Monday, July 26, 2010

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s: 20-11

The full list: Honorable Mentions, 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41, 40-31, 30-21

20. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver

James Murphy has one of the most ironic stories of the decade. A somewhat shlubby, aging hipster, obsessed with being cool/not being cool, writes minimalist dance music in the rock-digital transition, influencing others to do the same, which would suggest he is cool. He writes songs about how he's not cool, losing his edge, finding himself not a part of the scene. He writes songs about how the scene is self-obsessed and how he's definitely part of it. He's ironically part as part of "it" as one can be. And we all know how hipsters hate irony.

So think of that as you listen to Sound of Silver, and then forget about it, because these songs are just plain awesome. "All My Friends" packs an emotional punch even if you've heard it as part of the awkward Silver Lake anthem of the last four years. "Get Innocuous" is one of the most overlooked dance tracks of the decade and "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" sums it all up in a big populist blow-out. Dance took a step past rock from relative Daft Punk obscurity to mainstream and, like it or not, James Murphy was right there tugging it along.

19. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes/Sun King EP

You could say that folk is a dying genre, or maybe that it's just evolved too much. Fleet Foxes aren't really folk the way McCabe and Mrs. Miller isn't really a western. I include their Sun King EP as part of this entry, because it's just as good as the album proper and I tend to listen to them back-to-back anyway. It's all we have of them right now, and though the ephemeral, misty mountain sound can get close to Dad Rock territory (especially since you could actually call Fleet Foxes "pleasant"), their impeccable harmonies make them much more than just another John Mayer or whatever the fuck.

18. M.I.A. - Kala

Who is the person who decided to put M.I.A.'s monumental "Paper Planes" into Pineapple Express. If it was David Gordon Green, I tip my hat. She had already proven herself as a great talent with Arular, and Kala had amazed the few million who had heard it. But, Pineapple Express somehow made "Paper Planes" a pop-culture phenomenon. Even people who didn't know who or what it was were saying, "play that song with the BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG."

Then everyone started hanging on every word. The tweets slamming The New York Times were elevated to more than just fucking tweets. And the music won. Kala is a frolicking, excessive 'fuck you' to American excess. Thank goodness she ended that retirement nonsense a few months after the announcement (it lasted a few months, what do you want?).

17. Low - Things We Lost In The Fire

Low didn't just produce an under-the-radar masterpiece, they're an under-the-radar band. Oh sure, everyone can recognize some album covers, knows they did that Dirty Three collaboration, maybe knows their Mormon, but you'll never hear them talked about by the taco truck. There's no real story, no real innovation. Low is simply one of the most consistent bands of the last 15 years, releasing solid album after solid album.

Things We Lost In The Fire is an anthem for a lost era, an album that transcended mp3s -- no single song could give you a wide enough taste. "Dinosaur Act" captures the perfect balance and harmony between husband and wife vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. The word is "slow." You could be in slow agony or slow awakening or slow summer afternoon -- Low fits it and evokes it. It's that sweet spot between Mojave 3 and Mogwai. You won't be dancing, but you won't be disappointed.

16. Deerhoof - Apple O'

This was not your daddy's Deerhoof. Some hardcore fans of their early work actually thought they were "selling out," their new foray into pop songwriting belittling their prior ethos. But Apple O' kicks in a way no other Deerhoof album does. "Dummy Discards A Heart" is a fully-charged opener and "Apple Bomb" is the only way Deerhoof does an epic (at only 4:14, it's the longest track on the album).

Deerhoof is a band that only got more ambitious as the decade went on. I believe it was guitarist Greg Saunier who described a Wilco show where people in the audience hugged each other when a certain song came on, they loved it so much. Saunier wanted to write a song like that, and thus came The Runners Four, their most intricate album. Apple O' is them at the height of their powers, the balance between the ecstatic and the experimental. If only an entire Deerhoof show was comprised of these songs, the audience might never stop hugging.

15. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III

One of a half-dozen rappers to claim the title of "Best Rapper Alive" in the oughts, Lil Wayne had a serious case to that claim in 2008. He had come off a string of superb mixtapes and studio albums. When the cover art for Tha Carter III hit the streets, it was a foregone conclusion that he was about to have his greatest mainstream success. Then "Lollipop" came out and it was all over. The raunchy, remarkably self-assured Weezy was as famous for his persona as the music. I hope that Carter's stint in prison and ridiculous flop rock album won't ruin the momentum. Tha Carter III is, however, an album for our time, with singles that will be daily mainstays on "Hip-Hop Oldies" radio for years to come. We're only a few years away.

