Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2000 - 2010: Playlist

So, some songs I've loved over the last decade, some links to Youtube videos for those songs, and some words on why I love those songs. This list contains nothing I've written about previously on this blog. So, none of the songs from my lists over the last two years. I know this means that many fine songs I love very much aren't here, but I have my reasons. Don't want to repeat myself anymore than I already do, you see....
Enjoy, if you are so inclined:

Elbow - Station Approach
The perfect opening statement for Leaders of the Free World (2005) in the way it builds and builds, layering instruments as it goes. Beautifully, the train journey suggested by the title is subtly echoed by the chugging rhythm, trees and houses clipping by windows. And the lyrics have a rare universality: this is a song about the joy of homecoming, and Guy Garvey's emotional croon sings of the romanticism of anticipation, the knowledge that loved ones and familiarity await your arrival : "Coming home I feel like I/Designed these buildings I walk by/You know you drive me up the wall/I need to see your face thats all/You little sod I love your eyes/Be everything to me tonight". When the song finally explodes in a pounding bass drum beat, it is with the euphoria of reunion. Elbow at their considerable best.

Johnny Boy - Johnny Boy Theme
It starts with a quote from Scorsese's Mean Streets ("You don't make up for you sins in church. You do it in the streets. The rest is bullshit and you know it.") and then turns into a dense, repetitive, sample-heavy pop song with male and female vocal parts alternating over an almost Spector-esque backing track of huge drum sounds and disembodied voices. Johnny Boy followed it with the equally brilliant and more accomplished "You Are the Generation Who Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" before their album disappointed then disappeared. A shame, but what a couple of immortal singles they managed to sneak out before being swallowed by the Music industry.

The Rapture - House of Jealous Lovers
The most obviously canonical song here, but I can't help it, I loved it on first listen, and I love it now, because it is absolutely fucking awesome. For that cowbell, for the cutting, snide guitar, for the elastic bass powering it along, for the vocal riding the wave, for the way it rocks and makes you want to dance like nothing since the Sonics, for the breakdown when the guitar drops out and then they actually do a countdown to the climax. For all that it deserves another cry of Fucking Awesome. Really.

Outkast - The Rooster
What a surprise to me - rockist through and through - to find myself loving a track from Big Boi's Speakerboxx (2003) over anything from Andre's The Love Below (2003). But this is hilarious and funkier than anything on Andre's record (that great horn refrain!) with about four different hooks and a lyric detailing marital difficulties and family separation, Big Boi-style ("The cat got sold, the dog got old, the food got cold"), It should have been Number One for as long as "Hey Ya"...

The Avett Brothers - If Its the Beaches
"If it's the beaches
If it's the beaches' sands you want
Then you will have them
If it's the mountains' bending rivers
Then you will have them
If it's the wish to run away
Then I will grant it
Take whatever you think of
While I go gas up the truck
Pack the old love letters up
We will read them when we forget why we left here."
Just lovely. Fleet Foxes should listen to this and weep bitter salty tears. That first piano chord after two minutes of guitar and fiddle and banjo is devastating.

Stereolab - Captain Easychord
Stereolab's time had passed by the year 2000. They were a 90s band, doomed never to really make it big. But they released three albums in this decade, two of which (Sound-Dust (2001) and Chemical Chords (2008)) rank alongside their finest work. This song is perhaps the key song on Sound-Dust, and its really two songs fused together in the middle. The first is a funky little keyboard and horn-based shuffle with what sounds like Mazzy Star slide guitar reveries as choruses, the second an equally funky bubble of warm pop and a backing vocal that goes "Ba-Ba-Badda-Ba-Ba". Its a great example of what made Sterolab special - nobody else ever sounded quite like them, altough they sounded a little bit like lots of other interesting people. Jim O' Rourke produced , which basically guarantees quality. Whats she singing about? I can never tell. But it always sounds great.

