Playlist: Modern Anthems

The other day I was watching a live webcast of The Arcade Fire playing Madison Square Garden on youtube and chatting with my friend who was watching the same webcast. They closed (of course) with "Wake Up" and my friend said to me: "this is the last great anthem." Obviously I took this as a challenge. So I found 84 songs on my iPod that I deemed to be "great anthems" and that were released in or after the year 2004 (the year The Arcade Fire's "Funeral" was released). A lot of them were by the same artists so I made a mix (right in the range of 90 minutes so it would fit comfortably on a blank tape, if anyone's interested) of the best ones:

1. Thrice - Image of the Invisible

One of the more powerful songs you'll hear and one of the best opening songs on an album. The call-and-response gang vocals give me chills every time you hear them. This is one of a handful of songs that really captured the emotion and the significance of the 2008 Presidential Election for me. Not only that but the lyrics read like a war cry for my generation and are sung like one as well.

2. Jimmy Eat World - Futures

If "Image of the Invisible" was a war cry for the 2008 election then this one was a war cry for the 2004 election. Unfortunately this particular war cry wasn't exactly loud enough but that doesn't take anything away from this soaring pop anthem. Another one of my favorite album openers of all time, it explodes from the word "go" with one of catchiest riffs I've ever heard and the infectiousness doesn't stop there as a typically soaring Jimmy Eat World chorus sings "Say hello to good times...trade up for the fast life...we close our eyes while the nickle and dime take the streets completely."

3. Lucero - What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Yet another one of my all time favorite album openers and a perfect third track for a mix tape. This one doesn't soar quite as majestically as the first two but it's every bit as powerful in its simplicity and down-homey style. The stark, earnest crooning of "Come on baby, what else would you have me be?" in the chorus isn't exactly the epic, infectious sing-along that you normally hear in an anthem but the line is so starkly honest and vulnerable that you can't help singing along.

4. The Hold Steady - Southtown Girls

Another awesomely down-homey anthem with a very simple but very infectious chorus: "Southtown girls won't blow you away...but you know that they'll stay." Has a certain poignancy to it, doesn't it? Unlike the first three songs on this mix that open their respective albums, this song closes out the album it's on, and quite appropriately. It also features a totally rockin', infectious riff that will compel your hips irresistibly to move.

5. Drive-By Truckers - The Righteous Path

The kings of alt-country offer up a soulful rock anthem with an almost gospel feel to it, specifically in the lyrics. Lyrically it speaks very personally of every day life and troubles with money. The song itself has a nostalgic simplicity that makes it undeniably timeless, much in the same way that Smashing Pumpkins' "1979" is. This is a song I could see having my first dance with a girl to. It's catchy, it's poignant, and it's danceable. What more could you ask for?

6. The Bouncing Souls - So Jersey

I really wish I could have gone back a few years to 2001 when they released How I Spent My Summer Vacation because there are like 3 or 4 different songs on that album that are all-timer level anthems. The Gold Record has its share of great anthems also (although the best one is a song originally written by a band called Avoid One Thing). I picked this one not only because it strikes me as the most anthemic but because it's an anthem with a message that's very dear to me, which is: "And we want to say thanks to the music in our lives for helping us to survive..."

7. Latterman - My Bedroom Is Like For Artists

The album that this song closes out (No Matter Where We Go) is essentially nothing BUT wide-eyed anthems from beginning to end. Picking just one to go on this mix was part mind-numbing deliberation and part total crapshoot. In the end, this one stood out marginally from the rest--maybe because it has that conclusive feel of a final song on an album. The point is, if you like the anthemic qualities of this song, you really need to hear the rest of the album because the choruses are just as powerful in every other song on it.

