45

Such Great Heights

The Postal Service

Give Up (2003)

Ben Gibbard was a bit of a cottage industry in the mid-’00s, churning out a wealth of material for the emo-college crowd via Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service. Although Death Cab is the band he has put more energy into, it was his long-distance emo-dance-pop side project that had the most success (he and collaborator Jimmy Tamborello famously worked by sending demos back and forth through the mail, hence the name The Postal Service). “Such Great Heights” is the most notable song from their lone, near-perfect album. It’s earnest without being sickly sweet, it’s catchy without being cliche, and to paraphrase American Bandstand, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Also check out: The most obvious successor to this now-defunct band is Owl City. “Fireflies” in particular sounds nearly identical to “Such Great Heights,” for better or for worse.

37

Crazy In Love

Beyonce featuring Jay-Z

Dangerously In Love (2003)

Although her underrated Austin Powers soundtrack song “Work It Out” was technically Beyonce’s first solo single, it was “Crazy In Love” that immediately turned Beyonce into BEYONCE. That frantic drum loop, sick horn sample, and killer rap from Jay-Z all served as the perfect supporting cast to the newly crowned queen bee of R&B. The lyrics speak of reckless abandon in love, and the colorful video meshed well with the song’s vibe of structured pop chaos. She may have had the better part of a decade to practice for the role of lead diva, but Beyonce launched her solo career with a flawless song choice.

Also check out: Chrisette Michele’s “Be OK”

33

Satisfaction

Benny Benassi

Hypnotica (2003)

I remember distinctly the first time I heard this song, it was in a club right when I finally started going out (I was a late bloomer). This song scared me. Seriously. I don’t know that “fear” was the intention of it, but something about the emotionless computer “vocals” and the thick, dirty, relentless bassline just hit me at a visceral level. This song is like a robot threatening to fuck you to death. But the more I heard the song, the more I enjoyed it as well, and became a fan of Benassi, his Benassi Bros. side project, and his remixes for other artists (his mix of Madonna’s “Celebration” is one of the finest mixes of the decade). But it all goes back to “Satisfaction,” which, as the album title suggests, is just plain hypnotic.

Also check out: “Able to Love” from the same album – Benassi is determined to prove that computers can feel

28

If I Ain’t Got You

Alicia Keys

The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)

With her sophomore effort, Alicia Keys proved that the hints of brilliance on “Songs in A Minor” were no fluke. “The Diary of Alicia Keys” is her best album, with a number of great songs, topped by the soulful joy of “If I Ain’t Got You.” It’s a love song in many senses — not just love for her man, but love for musicianship. I am a fan of electronic music, but I still find it important to step back from time to time and listen to music that eschews technological assistance in favor of raw musical skill. Keys has got the goods.

Also check out: “Flow” by Sade

25

Maps

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Fever to Tell (2003)

“Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.” This line is repeated over and over again in “Maps,” and it’s heartbreaking every time. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have become a surprisingly enduring rock band that’s willing to taste samples of a bunch of genres while never compromising their sound (the electro-inflected “It’s Blitz!” is a great album). “Maps” was the song that, uh, put them on the map, so to speak, and it feels like the aural equivalent of a raw, exposed nerve. It hurts, but in a cathartic way.

Also check out: “Publisher” by Blonde Redhead – from one of the best albums of the decade, “23.”

20

Nobody Knows Me

Madonna

American Life (2003)

Back in the days when people actually bought CDs, I used to have a habit of making sure to give one full, uninterrupted listen to an anticipated album to get my first impression. When I did this for “American Life,” as soon as I heard “Nobody Knows Me,” all I wanted to do was go back and listen to it again. And again. Madonna’s most hit-or-miss album hit it out of the park on this track, which I remember one critic describing as sounding like “a synth keyboard falling down a stairwell.” (I think they meant it as an insult – to me, that’s high praise.) The production won my heart, with its unusual 4-on, 4-off beat pattern (I’m hard pressed to think of another song that employs that style), and the auto-tuned vocals actually are in service of the song’s lyrics, obscuring her true voice because, well, nobody knows her. And I particularly love the twist on the meaning of “social disease” — wanting to escape that desire to fit the mold that “infects” so many people. I don’t know that many other people would call this song a highlight of the decade, but in a way that makes me all the more appreciative — it becomes my little personal gem.


(note: this is a remix of the original – both are great)

Also check out: Goldfrapp’s “Koko” — I’m not typically one to say “make sure you listen to this loud,” but, you really should.

13

Strict Machine

Goldfrapp

Black Cherry (2003)

Sometimes a song comes along that has such an immense impact it practically launches its own new sub-genre. Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine” was just such a song. A deep, surging bassline propels Alison Goldfrapp’s airy vocals to a climactic chorus, fetishizing the very electronics that allow the song to exist in the first place: “wonderful electric … I’m in love with a strict machine.” The group, whose ethereal debut gave no inkling of the electro-dance superstars they’d become, has influenced a number of already well-established diva pop stars, including Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Kylie Minogue. Goldfrapp even based their 2005 follow-up, “Supernature,” almost entirely around the structure of “Strict Machine.” Goldfrapp took a break from the dancefloor on their fourth album (“Seventh Tree”), but word is that they are moving back in a disco direction for their next release. I can’t wait.

Also check out: “Galvanize” by Chemical Brothers

8

Toxic

Britney Spears

In the Zone (2003)

To some of my friends, this is sacrilege, but I didn’t really like Britney Spears when she came on to the scene. She seemed more a “brand” than an artist, and although she started raising my eyebrow with the unexpectedly intriguing “Slave 4 U,” it was “Toxic” that finally won me over. This is basically pop perfection. So much so that I can barely think of anything else to say. Everything about this song is a hook, never relenting. I mean, really, how can anyone resist this?

Also check out: Kylie Minogue’s “Like a Drug” — a similarly chemical take on love