BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: 40-31

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Here starts my rundown of the best albums of this decade.  I hope you enjoy, and check back tomorrow for more of this list!

40. Ageatis Byrjun by Sigur Ros

It is simple to fall into this music.  You need only turn it on and let the multitude of sounds envelop you.  Oh yeah – that voice is also important.  It’s hard to overstate how original this album is.

39. Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio

There are many ideas and instruments here, but I always come back to those production values.  Each song sounds disturbed and claustrophobic, creating a great atmosphere.  Of course, having individually brilliant songs helps out, too.

38. White Blood Cells by The White Stripes

Wouldn’t it be great if all garage rock sounded like this?  You know, with the brilliant guitar playing, and the real personality and the insane hooks?  But I guess these traits are what keep us coming back to Jack and Meg White.  The first four songs are more than enough for any guitar fan to own this album.

37. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

I personally find Summerteeth to be a better product, but it’s hard to deny the fearless-experimenting-traditionalism of this album.  Everything seems like classic rock, but it’s tough to keep playing.  Sharp lyrics, some well-placed strings, and at least two super songs make this a great.

36. Farm by Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. seem straightforward, but they never sound predictable.  Scorching guitar lines and a strong sense of melody help their cause.  Perhaps being a middle-age white guy can’t stop innate talent from coming out.

35. Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend

So they’re kind of prissy and elitist or something.  Who cares?  Their music is pop gold, offering more charming moments than most people have throughout their whole high school life.  And guess what: they also manage to do so in the realm of minimalist construction.  Universally aimed (catchy pop), yet able to be digested through music criticism.  Nice combo.

34. Mr. Beast by Mogwai

I am not always quick to accept mostly non-singing (not including jazz) music in my life.  But here are this Scottish guys exploding with instrumental emotion, leaving me to pump my fist in support.  Dynamics are king here, as the band works with a wide range of sonic power.

33. Discovery by Daft Punk

The essential techno album of ever.  For those who find it difficult to latch onto cold electronics, please see “Digital Love.”  For those who like to dance, see “One More Time.”  For the rest of us, just break out “Harder Better Faster Stronger.”  And now you have the remainder of the album of beat-heavy, danceable music to go.  You’re welcome, and now addicted.

32. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of Montreal

At heart a disco album.  However, Hissing Fauna moves through that label and onto this list because of the psychotic examination/breakdown that flows through the album.  The centerpiece, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” is an unexpected game-changer that radically alters all future plays of the entire album.

31. Maladroit by Weezer

Current-Weezer is just terrible.  We are talking about the makers of the three worst albums of this decade.  The “artists” who have spewed such junk as “Beverly Hills,” “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived,” and “Can’t Stop Partying.”

But here lies Maladroit, a rightful heir to the legacy of 1990s Weezer.  Nerdy lyrics, big guitars, and catchy songs all fit the original Weezer mold.  But this album manages self-identity through a grungy style and a harder edge.  It’s too bad they never came back toward this…

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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 SONGS OF 2009: 20-11

To check out these songs for yourself, click on the last word of each commentary.  You’ll find a link to YouTube for a stream of the track.  Here we go…

20. “I’m On a Boat” by The Lonely Island

It’s cheesy, stupid, childish, and clearly pandering to the college-jock type.  Yet here writes an engineering student with no real affection toward rap, thoroughly enjoying this song.  “Boat” is just so silly and fun, and you can’t help but love the premise.  The whole thing is made even better by the brilliant self-parody offered by T-Pain.  He is well aware of the setting, and lays down some fantastic fake-singing just for SNL.  It’s made better (obviously) with the video.  Watch it over and over on Lala or here.

19. “WIlco (The Song)” by Wilco

I’ve become a more devoted Wilco follower in recent days thanks to a great run with Summerteeth over the past year.  However, the brilliance of modern-day Wilco shouldn’t be overlooked.  “The Song” is a slight bit of parody, but manages to encapsulate most of what makes the band great in one place.  I think the big bells in the last third of the song really bring it together for me.  It’s the idea that, yes they’re more straightforward today, but they’ll still make magical music.  Listen to it here.