8. The Ergs! - Everything Falls Apart (and More)

This, to me, is the band that every fan of New Found Glory or Blink 182 or any of the other megastars of shitty mainstream pop punk needs to be listening to instead. These guys are the kings of nerdy pop punk, firmly planted at the intersection of Elvis Costello and The Descendents. Dorkrockcorkrod is honestly one of the ten best pop punk albums I've ever heard; fresh and diverse but focused and infectious. This tongue-in-cheek anthem articulates a sarcastic desire to be lied to by the girl of your dreams because "the truth hurts much too much sometimes." I think it's something a lot of nerdy, squirrely guys can relate to even if none of us legitimately wants to be lied to.

9. Dillinger Four - A Jingle For the Product

Another band, much like The Bouncing Souls, whose catalog I wish I could go further back into (a couple gems that could just as easily be on this mix: "Doublewhiskeycokenoice", "Super Powers Enable Me to Blend with Machinery", "D4=Putting the 'F' Back In 'Art'", "Fired Side Chat") but this song certainly belongs on that pantheon as well. Actually a lot of songs from C I V I L W A R are worthy of a spot but this one stands out above the others--as well it should, being the first song on the album (and Dillinger Four has always been one of those bands who never fails to deliver on a phenomenal opening track).

10. Foo Fighters - In Your Honor

One more band for which I wish I could go back earlier than 2004 (how perfectly would "My Hero" fit in on this list; possibly one of the great anthems of all time). I was sort of on the fence on whether to pick this song or "The Pretender" but this one is just so epic, the choice was clear. I mean you talk about a great opening song--I would have killed to have seen them live when they toured for this album and opened every show with this song. So profound, so poignant and towering. Then that bubbling riff that gives way to silence...a deliberate breath...and then it explodes.

11. Modern Life Is War - D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.

It wasn't easy working a hardcore song into this mix but somehow I managed it. I had a hard time deciding between this and "The Outsider" which is a decidedly more powerful song but lacks a real sing-along or hook that would really qualify it as an anthem. So instead we have this song with its mesmerizing closing sing-along (see: song title).

12. System of a Down - Soldier Side

The poignancy of this song struck me immediately and impactively the very first time I heard it. I'd consider it a pretty major feat to listen to this song without getting chills. It doesn't so much have a specific hook as it is just one long anthem...every line soars and the harmonies of "they were crying when their sons left...etc." equal, if not surpass, the paralyzing outro of "Chop Suey." Extremely emotional, epic, starkly moving and, most of all, anthemic.

13. Leftover Crack - Soon We'll Be Dead (feat. World/Inferno Friendship Society)

At this point, we slow things down a bit; ironically, with an uncharacteristically slow song for Leftover Crack, best known for their crusty skacore and punk rock energy. Truly, it was a brilliant move on the band's part to bring in some of their friends in World/Inferno Friendship Society to help on this song because Stza's voice is clearly inadequate to execute this song and also the accordion adds a beautiful dimension that really puts the song over the top.

14. The White Stripes - Icky Thump

This might be the most unorthodox anthem on the list. The big hook is not a melody at all but a wild, hollering chant that you would have a hard time memorizing and singing along to without reading along with the lyrics. However, in spite of not having a catchy melody or being easy to follow along with, the "hook" is undeniably catchy and even if you can't remember the lyrics after you hear it 5-10 times, you won't be able to get it out of your head and will inevitably find yourself "singing" to yourself, something along the lines of "Icky Thump with the bump dumpa dump somethin' somethin' to Mexicooo."

15. Kanye West - Homecoming (ft. Chris Martin)

It was pretty much a toss-up between this and "Stronger" and I figured since I have a Coldplay song on here, why not put this song right before it. Actually, I chose this song mostly because everyone got pretty sick and tired of "Stronger" (myself included) and because the main hook in "Stronger" is a sample from a Daft Punk song and the main hook in this song is just plain better. Chris Martin fits so seemlessly into this song and the beat is absolutely phenomenal. Say what you want about Kanye's emcee skills (and his personality) but the man is a supremely talented producer and it's never more apparent than on this song and, really, on this entire album.

