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Friday, November 4, 2016

Numbers 30-26, "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve"

#29, Robert Smith - fat bastard
30.Silence (DJ Tiësto's In Search Of Sunrise Remix)
Delerium Feat. Sarah McLachlan
Perfecto Presents Another World [Disc 2] (2000)
Voted by Mixmag as the "12th greatest dance record of all time", in what's an otherwise mostly appalling catalogue of utter dross. (Seriously, that's the WORST BEST OF anything I think I've ever read. It's not even vaguely canonical.) Because of the vagaries of randomly tagged pirate MP3s I spent most of the decade thinking this was Paul Oakenfold. But no, bugger me, it turns out I like a Tiësto song. Well, mix. And it's the source material that really shines, rather than the mix. There are umpteen similar versions, but this does actually seem to be the best.

Sarah McLachlan's voice is what carries it. She bends just the right notes JUST enough to render the delivery quite unique, quite effective, and quite affective, and the semi-breathless vocal is married perfectly to a curiously haunting and for the genre atypically complex melody. The original is MUCH slower, more like a traditional pop song, so well done Tiësto for seeing the potential in it. Now would you mind explaining the remainder of your career?

29.Bloodflowers - The Cure
Bloodflowers (2000)
God, The Cure are irritating. When this came out, Robert Smith was all over the media saying this was going to be the last ever Cure album, and well they've pulled that act about three times now. But this was believable.

Because this sounds like a gamma ray burst from a dying, once massive star. The utterly epic swansong you'd produce if you wanted to keep your place in history secure. Smith has said he sees this as the culmination of a trilogy that began with Pornography (1982) and Disintegration (1989). The lineage from Disintegration is everywhere obvious, these are brooding, sullen, monolithic, epicly serious songs, all driven by reverb laden guitar riffs. They're both albums crying out to be played end to end in a massive darkened stadium.

"This world always stops," I said
"This wonder always leaves,
The time always comes to say goodbye"
"This tide always turns," I said
"This night always falls again,
And these flowers will always die."

Lying, deceptive bastard. Lying, deceptive, obscenely talented BASTARD.

28.You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy
Johnny Boy (2006)
I can still remember the first time I ever heard this. I was in Sydney for  I forget what reason, some conference I was flogging books at, probably. Women's Health? doesn'tmatter.

I was banged up in bed, Friday night I think, with a huge tray of room service, remnants of the minibar scattered artfully across the duvet. Rage on the telly. This came on and well bugger me, now I need another miniPims, because that song is the damnest, catchiest, freshest, most original bit of pop I've yet heard this side of forever. These guys are the NEXT BIG THING. You heard it here first, and boy did I tell everyone I met for the next fortnight exactly that.  

Well. I have no idea how any artist can possess enough talent to produce a debut single THIS GOOD from an album this turgid. Do NOT ever buy this album. Little chance of that unless you only shop the 99c bin at Dixon's, of course, because it and this band, frankly deservedly, sank without trace.

How can anyone have the ear to produce a tune this killer and not be able to hear the other 11 tracks aren't in the slightest bit tuneful or interesting on frankly any level? Doesn't matter. Enjoy this, because it's the last you'll ever hear from Johnny Boy. 

27.The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)
This works on so many levels, the intro riff that's basically one note and a pitch bend that stays in your head for hours. Alex Ounsworth's voice. The wholly unintelligible vocal. The way it ramps up to the chorus:
"Hauuuuuuunteeeeeeeeedd byyyyyyyy apastijustcantsee anymore anymore anymore well leeeeeeeeetmetellyou..."
It's got a vaguely alt-country whiff about it, but in essence it's pure pop. And I think I've had grander fun bouncing around dancefloors than any track discussed here so far. Actually maybe Modest Mouse win that. You don't care, either way. PLAY LOUD!!!

26.Halo - Beyoncé
I Am... Sasha Fierce (2008)
OK, this is the last of the Beyoncé. Not a track I should really need to introduce. But it's everything that's great about her. It's epic, it's positively oozing grandeur, the vocal goes places most singers simply aren't capable, it will run madcap around your head for a solid hour after any given listen. It's some of the finest Top Forty Chart-pop of not merely this decade, but most of those preceding it equally.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Numbers 35-31, "Middle of the Road Class War Terra Nullius Blu-hoos"

#32 Lil Wayne

35.Punks - I heart hiroshima
Tuff Teef (2007)
"Don't lock your doors, I have these PUNKS  on the ropes..."
OK so once again, we start this list with a duplicate #35, because, well I find numbers challenging. Shurrup. So, here we have one of the highest-placed Australian acts of the decade, and easily the lowest-profile such artist to make the top ranks. Because this is just GREAT songwriting in every dimension that matters. It has a hook to it that could land a White Pointer, it's delivered with sass and bravado, it swanks around your speakers like it was wearing a zoot suit.

And the band is WELL worth  catching live. It's ALL rather weirdly about Susie Patten. Weirdly because she's the drummer. Weirdly because she's the archest tomboy you're ever going to meet, and we're not used to either of those tropes as "frontman". The band is now apparently on hiatus as Susie is spending some time in Germany, like all the best Aussie artists do eventually. And I can't wait to see what she comes back with. Songwriting chops like this - and this came from their DEBUT - don't just evaporate. This one belts you with the first beat and doesn't stop whacking for three solid minutes.

35.Float On - Modest Mouse
Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004)
Ah, the mice of modesty. Supposed to be indie, but this will fill any given dancefloor. The chorus is as catchy a one as has ever been written. Not much more to say really, you know the tune already. All-RIGHT.

34.The Coast Is Always Changing - Maxïmo Park
Apply Some Pressure (2004)
I  seem to recall back in the day I hailed this as the finest song of 2004. It now appears I was right, but only just. Someone from Sydney tried telling me I was 'Emo' for that opinion, or I forget, maybe it was my haircut, but what nonsense.

