Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Albums of the 2000s


40ghostisborn
40. A Ghost Is Born
by Wilco
2004
Alternative


For reasons beyond my comprehension, A Ghost Is Born gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as it simply gets forgotten, whether as a science experiment without the promising raw data to make it a worthwhile effort or just a comparably minor effort in the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. How unfairly maligned (er, ignored) is Ghost? For several years after, I was convinced that Ghost was narrowly better than YHF. Even further afield of their alt-country origins, the absence of the late Jay Bennett is hardly even noticed as Jeff Tweedy and company spend even more time this round venturing into the steam with well-written sleepy melodies and earnest lyrical intentions and then rather abruptly amending them with noisy fret fancies of beautifully cacophonous distortion. Early tracks like “At Least That’s What You Said” and “Muzzle of Bees” burn bright with these workouts, while “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” an experiment in pop-motorik overrun with gargling guitar gasps, nearly makes it to eleven minutes entirely because of the ornery additions—even winds up being one of the album’s best tracks. The melodies are better served by these burials, as Wilco is always better suited by the abstract, restless tangents rather than a steady pluck and sigh (sorry, A.M. fans). Even the delightful, Beatles-esque digression of “Hummingbird,” as mild a winner as you’re ever likely to cross, is a treat in no small part to the fact that it was unanticipated. Of course, not every trial works out—the seemingly endless drone tailing the fifteen-minute “Less Than You Think” is indulgent enough that even Tweedy named it, “the track that everyone will hate.” Love the rest, though.


39blueberryboat39. Blueberry Boat
by Fiery Furnaces
2004
Alternative


In the grand scheme of things, Fiery Furnaces aren’t that far astray of pop music fundamentals, but early listens of Blueberry Boat (particularly for the uninitiated) will likely startle, perturb and frustrate because of how bold their curiosities are. These curiosities remain in the abstract—the lyrics follow a general theme of nautical travel and international commerce, but alternate wildly between concrete storytelling and impenetrable expressionism—but no matter how unpredictable the compositions can be (particularly in the instrumentation), there’s unmistakable verisimilitude in the steady 4/4 rhythms and a number of musical motifs (if there was more connective tissue between the songs, it could have even been labeled as a skronk opera). The early tracks put you at ease; epic opener “Quay Cur,” for all of its odd sound effects, is hypnotic, detailing stowaway prostitutes on an 18th century sea-faring vessel (perhaps inspiring the Decemberists’ later love of prog and multiple singer perspectives) and
Straight Street” is an almost conventional rocker, albeit with Biblical references and a bluesy slide guitar ravaged by a piano and animal-like yowls. But by the time the title track appears next with shrieking laser synths, your initial air of affection or detachment (whichever it happened to be) will polarize further—I can’t see a lot of middle ground in regards to this record. Catchy short tracks like “My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found” and “Birdie Brain” offering respites for the grey matter challengers in the guise of complex epic prog like “Mason City” and “Chris Michaels” is their keystroke to victory—a 76-minute challenge I’m rarely too sheepish to attempt.


38third38. Third
by Portishead
2008
Electronic


What was most alarming about Portishead’s triumphant return wasn’t that a group defunct for a decade mounted a comeback at all but rather that they’d come back so refreshed, confident but boldly different and still retain all of the characteristics beneath style/genre that made them so rightfully loved and admired. Mostly gone are the stuttering turntables, the trip hop beats, the viscous mood of empty space, but the melodies are still slow and engulfing, the downtempo ambience still stalks and broods in the background shadows, Beth Gibbons’ powerful voice still pierces in the immediacy and haunts in the aftermath. But in between the background whispers are itchier rhythms and a stronger sense of shifting unease—the nocturnal melancholy that had been their identity in the 90s was replaced by the language of discomforting dread. There are exceptions such as “Plastic,” which thrums and staggers like one of their classics, but the vinyl crackle is missing and the way it unwinds later on emphasizes how forward-thinking they remain. The back end of tracks like “We Carry On” and “Silence” meanwhile are full-blooded and driving, emphasizing its spy thriller roots. And the brief “Deep Water” is like warbling rustic gospel; the adamantine jackhammer rhythm of the aptly-named “Machine Gun” is more aggressive than they’d ever been before. Gibbon’s humanist tenor once gave hope to their pools of sadness, but the desolation ebbing throughout the entirety of Third seems to offer no resolution—its closing track, “Threads,” departs under alarm-like bleats that make you think of an alien invasion, not a sunrise on the horizon. Still, their darkest, most ominous fears may unsettle initially, but the agitated beats and buried beauty make for a mesmerizing listen. After being absent for so many years, most of us had forgotten how much we needed this group; Third was a nearly flawless reminder.


