Monday, October 13, 2014

Top 10 Tracks: 2003

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 2003. 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

The Polyphonic Spree - Light & Day
The Beginning Stages Of...

Regardless of your feelings toward 70's-era hippy empowerment music occurring at the turn of the technological age, it's hard to deny the inherent appeal of the Polyphonic Spree's largest hit. Depending on your interest in returning to a fantastical perception of life in the 70's, 'Light & Day' will likely be the only track you'll need to hear from the group of 20+ to understand the message, sound and point. What can be said without question is that Tim DeLaughter's group was unlike any heard or seen at the turn of the millennium. Seen throughout popular culture, Light & Day took on a life of its own, with its inspirational messages, uplifting lyrics, and lighthearted tunes. 

From the bass guitar that carries the front half of the track, matching wits with the airy softness of the ballooning twinkles that flutter throughout the consciousness of the record, the Spree's warming style is immediately apparent. When the chorus hits, loaded with whistles, flutes, and every string instrument known to man, the powerful phrase "follow the day and reach for the sun" belts its way through the collage of sounds to instill the ultimate stimulus to boost one's life through music. Backing vocals from many of the members hymn hauntingly, but beautifully, whilst DeLaughter croons his swan song to his legion of happy-go-lucky listeners. 

Ralph Myerz - A Special Morning
A Special Album

Thankfully, and entirely ignorantly, this is my first time seeing what Ralph Myerz & The Jack Herren Band look like because, if I'm being honest, I'd have a completely different perception of what to expect from 'A Special Morning'. What I can definitively say is I'm glad I was unknowingly kept in the dark concerning their emo-despite being 30+ appearance because in 2003 they crafted one of the most lush, beautiful symphonies of music I'd ever heard, devoid of any vocal accompaniment. 

Sometimes it's the atmosphere of a track that captures the intent, not the lyrics, nor the quality of the music-making. All it takes was a couple well-placed vocal samples, including the moaning of a female to set the stage. Then, as the beat progresses followed along by a tranquil shaker, the addition of a whistles organically meshes everything together in a mix of deliciously edible sounds. With those sounds representing the bulk of the track, it proves that sometimes all it takes is a choreographed assortment of symphonies to prove vital in creating a grin-inducing reaction.

Killer Mike - Akshon

Killer Mike's southern connections to Outkast proved essential to his growing popularity in the south's underground. Monster, his debut, while not opening up the floodgates to the mainstream, succeeded in gathering steam for the rappers tenuous decade-long career. 'Akshon', headed by Andre 3000's opening alien-like remarks on Killer Mike himself, brings with it one of the most simplistically digestible beats heard out of the south in the early decade, complete with a scorching bass and playful sing-a-long styled melody. Match this with Killer's hard-nosed, punctual rhymes and you have a track that's half hostile, half celebratory.

The track itself doesn't overstay its welcome, knocking in quick and beating down hard, resorting to haymakers rather than gut-curdling blows. Concerning the state of Hip-Hop Killer Mike was swift in denouncing other rappers for their lack of abilities regarding bringing something fresh to the table, showing himself to be capable in the verses alone. Subtly adding Big Boi to the chorus, riding the back-half, pinpointing the words with the bass, he almost seems like an afterthought. Killer isn't afraid to take two acclaimed taste-makers in Hip-Hop and place them in his star-studded track for no more than 15 seconds each, making sure he's the star of his own show.

Nappy Roots - Roun' The Globe
Wooden Leather

Continuing our early 2000's southern Hip-Hop dominance, Nappy Roots jumped into the fire, representing Kentucky, bringing their own flair and slang to the game. Their style, more than anything rising from Hip-Hop at the time, sounded more like it took its influence from Country and Blues than the roots of Hip-Hop or Jazz like many other artists at the time. 'Roun' The Globe' portrayed this division beautifully, and directly in the scope of the song, with acoustic guitars, hand claps, and choir-like choruses that took the Country-like influences seriously, adding the genre's subtle nuisances to create a Hip-Hop track that sounded nothing like the sort at the time. 

What 'Roun' The Globe' also accomplished was the emblematic flows and styles of each member, playing off each other with such ease and dexterity that you'd think the track itself was a live freestyle occurring on the porch outside the studio. Each verse drifts into the next, as the following rapper continues the thoughts of the one previous him. That message rather simple; that country was spreading throughout the globe. To be frank, they may have been a little ahead of the bullet, as only until recently was Country back on the map. But, Nappy Roots may have been speaking of Hip-Hop's rise in the south, and for that reason alone, they would have been right. Thanks to their unique style being accepted far and wide, Hip-Hop itself could finally expand past the guidelines that were holding it back.

