My Picks: The 50 Tracks of the Aughts, Part IV


17 jan. 2012, 20h06m

30. Lights Out-Santogold, Santogold, 2008.

Even as it was it trying to sell you the godawful invention known as Bud Light Lime, “Lights Out” breezed on into its listeners’ pleasure-center sweet spots, combining the ingredients of iceberg cool and window-steaming sexiness with a success that Justin Timberlake tried and failed to equal throughout the decade. The music video gives away all of the song’s secret weapons: a drummer who knows exactly what the fuck he is doing, Santogold airing it out with those beautifully whispered “Daaaarrliings,” and emotionless, Aviator-rocking female background singers. And, for what it's worth, this song played a pivotal role in getting me laid during my senior year of college—I doubt I was the only one.

29. Float On-Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad, 2003.

Was this really the same band that recorded “Doin’ the Cockroach” six years earlier? Lead singer Isaac Brock must have mellowed over the intervening years, because “Float On” has some lyrics that Josh Groban is furious he didn’t think of first. Hardly a piece of light Adult Contemporary however, “Float On” staggers and stumbles as it’s attempting to uplift. The rhythm section punches away in the background, the jangly, wistfully optimistic guitar hook that made Johnny Marr himself envious enough to join the group for its next album echoes intermittently, while Brock half-sings, half-hiccups his everyman concerns and a chorus for the goddamn ages.

The way the group champions its own dysfunction as a rallying cry on this track makes “Float On’s” unlikely emergence as one of Indie Rock’s biggest crossover hits of the decade seem conceived less out of accident, and more by design. Modest Mouse knew their way around heartbreak and apathy, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they delivered the remedy for these emotions better than almost anyone.

28. Stuck Between Stations-The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America, 2006.

There’s a reason they call it “Classic” Rock—and Craig Finn and the fellow Indie Elder Statesmen of Hold Steady were one of the few bands in the Aughts that recognized there’s nothing wrong with modeling your sound after Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, and a host of other literate 70’s AM bar band staples who were avoided like the plague by pretty much the rest of the major Indie Rock acts during this past decade. Too smart to play dumb, the Hold Steady kick out an anthem that flaunts its big, dumb hooks and Roy Brittan-impersonating piano flourishes, if only to make it easier for the listener to digest Craig Finn’s PhD-level references to Jack Kerouac and John Berryman.

The best aspect of “Stuck Between Stations,” like most of the Steady’s greatest songs, lies in the witty, universally-understandable cliffs notes Finn provides alongside such references---anyone whose been through puberty can appreciate and admire the intelligent, yet earthy beauty of lines like “Big heads and soft bodies make for lousy lovers!” Like a quality whiskey drink, “Stuck Between Stations” goes down smooth, yet gives you a bite along the way, and is strong enough to free you from your inhibitions. Engage in some deep introspection, or perhaps get off the bar stool and shout along with the band like you’re seventeen again, hell do both at the same time. That’s what great rock and roll is supposed to do, remember?

27. Hate to Say I Told You So-The Hives, Veni Vidi Vicious, 2001.

I’m not sure what got into Sweden’s water around the turn of the millennium, but two years after the Refused unleashed the heavens-parting, vengeful act of God that was “New Noise” on an unsuspecting music public, here come this other group of nattily-attired, brash, in-your-face prophets of destruction with head-turning riffs calling for the pre-eminent Grunge and Alternative rip-off artists’ heads on a platter. Like the Refused, the Hives lacked the marketable (see: profitable) music traits of the time required to gain access inside the heavily-guarded walls of mainstream radio and the Billboard charts. Unlike the Refused, the Hives had a Trojan Horse in frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almquist, shrewdly recognizing that those who can be bought can also be seduced. There’s also that fact that “Hate to Say I Told You So” is one of those songs that, once initially heard, seizes you by the throat.

