M&C picks 10 of the best songs between 2000 and 2010
By S.P. MacIntyre Nov 1, 2010, 14:52 GMT
All too often do I hear the complaint that no good or interesting music has come out in the last ten years, that pop-rock featuring nasally screaming and auto-tuned dance tracks are the only hallmarks of a decade of cultural production.
And too often do I see “Best of” lists that are relegated to a single genre, are compilations of best sellers, or ignore the songs that are truly unique to the past decade.
Well, here’s a list for the people that have Messiaen and Jay-Z and Led Zeppelin and KMFDM and Frank Zappa on the same playlist, a list that hopefully points out some of the most tremendously innovative and interesting songs that have emerged between the years of 2000 and 2010.
This isn’t a list that seeks to snub the mainstream or radio-friendly for the underground or obscure, nor can this list be considered fully comprehensive. This is a subjective, by no means definitive, look at 10 pop songs that do something new or push the conventional to new realms.
So, in no particular order, the ten best songs of the 00’s:
1. “Start Wearing Purple” by Gogol Bordello (2006)
The most notable and innovative pop music in the past decade has emerged from bands that create fun and infectious songs that synthesize multiple genres and cultures. And while other contemporary bands like Beirut and DeVotchKa do this well, Gogol Bordello may just be the best at creating music that is both/and and neither/nor.
“Start Wearing Purple” blends punk and Eastern European folk music in a way that is both conceptually interesting and downright enjoyable, making it an easy pick for this list.
2. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists (2005)
Say what you will of The Decemberists, their range of instrumentation and Colin Meloy’s sesquipedalian loquaciousness work together to create songs that are just absolutely exquisite—“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” being quite possibly their crowning achievement and certainly one of the best songs of the decade.
Unlike the great story songs of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that told of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” blends sea shanty with Melvillian narrative, interweaving cadences with vocal rhythms in a way that is just purely well-crafted brilliance.
3. “Dance with the Devil” by Immortal Technique (2001)
There’s been a lot of great hip-hop released in the last ten years, but the more political and artistic, like Sage Francis or Saul Williams, tends to be too polemical while the songs about thuggin’ tend to be rather shallow, often to the point of self-conscious parody.
“Dance with the Devil,” though, is a song that takes life in the hood as its subject, makes political commentary without telling the listener how to think, and tells a haunting story—made all the more haunting and powerful with an ironic sample from Henri Mancini’s “Love Story”—that leaves a listener struck dumb with awe.
“Dance with the Devil” sets the bar high for any future rap or hip-hop song that attempts to treat the same subject, making it by far one of the best songs of the last ten years.
4. “Day After Tomorrow” by Tom Waits (2004)
For the past thirty years, Tom Waits has been ahead of the curve. While the guy who wrote “The Safety Dance” was declaring that he was going to be bigger than The Beatles, Tom Waits was listening to Captain Beefheart and The Residents and wondering where pop-music could go—and it is for this reason his work has been an influence or a precursor to almost all alternative rock (forgive the hyperbole), setting the stage for acts ranging from Primus to Norah Jones and Tori Amos to Modest Mouse and Man Man, and writing songs that were covered by Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, the Ramones, and Rod Stewart.
It’s hard to pick from the many excellent and innovative songs he released in the past ten years, but “Day After Tomorrow,” a song written in protest of the U.S.’s wars in the Middle East from the perspective of a soldier writing home, is a pertinent take on an old theme, leaving the angry protest songs to Tom Morello and Neal Young while taking a more quiet, introspective approach so as to highlight the utter despair of a situation that has truly shaped this decade.
5. “Sinkin’ Soon” by Norah Jones (2007)
Fiona Apple’s “Not About Love” almost made it into this spot, but “Sinkin’ Soon,” a song perhaps one would expect to hear in a corrugated tin shack, stands head and shoulders above so many other songs in this niche—the female-singer/songwriter with a piano and backing band niche.
With shades of Tom Waits, jazz singers like Renee Olstead, and maybe even a little Bobbie Gentry, “Sinkin’ Soon” does precisely what the best music of this decade has done: blend genres and play with conventions to create something new and pleasant to listen to.
