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“Dolby’s Top 100 Rock Songs of the ’10s”


100 Wheat – “Finding Wings”

I guess I’m letting nepotism shamefully reign here because I’ve never met another fan of this band other than my dad. As it turns out, at least, we do have different favorite albums by them, his being Hope and Adams and mine being the grittier and more textural ’97 debut Medeiros and this ’15 effort Wishing Good Things for the World, which is classified as an EP technically but unloads more than an album’s worth of lucid guitar interwoven into poignant melodies and themes.

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99 Califone – “Magdalene”

I think without a doubt some of the best music is borne from bands with members who were in prior, well-publicized bands before. How about J. Mascis’ unruly metal outfit Witch, for example? And while we’re on Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh is no slouch either. Califone is another of such instances, with Tim Rutilli having manned them helm of the indie lo-fi Red Red Meat in the ’90s, to settle into the folkier, more expansive and ultimately superior Califone charging out of the gate in the 2000s. “Magdalene” is the undeniable centerpiece on their only album from last decade, the excellent Stitches, strolling along with an eclectic instrumental foray but more importantly, their bulbous pop sensibility that makes this music perennially playable.

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98 Grizzly Bear – “gun-shy”

Sort of a sister track to the similarly midtempo, deceptively spooky “Yet again,” “gun-shy” tiptoes along with some quintessential Grizzly Bear majesty you might have observed on sovereign predecessor Veckatimest and also boasts one of the most mind-fu** music videos you’re ever likely to see.

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97 Beirut – “A Candle’s Fire”

The Rip Tide from 2011, contrary to what lots of people might think, is this band’s finest hour, with their baroque hooks and instrumentation pared down to something noticeably pliable and listenable within radio settings or solitude alike. Everything got more bubbly and Beach Boys-leaning, too, like this opener that rests on juicy but reflective major chords and seems to emanate wisdom and steely-eyed maturity: “But don’t forget a candle’s fire / Is only just a flame”.

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96 Surfer Blood – “Floating Vibes”

This album opener on the debut Astro Coast by this South Florida band seems to play as a career snapshot within one song: “If you’re moving out the West / Then you better learn how to surf”. Now, there’s lots to unpack here in the way of them being obviously an anti-Beach Boys to an ominous extent and holding with tongue-in-cheek homicidal disposition the cultural entity (surfing) that stole their significant other from them, but what matters is that it’s catchy, explosive power pop steeped in The Strokes and The Clash and pretty much everyone in the room should agree on it, despite its apparent dark undertones, which come across as playful anyway.

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95 Beach House – “Used to Be”

Within this undeniably classic album Teen Dream, it’s almost a toss up as to which songs in particular you’d select to typify it, but I gravitate to this one for the tense, but simple melody and the tenacious way the lyrics have of zooming in on personal insecurity and calamity toward something that becomes anthemic in its own way, as unfortunate as the rudiments of the message may be.

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94 The Hives – “Midnight Shifter”

I’m not sure what it was but something told me when I saw the Lex Hives (2012) CD at our library that it would be a knockout — it was just so sparsely hyped, so little attention was paid to it, that I thought the result couldn’t help but manufacture some vigor. Sure enough, these songs are inspired and completely fun, like the sardonically America-chafing “I Want More” and this emphatic closeur, where we even get some rare humility and introspection out of Pelle Almqvist, intriguingly enough.

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93 Wheat – “Two Dollar Bill”

If you had to pinpoint what skyrockets lots of these Wheat songs into classic status it might be something like the “Gaslight Anthem” rule that Kyle Hornby discussed in the Handwritten liner notes — it’s transcendence through simplicity and understandability, as these songs embrace simple, direct chord progressions and exude honesty in the lyrics. Well, that is, though, to discredit the gorgeous and wacky instrumentation of this spliced keyboard riff that runs wild like a potent gazelle all over this cut.

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92 Wolves in the Throne Room – “Thuja Magus Imperium”

Hailing from a town, Olympia, Washington, that’s got a reputation for taking pride in stripping things down to the extent of bordering on stylistic anemia, Wolves in the Throne Room take a bold step into the unorthodox with some unruly 10-minute monsoons of cranking metal. The explosive Celestial Lineage lays the groundwork for their m.o. more than aptly, stretching out its dark wings somewhat like a slower, even more ominous incarnation of Mastodon.

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91 Green Day – “Wild One”

What’s funny about a lot of these newer Green Day cuts that manage to be gripping in some way is that they’re good for the very same reason, and with the very same means (even down to the specific band size and members) that they were in the ’90s — Billie Joe Armstrong just finds some way to enliven and make fresh this same old pop-punk playbook, which I guess is all the more indication that he’s found what he’s supposed to do in life.

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90 Radiohead – “Daydreaming”

This A Moon Shaped Pool album I have to say took a while to grow on me, I think because it’s not really a stylistic left turn for the band (a band known widely for their obstinate insistence on making stylistic left turns whenever possible). The methods and sonic rudiments are subtler than one might have thought, typified by this tiptoeing second track “Daydreaming,” which portrays a puppet of the corporate, globalized world, issuing the tragic, subservient missive of “We’re happy just to serve you”.

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89 The National – “Demons”

With where we’re at now and rock music in this decade at hand pretty much fully subsumed in its cask of “retro,” the instrumentation and blueprint settle onto themselves as selfsame but it’s the ability of the music to morph into something hypnotic and internalized, that still gives it meaning, as on this second track of Trouble Will Find Me, an album which allotted a zealous amount of unorthodox meters as you’ll find here.

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88 Lower Dens – “Propagation”

This band’s 2012 album Nootropics, the more I think about it, bears a lot of commendable similarities to Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica, for its knack for stretching out as an atmospheric experience that seems to mimic nature itself. But where Antarctica has got that sense of steely chill making it perfect for winter listens (and even offering a song called “The Cold Part” which furnishes the mantra of “So long to this cold cold part of the world”), Nootropics for whatever reason plays to me as the perfect fall piece, all rustic and serene, perhaps also foreboding in its nonchalant finality.