Outkast - Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre
The Love Below

'Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre' may have been the first track I truly memorized from top to bottom, what a feat that was. 5+ minutes of flawless rhyming, one solid verse, one coherent story. The closing to The Love Below was simultaneously a summery and a send-off to Atlanta's star child, Andre 3000. Guided by a haunting beat that captures a distorted female voice as the distress backing, with finger snaps, and off-the-cuff hi-hat rattles, 3000 superbly recites the creation, come-up, and blow-up of Outkast. With poetic verbiage rattling off his tongue and clever rehashes existing throughout the piece, 'Life In The Day' is easily Love Below's most detailed, detached, and historic. 

As the two were slowly growing apart, not in terms of their relationship, but more in terms of their future in music, the double album of Speakerboxxx/Love Below meant Andre could dazzle with his singing, instrumentation, and free will, rather than being chained up in the typical rap game. However, there were flashes of brilliance on the piece, and 'Life In The Day' was the masterpiece. While it seemed oft-kilter and out of place considering the record's content, the reality soon setting in that the duo could be collapsing made the artist's harshest, most directly story-telling song all rap only rallied in the nostalgic factor 3000 was aiming for, something his singing aspirations couldn't accomplish. Every moment, section, and line is immediately memorable as the ending of one's career as the rapper everyone wished they could be. 

The Postal Service - Such Great Heights
Give Up

Give Up was, much like many one-off albums, a remarkable capture of a moment in time in music where definitions of genre lines were changing. Madvillainy, Since I Left You, and Deltron 3030 (until recently), are all accompanying distinctions to this event. 'Such Great Heights' was thee definitive expose of Postal Service's aim, a soaring collage of emo-slanted darling Ben Gibbard's depressive visage of the world and Jimmy Tamborello's electronic simplicity at the brink of the technological age. What was once construed as trite music composed of "bleeps and bloops" can now be seen as pioneering such music that uses electronic compression as a crutch for instilling the perfection a machine can deliver in this new age of music.  

The song, likely about a couple whose going through an epiphany, a lapse from the real world where things look perfect from far away, ignorantly separating themselves from the world that's plagued them in the past. This, conjoined with Tamborello's production creates a vibrant, picturesque world in which detachment seems to be the only choice, as even the music itself removed itself from the tunes that surrounded it in 2003. A fluttering orchestra of electronic modulation escapades itself through various movements, before escaping with, over nothing else, a guitar solo that matches the intensity of the moment of removal. The lone female voice gracefully whispering "come down now" towards the end acts as the voice of reason for a relationship that's gotten to good for its own good. While 'Such Great Heights' may have been a form of escapism, the lingering message of Give Up, down to its literally title, is much more sinister.  

Missy Elliott - Pass That Dutch
This Is Not A Test!

The first female emcee to achieve admiration both commercially and critically, Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliott approached the game with a view that few others could hold, severing the chains that held woman in their place as Hip-Hop lust artists or sinful back-up dancers. She wasn't overtly sexual, was often-times comical, and didn't fear to expand the Pop appeal Hip-Hop could truly be. 'Pass That Dutch' was the infectious ear-opener that dominated the airwaves with prototypical Timbaland production that was irresistible, from the hand-clap breakneck beat to the heart-pounding bass. And yet, regardless of how demanding Timbaland's sound is, Elliot stole the show with a flow so lavish, so unique, and so enticing that millions around the world aimed at mimicking it, as they attempted to match wits with her over their radios. 

Hip-Hop going back years has a hard time maintaining likability with the Pop audience, with very few tracks remaining timeless in their 'get people going' vibe. 'Pass That Dutch' is one of those songs, over 10 years since its inception, the song still remains a staple for any nostalgic party that aims at getting the feet moving, the asses shaking, and the dutches passed. Missy Elliott still, to this day, remains the only Hip-Hop mistress to captivate audiences, male and female alike, not by using her sexuality as a flotation device, but by her sheer skill on the mic. While artists like Nicki Minaj can show flashes of brilliance (See: Monster), her hindrance is what keeps her relevant. Without the sexual overtones, both in music and in real life, her career would quickly fizzle out. Missy accomplished what few female artists could do; compete with the boys, and beat them at it. 

