Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top 10 Tracks: 2004

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 2004. 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

Time Machine - Who Needs A Mic?
Slow Your Roll

Some underground acts burn out before they're given their rightful chance to flourish. See Time Machine, a Rhode Island-based trio that made engrossingly refreshing Hip-Hop that eased the soul and didn't take itself too seriously. Time Machine rocked the underground niche of Hip-Hop that focused on its endearing qualities rather than those that restricted the genre to negative connotations. Their debut album Slow Your Roll executed these qualities perfectly, and was best exemplified by 'Who Need A Mic?,' which, like many of their songs, focused on rap in its own art form. The classic ad-libs consistently appearing, the freestyle-esque verses that played off verbiage more than it cared about flow or skill, all of this made 'Who Needs A Mic?' a stellar track that lauded Hip-Hop for its merits.

Where the song succeeded the most however was in its basis, the bare bones, the essentials; its production. Sure, trumpets and jazz influences were nothing new in the genre at the time, in fact they were on the rise thanks to Jazz-Rap tastemakers A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. But many of their songs featured up-beat, rapid trumpets that didn't sway to much from their intended emotion. 'Who Needs A Mic?,' based off the title of the album, slows things down, emphasizing a harmonically low trumpet lumbering away gracefully in the back, symbolizing more a blues ballad rather than a jazz record. Their roots, in the foundation of Hip-Hop, are weaved throughout as well, with DJ scratches playing a prominent role in the chorus of the song, and the finale, which exacerbates both the scratches and trumpet, along with the hard-hitting drums, into a stew of pleasant sounds. 

Blockhead - Insomniac Olympics
Music By Cavelight

Speaking of trumpets, we have 'Insomniac Olympics', a track that so perfectly utilizes them. Blockhead's music incorporates and overcomes the biggest challenge of instrumental music; bringing emotion through the speakers with sound alone. If an instrumental tune can make you feel compassion, sympathy, and sorrow than that song has won in my book. Blockhead's pinnacle masterpiece did just that, using droning strings adorning the background as a funeral-like trumpet blasts through the speakers, met with hard, militaristic drums that pound down the listener. Midway through a voice, cracked, sparse, and disjointed, peers through the track. It's indistinguishable, unable to formulate words, only hollers of whining sadness.

These sounds alone don't add up to much, but melded together, where the true bread and butter of instrumental music happens, creates a feeling all too real. Even a muted piano makes its way into the track, but by the time its placement occurs the sounds are all too natural for it to even stand out amongst its counterparts. Blockhead, despite coming close with other releases, could never capture the emotions 'Insomniac Olympics' shows again. Much of what makes a true musician is the ability to take feelings from real life and recreate them in music for all to enjoy. This is exactly what Blockhead did, and he did it superbly. 

MF DOOM - Beef Rapp

MF DOOM, where would we be in Hip-Hop if it weren't for the masked villain. It be unreasonable and unfair to call DOOM the savior of the underground, but, at a time where being weird and different than the norm in the genre was irreconcilable, the rapper did whatever he wanted, when he felt like it. He made it cool to be weird, alternative, and eccentric. Sure there were some acts before him that moved by their own initiative, Dr.Octagon being one, but nothing came of it. Once DOOM arrived Hip-Hop understood that it was okay, and accepted, to be yourself and not follow the norm, despite the irony of that statement with Daniel Dumile's true life and face being shielded from the public eye. Mm...Food? was likely his biggest proponent to his character. An entire album littered with food references, including a closer that metaphorically tackled masturbation through food. Genius.

'Beef Rapp' was the best example of this trope. Beyond lyrically skilled, DOOM emphasizes the pathetic nature of beefs in Hip-Hop strictly done to boost sales of both artists. The song is filled with insanely clever lines, incorporating dual messages in nearly every line, all the while discussing rap in its pursuit of vanity through food. Rappers acting like stripping males, fans being spoon-fed crap products, and the uninspired topics they cover are all on tap here. DOOM's faceted incorporation of comic book samples from recently unearthed shows spliced together adds to the allure of his personality, with the first minute and a half of this track using them as an introduction. They never fail to get old however, and the first time DOOM speaks comes hard and with anticipation. 

Living Legends - Real Slow The Fast Way
Creative Differences

Sometimes the underground produces a banger, hardly in the realm of beat-making, but more so than not in terms of lyrical ferocity. That's exactly what the Living Legends' 'Real Slow The Fast Way' accomplished with two ground-rumbling verses from Murs, the first switching up flows and speeds relentlessly before erupting into a finale similar to the likes of a fireworks display; explosive. The production, handled by fellow Legend Eligh, allows Murs the ability to fly across it, bringing in thunderous bass rattles at the turn of every bar. The song mainly acts as a way for Murs to flex his creative muscles, emphasizing rhyming ability over lyrics which centered around the derailment of fellow rappers, a technique best used when setting a track a blaze. 

