Life's a Bitch

Judging from 2009's top awards contenders, that's the mantra of the year: "Life's a bitch." Rape, incest, poverty, HIV; unemployment, when you have a family to provide for and bills to keep ahead on; dismantling Improvised Explosive Devices within the heart of a war zone--choose your poison.

If this bleak worldview has a physical embodiment, it's not Jeremy Renner trudging around in an 80-pound Kevlar suit, nor is it George Clooney collecting air miles en route to deliver worst-case scenarios to unsuspecting employees. It's Mo'Nique dropping a television set over a balcony at her daughter and newborn grandson.

Precious isn't a great movie and Armond White may not be totally off-base in his provocative assessment, but it's an exceptional example of the social-drama-as-horror-film. Up in the Air isn't a great movie either, but it's uncannily on time, on point, and in its scenes of the real-life laid-off playing essentially themselves, it's heartbreaking enough to convince you, me, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that maybe it's something close to a great movie, after all.

Life's a bitch, and then you die.

Or perhaps you don't. The Hurt Locker is a great movie, and Sergeant Will James is a great movie character, one who almost certainly should be dead, after disarming nearly 900 IED's, yet who isn't. But he isn't entirely alive either--not the way Claireece "Precious" Jones or Ryan Bingham are anyway. It's not too late for either of those protagonists. When James briefly returns home, he stands perplexed in the cereal aisle when asked to pick up a box of cereal, he can't relate with normal parental affection to his toddler son, and he can't hold a conversation with his wife without bombs becoming the subject.

And so he returns to war. The final shot of The Hurt Locker actually echoes that of Precious: James shuffling forward in his unwieldy uniform and Precious carrying her babies down a Harlem street, as, I suppose, Clooney's Bingham glides by somewhere 20,000 feet overhead.

Life's a bitch, and sometimes it just goes on.


100 Singles: 2000-09

So, singles. I'm absolutely positive that there are major cuts I'm momentarily forgetting, though maybe in some cases, the fact that they're slipping my mind is telling in itself; which is to say, it's just what I was feelin' at the time.

100. Conor Oberst - "When the President Talks to God"
99. Ryan Adams - "New York, New York"
98. LCD Soundsystem - "New York, I Love You"
97. Alicia Keys - "Fallin'"
96. Eminem - "Lose Yourself"
95. Lady Gaga - "Bad Romance"
94. Namie Amuro - "Wowa"
93. Kelis f/ Nas - "Blindfold Me"
92. Robyn - "Be Mine!"
91. Estelle f/ Kanye West - "American Boy"
90. Terror Squad - "Lean Back"
89. Beyonce - "Ring the Alarm"
88. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Cheated Hearts"
87. Juvenile - "Get Ya Hustle On"
86. The White Stripes - "Fell in Love with a Girl"
85. Andy Samberg f/ Adam Levine - "Iran So Far"
84. Ciara f/ Ludacris - "Oh"
83. Sean Paul - "Like Glue"
82. Fountains of Wayne - "Stacy's Mom"
81. David Banner - "Cadillac on 22's"
80. Avril Lavigne - "Complicated"
79. The New Pornographers - "The Laws Have Changed"
78. Lady Gaga - "Paparazzi"
77. Classified f/ Choclair, Maestro, and Moka Only -- "Quit While You're Ahead"
76. Jay-Z & Linkin Park - "Numb/Encore"
75. t.a.t.u. - "All the Things She Said"
74. My Morning Jacket - "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2"
73. M.I.A. - "Paper Planes"
72. Dido - "White Flag"
71. Brad Paisley - "Ticks"
70. Ayumai Hamasaki - "Will"
69. Jay-Z - "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)"
68. Miley Cyrus - "Start All Over"
67. Sugababes - "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"
66. Bubba Sparxx - "Ugly"
65. Kelly Osbourne - "One Word"
64. R. Kelly - "Ignition (Remix)"
63. Usher f/ Ludacris and Lil Jon - "Yeah!"
62. Taylor Swift - "Tim McGraw"
61. Mirah - "Jerusalem"
60. Band of Horses - "No One's Gonna Love You"
59. CSS - "Off the Hook"
58. The Game f/ 50 Cent - "Hate It or Love It"
57. Miranda Lambert - "Kerosene"
56. Aly and AJ - "Potential Break-Up Song"
55. Kylie Minogue - "Love at First Sight"
54. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
53. Jay-Z - "Big Pimpin'"
52. Aaliyah - "Try Again"
51. Feist - "1 2 3 4"
50. Emimem - "Stan"
49. OutKast - "Hey Ya"
48. Justin Timberlake f/ T.I. - "My Love"
47. Marit Larsen - "My Love"
46. Lady Sovereign - "9-5"
45. Girls Aloud - "Sound of the Underground"
44. Missy Elliot - "Work It"
43. Kelly Clarkson - "Since U Been Gone"
42. The Strokes - "Someday"
41. Three 6 Mafia Featuring Young Buck & Eightball & MJG: "Stay Fly"
40. Amy Diamond - "What's In It For Me?"
39. N.E.R.D. - "Lapdance"
38. Missy Elliot f/ Ludacris - "Gossip Folks"
37. Lil Wayne - "A Milli"
36. Metric - "Gimme Sympathy"
35. Miley Cyrus - "See You Again"
34. 50 Cent - "I Get Money"
33. 50 Cent - "In da Club"
32. The Game - "Put You on the Game"
31. Kathleen Edwards - "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory"
30. Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl"
29. Britney Spears - "Toxic"
28. Basement Jaxx - "Romeo"
27. Modest Mouse - "Float On"
26. Madonna - "Hung Up"
25. Destiny's Child - "Say My Name"
24. Kanye West - "Love Lockdown"
23. Nina Sky - "Move Ya Body"
22. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Snow (Hey Oh)"
21. Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats"
20. Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz - "Get Low"
19. Justin Timberlake - "Cry Me a River"
18. Britney Spears - "Radar"
17. Kanye West - "Jesus Walks"
16. Missy Elliot - "Get Ur Freak On"
15. Aaliyah - "We Need a Resolution"
14. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z - "Crazy in Love"
13. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Maps"
12. M.I.A. - "Galang"
11. M.I.A. - "Jimmy"

