Dec 8, 2009

My Favorite Songs of the Decade (2000-2009)

This was easier than I thought. Just look for the most 'plays' in iTunes, subtract the Beatles and Jean-Michel Jarre tracks — oops — and voila! You too can end up with a best songs of the decade list. In no particular order. New World — Bjork: flotation-tank classicism from Her Highness, unfolding in a glorious cavern of brass and woodwind. It was recorded for the Lars Von Trier's Dancer In The Dark. Wrong film — it should have been Bond. Please Forgive Me — David Gray: who knew that a spidery drum-n-bass could mesh so marvellously with this Van Morrisonish ballad? Spot the join. Every Time You Say Goodbye — Alison Krauss (Live): virtuouso banjos, harmonies that zing, the neatest syncopation this side of Earth, Wind and Fire. I marvel at the discipline the band required to stop from spontaneously combusting with pleasure upon performing this song. Amazing — George Michael: A disco track warmed up with some sparkling acoustic guitar, this is the closest Michael has come to recapuring l'essence de Wham. A noble endeavour. There's a bass drum heart-skip in the chorus that makes me very happy indeed. I Don't Know What It Is — Rufus Wainwright: a surging cathedral of a song. I can't be objective about this one: it's only a slight exaggeration to say that this record once save my life. The cymbals that launch the final round of choruses are magnificent: like watching a glacier splinter and break. The best ending to a song since Carly Simon's Nobody Does it Better. Autumn Tactics — Chicane. The most heartrending piece of house music I've come across. I can't really explain it. House music doesn't normally tug at the heart strings but this track, about the passage of seasons, floors me every time. A song suffused with the peculiar balearic melancholy that comes with the end of summer. See You Soon (Live) / Clocks — Coldplay. I couldn't be more bored with the backlash: Chris Martin's falsetto vocal stylings remain angular, private, always surprising. He crafts intimate epics, as they say in the movie business. Calling it Quits — Aimee Mann: the verse is a picture of weary resignation; the chorus stands up and walks out the door. The layered guitar tracks make you feel as if you are sitting at the bottom of the ocean, watching the bubbles rise. Digital Love — Daft Punk. Dazzling sonic crack. When I first heard it I felt a little sick, I liked it so much. If I could have injected it intravenously during the period 2000-2001, I would have. I still can't listen to a second without seeing it through to the end. The middle 8 sounds like an army of Supertramps coming over the horizon. Hey Ya! — Outkast: unlike other ubiquitous summer hits, the memory of this one makes you feel fondly for your fellow man. It's joy on a stick. Simple — k d lang: from Lang's back-to-basics album of Canadian covers. Bare and beautiful, just a flawless song. It is worthy of awe. All For You — Janet Jackson: the most efficient channeling of Chic since Shalamar's Night to Remember. This song is absurdly, ridiculously danceable, with a big fat bass and sparkling trimmings. What It's Like to Be a Girl — Madonna: Madonna invites Kate Moss to read a portion of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden. Now there's an invitation to pass up. But the song is a wonder — easy, indolent and relaxed as a spring day. Crazy In Love — Beyonce: a raucous floor-filler whose opening brass fanfare practically pole-vaults you out of your seat. Beyonce may be a petite thing, but her voice is all elbows and knees. You join in or get out of the way. A Thousand Beautiful Things — Annie Lennox: a taut composition, crisply produced, achingly sung. It doesn't get much better than this. Catch Me If You Can — John Williams: Spielberg's most fleet-footed film since the first Raiders forced Williams onto more minimalist territory, but graced with the catchiest of melodies, as always. Watch the opening credits here. Beautiful Day — U2: a roughhouse reinvention that tumbles and rolls, straight out the gate. Impossibly exciting, even — dare I say it — hawkish. The song playing in the head of a marine as he steps out of the plane at 10,000 feet. Pushy — Lemon Jelly: a sweet, lovely hymn to the virtues of British shyness. You wonder about the little girl though: what passive-aggressive librarian-Valkyrie did she grow up to be? I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You — Colin Hay: newly sprung from the gormless ranks of Men at Work, Colin Hay turned out this soft, ruminative balled, with picturesque lyrics, smokily sung. Toxic — Britney Spears: a spiky confection which balances bubble-gum pop with snaking premonitions about the darkness to come. Or so I like to think. You can see all sorts reflected in its chrome surface. Useless Desires — Patty Griffin: a country-folk ballad that builds and builds and builds until Griffin seems to be walking, arm in arm, with every lonelyheart and unrequited lover who ever staulked the earth. Starry Eyed Surprise — Paul Oakenfold. Harry Nielson never sounded as bubbly as he did here: sampled and looped beneath a melodious invitation to party til dawn. You have to watch the diet coke commercial — roller skaters on Venice beach at the magic hour, blowing bubbles — to get the full effect. Delirious. All