16. Coldplay - Viva la Vida

Anyone who knows me knows I'm no fan of Coldplay. I've always essentially viewed them as a diet version of Radiohead--actually, one of my favorite writers, Chuck Klosterman, has a much better line: "[Coldplay] sound like a mediocre photocopy of Travis (who sounds like a mediocre photocopy of Radiohead)." However, to their credit, on the album that this song takes its name from, they did a lot to distance themselves from the Radiohead comparisons, especially with this song. It has a kind of urgent energy which is not only a product of an ethereal sing-along chorus but also the noteworthy absence of conventional drumming and the inclusion of delightfully artificial-sounding string arrangements (and I say that without a hint of sarcasm; the electric string arrangements add a color and exuberance that I honestly don't think actual string instruments would necessarily achieve).

17. Bright Eyes - Road to Joy

As the song title insinuates, this song is loosely fashioned after Beethoven's famous "Ode to Joy" melody from his 9th Symphony. As you can imagine, this makes for a pretty epic anthem. This is another one of those songs where there isn't so much one great, epic hook as it is the whole song that's a sing-along. There aren't even any repeated lines that will stick in your brain but the melody is so infectious and powerful that it gives a chorus-like emphasis to pretty much every line in the song--and there are some phenomenal lines. Some of my favorites: "So when you're asked to fight a war that's over nothing, it's best to join the side that's gonna win. And no one's sure how all of this got started but we're gonna make 'em goddamn certain how it's gonna end." and "I read the body count out of the paper and now it's written all over my face. No one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter, sometimes that's just the most comfortable place." and, last but not least, a line that pretty well sums up the career of Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes: "Well I could have been a famous singer if I had someone else's voice but failure's always sounded better. Let's fuck it up boys, MAKE SOME NOISE!" which leads straight into the song's majestically noisy climax.

18. Dredg - Bug Eyes

Dredg was always more on the eclectic side than the catchy/sing-along-y side of things in spite of some very infectious melodies--that is, until the Catch Without Arms album. This was decidedly Dredg's most poppy album to date. This fact can be viewed either negatively or positively--on the positive side, the songs are beautiful and catchy with wonderful, dreamy, melodious hooks and textures; on the negative side, the songs are much simpler and devoid of many of the diverse textural and harmonic elements that made Leitmotif and El Cielo such fascinating albums. On the whole, it's a very good, well-written album and its dreamy, textural magnificence is exemplified by this song, with its iconic, delay-saturated, slide guitar intro and its soaring choruses that sing: "Your journey back to birth is haunting you; your departure from the Earth is haunting you."

19. Green Day - Wake Me Up When September Ends

I'd be hard-pressed trying to put together a list of the best anthems of the last 5-6 years without including a song from arguably the most commercially and critically (combined) successful album of the last decade. I certainly could have picked "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" or "American Idiot" or even one of the non-single tracks such as "Are We the Waiting" or even the 9-plus minute epic "Homecoming" instead; however, all things considered (overall song quality, popularity, anthemic...ness...), I think this song was the clear-cut way to go. As overplayed as this song has become, I doubt very many people can deny how powerful and anthemic it is. Also, having seen it live, I can attest to getting serious goosebumps hearing a huge crowd sing it in unison.

20. Far - At Night We Live

The only song on the list that was actually released this year, making it (obviously) the most recent song on the list. At first, this might seem a bit slow and methodical for an anthem but as a person who has done so much of my living after dark, the stirring chorus of the dark and powerful song resonates deeply with me. Sure, it's not exactly full of energy but it's starkly emotional and the exuberance in the lyrics and the melody can't be overstated. I also love how the mood of the song matches the subject material; the song truly resonates the energy of an exciting night full of dizzying possibilities.

21. Baroness - Ogeechee Hymnal/A Horse Called Golgotha

We close with a band that's hardly known for anthems and certainly not known for its hooks (at least not vocal hooks). While this song does have a pretty spectacular vocal melody in the chorus, it distances itself from the rest of the songs on the list in that it's most anthemic parts and aspects are instrumental. Some of the guitar lines and melodies in this song are more anthemic than some of the hooks in other songs on the list. I dare you not to hum along with the powerful hook that closes out the song.

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