A Slice of Fried Gold

Favorite Albums of the Decade: 20-11

Saturday, October 3, 2009
The second to last day of my best albums of the decade count down is here, with just the final 20 remaining. Before we start that, a recap of the list so far (you can see 50 through 41 here, 40 through 31 here, and 30 through 21 here):

50. Andrew WK - I Get Wet
49. The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike
48. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire
47. Badly Drawn Boy - About a Boy Soundtrack
46. Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
45. M.I.A. - Kala
44. of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
43. Hot Hot Heat - Elevator
42. The Stills - Without Feathers
41. Cake - Comfort Eagle
40. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
39. The Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder
38. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
37. The 88 - Over and Over
36. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
35. Muse - Absolution
34. Cursive - The Ugly Organ
33. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
32. Phantom Planet - The Guest
31. Air - Talkie Walkie
30. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground - Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground
29. Gorillaz - Gorillaz
28. Passion Pit - Manners
27. Radiohead - Kid A
26. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
25. Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things
24. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist
23. The Thermals - Now We Can See
22. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
21. The Killers - Hot Fuss

20(tie). Yann Tiersen - Amelie Soundtrack and Good Bye Lenin! soundtrack (2001 and 2003)

Recommended Track: Summer 78 (Instrumental)

Why I Love It: While I love both of these films quite a bit (maybe my two favorite foreign films), oddly enough I did not love either of them until I loved the wonderful music Yann Tiersen created for both of them. I had seen Amelie before and liked it just fine, but one day I was having coffee with my sister at Kaladi Brothers when I was blown away by the music they were playing. It turned out to be the soundtrack to Amelie, and after near constant listening to that soundtrack for a few weeks, I tried the movie again and loved the film deeply.

After that I started listening to everything Tiersen had made, but I especially enjoyed his soundtrack to the German film Good Bye Lenin!, which eventually transitioned into me trying and loving the film itself. The reason why the scores Tiersen created work so well is that he created the perfect audio synthesis of every bit of power and emotion these films create on the screen. When I hear the Good Bye Lenin! soundtrack, I imagine the statue of Lenin floating through downtown Berlin in front of Alex's mother. When I hear the Amelie soundtrack, I imagine Amelie Poulain skipping stones or excitedly meddling in someone else's life.

They may only be instrumentals, but they pack every bit of emotion that any other music has in this decade. All that is thanks to Tiersen's brilliance as a musician and as a composer.

And yes, I cheated by including two albums in one slot.

19. The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)

Recommended Track: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

Why I Love It: The first time I heard this album was when my friend Brian and I had just returned from a weekend trip to go see Radiohead and a Drive Thru Records tour showcase. Our roommate Sobo was blasting this album, and I excitedly wondered what it was. "It's the Postal Service!" he said as I gleefully smiled to what I called the Nintendo style beats of "Nothing Better" and "Brand New Colony." Sure enough, I ended up loving this collaboration of Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard (titled the Postal Service because they made the entire album by mailing tracks back and forth to each other). It's electro pop at its finest, as it transplanted Gibbard's (of Death Cab for Cutie fame) vocals onto lush, dreamy soundscapes created by Tamborello.

Simply listening to it reminds me of college and a time where my best friends were never more than a walk down the hall away from me. In that way, it may mean more to me than it does to others. Either way, it's hard to argue that it isn't a wonderful album.

18. Rufus Wainwright - Poses (2001)

Recommended Track: Evil Angel

Why I Love It: I cannot wait for my mom to read this. I'm not even sure how I acquired this album (I think it came from Sobo as well), but at some point in college I started listening to Wainwright's track "Evil Angel" and was completely blown away. Yet it took my mom's insistence that the track "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" was incredible for me to really give the album a listen, and sure enough I was completely blown away. This album tends to see debauchery as a primary theme, but that doesn't mean the method of delivery doesn't often verge on beautiful, operatic, and always epic and eloquent. Not to mention the fact that there is really something truly hysterical about driving around in your car attempting to belt out the lyrics nearly as well as Wainwright can.

You always fail, but damn...you have a really good time doing it.

17. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

Recommended Track: Black Like Me

Why I Love It: Oh Spoon, how I love thee. This album is their most recent full length, and in many ways it's the apex of Britt Daniel and co.'s career as pop songwriters. Whether it's arguably their single biggest hit to date taking over radio airwaves for a while ("The Underdog"), the sheer pop power of "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", or just the unbelievable melodies and rhythms (and soul!) found throughout this album, this is possibly their most cohesive and well crafted album to date.

Of course, in true Spoon form, they save their best for last as album closer "Black Like Me" slows it down a notch (akin to what "Vittorio E" does for Kill the Moonlight) but in many ways ups the sheer power of their music. Spoon works the best when allowed to best display their unique ability to infuse soul into their brand of indie rock. This track displays Britt Daniel's crooning as well as any they've made to date, and the instrumental arrangements perfectly highlights it, as if they knew this would be their concert closer for years to come. Another sharp moves by one of the top bands in the world.

16. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha (2007)

Recommended Track: Dark Matter

Why I Love It: When I listen to this album, it upsets me greatly that I spent almost the entirety of Andrew Bird's set at Bumbershoot 2007 double fisting beer and having a wild time with Amy, Jason and Hannah. Then I realize, damn, I had a fantastic time. But still, Andrew Bird is one of the most absurdly talented musicians out there today, as he is a brilliant guitarist, violinist, and whistler (WHISTLER!) and can really lay down a stunning hook as well.

