December 13, 2009

Top Twenty Albums of the Oughts

Posted in music at 8:35 am by berzerkeleyan

I’m no spring chicken. I can associate key moments of my life with the Punk, Disco, Post Punk, New Wave, New Romantic, Modern Rock, Rap/Hip Hop, Grunge, Alternative, and Britpop eras of years past.  It is with that background that I can say with a large measure of confidence that this has been a very impressive decade for music.  Though I can’t define a dominant genre over the past ten years, that might be due to how diverse the artists on my list are.  The range of musical styles can be directly attributed to the death of radio and the advent of the internet as the primary means by which artists build a fan base.  With so many acts more easily able to reach out and develop an audience, it’s been simply impossible to collect them all.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t try.

Like all lists, it was hard to narrow this one down to just twenty.  Some excellent releases were omitted.  In spite of that, I’m happy with what I put together. Keep in mind that this is by no means meant to resemble an official critic’s list.  It is simply those albums that I listened to the most throughout the decade.

20. Ryan Adams (2000-2008)genre: alt.country. See? I’ve already cheated. Easily the most prolific artist of this decade, I found it incredibly difficult to pick one Ryan Adams album. Instead, I’m giving my twentieth spot to his entire catalog. Not all of his albums were brilliant. But an awful lot of them were.
19. Feeder “Comfort in Sound” (2003)genre: Foo Rock.  The echoes of their drummer’s suicide the year before this album’s release can be heard throughout.  It gives it a weightiness beyond the obvious Power Pop of the songs.
18. Serena-Maneesh “Serena-Maneesh” (2005)genre: Shoegazer.  The Oughts experienced a small rebirth of my all-time favorite genre, Shoegazer.  This album was the best of the bunch.
17. Death Cab for Cutie “Transatlanticism” (2003)genre: American Indie Rock.  All sad albums give me a certain sense of comfort.  Despite depressing subject matter,  there’s always the feeling that the pain is collectively shared by all of us.  Not so with this album.  Between the plaintive, resigned voice of Benjamin Gibbard, and lyrics of profound isolation, I always feel worse after listening to this.  One of the more powerful albums I’ve ever heard.
16. Portishead “Third” (2008)genre: Electronic Paranoia.  This album steals the warmth from your bones.  It’s very dark and menacing.   Portishead deserved all the praise they got last year for this, their comeback after a ten-year hiatus.
15. The Bird and The Bee “Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future” (2009)genre: Bliss Pop.  The most infectiously cheery album on my list.  Fun and sugary, it has a lot more staying power than one would think.  It hasn’t failed to brighten my mood this year, and has been in constant rotation since I got it.  For that it deserves a spot on this list.
14. Grandaddy “The Sophtware Slump” (2000)genre: Space Rock.  This is the ugly step-sister to Radiohead’s “OK Computer.”  But I prefer it over what critics considered the album of the 90’s.  Whereas “OK Computer” glistens throughout, this one pops, clanks, and wheezes its way across the finish line.  That to me is a better metaphor to describe the use of technology as a salve for man’s ever-increasing loneliness.  It is Grandaddy’s grandest achievement.
13. Terence Trent D’Arby “Wild Card!” (2001)genre: R&B.  TTD’s career could have turned out a lot differently if it weren’t for early proclamations of greatness and disagreements with his record company.  In fact, I feel his career trajectory could have paralleled Prince’s, since both are multi-instrumentalists, produce their own work, and write great music.  “Wild Card!” was his last studio release, and rivals his previous opus, “Vibrator.”  Anyone yearning for a modernized version of James Brown can find what they’re looking for here.
12. Department of Eagles “In Ear Park” (2008)genre: Freak Folk.  This decade many musicians turned their volume knobs down and began singing in whispers in order to be heard.  Department of Eagles includes Grizzly Bear’s scarily talented Daniel Rossen.  “In Ear Park” is a paean to his departed father.  Most critics will pick Grizzly Bear’s “Veckatimest” as an album of the decade.  Though excellent, I prefer this one.
11. The Veils “Nux Vomica” (2006)genre: Emoschlock.  For those who have not heard me define the term, Emoschlock is a word I created to describe acoustic-guitar based acts that sing earnestly about love and the state of man.  Examples include Travis (Emoschlock’s founding father), Keane, Embrace, Snow Patrol and, of course, Coldplay.  The Veils also fall into this category.  But not only can their lead singer, Finn Andrews, compose a beautiful melody.  He can also rock out with the best of them.  I will never forget him in concert, bashing his guitar (and voice) while playing “Jesus For the Jugular.”  It was jaw-dropping.  That alone is why I rate “Nux Vomica” above their other two albums.
10. Joan As Police Woman “To Survive” (2008)genre: Modern Torch Song.  I own a very nice set of cans — AKG 701 headphones.  I absolutely love listening to this album through them.  Everything about it — the spare piano, the occasional jazzy bass line, and that voice — sounds perfect to me.
A telling piece of trivia:  Joan used to be Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend before he…well, you know.  That knowledge alone should indicate what a supreme talent she is.
9. Doves “Some Cities” (2005)genre: Brit Rock.  This band deserves a top five spot for Band of the Decade.  It’s hard to pick a favorite Doves album, since they’re all excellent.  But if pressed, I would have to choose this one.  “Black and White Town” alone is worth the price of admission.
8. Elbow “Leaders of the Free World” (2005)genre: Emoschlock. A great band who has fortunately not compromised their sound to become popular.  Instead, they continued along their course until the world finally caught up to them last year.  Good for them.  They are another Band of the Decade candidate.
7. Rooney “Rooney” (2003)genre: California Pop.  This is a direct descendant of Brian Wilson’s musical tree.  Their light and poppy sound belies lyrics that are quite cynical.  I have not put this down since it came out.
6. Interpol “Antics” (2004)genre: Post Punk Revival.  Yet another candidate for Band of the Decade.  Their lean, propulsive music and dark lyrics can only draw comparisons to those great Post Punk bands of the late 70s / early 80s.  “Antics” is their second of three, all of which are superb.  No sophomore slump here.
5. Arctic Monkeys “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (2006)genre: Power Punk.  It can be argued that this is one of the greatest debut albums ever made.  And to top it off, none of the band members were yet 20 when it was released.  This album exudes supreme confidence and a wisdom beyond the bandmates’ years.  That’s depressing for 41-year old fogey like me.
4. Brian Wilson “Smile” (2004)genre: California Pop.  This was supposed to have been released in 1967.  But artistic differences and a mental breakdown prevented the album from being completed.  Wilson resumed working on it in 2003, and it was finally released a year later.
1967.  2004.  The year doesn’t matter.  Wilson’s music is timeless.
3. Magnet “The Tourniquet” (2005)genre: Space Folk.  In an earlier post, I described Magnet’s music as trippy, romantic, introspective, and beautiful.  All of his albums follow the same formula.   That made picking a favorite one difficult.  I chose his second, “The Tourniquet.”
2. Muse “Origin of Symmetry” (2001)genre: Space Metal.  Muse is likely the Band of the Decade.  Originally touted as Radiohead wannabees, this album clearly set them on their own path to greatness.  Though subsequent albums have been solid, none of them compare to this one.
1. The Stills “Logic Will Break Your Heart” (2003)genre: Post Punk Revival.  This album was released in the wake of Interpol’s debut, but eclipsed it IMHO.  Whereas Interpol’s take on Post Punk was decidedly stoic, The Stills didn’t mind putting their hearts on their sleeves.  This is my favorite debut of the decade, it’s in my top ten debut albums of all time, and is my #1 Album of the Oughts.

