Thursday, December 17, 2009
24. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight
23. The Antlers - Hospice
22. Real Estate - Real Estate
21. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
20. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
19. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
18. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
17. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
16. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul.
15. Destroyer - Bay of Pigs E.P.
14. Volcano Choir - Unmap
13. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
12. Bonnie "Prince Billy" - Beware
11. Dark Was the Night
10. The xx - The xx I feel horrible about this band. I'm enraptured with this album, but I just haven't given it enough time to really know whether I love it for the right reasons. It's minimalist and sweet that rare combination that might explain why I always want the album on. It's been a busy couple weeks with this album, here's hoping that I'm able to give it more.
9. Atlas Sound - Logos Where Deerhunter alternated between blissed out ambient passages and quick-focused guitar assault, Atlas Sound alternates between blissed out ambient passages and multi-layered pop. Hell, there is even a totally appropriate Panda Bear cameo. It's not quite as mysterious and engaging as Deerhunter, but it's often more immediate and satisfying. The perfect mid-day, sunshine record.
8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte OrcaHere's another band I never listened to before this year, and I'm wondering what was my problem. Bitte Orca is so crammed full of ideas, it's hard to figure out exactly where you stand. One minute they are all calm and beautiful, and then Stillness is the Move comes on and I might as well be listening to the best R n B song of the year.
7. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixI've known about Phoenix for a while now, but I always thought of them as some watered-down version of the Strokes. All plastic and polished instead grit and unwahsed hair. But I suppose that's kind of the point. While the Strokes have spent the past five years trying to do anything but play together, Phoenix have been refining their craft. It's a surprisingly varied album, one that feels just as comfortable with pop-rock as they do with ambient passages.
6. Bibio - Ambivalence AvenueThis is one of those albums that I had on constantly this year, and though I know none of the track names, I can safely say I've listened to it more than any of the albums on the list.
5. Handsome Furs - Face Control Forget the Wolf Parade reunion. Spencer Krug may get all the love, but my favorite songs on Wolf Parade's debut album were almost all sung by Dan Boeckner. While Krug trips up his tongue with David Bowie-like inflections, Boeckner is all fury. That fury turns to lust here, as Face Control's 12 tracks showcase his unrelenting snarl, the kind of rock voice everyone secretly wishes they could conjure up when singing in the shower.
It's almost embarrassing how good he is. He sings behind a drum machine and blaring synths, and yet comes out looking cool. It helps that he is such a thoughtful writer of melodies, giving his voice the change to raise and fall with dramatic tension. Usually its just falling, but he'll occasionally pick himself off the ground and toss off some beautiful passage. Just when you think the nights gone wrong, something rescues it all.
4. St. Vincent - ActorOh the way her voice seems to tickle my spine! How does she do it? Actor plays out like one of those beautiful glass ornaments, all shimmering and spotless, with jagged edges that cut your finger just when you aren't paying attention. It's dramatic and dangerous, the kind of album that too many indie-albums don't have the nerve to do.
Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune described it best when he called these songs mini movie soundtracks, filled with sweeping orchestration, and yet never content to stay in one place for too long. Songs take unexpected detours, starting off innocent and then veering into some unplanned tunnel. Each listen brings up some emotion that I had planned on. And, completely off the train of the thought, I love how she seems to be playing her guitar with a pair of scissors.
3. Girls - Album I detested this album after a few listens. The nasal voice, the lo-fi production, all rang as false to me as Wavves haircut. But once I was able to visually place Elvis Costello's head on top of Christopher Owens, it all made sense. I'm not much interested in his background in cults and as runaway, but I am enthralled with the emotions he is able to focus in these bursts of melody. The songs all start off as sad sack tales of kids without a place to turn. Dude can't even afford a pizza and a bottle of wine in Lust for Life, and yet they dress it up with doo wop cooing, and surf guitar. Rock n Roll is the product of the young, and it seems as if he just couldn't figure out any other way of getting this off his chest. It's accidental and mythical, the kind of album that makes you so insanely jealous because he did it so easily.
2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart / Higher than the Stars E.P.It took me a while to figure out whether I really liked TPoBPaH or just the nostalgia that they flashed in front of my eyes. Their style reads off like a direct riff off my Facebook wall. I mean, come on. It was like shoegaze filtered through "This Charming Man" with Belle and Sebastian vocals and nary a slow song in the bunch. It's all one big giddy sugar rush. For the first half of the year they were my guilty pleasure. I knew their best parts were ripped from better bands, but why argue with something is so much fun?