Murs handles the chorus here as well, failing to slow down remotely, calling on all fans to put their hands up, before putting them down praising the underground for bringing beats and rhymes. He concludes by saying "you don't wanna fuck around." He isn't kidding either, 'Real Slow The Fast Way' wreaks havoc, unrelenting in its attempt at proving Murs to be a formidable opponent to any rapper that attempts to get in his way. Confident, cocky, and arrogant is what got Hip-Hop to be noted on the come-up, and while the underground tried to sway away from those repetitive acts, some just need to lash out and prove their worth to the rest, and that's exactly what Murs did here. 

The Killers - All These Things That I've Done
Hot Fuss

Yes, it is possible for a Pop-oriented song to make this list. The Killers brought out their A-game for 'All These Things That I've Done,' a track discussing the potential retribution of the lead singer. He's at a crossroads in his life, incapable of accomplishing anything he set out to do in years past. Flowers, the lead singer, asks for a second chance, another crack at his life in hopes of making something good out of it this time around. Whether from God, or society, or himself, he seeks an ability to make good on what he's lost. For all that Pop music offers in terms of basic lyrics that can work in many situations, 'All These Things That I've Done' is fairly direct. It's ironic as well, considering the title of the track and the fact that the song is about the direct opposite. 

What makes the song pop however is the structure, layout, and build-up throughout. The message would be nothing without an impactful ensemble behind it. The chorus remains one of the most memorable of the decade, insinuating a negative overtone, unlike the rest of music on the radio. Even the track's climax, a resounding chant that builds in anticipation and resembles a inspirational conclusion is merely just a masking of more disapproval of one's self. "I've got soul, but I'm not a solider" cries Flowers, implying that he has the passion but lacks the initiative to act and stand up. He remains weak, fragile, yet his mind is filled with ideas and imagination that could accomplish many things. It's a powerful track that, much like 'Hey Ya' the previous year, was a Pop song masked by a powerfully tenuous message. 

Modest Mouse - Float On
Good News For People Who Love Bad News

To some, Good News For People Who Love Bad News was an incredible slap in the face, to others, it was a proving point that a half Grunge/half Indie band could successfully convert to Pop. The fact still stood that Modest Mouse's follow-up to their two lauded albums was a drastic departure that from their previous works, a shifting point that saw the term "sell-out" appear more often than it should have. I'll be honest, being a kid at the time, the first Modest Mouse song I had heard was 'Float On,' and I, along with most of radio-friendly listeners, loved it. Needless to say I was floored years later upon hearing their previous works. And yet, 'Float On' remains the band's most accessible and enjoyable song in terms of musical accompaniment. As opposed to our previous song, this track tune shifted things for a politically-conscious band. One that saw the band in life and chose to forget it, see the good, and just float on, cause sometimes things are just out of your control.  

Much like The Killers, this song succeeds in terms of it's structure, especially the immaculate build-up that represents the latter half of the track. The two song's are so eerily similar, not as parallel messages, but contradicting ones, a band lost in their ways, another one realizing the mistakes and moving past them. Here, there's no fooling the climatic, inspirational feeling, regardless of the slight negative tinge of being out of control. Whatever life throws at you, all of us will continue to float on. We could hit a rock protruding out of the river, and yet we'll still float on. Even as Brock states, "even if things end up a bit too heavy, we'll all float on alright." Coming from him, one being aware of the negativity surrounding us all, means a lot to the worried enlightened few. 

Stars - Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Set Yourself On Fire

Since Arcade Fire's emergence as Indie Rock darlings of Canada, Stars became relegated to constant second placers despite their existence outlasting that of the Montreal-based band. Their style, featuring orchestral arrangements and a wide band featuring two lead singers, male and female, resemble Arcade Fire very closely. However, despite the comparisons, Stars still out-shined their counterparts in terms of meshing those two voices. Win & Regine hardly connected on tracks, always detached from one another. Torquil Campbell & Amy Millan commence chatter back and forth, loop over each other, and sing in duets all in the span of one track. 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' has always been the best example of their talents, as swelling segments of strings, harps, and chords muscle their way through the momentous event of reconnecting with an Ex and the ensuing turmoil.

