There’s not a vocalist today who can evoke more melancholy than Antony Hegarty. I’m convinced of that. His Mercury Prize-winning album I Am a Bird Now is extremely moving; the opening track “Hope There’s Someone” just hits you head-on, and you’re already wanting to go lie down in a dark room and sob. The meditation on loneliness starts with a piano chord and the line, “Hope there’s someone / to take care of me/when I die/when I go,” which kills you. The most moving point of the song comes toward the end, when layers of Antony’s booming, sobbing vocals surround you, accompanied by frantic piano keys.
– Arika Dean
The Postal Service
“Such Great Heights”
[Sub Pop; 2003]
“Such Great Heights” is a pure song. It is stoic and cold to fit a decade where the abstraction layer between the individual and society grew at an outstanding rate. The atmosphere is built from the beginning with bouncing motoric electronic sounds and the lyrics remain separated – they have feeling, but are still cold. The lyrics are clearly about anxiety and relationships, themes that are prevalent in this decade. This is where the human quality comes in, even before Facebook and Twitter were big and people were obsessed with the number of friends they have on a website; Ben Gibbard was singing about the need for human contact. The lyrics are those of a person separated from his family, friends or loved one, either emotionally or by distance. The song yearns to be warm, but still gives you a cold shoulder. This is why Iron & Wine’s cover will never be greater than the original, as moving as it is; this song is an electronic song, not a folk song.
– Chris Woodall
“Fireworks” is the kind of music you want to live to. It’s a little awkward, it trips along and loses its composure now and then, but the moments of joyful freedom make it all more than worth it. It doesn’t seem to know where it’s going half the time, but the melodies drive forward, not fearlessly necessarily, but certainly recklessly. And when it rolls to a close, you want to turn around and dive right back in, messiness be damned. Maybe you wouldn’t even clean the mess if you could. It’s a song to fall in love to.
– Ian Barker
The purists will wax lyrical over “B.O.B.,” but to me it’s “Hey Ya!” that forms the perfect basis for a definition of eclectic hip-hop duo OutKast. The song is an extraordinary overlap of pop and hip-hop and god knows what else, with deceptively plaintive lyrics (bearded Youtube hero Mat Weddle emphasised the sadness in the song with his remarkable YouTube cover), a unifying call-and-response series of shout-outs, before the utterly ridiculous/fucking brilliant “shake it like a Polaroid picture” breakdown, which is surely enough to get even the most derisive of cynics dancing. “Hey Ya!” was possibly pop music’s most edgy, electrifyingly fun, and genuinely exciting moment in several years, and hence the lack of any studio output (soundtracks aside) from OutKast since Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is legitimately disappointing. Susurrus about a new LP in 2010 is a good sign, however, and if there is anything at all on a new record remotely as good as “Hey Ya!,” it’ll be jizz-in-the-pants material indeed.
– Will Monotti
“Since U Been Gone”
Backed by a global television franchise, smirking Brit Simon Cowell has left a considerable imprint upon the music industry throughout the first decade of the 2000s, and he continues to do so. Still, the Idol phenomenon is no star-making guarantee; plenty of former winners have fallen by the wayside, and the output quality of those who have succeeded usually ranges from dubious to dreadful. Yet a choice few have managed to transcend the dirge, none more so than the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson. An uninspired post-victory debut was followed by smash sophomore Breakaway. It sold truckloads and – most shockingly of all – contained a number of exceedingly strong mainstream pop singles. “Since U Been Gone,” a brash, guitar-laden kiss-off, was penned by Swedish chartbuster Max Martin. It would have been uninspiring standard Billboard fare were it not for Clarkson’s indomitable performance; as an alumnus of an institution bemoaned for its artifice and glorification of karaoke, her tale of emancipation is surprisingly believable.
– Will Monotti
Editor’s Note Also recommended: Ted Leo’s rendition infused with Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.” Watch it here.
Think what you will of The Arcade Fire and their bombastic moments, “Wake Up” is an undeniably accordant one that draws the listener into a new world where anything could happen. With a description like that, it’s no wonder Spike Jonze used it in the trailer to Where The Wild Things Are as it matched the wonderful and awe-inspiring glory that is Max’s imagination; it soundtracks perfectly the trek across a vast desert or through a raging sea. But “Wake Up” was all kinds of awesome before it was to be even associated with the film. It almost stuck out on Funeral, with its enchanting and huge chorus before it wanders away with its own glory on a bed of reassuring instrumentation. It encapsulates the energy the band put into their performances to the extent where I listen to the song and the only valid image I can put with the music is of the band crammed on a stage, with Win Butler sweating away, singing desperately with a furious sort of passion. And if you ever saw or see that live you’ll know it’s not something to be snubbed.
– Ray Finlayson
“Diamonds from Sierra Leone” Remix (feat. Jay-Z)
Built on a sample from Shirley Bassey’s James Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” tackles the painful issue of blood diamonds from West Africa. The remixed version of the song opens with foreboding orchestral production and differs from the alternate take in its subject matter. ‘Ye explains his lifelong desire for ice, which has been tempered by the realization that his jewelry probably funded bloody conflict. It’s a sharp U-turn from the self-absorbed boasting that dominates the verses on the alternate take. Jay-Z’s verse is solid, but it drops the world-aware tone of Kanye’s. Above all else, this track demonstrates the lush arrangements and production that set West apart from many of his counterparts.
– Andrew Steadman
[Star Trak / Atlantic; 2002]
Still the best Neptunes beat, eight years later. What is it? It’s violent, but hard-to-place; it could be the sound of car doors being shut, guns being cocked, and whatever else your imagination wants it to be. Underpinned by those insistent, under-the-surface drums, it makes a hell of a case for minimalism. Who needs Just Blaze and Kanye West when you can have this? Clipse’s rap would sound ridiculous behind a maximalist beat (they’ve since given us proof of this, regrettably) – but thankfully it isn’t, and the rapping here is just as important as the beat. They sound angry, sometimes malicious, and for once the whole “bad boy” gangster/drug dealer persona actually sounds scary instead of just empty posturing. This was before Clipse had descended into self-parody, mind you, released on their official debut Lord Willin’ in 2002. What it all comes down to is that you just can’t argue with lyrics like, “My grind’s about family, never been about fame/From days I wasn’t able there was always ‘caine,” over a stark, unforgiving beat that feels like someone kicking you in the stomach.
– Andrew Ryce
2004’s single “Float On” brought Modest Mouse commercial success, which they had never been actively looking for, but had arguably deserved, and it did so by being for the most part the antithesis of what they had produced previously. A positive message related by Isaac Brock about getting past your troubles and accepting life despite its pitfalls was something anyone could relate to. With a radio-friendly length of three and a half minutes featuring a stomping bass drum, a catchy guitar line and a huge chorus, “Float On” truly is one of the finest anthems of our generation.
– Rob Hakimian
There have been few moments in the past decade that have been as sublime as the transition between instruments on “The Rip.” Even if this is what took Portishead ten years to get right then it was definitely worth the wait. And despite this the first half of the melting infusion isn’t even pitch perfect; occasional bum notes occurring but not unsettling the pace. As Beth Gibbon’s voice become part of the air surrounding, the synths bleed in from nowhere and overtake the track with an insistent drum beat to follow. When Gibbon starts singing again she sounds like she’s transformed even though her words are the same. Amidst the cold electronics she sounds sinister, like she’s referring to something impending we should all be aware of. While the first half of this track might well be taken as a rare acoustic moment from the band, the shift they make is inevitable – they know it’s coming and so do we but every time it happens it still sounds both haunting and breathtaking.