By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
My life has been ruled by my obsessions. Dinosaur books, baseball, and Bagel Bites dominated my days as a chubby cheeked kid who had a perpetual sugar rush. As I got older, running, writing, and Bagel Bites wrestled rampantly as I began to transition from a little kid to someone who, technically, could be considered a capable student that could somehow make it down a Florida street without wrecking the neighborhood. As I grew up, though, I never truly understood what obsession may have been the guiding force for the way I communicated, the way I created memories, the way I grew into the person I am now.
That obsession was music. Every second has been soundtracked by some song, every step I have taken impacted in some way, big or small, by the sounds in my ears.
Here are the 5 songs of this decade that have helped to form the way I express myself, the way I appreciate the art of sound, and the way I choose to live my life.
Janelle Monae – Make Me Feel
The swirling, gargantuan synth lines, the hypnotic mouth-clucks, the seductive finger snaps. Upon this, Janelle Monae’s hypersexualized vocals croon and wail in a manner that can only be described as unabashedly lustful, empowered, and funky; the kind of bravado many wish they had at the most crowded bar or the cramped dorm. “Make Me Feel” is the musical personification of falling head over heels for someone, obsession clanging in your head louder than the Prince-inspired guitar plucks on the track. As a song, it serves more than just demonstrate the overwhelming power attraction can have on someone, whether it be a lunchtime crush or their lifelong partner. The messaging behind the track speaks to openness, and acceptance; Monae’s implied feelings and desires translate to all people, and speaks to how attraction holds no bounds or limitations. Everyone craves compassion, the desire for romance running hot within their blood, sweat, and tears. As the song progresses, it nearly resembles the rising heartbeat any man or woman feels as their person of desire comes closer and closer, inches away from physical touch. How do we respond? Silence, and an abrupt end to passion that can only be conveyed by dead silence as an outro. The feeling of attraction is really quite no other: a rollercoaster of fantasy, obsession, and even disappointment that hits harder than a truck. And yet the cycle continues…
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid) – Shame
In a decade where hip-hop reigned supreme, it’s surprising that a song like “Shame” stands out. It’s a mirror image of the simultaneously toxic and honest approach rap’s most significant names take to relationships, but it never aims for grand social commentary. Instead of grandiose aspirations, Gibbs and Madlib portray the true power of simple beauty and subtext, all inlaid within three minutes. Hip-hop speaks to truth within the human mind, and despite the seemingly small purpose Gibbs’ swaggering and storytelling tell in an outsider’s context, it screams so much more when tied to a beat that resembles a slow dance within a long-closed bar, glasses of scotch and high heels laid upon the floor. The surface level aesthetic suggests a Cinderella story, especially amidst Madlib’s haunting harmonies and plinking keys. However, the sickening feeling of not belonging to someone who thought otherwise lingers on BJ the Chicago Kid’s gorgeous vocals, the pain and joy of one-night stands clashing amidst Gibbs’ lyrical tributes and farewells to his various partners. Even if Gibbs remains steadfast in his selfish actions, his emotional unavailability for true compassion is what brings his shame, whether it be due to the drugs he consumes, his criminal past, or his success going to his head. All songs are a sum of their parts, and by recognizing the human flaws contained within one of the most striking instrumentals of the decade, I finally understood that the impact of all things lie in more than just a surface level. A deeper look at the history and actions of one person can lend a hand to knowing the true tragedy of life; in much the same way, hip-hop’s deeper context makes even the most cold-blooded MC’s have a past worth understanding
Arctic Monkeys – No. 1 Party Anthem
High school was a time of many ups and many downs, as is the case for any burgeoning students lost in the void of boredom, education, and extracurriculars. Throughout all of my experience in my own high school, however, no song quite described the experience a shy teen could have than the nocturnal ballad “No. 1 Party Anthem”. The track features a sequence of chords that never quite reach a climax, always staggering and falling as Alex Turner reaches to make contact with an obscure love interest in a dystopian nightclub. During the age of phone use at even the wildest of parties, the lingual disconnect from human to human is more than just realistic; it’s sharpshooter accurate. The overwhelming feeling of being lost in a black realm between pleasure and fear crawled up my skin, and directly mirrored my own troubles in making contact with people that I wished to approach. However, despite the melancholy and awkwardness between two strangers brought about by the drunken piano, the acoustic guitars scream a different emotion: reach out, and say hi. As such, it became entirely fitting that this song became the soundtrack to me and my friends’ late night longboarding excursions, bonded together by Lord-knows-what. A song that seemingly screams gloom and doom suddenly becomes joyous, a celebration of self-peace, finding where you belong, and meeting those few people that will remain in your heart forever. Even if you may not be able to find common ground with one person, Alex Turner’s drunken confusion inspires us to never give up. Eventually, the party will start with the right people, even if they are miles away.
