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.

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