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87 Interpol – “Complications”

As hard as this Marauder album hit when it sprung on us in ’18, and as long as it had been since their last album, I was still pretty miffed to find Paul Banks disbanding Interpol in favor of a side project this year, because this current landscape we’re living in of widespread calamity seems perfectly tailored for Interpol’s aggressive, expressionist approach to indie rock where it seems like everything can collapse at any time and Paul Banks’ voice even conjures apocalyptic sentiment. I mean just observe this song and how he can take an episode of someone “Sidlin’ up to me” and make it sound like it’s the last meaningful thing that person will ever do in life’s entirety.

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86 Sharon Van Etten – “No One’s Easy to Love”

Sharon Van Etten’s album from last year, Remind Me Tomorrow, seems like a sort of sociological hiccup to me just for the fact that it’s so remarkably good, like on the level roughly of Exile in Guyville, yet still almost nobody seems to have heard it and we’re entrenched hopelessly in this era that seems to have it in for rock music for the sheer churlish desire to gravitate to things that are fresh just for freshness’ sake. It’s also unlike anything Van Etten had ever done before in her own career, though, with this proud second track spewing out this hard-edged guitar tone that’s closer to industrial (it reminds me a lot of “Ava Adore” for a couple reasons) than the cutesy, acoustic pathos with which indie rock is apparently so condescendingly associated.

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85 PJ Harvey – “The Colour of the Earth”

You might say PJ Harvey’s astonishing masterpiece of 2011 Let England Shake is a concept album about the imperious violence and bloodshed associated with the history of England, her home country, hence rendering individual song listens somewhat incomplete. Anyhow, closeur “The Colour of the Earth” is gripping and notable for its own part for a couple reasons, from the vocals introduced solely by John Parish, to the stark, simple but effective chord progression to the haunting closing statements of the album: “If I were asked I’d tell / The colour of the earth that day / It was dull and browny red / The color of blood I say”. Does it feed our lowbrow craving for tragedy that dates back to Sophocles? I guess that’s a discussion for a different time.

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84 Band of Skulls – “Bruises”

Even though Southampton’s Band of Skulls retained producer Ian Davenport for their sophomore effort, the underrated Sweet Sour, the switch of label or just the sheer notoriety of their debut must have catalyzed some positive change in their studio budget because this sucker is THICK. “Bruises” follows the teeming and tenacious opening title track with some faux-blues alternative rock drawing influence from The Strokes and The Black Keys among others but more than anything just cranking out some serious rock sound.

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83 The Black Angels – “I’d Kill for Her”

Austin’s The Black Angels came roaring back in 2017 with Death Song, an album whose importance in their catalogue is theoretically obviated by the fact that their name apparently comes from the Velvet Underground song “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” “I’d Kill for Her” follows the majestic and mighty, Led Zeppelin-siphoning opener “Currency” with some typical haunting, otherworldly vocals from Alex Maas, made all the more powerful for what they’re talking about.

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82 Wheat – “C’mon Song”

Wheat’s comeback album from 2015 Wishing Good Things for the World imparted itself to the world 18 years after the band’s debut, so it should hardly be surprising that by this point they’re veritable studio masters, blending the sounds of guitar and synth until the two are barely discernable from each other. In general, Wishing Good Things is a seven-song, thirty-minute snapshot that does a great job of weaving new-fangled, eclectic instrumentation through the band’s storied default of the crisp, terse and decisive pop song.

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81 Liars – “Proud Evolution

Liars’ intimidating, menacing approach to constructing a rock song continued on this Sisterworld album track, thick with hypnotic bass, some angular and skittish drumming and lyricist Angus Andrew’s typical foreboding self, declaring that there are “A hundred million potholes / You can step in without knowing that you have”. The song acts as a nice respite of something almost approaching drone between various sessions of virulent mania flooding much of the rest of this LP.

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80 Eat Fire Spring – “One Horse Town”

Hearing this song, it’s hard to believe the Greenfield, Massachusetts band is only on its self-titled debut. This sucker is swirling with fully developed emotion and gorgeous, textural guitar sound, likening itself more to All That You Can’t Leave behind than a primitive dry run like Boy or October. It’s the way it leans on emo, though, for its catchiness and earnest life portrayal, while still fomenting the sound into something pastoral and sophisticated, that really marks it.

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79 Real Estate – “Talking Backwards”

It seems that stunning, celestial guitar sound is starting to become a recurring theme of the songs on this list. Well, it makes sense, with rock being such an underdog genre by this time, that it would require the most potent sonic buoys to keep it afloat at all. But while so many have lunged toward puerile humor and misanthropic theatrics within the form, throughout history, Real Estate stake a focused, steady claim to honest plaints of an awkward white dude, the beautiful background music of the band providing the perfect backdrop for Martin Courtney’s brooding lyrical melancholy.

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78 Ride – “Repetition”

Typically labeled as “shoegaze” in their salad days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, Oxford band Ride pump back in in 2019 with This is Not a Safe Place, an album full of snarly, riffy grooves that let the drums take the sonic forefront, like a more approachable metamorphosis of industrial. “Repetition” kind of has this hazy gravity about it, alluring for its simplicity and infectious hypnotic aspect about it, as well as the lines “They want you just to repeat and stay the same / Even though repetition is a form of change”.

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77 Deerhunter – “Fountain Stairs”

This ended up being the only song from Halcyon Digest that made this list, in a way notable for the very fact that it’s difficult to define, in all its self-content, midtempo pace and slacker lyrics depicting disappointment that leads to a gratifying soiree with hallucinogens. “Fountain Stairs” comes sandwiched between the other best tracks on the album, “Helicopter” and “Coronado,” and does ample justice to their statures.