The perspective both Campbell and Millan play out resembles that of a tear-jerking romantic film, as the realization that both have moved on respectively, yet fail to admit their wrongs, implies that the one person you formerly loved is now dead, no longer the person you once fell in love with. The construction of the song, with violins, pianos, and guitars building only to a subtle depletion, instigate the song even further, as if the production itself is trying to make the relationship ever-lasting once again, only for the singers to thinly remove the veil of their failures. Their pacing as well, singing along with one another, shows how deeply invested the couple was, mimicking their movements, still unaware of their intense attraction with each other. At the end of the story the pair utter that they're "not sorry, there's nothing to save," both agreeing upon the failed relationship, yet equally saddened by its departure. 

Animal Collective - Kids On Holiday
Sung Tongs

Before Animal Collective garnered wide-spread attention for Merriweather Post Pavilion they were known simply as the two kids (then just Avey Tare and Panda Bear) creating music so unorthodox and unique that any thought that it might be 'bad' was thrown out the window for its immense likability. However, while there were some tracks immensely difficult to sparse through, some could be enjoyed by simply lying back and listening the simplistic constructions gloss over you. Take 'Kids On Holiday,' a song Tare wrote after seeing the inner-workings of airplane terminals from extensive touring. One could easily picture him reclined in his seat, glancing at the passing pedestrians, as he softly strums his guitar, hand-picking events to discuss. It was this free-forming nature to their music that garnered them adoration for their creativity alone. 

Just as the song begins to drone off, with the acoustic guitar waning, Panda Bear jolts the listener with his "holiday!" chant, joining Tare's more reserved groaning. And just like that, Panda Bear vanishes, much like a child running by Tare in the terminal catching up to his parents, awaiting his excitement to go on holiday vacation. The little things Animal Collective match with their over-arching tunes are what places them above the rest in terms of quirky, alternative bands. Rumblings of neighboring discussions leak into the songs construction, laughs from jokes being told far away ripple through the speakers, and constant crackling static from the amplifier loops itself throughout. The incorporation of these sounds would be detrimental to a normal band's image, yet here it only heightens Animal Collective's allure. 

Madvillain - All Caps

The pairing of MF DOOM and Madlib still remains one of the greatest pairings in Hip-Hop, opening doors for collaboration albums left and right. Madvillainy was a no-holds bar on alternative Hip-Hop, deconstructing the term itself, flipping it inside-out. 'All Caps' was the pinnacle of that project, both sonically-superior and the climax to the album as a whole. From the opening cartoon interlude seguing into the hard-hitting, rumbling drums that cascade through each other, hammering in their antique feel, 'All Caps' brings the best of both the emcee and producer. The muddled flute that transforms into a blaring trumpet, the constant oft-kilter pausing, and the insistent infestation of comic book samples clog the song with density, giving it an old-timey feel in the process. 

DOOM however, not to be out-shined, spits one of his most well-known verses ever. The conclusion, "just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man's name" is used far and wide to discount fakers who don't appreciate the artists enough to enlarge his moniker. He rattles off battling phony rappers in the streets, having the game rigged, and never going pop, in the literal and metaphorical sense. The combination of DOOM's and Madlib's talents make 'All Caps' a truly timeless classic, sounding similar to nothing released in 2004, or ever. It's as if Hip-Hop had existed in the early 20th century, complete with static-filled music recorders and crackly voices. 

Arcade Fire - Wake Up

While one could argue Funeral is a collection of high's, never faltering in any aspect of it's creation, 'Wake Up' would still, as it is now, stand as the crowning jewel. To this day it remains the voice of a lost generation. Song's come and go so quickly now-a-days that any meaningful impact a single entity can enjoy would slip through most listeners' grasp. 'Wake Up' struck a chord with nearly all 20-something's lost in the 21st century. You can see it physically, attending concerts across the globe, as Arcade Fire closes with 'Wake Up' every time. Those 'kids' back in the day are now adults, crying profusely over the song's climatically grandiose movements. To them, it's more than just another track on one of the decade's most seminal albums, it's a message for their generation, one constantly seeking out one. 

'Wake Up' on its crust may be a song about growing up, moving past our childlike ways, but one would be naive to believe that's all it aimed so high for. In fact, Arcade Fire's goal, as seen in the title itself, was to awaken those to the problems surrounding them. They weren't criticizing children for failing to own up to their mistakes, they were to the adults, never able to move past such childish ways. We were told to be mature from a young age, to not cry, not feel anything, before we eventually turned into clones of everyone else. Sure, escaping the ignorance will remove you from the bliss, but it will also allow you to escape the conformity society has thrust upon our youth. And what better way to accomplish said message through one of the most inspirational songs of our time. A rousing guitar riff, known around the world, kicks things off, as gospel-like chants fill the arena, sending shock waves through the wide-eyed listeners. It's ironic that 'Wake Up' appears on Funeral, for the two terms are quite contradictory. The death of others, loved ones, sometimes allows for the best chance at seeing the negativity the world has to offer. 

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