Sunday, 27 December 2009

Favourite Albums of the Decade

Damn this was tough. I decided against putting any albums from my 2009 list on this because I'm sure a couple were good enough to make it. Then I needed to make some really tough decisions, how could it be a best of list without one White Stripes album? But sadly I had to cut the wondrous 'Elephant' from my list. No Gaslight Anthem with their spectacular albums '59 Sound' (honestly go and download that right now). No Wilco (despite the incredibleness of 'Yankee Foxtrot Hotel'). No OutKast. No LCD Soundsystem, no Knife, no Arctic Monkeys, no Libertines, no Animal Collective, no Thrice, no New Pornographers, no Portishead. All of these bands released superb albums decade and I more or less narrowed it down to 10 (give or take 5). So without further ado.... the honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions

Boxer - The National
The National are just an awesome band and whilst some people think Alligator is the better album. At first this album sounds good. But the more you listen, the more you realise the genius behind it. People say it's the perfect 20something album. So I don't know what that says about me (although some albums higher up are definitely more teen orientated), all I know is that Boxer is a superb album and one I would definitely recommend to many people. You might shrug it off as boring at first, but give it time and you'll realise the depth behind one of the best indie-rock albums of the decade. Plus the fact that it sounds like a mini-orchestra with lots of piano definitely helps it on this list

Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins
A few months ago I placed The Shins debut album on this list and whilst that's still a great album, Chutes Too Narrow is just a bit better and perhaps a bit more cohesive. The sound is a lot better and whilst no song can top the l0-fi brilliance of New Slang, one song doesn't help make an album the best by a band. The fact that sound quality and maturity just seems to have come on in leaps and bounds make this a great album. Whilst I'd still say to people that they should listen to New Slang to see whether they like The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow is the album I'd tell people to listen to if they liked New Slang. Whilst a lot a of the lo-fi nature is gone, the infectious melodies and James Mercer's voice still shine through. Natalie Portman said in Garden State that they'd change your life, and whilst they haven't given me an epiphany, this album is certainly one of the best of the decade.

Is This It? - The Strokes
Know people in the UK? Know when they say "Indie music all sounds the same"? They're referring to the sound that this band brought. Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand both are influenced heavily by this bands form of guitar based rock for the 21st century. The Strokes were hailed early on in the decade as the saviours of modern rock. Whilst The White Stripes have proven to be one of the most consistent bands of the decade and The Strokes have steadily released less and less polished albums, The Strokes still win because of this album. Simply a masterful album full of infectious guitars and hooks that will be stuck with you for days after hearing it. You might not like this kind of music, and it certainly isn't the best indie rock album of the decade but the modern music scene owes this album so much and if it can still be this fantastic nearly 9 years on, well then it definitely deserves it way onto this list.

And now for the real list. Of course I'm starting at 11, because honestly I just couldn't narrow this list down enough.

11. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
The king of multi-instrumental indie music. Sufjan has already appeared on this list due to the fact that he played piano on some tracks on Boxer. But here on his own record we have an album of just staggering ambition. So many different styles and tracks on this album (22 different tracks) contain just one of the best albums of the decade. Part of Sufjan's now discarded 50 states project, he showed us what he might be capable of in Michigan, but it was Illinois that really made you sit and take notice. Songs about love and with UFO in the title make you think twice about what sort of album you might be hearing, but in all honesty I'm going to tell you to just listen to the tracks Chicago and Casmir Pulaski Day. If you enjoy both of those (they're his two best tracks) then you OWE it to yourself to go and download this masterwork of the 21st century (at least what little part of it we've experienced so far.

10. a Real Boy - Say Anything
So far all of my albums have been of the indie ilk and whilst this album is too, it falls far more into the realm of scene music. Music that depressed and angry teenagers find themselves listening to. Since I'm still in my teen years I don't feel too bad for putting this album on a list with those great bands I'm going to be putting up higher. Yes this is a pop punk album and yes I'll probably outgrow it. But for where I am in life and just how damn funny and yet awesome the lyrics are. Max Bemis may not have the best voice in the world but his lyrics tell a story. From the holocaust tinged 'Alive With The Glory of Love' or the final rant in the form of 'Admit It!' make it worth it just to hear this album. Plus it's damn catchy and has some pretty damn awesome riffs as well. However it's also probably the sweariest album on my list, but it goes with that emo-teenage angst I must be feeling to put this album on my list.

