There’s something about that persistent, almost sedentary beat that pounds dully against the song, something that perfectly matches James Murphy’s blank-faced deadpan delivery. It sounds like it’s being dropped carelessly on the floor, over and over again, a dense metallic ball making a defeated, inhuman thud. The song actually drips with wit, sarcasm and (crucially) apathy. However, “Losing My Edge” was a biting, acerbic attack on record-collecting authenticity-obsessed musical elitists – or perhaps it’s a paean to true musical obsession. Either way, there’s no denying that it’s hilarious and almost painfully on the money. Murphy zeroes in on and eviscerates what might be called “hipsterism” in an impressively exacting, precise manner. You’d almost never guess it was from 2002, despite the occasional dated reference. For a song based mostly around comedy, it holds up quite well; somehow it still feels vital, exciting and hilarious every time. If you do somehow get sick of the vocals, there’s always that throbbing, ugly beat underneath it all, holding everything together. In one sense, it’s hard to imagine people dancing to this track – on the other hand, how could you not?
– Andrew Ryce
Do you know how great this song really is? I mean, look at what you’re reading – it even made this list. It’s hard to say exactly what it is about “Toxic” that steals everyone’s hearts, grandmas and indie rockers and postal workers alike. It’s probably something to do with Bloodshy & Avant’s astounding production, a slinky, slippery thing buoyed by James Bond guitar and action movie strings. None of this should really work, but it does, and instead of sounding like cheesy spy movie gimmickry, it’s a completely universal jam that finds a comfortable place between dance music, pop and rock. Maybe it’s those canned acoustic guitars, the ones that sound vital as well as knowingly artificial, or that weird, snaky fuzz bass that sleuths its way through the track. Maybe it’s the vocals, the way they bravely traverse Britney’s vocal range, making for a progression as exhilarating as any of the other production tricks here. It’s odd to think this is probably Britney’s biggest hit; no, it didn’t hit number one, but what other Britney song is as likely to be repped by pretentious intellectuals as it is teenage girls?
– Andrew Ryce
“Big Pimpin'” (feat. UGK)
It’s hard to think back and remember pre-betrothed Jay-Z (now married to the stunning Beyonce Knowles), but during the onset of the decade, Jay-Z, AKA Sean Carter, was virtually single and ready to mingle, and “Big Pimpin’” was an ode to his lady-lovin’ lifestyle. Brashly opening with the statement, “You know I / thug ‘em, fuck ‘em, love ‘em, leave ‘em / ‘cause I don’t fuckin’ need ‘em,” Hov made feminists everywhere cringe with his somewhat misogynistic lyrics. With the Timbaland production and the fierce, prominently-featured (and legally contested) Egyptian music sample, we can forgive Mr. Carter for any indiscretions.
– Arika Dean
I hate to sexualise this song, but there’s something oddly similar in the release of “Knife” when the vocals hit to the climax of some beautiful orgasm. But if that brief feeling of crude cumulation was reached alone on some unerotic dulled night then thankfully “Knife” has doesn’t have that regretted sense of failed suicide afterwards. Instead it plays like the name suggests, hovering on a bed of razor-sharp guitar and juxtaposing airy vocals. The harmonies shift from elongated strides to bobbing rhythms but the highlight is when Edward Droste melts your mind with perhaps his most sublime vocal turn as he sings, “I want you to know…”. Much like the rest of Yellow House, it’s full of creaky instrumentation and a vast array of other noises that have seeped into the recording, like the band unconsciously recorded the ghosts living in the walls of their home studio. Some may dispute it when I say this is one of Grizzly Bear’s most accessible moments, even though the vocals are sandwiched between two longer segments of music. But it’s not just about that irresistible release I pinpointed earlier, it’s about the gradual ones too. Sometimes you have to just hold on a minute or two longer for that liberation to be all more satisfying.