I Want to Know — Stephen Merritt: a sweet, hoarse entreaty from the Magnetic Fields' singer that was born to be played back to back with the Strangler's Strange Little Girl. My favorite song on the epistemology of love since Whitney Houston's How Will I Know. Crash Into Me (Fatboy Slim Remix) — Dave Matthews: I prefer Norman's cook's remixes to his own records. This is one of his best: Dave Mathew's song retooled with a toothsome rhythm track that doesn't break the original's stride. Choosing a live version to remix was a masterstroke. Too Young / Lisztomania — Phoenix: an exuberant cocker spaniel of a band, head out the window, with fat snare sounds that would make Donald Fagen weep. The best thing to come out of France since Eric Cantona. Sexual High — Go Home Productions: a mash-up of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing and Radiohead's Creep. I won't try and explain. Just listen. Move Your Feet — Junior Senior: a too-clever synthetic Danish dance hit that seems to have come from long hours spent in front of the television, soaking up earthling dance patterns. What can I say? They paid attention. This song makes me want to move my feet. Love Letter — Nick Cave: a velvet dirge that envelops you from beginning to end, like a solid evening spent drinking and thinking about someone who isn't there. Prologue (Birth) — Alexandre Desplat. No doubt about it. No second thoughts. The best movie soundtrack of the decade without question, bar none. There. How's that for a verdict? If Michael Nyman had written the NutCracker Suite it might have sounded like this. Hide and Seek — Imogen Heap: an electric acapella that should be listened to the moment it first snows. The harmonies are as delicate as light bulb filaments. Strawberry Fields (Love remix) — The Beatles: hear Lennon layer up Strawberry Fields, track by track, from demo to disc, in this Giles Martin remix. Fascinating stuff: like watching the Mona Lisa paint itself. Robin Hood — Scritti Politti: Green Gartside put perfectionism aside for just long enough to record an album of Beatles and Beach Boys digestifs. This one is the slinkiest: a song about a thief, by a magpie. Walking on a Dream — Empire of the Sun. If someone described Empire of the Sun to you — an Australian band, named after a Spielberg movie, styled after Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, sounding like a ritzier Talking Heads — you would not believe them. But they do exist, improbably, and they're good. Define Dancing — Thomas Newman: Newman's soaring serenade for Eve and WALL-E as they dance through space using fire extinguishers for propulsion. That's not a summary of the movie. That's what it actually sounds like: robots dancing through space using fire extinguishers for propulsion. Lyla — Oasis: The Gallagher brothers finally got around to channelling someone other than The Beatles (here it's the Kinks) and produce a hairy masterpiece. Wake Up — The Arcade Fire: when the storm hits and the city lights go out, children scream with delight. This is that scream turned into a song. One Day Like This — Elbow: a rousing anthem of the kind that makes you want to go out and volunteer for something — your country, Greenpeace, anything. In for the Kill — La Roux: an urgent synth-pop belter for those too young to remember Yazoo. Ellie Jackson sings like she doesn't know she's being listened to. Are You Alright? — Lucinda Williams: Someone asks after a friend who has been MIA, "Are you alright? Do you have someone to kiss and hold you tight?" Everyone has been in this position, and yet nobody has thought to record a song this purposeful and compassionate. Blindsided — Bon Iver: patient, hushed loveliness from the man who locked himself into a Wisconsin cabin until he sung himself better. LDN — Lily Allen: cheeky, candid, witty, winsome. It's hard not to love the Allen persona. That she has tunes this good to back it up — she is a truly gifted arranger — is the kind miracle that propels you into the first rank of pop acts. A Brand New Song — John Mellencamp: T Bone Burnett summons the Ghost of Tom Joad one more time to haunt this rolling Mellencamp ballad. Dreamworld — Rilo Kiley: I know it's craziness to pick the one track on which Jenny Lewis doesn't sing (I've included The Absence of God to make up for it) but this song is stand-out: dreamy and adventurous, not qualities you often hear together. Fake Empire — The National: the sound of the Obama campaign. Another builder, stately and unstoppable and glorious as a ticker tape parade. The horn section sound like they're playing from the top of a double decker bus. Sweet Disposition — The Temper Trap: I fell in love with this the moment I heard it in the trailer for 500 Days of Summer. It's like nothing you ever heard — maybe Echo and the Bunnymen if they were joined by The Edge — and yet wholly of a piece. It's the kind of record that makes you wonder where songs come from. 1234 — Feist: as charming as a game of hopscotch. Play it once and then commit it to memory. House of Cards — Radiohead: from my favorite album of theirs, a song to be sung while driving through the night, headlights picking out the road ahead, while the world collapses gently behind you.

My final Top Ten here.

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