Friday, January 01, 2010

Doctor Who: 'The End of Time'

“The End of Time” is exemplary of all the virtues and flaws that made Russell Davies’ Doctor Who a unique work in sci-fi history. It’s got some muddled storytelling and weird deus ex machina elements that make it hard to even explain what’s going on, but it’s also intensely emotional and character focused, particularly during the final half hour of the episode, a lengthy, totally earned farewell to the tenth incarnation of The Doctor, and on a meta level, the universe that Davies created over the course of the past five years. I could pick apart the issues with the storytelling, but ultimately those pale in comparison to the intense emotion and power of the story. It’s easy to write a story that obeys the rules of screenwriting, but it’s incredibly difficult to create characters and stories that tap into our emotions on a primal level, and for me at least, no series hit me as hard as this series did.

Let me track back and discuss in brief the high points of part one. That episode felt a little padded, with an awful lot of running around and Master craziness surrounding not quite an hour’s worth of story. Still, it had an impressively propulsive story momentum, the stakes were high, and I particularly liked the way they segued from the goofiness of the Doctor in a straw hat to his discussion with the Ood where he has to own up to the fact that he’s going to die, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

The high point of that episode was the discussion between Wilf and the Doctor, as the Doctor sees Donna as she was, and thinks back on the person she became with him. There’s such sadness there, and it’s appropriate to match Wilf with the Doctor, both old men who know that their time is coming to an end, but are trying to live it up on the way out. The moment in part two when Wilf finds out how old the Doctor is is particularly effective, when he realizes that even though the Doctor is older than him, he still has the spirit and fire of youth. In Wilf, the Doctor sees the humanity that he’s fighting to save, and that’s what motivates him to go into the nuclear chamber, it’s not worth living if he can’t save someone like Wilf.

But, Part 1 was mainly set up, the meat of the story was in tonight’s episode, and it had a lot that worked and some that didn’t. Let me first discuss my biggest disappointment, and that’s the treatment of Donna. Nothing is really changed from what we saw at the end of “The Stolen Earth,” and that’s the problem. If you’re going to bring the character back, you should really do something with her, and depriving her of a final reunion with the Doctor after he gets to say good by to everyone is kind of cruel. But, what makes it worse is the fact that it’s treated as not that big a deal, the Doctor gets her a lottery ticket, but money can’t replace what she’s lost.

The brilliance of the end of “The Stolen Earth” was that it placed Donna in the prison of never knowing what she could be, this episode basically gives her a nicer prison cell. She may be happy, but she’s not going to live up to her destiny, and that’s really sad, putting a kind of damper on the whole triumphant spirit of the episode, and because that tragedy wasn’t really acknowledged in part 2, it feels off. The wedding was a celebration, she is happier, but there’s still that something missing, and I wish that we had seen more of that. I was hoping to see Donna reclaim her role as a timelady or something more, but it apparently wasn’t to be. I thought it was implied that the timelady who appeared to Wilf was meant to be an older version of Donna, but apparently it was meant to the Doctor’s Mother. Having that be an older Donna would have been more satisfying, giving her some nice closure without having to be too specific about why she can remember her power again.

That’s the only thing that’s missing from the finale for me, a final moment of catharsis for Donna. I was glad to spend so much time with Wilf, but a bit more Donna would have been fantastic. Still, I guess her story was told, and Davies didn’t want to do anything to mess with the ending we already got. Maybe she’s already played her part in the global drama, she’s saved the world, and that could be enough. Still, maybe there’s an exception for her seeing a new Doctor and having some new adventures down the line. I still love the character, particularly the way she became at the end of season four, and I’d have loved to see that Donna back.

But, other than that, I felt totally emotionally satisfied, and drained by the end of the episode. First though, let me discuss a bit of the return of the Time Lords and the beginning of the episode. I liked a lot of this stuff, I think the Time Lords were suitably menacing, and the Master worked much better here, as a child trying to finally get the approval of his parents than as an insane very hungry man, as he was in part one. I also enjoyed the spaceship missile fight, which had a nice Star Wars feel and was well executed. But, in general, the whole spaceship segment didn’t add that much to the narrative. It was a good excuse for some Wilf and Doctor interaction, but was basically filling time before setting up the final battle.

