Monday, January 25, 2010

Albums from the Past Decade that upon Careless Reflection I Like

Win Butler, Arcade Fire

"Best of" lists are the worst. We can all agree to that. Compiling them is a pointless exercise, an attempt to quantify and measure works of art that, by their very nature, should only be considered in and of themselves. But compiling "Best of" lists is fun. So here we have what is known in the bloggo-biz as a Sophie's Choice.

When, in an earlier post, I rated my top ten films and documentaries, I did so because I wanted to see where the chips would fall. I wanted to see what through the course of the last ten years stayed with me, and I was surprised by the results. It didn't occur to me until I sat down to do the list that there is no movie I have thought about as much, enjoyed as much, as Old Boy in the last decade. But rating films is a very different pointless exercise than the pointless exercise of rating albums. Generally, I don't re-watch films. I watch them once, and I let my feelings about them, if any, percolate. Thus, it's possible to compare one's feelings about a film watched in 2000 with one watched in 2009, the effects of senescence notwithstanding.

Rating albums, on the other hand, is a tricky business. What does it mean to love an album? If you listen to any album more than 50 times, don't you grow to hate it, or at least become indifferent to it? If I listened to Stankonia on repeat in 2000-2001, and haven't listened to it once in the last eight years, can I make a reasoned judgment about it? More important, can I compare it to TV on the Radio's last album, which I am now actually sick of, but which I listened to on repeat last year, so it's fresher in my mind? These are all very good questions that I have posed. Of that there is no question.

So, where does that leave us? I don't know. Maybe it leaves us with this: I won't rate my favorite albums and compare them to one another. I will simply provide -- again for your derision -- a list of albums that at one point or another in the last ten years (not neccesarily now) I really, really enjoyed, albums that I derived some pleasure from. That is all you get. Now shut your mouth and be grateful for my munificence knows no bounds. Forever and ever. Amen.

50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Put aside the fact that 50 is now a parody of the parody that he used to be, forget that mainstream hip hop is so disjointed and confused people see genius in Jay-Z's diarrhetic musings and Lil Wayne's THC-imbued meandering. Remember "In Da Club," "P.I.M.P.," and "21 Questions." Remember the simple hook from "If I Can't" ("If I can't do it, homey, it can't be done...Make the champaigne bottle pop, Take it straight to the top..."). Remember Dre's beats and the wealth of other songs on here that could have been singles too ("Many Men," "High All the Time," "Patiently Waiting," etc.). The moralists decry the era of hip hop that 50 more or less brought to a close. Me? I miss it.

Arcade Fire - Funeral

One time E. did me a huge favor and picked me up from the Detroit airport. I had been listening to Funeral in the aeroplane. And she was listening to it in the car! And as I recall, I think, we both kind of liked it. And I said, "Well that's one thing we got." 2010, and the Deep Blue Something references can't stop, won't stop.

White Stripes - White Blood Cells

This video was made before ironic nostalgia was passe.

The Strokes - Is This It?

Look, this is an important album. I wish I could tell you different. But that is my medical opinion. 

Radiohead - Amnesiac

I don't know. I like it more than Kid A.  I am controversial. I am like Madonna kissing Britney Spears and at the Video Music Awards.

Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It in People

E, this album does not excuse Canada's crimes against cleanliness, but I'll take it.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

This one's for you, E!

Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of the Bewilderbeast

This album is a really good example of the jibberish I state in the preamble to this list. I really loved this album when it came out. It is earnest and unassuming, and is littered with some very pretty songs. In the year 2010, what with my Apple iPad and my jet pack, I don't know that I have the time anymore for it though. Tracks from it still, bizarrely, appear in television commercials, but I'm all like "Oh, Romeo, Yeah, I used to have a scene with him" when I see them. Dire Straits reference! There is no stopping this blog post.

Beach House - Devotion
This album's inclusion on this list may be the most surprising for me personally. When I first heard it, I fell happily into the gentle dream pop Beach House constructed around my ears. Over time, I found myself returning to it every few months. Sometimes I think nobody knows how to write love songs like this duo.

Belle & Sebastian - The Life PursuitPush Barman To Open Old Wounds

Look. I am twee as fuck. Everybody knows that. Belle & Sebastian is my boyfriend. Everybody knows that too. I could have put Dear Catastrophe Waitress here instead. I am such a devotee I could have put Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant. But I am going with the more "mainstream" picks. One time 'Pockets, E., silent (former?) readers JBell and Heidi, and I drove down to Chicago to watch B&S perform. They were so good! I wanted to hug everybody.

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

This guy -- they're really a band, but one of those bands that's really about the lead singer -- anyway, this guy sounds like what it smells like when it's cold in the woods. You know what I'm talking about.

Kanye West - Late Registration

Look. We can hate till the cows come home, but I am going to give you the straight dope. The cows, those cows you've been waiting on, they are out to fucking pasture. They are not coming home. So chill out, and quit your jibber-jabber. Who's had as brilliant a three-album career opening arc as this guy? Nobody. Not even Jesus Christ. Respect.

