For something usually referred to as minimal or micro, the first thing that comes to mind when listening to the opening track of Villalobos’ first LP Alcachofa is just how huge it sounds. It’s not maximalist by any means — in fact, the first 30 seconds is almost solely a vocodered voice singing indistinguishable lyrics in a half-spoken, half-sung melody. But it’s a voice that sounds so layered, so big, it doesn’t need anything else. Villalobos drops a rolling beat, allows it to reverberate around the room a bit, and then finally lets the bass loose, creating a grotesque track that digests the air around it and converts it to tiny bubbles and scrapes, plinking off of invisible edges and ricocheting off the walls of whatever room you’re hearing it in — a club, a bedroom, or simply the space in your head. As the percussion and bass slowly gorges itself and swells, the vocals become cushioned and enclosed, until the inhumanity is nearly unbearable. What first seems like it’s going to become a painful gimmick finds its own cozy nook in the song, eventually settling in nicely amidst all the clicks and taps until it sounds like just another textural flourish. Our hero coyly plays around with the mood, casually switching the track from a relatively insular minimal tech jam to a straight-up banger effortlessly, juxtaposing moods and feelings haphazardly but with the hand of an expert. He even removes the vocal for the last 90 seconds of the song, turning it on its head and exposing the throbbing bass for what it really is underneath all that other stuff, turning the quirky, humid jam into something soaked in dread and paranoia. Maybe the inhuman voice isn’t so inhuman after all. All this in ten minutes — there’s more packed into this supposedly minimal track than anything else released this past decade.
– Andrew Ryce
“LoveStoned/I Think She Knows”
I’m not usually one to complain about radio edits, but “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows” in video form is particularly egregious. The song isn’t just great because it manages to squeeze a 50-50 split between Thriller and Turn On the Bright Lights into five minutes; a large part of its genius is the two-minute bridge that joins these two halves, completely chopped out of the single edit. The slow dropout and buildup of the many layers of strings and percussion amplifies the strengths of each of its two halves, which are each great songs in their own right. Together, “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows” is the peak of JT and Timbaland’s impressive FutureSex/LoveSounds collaboration and one of the most original pop compositions of the decade.
– Sean Highkin
“While You Wait For the Others”
I often forget how overwhelming “While You For The Others” is. If someone were to ask me what the song is like I’d affirm the praise with a simple telling along the lines of, “yeah, it’s a pretty good song”. And then I listen to it again and I realise it’s a fantastic song. I don’t know why I forget this considering I spun Veckatimest more than many a time last year (and still do). As much as the soaring chorus can live in my head as a memory, it doesn’t match the sound of it actually happening when the song is playing. The guitars thrash like a crocodile (or alligator if you really want a Grizzly Bear pun) in water until they accumulate in the twee harmonic break. Notes are picked and voices jump over one another, like the curiously beautiful sound of birds skipping on tape, until the chorus floods my misconceptions once again. The voices then settle to a calming halt, like the returning of normality after a vicious and terrible storm in some coastal town. I feel bad; how could I forget something like this so easily?
– Ray Finlayson
“Take Me Out”
Although this Scottish foursome proved over the course of three albums to be arguably the most consistent band to come out of the mid-decade new wave revival, they have yet to create anything as lasting as their debut single. “Take Me Out” starts off sounding like a solid-but-unremarkable Strokes soundalike – until about a minute in, when the song suddenly shifts gears and flips Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot” into a jagged disco stomp. You know exactly when this transition is coming, and yet it thrills every single time. Franz blatantly rip off Gang of Four on “Take Me Out,” and I mean that in the best way possible – more bands should rip off Gang of Four, especially when the results are this good.
– Sean Highkin
“Crazy In Love” (feat. Jay-Z)
There are some songs that you just know immediately are going to timeless, that instantly signal the arrival of a major musical force to be reckoned with. And if “Crazy in Love” doesn’t fit this bill, I have no idea what would. Up until this point, Beyoncé Knowles had been the most talented member of the late-’90s girl group Destiny’s Child. With this song, we can pinpoint the exact moment when she became one of the 10 most famous people in the world, a status she continues to hold to this day. Everything about “Crazy in Love” is note-perfect, from B’s iconic uh-oh‘s to the opening horns that instantly became a marching band staple, to the guest verse from her then-boyfriend (and now husband) Jay-Z, in which he compares himself in the same breath to Tony Soprano and Nick Van Exel. This isn’t just one of the best pop singles of this decade – it’s one of the best songs of all time, period.
