Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Number One

Acoustic guitar, piano, wurlitzer, electric bass, drum kit, electric guitar, oboe, alto saxophone, flute, banjo, glockenspiel, accordion, vibraphone, recorder, casiotone MT-70, sleigh bells, shakers, tambourine, triangle, electric church organ and vocals. One man performed all those instruments on one triumphant record. Sujfan Stevens Invites You to: Come On Feel The Illinoise! (or Illinoise for short) by Sufjan Stevens is the greatest record of the decade and my generation. If you’ve noticed the trend, the things that I connect to home, are my personal favorites. If you were ask my dad what the greatest state in the union is, you would have to put a gun to his head before he’d say Illinois (even then, I’m pretty sure he’d take the bullet). To me, that’s okay. Rod Blagovsafkjgawiugasvbitch makes us look bad, but who cares. Illinois is the best state because is has so much history: Lincoln, The Great Fire, the Cubs, Al Capone, Frank Lloyd Wright, ect. ect. Illinoise celebrates the grand history of the state, good and bad. It’s something to marvel when you can a.) keep listener’s attention with songs/stories about a state b.) make those stories feel personal to the listener and c.) create a record that makes modern listeners excited, even when it’s so heavily anchored in classical music. Even it’s more playful moments, Illinoise is beautiful from start to finish. My favorite thing about the core of Sufjan’s songwriting is the humane details in his lyrics. I remember the line “In the morning/through the window shade/When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade/I could see what you were reading” stuck out in my mind. As a songwriter, I tried to recreate it, but Sufjan has a special gift of being aware of the little beauties in life. So the least I could do was to notice the little beauties in his music. The strange time signature and the smooth transitions to common ones. The orchestration, the harmonies, the silly lyrics that don’t seem so silly by songs end. Like I said, he doesn’t hide the shame Illinois has. We’re reminded of John Wayne Gacy and the things he’s done. The strange thing I’ve always felt with this song is that Sufjan seems to be understanding of Gacy. Maybe not the actual things he did, but more so the monster he became. It’s a strange element of the song, and it’s one that haunts you long after the fact.

I have a friend who I never see anymore. We were in music theory together in high school and he showed me Sufjan Stevens. After a few days, I came back to him and sung my praises. I was pretty baffled when he offered me tickets to see Sufjan Stevens...the next day...for free. No time to prepare! I didn’t know the words to many of his songs! People would stare! Oh, the horror! That proved to be meaningless as the next day, my musical life would be greatly altered. One by one, the band came out, all wearing these large nondescript wings. Then to my great shock, an orchestra come out, also with wings. After awhile, one last man came out: Sufjan.

Everyone has a good cry to a sappy song now and again, but never have I ever cried to due instrumental music. Well, Sufjan and his orchestra were so perfect, I cried. Twice. The Seven Swans track, “Sister”, and Illinoise track, “The Predatory Wasp Of Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” Why is this important? Well, it shows the great strength of Sufjan’s music and the great strength of music in general. Whether or not you, dear reader, and I agree on this album or any album on my list, we can agree that music is a powerful thing that gets us through life (amongst a few other essential things).

“Oh, Great Goat, the curse you gave us

Oh, Great Ghost, protect and save us

Oh, Great River, green with envy

Oh, Jane Addams, spirit send thee

Oh Great Illinois”

Other great records.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

  • Alkaline Trio - From Here To Infirmary
  • Against Me! - As The Eternal Cowboy
  • The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
  • Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
  • Built To Spill - You In Reverse
  • Coldplay - X&Y
  • Common - Be
  • Death From Above 1979 - You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
  • Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
  • The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot
  • Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
  • Gavin Castleton - Home
  • Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Sank
  • Mos Def - Black on Both Sides
  • NOFX - War on Errorism
  • Outkast - Stankonia
  • The Postal Service - Give Up
  • Radiohead - (Insert whatever album)
  • The Roots - Phrenology
  • Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

There are a lot of great records on this list. For one reason or another I felt that these records didn’t do enough for me. Except Stankonia, I slightly regret not putting on the list. You may notice Alkaline Trio. You’re probably wondering, since they’re my favorite band, why the didn’t make the list. Well the answer is simple, Alkaline Trio just didn't have a better record than others. They don't really have strong albums, whereas they have strong collections of songs. Other albums worth noting: Fleet Foxes. My good friend Drew brought up how she felt that it was deserving of a higher place. Her argument was that it was just surprising that a record like that and a band like that could become popular. I say, no, its not surprising, just look at Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I guess ill just quickly explain my self on certain things:

  • I’ll defend Coldplay for a hot second. They’re great. I don’t care what you or Chuck Klosterman says. They can’t be this popular with out being ridiculously talented.
  • The Flaming Lips probably should have made it on the list.
  • Everyone should listen to Gavin Castleton
  • Common sucked after Be
  • I only put Radiohead on the honorable mention because Andrew Winslow would have a shit fit if I didn’t. Radiohead is good but not that good.
  • We Were Dead Before The Ship Sank is outrageously better than Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

Okay. Time for number one...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Records of The 2000's: 15-2

Alright folks, hope you got your readin' hats on. I wrote quite a bit about quite a few albums. I decided to build the suspense and hold off on my number one. but there should be some good reading in this entry. I hope. After this post I will write briefly on the records that were great, but didn't quite make it.

okay. cool.

15. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

I could have put any Spoon record on this list and most everyone would be content. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga just has a more confident aura about it. Not only that but it contained one of the best and most popular film songs of the decade, “The Underdog”. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon laced Rock with Funk and it is about as unique as you think it’d be. Spoon’s best attribute is that they never seem to totally fail you. Yes, there may be moments of question (See: Gimme Fiction). Yes, you may worry they’ll become something you’ll come to hate. But every time, Britt Daniel and company manage to impress you and be the most indie band they can be. I’d like to think Spoon is the definitive indie band. They have the definitive sound. They’re on a definitive indie label. They’re definitively awesome. They’re not intrusive on your life like so many bands are these days, and that makes you want to welcome the band even more. Spoon is kind of like that dude you see on campus all the time, and you always love talking to him because he makes you laugh. You always say to your self, “Man, I wanna hang out with that dude more. He’s so cool.” You never get close to that guy, he never returns your calls, but it doesn’t phase you ever. That’s Spoon.

14. The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious
Like I said earlier, Green Day and blink got things going for punk again in the 90s. Was is REALLY punk? Eh. Not really. Green Day had their moments, blink wasn’t punk in the slightest. In the early stages of this decade, garage punk came back. The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives led the way. Since then, everyone stopped caring about The Vines, The White Stripes and The Strokes moved on from the garage thing and it prove to be successful for them. The Hives, however, have not moved on. I could kiss them for that. The Hives’ outrageous vocalist, Howlin’ Pelle, once said the whole point of The Hives was to make the fastest most blistering punk music their bodies could handle. This is most certainly the case for their Major Label debut. While they played at light speed (a 12 song album clocking in at 28 minutes) they still managed to a). write great songs b). show that they weren’t JUST slamming out power chords. These dudes can arrange and play just as good as anyone. Energy and excitement is just bursting from the seams of this album. My favorite thing about The Hives is that they have no shame. They don’t give a shit about anyone or anything. They just want to be heard. Here’s a great example: in 2007 The Hives graciously toured with Maroon 5. Not only did they tour with Maroon 5, they blew M5 out of the water a won a whole new group of fans. AND during that tour they played small club shows for their fans on their days off. When you’re in a band everyone asks you “what’s your band like?” I can never answer that question, but The Hives have themselves down to a science. They’re concise and finely tuned. Veni Vedi Vicious just further proves this.

13. Green Day - American Idiot

You’re a fool if you think that American Idiot sounded different to any other Green Day record. If you want to hate a Green Day record for sounding different, you should really hate Warning. The only difference between American Idiot and past Green Day records is that the songs are strung together and there’s a “plot” (allegedly). The thing that makes this record great is the ebb and flow of all the songs. It’s was as true of an “album” as you could really find at the time. Not only that but it was a hit. Everyone had it. Including the people who hated it. What is there to hate about this record? “WTF, The songs are too good.” “Billy Joe’s song writing is growing, what an asshole.” “The band is way too creative.” Cry me a river you blubbering baby. Get over it. Green Day recorded songs that were ambitious but not overly pretentious. Must I reference Angels & Airwaves again to prove my point? American Idiot just came at a perfect time. Everyone form the ages of 14 to 22 hated Bush and they needed a song to sing. Green Day gave them a song to sing. And just in case they were heartbroken, they gave them a few more songs to sing as well. So, if you’re afraid to come out and say you love this record dear reader. Fear not. I’m here for you. Just say it. Scream it. That’s right. Let it aaalllll out.

12. The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!

When I created this list, I didn’t include my favorite band, Alkaline Trio. I’ll expand on that later. I decided to include my number two. The Lawrence Arms created one of the best punk records of the decade. I say this because Oh! Calcutta! is pure Chicago punk. The bassist and co-vocalist, Brendan Kelly said that while writing this record, they kept in mind all the things that got them to love punk. They reflected heavily on why they were in this band and why they were making their 5th full length. The answer? Love, loss, beer, weed, the music, friends and the Chicago skyline. I would say 95% of the people who read this entry will absolutely hate this band and every song on this record. That’s okay. The closing line on Gavin Castleton’s Home is “Home is not the place you dwell/Home is where you see yourself.” That sort of how I feel about this album and this band. They represent comfort. So much so that this past October I drove from Nashville, Tenn. to Chicago, Ill. to see The Larry Arms play their 10th anniversary show. The album is the best representation of the band. The guitars are huge. The drums are huge. The bass is huge. Everything is just in your face and its perfect. For those who can appreciate it, Oh! Calcutta! is something that will last for a long time. It’s an album about the human condition and I think people can connect with that. I just pray to baby Jesus that my kids will like punk.

