Top 20 CDs of the Decade

No comments
'Tis the season for trendy "Best of the Decade" lists, to which I'm not immune.  More importantly for me, it's a great opportunity to reevaluate and share some favorites. 

I'll state what usually is unstated in such matters.  I don't listen to every genre, and I certainly haven't listened to every artist that I might like.  But I can say that I purchased every CD listed below and each remains in my collection.  Regrettably, my audience of 20 hasn't yet warranted promotional copies from record labels to explore further afield.  

The other aspect that I should mention is what I qualify as "Best of."  To me, it encompasses both artistry (not sales volume) and interest (tunes, instruments, lyrics that I find appealing).  For example, Britney Spears fans may listen to a CD a zillion times, but they're (hopefully) likely to admit that the music itself doesn't point towards a Michelangelo of the aural world.  Likewise, music that brings together dissonance or challenges musical theory may be highly regarded for the "artistry" behind it, but my ears demand satisfaction in that it has to sound good.  I give some regard to each of these poles, but, in the end, it's my list.  Titles are hyperlinked to Amazon for sound samples.

#20 Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (2006).  I've Belle and Sebastian  The Life Pursuit followed this Scottish band for many years, and this release represented their most mature effort to date.  They added some musical muscle to their often dainty, 60's reminiscent, bright pop sounds, as well as above par lyrics. 

#19 Built to Spill - You in Reverse (2006).  I didn't come Built to Spill - You in Reverse to this CD as a fan of the band.  Fans and critics both were likely disappointed with it as it was a further departure from what attracted much of their following.  But, when I can't think of something particular I want to hear, yet want rock guitars, I go to this.  There are vocals and some very good guitar solos, but great riffs keep it steady and propel it forward.

#18 Los Super 7 - Heard it on the X (2005). I'll be Los Super 7 honest.  There are ample CDs that are qualified to fill this spot.  But rather than push a personal favorite (Mark Knopfler) or a critics' darling (Lucinda Williams), I'm throwing this one in for the joy of the unexpected ride, and musicians happy to take you along.

#17 Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (2005).  Admittedly, I Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise rarely listen to this CD.  It's one of those "artistic triumphs" that many critics favor at or near the top in similar lists, and it's worthy of the praise.  It is widely diverse in instrumentation and subject matter, but the music, while very good, is presented in such a caring fashion that, unfortunately, it loses my attention from time to time.  Meanwhile, the lyrics are very detailed and demand much more attention that I'm usually able to give to them.  The strength of "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." alone is enough to warrant placement here.

#16 Spoon - Gimme Fiction (2005).  There's nothing great Spoon - Gimme Fictionabout this CD; it's just that it's so good. Snappy beat, catchy tunes... just well crafted stuff.  Their 2007 follow up, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, is every bit as good, despite the inane title.

#15 Jeff Beck - Live at Ronnie Scott's (2009).  Get the Jeff Beck - Live at Ronnie Scotts DVD/BluRay; you need to see the strings bend.  Beck has been a rock guitar legend for 40 years, but unlike contemporaries Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, he never had mass appeal as he never particularly sought material suitable for mass audiences.  This performance brilliantly features every nuance of a master guitarist in a variety of genres, mostly jazz fusion. 

#14 Bob Dylan - Love and Theft (2001). I would argue Bob Dylan - Love and Theft that Dylan has made better music this decade than he had for the previous 20 years.  His writing is focused, his band is perfectly suited for the material and Dylan's delivery, and his voice carries, shall we say, the weight of experience - in a good way.

#13 Micah Dalton - Pawnshop (2008).  Dalton was a Micah Dalton - Pawnshoplucky find for me.  I took note of an advertisement in Paste Magazine and sought it out in one of my more exploratory (free time!) moments.  Pawnshop is a concept album of sorts, with songs that touch on elements of an included story.  It's one of those releases where you can just feel that the artist made the album he truly wanted to make.  A more thorough review can be found here.

#12 Richard Ashcroft - Alone with Everybody (2000).  It Richard Ashcroft - Alone With Everybody seems so many others expected "more" or "better" from the first solo release from the front man of The Verve.  Pre-conceived expectations often make it difficult to appreciate something for what it is.  I found a disk full of great songs, all adorned with sonic ear candy. 

#11 Blind Boys of Alabama - Spirit of the Century Blind Boys of Alabama - Spirit of the Century (2001).  Religion and the blues are inseparable, and both are gladly found here.  To supplement their gospel harmonies, this release is blessed by the inclusion of ace musicians, such as John Hammond on guitar, who fill each song's needs perfectly.  It moves, it's worshipful, and it's joyful for those so inclined.

