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Paste may not be a physical magazine anymore, but that doesn’t stop them from consistently cranking out quality material on their website. And much like last year, when they had a different “Best of the Decade” list for every day of December, they are going list-crazy for 2010, too. And they aren’t wasting any time, because today they posted their choices for the top 50 albums of the year. Figured I’d share some thoughts. (You can click here to read the full list.)
- They get some of the most buzzed-about albums of the year out of the way quickly. Flying Lotus, Local Natives, Yeasayer, The Black Keys, and Deerhunter reside in spots #49-45, respectively. But Paste has always favoured their own “discoveries” to blog favourites, so I suppose that’s not too surprising.
- Fulfillment of requisite Josh Ritter slot? Check. (#38)
- I enjoy how after naming She and Him’s Volume One the best album of 2008, they are obligated to place Volume Two somewhat high on the list (#30)
- Laura Marling, Vampire Weekend, The Tallest Man on Earth don’t even crack the top 20? What’s even left? This either means that it was such an amazing year for music that those great albums have to settle for lower spots, or that Paste will have a top 10 that I don’t like/have never heard of.
- Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to make breathless pronouncements about things, because Paste writes the following in their review of Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues: “If [Earle] can keep his demons at bay, we’ll one day see his three names cozied up against those of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, George Jones and the other denizens of country music’s pantheon.” Perhaps I should check out this album (I like the couple of tracks that I’ve heard).
So before reading the top 10, I tried to think of what they hadn’t covered, and there were a lot of big releases that I thought might find a spot:
- Sufjan Stevens (who I predicted for #1)
- Arcade Fire
- Janelle Monae
- LCD Soundsystem
- Joanna Newsom
- Kanye West
- Mumford and Sons
- Antony and the Johnsons
- Johnny Flynn (he and Monae were both on their list of acts to watch in 2008, so I think they’ll want to include at least one of them – more likely Monae – here)
- Best Coast
This is way too “mainstream” of a top 10, so some will inevitably left off the list completely, but I had thought that a lot of these would at least fall in the 40′s or 30′s somewhere.
* * *
So in actuality, the Paste top 10 went like this:
10. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (I haven’t heard it, but I’ve heard great things about it)
9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Lower than I was expecting. And even though one listen is hardly enough to go on, this album doesn’t do much for me.)
8. Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking it Easy (Haven’t heart it, but I do love his 2007 song, “Wolves”)
7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (We’ll definitely be seeing this one a lot on top 10 lists. I do like the album a lot, but it still hasn’t totally won me over. I much prefer Neon Bible, at this point)
6. Sleigh Bells – Treats (I don’t get the love for this album at all.)
5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (I DO get the love for this album.)
4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (It was inevitable. I haven’t listened to it yet, but apparently this album is “perhaps this century’s definitive portrait of torment, vanity, self-delusion, and pathos”. Wow.)
3. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (It’s becoming a bit of a mainstream crossover, and deservedly so. Fantastic album.)
2. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid (Time for some horn-tooting.)
1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (Well, I haven’t heard this one, either. But from previous work, I don’t think I’m the biggest LCDS fan.)
Either I’m better versed in new music this year, or Paste is going for bigger names. Because I’m familiar with all of these albums and have heard half of them already. And it usually takes me forever to catch up on all of the big albums from the year. Overall, it’s a predictable top 10, but not a bad one, I suppose.
A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.
Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!
Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003′s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.
Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote
Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.
Abbie Cornish – Bright Star
Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.
Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.
Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild
Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.
Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream
Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.
Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose
As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.
Guy Pearce – Factory Girl
Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.
Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels
Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.
Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me
You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.
Samantha Morton – Control
Michael Angarno – Snow Angels
Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland
Keri Russell – Waitress
Jason Bateman – Juno
Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire
Here’s a wrap-up to my Favourite Performances of the Decade series. I may edit the five posts occasionally if I see a performance that’s deserving of a spot, but I want to keep my list to 25.
Colin Firth – A Single Man (2009)
In Tom Ford’s visually lush debut film, Firth plays George, a man reeling from the sudden death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). Firth takes this difficult role on with all of the class and poise that you would expect from the charming Brit. Yet there’s also a profoundly moving undercurrent to his portrayal of a man who’s trying to desperately keep his facade intact while contemplating suicide. Firth’s performance may be subdued, but it’s the nuances in his body language and inflections that give away the deep sense of grief that George is experiencing. For me, it was the best performance of 2009.
