Or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Feist.” Things have moved around a bit since my half-year list back in July, but the idea is the same: 2007, if anything, was a year of Big Songs. Big triumphant chords, big tragic emotions, big sing-along choruses—this was not the year for quiet ballads. Take “Umbrella,” a shoe-in at #1; its genre-crushing intensity and live-remix vocal indulgences made it inescapable, but it was its big-hearted spirit that made it an anthem. Oddly enough, as I look down my list, a lot of these songs have similar emotional landscapes, if not geneses: even LCD Soundsystem seems to be offering up an umbrella for his friends to stand under. There’s a theory (maybe?) that pop music gets better as the government gets more right-wing and screwed-up (compare the brilliance of early-80s electro-pop to mid-90s 3rd-tier pseudo-grunge), and maybe you could say these songs all have a fighting spirit, whether the enemies are the boys who “start a war” or the ones who try and make you go to rehab.
Also, three of my Top 11 are in triple-time. Now that’s weird.
Here’s my Top Ten complete with videos, and then #s 11-20, just cause there were a lot of good runners-up.
10. Dude N Nem – “Watch My Feet”
Usually it takes a while before a new underground musical genre produces a monster single, and while this hasn’t exactly topped the Hot 100, it feels like it could, any minute now. Juke music is all about contrast, and here’s how it works: this track ambles along, a mellow hip-hop joint, riding one of my favorite James Brown basslines and a Sesame Street-sounding sample, and then suddenly explodes into stompy techno double-time that makes you want to jump up and down, even if you don’t have the agility to do some of the shoelace-tangling moves in evidence in the video.
9. Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.”
I was so way ahead of everybody on the Justice tip. I swear it!! I was proselytizing about their skronky techno before you were even born, but then this single comes out, and because I didn’t recognize its genius at first (no big distorted bassline!) I get no credit. But its funky orchestral stabs and wobbly, goofy vocal lodged themselves in my brain, until I find myself walking down the street, singing “do your dance,” and wishing my T-shirt was a cartoon.
8. Timbaland feat. Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake – “Give It To Me”
Okay, Timbo: you need to lay off the roids, and stop trying to hang around with the emo kids, I’m starting to reconsider my utter devotion to your production skills. Here, you managed to combine the slinky harmonies of “Promiscuous” with the swagger and thump of “SexyBack,” your two greatest pieces of work in ’06, and even though it’s been off the radio for a while, it still sounds great. Just don’t jump the shark.
7. Amy Winehouse – “Rehab”
You really need a ticker to keep up with the twists and turns in Winehouse’s life that add ironic, or not-so-ironic, layers to this song—jeez, she was arrested just today, right? I’ll leave it to scholars to sort out whether it’s her Jewish guilt over stealing the sounds of classic soul that’s causing her self-torture, since the groove here is so perfectly executed, and the vocal seems so sunny and unconcerned (unlike everybody else in the world), it’s impossible to resist.
6. UGK feat. Outkast – “Int’l Players Anthem”
A track that’s astonishing from the get-go: a 75-second intro that loops its Willie Hutch sample without any additional beats or production, just Andre 3000 delivering a poetic testimony to pre-wedding jitters. But when those drums finally come in, oh my God, and then they step it up a notch for the third verse, getting almost as skittery as drum ‘n’ bass. Pimp C, who died just two weeks ago, isn’t really the star here, but he’s vital to the track’s success, and the empty space he now leaves in the world of Southern hip-hop feels surprisingly enormous.
5. Kanye West feat T-Pain – “Good Life”
Who knew there was sample magic to be found in “P.Y.T,” a kind of embarrassing footnote to Thriller? Kanye, that’s who, and like all of his decisions in 2007, it’s audacious, arrogant, and completely right on. “I got to shine,” read one way, is more Kanye navel-gazing; but read another way, it’s a gift, a line for everyone to sing along with. Add to that a video that out-Justiced Justice, a brilliant shout-out-slash-swipe at 50 Cent, and, well, T-Pain: now throw your hands up in the sky.
4. M.I.A. – “Boyz”
Triple-time, man, it’s so hot right now. Diplo noticed this, natch, and made a good effort at mashing M.I.A. up with Battles, but the result was kind of like “ack, too much!” “Boyz” is so fully-formed, with what feels like layers and layers of audio: booming drums, cheering crowds, whistle toots, honky horns, and so many cultural references you lose track of where you are. Like everything M.I.A. does, it’s both a challenge and a party, and the lyrics switch back and forth accordingly. Boys: you can’t live with ’em…
3. Battles – “Atlas”
A song that followed me around all year, creepily, until I just stopped running and danced along. It’s not surprising that the drummer here is from Helmet, and his precision allows the track to sustain momentum over its 7-minute length. But straightforward prog-metal this is not: the label, Warp records, should be a clue that there’s some electronic wizardry afoot here, most noticeably in the barely-human (and again, kind of creepy) vocal effects. I know I keep saying how scary this track is, but like the monolith in 2001, it’s both completely insane and somehow perfect, and how can we be challenged to evolve if we aren’t a little freaked out at first?
2. LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends” / “Someone Great”
A tie is a cheat, I know, but both of these songs switched places in my Top 2 so many times I lost track and finally just gave up. On your left, ladies and gentlemen: a driving, two-chord ode to, well, aging, whose organic imperfection makes it all the more powerful, like New Order circa “Ceremony”; on your right, a machine-driven piece of clockwork electro, mournful and numb, like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” multiplied by Royksopp’s “Remind Me.” While there were lots of awesome moments on Sound of Silver (see my album chart tomorrow), these were the two highlights.
1. Rihanna – “Umbrella”
Like I said back in July, Rolling Stone‘s accusation of a Freudian vaginal-metaphor at work here doesn’t hold up—sometimes an umbrella is just an umbrella. Musically, this is a perfectly-executed piece of production, and despite the wall of sound, everything stands out loud and clear, and that open hi-hat on the one keeps everything in check. Is Rihanna a brilliant artist or even that great a singer? Neither, really, but that’s probably for the best—there’s not a show-offy moment here. It’s as straightforward as a promise can be: I’ll always be your friend.
The next 10:
11. Feist – “1234”
So close, Feist, but considering my first impression of you as a iPod-shilling Lisa Loeb, the fact that I now think you’re awesome is nothing short of miraculous.
12. Lil Mama – “Lip Gloss”
I know the song’s about lip gloss, but it sounds so confident I still find it hard to believe she’s 18.
13. Of Montreal – “Heimsdalgate Like a Promethean Curse”
Bright, new wavey synth-pop with fatalistic lyrics about our unpredictable brain chemisty.
14. Lil Wayne – “I Feel Like Dying”
A devastating ode to addiction built around an unusual, haunting sample.
15. Arcade Fire – “Intervention”
A song that brings you to church only to tear the place down.
16. Duke Dumont – “Lean & Bounce”
Wildly experimental breakbeat techno that approaches industrial intensity.
17. Timbaland – “The Way I Are”
A mutant cross between trance, hip-hop, and freestyle.
18. Caribou – “Melody Day”
Psychedelic dream-pop that still feels contemporary.
19. Kanye West – “Stronger”
The best use of Daft Punk since Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It.”
20. Bat for Lashes – “What’s a Girl to Do?”
A creepy mirror-image of Motown, with lyrics from the opposite side of heartbreak.