37delousedincomatoriumr37. De-Loused in the Comatorium
by the Mars Volta
2003
Alternative


Loosely based on Julio Venegas, an artist friend of Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala, De-Loused in the Comatorium is about the subconscious-bubbled visions and internal journey taken by a comatose man who had attempted suicide. Naturally, that sort of freaky trip daze is a perfect fit for even the most garbled and ponderous aspects of progressive rock, so adding elements of free jazz, hardcore, space rock, acid and dub isn’t so much over-dressing as it is adding a third (and fourth or twelfth) eye to the aural chemistry. Perhaps even more than it did on Bixler’s last stint with post-hardcore heroes At the Drive-In, the enigmatic lyrical “poetry” reads as inane blather, but as it flows or stabs out from Bixler’s tongue, the way the words (even the very syllables) react against each other can be easily related to the ego-shred of the arrangements (which sound about as “arranged” as Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) looks plotted). So, in other words, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of morphine-and-rat-poison-laced tea. But those who can embrace (or merely forgive) its bewildering scope and allergy to structure will find more than enough silent gasps of astonishment pausing against their lips, particularly the opening segments of “Son et Lumiere/Intertiatic E.S.P.,” harmonies clashing against screeches on “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of),” the unpredictable bassline propping up chunky riffage on “Drunkship of Lanterns,” the spiraling guitar solos of “Cicatriz E.S.P.,” and the lounge-friendly keyboard on closer, “Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt.” Indulgent? Of course, but what prog worth the effort isn’t? But even if the cerebral aspects fail on you, there’s no denying the visceral punch. Dean Venture would be put into a coma faster than Cerpin Taxt with cocktail already in hand if he tried this one out.


36fevertotell36. Fever to Tell
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
2003
Rock


Most are quick to say how awful the cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ debut LP looks, but I can’t think of a better way to express this band’s personality, especially the first half, which is even more frantic, garish, confrontational and explosive than the picture could possibly indicate. “Pin” pogos mercilessly, there’s “Boy, you just a stupid bitch/And girl you just a no good dick,” on “Black Tongue,” they alternately strut and pummel on the terrific downtown rocker “Man,” and Karen O tells her man, “Be my heater, be my lover, we could do it to each other, we’re like a sister and a brother,” on “Cold Light.” Towards the end, though, is when songwriting chops and professional performance meet up with that reckless energy, tethers the adrenaline to honest emotion, and, aw shucks, they grow up right before your eyes with terrific singles like “Maps” and “Y Control” (to say nothing for “Modern Romance”’s lovely lament). It was this maneuver that ensured that they wouldn’t fall off the map not long after; even the mighty Strokes feel like little more than a footnote today, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs keep evolving unpredictably with nearly unfaltering success. Because of the explosive nature of a debut (no matter how much press the group garnered before this disc’s release, this one went wa-a-ay beyond those who collect underground music rags and have a thousand posts on online indie rock boards) as well as the instant-cement status of its two killer singles that’ll probably never be topped in recognition, this will always be these New Yorkers’ best-known and best-loved LP, provided they never attempt a conceptual statement album, which would be a disaster for no better reason than the fact it doesn’t exist in their DNA. As if there’s a problem with a loud, raucous group delivering white-hot slabs of post-punk and art rock you can dance to—if it’s done right (gesture this way), I can never get enough of it. And bravo to the Brits for getting the underrated “Yeah! New York” as a chaser with kick.