Carey Mulligan – An Education (2009)
Audrey Hepburn comparisons ran rampant around the release of 2009′s An Education, but I think that it’s best to let Mulligan’s vivacious performance speak for itself. As a confident young woman who finds that she doesn’t know herself nearly as well as she thought, Mulligan is charming, witty, intelligent, and vulnerable all at once, and she hits the perfect emotion for every scene. Her Jenny is a joy to watch, and your eye is drawn to Mulligan during every moment that she is on screen. It’s rare to find this magnetic of a performance from such a relatively unknown young actor.
Keira Knightley – Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Keira Knightley has cemented her status as the queen of the period piece (think Atonement, Silk, The Duchess, King Arthur), but her most vibrant performance to date comes in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. As heroine Elizabeth Bennett, Knightley brings a refreshing sense of modernity to the feisty role.
Peter Sarsgaard – Shattered Glass (2003)
Though usually relegated to supporting roles, Peter Sarsgaard (on the right side of the above photo) has proven himself to be one of the most diverse working actors. The character of Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass is a departure from some of the more troubled characters that Sarsgaard has taken on, but he thrives as the driven hard-ass of a newspaper editor, too. He takes what could have been a forgettable supporting role and turns it into a surprisingly gripping tour de force performance. From Chuck’s low-key moments in the newsroom to his inevitable explosions as the film unravels, Sarsgaard is perfect.
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married (2008)
With a showy role in a modest film, Hathaway is both harrowing and hilarious as Kym, a recovering drug addict visiting home for her sister’s wedding. I’d had my doubts about Hathaway’s acting abilities, but this unforgettable performance instantly remedied that.
Here’s the much-belated fourth installment of my “Favourite Performances of the Decade” series. I’ve seen a few more amazing performances since I compiled my original list, so I’ll likely be posting another five performances soon.
Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There (2007)
Tilda Swinton was quite good in Michael Clayton, but I was shocked when she won the award for Best Supporting Actress at the 2008 Oscars, over Cate Blanchett. Blanchett was one of six actors to portray Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, and though she was the only female in the cast, her performance was hands-down the most captivating and convincing performance of the bunch. Playing “Jude” (each of the six actors has a separate storyline, all of which show different facets of Dylan’s life) Blanchet loped, squinted, and mumbled her way to a pitch-perfect Dylan impersonation. She had this great aura of cool in her gender-bending performance, which made her segment of the story infinitely captivating.
Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood (2007)
He’s one of the best working actors, but Daniel Day-Lewis took his career to new heights with his unforgettable role in P.T. Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece, There Will Be Blood. Over the top in the truest sense of the phrase, Day-Lewis’ performance is amazingly fun to watch. Plainview is already a bit of a caricature, and Day-Lewis’ performance – though hammy – is perfectly demented, and really draws the audience in. Other actors might have looked foolish when reciting lines like, “I…drink…your…milkshake! I DRINK IT UP!” (which became 2007′s most unlikely cinematic catchphrase), but Day-Lewis brings just the right tone to it. The movie staggers around in this kind of surreal, woozy state of semi-consciousness, and as Plainview makes bloody blows and sells whatever is left of his soul, Daniel Day-Lewis slips into his character wholeheartedly.
Amy Adams – Junebug (2005)
Amy Adams shines as the eternally optimistic Ashley in Junebug. Stuck in a dead-end Southern town with a husband who seems to resent her presence, Ashley is still bubbly and excitable. When her brother-in-law visits with his new wife from the city, Ashley finds herself eager to please. Adams plays the demonstrative young mother-to-be with a sparkle in her eye that feels like a giant breath of fresh air. Her genuine performance is at times hilarious, melancholy, and heartbreaking. Adams has since gone on to bigger roles, and she always brings wonderful poise to the screen, but her breakthrough performance in Junebug is unforgettable.
Renee Zelwegger – Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Though I may not be a huge fan of Zelwegger, but her motor-mouthed turn as the chain-smoking Bridget Jones was irresistible. Armed with a spot-on British accent and loads of charm, Zelwegger made the romantically unlucky thirty-something relatable, and provided many laughs throughout the film. Bridget Jones was a top-notch romantic comedy, and Zelwegger helped to elevate it beyond the usual fare. She had great chemistry with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, and whether she was flubbing a public speaking engagement or her own dinner party, she was frothy, light, and hilarious. Forget Chicago, and try this infinitely watchable film, instead.
Joquin Phoenix – Walk the Line (2005)
In an ingenious bit of casting, Phoenix portrayed The Man in Black (aka Johnny Cash) in 2005′s Walk the Line. The dark edge to Phoenix is perfectly suited to the troubled country star, and his brooding acting style fits the tone of the film to a tee. Though Walk the Line is a fairly by-the-numbers biopic, Phoenix’s performance helps to elevate it. He makes the best of clichéd material and embodies the musical legend so believably. The musical numbers are a treat to watch (who knew Phoenix had such a great voice?), and whether he’s falling in love with his wife-to-be (played by Reese Witherspoon) or having a meltdown, Phoenix’s presence is undeniable.
