1. Is It Any Good?
Check out that album art. Is that part of a gimp's buttcheek hanging out? Is he squeezing a rubber ball? Yeah, and yeah. Is one of the songs on this album called "London Leatherboys?" Is the name of the album "Balls to the Wall"? Once again, yeah, and yeah. Does the lead-singer's dude choir try to sound British when they chant the chorus, even though they're from Germany? Yes, once again.
Let's quit sidestepping it: Is Balls to the Wall gay as hell? That's hard to deny.
Is Balls to the Wall metal as hell? Well, that's even harder.
Udo Dirkenschneider looks like a baby and he sings like the guy from AC/DC was kicked in the throat every day as a child. He sounds ridiculous, as you can probably intuit, but he also sings like his vocal chords are being processed by a cheese grater, which means that he sounds completely awesome. He sings with all the operatic bravado of Bruce Dickinson and mixes it with a big dash of straight up, down-on-the-street mean. He doesn't sound quite like anyone else in metal, except for maybe Brian Johnson, and even at that, that dude can only dream of Dirkenschneider's range and snarl. Even if the rest of the band wasn't up to par, his over-the-top howls would stay in your head for weeks.
Luckily, Accept is an anthem machine, and that's as much of a compliment to guitarists Herman Frank and Wolf Hoffmann as it is to Dirkenschneider, if not moreso. If you were a metal band in the '80s, you had two options as to the kind of music you could make: You could make the audience want to smash their faces through glass and punch people, or you could make them pump their fists and march on their school or workplace or parents or whatever was pissing them off. Balls to the Wall falls into the second category, and among it's contemporaries it was one of the best of the era. Most every riff is going to get stuck in your head, and not a single song doesn't serve as a great rallying cry for something or another, whether the subject is workplace rebellion or BDSM. The title track is just generally a great "stickin' up for the little guy" kind of song, and with an amazingly catchy guitar line and Dirkenschneider's increasingly psychotic vocals, it serves as a headbanger anthem for the ages. Likewise, "Losing More Than You Ever Had" serves as a surprisingly understanding ballad from a guy trying to tell his friend why his ex left him and why he should stop crying over spilled milk. It's weird subject matter for anthemic metal but it doesn't lose a shred of impact, thanks to the speedy tempo and loopy growls.
Balls to the Wall is an album that's often compared more with albums like the Scorpions' Love at First Sting and Twisted Sisters' Stay Hungry, but it's in the interesting position of being too fast and abrasive to really be called party metal, and not quite relentless enough in it's subject matter and speed to be regarded among more extreme efforts like Slayer's Reign in Blood and Kreator's Pleasure to Kill. Rather than alienating itself, though, this aspect of being not quite here and not quite there creates an album that can be enjoyed by metalheads of all kinds, as long as they're not in the mood for anything terribly serious. It's a ton of fun and it's heavy and catchy enough to stay with you for a while after you turn it off. It's essential for your understanding of the '80s metal scene, since you're getting a little bit of everything with this one.
2. Is It "Influential"?
Wikipedia defines this as being one of the first power metal albums, which is a hideous thing to be regarded as and is also probably wrong. That said, it was pretty instrumental in setting up the Teutonic thrash scene that would scream out of Germany a few years later, to the same extent that Motorhead's Ace of Spades helped make a blueprint for American thrash. That means that, interestingly enough, while not technically an "extreme" metal album, it was very important to later thrash, black, power, death, etc. releases that would come out in the next decade.
3. Is It A Good Starting Place For Beginners?
Absolutely. Dirkenschneider's voice is just abrasive enough for newbies to balk but not run away completely, and the guitars are practically engaging enough to be the musical equivalent of black holes. As stated above, this album offers a little bit of almost every kind of subgenre that was around at the time, so this would be a fantastic way to introduce a new listener to '80s metal.
And that's fucking amazing.
For the benefit of the Brits, I wrote a Ten Commandments for metal and put it up on my Facebook. I'll put it up here also because
A) This blog hasn't updated in a while
B)The four or five people who read this blog outside of immediate friends and family might get a kick out of it
C) I'm sort of proud for whipping these up in just under 45 minutes
The Ten Commandments of Metal, by Chris Jones
1. Metal is the genre which brought ye out of the desert of popular radio, out of the bondage of simple riffs and boring harmonies. Thou shalt have no other genres before metal.
2. Thou shalt not make an altar out of False Metal. Poison, Stryper, Mr. Big, Korn, Disturbed, Slipknot-thou shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord of Metal, am a kickass Lord, visiting my wrath upon thou that would choose style over substance and chugging power chords over brutal, thrashing riffs, but yea do I throw up The Horns to those who love me and keep True Metal sacred.
3. Thou shalt not label thy music as “Metal” with reckless abandon, for the Lord of Metal shall smite those who would tune thine guitars slightly lower than ordinary and play vaguely faster than usual and proclaim thy music to be “Metal” with no care for the spirit of the genre. Thine house shall be visited by orcs and wizards most furious should ye be found guilty of Metal Duplicity.
