|"Queen of the Air"|
from Sparkle and Fade
|"No, You Don't"|
by Nine Inch Nails
from The Fragile
|"I Still Love You Judas"|
from The Ponzi Scheme
"Queen of the Air" (3 plays at Last.fm, unranked): This was the song that made Everclear my favorite band for a while, after "Santa Monica" had prompted me to buy the record. There's a lot of mid-90's shimmer in here, but the structure also calls back to the abrasiveness of Everclear's first independent release, 1993's World of Noise. Maybe the most significant addition it makes to that structure is a terrific melodic bassline that has a really nice interplay with the slight guitar melody -- it's not overpowering the way a lot of contemporaneous songs are. The story that Art Alexakis tells is short and compelling -- the narrator's supposed aunt but actual mother jumping from a bridge to her death -- and I was surprised to learn to was totally made up. Alexakis uses so many harsh autobiographical details in the first three Everclear records that a story like this one doesn't raise an eyebrow, but it's of a piece with the working class heartbreak and drama that he used to be so good at.
"No, You Don't" (4 plays, unranked): Looking back on what Trent Reznor has done in the past nine years, The Fragile looks like the most important thing in the NIN catalog. You can hear bits and pieces of his subsequent three full-lengths and the Ghosts collection all over the place -- it's the beginning of a more cohesive sound than he ever had with pretty hate machine, broken and the downward spiral (though those are better works overall). When the album came out, the build and noise of this track were just what I wanted to hear (another NIN song, "the great collapse," appears later in the tournament for the same reason). It's a great singer and a great screamer, and I suspect largely underappreciated in a sea of album cuts from an oft-overlooked record.
"I Still Love You Judas" (9 plays, tied for #299): I discovered Firewater through their first album when hosting a college radio show at 3AM Sunday mornings, but it's their follow-up that I really love. Frontman Tod A is a terrific lyricist, but the band manages to create music that's both atmospheric and cinematic as an accompaniment. It's unfortunate that the band's style was so out in 1998 (it would've been killer in 1992 or 2006), because their vocal-driven, minor-key rock with strings could've developed a real audience in the right conditions.
VERDICT: This is a tough call, but I think Firewater wins out. The opening of the song has that spark to it, that when you hear it come up on shuffle you perk up, turn up the volume and get ready to submerge into the song.