Friday, August 15, 2014

Top 10 Tracks: 2002

It was just a couple months ago that I started this blog fully, which means that I've never had the chance to reflect back on bands, songs, and albums of old. My time with music itself has been pretty limited as well, since, in the grand scheme of the medium, I've only just gotten into it. So earlier years may be a little bare with diversity. I do sometimes write 'throwback' reviews, but I've never accumulated Top 10 lists for specific years. So, beginning today, I will be doing a top 10 tracks list for each year from 2000 to 2012, as I've already done my Top 50 of 2013, as you can find here. Without further ado, here are the top 10 tracks of 2002. Note: Clicking the picture will open a new tab and play the song on Youtube. 

2000   |   2001   |   2002   |   2003   |   2004   |   2005   |   2006   |   2007   |   2008   |   2009   |   2010   |   2011   |   2012   |   2013  |  2014

Wilco - Pot Kettle Black
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Nestled On the sprawling Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of the most lovable, well-acclaimed albums of the 2000's, is Pot Kettle Black, a simple, yet beautiful song critiquing the self. Using the famous phrase "Pot calling a Kettle Black," lead singer Jeff Tweedy decides to become self-aware of other people's inability to comprehend situations, forming hypocritical views on things, knowing that he himself falls to these same pitfalls. Don't we all. It's a ravenous song over a topic not usually discussed in music, or really anywhere for that matter. A decent amount of humanity's problems stems from one's hypocritical look at their fellow man. We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior. It's a wrong way of looking at the world, and while Wilco understands the inability to overcome this human flaw, their acceptance of it as a trait is commendable. 

The message wouldn't be half as well received if the song itself failed stylistically. Thankfully, that's Pot Kettle Black's greatest accomplishment. The tuning of an foreground acoustic guitar has never sounded so fresh. Throughout the track a handful of sounds find their way into the production, never straying from the song's foundation. As all this occurs, Pot Kettle Black remains effortless, striking for its enjoyment derived from pleasantry. If there were one song that sounds as if it should be placed in a wedding slideshow that can be cherished, it's this. The production is bright, spacious, and crisp. Tweedy's vocals shine through, especially on the finale, as he fades out repeating "every moment's a little bit later" with the track falling out to a small dim. 

El-P - T.O.J.
Fantastic Damage

Possibly the best example of El-P's industrial, momentous production style that reeks of the rustic, cold city life he was born in. And while in today's age he's teaming up with Killer Mike to form the superduo Run The Jewels, new-heads and backpackers alike can find something to love in his debut album Fantastic Damage, a glorious tour-de-force of a city ravaged by sirens, fear, and grief. Found in the most unexpected place, throughout the fantastic rubble over our unsure society, is T.O.J., a heart-wrenching breakup song. Where Wilco gets their message across through plain English El-P, in much the same fashion as his early 2000's underground counterparts, speaks through verbose language, allowing the listener to delve deep to find the true meaning if they so choose.

With lines like “or maybe resident incurable romantic defunct in the face of fact” constituting much of the lyricism, you can see why some may be challenged. But what is obvious here is the pure emotion El-P procreates, varying from depressed to angered. What can't be denied is the passion of this relationship, clearly stemming from an honest, real life breakup. The magnificence of El-P's production is that it melds enjoyment and meaning together, best seen in the beat switch-up halfway through the track, where the rapper resigns to resentment, only to re-surge with renewed anger, using his final verse to conclude his feelings of the failed parting.

Blackalicious - Release
Blazing Arrow

Release, a three-part masterpiece resembling the climax of their second album Blazing Arrow, sets a precedent for epic conclusions to Hip-Hop albums. In this case, face of the duo Gift Of Gab and features Lyrics Born and Saul Williams confront different approaches to the human condition of release, initiating this with the heart-pounding intro, complete with a fierce back beat, Gab's notarized hyper rapping, and Zach De La Roche's shrieking “RELEASE!” All this quickly collapses upon itself as anyone experiences such an energetic liberation would, only to slowly build with Williams' spiritual release, as his spoken poetry captivates, excites, and reaps of intriguing metaphors. Lyrics Born then explains to us how to release from the chains others place upon us, moving beyond their petty critiques, resulting in an inspirational track.

