Saturday, January 23, 2010
The Approximately 30 Best Albums of the Decade
OK – I didn’t want to leave off Sleater-Kinney, so I stretched the list to an unorthodox number. Also, I had planned to write a bit about many of these albums, but I went overboard with No. 1, so I’ll refrain from making this any more gratuitous than it already is.
— Tom McMahon
31. Sleater-Kinney – One Beat
30. Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things
29. Outkast – Stankonia
28. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
27. Marissa Nadler – Songs III: Bird on the Water
26. Jose Gonzalez – Veneer
25. Cass McCombs – Dropping the Writ
24. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
23. The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
22. The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious
21. M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
20. All Night Radio – Spirit Stereo Frequency
19. Crystal Skulls – Blocked Numbers
18. Sigur Ros – Aegaetis Byrjun
17. Beachwood Sparks – Beachwood Sparks
16. Neko Case – Blacklisted
15. The Faint – Danse Macabre
14. Caribou (then known as Manitoba) – Up in Flames
13. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows
12. The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts
11. Alasdair Roberts – No Earthly Man
10. Alasdair Roberts – Spoils
9. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
8. Radiohead – Kid A
7. Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling
6. Of Montreal – Satanic Panic in the Attic
5. The Aislers Set – The Last Match
4. The Knife – Silent Shout
3. The Clientele – Suburban Light
2. The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic
1. The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
At the end of 2001, I got out a small piece of paper and listed on it my Top 10 albums of the year. I don’t remember showing it to anyone — it was just something I felt an urge to do, I suppose. Two years later, the Jamboree began, and it’s been much more fun sharing opinions with friends and some strangers.
Anyhow, besides getting a little nostalgic, the reason I mentioned that handwritten list from 2001 is that I was surprised, when I dug it out of a box recently, to see that I had the Shins’ Oh, Inverted World at No. 2 (tied with the Strokes’ Is This It), behind Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows. Eight years later, I rarely even think about 100 Broken Windows, but it’s totally clear in my mind that Oh, Inverted World is my favorite album of the decade.
A few years after the album came out, an annoying character in some sappy movie promised that the song “New Slang” would “change your life, I swear.” I don’t believe that any one song or album has changed my life. Rather, I think this album reminds me of my life.
One morning this fall, I listened to the album as I was driving along a narrow, windy road in the Santa Monica Mountains, trying to enjoy the spectacular panorama of the Pacific without going off the road. Almost as captivating as the view was these songs, which sound as magical and mysterious now as they did the first time I heard them.
As I listened, it was like the whole decade flashed before my eyes: college, meeting the love of my life, marrying her, road trips all over the Golden State, having kids. Not that the album was constantly playing (aloud or in my head) in everything I did. But I’ve come to regard Oh, Inverted World — and I think I will continue to many years later — as the sound of my 20s, which, appropriately enough, almost exactly matched the span of the 2000s.
Why do I love this album so much? I don’t think I can fully explain it, although I can pull out some key points: the leaping melodies, the weird harmonies, the cryptic lyrics, the tinny, reverby production, the muted but persistent drums, the swirling keyboards, the chiming guitars (especially in the intro of “The Celibate Life”). On paper, that may not seem like a recipe for success, but it all comes together in a strange and beautiful way. In my mind, every song here is a classic, and, unlike me, it never gets old.