Monday, August 31, 2009

A decade gone...but full of fantastic music!


Paste Magazine is currently conducting a poll to put together a list of the best albums of the decade. Yup--we're nearly done with the oughts, amazingly--and in the era of social networking, high-speed Internet and the iPhone, we have a fantastic amount of memorable music to pick from. As an assistant manager for a number of years at Second Spin, a (once) indie cd/dvd store, I was constantly immersed in it, ahead of the curve of a lot of up-and-coming artists and albums. It was always fun turning a friend or customer on to the next-big-thing, or, as is often the case, the next-should-be-big-thing-but-instead-they-only-play-music-with-vocoders-on-the-radio. Still, many a successful mix CD has been made over the last decade. I offer here my top 50 albums of the last ten years. Mind you, it's completely subjective, and ranked solely based on my own appreciation and spins. So don't be sore if I left off something you cherish, as there are tons of releases I love that either didn't make the cut or somehow neglected to cross my mind. With the exception of Radiohead, I didn't repeat an artist, where I could have littered the list with multiple releases from exceptional musicians. I also offer a bit of analysis/explanation for the first 25, then just an album/key tracks list after that.

Let me know some of your favorites in the comment area. So here they are, in order, for me personally:

1. CHERRY GHOST: THIRST FOR ROMANCE (2007)
Key Tracks: People Help the People, Roses, Dead Man's Suit
Ok, so I'm probably the only one who has this as the top release of the decade, but man, I STILL can't stop listening to it. The brainchild of Britain's Simon Aldred, it's folk-tinged, poetic, anthemic alt rock that gets lodged in ones head, but in a good way. I picked it up at Rough Trade in London on my Honeymoon (that pick above it me perusing their selection!), so it's got some great personal associations as well. Seek it out.

2. ARCADE FIRE: FUNERAL (2004)
Key Tracks: Neighborhood #2 (Laika), Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), Wake Up
Win and Regine's Canadian collective released one of the best, epic indie albums of all time in the gorgeous thematic record with many ridiculous highs. Follow-up album Neon Bible is nearly as perfect.

3. RADIOHEAD: KID A (2000)
Key Tracks: Everything In Its Right Place, The National Anthem, Idioteque
Most consider OK Computer their masterpiece, and rightfully so, but Kid A is a close second. This is sound of a band stretching out and expanding their sound, and rarely has experimentation sounded better than on Thom and company's 4th record. Expectations were ridiculously high, and for those initially disappointed by the effort, time will prove just how brilliant this album is.

4. THE DIVINE COMEDY: REGENERATION (2001)
Key Tracks: Perfect Lovesong, Note to Self, Eye of the Needle
I have a weakness for Neil Hannon's gorgeous chamber pop, and this pairing with producer Nigel Goodrich yielded a brilliant rock record, with lush arrangements and a certain tongue-in-cheek lyricism mixed in with the somber tone. Although Hannon strayed from the sound after this record, it remains his most commercial to date.
5. THE SWELL SEASON: THE SWELL SEASON (2005)
Key Tracks: Falling Slowly, Lies, When Your Minds Made Up
Glen Hansard's side project with Market Irglova is made up largely of music they'd put to infamous use in the indie charmer Once, the lovely ballad Falling Slowly netting them an Academy Award. The ten songs on this record flow wonderfully into one another, showcasing Glen's deft songwriting album and golden pipes.

6. THE FRAMES: BURN THE MAPS (2004)
Key Tracks: Happy, Dream Awake, A Caution to the Birds
There are several albums by The Frames I could have chosen, but this was the first studio album of theirs I purchased and consequently fell in love with. The best live band in the world (yeah, I know, but I firmly believe it), and my favorite to boot.

7. SUFJAN STEVENS: COME ON, FEEL THE ILLINOISE! (2005)
Key Tracks: John Wayne Gacy, Jr., Chicago, The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
Although his Michigan album is fantastic, Sufjan hit his stride with this celebration of all things Illinois, including the prettiest song about a serial killer ever. His eclectic arrangements and haunting, delicate melodies make this record a real special experience that sticks with you.

