This is it, ladies and gentlemen! The TOP TEN! I know you're all as excited as I am and I'll have more than enough to say about these last ten songs--all of which I would undoubtedly put on a list of top 50 songs of all time--so let's get the ball rolling right away...
10. Funeral Diner - This Truly Is God's Country
Yeah, yeah, more screamo. Hear me out. There was a period a few years ago for a couple of months where I just didn't see any point in listening to any band but Funeral Diner because nothing else measured up. Funeral Diner is one of those bands where no one instrument is the real star of the show because they all mesh together as one so perfectly. However, I will say that Matthew Bajda is one of my top 5 drummers of all time...even now that I don't listen to much Funeral Diner--or screamo in general--anymore. This song, like a lot of the screamo songs on the list, was picked because of the truly special "moments" in the song moreso than the song as a whole--a distinction which is even more apparent in the highest ranked screamo song on the countdown. Don't take that to mean that these screamo songs aren't great all the way through. It's just that screamo songs do tend to rely on dynamics and emotional peaks and valleys and builds and payoffs to carry most of their emotional weight. In the case of this song, these "moments" are not only brilliant musically but lyrically as well. In fact, as hard as it may be to believe, the lyrics may even overshadow the music in some places. When vocalist Seth Babb wails "the holes you dig are always deeper though better informed" I can't help but get goosebumps. And, of course, the song's main climax in which he shrieks "as much as it hurts, they were right when they said: 'change is the only constant'" will always take my breath away no matter how many times I hear this song.
9. The Lawrence Arms - Your Gravest Words
Easily the catchiest, most accessible song in the top 10, The Lawrence Arms get their only nod in my top 50 for a song I've probably listened to more times than almost any song I've ever heard (there might possibly be 2 or 3 that I've listened to more times...if only I'd had a last.fm count my whole life). For a pop punk song, you can't do any better than this. One of the most beautiful chord progressions you'll ever hear begins the song and flows through all the choruses like sheets of rain washing down on your face. Now, for those not familiar with The Lawrence Arms, their music is unique in that guitarist Chris McCullough writes about half of the songs while bassist Brendan Kelly writes the other half. Much like The Beatles did, Chris and Brendan each sing lead vocals on their own respective songs, so their albums are split between "Chris songs"--they tend to be a little on the softer, prettier side--and "Brendan songs"--falling on the harder, more punk rock side of things--which make for an interesting experience. This is probably the perfect embodiment of a "Chris song." Beautiful, powerful, catchy as all hell and dripping with his uniquely low-pitch, smooth, melodic voice (as opposed to Brendan's gritty punk voice). When he croons "I am a satellite, never getting signals right. You are a constellation. I can barely make you out tonight. The city lights are burning too bright." it will melt your heart, I can almost guarantee it.
8. Envy - A Far-Off Reason and Yaphet Kotto/This Machine Kills/Envy - A Collaboration Song
These two songs appear on the greatest split record I've ever heard in my life. For those not "in the know", a split record is a record that features songs by more than one band (usually two bands, three in this case) that is generally a collaborative effort between the two bands, at least to some extent. Some bands cover one or two of each other's songs when they do a split together (as is the case with the Alkaline Trio/Hot Water Music split). I used to own a split 10" by Envy (who are from Japan) and a band called Iscariote who are Italian and they did a cool thing where each did one song in the other band's language with lyrics written by the other band's lyricist. This split is unique in that it features three bands (there are certainly other splits between three or more bands but most features just two) and, moreso, because the three bands collaborated on the final song on the record. This split stands as the best split I've ever heard for several reasons: 1. the three Yaphet Kotto songs on this split are, in my opinion, the best songs they ever wrote, 2. the way this split is organized, with Yaphet Kotto's powerful but more up-tempo songs leading off, This Machine Kills's solid, chaotic, but ultimately least exceptional songs in the middle, with Envy's masterfully powerful contribution and the subsequent brilliance of the collaborative track bookending the record perfectly...the organization reminded me a lot of the way you're taught to write five-paragraph essays in middle school and high school: second best argument first, third best argument second, best argument first, 3. Envy's contribution itself...incredible, and 4. A Collaboration Song. I absolutely, positively had to list both "A Far-Off Reason" as well as "A Collaboration Song" simply because they are two of the greatest songs of this decade respectively. "A Far-Off Reason" is really the song that made me stand up and take notice when listening to the record. I had enjoyed the contributions of Yaphet Kotto and This Machine Kills albeit a bit passively. However, when I first heard the intensely moving chord progression at the heart of this song, my jaw dropped and my eyes started getting misty. Then there's a moment where the music drops out for an extended period of time and all you hear is screaming off in the distance. I don't want to ruin the surprise but pay close attention during this part. When I heard it, I stopped what I was doing and was pretty much frozen in the same position for the rest of the song. "A Collaboration Song?" I can't even describe it. You have to hear it for yourself. It's a religious experience.
7. City of Caterpillar - ...And You're Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven
This song is the true embodiment of the statement I made in my Funeral Diner blurb in reference to "moments." This song features some of the best "moments" in any song I've ever heard in my life--and they happen almost one on top of the other. I must warn you not to be deterred by the raucous, somewhat chaotic beginning of the song. The raging tide of the song soon settles some of the most beautiful atmospheric passages ever put to tape. I can sit here and try to describe what these brilliant moments sound like (all the stars falling to earth is one image that comes to mind) but I could never do them justice. All the velvety layers and swirling textures surround your head and immerse you in a warm, starry experience that I highly recommend to everyone. EVERYONE.