11. Fionn Regan - The End of History

My Mom is pretty cool. Every once in a while I’ll get Wall Street Journal articles about bands like The xx (thats actually the name of the band) or cool columns on music publishing or concert promotion from her in the mail. Her greatest moment of coolness is most certainly when she turned me on to Fionn Regan. In 2007, he was nominated for a Mercury Prize. Since my mom checks all the Irish news publications, Fionn Regan fell into her lap and then into mine. The Irish singer-songwriter from County Wicklow is a mind-blowing talent. On the surface, Regan just totally rips your fucking face off with his finger picking. Never have I heard better acoustic guitar playing. That goes with out future withdrawal or retraction. Once you get past the superficial mind-fuck, there is so much more to this record. These sweeping collection beautiful lullabies will leave you feeling like everything will be okay. While his guitar playing could be perceived as a distraction, it isn’t in the slightest. Even if he sucked at guitar, these songs would still be phenomenal. Songs like “Hey Rabbit” and “Noah (Ghost in a Sheet)” are so simple and cozy, but deep down they are songs sung for a purpose, speaking volumes at such a low amplitude. I hate to say this kind of stuff, but this guy is finishing what Elliot Smith failed to finish (that damn coward). And he is NOT the next Bob Dylan. If you like folk music and incredible songwriting, Fionn Regan is a necessity. The few of us who know Fionn Regan, have been waiting so very patiently for album number two. On February 9th, almost four years later, we’ll finally get our second album.

10. OK Go - OK Go

I don’t know anything about OK Go. I could probably spout more information about Alkaline Trio, Bob Dylan and Arctic Monkeys than I could about my own life. The only thing I know about OK Go is they know how to write near perfect pop music. They can do it better than anyone I could think of. Everything is there: Witty one liners, over-arching stories with each song that has a clear resolution, big hooks, bigger guitars, great energy and sweet videos to go along with sweet songs. Pop music usually always revolves around the three “L’s”. Love, Loss, Lust. That’s pretty much OK Go in a nutshell. Take “You’re So Damn Hot” for example. A song about getting over a past love, and how you've grown to hate this woman. But deep down...you still really wanna do this chick. OK Go’s lack of shame on their first record is what makes it pretty great. This past semester, I got my iPod stolen so I was forced to use my CDs. Just for kicks I busted out this CD. Their talent was like a revelation. The crunchy power pop chords with doo-wop backing vocals? Friggin’ genius! I always loved OK Go, but I assumed that they’d be a band I’d like for a time then forget about them and never listen to them again. After this last listen, they proved that after 7 years their music stood the test of time. That’s tough and worth noting. So thank YOU douchebag roommate who stole my iPod, wallet and spare change out my room while I was sleeping. I would have forgotten all about OK Go if you weren’t such a arrogant dick.

9. The Swell Season - Once Original Soundtrack

This IS the most personal record on my list. I was in a relationship for a long time. It was my first girlfriend. It was (and still sort of is) the best human relationship I’ve ever had. The first time I attempted to take her out, it failed miserably. I had just finished recording my EP and I was taking her to the city to take some photos for the album art. Well we missed the train and she had lacrosse practice. In a last minute desperation move, I woke up my friend Jake at 9:30 a.m. to get my copy of Once so me and my ladyfriend could watch it. I knew it was something she’d love and it was a super romantic movie with great music. My little trick worked and by the end of Once, my ladyfriend was starting to look like more than a friend. The fact that the music from this movie was the glue to the beginnings of the most important relationship in my life, it sort of gives me a good reason to put it in my top ten. When it comes to songwriting, my biggest thing is honesty. If it’s not honest, why bother giving my time and ears? Glen Hansard is as honest as a man can get. With songs like “Leave”, you feel like you’re right there in the room when Glen confronts his ex-lover. The bravery of these songs is something to admire. Hansard also seems to fall into a groove and find his own style of song structure. I think he knows the rarity of this and he embraces it. While his then girlfriend, Marketa Irglova, wrote and co-wrote some songs, she’s young and has a long way to go before she’s on Glen’s level. Unsurprisingly enough, over a year later me and my girlfriend hit a rough patch and while we were trying to sift through our issues, who comes up on her iPod? The Frames, Glen’s band. After a handful of songs things seemed to just magically heal them selves. Glen is the glue in my life. I wish I could just tell him that my self.

