Here are some of the songs that defined my decade. It's sort of a haphazard list based on a number of intangible factors. My only rule is that multiple songs per artist were not allowed. I also left off Fair and Kind songs to appear modest.
Would love to hear your comments!
50. "She Wants To Move" (2004) - N*E*R*D
N*E*R*D's sensual hodge-podge of acoustic and electric guitars, piano, handclaps, dog barks and "HEY!"s over a floor tom heavy beat borders on being gimmicky and silly, but the genius that brings it all together is what made The Neptunes such a huge part of the 2000s.
49. "Young Adult Friction" (2009) - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
The whole album is a bit too cutesy, hipster, and one-note, but I kinda love that note, which perfectly combines upbeat melodies, drowning vocals, and '80s nostalgia (in the year that John Hughes passed away).
48. "Me & U" (2006) - Cassie
The minimalist beat and repetitive vocal counterpoint (which thankfully doesn't stretch Cassie's range too much) is chill and hypnotic, and then the strange vocal harmony (like a 6th above the melody) comes in and totally works and then the song's over. Anything more and "Me & U" might have been on a worst of the decade list.
47. "Mistaken For Strangers" (2007) - The National
There's something beautifully sinister about this song, due, in no small part, to Matt Berninger's almost monotone vocal line, which recalls some of Morrissey's best.
46. "Crazy" (2005) - Gnarls Barkley
What hasn't been said about the collaboration between Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse? "Crazy" makes my list because I've heard it a million times, it was in my head for 4 straight months, and I'm somehow still not sick of it.
45. "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" (2003) - The Darkness
By adding a healthy dose of Queen, not taking themselves too seriously, and having the chops to pull it off, The Darkness made me nostalgic for hair metal - a genre I'd always hated. I still don't understand why Adam Lambert didn't sing this (or something else on "Permission to Land") to clinch American Idol last season.
44. "Yellow" (2000) - Coldplay
I can't understate how important this song was in diverting the mainstream from Limp Bizkit (and other "nu-metal") to much more palatable genres... although it may have indirectly led to this, in which case, it's off the list.
43. "American Boy" (2008) - Estelle feat. Kanye West
I first heard this song at a club in Reykjavik in the summer of 2008. I was traveling with 4 other South Asian "American boys," and, for a brief moment, Estelle had us convinced we were super studly. By the time we got back to the States, it was played out and we realized it was clearly not about us.
42. "Rock Your Body" (2002) - Justin Timberlake
Quick, name two ex-boy band members who are still musically relevant...... You'd think just by the numbers or even pure chance there'd be at least TWO, right? But no, it's like they don't even want to compete with JT. Yes, "Rock Your Body" totally bites MJ, but it still sounds fresh and I haven't heard an MJ song I liked this much since the '80s.
41. "Float On" (2004) - Modest Mouse
I know lots of old school Modest Mouse fans hate this song, but the unexpectedly upbeat "Float On" was the perfect balm for a soul crushed by the gloom of the Bush era. It wasn't until recently that I discovered it had been an conscious effort.
40. "100 Yard Dash" (2008) - Raphael Saadiq
If you have the chance to see Raphael Saadiq live, jump on it. He slickly updated Motown with "The Way I See It," and I was lucky enough to catch his amazingly energetic, soulful performance and stellar band at Bimbos, my favorite venue.
39. "Since U Been Gone" (2005) - Kelly Clarkson
I hated the American Idol concept before I ever saw the show, but Kelly Clarkson's unpolished demeanor, relatively dumpy looks, and amazing pipes (the old-school Susan Boyle?) drew me in midway through Season One. And then she released this empowering anthem... yes, it's simple and over-produced, but as 2000's mainstream pop/rock goes, it's an instant classic.
38. "Great Expectations" (2000) - Jurassic 5
"Quality Control" is indeed quality from start to finish, and the sick horn sample and frantic breakbeat infuses "Great Expectations" with an addictive energy. It was sad when Cut Chemist left the crew and even sadder when J5 split, but I'm hoping for a comeback in the '010s.
37. "Lola Stars and Stripes" (2003)- The Stills
I discovered the frantic guitars and cooler-than-thou (and smoother than Julian Casablancas) vocals of "Logic Will Break Your Heart" when it was streamed for free on The Stills' website prior to their stellar Coachella 2004 performance. Unfortunately, they weren't immune to the common curse of sucking after their debut album.