– Ray Finlayson
There really are instant classics after all. Joy Orbison’s first release “Hyph Mngo” feels like an overnight smash, but was really more of a slow-burner, slowly building up hype and word-of-mouth buzz over the summer of 2009 until finally landing in the fall of the same year, completely obliterating everything around it and becoming what seemed like the most euphoric and joyous track in years. It was the track guaranteed to elicit a rapturous reaction, a universal crowd-pleaser, and eventually it became the track that simply had to be included in every mix and every set in the months following its release. Thing is, “Hyph Mngo” never felt overplayed or overexposed, and even now it retains its original appeal; those airy synth pads in the intro, the irresistible vocal sample, and the slightly-softened percussion that gently nudges rather than hammers. The track united dubstep, techno, old-school garage, and whatever other genres you might want to throw out there alike, and proved just as successful at its own fusion of genres, signaling the larger ascendance of ‘dubstep’ from its well-defined origins into a wide open space where anything is possible. A year later and in a new decade, its power is still palpable.
– Andrew Ryce
“She Sends Kisses”
[Absolutely Kosher; 2003]
I didn’t become familiar with the Wrens until some two years ago. I read a review of The Meadowlands once that discussed a longing the guy initially felt for the energy that permeated Seacaucus, largely absent in the album that followed it up seven years later. Seeing as The Meadowlands was my introduction to the band, it’s hard, I guess, for me to picture the beauty in something like “She Sends Kisses” as anything less than something to be greatly and immediately thankful for. The song teases the listener, with its hushed openings and a stunted first chorus that merely hints at the melodic payoff that occurs nearly six minutes later during the soaring climax. It takes some patience, perhaps, but isn’t that supposed to be a virtue or something?
– Bill Delaney
Isaac Brock is an interesting songwriter to say the least. His better songs are great and his worse songs, well, aren’t. Fortunately “3rd Planet,” from the well regarded Moon and Antarctica, falls squarely in the former category. The guitar part that drives the verse certainly has to be one of the catchiest musical phrases in a long time, and the chanty chorus is astounding, both in its lyrical content and its musical execution.
– Colin Joyce
Wilco, through endless invention, have long been able to take two chords and pull them like taffy across six or so minutes. “Misunderstood” and “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” are excellent examples. Sitting smack in the middle of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album that depends as much on its studio wizardry as it’s fine songcraft, is “Jesus, etc.,” by and large the antithesis of the kind of songs I was just describing. It’s a perfectly realized, subtly intricate pop song. Jeff Tweedy’s melody creeps under your skin and then has lots of trouble finding its way out, which is just fine, because you don’t want it to leave. You can insert here any kind of statement you’d like that mentions the eerie relevance of this song in light of 9/11, etc., etc. (pun fully intended), but I’d rather not focus on what Tweedy never intended for in the first place.
– Bill Delaney
“I’ll Believe in Anything”
[Sub Pop; 2005]
Spencer Krug gets around. Well, in a musical sense at least – I can’t speak to his personal life. Normal humans would collapse under the pressure of being involved in seven bands, but Krug has consistently cranked out material that’s worthy of your attention. “I’ll Believe In Anything” is the quintessential Krug song; its drony keyboard sounds, insistent guitar riff, and of course Krug’s ever present wail make for a song that’s worth at least four minutes and 37 seconds of your life.
– Colin Joyce
If you listen really carefully to “Atlas” when it breaks down to the sound of Tyondai Braxton’s guitar having what sounds like an epileptic fit, you’ll hear the hiss of the microphones. It’s present throughout the track and that’s because of the simple fact that everything here is loud and needs to be loud. Without everything up to its maximum you could be convinced you’re hearing the sound of robots playing away. But because of the hiss you hear every little detail right down to the air between the John Stainer’s foot and the pedal being pushed inwards. Irresistible to break out a set of air drums to, the track charges like a herd of elephants and wildebeest tackling their way through a city scene. It’s furious and daunting and to the casual listener, a little scary at a whole (gasp!) seven minutes, but inevitably you will be dragged along in the rush of things and be pummeling away with your own pair of drumsticks.