Albums Of The Decade, Part 8

Now we’re breaking into the forty best records of the aughts. Stylistically, I’m all over the place with these- experimental, folk, dance-punk, drone, noise pop, hip-hop, post-hardcore; it’s hard to keep track of all the newly invented genres (that mostly sound like slurs and epithets) just to classify all these records. I would have just two genres: good and bad. Maybe a third; so-so music. Or- great, good, so-so and bad. So we got through all the good records, let’s do the great ones now…

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol Records; 2006)

TheCraneWifeOne part prog-folk song cycle, one part hyper-literate indie rock. That seems to be The Decemberists‘ formula as of late, the general idea being to make music both a listenable endeavor and as theatrical as possible. And to deliver a concept album-slash-rock opera as your major label debut, well now… I’ll let you in on a little secret, too: four Decemberists‘ records in my top 40 (really). So, if you’re not into melodramatic and sea-shanty based folk music rendered into a pop structure; well then. Here’s the review I wrote back in 2006 for this record:

Japanese folk-tale: impoverished man finds injured crane. Brings it in and nurses it back to health. Crane leaves. Enter beautiful woman, whom the man proceeds to fall in love with and marry. To make ends meet, wife weaves wonderful clothes from silk, but here’s the catch- he may never watch her at work. His greed increases, she works harder. She becomes ill. He peeks in on her to discover that she is in fact the crane that he nursed back to health and she weaves these beautiful garments from plucking her own feathers and weaving them into the loom. She flies away, never to return. Then Colin Meloy and his band sign to Capitol Records and he writes ten songs about it. I mean to say that he writes about the Crane Wife, not signing to Capitol. Although now that I think about it, I’d love to hear that album, too. Beloved indie band signs to major label. Because Colin could write about anything and I’d totally dig it, maybe even eat the peanuts out of his shit. In my world, Mr. Meloy is approaching Morrissey-level status. I mean, for fuck’s sake, he did a six song cover album of Morrissey tunes! I mean, what else does he have to do? Write the best album of 2006? Deliver the best tour of ’06 to the world? And on the seventh day he rested! Stylistically, this is closer to The Tain (prog rock) than Picaresque, although not too much unlike it. They changed without changing. So, asking me to pick a favorite song is really tough, but…

It’s funny how history can be revised, or; how that album (while still dear to me) fell from the #1 spot of ’06 and is all the way down to #40 of the decade- it should be in the top 10, but that’s how history and time can change your ears, I guess.

Key tracks: Shankill Butchers, The Crane Wife 1 & 2, The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, The Crane Wife 3

———————

Liars – They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First Records; 2001)

liars32Debut album from noiseniks Liars; mixes danceable drums and angular post-punk guitars with shouted lyrics and heavy, oppressive bass lines everywhere. This sort of hints at where they were headed- the record’s title is a play on the media’s insistence on lumping them into the dance punk scene; they don’t sound like they share too much in common with LCD Soundsystem (much spazzier) or Out Hud (or !!! for that matter; much dirtier) or Death From Above 1979 (not as formulaic) or The Rapture (less polished) or early stalwarts ESG (although they do cover an ESG song on here, the result is sloppier and “meaner”, for lack of a better descriptor). The final track, This Dust Makes That Mud is an entire half hour of repeated riff/bassline/beat that not only tests the limits of the listener’s patience, it’s also an exercise in trend-killing; seeking to destroy the so-called genre of “dance punk” it sets about alienating its audience and proving that you can only repeat yourself for so long until people tire of you. This album changed the way a lot of those aforementioned bands would make music; some of them would break up or be forgotten, some would rise to greatness. I guess the jury’s still out on that one…

Key tracks: The Garden Was Crowded And Outside, Grown Men Don’t Fall In The River Just Like That, This Dust Makes That Mud, We Live NE Of Compton

—————————

Dirty Projectors – Rise Above (Dead Oceans; 2007)