4. Remember Black Sabbath, to keep them holy. For many years the Lord of Metal laid the foundations of Metal with the prophets Hendrix, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who, The Kinks and many more, but upon the release of Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut mine work was culminated. Thus the Lord blessed Black Sabbath and hallowed them.
5. Honor thy founders of the genre and their contributions, for that the days of Metal be long in front of you.
6. Thou shalt not sacrifice prowess with lyrics and riffs for technicality, for the worst thing that metal can achieve is to be boring. For dullness, more than any other sin, mocks the spirit of the genre.
7. Thou shalt not sell out.
8. Thou shalt not steal riffs.
9. Thou shalt not squabble needlessly with other bands, nor disrespect the fans, for unity is the lifeblood of Metal, and the Mosh Pit be our holy communion.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor band’s equipment; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s drunk girlfriend, nor his autographed copy of " Powerslave", nor his killer sound setup, nor his sweet-ass van, nor his limited edition Slayer t-shirt, nor anything of your neighbor’s that thou art too much of a lazy prick to get thyself.
Now...let us mosh!
What I am talking about is that "psychedelic" is a banner that, at this point, is so all encompassing that it's practically useless. What do I mean by that? Let's see.
One of the most popular and well-known psychedelic records of all time is Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?, arguably the only stoner-metal album to ever receive mass critical acclaim(stick that idea in your pipe and smoke it, Rolling Stone Magazine[no pun intended]). The psychedelic aesthetic of this record largely comes from Hendrix's guitar work and Mitch Mitchell's jazzy, pummeling drums. Hendrix would go sort of apeshit in the studio when it came to sound effects.Recording a chord backwards, mixing solos together, feeding the tape to birds and re-recording a guitar solo on the same tape after it's been fished out of the animal's throat...whatever gave him a cool sound, he'd go for it. That kind of experimentalism in the studio would be crazy important for the future of rock music, and the sounds he got still hold up today, which is more impressive than you might think it is. Have you heard Piper at the Gates of Dawn? Those dudes were on drugs when they made that album, but they were the kind that made you completely retarded when it came to deciding what sound effects to add in the studio. Yeah, go ahead and build an entire album off of the sound effect "Zwoooom", Syd Barret. You crazy dipshit.
Another album that people have gotten in the habit of crapping themselves over when it comes up in conversation is Forever Changes by Love. This is probably the most sonically easygoing psychedelic record I've ever heard-apparently the lead singer wrote the album like it was his will, but for all intents and purposes it sounds like the whole band is having a picnic. The string and horn arrangements sound like smarter, less predictable soundtrack music and the lyrics oftentimes devolve into nonsense, but a lot of it is pretty clever nonsense. "Clever nonsense" is a good word for this album as a whole, now that I think of it. That's probably why it took the press such a long time to get on board with Forever Changes. Occasionally beautiful and often silly, it flows with a carefree nature that still somehow manages to be concerned with its own mortality. It throws everything at the wall, but it does so with lobbed underhand throws, not a catapult.
Of course, now we have Abbey Road, which is probably the most conceptually grand psychedelic record ever recorded. "Bigger is better" is this album's philosophy, and a lot of the time they turn out to be correct-it's my personal favorite Beatles album simply because of how grandiose it is. This one has a policy of flipping the script on you, jumping from goofy to violent to tragically, sweepingly epic often from one song to the next. The guitar work has a real weight to it, often attempting to drag the listener into a dreamlike state instead of caressing them into it. There's so much going on in this album, and it all feels so very warm. "Production" is the key word for Abbey Road-in a lot of ways this record could have been made by just about anyone, but it's that glow that George Martin manages to add to the proceedings that make this one their most striking work. This is another "everything and the kitchen sink" kind of album, but it gels together so well that you hardly notice. Individually, on a song by song basis, Abbey Road is a jumbled, incoherent mess. Assembled together, it becomes a dreamland.
And then, suddenly, the '60s end, and Mr. Tambourine Man and Doctor Robert have packed up their shit to make way for the new breed of psychedelica, one of the most interesting examples of which is Hawkwind's breakthrough In Search of Space. Jettisoning the happy-go-lucky dreamscape imagery for ideas lifted straight out of the pulps, Hawkwind presents an image of psychedelica that's as amusing and goofy as it is cold and frightening. Hell, in the first song alone the only line of the song is "You shouldn't do that, you'll get nowhere" repeated ad nauseum, which can't be a positive thing for stoners to hear as they're lighting up. Robert Calvert leaves behind the soothing tones of Hendrix and McCartney for a tone that's cold and mocking. Repeated listenings reveal a recording that's concerned with failure and man's futility when it comes to making progress-a far cry from the loving, optimistic themes of songs recorded not two years earlier. In Search of Space swirls and bends just as much as Forever Changes, but it's all for the purposes of making the listener feel not welcomed in it's celestial presence, but trapped.