6. “The Antikythera Mechanism” by BT (2006)
Classical music has been using electronic instruments since around the time of Olivier Messiaen and steady, rhythmic, minimalist melodies since Phillip Glass; it feels like mainstream electronic music, on the other hand, has been a little slow on the uptake.
When Brian Transeau broke from his progressive house/trance brethren and recorded the album “This Binary Universe” with custom instruments and a 110-piece orchestra while still using his signature glitch-edits (all of which appear in “The Antikythera Mechanism”), he took electronic music to a whole new realm that Rob Dougan’s “Furious Angels” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Come With Us” only faintly alluded to.
“The Antikythera Mechanism” is perhaps one of two exceptional examples of true innovation in electronic music in the last ten years, the other one being…
7. “Steinbolt” by Squarepusher (2004)
If acid jazz and IDM were among the things that made electronic music worth listening to in the ‘90’s, the fusion of the two a decade later creates an utterly amazing listening experience. There’s a reason Squarepusher has appealed to artists as diverse as Andre 3000 and Thom Yorke.
With all of the chaos of “Omgyjya-Switch7” by Aphex Twin and the musical texture of Plaid’s album “Not For Threes” plus the heavy influence of jazz fusion and Pierre Schaeffer, all present while the song deconstructs the lines between “Studio Recording” and “Live Performance,” Squarepusher’s “Steinbolt” is a listening experience that is jarring and frightening and fascinating, one of the many songs off of his album “Ultravisitor” that ought to be remembered as among the most innovative and interesting of the decade.
8. “Lateralus” by Tool (2001)
Maynard James Keenan once declared that Tool could not be fairly compared with other contemporary pop-musicians, and he’s absolutely right: their music is loud, hard, complex, theory-intensive, and cerebral. It’s no wonder that Robert Fripp of King Crimson, purportedly one of Tool’s major influences, said that Tool was more of an influence on him!
“Lateralus,” the title track off their fourth album, is a long and beautiful song that arranges the lyrics (as well as the time signatures) according to the Fibonacci Sequence all while tackling the subject of emerging from epistemic constraints.
Lyrically and musically, it has proved influential all throughout this decade and will probably do the same for many more years to come.
9. “Tonto” by Battles (2007)
The last decade has been a particularly fruitful one for progressive, experimental, and instrumental post-rock. The wake left by bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor showed that there was definitely a market for this kind of music, and bands like Explosions in the Sky and Battles dominate that market in terms of quality.
More structured than the songs produced by jam bands of yore, “Tonto” is a rich and complicated track that plays with dynamics, rhythm, and tempo so expertly that it blows most other pop songs out of the water—it is definitely one of the best the last ten years has to offer.
10. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga (2009)
Camille Paglia, the cultural critic who recently wrote an incendiary profile for The Sunday Times entitled “Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex,” is right to an extent: Lady Gaga has done nothing really original. She does nothing that Madonna and Marlene Dietrich have not already done and her songs and lyrics are hardly any different from other vapid club dance tracks.
But here’s where I depart from Paglia: her work is better than any other pop dance songs produced in the last ten years. Her songs are just unique enough and show enough talent and versatility to set her apart from the masses of artists that are doing basically the same thing (if you want proof of Lady Gaga’s talent, go find the piano version of “Poker Face” she did for the BBC).
So what if she steals? She takes, she blends, and she makes something new and good, just like all of the best music of the past ten years, and “Telephone,” featuring Beyoncé (another fabulously talented singer), is perhaps one of the best examples of this.
Honorable Mentions: Radiohead, Black Eyed Peas, Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Phoenix, Man Man, The Wiyos, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Bat For Lashes, Le Tigre, Daft Punk, Eminem, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, KiD CuDi, Muse, Green Day, Modest Mouse, Devandra Banhart, Imogen Heap, M.I.A., Bright Eyes, Queens of the Stone Age.
What are the most innovative and interesting songs you’ve heard that have been released in the last 10 years?
FROM THE WEB
Further Reading on M&CBeyonce Biography -
Beyonce Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesLady Gaga Biography -
Lady Gaga Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesNorah Jones Biography -
Norah Jones Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesTom Waits Biography -
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