Here’s the rest of my Top 24 list. Part one is over here.
12. The Good Soldier – Nine Inch Nails
Trent realizes that, yes, he did leave the gas on.
The new NIN record, Year Zero, is a sort of concept album about America in the near future after everything really goes to hell in the war on terror, and then an angel/alien shows up. (Trust me, it’s a lot better that sounds.) The album was promoted via an “alternate reality game” where people found clues and websites and flash disks with hidden songs and called weird phone numbers, and all sorts of things, which is apparently how everything is going to be promoted now. In amongst all that noise was some of the best music Trent Reznor and company had made in years, including this song, which gets inside the head of someone fighting on the front line.
11. Kids – MGMT
Step one: Insert joke here involving the words “backstage” and “pussy.” Step two: be ashamed of yourself.
From the “Songs You Don’t Know” Dept., it’s the electro-rock duo MGMT (pronounced: “Management”) from Brooklyn-via-Wesleyan. Most of their songs are very arty and all over the place, but this one’s accessible enough to anyone who’s enjoyed New Order. It’s on this list for two reasons: one, I wanted to be the ones to tell you about them first before they become the next big hip thing (they will), and two, because this song manages to make the notoriously chilly genre of electro sound, well, kinda cozy. Maybe it’s the singer’s Wayne Conye-esque voice, or perhaps it’s the “Circle Game”-ish lyrics, but “Kids” manages to sound like the future and the past all at once.
10. Bodysnatchers – Radiohead
Rainbow Forest, where the wild Radiohead grows.
Perhaps you heard – Radiohead completely revolutionized music forever and now all songs will be released via a “pay-what-you-will” policy. Actually, you know what would be awesome is if some bands tried a “pay-what-you-weigh” policy, like you used to be able to do when you were a kid at Ground Round. That’d be sweet, and it would help to end America’s obesity epidemic. Anyway, everyone else seems to like this Radiohead song. I didn’t care for it so much, but I do think it was cool what they did, so they get to be number 10.
9. Timebomb – Beck
Beck is listening to your most private moments through this wall.
Beck, too, showed up out of nowhere with a new song that he was offering for free as an iTunes download, which again shows how much things have changed. The difference between this Beck song and that Radiohead song, however, is that this Beck song is actually fun to listen to.
8. Music Is My Hot Hot Sex – CSS
Some hearty souls camped out overnight for tickets to Xanadu.
Wow, the revolution of how we listen to music just keeps getting more and more revolutionish. Here at #8 we have a song by a previously obscure Brazilian pop band. The reason you’ve heard it is because some kid used it in a homemade Apple iTouch ad, which Apple saw and decided to make into a real commercial. The reason this song is particularly awesome isn’t just because it’s infectious and incredibly fun to listen to, but also because it may be the first case of a reverse-entendre in musical history.
See, normally, an artist will sing something like “oh, you touch my tra-la-la,” and the tra-la-la in question is none other than that artists’ naughty bits, except he/she’s being coy by using a “double entendre.” Here, CSS comes out and says “music is my hot, hot sex,” which sounds dirty, except that they’re really actually just talking about music. Kinda cool.
7. Queen Bee – Puscifer
If you stare at this picture long enough, the bug-thing talks to you.
Maynard James Keenan’s other other band, Puscifer, has a dirty mind and a weird sense of humor. It’s like Tool sans metal, leaving the surrealism intact. Moreover, it was a modern rock radio hit, which might come as a surprise considering that modern rock radio rarely plays anything weird (or, indeed, interesting) anymore.
6. That’s The Way My Love Is – The Smashing Pumpkins
As Billy’s heart expands, so does his right hand.
Aren’t all these lists based more on personal preference than anything else? This one makes the list because a) the Smashing Pumpkins are back together and making music (more or less) and b) two of my friends’ chose this as the last dance at their wedding. Also, it’s the song that reminds me the most of the sort of music the Pumpkins were writing when they wrote Siamese Dream, which is of course the greatest album ever recorded by anyone ever. So, naturally, this song is #6 on this list, and who are you to judge me?
5. Young Folks – Peter Bjorn and John
You will note that they are sitting in chairs from Ikea. Way to be stereotypical.
As the pop cultural landscape blah blah more and more fragmented, it seems like everything – songs, music, tv shows – is being targeted more narrowly. To wit: this song seems to have been specifically written for people in their late twenties. It’s a lovely slice of folktronica-tinged indie pop that makes us feel hip, but mature. The chorus even goes:
We don’t care about the young folks
Talking ‘bout the young style
We don’t care about the old folks
Talking ‘bout the old style, too
We don’t care about our own folks
Talking ‘bout our own style
All we care about is talking
Talking only me and you.
