Thursday, May 20, 2010

Songs From The '00s That I Like

A couple of months back I was thinking of compiling a "Ten Best Albums of the '00s" list, but I couldn't actually name ten albums I'd feel like putting on a list. Yes, my enthusiasm for recent popular music runs that low. These days I consider myself lucky if I find one song per album I'd want to hear more than once. And usually I don't even find that. "But enough of your whining," you say. Over the course of ten years, some winners are bound to pop up here and there. I mean, a terrific song from the '00s is just as terrific as a terrific song from the '60s or '70s. There just aren't very many of them. The bottom line is that I refuse to grade on a curve. We may simply be past the era of "Great Albums." So allow me to inaugurate a new series: Songs From The '00s That I Like.

This will not be a "Ten Best" list. I find "Best Song" lists rather arbitrary, and I don't feel like stopping at ten either.

There are some common features to a Song From The '00s That I Like:

1) It tends to be more dance/electronic-oriented
2) When it is not, it tends to sound a touch "retro"
3) It tends to have a softer, more echo-laden percussion sound as opposed to the more prevalent "hit the cymbals really hard for five minutes" style of drumming that is popular these days (I've concluded that hitting the cymbals really hard and really often is sort of a cheap, lazy way for a band to try to put "energy" into a song; Moe Tucker didn't even seem to have cymbals in her drum kit, and yet do Velvet Underground songs lack energy?)
4) They tend to have a more tossed-off, fun quality, and aren't trying to be any sort of "major statement" or "new thing"

In sum, to make a great song in the '00s, it's almost more about what you don't do than what you actually do. Does your song not sound like a suffocating aardvark? You may be halfway there. Mostly I tend to look for what Bruce Swedien, the engineer for Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," called "sonic personality." For reasons that remain somewhat mysterious to me, it seems that in 1967 a band could record a song and it would sound great without any particular effort on the band's part. In 2010 the only way to make a song sound great is if the band a) puts a lot of effort into the production, or b) happens to get really, really lucky. It's gotten to the point where when I hear a catchy melody in a new song, my first thought is, "Man, that's catchy, I wonder where they took that sample from?" Because there's no way that that really catchy melody was actually written by somebody currently making music, right?

The songs that I've enjoyed are, for the most part, not the songs that have received all the "buzz," or the songs that have ended up topping all those "Best Songs of the Decade" lists. Missy Elliot will not be making an appearance. LCD Soundsystem will be M.I.A. (as will M.I.A.). Which is not to say that hit singles or critically praised tracks will not be among my choices. Just don't expect anything like this.

I will not deny it: there is something about the feeling of hearing great music that is being made now - the sensation of knowing that an artist who you like is out there somewhere, possibly writing another great song for you this very evening. I do think that there are probably many great songs from the '00s out there that I've simply missed. The problem is that, because my tastes seem to differ from contemporary critical tastes, I feel like I would have to listen to every single damn album that came out in the past decade myself. I need to do what I did as a college DJ, which was to grab a random stack of CDs, give each song 15 seconds, and go through three months' worth of music and find the five great songs within the stack of 200 CDs. Because the critics lie. They say an album is good and then I listen to the album and that album is bad. I figure I'm almost better off not trying to search for new music anymore. In some cases that has actually worked. One entry in this series caught my attention while playing over the opening credits of a movie. I discovered another entry while walking around in a mall.

Maybe great songs are now going to have to find me.

Note: The Songs From The '00s That I Like series will occasionally dovetail with my YouTube Videos That Live Up To My Expectations series, although not every Songs From The '00s That I Like selection will feature a video that has actually lived up to my expectations. Some videos of great songs are disappointing, but I will post them nonetheless, simply for reference. And yet, more often than not, a band that is capable of making a memorable song is also capable of making a correspondingly memorable video. When I consider a video to qualify for both categories, I will label the post as such. There are procedures that must be followed!


Herr Zrbo said...

So where's the list?? Your tantalizing introduction left me wanting the real deal!

Little Earl said...

It was a tantalizing introduction, was it not? Do not mistake this for a list, however. Entries will be written and published at my convenience.