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Sadly, I don’t live in Europe, so I won’t be seeing Ryan Adams live this summer. (Please do a North American tour soon!) But I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this pop up on my Twitter feed. Laura Marling has said in several interviews that Ryan Adams was a huge influence on her, and I remember Adams posted on his Facebook page last summer about how much he loved her new album. It’s always nice to see two musicians with such a respect for each other (especially when they’re both musicians I like), and it’s cool that they get to play together. Now, if only I lived in Amsterdam…
…But Paul McDonald is singing “Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams tonight!
I know some DRA fans will be pissed, because it’s American Idol and all. But really, I think Paul can do it justice. He’s seems like the real deal (or at least, as close to the real deal as you can get on Idol). I watched this video of him talking about his influences, and I really can’t argue with anyone who likes Mumford & Sons, Ryan Adams, and The Black Keys. (Who has all three of those artists in their top 6 most played artists on Last.fm? Oh that’s right, it’s this bitch.)
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Ryan being shown to a wider audience. It is a good thing, but part of me is also one of those snobby people who doesn’t want “the masses” to taint their favourite musicians. But it was kind of cool when Jeff Buckley hit number one on iTunes after Jason Castro (was it him?) sang “Hallelujah” on the show.
Mostly, though, I’m just excited to see what Paul does with it. (And what they’ll change some of the lyrics to!)
(And yes, I know that Ryan Adams has been done on the show before, when Blake Whatshisface sang “When the Stars Go Blue”. But I think the less that it said about that, the better.)
This kind of reminds me of that final season of Canadian Idol where everyone kept picking the most unexpected songs. Someone sang fucking ELLIOTT SMITH on Idol. I had an existential “David After the Dentist” moment. Is this real life? We also heard, Ryan Adams (by my favourite contestant of the season, Earl Stevenson, who sang “Two”), Radiohead, The Kooks, Blind Melon, Feist, The Jayhawks, Joel Plaskett, The Tragically Hip, Matthew Good Band, The Black Crowes, and The Zutons. I mean, not everyone did it well (as evidenced by Mitch MacDonald, who probably didn’t hit more than about eight correct notes all season, but chose awesome songs – and somehow placed second), but at least they didn’t all sing “I’ll Be” and Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” (which never, ever works) every week like they do on the American counterpart. They had theme weeks like “Rock and Roll Heaven” (they had to pick songs by dead rockstars, which was kind of tasteless but kind of awesome) and David Bowie Week and Beatles Week and Unplugged Week (Canadian Idol did it a few times, and it was always really good). And then people kept picking Bread songs, too, which was weird.
But anyways, I didn’t mean this to turn into a Canadian Idol rant. Too much misplaced nostalgia.
October 18, 2001
Ryan Adams is a notoriously temperamental stage performer (his tendency to walk off mid-set has been well publicised in recent years), but a quick search on YouTube will show you that when he’s on, he on. And his 2001 show at Amsterdam’s Paradiso is a good example of Adams on a very good night. Ten songs from the show were aired on Lola da Musica, a Dutch television show, and they’re some of the more powerful performances from Adams that I’ve seen.
The highlight of the set is “Touch, Feel, and Lose”, a bluesy track from Gold that he absolutely rips into. The studio version has always reminded me of Fiona Apple, but I have no idea who he was channelling in this amazing live performance. The last set of “cry, cry, cry” is like nothing else I’ve seen from Adams.
“Nobody Girl” and “Tina Toledo’s Streetwalking Blues” allow for his guitar work and his backing band (which he called The Sweetheart Revolution at the time) to really shine, while “Oh, Charles” is a sparse piano solo. The song isn’t one of his better-known, but its poignant lyrics and Adams’ restrained vocals make it seem instantly familiar. Although the one’s I’ve mentioned are my favourite tracks, all of the videos are well worth watching. It makes me wish that Adams would hurry up and come out of sorta-retirement and start touring again.
Bachelor Girl (C’mon Darkness Blues)
Touch, Feel, and Lose (*must-see)
Nobody Girl (*must-see)
The Rescue Blues
Nervous Breakdown/New York, New York
Oh, Charles (*must-see)
Tina Toledo’s Streetwalking Blues
For Day 2 of my Ryan Adams week feature, I was planning to link to ten covers of Ryan Adams songs on YouTube. But as I was looking, I really didn’t find many that impressed me, and the number shrank to five (and later to three). I found plenty of competent covers that I could post, but these are the three that are really worth watching. They’re more professional and inventive than most of the other covers that can be found floating around YouTube.
So Alive (covered by Vince Vaccaro)
The sound quality may not be great, but you can’t argue with the idea of belting out a Ryan Adams song in a tunnel with an acoustic guitar. I love the abandonment that Vaccaro sings with on the chorus of “So Alive”. It’s a surprisingly powerful cover.
To Be Young (covered by Ryan Joseph Burns)
Burns’ rendition of “To Be Young” is a great showcase for his impressive voice. His acoustic twist on the original is a lot of fun, and he adds some really nice vocal flourishes. (Also, be sure to check out his cover of “The Rescue Blues”. His style has developed a lot in two years, but it’s still impressive.)
Come Pick Me Up (covered by Jon Wilkins)
Wilkins offers a much smoother take on the song (think Tyler Hilton), but he also provides a very lovely version of the song. As far as earnest dudes in their 20′s strumming acoustic guitars go (and there are a lot of them on YouTube), Wilkins is one of the few to offer something special.