8. MIDLAKE: THE TRIALS OF VAN OCCUPANTHER (2006)
Key Tracks: Roscoe, Bandits, Young Bride
A gorgeous, piano-heavy concept record that recalls the soft-rock sounds of Bread and America (but in a good way, I swear!), Midlake poetically transport us to another time, following settlers and their harsh winters and travels--but it doesn't weigh heavily on their listener, instead their sweet harmonies and melodies a treat to the ears.

9. KING CREOSOTE: KC RULES OK (2006)
Key Tracks: Not One Bit Ashamed, 678, My Favourite Girl
Scotland's Kenny Stevenson (aka King Creosote), owns a record label called The Fence Collective and puts out tons of quick boots and small releases, nearly impossible to find stateside. KC RULES OK is his first proper session in a big recording studio, giving full band treatments to some of his earlier best work, and, consequently doing them a tremendous service. For fans of Crowded House and Damien Rice.

10. THE NATIONAL: ALLIGATOR (2005)
Key Tracks: Karen, All the Wine, Abel
Matt Beringer's baritone vocals meld seamlessly with the sly NYC rock sound of The National, and this, their finest release, lived in my car CD player for a record amount of time. Their follow-up, Boxer, catapulted them to game, but this is the first-love record that really does it for me.

11. RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS: COLD ROSES (2005)
Key Tracks: Meadowlake Street, Mockingbird, Life is Beautiful
Ryan Adams finding the Cardinals was one of the best things to ever happen to him--they keep him focused as a songwriter, never more apparent on this two disc set, Adams' nod to The Grateful Dead. Incredibly prolific, Adams has released several great albums this decade, but this is the one that put him back on the right track.

12. ELBOW: CAST OF THOUSANDS (2003)
Key Tracks: Ribcage, Fallen Angel, Switching Off
Guy Garvey and company are now considered a bit of a national treasure in Manchester, and haven't found quite the same success stateside. This, their sophomore album, was what got me to my 5 a.m. crap job at Borders when I first moved to LA every morning. The band gets tighter and evolves more and more musically with every release, but this one has a special place in my heart.

13. WILCO: YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2002)
Key Tracks: I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Heavy Metal Drummer, Pot Kettle Black
Jeff Tweedy and band reaching near perfection with this alt-country charmer, full of great hooks and killer arrangements, especially in the unusual rhythmic opening to I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

14. SUN KIL MOON: GHOSTS OF THE GREAT HIGHWAY (2003)
Key Tracks: Carry Me Ohio, Glenn Tipton, Lily and Parrots
Leader Mooner Mark Kozelek, front man of the great Red House Painters and occasional solo artist, has a knack for somber melodies, very apparent on this band's first release. Carry Me Ohio is one of my favorite songs of all-time, hands down.

15. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS: RINGS AROUND THE WORLD (2002)
Key Tracks: (Drawing) Rings Around the World, It's Not the End of the World?, Receptacle for the Respectable
Welsh psych-rockers Super Furry Animals put together one helluva catchy concept record, with one of the best bonus CDs out there. Check out the amazing DVD release of the album, offering up memorable and creative music videos for each of the outstanding tracks.

16. THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES: BEHIND THE MUSIC (2002)
Sweden's retro-rockers TSOOL first mainstream US release is a fantastic collection of 70s-tinged songs that recall The Kinks, The Who and The Rolling Stones. A spectacle to behold live (portly, shaggy-haired lead singer Ebbot Lundberg dresses in flowing robes), this is one of those albums best experienced at MAXIMUM VOLUME!

17. TV ON THE RADIO: RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN
Key Tracks: Wolf Like Me, Dirtywhirl, I Was A Lover
TV On The Radio, to me, is one of the best musically-adventurous bands out there. Their mix of unusual rhythm, brass instruments and multi-layered vocals create an expansive, consuming sound that you just get lost in. All three of their albums are brilliant, but this is my favorite by a nose.

18. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: TRANSATLANTICISM (2003)
Key Tracks: Titles and Registration, Tiny Vessels, Transatlanticism
The fourth studio album from Death Cab is their masterpiece, plain and simple. Ben Gibbard's plaintiff vocals and fantastic lyrics anchor the band's sound, with many songs swelling to great heights.

19. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE (2003)
Key Tracks: KC Accidental, Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl, Lover's Spit
I usually like most anything on the Arts & Crafts label, due to the fact that members of the sprawling collective known as Broken Social Scene are usually involved. Exciting, experimental, with so many moving parts, BSS hit the nail on the head with this moody, driving record.

20. CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH: CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH (2005)
Key Tracks: The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth, Is This Love?, Gimmie Some Salt
This self-released first record from CYHSY is one of the great victory stories of indie music--a best selling CD where the artist has complete control! Catchy, dancy, arty. Fantastic.

21. JOSEPH ARTHUR: OUR SHADOWS WILL REMAIN (2004)
Key Tracks: Can't Exist, Even Tho, A Smile That Explodes
Discovered by Peter Gabriel in the late 90s, Joseph Arthur is one talented artist (a renowned painter as well as musician!). Nobody does emotionally-raw, somber ballads like him (well, maybe Mark Kozelek).

22. CROOKED FINGERS: DIGNITY AND SHAME (2005)
Key Tracks: Weary Arms, Call to Love, Sleep All Summer
Eric Bachmann (formerly of Archers of Loaf) has one of those lived-in, deep dark voices reminiscent of Mark Lanegan or Nick Cave. His timber highlights these soulful, slow-burn songs that you'll never find yourself skipping if it comes on your iPod.

23. RADIOHEAD: IN RAINBOWS (2008)
Key Tracks: 15 Step, Nude, All I Need
The best album you'll never have to pay for! (unless you want to), Radiohead revolutionized the record industry with this self-released, pay what you want internet album that found its way to shelves several months later. They continue to push musical boundaries while remaining accessible, a hard feat.

24. KEANE: HOPES AND FEARS (2004)
Key Tracks: Somewhere Only We Know, This Is The Last Time, She Has No Time
You never notice the fact that Keane doesn't utilize electric guitars AT ALL on this debut album. Consisting of vocals, piano, drums and bass, it's Tom Chaplin's vocals that leap out at you.

25. SIGUR ROS: AGAETIS BYRJUN (2001)
Key Tracks: Svefn-g-Englar (Sleepwalkers), Ny Batteri (New Batteries), "HjartaĆ° hamast (bamm bamm bamm)" (The Heart Pounds (Boom Boom Boom) )
Breathtaking second album (but first to gain them national exposure) by Iceland's Sigur Ros is the perfect companion to a cold rainy day. A mixture of Icelandic and a "fantasy language", the vocals soar over crashing violins, saws, and percussion, creating a listening experience like no other.

26. SNOW PATROL: FINAL STRAW (2003)
Key Tracks: How to Be Dead, Spitting Games, Chocolate

27. COLDPLAY: A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD (2002)
Key Tracks: In My Place, The Scientist, Clocks

28. IRON & WINE: THE CREEK DRANK THE CRADLE (2002)
Key Tracks: Lion's Mane, Bird Stealing Bread, Upward Over the Mountain

29. INTERPOL: TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (2002)
Key Tracks: Obstacle 2, PDA, Say Hello to the Angels

30. TRAVIS: THE INVISIBLE BAND (2001)
Key Tracks: Sing, Side, Pipe Dreams

31. U2: ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND (2000)
Key Tracks: Beautiful Day, Stuck in A Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Walk On

32. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS: ABATTOIR BLUES/THE LYRE OF ORPHEUS (2004)
Key Tracks: Messiah Ward, Babe You Turn Me On, O Children

