Thursday, September 10, 2009

My 12 Favorite Albums of the Decade: A Love Story

I graduated high school in 1999, so this decade is the decade of my 20s, starting with college, the internet, and subsequently being an adult and living on my own in NYC. Though I took a high school HMTL class called "The Internet and You," and quite enjoyed looking at the Space Ghost adult swim websites in the high school library, I didn't really have the internet or use email until 1999, my freshman year of college.

I'm starting with the year 2000 and including how I discovered these albums, which is turning out to be somewhat of a love story.

My 12 favorite albums of the decade (12 because it felt right):
1. Arcade Fire - Funeral
Possibly the most talented new band of this decade, Arcade Fire does it right. The trend of pop-folk using big bands with nearly orchestral talents, a multitude of instruments, and blending classical sounds with pop, electronic, rock - they execute it all perfectly. Funeral is a must experience album. I discovered Arcade Fire when "Rebellion" was used as a song on a digital invitation to a party back in 2004. This album is completely free of any association to men in my life and is from a definitively single time in my life. The invitation came from a boy who liked me, but I didn't like him like that, and I didn't want to touch him there. He was more innocent then. Now he's an - albeit impressively creative- semi-famous egomaniacal beast.

2. Postal Service - Give Up
No not Death Cab, this album is more perfect. Each song is so carefully designed, and the sound is unique, not to mention its pop-culture relevance. This generation held on to these songs in it's sound tracks and mushy moments. I remember listening to DC Sleeps Alone Tonight off some mix CD my ex-boyfriend Brian made for me when I drove down to visit DC for the first time post college. I'm sure this was an important album to make out to in cars and lose virginities to. This mix CD was important to me, and opened me up to a vast new catalog of artists I'd never heard of. Brian was alone in his room a lot with many movies and music that were important to him. I think it was his own way of escaping the desolate burnt grass wasteland of central florida. I could hear him escaping to somewhere cooler in almost every track.

3. Sufjan Stevens (all of it)
For me to pick a favorite Sufjan album would be arbitrary, and all of it counts cause it's from this decade. He's got a new one coming in October, so maybe that one will be it, though Michigan, Seven Swans, Illinoise, A Sun Came ... all good stuff. I imagine Illinoise is more celebrated and "important," but there's too much genius in all of the other albums, it's difficult to choose just one. He's got quite the diverse sound, carefully planned, deeply felt, artfully composed. My exboyfriend David enthusiastically taught me about Sufjan, he used to love listening to Illinoise on his ipod when he jogged in the park. That album is more cheerful than my usual taste, but so was David though he doesn't see himself this way, and luckily Sufjan had plenty of darkness for me to discover "underneath the floorboards."

3. Portishead - Third
Portishead is my second favorite band of all time. They had 2 amazing albums in the 90s that left fans salivating for more. When they finally released Third, it didn't at all disappoint. It's simply fantastic. They are skilled artists with a vibrant, unique sound. Every song is so sexy and personal. It was once said that Tool is great BJ music. Portishead is great make out music, though Third is crisper and less sensual than prior albums.

This band found me in the 90s and I can't say for sure how I discovered them. Maybe it was because they had a song on the Tank Girl soundtrack - which was important to me (Tank Girl the movie was not). Maybe it was 120 minutes or Alternative Nation. They also had a great song in the movie "The Craft" but I loved Portishead before then. I took an interest in trip hop and Massive Attack at the time. I remember seeing this CD case on the floor of cool boys' cars in the 90s.

4. Jimmy Eat World - Stay on my side Tonight
My favorite Jimmy Eat World album is Clarity, but that's 1999, and of everything they've made this decade, which is plenty, the Stay on my Side EP shows them at their best. These songs are tremendously interesting, beautiful, and strong. JEW is important because they are more than emo, more than emo sweetness - and they are definitely important in this genre. Their commercial success might lead some people to believe that their music is saccharine crap at the level with Dashboard Confessional, but give a real listen to them and you'll see that the composition is far more sophisticated.

