[Editor’s Note: My Top 21 of the 21st (So Far…) is a retrospective feature where our writers were invited to write a list of top 21 favorite songs, albums or anything else music-related, of the new millennium, explaining why it was picked, or what particular significance it has had over the past ten years. (There is an ongoing debate on whether or not 2000 A.D. counts as part this millennium. For sake of argument, we’re going to go ahead and count it. Hey, a lot of good music came out that year, anyway, so suck it up, and enjoy the feature.)]
While my comrades have given their accounts of favorite songs and albums, I decided to put a spin on my entry for this feature and look at my top 21 favorite dance tracks of the past ten years. You’ll probably notice that it’s heavily weighed towards certain genres, as this pretty much reflects the types of clubs I’ve frequented over the years or the type of music that I’ve enjoyed most. So, in no particular order, here they are…
Bob Sinclar – “World, Hold On (Children of the Sky)” [f/Steve Edwards] (Western Dream, 2006)
I don’t usually frequent clubs where current house music is played, so my first exposure to this track was while on vacation in Mérida, in 2006. In Mexico they have this awesome thing called Telehit, which is sort of like MTV used to be before it stopped showing music. And it plays a mix of English and Spanish music. While this is a fantastic track that brings back memories of early-’90s euro-house, it also brings back wonderful memories of one of my favorite trips.
Wolfsheim – “Once in a Lifetime” (Spectators, 2001)
The type of club that I patronize most often plays darkwave, EBM, industrial, etc., and is what we refer to as a “Neo Standard”. There are a few Neo standards that suck (anything by Electric Hellfire Club falls into this category), but many more that are awesome. And while it’s not quite the anthem that “The Sparrows and the Nightingales” is, it is one of the best songs by the band to come out since. Leave it to Peter Heppner and Co. to craft a track that is as much a floor-filler as it is a gorgeous paean to one’s family tragedy and subsequent loss of faith.
VNV Nation – “Chrome” (Matter + Form, 2005)
Neo standard. And as one of my friends pointed out, it flows almost like two separate songs, which is one of the things that makes it so awesome. Besides having the ability to blow out your speakers and chase all of the cockroaches out of your house in the process, this track flies by much more quickly than its allotted 4:41 would have one think. The group took a different direction with this album, as well, allowing singer Ronan Harris to sing without the aid of any voice effects, and this is one of the tracks that benefitted greatly from that particular experiment.
Benny Benassi presents The Biz – “Satisfaction” (Hypnotica, 2003)
It unofficially features Stephen Hawking and his similarly afflicted sister at vocals; but seriously, folks, this is one of those tracks that will have people pounding their just-ordered martinis just to get out to the dance floor. And to make it even better, a chap by the name of DJ Unknow decided to take it upon himself to mash it up with Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant”. The result is chock-full of WIN.
Pitbull – “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” (Rebelution, 2009)
This is the most recent item on this list. The first few times I heard it, I thought it sucked. It blatantly ripped off Nicola Faisano, who ripped off The Bucketheads, who ripped off Chicago; and it always seemed to get played back-to-back with this flaming pile of shit, so I naturally grew to hate it. But then something happened. I can’t quite put it into logical words, but the song started to grow on me… like a fungus. It started with me bobbing my head, and slowly turned into me singing along with it at the bar. The culmination of this turn saw me dancing to it at my friend’s wedding while sauced on J&B. Since it’s still considered popular, I don’t have to be the one to select it on the satellite jukebox at the local bar, but once it runs its course and is relegated to has-been status, I’ll be there to keep it alive.
Felix Da Housecat – “Happy Hour” (Kittenz and Thee Glitz, 2001)
A second-wave Chicago house stalwart, Mr. Stallings is also one of the progenitors of the electroclash genre, with his 2001 album Kittenz and Thee Glitz, being a vanguard. While the lyrics might not be the best ever penned, the flawless production, with nods to electro-house, synthpop and euro, makes the brooding “Happy Hour” a quintessential electroclash track. Influencing many, including…
Fischerspooner – “Emerge” (#1, 2003)
Neo standard, and fucking brilliant to boot. It’s got the nebulous intro, the Kraftwerk-influenced build-up, the electroclash-driven, club-friendly release, and the final resolution, which sees the track completely implode upon itself, like the result of a catastrophic computer glitch. Watch people try and dance to that part; it’s fantastic. I will be one of those people.
Tiefschwarz – “Damage” [f/Tracey Thorn] (Eat Books, 2005; re-released as single in 2007)
Tracey Thorn could sing over any beat and it would instantly make the song easy on the ears. Even Cash Money beats. Yes, Mathan. Taking that fact, and adding the electro-house stylings of Stuttgart-based duo Tiefschwarz makes this one of my favorite house tracks of The Aughts, and it’s really tragic that it’s not as much of a club staple as it deserves to be.
