Thursday, January 7, 2010

favourite albums of the decade

everyone else has turned in their albums of the decade list, so here's mine. rather than calling it a 'best of' i've just called it my 'favourite albums of the decade.' i suppose it's not much of a surprise how much amazing stuff was released in the last ten years, but i've got to say that the last decade has given me several of what i consider to be my all-time classics. this list is incredibly biased and based purely upon my own personal experiences and musical preferences-

1. 'songs in a&e'- spiritualized (2008)

yeah, not a surprise at all. it's incredibly recent (it only came out about a year and a half ago) but i think that the fact that jason pierce turned in his best record of the 00's with this one is beyond question. like all great records it's a bit of a grower and the songs don't reveal their charms to you immediately (at least not all of them). i play this at work constantly. i think it's been holding fast at the top of my top-25 most played on my ipod (this is kind of a technicality as i have two versions of 'loveless' that i listen to on there). i did, indeed, download this album when it leaked. i honestly couldn't resist. i still went on to buy it on vinyl though- at great expense and considerable headache (i had to order it on import from rough trade east in london and it cost over $50) but it's one of my favourite slabs of vinyl that i own. if you don't like this record you either a) have no soul at all or b) you're just one of those whiny spiritualized fans who wishes they'd just make 'lazer guided melodies' and 'pure phase' over and over again forever. this is far and away my favourite record of the decade.

2. 'bloodflowers'- the cure (2000)

in the year 2000 i went to see the cure a total of five times (i had a ticket for the last show of the american tour in new york, but i ran out of money and simply couldn't get myself to the show). the reason i went is because when i heard 'bloodflowers' i suspected that this would be the last great cure album and my only chance to fully immerse myself in the dominating musical obsession of my teenage years (aren't they pretty everyone under 50's at this point). their other two lps don't even come close to the heartfelt and sprawling beauty of this record. i've also always thought that it's far and away robert smith's most mature record to date- he regressed big-time for the self-titled record and '4:13 dream.' when i listen to this record i feel that it's a shame that he seems to feel an obligation now to just give people what they expect from him or what he thinks they'll like. this record is clearly coming straight from the heart. i really do wish they'd stopped after this record- this would've been the perfect time for them to end.

3. 'from a basement on the hill'- elliott smith (2004)

ah, the romance of the tormented artist meeting an early and unfortunate end. who can avoid it. i for one think that it's a giant pile of crap and a ridiculous waste- almost the epitome of the fucked-up and largely unspoken undercurrent of what fans expect from the musicians they admire. i for one was shattered to hear about elliott smith's death- it was completely heartbreaking- i still forget that he's not with us anymore and when i'm reminded i feel the loss exactly as i did when it was brand new. his songs were always so emotionally charged and dead-on that it was as if he was speaking to you directly from the pages of your own diary and putting feelings you couldn't possibly begin to explain in plain language down in emotional words that didn't even exist. i stand by my thesis that this record is his greatest achievement and most of it is due to the unstoppable strength of this set of songs. when first listening to it stefanie and i were driving around in portland and wondering why that 'ostriches and chirping' track was placed between 'king's crossing' and 'twilight' and then we realised that it was placed there by the people who ended up having to put the album together posthumously to help us cope with the intense emotional punch that this album packs. putting those two tracks back-to-back would've been a bit too much. what this album does is brilliantly combine the stripped-down intimacy of the early elliott smith records with the polished and fleshed-out lushness of 'xo' and 'figure 8'-period elliott smith. somehow he managed to combine them without losing any of the roughness and honesty that made his early records such comforting listens. it's another example of what i call 'down comforter' music. as if that weren't enough an entire second disc worth of leftovers in various states of completion leaked a little over a year later. i noticed that a shocking number of journalists ended up putting the leaks in their top albums lists of that year. find another example of that. i dare you.

4. 'bravery, repetition and noise'- the brian jonestown massacre (2001)

of all of the fantastic brian jonestown massacre albums (and there is no shortage of these) i've always thought that this one was anton newcombe's most perfect. every track on it is perfect, there's nothing superfluous or over or under-done. it's one of those albums that manages to be starkly constructed that still somehow sounds incredibly lush and layered. a lot of it can be chalked up to the seemingly insignificant little textural touches that colour every one of these tracks- the submarine-sounding looped bleep on 'nevertheless,' the weird buzzing and squealing feedback throughout 'sailor,' the snoring that provides a piece of the rhythmic backdrop for 'leave nothing for sancho,' the repeater effect on 'you have been disconnected.' there's an example in every song. i can always tell when an album is one of favourites if i have no problem plunking down money to own it on multiple formats- i bought the coloured vinyl reissue for $25. well done again, mr. newcombe.

5. 'fox confessor brings the flood'- neko case (2006)

this is the best neko case album. i've written a lot about this on this blog. i know that everyone is calling 'middle cyclone' the one that holds this title, but 'fox confessor...' is an album in an era where albums are considered to be obsolete. i love and admire the way that neko case so lovingly constructs her songs clear down to the way that she records them all in analog. the arrangements are varied, never over-done, always serve the purpose of the song while also serving the purpose of the entire album. i went through phases with this album where there were a few tracks that i didn't think too highly of, but lately i can't imagine a single song being left out of the equation. 'star witness' is probably my favourite track of hers to date and i love the last half of the album- it has a flow that should be taught in graduate level courses on making albums (if those even existed).