"You react to my riposte" is apparently pretentious emo lyrics or some such rot. But this BELONGS here for wearing its poecy so LIGHT on its sleeve. For a song with so may finely strung together shades of light and dark, an effect itself like waves over the sea floor. Oh, alright ... piss off.

33.Umbrella - Rihanna Feat. Jay-Z
Bravo Hits - The Hits 2007 (2007)
Some songs are just so well written that even an anodyne hits funnel like Rihanna can't mess them up. Even adding Jay-Z won't render them COMPLETELY banal, hard as he tries here.

Uh huh, uh huh, Yeahhh Rihanna,
Uh huh, uh huh, Good girl gone bad
Uh huh, scoop the remnants of my brain out with a fish fork ...

32.A Milli - Lil Wayne
Lollipop (2008)
So, yes, you know I'm supposed to be all gender progressive and blah. But I've always loved hip hop. LOVED. Picked on every day for a year for wearing a RUN DMC shirt to school camp. "Rap is crap, man." Yes, seeing what you did there ...

But some songs you just have to listen to with your ears half closed. It's a male-dominated genre, and it's in its essence puerile. And when those two factors work in tandem, sexism is going to bubble up. You either need to find a coping mechanism or a new genre.

So, here's what works for me. Some of this stuff is SO puerile that it's completely self-parodying. And there's a rare breed of artist that you no doubt instinctively despise, who actually when you drill down through the discourse seems to just know, accept and revel in it all, to such an extent that they're not really spreading ideology. I'm talking about Eminem, and I'm talking about nobody more than Lil' Wayne.

There's nothing here to mimic, it's all too ridiculous. "I'm a venereal disease like a menstrual bleed", "Coke in her derrière"? For God's sake, it's all just so laughable, does it parody itself so much that it's actually progressive? I'll reserve judgement.

This, its entire form, the lyrics, the backing track, it's all just RIDICULOUS. And there's never been a song like it.

31.Middle of the Road Class War Terra Nullius Blu-hoos
G.A. Richards and the Dark Satanic Mills Bros
Closed Off, Cold and Bitter - My Life as a Can of Beer (2005)
The good people in Augie March may well use this chart as evidence of their utter prominence amongst quality Australian artists over the course of the decade.

You recall the rules here limited each artist to a maximum three songs. Glenn A Richards, next to whom I once had a piss at Lounge..."Can't really say 'love your work' while we're doing this, can I? CAN I?"... Glenn is the only artist to feature here FOUR times.

I wish the Augies would add this to their repertoire, as it's up there with their finest, lyrically and musically. It kind of drones along letting the vocal to most of the work. And the vocal is certainly up to it.

"Here rests the thief who stole my self-belief."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Numbers 40-36, "Hope There's Someone"

#39, Antony and the Johnsons
40.We Call Upon The Author - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2007)
OK so firstly, I messed up. So there are TWO #40s. I can't imagine why you'd care. This is some kind of brilliance this one. Cave's songwriting has evolved significantly to allow the "voice" that's present here. There's no Birthday Party DNA left in this one at all. In the place of po-faced junk-addled posturing is real humour and self-effacement.

And while arguably the most self-consciously LITERARY track in this entire list, it extracts its own piss in a manner you can't help but think of as quintessentially Australian. The brilliance of "everything is banal and jejune" rests on the reality that absolutely no human being alive would ever use those words in any context, and yet here they are in a pop song rendered almost conversationally.

And it's the conversational tone "My friend Doug's tapping on  the window/Hey Doug how ya been?" and the succession of weird banalities that populate the song that are its central charm. It seems a song of literary pretensions, but is it laughing at them or not??

"Prolix, prolix, there’s nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix." That seems to be the crux of the song, but is that Fitzgerald or is it Freud? Literature or its interpretation? It's highly entertaining, that's what it is.

40.Hoppípolla - Sigur Rós
Takk... (2005)
One of the decade's truly standout and standalone musical wonders, both the band and this track, and their live shows for that matter.

Almost impossible to situate, it has a post-rock provenance, but also a world music heritage, at least for a western audience where the experience of hearing sounds not words is the essence, and what sublime sounds. It could be absolutely noone else.

39.Hope There's Someone - Antony and The Johnsons
I Am A Bird Now (2005)
What to say. If I called the last track sublime, this goes wherever beyond that your imagination might allow. That voice. The plaintive lyric and the matching melody. The sentiment that makes every human at the core of however cold curmudgeonly heart yearn.

A wonderful band, and they make wonderful albums, although frankly an hour of this stuff is just a bit too much ...

38.Fall From A Height - The Honeydrips
Here Comes The Future (2007)
This is just a WEIRD weird beast. It's kind of Retro-minimal-futurist, but there's a lot more going on than that. Probably because there's a movie soundtrack playing out in the background. That's a sample from Annie Hall, if folks are interested. The child actually becomes the central figure, and his sense of both naive threat and resignedness to it is affecting. Plus it turns heads at parties in a way that says it's not just me.

37.At Death, A Proclamation - Phosphorescent
Pride (2007)
Surprisingly disappointing live it must me said. At least their set list was. I'm only familiar with this album - mostly excellent, but the tracks were sort of rocky dross. This was a very standout highlights, and some of the finest experimental rock certainly the noughties threw up.

36.Carry Me Ohio - Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts Of The Great Highway (2003)
So this is Mark Kozelek's noughties project. And some of his finest work was done in the decade - selecting the highlights here was hard, but this is probably fore amongst them. A typically  languid, woozy melody and a lyric that probably suffers from veering into purple prose a few too many times. What the hell is  he actually talking about?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Numbers 50-41, "Formed a Band"

#42, Liars
50.Formed A Band - Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005)
"It's not irony/ it's not Rock 'n' Roll/ we're just talking, to the kids." And that of course is just oozing irony. It's the song that tries to be as banal as possible. "Formed a band/ we formed a band/ look at us/ we formed a band." But it's a case study in pop banality and pop meanings, this song is about every song. The fact that it generates a quite profound narrative from elements that are in their own right so bland is its genius.