Do you have a top twenty list of the decade? Send it along. It’d be fun to see which albums others felt I overlooked.

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4 Comments »

  1. Applesaucer said,

    Great list. I think I have about six or seven of these (Ryan Adams; Deathcab; Portishead; Bird and the Bee; Rooney; Arctic Monkeys; Brian Wilson). I am surprised by one absence: The Strokes’ “Is This It.” Not just because it’s my own, personal favorite-of-the-decade; but also because I think you’ve mentioned in past Music Rotations that it’s one of your favorites-of-the-decade.

    Maybe my list would include at least one Jack White effort (whether it be White Stripes, Raconteurs, etc.); maybe the first Libertines album; Lily Allen’s debut LP; Belle & Sebastian’s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress;” Green Day’s “American Idiot;” The Fratellis’ “Costello Music;” Keane — either “Hopes and Fears” or the one after that; Of Montreal’s “Sunlandic Twins (though “Satanic Panic In The Attic” and “Aldhils Arboretum” are also really good); Spoon’s “Kill The Moonlight;” maybe one of the first two Shins albums.

    There are some embarrassing picks on my list; also, there are “hipper” albums that I would love to add. But I had to be honest with myself and only add stuff that I listened to relentlessly.

    • Thanks for the comment. When The Strokes first came out I thought very highly of them. Still do. But others passed them by over the years. And for me, it wasn’t about listing the most influential, or the band that best defined the decade. They certainly deserve a place in those types of discussions. My list was simply which albums got the most attention by me these past ten years.

      Jack White also deserves the accolades being given to him by a lot of critics. I, unfortunately, never really got into any his stuff. Raw, Garage Rock has never been a favorite of mine, no matter how melodious. I like music with more a polished sheen to it. Hope that makes sense.

      Last point…you listed some artists whose music I haven’t heard (e.g. Fratellis, Of Montreal, Lily Allen). It once again reinforces my comment about how hard it’s been to keep up with all the good music released this decade. If I had found the time to hear those you mentioned, some of those you listed could have possibly made my list.

      How would your list be ranked?

  2. Andy said,

    damn… i’m embarrassed to admit that the only artist i recognize on the list is terence trent d’arby…

    • Your attention has been on more important matters these past ten years. Building a small army can’t be easy.


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