2009 gets a bit short-changed with everyone focussing on their “best of the decade” lists, but these are my picks for the best movies and albums of 2009. I haven’t heard nearly as many albums as I’d like to, and it’ll probably take me until half way through ’10 to catch up on all of the movies that I want to see from last year on DVD. But from what I’ve seen/heard, here are my lists:
Favourite Movies of 2009
- (500) Days of Summer
- Where the Wild Things Are
- Sunshine Cleaning
- Star Trek
- The Hangover
- I Love You, Man
- Away We Go
- The Princess and the Frog
Favourite Albums of 2009
- I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers
- Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
- It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Wilco (The Album) – Wilco
- My Old, Familiar Friend – Brendan Benson
- Fortress ‘Round My Heart – Ida Maria
- Territory – Two Hours Traffic
- It’s Not Me, It’s You – Lily Allen
- Backspacer – Pearl Jam
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Of course, it was a daunting task to pick my favourite movies of the decade. But after re-drafting my list at least a dozen times, this is what I managed to come up with. These are the ten films that I enjoyed most from this decade.
10. Capote (2005)
For some reason, the #10 spot seemed to be the hardest to fill on this list. But Capote, which won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, was captivating in every way. The acting (of course), the story, and the visuals are all stunning. The evolution of Capote’s character, and his relationship with the murderous subject of his next book, were astounding to watch unravel.
9. Finding Nemo (2003)
I guess this is my requisite Pixar choice. Up and Ratatouille underwhelmed me, but this colourful tale of aquatic life was undeniably joyful. The animation is hypnotic, and the characters are unforgettable. It’s both a touching story of family, and an exciting adventure tale. Throw in Ellen Degeneres’ hilarious Dory character, and you’ve got a fantastic family film.
8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Spend thirty seconds with the foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (played by the wonderful Alan Arkin), and you’ll likely appreciate your own family a little more. But underneath the biting, dark humour of this film, there is actually an incredibly heart-warming road trip story. Steve Carrel’s suicidal scholar and Paul Dano’s voluntarily silent teen make one of the best on-screen duos I’ve ever seen.
7. Memento (2000)
Guy Pearce (one of the more underrated actors out there) plays a man who can’t make new memories in Christopher Nolan’s frenzied breakthrough film. The film amazingly manages to keep up its fast-paced momentum, despite the fact that it’s scrambled and chopped, and that scenes play out in overlapping reverse order. It’s amazingly unique, and Memento is both intelligent, and an incredibly entertaining whodunit.
6. There Will Be Blood (2007)
This film seems to be popping up on everyone’s top 10 list (often at the top spot), but that’s probably because There Will Be Blood is such a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, there are so many striking, unforgettable moments (the whole oil rig fire sequence was amazing, not to mention the final scene).
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
There is no doubt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most unique films of the decade. From the quiet, realistic courtship of Joel and Clementine, to the unusually messy breakup (they decide to erase each other from their memories entirely), it’s a whimsical, gorgeous film. It feels like it’s made for this time, which is probably why so many people connected to it so intensely.
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
Honestly, do I need to say anything at all? I’ll just apologize and move on.
3. Half Nelson (2006)
Ryan amazingly subtle performance as a crack addicted teacher is the anchor of Half Nelson, but the film as a whole is entirely absorbing, and it’s a stunning debut for director Ryan Fleck. Half Nelson celebrates and laments the small moments in life that everyone experiences, as well as delving into the tragic problems of the character’s lives. The relationship between Gosling’s Dan and Shareeka Epps’ Drey is beautiful – full of sorrow, understanding, and respect.
2. Juno (2007)
Maybe it sounds stupid to say this about a fairly lightweight comedy, but Juno is a film that really spoke to me. I love that Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody created a fun, mainstream film that actually has something to say, and it features some amazing well-written characters. It’s touching and funny, and Juno is one of the only honest on-screen depictions of what it’s like to be a young woman.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
Almost Famous has a wonderful sense of joy, and it captures the feeling of being young and loving music in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson (in what may be her only good performance, like, ever), Frances McDormand, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are vibrant, and the killer soundtrack (featuring the first Led Zeppelin tune to be licensed for a film) tops it all off.
A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, Donnie Darko, Garden State, Into the Wild, Requiem for a Dream, Signs, Snow Angels, Zodiac
Here’s the second and final part of my “Best Albums of the Decade” list. Be sure to check out part one, which covered numbers 20-11. Feel free to let me know what you think of my list in the comments. Of course, this is all just my opinion, so let me know which albums from this decade struck a chord with you!
