10 September 2010

My (Late) List Of 20 (23) Good Albums From 2000-2009

I finally got around to making some sort of list for what I thought were some great albums in the first decade of 2000.  I don't really believe in putting works of art in a hierarchical numbered system (even though I kind of had to do that to limit these down to 20 (23) albums), so these are just in alphabetical order by the name of the band.  Plus I wouldn't even say this is my definitive list, just the list that I put together at this time in my life, although I could see myself having a very similar list in the future.  But I could always discover some new gems from the last decade that went unnoticed to me before.  But anyway, here it is ...

Animal Collective - Feels (2005)
Feels is an album that has distinction from the very beginning.  The listener knows immediately from the sounds of children laughing and the strumming drone that introduces the record that this isn't going to be your typical rock record.  This is a band that started out in obscurity and wound up focusing itself into an iconic independent band by the end of the decade.  But what sets this album apart from anything they made before or after it is the best proportion of substance and style the band has ever produced.  "Banshee Beat" and "Did You See The Words" have a patience and earnestness that the band has yet to recapture since this album.  But that shouldn't necessarily be held against them.  Making something this pure and exciting in the innovative approach to music they execute can only be an expression at a certain point in their growth.

Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
When Funeral finally connected with me, after maybe the 3rd or 4th listen, it felt like a band actually had the ability to paint a picture in my imagination of how it felt to grow up while still retaining the magic in childhood that seems to slip away from our existence the older we get.  For the same reasons as mentioned on Feels the band hasn't been able to repeat this magic.  This could be due to the inherent burdens brought on by popularity or simply just the way the band organically evolved.  But every time I hear "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," I'm reminded of everything about my condition when I fell in love with the album.  I remember my apartment, the classes I was driving to while listening to this, the girl I was dating, etc., and how this album made my nervous system tingle in reaction to its beauty.  And it still does.

Beck - Sea Change (2002)
For some reason I love break up albums.  Whether they're angry and volatile or barely-able-to-pick-up-the-guitar-or-turn-on-the-light depressing like Sea Change is.  If there were ever a real reason to make music, this seems like it would be a forerunner, simply because of the release it allows the artist and the empathy it provides the listeners.  This album in particular has something special about it, maybe because it is a stylistic break for Beck.  It isn't jumpy and quirky like his previous releases, instead it's smooth and somber, almost like an acoustic folk album, but made for the 21st century.  Before I had heard this album, a friend told me it sucked.  I was ready to believe him until I decided to listen to it, and then loved it immediately.  "Guess I'm Doing Fine" not only shows Beck's rarely shown ability to make a conventionally structured song, but also his ability to be taken seriously in his songwriting content.

The Blood Brothers - Burn Piano Island, Burn (2003)
So ordered in their own conceptual-hardcore-aesthetic means of creating music that it seems to even the most seasoned of punk listeners as a chaos too great for the mind to comprehend.  Burn Piano Island, Burn is, I think, where we all hoped punk would eventually land: a sound so insane and violent that it would feel as if the musicians are being exorcized of all the demons implanted in them by their culture.  The energy and mayhem of this record hasn't been matched to date (except maybe occasionally by The Locust), and there's reason for that.  Human beings don't have the capacity to scream this much without damaging their throats permanently.  And even once you decipher the screams into lyrics, you'll discover that they're also some of the most artistic and socially meaningful ones you'll find in all of punk.

Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman I'm A Machine (2004)
Ah, what a great short-lived band.  Only one full length LP to their name, but it was quite an impact.  Their iconic image showed them as having the trunks of elephants and their sound is just as mammoth.  They somehow were able to turn the bass into an almost melodic instrument while making it even more robust and loud.  This album is another interpretation of a break up album: the angry one.  But even besides that, it's still one of the most fun albums of the decade.  I'm actually surprised that more bands didn't try to mimic their simple drum and bass style to takeover their market once they called it quits only a couple of years after this album was released.

Fugazi - The Argument (2001)
Fugazi's final album and a great summary of all that they were capable of over their long (but in my opinion not long enough) career.  Here they still had the energy and intelligence that they had from their very first album, but what this album highlights is their wisdom.  On songs like "Full Disclosure" they sound arguably the most arty they've ever sounded, and on "The Kill," the most dry and serious they've ever sounded.  It's a perfect post-millennial mix for displaying how beautiful punk rock can be and how honest and legitimate it is.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
The essential post-rock album.  This is the type of thing you can just put on the turntable and space out into another world for the entire hour and 20 minutes of its gorgeousness (of course with the pragmatic flipping and changing of records).  It's a musical work of art that shows the listener that you don't need words; the music is a language of its own, capable of portraying all the complexities your mind is capable of interpreting.  The artwork inside the record sleeves may be something that leads one to believe this band has some ideological or political agenda with their music, but there is no agreeing or disagreeing with the musical content of this record.  It's just beauty, pure and simple.

