Okay, sockhoppers! We're gonna turn it up REAL LOUD and get those feet TAPPING for a good long while to get that blood flowing! But then we're gonna turn it way, way down to get those wrists ready for whatever you want to open with them with. So let's all have a good clean night, alright kids? Yeah!
I wish it to be known that the goal of this exercise was to compile my favorite songs of the decade -- as opposed to the best songs of the decade. I'm not interested in putting forth a critical examination of music with heavy discussions about genre or cultural context. The lists on this site are simply the tracks I loved most and, in most cases, why I loved them so much.
[Note: all the mp3 links go to the version of the song I'm talking about, regardless of what Amazon's images and text might suggest]
Perhaps unwisely, I played this song in that record store I mentioned earlier. Although "Swastika Eyes" is a completely unsubtle, perhaps even juvenile rage against The Man and corruption in government and oppression and all that nasty stuff, it is probably hard to recognize that if you're just browsing a record store and hearing the "SWASTIKA EYEZZZZZ" refrain again and again. A customer gave me a weird look and I said, "Um, it's meant to be ironic."
I describe Daft Punk's Human After All as an abortion of a record not to be hyperbolic or grotesque, but because I think the word is apt. Human After All was recorded in something like three weeks and is plainly unfinished as demonstrated by the songs' later development on Alive 2007, the best music release of the entire decade. But I like the title track a lot. I think it says very beautifully what Daft Punk were trying to say lyrically and musically on that record, and the "Human After All" refrain has a strange way of sounding both affirming and tragic.
My friend Nick Locking has a great theory that 1998 was a critical point at which general music quality took a massive downswing. The theory allows for great music to have been created after 1998, but in much lesser quantities. I tend to agree with him, but I think Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the exception that proves the rule. "Date With The Night" makes an excellent argument for this, even though I honestly have no idea what Karen O is singing.
Song: Destroy Everything You Touch
Release: Witching Hour
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
I love Ladytron's Witching Hour record. It's one of my favorite albums ever, but I find it hard to listen to many of its tracks on their own. It's that true of an album in the classic sense, and if I make a list of my favorite albums of the decade Witching Hour has a good chance at ranking in the top five. But the band certainly made "Destroy Everything You Touch" to stand out. Gorgeous track with a beautiful video, too.
This song was a revelation for me. At the time I felt that if I had any musical abilities and could produce a song that sounded like anything I wanted, it would have sounded like "Agenda Suicide". Dark, electronic, rocking, danceable. There's a great music video for the song produced by MK12, featuring the talents of comic book writer Matt Fraction.
Song: Into U
Artist: Richard X featuring Jarvis Cocker
Release: Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
More Richard X mashup magixxx, combining this tender Jarvis Cocker vocal with Mazzy Star's classic "Fade Into You". I suppose "Into U" has a lot in common with the sample-heavy Puff Daddy songs I hated so much in the 1990s. Oh well. It's brilliant.
I was a little late to the Röyksopp train but I got on board when my friend Sara took me to see them live at the Avalon in Hollywood (with Annie opening!). My estimation of an electronic band is paradoxically tied to how they present themselves in a live setting, and Röyksopp did not disappoint. Nearly every song they played became my favorite song ever for a few minutes in 2006, especially "What Else Is There?" While The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson wasn't there to perform the song live, I was sold on the track by the beautiful woman in the red and black dress. I know I'm not alone in ranking this dreamy, dark monster of a song as a favorite of the decade.
"Don't You Want Me?" for the low-fi indie rock generation. Linked this one to everybody upon first listen. A perfect little song. Love the bit where the strings and horns come in, one of my favorite musical moments of the last ten years.
Like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Goldfrapp are another group whose output has been confined to this century and is uniformly spectacular. The first of many Goldfrapp tracks on this list, this song is called "A&E," which stands for "Accident and Emergency" and is not a reference to the American cable TV network best known for biographies of Nazis, reality shows about racist evangelical bounty hunters, and interminable reruns of Agatha Christie's Poirot.
"A&E" is totally different from every other Goldfrapp single in that elusive way whereby an artist changes their whole sound and aesthetic while remaining totally awesome. Alison Goldfrapp's lyrics rarely tell a clear cut story -- she has a way of throwing out certain words and phrases that resonate in your mind and take on added meaning -- but "A&E" is a pretty explicit tale of someone who's found themselves pilled up and in an emergency room asking why the object of her affection is nowhere to be found while we, the listeners, ask ourselves whether she meant to wake up at all.
