December 8, 2009 § 3 Comments
It’s impossible to distill a decade’s worth of music into five songs; but here are the ones that seem most memorable to me, at the moment. Ask me in a month and I’m sure the list will have changed.
Here’s my #5 song of the decade: “Rise Up With Fists!” by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. (Sorry about the Hee-Haw laffs in the video, which can throw off the mood a little if you don’t already know the song. But hey, you’re cool — of course you know this song already.) The songs on this album (Rabbit Fur Coat) are straight-up incredible. They nail a particular blend of deadpan humor, irony, and heartfelt emotion that is purely of the decade, for me at least. Not to mention those perfect opening lines: “What are you changing? Who do you think you’re changing? You can’t change things. We’re all stuck in our ways.” Yeah, that’s 2006, all right. But the best is when the Watson Twins chime in with “Not your wife.” Soul/alt-country: in a lot of ways this was one of the two or three albums in the decade that felt made just for me, hitting that aesthetic sweet spot.
#4 comes from another: The Greatest, by Cat Power, far and away the best album of the decade to me. I’ve had at least five different favorite songs from this album: right now I’m on “Lived in Bars.” (Two days ago, I had “The Moon” in this spot.)
God, this song is incredible. Chan Marshall has always had this unbelievable voice, and I think on The Greatest she finally figured out what to do with it. There always seemed to be something missing, in her previous work: say, a glimmer of hope, a ray of sunshine, or an inkling of a smile. Here, she’s working with absolutely flawless Memphis session players (damn, those horns!), and the material, I think, is her best, too. Frankly, to be against this album is to have given up on beauty in this world. This song blows me away: it’s somehow epic and gritty and mundane and lyrical and joyful and sad all at once. There must be a jukebox in a bar somewhere that always plays this at last call. How could you not shimmy your way out the door to that, with a tear in your eye?
#3 is “Unless It’s Kicks,” by Okkervil River, from The Stage Names. If you get a chance to see them live, do it: this song is fantastic in person. Seeing them (at Cat’s Cradle, in Carrboro, NC) was probably my second-best concert-going experience of the decade. Such an awesome riff. Such a steady build. When Will Sheff sings about “the ghost of some rock-and-roll fan,” and they launch into that solo… the roof could’ve come down.
#2 is “Hey Ya!,” by Outkast.
Flawless. A perfect song about the impossibility of monogamy that is now an integral part of our national fabric — probably got played at the Republican National Convention at some point, it’s so omnipresent and joyful-sounding and universally loved. The epitome of the decade’s hyperactive reworking of old styles, old genres, old techniques into something fresh.
#1 is “Black Tambourine,” by Beck.
This song grows… and grows… and grows on you. Pretty soon it becomes the best thing you’ve heard in an entire decade. I’d more or less forgotten about it until we saw Inland Empire at the Music Box in Chicago; it’s used in, hands-down, the best (and creepiest) musical montage of the decade. And suddenly, you realize what a strange song it is; how it sounds old and new, digital and analog, folkloric and popular. Mostly catchy, and eerie, as hell; and timeless, and mysterious. I don’t even think Beck would think of this as his best work — in this decade, Beck has certainly become the closest thing to Dylan that this generation will stand for — but it’s the song I’ll remember most.
As a special bonus song: my favorite concert-going experience of the decade was Head of Femur at Schuba’s in Chicago, their CD-release party. Their cover of “The True Wheel” just barely missed this list; do yourself a favor, pick up a copy of Ringodom or Proctor, and listen to pure joy. This YouTube clip is from last year, and isn’t quite as awesome as when I saw them way back when, but it’s still pretty rad; they fill up that tiny stage, and it’s incredible when everyone starts jumping around.