18. Young Adult Friction” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

For those not in the know, it’s about love in a library.  I personally find the lyrics to be annoying and a bit overdone.  This is all pushed aside by great guitars and a rhythm section that gives a sense of direction.  Think of combining the jangle and drums of R.E.M. with a New Wave attitude and you’re nearly there.  Lyrical delivery certainly counts for a lot here – enthusiasm is very present.  The 80s would have loved this band, and I’m glad we have them.

17. “Send Him Away” by Franz Ferdinand

The Scots best know for the crazy rhythm change in “Take Me Out” are back with a fairly angry tune.  This discussion of female infidelity fits in nicely with the whole “night out” theme within their latest album.  The singer ultimately ends begging to stay the night.  While he may be a tad pathetic, the music is tight, offering a nice guitar jangle that swings around a phenomenal bass line and a complex-yet-digestible drum part.  I’d argue that this is the top highlight of the whole album.

16. “I am Leaving” by Blue Roses

Blue Roses was described by someone else as the sound of a rainy day repeated over a whole album.  I think that’s a pretty apt feeling, but it sells the music short.  “I am Leaving” is at its core a song about a breakup or exiting a family.  But more important is the sheer beauty of the song.  Aching guitars are placed with bright chimes.  I’m a real sucker for great vocals, and this also propels this song.  Laura Groves has an amazing voice, and after this song, you’re left sorry for her and yet entirely elated.

15. “These Are My Twisted Words” by Radiohead

When this was originally leaked, it seemed like an obvious Radiohead song.  Perhaps that is because it sounds like a stereotypical Radiohead song.  Tight drums, wandering guitars, Thom Yorke’s ever-present voice.  But let me ask: isn’t that also what makes Radiohead so amazingly great?  If they were to release an album full of songs like this, wouldn’t we all flip out and proclaim it one of the greatest in recent memory?  Yeah, “Twisted Words” isn’t very special in the Radiohead cannon, but that it holds many Radiohead trademarks makes it better than 90% of music today.

14. “Pieces” by Dinosaur Jr.

I completely missed out on the first round of Dinosaur Jr, so I can’t really compare this song to anything that came before.  Instead, I have the perspective of an outsider on this.  Frankly, I’m disgusted.  How did I not find this band earlier?  Straightforward rock with the best guitars I may have heard from all of music… where has J Mascis been all my life?  This is a great song on an album full of great songs and the band really deserves all the praise offered lately.  A great first impression (the leadoff track from Farm) for this new fan.

13. “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear

There is a very puzzling blogosphere “general opinion” that “Two Weeks” is better than “While You Wait for the Others.”  I really don’t agree with that view of things, and see “While You Wait” as an vastly superior track.  However, that does not leave “Two Weeks” as a poor piece of music.  Rather, the bright pop and fantastic arrangement of “Two Weeks” is a fantastic entry point to the music of Grizzly Bear.  It’s very catchy, the vocal harmonies are splendid (even close to the power of Fleet Foxes) and the whole thing is just very pretty.  It is sometimes difficult to accept a song for being essentially beautiful, but this track is fantastic.

12. “Convinced of the Hex” by The Flaming Lips

There are certainly more catchy songs on Embryonic, but there is nothing more attention-grabbing.  The strange introduction only pulls you into a great blend of crazy rock.  Superb funky guitars and a crashing set of drums manage to set up an amazing atmosphere for the whole album.  Nothing since The Moon & Antarctica has set up such an otherworldly feel.  It’s great, and you’ll be left thinking about that bass line for weeks.

11. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case

Left just short of the top ten, but not because of Ms. Case’s pipes.  Wow can she belt out some music.  Of course her voice is pointless on a “traditional” album unless the music can keep up.  Here, everything is great.  Guitars, pianos, drums, all working in tandem to build the foundation of this song.  Then Case fires on all cylinders to send everything into the stratosphere.  “What will make you believe me?” she belts with all her might.  The whole tornado-lover metaphor thing would seem a bit heavy-handed if not for the great holistic production.  That, and her voice is big enough to be an F5.

Come back for the next 10 songs tomorrow night!