My Picks: The 50 Tracks of the Aughts, Part II


17. Jan. 2012, 20:11

50. Try Again-Aaliyah, Romeo Must Die, 2000.

A decade later, it still sounds like the future. Yet, “Try Again” arrives from a distinctly pre-9/11, pre-twenty-first century pop music-as-we-know-it landscape. Aaliyah’s tragic death would present a future generation with the most indefatigable pop music question: “What could have been?” Here is an artist whose meritorious success and undeniable vocal chops eradicated any need whatsoever for the likes of American Idol and Auto-tone. The talents of Aaliyah aside though, that still jaw-dropping opening production courtesy of Timbaland remains without equal in this millennium.

49. House of Jealous Lovers-The Rapture, Echoes, 2002.

The lyrical content of this song is forged in an idol of meaninglessness. Luke Jenner can’t hit a note to save his life. There’s an over-abundance of cowbell that would have even Will Ferrell in all his SNL skit glory begging for mercy. The Dance-Punk movement the song both helped found and inspire would be dead before the Rapture could even release Echoes.

All irrelevant. That “new age dawning” !!! was talking about in “Me and Giuliani?” This was it. This is post-9/11 America. This is the Hipsters moving into Williamsburg. This is the chaos and confusion of the Bush years. And it kicks more ass than anything that actually happened during the decade prior to November 2008. So let’s give the Rapture credit where credit is due, and reference the words of the comic who kept America laughing in the post-9/11 years to celebrate the track that kept America (or New York City, at least) dancing during that time: “I need more cowbell!”

48. Grindin’-Clipse, Lord Willin’, 2002.

The production lacks precedent. The lyrics lack pretext. And listeners lacked any frame of reference from which to prepare themselves for “Grindin.’” So good that roughly 90 percent of all major hip-hop acts that followed were forced to release at least one explicit-drug selling banger, though none of them would match Clipse’s tour de force.

47. Time to Pretend-MGMT, Oracular Spectacular, 2008.

The kids didn’t know it at the time, but in 2008, they were dying for an Indie Rock anthem that heralded the mythic, long ago-discarded rock and roll trope: viscerally celebrating the excesses of rock stardom. And MGMT did deliver, perhaps too successfully, even. Shit, for all the blustery Fox News hyperbole about the damaging effects of drug-obsessive hip-hop, this track’s line about “parachuting heroin” and fucking with the stars probably did more damage (to white kids, at least) than 50 Cent and Young Jeezy’s entire catalogues combined.

46. Still Tippin’-Mike Jones, Who Is Mike Jones? 2005.

Arriving at the zenith of Dirty South Rap, who better but a trio of charisma-overloaded emcees from the city that put the Dirty South on the map, Houston, TX, to deliver one of the defining classics from the genre’s peak era. As if the production and lyrical hook weren’t unstoppable enough, Slim Thug, Mike Jones, and Paul Wall drop career-defining verses with such nonchalance that the forthcoming doom of the Swishahouse camp still begs explanation.

45. Frontier Psychiatrist-The Avalanches, Since I Left You, 2001.

An aptly-titled track, considering that modifier “Frontier” provides the best description of where the Avalanches charted on the pop music geographical map in 2001. “Frontier Psychiatrist” broke new ground, entered unexplored territory, and dared other acts to follow in its trail-blazing footsteps. After ten years, countless other artists have attempted to reach the exotic wilderness this song first explored; none have made it there alive.

44. 99 Problems-Jay-Z, The Black Album, 2005.

Case Name: Shawn Carter v. Dwayne Carter, Jr.

Issue: Before the court is a dispute over Defendant D. Carter’s claim to the title: Best Rapper Alive. In support of the Plaintiff, Mr. Shawn Carter, the Court is presented with the three verses from the track entitled, “99 Problems,” released by the Plaintiff in 2005.

Exhibit A: That first verse, as gloriously self-aggrandizing as Biggie Smalls on “Juicy.” Exhibit B: That second verse, as politically savvy as Tupac Shakur on “Changes.” Exhibit C: That third verse, as overwhelmingly confrontational as Eazy E on “Straight Outta Compton.”

Ruling: The Court finds in the favor of the Plaintiff. Defendant is hereby ordered to relinquish any further use of the title “Best Rapper Alive” in any of his further tracks, and sentenced to a punishment of 99 bitch slaps courtesy of Beyonce Knowles.

43. The Past Is a Grotesque Animal-Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, 2007.

Context is required to fully appreciate the ambitious, riveting, and astonishingly personal twelve-minute centerpiece of Of Montreal’s breakthrough album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer. The climactic song in the album-long tale chronicling lead singer Kevin Barnes’ breakup with his wife, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” is the pivotal moment that occurs following the album’s opening six-track log of Barnes’s ever-decreasing emotional and mental stability, the point where our increasingly destitute narrator finally succumbs to the demons he has attempted to fight off. In the ensuing melodramatic spectacle, all sanity is lost, all hope dissolves, and the only thing that reigns is Barnes’ undeniable madness, expressed via music (drums that sound like a team of undead horses galloping out of hell, the sudden arrival of a spectral backing chorus mid-way through the song) and lyric (“I find myself searching for old selves/while speeding forward through the plate glass of maturing cells,” “let’s tear the fucking house apart/let’s tear our fucking bodies apart!”). Exhausting in its length and intensity, the only relief, for both Barnes and the listener, occurs once the track finally reaches its feverish conclusion.

42. Digital Love-Daft Punk, Discovery, 2000.

Daft Punk’s Discovery can be characterized as the antithesis to the other technology-obsessed album released at the turn-of-the-millenium, Kid A. In the same vein, "Digital Love" expresses itself as a direct counterpoint to Idioteque, an embrace of the newly-crowned digital, computerized society that now holds the throne for the foreseeable future. As if reminding listeners that the citizens of the new decade need not fear technology, only its potential misuse, the track aligns itself with the positive possibilities our technology-driven future holds.

41. Kill All Hippies-Primal Scream, XTRMNTR, 2000.

For all the love Daft Punk and Discovery get, nothing on that album can quite match this--the best track off XTRMNTR, a.k.a Primal Scream's criminally underrated, clairvoyant, jaw-dropping masterwork released in the same year. "Kill All Hippies" is facially misleading. Its hard-right point-of-view and military-fetishizing-stomp project an almost-Nazi-eque level of anti-leftism, when in reality, Primal Scream are doing a million things at once: satirizing the infatuation with the military industrial complex ala the music version of Starship Troopers, calling for an end to the lingering pacifistic, capitalism-coopted hippie movement itself as a means of Leftist promotion, and slyly recognizing how "pretty vacant" some forms of pop music can be when one isn't listening to their underlying messages. This sounds like a group that suspected ahead of time the forthcoming Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as the never-ending War on Terror.

One of the most progressive tracks on this list, go figure that the gentlemen landing the haymaker were studs from three of the foremost bands of 19-fucking-90. My Bloody Valentine, The Stone Roses, Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course Primal Scream are represented well thoughout. This is an exhibition in what truly revolutionary music sounds like.

Aaliyah M.O.P. Clipse MGMT Mike Jones The Avalanches of Montreal Jay-Z Daft PunkPrimal ScreamThe Rapture


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