Less fierce and uncompromising but no less indicative of psychedelica's changing role in the '70s is Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery. Unlike the rest of the albums on this list, BSS hasn't aged very well at all-the keyboards are spastic and domineering to the point of absurdity throughout, the takeoffs on classical compositions are dull as dirt and while there's a sharp line here and there, the lyrics by and large just don't ring. Still, it's important in the history of psychedelica because of how openly it represents the darker side of the idea. The "Karn Evil 9" suite is a tale about the planet earth being turned into a mechanical, robotic museum for the pleasure of a sadistic alien ringleader. Hardly the kind of stuff you put on before going to bed, and yet the blaring, goofy keyboards do serve to transport you to a world where human innovation is at best meaningless and at worst a problem that must be taken care of. Every song is very purposeful and linear, which is rather far removed from the sprawling, open-ended compositions of Love and even Hawkwind. It's an album that goes straight for the core without pussyfooting, and whether or not it succeeds is irrelevant-it's psychedelica that attempts to take the listener out of their comfort zone with almost mathematical precision. If only it had a little more force behind it's fanciful ideas, maybe it would still be relevant in conversation. As it stands, it's more of a look at what could have been more than anything else.
Still, if Brain Salad Surgery attempted to take the listener out of their comfort zone, Tangerine Dream's magnum opus Phaedra wanted nothing less than to make the entire idea of a comfort zone completely irrelevant. If it sounds boring on the first listen, turn it on as you're trying to go to sleep. The images that'll flow through your mind as Phaedra bumps and slithers its way through your consciousness will turn you into nothing less than a paranoid fucking lunatic. It's not music as most people understand it or care to listen to it-it's a series of synthlines and rhythms that build on themselves in order to form a distinct sense of paranoia and dread. It's caustic and expansive to the point of being completely unlistenable for most people. Still, in terms of taking your mind places they wouldn't otherwise be able to go, Phaedra is practically a masterpiece. It's an incredibly tough nut to crack, and it's a psychedelic masterpiece completely unlike anything except...well, unlike anything except a few other Tangerine Dream albums, actually.
If there was one group who took advantage of this new trend of psychedelica-this cold, cynical airiness that had become so prominent-it was Pink Floyd, who may have cranked out more classics of the genre than any other group. Dark Side of the Moon is their most famous and well regarded, of course, but I find Wish You Were Here to be the album that reached the peak of their interest in experiments with the bleaker side of mind expansion. Every track on this album is some kind of lamentation-whether it be about insanity, loneliness, greed or just a regret that they even got into this stupid business in the first place. The best word to describe the tone of this album is "indifferent". Roger Waters and company are practically standing on the outside of their own songs, the synthesizer the only aspect that shows any kind of emotion one way or the other, and even then it's usually to create a mood of growing dread or sorrow. The world that Pink Floyd tries to show you isn't rotten to the core-it's just been scarred by years of abuse. It's a parable of human error and bad judgement made into a landscape that sounds like it's supported by rainclouds.
Psychedelica as a whole sort of took a vacation during the '80s, but it came back in full force in the 1990s in large part thanks to Britain's trip-hop movement. Arguably the biggest band from the scene was Massive Attack, and Mezzanine still stands as the bar to which all other psychedelic electronica albums are measured. Keeping the cold, mechanized, hostile elements of psychedelica from the '70s, Massive Attack chooses to focus not so much on mankind's flaws and misgivings, or the daunting, infinite reaches of space and the subconscious, and instead shifts its gears to pure sex appeal. Dancing is more important than smoking in Mezzanine's world, and it's reflected in the lyrics about lovers lost and seductive. It's hard to call this music "dark", per se, as the groove is undeniable, but there is a real sense of paranoia around a lot of the songs, particularly the title track. It's less of a dream and more of a hallucination, but one that you'll be glad to visit again.
If any of the above albums were cold, or hostile, or discomforting, Electric Wizard's Dopethrone is a "fuck you" that's screamed out of a hollowed-out bong. Smashing the listener with feedback, the singer's voice becomes as much of an instrument as the guitar or drums, blending seamlessly in with the rest of the music. If other psychedelic albums could be said to poke and prod the listener to make them feel uncomfortable or out of place, this one is nothing less than a full on physical assault, intended to crush anything and everything in its wake. It could be referred to as "vicious" if "pulverizing" wasn't a better descriptor, and though it may not go out of it's way to present elaborate, dreamlike locations as other psychedelic albums do, there's still involvement on the listener's part, still the sense that you're as much a part of this music as any one of the members of the band. Like other psychedelica, you let Dopethrone sink into you. The only difference is that in this case, if you find yourself unable to breathe, the album is doing it's job perfectly.
Still, a lot of bands over the past few years, particularly indie electronica groups, have been attempting to return to the '60s definition of psychedelica: Warmth, happiness, love and optimism. The most mainstream of those attempts was probably MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, a bouncy, bubbling, rainbow colored affair that uses blaringly joyous synthesizers and ghostly vocals to try and transport the listener to a place that's less about introducing you to an unfamiliar world than it is about showing you a place that's full of adventure and possibility. It takes the party sensibilities of Mezzanine, the tongue-in-cheek spritelyness of Forever Changes and the distant, mechanical tone of Wish You Were Here and combines them to make a work that's not only uniquely it's own animal, but one that's as intelligent as it is otherworldly. Oracular Spectacular presents the idea that there's no reason you shouldn't be able to dance and brood to a psychedelic album, and I have no real reason to disagree with it.