The real turning point for me was the Higher than the Stars E.P. The title song rides the wave of synths, while the drums seem never to hit the ground, tickling your inner ear lobe like a sped up drum machine. It's all glittering lights and the feeling of watching Manhattan unfold in front of you while you sit in a happy drunken stupor in the back of a cab. This one, nearly perfect song made me question every song on their debut. I picked it apart and began to notice their unique take on the past, and their strides to release their influences and create something new. Shockingly, this album that I had tossed off as innocent and naive, started sounding like one of those debuts from a band about ready to really shake things up. I have high hopes.
1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion / Be Fall Kind It's not quite fair. Within the first week of 2009 I knew what would be the best album of the year. How could you not be sure about this album? It's accessible and yet still wild, a perfect distillation of Panda Bears Beach Boys-like drone and Avey Tare's impeccable knack for erratic and original melodies. It's spontaneous and focused, the kind of album you were never quite sure they'd be able to make.
I suppose I should be astonished that so many other albums made a play for the top. But none of them quite had the timeless quality that Merriweather exhibits. Like LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver, it seems to have always been hanging out on the record shelf. And just to add insult to injury they tossed off Be Fall Kind, which is the darkness to Merriweather's summer day. It's as bewildering as the best parts of Merriweather, and shows that Animal Collective aren't quite done with the surprises.
Monday, September 21, 2009
100. M.I.A. - ArularWhy here? No clue except for the inevitable chant of "ya ya heyyy" that comes when "Galang" busts through the speakers.
99. Blur - Think Tank
Hated this album when it first came out, but came around to the odd charms that lurked underneath. It's all about the melody hidden beneath "Out of Time" and its stunning chorus, which forgives such rave-ups as "Crazy Beat". But how can I explain the allure of something raft and vicious like "We've Got a File On You"? Gorillaz may have made better singles this decade, but as far as Damon is concerned, Blur will always make better albums.
97. Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears
She's made better albums (her debut and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road), but this is the sucker that originally pulled me in. The way those drums swing in on "Fruits of My Labor" is some kind of minor miracle. She's a tough gal to be around, but she carries a good tune.
96. Beth Orton - Comfort of Strangers
Comfort is right. She made some glitzy techno-folk albums in the 90s, but I like it when you can barely hear her voice above the strummed acoustic guitar. What may seem like pleasantries is actually a remarkable achievement of mood and music. It ignites day dreams in this restless soul.
95. Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender I still hate Ys, because it sounds like her attempt to take us to some strange other land. But she's strange enough as it is as this glorious album proves. Those harps tickle my brain in delightful ways.
94. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
93. Girl Talk - Night Ripper
Talk about the ethics of sampling all you want, this is one monster of a dance album that stacks hit upon unlikely hit. The final hurtle of any rock sensibility I had was crushed under the flow of Biggie and Elton John
92. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Call it Indie rock if you'd like, but "Stillness is the Move"'s gnarly riff is there not to bludgeon you to death, but to make you move. They'd rather be leading the party then flipping through their iPods.
91. Sonic Youth - Murray Street
Yeah, there's still distortion and chaos, but all I remember from this album is the warm fuzz of three guitars wrapping themselves around my head. This albums comforts my weary soul. One of the last great documents to what a guitar turned up all the way can do.
90. Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below
89. Annie - Anniemal The exact moment when I realized that pop could transcend all else."Heartbeat" was the hit, but the rest of the album is stocked with nice second helpings. Feeling down and out never sounded so good.
I get all the connections to African pop, but I just like the little orchestra interludes they seamlessly stick into each song.
87. Tilly and the Wall - Wild Like Children
There has to be at least one tender indie rock album in the mix — one that exudes "ahs" and "shucks" and makes you want to wear hoodies and smoke lots of cigarettes. I don't miss college that often, but when I do, I want to listen to this and forget about everything.
86. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Not too much to say.
85. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
When you're worried about Sufjan swooping down and taking the soul of rock 'n roll away with his banjo, remember he's just a Christian folk singer at heart. This meditation on the power of the unseen is powerful no matter what you believe.
84. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
You know you've hit on some kind of genius when the space between the chords is more important than the chorus. The perfect antidote to the great rap-rock orgy of the late 90s, it proved that a lack of style could be its own glorious thing.
83. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
82. No Age - Nouns
In any other decade, he'd be grouped up with Dave Matthews band or some stupid jam band, but luckily what he really wanted to do was write pop songs. He only gets there occasionally with songs like "Magic Trick", but I'll take the noble failures over another guitar solo.
80. Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveSounds
In the hysterics that followed MJ's death, one point that got skipped over was that his music was fucking bananas. None of his best songs were sane. It was that moment that I realized how bonkers JT was and why I admire the guy. This is a freewheeling dance album, and it's too odd to ignore.
79. Feist - The Reminder She had the whole folk thing down before she even began this album, but it's her stabs into the mainstream that really are worth a listen. Nothing like an indie princess making the jump to the top of the charts.
78. Handsome Furs - Face Control
77. The Go Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike
The crowning achievement of the Go Team is how they manage to confuse you into believing the samples are live and the live instruments are samples. By the time "The Power is On" rolls around you start wondering whether you've heard this song a hundred times before or for the very first time.
76. Tom Waits - Blood Money
This is a mean, depressing album filled with murders, money, and regret. Sort of like every other Tom Waits album except that it also has "All the World is Green", which is probably my favorite song he's ever written
75. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Rather like Springsteen, Arcade Fire tailored the follow up to an instant classic (him Born to Run, them Funeral) by taking a step back, cutting back on the complex arrangements and focusing on the story telling. The result has more fire, and less grace. And sometimes that's the mood I'm in.
74. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,
It's a tender dance album, with wildly inventive dynamics and structure — I can't deny that. But I probably just included this album because I love the way the hand-claps sound like snare drums.
73. Rufus Wainwright - Release the Stars
This is the Rufus I hope sticks around. He has no need to make a grand statement or score some unlikely pop hit; he'll never be truly famous. But he can crank out gloriously over-the-top baroque pop until the day he loses that amazing voice.
72. Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
I think it's really clever. While I really like the Mouse and the Mask, this album is probably better.
71. Daft Punk - Discovery
There is no denying that this album contains probably three or four of the best singles of the decade. For that reason alone it's on the list. But those are really all I listen to, so the album sits here.
70. Broadcast - Tender Buttons
Once this album starts making sense, you know you've gone too far. All you'll hear is delightful little pop songs, while everyone else is clutching their ears in pain. What...there is distortion in this album?
68. The Walkmen - You & Me
67. Okkervil River - The Stand InsFeels like they took the best parts of every rock album they had on their shelves, mixed them up, and stuck them back together. I may not understand Okkervil River completely, but I do understand this.
66. Stephen Malkmus - Pig Lib
I had some kind of epiphany with this album while driving around the country roads of Columbus, IN. Out of nowhere I imagined the lanky, indie-rock kid Malkmus as some clichéd rock guitar god. He may try to disguise this superpower with oblique lyrics and odd time structures, but I can see through it.
65. St. Vincent - Actor
I love when she slices through her guitar, all angles and aggression, and then whispers sweet nothings in my ear. How someone so calm and peaceful can dream up such disjointed musical landscapes is beyond me, but I'll keep digging in trying to figure it out.
64. Mylo - Destroy Rock n Roll
There is a point in my life when I really needed this album. When things weren't going that well and I just needed an album made by a recluse just like me. It's at once horribly corny and just about the coolest thing in the world.
63. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Another deceptive 80s dance group dressed in rock outfits, they tossed in riffs to hang with the guys and then hit the groove to attract the women. They realized their zone about 55 seconds into "Take Me Out" and never really let it go from there.
62. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell
Of the bands from the rock revival, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were at least geniune in their goal. The fury unleashed on this album is unmatched. I'll take "Date with the Night" over "Maps" any day.
61. Junior Senior - Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
I have Michael Roberts to thank for this one. It's a stupid album filled with unbearably cheesy songs. But I've listened and listened beyond reason. Mostly, it just makes me laugh.
60. Hot Chip - The Warning
The dance group with a heart of gold. After I heard this album, I figured this group would get copied beyond all belief. But then I realized what a delicate balance they struck with hazy nostalgia tempered by clanging beats. It's a remarkable achievement and hasn't been equaled since.
59. Coldplay - Viva La Vida
I already admitted my sin last year, so I might as well just be honest. While every Coldplay album makes me feel guilty when I go back and listen to it, this one actually sounds better.
58. Wolfparade - Apologies to Queen Mary
Even rock in the double 0's had to be oblique. There's hardly any satisfaction to be had here. Just weird parables and odd bursts of feedback. That they made it all sound so triumphant by the end is why they continuously confuse and amaze me.
57. Bjork - Medulla
We all knew Bjork could sing, but to have an album dedicated to nothing but to voices is startling. That she uses the experiment to make a bunch of staggering anthems is the real triumph. "Oceania" rings with unbelievable majesty.
