers were more than just tribute balladeers to power pop’s progenitors, but their finest moments were usually the catchiest and most ebullient, orgies of melodies and hooks that could be derided for all of their giddy gifts—how slick is too slick? Even more than Mass Romantic’s “Letter from an Occupant,” “Use It” astonishes with its virtuosic understanding of the rights and wrongs of producing a song that could be described as both “epic” and “nugget.” “Use It” feels bigger than life, with hook after hook ricocheting off each other, from sudden rhythm stop-starts to a lively piano jangle during the soaring choruses. Without turning to cloud vapor, the backbeat (including minor key piano jabs) suggests something more akin to the Ramones or garage rock, merciless on the bottom layer with rapidfire pounds and splashes. But no one in their right mind would call this song gritty—everything piled on top is there to tickle, from the Carl Newman/Neko Case harmonies to the chiming jingle bells rocking you with a smile. The lyrics don’t add up to much substantial (as far as I can tell, anyway), but they toss off juicy phrases left and right without a care: “Two chicks in the parking lot crack wise on the price of fame,” “Two sips from the cup of human kindness and I’m shit-faced, just laid to waste,” “You had to send the wrecking crew after me,” and more. If you’re looking for tunes to change the world or your life, look elsewhere; this one just makes me innocuously smile and bounce along every time.

13invalidlitterdept13. Invalid Litter Dept.
by At the Drive-In
from Relationship of Command
2000 / Alternative

The lyrics read on paper as some of the most pretentious scribblings I’ve ever seen that don’t try to instantly equate themselves to some “hidden” poetic truth. What is a “stretcher made of cobblestone curfews”? How do you spin “the last of the pimps”? How exactly is such and such like “an anesthetic penance beneath the hail of contraband”? How it plays in form as something much greater is a tribute to Cedric Bixler’s pragmatic vocal presentation and the rhythm of the words themselves. “A vivid dissection that mocked the strut of vivisection,” “As their shoes gripped the dirt floor in the silhouette of dying,” “They made sure that the obituaries showed pictures of smokestacks”—far more elegant and captivating than what we had come to expect from the post-hardcore “scream-o” style. The song is an unguarded treatise on female Mexican day laborers that are kidnapped, raped and murdered with frightening consistency across the border while the federalis do little to nothing to actually try and capture the marauders responsible. And with the echoing sentiment, “Dancing on the corpses’ ashes…” bubbling up as an evocative verse response, by the time At the Drive-In reach the intense, cathartic chorus, you can’t help but howl along. The final, elongated scream that erupts from Bixler’s throat during the change-up coda is positively chilling. But once you discover the allusions, it’s hard to let any part of this song—the sinisterly simmering stew, dynamic chord progressions, thrilling performance, and, yes, even the words—not make you want to cry out in despairing anguish.

"Invalid Litter Department"

12sevennationarmy12. Seven Nation Army
by the White Stripes
from Elephant
2003 / Rock

With so little great riff rock to air guitar to this decade, those that did it right were fit to be cherished (hell, I even liked the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” even though it was a throwback to a style I typically just laughed at). As shameless as it is that I only deem to include one White Stripes track on this list, it’s even more shameless that I go for their most famous, a huge-scale breakthrough that made their buzz-builder “Fell in Love with a Girl” seem like a mere blip. But that riff is one of the decade’s best, thumping like a descending bass on the floor for an immaculate groove during the verse and exploding into an irresistible face-melter during the wordless choruses (chords so nimble don’t need voices to speak, anyhow). Meanwhile, its floor tom beat is so simple that it should be used as a lesson for beginning drummers, but anything more complex or frilly would have tanked that riff to obscurity. That two people could whip up such ominous, strutting rumble and a thunderous miasma of fury on the same song is worth more than my silly words can describe. Jack White’s words, on the other hand, are practically Southern Gothic, with the “hounds of hell,” working the straw and bleedin’, bleedin’, bleedin’ “right before the Lord.” Really cool music video, too (check it out below).

