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21. Eels – Souljacker, Pt I

03/12/2009

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If the Devil really does have all the best tunes, then this has to be pretty high on his most-played list. Buzzsaw guitars knock out a riff of pure schoolyard menace, all bullying and brutish and bruising; shimmying shakers swagger and taunt. A cocky, fuck-you-too eyebrow is raised as the bassline swings through town. And then there’s the lyric: disaffected, trailer-trash teenagers filled with hate, threatening revenge in a way no one will forget on their douchebag teachers and parents; allusions to incest and abuse and murder – Souljacker is narrow-eyed with anger. And yet, despite the grit, it’s also irresistably carnal and libidinous. The primal rock’n’roll stylings do every job they can to make the song feel deliciously, sexily forbidden, and Mark Everett’s low growl/high howl never felt more fitting. The wailing, fuzzing guitars never held so much bile, a background cackle never so snarling – Souljacker is an evil little rocker, and delectable for it.

Enter the top 20

03/12/2009

So after tomorrow, and eleven-plus weeks of countdown, there’ll be 20 tracks left in this blog. All this means that the 40-21 index page is now complete and there’s a brand new Spotify playlist up there too, which I’ve just put together. So if lists, and music, and the noughties, are what you’re into, well you’re in the right place. Standby for number 20 on Saturday.

22. Maxïmo Park – Now I’m All Over The Shop

02/12/2009

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With its Looney Tunes melodies and frantic pace, Now I’m All Over The Shop’s verses and choruses feel like distant cousins rather than natural bedfellows, so maybe it’s a testament to the song’s one constant – Paul Smith’s breathless, urgent vocals – that the incongruent components actually become a virtue under his stewardship. Smith’s sense of arrangement is on top form here: the gabble and gasp of his verses are best in short bursts, and he knows it: the chorus is with us within 30 seconds of kick-off. And what a chorus – the sweetest Maximo Park have ever written. Triumphant and chest-beating, it’s so heavy with classic pop devices that you almost forget the previous frenzy. Indeed, with a brief foray into three-time and an ascending bassline, it could be mistaken for Bacharach were it a touch slower and played with a lounge orchestra. Brief, bubbly and boisterous, Now I’m All Over The Shop is a masterclass in conviction – not many songs have been written in the past ten years with this much pride.

23. Burial & Four Tet – Moth

01/12/2009

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A dimly-lit suburban road. Indentikit post-war semis bathed in sodium yellow. The outskirts of a city. Lace curtains in front of flickering television sets. A Saturday night. Bright strip-lighting from a family-run corner shop pouring onto the pavement. Teenagers waiting for an irregular bus, trying to get one up on each other while none of them, bar one, inhale their cigarettes. A small park, with a vandalised swing. And a cheap but custom-modified car, with an unnecessarily big soundsystem, parked with its front passenger door open, broadcasting Moth, by Burial & Four Tet, to the otherwise dormant neighbourhood. It feels as if this is how Moth is best encountered: an environment pock-marked by slight undernourishment, where functionality and simple operation will do just fine. Moth is not a glamorous record, despite its pairing of two of the finest producers of the decade. Nor is it an epic, despite its length. It’s a workhorse though, doing its job of gyrating and eddying around two-step beats to create a soundworld that’s deeply evocative and queasily intimate. The clicks and woozy swells are purposeful and unshowy, the relentless motif creates a sense of urban claustrophobia, and the overall result is one of the most expressive pieces of electronic music in recent memory.

24. Wolfman featuring Pete Doherty – For Lovers

30/11/2009

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It’s telling that Pete Doherty’s best moment of the noughties was away from the rag’n’bone punk of The Libertines. Also telling, perhaps, is that he didn’t even write this song – in For Lovers, Doherty is simply the crooner, the storyteller, the compere. He assumes an almost Sinatra role, catching your eye and projecting, letting the band do their thing while he concentrates on the spirit of the piece. Freed from his guitar and the love-hate competition with Carl Barat, he presents a different side: battered, sad and tender. It suits him. He’s believable, for one: his tone, perhaps hewn from post-opiate comedowns, is perfectly measured, and For Lovers never sounds mawkish, despite the gooey subject matter. For another, his thin voice, so often overpowered by The Libs’ guitar racket, is padded and pampered here by the lush orchestration, sounding sweet and spirited. It’s beyond doubt that Doherty’s musical talent this decade was wasted by drug abuse and self-indulgence, but For Lovers raises the question of what he might’ve done if he’d ditched the scratchy guitars altogether and gone for a Richard Hawley-style romance fest – hearing a song as delicate as this, it seems his natural home.

25. Lambchop – Up With People

29/11/2009

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Some songs are bleak premonitions of the future. Others recall a beautiful past, dewy-eyed with nostalgia. Up With People’s curious charm is that it manages to combine these two feelings by offering a sense of wistfulness for things yet to happen. Kurt Wagner’s story talks of growth, blooming and beaming – the sun rises, fills our soul, and even when it starts to fade, even when we start “screwing up our lives today”, the future is on hand to put things right: “C’mon progeny!” urges Wagner – it may just be an oblique form of “I believe the children are our future”, but the joy and lustre of both his voice and the choir instantly neutralises any cheesy whiffs. “Up our lives today!” it finishes, breaking the original lyric to turn a negative idea into a chant for humankind – it’s simple, powerful stuff. Up With People is less a manifesto, more a dreamer’s anthem, a soaring ode to everyone’s potential.