36. "Let's Make Love..." (2006) - CSS
Arthi and I moved to LA in early 2007 to form Fair and Kind and were forced to drive a lot more than we wanted to. The silver lining was listening to the now (sadly) internet-only Indie 103, which is where we first heard the silly/sexy CSS. It's nice to hear art students create something so accessible and danceable, and you have to love the fact that their name (Cansei de Ser Sexy) is the Portuguese translation of Paris Hilton's "I'm tired of being sexy" quote -- it's like their whole catalog is a spirited mockery of Hilton's over-privileged, petulant vibe, something I'm glad to leave in the '00s.
35. "L.E.S. Artistes" (2008) - Santigold
Santigold's debut album is filled with pop gems, and it's easy to relate to her struggle to balance her desire to make it big with her desire to be seen as an artist, as described in the the ultra-catchy "L.E.S. Artistes."
34. "Show Me" (2001) - Mint Royale feat. Pos
Love the sound of Pos's rhymes over the vestiges of that big beat sound so prominent in the late '90s and dead just a few years later.
33. "Pounding" (2002) - Doves
I went to see Doves play on the strength of their amazing debut, "Lost Souls," just prior to the release of the glorious "The Last Broadcast." Surprisingly, I found myself hypnotized by the "new songs" I typically don't want to hear at a show. Jimi Goodwin has one of those soulful/sweet voices I can't get enough of, and by the time "Pounding's" climax hits, I'm super blissed out.
32. "It's You, It's Me" (2003) - Kaskade
It was at a (sorely missed) Flavor Group monthly that I first heard Kaskade spin this deep, smooth, luscious track that exemplifies San Francisco house (a huge part of my '00s soundtrack).
31. "Caspian Can Wait" (2002) - The Velvet Teen
Arthi visited San Francisco in March 2003 and we went to check out Death Cab For Cutie at Slims, where The Velvet Teen (and The Thermals) were opening. At first, I couldn't decide whether lead vocalist Judah Nagler's blatant attempt to channel Jeff Buckley was irritating or impressive, but then they went into the short, sweet, powerful "Caspian Can Wait," and I became a fan.
30. "Push Up" (2004) - Freestylers
29. "Snapshots" (2006) - Oblique Brown
It was really tough to limit myself to just one song from Oblique Brown's fantastic self-titled full length debut (which you should pick up immediately), but I chose "Snapshots" because I love way the beat perfectly sets the nostalgic stage for the reminiscent verses.
28. "Madan (Martin Solveig remix)" (2003) - Salif Keita
(Forward to the 1:30 mark to skip the intro beat).
Solveig does a great job keeping Keita's vocals (and the backing vocals) front and center while constructing his funky house beat around them. This is one of two tracks on this list (the other being #30) first heard during one of DJ Fraktion aka Sunder's sets... my favorite DJ of the '00s.
27. "Kim and Jessie" (2008) - M83
French musical acts (Air, Daft Punk, Cassius, et al) somehow make the über-cheesy über-cool, and M83 is no exception. I'm not sure whether the excessive syncopated drum fills, the heavily processed vocals, or something more intangible takes me back to being in grade school with a major crush, but it's a fantastic feeling.
26. "Quiet On The Front" (2007) - Company of Thieves
Another debut album that must be picked up immediately. I chose this song (out of many possibilities) because it explicitly mentions how young CoT is in its first line ("I can't hold a glass of wine yet"), a youth belied by their unbelievable talent, stage presence, and songwriting skills. Arthi told me about CoT right after she first met them on the Chicago open mic circuit in 2006, and it was clear to her then that they were headed for big things.
25. "The Food" (2005) - Common feat. Kanye West
"The Food," like many Common songs, describes struggles faced and hard choices made living in Chicago, and Kanye's production nails the sentiment. He takes it to a predictive level in singing the outro: "I know I could make it right, if I could just swallow my pride..."
24. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" (2004) - Stars
You can maybe tell by now that I'm a sucker for delicate, twinkly, orchestral, slightly sappy melodies. This song does it to perfection.
23. "Galang" (2005) - M.I.A.
I was never really into dancehall, grime, or ragga, but M.I.A.'s infectious "Galang" drew me in the very first time I saw her utterly self-possessed dancing in front of her colorful graffiti in the video. Then a whole bunch of M.I.A.s showed up for the outro chorus, and I was even more smitten.
22. "Wish I Didn't Miss You" (2002) - Angie Stone
The thumping bassline, the crescendo of rattling strings, the elegant, emotive vocals expressing exhaustion from a broken heart. Gave me goosebumps the first 20 times I listened to it.
