75. Radiohead – Reckoner (2007)
Radiohead first debuted a song by this name at a 2001 concert. However, that aggressive guitar-driven number shares little resemblance with the one recorded for the 2007 album In Rainbows. While that live track was repurposed for front man Thom Yorke’s solo work (re-titled “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses”), the studio version may be one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs in the Radiohead catalog.
Released as the fourth single off of In Rainbows, it unfurls slowly after a clangy, nervous break-beat settles in. Yorke’s guitar creeps in with icy arpeggios only to be warmed by his stretching falsetto. The song ripples and radiates from there with the additions of poignant harmonies, bright piano chords and shimmering strings until halfway through, when the instruments dissipate and create space for a breathtaking combination of Yorke’s elongated lines and the band’s soft backing vocals. Strings and vocal murmurings build back into the jangly break beat and the main refrain. In a lot of ways, these sonic permutations reinforce the song’s opaque and Faustian lyrics, acting like instrumental and vocal “ripples on a blank shore.”
As with other tracks from the album, Radiohead released a remix project for “Reckoner” that resulted in hundreds of unique reworkings, including version by Flying Lotus, Diplo and James Holden. The song has been covered live by Gnarls Barkley and by Robert Glasper on his instrumental record Covered.
Because it never reaches a full boil, “Reckoner” isn’t the most immediately impressive listening experience on In Rainbows. But its enveloping waves simmer with an uncanny and unmatched beauty that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate. A decade later, the song remains a force to be reckoned with, a highlight from a band that continues to push itself. – Ethan King
74: The Strokes – The Modern Age (2001)
Though not the opening track to Is This It, this was The Strokes’ mission statement in a smooth three and a half minutes. “Here’s where we begin…/ Stop to pretend/ Stop pretending” Julian Casablancas sang in an heir-to-Lou Reed drawl that announced a combination of Buddy Holly rock’n’roll, the jaded storytelling of The Velvet Underground and the sharp guitar work of Television. The Strokes always seemed too cool to care, but that was a façade. “The Modern Age” is a spotless composition. The dynamic change from foot-stomping verse to the languid, beautiful chorus wasn’t made on a lark. Nor was Nick Valensi’s surprisingly fiery guitar solo.
That was The Strokes’ trick: act like slackers while actually playing the tightest rock around. Casablancas mirrored Valensi’s styling, turning from understated to vicious on a dime. Much like the title track, he sounds like he’s singing while lying down in the bathtub after a particularly hedonistic night. That’s all before his voice rises to a near scream as he howls, “Let me go!” and floats into a near nursery-rhyme chorus. Sweet and sour blended perfectly.
“The Modern Age” was released on an EP before their debut and started a surprising bidding war over the fresh faced New Yorkers. The record label meetings must have been a laugh. Stiff shirt executives, a famously risk adverse bunch, popping their heads up from the mud and safety of Nu-Metal to see the coolest NYC band in decades, probably at the behest of some Lester Bangs type screaming “this is what’s next!”
Indeed, this song set the template, not just for their debut album, but for the wonderful flood of garage rock revival that boogied its way from Long Island to down under. The Walkmen, The Vines, latter day White Stripes all would have come along without The Strokes, but the New York quintet spearheaded the charge, ushering in the modern age of rock. – Nathan Stevens
73: Songs: Ohia – Farewell Transmission (2003)
Jason Molina was a haunted, haunting soul, and his definitive album may be Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain, released in 2002. But the follow-up, The Magnolia Electric Co. gives it a good run, and its opening track is seven glorious minutes of Molina at his best.
Produced by Steve Albini, the album links the Songs: Ohia era with that of the Magnolia Electric Co., as Molina’s new outfit would be called. The sound is perhaps not quite as raw as some of the older material, but Molina’s voice is just as transporting, and his lyrics just as visionary: “Now we’ll all be brothers of the fossil fire of the sun/ Now we will all be sisters of the fossil blood of the moon.”
