Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Decade In Review: Top Ten Albums of 2000 - 2009

Here it is! The ten best records of the past ten years. It has been a wild ride. Comment away and enjoy. I will throw in a live cut and or music video for each album so you can taste this...

#10. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (2002) "I know you've supported me for a long time, somehow I'm not impressed." What I gather from Interpol's first record is a jaded band looking to find some feeling in a completely drained and paranoid New York City. To me, this is the best post 9/11 album that deals with what happened to New Yorkers and to everyone in the country after it took the downward spin after that fateful day. Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights was a request to get back to the brighter more innocent days, but those prayers were never answered. So it's no surprise how dark and dismal the record seems. It creaks through the opener "Untitled." Even the apathy of just naming a song "Untitled" goes to show you the prevailing feelings of the world. The anthem "NYC" is about as close to many feelings in New York as you can get in a track. The more classic rockers like "PDA" and "Obstacle 1" bring in an element of danceability but even in their catchiness is a deep seed of regret and darkness. Interpol would never be able to completely tap into this feeling with such sheer precision on their next few albums, but it goes to show just how drained they were after creating the brooding Turn On the Bright Lights. It's hard to keep writing about such themes before you run yourself into the ground.

#9. Beck - Sea Change (2002) Break-up albums are always moody but when Beck is helming it you would think you'd get some strange freak-outs or weird brooding electro songs. Instead, Beck sticks to his Mutations basics and expounds upon the broken heart with beautiful poetics and gentle guitar folk. Beck sheds every last drop of his broken heart onto this record and for that, Sea Change is a very mood driven record. Unlike Odelay or Guero which are built to be listened to anytime, Sea Change is so melancholy that it sometimes doesn't work when you are in a good mood. A song like "Lonesome Tears," easily one of the best tracks Beck has to offer, would sound downright terrible when you are in a good mood. It's heartbreaking stuff. "Lost Cause" seems to be about moving on but there is always that last bit of sadness when a relationship comes to an end. "Round the Bend" hearkens to Nick Drake's "River Man" and there is no denying Drake's influence on this album. Instead of it becoming a weak rip-off, Beck's own feelings and sentiments are easily discernible. It may be Beck's most straight from the heart record, but that's what makes it stand a part from others. It may not have the fun of Odelay or Midnite Vultures, but Beck's just as human as the rest of us and is obviously susceptible to pain and misery as anyone else.

#8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Pig Lib (2003) Post Pavement, Malkmus has been trying to get his footing with what his solo career may sound like. It really has yet to solidify, but even with Pavement they seemed to by trying to define a sound. Malkmus now seems to be leaning towards the long, drawn out Television style guitar jams, but on his second record, a moody mixture of these jams and what his first self titled record of pop songs would blend to make Pig Lib. It's been hard to touch the greatness of this record on further efforts, although Face the Truth comes very close. But when off kilter tracks like "Water and a Seat" first hit you, their complexity doesn't yet shine. "Animal Midnight" and "Witch Mountain Bridge" are two tracks that blend the jammy atmosphere and more deep seated pop sensibilities perfectly. Then there are the polar opposite tracks "Craw Song" and "1% of One." The former is a cute little pop ditty with plenty of hum along melody and cutesy harmonium where as the latter is a sprawling rocker of an epic. The beauty of this record comes to me in the form of searching for a sound. Since there is no clear definition, the boundries between free form sprawl and concise pop writing takes perfect form on Pib Lib. It's a sound that has been hard to re-create with each consecutive album losing one half of these two sides. Here is where you'll find it perfectly executed.