21. "Don't Lose The Faith" (2003) - The Dears
"Don't Lose the Faith" was inexplicably left off of the original American release of "No Cities Left" and I didn't hear it until Arthi and I drove down to LA to play Artwallah in 2005 (luckily, she had it on her version of the album). This track (and "Lost In The Plot") are the best Smiths songs to come out since they broke up, and that includes anything by solo Morrissey. The rest of the album is pretty amazing as well... any Smiths fan should check it out.
20. "Miura" (2001) - Metro Area
So simple, sexy, and sinister. It's like Metro Area somehow removed everything nerdy from a dope Kraftwerk track and then put handclaps in to make it that much cooler.
19. "Come On! Feel The Illinoise!" (2005) - Sufjan Stevens
This two-part organic masterpiece first evokes a frantic, heady time (the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) and then smoothly transitions into a dream-like state where Stevens describes being artistically challenged by the ghost of Carl Sandburg. Illinois's meticulous arrangements and comprehensively researched lyrics prove he's writing from the head as well as "from the heart."
18. "Saturdays" (2004) - Cut Copy
The poppy, fun, energetic "Saturdays" exemplifies how I wanted to feel most actual Saturdays in the 2000s. It's a song of no substance and the perfect catalyst for casting off the weight of the week's troubles.
17. "Sail to the Moon" (2003) - Radiohead
This song matches the intense sorrow I felt through most of the 2000s whenever I thought about Bush (and friends). Not a coincidence it's on "Hail To The Thief" (Radiohead's most underrated album). My heart always gets heavy and tingly as the halting, exquisite interplay between piano and guitar, joined by Thom Yorke's best pre-"In Rainbows" vocal performance, filters through my ears and brain and lands exactly right.
16. "Unison" (2001) - Björk
"Unison" is the perfect endpiece for Björk's gorgeous "Vespertine," building slowly over almost seven minutes, with little mini-climactic moments threatening to sweep you away but never quite doing so until the end. Seeing Björk play this (and "Hyperballad") live under the San Francisco skyline was a definite highlight of the decade.
15. "Brand New Colony" (2003) - Postal Service
Jenny Lewis gave Arthi a pre-mastered copy of "Give Up" (she did merch for Rilo Kiley back in the day), which she very kindly let me burn. I don't think I listened to anything else for the next three months. "Brand New Colony" is just a good pop song until the dramatic end where Jimmy Tamborello introduces the random yet melodic strings and Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis passionately and desperately sing "everything will change," cluing us in that the promised romance is impossible in their current setting... the truth or just an excuse?
14. "A Place Called Home" (2000) - PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey's trademark rough, bluesy vocals over the delicate-yet-frenzied piano/guitar twinkles gives "A Place Called Home" a vital and unsettling energy, an ideal allegory for the uncertain early '00s.
13. "Hey Ya" (2003) - Outkast
Take a simple, catchy riff and add Andre 3000's hyperactive genius... I suppose that describes much of "The Love Below," but it was impossible to not be won over by the sheer joy in "Hey Ya."
12. "Sadie" (2004) - Joanna Newsom
Yes, her voice sounds like a cross between a grandma and a toddler, and yes, she's almost a little too precious to stomach, but I can't get enough of her harp skills and fanciful lyrics. The plaintive "Sadie," where the euthanasia of the family dog acts as a microcosm of her feelings on death (I think?), is my favorite on "The Milk-Eyed Mender," but there are lots of amazing choices.
11. "Work It" (2002) - Missy Elliott
Not sure if it's good that "Work It" made "badonkadonk" a household word, but as '00s pop culture influence goes, it's huge (no pun intended, for real). Timbaland produces another killer beat here, including the sick backwards lines that flow so well.
10. "Rebellion (Lies)" (2004) - Arcade Fire
I first heard "Funeral" in a friend's car -- I was intrigued by all the "Neighborhoods," but the ride was too short to finish the album. When I finally picked it up, I discovered that my favorite tracks, "Haiti" and "Rebellion (Lies)," were at the very end. I love the anthemic slow build, starting with the end of "Haiti" and finally into the change of directions with the constant vocals singing "everytime you close your eyes."
9. "The Seed 2.0" (2002) - The Roots feat. Cody Chesnutt
The brilliance of The Roots is on full display here, taking a throwaway, demo-sounding, frankly kind of annoying Cody Chesnutt track and turning it into a hip-hop masterpiece.