Guillemots - Made Up Love Song No.43
Such a strange and magical love song, with its fluid structure, its exhilarating arrangement, its earnest vocal and that ardent, boyish lyric: "I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do/Now there's majesty, in a burnt out caravan/You got me off the paper round, just sprang out of the air/The best things come from nowhere/I love you, I don't think you care."
I love how it starts off with what sounds like a sample from the Star Wars theme and the way it just runs out of steam like a wind-up toy and the way the backing vocals end by repeating "Yes I believe you" over and over as if in some effort at hypnotism. It does sound entirely improvised, explaining the title, but what an improvisation. It also sounds hopelessly in love, which many love songs don't.

Rhianna - Word Love
No, not Rihanna. Rhianna is from Leeds and she released one album, Get On, in 2002. The first single "Oh Baby" was a hit, but this follow-up; not so much. She's part of a band (Fleurona) now. No matter, this song recalls the kind of stuff Minnie Ripperton did with the Rotary Connection back in the day, with its sinuous rhythm part, wah-wah guitar solo and that cosmic echo on her fantastic vocal. Why wasn't it a hit? Why? Why? In a world of Pop Idol, why? If I ever get to DJ in a club, I will play it. And they will dance. Oh yes.

Brendan Benson - Metarie
The best thing Benson ever wrote, a pitch-perfect piece of power pop with clever, witty lyrics (" Met a girl, introduced myself/I asked her to go with me and no one else/She said: I'd really like to see you everyday/But I'm afraid of what my friends might say") and a triumphantly McCartneyesque quality in its purity of melody and simplicity of construction. It rises to a crunchy muscular chorus, then falls for some sighing verses. He re-recorded it for the single version but the original, on the album Lapalco (2003) is the best version.

Mercury Rev - In A Funny Way
Phil Spector beat, gossamer guitar. The first line is "On a Summer Day", almost whispered. Strings.
Then it takes off. Images of nature and travel, nostalgic lines. A band playing hard to make a song sound light and almost weightless. The vocal acrobatics of the middle eight instead of a guitar solo. Blissful.

Alice Smith - Dream
What a voice she has. Smooth and powerful and effortlessly gliding over octaves, she makes singing this song sound stupidly easy. But this starts with just a piano, bass, high hat and her soft, sensual voice, then builds and shifts as horns and strings and guitars float in and out, and seeming choirs of backing singers try to compete and it ends up sounding like something off Broadway. But she holds it together and at the end when she gets to unleash some power after teasing for a few lines, its a goosebumps moment. I first heard this over the closing credits of an episode of Entourage, of all places, and within 30 seconds I knew I had to have it. Its criminal she isn't a Superstar.

The Black Keys - Til I Get My Way
This perpetually underrated duo can really rock when they want to, and this knocks spots off anything the White Stripes did this decade. Starting with a squall of dirty feedback it is built around a fuzzy riff and bluesy vocal - as most of their songs are - but here the melody is compulsive and the rhythm just drives the song onward, reflecting the frustrated desire and determination of the lyric. They eventually resorted to hiring Dangermouse as a producer in an attempt to cross over and lost something of their danger and energy in the process. But their first few records have an honesty and rawness which is really appealing.

The Bees - Left Foot Stepdown
They come from the Isle of Wight and in America they're called "A Band of Bees", unfortunately. And they've released three albums of superior dadrock this decade. Superior because their influences are obviously far more eclectic than most of their peers - they inject small doses of rock, country, music hall, reggae, funk, mariachi, chill out, glam and folk into their music, and they write ace songs. I've definitely missed out a genre or two there, by the way. They're like Supergrass crossed with the Beta Band. This song - off their best record, Octopus (2007) combines a ska off-beat, swirling psychedlic hammond organ, Tennesse-sounding horns, CSN&Y harmonies and a simple little tune to fine effect.

Jamie T -Calm Down Dearest
Beyond his annoying schtick at the time of this record's release, Jamie T. came up with a couple of great songs. Here, the often baffling verses with their thickly accented street slang and personal references give way to a lovely, soulfully consoling chorus over a simple backing track.

Mull Historical Society - Barcode Bypass
An elegiac epic about (I think) the effect upon the elderly of the demise of local communities forced by globalisation and modern Supermarkets, Colin MacIntyre's beautiful song centres around his falsetto chorus and a chiming keyboard figure like something from a nursery rhyme. That is before it powers up around the five minute mark and offers a darker coda, all ominous wordless vocals, melancholic melodies and crashing cymbals.

