Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #78. [Whistle]

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 12, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Norwegian electronic pop duo Royksopp did a pretty impressive job of submerging themselves in the subconscious of this decade’s pop culture. Their music was used in countless video games, TV shows and movies. They collaborated with all sorts of artists (most of them fellow Euros) and showed up on all sorts of high-profile DJ mixes (frequent collaborator Erlend Oye’s DJ Kicks still being a favorite). Their remixed songs became blog-house sensations (Jacques Lu Cont’s “What Else is There?” remix still being a decade highlight) and their videos became Internet-circulated classics (the “Remind Me” clip remains mind blowing in its visual detail, like a thinking man’s “Californication”). That last song, “Remind Me,” also ended up ensuring Royksopp’s place in 00s PC lore, as the album version of the song was used in the famous airport edition of GEICO’s “So Easy, a Caveman Could Do It” series, meaning that anyone who watched about an hour’s worth of TV from 2006 to 2007 is guaranteed to know at least two lines of their lyrics by heart.

The most enduring piece of music Royksopp gave us during this time, however, was “Eple.” That one wasn’t without its outside uses either, as it was used as station ID music for Austin’s KLRU public access channel (home to the fine performance show Austin City Limits), and Apple used it as the startup music for it’s Mac OS X operating system (not terribly original, since “eple” means “Apple” in Norwegian). The latter usage is the key one, since to me, “Eple” was the sound of life starting up. It was so buoyant and fresh-sounding and enthusiastic that it made doing just about anything while listening to it seem new and exciting. It wasn’t cheesy in its vivaciousness, just solidly uncorruptable. I kept it as my text ringtone for about a year, beofre I got worried it would make me sick of the song, since I used to just let it ring whenever it went off. Words to the song were not only unnecessary, they would have been unbelievably inappropriate, unless they were abstract to the point of being meaningless. Everything you need to know about the song is right there in the hook.

And holy shit goddamn, whatta hook. Like so many great hits from so many different time periods, “Eple” has crossover jazz sample-source extraordinaire Bob James to thank for its creation. But unlike most of the songs that took from James, “Eple” refrains from merely scissoring out a chunk of the song and laying a beat under it–really, if you listen to “You’re as Right as Rain,” the James song listed as the main sample source for the song, you’ll barely register any part that seems to actually match any part of the “Eple” hook note-for-note (though you can watch in painstaking detail exactly how the sample was culled from the song here). But just as much as using it as a sample source, Royksopp took the electric piano sound–that smooth, airy, impossibly bright sound–that James cultivated and/or trademarked during his fusion days, and used that as a jumping off point for the rest of the song. The keyboard hook sets the tone for the rest of the song with it’s high-pitched, gently piercing bounce, and it’s the kind of hook that can stick in your brain for months after only hearing it once.

Great as the hook is, though, Royksopp were very wise to give it the adequate support underneath. Many of James’ original songs, including “Right as Rain,” sound kinda floundering today, the lightness of his piano awash in a sea of laid back guitar, schmaltzy violins and too-thick production. Royksopp prevent “Eple” from reaching a similar fate–and also prevent the song from feeling just like a retro nostalgia trip, which it very easily could have–with the drums. The first thing you actually hear in the song, the loud, shuffling drum track instantly sets the song’s high energy level, affirmatively insuring it against fears of liteness or, uh, moribundity. It doesn’t exactly send the song into big beat territory (probably a good thing, as evidenced by some of the song’s more high-octane remixes), but rather makes it feel like a less down-tempo trip-hop song–possibly the first trip-hop song in history to make you want to go out and jump into a pile of leaves.

Little production flourishes here and there–the way the hook reverses itself back in on itself, the chopped-up keyboard sounds on the song’s bridge–also keep the song with a spring in its step. Ultimately, it ends up sounding like a composite of a good deal of my favorite non-dance instrumental tracks from around the turn of the millennium, with the kiddie-like wonder of Boards of Canada’s “ROYGBIV,” the pristine funk of Four Tet’s “She Moves She,” and the overflowing emotion of The Avalanches’ “Since I Left You” (OK, not technically an instrumental, and kind of overrated, but close enough)–a combination good enough (helped no doubt by a commercial campaign or two) to get the song to the top 20 in the UK, despite extremely limited commercial potential. And though over here “Remind Me” is as good a shot currently as Royksopp has of being remembered, “Eple” is the true classic–the one that’ll soundtrack the rejuvenation of our society once the machines destroy us in twenty years or so.

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”

2 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #78. [Whistle]”

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