There is no way to adequately capture the music of a decade into a simple “best of” list, but that shouldn’t stop one from taking a shot. After all, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “100% of the shots you don’t take, don’t score.”
The 25ish Best Songs of 2000 – 2009
Brazilian Girls – Die Gedken Sind Frei (Thoughts are Free)
Sabina Sciubba is poly-lingual and incorporates as many languages into BG songs as the UN has permanent members. I have no idea what this song is about, but it is positively mood-altering and somehow evokes the feeling of James Bond sneaking around the corner in an exotic locale…danger is ever-present and a world-class hottie is surely just around the corner.
Call Me Poupée – “Western Shanghai”
Personal history gives me tingles when I hear a breathy female voice speaking French, particularly one from Montreal. Now, layer that over surfrider guitar and Stereolab-esque sounds. Once Poupée pauses mid-song to mention brown liquor, you know the journey is almost complete and bliss is within reach.
Versus – “You’ll Be Sorry”
One of my all-time favorite bands released their last LP in 2000 and has left me wanting ever since. “You’ll Be Sorry” narrowly edges out “I Love the WB” because its closing line portended the end of the band. This track combines the jangly guitar work that often characterized their work with Ms. Fontaine Toups’ singing lead and making my heart pitter patter, pitter patter. Luckily, Fontaine agrees with me that, “A feeling’s not a crime” because I get a warm sensation just thinking about her lightning bolt tattoo.
+/- – “ Trapped Under Ice Floes”
Emerging from the ashes of one of my all-time favorite bands, Versus, this track combines driving guitar riffs that mirror those of Versus with a taut yet jangly guitar sound that sends a tingle down my spine. The imagery makes more sense when one considers that the Baluyut family emigrated from the Philippines to Detroit Rock City.
Radiohead – “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)”
I think that when the history books look back at the creative development of bands in our recent past, Radiohead will stack up with the best of the best of all time. Their ability to move (forward) in an avant garde fashion after achieving massive commercial success is perhaps only paralleled by a little band called The Beatles. Picking their best is impossible, but I went with the one that iTunes indicated I’d listened to the most…”Jigsaw Falling into Place” and “I Might Be Wrong” were tied for second, with “Everything In Its Right Place” close behind.
Thievery Corporation – “Lebanese Blonde”
I am not sure that I’ve ever met a blonde woman of Lebanese derivation, but after hearing this song I’m fairly certain it would be a life-altering event. One which might result in a night that involved a hookah, roulette, and the creation of future plans to attend a jai alai match with the Most Interesting Man in the World. And then, maybe some more hookah, this time washed down with a Dark and Stormy.
Silversun Pickups – “Kissing Families”
This was the first song I ever heard from Silversun, and it’s still by far my favorite. Exquisite layers build around rhythmic drum beats and guitar overdubs that are supplemented by soothing strings before building into a dull roar that is pierced by Brian Aubert’s emotive shrieking that recalls Gish-era Billy Corgan. The emotion recedes temporarily before predictable tension builds yet again…it’s reminiscent of time spent with family, for sure.
The Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”
Breakups are the inspiration for much of the better art ever produced, and so it goes with this song. Its construction builds, breaks, builds, breaks, but never totally subsides. In that sense, it perfectly captures the emotions one goes through the emotional roller coaster that follows the culmination of a relationship significant enough to have left an indelible imprint upon one’s life. To me, this song’s structure captures the stages of grief much better than The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.”
The Raveonettes – “That Great Love Sound”
Sune Rose and Sharin Foo make up one of the best things about the last decade and have put out scores of amazing tunes. This track is a full-on crowed pleaser that gets ‘em dancing and singing and feeling the reverb while setting the scene for what happens after the scene in one of those James Dean-era movies where the guy and girl settle into the convertible at The Point. Yep, it’s gonna get heavy, and then it’s gonna get really heavy.
PJ Harvey – “This Mess We’re In”
I memorably saw Ms. Harvey perform at the 930 Club on 09.10.2001, and for my two cents she defines what it means to be attractive without being good lookin’. On this song she teams up with Thom Yorke and they combine to produce a song that is starkly evocative of unrequited longing and impending despair. The solitary piano notes that echo the thematic elements are hauntingly beautiful, as is its dischordant final bar. Even so, it’s a great song.
Art Brut – “Emily Kane”
Eddie has a fantastic sense of humor. In one song, he wits that, “We’re gonna be the band that writes the song / that makes Israel and Palestine get along.” In Emily Kane, he reaches back into the wonders of pubescent lovesickness and creates a humorous anthem that makes much more sense when viewed in light of the experiences related to failed relationships that inevitably follow the purity often associated with one’s first, (and often unrequited), true love.
The Libertines – “Can’t Stand Me Now”
It’s unfortunate for Pete Doherty that his dalliances with the hard drugs get more attention than his outsized musical talents. His output is especially prodigious in light of the copious amounts of time he’s spent tapping veins and Kate Moss in the past decade, both of which could be considered slightly distracting. This tune tangles with “The Man Who Would be King” for the title of top track, followed closely by “Kilamangiro” with his more recent band, Babyshambles.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Stop”
B.R.M.C. is one of my favorite acts of the past decade, particularly live. They’ve morphed stylistically multiple times, but the atmospherics in “Stop” are perfectly evolved. Poignant lyrics seem to capture the essence of youth and also the past decade…”We don’t know where to stop…I tried and I tried but I can’t get enough.” Combine that with multiple sonic layers that vibrate through and shake your marrow, and you’ve got yourself a serious rock song.
