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Saturday
Dec192009

This used to be the future, part IV (Tracks 40 - 21)

Most of the music in this section represents one of the things I really wanted to get into this decade: DJ'ing, specifically mixing and/or transitioning two or more songs into each other (as opposed to just playing music for people to dance to, one song at a time). I've always been fascinated with those results and that tendency was nurtured by my obsession with Underworld and later Daft Punk, who routinely combine elements of their songs when playing live.

I was really serious about it for a while. I practiced for hours days months about a year on digital DJ software (turntables and CD decks were financially prohibitive), playing with all sorts of musical styles and trying to emulate the brilliant transitions and overall feel of a great mix CD or live performance. Unfortunately, I did all this without really going out much and I was dismayed to discover that very few paid club DJs did all that much on the technical end. Don't get me wrong, there are several DJs whom I admire and they don't do anything all that complicated -- it's about the ear more than anything else -- but some people do fuck all, iPods or iTunes set to shuffle and auto-crossfade.

I did manage to get a few gigs at some cool venues -- most notably the Hollywood Knitting Factory -- but only as a filler between bands. I'm hopeful that the new decade will see me spinning in a proper dance club. But lacking the courage to truly go for it, I continued to record live DJ mixes in my bedroom. The first was quite generic and included a lot of indie rock, electroclash and some '80s hits, but the second and third became more aggressive and electronic. I finally developed a "style" that I felt was representative of me and my tastes (heard in pure form in the MTHRFCKRZ Mix). That sound was informed heavily by artists like LCD Soundsystem, Soulwax and Daft Punk, who I think best embody this decade's ultimate fusion of low-fi indie rock noise and attitude with the coolness and euphoria of programmed machine music.

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]

 

40.
Song: Losing My Edge
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Release: Losing My Edge (single)
Year: 2002

I love everything about this track, a song about DJ'ing and the debut single from one of my favorite artists of the decade. Besides being a very cool piece of electro-funk, "Losing My Edge" is a humorous summation of the phenomenon of the serious alternative music fan and DJ. Frontman James Murphy admits he can feel younger and hipper people beginning to eclipse his once unquestioned (in his mind, anyway) authority in the field of coolness, and looks back on his life of achievement: "I was there. I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it at CBGB's. Everybody thought it was crazy. You all know."

Interspersed are bits of mockery (almost all of it is probably self-referrential) directed at the struggle of such people to be as cool and/or authentic as possible: "I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and throwing your computer out the window because you wanna make something real. You wanna make a Yaz record."

I admit, "Losing My Edge" is kind of a bitter pill to swallow for someone who'd take the time to make a list like this.

 

39.
Song: Y Control (The Faint Remix)
Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Release: Y Control Remixes (digital single)
Year: 2004
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

"Y Control" is the first Yeah Yeah Yeahs song I listened to after reading about the band for several months. (It's sad that in this decade of unbelievably bad radio, we tended to discover new music mainly by reading and not listening) I dug the song but it when I heard the remix by The Faint, I was hooked on the band. This is one of those remixes that doesn't reinvent a song but actually perfects it. The Faint knew "Y Control" could do a little more damage on the dance floor with just a few tweaks, so that's all they did: give it a beat and let those guitars and vocals do their amazing things. I used this in every DJ mix I made, for a while.

 

38.
Song: In My Arms
Artist: Mylo
Release: Destroy Rock & Roll
Year: 2004

Pretty much everything from this point on is a song that, upon first listen, I knew would become one of my favorites. I have probably listened to "In My Arms" four or five times a week since 2004, and I'm still not sick of it. Possibly the closest to a true mashup on this list, "In My Arms" -- which integrates Kim Carnes' version of "Bette Davis Eyes" and "Waiting For A Star To Fall" by Boy Meets Girl -- demonstrates beautifully how these sorts of productions can exceed the sum of their parts. Mylo adds a lot of his own work to the track, sewing the 1980s elements together. It's that work that I think sets "In My Arms" apart from the typical mashup - like that popular Green Day/Oasis thing -- as those are fairly straightforward cut-and-paste jobs.

Incidentally, Mylo's Destroy Rock & Roll might be the album I listened to most in this decade. I wasn't crazy about it at first but I liked it enough to use some of the songs as background music for parties or mood music for lazy Sunday afternoons or for dance mixes, etc. Before I knew it, I had nearly every Destroy Rock & Roll track on some playlist or another and a couple Mylo songs in a couple of my DJ mixes, including the MTHRFCKRZ Mix.

