Monday, September 14, 2009

My Favorite 100 Albums of the Decade: 80-71

onwards and upwards. forwards and sideways. and always twirling, twirling, TWIRLING towards freedom!

80. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

everyone and their blog has already jacked it a bit over this album, and i can’t blame them. somehow - lead singer thomas mars - i’m not surprised that impregnating sofia coppola does wonders for the ol’ creativity. phoenix has been a remarkably consistent band right from the start, but with their most recent LP they expanded their sonic boundaries and ambition (“love like a sunset”) without sacrificing their patented and terminally addictive catchiness. and by “without sacrificing their patented and terminally addictive catchiness” i mean they fucking wrote “lisztomania,” which… well, have you heard that song? no? really? go to itunes and buy it. i’ll wait.

79. Beach House - Beach House

an absolute pillow of a record that’s never perturbed or otherwise chopped by the mess of brilliant melodies percolating around the soft, rounded edges. victoria legrand’s voice is this duo’s main weapon, and the singular tone with which it imbues the tunes allows them to transcend simple classifications like “ethereal” and “somber.”

78. Marissa Nadler - Song 3: Bird on the Water

so did you listen to “lisztomania” yet? yeah, good song, right? that’s what i said! you should really listen to me more often. and give me money. for… services rendered. oh, look! another good album! but this one sounds not at all like lisztomania. it sounds like a prematurely wise young woman with an unnaturally hushed voice churning out a small oodle of slight but slightly heavy folk cuts that all sting a bit more than you expect. by the time she gets deep into the covers and busts out the best leonard cohen cover this side of jeff buckley, Song 3 has already become downright empathetic - a whispering companion for grey fall walks.

77. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

with every subsequent album colin meloy and the decemberists seem to approach grandiosity from a different angle… different tricks from the same bag. here it was their first formal flirtation with song cycles (after earlier stuff like “california one / the youth and beauty brigade”), and their bold if entirely predictable stab is The Crane Wife’s greatest success. be it the traditional narrative triptych that lends the record its title or epic 2nd track “The Island,” meloy and co. exhibit a complete mastery over the flow and momentum of these tales, employing (and wonderfully enmeshing) everything from folk to prog rock to cue the emotional swings contained therein. it’s a bummer that the self-contained tracks feel slight in the shadows of such behemoths (perhaps undeservedly), but stuff like “shankhill butchers” and “the perfect crime,” doesn’t seem to compare to the more concise tracks of previous decemberists albums. perhaps The Hazards of Love - the band’s rock opera of a follow-up - was meloy’s unfortunate attempt to reconcile this disparity… made all the more unfortunate by fantastic cameos by My Brightest Diamond, which provided the record’s highlights while simultaneously casting another shadow over meloy’s lesser efforts.

76. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

one of the few records recommended to me (and i guess everyone else) by thom yorke that i actually enjoy, franz ferdinand’s debut LP polyamorously married sharp guitars, alex kapranos’ singularly libidinous vocals, and some seriously tight song-writing into a throbbing bit of rock that felt far too assured for a first effort. every track has something unique to offer… similar but never too similar… with hooks and mammoth choruses tossed off with such cavalier elan that it seems as if these guys had been doing this forever. they’ve still yet to prove they can do anything ELSE, and i doubt they ever will… but this one album will endure… too good to be confined to a particular era or phase - too good to ever regret.

75. Menomena - Friend and Foe

i’ve read about it a dozen times and i still don’t really understand how the process by which these guys make music… something about a program they coded that randomly generates music they then mold to their liking… or something. i dunno. all i know is that the end result is indie rock that never goes exactly where you think it will. from the hollow drums of absolutely monstrous first track “muscle’n flo” to the ominous chords of “the pelican” … well, that there is some pretty telling cover art, as these songs are positively overflowing with precise noise. instruments swirl around each other like summer flies, never crowding the melody or the swath of whoever’s vocals are cutting through the center at the time. menomena have proven time and again that they have potential all over the damn place (instrumental score “Under an Hour” is the pudding the proof is in), and i hope they’ll be back with something else before long.