Now, what in the shit is my point after all that? Well, did you notice how I walked across over 40 years of psychedelic history and only picked 10 albums? Did you notice that I left off bands like Can, The Grateful Dead, Blue Cheer, The Flaming Lips, The 13th Floor Elevators, Yes, Black Sabbath, Tool, The Melvins, Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Kyuss, M83, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Frank Zappa and countless, countless others? Did you notice how after a while, a lot of the individual qualities that make these bands psychedelic start to bleed into each other regardless of era? Did you notice how all of those bands all technically fit under the same banner of "psychedelic"?
The truth is, "psychedelic" is a bullshit term. It just means anything that'll transport you to another time or place, make you feel something other than what you would feel otherwise. That's the one and only thing all those bands have in common, and you know what? Any band can be a psychedelic band. Nick Drake can be psychedelic. Joy Division can be psychedelic. Slayer can be psychedelic. Anything.
I think that the term was made in the '60s to differentiate bands made under the influence of, and having to do with, pot and LSD away from standard pop. But the label has outgrown it's usefulness because the influences of those bands has become rooted in so much of today's music that it's impossible to tell where psychedelic begins and non-psychedelic ends. It's all sitting in the same boat.
It's all music, you fuckers.
Not that it’s all so evident the first time you hear it. But it grows, man, and exponentially. The first time I heard Hospice I thought it was intensely boring. By the third time I had come around and wrote the timidly laudatory review for this site. Within a week I was pushing this band to all my friends, and within a month I was convinced it was the album of the year. I have not turned back.
The Antlers have distilled a unique form of noise pop, quieter than their influences but no less intoxicating. They give you constant streams of melodic drones that a man could drown in. Truly it is something in which you could lose yourself completely. This is only heightened by the circling lyrics about, alternatively, a hospital worker trying to save a bitter, damaged patient, and a depressed man watching his lover slowly lose her life. The album is almost a study in decent, from fighting with the patient in “Kettering” to hearing her call for us in “Thirteen”, we see the doctor pull aside the narrator and tell him to stop trying to save a hopeless case, and we see the narrator try helplessly to forgive himself in the end.
This album, besides for its incredibly depressed aspect, is also as uplifting and straight powerful as the best Beach Boys tracks. It is so much of a masterpiece. It is so intense. It has changed my life.
had a new dream
61. Lords-The Sword(2008)
It's tough to pick a best song by the Sword because all of their songs are fundamentally the same, and that's not a detraction. You play a Sword song and you know what you're going to hear-Conan the Barbarian references, monsters, witches, etc. Oddly, enough, "Lords" is the only song on that album that's just about fighting, not so much about displeasing evil gods or trolls or what have you. The Sword gets a lot of shit for being "hipster metal", which is a bullshit term invented by assholes to make people who are just starting to get into metal feel bad for not liking Gorguts to be their first exposure to the genre. But the fact of the matter is, people don't like the Sword because they're a training-wheels band, people like the Sword because they're really fucking fun. And for what they are, the lyrics are pretty amazing: "Turn back your horses before it's too late/There'll be no safe crossing this night" and "Men kneel in temples of madness/False prophets spread discord and fear" are both examples of really cool, classic fantasy-novel type imagery. Plus, "Lords" has one of the best metal riffs I've ever heard, bar none. "Lords" might not be the most ridiculous song on Gods of the Earth-that distinction goes to "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians"-but it's definitely the most awesome and probably the most metal. As Deep Purple member Roger Glove once said, "Heavy isn't about volume, it's about attitude", and in that regard The Sword is one of the most metal bands around.
62. Atlas-Battles(2007)[find a higher quality version, the song deserves it]
How Battles hasn't been drafted to compose the soundtrack for a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movie is utterly beyond me. Space Rock is a term that can get thrown around pretty liberally, but "Atlas" literally sounds like what rock and roll would be if it was invented by people from Neptune and not Earth. It's incredibly fun, but it's fun without for a second losing a sense of otherworldliness- there's never a moment where you're not reflecting that this song doesn't sound like anything you've heard before. It's immaculately produced, which lets every member of the band shine through completely-everything from the grinding bassline to the enormous factory sounds to the chipmunk vocals coalesce to make "Atlas" sound like a hit single from Jupiter. It's oddly alluring for something so bizarre, and it makes the eight minutes fly by. Experimental, crazed and refined to a T, Battles should be pushing the space rock barrier for a long time to come.