56. Bob Dylan - Tell Tale SignsIf you ever have doubts about Bob just play this album, and you'll see that his outtakes are quietly more powerful than anything you could ever put together. Especially make sure to check his revival version of "Ring Them Bells".
55. Paul McCartney - Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Me, I'm a Paul guy — have been for years now. So, when I see him crank out four good albums this century I root for him. But I don't have to fake any enthusiasm when he churns out something as mysterious and beautiful as thing. This one stands up there with Ram in my book.
54. The White Stripes - Elephant
It may be cool to dismiss their mainstream breakthrough, but I remember what it sounded like the first time it pummeled through my speakers. It's a band unleashed and wild, ready to take their stab at success head on.
53. The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love Their second album is sleeker and sexier than their first, and it's also the one that they feel most comfortable with.
52. Beck - Sea Change It's the last time Beck seemed truly to follow his muse, content to let it lead him wherever it wanted. That it let him down this beautiful is why I'll always have a soft spot for him.
51. Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome
The best Springsteen album (by far) released since Born in the USA is a collection of rambling songs he recorded in his house. It's messy and hilarious but always strangely reverent to the material. Sometimes you wish rock stars would lose the polish and record scruffy material (hello R.E.M.). This is just another example of how it should work.
50. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale I am not a Wu-Tang kind of guy; that's just not my style. But this album, with Ghostface acting like he only has so much time to tell you the whole story or shit is going to go down...well, this I can get. It only sounds more urgent and relentless years later.
49. Deerhoof - The Runners Four
It helps when your silly indie rock band — with its precious female vocals — can also rock with such abandon that No Age can sometimes sound tame.
48. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
So, you've made some of the best albums of the 90s by playing the tortured art rock student for all its worth. What's the way to success? How about unabashed pop with lots of bass guitar?
47. The Streets - Original Pirate Material
Let's push things forward, indeed. I had never heard anything like this when it first came over the speakers. Can this even be classified as rap? Is this even a song? Why am I such addicted to it? The simple fact of this album is that each song is a potential single — distinct and isolated. "Weak Becomes Heroes" may be the critical hit, but I was always more attracted to the vulgarity of "Don't Mug Yourself." Though, he may have upstaged this with another album that will probably pop up on the list later on.
46. The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows
It's all here: The sad bastard Walkmen that's as lonely as going to bar by yourself; and, the agitated Walkmen that still has something to fight about. They are still capable of some magical moments, but all the good times seem tainted by the blood of bad mistakes. Though they'd like to change, they can never completely get back on their feet. It's a really sad album, and one that only gets more so as the years go on.
45. The Books - The Lemon of Pink
A breath of fresh air. Nico Muhly tried like hell to make something like this, and yet his attempts came out a little too eager and little too cacophonous. The Books are in it for the long haul — there to talk you down and soothe out your soul. It's an album that always has something to say, even if there aren't many lyrics to lead you along.
44. The Microphones - "The Glow", Pt. 2
I've been trying for years to write songs that would fit on this album. The nearly perfect opening tracking sounds so haphazard that it feels like it is the first take of something that just came to his head. It takes talent to write a song so seemingly tossed off, as I learned the hard way
43. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This is the moment when Spoon went from a great idea to a great band. These songs aren't spectacular for a band that doesn't just like regular structure, they are astonishing for any band. Phil Spector would have killed – he might have tried — for "Cherry Bomb". Even their rock theories like "My Japanese Cigarette Case" are tighter and more meaningful. A lot of people were in to Spoon before this, but I never completely joined in until this album.
42. Sigur Ros - ( ) The first time I heard this album a friend prefaced the push of play by saying he thought this was the greatest album of all time. How do you respond to something like that? Well, first off, you listen to it repeatedly for years to try and figure out for yourself. If Ágætis Byrjun sounded otherworldly and mysterious, this one sounds fragile and heartbroken — the human side to the affair. I've fought for years now whether I think this or their second album is better. Unfortunately, I get a little lost in the second half of this album. But during the first half I get wrapped up every time. During these bright moments of clarity, I can see what my friend was talking about.
41. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America It's the perfect example of the right band tackling the right topic. The Hold Steady had always been singing songs about tramps, but they'd never really made it sound like this before. I mean, just check out their album covers. Everyone except this one is monochromatic and drab; this one is over the top and garish. It's their one indulgence, and it's the party I'd like to remember. Give me a "Massive Night" anytime.
