Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 30-21

i’m a little drunk, you’re a little drunk… let’s do this.

30. El Perro Del Mar - El Perro Del Mar

the dog from the sea. sarah assbring. what’s in a name? in this case, the words “ass” and “bring.” … it’s a good name. and the woman behind that name makes some damn good music, though she’s yet to eclipse (hoping that will score me some hits from some wayward twi-hards) the innocuously perfect down-cast pop of her self-titled first album. assbring’s strained voice feels lonely regardless of how many flighty strings and synths are floating around it, and the wispy songs (most of which are centered around a single, immovable hook) on which she pours it like an overdose of night-time triaminic are only as wanting as they are implacable. if only all such irreconcilable binds were this pleasant. there are (obviously) albums on this list that i ostensibly prefer… such is the nature of this stupid endeavor… but for what it’s worth this is one of the few truly perfect albums i’ve heard this decade.

29. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

ya know, this was a good decade for the swedes. in film they had roy andersson. in royalty they had (king) henrik lundqvist. and in music they had… well, just about everyone who isn’t british on this list. assbring? that name’s more swedish than socialism. and fever ray’s karin elisabeth dreijer andersson… well, she’s about half as swedish as swedish electro group, The Knife. coincidentally, andersson comprises half of swedish electro group, The Knife. i’m unaware as to the dynamic she shares with co-Knifer and brother Olof, but… well, if this record is any indication it seems as if she’s in charge of bringing the darkness and the awesome. my roommate once referred to this album as “the most listenable thing ever,” and i can’t disagree. the beneficiary of immaculately crisp production and instantly familiar melodies that are almost too natural not to listen to… it’s a shadowy coil of songs for sure, but it honestly makes the rest of the world sound in some way discordant by comparison. i mean, i recently listened to this album from front to back immediately before attending a pre-dawn buddhist ceremony at a japanese monastery cloistered away in the mountains near osaka… and it felt more like a score than a distraction.

28. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

yeah, this is how you follow The Soft Bulletin - one of the most acclaimed albums of the 90s. with something so distinct and off-kilter that it almost demands to be considered on its own terms. or woefully misread. whichever is more commercial. so suggests the rash of commercials and retail stores blaring unlikely hit “do you realize??,” which has to be the most aggressively fatalistic song to ever soundtrack an apple store. but yeah… that long-overdue gripe aside, this LP - an immaculately arranged series of gurgles and squelches that occasionally flirts with a loose dystopian narrative - desperately recasts the very human, deceptively tragic concerns of The Soft Bulletin in an otherworldly light… wayne coyne’s imagination sort of went supernova here and it hasn’t come back since. also, the first 3 seconds of the title song (part 1) is better than most albums. hell, it’s better than most lists of albums. and yeah, this was definitely more description than critique, but i can’t even begin to tell you how uninterested i am in providing even the most cursory of academic analyses, particularly when i have this human-sized hamster ball to play in.

27. Regina Spektor - Soviet Kitsch

i know. i’m surprised she’s here, too. i mean, i’d be slightly more surprised if she were actually HERE, like… on my couch hanging out with me and taylor swift in my human-sized hamster ball (for those of you who are keeping score), but yeah… spektor isn’t just for Guster fans jonesing for an estrogen fix or people who prefer their music to remind them of kittens (inspired by kittens). i’d never have bothered if it weren’t for a recommendation from a reliable source, but i’d have been seriously missing out. opening track “ode to divorce” is a deeply-felt breath of sober, tooth-brushed functionality in the midst of crisis that capitalizes on spektor’s reputation for silliness to lower your guard (without ever sinking to the WHOSE REPSONSIBLE THIS? shenanigans at which the title hints). while Soviet Kitsch quickly jettisons such topics for love ballads, haughty sailors, and cancer… ballads… it maintains the delicate vulnerability achieved in that opening salvo, and if bits like closing number “somedays” dip their toe into sentimentality, it can’t really be blamed, cause that track is fucking devastating. in unrelated news, i almost cried at the end of the movie Serendipity. yes, that Serendipity. anyhoo, whereas her earlier albums were too idiosyncratic for their tones and later ones were a bit mired in the studio trickery made available to her by major labels, Soviet Kitsch was the fleeting moment at which spektor was at the height of both her voice and her craft.

26. The Mountain Goats - Sunset Tree

john darnielle - that narrator of recent americana - deserves better than for me to write him up. this is my favorite record of his. just go on itunes and buy the song “dance music.” if you don’t like it, i’ll send you an over-sized check for the amount of you’re-an-idiot dollars.