8. Gorillaz - Demon Days

Everyone knows the Gorillaz. Everyone knows “Feel Good Inc.” Everyone knows these silly group of monkeys. What people may not know is that Damon Albarn is one of the best musicians of our time and he created the most eclectic record of the 2000’s. I don’t think you could fully appreciate the sheer impressiveness of Demon Days until you watch the Demon Days Live DVD. It took 30 musicians to perfectly execute it live. Demon Days is a cultured piece of work. Demon Days is politically conscious, socially conscious, spiritually conscious. Albarn had his eyes open during the writing and recording of this record. On most songs there’s a guest musician and Albarn shows his musical awareness by selecting some of the most compelling artists around. Most you haven’t heard of but you definitely take note on some of them after listening to this album. Some people that appear are De La Soul, MF Doom, Bootie Brown. The exception is Shaun Ryder on “Dare”. You are so fucking annoying Shaun Ryder. You ruin that song for the world. Put a sock in it, you dumb Cockney jackass. The most mesmerizing song on the record is “Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey’s Head”. The song is a mostly spoken word account on a fictional/figurative town at the foot of Monkey Mountain and it’s monkey inhabitants, The Happyfolk. The famed actor, Dennis Hopper, narrates the haunting story of a eerie infiltration by the Strangefolk which led to the brutal eruption of Monkey Mountain. The song can only be a response to one thing: Albarn clearly disagreed with the United States and Great Britain's choice to go to war. This song made this album my number eight because it shows the diversity. When you’ve got a contemporary pop record like Demon Days, the last thing you expect is a song like “Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey’s Head”. If you don’t listen to the whole record and least watch a live version of that song. Dennis Hopper delivers it like the gospel and it gives me chills.

7. Arcade Fire - Funeral
Put your selves in The Arcade Fire’s shoes. You make a record. You get lucky and a great label picks it up. Pitchfork reviews it. You get a 9.7. The next week, you’re CD is sold out worldwide. What the hell do you do? If I was Win Butler, I’d like to find out why my album was the most popular indie album of the moment. A few weeks ago I had some friends over and we listened to Funeral. Afterwards we talked about why its so popular today and what it’s really about. On the surface the album is called Funeral because during the making of the album, 9 relatives died. 9 funerals to attend. That’s a lot of life to reflect on. If you’re a 20-something, you still probably feel young. After 9 funerals in a three to four month time span, you begin to really loose your innocence. One of the ideas that my friends and I tossed around is that this record is about the death of your innocence and the death of your childhood. We all want to hold on to our childhood but eventually the last string is cut and it is a freaky thing. Funeral is a graceful record through and through and i think the reason Funeral is so beloved is because of it’s grace. Every time I listen to Funeral, I get this image of a 16 year old girl who’s forced to stick with ballet; something she loved as a kid but has grown to hate in her adolescence. Pretty out there, I know. But listen to the record and read the words, you’ll agree. Even through out all these deaths, the Arcade Fire made a record filled with hope (something that Angels & Airwaves tried but failed. Tom Delonge cites AF as a huge influence. What a dick.) Their instrumentation choices set them apart from the rest of the pack and influenced bands like Architecture in Helsinki to use every instrument in existence besides the guitar. The lyrics are something to marvel as well. “Somethin' filled up my heart with nothin'. someone told me not to cry. but now that i'm older my heart's colder and I can see that it's a lie.” That’s the truth.

6. The Raconteurs - Consolers of The Lonely

Jack White has done wonders for my generation. He brought back song writing as the most important facet in popular music. He brought back the art of The Cool. Most recently, he (along with a few others) brought back the guitar. The first Raconteurs record was good. It was a good step forward for White. When The Raconteurs surprised the world on March 18th, saying that in one week, The Raconteurs would put out their second record, Consolers Of The Lonely, the world wasn’t ready. To my great shock, this was the best modern Rock N’ Rock record of the decade. Jack White and Brendan Benson could possible be the strongest songwriting team since...Hall & Oates...? If your heart’s not totally racing by the end of this record, you need to go to the doctor. They just do everything right. I don’t need to list it. If you can think of it, they executed it perfectly. No need to continue here.

5. John Mayer - Continuum

When I said Jack White was among the musicians who brought back the guitar, John Mayer was another. Continuum is a modern masterpiece. It’s fully thought out both sonically and musically. I just listened to this record Christmas day with my mom (like I said, she’s cool), and I couldn’t help but think how easy it sounds. Of his latest record, Battle Studies, Mayer said that he pined over every note of every song trying to create the best melodies possible. While these melodies are outstanding, the melodies of Continuum are so much more natural. This is in part because I’m pretty sure John Mayer and Steve Jordan jammed in a room until Continuum just fell out of them. I remember the day I found out John Mayer could do more than write Bubblegum-Pop. It was 2004, maybe 2005 and Dave Chappelle was trying to prove a point that white people are the only ones who respond to fancy guitar work. Chappelle hired Mayer to rip a few solos. I honestly thought it was a fake track that Mayer was fake-guitaring over. I was baffled but curious. I did some You Tubing and a few hours later I was a John Mayer convert. The next year, John Mayer put this somewhat hidden talent (at least to me) to tape with Continuum. Continuum is John Mayer at his core. It's the record he always wanted to make from the start but never could without a few hits under his belt. These songs are great pop songs that are hidden with amazing guitar work. Battle Studies is the exact opposite.

