Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top Albums of the Decade, Vol. 2.0

The following is a list of around 25 of my favorite albums of the last decade as a follow-up to Jim's. I tried to follow two rules when compiling this list. First, the album had to mean something to people. But second, the album had to mean something to me. Therefore, the first rule eliminated any music that barely anyone outside of myself found to be important or significant, and the second rule eliminated Grizzly Bear and Antony and the Johnsons. Enjoy.

1. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls In America
From the Hold Steady's catalog, most fans prefer Separation Sunday for its somewhat cohesive concept but for my American currency, Boys and Girls is their finest work, and my favorite album of the aughts. Plus, the beginning guitar riff on "Stuck Between Stations" is to this decade what the beginning of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was to the 90's, and what the opening of "Sweet Child O' Mine" was to the 80's. At least to me.
Favorite Track: "First Night"

2. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
I remember being in school and having this CD in burned format sent to me in the mail from a friend in New Mexico. I had never heard them before, but it came with a note that pretty much said "just trust me on this one." I played it in my car and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" just immediately slapped me across the face. After it ended, I hit "back" and listened again, and again, and again, or for however long it took me to get home. I liked the beginning of the album so much that it took me a few weeks before I heard some of the great later cuts like "Wake Up" and "Rebellion (Lies)." And this probably would have been my favorite album of the decade if it wasn't for "Crown of Love" and "In the Backseat." There's no room for filler at the top.
Favorite Track: "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"

3. Kanye West - The College Dropout
808's and Heartbreaks is pretty good and you should listen to it, but The College Dropout is one of the greatest albums of all time.
Favorite Track: "Through the Wire"

4. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Like Funeral, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has that first track ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart") that has the special power to make sure you always remember where you were when you first heard it. I will also always be thankful for this album for its timing. Along with the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and some of those early Modest Mouse records, I had something to listen to besides the bands that played Lollapalooza circa 1993. (Not that there's anything wrong with Alice in Chains' Dirt.)
Favorite Track: "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Favorite Track from Dirt: "Angry Chair")

5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
I was at a wedding last weekend and during the reception the DJ played "All My Friends." Someone remarked, "I think this song is perfect." I couldn't agree more.
Favorite Track: "Someone Great"

6. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
This just feels like a perfectly crafted album. Every song is good, and seemingly placed in the perfect spot. In this age of singles and iTunes, if the idea of the "album" ever actually disappears, in talking to future generations I will bring up Chutes Too Narrow the same way old basketball coaches like to talk about the Mikan Drill.
Favorite Track: "Gone For Good"

7. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
When I first heard this record I remember listening to "Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl" and thinking, "I didn't know music was allowed to sound like that." And I was thinking that in a good way. This record has also held up remarkably well the last seven years and I don't think that will change in the next seven.
Favorite Track: "KC Accidental"

8. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Trying to pick Modest Mouse's best record from the last ten years is almost like trying to figure out which is the best season of The Wire. There really are no wrong answers (except for maybe Season 5).
Favorite Track: "Blame It On the Tetons"

9. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Still the 85' Bears of break-up albums. And speaking of a recent RollingStone resident "you're-very-smart-in-an-asshole-kind-of-way" writer Matt Taibbi wrote a short piece on the plague that is the Chicago Bears' quarterback. Overall, his three main points were correct. First, that the Chicago Bears have not had a good quarterback in a long time. Second, that Jay Cutler's initial season with the team has not gone according to plan. And third, that following his NFL career, OJ Simpson made some bad decisions. (I made that last one up, but that's about as equally obvious as the first two.) Everything else in the article screamed, "I'm Matt Taibbi and there’s a reason why I usually only write about politics." For one, he did the normal song and dance of listing several of the most inept players (Peter Tom Willis, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, etc.) that have lined up behind center for the Bears post-Jim McMahon. And then he wrote something along the lines of, "...and now comes the worst of all, Jay Cutler." Worst of all?!? Hey Taibbi, Henry Burris used to throw passes with his eyes closed! Then, he stupidly wrote something about Erik Kramer (Bears' quarterback between 1994-1998) and how much he sucked. Well, Kramer was no Joe Montana, but even a mildly observant Bears fan would tell you that he by no means sucked. In fact, for a few years, he was a damn good quarterback. Lastly, Taibbi made some reference to Chris Chandler's (Bears' quarterback between 2002-2003) corpse which just came off as sounding like the biggest attempt to ape Bill Simmons since whenever I last did it. Poor show, Matt. Poor show. (Update: I wrote this on Saturday. On Sunday I went to the Bears/Ravens game and watched a completely beleaguered Cutler throw three interceptions and no touchdowns so perhaps Taibbi was right all along. Although I would like to point out that the Bears' number one receiver was injured and was also a defensive back in college.)
Favorite Track: "The Modern Leper"

10. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
See what's written above about Modest Mouse. The same thing is at play here.
Favorite Track: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

11. Common - Be
Common has very quietly been responsible for three classic hip-hop records: Resurrection, Like Water For Chocolate, and this one.
Favorite Track: "The Corner"

12. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
My favorite record from my favorite band from the last ten years or so.
Favorite Track: "A Stone"

13. Radiohead - Kid A
In one of Chuck Klosterman's books he makes the case that Kid A is sort of a track-by-track warning (or something) of 9/11, which would end up happening about 11 months after Kid A was released. Upon reading this I immediately listened to Kid A to see if I could figure out where Klosterman was coming from. I never really did, but I wasn't that upset about it because it gave me an excuse to listen to Kid A. It’s hard for me to think of another album that so brilliantly mixes moods. Kid A is somber at times, hysterical at others.
Favorite Track: "Idioteque"

14. The Walkmen - You & Me
You & Me is so good I predict one of the following two reactions for their next release: First, it will be as good as You & Me and will cement the Walkmen as one of the best bands of this generation. Or second, the conventional wisdom will be that it is not as good as You & Me, while ignoring that it's actually a damn fine record. Those are the stakes when you set the bar so high, gentlemen.
Favorite Track: "In the New Year"

15. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
See what's written above about Modest Mouse and the White Stripes.
Favorite Track: "The Way We Get By"

16. The Wrens - The Meadowlands
A track-list that is pretty much murderer's row: "Happy," "She Sends Kisses," "Ex-Girl Collection," etc. It's a perfect pop record.
Favorite Track: "Ex-Girl Collection"

17. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
The fact that this album would have been so hard to top may have been the primary reason why Stevens decided to scrap the idea of doing an album for every one of the 50 states. (Or maybe it was because the entire idea was completely ridiculous and unrealistic.)
Favorite Track: "Chicago"

18. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Though not as good as Heartbreaker, during a seven month span in 2005, Ryan Adams released Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. The first two are very good, and 29 certainly has the right to exist. How come no one ever mentions this? If there's a more impressive and prolific output from any other artist I would like to see it.
Favorite Track: "My Winding Wheel"

19. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
I am still a big fan of the Mountain Goats, but I don't think John Darnielle's recent material has come anywhere near this album. I emphatically tried to force myself into liking his latest product, The Life of the World to Come with little success. The last time I gave it a try, I finally bailed and immediately listened to "Broom People" from The Sunset Tree and everything made sense again.
Favorite Track: "This Year"

20. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
I was blasting BeyoncĂ©'s "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" on my iTunes (and loving it, by the way) the other day and when the song ended I wasn’t paying attention and Big Black's Atomizer was next in line. After "Single Ladies" I wasn't quite mentally prepared for Big Black, and frankly, it scared me. I decided to scroll through my entire iTunes collection, and nowhere else was there such a dramatic shift from one artist to another. Not even close. What this has to do with Destroyer's Rubies, I have no idea.
Favorite Track: "3000 Flowers"

21. Deerhunter - Microcastle
Bradford Cox has proven to be one the best songwriters of the last decade and this is him at his best.
Favorite Track: "Nothing Ever Happened"

22. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Don't fight it, it really is good.
Favorite Track: "My Girls"

23. TV On The Radio - Dear Science,
It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?
Favorite Track: "Family Tree"

24. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
From top to bottom, Ms. Case's finest work.
Favorite Track: "Margaret Vs. Pauline"

25. The Killers - Hot Fuss; The Postal Service - Give Up (tie)
It's hard to leave off two albums that are responsible for about a baker's dozen of the top hits from the last decade.
Favorite Tracks: "All These Things That I've Done" and "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight"

Best of the Rest: The Decemberists - The Crane Wife; The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; Jay-Z - The Blue Print; The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema; Outkast – Stankonia; Rogue Wave - Descended Like Vultures; Smog - A River Ain’t Too Much To Love


1 comment:

Alex said...

Two additional comments:

One, there was a third unwritten rule that a band could not have more than one album on the list. And two, the Gaslight Anthem's the '59 Sound should have been included somewhere in the best of the rest if not squeezed into the top 25 somewhere.

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