Looks like she’s giving David Letterman a run for his money. Love seeing Demolition and 29 there (even if the whole thing does seem a bit contrived).
(Coldplay and Band of Horses are good, too. And I think that’s a Tom Petty album?)
“I wish you’d make up my bed
so I could make up my mind
Try it for sleeping instead
Maybe you’ll rest sometime
I wish I could”
What could I, a straight-laced teenage girl, possibly have in common with the drug-addled mess of a man who they call Ryan Adams? Admittedly, the music of Taylor Swift may be more on my emotional level, but there’s something in Adams’ songs that makes me want to explore every nook of his highly prolific output. And as inconsistent as it may be, I find something to like in all of his albums, and perhaps even in every song.
I guess the reason that I gravitate so much to Adams’ songs is that they embody everything that I love about music. To me, he has the vulnerability of Jeff Buckley, the soul of Joe Cocker, the melody-writing chops of Big Star, and the swagger of Robert Plant. It’s the rare contemporary artist that both reverently acknowledges the past and remains relevant and unique. In a time of throwback artists like Amy Winehouse and pretentious indie acts basking in their own cleverness, Adams writes pure melodies, and lyrics that mean actually something.
For someone still in his thirties, Adams’ sheer musical output is impressive. In the mid-90′s, he formed the alt-country outfit Whiskeytown. The band’s debut album, Faithless Street was originally released in 1995, and while it didn’t make a huge dent on the music industry, the raw power of Adams’ voice and his songwriting skills are evident from the start. The bands’ two later releases, 1997′s Strangers Almanac, and Pneumonia (which finally found a release in 2001) offer a more low-key, refined take on Whiskeytown’s country sound. Tracks like the love ballad “Everything I Do” offer a new emotional depth, and as a listener, it’s a treat to follow the evolution of Adams’ craft.
In the ten years since its release, Adams’ solo debut, 2000′s Heartbreaker, has found a much larger audience, and it’s even become something of a benchmark in modern music. Often named among the best albums of the new millennium, the album stands as one of the high points of modern folk music. The instrumentation is limited and the subject matter is painful and sometimes dark, yet his plaintive howl on songs like “My Winding Wheel” and “Why Do They Leave?” is undeniably powerful. Even if I can’t directly relate to what he’s singing about, there’s a loneliness and modesty to Heartbreaker that draws me to the album every time. I was originally lukewarm on the album, partially dismissing it as being “too country” for my tastes, but over time, it’s become one of my favourite albums.
His later releases may not be quite so consistent, but there’s something to like from each. Whether it’s the genre mish-mash of Gold (which has provided some of Adams’ strongest tracks to date with “Touch, Feel, and Lose” and “Firecracker”) or the understated folk of Jacksonville City Nights, with his backing band, The Cardinals, Adams has proven himself to be one of the best songwriter’s of his generation.
And with that, I’d like to kick off “Ryan Adams Week” on Times Like Those. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and I’m going to try and post Adams-related content each day for a week.
Fans of singer-songwriter Ryan Adams can always look forward to watching Adams take the stage over at CBS’s The Late Show every time he releases a new disc (which as we know, is often). Over the past nine years, Letterman’s welcomed Adams to his show 10 times (by my count, at least. Let me know if I’m missing any performances), and the usually jaded talk show host seems genuinely excited every time.
Here’s a look at Ryan Adams on The Late Show, over the years. Every performance is great, in its own way. With his new “metal” record, Orion, apparently slated for a vinyl release, maybe we’ll get to see him on the show for an eleventh time in the not-so distant future.
“New York, New York” – October 4, 2001
Flanked with an arsenal of backing musicians (four guitarists, a conga drummer and a saxophone player all make up his band), Adams’ first appearance on the Late Show after the release of Gold feels a bit chaotic. But the spark that he brings to his wordy love letter to New York is undeniable. (Side note: you can also see hints of the “extended handshake” tradition that would follow in later performances as Dave greets Adams at the end of the performance.)
“The Harder They Come” (with Willie Nelson) – November 4, 2002
Backed by Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, the smiles shared between “Willie and Ryan” (as Dave likes to call them) are priceless.
“Starting To Hurt” – December 10, 2002
Probably the most raw of his Letterman performances. The energy is amazing.
“So Alive” – January 5, 2004
“Let It Ride” – May 25, 2005
Looking rather scraggly, aren’t we? That’s part of the fun of watching all of these performances. Not only are they some of his most consistent performances, but it’s interesting to see the evolution of Adams from a baby-faced kid to this unrecognizable Cousin It look-a-like. Luckily, a haircut was in his future.
“Come Pick Me Up” – November 4, 2005
It seems like they’re trying to make up for the fact that Adams missed out on being on the show when Heartbreaker was released back in 2000. But nonetheless, this is probably my favourite out of all of the performances that he’s given. In some ways, I prefer this slightly to the album version. The little vocal nuances that Adams adds are lovely.
“Ride On” (with America and Ben Kweller) – January 15, 2007
“Two” – June 27, 2007
“I Taught Myself How to Grow Old” – June 27, 2007 (Web exclusive)
“Everybody Knows” – November 1, 2007
This feels like his most polished performance of the bunch. It doesn’t have the intensity of “Come Pick Me Up”, but it’s just a really nice, solid performance of one of his better recent songs.
“How To Keep Love Alive/Pearls on a String” – November 1, 2007 (Web exclusive)
“Fix It” – October 29, 2008
“Cobwebs” – October 29, 2008 (Web exclusive)
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.
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.