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76 Lower Dens – “Alphabet Song”

What kind of drum beat IS that that opens this song? I think I’ve listened to this record at least 100 times and have yet to fully figure out what’s going on with the opening percussion rhythm on the opener. The only thing clear is that it comprises a programmed beat flanking some wondrously rich guitar and vocal sounds, which was the first thing that struck me about this band, the depth and melodic grace of Jana Hunter’s vocals then only growing more sultry with each ensuing listen, or so it seems.

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75 The Maccabees – “Ribbon Road”

Britain existed in this past decade as a sort of ulterior universe where people still made rock music, made it big, grandiose and indulgently emphatic. Appropriately enough, I learned of this band from my subscription to NME, which the publication offered free of charge at the time before waning to online only in 2018. And while some bands reverted to retro punk or surf rock in the teens, this English scene seems like the antithesis thereof, shamelessly melancholy, melodic and faux-poignant, with some of its constituents like The Macabees ballooning into something relatively hypnotic almost by default.

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74 Interpol – “The Rover”

In a strange sort of irony, the second track on Interpol’s last album marks a similarity to Led Zeppelin’s tune of the same name and the same album positioning (on Physical Graffiti) for its bent toward isolating a simple but adamant guitar riff and letting it define the overall moxie of the song. Things only get more stalwart from there, with the off-kilter, stomp-style drum beat undergirding some serious, almost deafening bass fuzz to help make this Interpol’s best album since Turn on the Bright Lights.

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73 No Age – “Send Me”

2018’s Snares Like a Haircut was a much welcomed return for the band to things exploratory, expansive and arguably even psychedelic, from what had become the sort of poker-faced, stubbornly simplistic “punk” rubric they were tied to on former label Sub Pop. For their subsequent album on Thrill Jockey there’s a palpable sense of freedom and progress, with big, undulating sounds and songs that still seem to conjeal around the requisite classic choruses like this one, a song which also furnishes a great music video to its name.

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72 The Dodos – “Transformer”

I have to say my admiration for San Francisco’s The Dodos has continued to grow for some time now, since I first realized the greatness of a full album listen to their ’08 breakthrough Visiter. Since then, each of their albums has seemed to offer at least one defining wrinkle that makes it stand out, in the case of 2013’s Carrier this being a sort of surreal, somber vibe that ends up being a perfect soundtrack for fall. The band’s arpeggio guitar riffs only get more complex and verbose and yet the music is simultaneously simpler, or just surer, full committed to its own hazy and narcotic atmosphere.

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71 The National – “England”

In a way “England” seems like the benchmark of rock in the ’10s because of its grand, orchestral instrumentation of piano, organ and strings, particularly in terms of how countless bands like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons would see fit to write these nauseatingly self-important songs that seemed to throw out the notion of “not taking yourself too seriously” and adhere shamelessly to their own personal mission in life, and particularly in matters of the heart. Well, the chorus of this song goes “Famous angels never come to England”, so I think we can see which party takes the more creative approach to lyric writing pretty plainly here.

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70 PJ Harvey – “Written on the Forehead”

My first impression of PJ Harvey’s 2011 tour de force Let England Shake was getting wind of the glowing Pitchfork review of it (before which I hadn’t even known Harvey HAD a new album in the works, a testament to her typical refreshing lack of hype). For this reason, it’s hard to form a completely objective opinion but I will say that through copious engrossed listens to it this cut was the first to really jump out at me, a stark and shocking faux-reggae update on and sample of Niney the Observer’s dreadlocked “Blood and Fire.”

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69 Modest Mouse – “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)”

For a long time this 2015 album Strangers to Ourselves really flew under the radar for me, partly because the first track just isn’t all that substantial or important (I really think Isaac Brock has some self-consciousness issues, likely the impetus behind that unfortunate remixing of The Moon & Antarctica, already a near-perfect album). This track four emerges as if nothing else at least the most unique song on the LP and one that to the greatest extent marks a stylistic maturation of the band, in this case earmarking a bizarre left turn into industrial in a song that takes on the perspective of a rapist.

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68 Sharon Van Etten – “Don’t Do it”

Sharon Van Etten’s “debut” was actually an EP, which as we know is probably hardly the fast track to superstardom but does go a certain way in typifying the genuine, independent artist for whom cranking out songs is more meaningful than being some competitive sport, as it were. Epic, though, plays with the ample depth of a classic album, with this brooding number handling the topic of a suicidal friend mired in a noxious world of self-destructive impulses, the music itself in a sense mimicking Up-era R.E.M. in its simple pop poignancy and disarming clarity.

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67 Green Day – “Oh Love”

To be fair, around the beginning of last decade I’d wrongfully written off 21st Century Breakdown as having NO good songs on it (there are “Know Your Enemy” and “21 Guns,” after all), so to me “Oh Love” was a true “return to form” that was immediately powerful and palatable and got my head nodding genuinely along right away when I’d hear it on rock radio. This trio of albums from 2012 Uno, Dos and Tre would then prove to offer more memorable pop nuggets than they’d get credit for, with their obvious quantity-over-quality predicament probably having something to do with that.

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66 The Hives – “Patrolling Days”

2012’s Lex Hives was fast, but not quite as fast as the band’s first two albums. It was raucous, too, obviously, but not quite as raucous as the first two albums either. How it made up for this, though, was a sharper, more punishing sense of humor than ever, as on this bizarre 100-yard dash of pop-punk featuring the lines in the chorus “My patrolling days are over / And I ain’t shot nobody since”. Notice too even how Pelle Almqvist, who hails with the rest of his band from Sweden, understands the use of colloquial English even as a satire, apart entirely from the seminal cultural vanguard.