Sure enough, within a year of the track’s release, the Garage Rock cavalry would arrive in the form of Is This It? and White Blood Cells. The Twin Towers fall. Mark Zuckerberg matriculates to Harvard. Suits and skinny jeans sightings increase exponentially across college campuses. Loggers across the Greater Northwest rejoice as flannel prices free-fall. It’s hard not to believe that, if he were watching from above, Kurt Cobain would be loving the moment this song broke. A decade after he had employed his own ingeniously simple opening guitar riff and howling proclamation of a changing of the guard to lay to rest a previous generation’s lingering brand of rock ‘n’ roll imposters, here was Howlin’ Pelle and the boys performing the same exorcism of Bush, Creed, and the million other alt-rock groups desecrating his generation’s legacy. Of course, there will never be another “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Hate to Say I Told You So” proved to be more of an infiltration than a blitzkrieg, but in the end, isn’t that the very fate Cobain himself would have preferred?

26. Losing My Edge-LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsytem, 2005.

More than anything else, “Losing My Edge” represents one of the most inspired diss tracks of all-time. After all, it’s one thing to effectively dismantle the mystique around a single musical artist, it’s entirely another to call out an entire music “scene.” In his thirties at the time this track is recorded—Murphy owns his jaded, elder statesman persona (“You’re damn right I’m bitter!” is one of the song’s underlying theses, evident especially in Murphy’s pained acknowledgment that the younger, better looking people surrounding him are “actually really nice”). But once he proceeds to call out the pervasiveness of hyper-caffeinated, self-aware artists obsessed with their own authenticity and being cutting edge---all to the detriment of you know, the music, Murphy takes “Losing My Edge” and transforms it into one of the most insightful criticisms of all-time, calling out the malevolent influence that capitalist-inspired competition had begun to unleash upon the current Indie rock scene. The concluding, scornful line---“You don’t know what you really want!”---emphasizes the ultimate source of Indie Rock’s issues, i.e. a general state of confusion, the loss of true self inherent in the image-based obsessions of hipsters, and demands better from today’s young artists, and young people in general. Looking back, it remained this track, more than any other, that set the stage for the dual emergence of Animal Collective, dubstep, and a new wave of acts that promoted feeling over thought--for better or worse--in their listeners.

25. Crazy-Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere, 2005.

By the end of 2006, I—and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling---never wanted to hear “Crazy” again. Five years later, this fact may be the highest compliment I can grant Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse’s towering funk masterpiece. “Hey Ya!” aside, there was no track more pervasive in its dominance over popular music than this song. So how good is “Crazy?” Good enough to hit number one on the Billboard charts---despite sounding nothing like anything else on the radio the entire decade. Good enough to end any arguments as to which song was, comprehensively, the funkiest track of the Aughts. Good enough to define an entire generation’s most inescapable flaw: going crazy from knowing not too little, but too much. LCD Soundsystem may have written the perfect synopsis of the flaws of a generation too smart for its own good---but a hundred times as many people heard Gnarls Barkley’s concurrent take on the subject. One of the few tracks that will doubtlessly only grow in esteem and popular acclaim as the years progress.

24. I Gotta Stay High-Three 6 Mafia, Most Known Unknown, 2005.

By the time Three 6 Mafia released Most Known Unknown, their best-selling album, in 2005, they were already revered as nothing less then Dirty South Rap Gods by the hip-hop public. Along with the Underground Kingz of Houston, TX, Triple Six were the sole, soulless survivors still running the mean streets of underground Dirty South rap a decade after they had helped forge the genre itself. Yet, despite all the prior success, regional acclaim, and internal dysfunction DJ Paul, Juicy J, and Crunchy Black had experienced in their first decade of existence, 2005 would be the year the stars aligned both for them and their hometown of Memphis, TN as well. With Hustle & Flow airing in theatres throughout the globe, and “I Gotta Stay High” exploding in dancefloors from the M to NYC to L.A., the summer of ’05 was the zenith of Triple Six and their rugged, debauched brand of nihilistic Gangsta rap. Featuring their foremost Tennessee-bred contemporaries in 8Ball & MjG and Young Buck, this track chops and screws a Willie Hutch jam into an unstoppable, gliding dancefloor juggernaut. The musical response to the “Above the Influence” anti-marijuana propaganda of the day, “I Gotta Stay High” became the defining, world-beating track for an artist, a city, and a region.