4. Dr. Manhattan - Jam Dreams

If you are my friend, you know Dr. Manhattan. If you have never ever heard of Dr. Manhattan, we definitely are not friends. I never ever shut up about the greatness of Dr. Manhattan. They are what I latch on to from home. Dr. Manhattan is mine as far as Murfreeboro, Tennessee is concerned. That’s not the point. Dr. Manhattan started in 2005 while Matt Engers, Adam Engers, Nick Vombrack and Andrew Morrison were in high school. After a demo, an Ep and a whole lot of shows, Vagrant Records took note of these dudes and signed them. They put out their phenomenally smart debut self titled record. They toured. A lot. They toured a lot more. They toured more than any band ever. More than Dylan. They achieved some pretty great things. They did Warped Tour, Bamboozle and got their video on MTV2. I’m not really sure what happened after this. Somewhere along the line their label, manager and booking agent cut them loose. They were back to square one. I was talking to the bassist, Adam, and he told me that they were dying to record another record. So they put aside shame and asked recording engineer Casey Bates if they could record now and pay later. Bates said, “fuck it. I’ll do it for free. I just wanna make good music.” A few days later, a man by the name of Chris Conely of Saves The Day calls dman (dman got to open up for Saves The Day for an entire tour) to ask what they’ve been up to. Once he heard about the situation, he offered his talents as producer to the band….also for free. While everything seemed to suck for Dr. Manhattan, their sheer talent enabled them to record a record for free. Pretty amazing. So after 303 words, shall I get to the content of Jam Dreams? Well, it’s pretty much the rocking-est, funkiest, jam dreamy-est collection of songs I’ve ever heard. The record is primal and fun and crazy and carefree. After seeing these guys 10 times, Jam Dreams fits them way better than their self-titled. The first record was serious music (minus “Tracy’s Buns”) made by goofy dudes. Jam Dreams is goofy music made by goofy dudes. Jam Dreams is a record that will sneek up on you and smack you in the ass. Most of my friends claimed that Jam Dreams wasn't as good as Dr. Manhattan, but once I made them think about Jam Dreams song by song, they sort of realized it's strength. This was not the case for me. My anticipation for the record was nauseating, possibly the my most anticipated record of the decade (excluding Angels & Airwaves’ first record...sigh…). Jam Dreams shows off the extreme talent of these dudes. After years of seeing this band and listening to them, the last thing I expected was a tapping guitar solo on “Mailman”. Or incredulous rapping on “Misses Steward” or three intertwining melodies on “Hard Time”. This record puts a smile on my face and I never ever get sick of it. It’s just another representation of where I’m from and why I’m proud of that.

3. Bob Dylan - “Love & Theft”

You have to understand where Bob Dylan has been to understand where he is today and where he will go in the future (the little future thats left). Dylan is inherently American and “Love & Theft” is an inherently American record. Ironically it was released on September 11th, 2001. It’s interesting to think about Bob’s career. In the early stages of his career he was a groundbreaking rock musician who wrote the rule book on modern pop music. As time went on, he broke the rules less and less. What he did do was fine tune those rule and come about as close as you can to perfecting them. You might see this as boring but if you take the time and just listen to “Love & Theft”, it’s exponentially more exciting because of that. Recorded with his touring band in 12 days, “Love & Theft” is the smoothest Dylan ever sounded. He got rid of the annoying producers, got rid of the annoying session musicians and just had fun and made a record with his friends. The albums third track, “Mississippi”, Dylan shows off that he can still write a beautiful pop tune. The song was originally written for a 1997 Dylan album but he ended up giving it to Sheryl Crow. He finally got it right in 2001. “Mississippi” is the epitome of smooth. He sings with such sorrow and regret, you can’t help but take in all the wisdom he has. On the past 3 or 4 records, Dylan has a lot to say. On “Love & Theft”, Bob squeezes in as many words as he can but gives enough room for the music to breathe and room for the band to create a luscious web of sound. A lot of people like to think that Oh Mercy or Time Out Of Mind were Dylan’s comeback records, those were precursors to what was to come, the best and most fun Dylan record since Blood On The Tracks.