#7. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born (2004) - Wilco is lauded for their brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but for some reason, my personal favorite Wilco disc from the past ten years. It may because it defined a year in my life or it may have just been sheer excellence, but the grittier and trippier A Ghost is Born has a selection of great tracks... all of which take me back to one of the best times in my life. Driving down to the shore on a dark night while blasting "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is a trip to be had. The pulsating and looping guitar sounds and drum beat are hypnotic before they explode into one of the best riffs the album has to offer. "Hell is Chrome" and "Handshake Drugs" are more nihilistic in their approach with dark imagery and quieter instrumentation. "Hummingbird" comes amid a lot of the darker tracks hovering forth over with it's beautiful but melancholy message. Overall, the album has many overarching ambient effects, howling guitars, especially in the album opener "At Least That's What You Said" and many other things that were apparent on YHT and all in all, it fits together nice and sloppily over the albums entirety. Sometimes the sloppy more free ranging younger brother can outshine the superstar and that younger brother for Wilco is A Ghost is Born.

#6. Portishead - Third (2008) Out of all the comebacks, the best came through Portishead's fitfully brilliant Third. An 11 year absence from music, Portishead returned to form... sort of. The band's first two releases were melancholy melodic and heartbreaking but the music was much more trip-hop centric. A melange of Massie Attack style orchestrations with Beth Gibbons sorrowful cantor like voice. On Third, the music is still trippy but instead of hip-hop style sequencing, it turned out to be more like a psych rock record. And for my dime, it made a huge leap forward. It's a menacing record. Their are dark moments hidden amidst beauty, especially in"The Rip" which starts as a gorgeous acoustic guitar plucking ditty that turns into an eerie drum and deep bass synth jam and the Ukelele driven "Deep Water" but these brightest moments are still melancholy thanks to Gibbons deep and beautifully toned voice. Darker moments are brooding deep on the record, especially in the mechanical and harrowing "Machine Gun." It's a song that will leave a mark on your subconscious. "Small" and the closer "Threads" are equally dark and daunting with the guitar effects and synthesizers taking on beastly sizes. It's hard to not describe every song as they are all cogs in the overall dark and menacing machine. But what Third boils down to is a record that will leave an imprint on your mind from first listen on.

#5. Queens of the Stoneage - Songs for the Deaf (2002) A supergroup of sorts, Queens of the Stoneage came together via 90's stoner rock Kyuss and a special guest in Dave Grohl going back to the drum set for one record of Queens heavy rocking. What we got is the eras best balls to the wall rock album. Nothing is held back. It became the stoner rock equivilant of The Who Sell Out with it's radio station narrative, but the similarities end there. The decades best riffs are all over this record. Even the decades best rhythm section is found here. The trio of Homme, Oliveiri and Grohl are a force only to be possibly matched by Homme, Grohl and John Paul Jones once the first Them Crooked Vultures disc drops. Until then, this album reigns supreme. "No One Knows" may be the catchiest hard rock song I've ever heard with it's thumping bass, precision drums and howlingly catchy riff. "Song for the Dead" has a bone crushing intro and outro with back and forth guitar slaying and vocals care of the Screaming Trees Mark Lanegan. Lanegan woudl shine on other tracks such as the intense "Hangin' Tree" and the brooding "God Is In the Radio." Other stunners come in the boogie piano infused "Go With the Flow" and the surf freak out of "Another Love Song." What keeps Songs for the Deaf moving is the amount of sound coming forth, blasting through your stereo. It's a rock and roll juggernaut that has yet to stop.

#4. The Raveonettes - Pretty In Black (2005) The feeling I get when I listen to any Raveonettes album is a sort of nostalgia. It's of a decade long past that has no discernible time period attached to it. Yes you can say that the album Pretty in Black has its roots in either 50's rock and roll, 60's girl groups and surf guitar or 80's shoegaze and noise, but it's not definable. There are country rockers and Wall of Sound sing-a-longs. Garage classics and paranoid road tracks. It goes everywhere and yet it's decidedly fresh and new. The Raveonettes are best known for their loud shimmering guitars and sugary sweet dueling vocals and on Pretty in Black these two things take flight with some of the best rock and roll music I've heard. "Love in a Trashcan" is their take on the Kinks while "Red Tan" is a summer time Velvets track (punctuated by Maureen Tucker on drums.) "Sleepwalking" has a sprawling sound while "Seductress of Bums" has Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo exchanging lines over two paralleled and distinct musical structures built around each others vocal qualities. Underneath every track is a centimeter of filth and depravity but it's very hard to see sometimes through the shinning light of the duo's bright vocals. Whether this album sounds like a John Cassavetes directed western or the dark musings of the Ronnettes unleashed is besides the point. It's the Raveonettes nailing the sounds of the past with a touch of their own.

