Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decade in Review: Top 100 Albums of 2009: #30 - 21

#30. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) - Following in the footsteps of the likes of The Band, Wilco has cut themselves a delightful place in one of the best rock bands around with talent in every aspect of the group. Their albums prior to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had moments leading to this place in their career, but only moments. An album as intense as YHF comes along only once every so often. Filled to the brim with the most interesting alternative rock songs around, Wilco breaks free of their alt-country tag completely with a batch of next to impossible to describe songs. "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" drips with sound and has one of the most interesting drum backbones of any Wilco song. "Reservations" and "Ashes of American Flags" will still bring a tear to my eye with their post 9/11 melancholy and uncertainty. Rockers "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "I'm The Man Who Loves You" bring you out of those dark passages to see the light beyond.

#29. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008) - Eno and Byrne's return to recording together did not result in the same tribal third world futuristic opus that their record My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts turned out to be. Instead we were given the "electro-gospel" of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The times have changed for the eccentric duo. Talking Heads were long gone and Eno's venture into ambient music left him turning away from more traditional music. So when Eno had some conventional music written, he sent it to Byrne to work the lyrics and a magnificently simple yet elegant record came forth. The titular gospel sing along is an ethereal beauty bridging the best of what Eno does with sound and the best of Byrne's lyrical output. "Life is Long" and "The River" are adult versions of "Once in a Lifetime." No longer paranoid, but not complacent, Byrne comes off as an elder statesmen who still knows how to mystify and keep us guessing with lyrics. And it all comes down to the fabulous "Strange Overtones" which comes smack in the middle of the record like a beacon of pop music delight. Gone are the wild days of experiment, but I welcome the pop goodness with open arms.

#28. The White Stripes - Elephant (2003) Jack White gets a lot of shit for all the praise he gets, but come on naysayers. He's our generations Eric Clapton! Anyway, the bluesy goodness that drips from Elephant is beyond great. It's superb. The riffs rock hard and White's languished vocals just ooze with blues expression. Jack White may not be the world's greatest guitarist, but what he does with tone is just mesmerizing. "Seven Nation Army" is a simple track until you listen to what sounds Jack gets out of that red and white guitar. "The Hardest Button to Button" is a rhythm song that just pummels as it trudges along. It's a blazing record that doesn't let the listener off the hook. Whether it's the fast paced rocking of "Hypnotize" or the love ballad "I Want To Be The Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart," the White Stripes held nothing back on Elephant. Even if you think Jack White isn't as great as he's made out to be. Which, of course, would be a fools game to say. Can you write songs that catchy?

#27. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (2005) Although Black Rebel Motorcycle Club seemed to be written off as another roots rock group during the early 00's, they proved themselves on their 2005 disc Howl that there is much more to rocking then just woozy vocals and a driving guitar riff. Instead they retreated into the worlds of Dylan, Young and The Band to pull together an Americana disc of epic proportions. Giving way to more acoustic guitars and harmonicas, the stomping beat of these songs is less about power and more about soul. It's also the stomping of feet during songs like "Ain't No Easy Way" or "Shuffle Your Feet" that we get this acoustic jam goodness. "Howl" brings in organs and is a ballad with country soul to it. The directional shift may have been for just one record as Baby 81 reverted back to more rocking tunes, but even on that record you can't deny the influence of Howl on the bands sound.

#26. Radiohead - Kid A (2000) It may be the most important record of the decade, but that doesn't always make it the best. Kid A turned pop music conventions onto it's head. Radiohead, whose music was wildly popular from their single "Creep" to their magnum rock opus of OK Computer, but fame may have scared them a bit. So Radiohead creates Kid A, a sonic opus that is all at once beautiful and harrowing. "Everything In It's Right Place" is one of the most ominously catchy tunes one will ever hear while "The National Anthem" is a straight up rocker that decends into chaos. The melancholy "How To Disappear Completely" is devastating and leads into the silent Eno infused "Treefingers." One would hope for some light at the end of "How To Disappear..." but instead we are launched into an ambient and moody sound scape. "Ideoteque" stands as one of the most intense tracks of their catalog with it's psycho trance sound and Yorke's shattered voice carrying it somehow on his broken back. It was a sign of the times and it's a beautiful record that defined an era of darkness of sorts in a lot of the music to follow Kid A.