10. Amnesiac – Radiohead (2001)
I can see the merit of Kid A. I just don’t find it to be that enjoyable of an album to listen to. And while Kid A and Amnesiac are often lumped together, I see them as totally separate albums. Amnesiac has some typically lovely Radiohead songs, like “The Pyramid Song”. You can also find one of the most debauched, oddly raucous songs in Thom Yorke’s catalogue here – the jazzy “Life in a Glasshouse”. I may be one of those annoying “common” Radiohead fans that love The Bends and OK Computer more than anything from this decade, but Amnesiac is by far the best of their less accessible albums, in my opinion.
9. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)
I don’t want to overstate the importance of Bon Iver’s (aka Justin Vernon’s) debut, but this is an album that I could see becoming something of a classic, over time. The back story is top-notch, as are all of the songs on here. “Skinny Love” is a phenomenal song, and “Re: Stacks”, “Creature Fear” and “Flume” all rotate as my second favourite song on the album. Justin Vernon followed For Emma up with his Blood Bank EP, and if these two releases are any indication, I’m definitely excited to see where his music is headed. Maybe all of the praise is premature, but even if he can never recreate the magic of this album again, at least we have this one.
8. Rockin’ the Suburbs – Ben Folds (2001)
Ben Folds Five is a band that is quintessentially 90′s. Snappy, piano-driven hits like “Kate” (which was on my Sabrina the Teenage Witch soundtrack) and “Brick” seem like nostalgic fun now. So perhaps it makes sense that Ben Folds would go it alone for the new millennium. Rockin’ the Suburbs still has the upbeat, vaguely gimmicky vibe that his music has always had, yet it also feels very honest. It’s power-pop at its best. “Zak and Sara” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” are tons of fun, while “Gone” is just a plain fantastic tune. Ben Folds is fairly popular, but I still don’t think he gets enough serious credit as a songwriter.
7. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes (2005)
Perhaps what I like best about Conor Oberst’s music is that he isn’t afraid to be earnest. His lyrics (while sometimes seeming contrived) are just ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation, but they are also distinct in their sentiment. And I don’t think he’s ever got that emotional-fuck-up sentiment as right as he did on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. He celebrates drugs, women, and making noise, but there’s a naiveté to his tales of rebirth and fresh starts that keep it all relatable and grounded. He might not be the “New Dylan”, but Oberst knows how to pull on people’s heart strings in precisely the right way.
6. Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins (2003)
The Shins hit it big with Oh, Inverted World, but I like their 2003 follow-up slightly better. Chutes Too Narrow is generally far more upbeat, and it suits James Mercer’s off-kilter, yelpy voice really well. “So Says I” is my favourite Shins song, and the rest of the album is an easily digestible, fun set of songs. I know that they’ve supposedly changed the lives of indie kids everywhere, but can’t people just enjoy the Shins for what they are – a really good pop band that writes fantastic pop songs – and stop with all the overstatements?
5. Close to Paradise – Patrick Watson (2006)
I’m always eager to support Canadian music, and even though not as much of it ended up on this list as I had originally hoped, I am incredibly proud to place Patrick Watson’s debut album in my #5 spot. Close to Paradise has slowly been growing on me since its release, and I’m now just about convinced that it’s a perfect album. Every song is lovely, and they all work together to create a fantastic atmosphere. From the piano-driven hymn “The Great Escape” to the slightly raucous “Drifters”, Watson always uses the precise emotion in his voice to convey his ideas. (Side note: if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Patrick Watson’s work with The Cinematic Orchestra on “To Build a Home“)
4. White Blood Cells – The White Stripes (2001)
Jack White is undoubtedly one of the hardest working musicians of the past ten years. People often whine about how rock stars are a dying breed, but this guy is singlehandedly keeping them alive. The White Stripes burst into the mainstream in 2001 with their third album, White Blood Cells. It’s an eclectic collection that even tosses in some country (“Hotel Yorba”), but even though the Stripes hadn’t entirely honed in on their blues-rock niche yet, this album is far from unfocussed. It’s obvious that Jack White knows exactly what he’s doing at all times, and it makes for a nice transition between their scrappier early work, and their more refined albums that would follow.
3. Boxer – The National (2007)
This Brooklyn band has steadily been releasing great albums throughout the decade – it just took people (including myself) a little while to catch on. They earned massive critical acclaim for 2007′s Boxer, which was actually their 4th release of the decade. Boxer is home to a slew of fantastic songs, such as the timely, brooding “Fake Empire”. Matt Berninger’s voice has such wonderful feeling of melancholy in it, and The National extend that feeling throughout the record. I find new things to love about this album every time that I listen to it, and I think that this is an album that I will be listening to regularly for years to come.