“Seven Nation Army”

11bob11. B.O.B.
by OutKast
from Stankonia
2000 / Hip Hop

It could be argued that without “B.O.B.,” the aughts would have been a lot duller. Not just for its loss, but because of the loss of its free-for-all welcome mat to everyone looking for a good time that inspired dozens of other boundary-crossing, beat-popping acts ready to pounce as the decade waned on. How grabbing was it? In 2000, I was still dismissive of virtually every form of rap and club-style dance around, but I absolutely loved “B.O.B.” First time heard, less than seven seconds in, when that twinkling intro gets a big “yeah” from Andre 3000 and it takes off at approximately 160 bpm with some of the sickest rhyming even those who’ve memorized entire rap albums had ever heard. The dense and complex production (a “scientific” beat, if you will) can’t even be comprehended by a few passes; all you can pay attention to is the machinegun rhythm that can break enamel. And there must be some irony to the fact that OutKast were rapping about how if you’re going to bring it, go all the way with it (“Don’t pull the thing out unless you plan to bang”), but by the time bombs really were over Baghdad, the military strategists had apparently forgotten the lessons of Desert Storm and stalled…and stalled. Like most game-changers, “B.O.B.” was initially slow to the scene (it didn’t even crack the Billboard 100), and influenced the underground before the major label darlings caught up, but nothing in its wake can match its frenetic pace and energy. I can’t even get tongue-tied by the verbal barrage—I’m winded before I even take a seat in a drop-top, soaking wet.


10modernleper10. The Modern Leper
by Frightened Rabbit
from The Midnight Organ Flight
2008 / Rock

As you’ve probably discovered from the list so far (or, more likely, done so on your own), it’s not that this decade was devoid of great anthemic, arena-friendly rock tunes, it’s that the wrong bands with the wrong skills were the ones finding themselves in those big venues. Frightened Rabbit will likely never attain better than opening act status in the huge-capacity circuit, but the leadoff of their strong sophomore album The Midnight Organ Flight, “The Modern Leper,” ends up falling only a little short of, say, “Rebellion (Lies).” What keeps it in check is that even though the big hooks, shout-along choruses and driving guitar riffs are all there, the mood and arrangement isn’t designed for fist pumps, cigarette lighters or soaring bursts of light and sound. “The Modern Leper” is self-disgusted, mired in revulsion, piteous but not without self-aware acrimony. The narrator is afflicted by a poisoning addiction (never specified), and though he warns his subject to keep away, he’s still crawling, limping, hobbling up alongside to struggle for either co-dependency or company (or both in the same swoop). The subject doesn’t resist, either: “Is that you in front of me?/Coming back for even more of exactly the same/You must be a masochist to love a modern leper/On his last leg.” Ending on a note of delusion complicates this abhorrently fascinating character (“Doesn’t that make us the perfect pair?”), or is the delusion reversed and we find pity for the subject who’s coming back to this so-called leper to try and heal (shedding light on abusive relationships with people, booze, drugs, etc.). “The Modern Leper,” with its tightly strummed guitar, fiddle swipes, gritty distortion and galloping beat, could get a stadium on its feet, but they may turn quite troubled and sheepish in its wake.

9rat9. The Rat
by the Walkmen
from Bows + Arrows
2004 / Rock

The Walkmen tend to be foggy, heavy-lidded and, on their best days, hypnotic; in it of itself, this is not necessarily a bad place to be, though it can be difficult terrain to navigate. This makes “The Rat” one of the deftest maneuvers into excellence as well as one of the most ill-advised blunders a band like this could make. Even positioned relatively early (track 2), “The Rat” fumes and furrows with such contagious rage and excitement that everything else on the album feels a little dull, turgid, even feckless by comparison. Probably should have made it a single-only release, eh, boys? But what Bows + Arrows lacks in overall greatness, it undeniably overwhelms in singular greatness—the very first time I heard this song, I knew it was going to be an all-time classic. There are no illusions in this spinning, scissoring, rocketing soundscape—it’s all velocity and frustration, a dense blast of guitars and organs riding a light speed rhythm into the void, seething with equal parts hostility and bitterness and resolved by uncompromising headrush. Hell, even when it slows down a bit during the middle, you still can’t keep up between gasps. “Can’t you hear me?” screams Hamilton Leithauser. “I’m calling out your name! Can’t you see me? I’m pounding on your door!” I’m not sure which is a more universal feeling: that, or when he morosely admits, “When I used to go out, I’d know everyone I saw. Now I go out alone, if I go out at all.” In a more perfect world, a song like this would epitomize emo in the new millennium instead of [insert tacky My Chemical Romance track].