The way I read it, the conflict at the end was basically the Doctor in the position of choosing between allowing Gallifrey to return and destroy all of existence, or allying with the Master to kill the Timelords and become the ruler of the Earth. However, ultimately he chose the third path and erased them both, choosing his new human allies over the timelords I’d left behind. I like the idea that he romanticized the timelords after their destruction, in the way we always remember the good thing after someone dies. But, it’s clear that the Time War was in many ways the Time Lords doing, it was their attempt to end all of existence and transcend to another reality, but the Doctor has always had great affection for this reality, and after seeing the courage of Wilf, his willingness to follow the Doctor to the end of the world, to put his own life on the line to save a stranger, the Doctor realizes that killing anybody would be a betrayal of the spirit that has made him into a powerful symbol for humans.

He chooses a third path and again wipes his own people away, and chooses to let the Master go. The Master here is portrayed as a deranged child, warped by his own upbringing. The Doctor wants him to be better, as he says in the opening scene, because the Master is the closest thing he has to a peer, to a brother. Together, they could have great adventures, but the Master is too warped by the trauma he’s undergone to deal with that, He made the whole world over in his own image as an attempt to assert himself and become superior to the Time Lords, but it’s not enough to satisfy them. The Time Lords are old order and The Doctor is a new, better way of things, the Master is caught somewhere in the middle, and that’s what drives him insane.

That said, whenever you said up a situation where somebody has to make a choice about who to kill and he doesn’t kill, it’s going to be a little disappointing. Shooting the machine makes sense in retrospect, but kind of came out of nowhere in the moment, not to mention the confusing presence of a character who was apparently meant to be the Doctor’s Mother. As I said before, I was thinking the character could be a future Donna, and the lack of clarification within the story was okay, but I think it could have been more powerful if we had known this was meant to be the Doctor’s mother, and he was sacrificing her to save the Earth.

So, that felt a bit anti-climactic. I think it could have been better executed, but Davies often gets into trouble when the sci-fi elements lose the core of emotion. Normally, the companion grounds things in an emotional reality, but these specials have been about the Doctor, and as such they lack the element of identification. The core theme of Davies’ Doctor Who, one that’s reinforced in the final scene that Tennant visits, is the idea that every person has the potential to be a hero and if they could only look up and see the wonder all around them, they could become something so much more. That’s what we see with Jackie and Rose’s discussion, where Jackie is resigned to never having anything special, that’s what kills you, that’s what prevents you from being better, and the Doctor is a living embodiment of all the wonder and amazing things in the universe.

I think that’s why the show resonates for me so strongly, it’s that inherent positivity to the premise. The Doctor is a force that can pull you out of depression and mundanity and take you to other worlds and turn anyone he encounters into a hero. Rose walks home alone, thinking this all she’ll be, but we know that in her future there’s adventures and change and romance, all lurking just ahead of her. To the Doctor, the worst fate is resign yourself to a boring life, and part of the satisfaction of his trip around the world is to see the way that he’s touched all the people he’s encountered. They’re all living better lives than they were when he met them, and that shows that, contrary to what Davros says, he doesn’t make people die, he helps them live.

Mickey and Martha are now married and hunting demons freelance. When Jack’s depressed, presumably still dealing with the events of Torchwood: Children of Earth, the Doctor drops in to pick him up and rejuvenate his old spirit. We see Sarah Jane is no longer sad about the Doctor leaving, she’s been inspired by him to teach a new generation how to live. They are his legacy, and that’s why it’s so frustrating to me to see Donna living a normal life, it’s that she’s gotten the worst fate of all and the Doctor can do nothing.

Still, that frustration aside, the final tour of the world was intensely powerful. When I saw the end of Buffy, it felt so incomplete because, even though the story was told, it was never really about the story, it was about the characters. I so desperately wanted just another half hour with these people to wrap up their story and find out what happened to them. Davies has been accused of fan service or pandering, but I think it’s more that he does the stuff we all want to see, but on some level don’t think we deserve. I love seeing all these characters one more time, he’s made us care about them, and it’s nice to say good bye. If the episode had ended with the Timelord fight, it would have been unsatisfying, but the final half hour is so powerful and sad, it really affected me.