My Morning Jacket - Where to Begin
I knew I had to include My Morning Jacket, one of my favourite bands, in this playlist somewhere. And when I listened to some of their stuff, it was this cut, from the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's awful Elizabethtown, that really struck me. That singular slide guitar sound, absolutely haunting the song. Jim James' keening yet delicate, and perfect vocal. The band performance, so subtle and sympathetic. That middle eight of purest prettiness: "How can I await the day?/And last the night I'm here to see?/How do I await the mother lode?/It's the art of feeling naked in your clothes." The lyric about self-discovery, persistence, the joys and troubles of life: what more is there to say?

Desert Sessions - Crawl Home
The kind of dirty, bass-rich riff Josh Homme specialises in, with PJ Harvey hollering over the top? If you've read my albums List you know that this combination ticks a few of my boxes straightaway. Homme's frantic high-pitched voice on the chorus doesn't hurt either. The end, when Harvey lets loose a series of orgasmic howls, seals the deal. This is fabulous.

Common - Come Close
So, yeah, I'm not a big hip hop fan, as this list makes quite evident. But I do like some stuff. I only became interested in Common because he used Laetitia Sadlier from Stereolab as a guest vocalist on Electric Circus (2002), the album from which this track originates. Its a fascinating, flawed record - very eclectic, and psychedelic in an awkward, contrived way. But it contains a few stunning songs, of which this utterly beguiling love letter is the best. A simple handclaps, drums, bass and organ backing track is beefed up by the mighty Mary J. Blige singing each chorus. Common's verses are unashamedly romantic: "I wanna build a tribe with you/ Protect and provide for you/Truth is, I can't hide from you/ The pimp in me, may have to die with you" and his flow is Luther Vandross-smooth. Or as he puts it over the stuttering intro: "Its just a fly love song."

Super Furry Animals - Juxtaposed With U
SFA do a sort of Philly-soul pastiche with a vocoder on the verses and some ridiculously lush strings, and they make it work. More than that, its probably their best single, aside from "The Man Don't Give a Fuck". It has lyrics dealing with social injustice, changing methods of communication, and was originally conceived as a duet with Brian Harvey or Bobby Brown in the vein of "Ebony & Ivory". Its meant as a plea for tolerance: "You've got to tolerate all those people that you hate/I'm not in love with you but I won't hold that against you" runs the chorus. I love them for their crazy ambition and their ability to pull it all off.

Gemma Hayes - Back On My Hand
Her best pop song, from her first, Mercury Prize nominated album, has a windswept, desolate feel. She sounds on the edge of tears throughout, especially on lines like : "Well we never really said goodbye/Kinda left it in the air/And as the train pulled off I knew you loved her more," and the lyric is a hopeless, brave farewell to a departed lover, backed by a sad guitar melody, some ambient feedback rising through the mix, and quite a tough band performance.

Wilco - Spiders (Kidsmoke)
I love Wilco. They're one of my favourite bands still working, and I loved each of the three albums (plus one live album) they released this decade. But I didn't love any of them enough to include it on my albums list, even the much praised Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For me their best records remain the one-two punch of Being There and Summerteeth in the late 90s, when they found high gear and joined a classic rock pantheon. Everything since then has been great, but not quite as great. But their albums each contain at least 5 absolute corkers. This is the corker-in-chief on A Ghost Is Born. That obvious motorik Krautrock beat that clicks away throughout anchors the whole song - all Tweedy's surreal cut-up poetry, all the meandering guitar lines, and then gives way to that almighty guitar breakdown that stands in place of a chorus, and raises the whole thing to the sky, triumphantly, propulsively, euphorically. I want to live in that moment.

Tindersticks - People Keep Comin Around
I like that Tindersticks got a little funkier this decade. They branched out, doing more soundtracks, solo work etc, and they refined their trademark sound. But they also got a little more deep soul on us, without losing any of what made them so great in the first place. The way this starts - a surprised burst of horn which fades down until the lazy groove locks in - is brilliant, as is the decision to hold back Stuart Staples' distinctive croon until the second verse. It gives the whole song an air of improvised peril. Anything can happen here. Instruments wander in, backing vocals and call-and-response passages shimmer into life and die away, all of it against that groove and an infectious chorus. The jagged strings and the bursts of bluesey electric guitar are the cherry on top...

