Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paul's Top 75 Albums of the Decade

I remember having a conversation with one of my sister's friends when I was in high school. Pegging me as the sort of fan who enjoyed monitoring trends and taking the pulse of popular music, he sounded a sort of death knell to my obsessive tendencies, predicting that as I got older, my interest in such things would wane and all new music would ultimately be lost on me. I think I spent the entirety of this decade waiting for that to happen; it never did. If anything, my appreciation for pop music intensified during the past ten years, whether it was the 40-hour drives to and from Nashville ("Turn on the Bright Lights" during a May sunset approaching Gallup, New Mexico), long runs (a steady diet of DFA Records and Dismemberment Plan), and spinning picks with the Westside Record Club. And I count some of my favorite experiences of the past decade to be pop music-related, whether it be playing in Spanish Archer, writing music reviews for the Graphic, djing law school parties, or annual trips to Coachella with Thom. It's only in the last year that I've stopped purchasing as much new music as I had in the past. Although this is somewhat a product of being overwhelmed by the glut of bands and blogs that have crowded the airwaves for the latter half of the aughts, there's a more practical reason: I got turntables and have simply been purchasing older vinyl. This might explain why my list of the favorite albums of the decade is almost devoid of albums from this year.

My criteria for this list is somewhat objective. Not objective in the sense that these are, in my opinion, the "best" records of the past decade, but objective in the sense that it is meant to track which albums I, in fact, listened to the most, from purchase to present. This might explain why an album such as Belle & Sebastian's "Dear Catastrophe Waitress," which I actually think is inferior to "The Life Pursuit," ranks ahead of it; I just happened to listen to the former almost obsessively when driving home from Pepperdine during the winter of 2003. And that naturally speaks to the subjective nature of the list, namely, some records, despite their flaws or their missed opportunities or even their shitty songs, just strike a nerve, and, from that moment on, are indelibly associated with a memory or a feeling. I used to think that phenomenon - treasuring music for its associations - was feminine, so I was either wrong or I've spent a decade getting in touch with my feelings. Obviously, all of the albums listed below are, in my opinion, phenomenal, but to read the list as my critical take on what was "best" or "most important" from the decade would be missing the point entirely. To that end, I still haven't even heard any Wolf Parade records, so my knowledge is woefully incomplete.