It all wraps up with the wonderful quote from the Ood that “the song is over, but the story goes on.” Each Doctor Who actor, each writer puts their own stamp on the character, evolves the myth and adds new layers, but they have to move on. Their song was beautiful, and as we watch the Tardis crumble, it becomes clear that this is at last the end of the line. The Tenth Doctor burns away in the fire of creation and is replaced by a new man.

I don’t have that much to say about him yet, but he seemed pretty Tennantish, and very high energy. I’m definitely excited to see what Moffat does as showrunner, the concept of the show is so fantastic, and Davies laid out a great template to follow. I’m sure it’ll be great.

But, I think a lot of people underrate what Davies did. So many sci-fi works are soulless, and so few stories of any kind have the love and emotion that infused Davies’ work on Doctor Who. It wasn’t the most consistent show, but nothing else on TV or in film is so consistent in hitting my emotions. I see a great kinship between what I love in fiction and what Davies does, using genre elements as a backdrop to establish stakes, but really writing about characters and emotions.

My favorite episode of the series is still “Parting of the Ways,” which fused an epic Dalek story, with Rose’s desperate battle to leave her home and get back to the Doctor. She was threatened with never being able to realize her full potential, and she fought so hard to get back to him, to save him, it was devastating, and so triumphant when she did return. Davies reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison, both use these cosmic elements as a way to explore very real feelings and issues, and to commune with something spiritual.

This show has a religious feel, of touching something deep and mythical within us, and that’s why I’ll forgive almost all the flaws in the writing. I’d rather see something messy and ambitious and raw than a perfectly refined script. A nice three act structure and flawless script does nothing for me if it doesn’t make me feel, and Davies always makes me feel. And, he had the perfect partner in Tennant, a fiery embodiment of life and energy who grounded even the craziest stories in a very relatable emotion. To take a thirty years old role, played nine previous actors and come away thoroughly owning it is hard to do, but the Doctor is Tennant and everyone else will work in his shadow.

So, this was a far from perfect episode, but the final half hour was as good as anything in the series, a perfect farewell to the world and characters Davies had created. I didn’t want the Doctor to go either, but he went out in style, and left me on a hopeful note, eager to see what new adventures await him. And, if Tennant or Davies want to come back for an episode, I’d be glad to have them.

Best of 2009: Albums

10. U2 – No Line on the Horizon - U2 in the 90s is one of my all time favorite bands, crafting inventive, experimental rock songs that evolved the band’s sound while still maintaining a distinct U2-ness. Their output this decade has been more conservative, and this album is no exception. There’s some good songs on here, but nothing as insistently great as their best work. Still, I love the texture and sound of the band, so even on comparatively lesser songs, they’re still a joy to listen to. And, this album has grown on me a bit, so perhaps time will be even kinder.

9. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 - Blueprint 3 lacks the consistent aesthetic of the 70s inspired American Gangster, but in its jump between genres and styles, it offers something for everyone. “Empire State of Mind” was the breakout, a song that could very well be the next “New York, New York,” but other early singles like “Run this Town” and particularly “D.O.A” are great too. The album isn’t quite Jay’s best, but he’s not slacking either. He showed why he deserves to be ranked among the best rappers all time.

8. Air – Love 2 - After the too minimalist feel of Pocket Symphony, Love 2 is a nice return to form for Air. “Do the Joy” was a great lead single, with that uniquely dreamy Air aesthetic. With Air, I just like the sound of the band so much that it’s less about specific songs, and more about having a new world to get lost in.

7. Muse – The Resistance - Muse is the kind of band that’s easy to poke fun at, with their over the top themes and Queen meets Radiohead maximalist aesthetic, but it’s that blend of prog sounds with pop spectacle that make them an effective band. They’re a lot of fun to listen to, and this album, if a bit less instantly hooky than Black Holes and Revelations, has a very unified feel, it’s a consistent album, particularly during the final suite section. I like that they’re so over the top, and even if it’s not the most original music, it’s presented in an exciting, fresh way.

6. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic - This is an album I’ve listened to a bunch, but still haven’t totally gotten my head around. It’s an epic work, and has a lot going on in each song. The album sees the band getting a bit grittier and heavy than in the ethereal proggy At War with the Mystics, and it generally works. MGMT guests on one track, and this is definitely the Lips’ riff on the neo-tribal aesthetic MGMT works with, and it’s an evocative, trippy journey. Plus, it’s got cover art that’s either absolutely great or terribly awful, I still can’t decide.

5. Passion Pit – Manners - I refrained from listening to Passion Pit for a while, even though they seemed like a band I’d definitely enjoy. When I finally listened to the album, it lived up to the hype. They craft extremely fun power pop songs with great synth and dance rhythm and a joyful sound. I love the sound of their music, the high pitched synths and guitars, and the unique not quite falsetto vocals. A perfect example of pop music in 2009.

4. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns - “Daniel” was the blockbuster for me, the hook that got me into the album. Her first album featured an astonishing single, “What’s a Girl to Do,” but didn’t really do it for me beyond that. However, this one thankfully goes much deeper, mixing a tribal and 80s aesthetic to create something that feels eternal. I love the drum line on album opener “Glass” and the swelling soundscape of “Traveling Woman,” but throughout it’s Natasha’s voice that takes the spotlight. Her voice is huge, beyond her years and form, and here she has the songs to perfectly spotlight it.

3. Royksopp – Junior - I like both Royksopp’s previous albums, but neither of those comes close to what they do here. Fusing the ethereal soundscapes of their first album with the more Europop feel of their second, this becomes a near flawless journey through more esoteric instrumental songs and hooky pop songs. I spotlight “Girl and the Robot” earlier, but “Happy Up Here” and “This Must Be It” are also highlights.

2. Music Go Music – Expressions - Over the course of the year, I probably listened to more Fleetwood Mac than any other artist. I also delved into bands like Supertramp and Abba. I love the sound of 70s pop music, the lush guitars and slight prog tinge to a lot of the work. So, it’s appropriate that my favorite new band of the year is one that emulates a lot of the aesthetic of those bands, and crafts similarly catchy pop songs. Pretty much every track on here is great, but particular highlights include “Love, Violent Love” and “Goodbye Everybody.” The album also features a litany of fantastic instrumental breakdowns, making it clear that though prog had some excesses, there’s no reason that a killer guitar solo can’t find a home in an indie pop song.

1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - I loved Phoenix’s first two albums, but was very iffy on their most recent, It’s Never Been Like That. Thankfully, WAP is a huge return to form, a litany of wonderfully catchy pop songs and a couple of more experimental ones as well that works great as a cohesive unit. There’s the two massive hits “1901” and “Listzomania,” but also slinky disco slowjam “Fences” and the instrumental dreamscape of “Love Like a Sunset.” It’s the deepest album of the year, and in a lot of ways, Phoenix’s most accomplished. I still have a soft spot for “United,” but WAP seems to the best synthesis of all the elements that make Phoenix special and unique.

Best of 2009: Songs

10. Tiga – Love Don’t Dance Here Anymore - A dance epic in the best tradition of disco 12 inch singles, an insistent bass riff anchors the song throughout its run time, as the vocals swell and ebb crossing from the opening sincere verses to the killer “Tables are turning” riff breakdown. When the cowbell comes in to bring it all home, it crosses over to another level. It’s a modern day Moroder classic.

9. The Flaming Lips – Watching the Planets - An electro stomp so heavy its very sound seems distorted, this track is a tribal freakout that fits perfectly into the aesthetic of 2009. It’s a great blend of dance, rock and tribal rhythms for a hypnotic journey into weirdness. It’s one of the band’s best songs to date.