2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire (2007)
2004′s Funeral may have been the album that caught most people’s attention, but Arcade Fire’s follow-up, Neon Bible, was the one that caught my attention. The album sticks with the band’s signature grand arrangements, but also makes the songs feel more personal. There’s a desperation here that I like. Not to be morbid, but I like the anger, frustration, and near hopelessness that seems to run through this album. I think the grandness of Arcade Fire’s sound (not to mention the power of Win Butler’s voice) is much better suited to this kind of fare. I don’t know that it’s meant to be a concept album, but I feel like this album takes us through the course of a person’s life. Every song evokes a different feeling, yet they all work together perfectly to create a beautiful statement about what it means to be alive.
1. Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)
Leave it to Ryan Adams to out-brood everyone else on this list just by opening his mouth. Even when he’s singing an upbeat song, he still sounds miserable as hell. Heartbreaker, his debut solo album (his original band, Whiskeytown, imploded around the turn of the millennium) is one of his twangiest to date, but it’s also his most consistent, by far. Every song here is great, and integral to the over feeling of the album. The raw energy of Adams’ voice on songs like “Shakedown on 9th Street” and “To Be Young” contrast nicely with the wistfulness of “Come Pick Me Up”, and it all comes together to paint a portrait of a complicated man. Heartbreaker goes far beyond your typical “break-up album”, emotionally.
Though I was originally going to make this a top 50 list (and I did compile such a list), I decided to trim it down to 20. The list was starting to feel unfocussed, and I thought that it would be more interesting to really focus in on 20 albums from this decade that I really loved, rather than worrying about fitting in the certain albums I felt I had to have on my top 50.
So here is part 1 (#20-11). I think there are some unpredictable choices, which I like. It has some of the stuff you’d expect, but I tried to keep things a bit interesting. There’s lots of indie stuff, but I guess that’s just what I like to listen to most. Let me know what you think of my list, and feel free to share your own picks in the comments.
(UPDATE: Part 2, where I talk about my top ten albums of the decade, is now up! Be sure to check it out here.)
20. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs (2008)
In just one of his many side projects of the decade, Jack White joined forces with some “old friends” (he and Brendan Benson share frontman duties) to form the Raconteurs in 2006. Their first album was something of a success, and they topped themselves (pun somewhat intended) with their sophomore disc. The album is split more definitively between White and Benson, and each bring a lot with their respective styles. Highlights include Benson’s “Many Shades of Black” and White’s “Top Yourself” and “Five on the Five”. Every track is fascinating, and the endless variations on style throughout the track listing are impressive.
19. Youth and Young Manhood – Kings of Leon (2003)
Kings of Leon have recently been spotted invading radio airwaves with “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” off 2008′s Only by the Night. But North America’s just been a little slow to pick up on these guys (which is odd, considering they’re American). Back in 2003, when they all had ridiculous haircuts and moustaches, they released their debut LP, which is full of catchy little retro tunes. I like the new Kings of Leon sound, too, but there’s something endearingly scruffy about their early work. “California Waiting” and “Red Morning Light” are raw, but the Followills’ ability to write an incredible pop song was evident early on.
18. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)
Gold refuses to stick to one style, and the eclectic sound suits Ryan Adams well. Adams handles country stompers (“Firecracker”), lovely ballads (“Good Night, Hollywood Blvd.), and even blues (“The Rescue Blues”, “Touch, Feel, and Lose”) deftly on his lengthy, sometimes erratic sophomore solo album. All of his genre-shifting is fascinating. Every song offers something new, and Gold proves that when it comes to his music, Adams is ambitious and fearless. Some of his best songs to date can be found here, and despite the diversity of styles, it never feels unfocused. Adams is one of the best songwriters of this decade, for sure.
17. Parachutes – Coldplay (2000)
No matter how many jokes people make (or how vehemently Chuck Klosterman hates them), I honestly think that Coldplay is pretty excellent band. Their debut album, Parachutes, certainly showed a lot of promise. “Yellow” became a big hit, but it’s far from the best song of the album. “Shiver” is fantastic, and apparently it was Chris Martin’s attempt to write a Jeff Buckley song. Their signature sound can already be heard throughout the album, but I like that this is a smaller, more personal album than some of their later work. Scoff at the sappiness if you want, but there are some fantastic songs here.
