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


Jan 17 2012, 20h01

10. Wolf Like Me-TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain, 2006.

Pound for pound the best straight-up dose of modern Indie Rock unleashed in the past decade, “Wolf Like Me” sounded like simply nothing else that had emerged in the 00’s opening half. Soulful and sexy. Moody and in the mood. Menacing, yet vulnerable. Released several years before a generation of young people would go crazy over the oversexed, lusting werewolves and vampires on True Blood and Twilight, “Wolf Like Me” is great for the same reasons that a million teenage girls in America have posters of Robert Pattison plastered on their walls. Yet, the distinctly urban noir of the song remains light years away from the rural goth-romanticism of its Hollywood-bred counterparts.

TV on the Radio may not have been the biggest or trendiest Indie Rock act of the 00’s-- -the lead singer’s name is borderline impossible to pronounce, the rhythm guitarist is prone to hopping backwards during live performances, and the bassist (Rest in Peace, Gerard Smith) played every live performance---Leno and Letterman included, with his back to the audience. They were probably just the best.

9. Blind-Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair, 2008.

Go figure that the greatest disco song ever released would come out a full three decades after the genre’s apex. Over easily the funkiest groove put on track in the 00’s, trans-gender icon and spiritual successor to the Roy Orbinsons and Jeff Buckleys of eras past Antony Hegarty looks inward to confront the darkest spiritual demons haunting his soul as he croons/belts some of the most heartbreaking, yet undeniably relatable verses known to man.

Gaining momentum over the course of the track, Hegarty’s ruminations reach a tipping point expressed in the track’s most plaintively-delivered line, “I wish the light could shine now/cuz it is closer, it is here/but it will not please in my present/and it makes my past and future painfully clear.”

It is an astonishing moment. Hegarty not only makes Adele look like a talentless hack by comparison, the band as a whole brilliantly turns the initial purpose of disco music---dance as a means of personal escape----on its head. "Blind" not only challenges, but demands its listeners to join Hegarty in immersing themselves in their own probing personal introspection---while dancing, of course.

8. Hey Ya!-Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2003.

1929: Edwin H. Land patents the material used to produce Polaroid cameras.
1951: Jackie Breston and his Delta Cats record “Rocket ’88,” considered by many the first true rock & roll recording.
1956: Elvis Presley performs “Hound Dog” live on the Milton Berle show, gyrating his hips, causing untold numbers of teenage girls to swoon, and outraging everyone over the age of 25.
1964: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hits number one on the Billboard Charts.
1975: Andre Lauren Benjamin is born in in Coral Springs, Florida.
1982: Michael Jackson records “Billie Jean.”
1994: Outkast releases their debut album.
2002: Andre 3000 and Big Boi announce that Outkast’s next album will be a double-album, with each emcee essentially contributing an album’s worth of solo material.
2003: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is released.
2004: Hundreds of millions across the globe celebrate weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, Christenings, high school and college graduations, and that hot chick from Psych 101 accepting a friend request on Facebook, by shaking it like a Polaroid picture.

7. Idioteque-Radiohead, Kid A, 2000.

By all accounts, the first decade of the new millennium will not go down in history as a positive era for the global community. Let’s face it, the past decade was pretty much a shit show, especially for the U.S. and Britain. If the old adage that one’s true character shows itself during times of adversity proves true, then those of us here in the post 9/11 States are pretty much fucked beyond all comprehension.

What does all this have to do with Radiohead’s most troubling, heralded track of the Aughts? Well, for all of Daft Punk’s talk of “Digital Love” and the enticing potential of technology to bring peace and synergy to an increasingly chaotic, dysfunctional world as it entered a new millennium, what we got instead over the past ten years was the Patriot Act, Facebook, TSA Body Scanners, HDTV, and a disturbing, full-fledged commitment on the part of Western society toward using technology in ways that made the warnings of both 1984 and Brave New World all the more prescient.

“Idioteque” itself tends to focus its morose thesis on the concerns of the latter novel, sensing the forthcoming human obsession with using technology to entertain oneself until becoming completely diverted from, you know, the real world, to the point of rendering modern society in its entirety blissfully ignorant to the tyrannical oppression being foisted upon it. An eerie update of Krafterk’s Trans-Europe Express, the track blips and hums throughout, as Thom Yorke howls his disturbing prophecies with the track’s most memorable and unsettling component: a sense of certainty that Radiohead’s warnings are arriving too late, that the malevolent future the band forecasts is already inevitable.