Grizzly Bear - Yellow House/ Veckatimist (2006/2009)
I'm going to cheat with a few of these and put 2 albums by artists that I couldn't just choose 1 for.  In this case, both of these albums are almost completely different from one another.  Yellow House feels a lot more loose and open than Veckatimist's more definite and poppy sound, and each is good in their own way for that reason.  Yellow House sounds almost like a folk album made by choirboys made in an open field.  Veckatimist showed everyone why this band was important for its generation, generally why they mattered; because they were capable of producing a sound distinctly their own that was able to express the sterilized and mopey feeling of the middle class in a gloriously embellished and appealing way.

Joan of Arc - The Gap (2000)
I've already talked about this album in the previous post, and I'm sure this album made very few if any decade-end lists, but, as I've said before, it's the idea that this album exists more so than the content that makes me appreciate it.  And even so, there are some great songs on this album.  The band sort of dug themselves into a hole in making this album that led from the beginning of their career, best expressed in the song "Your Impersonation This Morning Of Me Last Night."  If it feels like it lacks movement, it's because the album is a genuine reflection of the paralysis of our time that rings just as, if not more true than it did 10 years ago.

Low - Things We Lost In The Fire (2001)
I recently discovered, after a couple of years of listening to this album that it is truly one of my favorite albums of all time.  It grew on me almost as slowly and seamlessly as the verse to chorus shift of "July."  This album can haunt you ("Embrace"), sound playful ("Dinosaur Act"), and be aesthetically pleasing ("Sunflower") all while barely raising the tempo.  It's the kind of beauty you wish you could find in the mundane nature of everyday life.  It's almost indescribable.

Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica (2000)
The lush production of this album showed how polished a jump to a major label could provide a band that seemed so disorganized on the prior record (Lonesome Crowded West) that it was hard for me to tell whether the beginning guitar riff of "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" was just made up on the spot or not.  But unlike most bands that make the jump, Modest Mouse was able to maintain the quirks that made people love them on all of their independent releases and expand them into a bigger studio budget.  "Alone Down There" sounds like a more druggy, modern day Pink Floyd Song at first, but then displays the volatile belligerent nature that had come to characterize Modest Mouse, only in a sort of space-age setting.  With this band, it seems like even without the major label they would have been able to define the decade they wound up defining anyway, because Modest Mouse didn't just make indie music, they contributed to its overall definition.

Nothing People - Late Night (2009)
The story behind how I discovered this band is pretty interesting.  I was in Chicago, at someone's apartment for a party and my laptop was on, supplying music all night.  The next morning I found this folder on my desktop called Late Night, and this entire album was in it.  So I listened to it and when I heard the song "It's Not Your Speakers," I felt like I had heard it somewhere before.  I doubt that I had because the album had just come out earlier that year and barely anyone outside of a small region of California knows who these guys are.  But this prolific band, releasing an album every year since 2008, never sounds the same, but always sounds good.  Even on just this album, it's difficult to label them anything.  They're kind of punk, kind of psychedelic rock, and kind of just what-the-fuck?  I don't think there's a darker song this decade than "Janet."  And I don't think there's a greater representation of the abstracted mindset of our current generation.
Okkervil River - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See (2002)
I don't think any Okkervil River album sounds like any of their other ones, besides the distinct voice of lead singer, Will Sheff.  And for that reason I don't necessarily like all of their albums, but this one stuck with me after first hearing it.  They combine folk storytelling with almost alt-country sensibilities on this album and even at times sound like regular hillbilly country on "Dead Dog Song" (in a good way).  But overall the winning factors for this particular work are the accessibility of songs like "Westfall" and even "My Bad Days," which seems like it would be too long and slow to hold one's attention, yet I find myself captured, tagging along with the lyrics and instrumentation that pulls me through the entirety of the song.  It's a sad album, but well worth listening to.

Pissed Jeans - King of Jeans (2009)
Just when I was about ready to admit that punk was dead, this album came out kicked me in the dick.  While Young Widows are able to successfully replicate and expand Jesus Lizard's rhythm section, Pissed Jeans fulfill the other half: the sloppy chaotic aspect.  "False Jesii Part 2" kicks off the record like a rabid slobbering animal running towards you and "Half Idiot" throws you into a scene where you feel like you're drunk and stumbling into people at a party.  "Pleasure Race" is the perfect anthem for any masturbating teen.  But nothing compares to the crippling "Spent" - a song that starts out feeling tired and ends feeling beyond exhausted, with the lead singer desperately bellowing "Spent, spent, spent" over and over again.  I honestly can't describe the joy I felt when I first heard this album and realized there was still hope for punk.

