“Around the World,” ATC: This stood in stark relief to everything else on pop radio in 2001, the only music to satisfy my new rule that the best song in any given year must be touched by the hand of “You Showed Me” by the Byrds: mysterious, luminous, melancholy, evanescent, serene. ATC’s singer spends much of the time explaining her inability to explain anything (“I don’t know what to say—oh not another word, just la-la-la-la-la…”), but precipitating her speechlessness is one of the greatest subjects of all for pop music, a disruptive but liberating encounter with “the radio playing songs that I have never heard.” In the first verse she hears them, in the second she sits in an empty room waiting to hear them again. No matter how cataclysmic the effect, there’s never explicit verbalization of what is better left to the la-la-la-la-las and their matching Europop synthesizer flourish. Even the big Martha Wash/Robin S voice that pops up at the end, which 10 years ago would have been front and center, is mixed way into the background. A deceptively complicated record that is as pure in its way as the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” or the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.”
[#1, year-end ballot, 2001]
“Gone Missing,” Wussy: The Wussy LP is so good, it’s hard to know which song to pick; I got out a Ouija board, dart board, and magic 8-ball, and this is the one. There’s no way I should like Wussy as much as I do. There’s a basic heaviness to a lot of their songs (definitely present on “Gone Missing”) that’s normally not my kind of thing, and Chuck Cleaver’s voice has the kind of Gordon Gano/Robert Smith quaver that I usually recoil from. (As always, my points of reference are impressively up to date.) Maybe Lisa Walker being there to temper all of that puts them over for me, but it’s not like she’s a shrinking violet either—actually, it may be her more than anything that gives them a really sinister undertow. Great lines, too, which I never notice till the third or fourth time through: my two favorite on Wussy are “reflecting on the never-ending question why we’ve been born” and “I finally got your letter, and your punctuation hit me like a truck.” Punctuation is something I think about a lot. I use dashes and semi-colons way too often, and there’s always the never-ending question of where to place all the commas. And O.P.P. (other people’s punctuation), geez. That does indeed hit me like a truck sometimes.
[#4, year-end ballot, 2010]