35woods35. The Woods
by Sleater-Kinney
2005
Punk


The Woods was Sleater-Kinney’s biggest departure since they toned down their fury on 1999’s The Hot Rock, but instead of baring the melody and slowing the attack, The Woods finds them getting bigger, noisier, dirtier and ornerier. How else do you explain “What’s Mine Is Yours” crumbling into distortion and feedback during the midsection only to be resuscitated by Janet Weiss’ steady tom pop? Or all eleven swaggering, pummeling minutes of “Let’s Call It Love,” which owes more to brawny, mic-waving 70s post-blues rock than anything resembling the post-punk scene (it’s even about getting laid, for Chrissakes)? Is Corin Tucker trying to out-wail Ann Wilson? If so, mission succeeded. Even the relatively low-key “Modern Girl,” folksy harmonica, dusty melody and all, sounds raw and broken within the cracking production. Leadoff “The Fox” sets the table for the feast to come appropriately, as ferocious guitars careen into distorted sludge and melt away to reveal lonely, bent notes strangled to death half-a-beat after first wrenching from the din of emptiness. Catchier numbers like “Wilderness” and “Jumpers” do little to soothe; though they’re composed of the same hard turns and boisterous riffs this trio is known for, each tumbles into tautly controlled pseudo-chaos when they feel like writhing in the slop. And slop it can be, coordinating a strange territory for producer Dave Fridmann to work in—some parts are muddy like the loudest and crankiest lo-fi around and others bank off of thrashing guitars and clean stomps with crystal clarity. Was he attempting a rollercoaster of noise? The rollercoaster ride suggested by S-K of the same name is that of a stormy (er, every) relationship. It wasn’t a disgruntled falling out that led to this being the (so far) last Sleater-Kinney album. They left so much promise with the wild fusion suggested here that should it wind up being their swan song, it’ll be one of the most tragic of my lifetime.


34showyourbones34. Show Your Bones
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
2006
Rock


Yet another of the decade’s bewilderingly maligned sophomore LPs. Show Your Bones reflected a confidence beyond the brash smirks and sneers of their debut—I’ll avoid the cliché of “maturity” and simply suggest that discipline and dark days can squeeze out truly inspired work should the band survive (and they did, just barely). Nick Zimmer’s guitar may not crank out power chords with the same ferocity, but he finds new ways to barrel up the intensity when necessary, realizing that restraint can make the brasher moments really hit hard. Brian Chase’s beats are imaginative even when they’re simple—the unadorned dum-dum-thwack of “Gold Lion” is effective as an easy hook and then he dominates the hell out of “Fancy” with a rolling rhythm broken up by unpredictable spells that reroute its bluster. And Karen O can no longer be accused of being a cartoonish persona for the sake of art (viva la mood swings). The chipper dance stagger that opens “Honeybear” quickly turns poisonous, O’s infatuation with the opposite sex transforms to regret and disgust (“Way Out,” “Warrior”), the finale of “Mysteries”’s teasingly languorous clattering gets loud and antagonistic—it’s not the giddy punk catharsis of Fever to Tell, but abrasive, screeching, gotta-exorcise-some-demons shit. Though there are moments of light (forecasting the dance-friendly new wave of their next full-length, O sings, “You’re something like a phenomena/Something like an astronomer/Oh, kid, rock your body”), there’s no doubt about the circumstances at play during this process. The band admitted that making this record was so trying and troubling that it nearly killed their collective; if you let Show Your Bones rub you raw enough, you might feel like it could kill you, too.


33picaresque33. Picaresque
by the Decemberists
2005
Rock


Charm can only get you so far, even if you’re filling a very cozy, who-knew-we-needed-it niche (a peculiar little space pitched somewhere between Neutral Milk Hotel and Jethro Tull), but the Decemberists were better than mere charmers. They could also tell ravishing tales, witty or coal black (or both), and even more importantly, could pen a melody that’ll rattle in your brain for days after. Never before had the Decemberists been as catchy before as on Picaresque, whether running through a spare little melody that sounds like a 17th century old world folk tragedy on “Eli, the Barrow Boy” or making wry anti-war statements sound positively triumphant on the bold, brassy “16 Military Wives.” With tales of Spanish princesses being crowned (“The Infanta”), the woes of bookish types on the playing field (“The Sporting Life”), and stories about male prostitutes without pointedly suggesting the sexual curtails (“On the Bus Mall”), there’s a temptation to label it rock music for nerds, but since this stuff is far more robust and thrilling than the brash cock-rockers of the main stage, maybe they just compensate accordingly instead of simply playing dress up. They were still another album away from really embracing their prog rock ambition, but tunes like “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (nearly nine minutes of multiple narrative voices telling a rambunctious tale driven by an accordion) proved not only how mercilessly wily these nerdy types could be—“Find him, bind him, tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters. Drag him to a hole until he wakes up, naked, clawing at the ceiling of his grave”—but also that they were not content to stay in their tidy corner. Most acts would realize that an album as great as this one was good enough and call it a day. 

Read More...


32sonicnurse32. Sonic Nurse
by Sonic Youth
2004
Alternative


That Sonic Youth was still recording some of the great alternative records of the times almost twenty-five years after they first formed might make the sour trend-chasers want to turn against them, but no one in their right mind can dismiss them, be it outright or in subtle shades (Make way, gramps? Get the f-ck out). Rejuvenated in the new millennium, Sonic Youth powered through their inspiration-whimsy phase with aplomb and began quietly recording one strong album after another. Sonic Nurse is much better than the anti-rush consistency of “just another really good Sonic Youth album”; in fact, it’s their first full-length since Daydream Nation to not offer at least one slack offering. The parallel to their most definitive work doesn’t end there—though it’s not as sprawling as Nation, only one song here clocks in under four minutes and half stretch past six. And though it might not have as many blitzkriegs, the heavy guitar riffs of “Unmade Bed” and the dissonant screech of “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” prove that Sonic Youth aren’t yet over-fatigued by all the years and all the releases. The guitar tones make for some intriguing extended workouts, particularly “Stones” and “Pattern Recognition,” two of the album’s best bets, though they’re not as flagrant and thrillingly messy as their structured grind-and-clatter days. These “not as” relations are compensated by crisper production and smarter, subtler musical figures than we’re accustomed to. The Youth part of their name is tougher to see on still photos—considering that this a group I grew up with and had a strong cultural impact on my generation, I’m always a bit flummoxed by the idea that Kim Gordon is older than my mom—but the spirit is ageless.


31lullabiestoparalyze31. Lullabies to Paralyze
by Queens of the Stone Age
2005
Rock


I probably took hard rock for granted in the 90s—in the endless cycle of post-grunge, one or two were bound to work out. By 2005, though, even the worst that Queens of the Stone Age was offering handily sneered at the “best” of Staind and Muddle of Pudd. In this case, the “worst” was what most of us feared—bassist/hedonist extraordinaire Nick Oliveri was booted from the band after abusing either drugs or a woman, and Dave Grohl wasn’t returning to the studio for the drum tracks. Then the first single released ahead of time, “Little Sister,” didn’t exactly blow the world away (catchy and compact, but definitely not one of the LP’s marquee cuts). I tried to remain optimistic even as I was greeted on first play by what sounded like a Bubblegum leftover (“This Lullaby”) and a rocker even more compact than “Sister” (“Medication”)—by Queens standards, not much better than routine rockers. I was beginning to fret. Then, more or less, Joshua Homme reached a hand out of the speaker, carefully laid down his joint, and smacked the stupid right out of me. If you can pass by “Tangled up in Plaid,” “Burn the Witch,” “In My Head” and “I Never Came” without silent rock orgasms (or full-blown fist pumps and tongue wags), you might wanna stick with the Top 40 Flavors of the Month. Then there’s the towering riffs of “Someone’s in the Wolf,” reaching a crescendo interrupted by a musical premature ejaculation so ridiculous you burst out laughing. It only gets more damaged from there with “Broken Box”’s vengeful scorn of, “Take that broken pussy elsewhere,” the gaseous, raunchy stomp of “Skin on Skin,” and the ghostly desert ramble of “Long Slow Goodbye.” Lullabies to Paralyze might sound like a brashly goofy title for a rock album, but can you think of a better name for this batch of scuzzy Scud missiles? Didn’t think so.


30dearscience30. Dear Science
by TV on the Radio
2008
Alternative


TV on the Radio doesn’t bother with too much ripped-from-today’s-headlines societal griping, nor do they struggle purely against the impotent confusion and fear of the country as reduced by the aftermath of 9/11 (even if they do reflect that mindset), so their music couldn’t be more timely in its implications and frustration, but you imagine that the themes are so universal and enduring that they could speak to ghosts who’ve never heard of Al-Qaeda as strongly as children not yet born. Whether conscious or not (or pragmatic to career and audience or not), Dear Science may lose little of their dark, soulful funk merged with dense, shredding art rock productions, but they bristle and twist less oppressively, inviting onlookers in with emphasized hooks, haunting croons and moments of terrifying beauty. But underneath are a series of bleak and vengeful tales about death and urban decay. “Family Tree”’s moody strings and piano patter embellish a lovely, detail-rich ballad that ties its loose limbs in a poignant, vulnerable fashion. On “Red Dress,” Tunde Adebimpe sings, “I’m scared to death that I’m living a life not worth dying for.” And the more in-your-face selections like “DLZ” and “Dancing Choose” (coincidentally, the two strongest) have an aggressive, even accusatory stance. But Science’s greatest weapon is its accessibility—plenty of acts have addressed prickly issues before, but how many have made you want to invest the effort in exploring their pre-apocalyptic mindset? They again indulge their Prince fetish on a number of cuts, including the expressive R&B of “Crying,” “Golden Age”’s optimism amidst ripping funk guitars, the ballad “Stork and Owl,” and closer, “Lover’s Day,” with its declaration, “I'm gonna take you, I'm gonna shake you, I'm gonna make you cum.” Meanwhile, “Shout Me Out” is one of the few upbeat moments on the entire LP, with a familiar three-note arpeggio and arcing vocal tones. Walled-in idealists may not assert that Dear Science is the album that we need, but it’s doubtlessly the one that we deserve.  

Read More...


29yoshimi29. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
by the Flaming Lips
2002
Alternative


Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots can’t withstand its quirky ambition of conceptualizing its tale of robots into a metaphor for life’s tenuous thread, but it sure has fun trying. But even if it doesn’t come together, its early arc is bright and amusing and the songs about mortality and the worth of a single life later on ponder Soft Bulletin-esque to their answer-less conclusions. Really, though, the reasons you and I love the Flaming Lips is because Wayne Coyne is an exuberant performer with a chameleonic voice that can pull off soaring falsetto and playful prankster with equal ease and because the band carries out bastard pop translations with the regard for lush splendor and inclusive artifice that fellow bastard pop translators Super Furry Animals are too cheeky to bother with. The music brims with warmth even as Coyne describes butt-kicking Yoshimi trying to pulverize a bunch of damn, dirty machines with karate. With the robot 3000-21 becoming so advanced as to actually begin feeling real emotions, the early segments become almost an anti-OK Computer by finding the heartbeat in technology. The lamenting back end is no murkier for its reflection; although a sense of regret permeates the compositions, it never wallows in misery, and their psych-rock artistry elevates to swimming, symphonic grandeur. Something must also be said for Oklahomans picking “Do You Realize??” as its official state rock song—not just because their selection of the Flaming Lips is so cool, but because the song they chose, while affirming, is really quite bleak: “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?/And instead of saying all of your goodbyes/Let them know you realize that life goes fast/It's hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn't go down/It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.” Beautiful and bittersweet, I think you’d have to be a robot yourself not to be moved.


28elephant28. Elephant
by the White Stripes
2003
Rock


Some worried that the major label debut of the White Stripes would unveil a slicker, more commercial formula to their work in the disheveled, Delta-based garage they’d been “based out of” for their last three records, but that anxiety proved premature and foolhardy. There are more properly-constructed songs here than we were accustomed, but if anything, this one rocks harder than anything before, and the ballads are more graceful and cunning (“In the Cold, Cold Night” even has an ominous moan underneath the witchy chords). The riffs are like granite getting sheared by a Viking axe, the beats are like a battery of howitzers mauling a war-ravaged town in the French countryside. The House of Blues riff of “Ball and Biscuit” is pure-Thorogood. After an odd, squirrel-minded PSA trails off in “Little Acorns,” Jack White’s guitar rears up, roars and bucks frantically like a pachyderm throttling off a pack of killers. “Black Math” could have been one of the quick steamrollers on Led Zeppelin I. “There’s No Room For You Here” is psychedelia as delivered by a sledgehammer. “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” would make every filthy member of the Stooges proud. On the other end of the spectrum, the piano-and-drum-driven romp “I Want to Be the Boy” gets a loopy slide guitar bridge and “It’s True That We Love One Another” finds ex-Thee Headcoatee Holly Golightly joining the Whites on a sparse roundabout that sounds like a random studio jam (tacked on at the end, it might feel extraneous, but it’s tough to resist the simple melody jangle). Their animal energy could be seen as barbaric, even lead-footed, but the duo’s instincts are as sharp as ever and there’s a humanity underneath all the clamorous bluster that ensures that writing them off as retro-rockers running through the playback will earn scorn from anyone paying proper attention. When this record is playing, it’s hard for the mind to wander anywhere else.


27killmoonlight27. Kill the Moonlight
by Spoon
2002
Rock


Released a mere eighteen months after Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight was another considerable refinement in Spoon’s supercharged minimalist aesthetic. But even at their most spartan, Spoon retains the pressure and passion that drives all good rock music—instead of chasing some soulless trend, you sense that they’re simply stripping their tunes down to the tensile essentials of perfectly-crafted rhythm (even the guitars and keyboards are in service to the function of the beat). “Stay Don’t Go” brilliantly uses a pronounced, beatbox-esque exhale as a hook—it would sound cheap in modern R&B, but in a whittled-to-the-essence rock thumper it sounds urgent and exciting (the rhythm is so good, in fact, that they revisit it on “Back to the Life”). Beyond that stark hospitality are rollicking piano and handclap pop songs with streetwise attitude (“The Way We Get By”) and riff-driven rockers about bullies (“Jonathon Fisk”)—perhaps their less cryptic and universal themes make them two of the finest, or maybe it’s that the hooks have more marrow, or maybe it’s just that they sound unlike the new Spoon. Conversely, “Paper Tiger,” with its impressive use of silent space and basic beat as well as its backtracked echo rhythm, can only be described as the new Spoon, and it also triumphs. But calling out favorites is moot on this LP since they’re all terrific—even the less memorable or catchy ones feel like a variation on their prominently wide but intently private style. How can a group adapt and evolve so freely and make every pit stop and experiment not only seem worthwhile but be entirely identifiable back to the source material? Voice is a clue, but the fundamentals are a better one; no matter how raw or sophisticated, the package is theirs alone. The whole thing is done in thirty-five minutes, perhaps too brief, but a band this lean and taut is far too savvy for excess. Way to leave us wanting more.


26apologiestoqueenmary26. Apologies to the Queen Mary
by Wolf Parade
2005
Alternative


It has long been a crutch for music critics to describe albums/songs/singers (especially on debuts) in terms of their influences—bluesy debauchery of the Stones, the soft/loud dynamic of Pixies, Velvet Underground-esque drone, Beach Boys harmonies, etc.—which isn’t very helpful since every metal band rips of Sabbath, every alt-rocker borrows from Bowie/Eno, and, sooner or later, everyone sounds in some way like a modern incarnation of the Beatles. What made it so easy to pull the same overworn trick on Wolf Parade is that it echoed of Modest Mouse, one of the few true originals of the last two decades (even with inspirations checked off) and one that I didn’t think anyone could (or would) cop. And sure enough, their frenzied sprints did remind one of the Issaquah rockers and the yelps of both Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug are Isaac Brock-ian (with more than a subtle hint of Alec Ounsworth). Further assisting the symmetry is that Brock produced Wolf Parade’s debut. I won’t apologize (no pun intended) for ever time I’ve lazily labeled a band as sounding like an older, almost always better act; some just have it coming (cough, She Wants Revenge, cough). Yet, after three-and-a-half years, you know who I think Wolf Parade sounds like? They sound like Wolf Parade. After playing the album enough to ignore the predecessors and just concentrate on the achievement, I find the aesthetic distinctively their own. Krug, the more oblique and adventurous of the two songwriters, scores with the album’s best two cuts: “I’ll Believe in Anything” and “Grounds for Divorce.” If Boeckner’s contributions sound a bit more conventional, they gain moody passion (how very Arcade Fire of them), especially the back-to-back “Same Ghost Every Night” (an atmospheric epic) and “Shine a Light” (a catchy rocker). If you need further proof that Boeckner loves a good anthem, check out the closer “This Heart’s on Fire,” which reads, sounds, and is titled like a Springsteen tune (blessedly, the new wave-y hook keeps them from rambling into Sam’s Town territory). But there I go hobbling on the crutches of comparison again. Eh, screw it, originality is overrated.