14. Modest Mouse - The Moon And Antarctica

It came at a weird time. Dance wasn't the new indie rock yet, but the off-kilter noise rock of Sebadoh was probably done for. Modest Mouse did the perfect thing, and released a record of great, accessible tunes that didn't compromise their aesthetic. Though Good News For People Who Love Bad News was nothing to sneeze at, that record was MM's attempt at modest (and I use the term loosely) radio play, which they achieved. Nothing could capture the magic of the first three tracks of The Moon And Antartica -- "3rd Planet," "Gravity Rides Everything," and "Dark Center of the Universe" -- a triumvirate of sizzling semi-art rock that's as deceptively dark as uplifting tunes can be.

13. Sigur Ros - Ágætis Byrjun

"Ágætis byrjun" means "A good beginning" in Icelandic, which is the language heard in songs by Sigur Ros, natives of the tiny European island nation -- most of the time. Though their second album, it could be considered a beginning of some sorts -- or perhaps it refers to the album's beginning, an "Intro" that leads into the angelic "Svefn-g-englar," which means "Sleepwalkers." The album is filled with alternating figures. From otherworldly floating seraphim to the microscopic sounds of a subtle heart beat.

It's what Brian Eno dreamed of when he made albums of ambient music. In some respects, Ágætis Byrjun could be considered an ambient album, but only at first listen, because it's certainly not lazy and requires active listening. So, it is a good beginning, in the way that the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey ends with a good beginning. Which means it's a pretty damn great beginning.

12. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Who knew that people would know who Animal Collective were one day? It seemed so unlikely just 7 or 8 years ago. Here Comes The Indian (#74 on this list) was blended and anachronistic, a pagan ritual in the woods. But Merriweather Post Pavilion is the culmination of a decade of experimentation and expansion. Panda Bear perfected his Brian Wilson harmonies and Avey Tare chose to calm down his yelps. What we're given is a nearly perfect album of pop and frenzy. The two best tracks -- "My Girls" and "Brother Sport" -- are splendidly memorable and are sure to delight at live shows for the remainder of AC's career, if they decide to keep playing them (they're notorious for playing predominantly new material at shows).

As Animal Collective continue to evolve, it's possible that Merriweather could end up as another Here Comes The Indian, a precursor to even different work. It's hard to imagine, but Animal Collective's best work could be ahead of them.

Feel free to scroll down fast if this is freaking you out.

11. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale

Perhaps I'm too white, and that's why Fishscale didn't crack the top ten. I'm hoping it's just due to the wide number of fantastic albums released during the decade. I argue that Fishscale is one of the best albums of the decade because of its brutal honesty, its willingness to lay bare Dennis Coles' life and history. The song is full of truth, but ironically, many of the songs surround fictional stories. The phenomenal "Shakey Dog" and the dreamscape "Underwater" act as bookends to the fantasy life of Tony Starks -- living in a dark superhero world, crippled by hubris.

All this aside, it quite simply is the most fun and exhilarating rap album in recent years. The skits fit and the songs couldn't flow together better. And Ghostface, listen, "Back Like That" is the only R&B from you we'll ever need. No need for a whole album of the stuff. This one is perfect.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s: 30-21

The full list: Honorable Mentions, 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41, 40-31

30. The Knife - Silent Shout

"Let me play you the first track off this Knife album," I was told about a month after the release of Silent Shout in the summer of 2006. We listened to the title track, starting with the thudding base and a simple falsetto of electronic beats. We'd just listened to Vitalic's Ok Cowboy (#100 on this list) and I was expecting a record of equal velocity. I was wrong, but far from disappointed. This is The Knife's third LP, but for me it came out of nowhere. The Knife is Swedish brother and sister team Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, but their live shows hid their identity behind gimp and monster masks. The same theatrics are a wonderful complement to the live shows of Fever Ray, Andersson's other project (whose fantastic eponymous debut is ridiculously omitted from this list).

29. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

Forget that this is a girl group. They don't have anything to prove to you. They released one of the most frenzied-but-focused, hardest rockers of the decade. Their final album before splitting up in 2006, The Woods opens with a train wreck of guitars. If you can get through "The Fox" and want to keep going, you're ready for what Pitchfork called an "endurance test." Sleater-Kinney will rip you up and spit you out. In an era when female musicians split into two categories -- soulful singer-songwriter (Feist, Cat Power) or electro-vixen (the above-mentioned Karin Dreijer Andersson), Sleater-Kinney perform old-fashioned rock with more than a dose of distortion. "Modern Girl" is the only pop relief here; its slick bass line is infectious and comes as a perfect interlude. A fitting end to a socks-off band.