So, without further adieu, here are my 75 favorite albums of the past decade. Next to some of the higher-ranking entries I've written blurbs reflecting on my experiences with those albums and, perhaps, why they meant and, in most cases, continue to mean so much to me. I know this is indulgent, but it's too fun for me not to indulge when I actually have the opportunity to write about something I care about. There are about 100 more records that, depending on the week, could have made this list; I love them no less.
  1. of montreal - Satanic Panic in the Attic -- Oddly, the list begins with an album that I don't have particularly strong associations with but was, plain and simply, the album I listened to the most over the past decade. This album very clearly serves as a milemarker in the of montreal catalog, the album where the band's twee sensibilities started taking a back seat to their Erasure inclinations. I still can't believe they encored with "Alright" by Supergrass at a 2005 concert I attended; had they played "Girl Don't Tell Me" next, I would've expected they had designs on converting me, and me specifically, to their cause.
  2. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat -- I bought this album for a friend, and the night I gave it to her, her ex-boyfriend's uncle passed away. I remember that we didn't listen to it but instead drank beer outside her apartment. Had she played the album after I left, I think it would have fit the moment. I didn't buy the album until years later, instead borrowing her copy and burning it to my computer. I still find it to be one of the saddest and funniest albums I regularly listen to (often simultaneously, such as in "Rise Up With Fists!!").
  3. Yo La Tengo - And then Everything Turned Itself Inside Out -- Ever since I purchased this album the day it came out in Heidelberg, Germany, "Tears Are in Your Eyes" has been a mixtape staple of mine. This album evokes the steadiness and resolve of two people who have gone through it all together (kind of like the couple in Stegner's "The Spectator Bird") and are committed to staying the course. It's probably unfair to hoist that upon Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley but I must admit that if their relationship ever ends, I will look at this album and think, "You lied to me."
  4. Broadcast - Tender Buttons -- I had been listening to this album in my car for a good month when I decided it would be good background for a game of scrabble with a girl. It was only then, in that silent, pensive environment, that I heard the ghost in the album, the haunting presence that begins with the descending scale in "I Found the F" and continues until the end. You know how horror movies often trot out a little girl to sing nursery rhymes or something to contrast innocence against depravity? This album conjures that vibe without being trite.
  5. Dr. Dog - Easy Beat -- Kind of like Satanic Panic, this one firmly implanted itself on one listening; I couldn't pry it away for months.
  6. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight -- No fat on this record.
  7. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood -- I've always believed this record was influenced by Carl Newman (see infra) lyrically. Truth is, though, as abstract and intriguing as the lyrics are, it just comes down to the voice. This is Cocteau Twin territory where, to me, it could just be syllables and it wouldn't change a thing.
  8. Dntel - Life is Full of Possibilities -- I picked this record up at Other Music in the early spring of 2002 and immediately listened to it on a long walk in the snow to the Whitney. I forgive Mia Doi Todd for all of her boring performances solely for contributing to "Anywhere Anyone."
  9. The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic -- I remember hearing "The Body Says No" on KXLU in the fall of 2001 from my on-campus apartment. Having been a huge Zumpano fan since high school, but never having any reason to believe the obscure band or its members would re-enter the musical landscape, I lost it. I was totally swept up with emotion that Carl Newman, the songwriter and singer I admired so much, had a new project coming out. I can't imagine having this feeling nowadays. With the proliferation of blogs and Pitchfork chronicling indie rock like it was global affairs, the only surprise is the headline, never the actual song or album. I mean, no Dave Grohl fan just happened upon a Them Crooked Vultures song on the radio and lost his shit; that just doesn't happen any more.
  10. The Walkmen - Bows & Arrows -- I probably saw the Walkmen live more than any other band this decade. I remember the first time - late January 2003 at the Troubadour with Hot Hot Heat. HHH had the radio hit but the Walkmen headlined and seemed committed to stopping all the frivolity. Hamilton Leithauser stalked the stage like a prep school bully, and for some reason (probably b/c I had seen my fair share of effeminate indie rock dudes) it really appealed to me. I think the drumming on this record is phenomenal.
  11. Radiohead - Kid A
  12. Gonzales - Solo Piano
  13. Beachwood Sparks - Beachwood Sparks
  14. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born -- As much as I love Wilco, I believe this is their only album where the great songwriting isn't compromised by the production. "Sky Blue Sky" sounds great, but not all the songs are there. On the other hand, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" has the songs but Jim O'Rourke's production is cold and sterile; I always prefer "Jesus, Etc." live with the warm organ backing instead of the Quaker strings. "A Ghost Is Born" marries both.
  15. Cass McCombs - Dropping the Writ
  16. Stephen Malkmus - Pig Lib and bonus e.p. -- My favorite Malkmus solo record and, sadly, the last with John Moen on drums. Why does everyone think Janet Weiss is such an upgrade? Listen to "Do Not Feed the Oyster;" Weiss' busyness would've ruined that shit, while Moen does his best Bill Ward and comes out victorious.
  17. Bossanova - Hey, Sugar
  18. Kanye West - Late Registration
  19. Cass McCombs - Catacombs
  20. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
  21. Low - Things We Lost in the Fire
  22. The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love -- I really only listen to the first half of this record, which I believe stacks up against the first half of any record this decade.
  23. The Walkmen - Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone
  24. The Shins - Oh, Inverted World
  25. Blur - Think Tank
  26. The Strokes - Room on Fire
  27. Deerhunter - Microcastles
  28. The Futureheads - S/t
  29. Outkast - Stankonia
  30. Blood Brothers - Crimes
  31. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-eyed Mender
  32. Madvillain - Madvillainy
  33. Elliott Smith - Figure 8
  34. Reigning Sound - Too Much Guitar
  35. Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken
  36. Sloan - Never Hear the End of It
  37. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder
  38. Daft Punk - Discovery
  39. The Clientele - God Save the Clientele
  40. Field Music - Tones of Town
  41. Hot Snakes - Suicide Invoice
  42. Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne
  43. Lambchop - Is a Woman
  44. Spoon - Girls Can Tell
  45. Animal Collective - Meriweather Post Pavilion
  46. Nobody & Mystic Chords of Memory - Tree Colored Sea
  47. Out Hud - Let Us Never Speak of it Again
  48. She & Him - Volume 1
  49. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
  50. Enon - Hocus Pocus
  51. Impossible Shapes - Horus
  52. Love Is All - 9 Times the Same Song
  53. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
  54. Lambchop - Nixon
  55. Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You
  56. Tortoise - Standards
  57. Deerhoof - Milkman
  58. Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic
  59. The Game - The Documentary
  60. The Decemberists - Her Majesty, The Decemberists
  61. Destroyer - This Night
  62. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
  63. Clipse - Lord Willin'
  64. Jay Reatard - Blood Visions
  65. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
  66. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
  67. Dungen - Ta De Lungt
  68. Metro Area - Metro Area
  69. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
  70. Delays - Faded Seaside Glamour
  71. Air - Talkie Walkie
  72. The Bigger Lovers - This Affair Never Happened . . . and Here Are 11 Songs About It
  73. Old 97s - Satellite Rides
  74. Dungen - 4
  75. Gorillaz - Demon Days

