Friday, June 25, 2010

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s: 50-41

Older posts: Honorable Mentions, 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51

50. Frog Eyes - Tears of the Valedictorian

Frog Eyes are the toughest band in the modern Canadian music scene to get into. Once you're through The New Pornographers, Handsome Furs, Sunset Rubdown and Destroyer, it's time to tackle Carey Mercer's 55-octave wailing amid a flash flood of Spencer Krug's Rakhmaninovian keyboarding. Tears of the Valedictorian is their best album, bookended by two songs of over seven minutes, keeping the pace very speedy -- I would say, in a frenzy. This whole album is like going through Space Camp. "Caravan Breakers, They Prey on the Weak and the Old" is three magnificent songs in one. "Bushels" is even better, arguably the greatest in Mercer's songwriting career. Get ready to feel like the guy in the chair in the old Maxwell ads.

49. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Sam Beam's intimate bearded songwriting has sustained him through much of the decade. He appeals to the Elliot Smith crowd, maybe even, dare I say it, the Jack Johnson crowd. His music is likable and inoffensive enough that "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" was featured on the soundtrack to Twilight. But, there's an edge to Iron & Wine that J. Johnson certainly couldn't match. His lyrics are often biting, and his voice often drops to that breathy whisper -- something unsettling is certainly afoot. The only reason The Shepherd's Dog appears over other Iron & Wine's two other much-loved albums is because I simply return to these songs the most. "Boy With A Coin," "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" and "Peace Beneath The City" are remarkably enjoyable after multiple listens. The 2005 EP Woman King is also definitely worth a purchase.

48. Beck - Sea Change

Most of us actually thought Sea Change was a joke at first. It was so distant from the ramshackle country-funk of Odelay and light years from the energized dance of Midnite Vultures, that it could have been a fake disc. It turned out though that Beck had settled down, or settled in, at age 32, to a blurry haze of acoustic and bass driven tunes. These songs build and prove Beck's versatility. It's hard to compare to other Beck albums: 1) it sounds so different and 2) I still consider Odelay the greatest album of the 1990s. How can I even try to compare a great album like Sea Change to a masterpiece of that magnitude? Still, this is Beck's greatest achievement since the 1990s, and despite the underrated Modern Guilt and The Information, may stand as his last great album, depending on if/when he can still bring the funk.

47. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The edge of late has gone to Middle Cyclone, but I still believe that this is Case's greatest achievement, a collection of 12 breezy songs about relationships (both platonic and romantic), inhibitions and cat fights. The spacey "Star Witness" and follower "Hold On, Hold On" are perfect for her voice, and the cast of musicians on this album suit her ambling sound even better than on Middle Cyclone or the superb Blacklisted.

46. Battles - Mirrored

My iTunes lists the "Genre" of Battles as "noodly math rock." Exactly. This is art rock with the prog turned up to 11. Scattershot vocals over relentless drum beats and sharp electric guitar make Mirrored like the Speed Racer movie, except good. One of the most enjoyable of the decade's abstract, experimental releases. I hope they're more prolific this decade, though Battles is essentially a side project for all participating parties.

45. Songs: Ohia - The Magnolia Electric Company

The names can get a bit confusing. Jason Molina was Songs: Ohia. Then he wanted to call his band The Magnolia Electric Company. The label knew that Songs: Ohia was more recognizable, so they made him keep that title as the band name. The follow-up to this album, What Comes After The Blues, is credited to The Magnolia Electric Company. No matter. This is Molina's finest album -- a twangy, dark mix of country and gothic rock. Opening track "Farewell Transmission" is a masterpiece. In an album full of secrets and ghosts, "Farewell Transmission" strikes the first and most defining chord: I will resurrect it, I'll have a good go at it / I'll streak his blood across my beak and dust my feathers with his ashes / I can feel his ghost breathing down my back. The last words in the song may give the most apropos of Magnolia Electric's mood: "Long, dark blues."

44. Panda Bear - Person Pitch

This is the album that got most of the Animal Collective-haters on the bandwagon. Panda Bear's Beach Boys dreaminess won people over, and primed them for the full band's explosive, giddy pop songs. Noah Lennox has had, pretty unquestionably, the most successful AC-solo career. His first album, Young Prayer, was released to some acclaim, but Person Pitch elevated him to the status of indie pop icon. The album is out there, but accessible enough to bring everyone into the pool party. "Bros" is a frolicking bit of song craftsmanship: it concludes with irresistible, bouncing percussion work, much like Animal Collective's own "The Purple Bottle." Person Pitch just makes you smile, as Brian Wilson songs always intended.

43. Richard Buckner - The Hill

One of a few albums in the top 50 that most probably won't recognize, The Hill is one of the greatest works from one of the most prolific songwriters of the last 15 years. Buckner is usually alone with his acoustic guitar singing of love lost (nearly every song on his 1997 masterpiece Devotion and Doubt lamented his recent divorce). On The Hill, his lyrics are lifted from poets and his backing band is subtle but everpresent. There are many songs but they all live on one track. You should listen to it from beginning to end with no breaks. My friend Bryan once said, "If God had a voice, it would sound like Richard Buckner." It sounds like it on The Hill.

42. Kanye West - Graduation

Okay, Canibus, ima let you finish, but Kanye West made one of the most self-glorifying rap albums of all time! Every song on Graduation proves that Kanye can interrupt any acceptance speech and say whatever he wants on television. The award show is cheapened if you don't let him do this. In fact, just let him host the show with no script. It will be more entertaining and elevate him to deity status. Here's how Kanye transcends rap culture: the original video for "Can't Tell Me Nothing" featured Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham riding on a tractor, "Flashing Lights" had an avant-garde car-in-the-desert video with Rita G stripping off a fur coat. For a guy so seemingly-obsessed with himself, he appears in neither of these iconic videos. Kanye is more than a rapper. He's an idea. Graduation may be remembered as the album that defined Yeezy even more than his two breakthroughs.

41. Bob Dylan - Modern Times

Dylan completed his latter-day trilogy in 2006 with Modern Times, an album full of blues but without the despair. Much of 1997's brilliant Time Out Of Mind was spent lamenting his age, as if his career was winding down. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there, summed it up. On Modern Times, Dylan admits he's older, but isn't ready to throw in the towel. You think I'm over the hill, think I'm past my prime / Let me see what you got, we can have a whopping good time, he says on "Spirit of the Water," with more than a little innuendo. The old bastard is having fun here. Shortly after this album's release, he said he thought his career was just beginning. If you've been world famous for 45 years and then you drop this gem, I'm inclined to believe that you've got a few decades left in the tank.

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