Here they are, the three best albums of the past decade. I particularly feel that numbers 1 and 2 are a cut above the rest, but everything on this list was worth hearing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this run of posts. Come back in the next few days for a few final clean-up things from the last year.
3. Embryonic by The Flaming Lips (2009)
The Flaming Lips are tough to characterize. While they’re seemingly always a rock band, that little phrase means a litany of things coming from these guys. Here, we find them at a bold, fresh place. Instead of continuing a commercially noteworthy run of happy dream-pop, The Flaming Lips turn in a new direction.
Embryonic is full of dread, sadness and terror. But it’s also a crazed combination of sound. Here we find a band acting completely unlike themselves and unlike any other group. Insane guitars, brooding production, and deeply emotional singing are all played in a non-traditional guise. From the first spin of the disk, Embryonic is quite clear in its individuality. After repeated listens, the details still remain stunning and unfathomable. The whole thing is gigantic and a bit overwhelming, but cannot be ignored.
It was tough for me to include such a recent album so high in this list. I wondered if future reflection will find me willing to place it elsewhere. But that this album pushes ahead into this location speaks volumes toward its worth. Certainly this was the best album of 2009, and it is a strong candidate for representation of the whole decade in music.
2. Gimme Fiction by Spoon (2005)
It all starts for me with Britt Daniels. The man has a voice that cuts through me like butter. It’s not the most technically proficient, nor is it the most emotionally charged. Instead, he sings with a sort of blue-collared honesty, utilizing his powers and space as well as possible to sing his songs.
And then the music develops around him. Obviously that doesn’t explain their creation process, but it’s how I rationalize these songs. Everything is cut down to be exactly what is needed; no more, and no less. This concept of minimal songwriting is brilliant, and doesn’t leave gaping holes, as might be imagined. Instead, the songs are full of life, but not necessarily lots of instrumentation.
Things are better this way. Without this cut down, we wouldn’t have the great dry jam of “I Turn My Camera On.” But then there are songs like “Sister Jack.” Believe it or not, this also subscribes to the minimalist theory. Can you imagine if this song were loud punk riffs throughout? Here we find a loud rocker that holds back.
Spoon released album after amazing album this decade, so I forced myself to pick just one album from the Texas natives. Why such a limit? Because I didn’t want spots 2, 3, 4, and 5 all from one artist and I didn’t want to lump them all together at number 1. This also hints at how strong Gimme Fiction is within the Spoon canon. That I can justify it standing head and shoulders above the rest is stunning. See also, exhibit 4: “My Mathematical Mind.” I dare you to name a better Spoon song.
1. The Moon & Antarctica by Modest Mouse
And here we stand, in the presence of the greatest album of this past decade. At this point, the praise for The Moon & Antarctica has seemingly taken a backseat to the amazing revelations of success found by Modest Mouse. It is completely clear that “Float On” is a bigger draw than “3rd Planet” in the popular sphere.
So what makes this release so profound and leaves it to stand as the greatest album? A good place to look is at the ambition. The previous Modest Mouse release (Lonesome Crowded West) was an excellent indie rock album, full of skittering guitar and Isaac Brock’s crazed lyrics. Unfortunately, that album was rather directionless, dragging on at times and leaving the last half to carry on a bit too far. However, Lonesome was enough to push the band off to a major label.
Oh what a major label debut. I think the best descriptor is “fearless.” Every song is packed with ideas and each sound is refreshing and enjoyable. Strong textures and great musicianship create something that is a real space-rock experience.
Things are taken even further by the power of the lyrics. While Brock has focused on strange things, religion, and life (both before and after this album), he has never been so coherent. Reflections on life, death, hope, religion, and the very nature of the universe are all included. While this may seem a bit over-ambitious, nothing seems dilute or unnecessary.
When I created this blog, I named it “Essential Listening,” hoping to convey what any music fan should hear. This is the apex of that output in this past decade. Modest Mouse fan or not, this album stands out in stunning fashion. Every piece, every epic element of this towering accomplishment is stunning, even almost 10 years after its release. This is truly essential. The Moon & Antarctica is the Album of the Decade.