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65 Dirty Projectors – “That’s a Lifestyle”

2018’s Lamp Lit Prose was vintage Dirty Projectors all the way through for David Longstreth’s way of sounding enthusiastic and eccentric but also supremely damaged, as if knowing that he has to be so complicated in order to do justice to his band, which pummels out fully-developed, rhythmic art rock with the authority and eclectic complexity of the Talking Heads, another New York band.

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64 Blur – “Thought I Was a Spaceman”

Blur stake their claim to being “the next Radiohead” (only 20 years too late) pretty legitimately on “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” which really belies the majority of the prominent and generally trad-rocking comeback album The Magic Whip with some eerie, tiptoeing jazz, and some reference to extraterrestrials. See, I wasn’t joking about this Radiohead thing.

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63 The Gaslight Anthem – “Boxer”

Brian Fallon and company seemed to almost become more themselves than ever on 2010’s American Slang, which is part of why I think this album could be a little hard to get into at first — they’re so free of gimmick as a pop-punk band that their focus and style can come across as a little plain or off-putting. “Boxer” is undoubtedly one of the more likeable numbers on the album though, maintaining the band’s fixation on FM — “You found the bandages inside the pen / And the stitches on the radio”.

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62 Wilco – “You Satellite”

2015’s Star Wars is a key album in Wilco’s catalogue for at least what I perceive as its marking of a band foray into Velvet Underground songwriting playbook, which, of course, with its obviated simple gravity and magnetic charm, is a feat easier said than done. Certain bands, though, have pulled it off, like The Strokes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, White Rabbits and now these Midwestern good ol’ boys, of all people, with some brilliant dual-textured guitar work and some easy, celestial lyrics about far-off and beautiful things.

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61 Wire – “Red Barked Trees”

More so than a “return to form,” 2011’s Red Barked Tree is nothing more or less than a great folk-rock album by a collective that was once a punk band. Laid out in simple form of guitar, bass and drums, it takes on a more textural and majestic quality just by way of Colin Newman’s vocals, which are rich in timbre and also for their licentious references to things that are at least vaguely psychedelic.

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60 Iceage – “Ecstasy”

Iceage’s second album You’re Nothing from 2013 was a spirited gut punch of good ol’ hardcore punk, with some vocal mania perhaps faded in favor of this remarkably, astonishingly rich guitar sound, where the guitar and bass seems played and recorded through the same channel and so positioned in lockstep as if going to war, which is exactly what this album does from front to back.

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59 Soundgarden – “A Thousand Days before”

“A Thousand Days before” from 2012’s King Animal is more or less a song that could have popped up one of the band’s albums from the ’90s — it’s got the same trippy guitar sound from Kim Thayil and the same habit of plotting down a routine riff to lead into an explosive, cathartic chorus. Now, certainly this could be taken as an instance of “rehash” and truly it indeed is, to an extent, but sh** Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley are dead and Pearl Jam definitely haven’t summoned up this much stately, polymorphous power since about Vitalogy or so.

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58 Liars – “Cred Woes”

For Liars’ last album, 2017’s TFCF (a moniker for “theme from crying fountain”), the band was down to just a solo project of Angus Andrew, the departure of longtime bandmate Aaron Hemphill prompting Andrew to don a wedding dress for the cover, as if to signify a bride who’s been stood up. Now, short of commenting on the oddly androgynous aspect of this event given that Liars’ music tends to be pretty virile, straight-ahead punk rock without much of a camp tinge which would theoretically spawn cross-dressing, it’s interesting to note that the basic premise of TFCF is a general theme of heartbreak, with said theme morphing into the fictional perspective of a disgruntled retail worker, in this tune, with the mantra-like chorus of “I push down all my terrible thoughts inside”.

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57 Band of Skulls – “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”

The British blues-rock duo Band of Skulls belt out an emphatic anthem and arguably their best song on track four of 2012’s Sweet Sour, a tune that dissipates into furious punk combustion in its latter part but for the majority maintains a steady, White Stripes-harkening groove that seems every bit menacing enough to warrant the diabolical message.

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56 Born Ruffians – “Ocean’s Deep”

Ontario band Born Ruffians made the kind of music that was so spirited and free of stylistic shtick that it would seem to shove all that anti-indie discourse right back in the detractors’ faces — this is music that’s defiantly fun, with textural and gorgeous vocals from frontman Luke Lalonde, and probably could have been a smash hit summer rock anthem had it come out in the ’90s when there was more of a market for that sort of thing.

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55 The Dismemberment Plan – “White Collar White Trash”

I find it completely stupefying the lack of enthusiasm for this last Dismemberment Plan release Uncanney Valley (one publication even said it lacked “maturity,” as if rock and roll is supposed to be some corporate board meeting or something). A couple things are sure, anyway: they had fun making this music and this sucker is eclectic, with this track taking a break from romance and loneliness to parody the mind of an upwardly mobile womanizer who incessantly craves carnal conquest. It’s got the spirit of punk rock while also unfurling a wealth of flavorful sounds.

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54 The Shins – “It’s Only Life”

Those dirty dogs, The Shins… this album Port of Morrow from 2012 is literally like SO CLOSE to being a stale project in rehashed rock influences, and yet so far, with these songs always more gorgeous and busier than you can remember from your last listen, and with the subsequent shift into electro-pop on 2017’s Heartworms, probably just in time.

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53 Theory of a Deadman – “Rx (Medicate)”

I’ve heard a couple people in my life talk about this weird phenomenon where a really catchy pop song can SEEM FAMILIAR even if you’ve never heard it before and I think that process it at work to an extent on “Medicate,” a ridiculously addictive venting session about how boring life is and how much Tyler Connolly, lead singer of this Canadian popular rock band, loves drugs.

