30. “Daylight” – Brave Saint Saturn (The Light of Things Hoped For, 2003)
I’ve touched on the passion of Reese Roper, and it gives me so much respect for him as an artist. This is the culmination of every reason I love Reese Roper and the music he makes: a passion for music, an honesty with himself and a craft for storytelling that combines in a heart-wrenching way.
29. “Rylynn” – Andy McKee (Art of Motion, 2006)
I know it seems lazy. But no lyrics = no words this late in the list (at least for this track.) Just listen.
28. “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West (The College Dropout, 2004)
Before he was the self-obsessed, fashionista artist he is today, Kanye West was just a young producer with underground cred and big ideas. The College Dropout wasn’t exactly the landmark that Late Registration was, but it remains one of the most stunning rap debuts of all time. At the heart of the overstuffed record was “Jesus Walks”, a methodical, pointed piece containing racial tensions, religious metaphors, beautiful samples and trademark (or what would become trademark) Kanye pride. Kanye’s style has changed over the years. To look back at the track that jump started it all serves two purposes: (1) it shows us the evolution of Kanye the artist (2) it’s telling of the evolution of Kanye the man.
27. “Do Better” – Say Anything (Say Anything, 2009)
For all of you wondering, this is the must punk rock I’ll get on this list. Punk pop/rock had a heavy influence on my early years of life…which makes it interesting that I only recently got into Say Anything, especially when they’re not the most accessible band in the world. But Max Bemis’ words in “Do Better” strike a chord with me. I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for self-deprecating humor, and Bemis does it better than anyone. His wordplay (“Debra’s messing with your brain”…beautiful) and unique delivery are not only fascinating, but also endearing. “Do Better” plays as more of a rambling journal entry than a recorded, written song. And I dig it. Honest art is the best art.
26. “Stop It” – The Almost (Southern Weather, 2007)
Out of all of Aaron Gillespie’s musical pursuits, it’s pretty easy for me to say The Almost is my favorite. His exit from Underøath was concerning (and definitely led to a fall in the quality of Underøath’s music), but Southern Weather was enough justification for it all. It’s one of those rare albums where your favorite song is always changing until you’ve gone through the entirety of the album, while still being a singularly excellent work taken as a whole. “Stop It” is Southern Weather‘s crowning jewel, comprised of every Aaron Gillespie trademark strength along with the catchiest hook of his career.
25. “Edge of the World” – Emery (…In Shallow Seas We Sail, 2009)
I’m probably biased toward “Edge of the World” because I once did a cover of it with some friends in high school. But there’s some real weight to this song. …In Shallow Seas We Sail is a bitter record about lost love and dealing with hard emotions. “Edge of the World” holds a significant place; it comes right before the two-part closer “Dear Death.” And if the entirety of the album amounts to a slow boil, “Edge of the World” is the boiling over. It’s a furious 4 minutes, full of insults, screaming and macabre hyperbole (“if I provide the rope, I know you’ll do the rest” still gives me chills.) Most importantly, it doesn’t come off as forced; instead, it’s about as genuine and open as hard rock can get.
24. “A Day Late” – Anberlin (Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005)
The placement of “A Day Late” was the biggest surprise on the list for me, personally. Why? Because this was my favorite song for a solid portion of my life. I couldn’t tell you why exactly. It’s not Anberlin’s most complex work. Heck, it’s probably not even their best song. But, to borrow a metaphor from sports (SPORTS!), this song has “intangibles”, those indescribable, unteachable qualities that make you fall in love with a certain player/song/thing. I can’t describe to you exactly why I love this song as much as I do. But as much as I may try to talk myself out of it, it’s a love that will never be relinquished.
23. “Walking the Dog” – fun. (Aim & Ignite, 2009)
If ever there was justification for calling me a hipster, it would be because of the way I act toward fun. I listened to Aim & Ignite the week it came out, not because I was a fan of The Format, but on a suggestion of friend. It quickly became one of my favorite records and remains such today. Sure, Some Nights was fine and there were a few big hits. But Aim & Ignite is an indie-pop treasure. Whimsical and carefree, but not lacking in complexity, it represents everything you could ever want in lighthearted fare. “Walking the Dog” is the one of the simpler songs on the record, but it’s nearly impossible to dislike. It’s a contradiction of sorts: an explosion of optimistic bubblegum pop and jaded realism. But isn’t that what a lot of life is like? Trying to sort out conflicting emotions? I’d contend that if it is, there’s no better way to deal with it than optimistically.
22. “No One Knows” – Queens of the Stone Age (Songs For the Deaf, 2002)
I once did a school project on this song. I had to pick a song I liked and present a 5-minute analysis to my English class. If I remember correctly, my interpretation was horribly, horribly, horribly inaccurate. But that’s OK. I was 16. More importantly, I’ll always associate “No One Knows” with my musical curiosity. It was the beginning of me asking myself, “There has to be more to this song than just a good sound…what is he trying to say?” The beautiful thing is that Josh Homme’s writing is weird enough to keep me guessing after all these years. He’s got this curious way of making hard rock not only palatable, but intriguing. I’ll probably never figure out “No One Knows.” And I’m cool with that.
21. “The Dead Flag Blues” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor (f#a#infinity, 1997)
I used the words “oppressively bleak” when describing the other Godspeed song on this list (“East Hastings”), and the term wouldn’t be inaccurate for “The Dead Flag Blues” either. They reside on the same album and carry much of the same tone. But “The Dead Flag Blues” is different. While “East Hastings” reeks of the importance that I mentioned, it doesn’t fill out a story arc quite like f#a#infinity‘s opener. In my journalism classes, professors have often used the term “theater of the mind” to describe the effect you want to have when creating an audio piece. No song exemplifies this better than “The Dead Flag Blues.”