Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 50-41

50. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

dude (justin vernon) goes into a cabin in the wisconsin woods and emerges a few months later with one of the most heart-rending albums of love-lorn folk in… ever. each of the 9 songs here is a full well of feeling, and none of the 9 songs ever risk becoming too on the nose to lose the record’s blustery purpose as a cold lament - it never becomes more of a pillow than a too-thin blanket, and that’s why i think it’s gonna last a lot longer than the isolating despair from whence it came. also, let me know if justin vernon is having sex with your friends or acquaintances. curious if this is something of an epidemic.

49. Antony and the Johnsons - Antony and the Johnsons

probably would never have heard of antony’s first, self-titled record if not for the album with which he followed it, but even if this had been the alpha and omega of the giant gender-obfuscating chanteuse, it would have been a brilliant career. a bit harsher (both musically and lyrically) than the records antony and co. have released since, their debut blends the group’s patented ethereal charms with a more confrontational element, epitomized by songs like “hitler in my heart,” and… well, if you don’t get my point after mention of a song called “hitler in my heart,” then i should probably give up. probably their most thematically ambitious record, the LP canvases nothing less than the entire human heart (beginning with the “twilight“‘s first swells of love and being subsumed by the “rapture” just a few tracks later). no simile is too far-reaching for these songs, but antony’s voice - bellowing from the heavens like the unsexed cry from mt. olympus - makes it all seem to scale.

48. Tender Forever - The Soft and the Hardcore

tender forever (aka melanie valera) is the product of a girl holed up in her portland apt. with nothing more than a guitar, a computer (with pro tools, duh) and a lot of crushes on other girls, some of whom probably also have apartments, guitars, and computers (with pro tools, duh). methinks that makes for a more compelling origin story than that of bon iver, but that’s just me. also, i may have made some of that up. i just assume valera likes the ladies… i know it’s in the lyrics somewhere here, but i can never remember exactly where. or maybe i’m mistakenly confusing her pride in being strange (“then if i’m weird i want to share”) for queer, but ya know… it really doesn’t matter. the kitchen sink songs on this debut LP - all so full of ideas and whimsy - transcend any of that jazz, as they’re as far-reaching as anything U2 ever screamed at an arena, albeit in their own shy way. and with more handclaps and nervous pleas to make out. like kimya dawson minus the hippiness and plus a boatload of musical know-how, tender forever is perfectly balanced quirk for the laptop era. the lesbian laptop era. lesbian laptop - the next genre to be coined on this list. one day, historians will cite my blog as the monolith of 21st century vernacular, and they will refer to you as the people that jumped around it in ape suits while high on LSD. i have foreseen it.

47. Bert Jansch - The Black Swan

wellll, after all these debuts it’s definitely nice to see a member of the old guard return to the scene with such panache. probably the oldest guy on this list (and definitely the only one to have influenced nick drake rather than the other way around), jansch has released an album every 4 years or so since approximately 1943, but The Black Swan was the first one in a while that really stuck with me. his plaintive Scottish voice - which seems to contain the entirety of (irish, oops) playwright Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer in every note - has aged magnificently, and he’s still rich with fine ideas, and now imbued with the confidence to improve upon history with covers of traditional ballads like “Katie Cruel.” but it’s the original title track that best captures the mournful majesty of this record - its 6 minutes encapsulate jansch’s entire career and all the lives he’s lived with a melody it probably took him 5 minutes and 50 years to come up with.

46. Juana Molina - Son

juana molina is the argentinian jay leno. much like jay leno, she is an immensely successful talk show host. they’re actually pretty much the same person. the only difference i can think of is that where jay leno has a passion for antique cars and numbing mediocrity, juana molina loves writing amazing, spanish-language hypno-pop. seriously, if you can think of a better album to take ambien and play wii sports bowling to… i’d really like to hear it. but you can’t. because there isn’t one. there’s not a bad song on any of molina’s 4(?) albums, but Son is my fave cause the songs are just so crazily hypnotic. she plays approximately 394 billion instruments on some of these tracks, but they never leave lines or thoughts unaccounted for… everything resolves itself into a circle… a ball of sound tumbling over and over itself as she sneaks her sweet voice into the cracks. tracks like “la verdad” are enough to charm a south american snake (or wii bowl a 294), and that’s the truth.

45. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

oh, grizzly bear. the nicest guys in smart-rock. as loyal readers of my blog know, these dudes (namely singer ed droste) went way out of their way for absolutely no reason to be super nice to me and elena when we were in osaka, which pretty much earned them a spot in the top 50 in and of itself. but it’s the songs that earned them those last 5 spots. grizzly bear have been a bit more inviting with each subsequent album (though i do enjoy myself some good Horn of Plenty action), and veckatimest is the tipping point at which they broke through (read: when jay-z became a public fan). grizzly bear is a miracle of chemistry… 2 singer-songwriters that mix, match, and share in an extraordinary and mutually complimentary manner, and chris taylor and the (coincidentally named) chris bear round out the team nicely. ed droste and dan rossen never sound as if they’re competing, and while the dichotomy between their styles has never made for inadvertent tension, on veckatimest it seems as if they correctly figured the band’s most song-driven album to be the perfect showcase for their distinctly different talents. singles like “two weeks” and “while you wait for the others” punctuate veckatimest like exclamation points where previous LPs only had semi-colons - Yellow House sort of sweeps you along, but Veckatimest is a lot more up front with its calculated pleasures. bookending tracks “southern point” and “foreground” definitely make the long record feel like a bit of a journey, but its more disjointed feel isn’t a knock, but rather a change of pace that provides the band the freedom they needed to write some truly mammoth songs.

44. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

the triumphant and much-heralded arrival of the spencer krug and dan boeckner brigade, this first wolf parade LP is still the almost perfect indie rock i remember it as being. a bit sparser and colder than follow-up At Mount Zoomer, Apologies to the Queen Mary had the unenviable tasks of introducing the indie cognoscenti to two distinct and divisive voices simultaneously - and it unapologetically (zing!) oriented listeners to spencer krug’s world while all the while smoothly interjecting that stiff handshake with the propulsive beats of dan boeckner. that the results feel so direct and stream-lined without sacrificing any of the kookiness behind the helm is a major coup, but yeah… as this novice music writer (who has zeerrrooo interest in ever writing about music again) is so wont to do… all i can say is that these are great songs. a bit reined in for these guys, but an honest and proper welcome to one of the decade’s great, reliable founts of indie music.

43. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

so i first heard of these dudes approximately 8 minutes ago, but just as i thought when i first saw audrey hepburn, “when you know, you know.” this repugnantly young UK 4-piece arrived at the unusual and madly confident sound of this, their 2nd record, while traveling along a rather familiar path. their first record - Limbo, Panto - was raw and overstuffed with neat ideas, whereas Two Dancers coheres their penchant for twin falsettos and secretive syncopation into some airtight and instantly grabbing art-pop that isn’t afraid to wander down some darker avenues. methinks these lads sound like an infinitely more talented kings of leon by way of antony, and if songs like “all the king’s men” don’t grab ya, i can’t imagine you’d like much of the stuff on this here list. i needs me their 3rd record - i’ve been aware of their existence for about 2 weeks and i already feel like they owe me.

42. Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun

often mistakenly cited as the greatest icelandic record of all time, sigur ros’ sophomore effort (never forget Von!) is a transcendent and now iconic moment in which a sound is simultaneously both discovered and perfected. jonsi’s wail and the occasional bombast sure contribute, but its sheer exoticness alone earns it a timeless quality to these ears, making for a record as difficult to forget as it is to pronounce…. is what i would write if i were functionally retarded / wrote for rolling stone. no, agaetis byrjun - which is actually not all that tough to at least attempt to pronounce - means “a good beginning,” which is certainly appropriate given that the record heralds their renovated sound, a fresh start from the frightening and impenetrable Von. wikipedia > ignorance. oh, p.s. if you ever get the chance to see these guys play live, go. twice. your giddily romantic post-show praise will inspire plenty of cringe-worthy soundbytes.

41. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot it in People

okay, it’s late and i’m tired and i’ve already packed in my yebisu for the night, so let’s make this quick. approximately 934 canadians (including feist, emily haines, amy millan, etc…) jammed into a recording studio with every instrument that scribblenauts could possibly conjure and jacked out a series of stunning and versatile songs that share little in common save for their quality. some songs breeze along, some songs are larger than life adolescent rally cries, others (“cause = time”) center around some of the cleanest guitar lines this side of the saskatchewan border. so tired. am way more interested in making a post about the “keep fucking that chicken” incident of 2009 (gawker is your friend) than i am writing anything else about BSS. nighto.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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