Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 60-51

60. Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton - Knives Don’t Have Your Back

Metric’s leading lady brings the lights down for her first solo record, and the results are pretty great. the lower range of her surprisingly expressive voice is the star of the show here, and freed from the sex and sweat of her Metric tunes she busts out material that provides the perfect home for that tenor register. but tracks like “doctor blind” and “crowd surf off a cliff” are only as lonely as they are catchy, and the propulsive piano licks that bind it all together are, um, propulsive. i really should have limited this shit to 50. i’m running out of adjectives with which to describe music. pretty girl makes pretty sounds. buy this record.

59. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

oh sufjan. you make the ladies swoon at the same time that you make me look productive. cause the man’s attractive and hasn’t done jack shit in the past 4 years? ya dig? anyhoo, Illinois (or as i refuse to call it: Sufjan Stevens Invites you to: Come on Feel the Illinois) is Stevens’ most sprawling album, leading a journey across the state’s brief history from superman to john wayne gacy without missing a beat (literally every beat there is appears at some point on this album). and with stevens, the accounts are occasionally inscrutable but never dry, as he squeezes nostalgia from events you never lived or conveys the wonder that exists at the intersection between myths and the recorded past. and this record - freed from the misery of Michigan - plays to those strengths, and for 70 some-odd minutes manages to make Illinois an adventurous place to which you can sing along. also, i don’t care if this album was released in 2005 or whatever, it still posits (by omission) that predatory wasps are more important than obama. sufjan stevens - birther?

58. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

james murphy makes dance music that matters - at least he does on this record. transgressing against the norms of a genre proud of its meaningless bloat, murphy puts his fingers on our throats to gauge the pulse of new york and finds it sad and dancing. there’s not a moment of this album that doesn’t either scorn or lament, but murphy seems to adopt a sort of “dance dance dance” philosophy here, and makes even “all your friends,” that epic ode to being aimless and alone - something you can shout along to at parties without feeling like an asshole. you’ll still sound like an asshole, though, but that’s more because you’re tone deaf than anything else.

57. Doves - The Last Broadcast

one of the saddest albums on this list, if only because doves haven’t been able to string together a series of songs remotely as strong since. seriously, these guys are like… if pablo honey came out AFTER the bends. but they were firing on all cylinders here, with clean, precise, vaguely arty rock ditties that borrow liberally from a number of disparate influences… be it the southern twang of “there goes the fear” or the stadium rock echo chamber of “satellites,” or even the guitar wizardry on “pounding” that once had my high school self convinced these guys were the thomas edison of massive british rock. but my high school self was also convinced that chris carraba should be our poet laureate and that i would have a job after college (it was a time of youthful dreams), so… ya know. whatever, at least they’re not Muse. which is pretty much how i handle all of life’s disappointments. i.e. i can’t believe Isadora Duncan died in a freak accident - at least she didn’t die in Muse. see? i should rename this blog the TIMELY Truth, featuring always relevant Isadora Duncan references (and kevin eubanks).

56. The Avalanches - Since I Left You

i found a world so blueee, ohhh everyday. oh man, this album. comprised entirely of samples from moving images and old recordings, it never ceases to blow my mind that the debut of these aussie formalists is almost as fun as it is seriously impressive. i really can’t fathom how much insanely frustrating time ittook to assemble allllll of these samples into orders and layers so organically coherent that the crossovers only generate tension deliberately. but yeah guys, this album seamlessly (literally) trips from the smooth tropicalia of scratch-funk (dude, 49% of writing about music is just making up genres. and yet i still find it intensely laborious. bummer) to the likes of “frontier psychiatrist,” the surprise smash of the album that is at once the strangest and most accessible chunk of the record, and also the best song R2D2 should have written (but couldn’t).

55. Robyn - Robyn

robyn’s 4th (!?) album, but the first one that actually matters… it’s no accident this thing is self-titled. the badass sounds of robyn re-announcing her arrival, this thing sweeps the entire first act of her career - a chapter uncharacteristically spent as a pop starlet, fronted by ubiquitous single “show me love” - under the table by the end of the first song, which isn’t really a song at all (it’s literally a laundry list of all the ways in which this new robyn is a badass). it would all be a wee bit too much if the songs that followed weren’t so fucking great. these are some of the best examples of the radio-friendly pop that sweden churned out like umlauts this decade, filled with immediately huge beats and more girl-power bravado than the spice girls could generate with all their archetypes combined. girls like robyn are why i’ll never be able to american idol or american radio all that seriously - cause she fiercely proves that big pop can have both flair and heft. also, she puts on a shockingly kick-ass live show.

54. The Dismemberment Plan - Change

not as classic as Emergency & I, but it was never going to be. on this record the prematurely disbanded DP eased into a more settled sound without sacrificing any creativity. they should really get back together. if i were rich, like reeeallly rich, i would pay them to re-unite on a stage made entirely of $135,000 blu-ray players. suck on THAT, Live Aid!

53. Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light

oh antony… kazuo ohno would be (is?) proud. and very, very old. look at him. jeez. anyhoo, for an album so concerned with the otherworldly (equally concerned with both spirits and other corporeal worlds), ohno’s is a perfect image. sure, strident hints like “aeon” and “kiss my name” have me eager to antony to move even farther out of his comfort zone, but that the songs on The Crying Light are imbued with their own identity and yet (allmosssttt) on par with those on preceding LP “I Am a Bird Now” is achievement enough. it conjures and relies upon an entirely different feeling from its predecessor, but with songs as instantly fetching as “epilepsy is dancing,” perhaps the most surprising and admirable bit about this record is that it almost hits as hard as his revelatory first album. seriously sports fans, antony is one of the few artists on this list that (your) life without whom your life would be qualitatively worse.

52. St. Vincent - Actor

a new album, better songs, and a greater appreciation for my facial hair (it’s a long story. okay, it’s a short story: she signed my LP “dearest david, nice beard!” and not because my roommate told her to or anything, but just cause she’s a lady who knows what she likes… things that grow on my face). so i’m not wild about the orange backdrop, but i guess this list is supposed to consider the music as well. ugh, it’s fine. okay, it’s much better than fine. the multi-instrumental virtuosity on display here exhibits an exhilarating command of her world without ever suffocating the life out of her nearly too-smart tunes. her lyrics - by turns aggressive and ominous, but always surprisingly communal for an album so focused on individual presentation - and jarringly discordant punctuations (by now her trademark) make for a dynamic, quasi-narrative record that threatens to become an uninviting and somewhat academic exercise, but songs like “marrow” and “laughing with a mouth of blood” serve to remind that rock can be both smart and muscular. these songs are obviously brilliant, and after earning your respect they eventually earn your affection, too. could not be more excited for this woman’s career / impending marriage to me.

51. The Decemberists - Her Majesty the Decemberists

the more evolved half of the twin-headed hydra of the couplet of LPs that brought these shanty-loving guys to my attention (the other record being Castaways and Cutouts), Her Majesty the Decemberists just has the better tunes. it’s as simple as that, really. opening track “shanty for the arethusa” immediately flirts with the whole pirates and plunder element of their music which has proven so divisive (put me in the “love” column), but a few scant minutes later those same singular colin meloy vocals are vicing out an ode to modern las angeles, effectively bridging the gap between two unlikely historical signposts more effectively than pirates of the caribbean ever could. but by the time they get to vacuum-sealed epics like “the gymnast high above the ground” and the pervasively theatrical “i was meant for the stage,” such progression is rendered entirely irrelevant. this is the sound of a unique band writing the songs only they could write, while also making those first prematurely graceful steps towards the songs that would define them.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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