My first listen of Jimmy Eat World was a vinyl single for "Lucky Denver Mint" at my ex-boyfriend Justin's house. I was angry with him and I just kept blasting this single throughout his parents' house partly because I loved it, and partly to annoy him. Lucky Denver Mint also showed up on a subsequent mix CD that a boy made for me while Justin and I were on a break and he was in study abroad in Prague. It was from a boy I grew up with and he meant a lot to me. As a friend he influenced a lot of my music in the 90s, when we would go to punk and ska concerts in Asbury Park and NYC.

5. Bradford Cox: Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, all albums
Oh god, Deerhunter. Beloved by hipster culture - especially all of Brooklyn and the blogs - and a shining example of great taste/modern sensibility/true talent that has emerged from it (because I truly believe that this hipster generation has great achievements though it is so severely mocked). Bradford Cox, the colorful character (songwriter, guitarist, lead singer) at the head of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, is a truly gifted individual.

The first time I saw Deerhunter live was at a secret show at Market Hotel in shitty Bushwick Brooklyn. I went with my now boyfriend Adam, who is extremely influential on the music in my life. At the time we were trying to be just friends but there was something magical about that night that didn't allow for such a thing, and I'm pretty sure that music enabled the youth inside us to rise to the top. Then again that might not have had anything to do with Bradford and his music, and everything to do with the weird voodoo shit that disables us from keeping our hands off each other. Recently (and more soberly) I saw Deerhunter's Bradford in a round robin playing with Dan Deacon and No Age at Brooklyn Bowl and it was invigorating. Every Deerhunter song was so beautiful and alive. He played his guitar like a rockstar, his musical ability upstaging his meek physical demeanor with every chord.

6. Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Bright Eyes came to me at a time when I was just starting to learn about the modern world of "indie rock". I've always been drawn to whatever is the "coolest of cool" or unusual, but my favorite music in the 90s, when I was a teenager, came from late night MTV shows like 120 minutes, and weird magazines I stole from Barnes and Noble when I was 16. I didn't use the internet until 1999, and that's huge when it comes to the modern indie music scene. I discovered Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek records in 2004, and I'd download whatever free mp3s they had available from their artists on the Saddle Creek website. I loved all Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos (a Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, side project) releases instantly. I don't love Conor's new solo stuff because for the most part it lacks the guttural intensity of earlier work. He has an extremely raw voice, as though it's been ripped out from deep inside him. His lyrics are so heartfelt it's almost too much at times. The songs are passionate, sincere, and creative. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is a favorite though he's put out many other great albums in this decade. It's a great pleasure to scream with some of his songs with friends who want to sing along. Highly recommended.

Brian included the Bright Eyes song "The Calendar Hung Itself" from Fevers and Mirrors on a mix CD he made me, and it ironically made its way onto my essential breakup mix, I'd blast it after our messy breakup. It made a really good angry-about-it juice.

7. Jay Z - Black Album
I love this album. I like a lot of rap and hip hop and this one carries the best energy. I thought about including Kanye, because I think he's extremely relevant, and an important tastemaker for this decade. But the Black Album really killed me. 99 Problems is one of the best hip hop songs ever written, not just for the fresh beat and sound, but also those incredibly witty lyrics. Jay-Z and Kanye are on par with smart, funny, and indelible lyrics. There's just something about Jay-Z that seems so real, not deluged by ego, though he has a couple typical braggy lyrics, he mostly has fun and sometimes attempts to make real statements. His album is a great experience drawing from a wide variety of Americana, including Madonna in "Justify My Thug."

I have some friends who say they think of me when they hear "99 Problems." This is also from a fun single time in my NYC life. I used to play it at roof parties, and throw lots of roof parties. I used to take an interest in all things Vincent Gallo, why I even spent an innocent night with him once, a fact I never put in print as it's dangerous to leak personal celeb "gossip," but with that guy honestly I doubt he gives a damn. Anyhow Gallo is in Jay-Z video, a pretty stylish move on Jay-Z's part if you ask me. I distinctly remember blasting this in the car a lot when I would drive to the beach in the summertime.

8. Radiohead - In Rainbows
I first discovered Radiohead when I was watching an episode of "House Of Style" on MTV when I was in middle school. I remember, it was probably 1993 or 94. The credits of the show ran to the song "Street Spirit Fade Out" and I looked it up and ran to Nobody Beats the Wiz and bought the album, which later brought us creep and the amazing video "Just." When I think of Radiohead I also think of my high school friend Russ Reed who wore a knit hat like the OK Computer guy and would play it in his shitty car, a car that reminded me of the one in the Karma Police video.

When I first heard In Rainbows I was unimpressed. Then I listened to it. It was everywhere. And we listened to it, my now boyfriend, and it was fall, and then winter, and we loved it. Videotape, that's our song. I don't need to say much about Radiohead because so much has been said already. They make great music - they are extremely accomplished and celebrated. Albums like these make the new kids on the music scene cry in shame.

9. Nada Surf - Let Go

My friend Evan told me I had to listen to this album, last summer at the beach house. I usually don't agree with all of his music tastes, but this one blew me away. It's just perfect, personal, sweet, heartfelt. Such a gem. The track "Blizzard of '77" will blow your butt out with how pretty it is. Also, they remind me a bit of Blur who would make it on my favorite 90s list.

10. Silversun Pickups - Carnavas
Pretty sure I discovered these guys video a blog or something. Their single "Lazy Eye" got decently distributed and I wouldn't be surprised if it got radio play. I listen to this album over and over again and it never gets old. I would always play it at my last job at Thumbplay. I had the pleasure of seeing a flawless live acoustic Silversun Pickups performance and it cemented my adoration for the band. A lot of their songs balance pretty with energetic in a very fresh way. The weird alien pixie like voice of the lead singer ads to their appeal.

11. Muse - Absolution
I wouldn't call this album influential, just extremely enjoyable and well made, and an all time favorite in my earliest iPod years. I was in a phase of music discovery in 2005 when I started making "Finkmixes." I had a desk job where I listened to internet radio all day. MTV radio at the time had an "indie" channel and it was pretty well made. I used office supplies to make mix cds and every couple of months I'd come out with a new volume. I'd print them out and carry them in my purse and bring them to bars. I even gave one to Justin Theroux who was at a party at B-Bar one night. He is also the star of the awesomely sick Muse video for "Hysteria" which is one of the most exciting and viscous videos of this decade.

(Related interesting: shot by shot comparison of Muse's Hysteria video to Pink Floyd's The Wall Video)

I remember listening to Muse's later album "Origin of Symmetry" when I was reading my 2nd favorite comic book of all time "Starman" by Robinson which featured some interesting explorations into the main characters inner psyche as well as outerspace. It was the perfect soundtrack. Muse doesn't remind me of boys. But it does remind me of my Hoboken years.

12. Rufus Wainwright - Poses
I first saw/heard Rufus when he opened for Tori Amos, must have been about 2001. I remember reading a feature on him in the New York Times back when I read print. His crystal clear voice was so gentle, clever, perfect. I had the privilege of seeing Rufus along with his legendary father Loudon, and his sister Lucy, all singer songwriters, in a small show at the Living Room in the Lower East Side a couple years back. Rufus brings what he learned from his dad, a celebrated American folk artist, and ads his ideas, and I do think his perspective modernizes the music. Successful out gay single NYC male - that's something of this decade. The 90s were still a challenging time to be gay, famous, and out - whereas it's not really until this decade that it's normalized at least in the urban landscape. To hear him sing "I'm a One Man Guy" an interpretation of his father's music, is a fun exploration in sentiment and meaning.

Almost made it to the list for being good, but lacked greater sentimental value:
The Wrens - Meadowlands
Deftones - White Pony
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (even if you dislike their following, this is well made music)
Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
Blonde Redhead
Cat Power
A Perfect Circle
Sigur Ros
Elliott Smith
Phish Billy Breathes
Grizzly Bear

NIN is not on my list of best albums because their best work was in the 90s with Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, Downward Spiral, and The Fragile BUT they deserve credit for this decade for their innovative business plan which I think will be greatly influential on the future of the music industry. I also think Trent's management of his career is going to prove influential on future artists. See this as reference:

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