The Best Singles of the ’00s

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Best Singles of the 00s

I got this friend named Neil, swears Nixon had a soul

60. !!! – “Me and Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard”
(2003; Touch & Go)

If dancepunk is well and truly dead, at least it left one hell of a good-looking corpse. !!!’s masterstroke is a funky musical version of Short Cuts, a bunch of mini-songs tied together by an overwhelming groove, insouciantly liquid guitars, and Nic Offer’s alternatively sinister and howling lead vocals. Horns pop up at random intervals, cowbells energetically clank (yes, !!! figured out how to do this), and everything rushes along with the sort of musical power that a band only harnesses once or twice if they get real lucky. By the time we get to the weirdly sweet “doo doo doo doo doooooo”s at the end, it’s hard not to feel both absolutely exhilarated and absolutely exhausted. And if you’re not both of those, you haven’t been listening right – in other words, you haven’t been dancing along. Sing it with me – “So if you got hips, shake `em/ And if you got fears, forsake `em…” – Tony Ling

Money can’t buy you back the love that you had then

59. Feist – “1234”
(2007; Polydor)

Another song that found fame within the confines of a commercial, this time, Apple’s iPod made Feist an international phenomenon. Unbeknownst to some, “1234” was not written by Feist. In fact, it was penned by New Buffalo member Sally Seltmann, who composed the song specifically for Feist to sing. I first discovered the song when my fiancée and I went camping for the first time together in Malibu. So whenever I hear the opening strands of “1234” it reminds me of being outside in nature. It’s the perfect pop song, from the opening lyrics Feist captures your romantic imagination and doesn’t let go. Over the years, Feist has updated the arrangement, one of the most famous being her performance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” when Feist was joined by an all-star choir cast of indie rock luminaries to sing the harmonies for her during this electrifying performance. I actually prefer the lo-fi version that Feist performed on the Jools Holland show a few years back. In any incarnation, “1234” like “Yellow,” is a song that hardly ever loses its unique flavor. It’s sweet and timeless, like Feist herself, and you just can never get enough of this little song that could. – Adrian Cepeda

You’ll only leave me dry

58. Grizzly Bear – “While You Wait for the Others”
(2009; Warp)

Watching Grizzly Bear perform “While You Wait for the Others” on Conan O’Brien in April 2008 was a little like being momentarily transported back in time to an era remembered only through the nostalgia induced by provocative hearsay. It was a reminder that the television could actually convey something profoundly emotionally-affecting into your room, something that would stay in your mind for the weeks that followed. And it also announced that the band’s forthcoming follow-up to Yellow House was something to be eagerly and hopefully awaited. The sound of Daniel Rossen’s guitar, the way he delivers the mildly scathing lyrics with a modicum of lackadaisical indifference, the entrance of Ed Droste’s otherworldly voice during the bridge: it all added up (and continues to add up to) nothing short of wonderful. – Tyler Parks

Coming up only to hold you under

57. Band of Horses – “Funeral”
(2006; Sub Pop)

Apparently, there existed in 2007 a niche market for sad bastard, Midwestern (by way of Pacific Northwest) farm rock no one knew about. No one but Band of Horses, of course, and soon after “Funeral” was bandied on every late-night talk show, everyone else gladly caught on. A bitterly anthemic tear-jerker that quickly became like a virtual logo for the Seattle trio, “Funeral” was the five-and-a-half minute sparkling drama that front man Ben Bridwell had been working toward for nearly a decade prior with Carissa’s Weird. While it only captures a small portion of the woodsy amiability that made Everything All the Time one of the year’s best debuts, the song portrays Band of Horses at their most earnest, and for all its cryptic lyrics and chiming guitars, their most heartbreakingly honest. – Dustin Allen

Man it passes right by me, it’s behind me, now it’s gone

56. Animal Collective – “Fireworks”
(2007; Domino)

From what I’ve gathered, it seems that for a number of Animal Collective fans there was a definitive moment when their music just clicked. It might be a fifth (or fiftieth) listen, an accompanying activity, mood, or altered state, or simply a specific album or song that suddenly recasts the band’s previously impenetrable body of work in a completely new light. For me, it was “Fireworks.” Admittedly, I’d only given them a few casual listens at that point, but nothing had struck me with the kind of piercing immediacy that this track overwhelmed me with on first listen. I finally began to understand Animal Collective’s unusual approach to music and truly appreciate what they could achieve with such a bizarre meld of sounds. On “Fireworks,” brilliantly affecting melodies drift atop waves of rich drum work and murky, delayed guitar swirls, eventually building and transforming into a twitching mass of noises, only to softly slip back into pure percussive and melodic bliss. When I hear this song I’m invariably transported back to July 4th, 2007. Images of family, friends, spreads of barbecued food, fireworks displays and memories of random bits of Avey Tare’s twisting, soaring vocals playing in my head over the course of the evening are now firmly interwoven with this irresistible clatter. And that might be the perfect way to experience a song as otherworldly and hypnotic as “Fireworks” – like a dream from the night before, its most vivid moments still latched onto your consciousness – if only it didn’t get better with each additional listen. – Derek Emery