2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Poor Wilco. They never get a break. As I read just about every major Top Records of The Decade list, Wilco is always somewhere in the top five. They can never quite squeeze their way into the number one spot. They never will. Can I tell you why exactly that is? No, I can’t. Do I wonder why I complained that poor Wilco never got the number one spot on any list, yet here I am not giving them my number one spot? Yes, yes I am. Wilco’s just always been that band that gets short changed with the runner-up position. It’s kind of funny, seeing that they’re from The Second City. So what’s wrong with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Well...nothing. I think… I mean it’s a pretty much perfect record. Sort of. I guess it comes down to how the listener relates to it. On one hand, you could have the artsy college kid who is lost on the path of his or her life and that student connects with its disconnection. Then on the other hand, you could have the college kid who just doesn’t get it. That’s something that is totally possible. This record is so fucking weird, most human beings can’t connect with it too heavily. The songs are most certainly great. I mean, you can’t turn away from a song like “Heavy Metal Drummer”. I can’t really say that any song is bad. But Jeff Tweedy, what in God’s name are you talkin’ about in “War on War”? Or “Kamera”? Nonsensical lyrics are fun and all...but it holds the record back. I salute them for creating a sonic adventure. For pulling apart all these songs and finding they best way to present them to the world. If you ever watch the documentary on the making of this album, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, you’ll see that. You’ll see them pick apart the songs. How many bands really care to do that? Being a musician, I can tell you that doing what Wilco did is hard. I know I seem to be sort of raggin’ on the record, but there are a ton of things that make this record great. First, they proved to the world what everyone said they couldn’t do. The major labels rejected Wilco but Wilco believed in them selves and their music enough to prove them wrong. After being booted from Reprise records for not creating something “commercial”, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released almost a year late and went on to sell 500,000 records: A commercial success. Another thing that makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot a landmark album is that they consistently challenge the listener. If you start off a record with with a song like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, you’re really asking the listening, “Okay, do you ACTUALLY want to be here, or are you just fucking with us?” Slightly off topic, I have a theory that with their next record, A Ghost is Born, they sequenced the songs backwards just to create discomfort with the listener. Well it totally worked. Regardless, Wilco could have just made a typical, yet solid, rock record with these songs. It would have been so easy. Even I could have done it. But they didn’t make a rock record. They made a weird, monster of a masterpiece. Now that I think of it, the imperfections, the atonal garbage that litters this album is what makes it so great. It’s so uncertain. Wilco took their uncertainty and made it the most certain thing on earth.

stay tuned for the honorable mentions and the number one album of the decade...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Records of The 2000's: 30-16

Here is the start of my top records of the decade. You wont agree with everything. I'm sure you're going to want to say "hey man, _________ by _________ is better". I'm sure it is, but thats not why I'm making this list. I don't care what you think dear reader. I obviously am going to miss things because, I can't listen to everything. Though, I can assure you that I have heard the whole discography of every artist on this list. I crafted this list as fast as possible, knowing that my instinct would steer me in the right direction. Once we get to the top ten or so, most of the rankings could be interchangeable. But Remember, I'm only but one man.

I guess it might be worth explaining how I gathered this list.
  1. Personal Preference
  2. Cultural Relevance
  3. Musical Relevance
  4. Album Cohesiveness (sorry Ken, just because the tracks bleed together, doesn't necessarily mean the album is cohesive)
  5. Misc. other crap that I think matters.
But these are the things I think are great, and if you stick around i'll tell you why. Check out all the records if you haven't already.

30. Cursive - The Ugly Organ

What a better record to start the list than a collection of songs, bound together by the music of one ugly organ. I’m sure that this is semi-autobiographical, but for the sake of interest, we'll assume it's not. It is just utterly baffling how much Tim Kasher puts into this record. The blood curdling cries are one of a kind and turned my ear. It maintains an interesting intensity throughout. Even in a song like “The Recluse”, you feel like something is going to explode from the bowels of this record.

29. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

I know. This isn’t Heartbreaker OR Gold. Wait...This isn’t Cold Roses either! Well by all accounts there can’t be any other Ryan Adams record on a Top List of the 2000’s then, can there? Wrong. Heartbreaker? Boring. Gold? Over the top. Cold Roses? Cut half the songs, then we’ll talk. Though Easy Tiger is listed as a solo record, this is the purest and most accurate representation of The Cardinals. The songwriting is so overwhelmingly strong. The record is concise and ridiculously exciting. They cover enough genres where you’re pleased but never confused.

28. The Matches - Decomposer

Pop-Punk had come a long way. Green Day and blink-182 paved the way to put the pop(ular) in front of punk making it aggressive, yet catchier than anything else at the time. The Matches started right where those bands left off. Then for their second record they slipped Pop-Punk some ecstasy. This spastic, slightly terrifying record represents the endless possibilities of what Pop-Punk could have become. The songwriting: phenomenal. The musicianship: outstanding. The live sets: one-of-a-kind. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch on and three years later: bye-bye to one of the most exciting bands around.

27. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

Everyone likes to judge me and scoff at me on this one. I’m a sucker for soul. While the songwriting is all Winehouse, this record should be billed as Mark Ronson, Back To Black’s producer. This record is about as tasteful as you can get. Things are fleshed out perfectly and never over-done. One thing I absolutely adore about this record and most soul records is the sheer attitude. A lot of this record is a big “Fuck You”. “Fuck you, I won’t go to rehab”, “fuck you, I told you not to get close to me”, “fuck you, why did I ever think I needed you.” You get it. Though I’d like to give Ronson more credit than he got, the record would be nothing without the songs.