"The Rat"

8ycontrol8. Y Control
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
from Fever to Tell
2003 / Rock

I was an asshole on the 80s list by ignoring “Billie Jean” and “When Doves Cry” and picking other Thriller and Purple Rain favorites, so hopefully you’re braced well enough now when I pick “Y Control” as the most exceptional Fever to Tell track in favor of the more widely beloved “Maps.” They play out well as good and evil twins, as both feature rich and complex melodies, though one floats headless while the other swaggers with an inflated head. Both find Karen O reining in her pose-snap-tease-yelp method for quieter emotions—on “Maps,” pained vulnerability; on “Y Control,” icy dejection. Breaking love vs. devastated rejection, and so on. It’s not a seething fury that impels O towards a new shattered self, but a sense of frustration and realization. The titular Y is chromosomal, and the control is the wrong man over her senses. She knows he’s bad news, but she can’t help it. She murmurs, “I wish I could buy back the woman you stole,” and you believe every word. She’s more self-deprecating and even cruel when she says, “Well, I’m just a poor little baby because, well, I believed them all,” but you believe that, too. Tougher to believe is how she can reamin so guarded and suspicious (even patently narrow in terms of release) while Nick Zimmer and Brian Chase wreck the world around her—a ringing jangle followed by a gravelly smear of rumbling distortion riding Chase’s taut, mountainous percussion. Who figured that a band without a bassist could craft such a magnificent, burrowing groove? And who expected the Karen O we knew from “Man,” “Rich” and “Pin” could have such a heavy, solemn heart? Okay, we already figured that out from the previous track, “Maps,” but I like this one even better.

7causetime7. Cause = Time
by Broken Social Scene
from You Forgot It in People
2002 / Alternative

It’s a marvel that the large and revolving lineup of Broken Social Scene could sound so dense and focused on streamlined complexity while also playing as tight and well-oiled as this. “Cause = Time” is stuffed with their best assets: busy, crashing drumwork, feathery and laidback vocalization, trembling guitar lines with the thrust of power riffs, and invigoratingly intricate hooks to keep you nodding along involuntarily even on the grumpiest of days. The complications are what set it apart—wait a minute, since when is motorik supposed to swing, glide and roll like this? I can here the Krautrock influence plain as a hand in my face, but I can also picture this melody being used as the soundtrack to a surfing montage. Such carefree spectacle doesn’t translate to the lyrics, though (as sung by Kevin Drew as if he wants to become either Thurston Moore or J Mascis)—the message is vague, but references to menstruation, fornication crimes, “a mouth that needs religion” and “a church that should believe” leaves little doubt that it’s a troubling world that this pack is cruising through. The way Drew practically sighs with cotton in his mouth, “And they all want to love the cause, ‘cause they all need to be the cause, they all want to fuck the cause,” seems to be the most insouciant animosity around, but the heroes he’s mimicking couldn’t be bothered to plaster their loud rock with louder screams—so modest it’s practically moribund. With those spindly, danceable riffs, their expertise with rattling percussion and a pervasive sense of breezy melody, “Cause = Time” definitely ranks as one of the catchiest indie rockers of the decade, but with its directive against priests molesting children (my view, anyhow), it might be one of the darkest, too.

“Cause = Time”

6meandbean6. Me and the Bean
by Spoon
from Girls Can Tell
2001 / Pop

With its uncomplicated declaration that, “She is beautiful to me,” and the rich, pop-tastic piano melody hook, “Me and the Bean” could have rested comfortably in the soul-shag cache of any number of 70s AM radio favorites from Billy Joel and Elton John to Neil Diamond and Todd Rundgren. But since this is Spoon, they bring their trademarks to this show—Britt Daniel’s dry ice tone, a strong sense of stark dynamic even when it gets sweetly cluttered during the “whoa-oh-ohhhs,” spare guitar licks dominated by dusty beats, and so on. Where others might tremble between the taut chords and ringing piano sighs, Spoon gives it an almost lazy sense of muscle in the variant (or, at the very least, sinew), but the sentiment is warm and winsome despite its slenderly melancholy nature. As the narrator sings to his daughter, “Do you remember when you were small how everybody would seem so tall?” there’s a sense of quaint sweetness, but he chases that with, “I am your shadow in the dark. I have your blood inside my heart” (leading to the closest that Daniel ever comes to aching expression, and still “cool as the other side of the pillow”). Meanwhile, “There’s a girl in my yard reading to me Tarot cards,” is twee enough to come from Rose Melberg, but, “I’ll bring you cover when you’re cold, you’ll bring me youth when I grow old,” has a sort of universal, even timeless, understanding. Credit also goes to the twitchy jabs during the bridge echoing of post-Pixies alt-rock, which does wonders for keeping the key crescendos from spoiling under the light. A winner on the small scale, to be sure, but I confess it’s difficult to explain why I keep coming back again and again.