EBTG vs. Soul Vision – “Tracey in My Room” (2001)
A Ben Watt-produced re-dub of Everything but the Girl’s “Wrong”, this heavily filtered anthem did receive the the play that it deserved, and also showed how far Watt progressed as a house producer over the course of five years (see also, Temperamental). The lush, funky beats suit the “Wrong” vocals just as well, if not better than the original.
Jon Cutler – “It’s Yours” [f/E-Man] (2001)
While we’re on the subject of Ben Watt, I first heard this track on one of his Lazy Dog house compilations (as with the above entry), and was instantly hooked. Who says New York can’t kick it on the house music scene? I suppose we could call it garage, if it will placate you purists out there. The track combines two vocalists (one spoken-word, one diva-like singer) with a horn hook so infectious that it could put H1N1 to shame.
Icon of Coil – “Shelter” (Machines Are Us, 2004)
Neo standard, and a thick, murky piece of futurepop goodness, this is the track from the Norwegian group. This is not only a slamming club track, but it’s wonderfully produced, with the perfect build-up, perfect amount of vocals, perfect breakdown and a near-perfect end. We used to have a game, where we would take a shot of Basil Hayden’s every time this song came on. That lasted all of a summer, but if I happen to be at the bar on a weekend and it comes on, I’m usually down for a shot, although they did stop carrying Basil about two years ago.
Hercules and Love Affair – “Blind” (Hercules and Love Affair, 2008)
I missed this one until late last year, when it seemed to be on a lot of year-end lists. I was familiar with Antony and the Johnsons, and it wasn’t really my thing (not a big fan of chamber pop), though I decided still to check this out since it had been described as a solid house record. And yes… yes, it is. It’s definitely a house track, though it not only nods, but pretty much bows to vintage, underground disco/Italo music. Antony Hegarty’s silky falsetto over the beats, telling an emotional story of maturation, is like a match made in circuit heaven. And while this one is a bona fide classic, I might like the Frankie Knuckles remix even more. I am from Chicago, after all.
Golden Boy & Miss Kittin – “Rippin Kittin” (Or, 2002)
It was a toss-up between this track and “Autopilot”. But while “Autopilot” is a coquettish, playful and upbeat song drenched in electro-lounge, this one is just the opposite—a dark, brooding dancefloor anthem. Opening up with an attention-grabbing synth tintinnabulation, Miss Kittin sings of “taking a life,” in a relatively casual (or innocent) tone, from the point of view of a young child. Yep, it’s dark and brooding dance track that isn’t flagrantly goth. And they said it couldn’t be done!
September – “Cry for You” (In Orbit, 2005; re-released as single in 2007)
OK, ladies and germs… this right here is admittedly a guilty fucking pleasure, but I love this song. Yes, it has cookie-cutter female pop vocals and a pretty obvious aping of Bronski Beat, but I like it nonetheless. I’d always liked this track, as it was pretty huge in 2007, but I think it reached another level after my trip to Egypt earlier in 2009. Most nightclubs in Cairo are pretty dodgy establishments, but I found one that I liked, which played all local music—some of it traditional, some of it more techno-infused. I did not understand a word, but I was happy to have found a place that had a decent selection of beer. Sometime in the middle of the night, this song came on—the only English song of the night—and it was like a little slice of home (even though Spetember’s from Sweden) in the middle of a strange and foreign land. Now every time I hear this track I think of Cairo, sort of like Primus’ version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with Amsterdam and “Candy Girl” with Prague.
Goldfrapp – “Ooh La La” (Supernature, 2006)
Much like the previously released “Strict Machine”, this is a fantastic electro-pop track that shows, in comparison, how much of a fucking hack Lady GaGa really is. Alison Goldfrapp has a far superior voice, not to mention much better beats, but let’s not forget that she was doing the outrageous costume thing while GaGs (that was a typo, but I’m leaving it) was still just another homely brunette. But I digress… Lady GaGa bashing aside, “Ooh La La” is not only one of my favorite dance tracks of The Aughts, but also of all time.
Combichrist – “This Shit Will Fuck You Up” (Everybody Hates You, 2005)
Ag-gro-tech! Ag-gro-tech! Oh yes, yes it will fuck you up. To everyone who knows this track, you know that this song can either get an entire place dancing or an entire place beating the shit out of each other. A side project of Icon of Coil (see above) singer Andy LaPlegua, this is a quintessential example of the sub-genre, a more angry and violent offspring of EBM and electro. While not particularly violent in its lyrics, it does still feature some pretty taboo subject matter, with a female version of Stephen Hawking who likes it pretty rough.
