Friday, January 01, 2010

the 30 best of the past decade

Before Steve Jobs, there were these things called "CDs." And before CDs, there were "albums" and Memorex "tapes" of albums which, we were told, were killing the music industry. But I'll get back to that.

I’ve been accused of appreciating the wrong albums. “Why,” I’m asked, “would you like ‘Neon Bible’ over “Funeral??’” “You’re not saying that you like ‘Elephant’ more than ‘De Stijl,’ are you??” Yes. Yes I am. That’s the thing about these lists. It's why I love ‘em. They trigger a dialogue about music. And I love to hear a rousing approval or heated retort. I always get something from them, either way.

Some of these albums [or "LPs"] will make the music snobs that I love say to me, “You mean your list includes…???” Yes. Yes it does. Why? It all depends on where you were at the time. I guess you just had to be there too.

30. Jon Brion - "Meaningless"

Okay. I'm kicking this list off with a kind of a "Huh...?" In fact, when I first heard this album, I didn't really like it much. But I'm not just being a contrarian, I think it's amazing. [Craig? It's also fantastic.] I've chronicled my love of Jon Brion before. Specifically the fact that I think he's the best live show I've ever seen. [Stop by Largo on La Cienega on most Friday nights and you'll see why.] And I'll admit that those shows are a big influence on "Meaningless" making my top 30. Jon Brion produces Aimee Mann's albums as well as a couple Fiona Apple's, so if you like those two, sonically speaking, you'll like the feel of this one.

Standout track: "Ruin My Day"

29. Andrew Bird - "Armchair Apocrypha"

Andrew Bird — or, as I like to call him, Andrew Bird — is probably the smartest composer on this list. And if he's not, he's missing a huge opportunity to be. He mixes infectious hooks with gorgeous arrangements. Plus, few have the ability to make the violin and whistling a big part of their stylings. So that's nice. Oh. And if you get a second, check out his performances on "La Blogoteque" [I'd say one of the best sites ever].,2968

Standout track: "Scythian Empires"

28. Badly Drawn Boy - “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast”

I think "Bewilderbeast" is just plain underappreciated. When it came out back in 2000, it got tons of buzz. [I’m not sure how one measures buzz — tons? Yards? Weeks? Anyway...] To my ear, it’s very British. But not obviously so. Not tea and crumpets and bad teeth and thinly veiled embarrassment. It’s a great album and deserves to be on everyone’s list.

Standout track: “Once Around The Block”

27. The National - “Boxer”

A beautiful and unexpected album. Give it a listen, and a listen, and a listen. You start to pick up the details. Another brilliant opening track in “Fake Empire.”

Standout track: “Start A War”

26. The Magnetic Fields - “69 Love Songs”

How do I love yinz? Leave me count the ways. [Something for the Pittsburghers who happen to be reading.] 69 songs, 69 interpretations of love. If you know it, you know there's no album like it, and you’ll like it if you don’t know it. Yeah. Try following that.

Standout track: “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!”

25. Okkervil River - “The Stage Names”

Okkervil River had one hell of a great decade. This, along with “Black Sheep Boy,” “The Stand Ins,” and “Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See” make for an incredible string of home runs, you have to wonder when they’re going to slip-up. Or if they ever will.

Standout track: “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”

24. Explosions In The Sky - “The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place”

This one probably isn’t on many lists. It’s on mine because, apart from being an outstanding album, it’s also one that I’ve loved writing to. In a way, it’s kind of my writing soundtrack. There’s something great about a band that can rivet you without singing a single note.

Standout track: “First Breath After Coma”

23. The Antlers - “Hospice”

I just think I’m going to look back on "Hospice" and it’ll still be on this list. It’s a gamble but, hey, I’m willing to take it. Fearless, I am.

Standout Track: “Two” (see “Hear, Here”)

22. Belle & Sebastian - “The Life Pursuit”

Anytime I listen to "The Life Pursuit," I’m in New York in November. I’m walking down Bleeker, on my way to the Blind Tiger; I’m finishing my day, walking through Times Square, heading back to the hotel; I’m watching Christmas lights go up in Columbus Circle.

Standout track: “Another Sunny Day”

21. PJ Harvey - “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea”

What can I say, I adore Polly Jean.

Love “Dry,”
love “Rid Of Me,”
love “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.”
[Like poetry.]

Much poppier than her previous and hooky enough to be on repeat for quite some time.

Standout track: “The Mess We’re In”

20. Bloc Party - “Silent Alarm”

This album? Fan-bloody-tastic. The opening track? Fu-bloody-king tremendous. Makes me want to fly to London and see ‘em live, even today. Raw energy and emotion in every song.

Standout track: “Like Eating Glass”

19. Grizzly Bear - “Veckatimest”

This year’s best album. A lock for this list. It’s one of those albums that carves itself into your brain from listen one. I gushed about it in “Hear, Here.”

Standout track: “Two Weeks”

18. TV On The Radio - “Dear Science,”

“Cookie Mountain” is one of my favorites, but this one isn’t far behind. TVOTR are putting out such innovative yet catchy music, you just can’t ignore them. This one’s a bit more accessible than the aforementioned, yet doesn’t lose any of it’s we're-gonna-do-whatever-the-fuck-we-want attitude.

