80. “Nothing Better” – The Postal Service (Give Up, 2003)
Excuse me, I’ll just be over here, eternally bitter that The Postal Service only put out one album. Something this good should never be relegated to just one serving. Ben Gibbard’s post-emo melancholy played as the soundtrack to angsty, 21st-century teenagers in Death Cab For Cutie, but nothing Death Cab ever did could match the brilliance of Give Up. Gibbard plus Jenny Lewis? That’s just not fair. And the way they play off each other in “Nothing Better” marks the album’s high point. BONUS: If you’re a sports fan, you’ll get a good laugh out of Gibbard’s botched sports analogies in verse one.
79. “Holocene” – Bon Iver (Bon Iver, 2012)
It really is a crying shame that we may never again hear from the super group that was Bon Iver. Justin Vernon and S. Carey are off to bigger (and arguably better) things. But Bon Iver was a game-changer for so many people. And “Holocene” represents the height of Bon Iver’s commercial prowess. Winner of the Grammy for Best Song, “Holocene” is a sweeping achievement, like climbing a mountain or having an epiphany. Some critics have pushed it off as sleepy rock or hipster chill. To do so would be to miss out on something great and wondrous, something quite unlike anyone is doing in music today.
78. “Be Thou My Vision” – Ascend the Hill (Take the World, But Give Me Jesus, 2010)
Growing up in church has left me with a sour taste toward most contemporary Christian music. And a lot of that is my own fault for being a bit of a snob. But in recent years, I’ve discovered that I have a big affinity for hymns. There’s a poetry and honesty in hymns that is lacking in current liturgical music. I don’t know what it is; call me a liturgy hipster. But Ascend the Hill’s gripping Take the World, But Give Me Jesus offers a modern spin on some great hymns. “Be Thou My Vision” stands out due to Joel Davis’s longing vocals and nostalgic, but not tired, instrumentals.
77. “Baba O’Riley” – The Who (Who’s Next, 1971)
Don’t be like Lindsay Weir and call it Teenage Wasteland. Otherwise, Seth Rogen might scold you. (Spot-on analysis, I know.)
76. “Little Secrets” – Passion Pit (Manners, 2009)
I don’t have a strong love for electronic music, but what I do have is profound appreciation for music that exudes unadulterated joy. Passion Pit represented one of my first forays into the world of electronic music of any sort, and I still trace some of my experimental roots back to “Little Secrets.” To sum up my feelings for this song: I dare you not to dance. I double dog dare you.
75. “Unbelievers” – Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City, 2013)
Vampire Weekend have always given off cool college kid vibes, so it makes sense that their junior effort would show significant signs of maturity. Vampire Weekend and Contra were masterful and unique pieces of indie rock. But Modern Vampires of the City was even more. Philosophical in their pursuits, Vampire Weekend crafted a piece of soul-searching genius. “Unbelievers” is the introduction to the curious nature of its album, but manages to not come off as too heavy-handed in questioning. It’s almost as if Koenig is saying, “I have unanswered questions, but sometimes the question itself is enough.” That’s a vulnerable place to be. Kudos for admitting it.
74. “Your Song” – Elton John (Elton John, 1970)
Once upon a time, I tweeted something along the lines of, “If I ever have half as much soul as Elton John, I’ll be doing alright.” Maybe I should get that tattooed on my person? (I jest.) But Elton John reinvented the way I look at pop music. It’s not all bubblegum melodies and bass rhythms. It’s about SOUL, MAN.
73. “Pusher Love Girl” – Justin Timberlake (The 20/20 Experience: Part 1, 2013)
Justin Timberlake is my generation’s Michael Jackson. There, I said it. As an entertainer, Timberlake is unmatched in scope or diversity. But music has always been his bread and butter. The 20/20 Experience: Part 1 was an extremely refreshing take on his brand of pop music, and it all started with “Pusher Love Girl.” It’s incredibly ambitious for an album opener, but it wouldn’t be JT if it wasn’t bold.
72. “Roll Away Your Stone” – Mumford & Sons (Sigh No More, 2010)
I’m really glad that Mumford & Sons is on hiatus. I was a big fan of Sigh No More, but Babel was one of the biggest disappointments of 2012 for me. It was big on crescendos and banjo, but seriously lacking in heart. Sigh No More felt genuine and liberating in a way that Babel didn’t even come close to. Tracks like “Roll Away Your Stone” balanced the dichotomy of tracks that could work as well in an arena as they would in a living room. Mumford & Sons had a personal touch about them on Sigh No More that causes me to pine for their return to intimacy. But don’t let me bum you out too much: this song is killer, and you’ll be better off having listened to it.
71. “The Perfect Space” – The Avett Brothers (I And Love And You, 2010)
The Avett Brothers built themselves on grit, but stripped it away (mostly) for their 2010 masterpiece I And Love And You. I believe its their most intimate record, and “The Perfect Space” doesn’t even bother with poetic language: “I wanna have friends that I can trust; that love me for the man I’ve become, not the man that I was.” Wow. That’s powerful stuff. The expression and reflection of change is palpable in the writing of this song, especially during the song’s self-proclaimed “Part 2.” The contrasting styles reflect what it’s really like to undergo change: uneven. Usually that wouldn’t work, but it fits perfectly here.