74. Annie - Anniemal

all right, so let’s just get this out of the way - “heartbeat” is one of the greatest songs ever written by man, woman, or tongue-replacing isopod. and that’s just the way it is. the miracle of this album is that the other songs don’t cower in fear, but instead jostle against one another for deserved attention. annie is the kind of pop starlet we never seem to produce stateside - a girl with enough self-awareness to let her songs do the talking rather than her image (aka the anti-Pink), and enough talent to write and produce some songs that don’t pop so much as they burst. “chewing gum,” for example… a song about boys being as disposable as chewing gum that i’ve always baselessly maintained is actually a tragic elegy for her dead lover… is utterly perfect, and perfectly suited for annie’s breathy wist of a voice. she’s got so much control over this stuff that she knows exactly how to play to her strengths, and the confidence is contagious. an album like this is traditionally a breeding ground for filler, but this is all great stuff. and after her 2nd album was aborted later than would be legal in the States, i’m still waiting for the true follow-up (though single “anthonio” is just STUPID good).

73. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity

it’s kinda sacrilege, but this is my favorite deerhoof record. these guys are like yo la tengo for me… each of their records is good enough to earn their spot in the indie pantheon, but they seldom go for broke and stumble into greatness. my tastes have definitely lead me down some abstract art-rock avenues, but i just don’t need the minute of ear-piercing noise that follows brilliant tracks (“spirit ditties of no tone”) on previous albums. friend opportunity also lets the songs run longer than deerhoof’s usual 2-minute ceiling, and each additional second is well-considered. they fall into their old habits for the last track, but by then it seems like less a concession than a blissed-out come down of an explanation.

72. Joan as Police Woman - Real Life

true story - back when i lived by myself i would always play this record (with the lights tweaked just so) when guests came over to scope the place out. the title track just seemed like the most perfectly cool “i’m effortlessly hip and this is my effortlessly hip pad. look at the loft!” music ever. it was like… jazz for someone that doesn’t own as many jazz records as they should. i don’t know if it ever got me any lovin, but… i mean, it was fighting an uphill battle. and it wasn’t just for show… this album is enormous, i just don’t know what took so long. joan wasserman’s been around for a bit. she was jeff buckley’s girlfriend when he “died” (jeff buckley clearly faked his death and moved to an uncharted island in the west indies to make crazy good music with nick drake. the same island, incidentally, on which obama was born), and i mean… that was a while ago. those ideas have really been a-percolatin. but the moment that candle-lighting voice peeks out, it all seems worth the wait. each song is completely ripped with the silkiest of pathos, and almost instantly unforgettable. and it can move when it wants to. oh, also, antony shows up for a duet, so… that’s like the auto-win. actually, methinks ms. wasserman should slow down a touch. she’s dropped an inferior LP and an eyebrow-raising disc of covers in the past 18 months, and she’s immaculately proven that she can do better.

71. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming

oh spencer krugg… you’re like the henry darger of the indie rock community. the intimidatingly prolific man of whom i speak puts out at least 2 albums a year under the various guises of the bands in which he participates, and while his distinct voice makes his presence instantly known, the epically erratic tunes (and their sequels) and their almost mythological imagery replete with horse-called men need no help in proving that they all spawned from the same brain. seriously, if taylor swift strummed out “the empty threats of little lord” to me… in my bedroom… i wouldn’t even be confused as to why taylor swift was strumming out “the empty threats of little lord” to me in my bedroom, i’d just be impressed. oh, also i’d instantly be able to tell it was a spencer krugg song… that was sorta the point i was trying to make. but yeah, krugg is in possession of such a particular genius that he almost owes it to himself to get lost in his own creations, as he was so quick to do on “Random Spirit Lover,” the record with which he followed “Shut Up I Am Dreaming.” but here… for one especially urgent clarion call of an LP, he managed to keep it all from chaos even as his imagination dragged him by a leash across those pastel soundscapes. this record is a trip in the best sense of the word - no matter where you listen to it, you always wind up in the same place.

Cross-posted from The Ecstatic Truth.

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