63. Stress Rap-Cannibal Ox(2001)
"You love New York, but New York don't love you." That's basically the bottom line to Cannibal Ox's very brief but very excellent body of work. "Stress Rap" is an interesting deviation from most rap songs, as it's not so much about being aggressive against other people, but holding your own against those that would aggress you. That doesn't mean punking out, though-Cannibal Ox makes it very clear that you do them as bad as they would do you, should the occasion arise. That's a quality consistent with the music of Cannibal Ox. They never waver, for one second, whether it comes to the frigid production or Vordul Megalon's borderline furious delivery. Cannibal Ox is warrior's music, for those that would fight the shadows.
64. Crowd Chant-Joe Satriani(2006)
For real? You want me to analyze "Crowd Chant"? No. No fucking away. Here, how about a synopsis? "Crowd Chant" is a song where Joe Satriani plays a short solo and then the crowd mimics the solo with their voice. This happens a several times for a few minutes. If that's not your kind of thing then you won't like this song. It's my kind of thing.
65. Daft Punk is Playing at My House-LCD Sound System(2005)
Whoever invented the term "dance-punk" and applied it to LCD Sound System needs to be destroyed. As a matter of fact, "prefix-punk" needs to be abolished, completely. There is nothing punk about applying prefixes to things, as a matter of fact that's about one of the least punk things you could hope to do. "Art-punk?" What the fuck is that? Is that punk that's more artful than other punk? Fuck that, and fuck you if you think MGMT is somehow more artful than Minor Threat. Even "Art-rock" pisses me off. All rock is "art-rock" if it was made with honest intent and for the sake of itself. "Post-punk"? Yeah, I can really see how Joy Division is part of a spinoff genre from The Clash. Fuck you.
"Daft Punk is Playing at My House" is a really great song.
66. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!-Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds(2008)
Nick Cave has never sounded cooler than he has on "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!", and for Nick Cave that is no small potatoes. The dude's been in the business for more than 30 years but he hasn't lost an ounce of swagger-a parable about the Biblical figure of Lazarus waking up from his grave, getting addicted to drugs and winding up in an asylum? If there's a more Nick Cavey idea for a song out there then...no, actually, there isn't a more Nick Cavey idea for a song anywhere, which is probably why it wouldn't work that well without Cave and his merry band of lunatics preforming it. The main organ riff pounds away, the guitar solos are killer and Cave makes a convincing case for why the dead should stay dead, even if it is hilarious and exciting when they don't. It'll get stuck in your head for days and it gives you the feeling that you're in a Cohen Brothers movie, and if that's not your idea of praise than I don't care to know you.
67. Sex On Fire-Kings of Leon(2008)
Nonsensical lyrics or no, it's pretty great that we can have a good rock song that charts high that isn't sung by a disaffected ballsack. That's all.
68. The Beast and Dragon, Adored-Spoon(2005)
Spoon makes rock and roll that's somehow cooler than regular rock and roll. It's like Nick Lowe's sharper, more feedbacky cousin. If I could smoke a cigarette to one song in the world, it would probably be this one. I really wish more people would listen to Spoon, because even the people who like Spoon don't really listen to Spoon. They're kind of like the Melvins in that way, in that everyone has heard of them and everyone likes them but nobody seems to own an album by them. I think that's part of their appeal-they're aloof without coming off like a bunch of assholes. It's not exclusionary cool music, like Of Montreal can be. You listen to Spoon and you feel like you can be as awesome as they are. Spoon is for everybody. They're just...fuck, man, they're great. They make great songs and this is one of their greatest. You should get one of their albums so I can talk to you about them outside of "Spoon is awesome". People wonder what happened to all the good, solid rock and roll and it's right there under their fucking noses. It's right here.
69. Things I Did When I Was Dead-No Age(2008)
No Age is one of my least favorite bands that I find myself listening to more than I expect. I think it's because of songs like "Things I Did When I Was Dead" that just sort of creep in and stay there. Stuart tells me their stage shows are ludicrously crazy and I have a hard time believing it-the music is so introverted and mistrusting. Especially in this song, which has a very signal-like quality, the way they repeat that one note over and over again. Technically these guys are considered punk of a sort, and I can actually kind of see it, in attitude if not in actual technique or style. Just getting out there and doing what you're doing without any kind of production values or skill...that's what punk's all about, and if it sounds good so much the better. This sounds good.
70. Turn Tail-The Young Knives(2008)
We finish this project with a song by the Young Knives, one of the most distinctly British groups I've had the pleasure of listening to. It's not just that the singer's voice is so blisteringly U.K, it's their whole attitude about thing, their stiff upper lip in times of crisis. On "Turn Tail", Henry Dartnall sings "We're all slaves on this ship, this ships sinking/We will not reach the shore" and he doesn't seem all that distressed by it. That's the great thing about this song, they talk about all these awful things, all these things they can't get their hands on and stuff that's eluded them and they somehow manage to not only make it sound like it ain't no thing, it even sounds kind of romantic. The string arrangements are very smart, practically folding in with the rest of the core rock instruments. "Post-punk revival" my ass-this is power pop in the grand British tradition. And even if they are full of themselves, that means that they've got the pomp to back it up.