8. "If I Ever Feel Better" (2000) - Phoenix
Thomas Mars barely takes a breath between the first bass thump of the verse and the smooth guitar licks of the chorus. "If I Ever Feel Better" is like butter... slick, fluid. And there's good advice for the '010s: "Hang on to the good days. I can lean on my friends. They help me going through hard times."
7. "Almost Crimes" (2002) - Broken Social Scene
My favorite quality of "You Forgot It In People," Broken Social Scene's amazing sophomore LP, is the controlled chaos, best exemplified by the meandering, lively guitars and Feist's screeching vocals on "Almost Crimes."
6. "Superstar" (2007) - Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos
"Superstar" brings together Matthew Santos's Chris Martin-esque vocals with Lupe Fiasco's "Cool" delivery to create a theatrical soundscape raising questions about the nature of celebrity and affirming that he put in his dues.
5. "Dr. Strangeluv" (2007) - Blonde Redhead
"23," Blonde Redhead's most melodic, dreamy album, was one of my favorites of the decade. Mixed by Alan Moulder, the songs evoke a haunting sorrow (felt even more intensely during their live performances). "Dr. Strangeluv's" guitars remind me of a snaking vine, winding around and constricting my heart tighter and tighter from the verses through the gorgeous, seemingly uplifting chorus and then finally through the despondent denouement.
4. "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (2001) - Daft Punk
The intro starts out with the filtered groove that stutters into a stuck record needle vibe, and you're like, ok, this sounds a lot like something great from "Homework." But then, it jumps into the sick chords of "Cola Bottle Baby," and you're like, wow, this is funky and insane (although I'd be lying if I said I'd heard "Cola Bottle Baby" before "Harder, Better..."). And THEN, the robot voice takes you on a roller coaster ride that's alternately jaw-droppingly cool and way over-the-top in that Daft Punk (cheesy French) way. And, shockingly, it doesn't really ever get played out.
3. "Obstacle #1" (2002) - Interpol
Listening to Interpol's debut, "Turn On The Bright Lights," for the first time, I was so turned off by Paul Banks' voice during the first track that I barely got to "Obstacle #1," the second track. The urgent, alarm-like, intertwining guitars and interplay between bass and drums immediately drew me in, however, and I learned to forgive, and eventually appreciate, the vocals. Whenever I was lucky enough to visit New York City in the '00s, "Turn On The Bright Lights" was the soundtrack to my wanderings.
2. "Romeo" (2001) - Basement Jaxx
The first time I heard "Romeo" was on MTV Italia in my friend's Milan apartment, and I was like, "they play music on MTV here?" I was immediately seduced by Divya Dutta's Bollywood-style dilemma (I'm not entirely cool with two white British dudes co-opting an Indian film genre, but I do think it was well done and fits the song). Basement Jaxx's obsession with Prince's pop-funk serves them well here, and basically explains why I love this song.
Before you think I'm cheating by listing three separate titles as my #1 choice, hear me out. I was introduced to The Autumns by a mutual friend in 1993, and my first thought when I saw them play was, "they write the music that's in my heart." Since then, they've evolved way past what's in my heart and become my all-time favorite band (clinched by the decade's best album, "Fake Noise From a Box of Toys"). This trifecta was originally played for me as one song by Autumns' founding member and guitarist Frank Koroshec before their 2004 self titled album was released (as was the other amazing trifecta, "Slumberdoll," "Edmund and Edward," and "Wish Stars"), and I've never thought of it as separate entities (Frank later explained that they needed to divide up the songs for label reasons). This epic trilogy starts gently with Matthew Kelly's tender vocals and guitars before sweeping me away with sheer volcanic force at its many peaks (created, in part, by Kelly and Koroshec's thunderous guitars and genius drummer Steve Elkins), goes back to soft, beautiful twinkliness, and finally hits its gorgeous apex at the very end of its third act. I could go on forever, but here's one final bonus fact: we were lucky enough to work with the co-producer/engineer of The Autumns' last two albums, Jamie Seyberth, on our debut, "A Little Past Twilight."
"So Flute" (2000) - St. Germain
"I Was A Kaleidoscope" (2001) - Death Cab For Cutie
"Breathe" (2001) - Telepopmusik
"Another Chance" (2001) - Roger Sanchez
"All I Need" (2007) - Radiohead
"No Cars Go" (2007) - Arcade Fire
"Electric Feel" (2007) - MGMT
"The Beautiful Boot" (song in lower left margin if you click on the link)(2007) - The Autumns
"Single Ladies" (2008) - Beyonce