25andorra25. Andorra
by Caribou
2007
Electronic


If Andorra was any indication, the 60s were very much alive in 2007. Most of the seemingly endless wave of retro-revivalists saw proto-punk garage, New Wave, and 80s synth-pop as the trends worth tributing, but Caribou’s science of tribute was so specific and exact, you gotta drop the “neo” and dub this “photo”-psychedelia. In fact, if you told me that half of these songs were covers of little-known Mamas & Papas and Zombies tunes, I’d have believed you unconditionally. But this isn’t a group of garage grads with moptops whirling around a splatter/swirl backdrop—it’s just Dan Snaith, layering tape loops, orchestral tools and synth keys for a lush, even warm electronic sound, etched with bits of percussion that were recorded live and then computer-processed. Snaith’s lilting tenor even sounds lifted from San Francisco circa 1966, an ethereal sigh that makes him sound higher than the clouds (yes, in both senses of the word). None of this would matter beyond name-droppers and the fad-curious if the songs weren’t any good; luckily, Andorra makes no missteps in its honey-winged, drifting gallop to the finish line. There’s a bit of Wayne Coyne-ish vocalizing during the verses of “She’s the One,” “Desiree” swells slowly to a dense harmony that melts into a flood of twinkling harps, and “Melody Day” rolls over chiming flutes and sleigh bells with a disembodied melodic grace (perhaps his all-time best song). Late in the album, he branches out a bit more to incorporate snatches of Cluster-styled motorik in “Sundialing” and build an epic oscillator/synth-driven electro-freakout that goes way further than the Silver Apples dared. Even in its forty-year echo, there’s something refreshing about these sounds that run rampant past nostalgia—I guess that the strength of a good, sky-bound melody and fluttering accessories is timeless.


24hissingfauna24. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
by of Montreal
2007
Alternative


Rock history is littered with chemical dependency and the mind-altered state of panic and listlessness being fostered to create weird, vibrant art. But rarely have such “medications” affected an artist so specifically as what’s detailed on Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? In Kevin Barnes’ case, you can drop the quotation marks for it was a prescription to anti-depressants that influenced his descent—he was led down this road by a separation with his wife (since reconciled), making this album one of the quintessential breakup records of my lifetime, as unusual and unconventional as it might be. As his world seems to crumble around him during the first half, his addiction begins to control his wavelengths and nihilism rears its ugly, uncontested head (on “Grolandic Edit”: “I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a god/But which one, which one do I choose?/All the churches fill with losers, psycho or confused/I just want to hold the divine in mind”). When he reaches the transformative epic “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal,” his struggle becomes too much for his self as he lashes out against all the betrayals (self-inflicted and otherwise) and he emerges on the other side as Georgie Fruit, his glam rock alter-ego. The rest of the album follows that lead, hopping from elliptical, off-kilter pop songs to posturing robotic funk and grimy sex jams, as if he believed that staggering into ruthless debauchery would soothe the pain. Both halves are bewildering, alternately paranoid and damaged, but that it reflects upon Barnes in a kind light instructs the very devious nature of the breakdown—empathy for reckless behavior has always been a human weakness (or strength, depending on your outlook on religious/psycho-analytical studies). Fascination isn’t enough, so luckily the broadening ambition in of Montreal’s trajectory manages more than enough terrific tunes (or just superbly sleazy hooks), especially “Suffer for Fashion,” “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” “Labyrinthian Pomp” and “Grotesque.” Am I simply a disturbed maniac to be so energized by the emotional wreck that is Hissing Fauna?


23massromantic23. Mass Romantic
by the New Pornographers
2000
Pop


You don’t need organization or continuity in power pop (though some try), so the fact that Mass Romantic took three years of haphazard and belabored work from half a dozen people is neither a warning nor a promise. All that matters is how each song works by itself in the undistracted loneliness of individual format. Swinging and sighing all over the place, the songs of Mass Romantic are almost uniformly masterful, a wild collision of snappy melodies, exuberant performances and an unmistakable if still intangible aura of dizzying jubilance (even the downers are bright and snappy). The stories and sentiments are full of nifty witticisms but in completion tend to be fairly simple or vague, even inscrutable, but the hooks are so abundant and perfectly placed, you’ll find it near impossible not to sing and sprint along anyway. From the galloping energy of the title track to the intentionally-cheesy Moog buzz of “Mystery Hours,” into the colorful drama and ringing, Britpop-friendly clomp of “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism” and out of the arcing harmonies and blitzing vigor of “Letter from an Occupant,” through the Beatles-meets-Cheap-Trick charmer “The Mary Martin Show” and ending up with a full group chorus singalong on “Breakin’ the Law,” missteps could only be spotted by folks too miserable to appreciate a catchy tune. A.C. Newman and Neko Case share the brunt of the vocal duties, and even though it should be more comfortable for ol’ Carl since he has roots with Zumpano, its Case, with neither twang in her voice nor rustic country spell on hand to enrich, who gives you pause. On second or third listen, that is, because the first run is such an overwhelming gush of free-spraying fizz, pogo march beats and springy guitar chimes that no one can make sense of anything until the sugar rush collapses. And like most sugary treats, you’d be amazed how addictive this brand is. 


