Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Albums of the 2000s (Pt. 3)

Well, here's Part 3. Part 1 and 2 are here and here in case you missed them or just want to refresh yourself. Below are my #16 through 30 favorite albums of this past decade. We're getting close!

30. Fugazi--The Argument
Fugazi's last album (unless they reunite--please reunite!), The Argument is a very nice end to the path their music was taking. It tones down the hardcore-y-ness even more than the preceding releases and adds further maturity and complexity to their music. This, however, is not to say that The Argument is not aggressive or emotionless. It's quite aggressive and emotional, just in a way that's more calculated than on, say, 13 Songs. Fugazi are legends because they've been able to maintain the qualities that made Minor Threat and early Fugazi great while modernizing and progressing their sound with each successive album. This is a classic end to a classic career.

29. The Strokes--Is This It
As much as publications would like you to think, Is This It has nothing to do with 9/11 in terms of content and idea. It came out in July of 2001, two solid months before the attacks. But the reason that people feel it's necessary to connect this album to the attacks is because this album is distinctly New York, and, during a time when New York was a mess, this album was able to represent all that was good and exciting about the city. It combines various aspects of New York's rich musical history (from The Velvets to punk to new wave, etc.) to create one of the decade's defining musical statements. It might not be my favorite, but it's certainly one of the most important albums this decade.

28. Boredoms--Vision Creation Newsun
The spacey, kraut-y accessibility hinted at on Super Ae is unleashed on Vision Creation Newsun, and the result is the Boredoms' most instantly pleasing and probably best album. Like its predecessor, Vision is made up of several lengthy pieces that start in one place and then travel to about twelve others before concluding. Boredoms make thoroughly busy music, and I'd be lying if I said parts of Pop Tatari and Super Ae didn't give me headaches. But Vision is headache-free. It is still very experimental, but it's much more refined and sophisticated experimenting. Released right at the dawn of the decade (and in the '90s in Japan), it's still more contemporary and more complex than nearly everything since.
"(Circle)" (excerpt)

27. Broadcast--Haha Sound
(For some reason, I always type "Boradcast," so I'm gonna refer to them by that name for the duration of this post.) Haha Sound caught me kind of off guard. This is music that, even though it is rooted in '60s psychedelic and krautrock, sounds like essentially nothing else, and it sounds distinctly modern. And in a decade when most bands tried to sound old, it's refreshing to hear someone trying (and succeeding) to sound current or even like the future. Combining propulsive, Liebzeit-ian percussion with gurgly, metallic-y electronics with air-y, pretty pop vocals, Boradcast makes music that is both instantly enjoyable and catchy, but also appetizingly challenging. It's both very weird and very pleasant: a winning combination, in my book.

26. Animal Collective--Strawberry Jam
With each successive release, Animal Collective has taken a step towards outright accessibility. That said, at the rate they're going, it'll probably take another fifteen releases before they're on Kiss FM. But Strawberry Jam is the album that proved to all that they know how to write a great hook in addition to all their other talents. Their lyrics are still on the obtuse side, but their structures and melodies on Strawberry Jam are much more conventional even than on Feels. It's a bit of a transition album, as it mixes the acoustic-ness of old with the electronic sounds of MPP, but it's great on its own. And it contains some of the band's best material (notable "Fireworks"), and, as a whole, is just more evidence to prove that AC is the best band of the decade.

25. Brian Wilson--SMiLE
Countless artists tried to sound like Brian Wilson this decade, and the person who best accomplished that task was, well, Brian Wilson. All the material on SMiLE was written about thirty-five years before this album was released, and though it doesn't exactly sound fresh, it doesn't sound terribly dated. It proves that the beautiful, harmonic, sophisticated pop music that Wilson has such a penchant for crafting is timeless. Though Wilson's voice isn't quite what it was on, say, Pet Sounds, the superior production makes up for it. The fact that SMiLE is as good as it is is pretty incredible due to the fact that it was shelved for so long. By making SMiLE a success, Wilson was able to end one of the longest running jokes in music with a triumph, a feat Axl Rose couldn't match.

24. The Exploding Hearts--Guitar Romantic
Guitar Romantic is one of the most exciting, exuberant, and downright fun albums ever made. Combining '60s pop, '70s power-pop, and punk, The Exploding Hearts perfected a formula that has been attempted (with less success) by many a band since. It's one of the most unabashedly personal albums I've heard. It's also not pretentious at all, which is nice considering the high amount of pretension that is featured on most indie rock albums. It's also more focused on rocking and having fun than being abstruse, which is equally refreshing. While listening to Guitar Romantic, you just want to friends with The Exploding Hearts because they're real and they're fun, which makes what happened to them all the more devastating. Imagine what they could have done with another album or two.

23. Liars--Drum's Not Dead
The fact that Liars can change their sound pretty radically with each successive album and always be good is pretty amazing. They've dabbled in a plethora of underground rock sub-genres, but on nothing else is their sound more unique and just plain awesome as on Drum's Not Dead. Recorded after the band moved to Berlin, this album is a chiming, droning mess of a rock n' roll album that is filled with as much beauty as it is bizarre-ness. The guitar tones they get are ridiculous (in a great way), and singer Angus Andrew's primarily falsetto singing is, like everything else, both very weird and surprisingly pretty. What moves the music most, though, is the percussion. Caught somewhere between African tribes and '70s Germany, the percussion is heavy and wild. Drum's Not Dead is one of this decade's finest acts' opus.

