50. “Invictus” – Brave Saint Saturn (Anti-Meridian, 2008)
Reese Roper brought in fans of Five Iron Frenzy with his zany energy and always straight-forward way of talking, but mainly the former. But that was FIF. After the band’s temporary split in 2003, Roper moved on to multiple new projects, the most accomplished of which was Brave Saint Saturn. While with Brave Saint Saturn, Roper’s head was always in the stars, from concept to music. So it’s ironic (but fitting) that his best BSS song is firmly rooted in reality. Roper’s spacey and ethereal metaphors are totally stripped away, replaced by an acoustic guitar, a few harmonies and the cry of a broken, beaten man. This is music at its most basic, raw level. And Roper proves the method’s effectiveness with resounding success.
49. “Sleepwalker” – Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett (Her, 2013)
It may seem odd to some readers that the only (yes, only) Arcade Fire song in my Top 100 came from one of their film soundtracks and not from one of the heralded albums. While I do love some Arcade Fire in my musical diet, the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Her has stuck with me in a fascinating way since my first experience with the movie. The film and the music that accompanies it is just so…human. I use that term recognizing there may be a better word for what I’m trying to say. But “Sleepwalker” introduces Her‘s soundtrack so elegantly. All at once, it’s a picture of crushing sadness with slivers of joy and hope. We are desperate for some sort of meaningful connection to break our sadness. This is the plight of all humans. And this is the music to accompany us on our journey.
48. “Frontier Psychiatrist” – The Avalanches (Since I Left You, 2000)
I understand that nothing in music is truly “original.” Artists inspire other artists who inspire other artists who inspire other artists who blah blah blah. You get it. So it’s always struck me as strange (and quite humorous) that some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard is made up entirely of samples. Since I Left You remains one of the best albums of the 2000’s, partially because it’s too outlandish and strange to stop listening. But there’s a method to The Avalanches’ madness, as evidenced by “Frontier Psychiatrist”…I just haven’t figured it out yet.
47. “Black Dog” – Led Zeppelin (IV, 1971)
Led Zeppelin’s IV is considered one of the forefathers of heavy metal and a legendary piece of classic rock. And while epic tracks like “Stairway to Heaven” and “When the Levee Breaks” have their time and place, “Black Dog” is the most accessible track on the album. Accessibility doesn’t always echo great quality, but “Black Dog” is a rock song for the ages. It’s boisterous, but simple. Every member of the band has their moment to shine here, allowing listeners to fully appreciate the collective talents of one rock’s greatest outfits.
46. “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” – Sufjan Stevens (Illinois, 2005)
Within the world of cutesy, plucky folk music, no man coos louder than Sufjan Stevens. Before the eccentric artist was writing ballets and scoring documentaries, he was releasing obscene amounts of Christmas music and planning a (probably fake) project to make an album for each of the 50 states. He only got to two: Michigan and Illinois. Both were terrific achievements, but Illinois has reached a special, legendary class in my mind. It’s firmly rooted in the stories and lives of real people and places, and “The Predatory Wasps…” is a glimpse into Stevens’ life. This is where he really excels. Its chirpy, child-like melodies accompany the listener back while Stevens recounts an old tale from his past. The lyrics are heavily veiled, and I’ll let you interpret them for yourself. Just try not to lose yourself in his magical world.
45. “Marvin’s Room” – Drake (Take Care, 2011)
In Drake’s short but expansive career, he has carved out a niche as rap music’s emotional guy. It fits with his smooth crooning and easy-going flow. But it’s still so strange to hear the combination of raw honesty and braggadocio which makes Drake’s music always fresh and a little disarming to the ear. Take Care has been Drake’s finest work yet, capped by the personal and transparent “Marvin’s Room.” It’s a study in heartbreak: Drake admits his girl is “happy with a good guy,” but that won’t stop him from obsessively calling and reminding her how much better she could have it. But behind all the boasts and insults, there’s a genuine spirit of disbelief, something Drake’s colleagues could use from time to time. (Warning: NSFW language.)
44. “East Hastings” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor (f#a#infinity, 1998)
It’s nearly impossible to sum up the entirety of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song in a few sentences, especially when you choose one of the three taken from the sprawling masterpiece that is f#a#infinity. So I’ll leave you with this before I strongly urge to take the time and listen: “East Hastings” is so oppresively dim, it’s hard to make it through the song, much less the album, without feeling like there’s something wrong and twisted with the world. And while that may make my previous suggestion (again: strongly urge) seem grim and uninviting, that’s no reason to miss out on taking the plunge. Yes, it is a bleak ride. But the dissonance and vivid tone of “East Hastings” give it the feeling of dire importance, so much so that you may feel something stirred in you that you didn’t know existed.
43. “February Seven” – The Avett Brothers (The Carpenter, 2012)
Each song is a journey. Some are longer, some are short; some are sad, some are happy. But not many are specific enough to be meaningful while still maintaining a welcoming air of generality. Scott and Seth like to play their different vocal styles off each other, and it never works better than in “February Seven,” a tale of failure and redemption that could fit into every one of their listeners’ personal journeys.
42. “Gronlandic Edit” – of Montreal (Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, 2007)
If any artist on this list has a flair for the dramatic and flamboyant, it’s Kevin Barnes. In the past few years Barnes has indulged himself in heavy and dense ways, making it difficult to remember that at one point, he was making some stellar pop records. Hissing Fauna is one such classic, so stuffed with Baroque pop it would make Freddie Mercury dizzy. “Gronlandic Edit” is a specifically pointed track, singling out Barnes penchants for stacked harmonies and back-handed quips. It wouldn’t work as a regular of Montreal track; there’s a little too much cheek going on for lots of synth and guitar fanfare. However, by stripping it down to a simple drum beat and bass line, Barnes can strut his stuff in a meaningful, focused manner.
41. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” – Kendrick Lamar (good kid, m.A.A.d city, 2012)
Rap music has had a strong foothold in party culture for a long while. And it makes sense; loud bass and carefree, rebellious themes are conducive to the scene. However, Kendrick Lamar took an indirect approach to critiquing the obsessive consumption of alcohol: He released a surefire party hit. I mean, what easier line is there to remember when you’re plastered than, “Pour up (drank) Head shot (drank)”? But listeners would be wise to search deeper than the all-too-obvious chorus. “Swimming Pools” is a haunting and cautious tale about the dangers of over-indulgence and peer pressure. (Warning: NSFW language.)