TV on The Radio - Dear Science

One thing that's curious about this list is that there are a few bands/artists on it who sound terrible live. Grizzly Bear is one; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah another. Those two bands I've seen live in person. I haven't seen TV on the Radio live in person, but I did see them on Saturday Night Live, and I felt so bad for them. They sounded like those kids your middle school principal let take the stage for five minutes near the end of 7th Grade winter dance. All that said, some bands were meant for the studio. This album is magic.

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest 

Does it bother you guys that I'm not even trying to defend these choices anymore? I'm just asserting that which albums I think are good, and then telling random stories in lieu of blurbs. No?! Didn't think so. You guys are the best.

Outkast - Stankonia

Look! I can make conventional choices too. As I've said before, it's okay to like things that are popular. Also, remember the first time you told somebody, "Hey, you know that "Ms. Jackson" is about Erykah Badu's mom?," and they were like, "Yeah, everybody knows that. What's wrong with you?"

The Postal Service - Give Up

Did this album do anything to alleviate the climate crisis? Did it help bring the Janjaweed to their senses? No. This album is cotton candy chased by a Shirley Temple. But it is catchy. This album is the H1N1 of  2003.

Santigold - Santogold

What is going on with the spelling of her name? What is going on with the Bud Light Lime commercials? No idea. But Pitchfork once described her -- and I am paraphrasing here -- as equal parts M.I.A. and Karen O. That is a good description. 

Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters

I don't know. It's disco, it's kind of glam. I like it, but writing descriptions is hard and I'm getting tired. 

The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

Wow, these guys are vanilla. Look, did "New Slang" change my life like it changed Natalie Portman's? No. But sometimes vanilla is a good flavor. Example: pudding. All of this is my way of saying why I really liked this album a few years ago, but I did. So that's that.

PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

Nowadays nobody tries to do a New-York-defining album/novel/movie without at least touching on September 11th. What's nice about this album, which came out before September 11th, especially upon revisit, is that it captures all of my stupid, post-adolescent thoughts-and-feelings about New York. This is a really good album by someone whom I paid a little bit of attention to before it came out, and none since. 

Cat Power - You Are Free

Home stretch! She is the best singer--I literally mean the ability to sing words in a beautiful way--I have encountered in the last decade. 

Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One

Sometimes it's good to reward people for doing really well the thing they set out to do. The three women in this riot grrrrl outfit made really good punchy, power punk songs, and never tried to do more. The fact that this album is so enduring is a testament to how good they are. And, E., they were really good in concert.

My Morning Jacket - It Still Moves

I am not sure how to feel about alt-country and its various progeny. Sugarpockets pointed out the other day that a popular Kings of Leon song that happened upon the radio sounded a lot like the schmaltzy trash that comes on the radio all the time. I took the comment to heart, and listened hard, and tried to separate the song from my own unexamined sense that Kings of Leon is a good band. I guess that's the trick about this music. It sounds nice when you aren't listening hard, and sounds like something worth supporting. All that said, It Still Moves is something else altogether. Every track on this is a burner. It's  heavy on southern-fried guitar and lyrics commensurate with that style. But -- and I say this as someone very uninterested in Lynrd Skynrd -- these are some seriously talented musicians in this band, and, for me at least, this album endures, the rule of multiple listenings notwithstanding.

Sufjian Stevens - Come on Feel the Illinoise

Here's another pretty conventional choice. 

Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood

I saw Fleet Foxes live pretty early on in their rise to indie-fame. This was in a very packed San Francisco club, which was infrequently visited by taxi cabs. I have never been to a mass gathering of people so committed to silence and to stillness. We all stood and strained to take in the self-serious harmonizing, the woodsy gospel vibe and felt surrounded by the mountains and mist of the Pacific Northwest. It's a hard thing to be serious and then to be taken seriously. These guys accomplish it.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

So mumbly, and Brooklyn, and knit-capped, these guys self-released their debut album after forming at Connecticut College, perhaps the most useless college in America. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they all went to prep school and did a p.g. year at Lawrenceville and bought their drugs from a members-only delivery service. Still, this album has all the loose, jangly hallmarks of unvarnished genius. Live, as mentioned, they are terrible. Their next album was totally disappointing. But if you ever want to get a sense of what all those Caucasian, self-important weirdos in New York and their hoodies and their Japanese-edition only Air Jordans were going on about in the mid-aughts and why you might consider caring, pick up CYHSY's debut.


E said...


your usage of this word in a blog post is my new francis fukuyama moment.

E said...

also, your description of b&s is eerily reminiscent of jk. you two may disagree with that, but seriously.

Molly said...

i am hardly qualified to comment because i am a certified music dweeb who has no familiarity with more than half these albums, but i will say that this post will go on my "best of "best of lists" list."

Heidi said...

i enjoy these lists!

cold4thestreets said...

Thanks, Mollz. And thanks Heidi for still being out there in the world, enjoying lists. Forthcoming list: top ten arguments Heidi and I have had re purpose of life/music/Boston Red Sox/.