51. Suite 1: Storm-Godspeed You! Black Emperor(2000)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a group that's nearly as self-evident as the Beatles at this point, in that opening your mouth in an attempt to find something new or profound to say about them is a fool's errand. They're a critic's worst nightmare, as they're impossible to analyze without sounding like a pretentious fruitcake and the long and short of the analysis would be "OMG THEY'RE SO GOOD IT MAKES ME FEEL FEELINGS" anyway. That said, I think that "Suite 1: Storm" is the best song they put out this year because it has the widest range of emotions-starting at quietly preparing for something great to happen, then sweepingly epic, then somberly epic, then suddenly dissonant, and then nearly post-apocalyptic in their dreariness. The God-Kings of post-rock have done a lot of things before, but they've never been quite this versatile in the span of a single song.
52. Time To Pretend-MGMT(2008)
"Time To Pretend" had the misfortune of not only being an amazing single on a comparatively weaker album, it was also overplayed and overexposed to a hideous degree. That doesn't make the line "The models will have children, we'll get a divorce/Then find some more models, everything must run it's course" less funny, or the final, tragic "We'll choke on our vomit, and that will be the end/We were fated to pretend" any less powerful. That didn't make the synthline less catchy, and none of the hype and fawning attention and sneering dismissals that this song got later made you like this song less the first time you heard it. It was smart, it was pointed, it was a searing portrayal of how our generation thought the older generation did things. It was the final nail in the coffin of the idea of the rock star, and it was the best single of the decade.
53. The Space For This-Cynic(2008)
Traced In Air was so fucking amazing from beginning to end that it was hard to pick just one song that represented the best of them this decade. "The Space For This" probably comes the closest, though. Cynic gets it-they know how to do equal parts epic, cosmic and psychedelic without coming off like a bunch of dorks. They're possibly the most lyrical metal band working today, showing off their abilities to stretch the imagination with lines like "A bundle of thoughts on a lonely ghost pursuit/Lost inside the space for this". Their technical abilities, of course, are absolutely outrageous-some people think that compositionally, they're actually closer to jazz then they are metal. A lot of progressive metal bands come off as Rush worship, robbing each other's ideas at every possible turn, but no other band on earth sounds like Cynic, and no other song covers their many different facets on such a brain-turning roller coaster ride like "The Space For This". While man-children of the world bond over The Flower Kings and Symphony X, Cynic is going to be in the "real music" conversation for a long time to come, because they're one of the few bands saddled with the "progressive" label that's actually progressing the genre.
54. Stream of Consciousness-Dream Theater(2003)
What's the biggest problem with Dream Theater? That they're retarded, right? And what's the most retarded thing about them? The very first thing that pops to mind? The guitar wanking, yeah, but even more so, the vocals. The lyrics. If James LaBrie had been the first American to sing the Gospels we would be living in a majority Hindu country right now. "Stream of Consciousness" does the smartest thing possible and kicks that shit right out(James LaBrie, not the Hindus-let me make a stand right now: I like Hindus). And you know what? As an instrumental band, Dream Theater is not fucking bad at all. My algebra tutor once said that his band tried playing "Tom Sawyer" without any vocals and it actually sounded pretty amazing. Do you hear that, 95% of prog bands? Play your instruments and shut the fuck up!
55. Battery Acid-Queens of the Stone Age(2007)
Sounding closer to industrial than alternative rock, "Battery Acid" is a monster of a song. Blasting out with one of the most panic-inducing guitar lines in memory, the song beats along at a tremendously consistent pace and doesn't let you catch your breath for even a second. It's got sort of an uber-mensch vibe to it, like a marching song they might play in a coal mine run by cyborgs. "Robots! Robots! Brainwashed babies!/ Blood from a leech, spoken rabies!/Spastic, plastic, Battery Acid!", announces Josh Homme like a senator on the podium, and then you crap your pants. The hammer-on-metal sound effects used as a rhythm section definitely don't help, making you feel like the song has you trapped in a very cruel but very exciting sonic cage. Very few songs get under your skin like this one does, and no other song can make you as excited about it as "Battery Acid". "Every masochist gets a turn." No shit, guys.
56. The Wedding Dress-2 Cents(2006)[song does not exist on the internet; ask Jack Betterly-Kohn if you wish to hear]
Metalcore is not the most celebrated of genres-one might say it is one of the least celebrated genres in the entire musical world-but you can do good things with it if you're clever enough. Take "The Wedding Dress" as an example. A song about a widow attending the funeral of her husband while wearing her wedding dress because "The dead don't rest for the beautiful", it's surprisingly literate. The singer's voice gets a little yowly and annoying, as per the metalcore tradition, but beyond that it's good stuff-the guitar work is incredibly solid and catchy and the song carries a gravity with it that's rare for songs in this genre. Metalcore is never going to be anything more than a passable genre on a good day, but if songs like "The Wedding Dress" are any indication, it doesn't have to embarrass itself completely, either.