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52 Julia Holter – “Goddess Eyes II”

On paper it’s certainly a tad hubristic — Julia Holter penning a “Goddess Eyes” suite for her pedagogical benchmark in hazy pop Ekstasis, or which “Goddess Eyes II,” a relatively melodic and approachable alternative to the strange, robotic-sounding “Goddess Eyes I,” comes first, and unloads a music video with close-ups of Holter’s face, and yes her eyes, trapped in this dollhouse about twice the size of her head. But plain and simple, this is some of the most magnetic music of the decade, besting Fiona Apple for sublime pop simplicity and even I think drawing a vague influence from Annie Lennox for a brand of mourning that’s always potent and never clumsy.

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51 The National – “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

Short of ever having ACTUALLY wrapped my head around what this song is about or attempts to say, what I distinctly remember is that High Violet was one of The National’s most personal, unabashedly emotional records to date, buffered with profuse scenes of loneliness and desperation, so that this goofy, satyr-like track at the end acted as a nice sort of release, with its pop simplicity earmarking the cavalier disposition Matt Berninger’s achieved in his songwriting Namaste, if you will.

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50 Surfer Blood – “Anchorage”

Palm Beach band Surfer Blood’s 2010 debut Astro Coast, undoubtedly their creative peak, is a sort of masterpiece in its own right of pop punk, falling within the “indie” realm for its underdog label Kanine and divvying out some crisp, enjoyable hooks and chord progressions to bastion John Paul Pitts’ infectiously cool-guy vocals. “Anchorage,” though, is where we actually get some tension, as the band extend a copious but organized jam to balloon the song to six and a half minutes, hence in a way mimicking the wide-open spaces of Alaska, which the muse at hand apparently needed in order to come to grips with the world again.

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49 Real Estate – “Had to Hear”

Real Estate’s stunningly sublime 2014 return to form Atlas offers the sort of prototypical opener that seems to hypnotize you into an understanding of the whole album’s tone — it’s mournful, reflective and gorgeous, all at the same time, walking on eggshells with some top-of-the-line guitar sound and some anxiety-inducing lyrics about calling up an old acquaintance you haven’t talked to in too long and feeling the poignancy and gravity of that situation.

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48 Dean Wareham – “The Dancer Disappears”

The only solo album from Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean and Britta) is pretty luke warm but is front-loaded with this gem, overproduced as the rest of the project but at least willing to part with a brilliant hook and chord progression or two, for the textbook, faux-humorous indie pop outlay.

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47 Soundgarden – “Blood on the Valley Floor”

I liken some of the sessions on Soundgarden’s 2012 comeback roar King Animal to some of their choicest material from the ’90s and the reason, ironically, is its bare, honest grit, with songs like this one pumping forth without a lot of production fluff, confident in their simple but powerful statements that seem to represent an eerie spaciousness and penchant for bloodletting.

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46 The Dodos – “Bastard”

This 2015 album Individ came along and really just hypnotized me from start to finish, as this band has a general knack for doing — the two man groove of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber is as robust and infectious as ever and it’s their savvy way of avoiding cliché and overwrought emotion that makes them a repeatedly enjoyable listen. And insofar as they write “ballads” under any circumstances, “Bastard” might qualify as one, though it’s more like taking the lights down to tell a good ghost story, in musical form.

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45 Blur – “I Broadcast”

I’m sure I’ve related this tired old tale numerous times on this blog but here’s for just one more: when I first checked out this CD at the library I thought the band’s name was “Blurt” because of the artist name sort of meshing into the title of “The Magic Whip,” so when I started nodding my head and declaring “this rocks,” I guess you couldn’t accuse me of pretentious Britpop coddling, or whatever. “I Broadcast” is the quintessential The Magic Whip track, straight ahead, bold and triumphant, and destined to be considered “classic rock” in 20 years.

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44 The Maccabees – “Kamakura”

We now move on to another London band The Macabees who I think offer a typifying glimpse into the wealth of poignant, slightly self-important but pretty well inspired popular rock music that was being made in Britain in last decade. Little did I know on my subscription to NME in 2015 I’d be thrust into the eye of this storm, with this particular act offering a little more stylistic variation than most, as on “Kamakura” which struts forth with an infectious bass groove but still seems capable of dissolving into Verve-like fragility at any point.

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43 PJ Harvey – “On Battleship Hill”

Just a random story about this song, for lack of other ideas, is that on this on 72-mile bike ride back in 2011 I had a downhill, downwind first half and then one he** of a second half, with this song creeping into my head for those tough miles and its repeated mantra of “Cruel nature is what I get”. As is Harvey’s usual calling card, the chord progression is brilliant, with lithe ambulation between major and minor to convey the sort of mood that’s unreachable with words.

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42 Iceage – “Coalition”

Short of getting into any semantics about where exactly You’re Nothing (2013) positions itself within the canon of punk rock, this music is just infectious and full of energy, to where it more than justifies its own existence by its raw, charismatic presence. And really with this band they’re like a speeding train that’s racing by too fast for me to notice the words but that’s just the way I like them and that’s just what music needed in this age when everybody seemed to want to pound another nail into the grave of indie rock.

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41 The Walkmen – “Angela Surf City”

To be honest I’ve been stuck on “Angela Surf City” for a few days now and sure it’s humbling what with its explosion of maniacal guitar and its curious mix of metaphor and banality in the lyrics. But there’s something else: when this album came out I don’t think it was fully valued and it’s aged well and it’s almost not even like it went underappreciated until now but rather the music had a certain acknowledgement of its own stylistically anachronistic DNA, to where now that it actually is 10 years removed, that intrinsic frustration strikes a nerve in the listener and it all starts to make sense.

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40 Radiohead – “Decks Dark”

Legend has it that a lot of these songs on A Moon Shaped Pool were actually written way back in the band’s “alternative-rock days,” as it were, of around the contemporariness of Pablo Honey and The Bends, as is the case with “Nude” which pillared the third slot on In Rainbows, the way this one does on Pool. Bizarrely, this one wasn’t issued as a single and ergo doesn’t boast a Wikipedia page designated especially for it but the songwriting gravity and lilting melodies are there 100%, indeed somewhat like a chic, updated take on “High and Dry” or whatever ’90s selection you’d like to name.