Bloc Party – “This Modern Love”
Bloc Party is phenomenal live. Phenomenal. This tune captures much of what drives the kids crazy when they hear BP’s artful music with melodies that build with conventional rock methods and are supplemented by less traditional instruments, like the triangle. (Prediction: 2025 SNL will reprise Will Ferrell’s cowbell role, updated with the triangle). As with many of my favorite songs, it builds layers upon layers and reaches for a cathartic crescendo but remains a tantric experience. Can you think of anything more aptly-suited to a song with this title? “Do you want to come over and kill some time?”
Blonde Redhead – “23”
In the 1990s, my favorite groups included the British band Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Fugazi. Perhaps it is not coincidental that the latter three have provided members who have produced BR albums. “23” takes the aura of the clouds with an undertow of subtle intensity that pulls at your seams while your head is happily floating in the clouds. If this feeling is what narcotics achieve, I either need to revisit my position on personal consumption of the illicit drugs or Blonde Redhead needs to put out another record already.
Catherine Wheel – “Sparks Are Gonna Fly”
It’s a musical tragedy that the CW are no longer putting albums out regularly, but fortunately for this list they issued one in 2000. It’s no accident that British bands incorporate classical skills into their music that American bands don’t seem to know exist. You know, things like crescendo and decrescendo. Sparks this incorporates both hard and soft…Daniel-san style.
The Dandy Warhols – “Godless”
Intro with a rather minimal rhythm guitar and trumpets are soon enjoined with breathless vocals that decry a friendship gone bad. The next two songs on the album are entitled “Mohamed” and “Nietzsche.” Somehow, the exorcism of these demons is made that much more poignant by the stark beauty of the composition.
Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Follow”
This acoustic song was sketched out simply and without the intrusive production that would have destroyed its deeply personal tone. It toes the line between being just about the sweetest saddest sentiment ever penned and way too precious. I’ll give Mr. Gibbard the benefit of the doubt, however, because it rains a lot up in Seattle and depression has been known to spur these types of thoughts.
Depeche Mode – “Precious”
“Precious” presented DM for the new millennium, and did so in a way that somehow made melancholy seem uplifting. Alternatively, if you simply listen to the music and ignore the lyrics, then the vibe that results is best described in the words of the inimitable Mills Lane, “Let’s get it on!”
Drive-By Truckers – “Steve McQueen”
The subject matter alone makes it a better tune than 99.9% of those ever created. The gratuitous potshot at Alec Baldwin, done with a Jim Carroll-esque voice inflection, makes it even better. It captures the sadness of his early loss but is intelligent enough to end with a celebration of a truly American life. “Steve McQueen…Steve McQueen….the coolest dog-gone mother scratcher on the silver screen.
Evan Dando – “Why Do You Do This To Yourself”
For those who have witnessed the ebb and flow of Evan’s relationship to the world, largely because of his ongoing battle with illicit substances, this is fitting. While Dando gets my vote as the best voice of his generation, his creative output has been limited this past decade. However, like the produce of an ice wine grape, all dilution is removed and nothing but his pitched vocals, emotional tone, and bare soul are left upon display…just the good stuff, and moving stuff it is.
The Go! Team – “The Power is On”
Chanting. Cheering. Clapping. A driving drum kit that takes the initiative and thunders home an intense orgasm of a song that likely results in someone being pregnant or dead. Maybe both. All I know is that I’ve ever seen a band anything like this, or seen a Sunday night crowd at Black Cat jumping up and down and dancing like their hair was on fire like I did during this song.
The Hives – “Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones”
The grooviest of garage bands takes you on a drag-race through the logic of why dumb people deserve a beat-down. If I was a teenager still, this would probably be one of my favorite songs of all-time. The Hives rock the Casbah, and then they burn it to the ground, and the Casbah’s owner doesn’t mind because the surrounding cacophony was such a brilliantly pleasurable experience.
The Hold Steady – “Southtown Girls”
I’m pretty sure that we had Southtown Girls where I grew up, even though I was in the Northtowns. Craig perfectly sums up the dilemma created by the less interesting and exciting girls where we all grew up and the unique hussies that occupy these here parts until they see greener grass. “Southtown girls won’t blow you away / But you know that they’ll stay.””
The Jealous Sound – “Hope for Us”
Love it. Love it. I don’t know what exactly it reminds me of from my youth, but it’s one of those songs that in earlier eras you couldn’t ever find out who sang it, and you lose track of it, and there is forever a lacuna in your soul because you miss that special song. This song fills that unspecifiable void for me.