Ladytron – “Seventeen” (Light & Magic, 2002)
This is an electroclash classic and a Neo standard, and I’ve also learned that it’s criminally omitted from all satellite jukeboxes. Like Whitesnake, KISS and Benny Mardones, it features the subject of a young (presumably though not definitely) woman being chased by someone older, though instead of being sung from the point of view of the older person, it’s sung as a warning from the point of view of a third party, perhaps speaking from experience. Singers Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo whisper and coo over a dreamy new-wave-inspired soundscape that makes this a solid dance track.
Ferry Corsten – “Rock Your Body, Rock” (Right of Way, 2003)
What happens when trance meets hard-driving techno and then they have kid and it’s all kind of happy and stuff? This track is what happens, but it’s nowhere near as cheesy as it may sound. While a lot of trance tracks have that eight-minute buildup that has you standing there with your hands up in the air for much longer than is necessary or socially acceptable, this one never lingers too long in any one spot and has a nice balance of electro-vocals and buildups (with a funky double-drum to close out each said build-up and get the party started).
Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (Fever, 2001)
Yes, this is a guilty fucking pleasure too and I am not afraid to admit that. Produced by Cathy Dennis, who herself was considered an important part of late-’80s/early-’90s dance music, Minogue was finally able to top the North American success of her cover of “The Loco-Motion” with this, a pounding Euro-dance hit that was impossible to elude after it came out. It was featured on both mainstream radio stations and MTV as well as dance-clubs everywhere. The whole world seemed to agree, it was an absolute blockbuster. And it only helped that she got a sleek video for it and happened to have dance moves and an ass that could stop traffic.
Covenant – “Call the Ships to Port” (Northern Light, 2002)
Not just a Neo standard but an epic fucking song at that. While it’s definitely futurepop, the atmospheric, cascading hook could allow it have crossover potential with more mainstream trance music. While “Dead Stars” is still probably the Swedish group’s most recognizable track, this is their best. New fans have been converted to Covenant by this song alone. True story. I have seen it happen.
MJ Cole – “Sincere” [Naked Music Migs Petalpusher Vocal Rmx] (Sincere, 2000)
MJ Cole does not get credit for this; this is Miguel Migs all the way. Only Naked Music’s vanguard could take something as rote as Cole’s interpretation of U.K. garage and inject such substance and soul into it. This track is a testament to the fact that Naked Music was one of the most under-appreciated dance music imprints around the turn of the century. Every single one of their compilations is gold, and their remixes make you forget about the original.
And there you have it. Those are my top 21 favorite dance tracks of the past ten years, and while I’m here and the writing juices are flowing, here are a couple more lists—my top 21 songs and my top 21 albums, respectively. Again, in no particular order, and with explanations of two sentences (or sentence fragments) or less…
Deftones – “Passenger” [f/Maynard James Keenan] (White Pony, 2000)
A dark, brooding masterpiece, it reminds me of being on the cusp of my twenties. That and this one strip club in Texas.
Aesop Rock – “Skip Town” (Float, 2000)
A great track by a criminally underrated emcee, I first heard it on a DJ Spooky mix. Thanks, Spooky, you subliminal kid, you.
Killing Joke – “The Death & Resurrection Show” (Killing Joke, 2003)
They played this song live on the tour to promote the album and it rocked my fucking face.
The Presets – “This Boy’s in Love” (Apocalypso, 2008)
This song is one of the best marriages of new wave and electro-pop of the entire century.
She Wants Revenge – “Tear You Apart” (She Wants Revenge, 2006)
Guys who have Mars Volta ‘fros with an obvious homage to Joy Division, with some strategically placed profanity? Count me in.
M.I.A. – “Paper Planes” (Kala, 2007)
There was a time when you could not avoid this track unless you went out to Waziristan (the mountainous tribal region between Pakistan and Afghanistan) and hid in a cave with Osama bin Laden. That said, it’s a dangerously infectious track that doesn’t deserve the sneers it gets for sampling The Only Band That Matters.
Interpol – “The Heinrich Maneuver” (Our Love to Admire, 2007)
While Turn On the Bright Lights is one of my favorite albums of the century, I hold this track in the same regard as my favorite tracks from that album.
Mickey Avalon – “My Dick” (Mickey Avalon, 2006)
Whenever I put a five-dollar bill into the satellite jukebox, this is guaranteed at least one play. Quite possibly the ultimate diss track, oozing braggadocio (it is a rap song, after all), it contains a slew of comparisons, one of the best being, “My dick… don’t fit down the chimney / Your dick… is like a kid from the Philippines.”