This is a tale of resurrection, of “working in the cold grey rock, in the hot mill steam, in the concrete,” of “all the great set-up hearts” residing “in the sirens and silences,” hearts that “all at once start to beat.” But it also foreshadows Molina’s passing and provides a sad epitaph: “I will be gone but not forever.” It is a beautiful, tragic song of accepting the endlessness of life and what lies beyond: “The real truth about it is there ain’t no end to the desert I’ll cross.”
It is characteristic of Molina’s dark humor to start an album with a song called “Farewell Transmission.” He would live another decade, dying in his 40th year in 2013. But despite its darkness, the song still manages to sound triumphant. The band’s Crazy Horse-style groove is a chariot for Molina’s wild rider, pushing them higher as he intones, “Listen!” with the backing vocalists responding, “Long dark blues” before the last “Listen!” is met with silence. How fitting for the beginning of the end of a great artist.-– Dylan Montanari
72: Interpol – PDA (2002)
Although it’s a working band that continues to release new music, Interpol has spent the past year celebrating and performing an album released 15 years ago. This may seem ridiculous until you consider the impact of its debut album. Post-punk may not have returned into the American pop music lexicon had it not been for Turn on the Bright Lights, which was a revelation for a whole generation of listeners even if it struck some of the same chords as many of the post-punk bands of yesteryear. For those who saw Interpol as mere post-punk pastiche, “PDA” might be the most egregious offender, but any superficial dismissal misses how the band effortlessly blends the sounds of the past with the steely New York cool then in vogue.
Much of what makes “PDA” great is about the “how” as opposed to the “what.” Those looking for lyrical depth in lines like “Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to/ That is all that I can do” had better look elsewhere. However, Paul Banks’ delivery is propelled forward with a sense of manic urgency that matches the music. While comparisons to Ian Curtis are apt, Banks eschews such emotional despondency for a calculating persona that delivers such lines as, “you’re so cute when you’re sedated, dear” with an unsettling menace. Meanwhile, the band keeps moving at a frenetic pace, only stopping briefly after the first chorus before driving forward. As a piece of the rock revival that kick started the ‘00s, “PDA” is different enough from its contemporaries to stand out, and highlights much of what made Interpol so special when it arrived. — Kevin Korber
71: Portishead- The Rip (2008)
For a brief moment in the ‘90s, Portishead was on top of the world. Its debut album, Dummy, became a British chart mainstay, racking up an impressive half million in sales and winning both the band BRIT Awards and the fabled Mercury Music Prize in 1995. Yet while the band’s sophomore effort garnered more rave reviews, the trio slowly and subtly faded away from the spotlight, and by the turn of the century, it seemed unlikely that a new Portishead album would see the light of day.
However, through sheer skill and probably a bit of luck, 2008’s Third was the comeback album most bands dream of. Despite a more than decade-long hiatus, Portishead brought its warped melodies and eerie synthetic landscapes into a new era while evoking the same forward thinking spirit that made Dummy such a captivating listen. Most importantly, it sounded timeless — this wasn’t just the trip-hop cliché of dusty beats and sensual vocals, but an entirely modern take on the subject.
Beginning with a throbbing synth and messy guitar arpeggio (played on a starter guitar), “The Rip” bridged a more classical approach to songwriting with shaky electronics. Beth Gibbons’ mournful vocals are typically downbeat as multi-instrumentalists Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley gently fade into the mix via a massive synth, tactfully replicated and replaced guitar and Silver Apples-inspired drums.
“The Rip” was covered by fellow “head” band Radiohead in a gleefully amateur fashion with Thom Yorke reading lyrics and chord changes off a MacBook — an honest and personal profession of love for the group. Portishead would return the favor by inviting Yorke on-stage during its own performance of the song at Latitude 2015. And, while not a cover, The Horrors’ “Sea Within A Sea” (also produced by Barrow) bears a striking resemblance during the song’s synth heavy coda. – Edward Dunbar