Here is the second-to-last part of my decade list. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s really tough to put some of these in order. So that pretty much means that albums 10-1 are all crazy good, and I think you should hear them at least once.
Come back tomorrow for the finale…
10. Picaresque by The Decemberists (2005)
I am a total sucker for the theatrics of The Decemberists. But Picaresque rises above the rest of their catalogue by offering wondrous detail, both verbal and musical. The album never becomes unwieldy and is very charming. Each track is full of lyrical wit and real emotion. “Eli, The Barrow Boy” is painfully sad. “The Engine Driver” pulls you into the loss and rejection of the titular character. Yes, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” is huge and crazy, but it’s also a powerful piece. Nerdy? Yes. Brilliant? Undeniably.
9. The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me by Brand New (2006)
Having now heard their follow-up album (Daisy), it’s a bit disappointing to see Brand New stop their evolution here. Brand New were an average snotty, crappy punk band that followed in the mold of Blink 182. Forgettable radio fodder. But then something magical happened: they decided to become artists. The process was took two albums (leaving Deja Entendu as a nice straightforward punk album), but the result was fantastic.
Here there were textured sounds. You could actually understand the band’s dynamics. The songs had a hint of artsy production. They even managed to pull some Modest Mouse stuff. It was all brilliant, leaving a refreshing feeling and some faith in punk rock. Even the simplest of songs were packed with mature themes and strong musicianship. These guys need not be associated with that Jude Law song any longer. This is a real statement.
8. Illinois by Sufjan Stevens (2005)
Ambitious hardly begins to describe this album. Contained within the now-defunct 50 States project are two records. Seemingly, it would be pretty difficult to contain the spirit of a state in one disk. But after doing so well with Michigan, Stevens completely eclipsed his own effort in the sprawling and stunning Illinois.
22 songs, and over an hour of playtime sound pretty daunting. But when you realize that a few of them are mini-songs designed for album flow, the remaining stuff sounds even more overwhelming. But Stevens has an amazing gift at hook development. It starts from the first notes: you want to hear where those pianos will go in “Concerning the UFO.” Soon you’re left wondering where “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” will go in its two parts. Eventually you realize that you’re halfway through and still can’t wait to see what will come next. Insanely classy and certainly brilliant, this is a wonderful epic.
7. Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes (2008)
Okay I lied. Back when I called this the best album of 2008, I also said something bold about this becoming the greatest album of the decade. As you can plainly see, 7 is not the same as 1. Why the change? Well, I’ve had more time to consider the album and those I’ve placed ahead of it.
Fleet Foxes is a splendid album, still full of the gorgeous things that make me smile in its style of music. Stunning singers are still the highlight, and it carries the whole album. But has this recorded lessened in any way? Almost. Too much familiarity lessens some of the impact. Thus, to keep this ageless wonder ageless, it’s best to not over-saturate. However, when used appropriately, Fleet Foxes is still amongst the best of the decade.
6. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear (2009)
My love for Grizzly Bear started as I listened to them before they opened a Radiohead show. After that show, it was clear that I needed to pay attention to Grizzly Bear’s next album. Then came the leak. I was worried about hearing it, but was so painfully curious. I heard, and was pleased but understood the audio quality as a barrier to excellence.
Oh boy was that quite the barrier. Veckatimest is superb, offering gorgeous little details. And really, this is all about the beautiful details. It’s clear that this album was painstakingly crafted by four excellent musicians. Every song has moments of pure brilliance and the whole album shimmers with production quality. After such a great run in only a brief existence, I really look forward to the next release from Grizzly Bear. It’s obvious they are great quality control experts. But while I wait, I will have Veckatimest to keep me happy.
5. Funeral by Arcade Fire (2004)
This was a game-changer for me. I hadn’t quite realized the broad potential of indie rock, but I was getting there. And then in the summer of 2007, I finally got my hands on this disk. Late to the party, sure, but very interested. I was blown away from the first moment. The near-sobs of Win Butler’s vocals were stunning. The fearless sincerity was unnerving.
People sometimes insult or marginalize Arcade Fire for being so loud. I think that’s a mistake. Loudness and bold statements do not necessarily lessen music. When used as a tool for communication, loudness is a powerful resource for Arcade Fire. They fill out the room like U2, but have the grip of Neutral Milk Hotel. But for me, none of that matters without “Rebellion (Lies).” That song is the keystone of Funeral. In my mind, it all builds to resolve in “Rebellion.” That progression and development is amazing and makes Funeral so good.
4. In Rainbows by Radiohead (2007)
It feels strange ranking In Rainbows ahead of Kid A. But for me, it’s so easy. While I have to be ready to hear Kid A, this album can come on at any point and make me happy. That’s one big difference: the joy involved. Yes, songs like “Nude” and “All I Need” tug at the heartstrings. But it’s the feeling of the whole album. Freedom and warmth abound.
Forget about the pricing thing. It was cool at first, but does not make this the best Radiohead album this decade. Instead, the songs make this the best album of Radiohead’s decade. Each one has personality, power. They’re all made by a full band, offering insight into their powerful musicianship. But really, it’s personal affection that gets me to place In Rainbows so high. I love this album for all that it offers and it is in constant rotation in my music. These 10 songs are phenomenal.