#10 Drive By Truckers - Decoration Day (2003).  Raw but Drive By Truckers - Decoration Day expertly woven tales of that part of the southern culture that I, as a Southerner, seek to avoid.  "Sinkhole" is a rock song for the ages, and it's particularly timely for these troubled financial times.

#9 Damien Rice - 0 (2003).  Recorded on the cheap, this Damien Rice - O Irish artist created a lasting record of personal expression.  Whether a simple folkish presentation or accompanied by strings, the music embellishes what is mainly a vocal performance of an artist baring whatever he had to say.  Some may find this precocious in its entirety, but it strikes me as an artist being authentic.

#8 Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007).  This seems a more Radiohead - In Rainbows logical follow-up to 1997's Ok Computer, their acclaimed "masterpiece," in that for the first time in a decade their songs actually sound like songs.  In Rainbows certainly has its experimental moments, but the band seems focused on presenting an enjoyable experience for the listener rather than satisfying just themselves (the latter describing most of their work this decade).  In short, it's intelligently made and challenging rock music.

#7 Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning (2008).  Liam Finn is the Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning son of Crowded House's Neil Finn, and it's obvious talent runs in the family. This is largely a one-man show both in creativity and in performance.  Finn seems resolute in making a CD that is an individual artistic statement while borrowing appropriately from some of popular music's best influences - his father and The Beatles.  There are some misses here, but for me, it reaffirms youth.

#6  Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002).  Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the HeadSure, there's a part of me that wants to demote this CD for the lethargic arena music monster they've become.  But, I can't ignore the fact that once this sucker occupied my CD tray, it didn't want to give it up.  This may be as good as Coldplay gets, but that's pretty darn good.  "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" shines.

#5 Drive By Truckers - The Dirty South (2004).  I can't  Drive By Truckers - The Dirty Southhelp but refer to Mojo magazine's review, which nailed it - October, 2004:
“This ragamuffin Alabama outfit has fashioned an impressive catalogue that’s moved swiftly from orthodox roots to outrĂ© concept operas in just a few short years. The Dirty South finds the band furthering its Jim Thompson-meets-Lynyrd Skynyrd brand of redneck noir with another sharply observed song cycle. While the Truckers have always trumpeted their Dixie roots, they’ve avoided confederate flag waving caricatures; their songs paint a more complex portrait of the defiant, violent nature of the good ole boy culture. Here, they go even further, displaying a lurid intelligence that seeks to explore an alternate American history, whether deconstructing its icons – be it John Wayne or John Henry – or exploring the true vagaries of the rock biz’s early years, the sad, small town reality of the Reagan 80’s and the soul-crushing consequences of life in a traveling band. Gritty as it gets.”

#4 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008).  First and foremost, fleetfoxes there's an emphasis here on harmonies. This isn't to say that Lennon-McCartney dropped them a top-20 tune with a ready-for-radio hook. Perhaps if rock and gospel were mixed during the Reconstructionist South... Well, no. This band hails from Seattle, WA.  "Haunting" seems to be the best description of this this CD both in presentation and effect.  Sometimes it's best just to let a CD grow on you rather than resist.

#3 Radiohead - Kid A (2000).  I borrowed this from a  Radiohead - Kid Afriend and found that it was so unorthodox that I was comfortable listening to it only when my family was asleep.  They just wouldn't get it, and I wasn't prepared to give them a reasonable explanation of why I would listen to this.  It was a struggle to find beauty beneath its electronic experimentation and lack of expected rock forms, but it can be found in it's driving bass and rhythms.  Kid A was a bold departure by a band otherwise positioned to accept the "world's best rock band" baton from U2, and it was worth it. 

#2 Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006).  I  Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanthergenerally give high regard to artists who make the music they want to make, who have a vision and work towards that regardless of current trends or pressures.  In that this, Midlake's second release, is itself a vast departure from their awesomely quirky debut, they seem a band with ample ideas that are clearly free of commercial constraints .  Just gazing at the cover, certainly there's some oddity to it.   But with guitars, flute, piano, synths, and whatever else it takes, this band is full speed ahead in making incomparable music.  I can't compare them to another band, or an era, or a genre, or anything.  And I don't have to.  I just enjoy them.  Most of the songs concern "home" in some sense, and it's certainly been played many times in mine.

#1 Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of Bewilderbeast Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of Bewilderbeast(2000).   An amazing debut, chock full of every good musical idea that the artist, Damon Gough, had apparently conceived of until that point.  Take some great lyrics, mix in an eclectic assortment of instruments, add a sense of humor, throw in an occasional surprise, change the tempo from song to song, bury it with substandard marketing, and you have a vastly under-appreciated pop masterpiece.  To be fair, it wasn't created for radio airplay (in the U.S. anyway), but not everything of value complies with expected norms.  Thankfully.

No comments :

Post a Comment