Art Brut's debut album seemed to offer so much potential, it crackled with about eight tracks that were all single-worthy, and Eddie Argos seemed at least to this observer to be the absolute next great thing, and mostly because of the well-worn hipster irony. "I'm drinking Hennesy/with Morrissey" is about as knowing as genius gets, at least until he starts singing about David Hockney, or 'Ockney, as pronounced "Modern art makes me/ want to rock out."

But something went wrong. He'll probably fancy I'm just kissing arse, but when Chris Chinchilla upped and made Melbourne home, the band seemed to totally lose the knack of writing pop music altogether. And Eddie Argos suddenly didn't wear his ironic pantaloons nearly half as well. So if you buy an Art Brut album, make it this one. JUST this one. And you should, because I'd probably have it in my decade's Top 20.

49.Poison Dart - The Bug Feat. Warrior Queen
London Zoo (2008)
So we've spoken about dubstep, we've spoken about grime. This beast distils and melds all the greatest elements of both. A beat that sounds like a heart attack. A rap that belts you with a sonic baseball bat. Wire magazine had this as their best album of 2008, and they know a thing or two. The culmination of about twenty years quiet achievement by Kevin Martin, I'm really not terribly familiar with much of his other work, and I need to fix that.

48.Matadjem Yinmixan - Tinariwen
Aman Iman: Water Is Life (2007)
There's not a heap of World Music in this list, and I'll confess that's because it's a bit of a musical gap of mine. The Tuareg are a semi-nomadic desert Berber people from Mali, and Tinariwen actually means "the deserts" in their native tongue. Tinariwen the group formed while the founding members were exiled in Algeria during the Malinese civil war, basically building their own guitars, in one case out of "a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire."

The band were actually trained as rebel soldiers by Gaddhafi's Libya, eventually returning to their homeland following a Tuareg uprising in the early 90s, and finally laying down arms for guitars on a permanent basis. Their guitar style is known locally as 'assouf', and as is obvious from even the first bar of this number, draws substantially on NON-western musical traditions. While there's a hint of blues to it, it appears to be because it's sourcing the same West African traditions as the blues itself. The band claim never to have heard any actual blues music until they started touring internationally in the early noughties.

But in a decade where my thesis starts with "you've heard it ALL before", Tinariwen stand very resolutely out, because unless I've got a bunch of Touareg nomads online here, you very definitely HAVEN'T.

47.Ready For The Floor - Hot Chip
Made In The Dark (2008)
Hot Chip, if Pee Wee Herman went electronic. No question these guys produced some of the catchier indie-centric dancefloor numbers of the decade, the art of it all is these strange, languid almost anti-dance melodies that somehow find themselves very neatly shoehorned into their least suited genre. It all just works.

46.Nine Samurai - Kode9 and The Spaceape
Memories Of The Future (2006)
OK this is the last of the dubstep. Which means this is the decade's finest dubstep.

The riff sound at all familiar? It's Fumio Hayasaka's "Seven Samurai Suite" from Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai", and would you have ever thought that would work as a dubstep tune? No. Nothing about this should work. Yet EVERYTHING does.

45.(I Know) A Girl Called Jonny - Rowland S Howard
Pop Crimes (2010)
A collaboration with HTRK's vocalist Jonny Standish, it all hangs on the chorus: "She's my narcotic lollipop" intoned into virtual narcolepsy. Is it a love song or a fantasy? The song's subject matter being audibly present in the song is actually extremely unsettling. It's as creepy as it is romantic, this musical strangeling really does stay with you.

44.Single Ladies - Beyonce
I am Sasha Fierce (2008)
No credible summation of the decade could leave this  out. Arguably the only real candidate for single of the decade, Beyonce has always had a knack for walking JUST enough the artist's side of the populist street, and that extends to every element of the "brand". She herself is possibly the quintessential postmodern gesamtkunstwerk. So this is WAGNER ...

43.NY Excuse - Soulwax
Any Minute Now (2004)
If there were such a thing as dance-punk, this would probably be its anthem. Lyrically its a pick-apart job on late capitalism's erosion/appropriation of human identities "This is the excuse that we're making/ is it good enough for what you're paying?/ You're PAYING!"

For all the effort house music most specifically goes to in manipulating the listener's emotions through normally facile "builds" and "drops", this is a properly crafted work of art that starts sloooowly ratcheting up from the minute it starts, and it builds towards a crescendo that Tiesto reckons he'd know exactly what to do with, Soulwax, whom you may also know as 2manydjs, are quite happily to let NY Excuse spin off like a mad loose bobbin into the realms of self-annihiliation. And therein is the genius.

42.The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack - Liars
Drum's Not Dead (2006)
Well worth seeing live, if you ever get the chance, Liars are largely LA-based aussie Angus Andrew's project. And throughout the decade they were certainly amongst those bands doing some of the most interesting stuff in the noise/experimental zone. Although let's face it, a lot of that's not really all that interesting. The album's terrific too. Experimenting with gated rhythm and pedal effects to fully deconstruct the entire idea and purpose of rhythm within the traditional song format. Here, rhythm is present, but it's almost totally indistinct from melody, and with a genuine sense of poetics, the vocal is amongst the most effective and affective things that the noughties produced.

