Friday, September 18, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 40-31

40. Erlernd Oye - DJ-Kicks

the best of the DJ-Kicks series by such a stupid margin, the usually hushed Kings of Convenience frontman Erlend Oye uses his time as curator to weave together a movingly moody mix, on which he adds his own spin (pun always intended) to the selected songs on more than one occasion. his spacey version of the smiths’ “there is a light that never goes out” is actually preferable to the infallible original in certain situations, and with a version of “2d2f” (or too drunk to fuck) as its centerpiece, this mix means business.

39. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell

a rocket from the crypt of garage rock if ever there was one (if your garage was filled with nothing but exhaust fumes and talent), the yeah yeah yeahs’ debut record is low-fi for the club. or for drinking alone in your apartment. or pretty much any other occasion. lead by the indomitable karen o - that carefully dirtied prototypical front-woman of the 21st century - Fever To Tell exploded into being with a sound as brash as its cover art, practically beating ears into submission. a violently confident ode to abandon, Fever to Tell is a lean bundle of raw, unleashed rock spasms, but tracks like the ubiquitous “maps” (which really is that good) and even “y control” hint at the versatility and command that has maintained their relevance for the 6 years since this here LP came out.

38. Sun Kil Moon - Tiny Cities

red house painters / sun kil moon frontman mark kozelek - home to one of the prettiest voices in modern music - decides to attack a bunch of Modest Mouse songs with only an acoustic guitar and a few other bits of accouterment. the ensuing album is pretty much perfect, recasting the harder-edged isaac brock originals as glacial ballads designed for nights on rolling plains. wisely not attempting strict emulations of the source material (a fool’s errand if ever there was one. and i’m pretty sure this blog is living proof that there are fool’s errands. and yes, this blog is… alive?), kozelek and co. utterly expose them, mutating and reducing them to only the bits that play to their strengths. the tactic not only makes for mournful little bits of quiet indie bliss, but unveils layers of the original that idiosyncrasy once kept hidden. the fact that pitchfork gave this a 3.0 only made sense to me once i learned that the review was written by nia vardalos.

37. Bjork - Medulla

it makes a whole heap of sense that bjork - after an absurd string of masterpieces like Debut, Post, Homogenic, and Vespertine - felt as if she had sort of conquered, um, the entire kingdom of musical instruments. she had reached a point at which their offerings were simply limiting her imagination or bestial vigor. cue Medulla, an audacious album on which 99% of the sounds are byproducts of the human voice. from the now-familair bjorkisms to biz markee’s inhuman beat-boxing to Dokaka’s… well, whatever it is that Dokaka does (a japanese dude who, among other things, uses only his limber voice to cover famous and dauntingly complex songs) on DAAMMMMNN-inducing album closer “triumph of a heart,” Medulla is confrontational at its meekest, and more often just animalistic. more challenging than any of her earlier records (“sonnets / unrealities XI” is bjork singing an e.e. cummings poem over some faint chanting) yet just as rewarding, Medulla is one of the world’s great musicians casting her tools aside to better explore her own instrument; herself. oh, also, the video for “triumph of a heart” is prettttyyy much the rapture in music video form. it features bjork marrying a cat. you WILL watch it. and it WILL blow your kitty-loving mind.

36. M. Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent

all of m. ward’s friends should die (okay, maybe not zooey deschanel). well, maybe that wouldn’t be the beeesssttt thing… allow me to rephrase - if every time one of m. ward’s friends happened to die, his grieving process included whipping up another tribute album as transcendent as Transfiguration of Vincent, i wouldn’t complain. i never knew vincent o’brien, but i have to imagine that the album his untimely death inspired is a fitting tribute. an accepting yet urgent bit of folksiness awash in m.ward’s unmistakable voice and signature guitar-picking (here complete with a number of reflective instrumental pieces), Transfiguration of Vincent is a versatile eulogy; a twisting trip through the DABDA process that touches upon acceptance, confusion, resignation, and david bowie… once even all on the same song. it’s the most pointed album on this list, yet also among the most likely to endure, as it’s too-genuine appeal is seemingly unencumbered by genre and other earthly concerns.

