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

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

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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

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Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (Domino Records; 2004)

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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

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J Dilla – Donuts (Stones Throw Records; 2006)

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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

Best Of January

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Franz Ferdinand

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Domino Records, released 1/27/09)

Sexy in a nerdy sort of way because on the one hand you have Alex Kapranos‘ Scottish pub-rock-croon over familiar yet odd, angular post-punk guitar chords and then on the other hand there are all these seemingly out-of-place 8-bit beeps and blips that show up (like the ones used in various old-school video games; the track Live Alone sounds like one of the radio stations you can choose to blast in your Ferrari Testarossa in that Sega game OutRun, circa 1986) which should work as the requisite antithesis for trying to get laid. The excursions of the newly discovered synthesizer are abound as Franz explore dub and electronica; but also keeping the old formula they’re known for: groovy sing-along dancefloor bangers. Since this is FF‘s “night” album, most of the album is an up-tempo affair with hand-claps, drummy freak-outs, stomp-alongs; it shuffles and stutters, stops and starts and eventually drives the point home. Getting weird with the extended acid-house instrumental during the last four minutes of the re-worked Lucid Dreams, the stripped-down acoustic bareness of Katherine Kiss Me, and Ulysses; cribbing its style from the deep space dub echo chamber. There’s also the classic formula revisited on tracks that sound exactly as Franz should; Turn It On and What She Came For. I’m recommending this album- if you’re already a fan of Franz Ferdinand you might be slightly disappointed, if you’re new to the boys from Glasgow- it’ll be exciting.

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

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Andrew Bird

Noble Beast (Fat Possum Records; released 1/20/09)

Andrew Bird is a big fan of life; both in an intra-personal aspect and on a molecular level. Continuing on a concept from his three previous records of breaking the biological constraints of life down to its basest parts- the album is again rife with the imagery of elemental vocabulary like calcium mines, radiolarians (some type of protozoic life form that produces intricate skeletal systems), sea anenomes, etc.- it’s as if you need your old bio textbook to read his lyric sheets. I’m going to go ahead and start calling him Dr. Bird, he’s probably the most cerebral songwriter around these days; and I can’t quite call his music “pop”, being that he’s a classically trained violinist his music veers closer towards a baroque sentiment- imagine pop music of the late 1700s set to brainiac post-Ph.D lyricism. But the musicianship coupled with the uber-intelligentsia slant makes for repeated interested listens; highlights include Oh No, Masterswarm, Not A Robot, But A Ghost, and the hands-down best piece of music on the entire record appears after the 2:15 mark of Anonanimal– it’s actually one of the nicest breakdowns in a song I’ve heard in a while. But then again, Dr. Bird can write some really fine melodies; so it’s completely expected.

Noble Beast

More albums I missed from 2008 that I’ve been rocking heavily this past month:

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Deerhoof

Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars Records; released October 7th, 2008)

You know, I’m half on the fence with Deerhoof, half-off; I loved Reveille and The Runners Four (but not at first), sort of panned Friend Opportunity and was stand-offish about their latest. Eventually I grew to like all these albums after forgetting about them and revisiting them sometime later- it’s like I can’t get into it right away, it takes a bunch of listens before I get hooked in. I listened to Offend Maggie a few times back in October and let it sit on the shelf until about two weeks ago; now I get it- it’s got bigger guitars, less freaky, more restrained. Each album is less a continuation of the last than a re-invention towards something slightly different, but still essentially Deerhoof-esque.

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Paavoharju

Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal Records; released July 22nd, 2008)

This record would’ve made my top five, easily- that is if I actually listened to it before I made my flawed and (now) out-dated list, actually there’s about 6 or 7 albums I would’ve slipped in my top twenty that I didn;t get a chance to hear until after the new year, but alas; no need complaining when there’s such sweetly ethereal music like Paavoharju out there. Ambient dream folk electronica from the far reaches of Finland; I have to say this is as fine a record I’ve heard in the last decade; there’s nothing to compare it to because there’s nothing else that I’ve heard that sounds even remotely like this.

the-bug-london-zoo

The Bug

London Zoo (Ninja Tune Records; released July 7th, 2008)

I’ve somewhat maligned the entire genre of dubstep, however this is not only listenable, it’s ridiculously enjoyable. It’s closer to “darkwave” dancehall, if such a thing exists (probably not) but it’s way better than any other dubstep I’ve heard. No wonder this ended up in so many top ten lists at the end of last year- it’s a great record.

Heavy Anticipation for February:

Dark Was The Night Compilation, due out February 17th from 4AD Records.

Morrissey‘s Years Of Refusal, due out February 17th from Attack/Lost Highway Records.

Abe Vigoda‘s Reviver EP, due out Feb. 17th from Post Present Medium Records.

Zach Condon has releases scheduled on Feb. 17th from two separate projects: his well-known day job Beirut with the March Of The Zapotec EP and his electronic side-project Realpeople‘s Holland EP.

Black Lips‘ new record, 200 Million Thousand; out Feb. 24th from Vice Records.