While some would choose Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs as Bird's contribution to the decade, I think this album as a whole is more cohesive as a whole. His ability to create unbelievable textures of sound really shows his abilities as both a songwriter and an instrumentalist, as he really knows how to properly pair and stack the arrangements to achieve the maximum emotional impact. Not only that, but for a guy who claims to write his lyrics to achieve the greatest melody possible, he sure can create some affecting and thought provoking lyrics (best example: "Do you wonder where the self resides...is it in your head or between your sides? Who will be the one who decides...its true location?" from Dark Matter). All in all, the best album from one of my favorite artists today.

15. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (2005)

Recommended Track: Chicago

Why I Love It: If you're remotely familiar with the world of indie music, or for that matter have seen Little Miss Sunshine, you are likely quite familiar with Sufjan Stevens. This album was quite possibly the most critically acclaimed work I'd heard of since I started really paying attention to music, as it was as if critics wanted to form some sort of dogpile in the "album of the year" corner for this little collection. Of course, it turns out they were not hemming and hawing. It really is that good.

Sufjan has the unique ability to make his grandiose, orchestral music sound both intimate and personal, which is an ability few have (or can) achieve. This album highlights that skill as well as anything within his discography, as every track seems to have a new wonder hidden at every corner: choral background vocals here, trumpets there, nifty piano twinkles and handclaps anywhere and everywhere. Hell, there's even time for the occasional rousing guitar riff. As David circa 2005 said, his influences seem to range all over the board, touching on Duke Ellington, high school pep rallies, Death Cab for Cutie and the Peanuts theme song all on one album.

Nothing about this album is small: the sound, the song titles, the track listing, the supporting instrumentalists, you name it. But when you get down to it, this album works so well because Sufjan has such a singular vision of what he wanted this to be that he was unrelenting in making it happen. This is the result of that unerring decision making and a true talent in the music industry, and it deserves every bit of praise it has received.

14. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism (2003)

Recommended Track: Transatlanticism

Why I Love It: I feel as if Death Cab has received a little bit too much backlash through the years, as there was once upon a time that they were simply a band that made extremely touching music that often rocked and often whispered. To me, they've never really stopped being wonderful, as this album really was one that started pushing me in the direction of music that I currently exist in. Out of all of their albums, I think it best captures the Death Cab sound, as it is both adept at handling the slower, more touching moments ("Transatlanticism", "Tiny Vessels") and the more fun, rock side of the band ("The Sound of Settling", "Title and Registration"). While I don't love them as much as I did once upon a time, turning this album on, even for a few minutes, makes me realize why I loved them all over again.

13. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (2008)

Recommended Track: M79

Why I Love It: Hello massive hype band...what are you doing here? What's that? You make amazing music that combines my favorite aspects of indie rock with Paul Simon's Graceland? Well, never mind then, it's obvious why I love you so much - that is just a fantastic combination.

Vampire Weekend really is a band that managed to transcend their hype band status because this album completely rules from beginning to end. I know it's a bit effortless to say, but it's true. From the first minute to the last, the guys of VW give us smooth jams paired with soulful vocals, sounding alternately a little bit like everything we've ever heard and nothing we've ever heard. That ability to alternately be familiar and fresh almost perfectly depicts why this is such a uniquely fantastic album, and part of the reason why I believe it will stand the test of time.

12. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)

Recommended Track: Is This It

Why I Love It: Once upon a time, I led off almost every mix CD I would give a girl with the opening track of this album, titled "Is This It." I really hadn't even thought about what it was about, I just knew it properly conveyed what I wanted to tell a girl (evidently all girls). Of course, I may have misjudged my song of choice, but that doesn't devalue the song, or the album for that matter.

The Strokes were, in many peoples minds, the beginning of the dreaded "garage" movement. Stripped down sound, lead singers who sound like they're kind of disinterested, intentionally lo-fi sounding production quality...that was the recipe to success for many bands after this album came out. Yet none could match the power of Is This It, and that is because none of these groups possessed the raw talent of the Strokes, as almost every person within this band has produced successful solo or other group material since.

This album is all of their highlight though, as it perfectly captures their sound. It's all driving rhythms, catchy hooks, and a sound that could be described in the same way you'd describe Julian Casablancas hair - stylishly desheveled. Whatever it is, it was a major turning point for my existence as a fan of music.

11. LCD Soundsystem - Sounds of Silver (2007)

Recommended Track: All My Friends

Why I Love It: Once upon a time, I greatly detested Pitchfork. I thought they were the type who mourned the death of music instead of basked in the brilliance that was being handed to us regularly. LCD Soundsystem was one of the few artists they hyped that I had heard, and I knew them as that group that did that song about Daft Punk playing at their house. What was that about anyways?

Of course, times change and now I not enjoy Pitchfork, and with this album I finally understood what there is to love about LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy. While the whole album is wonderful, just listening to the disgustingly brilliant track "All My Friends" shares everything you need to know about the album: driving, honest, invigorating, passionate, jubilant, and emotionally real. From a track that is effectively looped piano, drum machine, and a man telling the story of youth, you wouldn't think that is possible. Such is the power of James Murphy. Such is the power of Sounds of Silver.


Patty said...

Another solid list. No Jens, boo hoo!

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