Muse – “Time is Running Out”
I’m of the opinion that Muse might be the most talented band out there today, and almost certainly is the only one fronted by a guy who can play dueling melodies, Bach-style, without a problem. Oh, and he’s accomplished (not just proficient) on multiple instruments. Picking one song is kind of a joke, but the epic and paranoid nature of this tune is balanced by a form-fitting tautness that is tough to pull off in songs of an epic nature.
The Killers – “All These Things That I’ve Done”
How ballsy is it of a band to put an epic spiritual piece on their first album complete with a choir and a religious battleground-inflected theme? The showdown with the record company must have been one for the ages…it makes sense that they had to go to the U.K. to release this before it made it back to this side of the Pond. To me, this is absolutely a genius piece of work and the proper channeling of Brandon Flowers’ sizable ego. If they ever come up with another song on this level, I’d be pleasantly surprised and would almost forgive them for their uninspired headliner performance at this year’s Lollapalooza.
Bonus Tracks (North of the Border Edition)
Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies)
Picking the best song on this album is about as easy as selling ice to an Eskimo. Wake Up could easily be rated one of the decade’s best, and I’d find that selection just as spot on. Both share their roots in the epic, and building rhythms and melodies soar into the heavens (literally referencing the sun and moon) and once it has run its course, the listener’s mental state has been infused with the purity of catharsis.
Metric – “Combat Baby”
Montreal has produced some amazing music the past decade, and even within that vibrant scene, Emily Haines is an art form unto herself. “Combat Baby” thrives on the energy and full-on rock and roll charisma that can only be displayed by one without any anxiety over their penis size. Emily is clearly not bothered with such trifling matters.
Stars – Your Ex-Lover is Dead
There’s not much stranger than encountering an ex-significant other for the first time in a public setting when the realization occurs that they clearly don’t want you any more (regardless of whether of not you have any inherent interest besides jealousy). That individual might not be physically dead, but that investment is forever a lost cause. Bittersweet orchestral melodies and rising percussion capture the moment perfectly, that moment when the other person’s eyes say it all….“I’m not sorry, there’s nothing to say.”
Ron Hawkins – Turned Around
Ron is an accomplished singer-songwriter and painter from Toronto that I think write some of the best lyrics out there. Billy Bragg apparently agrees, having had him open up for his recent tour. The passage of time and evolution of relationships provides fertile inspiration for Ron on this track, as he comes to the realization that as time passes, we often fall into patterns we would have previously thought unthinkable.
Sloan – “I Was Wrong”
Sloan is one of the most under-appreciated indie pop bands out there. Year after year they churn out Beatles-esque harmonies that almost always end up with the listener having a smile on their face. Their distinctly Canadian sensibility doesn’t seem to play as well south of the 54/40, and it is clearly on display in a song where the theme is paying deference, rather than maintaining the cock-of-the-walk attitude that largely drives American rock and roll.
Bonus tracks (Covers, etc.)
Ryan Adams – “Wonderwall” (Oasis cover)
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a song more beautifully reinterpreted. Adams’ version adds an ethereal and haunting vibe that captures the longing behind the lyrics much better than Noel Gallagher’s original. It should never again be re-recorded…it’s that good.
Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards – “To Have and Have Not”
Billy Bragg’s Cold War-era lyrics and tune updated with the proper amount of angst from the one-and-only Mr. Lars Frederiksen. “Just because you’re better than me doesn’t mean that I’m lazy / Just because you’re going forwards doesn’t mean I’m going backwards.” Enough said.
Nouvelle Vague – “Ever Fallen In Love”
It kind of makes sense that it would take a French sensibility to come up with the idea for bossanova covers of New Wave classics. They pull off almost all of their interpretations with precision and panache, and this tune just might be the cream of the crop, although “In a Manner of Speaking” is also a first-rate interpretation.
Flogging Molly – “Every Dog Has Its Day”
A song for drinking. A song for fighting. A song for singing along to. A punk rock song. It’s from the late 1990s, and it’s still one of the best of the past decade.
Stereophonics – “Dakota”; The Stills – “Being Here”; The Strokes – “Last Night”; Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Who Do You Love?”; Teddybears – “Punkrocker”; Matthew Good Band – “Load Me Up”; Youth Group – “Lillian Lies”; The Thermals – “ A Pillar of Salt”; Whysall Lane – “Time Machine”; The Tragically Hip – “Goodnight Josephine” /“It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken”; The Weakerthans – “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist” / “Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)”; Wilco – “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”; The Wedding Present – “Interstate 5”; Caribou – “Melody Day”, Mercury Rev – “In a Funny Way”; Ron Hawkins – “Peace and Quiet”; Dousk – “Anagram”; Sam Roberts – “Brother Down”; Laura Veirs – “Cast a Hook”; The Rosebuds – “Boxcar”; Carla Bruni – “Quelqu’un M’a Dit”; Rachael Yamagata – “Worn Me Down”; Shout Out Louds – “Very Loud”; Tapes ‘n Tapes – “Insistor”; ambulette – “Seconds til Midnight”; The Blakes – “Don’t Bother Me”; Arctic Monkeys – “From the Ritz to the Rubble”; Damian Marley – “Welcome to Jamrock”; Common – “Testify”; U2 – “City of Blinding Lights”; ETC.