BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: 30-21

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Welcome to Part 2 of the Decade’s Best Albums list.  Check back tomorrow for more of this list!  Thanks again for reading!

30. Microcastle by Deerhunter

It’s always nice to see a blend of noise rock and catchiness.  Here, we get all the squawking feedback and loud thrashing, but it all makes sense.  While especially true in Super Song “Nothing Ever Happened,” most of the songs reach this lovely status.

29. It’s Blitz by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

This can be best described as Karen O’s dance diva album.  Equal parts disco and pure energy, It’s Blitz is a very polished disk, featuring great songs and strong emotion.  While those in “the scene” may argue in favor of their first album, I think this release finds the Yeahs at their highest point.

28. Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers

Bonus points all over the place for being so infectious.  Clean guitars, clear vocals (even if you don’t know what they mean), and brilliant harmonizing make Twin Cinema a fantastic road record.  Turn it up, sing along at the top of your voice, and you’re forced to smile.

27. Everything All the Time by Band of Horses

On paper, this sounds like a generic indie album.  Ringing guitars, emotive lyrics, stuff like that.  But Band of Horses do everything so well.  It’s like a primer for anyone new to the land of indie music.  Of course, having instantly memorable guitar lines (see: “Wicked Gil” and “The Funeral”) helps, too.

26. Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins

Even better than the album that many claimed would “change your life” (Oh Inverted World).  Here, the production values are cranked up, the songwriting varied, and the singing bold and loud.  This is a phenomenal effort across the board, offering personal insight blended with great guitars.

25. Third by Portishead

It’s unfortunate that Portishead waited so long to release their third proper album.  But, the wait revealed something amazing: a band at the same powers (or greater) than when it went on hiatus.  Offering a different direction from their trip-hop 90s albums, Third is an atmospheric masterpiece of minimal electronica.  You will be left haunted and amazed, from start to finish.

24. Hearts of Oak by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

This is a relatively late addition to this list.  Only this month have I had the chance to listen to Ted Leo.  But from first note on, I knew I was in for something special.  Like a more punk-rock REM, or a free-flowing Weezer, Hearts of Oak is charming and powerful.  Tight melodies and pinpoint lyrics make this a rising star in my music collection.

23. Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens

Folk generally leaves me with a bad taste or just generally bored.  But here is an album from a Sufjan Stevens stripped to just his guitar and banjo.  Lightly plucked, Seven Swans is a powerful album, full of personal religious reflections.  It’s rare to see an album this concerned with Biblical ideals outside of ironic or Christian Rock releases.  Stevens weaves powerful songs, unapologetic, even if he can reach a wide audience.

22. Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth

Here lies the best Sonic Youth album this side of Daydream Nation.  It’s a bold statement, but I just love the tunes on Rather Ripped.  They’re faster to get at you than any other Youth release (especially the bright “Reena” and the strong “Incinerate”), but manage to stay with you just like their whole catalogue.  Hear this once for the great highlights.  Hear it over and over for all the details.

21. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem

It starts off just like “Losing My Edge,” but instantly veers off, creating a new blend of dance and rock, all while considering what it is to become older.  This is the home to the decade’s best song (“All My Friends”), and more memorable moments.  This album is so interesting because of its dual power: all the songs are fantastic, but they work even better together.

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BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE: 50-21

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Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my look at the best of this decade.  It has been an amazing time for music, and thanks to that vehicle that is the internet, we can actually witness a great deal of the music around us.  It is actually a lot of fun to be able to look back like this and see what has been so good.

Keep in mind: I am one person.  There is no way that I’ve heard everything possible from this decade, so what follows is a personal list of favorites.  Feel free to leave comments: what do you think I’m missing from this list?

Please note my self-imposed rule for this list: ONLY ONE SONG PER ARTIST.  This is done in the interest of expanding the selection.  Otherwise, this might be a Spoon, Radiohead, and Modest Mouse love-fest.

So without further ado, here starts the list.

50. “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco

This unexpected song centers around strings and a humming keyboard.  But its soul is instant and powerful.

49. “The Rip” by Portishead

Sad, raw and very reserved.  The combination of held-back drums and straining vocals is unforgettable.

48. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.

This song was literally everywhere, but with good reason.  Insanely catchy and it even holds a message.

47. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” by Of Montreal

An artifact of its source album, this rundown of mental trouble works well even outside the original setting.

46. “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West (feat. Lupe Fiasco)

It’s the horns!  As soon as the song kicks in, you don’t have a choice – you listen.

45. “Keep Fishin’” by Weezer

Most of post-2000 Weezer has been dreadful. Maladroit is the exception, and this song is a classic.