41.Icarus Smicarus - McLusky
The Difference Between Me And You Is That I'm Not On Fire (2004)
I challenge anyone to not let this beast leave them reeling from exposure to even a fifteen second sample. This is absolutely everything that's great about McLusky. Completely irreverent, middle finger thrust proudly in the air. If it's not poetry, and it isn't, then that's basically just poetry's loss. As a great man once said, "play FUCKEN LOUD!" 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Numbers 60 - 51 "The Night Is A Blackbird"

#60, Nurse With Wound
60.Lass Mich - Faust & Nurse With Wound
Disconnected (2007)
Nobody seems to really know anything about the actual provenance of this album. It sounds a LOT like NWW got a hold of some Faust out-takes and decided to fuck with them, and a lot LESS like an actual collaboration. Some artists find themselves included in this list possibly more on the basis of a body of work or album than on a stellar standout single, and this is Nurse with Wound's moment. NWW as band, as opposed to NWW as Steven Stapleton began performing live again in 2005, but this appears to mark something of a side project - though Stapleton has apparently played a couple of live encores with Faust over the last couple of years. Anyway, while the whole album rightly deserves a place here, as certainly the best NWW offering I've heard in a long time, Stapleton is impossible to keep track of, so who knows what gems I may have missed? Regardless, this is probably the most accessible track off the album.

59.Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz
Clint Eastwood (Single) (2001)
It's kind of hard to imagine how Gorillaz ever had their conceptual birth. Would anyone in the nineties have even remotely dreamt that Damon Albarn would ever put out a rap album? Or that Misterdobalina WOULDN'T be the only thing Del the Funky Homosapien would be remembered for? Del performed on Gorillaz first album under the identity of "Del the Ghost Rapper", with the band having an unusually exhaustive fictional metanarrative incorporating cartoon half-ape/half-human characters. Del was supposed to be a spirit that was hiding from death within the band's drummer. Whatever.

It's funky, dance oriented pop, and that's arguably a height Gorillaz could be said to have scaled almost alone during the decade.

58.Sabrina - Einstürzende Neubauten
Silence is Sexy (2000)
Marking a neat and definitive break with their erstwhile trademark industrial raucousness, Silence is Sexy saw The Neubauten reborn as newly restrained, pared back, experimental unit. Silence itself is, obviously enough, the unit of analysis for the album. It's in the spaces BETWEEN events that the band creates meaning, not from the events themselves. But it's the very success of that pursuit which the band themselves seem to want to undermine, and the title track concludes oxymoronically with the rejoinder that "silence is not sexy at all."

Sabrina is easily the most radio friendly offering from the album, and quickly became one of the band's staple performance tracks. The song asks the question of what colour can be ascribed to this new music. Those who know the band's ethos know that they have always drawn inspiration from dada-ist processes of creation, using randomly drawn cards as musical instructions from which the songs are then improvised, so the idea of colour representing both mood and sound is no great leap of logic. And Sabrina answers in a resolute voice that the colour of silence is BLACKNESS. "It is as black as Malevich Square/The cold furnace in which we stare." And it's a brilliant blackness, with a video that does it complete justice.

57.The Night Is A Blackbird - Augie March
Strange Bird (2002)
Yep, well I'm pretty confident this isn't going to be in anyone else's top forties anywhere. So all the other lists are wrong. This song is like a slow-paced ritual emotional disembowelment. That's a GOOD thing. And Glenn A Richards is probably Australia's greatest contemporary lyricist. And I'm probably the only person in the country who thinks that. So all the other Australians are wrong too.

56.To Clean - Woods
Songs Of Shame (2009)
Don't know much about these guys, though they've been around since 2005, they only actually ever appeared on my radar through this whole noughties list shebang. It's New York folk, but with a disharmonic twist, they're extremely prolific - with nine albums in the last ten years, this is an extremely well crafted neat little gem.

55.Can't Stand Me Now - The Libertines
The Best Of... (2004)
Somehow they managed to come across as a pack of frat boys, but man, Pete Doherty could WRITE. "Cornered, the boy kicked out at the world/ the world kicked back/ a lot fuckin' harder now". That's basically James Joyce. Shuddup.

54.The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores - Morrissey
You Are The Quarry (2004)
Who did the decades most extravagant and unexpected comeback? The bloke who'd been putting out wallpaper since 1995. Who won an entire new legion of fans and extended his career by at least another decade with one album? This bloke. Even while failing to release its pinnacle track as a single.

This is absolutely everything that is utterly brilliant about Morrissey. Its simultaneously curmudgeonly AND self-deprecating, it ripples with pathos but sung with a knowing wink. He knows this is everything people have come to expect of him, many of them not intending to flatter. But he sings it to soak up the flattery, whether it truly exists or not.

53.Four To The Floor (Thin White Duke Mix) - Starsailor
Silence Is Easy (2003)
Here's a weird one. So, EVERYONE knows the remix. NOBODY has even heard the original. And you listen to it and you wonder "how the hell did anyone ever think to turn THAT into a dance track?" and to have it become one of the most ubiquitous, and seemingly obvious such beasts ... it's all very strange. You can compare them below. The remix is in a whole other league entirely.

52.Pork and Beans - Weezer
Weezer (Red Album) (2008)
The award-winning video draws extensively on the still reasonably nascent YouTube and its meme stash. Could you be ANY more frigging po-mo if you TRIED?

Well yes, actually. Apparently this killer-catchy number was written in anger after their record company insisted they produce significantly more commercial material. The pop culture references "They say I need some Rogaine to put in my hair", "Oakley makes the shades that transform a tool", "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the chart/ Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art", are so deliciously obvious, the chorus so over-amped, this is the hit single that tries to murder every other hit single ever.

51.Oh Yeah - The Subways
Young For Eternity (2005)
Another one you'll probably struggle to find in other lists. I have no idea why. The list of songs during the course of the decade capable of stopping in your tracks - "what the fuck was THAT?" - isn't very long. But I still remember the first time I heard this, but it was on RAGE, so by the time I was hooked the band's name had already flashed off the screen. Then they played the Big Day Out, and I was just checking out this new band - or probably more accurately checking out Charlotte Cooper (all the great rock chicks have been bassists of course) when they flipped into this, and so did my brain.