Against Me! – “Don’t Lose Touch” (Searching for a Former Clarity, 2005)
Oddly combining punk rock with polka undertones, it’s one of the band’s best, before the New Wave days.
Cannibal Ox – “The F-Word” (The Cold Vein, 2001)
No, it’s not what you think. Take the production prowess of one El-P, and add some poignant, love-related lyrics and you have one of the best underground hip-hop tracks of the year, and decade.
Scissor Sisters – “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” (Ta-Da, 2006)
With nods to the Bee Gees and Leo Sayer, it’s one of the most danceable and whimsical songs of the decade, without a doubt.
The White Stripes – “Icky Thump” (Icky Thump, 2007)
It’s The White Stripes doing what The White Stripes do. But not only does it deal with the topic of immigration and United States, it also features some downright vicious Univox synths.
Jay-Z – “99 Problems” (The Black Album, 2003)
Rick Rubin is a god.
Death From Above 1979 – “Turn It Out” (You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, 2004)
Some people will want to get up and slam-dance and some people will want to turn it off. But one thing is certain, and that is that this song will not be fucking denied.
Luke Slater – “Stars and Heroes” (Alright On Top, 2002)
Who knew that all Luke Slater needed to take his music to another level was a singer and the willingness to show his appreciation for Giorgio Moroder?
Telefon Tel Aviv – “When It Happens It Moves All by Itself” (Map of What Is Effortless, 2004)
It borders on movie-score territory, but it’s still one of the best electronic tracks of the year, decade, century and millennium. The only thing to not like is that it ends too soon.
Simian Mobile Disco – “I Believe” (Attack Decay Sustain Release, 2007)
The beats are just ridiculous, and it’s just a lowdown dirty shame that the rest of the album doesn’t even come close to touching this track. Although buying the whole album just for this one track is still worth your money, I’d recommend iTunes.
Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood” (Gorillaz, 2001)
This track and video could not be denied when they came out. After his work with Deltron 3030, this is Del’s greatest achievement.
Stromkern – “Stand Up” (Light It Up, 2005)
If I told you that this song is by a band from Madison, Wisc., that melds industrial with rap, you’d probably laugh like I did, and you’d be right to do so. So do like I did; listen to the track and let it speak for itself.
The Wolfmen – “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” (Modernity Killed Every Night, 2008)
Ah yes… don’t forget that garage rock came back in The Aughts. And while I thoroughly enjoy the likes of The Hives, The Hellacopters, The Mooney Suzuki and a great deal of those other “The” bands, this Brian Eno cover (while ridiculously faithful to the original) is one of my favorites.
Sally Shapiro – “I Know” [SLL Rmx] (Remix Romance, Vol. 2, 2008)
You’d swear it was Pet Shop Boys track from 1987, until Sally Shapiro’s ethereal sweet, vocals kick in. Fun fact: Shapiro is a member of the Italo revival movement!
I haven’t regularly bought albums for several years, so you’ll notice that this list of my top 21 albums is front-loaded like an aging athlete’s multi-year contract.
D’Angelo – Voodoo (2000)
An incredible deviation from Brown Sugar, a lot of this album flew under the radar, save for the obvious “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and “Devil’s Pie” (featured in Belly). But in-between is one of the best R&B albums of the decade, and an impressive swan song if bloated D’Angelo decides to stay in seclusion.
Hybrid – Wide Angle (2000)
I just so happened to find it in the $2.99 bin at the record store, impressed with how the U.K.-based producers had remixed BT’s “Never Gonna Come Back Down”. And I can honestly say that this album took any expectations I had going in and blew them out of the fucking water.
Quasimoto – The Unseen (2000)
It’s one of my “desert island” albums, and for those of us who thought that Madlib was awesome in his Lootpack days, we were even further convinced so with this project. It not only features dope beats, but Madlib rapping with his chipmunk-voiced alter-ego.
The Rock*A*Teens – Sweet Bird of Youth (2000)
I like to the think of the Rock*A*Teens as my own little secret, except they are just too damn good for me to be selfish. With undertones of R.E.M., ’60s garage rock and some calliope thrown in for good measure, this is a beautifully tragic album by a band that I was sad to see break up.
Common – Like Water for Chocolate (2000)
Yes, it is, essentially, a quasi-Roots album, but it’s also, as far as I’m concerned, his last great album. The OK Player stamp is easily recognizable in the organic soulfulness of the album, and cameos by everyone from Femi Kuti to Bilal to Jill Scott to DJ Premier make it a solid release.
