What Jess said.
20. "Love Profusion," Madonna, American Life
I think this is one of the most underrated albums of recent times, especially in Madonna's catalog. Here is a Madonna forgoing the glamor and dance-floor aesthetic that brought her to fame; here is a more mature Madonna, pondering her place as a woman, a mother, a lover, and an American in the 21st century. This is the song that comes into my head when I feel like I'm drowning in infatuation, when I'm with a guy and I don't know what I'm doing and I'm kind of being a bitch but it's only because I'm nervous. And the clipped acoustic-guitar loop works perfectly.
"And I know I can feel bad when I get in a bad mood..."
19. "Tonight I Have to Leave It," Shout Out Louds, Our Ill Wills
One of the few albums I fell in love with upon the first listen. Shout Out Louds have a knack for writing lyrics that seem to read my mind; I've thought the words to "South America," for instance, many nights of wondering what I'm going to do. But it's this song, the lead single, that made them one of my favorite bands; the rollicking old-time piano, the jabbing acoustic guitar, and the desperation we all feel when we're breaking up with someone.
"When we go out dancing, I don't want to be bothered..."
18. "Turn Into," Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones
I actually heard the acoustic version of this song first, so that's what I was used to. But I am in awe of this song; the acoustic intro belies the instrumental intensity that awaits the patient listener, and Karen O's self-harmonizing only adds to the audible kaleidoscope that this song becomes. If I were to run a fireworks show, this is the song I'd want playing in the background.
"That girl you found keeps that kind of window closed."
17. "Tim I Wish You Were Born A Girl," Of Montreal, Cherry Peel
Winning the award for sweetest use of an electric guitar ever (it sounds like a kazoo), this is a cute acoustic song about the nature of love; Kevin Barnes sings about making chicken soup and watching soap operas with his buddy, wishing that his buddy were actually the girl of his dreams. But there can exist love between friends, even straight male friends; this is a tune sung by someone both sure of his masculinity and still frustratingly single. I can relate! (Well, one out of two ain't bad, right?)
"But it's just not the same, cuz you're a man, and so am I."
16. "Walk Away," Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better
Dark alleys, Mod hairdos, and Cold War-era politics all fit into this great rock-noir song by every indie kid's least favorite band, Franz Ferdinand. The chorus is something we've all wanted to say to someone we're in an argument with, and the politician-alluding ending sums up the song's message perfectly: that sometimes, a fight can seem like the biggest deal in the world, when really it's the most trivial.
"Why don't you walk away? Why don't you walk away?"
15. "D.A.N.C.E. (Mstrkrft Remix)," Justice (and, I guess, Mstrkrft)
It's the hit single's darker, more intense cousin. While the single version is doing shots on the dance floor, this remix is doing lines in the bathroom. And when the synth-drenched outro begins, I always crank my iPod up to the loudest it will go and let me eardrums get pounded. But that's the way this remix likes it; pain for pleasure, baby.
14. "Electrolite," R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
It's a love song and a farewell to old Hollywood; it's Sunset Boulevard meets Mulholland Drive. It's a great little number that closes out a solid R.E.M. album effort, and Michael Stipe's voice is just wonderful. (By the way, Marc Jacobs? What?) You'll listen to this song once, and then want to listen to it again and again.
"I'm Steve McQueen; I'm Jimmy Dean."
13. "Wolf Notes," The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat
The Fiery Furnaces is (are?) one of my favorite bands, and Blueberry Boat may be my favorite album ever. Don't let the fact that this song is only number thirteen fool you; just about every song on this album is a gem. It's just that the album works as a sort of chaotic, crowded, yet strangely coherent whole, and choosing a single song is tough; beats and synth lines flow from one track to the next, the lyrics are crazy but also follow a general weird-people-doing-shady-things theme, and by the time you've listened to the whole thing your head is swimming but you've just got to hear it all again.
12. "All My Loving," The Beatles, With the Beatles
I mean, come on, it's the Beatles; they kind of had to appear on this list, didn't they? But more importantly, this is the song that reminds me of childhood more than any other. I was really attached to my dad, and he'd always play this song right before he left on one of his week-long business trips, and I'd dance around the living room (not even joking, Soren) and then start crying after he walked out the door. This song can still bring me to tears, if I'm in the right mood.
"Close your eyes and I'll kiss you; tomorrow I'll miss you."
11. "Just One Star," Antony and the Johnsons, Hope There's Someone [EP]
The most unique voice in today's music world singing about how lonely he is; how could I not love this? It's also really short (under two minutes) and sparse (just vocals and piano.) In essence, it's a great song for me to listen to if I need a quick, therapeutic cry.
"I wanted to be more, more than I could bear."
10. "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!," Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
My favorite holiday song is by Sufjan--figures, right? But the melody is gorgeous and the lyrics heartbreaking. It reminds me of my parents fighting while I'm home over Winter Break, so I go outside and nearly freeze as I smoke a cigarette and count the minutes until I get back to New York. Strangely, it's a comforting thought; it's nice to know you have a place to go that's safe and warm and that you won't be able to wait to leave again.