#25. Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel the Illinoise! (2005) Sufjan Stevens may have to eat his words promising us listeners with a folk album about all 50 states in the Union. Luckily he bottomed out only on his second state and gave us the breathtaking Illinois. A folk album centered around a States history is an interesting endeavour but what Stevens put together goes beyond folk and brings in a baroque sensibility. The big tracks off of it, namely "Chicago", "Jacksonville" and "Come One! Feel the Illinoise!" are all your standard baroque pop tracks chock full of swirling melodies, strings and Sufjan's banjo twang. For me, the somber moments are really the home runs of the disc. "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." paints a very sad portrait of a serial killer and "Casimir Pulaski Day" may be the saddest tribute song to a departed friend I've ever heard. I would love to see Sufjan tackle my fair state of New Jersey with songs about Molly Pitcher, Thomas Edison, towns like Freehold and Atlantic City, but it doesn't look likely unless Sufjan Stevens finds the fountain of youth and stays young forever to do all the states. In the meantime, I will pop on Illinois and enjoy it's lush beauty.

#24. Gorillaz - Demon Days (2005) -What do you get when Damon Albarn, MF Doom, Roots Manuva, Shaun Ryder and Dennis Hopper come together in the studio? One would think some weird ass cult of sorts but instead we got the Gorillaz second album Demon Days. The Gorillaz are enough of an enigma of sorts, but their brand of party trip-hop was one of the brightest spots in the record industry in the past few years. Whether it's the dance-floor ready stomp of "DARE" or the more funky "Feel Good, Inc.", there was no escaping the Gorrilaz grasp at house parties and dance mixes. It was an inevitability that you would groove along to the children's gang vocals on "Dirty Harry" or recite along with the lunatic ramblings of Dennis Hopper on "Fire Coming Out of the Monkeys Head." For my dime this is Albarn's shining moment in his entire career and that includes all of Blur and the strange super group The Good, The Bad and The Queen. What it comes down to is a collaborative ensemble of an album with hooks as sharp as any. It's sad to see the Gorillaz stop, but whose to say the mysterious monkeys won't come back with something equally nuts in the future?

#23. Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine (2004) This still goes as the best album I ever stole. No I didn't download it off of Napster or Soulseek, I took the CD from my college radio station. I needed it. Death From Above 1979 was my first venture into noise rock, although they really aren't noise rock. There is way more melody in between the fuzz of the bass and the bashing of the drums then on other noise groups. The duo created a sound unlike anything I heard, especially for two guys. "Turn It Out" kicks the album into overdrive and rarely do the wheels stop spinning. "Romantic Rights" stands as the hardest party anthem I've heard and "Sexy Results" oozes with lust and passion. To take a bass and a drummer with howling vocals and to fuzz them out to disco beats may sound like every pretentious hipsters dream band, but at least the songwriting rules and the punk infused dance party will ensue. It's less about noise and more about rhythm from Death From Above 1979. Best stolen disc ever.

#22. Electric Six - Senor Smoke (2005) One step forward from Fire, Senor Smoke at first seems like just a nostalgic pick, but in truth it's an album of amazing song writing and fantastic hooks. Electric Six write party music. It's no bones about it fun. A song like "Dance-A-Thon 2005" shouldn't be taken completely seriously. But when you hear the slowed down four-to-the-floor disco rocking, you get more than just a joke band. "Dance Epidemic" stands as easily the party anthem for my group of friends and I bet once you hear it you will incorporate it into your next party mix. "Devil Nights" brings more synths into the picture where "Rock and Roll Evacuation" is true to the power chord, cock rock roots of E6's first record. And at the end of the disc, as per usual with most E6 records, we get the poignant "The Future is In The Future," a song with a great message and a danceable hook. E6 may come off as goofs, but packed within these tasty grooves can be a beautiful moment or two. And if not, just have fun.

#21. Cursive - The Ugly Organ (2003) I still can't put my finger on what Cursive's whole goal was in creating The Ugly Organ. It's a loose concept album of the "Ugly Organist's" depraved life through heartless and meaningless lust. That's hard to discern at times, but what we have is an album that is electric and filled with those passions and the harsh emptiness behind them. The guitar rings out with searing distortion and the accents of cello make it an even more eerie and delightful record. "Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand" is the mission statement for the record represented as a side show act of the Ugly Organist telling his tale of despair. "A Gentleman Caller" and "Bloody Murderer" feature some of Tim Kasher's most intense vocals on the record. Overall the album has an atmosphere unlike anything else I've heard in quite a bit and it stands as a testament as one of the best indie records out there.

No comments: