Albums Of The Decade, Part V

So I’ve been keeping tabs on all the other websites’ best-of the decade lists, and I gotta say- great work everybody. I like the way they’re doing it over at Aquarium Drunkard. Likewise Largehearted Boy (who was rad enough to include us in their roll call; gracias and mad kudos!), also check out their extensive and daily updated list here.

Some were laughable (Paste Magazine, I’m looking in your direction) some were head scratchers (Better Propaganda), some are eerily similar to mine (eMusic), some were extremely Spencer Krug-centric (Oceans Never Listen) but mostly they’ve been insanely interesting to read. I hope the same can be said about this list. Someday…

Death Cab For Cutie – We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes (Barsuk Records; 2000)

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Poor Ben Gibbard; he had Jenny Lewis but lost her- he had to settle for Zooey Deschanel instead. Boo hoo, Benny boy. All jokes aside, I much prefer Gibbard‘s heart-rending (dare I say emo?) version of this band recorded right before the turn of the century, not his major-label cash grab records as of late. Death Cab‘s definitely lost something since Transatlanticism, I can’t quite put my finger on it; it’s a combination of a lot of things. Most of the things that make this record so wonderful have been completely stripped from DCFC‘s repetoire; the warm, lo-fi feeling of this album has been erased in favor of the $300 an hour studio with Atlantic Records‘ money, but hey- isn’t that the whole point; to have your music heard by as many possible ears as you can? When nobody knew who the hell these guys were is when they were still making great records- the most important thing Gibbard and Co. lost was a sense of urgency; a sense that here’s a band, toiling along in relative obscurity up in the Pacific Northwest and no one’s gonna get hear our best stuff so we get to keep both artistic integrity and there isn’t an ounce of pressure on us to do anything we’re not comfortable with. I have this feeling that they know this is a prefect record and they’ve been trying to recapture the beauty and wonder of this ever since- but most folks won’t get to hear it. Instead they’ll get to hear their late decade radio friendly drivel…

Key Tracks: Company Calls Epilogue, 405, For What Reason, Title Track

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Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction (Misra Records; 2001)

streethawk

Dan Bejar‘s lyrics are so cryptical, yet I feel like I understand every one. I can’t pretend that I really do- and that’s the biggest part of his appeal for me; they mean whatever I want them to mean. Like on the track The Bad Arts, when he sings: “Goddamn your eyes, they just had to be twin prizes waiting for the sun…” I’m sure I know exactly what he means there, and at different times in my life that’s meant different things to me about different people. I think. Then, he ends the song with the line “You got the spirit, don’t lose the feeling…” aping the line from the Joy Division song Disorder. It’s classic Destroyer; borrowing from the past- simultaneously revering it and ridiculing it. Nothing is sacred, except everything. This observational irony is a calling card of his work, so even when I don’t get it, it’s okay- I don’t know if Bejar himself gets it. And that’s sort of the whole point, right?

Key tracks: The Very Modern Dance, The Sublimation Hour, Streethawk I, Beggars Might Ride

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Talib Kweli – Quality (Rawkus Records; 2002)

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Two tracks from J Dilla, three from Kanye– this album was the hot shit back in early ’03; I can’t remember who gave it to me but it didn’t leave my car’s CD player for months. It’s just as well I can’t remember who gave it to me; it doesn’t matter- all that matters is that it was my intro to Talib, Dil and Ye (two out of three ain’t bad…) and the rhymes, beats, everything came together here on Quality. I think of this record as the tipping point- Kweli was a connector of sorts for me, from here I got into BlackStar & Mos Def, learned of Jay Dee‘s production prowess, that sick record he did with Hi-Tek; all his collaborators on here became instrumental in making me pay attention to hip-hop again. Maybe my friend Andrew the Jerk got me into this record, maybe it was that quiet chick who lived with her grandmother I dated a few times. I can’t remember for the life of me who gave me this damn record. Maybe that’s the appeal of this album; it’s memory to me is as underground as its reputation- ask anyone who listens to mainstream rap if they know this record (be prepared for blank stares), but they’ll surely remember Talib from his appearance on The Chappelle Show or his appearance on Kanye‘s track Get ‘Em High. Oh, well- Talib is a rapper’s rapper; he’s probably your favorite MC’s favorite MC.

Key Tracks: Get By, Rush, Shock Body, Good To You

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Paavoharju – Yhä Hämärää (Fonal Records; 2005)

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When I think of Finland, I think of massive amounts of snow, dense forests with herds of reindeer running free and rosy-cheeked vodka drinkers. If you were to mention Finnish music, I think of 80s hair band Hanoi Rocks, the synth-driven Children Of Bodom and Bam Margera’s favorite band, HIM– basically; cheesy-ass metal. Paavoharju could be called a lot of things, and cheesy-ass metal isn’t one- more like lo-fi experimental electro/acoustic freak folk (maybe?) I can’t put my finger on what it is they do, but they’re the only ones who do it, so I guess by default they’re the best. Makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is their story; a pair of born-again Christian hippie commune-living brothers (Lauri and Olli Ainala from Savonlinna) that make other-worldly sounds, decompose basic song structures into their barest parts but still manage to create songs built somewhat around hooks and pieces of hooks. Recorded over parts of five years with an ever-revolving cast of musicians/singers; it’s an accomplished debut- equal parts beautiful and creepy. Influenced by such diverse people and bands as William Blake, Burzum, Ed Gein, Boards Of Canada, Jesus Christ, Portishead and Ingmar Begman; that’s sort of what this record sounds like, with Paavoharju serving as dinner hosts.

Key Tracks: Syvyys, Ilmaa Virtaa, Musta Katu, Valo Tihkuu Kaiken Läpi

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No Age – Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat Records; 2007)

Weirdo_Rippers

Turn this shit up, way up. LA two-piece that plays some of the finest noise pop for this here internet generation; equal parts balls-to-the-wall lo-fi hardcore and hummable, fuzzed out surf pop. Imagine The Jesus & Mary Chain knocking up Hüsker Dü; the resulting offspring would be Randy Randall & Dean Spunt‘s twisted take on rock and roll. One minute they’re experimenting with ear shattering, scuzzy feedback; the next sounds as if they’ve discovered how to create a sonic representation of dryer lint (warm, ambient and wooly). Anyhow; this Weirdo Rippers isn’t a real album per se, more or less a collection of 7-inches, b-sides and assorted paraphernalia that strangely enough, sounds cohesive. And don’t worry; if you’re looking for their “other” record, it appears on the “numbered” portion of this list…

Key tracks: Neck Escaper, Boy Void, Everybody’s Down, My Life’s Alright Without You

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.

paavoharju

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.

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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.