40. The Pipettes - We are the Pipettes Man, I completely drank the Pipettes kool-aid. I didn't care if they were a prefabricated girl group with stupid clothes and cheesy songs. I sang along to every song. I do have a weak spot for early 60s pop hits, but that surely doesn't explain why I knew all their names. I still think "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me" is one of the best songs of decade.
39.Radiohead - AmnesiacI was initially disappointed with Amnesiac, because I didn't think it matched the perfection of Kid A. I soon realized that that was kind of the point. I actually prefer the odder moments of Amnesiac, the ones where they drift off into "Pulk/Pull Revoling Doors" and "Hunting Bears," to their more polished songs like "Dollars & Cents". It's like finding a treasure trove of b-sides from your favorite band. You'd never trade the originals, but it's fun to dip in occasionally.
38. Animal Collective - Strawberry JamFeels was a good album, but I was growing tired of the excessive yelling and needlessly obscure songs. But something happens around the fifth time you listen to this; everything starts to make perfect sense. The distorted reverberations of "For Reverend Green" speak louder than any bland rock riff. "Fireworks" starts sounding like, well, exactly what it's about. It's an album that gets better with every listen and is the first moment that I realized there was more to Animal Collective than the concentrated focus of Sung Tongs.
37. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
How'd Jack White get this? It's a nearly perfect country album made by a woman who hadn't made a good album in thirty years. And yet, it never feels like a regurgitation of old favorites. It's a new classic, one that is as heartfelt and beautiful as anything she ever created.
36. Bob Dylan - Love and Theft Same thing as above. I guess there is life in anybody. Time Out of Mind was considered a comeback, but no one said that about Love and Theft. This is a just another one of his classics, a riveting romp through the fake Southern Childhood Mr. Dylan never actually had. It's a distinct turn in his catalog and one I was there to behold.
35. The Raveonettes - Chain Gang of Love
There is no reason for this. I know they don't write the most original songs and that the distortion does most of the work, but I am the biggest sucker for this sound you can imagine. I love late 50s, early 60s rock. I adore distortion. But the biggest thing for me is how this never sounds like a Jesus and Mary Chain riff. It's too heartfelt for that. They take their mission too seriously. "Remember" and "That Great Love Song" got most of the attention, but I love the deep cuts like "Love Can Destroy Everything" where they just sound so unabashedly in love with music they'd do anything for it.
34. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll I've waited for years for the novelty to set in. You know, the inevitable "Tenacious D" let down of a funny record that has told its joke one too many times. But it never comes. Like the best art, their jokes only miraculously get better after each spin. And believe me, I've attempted to overplay "We've Formed a Band" and "Emily Kane" to no avail.
33. Sufjan Stevens - Come on Feel the Illinoise
Sufjan's shining moment, not counting the brief glimpses of oddity that creep into "You are the Blood". While Michigan attempted to humanize the stories, Illinois is all about Sufjan taking all the liberties he wants. Instrumental interludes, songs based solely on woodwinds, homicidal clowns — there is nothing he can't achieve as long as you don't count the crap unleashed in the b-side album, The Avalanche. A perfect example of young talent having the freedom to do what he wants and taking full advantage of it.
32. Outkast - Stankonia So this band, or duo, is awesome. Have you heard BOB? It's so fresh and so clean.
31. Deerhunter - Microcastle
I've been trying to untangle the mystery of this album for a year now, and I'm not sure I ever will. It's truly haunting, an album that can give something like "Nothing Ever Happend" yet also fills about a quarter of the album with near silence. But like the best board games, it only feels complete when you finish the thing.
30. Madvillain - Madvillainy His name is Doom. He weaves unlikely tales over some of the most schizo-phrenic beats anyone could throw at him. His train of thought is Joyce-like, yet he's always in control of his flow.
29. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Korteleda Ah Jens...whatever could I say?
28. Sigur Ros - Ágætis Byrjun
Where to begin... I grew up in the smallest of towns where this did not exist. You know, falsetto strutting lead singers, string sections, keyboards that sound like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is truly strange and would have been dismissed as crazy by all my friends. And yet to my ears, it felt like the most inevitable thing in the world.
27. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down in the LightThat small town I was talking about above? Well, it's awfully close to where Bonnie "Prince" Billy lives, and this is the sound of everything of my childhood racing back at me. It's the perfect encapsulation of the slow flow of the Ohio River and campfires along its bank. I fell hard for this album last year, and I plan to stay with it for as long as I can.