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39 Steve Gunn – “Paranoid”

A stalwart, protrusive Neil Young influence seems to simmer in this folk-rock classic The Unseen in between from 2019, with one relatable talking point being Gunn’s fixation on the rural, as in the mention of “dunes” on this number, and the wide-open, spatial anatomy these songs assume. But things are done cleanly and professionally all over this LP, which is sort of refreshing in a way, bespeaking effort and attention, and Gunn seems to almost sing in a British accent on this tune as if to pay homage to tradition, as a way of tempering the noxious emotion involved in losing his father the year before.

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38 Liars – “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant”

Angus Andrew probably wasn’t, uh, having a great day when he wrote this song: undeniable anyway is its singularity within their catalogue via its direct, cinematically bloodlusting declarations and its string riff that seems like a twisted cross between the theme music from Jaws and Psycho. In general, I find Sisterworld a little awkward and somewhat of an acquired taste, but this would probably be the centerpiece, or at least the vituperative climax.

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37 Julia Holter – “Fur Felix”

“Fur Felix” closes out side A on Holter’s textural pop masterpiece Ekstasis from 2012 with some instrumentation mania involving cello, bells percussion and God knows what else, offering then a nice shift in theme midway through ushered in by something that sounds like a treated harpsichord. The music’s calling card, though, is the way it conjeals into something infectious and catchy nonetheless, probably a viable radio hit if not for its obstinate, astonishing eccentricity.

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36 Wilco – “Citizens”

It’s kind of hard to call 2019 and 2020 a “golden era” of, shall we say, cognizant rock and roll, because there’s really no central STYLE common to all of it. It’s just kind of a ton of really vital albums plopped into our laps at one time and Ode to Joy is no exception, also notable for its ardent adhesion to a sort of narcotic tranquility typified beautifully on the simple and glorious “Citizens.”

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35 Deerhunter – “Pensacola”

It’s almost with a tinge of hatred I spotlight this tune because of what to me has been such an uninspired, glazed-over disposition the band’s taken to writing and recording their last two albums, but with this being the case I suppose “Pensacola” acts as a BOOKEND of sorts to the band’s vital material and indeed there is a kind of charming finality and almost a juvenility about its histrionics, as if a reversion to a childlike state and that sort of innocent freedom were a natural progression in life.

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34 Stephen Malkmus – “Rushing the Acid Frat”

Running this song along the work he had been engulfed in in the Jicks, I’m not sure but I think I sense a more pliant, intricate mix at work here, so as to showcase the vague psychedelia at work in this deliberate frat-rock album (and would be implied by the title, I suppose). As well, the lyrics seem more personal in a cavalier, excitingly narcissistic sort of way, as if he’s less self-conscious being freed from the shackles of his old band.

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33 The Dandy Warhols – “Autumn Carnival”

After the total disasters that were Welcome to the Monkey House and Odditorium or Warlords from Mars, the Dandies piped back in with at least a couple of listenable numbers on This Machine (two more than I’d thought had been in their palette at this point), with this tune taking the fore and even wielding a budding Elliott Smith influence, both in music and in subject matter, calling to mind the latter’s “Rose Parade” in theme.

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32 The Black Angels – “Currency”

“Currency” launches the Angels’ 2017 return to form Death Song with some stock, readymade grunge riffing and spooky, almost serene vocals from Alex Maas, hence slotting it close stylistically to the type of the thing this Austin band has made its m.o. from the start. The sureness and confidence of it sells it though as well the haunting observation on life that it seems to for some revolve around “currency” and “Someday it’ll all be over”.

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31 White Rabbits – “Hold it to the Fire”

“Hold it to the Fire” is the first sign of the ability of this band’s 2012 album Milk Famous to explode into lasting pop zeal, laying down a couple psychedelic melodies that pretty much approximate an expedited update on My Morning Jacket’s Z, all over an infectious bassline that pillars the whole song quite sturdily.

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30 No Age – “Dusted”

And then in “Dusted,” track 10 on 2010’s Everything in between, we have a remarkable and also remarkably simple instrumental from the LA duo which now seems to have somewhat of a proclivity for songs without words, with Sound Field Vol. 1 and the instrumental-doling Goons Be Gone under their belts.

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29 Liars – “Drip”

In order to enjoy the song “Drip” by Liars I would think you’d have to generally be a lover of indie rock and of albums as contiguous listens. Its basic blueprint is a down, almost ambient kind of “interlude” track similar to “Treefingers” or Women’s “Bells,” then coming to life with this tickling and simple but poignant wood block rhythm and the vocal interrogative of “When will I awake / From this dormant sleep?”

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28 The Gaslight Anthem – ““45””

“45” lets 2012’s Handwritten rip in cocksure style, a quintessential Gaslight Anthem 100-yard-dash of stalwart pop-punk and weaving in imagery and implications of change and renewal: “And all my friends say… See you on the flipside / There you go / Turn the key and engine over”.

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27 The Hives – “I Want More”

So this is the last time on this list I guess that I’ll bore you with my age-old story about how this 2012 Hives expedition Lex Hives was just SO undeniably unhyped and red-headed-step-childish that I just knew it would rock, and how it hovers around this uproariously caustic parody of Americans: “I want sh** that’s made in India / Incense gold and mir… Is it enough? / I want more”.

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26 tUnE-yArDs – “Wooly Wolly Gong”

Despite my modest background in writing I’m actually kind of a numbers guy so when I see that this song is ranked 26th on my list (I’m liable to re-rank these songs 50 times before finalizing the order) it sort of tickles me because it’s a song for BEING 26 to — it’s Merrill Garbus’ lullaby to her daughter, culminating in the gut-wrenching line “How can you keep my bleeding heart wide open?” Don’t listen to it if you’ve applied too much eyeshadow.