Radiohead - Kid A/ Amnesiac (2000/2001)
I don't really feel like much of a cheater with this one, since both of these albums pretty much go hand in hand.  Kid A is obviously the prettier, more accessible one of the two, and, rightly so, the album that made a ton of #1s on a lot of decade-end lists.  But I honestly just don't know which album I like better.  Amnesiac has some of my favorite songs like "I Might Be Wrong" and "Like Spinning Plates" but Kid A is an experience.  It's another world, yet doesn't feel alien, maybe because now, in hindsight, the album appears very prescient of not just the music that was to come, but also the culture in general.  Plus Kid A also has probably the best song ever on it - "How To Disappear Completely."  It's the sound of the soul surrounded by an increasingly computerized world.  And Amnesiac in a way looks at the past, bringing in aspects of big band ("Life In A Glass House") and old radio ("You And Whose Army?") into a modern context.  When the history of our generation is written, these albums will be emblematic of the capabilities of our creative output, and I bet the future generations will still be in awe.

Shellac - 1000 Hurts (2000)
Like most people upon first hearing "Prayer To God" I laughed and was in mesmerized simultaneously.  What a great way to begin an album - continually shouting "FUCKING KILL HIM/KILL HIM, ALREADY/KILL HIM!"  And hearing them play it live is an even better experience because Steve Albini includes lyrics about baby Jesus getting off his ass and doing some something for once in his life.  But the real treasures of this album are the last two songs, "Shoe Song" and "Watch Song."  Respectively they may be the best songs Bob Weston and Steve Albini have ever made.  With certain bands you can tell the amount of effort and practice that goes into every member being on the same page, and every song on this album shows that.  And oddly enough it's all so complex that it sounds simple.

Tool - Lateralus (2001)
What Tool did successfully on this album was meld meditative chants, tribal drumbeats, and metal together.  You can even find traces of a 60s hippy ethos imbedded in the sound and the logical extension of them in the lyrics that are formed to fit our present condition.  You could almost base your entire philosophy of living on "The Patient."  It's probably the most comforting metal song you'll ever hear, and it doesn't sound like a bunch of bullshit.  "Parabola" not only has one of the coolest music videos ever, but some of the most reassuring lyrics about the human body - "This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal/All this pain is an illusion" - in Maynard's distinct voice.  And songs like "Reflection" seem to cut through all the cultural nonsense that blocks access to our real human nature, and be able to say something meaningful about it.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)
I used to always say "you don't like music if you don't like this album" and I think I still believe that.  The subtle instrumentation and disjointedness, yet overall pleasing appeal in "Radio Cure" is a feat that few bands can are able to manage.  The entire album is a great picture of America between the shift of pre- and post-9/11, when we thought that maybe we could all pull together, before we realized that politics would always corrupt that ideal from being realized.  The sound is clean and pure and feels like one of those culture defining albums one heard in the 60s and early 70s, not just defining for a specific segment of culture, but for the culture at large.

Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary/At Mount Zoomer (2005/2008)
Yet again I'm divided between two equally amazing, yet completely different albums by the same artist.  Apologies showed the indie music listening world what the band was capable of, and they were capable of a whole lot.  Seeing them play "I'll Believe In Anything" live is a special experience when the entire crowd, along with the band gets into the song, pounding their fists in the air as the song progresses to its peak.  But while Apologies may have more pop appeal, At Mount Zoomer shows a band that isn't afraid to experiment with odd song structures and moody playfulness.  "Fine Young Cannibals" is probably my favorite song of theirs, but almost all of the songs on this album are fantastic in their own way.  Each song is like its own constructed world the band has spent an intense time constructing so that the listener could feel excitement in its oddities and amazement in the skilled labor.

The Wrens - The Meadowlands (2003)
This album takes a while to get into, but once you realize what's going on with it, it's almost hard to let go of.  I don't think I've spent more than a month's time away from it since I discovered how great it was.  It is a very depressing album, pretty much the summer soundtrack to a broken heart.  But their earnestness and crazy song structure in "Happy," their awkwardly catchy pop sensibilities in "Ex-Girl Collection," and the sublimity and accurately captured feelings of the decay of a relationship in "Hopeless," among other things, are what shines through in this album.  And I wouldn't doubt that one of the things that makes this band work so well, despite their small output (they haven't released an album since), is that they are everyday working people like you and I.  They go through the daily grind like everyone else and have a genuine connection with their audience that winds up coming across even in their recordings as meaningful.

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