I love every pluck of the strings, every beat of the drums, every cheesy riff and stupid lyric and bombastic guitar chorus and every other goddamn sound in this PIECE OF SHIT SONG GOD AAAARRRRGGGH!!111
Like most people I know, I didn't care for Show Your Bones at first. But like a lot of the best albums, Show Your Bones sneaks up on you like some dancefloor predator you keep at arm's length for hours until you're suddenly dry-humping up against a wall. "Warrior" is my favorite track on the record. It starts minimally: just fuzz, strumming, and a bit of percussion, but the band gives you enough of the riff and the melody to let you know that the song is catchy and could rock if they really wanted it to. Karen O's lyrics ride that line between meaning something and meaning anything, which is a lyrical quality I like quite a lot. I'm also kind of a sucker for songs that reference roads and travel, a subject we'll touch on more in future editions of this list. By the end, "Warrior" picks up and gives you one good chorus' worth of the YYY fire everyone waited the whole album to hear.
Wow. It's been nearly ten years since "Emerge" made electronic music cool again. Still looks good. Feels good, too. But "Sweetness" is better. Just listen to that throbbing bass line in the preview clip above. The first minute and twenty seconds of this song can change my mood completely.
That this song has remained one of my favorites for several years now is a success story for targeted marketing. Amazon knew from my previous purchases that I might like this record from the Sneaker Pimps guy and sent me a very persuasive press release for his new solo project IAMX. Something about the presentation sold me and I bought the CD and discovered "Missile", a fantastic, dark, S&M sort of ballad that comes close to answering the question, "What if Thom Yorke was an androgynous goth boy?" This one ended up on my first Insomnia mix.
We've started to get into a type of song that was released in 2000-2002 that happened to coincide thematically (sometimes lyrically, sometimes purely sonically, sometimes both) with a very, very bad mood I was in at the time. It was for most of a year within this period that I cut off all contact with the people I knew, traversed the continental U.S. in my car, introduced myself with a fake name, and listened to a lot of Radiohead.
Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is more famous now for being an insufferable weirdo than for his enormous contribution to alternative music, a contribution that ended with this song. Genuinely beautiful, soaring and earnest, “Stand Inside Your Love” is truly the last Smashing Pumpkins song, and maybe even a good closing track for the 1990s itself.
I'm not trying to be lazy but once again: perfect. A sad, beautiful song about memories, the end of things, and the desolation of the present. "Slip Away" is also the only classic Bowie track to have been created in this decade. I suppose it's petulant to ask for more after such a breathtaking catalogue -- and especially after being so cruelly overlooked in the 1990s, where he did much of his best work -- but "Slip Away" is just so good, when I listen to it I ache for more.
Song: Beautiful Burnout
Release: Oblivion With Bells
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)
Dark and long with the vocoder turned up to 11 and a brilliant live percussion breakdown in the middle, "Beautiful Burnout" finally reestablished the sound of Underworld following the resignation of one of its crucial members. When Darren Emerson left in 2000, he provided founding members Rick Smith and Karl Hyde an opportunity to fully indulge their more esoteric leanings, leaving behind a 1990s legacy of banging beats and pulsating rhythms and embracing a new style that is incredibly difficult to categorize. Welcome to "Beautiful Burnout," in which my favorite band define an entirely new kind of electronic anthem.
Release: Kid A
I don't have anything new to add to the several books worth of praise for this instant classic, but you might be interested to know that I didn't always agree with that characterization. When this came out I was still coasting on some momentum from my pretentious teenage years, so I obnoxiously dismissed "Idioteque" as a ripoff of a lot of underground electronic music I'd been listening to years earlier, specifically Aphex Twin and Autechre. I was also at the zenith of my Underworld evangelism as they'd just released their incredible live album and DVD (which in fairness probably was the most innovative concert/music DVD ever released up to that point). Anyway, one of my roommates brought home a magazine that featured Radiohead on the cover with the headline, "Radiohead: the greatest band in the world?" In response, I produced another magazine from the same month that featured Underworld on the cover along with the same headline. It was unpleasant.
Obviously, I came to appreciate Kid A for what it was (a practically flawless album) and give "Idioteque" the respect it deserved (a classic song).
As you may have noticed, many of the songs on this list betray my fondness for the slow build. Perhaps no track embodies that structure better than "Slipping Away". Ostensibly a remix of "Into the Void", a funky, almost Prince-esque single from 1999's The Fragile, "Slipping Away" features everything I love about not just Nine Inch Nails but a lot of electro-rock music in general: big heavy beats; cold electronic blips and bleeps; layers upon layers of sounds from guitars to cellos; meticulously produced noise, as though noise was an instrument you could pick up and play; all grooving harder and harder until there's a big explosion at the end.
Just realized I've got two songs on this list with nearly identical names: NIN's "Slipping Away" and David Bowie's "Slip Away". Do you think it's a coincidence?
Some other people have been participating in this challenge so check out their lists and commentaries:
If you're playing along and want to be linked here, just post a comment with a link to your list and I'll add it here.