 

37.
Song: I'm Not Driving Anymore
Artist: Rob Dougan
Release: Furious Angeles
Year: 2002

It was because of Rob Dougan's excellent "Clubbed To Death" on the first Matrix soundtrack (he also did great work on the later films) that I wanted to learn more about his music. Furious Angels, Dougan's one and only album, is one of the best pieces of music I've ever heard. It's a dark and inspired union of classical music styles with breakbeats and other electronics set against Dougan's gravely, Tom Waits-esque voice. I've never heard anything else like it, I've only met one other person who was familiar with it, and that Dougan has apparently decided to retire from music after this one record has only made it more sentimental for me.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the bottom half of this list is going to get into some very personal areas of my life, specifically a period wherein I drove aimlessly around the U.S. in my car for the better part of a year, listening to a lot of music from the 2000-2002 era. It is sufficient to say I was not feeling very well. Rob Dougan's "I'm Not Driving Anymore" is a song that very much reflects that time.

 

36.
Song: Be Mine! (Acoustic version)
Artist: Robyn
Release: The Cherrytree Sessions
Year: 2008

I know it's a little surprising that I'd include only one song by one of the bigger electropop artists of the decade, and an acoustic version at that, but the truth is I was just not very impressed with Robyn's record, Robyn. The tunes were decent and her singing voice is the most charmingly idiosyncratic I've heard since Björk, but I think that album's production left something to be desired. This acoustic version of "Be Mine!" does much more to demonstrate the song's quality and heartache.

 

35.
Song: E Talking
Artist: Soulwax
Release: Any Minute Now
Year: 2004

This is the real shit, the first Soulwax track I ever heard. This song made me want to be a DJ more than anything else I'd ever listened to. Also, check out the hilarious music video.

 

34.
Song: Miserable Girl (Nite Version) 
Artist: Soulwax
Release: Nite Versions
Year: 2007

Featuring remixed tracks from their Any Minute Now album, Soulwax's Nite Versions is one of the best dance records you can find. Put this on in a club and just let it run in a loop all night and nobody would mind -- it's that good. Soulwax's production style is amazing, a totally seamless yet simultaneously filthy mix of live performance and electronics, and it made my year that they played some of these remixes as well as versions of other artists' songs in their live show. Check out this video of Soulwax performing their remixes of Daft Punk's "Robot Rock" and Justice's "Phantom Pt. II" to see what I mean.

"Miserable Girl" is one of my favorites from Nite Versions and was the sonic inspiration for my MTHRFCKRZ Mix. I heard this song and its maddening buildup from 1:20 to 2:20 and decided I had to build an entire mix around it.

 

33.
Song: NY Excuse (Kawazaki Dub) / NY Lipps
Artist: Soulwax
Release: NY Excuse (Single)
Year: 2005

I've no choice but to steal the following description from Megan Harris, who also ranked this track among her favorites, because it is so incredibly true: Soulwax's "NY Lipps" is another dance floor annihilator. 

(It's not the second "NY Lipps"-related idea I've pinched from Ms. Harris, as it was her suggestion to combine the track with Simian Mobile Disco's "It's The Beat" that made that portion of my MTHRFCKRZ Mix so cool.)

"NY Excuse" was written by Soulwax in collaboration with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Nancy Whang. "NY Lipps" integrates Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown", turning that silly bass line into something that made people FREAK OUT in clubs. It really never fails. With that combination of contemporary talent and the post-modern inclusion of "Funkytown",  "NY Lipps" is the intellectual peak of this whole electro dance-punk movement, as far as I'm concerned. Please forgive me for that sentence.

 

32.
Song: Photographic (Rex The Dog Dubb Mix)
Artist: Depeche Mode
Release: Remixes 81-04
Year: 2004

It's important to understand that this is not a Depeche Mode song -- it is a Rex the Dog song, a song so fucking good that I sort of stood up and said, "WHAT!?" 

This remix of Depeche Mode's ancient track "Photographic" (originally written by Erasure's Vince Clarke) is everything that we think of as amazing about vintage synthesizers and the high drama of 1980s dance music all turned up to… 12.

I think by the time you get to 1:15, you will agree. 