23. PDA-Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights, 2002.

The most exceptional track on an album seething with them, "PDA" was the song that introduced Interpol to most of the world, and with good reason. All the elements are there: All-Decade drummer Sam Fogarino's thunderous percussion; Daniel Kessler’s cavernous guitar assault; vocalist Paul Banks’ haunted incantations; and bassist and band-M.V.P. Carlos D. positively owning the grand finale.

Encompassing all of the band's most memorable qualities, this song is Interpol at its absolute best. In its essence, "PDA" captures perfectly the image-based obsessions of the band's debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights. The track seems to swim through a dark sea of anxiety, self-absorption, and self-decadence. The band themselves, exuding arrogant superiority in their dark, expensive suits and impossibly cool demeanor, exist in some dark netherworld, a parallel universe where Wall Street rams into a back alley dance club.

Ultimately, "PDA's" greatness boils down to its heroic final sprint, led by Kessler's soaring guitar and into-oblivion-echoing fading cries, the best minute of 00s Indie Rock put on record. It makes “PDA” not just the definitive entry in Interpol’s catalogue, but the defining track of the post-9/11 Gotham music scene.

22. International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)-U.G.K., Underground Kingz, 2007.

The benediction for the Dirty South Rap scene’s domination over the Aughts, delivered by no less than its two most important founders—U.G.K. and Outkast. The premise of “International Player’s Anthem,” an offering of brotherly love, eternal support, and final words of caution to a friend who has recently promised himself to a woman, signifies a literal and metaphorical ending of an era—a changing of the times. Were it an actual physical piece of matter, Andre 3000’s opening verse-- appearing over a stunningly gorgeous, beat-free R&B selection--would float in a body of water. Moreover, Andre comes as close to offering a statement of feminist appreciation as appeared in a major 00's Dirty South (of course, the verse still ends with a begrudging acknowledgment that “these girls is smart,” which is more warning than compliment). Bun B’s middle verse hilariously captures the ultimate depiction of gangsta romance in a single line (actually using, “What’s a ho with no pimp? And what’s a pimp with no ho” as a pick-up line). Finally, there’s Big Boi’s finale, which takes what I guess counts as a “mature” take on misogyny, in its advocacy for safe sex, if for no other reason than in avoiding all the adult responsibilities that come with having kids. In the end, “International Player’s Anthem” showcases the best aspects of Dirty South Rap via its, ahem, herb-inspired gothic production, its cynical, yet carefree sense of humor, and a cocky creativity that the post-Strokes Indie Rock scene sorely needed in the decade’s latter half.

21. Nothing Ever Happened-Deerhunter, Microcastle, 2008.

One of those tracks that, when it was released, announced there was a new sheriff in town. Perhaps emboldened by witnessing their Dirty South hip-hop counterparts’ takeover of rap in the years prior, Deerhunter employ a swaggering beast of a bass-line that, for an Indie Rock jam, is as trunk-damaging as a Lil’ Jon produced beat, and acts as the foundation over which lead singer/guitarist/band visionary Bradford Cox bemoans all the ways in which humanity wastes its own life. Any lingering doubts as to the band’s claim to the throne evaporate once Cox teams up with the group’s other incredibly gifted guitarist, Lockett Pundt, for a thunderous, electrifying guitar throwdown inspired in equal part by Marquee Moon and Loveless. “Nothing Ever Happened” is one of the rarest types of anthems: a six-minute sonic boom that can simultaneously offer its audience an impetus for both probing self-criticism and august fist-pumping.

Modest Mouse The Hold Steady The Hives LCD Soundsystem Gnarls Barkley Three 6 Mafia Interpol U.G.K. Deerhunter !!!


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