Radiohead - A Wolf At The Door
Hail To The Thief

With their immaculate track record of closing albums, it's quite shocking to think 'A Wolf At The Door' may not be Radiohead's best, or even 4th best, closer. Doesn't dismiss the song's quality at all, in fact it only increases it by having the band be self-aware enough to put it on the pedestal of the finale. While Hail To The Thief was simultaneously a return to reality and a progression for a group hellbent on re-doing Rock constructs, 'A Wolf At The Door' departed from the structure of the album in an effort at branching out and speeding up, allowing Thom Yorke to showcase tension, anxiety, and fear by way of panicked singing. In typical Yorke fashion the lyrics are meant to be incredibly open-ended, fearing definition as a crutch to mediocrity in music. Nothing gets people talking more than opinions and interpretation, both responses in abundance thanks to Radiohead's work. 

The finale works in much the same way, with lyrics near-indecipherable but with one thing remaining strikingly clear; while the words may not connect, the emotions surely do. If anything can be surmised from the song's lyrics it's the title itself. Radiohead has a history of criticizing insistently invasive governments, the age of the Big Brother, and the panic of the 21st century. 'A Wolf At The Door' involves all three, either directly or symbolically, with the title obviously reminiscent of the big bad wolf appearing at the foot of your doorstep, waiting to whisk you away. York's hysteria, matched with the lingering and slowly building production, adds an atmospheric haze of uneasiness to the track. His breaths become more heavy and his pauses less frequent as the track progresses, with the once fearlessness slowly being replaced with impishness.  

Outkast - Roses
The Love Below

I still fail at piecing together what truly makes 'Roses' remarkable. Is it the forever memorable chorus, the unexpected, rapid-speed derailing of Andre's envisioned car crash for Caroline, the story of said woman and her egotistic viewpoints, Big Boi's buttery delicious verse detailing the night at the party, the bass-lead production that uses a piano melody as a guiding point, or the "Crazy Bitch" segment to conclude the track? In reality, it's all of the above, because only Outkast could create a handful of classic Hip-Hop moments in a 6-minute track. Add to the fact that 'Roses' was a unanimous crowd-pleaser, both on the radio and in critical reception, making it one of the most beloved Hip-Hop songs of the 21st century. 

It's truly a shame that Andre needed to move on from music, regardless of Big Boi's continued successes and the long-lasting appeal of Outkast as a whole because, in all likelihood, the duo may have never stopped making celebrated music. I like Outkast, you like Outkast, my mom likes Outkast. 'Roses', arguably more than their other singles of the post-2000's, brought everyone together to rail against Caroline, the snarky prep-school cheerleader as presented in the video, who believes she can do no wrong, but in reality if you "lean a little closer roses really smell like poo-poo-poo." There's no other artist who could successfully pull off using poo-poo as the crowning jewel to a chorus, having millions sing along, than 3 Stacks. In this case though, 'Roses' was far from poo-poo.

MF DOOM (As Viktor Vaughn) - Saliva
Vaudeville Villain

Pairing DOOM and RJD2 during their primes could have gone drastically awry, and yet the track that formed from the two minds exceeded any expectations set upon it. 'Saliva' is the powerhouse of Vaudeville Villain, the definitive track where DOOM, under his cocky, futuristic alias Viktor Vaughn, pulls out all the stops, showcasing his lyrical ability, storytelling, ego-puffing, and flowing all at once. There's no better song to play around the character DOOM has created, throwing jabs left and right verbally and literally, denouncing posing rappers for their flaws whilst simultaneously exhibiting his drastic talents at owning the mic. In the piece he ironically calls out his main alter ego, "phony rappers use a stand-in" since DOOM himself has been criticized for sending impostors to his show. This only further heightens the allure of Viktor who hails over DOOM in every sense of the word. 

However, despite how raw and skilled DOOM may be here, 'Saliva' wouldn't be half the track it was if it weren't for RJD2's prolific beat that layers multiple sound samples throughout the track, trailing behind the rapper, adjusting itself flawlessly off his verbiage. Trumpets soar in places where a chorus should be, woozy 808's ink themselves underneath the predominant sounds, serving the track with its groundwork, and hollers heard in the distance add yet another level to the production. In this day and age, these two artists pairing up would have sent message boards in a frenzy, and yet 'Saliva' was remarkable for remaining subtle. The high-profile producer never over-shadows the others and simply fits in with the story of the scientific genius who travels back in time to the 90's, lost but with solid footing. 'Saliva' is his calling card, the stomp that silences the crowd, the announcement that DOOMsday has arrived. 

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