#3. Black Mountain - In The Future (2008) Contrary to the album title, Black Mountain's second LP In The Future takes nothing from a futurisitc sound, but rather falls back on the rock of old. Infused with the epicness of King Crimson, the bluesiness of Led Zeppelin and the psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane, Black Mountain made a name for themselves be taking stoner rock and psych rock and rebuilding it for new generations. It's an ensemble record with all of it's five members taking massive leaps forward to make straight up classic rocking music. The howling and impending maelstrom of sound kicks off with "Stormy High." The song will dig it's hooks into you as Amber Webber's howling gale of a voice will chill you to the bone. "Tyrants" is the first of two epics with it's sprawling churn of riffage into a slow building midsection before the clamourous ending. It's a breathtaking track. "Wucan" and "Queens Will Play" hark back to Houses of the Holy era Zeppelin with their spaced guitar antics and foreboding organs. It's no wonder that this band has such amazing scope as each member has gone on to several solo projects of equal value, but it's when all the elements amass to create the craggy Black Mountain that we see memorable music. The songs seem to solidify better on In the Future as the band fully emerges through the haze to have a monolithic sound. If only it were 1972. Black Mountain would be the best band of all time.

#2. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) Yoshimi shaped most of my musical leanings for the past decade. Before this album I was knee deep in classic rock research. Jaded by what music sounded like from about 1997 too 2002, I pretty much turned my musical radar off to the new. With The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, I found the perfect bridge from the classic rock I was listening to at the time to something new and exciting. It had the feel of a lot of the psych rock I was delving into with influences from Pink Floyd and Yes seen on some angles but it had a taste of the futuristic. Songs like "Fight Test" and "Do You Realize??" were more traditional pop songs with a gloss of sweetness and futurism that sounded both distant and contemporary. "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" is a brooding track filled with all sorts of swirling drones and sounds. "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" is a bouncing delight of a pop song and leads into the extra terrestrial space age rock of "Are You A Hypnotist??" The Flaming Lips concocted something that sounds utterly artificial. It's a futuristic record that still owes debt to traditional pop music with it's strum-along chords and beautiful harmonies. The music is utterly beautiful and captivating and Wayne Coyne's lyrics are poignant and touching. It's the perfect album.

#1. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2005) - So here it is, the best album of the past ten years. Canadian band Arcade Fire came out of nowhere to bring a record unlike anything I had heard at the time. Funeral is baroque in its orchestration and punky in it's angular guitars and searing vocals. It sways with the tide and swirls in the air like a light breeze at times. It made the whistling of the tea pot a mournful sound and the disco beats of police lights every ready for a dance party. All in all it was an album about coping with death and loss and done so in a beautiful way. Where Sea Change is a share in your misery kind of thing, Funeral is a unique way to mourn. As I have stated before on this blog, any music lover will someday come to embrace Funeral as one of those great accomplishments in music. It becomes an almost religious event. Whether it's the booming and glooming of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" with it's shimmering guitars, deep bass rhythm and it's gentle xylophone or if it's the wailing chant over the epic "Wake Up", you are going to be in for a musical experience unlike any other. The amount of sound and isntrumentation that the group brigns to the table, with accordians, violins, synthesizers and other so much more is utterly beautiful. The heartbreak and loss that anyone feels can be really hard, but for the members of Arcade Fire, they turned that sadness into sheer beauty, even if it's melencholic beauty. It stands as a testament of our generation dealing with the loss of all innocence and Arcade Fire's Funeral is the perfect soundtrack for such loss.

Well that's it for the decade in review. Be sure to come on back for all sorts of other end of 2009 shite.

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