26. Coheed & Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

First impressions are usually the strongest. Especially for music. This was the first thing I heard by the Prog-Rock band Coheed & Cambria. Madness is straight through this. Everything from the riffs to the time signatures to the tangled web of lyrical content paints the portrait of the main character's story. These songs do a funny thing to me. I force me to pay attention to what going on. Every little turnaround beat, syncopated polyrhythm, and seamless key changes will drive you insane and keep you from skipping any track. It’s epic nature rings from the first notes of its title track to the mind-blowing hidden track “21:13”.

25. The Killers - Sam’s Town

People make me mad with this record. People bash Sam’s Town left and right but for what? Nothing. You can NOT deny Sam’s Town. I know what you’re thinking: “I’m denying it right now. It sucks. The Worst.” Have faith dear reader, I know you can. First of all, The Killers are all about the classic rip off, essentially relying on being what they aren’t. There will never be a definitive Killers sound. Ever. So stop saying Hot Fuss IS The Killers. You’re wrong, sorry. Second of all, take their first record, Hot Fuss, pound for pound with Sam’s Town. Lead singles were “Somebody Told Me” for the former and “When You Were Young” for the latter. Lets be real, you know all the words to “When You Were Young” and not “Somebody Told Me”. Sam’s Town just releases this indescribable energy that Hot Fuss lacks. The energy of “Bones” and “Uncle Johnny” cripples that of “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Mr. Brightside”. The Killers had a stick up their ass on Hot Fuss but they let loose on Sam’s Town, and it’s fuckin’ badass. So get the stick out YOUR ass and give poor Sam’s Town a chance.

24. Chuck Ragan - Feast or Famine

So...ya know when a a band breaks up and the singer goes off and starts a solo career? Ya know how it usually sucks (i.e. Billy Corgan, Chris Cornell, Ringo Starr, every hair metal band’s vocalist’s solo career)? Well here’s a time where all of that is corrected. Chuck Ragan’s band, Hot Water Music, was legendary. A relentless punk band that had legions of fans all around the world. When they broke up, I’m pretty sure bearded men everywhere cried a single tear. Fear not you flannel-wearing, mosh pit-starting, Trio Tat-donning punks. Chuck had a solution for the temporary problem. Gritty acoustic singer-songwriter tunes that puts punk, country, blues, folk and bluegrass in a big ol’ bag and shakes it up. The result? An honest account on life. Beautiful songs with more feeling than every Sammy Hagar song combined. Chuck won a whole new group of fans just based off of his solo material, and THAT is impressive.

23. Jay-Z - The Blueprint

Alright, here’s the first record on the list where I haven’t listened to it's content a million times. The record is on this list solely due to its mystique. You laugh, but there’s such a big question mark with The Blueprint. What is it? A record trying to create a new layout for hip-hop? That’s too easy. A record on how to live you life? Not quite. The Blueprint is a record about how to be scared. Ironically, it’s a scary thing to come to grips with. During the making of this record, Jay-Z was facing criminal charges of gun possession and assault. Pretty scary if you ask me. How do you cope with that fear? Womanize, smoke weed, blame people and things and most importantly: never show your true feelings. This is a coping record. Mr. Carter used fear to create one of the best rap records in a long time. The record had some of the most timeless hip-hop tracks of the decade, if not ever. “Izzo”, “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Jigga That N****”. You can’t go wrong with The Blueprint if you love true hip-hop.

22. Queens of The Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf

Hard Rock sort of failed this decade. Lets list the ways. Creed, Nickelback, Disturbed, Staind. Barf me. Thankfully I said “sort of” and not “totally”. Joshua Homme saved Hard Rock from hilarious extinction. First off, he took his words seriously. People won’t take you seriously if you won’t put in the time to come up with better lines than “We'll show the world they were wrong / And teach them all to sing along”. Grow a dick Chad Kroeger. Secondly he created something that met conventionalism and progressiveness in the middle to make something most everyone could agree on. Once again, we don’t get a Superman story were the talented band gets all the money they deserve. No no, that goes to the talentless ass clowns who pump out the most aurally offensive garbage since The Bengals. QOTSA got a few radio singles from the time of this release to present day, but they deserve so much more seeing that they crafted an album that saved true Hard Rock from being a minor blip in the music history radar. Stuff like this is what kids of the future will yearn for, wishing that something will be created in their generation, something to call their own that isn’t complete trash. Thanks Mr. Homme, I appreciate you now. But for real dude, Songs For The Deaf is heavy. So fucking heavy. Makes a brotha wanna puke.

21. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare

Arctic Monkeys understood where they stood in the popular music lexicon before making Favourite Worst Nightmare. They were the new Oasis, with a bit a of punk and a lot more touch-in-cheekiness. Well, I'm pretty after a year or so of that, they had enough. They took cues from Mr. Homme and Satan and got bit heavier, eerier and darker. Their lyrical ways didn’t change. Alex Turner observed life and women under a high powered microscope. Interestingly enough, the first single, “Brianstorm” is about a guy they had a single encounter with at a club. He made such an outrageous impression Turner felt that his life was meant to be under the microscope for the world to hear. They also started thinking outside the box. Another great moment was when they lifted the chords from the final scene of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to make the eerie swan song for Favourite Worst Nightmare, “505”. They have a whole lot of bone crunching riffs and really great ideas here. Would you be shocked that in 2009 they made their third record with Josh Homme as their producer? Me neither.

20. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

This record is on this list solely because it reminds me of my childhood. It’s one of the few musical things I remember from being a kid. My sister got this record and even as an 11-year-old, I couldn’t resist “Hotel Yorba”. White Blood Cells is the definition of bare bones rock. I mean come on, they made it made in a day. As opposed to focusing on sonic perfection, Jack White made sure the songs were solid. Most garage rock bands just focus on being garage-y. That usually back fires (See: The Vines). Beyond the fact that this is just a great record with great songs that will last until its time for me to give my kids this music, it gave kids like me and Sam Page hope. We didn’t need to be the next Slash or Neil Peart to be successful musicians. As an 11-year-old, this was a PRETTY big relief. I could plug in my guitar and slam away. I didn’t have to know scales and modes and I didn't have to learn how to tap(though I’m still trying to learn those things). It came as a pretty huge shock when I found out that not only could Jack White shred, he was (and still is) one of the best guitar players of my generation.

19. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex / LoveSounds

I don’t know if Katie Boyer will ever read this. If she does, I’d like that thank her for never shutting the hell up about this record. When it came out, I was on the top on my musical thrown (unfortunately, I can’t say that I was listening to superior music, in fact I was listening to the most inferior shit ever) and I thought anything produced by a pop sensation was just awful. Two years go by. I become snobbier with the music I like, but I begin to appreciate pop music. Enter: JT. With the exception of “SexyBack”, I could argue that this is not just a pop record. This is a powerhouse neo-soul and neo-funk record. Timberlake’s talent for melody is utterly baffling. The layers, the segue ways, the confidence. It all shines through and sold me that pop music isn’t a total joke, that I might be worth the time to experience and it can be better than the shit I’m listening to. Sometimes. Plus Rick Freakin’ Rubin produced the last track. That’s weird.

18. The Faint - Wet From Birth

People are probably going to not like this one. Mostly because you haven’t heard of these guys. My thing with this Omaha band is that there isn’t anyone like them. The issue I have with most electronica/(insert genre) bands is that their super glossed over and offer nothing but poppy tunes to dance to. The Faint, however, offer a lot more without being glossed over. They truly take the elements of Electronica and Punk and make it work better than any Electronica mash-up. I hate to disappoint some of you, but you can not dance to punk music. I was listening to Fugazi stage banter (pretty entertaining. Check it out if you can) and they were railing the audience for not dancing. Shut up Fugazi, humans cannot dance to you. But The Faint! Oh my! There’s nothing better than gettin’ funky to “Drop Kick The Punks”. I also must give my sister a shout out for our hours of dancing to “Southern Belles…” on the way to shows in Chicago. Long story short, there isn’t a dud on this record. Put it in. Get down. That's what she said.

17. Andrew Bird - And The Mysterious Production of Eggs

I don’t have much to say about this. Everything about Andrew Bird is one-of-a-kind. The way he writes. The way he performs. The words he uses (Bird’s albums should come with a dictionary). Throughout The Mysterious Production of Eggs, nothing really makes sense but it still somehow makes total sense. That’s what brings me back to this album and every Andrew Bird album. There’s so much to figure out, there’s so much to listen for, there so many words to look up. Plus...there will be snacks.

16. Cold War Kids - Robbers & Cowards

Around the time that Robbers & Cowards came out, I was getting sick of Blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves (why? Why did I listen to them?). I needed something new. I had the new issue of Rolling Stone in front of me and in the new artists section was a great big picture of the Cold War Kids that covered half the page. I was just so enraptured with the image of this band. They felt so aged and weathered. They held instruments that came out of the 40’s and they just looked so cool. I can’t recall what exactly the magazine wrote about the band but apparently it was enough to make me go to Best Buy the next day and pick up their first record. Boy, was that the best blind purchase I ever made. The organic nature of those songs were so new to me. The jangle-y piano and impromptu percussion just made sense. It just seemed these guys new exactly how to sound like they had no clue what they were doing. And that’s awesome. I was coming from music that was so pretentiously plotted out it became stale. This band and this record showed me that music with a question mark is far more exciting that music with a period. Period.

...To Be Continued...

15-1 in the coming days...