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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.