8. Muse – Uprising - If there was ever a Doctor Who movie and they wanted a pop tie in single, it would be this song, which takes the timeless Who riff and turns it into a glam rock anthem of defiance that even the Vatican loves. I love the interplay of elements, the way that the vocal blends with the keyboard riff, and the underlying pulse of the handclaps and drums.

7. U.S.E – K.I.S.S.I.N.G - This song sounds like The Polyphonic Spree meets Van Halen’s “Jump,” blending effusive group vocals with an instantly hooky keyboard riff. I love this band, and wish that they would expand out a bit from their niche in the Northwest. I’d love to hear them live, their vocoder tinged joycore pop feels like it’s made just for me.

6. Passion Pit – Little Secrets - One of the year’s big breakout bands, Passion Pit have a very 2009 aesthetic, fusing synths and dance rhythms with indie rock structures. They’re not the most original band out there at this point, but with songs this good, it doesn’t matter. This song has a great hook, and a wonderful interplay between the lead vocal and the childrens’ choir sounding “Higher and higher” refrain. It’s extremely happy, and fun to listen to, the high point of a great album.

5. Royksopp – The Girl and the Robot - This song builds an entire universe just through its sounds. The churning bass line, the ethereal backing vocals and Robyn’s forceful lead vocal all work together to create Royksopp’s most emotional, and best, song to date. The band’s previous work is often pristine and emotionless but Robyn brings a desperation and edge that contrasts perfectly with the robotic chorus. It’s a killer beat, and the high point of a great album.

4. Music Go Music – Warm in the Shadows - Another 70s style epic, this song features a great dance bass line, and a soaring painful vocal on top of it. I love the variety of sounds that make up the beat during the chorus, and the fantastic guitar work throughout. But, it’s the vocal that really makes the song work. This is another band I’d love to see live, and this song would have to be on the setlist.

3. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance - The most ubiquitous song on the list, “Bad Romance” has become a huge radio smash, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad! There’s the great bass line underlying the verse, the huge stomp of the chorus, the glossalia breakdown midway through, the “I want your love” plea section, which brings it all back to an epic final chorus. It’s all good, and together it makes for a hyperpop song, one where every section could be the chorus. Special mention has to be paid to the song’s amazing video, a masterpiece of production and costume design, full of some of the most pop avant garde images of 2009 cinema.

2. Phoenix – 1901 - It’s been the soundtrack of a Cadillac commercial, and one of the two key anthems that broke the band out to become a legitimate pop force. “1901” features all the hallmarks of a great Phoenix song, a mechanically precise instrumental backing merged with a looser, more emotional vocal. I love the way the backing synths swell into the “Falling, falling falling…” section of the chorus. It’s a tight, danceable, emotional song, and the best of a fantastic album.

1. Bat For Lashes – Daniel - It’s rare that a song can be simultaneously haunting and danceable, but this track pulls it off. Opening with an eerie, distant synth, it gradually swells to an insistent drum line, all the while Natasha’s vocal sounds like it’s coming in from another planet. She’s got one of the most unique voices, the way she sings it’s like her heart is torn open and laid out before us. She’s begging for something better, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking to listen to. The song is distinctly now, distinctly 80s in many ways, but also timeless. Like M83, it transcends its 80s inspired roots and becomes something primal and subconscious. It’s a beautiful song on a sonic level, and extremely catchy too. The video’s great as well. Thanks Ralph Macchio and The Karate Kid for inspiring such a great piece of art!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of the Decade: Albums

There’s a bunch of catching up to do with best of lists. Look for the best film and TV of 2009 tomorrow, but for now, here’s the best albums of the decade…

10. Justice – Cross - I like a lot of things about Daft Punk’s Human After All, but Cross seems a lot more like the second best Daft Punk album of the decade. Of course, Justice do have their own slightly harder aesthetic, crafting some of the most intense dance songs of all time on tracks like “Phantom” and “Stress.” But, they could still kill it on the best hipster dance anthem of all time, “D.A.N.C.E.”

9. Scissor Sisters – Scissor Sisters - The album leads off with a succession of instant classic hits, ranging from the glam rock of “Laura” to the rock stomp of “Take Your Mama” to the Moroder inspired neo-disco of “Comfortably Numb.” Those three songs alone would make a classic album, but the rest of the album doesn’t let up. It’s one of the all time great debut albums.