57. Blues From Down Here-TV On The Radio(2006)
I think the reason I like this TV On The Radio song more than others is that is has more presence than the other songs on Return To Cookie Mountain. It marches along, it sounds dramatic. "Carry me through these dark, infested waters" sounds more serious than you'd think it would when you have what sounds like a chorus of ghosts backing you up. It sounds like a really eerie-yet-dancable church hymn that they would play at the First National Congregation of the Disaffected. Maybe the most important part is that the song is called "Blues From Down Here" and he actually sounds like he's singing from below you. There's a weird kind of happy desolation to this song. It is a song that Stuart might call "uniquely enjoyable".
58. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed-Los Campesinos!(2008)
I don't think another song this decade had a higher amazing lyric/minute ratio. "I'm trying to be sexy, biting at the air that falls in front of me." "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, fondness makes the absence longer." "Oh, we kid ourselves there's future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future." "I taught myself the only way to get along in love is to like the other slightly less than you get in return/I keep feeling like I'm being undercut." This sounds dumb, but the energy combined with the bratty nihilism? This shit is the theme song to my generation. To say nothing about how this song is going to be stuck in your head for days or how smart the string arrangements are or just how important this song sounds, and also, just how can a person make a "go get 'em tiger" song that has by it's own admission nothing to go get? I don't know, they did it, it's here, listen to it, it's true.
59. I'll Believe In Anything-Wolf Parade(2005)
"I'll Believe In Anything" is an incredible last ditch effort of a love song, as the title implies. "I'll do whatever you want, I can be the guy for you, I'll believe anything you say". That kind of love song. The kind that makes you ache for the person singing it, 'cause he's just not going to get it and he's not going to let this thing stop hurting him. The vocals on Apologies To The Queen Mary don't always work, but here they sound so desperate and crazed that you can't help but be moved by the poor sap that the song is about. It also doesn't hurt that it sounds like the world is falling down all around the two of them-crashing symbols, an organ that sounds like it's exploding from the inside. For all intents and purposes, this song is the singer's apocalypse, and the desperation, heartbreak and fear that goes along with emotional Armageddon is captured magnificently.
60. Kid On My Shoulders-White Rabbits(2007)
Before White Rabbits learned that there was more money to be made in sounding like everybody else and put out It's Frightening, they debuted with Fort Nightly, a dark, quirky little gem of an album that should have made a much bigger splash than it did. "Kid On My Shoulders" signaled what you were in for when you turned the album on-it's got that kind of "classic evil" vibe to it, like Neil Gaiman's interpretaion of Lucifer in The Sandman. It's very classy and very seductive with the way it lures you in. It's hard to decipher exactly what the song is about from the lyrics-it seems like it's about trying to find the witness to a murder in order to shut him up, which adds to the suave/spooky vibe that the song has going on. A very simple but very elegant bassline drives the song and the guitar makes this song sound vital, like something very secretive and dangerous is happening. The piano goes that extra mile by practically painting the song in '30s cinema black and white. By the time the refrain "We held our tongues about it/Someday we'll laugh about it" rolls in you're already completely trapped by the song's dark enchantments. They may have already gotten rote since this song was released, but while "Kid On My Shoulders" was shining there was no indie band that was more exciting and had more potential.
41. Run Into Flowers-M83(2003)
Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts is more or less what it sounds like when Godspeed You! Black Emperor hits the club, and in a beautiful alternate reality where that description leads to profitability, "Run Into Flowers" is a #1 hit single. For a song with only one line-"Give me grace and chemicals, I want to run into..."-it sure does stay in your head. The synthlines and ghostly guitars warp and swirl around each other, turning into one moving, haunting vision. Closer in essence to trip hop than it's rather confusing label of shoegaze, "Run Into Flowers" is not just a gorgeous experience but a spiritual, psychedelic approximation of synesthesia that can only be called spiritual when all is said and done. Intelligent and heavenly, the bar for reflective electronica music has been set almost impossibly high by this song.
42. Biblical Violence-Hella(2002)
Math rock is not to everyone's taste, it never will be, but holy Jesus, those drums? What the fuck? That song is fucking maniacal. It's two dudes, Spencer Seim on guitar and Zach Hill on drums, just tearing ass. Just fucking going completely insane. I'm sure there are a bunch of music school terms you could use to describe this song and why it's brilliant on a technical level, but I'm going to use one of my own: "Biblical Violence" sounds like a robot having an orgasm. You're welcome.
43. Silver-Ozzy Osbourne(2007)
Ozzy Osbourne albums have a long, proud tradition of sucking, but Black Rain was Ozzy's admission that he had essentially quit trying, and his music has never been better because of it. Take "Silver" as a prime example. It's about the most basic kind of old-school metal song you can think of-lyrics about thrillseeking, a widdly-widdly-widdly guitar solo, a crowd of meatheads shouting "GO! GO!" during the chorus. That's what's sort of excellent about the song-it doesn't really consider itself to be anything more than it actually is, and that admission, combined with the thrashing tempo, make it sort of a thrill. There's a real "semper fi do or die" kind of aura to "Silver". There was no other song released this decade that made me more excited to lift weights.