 

31.
Song: Ride A White Horse (Single Version)
Artist: Goldfrapp
Release: Ride A White Horse (Single)
Year: 2006

As I said earlier, Alison Goldfrapp has a lyrical style that I find kind of impenetrable in terms of meaning, explicit or otherwise, which is something I really like. In the case of "Ride A White Horse", she sings out these evocative phrases that make me think of one thing or another, but what I love even more is the way her voice -- the instrument of her voice -- works with the music. She heaves and sighs and soars right along with the glittering disco backing track in a way that many in this decade have imitated but never come close to achieving. 

The single version of "Ride A White Horse" is distinguishable by its shorter running time and a number of additional synth elements and sound effects, plus a tighter, poppier outro. 

 

30.
Song: 8 Ball
Artist: Underworld
Release: The Beach (Soundtrack)
Year: 2000
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

Composed especially for Danny Boyle's film based on the excellent Alex Garland novel (one of my very favorite books), Underworld's "8 Ball" is the perfect sonic recreation of walking along a beach in a beautiful, exotic place like Thailand  (where I had the privilege of visiting when I was younger) and witnessing some seemingly innocuous event or bit of scenery that just makes you really, really happy. Something about this song -- especially the portion that begins at 4:25 -- makes me feel extraordinary. I've been listening to it on a regular basis for nearly ten years.

 

29.
Song: My Girl (Demo For Heaven)
Artist: Pet Shop Boys
Release: Stream at petshopboys.co.uk
Year: 2008
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

I was unfamiliar with Madness and their hit "My Girl" before I heard this cover version, which very quickly became one of my favorite PSB songs. A more polished version is available for sale now on the new Christmas EP, but this demo version has a sweet sadness to it that I keep coming back to. It's a very pretty little tune that I was quick to link to a number of people upon first listen.

 

28.
Song: Intervention
Artist: Arcade Fire
Release: Neon Bible
Year: 2007

I don't understand any of the criticisms of this track. It has a massive fucking death organ in it, the singer screams on and on about DEATH DEATH WAR WAR, and it's catchy as fuck.

DEATH!! DEATH!! DEATH!!

ORGAN!! ORGAN!! ORGAN!!

 

27.
Song: It Can't Come Quickly Enough
Artist: Scissor Sisters
Release: Scissor Sisters
Year: 2004

The first words of this song are "Sailing through the tunnels / In the morning by yourself". As you've gathered by now, driving allusions like those are ripe Khouri bait. "It Can't Come Quickly Enough" also comes with themes of regret, images of skyscrapers and a beautiful backing track full of the somber synthpads and cold, fake drums that have characterized a lot of the tracks on this list. 

This one ended up on my first Insomnia Mix.

 

26.
Song: Waiting For The Sirens' Call
Artist: New Order
Release: Waiting For The Sirens' Call
Year: 2005

This title track from New Order's final album is easily the standout and just might be one of the band's all-time best. But we have to talk about the lyrics. All longtime New Order fans have learned to tune out many (maybe even the majority) of singer/multi-instrumentalist Bernand Sumner's dubious lyrics -- and there are some serious clunkers here -- but like Goldfrapp and Underworld and loads of other brilliant acts, the beauty of New Order and of Sumner's voice is how the music and vocals work together. It doesn't even matter what he's saying in this lovely song, you get that it's earnest. 

But I will give Sumner this, he got the chorus and ending right.

 

25.
Song: Mr. Brightside (Jacque Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
Artist: The Killers
Release: Mr. Brightside (UK single, US 12" vinyl)
Year: 2005

I know I'm going to swallow an ocean of dicks for this one but I stand by my choice. It's wrong to call it a remix -- what Stuart Price (A.K.A. Jacque Lu Cont, who we heard earlier with Madonna's "Hung Up" and the remix of Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?") has done here is completely re-write the song, keeping only the vocal track, and create a truly great 1980s synthpop epic that better suits the variously stupid and nauseating lyrics than did the original's faux indie rock/new wave sound.  I'm not rating this anything close to New Order's "Perfect Kiss" masterpiece but there is a "Perfect Kiss" quality to Price's remix beyond the added Peter Hook-style bass riffs. (New Order probably agreed, later hiring Price to work on their final album)  It's one of my biggest musical disappointments of the decade that this track wasn't offered to another artist, but it works.

