Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my look at the best of this decade. It has been an amazing time for music, and thanks to that vehicle that is the internet, we can actually witness a great deal of the music around us. It is actually a lot of fun to be able to look back like this and see what has been so good.
Keep in mind: I am one person. There is no way that I’ve heard everything possible from this decade, so what follows is a personal list of favorites. Feel free to leave comments: what do you think I’m missing from this list?
Please note my self-imposed rule for this list: ONLY ONE SONG PER ARTIST. This is done in the interest of expanding the selection. Otherwise, this might be a Spoon, Radiohead, and Modest Mouse love-fest.
So without further ado, here starts the list.
50. “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco
This unexpected song centers around strings and a humming keyboard. But its soul is instant and powerful.
49. “The Rip” by Portishead
Sad, raw and very reserved. The combination of held-back drums and straining vocals is unforgettable.
48. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.
This song was literally everywhere, but with good reason. Insanely catchy and it even holds a message.
47. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” by Of Montreal
An artifact of its source album, this rundown of mental trouble works well even outside the original setting.
46. “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West (feat. Lupe Fiasco)
It’s the horns! As soon as the song kicks in, you don’t have a choice – you listen.
45. “Keep Fishin’” by Weezer
Most of post-2000 Weezer has been dreadful. Maladroit is the exception, and this song is a classic.
44. “The Wolf is Loose” by Mastodon
In a word, blistering. From that opening drum attack, it doesn’t let up. Metal at its finest.
43. “The Zookeeper’s Boy” by Mew
The startup riles the mind, but then they disarm you with that magical voice.
42. “Melody Day” by Caribou
That guitar holds you tight to the song, but the ethereal vocals make it stick in your mind.
41. “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse
In general, Muse is overwhelming and a tad annoying. Here, they’re just too big to ignore. Very fun song.
40. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case
Her voice is big, but this song captures her excellence. Great, light music and a slightly over-the-top metaphor make this a late-decade great.
39. “1 2 3 4” by Fiest
Yes, the iPod commercials were popular. But the song is so much better than just an ad. The melody, catchy vocals and a slightly painful tale of teenage love all add up to a full composition, worthy of repeated listens.
38. “We’ll Make a Love Of You” by Les Savy Fav
The band may be known for their crazy stage antics, but this song proves them a worthy rock band in general. Interesting lyrics and singing are mainly a way to get those brilliant guitars in. The echo is there like U2, but it is so much more muscular.
37. “PDA” by Interpol
Dark and brooding, the lyrics are plainly idiotic, and the voice seems out to copy Joy Division. But you know what: the song is still great. The dark is excellent, thanks to a beefy bass and tight drums. Of course, the whole thing just turns amazing through that final breakdown. The drums go, the guitars lock in and then it all comes back. Brilliant every time.
36. “Atlas” by Battles
Huge. Epic. Massive. Yeah, very redundant, but it’s hard to pound in just how big this song is. Structurally, everything is very simple. Big drum beat, some bass and guitars following behind. But the crazy vocals and just the scope of the operation make this worth hearing.
35. “23” by Blonde Redhead
Washed out, Sonic Youth-type sounds aren’t anything new. But when you play it this well and have a cooing siren as your lead singer, you tend to garner a bit of attention. I really love the drum pattern that carries throughout this track, and it helps drive this manic, swirling track right into your brain.
34. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” by REM
This is an amazing way to make an entrance. Even more so when it heralds a return to form like this. After a few albums of mindless wandering, REM snap right into place with this searing song, lashing your ears with big guitars and angry lyrics. Bonus points: that entrance lick makes a great ringtone.
33. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie
This song can seem cheesy, but I love it anyway. It really hit for me during a Scrubs episode. The kind of deep affection and real sadness seen here are difficult to describe without sounding pathetic. Here, the sparse arrangement and the light vocals manage to tackle the subject without fear.