DP_Rise_AboveI recommended this album to a Black Flag fan about a year ago; I never asked if they listened to it, but I’m guessing they didn’t because I never got punched in the face. The reason being (for the uninitiated) is because this record is lead-Projector Dave Longstreth‘s re-imagining (entirely from his teenage memory) of the 1981 hardcore punk classic Damaged. But done in an art-school sort of way; with fluttery guitars and Justin Timberlake-meets-Tiny Tim kind of croon, flutes, spastic drumming, dub basslines- on paper it sounds like a complete friggin’ mess but the result is really quite beautiful. The fear, isolation, teen angst, paranoia; all the original themes visited by Henry Rollins and crew are given an interesting slant here- if not an updated one. The fractured song structures, complete forgetting of lyrics (most often made up on the spot), everything that made Damaged a great record almost 30 years ago makes Rise Above a great record today. Musical styles may not be timeless, but the theme of man’s struggle over himself is.

Key tracks: Police Story, Rise Above, What I See, Thirsty And Miserable

————————–

Jay-Z – The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella Records; 2001)

jay-z-the-blueprintShawn Carter just turned 40 years old last week, which is a pretty big deal considering where Jay came from (his story of running crack on the streets of Trenton and Brooklyn is legit; unlike his targets on the dis track Takeover, where he pretty much slaughters all his competitors with crisp and sharp lines like):

I don’t care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews / You little fuck, I’ve got money stacks bigger than you / When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight / you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya

and

You said you been in this ten / I’ve been in it five, smarten up Nas / Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide / That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due / One was nahhh, the other was Illmatic / That’s a one hot album every ten year average

The Jigga wasn’t taking any prisoners on The Blueprint, it basically established him as the emcee to beat this millennium- as far as mainstream circles go. You’ll eventually see a few more hip-hop albums on my list higher than this record (and Jay would eventually lose his crown); but they don’t have the reach and scope of this record (they also don’t have the luxury of major label distribution). They also don’t have killer beats from Just Blaze & Kanye, and an appearance from Eminem. But hey, if you had the net worth of Jay, you’d drop gems like this too:

I rhyme sicker than every rhyme spitter / Every crime nigga that rhyme or touch a mic because my mind’s quicker / I’m a eighty-eighter, nine-six to Reasonable Doubt / Temper short, don’t take much to squeeze you out / Yeah you shinin but the only thing you’re leavin out / You’re a candle in the sun, that shit don’t even out

– from Hola’ Hovito.

Pure swagger.

Key tracks: Takeover, U Don’t Know, Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love), Never Change

——————–

Fugazi – The Argument (Dischord Records; 2001)

fugaziI was reading an article recently by writer Simon Reynolds (click here) about the slant of most critics’ decade-end lists leaning towards the first four years of the decade- which is also true for mine (somehow 2006 was the third-best year for music in my poll, maybe I’m just being overly sentimental there…) Anyway; this record, which would also be Fugazi‘s last since taking an indefinite hiatus in ’02 has stood up amazingly well- another album that sought to smash the confines of a media-imposed genre conundrum. It takes a bow in every direction; towards jazz, math and post-rock, dare I say prog? It’s all held together by airtight drumming from Brendan Canty as he lays out irregular and odd time signatures (not to mention drastic rhythmic changes as well), creating a pocket for Joe Lally‘s superb bass fills and groove-oriented mechanics. The whole thing is presented by both Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto‘s guitar dynamics- both intricately woven up and around each other, all the while having as much freedom as they need to make these huge walls of noisy, aggressive feedback. Lyrically, it’s as politically charged as ever- themes range from poverty, living in the nuclear age, nationalism, greed, modern ennui, globalization and then there’s self-examination; quiet introspection, detachment and selfishness. It’s Fugazi‘s most mature offering, recorded around the time they were all turning 40. It’s an enduring statement from four of the most ethical and intelligent musicians to ever grace the stage; to stare millennial dread right in the eyes and come away from it not only intact, but stronger and on their own terms.

Key tracks: Oh, Cashout, The Kill, Epic Problem

And if you haven’t gotten a chance to, please vote in The Musicologists 2009 Reader’s Poll…