– Sean Highkin
TV on the Radio
“Wolf Like Me”
Have you ever tried playing “Wolf Like Me” on Guitar Hero on expert? It’s damn hard, or at the very least, damn tiring. It takes physical energy to keep strumming and when you reach that pause before the guitars reassert themselves and come back full force, your hand is likely aching too much to be able to appreciate it as much as you would just listening to it. But you don’t need to play this song on a plastic guitar to appreciate it (although it can’t not help). All the qualities are right there to be appreciated, all perfectly emphasized by David Sitek’s finely tuned production. The drums smother you with their force while the menacing ringing guitars draw you in like a whirlpool. The lyrics are full of phrases that stick in your head from the moment they are sung (“Gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your mongrel mind”) to ones that will crop up unexpectedly later when you least expect (“Mirror my malady/ Transfer my tragedy”). Tunde’s telling of the transformation is almost fetishized to the point of sexualisation with lyrics like “Feeding on fever, down on all fours/Show you what all that howl is for,” and it has meaning that will probably go beyond me. But hell, fuck Twilight and vampires, werewolves are about 20 times more awesome and this lasting song will prove that point for years to come.
– Ray Finlayson
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
[Parlophone / Capitol; 2001]
It shouldn’t come as a surprise at all that at the turn of the century, as the Britney empire was at the peak of its stranglehold over the pop charts, the starlets of yesteryear would reappear hoping to get in on the action. What is truly shocking is how former Australian teen idol Kylie Minogue, best known for her kitschy late-’80s cover of “The Locomotion,” came on this strong and beat the kids at their own game with her stellar 2000 album Fever. The album’s lead single, the aptly-titled “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” is the dictionary definition of an earworm, a perfect neo-disco jam that bubbles along, never quite reaching a breaking point, and twists Kylie’s thin voice into a strength, allowing it to function almost as another synthesizer – one even more irresistible than the music that backs it.
– Sean Highkin
“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” is the best song on the best hip-hop record of the decade – but it’s so much more. It’s the track that launched Kanye West’s almost peerless career as a hit-maker, and while it may have felt like just another great Jay-Z single at the time, in retrospect, it may be the definitive track by one of our generation’s definitive artists. First off, if you’re going to sample (arguably) the greatest pop song of all time – the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” – well, you better bring it. And Jay and Kanye both prove themselves worthy to the task. Lyrically, the song is, in some sense, a standard shit-talker from the one of the art form’s all-time greats; but more than a celebration of Jay’s wealth, smarts and charisma, “Izzo” is a celebration of the success of Jay-Z not as a man – not as the alter ego of Sean Carter – but as the representative of his people. “I do this for my culture,” he boasts, before spouting off that brilliant send-off to an industry that needs to be taken over: “Pay us like you owe us for all the years you hoed
us/ We can talk/ But money talks/ So talk mo’ bucks.” With The Blueprint 3’s recent gargantuan success, it may be premature to start reminiscing about Jay-Z’s career just yet – but that shouldn’t stop us from celebrating, in his own words, “Rap’s Grateful Dead” (whatever that means).
– Elias Isquith
[Shady / Aftermath; 2002]
Sometimes a song comes along that is just everywhere. It may not be the number one hit on the radio; it’s a song that becomes something more – something cultural, something universal. It becomes unavoidable. By the end of it all, you probably won’t feel a need to hear it for a good long time.
“Look…if you had one shot…” You know the song. People who otherwise entirely dismiss hip-hop know and love it. “Lose Yourself” became so big that I hardly associate it with Eminem himself; it’s not on of his true LPs – it instead stands as a testament to the times. As Chris Rock already said for me, it’s the best song ever written about wanting to be a rapper. I’ll do him one better. It’s the best song ever written about needing to succeed. Go ahead – I don’t care how many times you’ve heard it, I bet you can’t listen to it without nodding your head and feeling driven to just go accomplish something.
– Chase McMullen
MGMT might portend to be psychedelic wunderkinds but in reality, they’re just an indie rock band that released a handful of infectious pop singles. “Kids” is driven by a stupidly brilliant ascending synth line, an earworm as stupendous as it is simple. The hook’s effortlessness is perhaps a tenuous reflection of the track’s lyrical celebration of childhood innocence. It manages to capture the qualms of infancy; the recklessness of decisions made without a thought to consequence is depicted alongside the inquisitive nature of curious young minds, swarming with vim and vigour toward new discoveries. But the track never comes across as complicatedly didactic. Merely, Andrew VanWyngarden and company attempt to remind us that whilst the specifics of certain memories will eventually evaporate, it remains that a youthful zeitgeist, and a yearning for simplicity, is what drives and sustains us. It’s a message made so easy to swallow with that candy-like synth scale such that French President Nicolas Sarkozy even pretended to enjoy it.