Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

This list will be the first in a series of lists I post in the coming weeks detailing my favorite music and films of the decade and of the year 2009. These are the top 10 albums released since 2000.

10. Revelling/Reckoning (2001) - Ani DiFranco
Ani DiFranco could very well be the most talented musical artist of this generation, and on the double album Revelling/Reckoning she shows the full range of her abilities as a writer, singer, and musician. It's one of her more subtle works; most of the songs simply feature Ani on her guitar in a room, and it feels very personal. While some of her early work didn't do justice to her talent due to poor recording quality, that is no issue here. It's a well produced, epic work of quiet poetic beauty.

9. Sound of Silver (2007) - LCD Soundsystem
The sophomore effort from LCD Soundsystem simply rocks. Heavily influenced by electronic music, this organic, rich album strikes the perfect groove. It's primarily a dance album, but it's filled with such personal emotion, raising it to a higher level.

8. One Word Extinguisher (2003) - Prefuse 73
Listening to this insane album is kind of like falling down Alice's rabbit hole, and while that reference is cliched, this album is an original work of art, a breath of fresh air. Mostly an instrumental hip-hop album, Extinguisher takes so many twists and turns that you find yourself spellbound by the sheer skill of Scott Herren, the real name behind one of his many aliases.

7. Simple Things (2002) - Zero 7
This has become one of my mainstays, always good for those occasions when you just need to relax with some quality atmospheric music. The great thing about Simple Things is that it works well as background music just as well as it works as intricate, smart music. The cool grooves wash over you, and the guest vocal performances are fantastic throughout.

6. Vespertine (2001) - Bjork
Bjork, known to most of America as 'that girl who wore the swan dress,' has been one of the most unique and talented artists of the last 20 years. While labeled as 'Pop,' she is constantly searching for new forms of musical self expression and artistry, which is often lacking in the genre. Vespertine is no exception, and it's arguably her best album. Each song flows into the next as kind of an extended musical poem.

5. Funeral (2004) - The Arcade Fire
While their second album, Neon Bible, might actually be just as good, ultimately this bold debut is my choice for this list. The talented ensemble created a beautiful piece of real, true, honest music, and it will likely go down as a classic. It's emotional, dynamic, and endlessly replayable.

4. The Reminder (2007) - Feist
I've once heard Feist's voice described as an instrument that only she knows how to play, and I couldn't agree more. The Reminder is a very simple album musically speaking, and with the sheer piercing quality of her voice she transforms it into something magical, putting other female pop artists like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and even Christina Aguilera to utter shame.

3. Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) - Animal Collective
Animal Collective has released 8 LPs and a couple EPs over the last decade, making them one of the most active groups out there, possibly because they are never satisfied with where they are. AC is constantly redefining the limits of pop music, their music simultaneously accessible and bizarre. Their most recent full length album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, named in honor of the musical venue in my hometown of Columbia, Maryland, is their best effort to date, showing the group at the peak of their ability. It weaves catchy melodies with danceable beats and introspective lyrics, creating an all-encompassing, full-sensory experience.

2. Kid A (2000) - Radiohead
By the time Thom Yorke and Co. decide to call it a career, Radiohead will likely go down as the greatest rock band of all time. They are unmatched in their sense of artistic integrity, as their success has driven them to break new ground rather than to rehash the same material that made them famous. They followed up their groundbreaking classic OK Computer, with Kid A, a dark concept album, almost entirely devoid of all the conventions of rock music. Radiohead had made their name on guitar driven rock, and they followed up a universally acclaimed classic with an album where you can barely distinguish a guitar throughout most of the album. This gutsy move paid off big time, proving that Radiohead is a band that will continue to evolve and develop new sounds, and take on political topics with abstract art music.

1. Frances The Mute (2005) - The Mars Volta
Easily the best album of the decade, Frances The Mute deserves a mention in the conversation of the greatest albums of all time. After the promising band At The Drive-In broke up, The Mars Volta rose from the ashes as a progressive rock band for the new millennium. This magnum opus incorporates elements of latin music, jazz, progressive rock, and lyrics that jump from English to Spanish. Most of the tracks are well over the standard 4 minute length, and they flow into each other seamlessly. The album could be considered one coherent piece of music rather than simply an assortment of songs, and the final 30 minutes reaches almost unobtainable heights. This is essential listening for anyone who cares about good music.

The next 5...

The Black Parade - My Chemical Romance
The College Dropout - Kanye West
Haunted - Poe
Year Zero - Nine Inch Nails
Give Up - The Postal Service