44. One Armed Scissor-At The Drive-In(2000)
Progressive punk sounds like a losing gamble at best, but remember, At The Drive-In was halfway composed of the lunatics who would later form The Mars Volta, and if there's one thing that these guys are not it's musically conservative. Cedric Bixler-Zavala is more than willing to squeal out abstractions like "Yes this is a campaign slithered entrails in the cargo bay"(???) and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's clean, eerie guitar tone only add to the "something's not right here" feeling of the song. The clean production was a staple of the entirety of Relationship Of Command-it made the whole album feel like it was bouncing inside a very tight rubber cube, the sounds trying their hardest to get out. "One Armed Scissor" is unique in that it took that production, took the bizarreness of the lyrics, and made a bonafide radio hit out of it. When a freaky prog-punk song can crack onto a list of Billboard's top singles, you know you're living in interesting times for music.
45. Twilight of the Thunder God-Amon Amarth(2008)[video is fucking awesome]
A couple installments ago I said that no other song in the past 10 years was more epic than Mastodon's "The Last Baron", and I stand by that. "Twilight of the Thunder God" definitely deserves an honorable mention, however. "Thor, Odinson, protector of mankind/Ride to meet your fate, your destiny awaits" is the most badass chorus in memory, and the fact that it's sung in a deathgrowl makes it all the more awesome. And if we're being honest, that's really the only thing that separates Amon Amarth from a power metal band. The only reason they're allowed to sing about Norse gods and trolls and dragons and crap without being called fruitcups is because they sound like a group of big, hairy shitkickers(they actually are-look up a picture of them). My friend James was wearing a dragon T-shirt recently, and he said that his logic was that he was "taking it back from the nerds", that he wanted it expressed that no, dragon fights aren't all that nerdy, they're actually hella cool. I feel sort of like that's what "Twilight of the Thunder God" is-it's dragon slaying music as preformed by a dragon slayer.
46. Tokyoto-The Velvet Teen(2006)
Man, there really has never been a better decade for noise rock, or even just...experimental pop, which might be a better phrase for "Tokyoto". It's dissonant, for sure, and it's chaotic as hell(the drums in particular are all over the place), but it's tender, above all things. If the singer's voice wasn't so fuzzed the melody would almost be closer to something you'd find in a Warren Zevon song than a noise rock jam. The crackling noises, the videogame beeps, those nutty drums I mentioned earlier and that soaring guitar riff, in a different song, wouldn't work, but sequenced together they sound like they're forming a wonderland, a favorite childhood stuffed animal's dying hallucination. Even the wandering lyrics sound like they're completely in love with the world, but the singer sounds more accepting of the beauty in the world than he is completely enamored by it. Confusing and possibly even off putting at first, "Tokyoto" is a song that graciously rewards repeated listens.
Radiohead makes way better techno than they ever did rock and roll, so when they finally picked a side and stopped awkwardly straddling the middle (hi, OK Computer!), they turned out their best album, Kid A. That said, most of it is still composed of dull soundscapes and bleepty-bloopty type twaddle, but "Idoiteque" is a killer song. It's the only song on the album you can dance to, and among 3 that won't instantly put the listener to sleep, but it's not great just because it's environment is strictly "meh"(not a big fan of Radiohead, as you can probably tell). It's a cold, creepy song that sounds like it's about to burst into the shakes-Thom Yorke's panicked, paranoid vocals contrast with the thumping mechanical flow, which makes the whole thing kind of sound like the inside of a crazy person's head. Importance isn't generally an indicator of quality, but it's good to know that future musicians probably paid more attention to this song than "Treefingers".
48. Anna Lee-Strung Out(2004)[quality is horrid]
I'm not really going to set out to justify myself on this one. It's basically whiny pop punk about relationships. Mostly I just like it because it's catchy and it feels sincere. Dude's not making his feelings up and I respect that a bunch. This angst tastes angsty and that taste is pretty good in small doses. I'm kind of a sucker for angry teen romances in the first place, so chalk this bitch up to "guilty pleasure", I guess. I ain't gonna feel no guilt from it, though.
49. Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With-King Crimson(2003)
The Crimson Kings are still rolling through the music landscape and still showing other prog bands how it's done-they were doing it when Rush threatened global music aesthetics and they're still around to embarrass Dream Theater. For "Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With", though, they took a break from being total geniuses in the traditional sense and decided to make fun of nu-metal. Adrian Belew's excited shouts of "I guess I'll repeat the chorus! We're gonna repeat the chorus!" near the end are basically hilarious, and even though the style of guitar playing Robert Fripp adopts is intentionally mocking nu/alt metal's chugalug chords, he still manages to pull off a guitar solo that's more interesting than all the Symphony Xs or Glass Hammers of the world combined. You know what? I am happy with what I have to be happy with...'cause I have King Crimson!
50. Is It Medicine-The Knife(2003)
Of course this one had to show up somewhere-the chorus of the song is this blog's tagline. "Is It Medicine" is classic Knife-really happy but incredibly paranoid. It's bouncy and sexy and nervous and I think it'll bite if you get too close. That's the Knife.