The album was really promising also. I probably should have found room in this list for "Rock n Roll Queen". You can have it as a bonus below. And they sounded well polished beyond their scant years, although by all reports their more recent albums haven't really matched the promise of their stellar debut.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Numbers 80 - 71, "This is Our Emergency"

80.Shine A Light - Wolf Parade
Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005)
Had I known the video was this stupid in advance, I might have marked this further down. Oh well. These guys know how to write a tune that lingers in your subconscious for DAYS. They rightly musically belong alongside their mates in Arcade Fire. Where other lists will cram Arcade Fire's two or three key singles  into the top twenty, we'll hear nothing further from them in this countdown. Wolf Parade, however we're not done with yet ...

79.This Is Our Emergency - Pretty Girls Make Graves
The New Romance (2003)
Find me any band around today with a name half this good. It is of course a direct lift from The Smiths song of the same name, so they know how to reference the pantheon. A brilliant, high-strung effort from an act that have delivered consistently good albums over the past decade or so, but no singles anywhere near this stand out. A song made up of a million mini-phraselets "Stand up so I can see you/ Shout out so I can hear you/ Reach out so I can touch you" and we seem to be on a crescendo, but then the punchline is deadpanned. "This is our Emergency", and all expectations fly out the window, and this weird genre-defying creature deserves a spot all on its own.

78.Shut Me Down - Rowland S. Howard
Pop Crimes (2010)
I've dealt with Rowland at some length in the NEXT post, which I've twittishly published ahead of this one. Suffice to say, this is about as good. It all rests on ONE mantra intoned through that booming, arresting bass vocal that could only possibly belong to one man. "I miss you SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much." Close to the finest guitarist this country has ever produced he was also a songwriter of major importance, "I'm standing in a suit/ as ragged as my nerves" is as good as anything Nick Cave ever wrote. The entire landscape is so much the poorer for his absence.

77.Sandstorm (Original Mix) - Darude
Ignition (2007)
You don't get to become a thing as ubiquitous as this became without having set off some kind of important primal nerve somewhere. The main riff belts you about the head with a musical baseball bat, then pauses just long enough to let your head ring with it all. The soundtrack to the wee small hours for too many who'll never remember them.

76.Heart It Races - Architecture In Helsinki
Places Like This (2007)
And here's a video that might have managed to bump its soundtrack up the countdown a few places. This is such a unique, weird beast, it sits nowhere neatly in genre terms. The rhythm is actually a kind of afro-traditional melded to western structures in a way we really haven't heard since ... wait for it ... Paul Simon produced some of the most interesting material of the late 80s. Certainly one of the decade's more accomplished Australian acts. I'm predicting this will stand up well to time's ongoing enquiries.

75.The Rat - The Walkmen
Bows + Arrows (2004)
"Yooooooooooouve got a nerve to be asking a favour/ Yooooooooouve got a nerve to be calling my number .... can't you hear me I'm/ beating down your door." It's not really a chorus at all. But it's better than most of the decade's actual choruses. This thing broods like a menstruating teenager. The menace, the spite, the bile all just sitting barely beneath the skin of this nasty, hateful number that pretty much everyone will agree was the band's finest moment.

74.Grindin' - Clipse
Lord Willin' (2002)
Pharell Williams doesn't make the countdown in his own right. But if any producer, including Dre did more for music during the noughties, then I'm utterly ignorant of them.

Because I saw Clipse live a  few years back. The most disappointing gig I've ever been to. Who'd have guessed it, these guys CAN'T RAP outside a studio. But there's the amazing dimension, because on record NONE of their rap peers can hold a candle to them. So if that's not Pharrell's magic, I'd love to hear any alternative explanation. The way they inflect everything semi-conversationally is completely peerless. The main riff? Sounds like it's that noise you produce when you click your jaw and use your mouth as a resonance chamber. So the whole thing is kind of understated, sounds punk-fresh-DIY, and lyrically snaps crackles and pops with a joy in the rudiments of language that every great rap act had in their DNA.

But NEVER pay to see these guys live.

73.Kids - MGMT
Oracular Spectacular (2007)
If you had to hand ownership of the decade's dancefloors to a single riff, does anyone have a better candidate than this? Becoming a touchstone for SO MANY different styles, genres, scenes takes some REAL songwriting chops. In future when people ask "remember the noughties", most respondents are just going to hear this riff playing in their head.

72.All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
Sound Of Silver (2006)
Another contribution from arguably New York's finest. They virtually defined their own genre and naturally enough came to own it. It's dance music you just BARELY want to dance to, its smart, sassy lyrics are such that who doesn't want to sit down and have about eighty beers with James Murphy?

71.Numb Numb (Screwed and Chopped) - Juvenile
Juve The Great: Screwed And Chopped (2003)
I suppose you could make the case that 'Screwed and Chopped'/slowed and throwed plus 'Dirty South' are new noughties-born subgenres within hip hop. So here's one of the finest examples of both. The slowed up syncopation effect on the vocal in the chorus is somewhere music hasn't much been before. And yeah, maybe it's a cheap and obvious gimmick. But somewhere in the definition of a gimmick is the meaning "it just WORKS."

And nobody has stepped into the silly hip-hop generic attire of the self-proclaimed drug dealing overlord more fittingly before or since. And it's all kind of tongue-in-cheek hilarious "My shit is the bomb/There must be Saudi Arabians that ain't used some."

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Numbers 70 - 61, "Lived in Bars"

70.We Both Go Down Together - The Decemberists
Picaresque (2005)
There was some Christian weirdo in the US running round prime time TV saying this was the most evil song ever written for a while. With a zealot's usual sophistication, we were treated to the censor's natural desire to look at uncomfortable works of art, and completely ignore all the discomfort. Anything an artist depicts, the artist wholeheartedly supports. Which is why Shakespeare is an antisemite for killing off Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Ergh. Anyway, yes it's about rape and abusive relationships, it's also in no way uncritical, and is art at its uneasy best.