10. Sum 41 - "We're All to Blame" In a decade with a hell of a lot to get pissed off about, this is the only protest song of note by a mainstream rock band. It's infectiously angry--a left-field surprise from one of the last sources I'd expect something so powerful.

09. Taylor Swift - "Our Song" The sweetest and truest song ever recorded about the natural high of falling in love when you're too young (or too crazy in love) to know it won't always feel so good.

08. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z - "Umbrella" The track that singlehandedly transformed Rihanna from minor R&B chanteuse to global pop icon. Not to sound insensitive, but would the whole world care if Chris Brown abused the woman who sang "Pon de Replay"?

07. Nelly Furtado f/ Timbaland - "Promiscuous" In which Nelly "I'm Like a Bird" Furtado gets her freak on courtesy of, um, the guy who made "Get Ur Freak On"

06. OutKast - "B.O.B." Those declaring this Single of the Decade aren't far off the mark. As consensus picks go, I'm on board.

05. Brad Paisley - "Welcome to the Future" Brad Paisley is a master of both gentle irony and uncommonly poignant love songs. Who knew he'd save his best ode for the present moment and (implicitly) the present President? It's so poignant it'll give you goosebumps--and it's not even a little ironic.

04. Panjabi MC f/ Jay-Z - "Beware of the Boys (remix)" Of course, everybody jumped on this 'cause of the Iraq war line, but 30 years from now, when some other rapper is dropping unexpected politics regarding some other war, this collaboration-for-the-ages will still sound fantastic.

03. The New Pornographers - "Letter from an Occupant" The song that introduced many of us to the New Pornos remains their finest moment. Neko hits the high notes, we pick our jaws up off the floor.

02. Lumidee - "Never Leave You (Uh Oh)" A hauntingly off-key love plea over the surest beat of the decade; one of the great one-hit wonders of all-time.

01. Rene Liu f/ Stanley Huang - "Black Black Heart" Okay, just do me a quick favor: Listen to the song before you accuse me of willful obscurantism. Sure, choosing a Chinese pop cover of a Canadian rock hit as the single of the decade is seemingly pretty random, but when said song is this gorgeous, its obscurity is neither here nor there.


100 Albums: 2000-09

After the film feature, I'm kind of blurb'd out for a while so I only wrote up very short notes on the top ten for this. For the record, this list was surprisingly difficult to put together. I had no idea at the outset that by deciding to limit my selections to 100, there wouldn't be room for Missy Elliot, Dizzee Rascal, the Streets, or Neko Case solo, among others who've submitted seriously good work over the past ten years. I guess it was a pretty great decade for music, huh?