9. Give Up/Transatlanticism - The Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie
How could I include two albums in one place? Well for simple reasons. They are both by Benjamin Gibbard, both released in the same year and I honestly couldn't decide between the two of them. Give Up is The Postal Service's only album and is electro-pop at is very best. Whilst I know people who aren't into electronic music at all, The Postal Service however are one of the best. The whole album might not be perfect but it is just a great album, all topped by the song Such Great Heights, which is the greatest song that Benjamin Gibbard has ever written. It's also the most positive song he has written about love, as well all know that Death Cab for Cutie and Transatlanticism is known as one of the breakthrough emo albums ever. However it's also just a superb indie rock album. It's got all the right highs and lows and are just bolstered by Gibbard's voice and lyrics. Like Max Bemis of Say Anything, Ben Gibbard is one artists who I just love to listen to the lyrics of.

8. Kill the Moonlight - Spoon
Spoon are the perpetual underdog. Every single album they've released this decade has been superb and it's honestly difficult just selecting one. But I went for their first which is kind of the crystallization of their sound. You're bound to have heard at least one Spoon song in your life, as their sound is just so unique. That beating drum pattern or particular riff of a guitar and you know what you're in for. Spoon play around with space and strip songs down and still manage to maintain what the song is. Just go and listen to The Way We Get By. Again I seem to be recommending the best song by these guys but if you like the songs then you really owe it yourself to listen. Spoon never failed to be great this decade and whilst every year they released an album they were outshone, I'm here to give them a little bit of their dues. Whilst others might say that White Stripes or Radiohead were the most consistent band of the decade (and they were very consistent) I'm going to have to give that award to Spoon who released 4 superb albums and I can't but wait for their new album Transference which will be out in all of two weeks (I haven't even heard it and I know it's going to be great).

7. Kid A - Radiohead
You can't do a best of list for the last two decades without including Radiohead. In the 90s they released The Bends and OK Computer and this decade whilst all four albums were great, it was really Kid A and In Rainbows that stood out. But Kid A just represented this decade. When it came out people were confused. Why had Radiohead completely left their anthemic rock roots behind and gone electronic. Coldplay came along to fill that anthem space that Radiohead had perfected in the 90s whilst Radiohead went on one of the most creative streaks in history. Kid A is the soundtrack of the 21st century. It turns so many people off when you first listen to but give it time and you realise the genius hidden inside this album, it's eccentric, imaginative and incredible. Whilst people thought that Kid A would be the album that would save rock music (a mantel quickly shifted to The White Strips and The Strokes) what Radiohead did was far more important, they almost changed the way that people should look at music, especially if you look at their recent experiments with releasing songs to the public for free.

6. Origin of Symmetry - Muse
Nope Muse have not made my top 5, but they did beat Radiohead to whom many art snobs say that Muse are inferior copy. Overall I'd say that Kid A and Origin of Symmetry but I put Origin of Symmetry in front mostly because Kid A is getting far more press that Origin of Symmetry. Muse are one of the biggest bands in the world and some of the most experimental. Not experimental in that completely extreme way that Radiohead are but in ways that their sound benefits. But Origin remains their biggest triumph. It's not their breakthrough like Absolution is and sadly far too many fans name that album as their best when really it's a bit uneven. But Origin of Symmetry is the sound of a confident band who know the sound they want to achieve. Look at songs like New Born and Plug in Baby, those are two of the best songs of the decade and they come from the same album. Muse are undeniably one of the best rock bands of the decade. Rock is a fundamentally changed genre from what it meant in the 70s and 80s, but as long as bands like Muse stay in the driving seat, I'll be excited to see where they take us.

5. The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Brand New used to be an average pop-punk band. There are still fans who clamour for those days. I have trouble understanding that. 70x7 is one of their most requested songs and it just sounds like all those Blink182 and Jimmy Eat World wannabes. Then Deja Entendu happened and Brand New matured. It was still pop-punk but it sounded different. Edgier, rockier. Whilst it wasn't quite the masterpiece that this album it was a move in the right direction. Then TDAGARIM happened and it was one of the best post rock albums ever. They perfected the quiet loud dynamic used by so many different bands with cryptic lyrics (so cryptic that there was an actual outcry from fans that the lyrics weren't included with the CD). Two instrumentals and some absolutely incredible songs. They might be classified as emo, but even if you have distaste for the entire emo movement, there's no denying the expert musicianship found in this album.

4. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
The story for this album will probably go down in history. There was a break up, so James Vernon decided to go away to get over this relationship. Whilst there he may have gone a little insane and starting to write lyrics all over the wall. However the lyrics and music that he wrote are some of the best to come out of this past decade. If you like acoustic folky music with almost an ethereal sound then you need to hear this album. Yes the album is achingly romantic and the back story has been so oft repeated that it loses a lot of its impact, but it's just amazing music. Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) is now one of the biggest forces in indie music, going so far as to feature on the Twilight soundtrack (along with other list makers, Radiohead, Muse and Death Cab for Cutie). It came out of nowhere with it's immense loneliness and near mythic story. But behind all of that lies one of the best albums to ever be recorded. Just listen to Skinny Love and hear for yourself.

3. The Midnight Organ Fight - Frightened Rabbit
Recently voted as one of the best Scottish albums of the decade, Frightened Rabbit provided not just that, but one of the best British albums of the decade. Considering that includes bands like Radiohead and Muse, that's praise indeed. Whilst I'm probably speaking in hyperbole, I don't think I can convey how much I love this album. Again it's another break up album (much like my favourite album of all time is Pinkerton) but that probably speaks more about my mental state through most of the decade (hence the emo albums on this list). But that doesn't degrade how great this album is. Modern Leper kicks of the album in absolute style and we get taken through 14 tracks of these drunk potty mouthed Scotsmen and their awesome music. One of my anticipated albums of 2010 is Frightened Rabbit's third album and if it's anywhere near as good as this triumph then you should be excited as well. It's hard to convey what makes this album work. They're not the most innovative band in the world but their music is just filled with a vigorous amount of heart that just begs to be listened to. So many different styles that just come to together to make that oh so rare cohesive whole, Frightened Rabbit succeded at make a perfect indie rock record which sadly hasn't received as much attention as countless other Scottish bands this decade who in my mind have just made inferior albums. Sadly two other albums from across the pond managed to beat the best British album of the decade, but let it be known us Brits put some incredible music this decade as well.

2. The Red Tree - Moneen
People who know me might be a little surprised by this albums placement and honestly for months it was going to be number 1. Easily my most played album of the decade and despite not being a concept album or progressive rock, it's just one of the most seamless albums of the decade. There are practically no breaks in sound but you know when each new song begins. They just float into each other and create this seamless whole. Brand New may be one of the best quiet/load bands in the business but Moneen have a seemingly God-like ability to make songs sound as brilliant in either an acoustic or full band form. Some bands are better in one or the other but Moneen are one band I could listen to in either form. Just listen to The Red Tree and then Saying Something You Have Already Said Before and you'll understand. They even managed to perfect the perfect song which I was shocked by. They might be emo, they might be loud but they wrote one of the hardest hitting emotional albums of the decade which just sounds incredible. Moneen might not be the best known band in the world but these Canadian rockers are just so well liked within bands in Canada. Even indie purists know these guys have incredible talent. Whilst Canada has put out some incredible albums this decade, two stand head and shoulders above the rest and rank in at numbers 1 and 2 on my list.

1. Funeral - Arcade Fire
It couldn't not be. It's the most critically acclaimed album of the decade and it came out in 2004. It's the best debut of the decade by far and it's influence is just so far stretching. Hell even Coldplay tried to emulate what this album does on their latest and failed at capturing the heart and soul that this album has. Funeral is lightning in a bottle that even Arcade Fire were unable to catch again on Neon Bible. It's a great album, but Funeral is the try success story of the decade. Win Butler may not have the best voice of all time but you can feel his passion behind every word that he sings. It just makes this album sizzle. It might not be in English all of the time as there are occasionally parts where it lapses into French, but when an album can overcome having French on it you know you have a winner. Dual vocals, a menagerie of instruments and some epic songs. There are danceable tunes and whilst it's not all guitars and drums like many music purists would prefer to see, Arcade Fire have created an orchestra of sounds. This album is my most consistently listened to. I'll bring it at least once a week without hesitation and I can actually remember where I was the first time I heard it, which is more than I can say for a lot of these albums no matter how much I love them. Hearing this album for the first time, you might think it sounds good because it sounds different. Even if you only listen to about 15 minutes of it. After that you just know it's special. You'll come back just to listen again and make sure, but it's still got a spark. That spark will keep you coming back for more and more. If the 2000s are remembered for anything let's hope it isn't terrorism, recessions, natural disasters, the reality TV show boom or corrupt politicians. I hope we're remembered for bringing the world the perfection that is Funeral, an album bound to go down as one of the best albums in history.*

*I was going to say the decade should also be remembered for The Wire, but then I realised that corrupt politicians are a big part of that. So instead it gets listed down here in an addendum.

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