69.Lived In Bars - Cat Power
The Greatest (2006)
Well she certainly has. In fact, few contemporary performers have done the Keith Richards act so wholeheartedly. Once famous for her train wreck shows as she slid into alcoholism, it's this sublime album that probably rescued her career, if not her life. And of course, this the centerpiece is impossible to read outside of those battles. She was sober for three days recording the album, but was unable initially to tour in support of it, going through various stages of hospitalisation, what must have at one  point seemed like a terminal millstone has been turned into resurrection. The new Cat Power who plays entire shows, doesn't abuse her audience or begin talking to squirrels mid-song is a mighty thing to behold.

68.99 Problems - Jay-Z
Hot Joints 2 (2004)
Little introduction required here. A true hip-hop monster track, you were hard pressed to spend a night on the town on any scene mid-decade and manage to avoid this thundering forth at some point in the evening.

67.We Have A Map Of The Piano - Múm
Finally We Are No One (2002)
Well the Icelanders certainly had an interesting decade or so. But this was fully six years before the GFC. This nation has always punched above its per capita weight musically (what the hell else is there to do in three months of perpetual darkness but play music?), and this band have long been somewhere near the forefront of that scene.

It's a little bit indietronica, somewhere roundabouts understated post-rock, but listen CAREFULLY ... there's also elements of GLITCH in there, but the minimal vocals take it somewhere quite unique just outside of ALL those genres.

66.Out Of Time - Blur
Think Tank (2003)
There are a few acts to come who all seem to sit outside their own element in this list. Properly NINETIES acts whose careers burst the boundaries of the decade. Most of them are twilight offerings, final last hurrahs. Some, like The Cure's were intended as such, and work well. Others, like this one see Blur still sounding vital, still with something to say.

In fact, Think Tank charted an interesting direction for how Blur might have gone into their dotage, an interesting multi-layered, swirling largely atmospheric direction, but always as here grounded in Damon's ability to write an arresting melody which manages to sound both unrefined AND original.

65.Rock Bottom Riser - Smog
A River Ain't Too Much To Love (2005)
Ah Smog. A supreme pleasure live if you ever get the chance.

Nobody has the essentials of songwriting more down pat. Simple, almost naive yet still eloquent, underwhelming vignettes are the lyrical and musical building blocks, and the architecture is rarely short of sublime.

64.Silver Screen - Shower Scene - Felix Da Housecat
Club Rotation Vol.16 (2001)
Seeing house acts live is generally a hit and miss experience. And I did catch Felix doing his thing off Glenferrie Rd at some indeterminant point during the decade.

And I remember basically standing round with a bunch of people who could have been listening to anyone spinning anything for all they seemed to actually engage. Until he played this. And the joint went crazy for ONE SONG. During which my recollection is we pretty much got the radio rotation single version. And I could have stood there and done that for twenty bucks a head, thankyou very much. And this is why I no longer pay to see dance acts.

Nonethelesss, this is a CRACKING single. The bassline/rhythm flips repeatedly from stomping kickdrum to driven semi-industrial before you properly have time to orient yourself, and it's that tension that creates the entire edifice.

63.Don't Call Me Red - Ry Cooder
Chávez Ravine (2005)
For this reviewer, this was one of the decade's standout albums. On certain days, I'm happy to declare it the BEST ALBUM OF THE DECADE. It is irrespective a hugely important HISTORICAL document, and that in itself about warrants inclusion. Who else is sick to death of music and musicians that have no sense of history?

Chávez Ravine was a concept album telling the story of the eponymous former LA suburb, home to a large Mexican-American housing community, expelled from their homes in order to build a social housing project that never eventuated. Eventually the LA Dodgers built a stadium on the site. Cooder mixes traditional songs in with his own original work, to create one of the decade's most towering, mighty, self-contained and self-worthy albums. It oozes leftist politics without a even hint of the tokenism or bombast we're used to when scruffy musos get political, and this track is probably most exemplary.

62.Pop Crimes - Rowland S. Howard
Pop Crimes (2009)
RIP, you great junkie misanthrope. He lived downstairs from my mate's place in East St. Kilda. Kept entirely to himself, didn't want to communicate with you. And that was just fine too, because I've learned that knowing your idols too well is so often a mistake.

His final album was probably his finest moment, and arguably the best Australian release for the decade. A guitarist's guitarist, but a grounded one. My favourite interview with Rowland has him speaking with barely disguised contempt for fellow guitarists who turn up to gigs with racks crammed full of showy guitars "usually in inverse proportion to their ability to actually play them". Rowland had ONE guitar - a 60s original Fender Jaguar, from which he could wring sounds I've not met ANY living being capable of properly replicating. But more from Rowland in a bit ...

61.Destroy Everything You Touch - Ladytron
Witching Hour (2005)
I never actually knew much about this band, so researching this has been interesting. They do know how to write an absolutely killer single. This is a tad rockier than their standard fare, which sits a little more at the ethereal end of the spectrum, a little bit elelctro, a little bit shoegazey at times, they're also extremely accomplished remix artists.

This is easily their best work, this song just about pummels you all but to death.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Numbers 90-81, "To Hell With Good Intentions"

90.Someone Great - LCD Soundsystem
Sound Of Silver (2006)
This is a wonderful, understated number. It bleeps and bloops along with a repetitiveness that puts the otherwise affectatious vocal solidly in the foreground. It's about expectations that never quite reach fulfilment, the little disappointments we find in others as much as the unexpected joys.

89.To Hell With Good Intentions - McLusky
Mclusky Do Dallas (2001)
Well, hardcore doesn't get much of an outing in this list. In fact McLusky probably carry the entire hardcore banner here. And really, what other candidates were there? This is absolutely brimming with typical attitude, and a bass line that growls with a suppressed ferocity that periodically explodes in incendiary fury. Resolutely working class in their attitude, McLusky didn't mess around with words, and nor did they need to. Every line here says just enough without eloquence to produce some of the finest poetry that was ever shouted.