Standout track: “Stork & Owl”

17. Spoon - “Kill The Moonlight”

First time I heard Spoon, they were opening for Guided By Voices. And I gotta say, they didn’t grab me as a great live band. That said, for his ability to write a damn fine song? Britt Daniel should be in the Smithsonian. This album is just one reason why. “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” is another. So much so, it was a candidate for this list.

Standout track: “Stay Don’t Go”

16. Bon Iver - “For Emma, Forever Ago”

Justin Vernon has a gift. He can break your heart in just a few sparse notes. And you have to love him for that. I think that when I look back, this one will have grown in importance.

Standout track: “Skinny Love”

15. The White Stripes - “Elephant”

What a decade for these two. “De Stijl” in 2000? “White Blood Cells” in 2001? You’re kidding me, right? I mean, I see one hiccup in the decade [not too big on “Get Behind Me Satan,” but it’s still pretty good]. For me, this is one loud high point. More importantly, "Elephant" has had a major impact on college football fans throughout the country. Where would marching bands be without the bass line for "Seven Nation Army?"

Standout track: “There’s No Home For You Here”

14. Neko Case - “Furnace Room Lullaby”

Three notes into this one and you’ll know why. This woman is a freak of nature. What a voice. “FRL” is one damn fine alt-country album. ‘Least that’s how I hear it.

Standout track: “Set Out Running”

13. Fleet Foxes (self-titled)

These guys came out of nowhere. And Seattle. Which is actually in the Pacific Northwest, for those of you scoring at home [or even if you’re alone]. Anyhow, I’m glad they did because this album is full of great harmonies and the like. And I like.

Standout track: “Ragged Wood”

12. The Strokes - “Is This It?”

Good question, better album.

Standout track: “Last Nite”

11. Johnny Cash - “American IV: The Man Comes Around”

The first music I can ever recall is Johnny Cash. My father’s a big fan. Justifiably so. This was the last album he released in his lifetime and he finished with a bang. On it, he flat-out stole “Hurt” from Trent Reznor. But in my opinion, one of the overlooked highlights is his cover of The Beatles’ “In My Life.” Sounds like a farewell to me.

Standout track: “The Man Comes Around”

10. Sigur Ros - “Takk…”

This is another of those perfect albums. The right intersection of time and space. And these guys allowed us to use one of the more amazing tracks of the decade for my trailer — “Hoppípolla.” Makes you feel like you could fly. Plus, it made for a great evening with Seif. Thank you, Iceland!

Standout track: “Glósóli”

9. Interpol - “Turn On The Bright Lights”

This one drips New York City. [Not as gross as you’d think. Besides, they have penicillin for it.] This one was strangely difficult for me to get into at first. But when I did? Yowzah! It should be placed in a time capsule.

Standout track: “NYC”

8. Elliott Smith - “Figure 8”

This album has a place in my heart in part because of the Halloween show I saw at CMU. I didn’t want to go. The previous week, I had learned that my grandmother had two weeks to live. My parents felt that I needed a break from my day-long visits and encouraged me to go. Turns out they were right and Mr. Smith provided me with a gift.

Standout track: “LA”

7. Iron & Wine - “Creek Drank The Cradle”

Sam Beam’s voice and melodies paint a beautiful picture. Beautiful and bleak. Dark and soulful. He seems to make you lean in and linger on every word. It's almost eerie.

Standout track: “Upward Over The Mountain”

6. The Arcade Fire - “Neon Bible”

This is kind of the soundtrack of my move to LA. And as I alluded to in the intro to this list, it's usually not the first choice of most Arcade Fire fans. But it’s a perfect album in my good book.

Standout track: “My Body Is A Cage”

5. TV On The Radio - “Return To Cookie Mountain”

When I heard this, it was as if I was kicked in the head. In a good way. Y’know— without all of the bruising. Sonically different than just about anything ‘round. It holds a special place in my heart because they let me use “A Method” for my film’s soundtrack. [Buy. That. Track.]

Standout track: “Wolf Like Me”

4. Portishead - “Third”

So. Portishead. What’ve you been up to the last eleven years? Golfing, or…? "Third" [the 4th album on this list] isn't what most Portishead fans expected. In fact, some complained that it sounded soooo different from their other albums but, guys? Eleven years. Things happen. People change. And in this case, I believe for the better. Amazing album, start to finish.

Standout track: “The Rip”

3. Sufjan Stevens - “Come On Feel The Illinoise!”

Sheesh, I love this album. With vignettes of American history [well, Illinois, specifically], it feels like a musical interpretation of a Mark Twain novel or some such thing. And Sufjan sings each song with a delicate tone that suggests he's reading that novel to a group of children. Plus, there are those song titles. Love the whole thing like a really lovable thing.

Standout Track: “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!”

2. Wilco - “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

Somewhere, there’s a record label executive flipping burgers. How it’s possible that someone could shoot holes in an album of such genius is just... I don’t know. I’m getting emotional.

Standout track: “Poor Places”

1. Radiohead - “Kid A”
This is “stranded-on-a-deserted-island” material. A radio station in Pittsburgh played it in its entirety the day before it came out. I sat in my car outside of The Real McCoy in the South Side and listened from beginning to end. Even before it was finished, I knew this would end up being one of my all-time favorites. A worthy follow-up to “OK Computer.” Better, some might argue.

Standout track: “Idioteque”

So then. Am I on target? Am I deaf?

Oh, I'm sure there's a chance I'll kick myself for not including Antony & the Johnsons or I'll rethink that Morrissey album, but until then, this will do.

All of this said, what does your list look like?