You don’t have to say what you did…I already know

55. Justin Timberlake – “Cry Me A River”
(2002; Jive)

Even if the aftertaste left from the Boy Band era was a most unpleasant one, anyone with even the slightest bit of perspective could have seen that Justin Timberlake would have been the one to break out with the most successful solo career. That said, I’m sure I’m not the only one who was taken aback by just how good his two solo albums would turn out to be. His earliest (and by my calculus, highest) apex was “Cry Me A River,” which has long been interpreted as his “Fuck You Britney” jam. Much has already been made about that already, so I won’t indulge further, but what’s most remarkable here is the perfect synergy between Timberlake’s dramatic, bitter moans and Timbaland’s symphonic production, beats lazily dragging beneath the former N*Sync-er’s awesomely harmonized falsetto. Some have suggested that “What Goes Around/ Comes Around” was JT’s attempt to recreate the magic of this single (which he did successfully), but really, what’s wrong with that? If you can make lightning strike twice, what’s to stop you? – Jeff Terich

Here we are, at the end, before the beginning

54. Broadcast – “Before We Begin” / “Man Is Not A Bird”
(2003; Warp)

That Broadcast is somehow one of the most discordant and most gorgeous pop groups in the UK is quite remarkable. Their first single from second full-length haha Sound was the buzzing, disorienting Kraut-pop of “Pendulum,” an incredible, even somewhat eerie tune. But shortly thereafter, the group issued their prettiest, most tender song, “Before We Begin.” Eschewing the throb of Neu! for the grace of ’60s French pop, Broadcast created a mesmerizing fantasy world where synthesizers can fool the ear into detecting a string section, and the nervous trepidation before a new relationship can be just as romantic as the courtship itself. It’s sheer bliss. And yet, it came paired with a song that bridged the gap between their weirdest and most elegant melodies. “Man Is Not a Bird” is a curious contradiction, rumbling with enormous drums and understated, static-ridden synths. It’s a hallucination of pure ecstasy, but before one gets too comfortable, they end the track on a minute’s worth of Raymond Scott-style cartoon percussion. Only Broadcast could get away with something so bizarre. – Jeff Terich

A moment that is frozen as we hang in time

53. Cut Copy – “Hearts on Fire”
(2007; Modular)

Some have likened “Hearts on Fire” to a DFA production being interrupted by early ’90s hi-NRG. While that’s not too far off the mark, to these ears it more accurately recalled Technique-era New Order, at a time when the Manchester group’s post-punk dance had gone club friendly enough to enter “Club MTV” rotation. Cut Copy’s own amalgam of new wave and disco is a seamless one, always centered on that irresistible dance beat, yet melodic and dreamy. And though, sonically, it’s about 80 percent hedonism, the Australian synth-slingers open up with a tender and emotional chorus, dropping out the percussion temporarily for the refrain, “with heart on fire, I reach out to you tonight.” In fact, the song ended up on my wedding playlist, with my one regret being that we had to leave before it started playing. – Jeff Terich

Eliminate what you can’t repair

52. Deerhunter – “Nothing Ever Happened”
(2008; 4AD)

Microcastle is a musing album, drifting from expansive noise suites to languid art-pop, down through lulling, spectral interludes and back again. And while “Nothing Ever Happened” easily survives as a stand-alone single, it’s a vital hinge for the entire flow of the album, a jolt to the senses before settling into its conclusion, almost like a recap of all the disparate textures that had littered the way. As such, very little of the song is spent formulating hooks and even feels a bit tucked away at the album’s third act. With all its pent-up energy, it’s almost hard to believe that most of the lyrics are stuffed into a brief one-minute window, but for a softly drawn-out bridge before the second half detours into an escalating rush of crushed guitars. Scraped feedback laps over open-ended noise bursts, with Bradford Cox’s finger-tapped solo and a series of three-note descents swapping the lead, until it all eventually breaks into a warped stratum of dense, wiry arpeggios. If “Nothing Ever Happened” is meant to be but a propulsive stop-gap in Microcastle‘s overall trajectory, Deerhunter are sure taking us on one hell of a ride. – Dustin Allen

I’m tired of fighting

51. Beck – “Lost Cause”
(2002; Universal)

Prior to Sea Change, Beck’s discography was a hodgepodge of bohemian goof-ballery, beatbox poetry, harmonica jams and lo-fi stoner pisstakes. A lot of it was really good, of course, and on Mutations, he even turned out one hell of an art-rock album. But bumming out was probably the best thing to happen to him…artistically, of course. And at the center of his masterpiece of Gram Parsons-style folk ballads and Serge Gainsbourg-inspired art-pop was this folk-pop wonder, a heartbreaker of a tune that had its listener crying a tear in his beer in no time flat. Putting aside the pretense momentarily, Hansen finds himself at the center of a deteriorating relationship. He goes back and forth between placing blame (“Baby, you’re a lost cause“) and lamenting the situation altogether (“I’m tired of fighting for a lost cause“), but in the end, he can’t stop the inevitable. It’s beautiful and it’s restrained, but it’s still like a punch to the stomach. – Jeff Terich

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