88.Kaliko - Zomby
Zomby EP (2008)
We've already spoken about dubstep as arguably the ONLY well-defined genre unique to the noughties, and this is perhaps close to its apotheosis. Resolutely anti-melodic, entirely driven through rhythm, but a rhythm that refuses to sit still. Because its modulations ARE the song, and so it's dance music you can just barely dance to. So it sits kind of purposeless, ungrounded in any actual music that's gone before, but it needs ALL the music that's gone before it for its wellspring. Vital, nervous, a little unhinged, with a kind of tic-toc heartbeat, this sounds like the vital signs of a vampire.

87.I Turn My Camera On - Spoon
Something To Look Forward To: Past & Present Selections For The Radio (2005)
Spoon. I think of it as the "Party of Five" phenomenon. At some point in the late nineties, it became a thing that every not actually coolsie show on TV needed to bust out some sort of soundtrack populated by vaguely "indie" sounds. And boy did Spoon reap a harvest from that. The Simpsons, Veronica Mars, Bones, Chuck, Scrubs, Numb3rs, to name but a few of the shows that borrowed Spoon's  coolsie cloak. While their albums have been patchy, they've done nothing but shine as a singles act, with some unbelievably catchy bassline driven numbers of which this is probably their best.

86.The Strangers - St. Vincent
Actor (2009)
Now here's a late decade curio. It's hard to know where to position the erstwhile Anne Clark. Her pedigree, immaculate, via Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, she belongs rightly at the more complex end of the musical spectrum. Weird harmonies swirling everywhere but where you expect them to go, and it probably takes a true musician's musician to sound like a peer to David Byrne. This one is both entirely typical and one of her more sublime efforts.

85.Black Cab - Jens Lekman
Oh You're So Silent Jens (2003)
"Oh no, goddamn/I missed the last tram/I killed the party again/Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn."
Jens Lekman burst out of the blocks in the early part of the decade to become everyone's favourite weirdo with an accent. His lyrics are equal parts simplicity and profundity matched usually to a pretty basic three chord structure. Yet as a songwriter he certainly sits somewhere near the front of the pack, and it's hard to pin down exactly why, but he can DO THINGS with the same chords everyone else is using just by inserting his lyrics. It's the lyrics themselves to some extent, but it's also that VOICE ...

84.Cone Toaster - Black Dice
DFA Compilation #1 (2003)
Yes. So, you're copping a fair whack of experimental electronica in this list. Because again, if any genre really existed a propos of the zeitgeist, certainly the late noughties produced a real wellspring of experimentation thoroughly in line with the idea that we exist in a time BEYOND the end of music, a time when everything's been said already and all that's left for musicians is to fuck with music's existing, finite tropes. This band have made an extremely interesting musical journey, from an earlier hardcore-noise-industrial mode in the prior decade, the noughties saw Black Dice come out all pedals swinging, reinvented largely as experimental electronica, there's guitars in there if you listen closely enough, but gated through enough weirdo pedals to be all but unrecognisable. The joy of this is the way it all slowly falls apart ...

83.Poker Face - Lady Gaga
The Fame (2008)
Shut up. She's done enough.

82.Schrapnell - Isolee
We Are Monster (2005)
And speaking of styles that were unique to the decade, microhouse has probably done enough to be able to stand vaguely in its own right as a genre. Albeit one that doesn't seem to offer terribly much for other artists to build on. But anyone who knows me, knows minimalism is the zone of electronica where I think ALL the goodness lies. And this beautifully illustrates why. Rhythm works with simple, understated melodies that with repetition produce thoroughly infectious hooks, and the song builds through a subtle layering of tracks, you never notice the main riff is little more than four declining notes.

81.Outhouse - Nathan Fake
Outhouse (2003)
Yep. More minimalism. This one more driven, dancier, its techno pedigree worn pretty tellingly on its sleeve. Nathan Fake specialises in exactly this sort of dance-floor oriented minimalism built around an almost indeterminate bassline/melody, it's a track you just can't possibly hum to yourself, because there really aren't any phrases as music would traditionally have understood them, but this is where minimal distances itself from downtempo. The tempo here is up, the rhythm never lets go  of you, and the journey is just storied enough that this stands out among the many contenders that might have represented this not always terribly unique song form.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Numbers 100 - 91, "for Reverend Green"

100.Mistaken For Strangers - The National
Boxer (2007)
You could accuse them of being the poor folk's Interpol. But The National have pieced together an impressive body of work over the past decade or so, and this was the standout track from their breakthrough album.
It broods like Interpol, and is as lyrically obtuse. The relentless snapping drums set the mood without any real letup as we transition seamlessly into a very nice, understated chorus that somehow manages to be catchy at the same time.

99.The Miller's Daughter - The Drones
The Miller's Daughter (2005)
This was a tricky inclusion. There are a number of artists represented here whose body of work has rightly earned them a place in this list, even if they never released a killer hit single during that time, and The Drones presented just such a problem.
Lifted from the eponymous EP, this is as snarlingly good as anything the band has ever released, and it captures all their raucus talents - both lyrically and musically.

98.Cattle & The Creeping Things - The Hold Steady
Separation Sunday (2005)
Separation Sunday was by this reviewer's reckoning one of the freshest releases of the mid-noughties. It presented a vision of adolescent urban alienation delivered in a vital, engaging, and at times even poetic stream of consciousness monologue.
What made the album REALLY interesting was its interplay between urban alienation tales and religious - particularly high Catholic themes. That this is the moral background against which American youth in particular play out their adolescence made Separation Sunday a vital and unique cultural survey which had a lot new to say and said it exceptionally well.
And while rock/pop's propensity to steal or to drape itself in religious iconography and mores is indisputable, rarely is this managed with anywhere near the empathy for its content. Separation Sunday instead is a proper exploration of the interplay between identity and religon, particularly during modern adolescence when identity is so much in crisis anyway. Hence the iconography of graffiti and recreational drug use sits everywhere in the album uneasily beside Christian iconography.
This interplay is nowhere more redolent than in this track, and it's what really gives this one a dimension of greatness.

