Thursday, 10 December 2009

Albums of the Decade

Not just that time of the year but that time of the century. An arbitrary but nonetheless worthy block of time has passed. Cue lists. Top tens, top twentys, top hundreds. The best of the times, the worst of the times.

It may be lazy journalism but it is mind candy of the highest regard. So with that – and slightly off topic – here are the best records of the noughties. According to me. Huzzah!

10. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective

The trippy optical illusory cover of Animal Collective’s eighth offering provides perhaps the best visual illustration of what lies beneath. Concentrate on any aspect of the artwork and the rest of the picture swirls and shifts and pulsates agonizingly much like the aural delights within. Trying to describe the sound of AC is like trying to nail jelly to a wall – they transcend traditional genre-boundaries, sampling from the musical soundscape buffet until they have created something completely original. Beats pulsate to a seemingly brand new tempo. Synthesizers swirl sonically through the record like a confused swarm and lyrics are littered indiscernibly over the whole musical meal like wantonly applied seasoning. And yet, perhaps in spite of this approach to music making rather than because of it, it all works.

9. Silent Alarm by Bloc Party

One of many records that can be directly attributed to the influence of The Rapture, Bloc Party’s debut is a drum driven, high-octane, pulsating, breathless album. Disappointing follow-ups merely served to illustrate how good Silent Alarm actually is, as does the fact that it still sounds fresh five years down the line. Okereke’s vocals are as sublimely delivered over cleanly distorted guitars, full frontal bass and tidal drums as they on quieter offerings, the almost balladic ‘Blue Light’ and ‘So Here We Are’.

8. Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon

Their aptly titled debut ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ promised greatness and the Kings from the deep south truly delivered with the follow up. Their knowing smiles and upfront euphemism remained along with the tumescent energy but the boys Followill had also matured as songwriters, musicians and as adults without straying too far from what made them great in the first place. Subsequent offerings, whilst being increasingly populist, are still excellent albums but Aha Shake Heartbreak is a zenith that will be difficult to top.

7. Antics by Interpol

‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ may not be optimistic in its outlook but this, it’s younger brother, is richly cynical, darkly melodic, anthemic and altogether wiser than Interpol’s debut. It may be less eulogistic but that doesn’t make it any sunnier. The darkest recesses of late-era punk wash over the album like thick smog but listen beyond the grey and you’ll hear some outstanding song-writing not to mention top-notch tunes.

6. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Ever prolific, Cave has released four albums since the turning of the millennium. Whilst not always a sign of quality (and some have been verging on the below average. Nocturama anyone?), two fully deserve all the praise that was lavished upon them. While 2001’s No More Shall We Part may be a ‘nicer’ record, sharing much in common with his masterpiece The Boatman’s Call, the truly epic AB/TLOO perhaps better illustrates the two sides of Cave: the heartbroken introspective depressive and the raging, angry antipodean hell bent on causing a ruckus. The heavy pinch of gospel could easily have bloated the record but tempered against the clever arrangements of the Bad Seeds, it is a perfectly seasoned symphony of Cave at his remarkable best.

5. Want One by Rufus Wainwright

Originally intended as a single album, Wainwright’s ‘Want’ project remains his magnum opus (despite dabbling in opera and recreating Judy Garland concerts) with the first part, ‘Want One’ being the superior work (although ‘Want Two’ certainly has its moments). Here, in almost symphonic style, Rufus finally found his voice as a songwriter, musician and composer. The album ebbs and flows masterfully, rising and falling, the faultless production slightly reigning in the lip gloss and pearls ambitions of its creator and allowing the brilliance of the work to shine without becoming overblown, a trap he fell into with the follow-up ‘Release the Stars’. Of course, there are moments of camp theatrics and orchestral swells (the opener and its sampling of Ravel’s Bolero is probably the most diva-esque moment), and it wouldn’t be a Rufus album without them, but they co-exist with some seriously pared down and haunting productions, perhaps the best being ‘Dinner at Eight’, a sucker punch in song at his oft-absent father. A beautiful, complete work from an artist at the very top of his game.