My god, these Swedes even whistle, for heavens sake. Could this song feel any more like a breezy summer Sunday afternoon when you’re 28? I doubt it.
4. Slow Show – The National
The members of The National, probably playing some sort of indie rock drinking game I don’t understand cuz I don’t live in f**king Brooklyn.
Boxer was my favorite album of the year, and picking just one song was nigh impossible. In the end, though, I had to go with (again) personal preference above all else. This is one of the most amazing, simple, and beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, which is how this relatively unassuming track beat out, for instance, the single “Mistaken For Strangers”, or the critical fave “Fake Empire.” This one sticks to your ribs, man – there ain’t a lot of songs you can say that about.
3. Icky Thump – The White Stripes
This is my favorite picture of The White Stripes, because Jack looks like Zorro.
The top three songs of the year could all easily have been The Best Song Of The Year. This one just plain rocks harder, dirtier, and better than the rest. It’s chock full of amazingly tasty riffage and heavy blues-punk lyrics like “well Americans want nothin’ better to do/why don’t you kick yourself out, you’re an immigrant too/who’s using who/what should we do/well you can’t be a pimp and a prostitute too,” which could be my favorite single line in any song this year.
2. Intervention – Arcade Fire
Regine does not have to close her eyes, because she is French. Pfeh.
That’s why. Dear lord, this is an intense song. Supposedly, the Arcade Fire gang traveled all the way to Belgium or something just to play that amazing pipe organ. Supposedly, the sound of said amazing pipe organ brought tears to the eyes of Mr. Win Butler, Arcade Fire lead singer.
It’s a huge sounding song, with lyrics chock full of politics and religion and religious politics, and for my money, their performance of this tune on SNL has got to be the best televised musical moment of the year. When Win smashes his guitar at the end, you actually feel something, unlike every other time you’ve seen someone smash their guitar on stage. Beat that.
1. Umbrella – Rhianna (feat. Jay-Z)
I’m gonna knock you out. Rhianna said knock you out.
Well, duh. The last time a song came around that everybody liked and didn’t ever seem to get sick of, no matter how often they heard it, was… maybe Outkast’s “Hey Ya”. Possibly. This song has that kind of cross-over appeal, where it’s an R&B song (complete with Jay-Z tag at the beginning), but feels like an “alternative” song too. If you took out Rhianna – not that you’d want to, but let’s pretend – and just listened to the backing track, you might notice the Massive Attack flavored keyboards (or pads), or the trip-hop-ish drum loop, or the hiss that sounds like the rain is pouring down all around you. In other words, if you slowed it down, it’d be a Portishead song.
But you wouldn’t want to, because this song is absolutely perfect, from start to finish. Rhianna’s voice is sexy but dry, emotional but not emoting. The “ella ella, eh-eh-eh” hook only works because she’s singing it, and knows how to turn her voice into a percussive instrument.
Then there’s the lyrics. Sure, they’re not revolutionary – anyone who was listening to pop radio circa 1989 probably remembers Taylor Dayne’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter,” which covered pretty much the same territory, and it’s not too far from “Stand By Me”, either. Each one of these songs features a narrator telling someone that they’ll be there for them in good times and bad, and each one of these songs uses weather and darkness to suggest a hostile environment from which the singer is offering some kind of protection. But there’s a reason that “Stand By Me” is, according to BMI, the fourth-most performed song written in the 20th century – we’ve all gone through times that aren’t so good, and sometimes, a song can be our friend. “Umbrella” tops my list as the best song of 2007 because it’s a song that feels like everyone’s best friend, and presents itself as the friend all of us would like to have and be.
The year 2007 sometimes felt downright hostile. There’s a war that claims more and more American soldiers per day, and no one’s entirely sure why anymore. New Orleans is still a disaster area after two years. The economy keeps getting worse. Things are uncertain at best and terrifying at worst. (This isn’t as much of a stretch as it might sound: just listen to Jay-Z’s shout out at the beginning where he says the rain is falling down “with the Dow Jones,” and the song reached #1 in the UK during a period of extreme flooding.) The fact that this song has resonated with so many people of all musical tastes isn’t surprising in the least. A lot of artists, from Mandy Moore to Tegan and Sara to Biffy Clyro, have already covered it.
You might see “Umbrella” atop the list of “Most Performed Songs of the 21st Century,” if you happen to live that long. Bertold Brecht once wrote: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing about the dark times.” I love that quote, and maybe that’s why I love “Umbrella” so much.