35. M83 - Saturdays = Youth

m83 maestro anthony gonzalez finally found something that could adroitly channel his hankering for massively emotional electronica - john hughes. where earlier m83 albums were full of nervous free radicals and lifelessly loud laptop blasts, on Saturday = Youth gonzalez found an ideal conduit which allowed him to wrap up his tendencies in a deeply poignant bow of teenaged nostalgia. on this record, his voice has a precious effervescence to it, like an over-exposed picture taken in the magic hour (or, um, like the upper left corner of the perfectly fitting album art pictured above). for an album designed to consist of such fleeting pleasures, the songs… decked out in their best 80s garb to evoke neon lights, big hair, and blinding hormones… are more tied to relatable, cinematic wistfulness than any particular era. it’s not the soundtrack to the adolescence you had, but rather the one you remember having.

34. Joanna Newsom - Ys

woodland nymph-like harp prodigy makes great. joanna newsom’s 2nd album found her joining forces with arranger van dyke parks, who molded her tales of constellations and forest creatures into absolutely epic narratives (the album consists of 5 songs and is about 57 minutes long) that flow and redouble upon themselves with the grace of a master storyteller. newsom’s divisive drawl is again front and center, but the songs just have such understandable purpose and drive that it’s hard to ignore their cumulative effect. seeing her perform this album in full with an orchestra at an opera house made for one of my favorite shows of the past 10 years. and seeing as how the shows i attended more than 10 years ago were either dave matthews, or bush, creed, or van halen that i wished were dave matthews… you can safely assume it was one of my favorite shows ever.

33. Arcade Fire - Funeral

i only have two things to say bout this record. it’s real good. and makes for surprisingly good fodder on a running mix. try it sometime. mix this up with a little bloc party (silent alarm, duh) some lady gaga, and a raging penchant for sloth and beer and you’ll be as fit as me in no time.

32. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans

stevens’ quietest record by a mile, this hushed rumination on (christian) faith also contains what i believe are his finest songs. from the flannery o’conner inspired “a good man is hard to find” to the, um, jesus-inspired title track, the tunes here are replete with such meaning and contemplative, almost melancholy belief that they transcend their eventually obvious implications. vague lyrics and fierce banjo-pluckery prove to be inviting to those of all creeds and colors, and, well… i dunno, i listen to the finest melodies and flourishes of a career that has produced a surplus of such things, and here they all just seem to inspire an accepting sense of helplessness… perhaps replicating for this agnostic jew the wonder and tumult stevens elicits from his faith. i mean, it’s tough to derive any on-the-nose meaning from epic centerpiece “sister,” and even harder to fight it. but if this motherfucker doesn’t release a recording of live classic “majesty snowbird” by the end of the next decade, i’m gonna… i’m gonna… be very upset at this inexplicable decision. the end.

31. Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline

so, um, i’m gonna go ahead and quote pitchfork quoting pitchfork here, cause that ambien is gonna kick in at annnny second. so one review quoted another review saying that “stars of the lid make the kind of music that makes consciousness seem like an annoying state.” just about nails it as far as i’m concerned. ambient music is one of those areas where i only have history and my prominent gut as my dual guides, as any formal training in music criticism is instrumental in dissecting the genre. get it? INSTRUMENTAL. AMBIENT. here, i’ll give you a blank line to laugh.

good. hope you got that out of your system, cause we’ve got some serious business to wrap up. not sure what it is about this record (it’s sheer 2-disc scope, perhaps), but this is just about my favorite ambient record this side of brian eno or early aphex twin. i’ve laid tracks of this over home videos of family vacations to lend them a missing poignancy. for realz. one such tape was on a mercifully defunct blog i used to have. i love swimming around this album… never really learning the topography well enough to know where within it’s soft folds i am at any given moment. horns, synths, guitar licks… it all drones.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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