6. One-Armed Scissor. At The Drive-In. Relationship of Command. 2000.

Think about what was on "alternative rock" radio circa the summer of 2000. I was 13 and I remember all too well...Linkin Park. Limp Bizkit. Creed. Lifehouse. Godsmack.

At The Drive-In fucking kill them.

Peep the live performance below. Lead singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez, both fully unhinged, embark on a hell-bent mission to end the reign of post-grunge through sheer commitment.

"One Armed Scissor" holds an important place in 00's rock lore: The first rock track of the new Millenium for Millenials. Looking back a decade-and-a-half later, this is the track that most seems teleported in from the future. The lyrics are Philip K. Dick-inspired, vaguely ominous science fiction exposition. The opening two minutes are almost perfect. The jaw-dropping live performance of the track on Letterman seals it.

In its full context, "One Armed Scissor" has a purity of purpose that remains unmatched this millenium. To quote the "Life is a game of inches" speech from Any Given Sunday: In a fight between two men, it's the man who's willing to die that's going to win. At The Drive-In are that man.

5. Get Ur Freak On-Missy Elliott, Miss E…So Addictive, 2001.

Feminism. Globalism. Dance-floor grinding. Pop music: meet your future. The last time a female, African-American pop artist had made liberation this…cool, Aretha Franklin was taunting an overmatched lover about having control over what he wanted, what he needed. In 2001, Missy Elliott and Timbaland blindsided an unsuspecting public with news of what the kids of the Y Generation wanted and needed. Self-empowered baaaaad bitches ready to go 20 rounds. Punjabi militarism. Unhinged, primal sexuality.

You can break a sweat just listening to “Get Ur Freak On.” You can use these four minutes as the template for unleashing a successful revolution on mass popular culture.

Infiltrate. Destroy. Rebuild. Witness: Infiltration, via a hook as infectious as the Avian flu. Witness: Destruction, of the lingering barriers limiting the marginalized citizens of the globe from invading the Billboard Charts. Witness: Rebuilding, of popular music as a source of innovation, social progress, and culture-bridging communication.

Hear that, Occupy leaders? Infiltrate. Destroy. Rebuild.

4. My Girls-Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion, 2009.

Animal Collective spent the better part of the Aughts being brazenly ahead of the times. Consequently, it comes as little surprise that “My Girls,” the band’s premiere single, represented a mutual end-of-the-decade compromise between the band and popular culture, which saw both the group making its most undeniable appeal to the mainstream and a new generation of youngsters embracing Merriweather Post Pavilion's prevailing thematic motif of reveling in life’s arcane simplicities.

Few moments in 00’s popular music send chills up the spine like the band’s entrance into this track’s second verse. Here is a pop music artist recognizing the overriding concerns about the developed world’s deviations from its natural bio-rhythms expressed in the works of artists ranging from T.S. Eliot to Radiohead in the century prior. Here is the most-appropriate, Cradle-of-Civiliation-inspired pop music response to these problems, not just of the decade, but perhaps in pop music history.

The overwhelming success of the song and Merriweather Post Pavilion offer perhaps the best argument for “My Girls'” merit, suggesting that the American public finally sensed that the simple solutions Animal Collective offer on the track may be the most immediately-needed remedies to the ailments of 21st century Western society.

3. All My Friends-LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, 2007.

Everyone knows what’s supposed to happen to the average citizen’s relationship with popular music once he reaches the age of, say, thirty. It’s time to change the radio station in your car from the local Rap or Alternative station to NPR, or maybe Classic rock. It’s time to trade in the form-fitting jeans and tee-shirt for suits and sweatpants. Time to stop shopping for a new pair of headphones and start researching safe, affordable car seats. Exit, rebellion. Enter, nostalgia.

Fortunately for the members of my generation, a thirty-something James Murphy spent the Aughts making up his own rules for entering adulthood, while channeling every universal, conflicting emotion that comes with this maturation process into brilliantly cohesive post-modern poetry by way of popular music. And of the many great records he released during this decade, “All My Friends” is the masterpiece.

No other track from the Aughts even comes close to being as challenging, both musically and lyrically, and yet eminently accessible as this track. You can be this ambitious when you’re this good. You can write a song that captures the quiet heartbreak of reckoning with the loss of one’s youth and then one-ups the untold number of lesser predecessors covering the same topic in a riveting, stream-of-conscious exclamation ("And with a face like a Dad!"...) of an ultimate moment of clarity. “All My Friends” takes the underlying themes of Citizen Kane, but turns the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane and the similarly afflicted members of past generations into the triumph of James Murphy and a generation of young people facing the perils of isolation and loneliness in the increasingly physically detached society we are experiencing in this new millennium. The answer, it turns out, lies in the question: Where are your friends tonight?