6. Radiohead - The National Anthem
I have to say, honestly, if there were to be a national anthem for this decade or even this millenium, you'd have a hard time doing better than this. This isn't really even one of my absolute favorite Radiohead songs--it's way up there but maybe just short of a top ten--but it is a perfect microcosm of not only Radiohead's artistic and musical prowess but of the music industry as a whole: an unsettling, undeniably catchy and yet incomprehensibly chaotic cacophony that snowballs into a most beautifully decimating conclusion. It's sparse and a bit disjointed lyrically but perhaps fittingly for a song so chock full of notes that bite and scratch and clash with each other in a wonderful garbage pile of juxtaposed beauty and ugliness, musicality and amusicality. A perfect way to summarize this song is a quote I used time and time again to describe avant garde black metal band Deathspell Omega's discordant 2007 masterpiece "Fas -- Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum": Only truly great musicians could create something this amusical.
5. Converge - Heaven In Her Arms
And you thought "The National Anthem" was chaotic. I should warn you all that this is arguably the most abrasive and least accessible song on the entire list. Enter at your own risk. If you do take the plunge, you'll be holding on for dear life for the entire ride. Set partially in a 7/4 time signature that comes off more like a 7/8 with the scathing pace of the song, it features one of the most devastatingly powerful riffs you'll hear in any metal or hardcore song along with Jacob Bannon's trademark bloodcurdling screams and, of course, Ben Koller's ever-transient, ever-mindblowing drum work. A somber tone and a 4/4 time signature kicks in for an epic bridge that sees Bannon shrieking maddeningly: "forgive me for the sadness and the bringing of you down...I just needed a lover and I needed a friend...and there you were, running from forever like all the rest." However it soon becomes clear that all this was just a prelude for an epic conclusion that's as emotionally powerful as it is crushingly heavy: "three simple words bled me dry: I love you."
4. Tool - Rosetta Stoned
This is the one song on the countdown that features an intro that's fairly essential to the experience of the song, especially because the two tracks bleed together. In fact, I really like to start listening to this song with an interlude that sits one track previous to the intro for this song because it serves as a great preface for the "Lost Keys"/"Rosetta Stoned" experience. And "Rosetta Stoned" is certainly a fitting title for this song. It's really only something that obsessive Tool fans--read: most real Tool fans--are consciously aware of but this song has pieces of other Tool songs scattered all over the place. That's not to say they sampled other songs or ripped riffs straight out of old songs and pasted them into this one. However there are certainly very distinct homages to many of Tool's songs hidden within the song. Comparisons can be drawn between parts in "Rosetta Stoned" and parts in songs such as "H." and "Third Eye" that are a frequent topic of discussion on Tool message boards--I would know. In many ways this song really is kind of a "rosetta stone" for Tool's music and a very interesting microcosm of their catalog. Tool has almost become known for these sort of 10+ minute epics that rollercoaster up and down and side to side and upside down countless times and while this is no "Third Eye" it certainly earns its place on the pantheon of Tool epics as well as a spot in the top five of this countdown.
3. Between the Buried and Me - Mordecai
On sheer musicality alone, this song blows every single one on this list away and then some. The opening seconds set the perfect tone for this punishing whirlwind of blinding metal riffing and constantly transitioning tempos. The guitar work here is second to none, all at once technically masterful, totally organic, and melodiously impressive. If all the chaos and noise isn't your cup of tea, I urge you to brave the storm for a little longer because the song closes with a beautifully epic and moving passage that includes a truly great guitar solo that very much serves the song as opposed to the guitarist's ego. I dare you not to get goosebumps during the soaring melody of "from the reciting of the show...from the plip in the shevanel...from the grind that annoys...and the sarcasm they all hate"
2. Converge - Jane Doe
This is the emotional 11+ minute conclusion of the album with the same name...and a fitting conclusion it is. An album as powerful and as challenging as this deserves nothing less than a towering, spiraling, desperate epic. One of the greatest shows I've ever seen was a Converge show where they closed their set with this song and I have to admit that I literally wept seeing them perform this song. Such an overpowering emotional song with Jacob Bannon musing during the choruses "IIIIIIIIII waaaaaaaant ouuuuuuut." The outro is a crushingly beautiful bookend to a magnificent, majestic song. Powerful beyond belief.
AND THE GREATEST SONG OF THE DECADE IS...
1. Thrice - For Miles
I have to admit I feel a little guilty putting this at the top spot because I feel like I probably have an overwhelming bias toward this band but at the same time I just don't fucking care. This song is just achingly, impossibly beautiful. I can't even describe how much this song moves me. The beautiful piano line. Dustin Kensrue's incredibly voice. Ridiculously powerful lyrics. Spacey guitar work in the chorus. A towering bridge with a fantastic guitar riff. And an outro that will make the hairs on your neck stand up. No praise I can give this song is too high. No description I can give can capture its captivating beauty for you. You just have to go buy yourself a copy of "Vheissu" and wait patiently for track 5 so you can experience it for yourself.
Well, that's it...the countdown comes to its dramatic conclusion. I hope it was as fun for you--all two of you reading this--as it was for me.