25. Dodos - Visiter

where the bloody fuck did this come from? san francisco? oh… well, i guess that answers that question. but seriously, these guys rawk!!! about 4 seconds into opening track “walking” one of the (then) duo strums his guitar with enough ferocity for the string to audibly rattle for a moment beyond its intended duration. but, wee lass, this is more of a mission statement than a mistake… more of a harbinger than a bit of amateurish production. the 13 songs that follow resolve themselves into a blast of unbridled energy, virtuosity, and finger-bleeding (seriously, tunes like “jody” just sound like bleeding) that are most impressive for how they don’t just explode apart at the seams. actually, the most impressive bit might be that the songs are so effing good that you quickly forget about just how inhuman the feat of actually playing them must be. these things are mannered mayhem of the highest order, powered by a spasmodic and indefatigable youthful energy that - as was proven by tepid follow-up Time to Die - not even Dodos could top.

24. Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

yeah, you thought i was kinda ragging on this in that veckatimest blurb a few days ago, but i mean, when was the last time you were right about something? the answer is about 3 minutes ago when you decided to come to my blog. see, you don’t have to be right often, but when you are right you have to make it count. towards my google analytics. we done here?

okay, so Yellow House. a bit sneaky… lulls you with florid touches, tripping this way and that until you suddenly find yourself at the summit of Mt. Gravitas (which is between K2 and Mt. Heart Attack, for those keeping… topography). endlessly awesome-saucesome (i just had some more to drink. it was a melange of low acid tropicana and water) song “on a neck, on a spit” is practically a microcosm for the album as a whole, whereas “lullabye” (um… JUST noticed the deliberate misspelling) displays the serious musical chops that elevate this stuff to the realm of high art. methinks the illustration adorning this album takes quite the literal approach, as even the knives on this record are better heard than felt. the sounds here are more comfortable sinking into the cracks and panels, pluming up with dust when someone climbs those stairs, and lingering in that sliver of light until long after the floorboards have stopped creaking. and “colorado” might / must be the most evocative song about colorado ever written. it’s over 6 minutes long. here are all the lyrics:

“When I clung to you there was nothing to hold on tight with, you left me adrift. Colorado, what now?”

23. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights

this record utterly exhausted everything this band had to offer. this is going to sound lazy as hell (at least it should), but to this lay-listener this is Joy Division for the 21st century. it’s a bit more affected than ian curtis ever allowed his music to be (i mean, interpol has a dress code), but Interpol’s debut is an immaculate assembly of finely aged (tired but not too mature) woebegone-rock (whenever this becomes too much of a chore, i just invent another genre. Woebegone-rock is maybe my masterpiece) that canvases New York City from couches to subways and the drift that binds them. i’m not sure if these songs are piercing the darkness in any way, but they’re certainly mapping it.

… just go take a late-night stroll downtown whilst listening to “NYC.” real loud, now. bust out the bose. that’s a lot of decade in 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

22. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

has jeff tweedy ever sounded more perfectly like jeff tweedy than on “Radio Cure?” i think i’ve returned to the word “album” so much on this list (and in its title) less as a crutch than as a plea… or maybe as an elegy. much has been written about the demise of the album, and this sad state of affairs… well, it’s the worst thing ever. little-known fact: the nazis used to make the jews listen to singles. there are merits to one-offs… lady gaga’s immortal “paparazzi” is Dannon’s pudding proof. but… albums, man! fuck it, i just had a lovely heart-to-heart with my mom about inter-generational dynamics and i have to be in temple in the morning, so let’s just say that this album is not bad. and it features jim o’rourke!!!!! oh FUCK. i forgot to include jim o’rourke’s AMAZING album Insignificance! shit. whatever, that’s #22.5. anyhoo, i was gonna go on about how this is as a remarkable set of like-minded, inextricably linked songs that are held together only by the most tenuous of abstract bonds and a single fleeting motif that cohere into a forever revelatory album, an album that was almost not even released (as ben fong-torres said in Almost Famous… “craaaazzzyy.”), but i really had nowhere to go from there… other then bed.

21. The Notwist - Neon Golden

tired. so. former heavy metal german dudes (they’re still german, i think) forever change their sound with this long-gestating foray into the world of electronica… a splash they make with folksy touches and twangs that co-exist with ambient loops and the smoothest german voice this side of werner herzog. every new element they introduce is seamlessly woven into the mix as if it’s been there all along, and the conflict of genre is sorta absolved by the crisp conception of… whatever is they came up with here. i’m all outta names. if you play “consequence” for someone and they aren’t either emotional or visibly aroused, they’re probably both.

wait, i just listened to it again and that song is like… the anti-sexy. it’s just sort of sad. hypnotic but sort of sad. oh well. good album. SLEEP.

might take a holiday break from this madness tomorrow, rediscover my will to finish this / live, and wrap it up sunday / monday. me writing about music is like anthony lane writing about movies - needlessly dumb.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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