Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Best 100 Songs of 2000-2009: Part 2/10

Many Moons (Janelle Monae): 2008’s sweetest surprise was the strong showing by Monae, a woman dubbed the unofficial third member of Outkast. High praise indeed but one that is deserved. Many Moons is a space caper, replete with riffs and jazzy horns. But it is the sheer artistry of her concept that is so damned amazing. The song’s persona, Cindy Mayweather is a renegade robot who has fallen in love with a human, thus, freeing her own self from the homogeneity that her race runs on. Observing from a distance, she starts to list all the maladies that hound mankind while espousing hope. ()

Back To Black (Amy Winehouse): Say what you will about Winehouse but one can literally feel the pain from her voice and the mournfulness of her lyrics on this stunning title track of her sophomore. Not that melancholy music juxtaposed to a voice in bittersweet refrain is anything new---Motown perfected the art in the 1960s with the likes of Aretha Franklin. What Winehouse does add though is the British hardiness and sass that allows lines like, ‘kept his dick wet with his same old safe bet’, to slither through her sweet yet forked lips. ()

2+2=5 (Radiohead): The opening song from Hail to The Thief is one studded with the type of intellectual authority that makes critics wet their underwear for Radiohead. Volumes of fan-based thought has been put up on the internet on it’s cryptic meaning, ranging from Thom Yorke reading Orwell’s "1984" to it being an outright critique of the second Bush presidential term. Both of these ideals are apparently seconded here because “1984” expounded on double think, the replacing of one’s own conscious beliefs for another. Orwell, through the book’s protagonist, arrived at the famous mathematical equation. Lyrically, the track is riddled with Bush references (‘don't question my authority or put me in the box’) as well as a silent judgment of the American people themselves (‘because/ you're not there/ payin' attention/ you have not been/ paying attention’). Juxtaposed to all this intellectual discourse is the harshest rock groove Greenwood has ever constructed so as always it’s a classic. The most devastating rock song of the decade. ()

Gossip Folks (Missy Elliott): Missy Elliott’s repertoire of being a cool cat has never been in doubt but when she started slimming down then she knew tongues would be wagging for different reasons. Never one not to mimic or slide in sideway commentary, Elliott decided to spoof her detractors by simultaneously calling them out and getting them to jive in the process. ‘girl, is that Missy Elliott/ she lost a lot of weight/ girl, I heard she eats one cracker a day…’ goes one of the crisp opening lines before Missy steps up and grabs Ludacris for an amazing cameo. Towards the end of the dazzling performance, the aforementioned ‘haters’ are now eating out of her hand and, with her victory restored, Missy castigates them. It seems like mere puppetry but the format of Gossip Folks is highly copious. The relationship between musician and fan is an immense one but it is fickle too. Missy sizes up this state of things and rocks the night away. ()

DVNO (Justice): After striking gold with D.A.N.C.E a year earlier, Justice was supposed to fade away under the banner of ‘one-hit wonder’ but somehow they didn’t get the memo. Thankfully, the French duo, Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay had more tricks up their collective sleeve. The brilliance of the track is in realizing that one can rock the masses without blasting their ears to pieces. DVNO rotates synths and lyrical samples along with shards of punk attitude. Not that these ideas have never been presented before but it took these trendy outsiders to sift all the angles to luxuriously. ()

Twinkle (Erykah Badu): Hidden behind the other brilliant tracks from her New Amerykah album lays this gem, a heavy-hitting examination of the African-American experience. Just like her awesome Penitentiary Philosophy earlier this decade, Badu is giving a gut-check to ‘progress’ of the races amid the natural evolution going on. Written and conceived before there was President Obama, Twinkle foresees such a time when racial conflict can no longer be used as an excuse for continuing a slump (‘They say their grandfathers and grandmothers work hard for nothing/And we still in this ghetto/So they end up in prisons’) or allowed to simmer on the brink for too long (‘if we have no choices/then we’re gonna fuck up’). ()

Sugar Assault Me Now (Pop Levi): A smartly contrived three minute pop gem, Sugar Assault Me Now is how most of us would have been introduced to former Ladytron bassist Levi. His skill is in constructing a mathematical groove around his quirky lyrics. The track is not mere gloss though as Levi positively corrals the ending, achieving a fanatical overdrive to his visual imagination. ()

Neighborhood #2 (Laika) (The Arcade Fire): according to lead sing Win Butler, the track is about Laika, the first animal in space by the Russians. One doesn’t immediately glean that from the lyric sheet but the alienation of the song’s persona is obvious. Given the shroud of gloom that hung around the making of Funeral, one can surmise that the group wanted to expand on that central theme, with this track’s aim being to literally bleed the feeling away. Swirling with organ music , violins and accordion, Butler rattle off quixotic lines (‘our older brother bit by a vampire/for a year/ we caught his tears in a cup/and now we're gonna make him drink it’) to absolutely high form. ()

Boyz (MIA): Defined as a urumee/soca mash up, Boyz best demonstrates the global feel MIA had drawn on for her sophomore. Both musical styles outlines are mainly Hindi, one based in India and the other in Trinidad. The video was shot in Jamaica, with local dance groups like Sample Six providing the moves. With all the glorified beats and cultural sampling involved it’s easy to miss the feminist intent dissected by MIA’s politics. Boyz here is used not as dire as, say Anne Rice’s doomed Akasha to vanquish mankind, but still, MIA moves a crooked yet manicured finger in our face, assigning blame for so many ills right where it belongs. ()

Try Again (Aaliyah): No one really remembers the soundtrack this came from (Romeo Must Die) but who doesn’t get exhilarated by the opening horns and Timbaland’s metallic crunk sprinkling so much funk right through the track? One doesn’t even have time to realize the opening lines are in ode to Eric B and Rakim but Tim and Aaliyah had long been the funky gift that never stopped fulfilling. Her soft, silky vocals ride the waves of grooves sent her way. Here was the pop/hiphop hybrid Jay Z would later duplicate with Umbrella. ()