26. Kanye West - Graduation
When Graduation dropped it seemed like an overblown misstep, the inevitable letdown after Late Registration. But it's only gotten better since I first heard it. It's so stuffed for hits songs it now sounds kind of embarrassing. How could it be so easy for him? This album is strange and wild, a magical combination of perfection execution that still manages to feel spontaneous and random.
25. Jay-Z - The Black Album
Now tuned into the motherfucking greatest. Believe me, Big Brother still has the upper hand. Ponder why I love Jay so much, and I'll just rap the entirety of "99 Problems" to you. It doesn't need to be so complicated. His unstoppable flow needs no answers.
24. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Rock singers have been pissed for ages, but while most might rail against The Man or something lame, Jack White is just really mad at you. You're lazy. You aren't a gentleman. You should be a better person. That he makes it rock so hard is a singular achievement.
23. The Strokes - Room on Fire There were the rumored Nigel Godrich productions, the overblown NME future of rock predictions, but really Room on Fire is just a more diverse take on the original. Tiny bits of reggae and synth pop creep into the mix. It's, gasp, a little more colorful and fun. This was the album that made me a believer, and it took a stinker of third album to turn me off. Perhaps I put to much hope in the Strokes, but hey, I've got this guy as a consolation.
22. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
This guy came out of nowhere. Believe me, I've gone back and listened to Bright Eyes's un-listenable albums. Horrible shit. Honestly, I don't know how anyone deals with it. But this...it seemed to suddenly tap into a mindset that made a lot of sense to me at a time when I was in New York. And though Conor has never equaled it, I'll always appreciate how it calmed me during the run up to war and the runaway from my hometown.
21. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Oh Ryan Adams. At some point I owned everyone of your albums, including all the Whiskeytown stuff. I wanted something that meant as much as this one, because there is something in this album that reaches unforgivably deep. Or at least I thought so. Like someone who doesn't know their powers, you could never quite get back there. Along the way I found Gram Parsons, and realized he did a lot of things better than you. I didn't need Adams to try some many different styles. I just needed this one. So I'll take this album and be done with it.
20. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
It could be a lot of things. Driving around Kentucky blasting "Dirty Money". Singing "Keys open Doors" to myself every time I open any door. It could be their unmatched vocal boasting and the Neptunes focused beats. It's one of the last rap albums I thought I'd need around, but one that has become an indispensable addition to my catalog. Bitch I'm so trill? I can't explain it!
19. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
This album is so good it's almost boring to talk about. How did they get here? When did the weird cadences became hooks, and when did frat kids start dancing to "My Girls"? As I've figured out, it's best not to ask questions with Animal Collective. As long as they still move and still make sense, hold them tight. We'll figure out the specifics later.
18. Rufus Wainwright - Poses
Where Rufus's debut album was baroque and obtuse, Poses is clean and approachable, the sound of one man settling into a new stage of his life, and not quite sure which direction he'd like to go. So he tries them all. There are folk songs, slight stabs at contemporary, goth dirges, and cover songs that hhis father wrote. They help add to the ramshackle feel to this album, and there is something really thrilling about listening to an overwhelming talent stretch his legs. But it's the piano ballads that get more beautiful and heartbroken as the years go on. He'd realize this on his next album, and indulge in them to (some might say) an overwhelming degree. So it's nice to come back here where he's a touch more modest, willing to share the spotlight with his sister, and just enjoy the times.
17. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
Forget everything I said about Animal Collective above. Sure their new album is amazing, but nothing will ever approach the love I have for this intoxicating album. Stuffed full of acoustic guitars and Beach Boy harmonies, it's an album that never grounds itself, always undercutting any understanding you may be gaining. So each listen feels like the first strange experience with the unknown.
16. Kanye West - Late RegistrationWhatever happened to gangsta rap? You know that kind that riled up church groups and wanted to kill cops? Did Kanye kill it, and just expose it for the hollow posturing it was? Instead of wasting time acting hard, how about crafting a perfect rap album that sounds really massive on headphones? Not as easy as you thought, huh? I'd have been into rap when I was 13 if albums like this were made then. I mean, I know you may all think this album is overrated, but please listen again.
15. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free A suite of songs that perfectly ties together the tale of a loser who lost a minimal amount of cash that means everything to him. The only (original) concept album of the decade, it ends with post-modern twist, two endings, and you can believe whichever one you'd like. The first round is all anger and frustration. He's drinking so much he can decorate his apartment with the waste, "It's not my fault it's wall to wall empty cans". But his frustration isn't heroic. He's a sad sack wasting his life. The second ending implausibly finds the missing money in the back of his TV. I don't buy it. It's a cute trick, it helps you leave the album on good note. But I know these guys. They never find the cash.
14. Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair
What can I say, other than that I was wrong? I ranked this guy as the number four album of 2008 last year, but it should have easily been number one. But how do you think it makes me feel dropping a true disco album up there? It's a little embarrassing if the album weren't so unbelievably tight. It's trance only gets more addicting as I listen to it.
13. Brian Wilson - SMiLE
I mean, do you want me to describe the moment when I first heard this thing? I was laying on the carpet (which was probably dirty) of my senior year apartment with Austin, Blake, and Kyle with volume turned up nearly all the way. We gasped as the preludes to Good Vibrations popped up in the middle, and marveled at the unending stream of ideas. But mostly we were just aghast that this thing was coming out of the speakers, an album that we'd all heard had never been finished. And not only had it been completed, but in a glorious way, with respect to the original idea, and by not pulling any punches.
The best Beach Boy songs are always tinged with sadness, and that's missing here. It's undoubtedly a happier, more joyous album than the original lineup could have managed, and sometimes I need that.
12. Radiohead - In Rainbows
Sometimes talent seems like an accident the individual doesn't know how to handle. But you never wonder that with Radiohead. It's scary, because they know how to wield power for their own purposes. When they want to wallow in the pain and muck of every day existence, they can. And when they want to make a warm subdued album that rips away most of the beats of their previous albums, they know exactly how to get it done.
11. Arcade Fire - FuneralWhere did this come from? They may play to the large theaters now, walking into crowds with megaphones to simulate an intimate experieince. It may seem like rock posturing, but I remember seeing them in a cramped venue at U of I with about a hundred people when it felt real. People were crying and holding each other. They tapped into some kind of mysterious understanding with this album, and approached a topic that had never been properly dealt with on record. It seems like they may never get back to that feeling, and that's probably okay. We still have this document to hold onto.
10. Rufus Wainwright - Want One
The sound of a hundred wine soaked nights. A garish celebration to nothing. A monumental temple to excess, debauchery, massive string sections, and heartbreaking songs about heartbreak. Want One is a lot of things, a lot of voices singing, instruments wailing, and it always teeters on the edge of collapse. The next song is the one that will get too loud and will break through your speakers. To most people, it must sound like train wreck waiting to happen. There are songs about leaving your phone on vibrate and dreams about reading happy headlines on the New York Times. It's takes a lot to blow such minuscule events into what amounts to a pop opera, but it's what keeps me entangled. It's odd to pick an album so full of flaws, especially when Poses is more polished, mannered choice. But to me, Want One sounds exactly what it must be like in Rufus's brain, and I like hanging around there.
9. Tom Waits - Alice
I made a joke about Tom Waits early on about all his albums sounding the same (number 76 to be exact), but that's simply not true. They certainly all carry the same atmosphere. But Alice is singular in the Wait's catalog because of it's complete focus on lust for love. It's a heartbreaking ride through the demented characters of Wait's dreams, figures that never get what they want, never get release. It's all unrequited love, and it seems to drive him mad. He could laugh away the scoundrels of Blood Money. But this seems to really have stopped him in his tracks. Why this tale meant so much to me is hard describe. It's unspeakably beautiful. But mostly it just makes me jealous that he could conjure up such real passion.
8. M.I.A. - Kala
BANG BANG BANG...And I take your Money! How was it so easy for her? How'd she go from Arular (a forceful first album) to something as perfect as Kala? She just swooped in there and took it...
7. The Avalanches - Since I Left You
A mix tape is a really hard thing to pull off, no matter what High Fidelity tells you. What starts with a white hot single, usually disentigrates into whatever you happen to be listening to at the moment. The mood has to break at some point, and along the way you get tired and slack off. But not the Avalanches. I've listened to this album hundreds of times, and each time I try to find the seams, but I never can.
While it's technically impressive, what really draws me each time is the meloncholy atmosphere, the wash of regret that they manage to exude from a bunch of random samples. It's honestly a perfect mix-tape, one that improves its source material.
6. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
At first I just loved the ridiculous songs, the ones that closesly mimicked the irreveant nature of "Losing My Edge", but in the middle of this album something changes. Instead of describing what the perfect situation might be, the songs start becoming them. It's liked he realized the prophetic nature "Yeah" and started geting it done himself. It's easy to be the critic, to yell out against the tide. It's another thing to actually do the work. It's a miraculous transformation.
