Albums Of The Decade, Part I

So we’re winding down the aughts (deep into the ninth inning) and I was thinking, why not do one of those “Best Of The Millennium” things everybody else is doing? This can’t be that hard, hell- I can name fifty records right off the top of my head that are totally awesome; and to come out in the last ten years?

Sure, why not…

Then it hit me, as I was trying to order them according to rank- it’s fucking impossible after about your ten favorite. Really, what’s the difference between an album at #13 and at #17? How about #33 and #41? Exactly- that’s just annoying.

Lists like this are not meant to be definitive because it’s pretty ridiculous to try and use objective measures of quality. That being said, please don’t send me e-mails and comments asking, “Where’s Modest Mouse‘s The Moon And Antarctica?” or shit like that; I’m only one person- of course I can’t listen to everything or that I even liked that album (which I don’t, so you won’t see it here).

The method of attack I’ve chosen here is a random delivery sort of thing; I’m going to post two or three or five or (?) records every few days until my list is purged, of course the last one will be the top few albums, because I actually can rank my top 5/7/10/(?) favorites from the decade. I’m basically just going to “wing it”.

Let’s get this party started…

The Microphones – The Glow, Pt. 2 (K Records; 2001)

glow2I defy you to name a better album to listen to on headphones. Okay, fine- A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders is the best headphone album ever (not counting Dark Side of The Moon or any of Brian Eno’s ambient work). This is the best headphone album of the millennium- hands down. Lo-fi, you say? Maybe if you can’t hear how deftly Phil Elverum pans the left/right stereo mix that creates a magical continuum through space and time. Hear how those organs sparkle? Those drums stomp? Those steel drums? Acoustic guitars that give way to suffocating fuzz and walls of oppressive noise? That’s not lo-fi, that’s beauty; simplified. It’s dark and at times ferocious and unrelenting- Elverum‘s voice strains to convey every emotion, whether it’s joy, sadness, regret; it’s a raw piece of an artist cutting himself wide open. This album has the ability to break your heart from a thousand miles away, then sneaks up on you to watch you as you cry, then gently strokes your back as you pick up the pieces, reminding you that being alone is a choice you make; and of the dual fragile natures of not only love, but life itself. And that’s some deep shit.

Key tracks: The Moon, I Felt Your Shape, I Want Wind To Blow, My Roots Are Strong And Deep


Rachel’s – Systems/Layers (Quarterstick Records; 2003)


Cinematic avant-garde ambient chamber music for those of you who are sick to death of guitar-based rock. I’d call it modern classical; I think they fall technically under the “post-rock” umbrella, but that’s a genuine disservice to this band- they’re more of a post-Phillip Glass sort of thing. This record, however, draws a line in the sand and dares you to step over it- you can stand on the safe side and listen to it as background music or you can immerse yourself completely into its world of cellos, field recordings, pianos, french horn, violins and viola. It’s all in the context of “pop” and “rock” because the way the songs are structured (there’s a guitar/bass/drum underneath everything, but only for pace and timbre, not as lead instruments) and of course; it’s not as accessible- think of it as something challenging but ultimately rewarding. Systems/Layers was written with the idea of a performance piece; it’s basically a collaboration between the minimal orchestral chamber music of Rachel‘s and a theater/dance troupe, leaning towards having a film score feel to it. Some of the album has examples of sublime, smile-inducing crescendos while other moments are serene, drone-like passages; all guided by a theme of living in a world that’s both improved and crippled by technology.

Key tracks: Water From The Same Source, Last Things Last, Moscow Is In The Telephone, Arterial


Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (Domino Records; 2004)


Thank god for the millennial post-punk revival, any time a band can count both Gang Of Four and Wire as direct influences (while not straight-up ripping them off) is okay with me. Damn, this record was like a breath of fresh air when it came out; there’s the “serious indie rock” with its scowling frontmen, all-black outfits, severe haircuts, fractured, angular guitar parts and tortured, self-aware lyrics (Interpol, I’m looking at you) and then there’s… Franz Ferdinand. They indeed do all those aforementioned things, yet do so in a mocking way; these four Glaswegians are the band you’d hire to play your sister’s wedding. In short; they’re the un-creepy guys from the dance-punk scene (seriously; all those other bands are way creepy- Interpol, Editors, Liars, The Rapture, !!! and DFA’79 are all lecherous bastards in one way or another); whereas these lads you could watch a football match and ‘ave a pint wif, oi! Their self-titled debut is full of tongue-in-cheek, playfully and witty lyricism, jagged staccato guitar riffs, sub-rattling bass grooves, high energy disco drums; it’s a rocking dance fest (it runs through its eleven tracks in just under 39 minutes).

Key Tracks: Take Me Out, This Fire, Jacqueline, Tell Her Tonight


J Dilla – Donuts (Stones Throw Records; 2006)


James Dewitt Yancey died just three days after this album was released. Three days. Think about that; you just put out your magnum opus, your penultimate statement to the world and you only have from Tuesday to Friday to enjoy the fruits of your labor. This is pure hip-hop brilliance; not only is it the defining moment of Dilla‘s long career, it’s the defining moment of both instrumental hip-hop AND turntablism. Man, fuck DJ Shadow‘s …..Endtroducing, Donuts is the shit. I was reading the list of samples a while back (someone actually sat down and listed all the samples used) and as you listen to the record and hear all the recognizable ones (as well as the completely obscure samples) I can’t help to think that this record took years an entire lifetime to create- not only did Dil have to dig the hell out of some crates, he had to listen to everything, then using his excellent producer’s ear match everything up. From his death bed. Seriously; he did most of this record in between dialysis visits the last months of his life. I hate to review an album in a certain context, but that’s a huge part of why this record is so amazing; recording your swan song as the time’s running out on your life- man, fuck a record label’s deadline, Dilla was racing the clock on this one. It’s a testament to the amount of joy music can bring to one’s life, it has the ability to break your heart or make you shout out love. This album is like flipping through the dial on some perfect radio station…

Key tracks: Workinonit, Mash, Lightworks, The Twister