Although I most likely forgot a few gems, this is my list of the best 25 albums of the last decade. Please comment or submit your own. Cheers,
25) National, Boxer (2007)
24) Beta Band, Heroes to Zeros (2004)
23) Beirut, Gulag Orkestrar (2005)
22) Sigur Ros, () (2002): The release of this became a new religion for many.
21) The Microphones, The Glow, pt.2 (2001): I needed this album to understand what lo-fi meant and I am grateful for how it not only taught me what that meant but also made me learn how to delineate between the weaknesses and strengths of such musical immersion. Needless to say, this is where all the strength is.
20) Hot Chip, The Warning (2006): I think my electronic days are still nubile yet I am listening to more and more of music along the lines of what I believe these gents are most concerned with, not to mention proficient in presenting.
19) Postal Service, Give Up (2003): I listened to this in the shower every morning for four months. I don’t need to say much more than that and I know that everyone needs at least one song on this album to define what fun it is to jog somewhere.
18) Menomena, I am the Fun Blame Monster! (2004) Driving fast near cliffs.
17) Battles, Mirrored (2007): Some of the most alarmingly swampy and technically complex sounds to date. I get extremely goofy with joy during this album, like Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son.
18) The Walkmen, You and Me (2008): One of the best live shows I’ve seen was after this release. I have a feeling they will stay together for some time and only get better.
17) Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002): The first sign of a sound that is always new.
16) Yesterday’s New Quintet, Angles Without Edges, (2001): I first heard this on vinyl and the first three tracks shimmied up my bloodstream and shattered my teeth. Madlib gets the utmost respect for this dropping.
15) LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem (2005): Too much love.
14) Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights (2001): Let’s be honest, this is an original, direct, and extremely urban-knowledgeable album. It came at the right time; although it is often harnessed by many as a throwback to New Order and Joy Division—many albums during this period were—it carpeted the societal applications for style, especially amidst the burgeoning flux of incapacitated indy-snubs who were submitting offhanded remarks during bad college parties and First Avenue opening band discussions (this is an admittance to myself doing so as well). Given such expedient and appropriate arrival, the album still maintains a meticulous sense of crescendoing, of entering a city to do something smart under the lights. We needed it and we got it.
13) The Strokes, Is This It (2001): Like Interpol, anyone claiming to really love what The Strokes did early on usually gets tagged as a music fan too young to notice the derivations, yet this is a comment stirring at the base of all arguments in terms of art. We no longer need to become shackled by the “anxiety of influence,” to use a Harold Bloom phrase/theory, but instead, as Jonathan Lethem so dutifully reminded us of a few years back in Harper’s, this is now a time where the “ecstasy of influence” platforms art. Is This It arrived without questions or demands, without the excess that later enveloped its straightforwardness; it is gritty, it is the background not necessarily to the party but everything that happens leading up to and away from the party, the reasoning behind ripped jeans and dull headaches. I am magnetized by the seemingly simple but grounding bass riffs and also by the quickness in which the album gets its game on and over.
12) Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Living Like a Refugee (2004): Not only did this album manage to make the purity and joy of instruments bust through the circumstances of those who created it—the whole band was moved from Sierra Leone during the Civil War—but it did so with a cohesion not known to many West African groups, in that we often get to hear the instrumental fabric but rarely the narrative package of an album. This isn’t to say that West African groups forget narrative but that The Refugee All Stars are specifically keen on setting up a landscape to song from and in doing so give listeners tales to tell and grooves to hoove. The best part of their whole venture is that it was supported by producers and documentarians. This also made it possible for the Refugee All Star to play the African music festival in Hyde Park two years back, a show that my feet still sting from today. Dance dance.
11) Radiohead, Everything they did: I think that we all agree, almost of us being Radiohead fans, that fully liking them entails listening to all of their music in different places and at different times, thus we get to put everything in one slot. Kid A shook everything up, it is the reason we have people saying “I only like their earlier or later stuff.” Very few bands have a separation album, as if they were saying “hey guys, you may have liked and been able to pinpoint why you liked Pablo Honey but here is something completely fucken different so if you don’t like it then we will see you later.” Then came Amnesiac, an even more esoteric beefcake, then Hail to the Thief then In Rainbows. It is safe to say we like all of these and some for more reasons than others. Hail to the Thief offers up the possibility of shuffling more than the rest. Speaking of shuffling, since that feature was developed I have heard Radiohead on my headphones more than any other group over the last ten years and this has forced me to try and enjoy songs outside of an album’s natural progression—turns out I do enjoy them and can begin again to trace the evolution of Radiohead’s sounds more accurately via song. Quite frankly, I am tired of people separating what they like and don’t like pre and post-Kid A, as the life-force of this band is strategically technical and menacingly meticulous—there is no gap in which we can leap over in order to talk about them—they must be talked about as a whole. Thus, I put them and their undoubtedly monstrous catalogue herein as whole. I love it all.
