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This will be my last best-of list for a while, I promise; I’ve been getting sick of them, too. There’s still some unfinished business left to take care of, though. The albums list went up yesterday, so here go my ten favorite singles of the last three months of 2005.
1. Little Big Town: “Boondocks.” My brother warned me when I was moving up to New York that I’d start “glamorizing country shit,” and lo and behold, that’s exactly what I’m doing now. Even more than Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol,” “Boondocks” is my favorite country single of the year, and I can’t believe that I completely forgot about it when I was making all my year-end lists. There’s none of the endemic cutesiness all over mainstream country here; it’s a big, dusty, unpretentious provincial-pride jam, Southern rock as interpreted by an unnaturally fresh-faced, wholeheartedly Christian co-ed quartet. The male and female voices weave in an out of each other on the verses before coming back together on the big, anthemic chorus. The band uses fiddles and banjos and anything else that might scream country, but they use this stuff in service of a big protean swamp-groove while the four singers howl about “It’s where I learned about Jesus / And knowing where I stand.” And then, as the song is ending, they all start singing rounds of “You get a rod, I’ll get a pole / We’ll go fishing in the crawfish hole,” which may or may not be a traditional song but definitely sounds like it is. This is a great song from just about any perspective, but a lot of its appeal is strictly personal; when you move from a much smaller city to New York, this stuff starts to mean something extra.
2. Lil Wayne: “Fireman.” I didn’t quite have this figured out at first, but “Fireman” is something more than a nice little club jam. It’s in Wayne’s breathless snarl, the new kind of pointed ferocity he uses to spit out his ad-libs (“I’m baaack!,” “I goooot em!”) and weird little lyrical asides (“Toss you like a fruit salad, strawberry grape ya,” “Riding by myself, well, really not really”). All this became more apparent with the album, but this track is starting to look like the moment Wayne announced to the world that he’d discovered an entirely new way of delivering standard-issue rap threats and brags, a bizarre smirking sidelong eloquence worthy of Cam’ron. Everything he says is just so goddam weird, and he says it all so matter-of-factly: “I don’t even need a G-pass, I’m past that / I’m passin’ em out now, and you can’t have that,” “Been in the water since a young ‘un, you just shark food / Quick Draw McGraw, I went to art school.” Bonus: the beat has one of those irresistibly skeletal Atlanta synth-rap burbles, just like “Nextel Chirp”! I’ve had “Fireman” in my head constantly for about the past month and a half, and that’s been fine with me.
Voice blog: Riff Raff on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter II
3. Ying Yang Twins feat. Pitbull: “Shake.” The first time I heard United States of Atlanta, “Shake” jumped out right away, for reasons that had virtually nothing to do with the Ying Yang Twins themselves. I could probably listen to Pitbull furiously chanting Spanish stuff I don’t understand over frantic electro-disco for hours on end (see also: “Toma,” “Culo”), and the churning, popping, synthed-up, twerked-out beat is the most sprightly and energetic thing Lil Jon has ever done even if it isn’t the best. The sample of George Krantz’s “Din Daa Daa” keeps the song moving at a ridiculous clip and thankfully moves it away from crunk and back toward Miami bass. It’s almost shocking that it took the Ying Yang Twins this long to release the song as a single, and it’s impossible not to love any video that prominently features a Chingo Bling bobblehead.
Voice review: Christopher O’Connor on the Ying Yang Twins’ USA: United States of Atlanta
4. Purple Ribbon All-Stars: “Kryptonite.” I didn’t trust “Kryptonite” at first; it seemed too much like Speakerboxxx-era Big Boi, and no one ever needs to hear that stuff again. It only began to make sense, and this is embarrassing, after I saw all the Purple Ribbon guys performing it on Letterman Thanksgiving night. So here’s what I like about the song: it piles up a whole lot of the elements big right now in Atlanta’s bubbling-underground minimal-rap thing, except it keeps layering them until it gets some sort of tapestry going. D4L, for instance, would probably use only the clipped piano sample or the winding Eastern synth line or the humming bass or the stuttering vocal hook, but the Purple Ribbon guys push all of them together and let them fuse and interweave, and it ends up fuller and more satisfying while still keeping this weirdly skeletal and alien edge. All the rappers except Big Boi and Killer Mike are proudly mediocre, of course, and that’s just fine, especially since those two hold back intentionally so as not to overwhelm the track. Big Boi, in particular, tempers his all-over-the-place flow to the point where he sounds like the other guys’ fast-talking uncle, something like E-40 if E-40 knew how to rap on beat.
5. Madonna: “Hung Up.” My cousin said that she didn’t like “Hung Up” because it made her feel tense, which is pretty much exactly why I like it. It’s straight-up neo-disco Euro-dancepop, of course, but there’s none of the furious catharsis that you’d get from, I don’t know, La Bouche or Real McCoy, to give two completely dated examples. It’s all relentless buildup and no triumphant release; even the chorus doesn’t give any relief from the flattening robo-groove. And thanks to the video, I can’t hear it on the subway without imagining the people sitting across from me ineptly pop-locking, which is fun.
Voice review: Joan Morgan on Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor
6-10. Franz Ferdinand: “Do You Want To”; Carrie Underwood: “Jesus Take the Wheel”; Kanye West: “Heard Em Say”; D4L: “Laffy Taffy”; Ladytron: “Destroy Everything You Touch.”