16. Poses – Rufus Wainwright (2001)
I have a pretty huge spot in my heart for Rufus Wainwright. Something about the tone of his voice always makes me feel at ease. It’s hard to describe, but it’s unlikely virtually any other singing voice I’ve heard. On Poses (the follow up to his 1998 eponymous debut), Rufus gives us more of his signature theatrical fare. Though that’s not usually my taste, I love it when Rufus does the over-the-top stuff. He also gets folkier on his cover “One Man Guy” (it’s a wonderful interpretation of his father’s song), which is nice. I’ve heard that Wainwright was at the height of his drug addiction around this time period, but it’s a beautiful album nonetheless.
15. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)
After the success of the song “Fell in Love with a Girl” (and the accompanying Gondry-helmed music video), The White Stripes managed to take advantage of their positive buzz and release another stellar album a mere two years later. It had a couple of songs that have since become radio staples (“Seven Nation Army”, “The Hardest Button to Button), but despite its more polished sound, there’s no way in hell that Jack White is selling out here. “Ball and Biscuit” is mighty, and this album features more of a blues influence than their past three. The White Stripes are a band that is constantly evolving, and following their journey over the decade has been a blast.
14. Trouble – Ray LaMontagne (2003)
His cuddly beard and raspy voice may seem commonplace in the wake of the recent folk movement, but Ray LaMontagne came before all of that. Before I discovered LaMontagne’s music, I thought that the song “Trouble” was some kind of soul standard. And all of his songs have that timeless feeling to them, which I always love. There’s so much soul in his music, and he sings every word with such emotion. I love music that is emotionally raw, and LaMontagne pretty much epitomizes that concept. His subsequent two albums are quite strong too, but his debut, Trouble, is his most affecting work to date.
13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers (2009)
The Avett Brothers have been releasing albums consistently since 2002, but they’ve just recently started making waves in the mainstream with their latest album. I and Love and You was helmed by super producer Rick Rubin, and the expected shiny production is there. But all that gloss doesn’t detract from the wonderfully eclectic collection of songs. There’s not a bad track on the album, and most of the tracks are exceptional. “Laundry Room” and “January Wedding” stay closer to the Avetts’ country roots, while “Slight Figure of Speech” is a spiky little pop gem. The signature rawness, beautiful harmonies, and thought-provoking lyrics that The Avett Brothers are known for haven’t gone anywhere.
12. New Wave – Against Me! (2007)
Fans accused these Florida punks of being sell-outs when they released this radio-friendly set of songs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pretty amazing album. They worked with Butch Vig, who made Nirvana famous with his production of Nevermind, and I can understand how the polished production would put some fans off. But I don’t think that it hurts the album at all. “Thrash Unreal” is an infectious, unexpected anthem, and “The Ocean” boasts lovely lyrics from Gabel pondering what his life could have been under different circumstances. It’s fierce, relevant, and uncompromising, which is all anyone can ask of a band like Against Me!.
11. The Woods – Sleater-Kinney (2005)
Most people probably thought that the “riot grrrl” movement died at some point during the mid-90′s, but Sleater-Kinney proved that they still have what it takes to write an awesome rock record. The Woods is ostensibly their final album (they’ve been on an “indefinite hiatus” since 2006), and I had the unfortunate timing of discovering their music just as they ceased making more of it. But what an album it is to go out on. It rocks harder than most albums released this decade, and “The Fox” and “Modern Girl” are great slices of songwriting. Sleater-Kinney were at the height of their musical career with 1997′s Dig Me Out, and The Woods gives that album a run for its money.
I think that I’m going to expand this list from 25 to however many performances there are that I feel are noteworthy. Here are five more performances from this decade that I’ve loved. Be sure to check out the other parts of this feature, and feel free leave me some comments on what you think!
Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starts off as an unconventional love story, and then becomes even more unconventional when love goes sour, and Clementine and Joel decide that they want to erase each other from their memory entirely. The most memorable moments of Winslet’s performance come when Clementine gives glimpses of her emotional, raw inner self. This often comes during spats with Joel. While I loved Carrey’s moody, restrained performance, Winslet is the opposite. She’s fiery and passionate, and Carrey almost feels like the “straight-man” to her ultra-vibrant character. Yet the vulnerable moments are great too. And even the moments where everything is actually going right in Clementine and Joel’s relationship seem elevated from the usual romantic comedy fare. Without Winslet, much of the quirkiness, heart, and charm of this movie would be gone.
