Monday, September 7, 2009

Top 50 Songs of the 2000s (20-11)

I know, I know, I've been slacking on this...but look on the bright side, we're now into the top 20. I personally am pretty excited because we're starting to get into some songs that I'm really gonna have a hard time not gushing like a fanboy about. Just looking over the top 10 right now, I can't wait to blather on and on and bore everyone to death about these 10 songs...they really are some of my favorite songs of all time...anyway, on with the show...

20. Mono - Halcyon (Beautiful Days)

I'm convinced that this song is the audio incarnation of falling in love. It really does sound like a song from a movie soundtrack that would be played over a romantic, exhilarating new year's eve scene where two anxious, smitten lovers play out an out-of-this-world first kiss as brilliant fireworks explode over their heads. The great thing is that you can pinpoint exactly where the kiss happens and the fireworks explode at the overwhelming climax of the song. Listening to this song after smoking a little herb and hearing that burst-and-bloom climax explode all around you is the closest thing to a fireworks display literally going off inside your head. It's not particularly complex for the 8 minutes it takes to play out but that's really part of the beauty of it...it's simple but breathtakingly majestic.

19. Baroness - A Horse Called Golgotha

I had to go back and amend my list to allow for this song because I am officially 100% sure that this is the best song Baroness has ever written. It features a majestic intro that serves as a perfect preface and then it launches headfirst into the epic guitar harmonies that line the entire song. The verse features a nice transition into some almost Torche-esque hook-driven heavy psychedelic pop which transitions back into an extraordinarily powerful chorus. I absolutely can't get enough of the guitar solo on this song and the scathing tone with which it drips. There's another solo like this in the song "Jake Leg" but it's nowhere near the brilliance of this solo...one of the best solos I've heard in quite a long time to be honest. And then what puts it over the top is the way it comes crashing to a close with a soaring instrumental outro that will send chills down your spine.

18. System of a Down - Question!

By a long margin, this is the most challenging, creative, and perhaps the best-crafted song in System of a Down's catalog. The haunting picked acoustic intro gives way to a sick riff in 5/4 time which then gives way to a highly complex 9/8 time verse that I had to listen to about 10 times before I could really figure out what time signature it was in, especially the way it's phrased. It also features one of the signature epic choruses of the "Mesmerize/Hypnotize" double album with their best soaring harmonies since the closing moments of "Chop Suey!" It's so rare nowadays to see a band that can challenge listeners with truly unique music that features things like odd time signatures or complex song structures and still garner massive popularity along the way. System of a Down is one of those bands. I can really only think of maybe two other examples of such bands--each is featured twice in the top 15 of this countdown.

17. Mare - They Sent You

I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone that this is probably the most esoteric selection on my list. It is certainly my opinion that Mare is by far the best band to ever record only five original songs and go almost completely unnoticed, even in the underground. I was lucky enough to see this band live--ironically we got there late and missed the first song they played, which was this song, a fact that haunts me to this very day--and they played to a room that would have held about 50 people at capacity and probably held about 20 that night. I guess it's not difficult to imagine this band not being for everyone. Their music is extremely challenging and complex, similar in many ways to the music of Baroness in that they are able to so seamlessly combine so many different elements and push genre boundaries. However, their approach is far more avant garde than that of Baroness, opting for towering, unsettling atmospheres and brooding, restrained rhythms, often not staying on a beat for long if there even is a beat. This song is a mindfuck from the very beginning, leading off with some very eerie programming and singing before nosediving into massive stoner rock riffs with beautifully complex guitar chords that are about as far from power chords as you can get and still be ridiculously heavy--this guitar work has actually been a major influence on my playing and my songwriting as a whole. The most compelling moment of this song comes toward the end as the music abruptly pauses for a very ominous guitar chord that almost sounds like an alarm being sounded, a chord which is then coupled with some distortion and some huge, sluggish stoner riffing to create a truly ominous atmosphere--an atmosphere abandoned as abruptly as it is ushered in as it quickly gives way to a beautiful guitar outro that almost speaks to you, saying: "everything is ok now."

16. At the Drive-In - Invalid Litter Dept.

A far cry from the chaotic assault of the rest of the "Relationship of Command" album, this song showcases the lighter side of At the Drive-In with a beautifully unsettling guitar line as its centerpiece. The verses are noticeably relaxed compared to much of this band's work but they're juxtaposed very nicely with rapid-fire incendiary spoken word vocals to create an interesting urgency among the restraint of the instrumentation. The vocal ramblings are also interspliced with the catchy and haunting melody of "dancing on the corpses ashes." The choruses are catchy and a bit more rowdy but ultimately play into the relaxed atmosphere of the song perfectly. What really puts this song over the top is what happens after the music abruptly stops toward the end of the song for vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala to whisper "dancing on the corpses ashes...dancing on the corpses ashes." You'll see...