Car Seat Headrest – Bodys
THIS is a real party anthem…in the most unusual way. “Bodys” is not an atypical rock song, as its guitars are blaring-yet-refined, spacey electronic drumming is intermixed with crunchy kits, and synths zoom in and out of the soundscape with the speed of a rocket. It is wild, a musical interpretation of the pent up energy humans contain within themselves, waiting on a chance to explode in a fire of fury and/or fervor. Will Toledo, the frontman of Car Seat Headrest, makes the track work in a way that is somehow energizing-yet-touching. Growing up, I never wanted to dance; to this day, dancing is tough. But as the beat constantly starts, stops, and changes along with Will’s endearing references to self-worth, body types, and youth, I realize that “Bodys” exudes the spirit of happiness within all of us, the desire to let the music possess your very soul. Toledo calls for those who think they cannot sing to sing anyway; screw what you think will happen, just do it! The gutsiness of the track’s odd structure, with a lack of a chorus and central melody, resembles the awkward stammers and stutters one experiences when they feel self-doubt amidst others or even themselves. These “flaws” however, are not portrayed as negative; they are considered as a positive asset to identity. The track’s transition from confused and awkward to abrasive and daring reminds me of old-timey films where the outcast main character finally makes a move on his coveted dream girl. It’s a triumph, a moment of pure energy that can manipulate someone who remains too quiet to show who they are. “Bodys” taught me more than just to accept my lack of dance and vocal skills; it taught me to embrace my inner passions, and to just do what I want. “We’ll forget that we forgot how to talk, when we dance”.
Earl Sweatshirt/Hugh Masekela – “Riot!”
“Riot!” is not just the gut-punch ending of a stellar album, nor is it merely a distorted sample of one of Africa’s most acclaimed jazz musicians. It evokes what can only be described as the pure purpose of music. It stands at a mere minute and six seconds, featuring no vocals and any real body; it is just a skeletal ghost of a completed song hiding behind a dusty curtain. And yet, once I hear that vintage vinyl crackle, the plucks of old guitars and shouts of disembodied choruses, and an ethereal trumpet, I am confined to another realm. The power of music to portray the indescribable power of emotion, that gut-feeling that can never truly be put into words, is omnipresent here. I feel the sadness of times long gone, the despair of loss, the fear of no escape that pains so many people today, especially Earl Sweatshirt. And yet, I also hear pride in oneself, a glimmer of hope that peace can be found, and the sound of gifts that can be attained through love and hard work. It does more than to merely wrap up an album focusing on mortality and self-destruction; it delivers, on all fronts, a shot of emotion to every core of the being, reminding me of what it’s like to be alive and experience the ground beneath me, the sky above me, and the people around me. In a way, I feel like the usage of this song speaks to the complexities of the soul; so fragile and weak at times, barely grasping on…but so full of durability and strength at others. All life has hardships; all life has successes, all of which slide effortlessly down and up like the jazz instrumentals blaring through the speakers.
“Life is so short, and it ends all to quickly, just like me,”, the music itself says, “might as well make the most of it”.
Thank you all for the best time any writer, music fan, and person can have. Here’s to the 2020’s being even greater!
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