The Top Twenty Albums Of The Decade (As Published In The University Register)

A music critic’s favorite exercise is the list.  It’s a celebration of our own arbitrarily celebrated taste.  It’s a self-congratulatory practice in which we don’t explain why we placed number five over number six (I put a lot of effort into this).  A high placement on a list doesn’t force you to enjoy or even respect an album, but you inevitably react to it.  When Radiohead’s Kid A became album of the decade by consensus, everyone either quietly accepted the victory of their beloved Radiohead or used the word “overrated” over and over again until it did not mean anything anymore.  I’m writing this gigantic fucking list not because you’ll agree with it and not because I think that my opinion is the law.  I just hope that you react to it and try to articulate exactly why you think I’m wrong.

20. Super Taranta! – Gogol Bordello

In the eighties, Shane MacGowan and company integrated the Celtic stylings of their homeland into punk rock.  Last decade, Gogol Bordello did the same with the music of Eastern Europe, creating what they call “gypsy punk.”  This entails multiple fiddles, accordions, and a singer that has been compared to Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.  Their grandiose music sounds chaotic and messy, but only insofar as the issues of immigration and the music of Eastern Europe are, as well.  Gogol Bordello has been called a joke or (supposedly this is better) a novelty band, but I don’t think that a novelty band could maintain the relevance of Gogol Bordello’s discussions on immigration and the disconnect between the first and third worlds.

19. Funeral Dress – Wussy

No one knows about Wussy, the Ohioan quartet built around the fronting couple’s relationship.  As is their approach, they generally ignore their beautiful relationship and focus on only the ugliest and most miserable features.  Wussy could sound like a normal folk country band, both of whose singers’ voices contain an almost distracting warble, but then they bring in distorted electric guitar to create a looming and contemplative air.  Wussy’s debut, Funeral Dress, feels like the central couple’s therapy.  They sing about how much they hate each other so that they can continue to live together.  After three albums in four years, I suppose it’s working.

18. Warning: – Green Day

Green Day’s best album, Warning:, exhibits the band’s best aspects (their anthems for teenage nonconformism and their punky yet pleasant approach to music) while eliminating their shortcomings (their occasional immaturity and their later delusions of grandeur).  Even with their most passionate (and also best) song, “Minority,” acting as the face of the album, the rest of it is less outspoken.  It finds a long-time punk realizing that he can no longer rebel for the hell of it.  He puts down his electric guitar and longs for the time when he made his identity being the minority.

17. Return To Cookie Mountain – TV On The Radio

A sure sign of a great album is if the music sounds like it could disassemble and collapse with one false move.  Not only does Return To Cookie Mountain encapsulate that idea, but the band was holding together about as barely as the music.  Every disagreement between Sitek, Malone, and Adebimpe was taken extraordinarily personally.  Right from the start, you hear horns, sitar, and Sitek’s complex production rising into a cyclone of chanting madness that persists for an entire hour.  It’s an album that works both barely and marvelously.

16. Kid A – Radiohead

When Kid A was declared the best album of the decade by a lot of sources, there was an expected backlash due to its unconventional approach to the album format.  Of the ten tracks on it, I wouldn’t consider a significant number of them to be songs.  The album’s ambient compositions are inaccessible, but the problem is that if you keep expecting Kid A to change your pitiful little life, it will remain inaccessible.  Give in to its engaging beats, its perfectly expressed tone, and the overall sense of alienation that it inhabits.  The biggest mistake you can make is expecting Kid A to bowl you over.  Instead, anticipate that it will systematically haunt you until it slyly wins you over.

15. Late Registration – Kanye West

I dunno if anyone remembers this, but there was a time when Kanye West’s ego was completely justified.  That time was 2005, when every single person was singing “Gold Digger,” a song whose chorus was censored on the radio in the most embarrassing way that they could get away with.  Kanye West isn’t the best rapper alive, and I think he knows that, but what makes him stand above most others as an artist is that he might be the greatest hip hop producer alive.  His use of sampling from sources everywhere from Ray Charles to Otis Redding give his album an extra amount of soul that’s difficult to conjure in a mainstream hip hop environment.

14. Separation Sunday – The Hold Steady

Sorry The Wall and American IdiotSeparation Sunday is the best rock opera since The Who’s Quadrophenia.  Detailing the trials and tribulations of a Twin Cities hoodrat named Hallelujah but nicknamed Holly, Separation Sunday’s Midwestern rock opera features Craig Finn being a smartass about the lead character’s religious inner conflict, waxing Biblical whenever is appropriate.  Tad Kubler and his guitar always find a way to make a less than eventful song seem significant anyway, but when there’s real passion behind a song, think “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” or the grand finale, it represents The Hold Steady at their songwriting best.  “How A Resurrection Really Feels” even makes certain that you’re not left wanting more, resolving the album perfectly.

13. Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea – PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey, coming off of a series of slow, doom-filled albums that won her the attention of the critical world, leapt into the year 2000 with a series of fast, slick pop melodies that frightened the independent music analysts into believing that PJ Harvey was headed where her peer Liz Phair wound up going.  She cuts the arty tonality that she worked so hard on in previous ventures, and she takes her first stab at working on songcraft.  I wonder how she succeeds so wildly.  Then I remember that her voice is angelic even when she’s doing her best Iggy Pop impression on the tenth track.

12. Kill The Moonlight – Spoon

The first thing that a music critic will discuss regarding Spoon’s career is their almost frustrating consistency.  Even their indie-gone-mainstream album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, while very solid, was only about as good as everything else, but at the center of their seven-album career, Kill The Moonlight shone as not only a highlight in an already-intimidating career, but an album definitive of the current state of indie rock.  Despite the fact that saying you “don’t dig The [White] Stripes” was probably the most unsettling statement you could make musically around 2002, Spoon got away with that and pushed past their garage rock revival peers.

11. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady

Even with their recent Heaven Is Whenever faltering a bit, The Hold Steady confirmed that they’re pretty much immortal when Craig Finn declared, “The kids at the shows/They’ll have kids of their won/Their sing-a-long songs will be our scriptures.”  The Hold Steady stare the fact that they might be losing their edge square in the face before firmly slapping said face.  The Hold Steady take their previously established levels of grandeur and utilize keyboardist Franz Nicolay to his full potential to push their level of pomp just that much further.  On Stay Positive, The Hold Steady help you remember what a rock and roll band is.

10. Up The Bracket – The Libertines

I guess you could say that the garage rock revival headed by The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Hives was a resurgence of punk rock, and the presence of The Libertines would just prove you right.  Up The Bracket was produced by The Clash legend Mick Jones, and it inspired more widely known but less notable British modern punk bands like The Arctic Monkeys and The Fratellis.  Frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barât sound like they’re constantly fighting about whose good idea they should ultimately implement.  I feel like they often use both.  It’s rare that you find something this melodic sounding so violent.

9. The Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem

You might think that he’s a crude little troll who goes for shock value and overvalues the humor of pop culture references.  If you’d only heard Relapse, you might actually have a point, but The Marshall Mathers LP was a statement about The First Amendment that needed to be made back in the age where parents blamed Grand Theft Auto, South Park, and Marilyn Manson for school shootings.  Whether he’s murdering his own wife, unraveling a story about a fan that absent-mindedly murders his pregnant wife, or stating that he will, in fact, kill you, Eminem lives to provoke, and he shows suburban mothers everywhere why they shouldn’t care about a crass fucker like himself.

8. Oooh! (Out Of Our Heads) – Mekons

Back in 1985, the British first-wave punk band Mekons made a punk country album that ranked among the three or so best of its decade called Fear And Whiskey.  The band’s been consistent ever since, but until the defining global event of our generation, they didn’t really have a lot to say.  The first song, “Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem,” is all about how the Middle East’s primordial philosophies that threaten to render the region irrelevant have made it relevant thanks to its backlash against the rapidly advancing Western world.  The rest is about life itself, setting a nice exposition for our post-9/11 world.  Then they tell us that everyday is a battle, but remind us of how we still love the war.

7. Kala – M.I.A.

Whether she’s emulating Jonathan Richman, Black Francis, or Joe Strummer, M.I.A. experiments always and succeeds equally often.  She’s more politically aware than any other musician today, and she works that into her dance music that’s easier to swallow than it sounds like it should be.  You’ve heard “Paper Planes,” of course, but did you know that “Jimmy” is an even better dance number?  Did you know that “Bamboo Banga” is even more infectious?  Despite the best song here being the popular attack on immigration paranoia, every song stands out.

6. Sound Of Silver – LCD Soundsystem

Looking at the nine songs on Sound Of Silver in your iTunes library, the album might seem like a little much.  All but two songs exceed five minutes and four of them exceed seven minutes, and this might make the album somewhat inaccessible.  Then, however, you find that you feel the opposite of what you expected, and instead of skipping those seven-minute songs, you’re ordering your iPod to repeat them.  You then realize that you’ve been listening to “All My Friends” for an hour straight.  James Murphy builds his songs until they reach terminal velocity, and then titular chants bring it all in.  Murphy’s innovative approach to songcraft will prove to be influential in the coming years, but what I’m still marveling at is the care that’s been put into Sound Of Silver’s flawless structure.

