Tag Archives: Bon Iver

The 20 Best Albums of the Decade (#10-1)

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.

Best Albums of…2008

I’ve had some lists kicking around for a while, so I figured I’d share some of my favourite albums from the past few years with you here. And what better place to start than last year? I don’t think 2008 had quite as many releases that I loved as 2007 did, but there were still some very worthy albums put out there. A lot of new artists proved themselves in a big way.

 

20. Bring Me Your Love – City and Colour

With his stunning voice and beautiful, simple melodies, Dallas Green’s music never fails to move me. His follow-up to 2005’s Sometimes sticks close to the style that has made him so beloved by indie and mainstream audiences alike, but why try to fix something that isn’t broken? “The Girl” is a fantastic, tender love song, and I love his duet with Gord Downie on “Sleeping Sickness”.

 

19. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT

MGMT burst onto the scene with hyped-up hits like “Time To Pretend” and “Kids”. Those are two of the standout tracks on their debut album, but so is “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”, which comes closer to the end. I’m not sure that I want to know what these guys do in their spare time, but their music is pretty infectious.

 

18. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

I think that if Conor Oberst wants to be taken more seriously as a “grown man”, and release mature music with a different vibe to it, like he does on Conor Oberst, I think he’s making the right decision to move away from the Bright Eyes name. Considering he’s only thirty, this guy’s had a long, consistent career, and Conor Oberst just keeps the tradition going.

 

17. A Piece of What You Need – Teddy Thompson

Ranging from reedy to rich, Teddy Thompson’s voice adapts easily to the diverse line up of songs on A Piece of What You Need. And while the album’s penultimate song, “Turning the Gun on Myself” is every bit as melancholy as the title would suggest, I like that Thompson manages to keep things sparse and haunting, rather than melodramatic.

 

16. Elephant Shell – Tokyo Police Club

They were one of the most buzzed about new bands before they even had a full-length album out, and Tokyo Police didn’t disappoint (much) with Elephant Shell. Their sound really grew on me, and even though I think a few of the songs could be a bit stronger, it’s an incredibly promising debut effort. And they put on a mean live show, too.

 

15. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie

I like Transatlanticism and Plans more for the sake of sheer listenability, but Narrow Stairs has some great songs (“Cath…”has to be one of their best yet), and overall it does not tarnish Death Cab’s badge of consistency one bit.

 

14. Only By The Night – Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon

Sell-outs or not (and look at that picture of them – they’re clearly sell-outs), Kings of Leon released a batch of great songs on 2008’s Only by the Night. There are good songs beyond the hits, but I’m still not sick of hearing “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody”. And my favourite radio station has been playing them consistently for over a year.

 

13. Terminal Romance – Matt Mays & El Topedo

Matt Mays is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, and he’s been putting out great work for a while. Some might compare him to Ryan Adams or even Bruce Springsteen at times (but really, who isn’t compared to Springsteen these days?) but he’s definitely worth listening to on his own merits. Great sound, great voice, great songs.

 

12. Evil Urges – My Morning Jacket

Evil Urges is probably the best summer album released in a while. It’s impossible to pin it down to one style, but I think that most people could find something on here that they like. It’s all a little twisted, but it’s also a lot of fun. The anthemic “I’m Amazed” is just one of the many great tracks here.

 

11. At Mount Zoomer – Wolf Parade

These indie favourites disappointed some with their latest disc. I’m not familiar with much of their older music, but their quirky style sure impressed me here, and according to me, Mount Zoomer was the best Canadian release of 2008. Side note: why do I find Dan Boeckner (far right) so attractive, when he is so clearly nothing but trouble?

 

10. Modern Guilt – Beck

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Beck Hansen. (Perhaps I should say, with his music. It makes me sound less crazy.) It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Sometimes I love his music, and sometimes it bores me to tears. But when he teamed up with Danger Mouse (The Grey Album, anyone?) the result fell drastically towards the “love” side of the spectrum for me.

 

9. Gossip in the Grain – Ray LaMontagne

 Ray LaMontagne

Ray LaMontagne can do no wrong, in my eyes. Gossip in the Grain is packed with a slew of great little songs (including the much-discussed “Meg White”). All three of his albums have been good, and LaMontagne will surely earn himself a reputation for being one of the most consistent singer-songwriters around.

 

8. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends – Coldplay

 Coldplay

Flame me all you want (who am I kidding? No one reads this blog), but I love Coldplay. After a bit of a misstep with 2005’s X&Y, they returned in fine form with their fourth album, Viva La Vida. If it’s possible, they’ve amped up the theatrics, and written some of their best songs yet. Viva la Vida, indeed.

 

7. Accelerate – R.E.M.

 R.E.M.

Before Accelerate came along, R.E.M (arguably) hadn’t made a great album since 1992’s Automatic for the People. So when they came back with a concise, (mostly) filler-free set of songs, it’s understandable that their fans reacted in such a big way. But Accelerate isn’t just good by “new R.E.M.” standards. It’s just really, really good.

 

6. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

 Vampire Weekend

I know that every blogger and their mom loves Vampire Weekend (literally – my mom and dad listen to their album frequently!) But this album was just way too good to pretend to hate. Time will tell if they become a one-album-wonder (remember when the The Strokes were the next big thing?) but what an album it is.

 

5. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs

 Raconteurs

I’m probably going to like anything that Jack White is involved in, and The Raconteurs’ debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, introduced me to the wonderful world of Brendan Benson. So the odds were pretty high that I’d like the sophomore effort from this “side-project”. But they actually surpassed my expectations and released an album that I know I’ll be listening to for a long time.

 

4. Made of Bricks – Kate Nash

 Kate Nash

One of the year’s most surprisingly fantastic releases came from this plucky Brit. Comparisons to Lily Allen continue to run rampant (for pretty good reason), but I might actually like Kate Nash more. She goes from sassy to melancholy in the blink of an eye, and Made of Bricks is one of the most listenable female singer-songwriter albums I’ve heard in a long time. Quirky, but not self-indulgent.

 

3. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

 Fleet Foxes

I feel a little bit guilty about succumbing to all of the buzz bands from 2008. But they put out such great new work, that it’s impossible to ignore. Fleet Foxes was no exception. Their shimmering, earthy folk is beautiful, and I find myself finding new favourite moments every time I listen to the album.

 

2. Nouns – No Age

 No Age

Refreshingly different from a lot of the stuff that I was listening to last year, these California punks are apparently leading their own movement (Canada’s own Japandroids are similarly great). Nouns is raw and fuzzy, but also has a great pop sensibility, which is key for me.

 

1. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

 Bon Iver

I know, I know. But I couldn’t help it! There’s a reason that For Emma appeared at the top of just about every blogger’s list last year. It’s that good! I think Justin Vernon is one of the most promising new artists around. “Skinny Love” is already a classic, and the rest of the album is gorgeous, too.