15. “Postcards.mp3” – Faithless – 1998 – Sunday 8 p.m. – Buy it
Faithless’ songs jump all over the musical map, combining elements of techno, house, hip-hop, and trance. This hodge podge of styles accounts for the unevenness of much of the band’s work, but when things come together just so, the results are uniquely beautiful. “Postcards” begins softly with a gorgeous sample from Dido’s “My Lover’s Gone” and a delicate piano riff, then quickly shifts gears as MC Maxi Jazz’s road-weary rhymes paint a vivid picture of life on the tour bus. When Jazz admits, “I really miss watching you get dressed in the morning,” it’s with a poignancy that that anyone whose even been homesick can relate to. An undulating trip-hop beat propels the song ever forward, perfectly capturing a sense of urban restlessness.
Underworld usually offsets strength with subtlety, but on this four-on-the-floor burner, they drop the gloves and bang away. The first two minutes is pure adrenaline as “Kittens” punishes you with bursts of squelching synthesizers and whipcrack beats. It’s exciting enough to carry an entire song but turns out to be just foreplay; at 2:50, the beats really drop, pushing the track into euphoric mania. When I hear this song, I picture it being played in an ecstasy-fueled club at 3 a.m. when a second wind hits the dancefloor and everyone goes insane.
13. “The Difference It Makes (Superpitcher remix).mp3” (single) – The MFA – 2004 – Buy it
It’s rare when a remake outshines the original, but on his remix of “The Difference It Makes,” German producer Superpitcher applies a golden touch to the MFA’s spectacular debut single. It’s hard to define exactly what makes this version so good except to say that it feels wonderfully complete — nothing is missing yet no sound feels extraneous, either. The best electronic music infuses the stark precision of technology with organic beauty, and this song, a minimalistic triumph awash in melodic warmth, does so with dazzling effect.
It wasn’t until I actually assembled this list and saw so many Underworld songs that I realized the impression this trio has made on me. In my mind, no other artist has consistently produced more spectacular moments in electronic music. “Pearl’s Girl (Tin There)” leads off the U.S. version of the Pearls’ Girl EP and it’s a shadowy, throbbing slice of trance that, while simpler than the original “Pearl’s Girl”, achieves a hypnotic effect that is irresistible. The fact that this song was relegated to a B-side still amazes me; it’s a testament to the quality and depth of Underworld’s work.
Leftism stands among the all-time great electronic albums, not just for its style and sound but its impeccable pacing as well. While essentially a collection of stand-alone songs, the album’s energy ebbs and flows like a real DJ set, and “Afro-Left” is the monster track where things really start to move. The vocals feel like an exotic instrument weaving between the assailing beats which gives the song a titanic, tribal-like quality. Leftfield was among the first groups to successfully meld electronic sounds with African dub rhythms, and this is perhaps their finest moment.