2. B.O.B.-Outkast, Stankonia, 2000.

The Aughts can be summarized in a single word: Chaos. Let’s time-travel back to February 2000, and the release of Stankonia, and conduct a brief overview of the most turbulent events that would unfold in the forthcoming twelve years. The most audacious, horrific terrorist attack carried out against American citizens would be committed by Islamic extremists under the guidance of a maniacal leader whose father was a billionaire oil magnate and established business associate of the Bushes. The United States would pre-emptively invade Iraq due to an unfounded, ultimately inaccurate belief that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons and secretly collaborated with those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. A hurricane would wipe out the entire city of New Orleans and the Federal Government would do next to nothing in the aftermath to help the devastated citizens of the Gulf Coast. A Vice-Presidential candidate who spent the 1980’s as a sports anchor in Anchorage, Alaska would mock another Presidential candidate for spending the same decade as a community organizer working to improve Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods. A number of the most powerful banks in the United States would suddenly declare bankruptcy, threatening to push the Global Economy into chaos, only to be saved by the Federal Government’s decision to gift-wrap billions of taxpayer dollars to save them from their own irresponsibility. A BP oil pipeline would suddenly explode, flooding the Gulf Coast with a still unknown amount of hazardous waste, followed by the company CEO refusing to acknowledge the company’s responsibility for the accident. From his yacht.

In February 2000, the lyrics to the first three-and-a-half minutes of “B.O.B.” were an incoherent smattering of buzzword sloganeering, frantic hallucination, fear-mongering, chest-thumping, and schoolyard wordplay. The discordant madness just described would only be outdone by the eviscerating background production. From a logic standpoint, the whole thing ironically makes as much sense as the retrospective rationalizing of the literal bombing of Baghdad that would take place a few years later.

But then there’s the finish, and the emergence of that inescapable law of science: Out of chaos comes order. And as ugly, unfocused, and impenetrable as the majority of the track is, the rise of “B.O.B.’s” defiant, hell-raising, unstoppable benediction---POWER. MUSIC. ELECTRIC REVIVAL.---offers 00’s popular music’s grandest promise of hope to the overwhelmed masses, and gravest threat of blood vengeance to those who caused and profited from the chaos.

1. Paper Planes (Remix)-M.I.A., Kala, 2007.

In the Pitchfork synopsis of London Calling, the album’s analysis opened with the following quote from Hunter S. Thompson: "An outlaw can be defined as somebody who lives outside the law, beyond the law and not necessarily against it." And there is no better way to introduce my pick for the greatest track of the Aughts, one that of course founds itself upon a looped piece of a Clash song, then to invoke the idea of the Outlaw as it has begun to apply in the new millennium. M.I.A. casually, nihilistically offers the thesis, “All I wanna do is take your money,” like it’s the most natural thing one can desire in this day and age.

The elements of “Paper Planes” that make it a game-changer lie in the subtle nuances. For example, the unstated but undeniable targets of the song’s plans: the wealthy, corrupt elite. (“Get Your Robin Hood on, put some pressure on the man” is really just another way of saying “Fight the Power” in the 21st century global society). Then there’s the triumph of G-Funk era rap cultural attitudes over the Woodstock generation in the message itself. (“Start with your head homie then use your hands, if you try it in reverse you don’t even have a chance” is basically an updated paraphrasing of the overarching theme on Stand!).

“Paper Planes” made rebellion sexy. As rush chairman for my Fraternity during my Senior year of college, I was amazed at the sheer intensity of the reaction this track garnered every time it was played (and believe me, it was played a lot) at Rush parties during the Fall of 2008. That dip-spitting, Jack-drinking Southern frat boys could love this song as much as militant, modern-day Marxists offers the pre-eminent testament to the song's greatness. You can trace the inceptions of the Occupy protest back to this cultural signifier: in the same way the Beatles and James Brown paved the way for the Vietnam protests and Black Power movements of the 1960s, in the same way that N.W.A. and Public Enemy paved the way for the ’92 Rodney King riots in L.A., “Paper Planes” paved the way for a generation of young people to take to the streets and take on the (Big Business-) Man.

With a little added help from Rich Boy and—who else—Bun B of U.G.K., M.I.A. and "Paper Planes" stole the show during the latter half of this millenium’s first decade of popular music. The anthem of the Aughts, ladies and gentlemen.

Thanks for reading.

At the Drive-In Hercules and Love Affair The Walkmen OutKast Radiohead Missy Elliott Animal Collective LCD Soundsystem M.I.A.TV on the Radio


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