40. “16 Military Wives” – The Decemberists (Picaresque, 2005)
The Decemberists have achieved their deserved fame at this point in their career. The Hazards of Love and The King Is Dead brought them to new heights. (Side note: The Hazards of Love is excellent, and if you say differently I will fight you.) But part of me will always yearn for the nerdier, orchestral times of Picaresque. There was something so fun and care-free about getting caught up in the folklore of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” or “Eli, The Barrow Boy.” “16 Military Wives” was always my personal favorite. It’s both a foot stomper and a head scratcher (lyrically, that is.) But most importantly, it’s The Decemberists at their brightest and most buoyant.
39. “Countdown” – Beyoncé (4, 2011)
Beyoncé is currently at the height of her powers. She’s got the world (especially Buzzfeed) wrapped around her regal finger. Stars are starstruck by her. She overshadows Jay-Z, for heaven’s sake. And would any of the been possible without the ascendance of “Countdown”? Probably. But the highlight of 4 is something only Bey could pull off. Blaring brass and thumping bass meld with perfect ease while synth effects and lively percussion set the mood. But the most impressive part of this maximalist explosion? Nothing overshadows Beyoncé and her world-beating voice. If anything ever backed her musical “royalty”, it was this.
38. “Writing a Novel” – Father John Misty (Fear Fun, 2012)
If Beyoncé is the queen of pop (*cough* debatable *cough*) Josh Tillman is the irreverent, angry duke of folk. Fleet Foxes’ former drummer has long been his own man, but has just recently adopted the moniker of Father John Misty. 2012’s Fear Fun has slowly, but surely become one of my favorite records, and “Writing a Novel” was the gateway drug. It’s hard to deny the absurdity of the entire album, but why would you want to? It adds to the charm. “Writing a Novel” is Fear Fun‘s most accessible song, apparently recounting Tillman’s trip down the western coast of America in his drug filled van; weirdly, it actually makes sense in that light. But the trick with Father John Misty is to not try and figure it out. Just enjoy the ride.
37. “New Slang” – The Shins (Oh, Inverted World, 2001)
Before continuing, I’ll give you a few seconds to get the image of Zach Braff out of your head.
You good? Okay cool.
It’s a futile exercise to envision the indie rock subculture without thinking of James Mercer’s gentle strum-and-sing classic. This was a song designed to never ever get out of your head/be one of the first songs you wanted to learn on guitar/be the song the super quiet kid in your high school played at the talent show. And while one could chalk that up to a simple earworm, “New Slang” is leaving a mark today. Thirteen years later, its effects still resonate. It’s a landmark achievement.
36. “The Wolves (Acts 1 & 2)” – Bon Iver (For Emma, Forever Ago, 2007)
Bon Iver will always be remembered for songs like “Holocene” and “Skinny Love.” And I have no problem with that. Both are beautiful and touching tracks that allow listeners to enter into the polarizing world of Bon Iver. But “The Wolves (Acts 1 & 2)” is Bon Iver’s quiet, agonizing masterpiece. Stuck right in the middle of the For Emma, Forever Ago, it’s a testament to pain and longing, to overwhelming desire. It’s a song that begs to be put on repeat, yet it remains difficult to sit through. It builds into hysteria, then tires into stringy oblivion. It’s a testament to the unavoidable world of grief and acceptance. To create beauty from such tragedy, whatever it was, is a feat worthy of praise.
35. “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” – Motion City Soundtrack (My Dinosaur Life, 2010)
Before 2010, Motion City Soundtrack was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. Commit This to Memory and Even If It Kills Me were plagued by Justin Pierre’s substance abuse issues and the subsequent consequences to the band. While both were excellent in their own way (a testament to the strength of the group), neither came close to the lighthearted fare of I Am The Movie. But My Dinosaur Life marked a joyful return for the Motion City Soundtrack of old. Pierre’s writing, always humorous, was decidedly funnier but no less personal than before, especially in the single “Her Words Destroyed My Planet.” Pierre tears his way through a self-deprecating, video game-playing, weed-smoking guy’s desperate attempt at reconciliation in what may be the most refreshing track in MCS’ discography.
34. “Dry Bones” – Gungor (Beautiful Things, 2010)
Liturgical music in its most raw and desperate state. That’s all I can say.
33. “Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash (With His Hot and Blue Guitar, 1957)
If every country artist in the world today would set Johnny Cash as a destination sound, the world of music would be a much, much, much better place.
32. “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” – The White Stripes (Icky Thump, 2007)
Years from now, we’ll gaze back on the happy time that was The White Stripes’ career and we’ll think of all the good that came of it: the ascendance of Jack White as rock’s new king; a blaring new emphasis on the combination of blues and garage rock; the emergence of “Seven Nation Army” as the greatest stadium banger of all time. I’m also praying music lovers don’t forget the wonder of The White Stripes’ final effort, Icky Thump. And sitting right behind the title track and opener is “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, one of Jack White’s great, under-appreciated gems. In retrospect, it’s overshadowed by some of the Stripes’ more memorable hits. But I’d argue it’s perhaps the most definitive statement the rockers ever made. Not only is it reminiscent of all great Stripe hits: loud, aggressive and simple. It also features some of Jack’s best guitar work (see: that last guitar solo. Lawd have mercy.)
31. “Hotel Song” – Regina Spektor (Begin to Hope, 2006)
Can I go ahead and put in my nomination for Regina Spektor as the real Queen of Pop? No. Okay, I’ll sink back into obscurity now (not that I ever left.)
But really, does anybody today make more quirky and charming music than Spektor? She’s like what everyone wants to think Zooey Deschanel is. Spektor’s work is steady like the tide; she has always been excellent and doesn’t look to change anytime soon. Begin to Hope was probably her most commercially successful album because of tracks like “Fidelity”, “Samson”, “On the Radio” and, yes, “Hotel Song.” It’s almost as if someone challenged Spektor to fill out a Mad Libs sheet and then use it to write a song. Or maybe you know of another song that features owls, orca whales and cocaine? And the beautiful part of it all? It’s so dang easy to listen to. Even if you all won’t join me, I’ll go ahead and crown her. Bow down.