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25 The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy”

In a way, 2004’s Rubber Factory was almost like a sensory overload to where it became hard to follow this band because we just HAD enough, we just listened to enough, Black Keys up to that point. Part of it is contextual, too, and 2011’s El Camino with a proud feather in its cap plays as a fine overall decade soundtrack when our rock would become cleaner, more polished and discursively uniform than ever with the likes of The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons and Imagine Dragons dominating the airwaves.

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24 Blur – “Go out”

The Magic Whip doesn’t so much “fit into” Blur’s discography as it does just itself out of the ocean as a volcanic temporal island (being the band’s first album in 12 years since 2003’s inspired, experimental Think Tank) and gather its sinews as nothing more or less than a Blur album, which as this song will attest, is a great thing.

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23 Cat Power – “Horizon”

The back story of this album continues to stupefy and appall me: Matador actually seeking a hit single from Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power (as they’d apparently also done on Sun, a really underwhelming album to my ears) and her ensuing refuge, or “wandering,” to Domino, an imprint that also houses the experimental and deaf-to-radio Dirty Projectors. On the whole, Wanderer is narcotic folk-pop emulating the vein of Wilco’s Ode to Joy, with just slightly more rustic bareness, and “Horizon” is just another platform for Marshall’s warm, genuine crooning that isn’t going nowhere in a while.

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22 Primus – “The Scheme”

Primus put out an album in 2017 in The Desaturating Seven that was very much a trademark within itself: its theme is apparently extrapolated or gleaned from the children’s book The Rainbow Goblins and every title on the album is two words, of which the first word is always “the.” Elsewhere expansive and conspicuously conceptual, it comes to a focused head on “The Scheme,” which I think should have been a hit on rock radio, if it wasn’t: there was a time when this band were pretty precocious denizens of the FM world.

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21 Grizzly Bear – “Yet Again”

Cleaner and perhaps even catchier than anything on the band’s ’09 masterpiece Veckatimest, “Yet Again” shows the band stretching its wings as a premiere constituent of grocery store radio, with hooks and melodies that are wholly viral in their catchiness but lyrics that are also vague and obtuse enough so as to not bog things down or overdo it with the emotion.

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20 Women – “Narrow with the Hall”

Interestingly, given the endless hours that saw me spinning this pale yellow Public Strain CD I scored at Reckless Records in Chicago in 2010 following its release, this is the first Women song I’ve put on this list. But make no mistake, their prowess is two-pronged: because for the extent to which their last album before disbanding via guitarist death is an ode to noise rock sound for noise rock sound’s sake, when they foment things down to a catchy rock anthem, you’re gonna know about it. This cut is kind of the “Black Rice” of this album, that is.

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19 PJ Harvey – “Hanging in the Wire”

I can’t really fully explain why but for some reason this is the cut that made the most impression on me from PJ Harvey’s stunning 2011 offering Let England Shake: it sidles in majestically and in full plumage with gentle high hat, upright bass and piano (yeah I never said it was a System of a Down track) before proceeding to vague lyrics that I think are intriguing for the sureness with which they’re delivered, in light of their almost complete semantic disassembly.

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18 Beach House – “Walk in the Park”

Arguably the finest point of Beach House’s career, “Walk in the Park” is commendable to me for many reasons, such as the nice, syncopated melody in the chorus, the haunting, metaphysical lyrics and just the fact that it’s Victoria Legrand, this gorgeous, 20-something girl, offering something that materializes as this acute message of human sympathy, as if she’s feeling every bit of the pain of this person going through these aging and loneliness travails.

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17 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Even Heroes Have to Die”

The first song I heard off of 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks was “One Polaroid a Day” in Twist and Shout in Denver and I was like wow, this is the best Dandy Warhols song I’ve ever heard. Thankfully, album centerpiece and mortality ambush “Even Heroes Have to Die” finds Leo not crooning in a cool-guy sneer but belting out his vocals with the fiery Irish vigor for which we know him over the years. One troubling misunderstanding I’ve seen repeatedly that perhaps bears mentioning is the idea that in one of the choruses he says “Not even heroes have to die”: it’s actually “Prophesying a doom upon us all / That even heroes have to die”.

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16 Surfer Blood – “Twin Peaks”

“Twin Peaks” is stock Astro Coast all the way with a clean, streamlined rock sound and production belying some gritty chord pop-punk progressions and an approach to songwriting to match, with the lyrics of this cut bequeathing some tough love like “Your sexual advances / Are unconvincing and untrue”. It’s a song by a band from Palm Beach about visiting a girl in Syracuse, sort of similar in this way to The Dismemberment Plan’s northern trek of “Ice of Boston.”

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15 The Walkmen – “Victory”

It’s hard not to name “Victory” as the emotional high point of Lisbon, what with its maniacal declaration of “Victory is right beside me / There’s blood all over my hands / Victory should be mine”. The song shimmies along with swaggering style, anyway, with some quintessentially gorgeous Walkmen guitar sound and a wood block, junkyard percussion m.o.

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14 Meat Puppets – “Incomplete”

In a way it was like finding out there’s no Santa Claus hearing that Curt Kirkwood actually wrote this song way back in the ’90s but to be fair it is probably the only really good song on 2011’s Lollipop album, classic enough in its classic hook and punctilious construction to be carried down through all those years, which you’ll believe from hearing it.

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13 The Jim Jones Revue – “Burning Your House down”

In general I find very little to complain about with Britain’s The Jim Jones Revue, which took an amazingly basic and bare-bones objective set to hewing their surly, fire-spewing blues rock. “Burning Your House down” is the title track on the 2010 album and features what I think is an amazing latter portion in which the robust, devastating chorus is repeated three times before a staunchly gratifying rallenta (which is my attempt at grandiosity by offering the Italian word for “slowing down,” or “relenting”).