Thievery Corporation – The Mirror Conspiracy (2000)
This album is good from start to finish, blending dub with lounge, samba and even sitar on different tracks. Decidedly down-tempo, it’s like elevator music for the 21st Century.
Interpol – Turn On the Bright Lights (2002)
I could waffle on about how many different bands I’ve picked out as influences on this album, but that would take away from the fact that it is one of the best of the decade. From the somber opening track, “Untitled” to the more upbeat “Obstacle 1” and then back to melancholy with “NYC”, this album soars from start to finish.
System of a Down – Toxicity (2001)
I got an advance copy from Sony for this before it came out, and I was completely blown away, with highlights being the poignant opener “Prison Song” and the title track. And “Chop Suey!” is pretty damn good, too.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2001)
Playing out like an audio collage, this meticulously produced album of was one of the best party albums to come out around that time (along with Beck’s Midnite Vultures).
Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
As I was working at a record store when this came out, a co-worker and I actually got into a physical altercation, jumping towards the cart of CDs to grab this at the same time. He, being about twice my size, won, but once I did manage to get my own copy, it was like I had found religion and been born again, without having to give away ten percent of my income on a weekly basis.
Nekromantix – Return of the Living Dead (2002)
Psychobilly is just fantastic stuff, and these guys are among the best. With morbid themes to the lyrics, the band also doesn’t scrimp on the humor, as with the hilarious “Who Killed the Cheerleader” (“Who raped the prom queen? / He did! He did! / Yeah right, she was having a ball!”)
The Horrors – Strange House: Psychotic Sounds for Freaks and Weirdos (2007)
Hey look, it’s an album that’s been released in the last five years! The soundtrack to my drive from L.A. to San Diego in 2006, the band brilliantly calls upon the spirits of Alien Sex Fiend and The Munsters for the duration of this album. And it opens with a phenomenal cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s “Jack the Ripper”.
The Prodigy – Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004)
More than making up for the abomination that was “Baby’s Got a Temper”, this album cemented the fact that Liam Howlett is a fucking genius, with oodles of big beats combined with old-school electro for the win. And it gave us an example of how Juliette Lewis could be a good singer when given the right beats.
The Chemical Brothers – Come With Us (2002)
Every song on this album is a banger, but my favorite is the “Galaxy Bounce”, showing that the progenitors of big beat are still alive and well and still capable of pwning everyone while imploring them dance to it.
Gary Numan – Scarred (2003)
I don’t usually get into live albums, but the tracks on this albums (recorded live at Brixton Academy) are like re-imaginations of previous Tubeway Army and Gary Numan tracks. Highlights include a more industrial version of “Me, I Disconnect from You!” and a much darker version of “Metal”.
Taucher – High Tide Low Tide (2001)
The German trance DJ released this double-disc with the intent being that the first was a danceable disc and the second a foray into down-tempo electronic music. I personally enjoy the second one more, but the first one is also very good, making the entire thing one of my favorites.
Quasimoto – The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (2005)
Oh yes I did just pick two albums by the same artist for my favorites of the last ten years. This one picks up where The Unseen left off, except it features copious amounts of Melvin Van Peebles samples and an appearance by MF DOOM.
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030 (2000)
I swear I had this list made up before reading Mathan’s. There’s not much to say that he didn’t, so I’ll just say that due to this album, I went from being a casual fan of Del to being a Del follower (but not a back-packer), and that the “New Coke” skit with Money Mark is comedic gold.
DJ DSL – #1 (2001)
A compilation of tracks and remixes by DSL, the tracks range from a doper-than-dope remix of “Let Me Talk to You” by Masters of Illusion to the old-school electro “Neu, 6 Min.” and dub-heavy “Happy Bear”, with all having a jazz undertone. It is a G-Stone release, after all.
The Faint – Danse Macabre (2001)
I’m not sure why indie kids like this band so much, but I can only guess it’s because they are on Saddle Creek. What was really awesome is that I bought this album the year it came out, when I was twenty years old, fell in love with it, played it the fuck out, and then started going to Neo once I turned 21 and started hearing it there too.
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid – Optometry
DJ Spooky is fucking brilliant, whether he’s doing illbient, avant-jazz or dub. This happens to be my favorite of his jazz excursions, with tracks living up to their ridiculously long titles (“Reactive Switching Strategies for the Control of Uninhabited Air”).
Tags: Beck, Chicago, Common, DJ Premier, Gorillaz, Jay-Z, Kiss, Lady Gaga, M.I.A., Madlib, Pitbull, R.E.M., White Stripes