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.

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