4. Gold by Ryan Adams

Heartache and longing have proved a rich vein for many a musician but none more so than Ryan Adams who must have been on the receiving end of a weighty rejection given the nature and profligacy of his output during the first half of the decade. By far the most accomplished of Adams’ efforts though is ‘Gold’ from 2001. The secret of its charm is the chameleonic nature of the album– one can almost hear the hourly shifts in its creator’s mood as the record moves from seemingly bright and breezy to quiet contemplation to all out anger and rage at the world. Resolutely and unashamedly American in nature from a time before Americana was trendy, Gold, thanks to it being recorded in the weeks prior to 9/11 could be viewed as the last great record of the 20th century, perhaps only temporally belonging in the 21st but that doesn’t alter the fact that from start to finish it is an exquisite record.

3. Everything All The Time by Band of Horses

Ryan Adams may have been something of a one-man band in 2001 but by the close of the decade, everything folksy and American was hot property be it beardy paeans to heartbreak (Bon Iver) or sultry West coastal harmonies of the like Fleet Foxes do so well. Blazing a trail under this radar though was Seattle based Band of Horses who managed to find their own sound that despite being firmly rooted in the iconography of the States – straw carpeted barns, pick up trucks and plaid. Lots and lots of plaid – spoke of something new. Everything All The Time is the soundtrack of the Platonic road trip, a voyage of discovery on empty roads across flat plains being kissed permanently by the setting sun. It conjours up images of the American Dream as realized by a cynic raised on a diet of road movies and British humour. This is the album that makes everyone who hears it want to pack it all in, grow a beard, read Kerouac and drive. Just drive. Oh, and wear plaid. Lots and lots of plaid.

2. Boxer by The National

Boxer is a great album. It really is as simple as that. Singer Matt Berninger drawls almost in homage to Tom Waits providing rich, deep and resonant vocals that are both immersive and distant. The apparent indifference of delivery belies acutely observational and downright clever lyrics layed over sublime melodies creating songs that are sometimes sneeringly dismissive – ‘you don’t mind seeing yourself in a picture as long as you look far away’ – and other times heartrendingly beautiful. ‘You know I dreamed about you for twenty nine years before I saw you’ runs the refrain in the stand-out track ‘Slow Show’. Boxer is the sound of the decade of decadence, the decade of consumption, the decade of celebrity – and it offers its withering judgment with the sort of delicate intelligence that usually only distance and retrospect can provide.

1. Funeral by Arcade Fire

Is there anything left to be said about the album that defied and defined the noughties? One could harp on about the freshness, the originality, the two fingers held rousingly up to conformity, the complexity, the near multi-sensory experience that Funeral provides not just the first time you hear it but each time there after. Indeed, it is so immersive one can almost taste it, feel it, smell it as well as hear and see it. It is synesthesia made rock and roll and real. It is youthful exuberance and cynicism at once. Both wide eyed and world weary. Finely tuned and wildly out of control. And I guarantee it will still be fucking awesome in fifty years time.


rich (them apples) said...

Funeral is hands down my album of the decade. It's a work of subtle genius. Good call on Abbatoir Blues, too, although I must admit to quite liking Nocturama sometimes. Better than Grinderman, anyway.

Such lists are arbitrary, unscientific and prone to irrational proclamations on the part of both the writer and the reader. I try to avoid such irrationality at all times but sometimes I stray - no Bon Iver, no Sigur Ros, no Radiohead, Eels or White Stripes? Pah! (In the nicest possible sense, obviously).

Unknown said...

I like staring on that illusory cover, It really moves!

Belly Fat Women

Anonymous said...

Nice list, but, Antics better than TOTBL. I suggest you revisit that. That's just sick..............