HAL - What a Lovely Dance
Remember the Thrills? No, I didn't think so. They had that one album with three hit singles, they seemed to be everywhere with their Eagles/Bacharach/Beach Boys karaoke stylings, but they screwed the pooch with their second record, and more or less buried it too with their third. Pop is fickle. By then, Hal had come along. Fellow South Dublin Posh-Boys with similar fixations on the more melodic side of 60s pop, they were instantly granted more cool and hipster cred by virtue of signing with Rough Trade. But crucially they wrote better songs than the Thrills, and sang and played them better too. Not that it helped them commercially - their eponymous record didn't match the instant success of the Thrills' debut. But this single is fantastic - a slightly countryish slice of honeyed MOR with honkytonk piano and hammond organ and what sounds like moog for the majority of the song, with the usual Hal harmonies and hooks ("Feels like I lost my gloves/And my hat has blown away"), before a bell (literally) rings and the coda is even better: heavenly backing vocals against a sort of piano-led jive. It is, in fact, a quite lovely dance.
They've basically disappeared since, presumably working on a second record.

Ryan Adams - English Girls Approximately
This was meant to be Ryan Adams' decade, wasn't it? He released Heartbreaker in 2000 (I only realised that after looking it up, otherwise it would certainly have been on my list of albums) and followed it with the sprawling plea for pantheon entry that was Gold (2001), with its echoes of the Stones and Springsteen and Dylan and all sorts of other people. And then he messed it up. He had disputes with his label, public tantrums, crazy onstage accidents, released sub-par albums, changed styles a few times (80s rock, alt-Country, quasi-bluegrass), retired, won and lost several famous girlfriends, published two volumes of poetry and generally sold his obvious and remarkable talent short. In all, he released 11 albums in the 00s, or 12 if you count the two volumes of Love Is Hell (2004) as separate records. Thats a hell of a lot of songs. And theres more - Adams has several records worth of unreleased demos and there are hundreds of bootlegs online of unreleased songs hes performed live. That he manages any quality control at all is miraculous. But he does to such an extent that not one of those many records is a complete disaster. Adams always sneaks in a few great songs, a folky ballad here, a U2-esque rocker there. If Heartbreaker remains his finest album, you could put togther four albums of equal quality from all the records hes released since, which is more than most artists have managed this decade.
This song is a beautiful mid-tempo account of losing an English girl (Beth Orton, in fact), with stately piano and beautifully crisp guitar and some of his best ever lyrics and Marianne Faithfull on backing vocals and a devastating climax as a guitar moans and Adams sings: "Kiss me on the lips when my heart just laughed it off/Words may move, but there never moving fast enough/Celebrate the differences, I celebrate the songs you sing/ Just three words, my love: you meant everything".
Maybe the teens will be Adams' decade...

Primal Scream - Kill All Hippies
Screamadelica (1991) seems like a long long time ago when you listen to the awesome Xtrmtr (2000), with its politics front-and-centre, its obvious anger replacing the hedonism of the earlier record, its aggressive production, its stylistic eclecticism even broader than the band had managed years before. This piece of sleazy funk features one of Mani's greatest bass parts, a falsetto Gillsepie vocal, lots of Kevin Shields-esque feedback, and samples from Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue (1980). Its better than anything on Screamadelica.

David Holmes - 69 Police
This absolutely lovely instrumental is the highlight of Holmes' uneven Bow Down to the Exit Sign (2000) but more famously used, perhaps, over the close of Oceans 11 (2001) where it proves both elegiac and feelgood. Its built around a sample from the Italian psychedelic band Le Orme (Holmes would further promote European psychedelic rock with his Oceans 12 soundtrack) and its got a sort of fairground warmth to it, an almost childish feeling of light and colour, while also bustling along to a tight, sweet little groove. Its a great way to end a movie or a playlist.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home