Albums Of The Decade, Part 7

Right around the time this first album came out was right around the rise of the iPod (I wouldn’t get my first until 2006; but then again, I got my first cell phone in 2003, so I’m kind of slow to the punch, technologically speaking); Apple introduced the device in 2001 and up until now have sold around 220 million units. I think it’s a testament to 1) how much people love their music and 2) the status that (was once considered elite) electronics project; I think now more than ever people associate themselves with what they listen to more than ever. So in a sense, we’re projecting ourselves through our tastes out into the world via blogs and websites (like this one) and social networking sites that enable us to make playlists for each other (Lala, last.fm, Mog, etc.). I for one, think it’s all good…

Jay-Z – The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella Records; 2003)

jayz_black_albumWhat the hell are you waiting for? Encore, do you want more? If this actually was Jay-Z‘s farewell album, he would’ve went down as the Michael Jordan of rap. Wait, Michael came back to play for the Wizards and well… yeah. HOV dropped this banger, retired and… ugh. But this ain’t about Kingdom Come or The Blueprint 3, this is about L’album Noir– a game changer and what should have been the definitive statement from one of the best in the league. Every song has an old school aesthetic with a new school vibe; it’s as if Jigga handed the keys to his Bentley to the entire class of underlings and said “Drive it- if you can…” There was about a six month span from November of ’03 until May of ’04 when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one of the singles from this jam; especially 99 Problems- maybe the best thing Rick Rubin’s ever done (using a bad-ass hook from a Mountain song over a Billy Squier beat with some Ice-T samples thrown in for good measure). For Jay-Z to be at the top of his form and make such an outright and in-your-face career-affirming moment like this; it’s a shame he came back with such crap to close out the decade. You can’t be at the top forever…

Key tracks: 99 Problems, Dirt Off Your Shoulders, Threat, PSA (Interlude)

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Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse Records; 2004)

leviathanMy hands down favorite metal album of the decade- I’ve heard Mastodon labeled as “hipster metal” or “metal for people who don’t like metal”. Whatever. All I know is that this rocks; there was a good six months where every time I skated I listened to this on the pod. It’s aggressively progressive, isn’t full of that god-awful cookie monster singing that “metal” has stooped down to embrace, it’s hard and heavy yet not abrasive or grating, the riffs are pure power and thematically it’s about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, so it goes wrong absolutely nowhere. It’s their most listenable record, it’s both a nod to their many influences (sludge, hardcore, southern rock, that whole school of second-wave British Heavy Metal aka Maiden & Priest, a wink in Metallica‘s direction as if to say; thanks for the torch, bitches) as well as their coming out party. And it’s produced by the guy who produced the next record on the list!

Key tracks: Blood And Thunder, Iron Tusk, Seabeast, Hearts Alive

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Minus The Bear – Menos El Oso (Suicide Squeeze Records; 2005)

Menos_el_OsoOh, this album was like a kick in the face when I discovered it- a “blind” buy; my term for more or less walking into a record store and buying something not only completely unheard but completely unheard of. Mad props to Wes from the Main Line Repo Records in Rosemont (R.I.P.); that jawn was my favorite record store since high school until they closed down in ’05. But alas; mom and pop record stores back east don’t enjoy the same loyalty that they do on the west coast (let’s start a dialogue on this). So yeah, this actual record review? Menos El Oso my intro to this band, and lo and behold this and their previous offering (Highly Refined Pirates, album #32 of the decade- review coming soon…) are the only two records in their oeuvre worth mentioning. Even this record, when I’ve played it for friends has brought sighs of derision and outright dismissal, but I love it. It’s techy and ProTooled to the max, a driving and danceable brand of indie rock for the jaded- the album’s main theme seems to be detachment; moments lost and never recaptured, that sort of thing. The fractured and staccato guitars scream over deep and funky basslines with tight, metronomic drumming pinning the whole thing down. It’s a formula that I wish they would’ve stuck to, but it’s hard to catch lightning in a jar and hold onto it.

Key tracks: Pachuca Sunrise, The Game Needed Me, Drilling, The Fix

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Girl Talk – Night Ripper (Illegal Art; 2006)

night-ripperI was raised in the suburbs, five miles west of Philadelphia. My formative years (musically) were from 1984-1994. I can only think that Girl Talk (Pittsburgh’s Greg Gillis) was on the same shit I was on during this same time. Crunk rap mixed with 90s alternative? Grunge and soul? Boston and Ludacris together at last? Notorious B.I.G.‘s Juicy mixed with The Pharcyde‘s Passing Me By mixed with Elton John‘s Tiny Dancer? Mike JonesBack Then with Seals & Croft‘s Summer Wind? Remember that song “whoa- oh, it’s magic, I knooow..” from those Time-Life 70’s albums? The band is Pilot and Gillis cuts that shit with Kanye‘s Gold Digger. So hype, it’s just too much to process in one sitting- it’s a testament to our ADD-fueled childhoods mashed into our strobe-lit adolescence crossed with late-teenage psychedelic experimentation; a soundtrack to a culture that’s been playlisted to death.

Key tracks: Smash Your Head, Once Again, Bounce That, Hold Up

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Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. (Kranky Records; 2008)

microcastleMicrocastle would be the obvious direction that Deerhunter‘s sound was headed after the Fluorescent Grey EP; I can hear how those four songs act as a natural bridge over the gap from Cryptograms to here. And Weird Era Cont. sort of works as a stop-gap between the afforementioned EP and Microscastle, even though it’s been packaged as a complimentary piece (I like how it works as a pre-cursor to the album instead of an after-thought or “extra” release). Either way, two albums put out simultaneously was a risky move- but it ended up paying huge dividends as the Atlanta quartet’s conceptual continuity remains undisturbed. All the hub-bub surrounding the release of these records (accidentally leaked by lead singer Bradford Cox, through his blogspot) completely makes up for any “bad vibes” Cox said he felt he was putting out by telling people not to steal his music, lambasting his fans but later retracting his outburst, offering an apology and putting out thirteen extra tracks and calling it Weird Era Cont. for no additional cost. What a rad guy. Anyway, back to the actual music- Deerhunter‘s sonic architecture is par excellence, earning them much-deserved comparisons to such a vast array of their influences like Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, The Beach Boys, Electrelane– hell, throws those bands in a blender and set to puree and pour out today’s pre-eminent autuers in the self-created genre of ambient garage noise pop.

Key Tracks (from Microcastle): Nothing Ever Happened, Saved By Old Times, Agoraphobia, Never Stops; (from Weird Era Cont.): Vox Humana, Operation, Vox Celeste, Focus Group