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12 The Lucid Furs – “Wait”

It is actually a coincidence that I placed this Detroit blues-rock juggernaut adjacent to TJJR but not by much: The Lucid Furs share the same proclivity for knocking back some beers and rocking out, on this track two of No God No Problem even working in an invigorating tempo change for a revved up, amped up second half that also features this ultra-cool chord progression.

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11 Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”

Once you fall out of love with the texture and narcotic vocal ambience of Smoke Ring for My Halo, “Jesus Fever” remains forever as the obvious classic, a sort of vague ode to twee pop and all its complacent contentedness within its own chord progressions and honest statements and ability to magnify a beatific strum a guitar, within a rhythmic rock song, here and there.

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10 Grizzly Bear – “Sleeping Ute”

On first listen “Sleeping Ute” definitely played like a ringer for a band attempting to outdo itself, which in a way GB had the right to do after the showstopper that was Veckatimest, but ensuing listens reveal a gritty anatomical depth and dedication to the craft to the verbosity of statements and rhythmic complexities. Interestingly, most of the lyrics seem to get buried under all the prog-rock tricks until the final resignation, over near silence: “And I can’t help myself”.

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9 The Dismemberment Plan – “Invisible”

As gratifying and illuminating as it’s been taking in this band’s 2013 album Uncanney Valley and this centerpiece which finds Travis Morrison adopting the perspective of a single dude attempting to find livelihood in New York, it’s been equally scourging such deaf ears on which my praise seems to invariably fall. But this tune features this awe-inspiring stepwise ascending synth riff that governs the whole thing and plays like a cool piece of cinema, perhaps unnecessary but sociological before its authentic take on The Big Apple, too.

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8 Liars – “The Overachievers”

This is just a straight ahead, no-holds-barred, you know what’s coming but can you handle it type of Liars song and I like it for just that, the type of tune that could have well materialized on the band’s grunge breakthrough Liars (2007) but sits within side B of Sisterworld as a sort of welcome anchor for the band’s sound objective.

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7 tUnE-yArDs – “Doorstep”

The flagship tUnE-yArDs song, this tune seems to offer everything that ever makes the indie pop diva great, from robustly rhythmic percussion, honest, heart-rending lyrics and impeccable classical training in melody and note cluster. Actually, it’s a song about police brutality, which you’d think would make it relevant today but my favorite part is the scatting session that ushers in the second chorus, as if the singer has found solace in music to the point where words are unnecessary.

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6 Hot Hot Heat – “Pulling Levers”

In one of the earlier mini-blurbs I mention that The Jim Jones Revue repeat the chorus three times at the end of “Burning Your House down” and interestingly along these lines you’ll find my only complaint about this gorgeous classic from H-cubed: it’s too da** short and actually my exact advice would be to repeat this infectious and awesome chorus not once but twice more at the end. The band who brought us one he** of a spunky and great debut Make up the Breakdown, these guys settle into more of a mature, and strangely aching, groove, for this one, toward its increased prowess.

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5 White Rabbits – “Everyone Can’t Be Confused”

Interestingly enough, it seems to be becoming a theme on this list as I inch toward the top (or bottom, I guess) of these songs that I find really classic wielding the habit of collecting themselves along one simple, hypnotic and sovereign riff, as is the case with this number and its devotion to authoritative and textural piano (it sounds like lone piano notes played through a Leslie but I’m not 100% sure). The Velvet Underground influence is strong within this selection, too, which I’m sure a lot of blogosphere snobs will appreciate.

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4 Radiohead – “Burn the Witch”

I’ll be honest for some reason this album just didn’t jump out at me when I first heard it and the opener and lead single “Burn the Witch” seemed both clichéd and also not to deviate from the prior Radiohead blueprint of angular, ominously jazzy alternative rock songs that leave you scratching your head for like two months afterwards. As time wears on, though, I find that this very element is part and parcel with what makes it so great: it’s the band being completely comfortable in its own skin and with its knack for finding a way to be supremely cathartic while also being supremely discreet.

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3 Lower Dens – “Lion in Winter, Pt. 2”

Speaking of Velvet Underground influence, it’s back in full force without question on this bulbous bastion of 2012’s Nootropics, the band’s undeniable classic in my opinion (pigeonholed as “experimental” by Pitchfork but also ultimately enjoyable and rewarding for this very reason). And… er… there’s the same riff the whole song. I swear I didn’t do this on purpose.

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2 Women – “Locust Valley”

Just to cop, I alluded earlier to my habit of constantly re-ordering these cuts when I make this list and for a long while I had this puppy ranked first, all the while readily and obediently thinking of it as the model for rock in our era what with its angular Radiohead influence of resting on unlikely, tension-spawning chords and notes and in general just refusing to sit down schematically like a squirrel on meth. I mean just listen: it’s hard to explain but it’s the absolute benchmark in new rock originality (R.I.P. to guitarist Chris Reimer who died in the early part of last decade hence precipitating a band breakup) and gratifyingly opaque and metaphor-laden lyricism.

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1 Steve Gunn – “New Familiar”

Before 2019’s output The Unseen in between, I’d had one experience with Brooklyn’s Steve Gunn, which was his 2016 effort Eyes on the Lines and its commendable opener “Ancient Jules” and ensuing habit of thinning out a little bit, artistically. Right away though on 2019’s The Unseen in between I thought I sensed an increased poignancy and intensity to his songwriting disposition, which lo and behold obviously had something to do with his dad’s departure for the afterlife late in 2018. I highly recommend this whole album but to me the zenith is the sublime, inimitable “New Familiar,” which rides a sovereign guitar riff and is guitar lover’s rock music all the way, emanating with the musical richness and raw emotion of Neil Young, but tailoring clean production to its intrinsic, anatomical mightiness and exploding into a monsoon of a guitar solo before finally losing steam and expiring into the night, all the while that same celestial riff supervising the proceedings.

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