28. of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

Kevin Barnes' sexual anonymity (he's straight, fyi) has never been to his advantage as much as on his 2007 masterpiece, an absolutely stellar 12 songs that run up and down the pop ladder. The songs vary in length from one to 12 minutes, but all are precise and focused. The 12-minuter in question is "The Path Is A Grotesque Animal," a song that seeks to blend the album's (and Barnes') multiple personalities. It's the centerpiece of this hyper-pop, schizophrenic record. Barnes references his own up-and-down, half-of-two-minds mood in a most frank manner on "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse." He says: I'm in a crisis, I need help, come on mood, shift shift back to good again. The song's latter minute is an angry screed at the "chemicals" that control him. It's the best sounding mood disorder I know of.

27. Kanye West - Late Registration

Hip-hop has evolved more in the past five years than in the previous 20. Kanye is the only rapper to ever sufficiently display his vulnerabilities. I don't care what you say about Tupac -- Kanye is the emo rapper. If you get past the singles, past Jamie Foxx on "Gold Digger" and Pamela Anderson in the video for "Touch The Sky," you'll see a man who's practically begging you to tell him you accept him, that he's cool. He's ashamed of admitting that he's not in Broke Phi Broke (and never was, to be fair), he doesn't just back up his mama and grandma, he cries over them, he has songs ripped from his chest over them. Kanye considered Late Registration his entry into higher education, but really, he just ended up schooling all of us.

26. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights

Despite the success of Turn On The Bright Lights in 2002, it's been a pretty rough decade for Interpol. Their follow-up album was solid but couldn't quite compete with TOTBL's success. They've been out of touch for the most part since -- further albums have fallen flat, the Pitchfork love is gone -- but we can't let that take away from how good their debut really is. Joy Division-comparisons aside, they wrote some fantastic 80s new wave-style songs and pulled them with great aplomb. "NYC," "PDA," and "Obstacle 1" are still remarkably entertaining, even if it's been over a year since I've listened. This was a point when we weren't sure about the future of music. It turned out not to be Interpol, but Turn On The Bright Lights will last far past 2002.

25. Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the fan favorite, but I give the edge to Gimme Fiction, a straight-up stellar rock album. No song Britt Daniel wrote before or since has matched the pure joy of when the chorus cruises in on "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," or the unhittable falsetto on "I Summon You." Though Spoon had already made waves, Gimme Fiction is what set them on their course to being everywhere. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga made them a household name (or at least a college dorm room name) and Transference hit #4 on the Billboard Top 200. Pretty impressive for album #7.

24. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury

In a decade when hip-hop either blew up on MTV or wallowed in the underground, Clipse had hits that were right in the middle. Hell Hath No Fury is their great achievement -- enough songs about crack-dealing and the need to shine on in Italian sports cars to make even the more popular rappers jealous. Just listen to the horror-film space-cadet beat on "Trill" to see how Clipse transcend the Westside-Eastside antics and work to simply thrill captive listeners. True. Real.

23. My Morning Jacket - It Still Moves

At a My Morning Jacket show in 2004, Jim James expressed his slight dismay that his group were considered hippies (by whom, we'll never know), just because of their long beards and very long hair. That's not so much a problem now, but back upon the release of It Still Moves, it was unclear if MMJ had a greater plan, so hidden were those faces behind auburn hair. The new MMJ is less southern, less country, less folksy and jammy. They're still fun and compose fantastic songs, but It Still Moves captured them at their wondrous, rockabilly best. The tandem of "One Big Holiday" and "I Will Sing You Songs" are a perfect balance -- the high and the low, the anxious and the secure. It hasn't stopped moving.

22. Sun Kil Moon - April

Mark Kozelek was thoroughly unintimidated by the 2000s. In a decade where music was distorted, reverberated, danced-up and beat-down, Kozelek continued to write quiet, exploratory songs. But, they're not simple songs. The first two tracks on April run over 16 minutes, and each is packed with thought and discovery. His music is all about memories, those faded images we all have and apply to entire experiences. Just look at the album cover. When you see something like this, you're either in a Sun Kil Moon album or a Tarkovsky film. April is Kozelek's most beautiful album, a collection of songs melancholy but effortlessly fulfilling. The music is subtle enough that you might even be able to doze off if you're in the dark on a bed...but don't expect to not have haunted dreams.

21. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

If you've questioned my obsession with Animal Collective, leave now. The rest of this list will annoy you. Another in a string of masterpieces that AC have released since they hit their stride in 2004, Strawberry Jam might very well have pushed them right up to the mainstream, before Merriweather Post Pavilion launched them over the Top 40 fence. It was, at the time, considered their most accessible record, though you wouldn't have known it from being thrust into "Peacebone" right off the bat. However, no listener could forget the duo of "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks." The euphoric collection of Panda Bear's "oohs" and "aahs" and Avey Tare's yelps are a highlight of their (or anybody's) careers. If Sung Tongs and Feels were a bit too out there (still) for the community, Strawberry Jam was the sweet, gooey, sugary pop to get everyone to the table.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s: 40-31

Older posts: Honorable Mentions, 100-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51, 50-41

40. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse

Sonic Youth's follow-up to the previously mentioned Murray Street is full of no-nonsense rock songs. The middle frame, featuring "Kim Gordon & The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream," "Stones," and "Dude Ranch Nurse," is perhaps the most solid 18 minutes of straight-ahead rock they've produced since Dirty. The flourishes are here, but gone are the 10-minute noise jams of "Karen Revisited." Don't get me wrong. You saw Murray Street on this list -- it's awesome. But Sonic Nurse grabs hold and powers you through 62 minutes of the closest thing to arena rock Sonic Youth will ever get. To watch them perform "Pattern Recognition" live is as enriching as watching them play "Teenage Riot." Well, almost.

39. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!

Post-rock hardcore faded early on in the decade. Slow was replaced with fast -- simple as that. Oh sure, listeners still have patience to feel a song build, but, only 10 years later, it's doubtful that a double-disc rock symphony like Lift Yr. Skinny Fists... could be released and embraced today. Godspeed You! Black Emperor constructed an undeniably complex and very fulfilling album. At times somber and beautiful, at others macabre and eerie, Godspeed made a thematically relevant follow-up to the masterful F♯A♯∞ on an even grander scale.

38. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

Time is likely the only reason Street Horrrsing made the list over Tarot Sport. Both albums are infectious, freewheeling blasts of pscyhedelic noise pop. "Sweet Love for Planet Earth" will grab you immediately and scream at you for nine minutes. It's another one of the albums that, due to its inclusion of some pop with its noise, fits the modern indie audience and embraces the newcomers. Fuck Buttons are the creation of two British minds -- one a huge fan of Aphex Twin, the other of Mogwai. Those two influences show. Plus, you can dance like a muthafucka.

37. TIE // M83 - Saturdays=Youth; The Handsome Family - Twilight

Last tie of the list. It's a bit odd, considering these albums couldn't be more different in almost every way. But, I simply couldn't tell you which one I like better than the other. So let's start with M83. Anthony Gonzalez had been fine-tuning his sound for years. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts was an impressive breakthrough and Before The Dawn Heals Us included more focused songwriting and an ephemeral, dreamlike sound. Saturdays=Youth is a step above, an album that would likely hold this same position on a decade list if it were released in 1983...and nobody would bat an eye. "Kim and Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl" are two excellent singles that would have been stand-outs on the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club, and "We Own The Sky" may be the greatest song in the M83 catalog. It's nostalgic for a time when all the teenagers were pissed off, and you wouldn't be accused of being "emo." You'd get up, go to high school, bum around in your suburb and wonder what else was out there. The cover says it all.

And The Handsome Family...the musical collaboration between husband and wife Hank and Rennie Sparks couldn't be much simpler. Play a drum beat, she plays bass, he plays guitar, she writes the lyrics, he sings them. Songs about ghosts, the road, loneliness fill their music with smoky, ethereal images. They spent the decade releasing a string of fantastic studio albums, but Twilight is as good as it gets. From the solemn, serene "Passenger Pigeons" to the goofy "So Long" (about a kid saying goodbye to all the harmless animals he's tortured), Twilight is sad even when it's happy. In the former song, the narrator laments the loss of a lover. He'd rather sleep in the park and "talk to the wind than an empty apartment." The disconnected chorus: "Once there were a billion passenger pigeons, so many flew by they darkened the sky."

36. No Age - Nouns

Technically, Nouns is No Age's first proper full-length, but the splash they made with Weirdo Rippers sent ripples around the indie rock world. This is a band with few flourishes, a straight-ahead, if fuzzier, Sebadoh, and an energy that reflects the relative youth of members Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt. Both Randall and Spunt are vegan, but they're not activists. They're two guys in a band that became mainstays at L.A.'s The Smell. They jam on Nouns for 30 minutes and then you're silent and breathless. This is a band whose best work is still ahead of them.