15. Dredg - Triangle

Another track that is very much enhanced by being preceded by an interlude that makes for a very fitting preface. Much like Baroness's "Wanderlust", however, it stands up spectacularly on its own. What really made me pick this over other Dredg songs--and there are certainly a number of them I could have picked--is the fact that this song is almost like 2-3 songs put together, abruptly but seamlessly changing gears twice in the first two minutes and even a couple times after that to some degree. After those two minutes the song is truly allowed to settle in and even without all the abrupt pacing changes stands as one of Dredg's greatest achievements in songwriting and melody as well as lyrics. Some brilliantly poignant moments in this song include singer Gavin Hayes soaring through one of my favorite lyrics ever--"and it's not impossible for flowers to bloom and grow next to graves when babies are born in the same buildings where people go to pass away"--as the instruments trail out momentarily behind him and a droning chant of "we live like penguins in the desert...why can't we live like tribes?" in the song's bridge.

14. Radiohead - Idioteque

Leave it to Radiohead to write a discoteque song that is all at once the best discoteque song you'll ever hear and a big "fuck you" to discoteque in general. This is probably the most well-known example of Radiohead's trademark knack for marrying aggressive yet organic sounding techno beats with sometimes-eerie, sometimes-serene, always-beautiful melodies. I can still remember seeing this song performed on Saturday Night Live and Thom Yorke flailing his head around screaming "ice age coming! ice age coming!" An interesting aspect of this song is how much it has been connected with 9/11, with one fan even making a very interesting and relevant music video for the song using some interesting footage and photography. In fact, if you want to go even deeper, there's a whole passage in Chuck Klosterman's book "Killing Yourself to Live" about how he Radiohead might have accidentally predicted the events of 9/11 with their "Kid A" album--not literally, of course, but there are definitely some very interesting parallels.

13. Bright Eyes - Nothing Gets Crossed Out

As is often the case in the music of Conor Oberst, this song is carried predominantly by the power of his lyrics. A solemn, self-reflective, nostalgia-inducing merry-go-round ride of achingly powerful lines like "I know I should be brave but I'm just too afraid of all this change", opening lines "well the future's got me worried such awful thoughts, my head's a carousel of pictures, the spinning never stops", and boyhood laments of how he "fell under the weight of a schoolboy crush, started carrying her books and doing lots of drugs." But as is also often the case with Conor's work, the lyrics are nestled on a solid foundation of beautifully crafted music, including a gorgeous, starkly sweet bridge that gives way to a powerful conclusion as Oberst wails: "So when I'm lost in a crowd, I hope that you'll pick me out. Oh, how I long to be found. The grass grew high. I laid down. So now I wait for a hand to lift me up, help me stand. I have been laying so low. Don't wanna lay here no more."

12. Envy - Chain Wondering Deeply

There's really only one word that inevitably comes to mind when one talks about Envy, there's no avoiding it, it's the only one that lives up to what this band is capable of: EPIC. With songs that sprawl over 6, 7, 8, even 9 minutes sometimes and echo with the majesty and ferocity of Vesuvius, it's hard to avoid using the word "epic" when describing any Envy song--and no song they've written better embodies that than this one. It's not hard to imagine what's about to be unleashed upon you when you hear the haunting opening moments of this track but even then it can take you by surprise. I know I keep using this adjective (among others) but this song is truly one where the music (and specifically the guitars) truly tower over you like skyscrapers. That is, until the harrowing bridge of the song which features a twinkly guitar line that will pluck at your very heart strings--and if I'm being overly cheesy, it's purposefully. The only problem listening to this song is that if you don't have the whole album playing then the ending is awkward since it tumbles immediately into the next track on the album. That aside, though, if you truly love powerful, epic, dramatic music, this song just might change your life.

11. Tool - Right in Two

I have to say it's really a damn good thing that Aenima was released in 1996 otherwise I might have put half that album on the list. Tool's output in this millenium has never really lived up to the sheer brilliance of that album but, to be fair, that would be nearly impossible. Their last album, "10,000 Days" came much, much closer than 2001's "Lateralus" did--I often say that "10,000 Days" is the album I expected and the album Tool was capable of when they came out with "Lateralus" even though I still adore "Lateralus." This song is one of the main reasons why. Lyrically it's definitely one of my favorite Tool songs, to the point that if I were to quote every line I love in this song, I would probably end up covering at least 75% of the song. It also features a breathtaking tabla solo by drummer Danny Carey in the interlude that I had the good fortune of witnessing live and is truly something to behold--actually the tabla solo on the record is not even close to being as amazing as the one he played live. Add in the fact that this song is somehow in 11/8 time and still feels pretty much like a straight up 3 and you absolutely have yourself one of the greatest songs of this decade.



Tune in tomorrow for the TOP TEN. I keep staring at the top ten as I write this and drooling all over myself at the prospect of discussing these songs. Since I can barely contain my excitement, I'll give you guys a little teaser: 6 of the top 10 slots are occupied by bands who have already had at least one song on the countdown, one of which appears in the top ten twice...and yet doesn't even hold the top spot. Excited? I AM!