An expressive vocalist with a singular phrasing style, Spektor has created a most intriguing song about the roles we play in relationships, how we often betray our lovers--and ourselves--with equal abandonment. Plucked strings and piano merge with gentle percussion to create a repetitive, hypnotic invitation to the singer's journey through the highs and lows of heartbreak. Spektor alternates between playing with words flirtatiously and caressing them tenderly. It's as if she's searching for a true meaning--one that might never present itself. "I never loved nobody fully," she warns, and we wonder, is the singer addressing herself or her lover? It's that spellbinding uncertainty, which speaks to love itself--along with Spektor's adorably exotic voice and that opiate melody--that makes the song such a standout. Plus, you gotta love the way she owns the line "break my h-h-h-heart."
2. "Not on Top (67 Better Ways to Make Some Sense)" (2006), Herman Dune
French pop-folk duo delivers charming ditty--with choice keyboard hook--about approaching age 30 and realizing you have not accomplished shit. It's a sad song but not hopeless. There's a hazy sense of determination in the singer's voice. He's going to get it together. Really. First, though, he must take an honest look at where he's at. "I'm 27 and I'm fucked," our hero sings, "it's 10 years from teenage, and that's a freaking lot."
3. "This Tornado Loves You" (2009)," Neko Case
Did you ever wonder what runs through a tornado's mind as it flattens storefronts and separates souls from their homes, leaving children "motherless, fatherless"? Me neither. But those are the kind of ideas that stimulate Neko Case while she does such household chores as washing dishes. Case has such an avalanche of a voice that she can make nearly anything sound at once gorgeous and important but this song--with its lightly driving, twang-tinged melody and darkly detailed lyrics--finds her in top form.
4. "Paper Planes" (2007), M.I.A.
The Sri Lankan sensation creates what must be the catchiest song ever about waging international class warfare. Richly textured sonics featuring smart samples and fabulous found sounds--dig the crackling gunshot blasts; best use of cash register since Pink Floyd's "Money"--allow the witty, revolutionary rapper with maximum swagger to drop an ostensible club banger fitted with rhymes about, ah, terrorism.
5. "Seven Nation Army," (2003), the White Stripes
Jack White concocts the most killer guitar riff of the decade and uses to great effect throughout entire song. Awesomely primitive with a winningly mysterious vocal about world domination, revenge and avoiding the hounds of hell, "Seven Nation Army" ranks with anything in the pantheon of classic guitar-based rock songs.