Well, I suppose the decade is nearly 97% over, and in honor of Pitchfork staff’s recent publication of its top 500 songs of the 2000s (which is relatively piss poor as far as Pitchfork lists go, but it was pretty ambitious), I thought I’d create a list of the best 20 songs I encountered over the past 10 years. These are not necessarily what I would think the best songs of the decade are, if I could hear everything; just the best songs I did hear (and you’ll no doubt notice glaring blind spots in my listening), and not necessarily my favorites either (although some of them certainly are).
Iconic and needs no explanation:
New Slang (The Shins – Oh, Inverted World)
Hurt (Johnny Cash (covering Nine Inch Nails) – American IV: The Man Comes Around). I’m sorry, did I miss this one on Pitchfork’s list?
Toxic (Britney Spears – In the Zone)
Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand – s/t)
Such Great Heights (Postal Service – Give Up)
Should be iconic:
Jesus, Etc. (Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
Ageless Beauty (Stars – Set Yourself on Fire). Stunning.
Playground Love (Air – The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack)
Maps (Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell). Best vocals of the decade?
Pyramid Song (Radiohead – Amnesiac). Sorry Idioteque.
10. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes – s/t). Surprise!
9. The Fear (Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You). A sparkling, top-40 pop song imbued with moral conviction?
8. Oxford Comma (Vampire Weekend – s/t). A perfectly economical and self-assured pop song. Easily one of my favorite songs of the last 10 years.
7. Miner At the Dial-A-View (Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump). This track never gets old, and it’s been playing in my head off and on for seven years– the most beautifully epic song on a sleeper for best album of the decade. Shame on you, Pitchfork, for missing this one.
6. Young Folks (Peter, Bjorn and John (featuring Victoria Bergsman) – Writer’s Block). Possibly the “coolest” song of the decade.
5. Bloodbook on the Half Shell (Danielson – Ships). The majority of the song collects subtle tension on its way toward the smashing alt-rock coda, which is purely euphoric and feels like a complete resolution to Daniel Smith’s entire previous work. For those who have followed Smith’s meandering catalog since the 1990s, this is a gigantic moment.
4. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) (Arcade Fire – Funeral). Okay, I have could easily chosen four or five other songs off of this album, which is why I think Funeral is the best album of the 2000s. Ask me on a different day and I’ll think “In the Backseat” should be on this list instead.
3. PDA (Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights). The other coolest song of the decade.
2. Theologians (Wilco – A Ghost is Born). At first, this song appears as one of the more conventional and less memorable songs on A Ghost is Born. Through the second verse and the guitar solo, you understand the song has some sort of religious theme, but you don’t yet recognize it’s written from the perspective of Jesus. The melody is pretty, but generic– until a louder guitar kicks into the bridge, introducing musical, and setting up lyrical, tension to the song. “I’m going away, where you will look for me. Where I’m going you cannot come,” is sung against a dissonant and powerful guitar riff, conjuring a gathering storm. It’s at this point you realize Jesus is talking, as if he’s being transfigured during this part of the song, the words taken directly from the Gospels. The musical tension crescendos with more urgent guitar stabs. “Nobody’s ever gonna take my life from me. I lay it down, a Ghost is born, a Ghost is born, a Ghost is born.” Then, suddenly, at this apex, the song returns to its original, unassuming melody against a fluttering, descending guitar riff, depicting the (joyful?) letting go of life. After the riff recedes, the song winds its way to conclusion with the same innocent punchiness that characterized its first half. But it doesn’t sound the same.
1. Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Sufjan Stevens – Illinois). “Chicago” is the most “heralded” song off of Illinois, and is probably a fine enough to merit inclusion on most critic’s “best of” lists. But come on, people; it’s basically one riff repeated over and over again, and it’s not even about Chicago. Well, it’s a big riff. And they played it in that movie, you know, with that annoying little girl.
“Come On!…” is far more varied, ambitious, and rewarding than “Chicago.” It begins with an unassuming piano line. It momentarily escapes its initial, Charlie Brown monotony through unexpected vocal harmony (“Chicago, in fashion…”). But overall, the lyric-heavy first third winds up the tension broken by “Columbiaaaa!” at 2:20, sending the song into a vocal-less interlude for the next two minutes that changes its tone two or three times, ultimately creating a bed of strings on which the proceeding vocal material rests. Sufjan’s most gorgeous singing on the album follows as the song slowly unwraps into a lone violin line, some two minutes later. The listener is at very different place than when the song began, but through all its mutations, the journey has been remarkably seamless. I don’t know too many songs that could accomplish such with as much grace as this track.
Now, dear Discursionists readers, what do you think of the best songs of the decade are?