22. Sonic Youth--Murray Street
Sonic Youth took a bit of a hiatus from making landmark albums, but, on Murray Street, they return. Don't get me wrong, I like nearly everything they've ever done, but everything after Goo is relatively inessential compared to their '80s output. (One could argue that Goo isn't entirely essential either.) Anyhow, Murray Street showcases a decently accessible Sonic Youth, aided by the guitar of Jim O'Rourke. The music on this album sounds new--newer than any previous, or possibly even subsequent, release--but it still sounds like quintessential Sonic Youth. As is often the case with their music, the guitars are the most important thing, and the third guitar allows for even more unique textures. They peaked in 1988, but Murray Street shows that the slope after the peak has not been (and will continue to not be) all downhill.

21. Boards of Canada--Geogaddi
Because it's not super different from Boards of Canada's genius Music Has The Right To Children, I was a bit skeptical of Geogaddi at first. But, while it is certainly built upon the same musical foundations, it's its own unique and amazing album. Geogaddi sets a darker and thicker atmosphere than Music Has The Right To Children does, which, for starters, sets it apart. It's also more complex and mature in general; it was created four years after Music...Children, and that is readily apparent. Boards of Canada have inspired many knockoffs, which may lead some to view their music as simple and/or nothing special. But their music is not simple. The textures and moods they create are deep, unusual, and uniquely them. And their music is certainly something special. Is this one better than Music? You know, it's really hard to say.

20. Animal Collective--Merriweather Post Pavilion
I wrote about this bad boy about a week ago (maybe a little more) in my recap of my favorite albums of 2009 (this placed at #2), and I mentioned how ridiculously over the top the hype surrounding the album was. From folks declaring it the top album of '09 in early January to it actually being voted the top album of '09 by everyone from Pitchfork to Entertainment Weekly in December, news about MPP was inescapable. But it wasn't undeserved. On this album, Animal Collective, the greatest band of the decade (no hyperbole here), sounds more mature and confident than ever before. They sound as though they have accomplished their vision, and they know that it has been a huge success. The production quality, accessibility, and overall shininess are all upped on Merriweather, but it still sounds distinctly like Animal Collective, which is always good.

19. Radiohead--Kid A
"Blasphemy! How could you not love Radiohead?" you may find yourself asking. Well, I almost love them. I think they're a great band, and I think Kid A is their best album and one of the finest of this past decade. But it's not the best. That said, I'll talk about the music a bit. With Kid A, Radiohead wanted to reject the mainstream, and they did just that. Kid A sounds like nothing else released by a band this big since...a long time ago. It's a weird, complicated, emotional electronic album that's decidedly introverted and experimental. All the programming is intricate, which is impressive given the guitar rock background of the group. The vocals are very Yorke-ian, but they often hide behind effects and whatnot, making his voice even more demented. It's a bit derivative and pretentious at times, which is why it's not top ten for me, but Kid A is great.

18. D'Angelo--Voodoo
It's been said that while recording Voodoo, D'Angelo and his crew listened to Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On (my favorite album of the '70s and, perhaps, my favorite album ever made) a lot, and, well, it shows. Not since Riot have I heard a soul album as dark, bizarre, and just plain amazing as Voodoo. It's the funkiest thing since the '70s, but it sounds like the '00s, possibly even the '10s. In that respect, and in that it's more minimalist than Riot set it apart musically, but they definitely share a common ancestry. Guitar and organ grooves drift in and out slowly and thickly, creating a minimal, funky atmosphere. Questlove's beats are perfectly slow and hip-hop inspired. The music on Voodoo alone could land it on this list, but D'Angelo's vocals make this a classic. His voice is unbelievably smooth and soulful, his lyrics both clever and demented.
"Untitled (How Does It Feel)" (one of the decade's most ridiculous videos)

17. Portishead--Third
Portishead's triumphant return is...triumphant. After a long hiatus, Portishead came out with Third, their aptly titled third album. On it, they abandon the trip-hop that made them semi-famous for a varied mix of avant-electro rock (thankfully. Trip-hop would've sounded pretty out of date.) The music on this album is just that: varied. They change stylistically from acoustic ballads to smooth electronic numbers to noisy, industrial pieces--sometimes mid-song. There's even a short ukulele tune thrown in there. And it works. Everything works. It's an extremely diverse record, but it's cohesive. The common thread is Beth Gibbons's voice; it's as beautiful and soulful as ever. That Third is indeed triumphant though is made all the more amazing when you realize that it was the band's first release in eleven years. Here's to hoping the next Portishead album drops before 2020.

16. Fennesz--Endless Summer
When I first began making this list, I made a group of about twenty albums that were "the best ones." Right off the bat, I put Endless Summer in that group. But then, I was like, "Does this really belong? It's an instrumental album of just hazy noise. All these other albums have a lot more variety. And words." And so I dropped it down a little. But then, I was like, "This does belong. It may not have lyrics, but it is one of the most beautiful, atmospheric, warm, texture-rich recordings I've ever heard." And so I moved it back up, all the way to #16. And it deserves #16. Endless Summer, created using just a guitar and a computer (my two favorite things), is indeed one of the most blissful listening experiences of the decade. Nothing else sounds like this, not even Fennesz's other albums. Fennesz is probably the best composer of this decade, and Summer is his Music For 18 Musicians a.k.a. his opus.

That's what I think. Picking between these albums is next to impossible. Also, we're getting really close to the top. Can you guess the top 15? Probably.

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