100. Aly and AJ - Insomniatic
99. Bruce Springsteen & the E. Street Band - Magic
98. Gretchen Wilson - Here for the Party
97. The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
96. Raekwon - Only Built for Cuban Linx...Pt. II
95. Ashlee Simpson - I Am Me
94. Jay-Z - American Gangster
93. Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
92. Cut Copy - Bright Like Neon Love
91. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
90. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender
89. Taylor Swift - Taylor Swift
88. Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)
87. The New Pornographers - Electric Version
86. The Avalanches - Since I Left You
85. Morrissey - Ringleader of the Tormentors
84. Asobi Seksu - Citrus
83. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now
82. Justin Timberlake - Justified
81. S. - Puking and Crying
80. Panjabi MC - Beware
79. Girl Talk - Night Ripper
78. Youssou N'Dour - Egypt
77. Big and Rich - Horse of a Different Color
76. Daft Punk - Discovery
75. Amy Diamond - Still Me, Still Now
74. The Strokes - Is This It
73. Kathleen Edwards - Back to Me
72. Young Jeezy - Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101
71. Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One
70. Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad
69. Keren Ann - Not Going Anywhere
68. Bob Dylan - "Love and Theft"
67. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
66. Fannypack - See You Next Tuesday
65. Ladytron - Softcore Jukebox
64. Mirah - C'mon Miracle
63. The Game - The Documentary
62. Stephen Malkmus - Stephen Malkmus
61. Brad Paisley - American Saturday Night
60. The Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Park
59. The Hold Steady - The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me
58. Beck - Sea Change
57. Bjork - Vespertine
56. Lily Allen - My First Mixtape
55. Lucinda Williams - West
54. PJ Harvey - White Chalk
53. The Moldy Peaches - The Moldy Peaches
52. CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy
51. N.E.R.D. - In Search Of...
50. Kanye West - Graduation
49. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
48. Sahara Hotnights - Kiss and Tell
47. Northern State - All City
46. Courtney Love - America's Sweetheart
45. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
44. Santogold - Santogold
43. M.I.A. & Diplo - Piracy Funds Terrorism
42. Kanye West - The College Dropout
41. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell
40. Girls Aloud - What Will the Neighbors Say?
39. 50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin'
38. Brad Paisley - 5th Gear
37. David Banner - Mississippi: The Album
36. Cam'ron - Purple Haze
35. The Sounds - Living in America
34. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
33. Drive-by Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
32. Ashlee Simpson - Autobiography
31. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
30. Nirvana - Live at Reading
29. Kanye West - Late Registration
28. OutKast - Stankonia
27. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
26. Metric - Fantasies
25. Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment
24. Kylie Minogue - Fever
23. Basement Jaxx - Rooty
22. Britney Spears - Blackout
21. Radiohead - Kid A
20. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
19. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
18. Nellie McKay - Get Away from Me
17. The Mountain Goats - Tallahassee
16. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
15. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III Mixtape
14. PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
13. Cat Power - You Are Free
12. Solomon Burke - Don't Give Up on Me
11. Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers

10. The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic Almost definitely the best album spawned to date by the city in which I presently live; "Letter from an Occupant" might just be the finest power-pop track ever recorded.

09. Joanna Newsom - Ys If "singular" is the most appropriate one-word description of Ys, it's also a major understatement. Joanna Newsom's masterwork is lush and dense, allusive and tender, epic and intimate, and...utterly singular.

08. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat The most affecting musical response to 9/11 from the finest band of their generation (maybe...ever?).

07. Bubba Sparxxx - Deliverance Country-rap that works seamlessly as both and finds Timbaland at the peak of his powers.

06. Yeah Yeah Yeahs Show Your Bones Who would've thought, judging from the sound and fury of the LP and EPs that preceded it, that Karen O. and Co.'s folk move would be so lovely? There are few records closer to my heart than this one.

05. Robyn - Robyn Pop perfection so far ahead of its time that it somehow took three fucking years to come out in North America. (Sometimes the Internet's a good thing to have.)

04. Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Not just the best country album of the decade, but one of the all-time greats; she finished third on Nashville Star and will probably never move half as many units as Taylor or Carrie. But she just got the first buck of the season: she made the front page of the Turner Town Gazette.

03. M.I.A. - Arular Kala remains all-over-the-place and deeply overrated (two awesome songs does not a great album make), but it doesn't diminish the front-to-back goodness of M.I.A.'s debut proper. How many artists have ever arrived this fully-formed, this full of energy and ideas and beats? The final minute of "Galang" still sounds as stunning as it did half a decade ago.

02. Kanye West - 808's & Heartbreak The closest thing in hip-hop to Plastic Ono Band, by the only currently working artist whom I actually expect to someday make an even better album than this one.

01. Jay-Z - The Blueprint Certainly, Paid in Full and Raising Hell are more influential. It Takes a Nation of Millions... and Straight Outta Compton are more explosive. But, verse for verse and track for track, The Blueprint is simply the most through-inspired rap record ever made, from "I wanna thank everybody out there for their purchase" to "unless you was me, how could you judge me / I was brought up in pain, ya can't touch me"; from the Nas hit-job to the lone guest spot--Eminem, also at the height of his genius. In short, this album's why no Jay-Z boast, no matter how outlandish, will ever sound entirely like bullshit.