Here’s John’s “Greatest Songs of the 21st Century… So Far: An Idiosyncratic List.”
The thirteenth year of the 21st century doesn’t seem to be the right time to look back on the best of the millennium. Those lists usually come on the decade and quarter century marks. But I was asked to compile another Top Ten list for Echoes affiliate, WXPN in Philadelphia. This time, the impossible assignment was picking the Top Ten Greatest Songs of the New Millennium for their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Countdown. This is never an easy task but it made me think of the songs I keep coming back to, the songs that haven’t left my iPhone where music is constantly being cycled off to make room for new material.
One thing I like about this list is it takes classic rock, new wave, progressive rock and just about everything else I grew up with out of the equation. In my 885 Best Rock Songs list I picked The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as number one and wrote that “I think any of 10 tunes by The Rolling Stones could be on this list.” On this list, there aren’t any great new Rolling Stones tunes in this century. Nor are there any great new Pink Floyd, The Who or Hendrix tunes to be found. Six of my ten songs are from artists who began recording in the 2000′s
Because it is greatest “songs,” I left out instrumentals, except for one, which, in an admittedly idiosyncratic move, I made number 1. For some reason, several of the tracks are from 2008. It’s not much like the lists of other XPN hosts, and will certainly be nothing like the list that comes from their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Poll with listeners, but it’s my list. Follow the link to vote for your own. Voting ends September 16. At the bottom, I’ve got a Spotify Playlist of John Diliberto’s Top Ten Songs of the New Millennium, So Far.
1 – Ulrich Schnauss – “Clear Day”
StrangleyWhat a great way to start this list, a wash of white noise obliterating all that came before, then slowly a syncopated 4/4 snare groove rolls in, droning synth chords, a chilling melody and one of those classic Ulrich Schnauss choruses that hooks you on a train ride to ecstasy. This is one of several tracks from Schnauss’ 2003 CD A Strangely Isolated Place that I could’ve picked. (See Five Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs). Somebody should write lyrics for this. It’s waiting to be a hit.
2 – Moby – “Wait for Me”
Wait for MeIn my review of this Echoes CD of the Month in July 2009 I wrote: “The title track is another song that seems to contemplate eternity of a lost soul. It’s sung by Kelli Scarr, who has a fragility that breaks over the waves of Moby’s ghost rhythms, minimalist piano figure and sonic scrims. She sings “I’m gonna ask you to look away, I lost my hands and it hurts to pray” like a half-remembered nursery rhyme, a paean to lost youth, a contemplation of the end.
It’s a heartbreaking song from an album that makes heartbreak beautiful and noble. The video doesn’t quite fit the song, so just listen, or just watch.
3 – Black Angels, “Yellow Elevator #2″
This is a song I often hit repeat on with my iPhone. In fact, I just did again. Quoting the “Twilight Zone” theme and Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” with Question Mark & the Mysterian’s organ, The Black Angels paint a psychedelic landscape of oblivion this song from their album, Phosphene Dream. I usually don’t like codas, but the coda for “Yellow Elevator #2” is the most poignant theme this band has recorded. It was great this year to hear them return it to their live performances after excising it the previous couple of tours. Excuse me while I kiss these guys.
4 – Loner – “Already Numb”
Is heartbreak a theme of this list? It doesn’t get more forlorn than Loner’s song of lost innocence sung in a beautiful alto over a spare, Satie-like piano theme backed by organ. The line that gets me every time is:
“Album covers, I don’t know how. Could move me once, but cannot now.”
It’s from his album, Western Sci-Fi which is full of beautiful chamber pop.
5 – Olivier Libaux – “Go With the Flow”
After that heartbreak, I need some joy. “Go with the Flow” is easily one the most jubilant tracks on Olivier Libaux’s album Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age the Echoes CD of the Month in July 2013. It’s a rollicking party played over a bouncing groove, with vocals provided by Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini. The sound effects of a cheering audience are used as a musical element that amps-up the elation in Queens of The Stone Age writer Josh Homme’s story about trying for love despite it all.
6 – Alu – “Circus Cosmos”
Alu paints a soundtrack from Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”). It’s a three-ring psychosis with calliope organ spinning a tale of delirious love. Rather than go gothic in tone, Alu’s is euphoric. It also has an unforgettable chorus:
You are the photograph that I’ve never seen
You are my phantom, the fountain of dreams.
I’ve been living in a mortuary, my whole life long.
There’s more imagery in that one chorus than most musicians conjure for an entire CD and it’s delivered by Alu’s keening soprano with such aching and despair that I know there’s more behind this tune than Alu let on. It’s one of several great tunes from her underrated album, Lobotomy Sessions.
7 – Agnes Obel – Riverside
The Danish born singer recorded a heartbreaking song about the ebb, flow and emotional turmoil of life’s currents. Obel brings her lilting, slightly slurred soprano to bear on lyrics of memory and loss. Singing over a spare cyclical piano riff, she deftly layers her voice into plaintive harmonies that will have you swimming in her bittersweet stream. Her debut, Philharmonics, was the Echoes CD of the Month in January of 2012.
8 – Gnarls Barkley “Going On”
This may be the most anomalous track on this list. Gnarls Barkley made some crazed R&B that was retro-soul in its melodies, sung by Cee Lo Green, and futuristic in its arrangements from Danger Mouse. “Crazy” is their massive hit, but I always loved this hyper-kinetic leaving song from The Odd Couple album with Cee Lo’s manic rap-inflected melody, the stop time rhythm and the gothic freak-out at the end.
9 – Dandy Warhols – “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers A.K.A. the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty”
This is a hyped-up mix of Country-Jitterbug-New Orleans Voodoo psychedelia from Earth to Dandy Warhols. Courtney Taylor-Taylor rips it up in this hipster-jiving ode to speed and trucking, “jacked up on java and nicotine.” I can’t get it out of my head. Check out this great video and it will be embedded in your head as well.
10 – Beck – “Chemtrails“
Beck’s “Chemtrails” from his 2008 album Modern Guilt has one of those Pachelbel-style hooks that could go on forever. The song starts as a lament and turns in to an anthem of deep despair for humanity, while still somehow maintaining hope using chemtrail conspiracy theories as a metaphor. I saw him do a great version of it with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the Bowl that year and it stayed in my head thereafter despite the assholes sitting behind me. Even the pointless coda doesn’t ruin it.