 

24.
Song: Galvanize
Artist: The Chemical Brothers featuring Q-Tip
Release: Push The Button
Year: 2005

As Megan Harris says in her write-up of the track, we wore this shit out. There are very few songs that make me as genuinely excited as "Galvanize", especially the section that begins at 2:25. Sam Humphries and I just about lost our minds in a hyphocity vortex when New Order bassist Peter Hook played "Galvanize" in his DJ set at Hollywood's Club Bang a few years ago. When we realized he was spinning the full album version and not the radio edit, Sam I started chanting "ALBUM VERSION!" along with the beat. Some chick looked at us like we were the lowest order of dance floor scum but we didn't care, we were going dumb and psychically short-riding the whip. The hyphocity levels of "Galvanize" are simply incalculable by any present-day hyphy/crunk mathematics or technology, and you can pull my dick out of your mom's ass and blow me if you don't think so. #justtalkingaboutgalvanize

 

23.
Song: Don't Cry Out
Artist: Shiny Toy Guns
Release: We Are Pilots (Version 1)
Year: 2005
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

This song by Shiny Toy Guns is something I had an instant connection with despite not really understanding what it's meant to be about. Lyrical content aside, I love every sound in this original version "Don't Cry Out".

The band pretty much ruined this on their major label debut, (as they did "Le Disko", another song on this list), but I'm grateful in a way. See, I was never really part of a music scene before I moved to L.A. mostly because synthpop and electronic music just weren't very mainstream for many years. I was thrilled to discover a thriving electro scene in Hollywood, where I could see synth bands play live. I loved Shiny Toy Guns because they were unashamedly a synthpop band: cheesy lyrics, soaring choruses, a bit of a goth and futurepop look, '80s throwback sound, good dance music. I was thrilled to have my own local band at last. I'd go to see them in clubs and be an original fan and feel all cool and special (see LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge").

Then they got signed and rerecorded all the music with too many guitars and lots of obnoxious overproduction and threw out the singer I liked* and became something else. So my local band got big and "sold out" and left me feeling bitter an alienated. I was finally a true music fan.

 *the new Shiny Toy Guns singer is a lovely and truly talented young woman called Sisley Treasure, who sang in a local electro-cabaret duo called boygirL that I also really loved. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few times and even buying her a drink, but I was brutally c-blocked. A story for another day. Anyway, Treasure was a cast member on Search for the Next Pussycat Doll or something, a contest which she thankfully lost because she is a really great singer. Shiny Toy Guns aren't my cup of tea at the moment but I certainly wish her and the band all the best.

 

22.
Song: Luetin
Artist: Underworld
Release: A Hundred Days Off
Year: 2002
This one's on me (right-click/CTRL-click to download)

This track, the last of its kind from Underworld before they pursued a new direction along the lines of "Beautiful Burnout" (#43 on this list), was released just as I was, as it turns out, bringing my seemingly indefinite American road trip to an apparently indefinite hiatus. I never considered before that "Luetin" could have had anything to do with that drastic change in the course of my life, but as we near the end of this list, synchronicity does have a larger role to play in the ranking.

"Luetin" itself is about as classic an Underworld song as you can find and a very good example of what I like so much about the band. The song opens with a cold techno riff upon which a miniature symphony of stream-of-consciousness vocals, beats, bleeps and sound effects are built. At seven minutes long, every new layer must justify its existence by adding something marvelous to the song. It's when all the words and sounds mesh fully that the listener gleans some kind of narrative meaning from "Luetin", and I think it's a little bit different for every person.

I'm going to listen to this again very closely while putting myself back in 2002, when I turned 22 on 2/22, and wonder if "Luetin" -- which is #22 on this list -- did change my life after all.

 

21.
Song: Supreme
Artist: Robbie Williams
Release: Sing When You're Winning
Year: 2000

For me, this song is about loneliness, aging and post-millennial depression. But I suspect Robbie wrote it about getting laid.

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.

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    Among Yamaha’s DX line of synthesizers, the Yamah DX-1 is definitely the biggest and most expensive synthesizer out there. Only 140 were made by Yamaha back in 1984 to 1985 but it is rumored that there are maybe 210 made. Expect to find these syn...
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    ANDY KHOURI - COMMUNIQUÉ - This used to be the future, part IV (Tracks 40 - 21)
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    Response: hair loss remedies
    ANDY KHOURI - COMMUNIQUÉ - This used to be the future, part IV (Tracks 40 - 21)

Reader Comments (1)

Dude, re:DJing the best part is that you're putting in work. Even in the niche in my hole in the dirt, the best experiences that helped me out the most were practicing at home. Or somebody else's home. Or someone's empty room at a night club. That MTHRFKRZ mix was the fucking truth!

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKeenon

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