Blackalicious, in much the same way as El-P, thrive under the veil of verbosity. Well-known for his intense, excessively literate, rapid flowing, Gift Of Gab treats us to one of his greatest endeavors. The real showstopper in Release however is Saul Williams, and not just the artist's imaginative use of vocabulary, but also the rising production that swells up behind him. Sandwiched between his opening line “inner breathlessness, outer restlessness, by the time I caught up to freedom I was out of breath” and his closer “through meditation I program my heart to beat breakbeats and hum basslines on exhalation” is a cacophony of loquacious wordplay, the likes of which I haven't heard in a rap song possibly ever. Release factors in the title itself to an exhilarating nine minute roller coaster that defines all explanations of the term.

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

Sometimes an obvious message gets passed over in music, or even contemporary thought, that, in a little over a century, every single person you knew or had heard of will be dead, replaced by an entirely new batch of humans. The least place you'd expect such a hard-hitting message to come from would be the nonchalantly silly Indie Rock group The Flaming Lips. However such was the case with Do You Realize??, an open-ended discussion with lead singer Wayne Cohen and the listener as he attempts to convey our meaning of life through a catchy pop-inspired song. To some it's an eye-opener, to others it's eye-rolling. There's no denying the appeal at hand here as, despite Cohen's spectacular way of conjuring up a thought-provoking question, the production is what has many in love with Yoshimi's most famous track.

The instant wind chime that leads the track off, along with the strumming guitar to accompany the singer's light, broken voice bears a similarity to Christmas time with the family. And the lyrics match too, discussing the beauty of those around you and appreciating them for how much they've done for you. Things get dark quickly when Cohen iterates that “everyone you know someday will die.” Possibly the most awe-inducing part of Do You Realize?? is the pacing; with rising instrumentation to go along with backing vocals meshing to form a pivotal moment halfway through, as echoes from those loved ones hymn loudly in jubilation. It's not often a 3 minute pop song makes you think, cry, and smile all at the same time.

Boards Of Canada - Music Is Math

Their music is undefinable, so much so that at times it doesn't even feel like music. Their musical comparisons only come after their appearance, with no discernible influences being of note. More than any other artist around the turn of the century, Boards Of Canada's music lives in a land of its own, surrounded by only their own sound. Those who have tried to mimic it have failed at grasping the true essence of their music, it's missing the 'soul,' if you will. Music Is Math, the first stunner on Geogaddi, is a prime example of this eery, dreadful sound that they've held the crown to. Samples taken from a time long gone, static preserving itself through the speakers as a ringing, so subtle, yet insistently maddening confines itself in the ear-holes of the listeners. 

This, regardless of how illogical, is how Boards Of Canada became one of the most revered instrumental artists in recent memory. Melding harrowing fear through music is something not easily doable. In fact, I'd say paranoia is one of the most difficult impulses to grasp through sound alone and the duo hailing from Scotland succeeds immensely in capturing something so instilled in every human. The hollers of humans lost in the mechanical world, along with the repeated whispering of "the past inside the present" set the stage for not only the track, but Geogaddi as a whole. The stressful wailing's captured in Canada's computerized track that bring the song to a close only further instill this distress Music Is Math aims to infringe upon you.  

Busdriver - Imaginary Places
Temporary Forever

An underground classic, Imaginary Places is Busdriver's lyrical swansong. Accurately explaining the shtick of the hyper-literate LA rapper through action, sound, and words alone, Imaginary Places is one hell of a whirlwind. Busdriver spits 436 words in his opening, 1:16 verse. According to my approximations that's nearly six words a second. Take some time to process that, and more time trying to decipher the lyrics ingrained within that verse to see his zany, characteristic mannerisms and topics. The flute, progressing at the same clip he is, zips along, while a brooding bass sets each bar off with immense insistence. 

Like many other underground emcee's from the early 2000's, Busdriver thrives off the 'big words, little meaning' shtick that began as a rebellion against mainstream Hip-Hop's divergence towards rehashed topics. Often seen as a cliche in today's age, this type of rapper wowed not because of their conscious, relatable verbiage, but as artistic endeavors, setting the stage for the expansion and acceptance of more diverse kinds of Hip-Hop. The breakdown and drastic change halfway through Imaginary Places showed that diverting from the standard Hip-Hop format could bring welcomed advancements. His off-the-walls rhyming patterns, expressive voice, and interesting lyrics set Busdriver's story into motion, and much of that can be attributed to Imaginary Places.

D.J. Shadow - You Can't Go Home Again
The Private Press

Crafted from the genius who constructed Entroducing..., one of Hip-Hop's most sentimental 90's releases, D.J. Shadow, while never able to live up to his immeasurable debut, spurred some of the decade's most enticing, mesmerizing tracks spun from his samples, turntables, and beat machines. One of the best examples of that was You Can't Go Home Again, a riveting tale told through sound alone, with its crown jewel being the pacing that perfectly carries it though, a staple of Shadow's skills. The closer to The Private Press came about as close to some of Entroducing's... most legendary songs. 