"Our father yells, throwing our gifts in the wood stove, wood stove."
9. "Heaven In the Afternoon," Belle and Sebastian, White Collar Boy [EP]
This just might be my favorite love song. Making great uses of the saxophone and just-cheesy-enough strings, this sweet song--about love, about losing innocence, about the ways we feel safe--is the song I always play when I imagine myself kissing the love of my life by the Hudson River, when the Manhattan skyline is lit up behind us and nothing matters but each other. This is not the last time you'll see this band on this list; they're good enough to warrant two top-ten entries.
"I love you like I love my blood; I love this town, I love you just as much."
8. "Gronlandic Edit," Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
A different side of Of Montreal. By the time this album was released, Kevin Barnes was a much more bitter man, no longer in the mood for singing about fantasy worlds or heterosexual life partners. He was having problems with his wife, so he wrote an album about it. On this song he's "hiding in our friend's apartment" and lamenting the fact that "all of the beauty's wasted." And that part when he sings, "I guess it would be nice" for the second time and the drum stops? Always gives me chills.
"All the party people dancing for the indie star, but he's the worst faker by fa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ar."
7. "The King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1," Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Fun fact number one: Did you know that this was the only song from this album that Josh liked for about four months? Fun fact number two: Did you know that this is one of the most beautiful songs ever? The acoustic-guitar-and-bass combo contributes to the historicism with which this album is obsessed. And any song that can nail both love and bad parenting is alright in my book. (Not that I had bad parents, but I still like it when songs talk about that.)
"And dad would dream of all the different ways to die, each one a little more than he could dare to try."
6. "Bled White," Elliott Smith, XO
One of the few albums that I think would make John Lennon jealous if he heard it, every song on XO is a tragic masterpiece. From the mourning regret of "Waltz, No. 1" to the sad, a capella "I Didn't Understand," this album hits all the right notes in all the most miserable places. But this one is, in my opinion, the best; it's strangely upbeat, with an awesome use of background vocals and a melody that could almost be a 50s grocery-store jingle. Elliott Smith's lyrics are the words my brain would form if it were smarter.
"So here he comes with a blank expression, especially for me cuz he knows I feel the same."
5. "Amsterdam," Peter Bjorn and John, Writer's Block
Jess could've told you that this one would make the list. Like "Young Folks," it makes great use of whistling, but instead of sweet these lyrics are sad. It's the feeling we all get when we're missing someone and we know we'll probably never see him again, so we try to move on, but it's hard. Peter Bjorn and John know that; they'll never let you down.
"And I got to go away to a place of my own; working hard, fill my time."
4. "Hung Up," Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor
By far, the song I've listened to most often. It's my walking song, my getting-ready-for-a-big-night-out jam, and the song I play when I imagine that one day I'll be a glamorous celebrity who gets paid to go to clubs, decked out in a glittering white tuxedo and shiny black dancing shoes (because I'm a huge fag.) That said, it's also my favorite dance song of all time, and damn you ABBA for making such a catchy loop. Yeah, she'll sample your ass onto the dance floor.
"Waiting for your call, baby, night and day, I'm fed up--I'm tired of waiting on you."
3. "Piazza, New York Catcher," Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress
I first heard this song in my friend Erin's living room; she was online, IMing her girlfriend while we waited for her brother to bring back the car so we could go out. Then this came on and she was about to change it, but I told her to leave it on because I liked it. That night, downloading it onto my computer, I realized I loved it. Thus began my love affair with Belle and Sebastian; Stuart Murdoch is undoubtedly the man of my dreams. And this is the song we'd listen to after sleeping together for the first time, me by the window smoking a cigarette and wondering what the future has in store for us, he lying in bed, half-asleep and smiling because I've made him happy. Ugh. Fuck you, Stuart Murdoch, for giving me such unrealistic expectations about love. You're just as bad as Disney.
"Elope with me, Miss Private, and we'll sail around the world."
2. "New Slang," The Shins, Oh, Inverted World
I don't know whether it's comforting or depressing to know that no matter what I do in life, I'll never write a song as good as this one.
"Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall; never should have called, but my head's to the wall and I'm lonely."
1. "Stockholm Syndrome," Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
Maybe it's just a little home-state pride, or maybe it's just that Yo La Tengo are from New Jersey too, but to me, this song is the Jersey Shore. It's the bright, colorful lights of the game stands lining the boardwalk; it's the quiet roar of the ocean at midnight; it's the crushing knowledge that you actually have to work for love, and that sometimes you feel trapped, and you just want to forget it but something won't let you. Above all, it's everything I love about Yo La Tengo; their ability to write painfully true yet maddeningly ambiguous lyrics; their ability to inject everything with the perfect dose of melancholy; their ability to make me cry; and their ability to make me remember why I love music so much.
"What's the matter? Why don't you answer? What's the matter with me?"