8. The Raveonettes – Pretty in Black - The Raveonettes are a strange case for me, I like everything they’ve done, but I absolutely love this album. They bring the hidden darkness of 50s pop to the fore, crafting songs that seem to come from another world. Rockers like “Somewhere in Texas” or “Twilight” are great, but the best song for me is by far the ballad “Uncertain Times.”

7. The Polyphonic Spree – Together We’re Heavy - On their first and third albums, the Spree generally played tightly structured songs, only on this album did they sprawl out for epics befitting the massive size of the ensemble. One of my all time favorite concert moments was hearing them open their 2004 Irving Plaza set with “We Sound Amazed,” with a sound so huge it literally shook their floor. This album feels very much of a piece, moving seamlessly through longer and shorter songs and culminating in an epic callback to the sun, that brings it full circle with their first album.

6. Junior Senior – Hey Hey My My Yo Yo - One of the greatest pop albums of all time, every song on here is an ecstatic, instantly catchy piece of musical candy. “Take my Time” is a great 80s style dance track, but the high point is the soaring tribute to music “I Like Music” which soars to Michael Jackson heights of pop greatness.

5. Phoenix – Alphabetical - Phoenix broke out with their fantastic fourth album this year, but I still don’t think they’ve topped the smooth synth sound of their second album. Very emotional, but still danceable, the album features the most consistently catchy songs of their career. “Run Run Run” is haunting, layered and totally danceable, and is always the highlight of their live set. If you’ve only heard their most recent stuff, dig back and check this one out.

4. Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress - A controversial album for many of their fans, DCW saw Belle and Sebastian shift to a more poppy direction, a change that obviously worked very well for me. Virtually every song on here is a joyous anthem, from the cheeky opener “Step into My Office, Baby” to the 80s inspired closer “Stay Loose.” The album features killer guitar solos on “Loose” and “Roy Walker,” but the high point for me is the anthemic “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love,” a pure piece of sonic joy.

3. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible - I loved many of the 00s’ anthemic multi-instrumental bands, but none of them matched the work that Arcade Fire did on their second album. Diversifying their sound from their already great first album, they crafted one of the deepest, most moving albums I’ve ever heard, full of incredibly beautiful moments. From the climactic crescendo of “No Cars Go” to the majesty of “Intervention” to the cathartic release of energy in “Ocean of Noise,” it’s an album of moments that will last forever.

2. Lovage – Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By - I’ve tried to find more albums like this after listening to it, but nothing else has matched. Dan the Automator’s production lays a soft bed of strings and mood that perfectly accompanies the vocal interplay between Mike Patton’s animal growls and Jennifer Charles’ sexy purr. It’s an album that builds its own world, alternating between skits that poke fun at the very idea of a sexy album like this, and songs that deliver on the title’s promise.

1. Daft Punk – Discovery - You could make a very convincing argument that every trend in 00s pop music began here. Autotune’s roots lie in the vocoder on “One More Time,” and were catapulted to prominence when Kanye sampled “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” The 70s cheese synth aesthetic started out as weird here, but has now become pop, thanks to bands like Phoenix and MGMT. And, most importantly, the album made it cool for music to be fun and pop and cheesy without worrying about “authenticity” or “selling out.” Discovery is as pop as it gets, and that’s its joy! It puts a smile on your face, starting with the greatest album opening run of all time, seamlessly transitioning from the disco pop perfection of “One More Time” to the hard rock dance blend of “Aerodynamic” into the 80s synth cheese perfection of “Digital Love” into “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” No album makes me as happy as this one, and no album has influenced the past decade of music more than Daft Punk did with this masterpiece.

Best of the Decade: Songs

10. Annie – Heartbeat - A perfect example of the way that pop music crossed over to the indie crowd, this song has the impeccable production of the best 80s synth pop, and a great vocal performance cooed by Annie. The song’s hook is infectious, but its greatest coup is using the ever more intense drum line to mimic the heartbeat of the title. An 00s pop classic!