Sam Riley – Control (2007)
My favourite musical biopic of the decade was Anton Corbijn’s Control, which chronicles the short adult life of Ian Curtis, and the rise of his band, Joy Division. It’s a pretty grim movie. Curtis cheats on his wife, has horrific seizures, struggles to find success with his band, and ultimately takes his own life. But Riley’s up to the role, clearly. Riley’s Curtis is soft-spoken, withdrawn, and petulant. Yet when he steps on stage, everything comes alive in a bizarre, desperate kind of way. Riley switches between Curtis’ electric stage persona and troubled personal life with startling ease, and you can feel Curtis’ pain. At times, it feels much more like a documentary than the usual glossy biopic, and this is largely because of Riley unaffected performance. Curtis is a figure who is often romanticized in hindsight. But Joy Division was only on the cusp of success when Curtis killed himself. Riley portrays him as the real, troubled human being that he was.
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
I’m not sure if there’s much left to say about this instantly iconic performance. Only exacerbated by the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death in January of 2008, his brilliant performance as the Joker was haunting. Darkly funny and incredibly eerie, his take on the anarchistic clown has become a landmark of 21st century pop culture. Some questioned whether Ledger would have won the Oscar (which he was posthumously awarded at the 2009 Oscars) if he had still been alive. I have no way of knowing if he would have, but I absolutely believe that he would have deserved it. His death is tragic for many reasons, but for the fans, perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the idea of the performances that we could’ve seen from this immensely talented actor.
Benicio Del Toro – Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
While it was generally received positively by critics, Things We Lost in the Fire seemed to disappear as soon as it was released. This is a huge shame, because as well as being a really good film, it features one of my five favourite performances of the decade. Benicio Del Toro plays Jerry, a heroin addict who, after the death of his friend, goes to live with his friend’s wife and kids. If you look at a film like Requiem for a Dream, that film is all about the surreal, frightening visuals, which are meant to represent a drug-induced whirl. This film has a much simpler style. It relies on Del Toro to convey the horrors of his addiction, rather than the style and editing of the film. It’s not a by-the-numbers character arc, and Del Toro’s performance is anything but contrived. He takes the performance far beyond the usual one-dimensional “drug addict” stereotype, bringing a surprising amount of warmth to an otherwise bleak role.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote (2005)
Whether his Truman Capote was captivating a crowd at a lavish party, or visiting a convicted murderer in his tiny jail cell, Hoffman’s performance was both grand and subtle at the same time. Of course, he imitated the infamous voice of Capote well, but the performance goes far beyond an impersonation and never becomes the stereotype that it could have been. I thought Capote was an excellent movie, and the performances were a large part of that. Some of the supporting performances are great (Clifton Collins Jr. is incredible and understated in his role as one of the murderers that Capote is chronicling), but it’s clearly Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s show. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his work in Capote, and it cemented his status as one of the best working actors.
20. Beyond – Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.’s 2007 comeback initially seemed to be under the radar, but then Beyond (the band’s first album in ten years) was met with great critical acclaim. It seems as the guys managed to please their original fans, and gain new ones, with their fuzzy anthems. The songs are great, and Beyond kind of picks up where Bug left off.
19. Ashtray Rock – Joel Plaskett Emergency
Joel Plaskett’s another one of those well-kept Canadian secrets. His band’s 2007 disc, Ashtray Rock, made the short list for the annual Polaris Prize, only to lose out to Patrick Watson (he lost to Fucked Up this year). There’s lots of fun to be found on Ashtray Rock, as well as some genuinely lovely moments, like the shimmering “The Glorious Life”.
18. Icky Thump – The White Stripes
I’m not really sure what to make of this album. I’m a huge White Stripes fan, but I’m still not able to connect with Icky Thump the way that I can with all of their other albums. It has some great songs (“Effect and Cause” is my favourite), but I think it just seems too calculated to me. But anything put out by the White Stripes is still better than most of the other music around.
17. Into the Wild – Eddie Vedder
Based on a lot of exasperating technicalities, Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack for the 2007 film, Into the Wild was not nominated for either of the songwriting Academy Awards. This collection of the songs that he wrote for the film (with a few instrumental tracks) is really lovely. It’s much more tender than anything Pearl Jam has done. You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.
16. A Weekend in the City – Bloc Party
I’m not really sure how one would classify this music, but whatever it is, I really like it. I’m not a big expert on Bloc Party, but when I first heard A Weekend in the City (their sophomore effort), I was immediately drawn to their sound. Their first album (which I’m yet to hear) seems to be more beloved among fans, but I’m not sure how they could be disappointed with this.
15. Welcome to the Night Sky – Wintersleep
Halifax, Nova Scotia makes its second appearance on this list in the form of Wintersleep. These guys had something of a hit with their first single off this album, “Weighty Ghost”. I was surprised to hear how much their style varies (“Oblivion” sounds like some especially good Interpol), and I think the entire album is really solid.
