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Is it just me, or were the past couple of weeks fairly eventful one in terms of pop culture? Let’s take a look:
- The White Stripes break up. Sure, they hadn’t released any new material since 2007′s Icky Thump, and hadn’t performed together since the finale of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. But fans still liked to cling to the faint hope that Jack and Meg White might once again don the red, white, and black.
- Black Eyed Peas Superbowl Fiasco. Wait, the fact that Fergie and co. are terrible live is considered news? I thought it was just puzzlingly accepted common knowledge.
- New single from The Strokes. “Under Cover of Darkness” is their first single since 2006′s First Impressions of Earth, and it’s pretty rad. I’m not even a HUGE Strokes fan (I do like them, but I don’t usually find them so unique or exciting to warrant so much praise), but I really love this song. Naturally, it’s very Strokes-y, but it’s also kind of different for them. I like that it gives Julian Casablancas the chance to show off vocally. This, coupled with speculation that they may be performing on Saturday Night Live on March 5 suddenly makes The Strokes relevant again.
- New Lady Gaga single. It seems a bit mainstream, but the song is catchy, and you really can’t argue with that kind of self-empowerment message.
- Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers to perform with Bob Dylan on the Grammys. Or: a reason to actually watch the Grammys.
- Oh, and some kid named Justin Bieber. He has, like, a movie coming out or something? I don’t know.
I’m probably forgetting other things.
Parks & Recreation was awesome. But something that happens every week doesn’t really count as news.
- Seven Nation Army
- The Union Forever
- The Denial Twist
- Fell in Love With a Girl
- Ball and Biscuit
- We’re Going to Be Friends
- The Big Three Killed My Baby
- Hello Operator
- Hotel Yorba
- Effect & Cause
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.