Albums Of The Decade, Part IV

So far we’re nineteen albums into my best of the decade list (there are 74 total) but I don’t think that means much to my loyal readers (both of you) until we get down into the numbered selections, probably appearing sometime later next week. Let’s keep the ball rolling…

OutKast – Stankonia (Arista Records; 2000)


OutKast‘s fourth album (also known as “their last good one”) is a genre-bending, aurally ambitious offering from the Atlanta duo that became synonymous with that crunk-ass Dirty South, introducing freaky rapping styles to mainstream ears; quite possibly one of the first hip-hop records to get both critical acclaim and sales while staying true to the spirit of experimentation. Not to take anything at all away from Big Boi‘s standard hip-hop gangsterism, but AndrĂ© 3000‘s ideas (as far as his lyrical content goes; all that weird shit about the underwater land of Stankonia) at the time of this record was head and shoulders above the rest of the hip-hop world, he’s more on par with a crunk version of George Clinton or a ghettoized Prince. I mean, c’mon- they did almost all the beats and all the music (with a little help from Mr. DJ and Organized Noize) but this is OutKast‘s vision here, and if they had to choose one mission statement to be their best representation of what they were, it’d be Stankonia.

Key Tracks: B.O.B., So Fresh So Clean, Ms. Jackson, Humble Mumble (with Erykah Badu)


Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co. (Secretly Canadian; 2003)


An album that lies at the intersection of “working class rock, white soul, swamp rock and outlaw country” (according to the one-sheet accompanying this record), Songs: Ohia has been native Buckeye-stater Jason Molina‘s singular vision since 1996. His songs of love and hate on here are heralded as a major change for him both lyrically and musically, but ask him and he’ll tell you previous release Didn’t It Rain was the last Songs‘ record- he leaves behind the spare arrangements in favor of a bigger, fuller sound. Either way, Molina‘s channeling the kindred spirits of Springsteen, Neil Young and John Cougar– blue collar country rock with an attitude; a shot and a beer with Jason and his road crew while Hank Williams plays on the jukebox at some hole in the wall in Skokie or Wabash. Guest vocalists Lawrence Peters (doing his best Merle Haggard impression) and Scout Niblett appear on two tracks right in the middle of the record; meshing with the material perfectly. Oh, and it’s produced by Steve Albini himself, so…

Key tracks: Farewell Transmission, Just Be Simple, I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost, John Henry Split My Heart


Kings Of Convenience – Riot On An Empty Street (Astralwerks; 2004)


This record gives me a warm feeling every time I spin it; it’s as if this Norwegian duo figured out a way to bring the serene and tranquil heat you get from a fireplace and somehow box it up. Gorgeous melodies wrapped in whispered folk tunes, in the spirit of perfect Scandinavian pop- think Abba-meets-Iron & Wine at a Tahoe ski lodge. Riot On An Empty Street is an apt album title; that’s exactly what it sounds like. Actually, every song on here has a feel described by the song’s title- Homesick, Misread, Cayman Islands, Sorry Or Please, Gold In The Air of Summer; they sound like they should. Of course this album isn’t hurt by the fact that a one Miss Leslie Feist appears on two tracks (these were recorded right after she finished her work on the acclaimed Let It Die, released the same year) which are as beautiful as anything on her record. Never mind that drums don’t even show up until the sixth track- this record has such an easy climb to the centerpiece, the wonderful I’d Rather Dance With You, a sublime track extolling the virtues of a wordless exchange on the dancefloor; shhhh- don’t speak (you’ll ruin the moment…)

Key tracks: I’d Rather Dance With You, The Build Up (with Feist), Misread, Know How (with Feist)


Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge Records, 2006)


Dan Bejar has taken so many chances, made so many different records; basically risks everything his name stands for with every release you can’t help but love the man, even when his records are completely awful (2004’s Your Blues) or one of the best of the decade (2000’s Thief). Obviously I just gave away one of my albums of the decade by admitting that Thief is a tremendous work in its own right, but my third favorite Destroyer record is Destroyer’s Rubies– the kind of record you throw on when it’s time for a soul-searching road trip. And I said third favorite, so you’ll be seeing another Bejar-led record on my best-of list as well. This review, however- let’s talk about the album’s opener, Rubies– one of the finest songs Bejar‘s ever written, a nine-and-a-half-minute opus that references both a Smiths‘ song and a CCR song and introduces us to the (loose concept) album’s main character, the “Priest”, referenced again in two more songs (one being the album’s final track). Bejar‘s razor-sharp wit, his uncanny ability to recall 1970s pop culture minutiae, both his adherence to and rejection of the popular song structure; every album creates a world unto itself- here his Rubies have created a world where both The Band and David Bowie are revered as gods that are not only to be worshipped but mocked and ridiculed, then finally laid to rest as the relics they are.

Key tracks: Rubies, Sick Priest Learns To Last Forever, Painter In Your Pocket, European Oils


TV On The Radio – Dear Science (Interscope Records; 2008)


Another band that’s going to have three albums on my best-of the decade list; obviously- have you ever fucking listened to TVOTR? No, scratch that- have you ever seen TVOTR live? Sonically, they’re light years ahead of the rest of the field- mixing post-punk, electronica, noise, funk and rock into a seamless blend of styles that they can call their own (nobody does it like these guys, period); not to mention lyrically there’s not a subject they won’t (or haven’t) touched: sex, love, racism, aging, death, disease, modern life, technology, travel, on and on ad infinitum. Having their fingers pressed firmly on the pulse of today, there isn’t another band around right now that can explain the curse of growing up in America these days; this challenge of how we can comfort one another by relating at once our collective human condition to each other while living both within the borders of our paranoid country and inside our paranoid mindscapes. Dear Science, please start solving problems and curing diseases or shut the fuck up.