33. BRITISH SEA POWER: THE DECLINE OF BRITISH SEA POWER (2003)
Key Tracks: Apologies to Insect Life, Fear of Drowning, Blackout

34. PJ HARVEY: STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES FROM THE SEA (2000)
Key Tracks: Good Fortune, A Place Called Home, This Mess We're In

35. DOVES: THE LAST BROADCAST (2002)
Key Tracks: There Goes The Fear, Satellites, Pounding

36. FLEET FOXES: FLEET FOXES (2008)
Key Tracks: White Winter Hymnal, He Doesn't Know Why, Blue Ridge Mountains

37. STARS: SET YOURSELF ON FIRE (2004)
Key Tracks: Your Ex-Lover Is Dead, Ageless Beauty, Sleep Tonight

38. THE POSTAL SERVICE: GIVE UP (2003)
Key Tracks: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, Such Great Heights, We Will Become Silhouettes
39. PETER BJORN AND JOHN: WRITER'S BLOCK (2006)
Key Tracks: Objects of My Affection, Young Folks, Amsterdam

40. ANDREW BIRD: ARMCHAIR APOCRYPHA (2007)
Key Tracks: Plasticities, Heretics, Scythian Empires

41. MATT POND PA: EMBLEMS (2004)
Key Tracks: Lily Two, Summer (Butcher Two), East Coast E.

42. ELVIS COSTELLO: WHEN I WAS CRUEL (2002)
Key Tracks: 45, Tart, Alibi

43. JOSH RITTER: THE HISTORICAL CONQUESTS OF JOSH RITTER (2007)
Key Tracks: Mind's Eye, Right Moves, Wait For Love

44. JOSE GONZALEZ: VENEER (2005)
Key Tracks: Slow Moves, Heartbeats, Crosses

45. KINGS OF LEON: AHA SHAKE HEARTBREAK (2004)
Key Tracks: King of the Rodeo, Taper Jean Girl, The Bucket

46. ROGUE WAVE: ASLEEP AT HEAVEN'S GATE (2007)
Key Tracks: Like I Needed, Chicago x 12, Lake Michigan

47. BADLY DRAWN BOY: THE HOUR OF BEWILDERBEAST (2000)
Key Tracks: The Shining, Everybody's Stalking, Once Around the Block

48. KINGS OF CONVENIENCE: RIOT ON AN EMPTY STREET (2004)
Key Tracks: Homesick, Cayman Islands, Stay Out of Trouble

49. DAVID BOWIE: HEATHEN (2002)
Key Tracks: Slip Away, Slow Burn, 5:15 The Angels Have Gone

50. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: TWIN CINEMA (2005)
Key Tracks: Use It, These Are the Fables, Sing Me Spanish Techno

5 comments:

  1. I'm amazed how many of these CDs are my faves as well. Keane, Kings of Convenience, Death Cab, Sun Kil Moon, Travis, Iron & Wine... and my super-super favorite, Midlake.

    Great list. Like I said, I don't think I could do one myself. My brain freezes up just thinkin' about it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a great list! I've heard many of them, love some, and will look into those I'm not familiar with.

    Though there are three off the top of my head that your list is lacking.

    Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy (2005)
    Band of Horses: Everything All the Time (2006)
    Wilco: A Ghost is Born (2004)

    I could probably go on, but there's this stupid thing called work that for some reason expects me to do it.

    Damn, so much music I need to listen to now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This list is fantastic. It really has been a crucial decade musically. Indie music has evolved so much. Personally, I loved Brendan Benson's "Lapalco", Tegan & Sara's "So Jealous, and The Black Keys's "Attack and Release" in addition. Thanks for the great music commentary.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great stuff. I don`t mean this to sound insulting or anything, but for an American chap you have spot on taste and you`ve put together a stocking list.
    Check out TSOOL new double album.
    Kev. Engerland

    ReplyDelete