35. Radiohead - Amnesiac

Nobody said it, but there was a palpable disappointment when Amnesiac was released. I was 19 and waited in a line outside of Tower Records (I'll explain what that is later, kids), picked up the album at midnight and promptly returned to my dorm room to listen. It was out there, songs plucked from the Kid A sessions, but odder, quicker, less moody. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" was like "Fitter Happier" inside of an acid-blanketed maze. Did I like it? I wasn't sure. It was too experimental for the Bends kids and for the art kids it was simply just not Kid A. Then we listened a few more times, looking for a message, and found that there was none. These are simply 11 amazing songs, arranged perfectly, sounding like a cohesive album, certainly not a collection of castoffs. Alienation and lack of control are the prominent themes. We fall through doors and climb through others, we're packt in like sardines, everyone can see us in our glass house. "You And Whose Army?" ends with Ghost horses / We ride tonight, but you could listen a thousand times and not make out a single word. Things are out of our control, and this is how Radiohead seemed to operate in 2001. They could not be reined it and we just had to sit and love every minute.

34. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Ease Down The Road

Will Oldham was coming off a remarkable achievement in the transitional I See A Darkness. One of the best albums of the 1990s, that record moved Oldham away from the twangy country of Viva Last Blues and into the lulling sounds of piano balladry. Not that his lyrics were any less incisive or filthy. Ease Down The Road followed in 2001 and finds Oldham at his sharp-tongued, womanizing best. Though the songs flow at the same pace, Ease Down The Road is a more jovial, explorative album than Darkness. Take the title track: the narrator is on a road trip with a married woman to see her firefighter husband's family. On the way, infidelity is prevalent. Digest this lyric:

A fireman her husband was
And so to give him duty
I duly tried to light a fire
Upon his rightful booty
But beauty was my treasure then
As through the hills I drove her
And taught her that another man
Could have made love to her

Music that can be played on a sunny drive or offend your closest lady-friends with equal measure, Oldham has not released an album this beautiful and immaculate since, and that's saying a lot.

33. Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life

Mark Linkous took his own life this year. He had a prolific 20-year career as a songwriter and producer. His collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch, Dark Night of the Soul, is finally getting a proper release this year. It's odd to be writing about the ironically-titled It's A Wonderful Life -- fans have known of Linkous' depression for years, and it comes through on this 2001 masterpiece. The songs are slow, melancholy, but the melodies and instrumentation are so textured and angelic that it's hard to belief a depressed person could have written them. I held my hand to the fire / it burned me down to the wires, he sings on "Eyepennies." You can see it now as a metaphor for his final days, but Linkous' work should be remember more for its beauty than as a harbinger.


32. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

Never has a band released a breakthrough album so late in their career, but The Soft Bulletin catapulted the Oklahoma psych rockers to superstardom, and when their tenth album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, was released, the mainstream started to take notice, just in time for the hipsters to pretend that they'd cared since 1993. Yoshimi doesn't attempt to build on The Soft Bulletin. It's its own beast, a miraculously fun record surrounding a loose story about giant robots that threaten the universe. It also has one of their most famous songs, the "Good Riddance" of the indie world. "Do You Realize?" is anthemic and uplifting, an antidote to the sad bastard music of, well, much of the rest of this list. Man vs. machine theatrics aside, Yoshimi is a wonderful listen and will last as one of the Lips' most memorable achievements.

31. Madvillain - Madvillainy

I saw MF Doom perform in UCLA's Ackerman Grand Ballroom in 2004. He's a chubby guy in a red polo shirt and a mask. Opening for Talib Kweli, the crowd was not into it. After a few tracks from Vaudeville Villain, Operation: Doomsday and Madvillainy, he was booed off the stage. I'm not sure if the audience ever realized who they were booing or why Madvillainy is now considered a landmark hip-hop album. With lyrics by Doom and beats by Madlib, Madvillainy is a brief, scattershot collection of rhymes and rhythms. He raps about the same topics as most of his other albums: weed, cred, and how ill he is. The fat is trimmed -- there are no sketches, no beat poetry mockery as on Vaudeville -- the beats are quick and punchy. It flows from beginning to end and you're never tempted to skip to your favorite single. There simply aren't any on here. But it does have more lyrics than the church got "Oooh Lords." You can call him Your Majesty.