22turnonbrightlights22. Turn on the Bright Lights
by Interpol
2002
Alternative


As one of the biggest groups to absorb all the acclaim and acrimony from a crowd who began drawing up battle lines before the first LP reached stores, Interpol can make one claim that’s difficult to refute even by their enemies—for a debut, Turn on the Bright Lights is remarkably assured—more so, in fact, than their next two albums, which saw them retreating a bit from the “copycat” aesthetic that got them in trouble in the first place. I used to prefer Antics, a slightly more immediate record with more “obvious” single-ready songs, making a wider and easier-to-adjust-to entry point. Paul Banks will probably never be your Ian Curtis (like Corin Tucker will probably never be your Joey Ramone), but his gloomy, downbeat delivery sounds less like a replicated imprint than a fellow depressive-warrior—so what if Banks’ crisp wardrobe made it easier to shout "phony"? He may be no Brando when it comes to shouting, “Stella,” but his tone still fits the dense darkness ringing and bleeding around him. Interpol doesn’t reflect the jagged, desiccated productions of the goths of yesteryear, either; they prefer big arrangements that resemble rumbling storm clouds slashed by wan rays of lights. More urgent rockers with churning guitars and rhythms champing at the bit like “Obstacle 1,” “Roland” and “Say Hello to the Angels” are easier to sink the proverbial teeth into on the early listens, but time and assimilation lets the brooding effects, foggy production and fragile strains of tracks like the untitled opener and “The New” fill the atmosphere with indolent vapor. Somewhere in between, the momentous velocity of “PDA” takes stiff sentiment like “Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to” and converts it to smarmy-chic sarcasm, and the extended burn of “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” rises during the “broke away” refrain only to settle again into morse code riffs breaching the black spell. Even if the brand and band both are no longer the vogue today, there’s a reason why this will retain status as an icon rather than an artifact in another decade.


21darkdayslightyears21. Dark Days/Light Years
by Super Furry Animals
2009
Alternative


So are Super Furry Animals a bunch of fur-laden animals with super powers or just a bunch of woodland creatures that happen to be really furry (like, inordinately so)? It works either way in relation to their music: their songs reflect a variety of comic book abilities—the songs soar through the sky, shape-shift at will, deflect keyboard bullets, are rendered useless by the color yellow (well, maybe not the last one)—and the production is so dense with detail, effects and ornaments that you could logically describe them as being “inordinately furry.” After a series of somewhat slouching efforts from the Furries, they managed to right the ship this last year in immediately noticeable fashion with Dark Days/Light Years. Take leadoff, “Crazy Naked Girls,” which is as ridiculous as it sounds, exploiting sweaty, mid-coital R&B meets golden god guitar riffs and heavy metal muscle. Right after that comes “Mt,” which may very well have the single best lyric of the entire decade: “I wasn’t looking for a mountain/There was a mountain/It was a big f-cking mountain/So I climbed the mountain” (or am I just really stoned right now?). From there, it’s a tour through disco pop, Krautrock, psych-rock, futurist pop and whatever else touches their fancy. Being as messy as any of their earlier records might make style detractors eager to throw more scorn their way, but the ingenious number of ludicrous additives to already skewed foundations mired in sheer exuberance is difficult to fault—it’s not like they’re brainless about it, they’re simply operating on a completely different level than anyone else with a shred of accessibility. And speaking of accessibility, this stuff is catchier than anything they’d done since their Britpop-indebted debut—the mess only appears to those more comfortable with the turgid odor of uniformity. If I could pick a super power, why not a heightened perception I could use to figure out why these unpredictable and whimsical compositions work so miraculously well? Or mind bullets.

Read More...


Top 100 Songs of the 60s
Top 100 Albums of the 60s
Top 100 Songs of the 70s
Top 100 Albums of the 70s
Top 100 Songs of the 80s
Top 100 Albums of the 80s
Top 100 Songs of the 90s
Top 100 Albums of the 90s
Top 100 Songs of the 00s

 



Jan
14
2010
Matt Medlock

Popular

New Reviews