14. The Story – Brandi Carlisle
Apparently, Brandi Carlisle’s voice has been compared to Thom Yorke. I have listened to her music specifically trying to pick out the resemblance, but I don’t get it at all. But nonetheless, her music is great in its own right. Her songs are heartfelt and searing, and I think that it’s the emotion (which this album has heaps of) that is Carlise’s strongest suit.
13. The Stage Names – Okkervil River
This is one album on here that I just recently got around to listening to, and it caught my attention right away. I guess Okkervil River has a classically “indie” kind of sound, but I like it. Their songs are so impeccably written, and it seems like they have a lasting quality to them.
12. Cease to Begin – Band of Horses
This is where I began to have a lot of trouble putting the rest of the list in order. These twelve albums are all great, and I could probably justify putting any of them at the top spot. Cease to Begin has kind of an ethereal, slightly haunting sound that I really liked. There are lots of great songs to be found, including “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”.
11. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank – Modest Mouse
This album probably could have cracked the top five if they’d shaved a few songs off the track listing, since I’m generally biased towards shorter albums. But there are definitely some great songs on here, and I really like the addition of Johnny Marr on guitar. The Shins’ James Mercer also does some great guest vocals on a few tracks (most notably on “Missed the Boat”).
10. Era Vulgaris – Queens of the Stone Age
Queens of the Stone Age are one of the most popular hard rock bands to emerge in the new millennium, and Era Vulgaris is a great example of why this is the case. It may not have a hit as catchy as “No One Knows”, but the whole album is a fantastic mix of hard rock and solid songwriting. Josh Homme has one of the best voices in rock, too.
9. Easy Tiger – Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams is undoubtedly one of the most prolific songwriters around, and he kept up with his album-per-year standard with Easy Tiger. It’s probably one of his most consistent and listenable solo albums to date. I also think that “Two” and “Halloweenhead” are two incredible additions to Adams’ already impressive catalogue.
8. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Spoon
No one writes a pop song quite like Spoon. The first single off Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, “The Underdog”, was one of my favourite songs of ’07. The album has a bit of a Beatles influence to it, in a very enjoyable way. Even if I’m in a terrible mood, this album is likely to make me smile.
7. In Rainbows – Radiohead
Kid A and Hail to the Thief lost me a bit with their heavy electronic influence, so I was glad to hear that In Rainbows was (somewhat) of a return to their earlier sound, circa The Bends. I think this is probably their fourth best album. And when the band I’m talking about is Radiohead, that’s no small feat.
6. Wincing the Night Away – The Shins
The Shins released their third stellar album of the decade with Wincing the Night Away. “Phantom Limb” and “Australia” are two tracks that jumped out at me immediately, but the rest of the album soon grew on me in a big way. It’s too hard to pick my favourite Shins record. I’ll say it’s a three-way tie for first place.
5. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace – Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters are constantly proving that they’re so much better than the “post-grunge” label that lazy critics slap onto them. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace has some fantastic, catchy hits, and hidden gems like “Summer’s End” and “Stranger Things Have Happened”. It’s some of their best work yet. Grohl seem to just get better with age.
4. Cassadaga – Bright Eyes
2007 may have been a bad year for Conor Oberst’s hair, but it was a perfectly wonderful time for his music. Oberst decided to embrace his country roots by taking a pilgrimage to…Florida? Seriously, though, Cassadaga is a great album, and it’s nice to see Bright Eyes expand their sound. There are lots of brilliant songs here, but I think that “Classic Cars” is my favourite.
3. New Wave – Against Me!
These Florida punks got a lot of flak for “selling-out” with New Wave, but it also gained them a lot of new fans (like yours truly). I’ve gone back, and I really like their older stuff too, but I think that New Wave is their masterpiece, so far. New Wave pretty much had a permanent spot in my CD player during late 2007/early 2008, and I connected to it in a way that I rarely do with new albums.
2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
2004′s Funeral earned Arcade Fire major acclaim, but I much prefer their follow-up, Neon Bible. The thing that I like most about this album is the atmosphere that they created. Each song has a specific feel to it, but the whole album is amazingly cohesive. “Intervention” is easily one of the best songs of the decade, and every song on the album feels like it serves a specific purpose.
1. Boxer – The National
How could this band possibly have released a better album than Against Me! and the Arcade Fire? It’s hard to explain, but it feels like everything came together perfectly on Boxer. The songs are aching and sombre, and Matt Berninger’s voice suits the mood beautifully. In a time when singles and ringtones are measures of success, I have so much respect for a band that can make an entire album that is this amazing.