26. Ol’ Dirty Bastard featuring Kelis – Got Your Money

28/11/2009

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Listening to a track like Got Your Money, you begin to understand how words like “nasty” and “sick” have become superlatives in hip-hop. Because Got Your Money is just that: it’s misogynistic and materialistic, snarling and menacing. It features lyrics like “I don’t have no problem with you fucking me, but I have a little problem with you not fucking me” – heck, it’s performed by a guy who called himself Ol’ Dirty Bastard. But despite all of that, Got Your Money is a deliciously seedy, addictive record. The Neptunes’ production tricks once again underpin the dirt: gyrating Billie Jean drums, Kelis’ pouting purr – it all comes together to give ODB’s thug-life braggadocio exactly the right mix of sex and danger.

27. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Get Ready For Love

27/11/2009

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Yup, that’s love alright. In its sound, if not directly in its lyrics, Nick Cave’s song is perhaps a far truer treatise on how love can really feel. Brace yourself, he’s saying – this isn’t bunny rabbits and roses, this is mad-staring eyes, searing intensity, semi-coherent rants. This is relentlessly pounding drums and praising “until you’ve forgotten what you’re praising him for”. And woah, does it sound exhilarating. The Bad Seeds are in their most joint-rocking, feedbacking guise, and Cave’s voice snarls and quivers with every beat of his chest. The gospel choir seems less conducted, more simply moved. But it’s not all up-to-11 tubthumping; as with all Cave’s greatest songs there’s a moment of clarity – a message of sorts – in the final verse, when he describes searching high and low for this mighty love, only to finally find it “burned into the retina of your eyes”. It’s a poignant, personal image within a blazing arrangement, and makes love seem intensely powerful and appealing – as long you’re ready for it.

28. Regina Spektor – Us

26/11/2009

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On tracks like these, it’s as if Regina Spektor has a symphony orchestra in her head. Just as small boys conjure football stadia in their back gardens, complete with roaring support and iconic commentary, Spektor plays alone but fills in the gaps with her own vivid imagination. And for a song as romantic as Us, the imagination of epic, megascale beauty is almost better than any possible realisation – after all, you can do anything you want in a daydream – and it’s that sense of boundless optimism that floods this song with so much warmth. Here, we get a peep into Spektor’s head and see a world of statues built to honour great lovers and cities renamed after them. There are idealists trying not to succumb to the crassness of modern life. There is the joy of simple pleasures. And because her orchestra is only imaginary – because this is the small scale dreaming big – the sense of potential makes Spektor’s manifesto seem even more attainable. The peak arrives in the final minute, as her imagination spills from her head and directly onto the track itself: she flits to and from her own lead vocal to sing a descant harmony, and the sheer abandon in her voice is hypnotising. But mainly, Us is pure persuasion: despite featuring just one voice, one piano, one violin and one cello, the song is bursting with life and vigour; it’s full of an addictive, inescapable grandness beyond its means. It has a self-belief that is enthralling to encounter.

29. Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place

25/11/2009

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A sort of musical JFK-moment, this – everyone can tell you where they were when they first heard Everything It Its Right Place, so shocking and significant was its sound. Such was the excitement surrounding Radiohead’s follow-up to The Greatest Album Ever Made®, its first track was always going to be heralded, but few must’ve expected something so spectral and gaunt. Away from its cultural significance, though, the track is an alluringly hypnotising piece of music it its own right. The detached, free-associated lyrics help shift the music into its own self-constructed, pristine shell, leaving the soft pulse, looping Rhodes and clipped vocal samples to reverberate around in a sort of unblemished, ageless world. Of course, Everything In Its Right Place also acted as the overture, or maybe the midwife, to Kid A, the album that would alter countless perceptions of what constituted rock music in the noughties, and is endlessly significant for that role. But even in isolation, the song is a gorgeous piece of shape-shifting, mellifluous electronica.

30. Mountain Goats – No Children

24/11/2009

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For a song that features the lyrics “I hope I lie and tell everyone you were a good wife, and I hope you die, I hope we both die”, No Children is surprisingly positive. The song captures that exact moment after a painful breakup where the recriminations are over, the sadness is done, and where bile and anger is exactly the tonic. It’s the moment at which the only option is to move forward, and away, and No Children makes it sound like an exultant realisation: this wife, this harridan – yes, he loved her, once, but now he is so sure of her terribleness that the memory may as well belong to a different guy, and the glee in John Darnielle’s voice at this moment of clarity is gorgeous. Such hatred, weirdly, is a spur of so much positivity for the future – he’s been set free, not by his painful former lover, but by his own feelings. No Children is the sound of catharsis in its purest form.