6. 'lust lust lust'- the raveonettes (2007)

the raveonettes are really on my shit list right now- 'in and out of control' is the most shamelessly pandering record they've ever released (even 'pretty in black' is better to listen to). it wouldn't be so maddeningly disappointing if they hadn't done it right on the heels of this, their most beautiful and fully-realised album as well as a string of inspired and wildly experimental eps that could've catapulted them into a phase of out-there artistic brilliance that now will never exist. it seemed like they'd really found a way to crystallize their influences and ideas into a truly brilliant cycle of fantastically un-self-conscious songs. the early albums always had at least a few clumsy missteps, but they were always fairly few and far between. here the songs have a strong emotional core, they aren't trying to pander to some idea of what's cool or some affectation to make them more 'rock' and they are just simply great songs. there's a brilliant lovelorn thread that holds the album together. it was one of the greatest disappointments to see them at the empty bottle- it pretty much shattered the picture of them that i kept in my mind (see the blog entry somewhere in august of last year for an explanation). this album is enough to transcend my dashed admiration of their music and it will always be one of my favourites. oh sharin and sune- what might've been?

7. 'thee hounds of foggy notion'- thee oh sees (2008)

this is a record i didn't have until last year. it might seem a bit strange for me to put them in this list as i haven't been listening to them right now and i'm fully in the throes of my obsession with them, but this record has a ridiculous hold on me. it has a lot of things going for it- it's sort of a live record, a greatest hits and a collection of brilliant unreleased tracks all in one. this showcases the band in their mellower mode (think 'sucks blood'- which is probably my favourite proper record of theirs when push comes to shove) featuring the band playing their songs live in a variety of non-traditional settings that really add to the mood of the songs. 'make them kiss' is the best example of this- especially as it is on the accompanying dvd. this record ended up being my gateway drug into their wealth of older material. the concept of it as a live record is one of those ideas that's so maddeningly simple that no one's been able to think of it yet. i've watched the dvd and listened to the record in the same day on multiple occasions.

8. 'it's a wonderful life'- sparklehorse (2001)

i was thrilled to bits when the newest sparklehorse record finally came out a few years ago. there hadn't been a whisper from the band since this last record- which was so ungodly and unspeakably beautiful that it practically consumed me for the better part of three years. on a particularly busy day last year a co-worker of mine put this album on from my ipod to calm us down after the storm had calmed and i suddenly felt a flood of memories and feelings that i thought i'd forgotten about. it's almost like a time-capsule for me. i almost didn't put it on this list because, sadly, the last sparklehorse album doesn't have anywhere near the same effect. talk about having a well-constructed and fully-realised flow- this album takes pretty much everything that was aimed for (and largely missed in my opinion) on 'good morning spider' and hits everything directly. one of the most infuriating phases in the indie world to me was the 'dave-fridmann-can-do-no-wrong' period because at the time he really seemed to have lost his touch. this record is one example of how he reached that standard- his touch here is exactly the right enhancer for mark linkous' own production flair (in fact i find myself wondering if it weren't for linkous' collaboration with fridmann here if he would've ever become the indie 'it' producer). the guests are great (pj harvey, nina persson and tom waits) but don't overshadow the more textural nature of their respective parts (one could argue that this isn't true of 'dog door'- but it's a beautiful piece of sparklehorse and tom waits madness so who really cares). one thing about this album that is always popping up in my own recording notes is references to 'babies on the sun'- what the fuck is going on in that song?

9. 'phoenix album'- the warlocks (2003)

yeah, this is the best warlocks album. i wanted to put 'heavy deavy skull lover' on here, but i realised that it wasn't as good of an example of what the warlocks are capable of as this album is. every band has a record that kind of carries the trace elements of everything they've done before or what they would do later and 'phoenix' is the perfect example of this. it hints at every direction the band would take or had taken. what's more it's a beautiful example of what drone-pop would sound like if it actually existed and was played on the radio. i play this one at work a lot because it's got a little something for everyone- droney, 60's inflected, feedbacky and expansive but fairly spare in its construction (i'm big on this if you can't tell already).

10. 'cryptograms'- deerhunter (2007)

thank god deerhunter exists. they are one of the most inspiring bands that has reached a formidable level of popularity- one of the only glimmers of hope for my own music's potential that i see in much of the musical landscape these days. i bought 'cryptograms' at pitchfork festival in 2007- they played at 1pm on sunday and nothing i saw for the rest of the day was anywhere near as good. i have a difficult time divorcing it from the 'fluorescent grey' ep (which i also bought). there are times where i roll my eyes a bit at the more ambient and out-there tracks that seperate the more obviously structured songs but i've never skipped a single track when listening to it. taken on its own it's the kind of record that you wouldn't expect to have been as runaway successful as it was. what many of the albums in this list have in common is that they have an upward trajectory- nothing annoys me more than when a band crams in all of the best songs into the first half of the album and it peaks in the middle ('ok computer' is a good example of this). this album starts slow and lulls you into a bit of a complacent state and then it starts to crystallize into the final four knock-out songs that close it out. the album flows like a dream-state- it starts out completely abstract and disparate, comes together for a moment to give you some strong images that appear and leave a strong impression before they disappear into the fog for a time to reappear in different forms leaving different and stronger impressions until you reach the final stages of the dream as you approach full lucidity until you are awake. to me 'cryptograms' is lying in bed asleep and dreaming all night and 'fluorescent grey' is lying in your bed under the covers awake and refusing to let go of the beautiful dreams you just experienced with 'wash off' being the point at which you finally get out of bed and go do something.

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