32. “Kissing the Lipless” by The Shins
Decidedly poppy, yet deceptively complex. “Kissing the Lipless” really shifts into a different place when it transitions to a faster song through those guitar attacks. The song is very refined, but still manages to feel raw and realistic through the strained singing.
31. “My Girls” by Animal Collective
Pitchfork has vastly overrated this song. However, it is still worth hearing. Strong emotions and personal convictions drive this track. Personal reflection should probably result in all people having the hopes and dreams of Animal Collective in “My Girls”.
30. “Smile” by Lily Allen
Swanky and deliciously pop, this song is too catchy to be left off any decade list. But the whole thing gets turned over immediately when Allen complains about her man “f***ing that girl next door.” Very spiteful, but self-serving in how his guilt brings the singer joy. Personal redemption can be awesome.
29. “2080” by Yeasayer
I’m not very familiar with the rest of Yeasayer, so I don’t know if this is a very representative song. But if so, they must be astronauts, making brilliant space music. The whole thing seems out of this world, and cements its place through both the chorus and the children shouting at the end.
28. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio know how to make a song. First, they pull you in with a cool drum pattern. Then, they keep you interested with the guitars and insane production. Just as you grow “bored,” they slow things down, let you feel it out. And then before that goes on for too long, they kick up the speed to a new high and ride it out. Nicely done.
27. “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens
Religion and cancer are not often encountered in popular music. Yet here we find a quiet, caring man examining his own faith and reflecting on the death of a loved one. In the midst of the sprawling Illinoise, it is interesting to find this charmingly sad song, featuring acoustic guitars and a restrained banjo. Sonically beautiful, and mentally stimulating.
26. “Use It” by The New Pornographers
I’m never really sure what The New Pornographers are ever singing about. But, here they are anyway. The strength of their lovely singing, bold poppy hooks and great variety of songs keeps me coming back. “Use It” is no different – strong singers and a memorable piano are enough to make this song rise so high.
25. “Auto Rock” by Mogwai
Ah, the slow build. This song is different than all others in the list so far, in that it features no vocals. Instead, a haunting piano line slowly grows louder. More sounds are added, a quiet electronic blip. Then the wall of guitar sound comes in off the horizon, this also building. It’s a very inspirational song to me, leaving a feeling of rising out of the ashes. By the end, it’s fist-pumping good and you feel ready for battle.
24. “Millstone” by Brand New
Dear crappy punk rock: please take notes. After being a mediocre punk rock band, Brand New decided to grow up and write meaningful songs with interesting music. “Millstone” is a stunning song coming from a band that wrote “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad.” There are layers of sound, slow nuance, and lyrics that comment on personal failure in an intelligent way. This is a real evolution in music: Brand New are now a spectacular, respectable group of artist.
23. “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand
It is all about that transition. Yeah, the start and the finish are both wonderful, but holy god. That moment around 55 seconds in is just magical. The guitars go tight, the drums get all wonky and the song is never the same. They never try repeat this stunning change at any point in their career (thus far), so you really must enjoy the moment. It is the point where indie garage rock and disco meet and it’s fantastic. Yeah, you’ve heard this song a million times now, but it is really good enough to carry a whole album.
22. “Sixteen Military Wives” by The Decemberists
The apex of all Decemberists songs. Perhaps this is more surprising in that it is so different than anything else off of Picaresque. Whatever the case, the song is brilliant and scathing in its poppy abandon. A discourse on what is wrong with America, this track also manages to pull together an amazing horn group. And yet again, the little moments really win big points. Here, it’s the way the song finishes off, bringing the horn line back around for one last flourish. Perfect ending.
21. “Fell in Love With a Girl” by The White Stripes
I wish more garage rock sounded like this. Very fast, relentless in its thrash, “Fell in Love With a Girl” is such rush. Yes, we’ve all heard the crap about Meg’s drumming, but it is actually very fitting here. You only need a simplistic drum figure for Jack White to dance around. Tip: turn this up really really loud in your car, open all the windows and sing along. Bonus points if it’s winter. Afterward, try to tell me that this song is not awesome.