Friday, January 01, 2010

Best Albums of the Decade (from My Cramped Vantage Point)

The first decade of the new-ish millenium's wound down, and--as is the case with a lot of Bloggers out there, I'm sure--I've done some looking back on the pop culture pantheon of the last ten years.

I could go all blathery about the massive sea change in entertainment--on all spheres--thanks to the Internet and the massive technological advances that've impacted all of the arts and popular culture. But I don't feel like it. Instead, I just thought I'd devote the first Petri Dish entry of the new decade (it's just fun to write that out) to some of the albums that I fell most strongly in love with over the last ten years.

This isn't meant to be some massive critical dissection of the new millenium's musical trends or aesthetic significance. It's just a list of the albums released in the 2000's (the 'Oughts)  that've taken up the greatest amount of space in my ears (and my head). As such, it's filled with obvious biases and my own flagrant subjectivity, and I'm gonna indulge in twenty picks as opposed to the traditional top-ten list.

My Favorites of the Decade, in Chronological-ish Order:

The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (2000): Portland's Dandy Warhols always took heat from rock critics for wearing their influences on their sleeves, and for actually having fun being rock stars. Screw all that snobbery. This big, gorgeously-produced Pop-record-with-a-capital-P delivers catchy and hilarious dance tracks ("Solid"), sloppy nods to country ("Country Leaver"), sad narcotic gorgeousness ("Sleep"), beautiful harmonies (the Beach-Boys-worthy "The Gospel"), and more hooks than a whole shopful of fishing tackle. The opening three tracks of Urban Bohemia comprise the most alluring and atmospheric psychedelia proffered by anyone all decade; a triptych of music that got me through more lousy commutes than I could count. [Plug alert: yours truly interviewed Dandy Warhols keyboardist Zia McCabe at the If you're interested, you can see parts one and two here and here.]

The Dirtbombs, Ultraglide in Black (2000): Detroit's Dirtbombs released a gaggle of great original records this decade (2008's We Have You Surrounded is an impassioned call to arms that rocks like Hell). This (almost-) all-covers disc does for old-school soul what David Bowie's classic Pin-Ups did for the British Invasion; meaning, it celebrates the original songs while still staking out its own personality. If there's a more impassioned, sweaty, and joyous ode to R and B's Golden Age out there, damned if I've heard it.

The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000) and A.C. Newman, Get Guilty (2008): Everything these Cannuck power-popsters touch is aces by me, but the Pornographers' debut still shines a little brighter than all the others. Each individual song on Mass Romantic contains enough hooks for any three lesser pop songs. Meantime, a more detailed fawning-over of Pornographers lead singer/songwriter's divine solo record, Get Guilty, lives here.

P.J. Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000): An album composed in the flush of heated romance, with all dimensions covered--prowl-and-growl lust ("This is Love"), exploding-heart happiness ("Good Fortune"), leap-of-faith urgency ("One Line"), and my pick for the most swoonsomely haunting love song of the 'Oughts, "Beautiful Feeling."

The Strokes, Is This It (2001): The Strokes arrived on the music scene with so much hoopla that it almost marginalized the spiky, urgent, simple, but perfect old-wave pop songs they delivered so well. Like walking the streets of New York with your coolest pal on earth.

David Bowie, Heathen (2002): One of the most arresting ruminations on mortality a rock legend has ever committed to posterity. And the cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" is pure Man-who-Fell-to-Earth awesomeness.

The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2002): James Mercer's pop mini-symphonies reached their apex with the band's sophomore release. I'll warrant each of these perfect songs'll still sound every bit as lustrous two decades from now.

Supergrass, Life on Other Planets (2002): At their best, this British band has always played like a wonderful melange of every great Brit-pop style of the last forty years. Life on Other Planets is their most colorful and fun rock-and-roll highlight reel, with Buzzcocks-style fizzy punk, T. Rex glammy stomp, and loping Beatles flourishes in delicious abundance.

Guitar Wolf, UFO Romantics (2003): Every Guitar Wolf record is the same, like every Ramones record is the same; magnificently, wonderfully the same. 4/4-time, blisteringly loud and raw punk rock that makes me happy to be alive. I've already crowed on about their greatness once or twice in these electronic pages, and will continue to do so forever.

Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003): Step One to selling your hip-hop record to a Doofy White Guy Like Me: Make the first disc of your two-CD set good, sturdily-danceable jams. Step Two: Make the second disc the Greatest Whacked-Out Soul Record Prince Never Recorded. "Prototype" damn near out-Barry-Whites Barry White, and "Hey Ya" remains one of the decade's greatest singles--an incisive commentary on relationships that you can also shake your booty to (like a Polaroid picture)...

Richard Hawley, Coles Corner (2005): Go here for much more on this, the most consistent, lushly romantic set of songs by anyone all decade.

Louis XIV, The Best Little Secrets are Kept (2005): The best, most absurdly smutty glam-rock record that T. Rex and the Sweet never put out. The over-the-top potty-mouthed lyrics likely doomed it to cult status; a damn shame. The glittering, radio-ready production on this album was made to be played, full-blast, from Camaros all over the galaxy.

TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (2006): Again, go here for a bit more detail. This Brooklyn-based outfit sounds like no one else--new wave meets mutated falsetto soul meets African polyrhythms, all combined in a dense and heady swirl of noise that's as affecting as it is creative.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006): Yeah, she's a frickin' wreck personally, but Christ dipped in batter and deep-fried, is her second disc perfect. The incredible songs navigate the minefield of romance and relationships with Elvis Costello-esque wit and a succulent girl-group vibe (courtesy of producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson). Not a wasted note, not a false moment appears on it, and its utter flawlessness brings up the inevitable question: Will she ever be able to follow it up?

The Hives, The Black and White Album (2008): The new-ish millenium's most fun meat-and-potatoes rock band, the Oughts' other great equivalent to the Ramones besides Guitar Wolf. If "Try It Again" doesn't get your ass moving and your blood pumping, get thee to a defibrilator, stat.

Tom Jones, 24 Hours (2008): In case you didn't know, Tom Jones IS God. Just saying (in greater length, natch, here. And here. And here.).

Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords (2008): Calling 'em novelty rock or a comedy act almost seems insulting. What they really are is a top-flight pop combo that just happens to also bust out the most pants-soilingly funny lyrics on the planet (cue detailed blarney here). All 'novelty acts' should sport this kind of replayability.

Arctic Monkeys, Humbug (2009): Conventional rock-crit wisdom practically dictates that the Monkeys' 2005 debut disc, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, should be on this list: It's the brash debut that broke them internationally, and like Nirvana's Nevermind, Whatever made its impact not by reinventing the wheel but by gilding said tire with distinctive personal touches. And yes, it's great. Funny, then, that Humbug, Arctic Monkeys' beautiful, sensual, heavy mess of a third record, refused to leave my car stereo for weeks last summer. More blathering on this tangent here...

Cheap Trick, The Latest (2009): Power pop's restless founding fathers (and the greatest American rock band of the 1970's, IMO) put the youngsters to shame with their, um, latest. "Sick Man of Europe" rocks hard enough to peel wallpaper (this from a buncha fifty-something geezers!), and Oasis are likely pouting big-time over not having composed a psychedelic ballad as luminescent and healing as "Closer (The Ballad of Burt and Linda)".

Happiest of New Years, all, and Rock On!