5. The Strokes - Is This It?
I was one of those kids that was convinced that the Strokes were here save rock. It's hard to grow up with a style of music and watch it devolve into the idicocy of Limp Bizkit and whateverthefuck Nickleback is. I used to have nightmares about the latter sucking all the life out of my skull. Serious! So I hung all my hopes on this New York quintet to bring rock back to the basics. I realize now that the Strokes had something far different in mind. It's all about the beat here. Every song is anchored with drum machine precision. There's hardly an unscrubbed moment to be found. So what does the whole thing come off like the wildest night you can barely remember? I think that's why I became so taken up with them, why I drove all over the country to see them play, and snatched up every single I can find. And when they stopped having a good time, around album three, I started to wonder why I cared at all in the first place.
Luckily whenever I question that I just need to listen to the first ten seconds of "Someday" and the world is right again. Nothing here means anything beyond whatever it takes to have a good time. And that was sort of revolutionary at the moment.
4. Wilco - Yankee Hotel FoxtrotThis album is the sound of absolutely everything falling apart. Melodies crumble into the abyss, rhythms stumble around aimlessly. Relationships are discarded, people forgotten. It's a messy album, and one that I initially couldn't stand. But it's been unraveling its mysteries to me for years now.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in my personal opinion, is the product of three people meeting up in very different points in their career. Jeff Tweedy had the songs, Jay Bennet built them up, and Jim O'Rourke tore them down. Take away any peg and you're left with a different album. When Tweedy and O'Rourke tried to replicate this mood without Bennet, the result was too manered and stale. Bennett tried to replicate the chaos, but he never had the voice to anchor his songs like Tweedy could. The trio was never meant to last, and, sadly, will never get to after Bennett's death. But they produced one masterpiece, and one that only gets better as the years go on.
It can feel like a horribly depressing album in places, but against all the odds I always manage to find some undercurrent of hope. Maybe it's just the love of simple songs that manages to hold this whole thing together. An unbridled passion for music that they tried to reconcile with the trying times.
3. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
If modern day me had the chance to go back in time and visit pre-millennium me to tell him just one thing, I'd probably just use it for a laugh and whisper into his ear that he'll grow up, against his will, to be a huge Jay-Z fan. It's not a casual appreciation, "I don't really like rap, but this Jay-Z song is okay", but a full blown, know-every-lyric kind of obsession. One that would lead to a search for any other album that could match its perfection.
But it's hard. It's so much better than everything else. Even Jay-Z couldn't equal it. As unbelievable a talent as he is, he isn't actually all that great at making albums. Though everyone of them has hit number 1, I don't think that many people are lining up to defend Kingdom Come or the Blueprint 2. What's so astonishing about the Blueprint, and why I've listened to it repeatedly over the decade, is that appears to have been some kind of perfect confluence talent. He found the best producers, who laid down their best beats, and he walked tall over it all without fear. Nearly every song here could have been released as a single. I know this is the default Jay-Z album for people to like, but that's just because it's that good. I mean, I kind of think it's underrated. Why doesn't everyone love this thing?
2. Panda Bear - Person PitchIt's as mysterious today as the moment I first pressed play. A progression of sound that always seems out of reach, and beyond understanding. It feels startlingly human, and yet never manages to touch the ground. It's the sound of old movies, sepia toned family photographs, and forgotten cartoons from childhood. It seemingly exists and yet could disappear back to where it came from without a moments notice. You'll always remember the experience, but never the specifics. But that doesn't really explain why I listen to this album so much, and how it always seems to be on in my apartment. And I really have no answer.
1. Radiohead - Kid A
Yeah, it's the most important album of the decade, and terribly influential to me personally as a music fantatic and human being, but what is it, exactly, that makes Kid A so good? It's the easily the best album of the decade, as I've found out, but why?
I struggled for weeks trying to place another album at number one. Because, while I realize the importance of this album, I wanted to get past it. Panda Bear's Person Pitch is much closer to my mood than the horror hallways of Kid A. But all arguments ended the moment the first few seconds of "Everything in its Right Place" entered into my brain. Kid A is so emphatically better than any album released this century that it is hard to talk about.
I realize without it I'd be nowhere. The shift in direction coincided with the jump off the deep end into a world of the unexplained. I feel like this list should be dedicated to Kid A, because it directly influenced every other pick. I'd probably still hate techno, all electronic music, rap, ambient, jazz...It made Jay-Z and Wilco sound perfectly normal. There is nothing this album can't do.
Most of this decade was fought trying to make sense of chaos, moral posturing, and endless wars. Instead of celebrating, the best albums found beauty amongst the chaos, digging deep within to try and reconcile the problems. And no one really did it better than Radiohead.