97.The Leavers Dance - The Veils
The Runaway Found (2003)
It does the soaring tuneful indie sound archetypal of its time as well as any.

96.Atlas - Battles
Mirrored (2007)
Certainly one of the more unique of the decade's offerings, and utterly insidious in spite of itself. A real garage jam aesthetic prevails here, the vocals are minimal, as is the content, and that's kind of the point here. It's an exercise in form. And one of the great ones.

95.C'mon C'mon - The Von Bondies
Pawn Shoppe Heart (2004)
This was one of the most barnstorming releases of 2004. It grabs you by the scruff of your aural neck within the first thirteen seconds and never lets go. And you're almost dared not to sing along.

94.Gold Digger - Kanye West
Late Registration (2005)
This insidious dancefloor mega-hit was played at every party on every scene in 2005, and probably represents the moment we realised Kanye wasn't going away anytime soon.

93.For Reverend Green - Animal Collective
Strawberry Jam (2007)
The arch experimenters came into their own in the noughties. Arguably nobody pushed the form of popular song more consistently and artfully across the decade than the Baltimore four-piece. And this swoony, multi-layered cacophany is entirely representative.

92.Fuck Forever - Babyshambles
Down In Albion (2005)
At first I wondered "what's the point in having a side project to the Libertines which sounds exactly like them?" But apparently Mr Pete Doherty was actually tossed out of the Libertines for some alleged and no doubt spurious substance abuse issues. And this bare bones, cocaine-addled ode to decadence was a pretty memorable response.

91.Heart Failed (In The Back Of A Taxi) - Saint Etienne
London Conversations (2000)
Saint Etienne were truly a nineties act, but they had this one hit in the mature years of their reign that is the equal of anything they ever produced.
Easy to put in a genre with Massive Attack, EBTG, Portishead, they never quite achieved the fame or status of those others, but their body of work does stand out well against theirs, and this track shows why.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Numbers 150 - 126, "Kill All Hippies"

The plural of medium is media.

And the noughties have offered a proliferation of previously unimaginable channels for the production and distribution of music that have been tantamount to a revolution in the entire way music is communicated. And if music is little else than a vehicle for communication, then this is a revolution in the very essence of the medium.

What does it mean that anyone with an internet connection can stream almost at will practically ANY song from the ENTIRE body of human recorded history? And this is neither much of an exaggeration nor any real extrapolation. The Alan Lomax recordings are all on Spotify now.

Alan Lomax (r) with Wade Ward, 1959-60
Does this mean that we are set to witness the death of recorded music as a physical object? A casual look at the sorts of prices collectible vinyl still goes for would suggest no. In fact the other real trend we saw in the noughties was the resurgence of vinyl as a fetishised object, wherein it has connotations of authenticity and of connoisseurship. Values that rock/pop ideology has always valorised in its heirarchies in contrasting the 'commercial' with the 'authentic'.

But as we'll see in the next installment, what the noughties have done is blur that boundary between commercial and authentic. Since the days when Biz Markie first 'yes y'all'-ed forth, hip hop music has had its aim squarely on destroying this dialectic. The accumulation of bling actually became your route to authenticity, not its opposite. And any casual look particularly at contemporary music video culture shows how quickly discourses from this arena have become pop culture stereotypes.

Five minutes on any given Video Hits channel trammels up a bewildering array of variously rehashed stereotypes that owe considerably more to cheerleading and other communal dance activities than they do to a popular music heritage that runs all the way back to the 1950s.

So here we are in the perpetual now, shorn of our history and all its context. Naked and unformed whiteboards waiting to be scribbled on and erased, where we have NO BASIS for attaching quaint, unitary, historicity to anything, where any value judgement is subjective - can never be definitive. By definition that can never be defined either.

It should really be no wonder that in this environment political music died a sorry death. And Neil Young, the already dead, is the only fellow in today's list who could conjure its true spirit. #146, below. Enjoy.

150.MotorbikeWooden ShjipsDos (2009)
149.Track Of The CatPramDark Island (2003)
148.This Is HardcorePulpHits (2006)
147.MonsterYou Say Party! We Say Die!Lose All Time (2007)
146.Flags Of FreedomNeil YoungLiving With War (2006)
145.Welcome to JamrockDamian MarleyReggae Mix (2004)
144.Dream OnChristian Falk Ft. RobynDream On (2008)
143.Playground LoveAirTalkie Walkie (Russian Edition W/Bonus) (2003)
142.Do You Want To-Franz Ferdinand(2005)
141.HaHTRKMarry Me Tonight (2009)
140.BonkersDizzee RascalTongue N' Cheek (2009)
139.Sing It BackMolokoThings To Make And Do (2000)
138.Smile Like You Mean ItThe KillersHot Fuss (2004)
137.Bottle BabyAugie MarchMoo, You Bloody Choir (2006)
136.DareGorillazDare (2005)
135.1 ThingAmerieP (2008)
134.Tear You ApartShe Wants RevengeShe Wants Revenge (2006)
133.Hard To ExplainThe StrokesIs This It? (2000)
132.Kill All HippiesPrimal ScreamXtrmntr (2000)
131.No One Does It Like YouDepartment Of EaglesIn Ear Park (2008)
130.Take Me OutFranz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand (2004)
129.Come Pick Me UpRyan AdamsHeartbreaker (2000)
128.Island In The SunWeezerThe Green Album (2001)
127.DominosThe Big PinkA Brief History Of Love (2009)
126.SpaceapeBurial Feat. The Space ApeBurial (2006)