"Me and the Bean (live)"

5faraway5. Far Away
by Sleater-Kinney
from One Beat
2002 / Punk

Try to go back in time eight years. In the days, weeks and months after 9/11, George W. Bush had the highest approval rating of any US President since the poll was first taken. He was practically beloved by the vast majority; after major national crises, citizens tend to come together (had the election been held in the immediate aftermath of the quick American victory in Desert Storm, Bush, Sr. would have cruised to a second term). Sleater-Kinney was among the first music artists/groups to say, “Not so fast.” Corin Tucker shouts during the second verse, “And the president hides while working men rush in to give their lives.” It was unpopular at the time to criticize the president (the entire album was conceived by the band to represent the “voice in the silence”), but these three couldn’t care less. Besides, “Far Away” isn’t some lengthy diatribe against the policies and reactions of the Bush White House—it’s a summation of the impotent terror and helpless reasoning many felt as the World Trade Center was collapsing. “Turn on the TV, watch the world explode in flames and don’t leave the house,” “The sky overhead is silent, waiting…and the heart is hit in a city far away but it feels so close,” “Don’t breathe the air today, don’t speak of why you’re afraid,” “I look to the sky and ask it not to rain on my family tonight.” These post-punkers were best known for their fiery musical performance (excellent here, as usual) and their sharp shout-along catchphrases. “Far Away”’s is darker than most but no less worthy of humanity’s wail: “Why can’t I get along with you?!”

“Far Away (live)”

4optimistic4. Optimistic
by Radiohead
from Kid A
2000 / Alternative

God damn, I live in the past. It must be so because my favorite track from Kid A is the one that finds them lingering most in the moody guitar rock of their 90s material. It’s not that the first listen of the album frustrated and perplexed me until I found something to moor my feverish expectations to (I was hooked by leadoff “Everything in Its Right Place”); there are even people out there who dislike this song just for its mirroring qualities and its out-of-place sandwiching in Kid A’s digi-frost hoagie. But Jonny Greenwood’s glancing, vacillating riff isn’t thoroughly removed from the more insistent keyboard lines scattered around the rest of the disc, and the arcing falsettos in the background give even the tougher rock texture a sense of dark, ghostly obsession. Despite its inherent catchiness, the track’s title is misleading—Thom Yorke sings, “Flies are buzzing around my head, vultures circling the dead, picking up every last crumb. The big fish eat the little ones…not my problem—give me some.” And instead of inspiring, the chorus seems remorselessly indifferent in its truth: “If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.” Its menacing tone and unflattering helplessness is nothing new or old with this crew, which is the closest suggestion to help ease the transitions between each of their albums. Even if it is looking over its shoulder, there’s a coy, secretive look in those eyes that melts into a confident sneer—as in, “Look what I’m gonna do with your ‘formula’ now.” Besides, in relation both to the Computer-era echo and the unflattering murmur of the lyrics, neither is even remotely apathetic, which is why their spectral compositions are loved even more than the ambient experiments of its forefathers—there’s passion in this song, glowing and beating and bursting with ethereal life.


3soldieringlife3. The Soldiering Life
by the Decemberists
from Her Majesty the Decemberists
2003 / Pop

There’s certainly an erudite mannerism to Colin Meloy’s voice (singing literate drama club whimsy kinda does that), but he has such a calm, plaintive way of addressing even the most elusive and ostentatious of narratives that you never think he’s just in it for the laugh. This is especially helpful when he describes a character as being “a brickbat, a Bowery tough, so rough—they culled you from a cartoon pulled out of your pantaloons,” particularly since this fellow is the subject of the narrator’s homoerotic fantasies. Cute little pet names like, “My bombazine doll,” and double entendres like, “Our rifles blaze away, we blaze away, ohh-oh,” might make this song wander dangerously close towards territories of either camp or comedy if not so smartly executed (sniggering jokes of Brokeback Trench never arise). There’s even genuine romanticism in lines such as, “We laid upon the mattress and tumbled to sleep, our eyes align, swaddled in our civies, cradled in our dungarees.” And really, at the song’s heart, it’s merely suggesting a correlating union between a brothers-in-arms mentality (loyalty, camaraderie, devotion, etc.) and a committed amorous relationship—these men would lay down their lives for fellow soldiers perhaps even faster than to defend their significant others. The choruses so rapturously triumphant, the verses so spare and simple, it has all of the Decemberists’ finest affectations, including post-grad words like the aforementioned “bombazine” that sent me scrambling for a dictionary, and with a melody to melt in your ears. Homophobes need not apply (not just to this song, but civilized society in general), but where else are you going to find a song fit to be spun on both Veterans and Valentine’s?