Beginning with a single guitar pluck that resonates through static reverb, a lone voice echoes "Now here's a story about being free," as a hard-hitting drum loop blasts through the speakers, along with a few subtle additions sprinkled throughout. This slowly builds with a cascading assortment of melodies that rifle through themselves, cycling in and out, mimicking the mind of a child who's running away from home. The finale, a resounding 2 minute buildup, after a dropout that leads us back to the opening drum loop, is as graceful, beautiful, and reassuring as they come in the instrumental world. Few can mold sounds together as poignantly as D.J. Shadow.  

Mint Royale - Show Me
Dancehall Places

The most uplifting, beautifully beaming song I know. Mint Royale's Show Me is one of my songs of all-time, and with good reason. It's also so criminally unknown it hurts. With the help of De La Soul's Posdnous throwing down two simple, yet infectious verses that promote happiness and joy, Mint Royale's epic makes the best case that those two verbs are best advocated in life. No one can remain sad whilst listening to Show Me. The track reaps of 90's pop music that would blare in the warm summer nights with production that's bright, sensitive, and cheerful, something seldomly seen in the 2000's. 

And yet, moreso than Pos' verses of Mint Royale's production, the chorus without a doubt steals the show. It's a breath of fresh air. It's a captivating, addicting, magnificent pairing; the African tribal chants and hymns along with Mint Royale's breezy, loud climactic construction. Only until recently was the actual heritage of the chorus even discovered, being found from a sampling taken from a Zulu chant. Nothing could have possibly worked better. It's one of those songs no one can hate, no one can deny dancing to, no one can deny attempting to sing along. Pos' closing line in his initial verse best explains the emotions at hand, a "song that cut a smile across your face for life, well keep your arms raised, listen to this track for long, that I chocked full of soul." Brilliant.  

RJD2 - Ghostwriter

One of the most renowned instrumental pieces of the 21st century, RJD2's Ghostwriter is easily his masterpiece, and a masterstroke of musical talent. It's well known that many instrumental artists shy away from the live instruments in favor of computerized sounds, where perfection exists. However, while RJD2 incorporates the latter, he emphasizes the former, showcasing, among other things, an acoustic guitar as his centerpiece, his backbone. And yet, as revealing and bare his guitar is in terms of showing beauty in the form of a tune, it pales in comparison to the passion and exuberance blossoming on the chorus, as trumpets blare with passion and emotion, leaving a lasting impact. 

Many have attempted to take on the mammoth of a beat lyrically, with only a handful succeeding. It's a nearly untouchable track that throws all of what we know about Hip-Hop out the window, only to throw it back in with the instruments from genres surrounding it, mashing it all together, stripping it of all the excess, leaving one of the most delicately beautiful beats ever produced. Haunting hymns layer themselves within the fold during the second break, while chimes mark the beginning of the one segment, the end of another. Ghostwriter is the centerpiece of RJD2's lauded debut Deadringer, and with good reason. Lets just thank our Hip-Hop overlords for believing in the beat enough to not over-barrage it with a voice plastered across its seams. 

People Under The Stairs - Acid Raindrops

"Out on the porch." Those who can immediately recognize that sample understand its importance, as the prelude to one of underground rap's most celebrated songs. This list, at least in terms of Hip-Hop, is littered with relative one-hit wonders, despite all having critical success in the underground scene. Acid Raindrops is known as being one of the most acclaimed, grounding its foundation with the perfect beat to showcase Double K and Thes One's laid back, chilled out flow. For those that live in LA, where the duo hails from, the scene that the group details is immediately recognizable, and from some entirely relatable as a typical summer day, lounging with friends and family. 

It's a flawless reincarnation of late 80's Hip-Hop with stripped-down production, yet sounds as fresh as any song in 2014 with the singing along-friendly rapping that the two enforce. A track that seemingly places the right words in the right places, it's appealing, alluring, and enticing all in one. Sometimes it's the simplest message and most basic beat that bring in the biggest listeners. It's an excellent example of quality over quantity. Nothing here is revolutionary, redone or new, it's just a form of Hip-Hop perfected. That's what Acid Raindrops really is about, perfecting what has already been made, and People Under The Stairs succeeds in all the right ways.  

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