9. Phoenix – Too Young - Another blog classic, Phoenix has still yet to top the pure pop joy of their first big hit. It instantly evokes the joy and tinge of melancholy of a great night out coming to an end. It’s powerfully emotional, and wrapped in a beautiful 70s style soft dance rock production.

8. The New Pornographers – The Bleeding Heart Show - As with many New Pornos song, this one is like three songs in one. It opens melancholy than crescendos to a slightly Spanish flavored swing, all the while building and building going through an unspoken bridge section, and another killer breakdown before finally exploding into the chorus: “Hey La Hey La Hey La Hey La Ooooohh!” harmonized before Neko Case cuts in over it all. A cathedral of sound, and a perfect power pop song with more hooks than a coat room!

7. Justin Timberlake – My Love - I love songs that are simultaneously danceable and emotional, and this is a perfect example of that. It blends a nearly avant garde Timbaland beat with a great vocal to create an enveloping sonic world. It also features one of the best guest verses of all time when T.I. comes in to tear up the mechanical precision of the rest of the song. Perfect for the club or for sitting alone in your room!

6. Arcade Fire – No Cars Go - The song begins in a swirl of horns and strings, as voices chant and instruments swell and drive us forward to a kind of utopia. It’s an anthem of defiance, that reaches an almost religious level of transcendence in the instrumental breakdowns, before swelling back for one more call to action. The song is a battle, and by its end, you come away exhausted and exhilarated.

5. Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire - Like a lot of the songs on here, “Hearts on Fire” is a micro-symphony, to the point that you could ask someone what’s your favorite part? Is it the bubbling synth line that underlies the first occurrence of the repeated chorus, or the Moroder like bass that follows it. Perhaps it’s the NES sounding synths in the instrumental section? For me, it’s the absolutely killer sax solo that starts as a ghostly background presence and builds to a growling climax, capping off a flawless pop song.

4. Justice – D.A.N.C.E - The greatest Michael Jackson song of the last twenty years? The anthem of Williamsburg for the past three years? One of the greatest pop songs of all time? “D.A.N.C.E” is all of these songs, an impossibly infectious song that goes from strength, a killer bass line, a great falsetto lead vocal, that weird cutting string line. The call and response finale. It’s all great! I loved this song the first time I heard it and I still love it, many listens later.

3. Arcade Fire – Wake Up - Perhaps the best film of 2009 was the two minute trailer for Where the Wild Things Are, which only reinforced the near religious power of “Wake Up.” A churning emotional buildup, “Wake Up” is a musical catharsis, that explodes in beauty and power. When the entire band comes in for the chorus, it’s chilling. And, the song even caps it all off with an exciting dance-y outro. A beautiful cathedral of music.

2. Daft Punk – Harder Faster Better Stronger - It started as a humble song, then grew to be sampled by Kanye West for the massive hit “Stronger,” and was mixed with “Around the World” in Daft Punk’s live set producing spontaneous ecstasy wherever it was played. But, the original is still the best. Masterfully using vocoder to warp the vocals into a bass line, a guitar solo and more. It features one of the most perfect bass lines of all time, and a constant sense of technological ecstasy. It’s arguably the greatest dance song of all time, and contains the raw material for many future hits.

1. Daft Punk – Digital Love - A strange, joyous expression of love filtered through 80s videogame guitar sounds and vocoder vocals, “Digital Love” is sonic ecstasy through and through. The opening guitar riff draws you into the song, before it segues into a catchy dance groove. But, things start to get crazy when everything cuts out and we hop to the b section for the “Why don’t you play the game” breakdown. Here, they juxtapose the vocal and a fantastic guitar riff, before merging the two for an incredibly joyous 80s sounding guitar solo, then cutting it all off for another breakdown backed by the most over the top guitar solo of all time, then finally bringing it all together for a smooth conclusion. It’s the happiest song I can think of, just pure joy in sounds, it’s the song every synth pop band has been trying to make for the past four years, but Daft Punk did it first and best. An undisputed masterpiece to cap off a decade of fantastic music!