10) Beck, Sea Change (2002): Whereas Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde was the best breakup album for our parent’s generation this is quite simply the greatest of our generation. I think that this fact often makes it difficult for people to like it. Either one is averse to the hollowed out pain Sea Change putters its gutturals from, or they don’t want to admit that relationships with people are often emotionally maddening. Whatever the case, Beck took a real life trek through emotion and redistributed it through the catharsis of songwriting and an orchestral armory of echoing harmonies. The build of this album is equally a breaking down. The post-release tour in which the Flaming Lips became Beck’s backup band is one of the most memorable music experiences I have.
9) Broken Social Scene, You Forgot it in People (2002): This makes it on the list because it won’t stop returning to me every five months. Recently, I cannot shirk the blood-pumping charisma that is drawn so oddly but diligently out over the course of this arena. There is no other album that compares to it in terms of grazing every level of volume-control and emotional tickling. I remember all of us talking about the best two-song combos of any album and I think that YFIIP has two of these—“Pacific Theme” into “Anthem for a Seventeen-year-old Girl” and, you said it, ANY OTHER TWO SONGS. Hauser is keen to mention this band’s material as a destination and I agree yet also in the inverse sense, in that an emotional place can become filled and healed with their albums, pulling them into one’s place and making it less place, more destination. Additionally, any of us who have had the pleasure of seeing them live know what’s up.
8) David Byrne and Brian Eno, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today (2008): Brian Eno has consistently made his mark as producer, yet his own work, specifically Another Green World, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, and Before and After Science sit at the top of the list for the albums I have played the most in the last five years. This particular collaboration is so focused and penetrating at the same time, it steals the muse. “Strange Overtones” is unquestionably one of the greatest songs of the decade, a piece that has seen its threads make small children and old men alike move at the same time. What secures this album at the top is Byrne’s phenomenal talent; his is the best man opera voice around, he still dances like a buttery alien, and he doesn’t break for anything. This album captures my entire graduate school experience. The motifs of house, home, and lighthouse that weave the album together have in turn been motifs that have kept my writing grounded, if only in the smallest of manners. There will be a resurgence of listeners of this album every ten years. It is timeless.
7) People Under the Stairs, O.S.T (2002): In the advent of Thes One and Double K, a.k.a. People under the Stairs—circa 1998—hip-hop was a relatively absent term, especially in terms of correct usage, or at least it seemed so in the white-dominated suburbs of Minneapolis. At the time names like Master P and Eminem were synonymous with rap but true “hip hop” seemed something intangible or stricken to the sneakers of the early 90’s. Perhaps this is why the sounds of PUTS are so freshly resounding; they sampled the same type of late 70’s beats that to this day make Grandmaster Flash control even the wildest house parties, beats that are precise and conscious of melody. At first listen I was, as many are, obsessed with the tack “Acid Raindrops,” mostly because it was universal, it appropriated the weekend compulsions of a collegiate hothead. Yet now, tracks like “Jappy Jap,” “Suite for Beaver Parts I and II,” and “The LA Song” get equal play time. I listen to this album straight through at least once a month and I have worked very hard at acquiring every song on this album in the instrumental form, if only to memorize the lyrics and pretend I wrote them when somebody wants to hear a bearded blonde kid freestyle at a boring porch gathering. The head is rocking consistently during this album. People always, always ask “who is this?” Then you get to say, “this is PUTS…sick, isn’t it?”
6) Yo la Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2001): There’s always an album we say we study to and that as it repeats its cycle of play we forget where it began, where it currently is, and how it manages to get inside of us. Not only does this album own that type of reference but it also blends in the mystique of transport, in that the studying stops and the listener is suddenly commandeering a fantasy whereby the hero must go down a very small and dark river, perhaps a creek, in order to get out of the sounds. I really have no idea how Yo la Tengo has managed to always sneak in and out of the scene. Every time they toss a hit out to the populace they recede into the indefinable particularities of their intricate craft, the craft of collage ripped from the tinkering dissonance of dexterity only a triad can sling. If the hero gets out of the sound suddenly the sky is gone and light makes small steps up and into the cautious ballads of childish wonder. I always want to write notes to “crushes of the past” while listening to this album, little couplets that snapshot the “better moment” of a long-gone but remarkable form of miniature desire that went unkindled. Perhaps that is the draw of this album, that is builds on the passion of pursuing something but the realization that “getting” that thing is not the goal, just a result of the pursuit that was and always will be the greatest element of a song, something this album has many of and from every possible angle.
5) Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004): Although Ys is certainly a masterpiece I belong to the Mender. Perhaps it was the surge of folk-revival or the endless heralding Tom Dolan tongued for old Phil Ochs during this time that made this an easier ear. Whatever the case, I think many music fans and even musicians were waiting for this sort of literary poignancy and nothing better than the harp to issue it. No matter when I listen to this album I am entranced—I go back and forth between the caging of the harp and the squelched efficiency of twang Newsom nibbles and spits discriminately through constructive pluck. Newsom makes the harp full of the art its shape and stance hold on their own to make the image. Now the image is being graced with the light pass of Newsom’s cheek while her mouth bends to say “we should shine a light on/a light on.”
4) Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002): There seemed to be a visceral transgression of individuality bubbling around the gifting of this album. Many of us had heard the problems surrounding its release yet we were also freshman in college hearing the first stream of Foxtrot not long after 9/11. Something was becoming clear—we were listening to the “hype” of musicians, we were understanding the monstrous banalities entombed in the critical apprenticeship our listening ears were undergoing, and thus we were finding the lexical arsenal appropriate for responding to an album as dense, lofty, and self-devouring as this one. To be honest, this album “fucked” a lot of us up. It began with the narration of an “American aquarium drinker” who assassined down the avenue. When the official release of the album came Spring had arrived from its lusty hammock and the mud under all the ice became sloppy and brooding yet immediately, and as awkward as it might have been for an album to try out a new season, Foxtrot punctured the senseless cynicism of all the twenty-year olds by relieving us of the duties normally required of one in responding to why an album is really damn good—it was too good to pin down, too monstrous to require anyone to comment and before we knew it we were all deeply sucked in and in love. Even my mother still hums “Jesus Etc.” I must say that there is no other album issued in the entirety of my life that has a more perfected sequence; and I do not speak of the narration inherent in sequence, nor do I think this must be listened to straight through in order to gauge the weight of the whole, but I speak directly toward the alarming sense of deconstruction (mostly in the Derridian sense—that the foundation of this album’s construction is reprimanded by the perplexing instability of its parts and their arrival) and how it carries listeners through by swallowing them and spitting them back out, out into their own flesh, bone upon bone.
3) Midlake, Trials of Van Occupanther (2006): I was living in Uptown, MN when this album came out. It was mid-winter and with Eric the Shepherd Bottelberghe I would run across Lake Calhoun, giant headphones strapped on while the flakes spat in shoddy slants. I am perhaps most thankful for this album because it sustains anticipation—its multifacetedness is explosive and minutely orchestrated, the voice always sounds like it is coming across the lake while the instruments stay in the water. I don’t want to push metaphors around and mix them here but it actually sounds like that, as if each track is another level in some role-playing game some intense teenager has been playing for seven straight months in Northern Wisconsin. “Young Bride” is one of the better songs of the decade, popping with layer upon layer of by way of an uprise that is at once deconstructive and tuneful. Around this time of year very few albums work as well in making seasonal-affective disorder seem like old gum.
2) Sparklehorse, It’s a Wonderful Life (2001): Hearing this album changed my viewpoint of music as a whole; particle wise, this is an album whereby each track has at one point served as a six-month definition of my life. From being holed up in a sixth floor single bed in Dublin, stoned on poverty and the dusty alienation spawned by the clashing of cultures, to suffering an immense senior-in-college revelation via the line “won’t you come to comfort me,” I can return to each melody like a half full photo album. Mark Linkous has a masterful sense of composition and the small yet provocative appearances of PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Vic Chestnut make for an extremely poised production. This is an album that has the wild sense of being unfinished, yet not in a this-is-not-done-yet-way, but more so the feeling of being unfinished, like the anticipation inherent in waiting one’s entire life for the next Terrence Malick film. Speaking of film, every song on this album has been made into a short buy artists such as Guy Maddin and the Quay brothers, a testament to the palimpsestic and imagistic nature of Linkous’s lyrics. An amusing tidbit about the album, via wikipedia of course: “Linkous had to take five shots of whiskey before gaining the courage to call the famous singer-songwriter. During the phone call, the two men planned a meeting in California. The meeting was quite unusual and took place inside an SUV as the two men rode down a California highway. Within the car they discussed possible album ideas, their least-favorite animals, and their mutual disgust for turkey vultures. Waits went on to record the song “Dog Door” with Linkous on the album.” All of this for one song!
1) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005): It was Nicotine Knutzen’s birthday, late August 2005. College was over, the best season of the Midwest was coming along and we were all supposed to be content with our new careers and geographical hunkering—shit was happening. This album was released on Nicotine’s birthday and on a whim I picked it up. I had just quit a fairly solid job in Los Angeles and within a week had packed everything up, driven up the coast, and was settled into Seattle for a week. Although anyone could say, “he loved this album because of the circumstances,” I’d argue that this is not the whole truth, as at first listen I still had trouble with Alec Ounsworth, believing he sounded like David Byrne’s scapegoat brother whining in the backseat of a Camry about the lack of real flavor in contemporary soda. However, and as not to blaspheme Ounsworth—I am a minor obsessee now—the album slowly grew on me and to this day continues to grow. There is so much expectancy in every line and chord, a sense of intensity and hope that I would dedicate years to trying to define in writing and just might. We all know the feeling of meeting someone new and courting them—this album has bottled that feeling. I could go into the story of this band being discovered, that David Bowie and David Byrne showed up at their shows before they even had a record deal, but means nothing in terms of how great this recording actually is. The appeal of most music for me these days splits into its ability to make me move a bit—to dance by self in room or shower—or in its lyrical concinnity, in that it will have the sounds around but not in control of its words. Somehow, this album does both and I often forget I am in any one place while listening to it. My memories of different listens are immense; from Bottelberghe, Goldstein, and Knutzen stealing a golf cart in Northern Minnesota to Derek, Marshall and I dancing uncontrollably at Lollapalooza … I can only end with my favorite line/lyric of the decade: “success is so pretty, that it makes me think I win.”