Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of the Oughts: Albums 1-10

We're finally here. The end of the decade is nearly upon us as is my list for the best albums of said decade. The further I moved down this list, the easier it became for me to justify inclusion of these albums in their rankings. Sure, the rankings will change and probably have since I first began this list, but I'm pretty confident with where things stand now.

Most of these records came out just before or since we moved here. The reason for that is the same reason I turned to this blog. This has not been an easy transitional period for me, for us. I could go into so many personal and professional struggles that have led me to blogging and burying my nose deeper into music, but this is a music post not one on misery. The fact that I still see it after five years as a transition should tell you enough.

Music is my savior. I can't play it. I barely can write about it. I've never really had much to do with it outside of consumption. However, I can hear music. I can feel music. Whether that means that I have the right or proficiency to push my opinions on you is up for debate. All I know is that music has talked me down from more than one ledge. It inspires me daily, hourly when possible.

You may not agree with my top-100 of the decade, but know that I deliberated long and hard over each album's place among the decade's best.

10. Fleet Foxes -
Fleet Foxes
I love debuts that seem to come from nowhere to taking over the music world. This is exactly how I always wished My Morning Jacket sounded. Instead, these longbeards from Seattle found the formula. The harmonies and dreamy songwriting is so soothing. This is the kind of record you find yourself closing your eyes, nodding, and smiling uncontrollably.

9. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Released and then re-released, Justin Vernon made the most of a bad year and some alone time in a cabin surrounded by snow. I'm not sure I'd be as productive in such situations, unless I had wifi. This is the only break-up album that ranks higher than Beck's on my list. It's so soulful without being phony white boy soulful. The layers and textures this man got from recording in a cabin in the woods is quite impressive. This is one of the great surprises of the oughts for sure.

8. The Walkmen -
You and Me

I went on and on about this album last year and a lot of that enthusiasm can be chocked up to fanboy obsession, but then you listen to this album. This is where the Walkmen deliver on their promise. Hazy, drunken ballads meet sonic rockers to make this nearly perfect cacophony of sound and hurt and boredom. I love the Walkmen and I love this album.

7. Iron and Wine -
The Creek Drank the Cradle

When I saw Iron and Wine supporting this record, they were opening for Ugly Casanova. I paid no attention. My sister bought me this album for my birthday. She was right to pay attention. I was wrong. On no other Iron and Wine album is Sam Beam's hushed vocals so hushed. The album is almost nothing but guitar, those vocals, sometimes some slide guitar or banjo, and tape hiss. It's so good on a day in which you're snowed in, sipping on tea, and watching the birds fight over a few, scattered scraps.

6. Broken Social Scene -
Broken Social Scene
This is what indie rock sounds like when it's as huge and vital as anything the failing major labels can concoct. In fact, nothing major labels came up with this decade comes close to this record. Broken Social Scene were able to pull together the collages of guitar and drums they previously used to pass as proper albums into what became a blockbuster of an album.

5. Animal Collective -
Merriweather Post Pavilion

Usually, an over-hyped record does nothing but let me down. This one did not disappoint. Such an avant-garde bands typically release a shit-storm disguised as a breakthrough album, but this one found perfect balance. As with several albums from this year, it might be the freshness of new music, but I somehow think this album will have staying power. I also think I'm hearing music through new ears since Lucia was born fifteen months ago. Merriweather just sounds so big and bizarre to me, but it captures that newness and wonder Lu brings to nearly every encounter. She likes it too.

4. The Thermals - The Body, the Blood, the Machine

I discovered this one late, but it's never left my rotation completely. Where Japandroids have fulfilled my need to rawk, this record takes the next step by also making me think, making connections between Nazi Germany, the Bible, and our current political/social/economic mess. I feel this album so much more than even the few ranked above it. On one of my lowest points since moving here, I remember driving back from STL in the car alone. I popped this one in and screamed it the entire way. A great album can make you do that.

3. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

When opinionated hacks like myself define the idea of "album of the year," we should just hand someone this record. It's layered and textured, yet simple. It beat the big boys and was surrounded by drama. It burns American flags in a time that would be unthinkable. That and you can tap your foot to it. Rarely does a album cross so many genres so effortlessly. Everyone loves this album; the punks, indie geeks, alt bros, emo kids, record collectors, frat boys, feminists, etc. all love this record. It will forever be Wilco's greatest triumph.

2. Arcade Fire - Funeral

Sometimes listening to so much music and going to so many shows can wear on you. You get to the point where you start judging an album by listening to the first 20 seconds of every track. If you liked it, maybe it will play in the background. You go to rock shows and leave 20 minutes in. Then, your sister passes you a burnt copy of Funeral at Christmas. It never leaves your stereo. You hang on every word, beat, and note. You feel alive again when it plays. You smile uncontrollably. You feel like something is happening here. Music sounds new and fresh again. Funeral did that for me.

1.Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Concept albums either go terribly awry or become incredibly memorable. Illinois fits the latter category. Where Michigan was quaint and depressed, Illinois was as large as Chicago itself and open to the possibility such a city brings to midwestern kids with dreams but no hope. This album mapped those possibilities Sufjan Stevens and his fifty states project held. Of course, after one records an album as good as Illinois, how can one continue a project in the same vein? Stevens would have likely never achieved the same level of brilliance found in what I consider to be the best album of the decade. It sadly may explain why the fifty states project ended at two but it did give us a record for the ages.


John-Paul said...

i thought sung tongs was much better than merriweather.

Katie said...

It's a good thing you have such a cool sister. I hate to burst your bubble, however, by admitting that Andy Clark was actually the only one paying attention to Iron & Wine that night.

That's an interesting choice for #1. That album hasn't really left much of an impression on me while Michigan still gets regular play. To each his own, I suppose.

Also, I was thinking of the choice in Funeral rather than Neon Bible. I actually wrestled for a bit on which one to include on my decade top ten but in the end decided on Neon Bible more because I can relate it to moments in my life and forming more of a personal connection to it than Funeral. And then I realized, "How great for Arcade Fire that someone would have trouble deciding which album was greater". I mean, you can't really say that about too many bands. Lets hope the 3rd one isn't a flop.