44. “The Wolf is Loose” by Mastodon

In a word, blistering.  From that opening drum attack, it doesn’t let up.  Metal at its finest.

43. “The Zookeeper’s Boy” by Mew

The startup riles the mind, but then they disarm you with that magical voice.

42. “Melody Day” by Caribou

That guitar holds you tight to the song, but the ethereal vocals make it stick in your mind.

41. “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse

In general, Muse is overwhelming and a tad annoying.  Here, they’re just too big to ignore.  Very fun song.

40. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case

Her voice is big, but this song captures her excellence. Great, light music and a slightly over-the-top metaphor make this a late-decade great.

39. “1 2 3 4” by Fiest

Yes, the iPod commercials were popular.  But the song is so much better than just an ad.  The melody, catchy vocals and a slightly painful tale of teenage love all add up to a full composition, worthy of repeated listens.

38. “We’ll Make a Love Of You” by Les Savy Fav

The band may be known for their crazy stage antics, but this song proves them a worthy rock band in general.  Interesting lyrics and singing are mainly a way to get those brilliant guitars in.  The echo is there like U2, but it is so much more muscular.

37. “PDA” by Interpol

Dark and brooding, the lyrics are plainly idiotic, and the voice seems out to copy Joy Division.  But you know what: the song is still great.  The dark is excellent, thanks to a beefy bass and tight drums.  Of course, the whole thing just turns amazing through that final breakdown.  The drums go, the guitars lock in and then it all comes back.  Brilliant every time.

36. “Atlas” by Battles

Huge.  Epic.  Massive.  Yeah, very redundant, but it’s hard to pound in just how big this song is.  Structurally, everything is very simple.  Big drum beat, some bass and guitars following behind.  But the crazy vocals and just the scope of the operation make this worth hearing.

35. “23” by Blonde Redhead

Washed out, Sonic Youth-type sounds aren’t anything new.  But when you play it this well and have a cooing siren as your lead singer, you tend to garner a bit of attention.  I really love the drum pattern that carries throughout this track, and it helps drive this manic, swirling track right into your brain.

34. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” by REM

This is an amazing way to make an entrance.  Even more so when it heralds a return to form like this.  After a few albums of mindless wandering, REM snap right into place with this searing song, lashing your ears with big guitars and angry lyrics.  Bonus points: that entrance lick makes a great ringtone.

33. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie

This song can seem cheesy, but I love it anyway.  It really hit for me during a Scrubs episode.  The kind of deep affection and real sadness seen here are difficult to describe without sounding pathetic.  Here, the sparse arrangement and the light vocals manage to tackle the subject without fear.

32. “Kissing the Lipless” by The Shins

Decidedly poppy, yet deceptively complex.  “Kissing the Lipless” really shifts into a different place when it transitions to a faster song through those guitar attacks.  The song is very refined, but still manages to feel raw and realistic through the strained singing.

31. “My Girls” by Animal Collective

Pitchfork has vastly overrated this song.  However, it is still worth hearing.  Strong emotions and personal convictions drive this track.  Personal reflection should probably result in all people having the hopes and dreams of Animal Collective in “My Girls”.

30. “Smile” by Lily Allen

Swanky and deliciously pop, this song is too catchy to be left off any decade list.  But the whole thing gets turned over immediately when Allen complains about her man “f***ing that girl next door.”  Very spiteful, but self-serving in how his guilt brings the singer joy.  Personal redemption can be awesome.

29. “2080” by Yeasayer

I’m not very familiar with the rest of Yeasayer, so I don’t know if this is a very representative song.  But if so, they must be astronauts, making brilliant space music.  The whole thing seems out of this world, and cements its place through both the chorus and the children shouting at the end.

28. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio know how to make a song.  First, they pull you in with a cool drum pattern.  Then, they keep you interested with the guitars and insane production.  Just as you grow “bored,” they slow things down, let you feel it out.  And then before that goes on for too long, they kick up the speed to a new high and ride it out.  Nicely done.

27. “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens

Religion and cancer are not often encountered in popular music.  Yet here we find a quiet, caring man examining his own faith and reflecting on the death of a loved one.  In the midst of the sprawling Illinoise, it is interesting to find this charmingly sad song, featuring acoustic guitars and a restrained banjo.  Sonically beautiful, and mentally stimulating.

26. “Use It” by The New Pornographers

I’m never really sure what The New Pornographers are ever singing about.  But, here they are anyway.  The strength of their lovely singing, bold poppy hooks and great variety of songs keeps me coming back.  “Use It” is no different – strong singers and a memorable piano are enough to make this song rise so high.

