A few week ago, Pitchfork posted their list of the top 20 albums of the aughts. Pitchfork hasn't generated this much excitement since they famously gave "Music" a 6.8 back in 2007. I read through the list several times, and finally decided that my readers shouldn't have to take the time to listen to all 20 of these albums 5 times in a row like I did. As a service to you, dear readers (both of you), I did all the heavy lifting so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy one track from each of their top 20.
I agonized for some time over which track to choose from each album - should I pick my personal favorite, or a track that best represents the album as a whole, or the one that might be considered the "best" track from each album? The good-looking genius over at Creative DC advised me to pick the song that, if the listener were to die tomorrow, they would be happiest having heard today [Editor's note: I'm paraphrasing, the original was more clever]. So that's what I tried to do.
- Interpol - NYC
This was an easy choice for me. I'm not really too enamored of most of this album (or most Interpol songs for that matter) but this song always manages to worm its my into my brain and stay there for days every time I hear it. I know the lyrics aren't all that fancy (are Interpol's lyrics ever all that fancy?), but there's a certain poetical quality to this song that gets me. And of course it's simple and repetive, and I can't get too much of that.
- Spoon - Don't Let It Get You Down
Lots of great options on this album, but I think this is perhaps the most tuneful of them all. This song also has a special place in my heart because a couple years back I wrote a song that was pretty much exactly this song - took me a couple weeks to figure out where I'd unintentionally stolen the melody from. There's nice stereo separation in this one too (the vocals are on one side for the most part, the drums on the other, etc.) so that's an added listening bonus. I also dig the interplay between the piano, guitar and bass during the breaks. It's a good little number.
- Kanye West - Gold Digger (featuring Jamie Foxx)
I almost went with "Mama" from this album (I really love that track) but this is definitely the song you will be sorry for having not heard if you'd never heard it. Solid song all around - clever humorous lyrics, good beat, great fake Ray Charles sample (cleverly altered to reflect the lyrical content of this song) and a super-catchy chorus that you can't go around singing in public. Nice work.
- LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great
This album was on my top 10 of 2008, and it remains great to this day. Like many of the albums on this list, it was hard to pick just one track from this one, but this song wins because of the brilliant mix of the warm emotions of the lyrics with the cold electronic feel of the music. (And of course it's simple and repetitive.)
- Sufjan Stevens - CHICAGO
You know the refrain by now - it was really hard to pick one song from this album. But this one wins for the arrangement (the way the strings rise and fall is just brilliant, the glockenspiel is inspired) and the beautiful simplicity of the lyrics. I'm not 100% sure I chose the right track from this one, but at some point I just had to stop and pick one. So this is it.
- The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health
I used to be a bigger Knife fan than I am now. I really didn't like the Fever Ray album, and upon repeated listens this Knife album lost much of its lustre for me as well. But the crazy electronic dance-hall-of-mirrors noises that comprise much of the instrumentation of this song combined with the aliens-who-just-want-to-party-but-kind-of-in-a-dangerous-way vocals make this song a real high point for the album.
- Animal Collective - My Girls
While this song can't hold a candle to Peacebone off of Strawberry Jam, it's still pretty damn good. They manage to pull such a catchy chorus out of pretty thin scaffolding, and that's a good feat, even if it doesn't come until after 3 minutes into the song. Catchy, light-hearted, weird, and confusing, if this song represents the new direction for Animal Collective (picture one of their tunes in a Gap ad in 2 years), I would be OK with that.
- OutKast - So Fresh, So Clean
So many wonderful songs on this album - but none are so boastful and playful at the same time while still holding down such a thick juicy beat. This song is Big Boi-heavy, and definitely reflects his retro style, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
- The White Stripes - We're Going To Be Friends
Of course I had to pick the song that sounds nothing like the rest of this album. Well, so be it. I defy you not to have a good time listening to this song. Go on, try. See? Told you.
- Ghostface Killah - Apollo Kids ft. Raekwon
Maybe this makes me a loser who's into over-produced hip-hop albums, but I actually prefer Fishscale to this album. Still, Supreme Clientele is a classic, and I think this song represents one of its peaks. Ghostface tears it up in his verses and Raekwon doesn't slouch on his, either. There are tracks with better beats on this album, but I don't think Ghostface sounds as alive anywhere else on that whole disc. And of course he compares rapping to "ziti" and never explains it. Who else could do that?
- The Avalanches - Since I Left You
I actually had never heard this album before I saw it on Pitchfork's playlist, and I wish I had - it's pretty good. This was my favorite track from this album, and I dig the sonic landscape it paints. I have to imagine The Go! Team listened to this album. A lot.
- Panda Bear - Bros
Yes, this song has been overplayed by hipsters from coast to coast, and no, he's not doing anything the Beach Boys didn't do decades ago, but it's still a great song and shows how far you can go with a good hook and a lot of reverb. Somehow it manages not to get (too) boring even at 12:00 minutes. That's impressive.
- Sigur Rós - Olsen Olsen
More hard choices here - but the bass line on this track makes me feel so good it had to win. Then there's the theme introduced by the bass at 4:12, then picked up by the piano and strings at 4:40, then built upon by horns, voices, etc. for the rest of the song - it's so uplifting and wonderful, it lifts up the whole song around it. Beautiful stuff.
- The Strokes - Last Nite
I'm not sure how The Strokes made it into the top 20 albums of the decade, but as long as they're here, we might as well enjoy their catchiest little ditty of all. Commence enjoyment.
- Modest Mouse - 3rd Planet
Great album, full of great, weird songs. This one wins because it's so evocative - even as the narrator talks about his "only art" being that of "fucking people over," and making fun of people for believing in the "eye in the sky," you can hear the self-doubt creeping in and infecting everything. Great existentialist angst without being emo.
- Jay-Z - Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Q: How can you understand Jigga without hearing this song? A: You cannot. So don't even try. Classic Jay-Z, from the strings to the lyrics to the ridiculous boasting to the crazy good flow. Way to get pretty much half the country singing along to what is essentially nonsense letters strung together.
- Wilco - Kamera
I changed my choice from this album about 6 times, but Kamera finally won because, somewhat ironically, I don't love it. At least, I don't love it when it starts. Every time I hear this song, my immediate instinct is to skip over it in favor of something more tuneful or with a better arrangement or more interesting lyrics...yet every time I actually hang in there and listen to it for the duration, I am reminded that it's really a very well-written song with surprising layers. The vocals are understated (none of that trademark Tweedy scratchy yowl here), there's no impressive guitar solo, and yet by the end I'm always singing along and telling myself I need to give this song more credit. The production actually reminds me of Spoon a bit here - pretty sparse with some good chunky acoustic guitar backing. Anyway, despite all this, I am still questioning my choice, because there are simply too many great songs on this album. Maybe I got it wrong.
- Daft Punk - One More Time
This was another album I didn't know very well until recently. Most of the album has grown on me, but this track caught my attention and held it right off the bat. Auto-tune never sounded so good.
- Arcade Fire - Wake Up
Another album full of great songs! While I'm way more partial to Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), I have to admit that this is simply a better song, and if you've never heard it, your ears are poorer for it. So do them a favor and listen closely to all the instruments and voices at play here - it's a veritable feast for the ears. And the lyrics are good, too.
- Radiohead - The National Anthem
Yes, yes, another hard choice from this overly analyzed album. There are practically no lyrics in this song, but that's OK because the vocals are basically just another instrument, and they're used to great effect. This is probably the best song on this whole playlist, so make sure you listen hard.