12 comments:

kyle. said...

thumbs up for the dismemberment plan reference even if change didn't make the list.

michelle mcmahon said...

What an impressive post, Paul! I forgot about Out Hud. I need to bust that out. I thought about putting J. Lewis in my decade list, too. But, ultimately, it didn't have "staying power." I loved it while I listened to it obsessively, but now I'm over it.
You will most certainly be obsessed with music forever, Paul! Fudge your sister's friend!

Daniel said...

Well played sir. I'll post my list of my fav 76 albums of the decade soon.

Paul said...

I know it's silly long, but I've looked at it since I've posted it and keep thinking that I'm missing essential albums. In the words of AM/PM (I think), too much good stuff.

Chris said...

Hey - If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face. O.o

Seriously though, I love it. I've always been the kind of person who really doesn't have a favorite anything - book, movie, food, band, etc. The list always changes from day to day and mood to mood. More is more.

Daniel said...

Got milk?

Lex said...

After reading you list, I now realize how many albums I forgot about. Thank you for posting, it brought so many more albums to mind that I can't wait to pull down from the shelves and listen to again.

Thomas McMahon IV said...

Always a pleasure, Paul. If you want to add another 25, I won't protest.

Not surprised to see Satanic Panic at the top. I think it's a perfect album, if that's possible. Funny that you mentioned not having a strong association with it -- always reminds me of a drive out to Coachella, I guess the year it came out.

I'm going to feel weird about having Mass Romantic, since you led the charge on it, higher on my list than you have it on yours. But it's gonna be way up there.

What about Neko Case's Blacklisted?

Two other associations I have with songs you mentioned that I'd like to share -- one from the beginning of the decade, and one from the end:

1. YLT's "Tears Are in Your Eyes." Spring 2000. Alone and lonely in Madrid. A record store had the album at a listening station. Tears were indeed in my eyes.

2. Broadcast's "I Found the F." About a month ago. Speeding up Sepulveda, the spectacular, winding stretch ascending out of the Valley. That song made it feel like I was about to take flight.

rpweber said...

Paul, you always make me feel like I know absolutely nothing about music. I mean that as a compliment.

Paul said...

Well, Ryan, if I've wielded my knowledge as a sword to make you feel inadequate, I've done my job.

Thom, I really like Blacklisted, but I guess I like the two I listed more and didn't want any more Neko Case records taking up coveted spots. She's up there for artist of the decade given how consistently great her records are and work with the NPs.

Btw, I listened to the first Crystal Skulls record on Saturday night; that shit should be in my top 75. So smooth, like Donald Fagen writing Strokes songs.

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