25. “Auto Rock” by Mogwai

Ah, the slow build.  This song is different than all others in the list so far, in that it features no vocals.  Instead, a haunting piano line slowly grows louder.  More sounds are added, a quiet electronic blip.  Then the wall of guitar sound comes in off the horizon, this also building.  It’s a very inspirational song to me, leaving a feeling of rising out of the ashes.  By the end, it’s fist-pumping good and you feel ready for battle.

24. “Millstone” by Brand New

Dear crappy punk rock: please take notes.  After being a mediocre punk rock band, Brand New decided to grow up and write meaningful songs with interesting music.  “Millstone” is a stunning song coming from a band that wrote “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad.”  There are layers of sound, slow nuance, and lyrics that comment on personal failure in an intelligent way.  This is a real evolution in music: Brand New are now a spectacular, respectable group of artist.

23. “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand

It is all about that transition.  Yeah, the start and the finish are both wonderful, but holy god.  That moment around 55 seconds in is just magical.  The guitars go tight, the drums get all wonky and the song is never the same.  They never try repeat this stunning change at any point in their career (thus far), so you really must enjoy the moment.  It is the point where indie garage rock and disco meet and it’s fantastic.  Yeah, you’ve heard this song a million times now, but it is really good enough to carry a whole album.

22. “Sixteen Military Wives” by The Decemberists

The apex of all Decemberists songs.  Perhaps this is more surprising in that it is so different than anything else off of Picaresque.  Whatever the case, the song is brilliant and scathing in its poppy abandon.  A discourse on what is wrong with America, this track also manages to pull together an amazing horn group.  And yet again, the little moments really win big points.  Here, it’s the way the song finishes off, bringing the horn line back around for one last flourish.  Perfect ending.

21. “Fell in Love With a Girl” by The White Stripes

I wish more garage rock sounded like this.  Very fast, relentless in its thrash, “Fell in Love With a Girl” is such rush.  Yes, we’ve all heard the crap about Meg’s drumming, but it is actually very fitting here.  You only need a simplistic drum figure for Jack White to dance around.  Tip: turn this up really really loud in your car, open all the windows and sing along.  Bonus points if it’s winter.  Afterward, try to tell me that this song is not awesome.

Best Albums 2008: 3 – Third

I’ve already said my piece about this album, and the reward is this high placement at the end of the year.

Of course, there is an element of Third that must be reiterated – longevity. After the first listen, it’s clear that there are gripping songs and powerful emotions at work. But it is with the tenth, twentieth, maybe even twenty-fifth play that things unravel. And each track continues to reveal new things even now, eight months after the release.

“The Rip” is a real winner, with a superb minimalism and striking vocals. But that isn’t the only song to call forth such emotional response. Indeed, it is the emotion that makes Third so worthwhile. Dark tones and one-of-a-kind vocals blend to make memorable tracks that stick with you weeks after the initial play.

Really, this is something that everyone should experience. It’s a difficult listen, but very rewarding.

Best Songs 2008: 5 – The Rip

Portishead’s 2008 reinvention was very surprising and musically outstanding. The minimalist electronics played perfectly with Beth Gibbons’ haunting voice. But among all the haunting melodies and amazing deliveries was this – a real high peak standing above the other mountains. Such a distinction is quite a large feat, as the powerful mechanics of “Machine Gun” and the swirling scenery of “Plastic” both offer unique and exemplary sonic experiences.

So what makes “The Rip” such a winner? Part of the formula is the minimalism. Initially, only hushed electronic tones aid a light acoustic guitar in telling a tale of woe. Then, about halfway through, the drums kick in and a strong electric-organ replaces the guitar strumming. This continues through to the end as the song fades away. The transition period between guitar and electronics is very powerful and moving. Yet, the song offers a strange sort of compromise – as the volume increases, the ears expect the song to kick into a powerful conclusion. But this is where Portishead excels – they refuse to fit stereotypes, and contain the song (to an emotionally devastating effect).

And this is where Beth Gibbons must be mentioned again. As the music is so minimal, the vocals move to fill in the space. Gibbons has a full voice that sounds vulnerable and in pain. Memorable lines hold more impact with such a singer, and you will remember how she was left “disappointed and sore.” Similarly, the repeated refrain of “wild, white horses” serves to inspire and caution. Gibbons sounds alone and in need of help, only hoping to be taken away by the horses.

The impact of this song is tremendous, certainly outlasting its four-and-a-half minute run time. At any moment, the song can reenter the mind, with the amazing guitar and haunting vocals echoing days after the initial play. Even other artists have been smitten by the song – Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead have produced a cover of the song seen here. “The Rip” is amazing and everyone should experience this song.