5. You Forgot It In People – Broken Social Scene

In 2000, the music world didn’t know what Kid A really meant.  In 2002, a gigantic collective of little-known musicians named Broken Social Scene made an album called You Forgot It In People that marked the first significant impact that Kid A made on the music world with a structure that almost mimicked Kid A, but a soundscape that proved both more intricate and more interesting.  Upon first listen, I knew that I loved the album, but it wasn’t until I realized why I loved it that I realized how much I loved it.  Its angsty auras and layred textures create a presence of youthful rebellion that a name like “Broken Social Scene” promises, and “Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” delivers on.

4. Funeral – Arcade Fire

In 2004, three members of Arcade Fire suffered family deaths, and as such, you’d expect their funeral to be an affair the everyone admits is miserable, but no one admits is tedious.  However, Arcade Fire gives a eulogy that brings the entire congregation to tears, making the most uplifting album that anyone has ever even imagined.  The chorus of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” surprises me every time, and for ten whole songs Arcade Fire dissects the most desperate emotions it can conjure.  Their sustained optimism in the persisting face of death is not only inspiring, but infectious.  Arcade Fire gives us a funeral that makes you a happier and better person upon experience.

3. Decoration Day – Drive-By Truckers

Back during that golden age where three, count ‘em, three prolific songwriters were at the core of Southern rock kings Drive-By Truckers, they wrote an album called Decoration Day.  While their heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd celebrated the unexpected aspects of the South, Drive-By Truckers deprecated the expected elements. Patterson Hood’s topics include spiraling depression and heathenism, Mike Cooley brings Skynyrd and The Stones with him to fuel his craft, and newcomer Jason Isbell surprises everyone with his father’s words of wisdom and an inter-family war.  Songs about incest, fundamentalism, good old-fashioned feudin’ are included in this retrospective of the songwriters’ childhoods and the bad habits that make the dirty South so-named.

2. Dear Science – TV On The Radio

David Sitek’s atmospherics provide all of the depth and intrigue that Radiohead or Broken Social Scene can manage, but there’s one key difference: Frontmen Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone know their way around a hook.  Songwriting mastermind Adebimpe’s lyrics are often ambiguous and cosmic, but rooted in relevant social and political commentary that somehow goes right with eccentricities like a “foam-injected Axl Rose.”  After Return To Cookie Mountain’s consruction threatened to dismantle them, this band that’s scared to death that they’re living a life not worth dying for finds a reason to push forward and stay positive.

1. Boys And Girls In America – The Hold Steady

While Kid A’s perceived progression of album craft scored it big points in decade lists all around the web, Boys And Girls In America moves music forward in all the ways I want it to.  Built around the eleven-song blueprint that The Replacements mastered, BAGIA takes Finn’s Springsteenian approach to songcraft and blasts it into the modern age.  Finn tells stories with solitary lines that are backed by the rock and roll of old that soundtracked their exaggerated, Minneapolis youth in which they loved the Golden Gophers, but they hated all the drawn-out winters.

Addendum (06/25): Funeral really should have been number one, and Satellite Rides by Old 97’s absolutely should have been on this list, possibly in the top ten.  Of course, this list only represents what I thought at one point in time.  It still holds up very well after two months, which is surprising.

Addendum (10/26): Hospice by The Antlers should totally be in the top ten, too.  I’m still pretty happy with the list, though.

Addendum (12/11): The current top ten list for the foreseeable future: 1. Funeral – Arcade Fire, 2. Boys And Girls In America – The Hold Steady, 3. Dear Science – TV On The Radio, 4. Decoration Day – Drive-By Truckers, 5. You Forgot It In People – Broken Social Scene, 6. Sound Of Silver – LCD Soundsystem, 7. Hospice – The Antlers, 8. Late Registration – Kanye West, 9. Satellite Rides – Old 97’s, 10. Kala – M.I.A.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 12:25 AM  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. of course I haven’t heard them all, but maybe like half, I do have the rest on my computer waiting to be discovered right after I get rid of this Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) addiction. But let’s see, yes Super Taranta is very good, maybe a bit too long, I know warning in and out, right down to note the Husker reference in the font, Kid A is my favorite radiohead album (how is In limbo so enticing or Idioteque so genius?) Can’t find the mekons album nor the wussy one (any of the wussy ones in fact) Separation Sunday disappointed me cause it wasn’t melodic, at all, just a guy going on and on with a musical background, DBT are awesome but I prefer the dirty south, Boys and girl in america is ummm, very good.

    • Hey, Juan. I finally got around to responding to this. I’m glad you like the list. Yeah, the Mekons and Wussy albums are very hard to find.

      I find Separation Sunday melodic at times, but I admit that it isn’t very. It’s certainly a reason to get annoyed, but never am.

      The Dirty South was actually on a short list for this list. At the time off assembly, here’s what nearly made the cut in rough order.

  2. […] issue so far is the lack of any A+ albums.  Nothing would break the top seven (the A+’s) on my decade list , and only the top one would break the top ten.  The top three or four would break top twenty, […]

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