“The Soldiering Life”

2wolflikeme2. Wolf Like Me
by TV on the Radio
from Return to Cookie Mountain
2006 / Alternative

The radio is clogged with “Baby, I want you” pop songs and “Shake yo’ ass” rap, but there’s nothing quite like sinister menace being injected into outsized sexuality (think Iggy wanting to be your dog or Trent wanting to f-ck you like an animal). It’s not an ugly lust that Tunde Adebimpe is describing, but it is a primal one, as if Zeppelin were recast as a bunch of New Yorkers who loved punk but were too cool for three-chord antagonism. The hype surrounding this song bubbled way beyond the blogosphere; it seems ridiculous now, but the first time I heard “Wolf Like Me,” I didn’t understand the frothing. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it—but the buildup suggesting it was the hottest track in years? Not this strange, howl-obsessed, reverb-thorned beast. Boy, was I obtuse. Howl-obsessed was right, though—it was a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, but just as important is the fairy tale variant (“Now that we got gone for good/Writhing under your riding hood/Tell your grandma and your mama, too”) and the kind that showed up in Warner Bros. 1940s animated shorts, whistingly boisterously at ink-and-paint pinups. “Say, say, my playmate,” begins Tunde Adebimpe, “Won’t you lay your hands on me?” And later, “When the moon is round and full, gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your mongrel mind!” Riding that wicked bassline, jarring you with its buzzing guitar riff, seething with animal sexuality, it’s the condensed essence of rock n’ roll, extra lascivious without being braindead or crudely scatalogical about it, and alight with the fiery unpredictability and aggressive stamina of all great alt-rockers. One of the decade’s most smoldering couplets: “My mind has changed my body’s frame, but God I like it/My heart’s aflame, my body’s strained, but God I like it.”

1neighborhoodpowerout1. Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
by the Arcade Fire
from Funeral
2004 / Rock

In the rough narrative of this neighborhood, a massive snowstorm has engulfed Canada in a woolly blanket of grey. It was based on an actual storm in ’98 that left much of the country in darkness for a week or longer, but Win Butler and Régine Chassagne were using this Roland Emmerich wet dream as metaphor for their own helpless melancholy as each lost a grandparent within months of each other (and bassist/keyboardist Richard Parry lost his aunt). Rather than wilt into navel-gazing depression, though, the Arcade Fire treated these tragedies as an opportunity to explode with adolescent emotion—rage, desperation, wallowing pity, fear, anxiety, etc.—and crafted indie rock songs never better suited for hockey stadiums the world over. The rhythm barrels like a train (even the xylophones and glockenspiels clank and clatter with a twinkling chugga-chug), pulling back with sweeping strings as it passes scenic vistas for Butler to tear open his heart (“And the power’s out in the heart of man/Take it from your heart, put it in your hand”), practically stalls as the violins begin to scramble and spin, before finally revving back up as it howls through icy, luminous tunnels (“Just light a candle for the kids/Jesus Christ, don’t keep it hid!”). As Funeral’s audacious centerpiece, it reveals Butler as a man of immense passion, wanting to pick fights with strangers one minute and then honor the dead children the next, while the ensemble sweeps beside him with breathless fluidity and brazen muscle. If the instrumental passage right after Butler yells, “You ain’t fooling nobody with the lights out!” doesn’t ignite a flame in your belly big and hot enough to turn that snowstorm into a Canada-shaped puddle, you might be too jaded to make pop music an obsession the way I do.

Top 100 Songs of the 60s
Top 100 Albums of the 60s
Top 100 Songs of the 70s
Top 100 Albums of the 70s
Top 100 Songs of the 80s
Top 100 Albums of the 80s
Top 100 Songs of the 90s
Top 100 Albums of the 90s

Matt Medlock


New Reviews