A Slice of Fried Gold

Favorite Albums of the Decade: The Top Ten

Sunday, October 4, 2009
The final day is upon us! We are now culminating this list that has taken five days to write and ten years to create. It really was a fun project for me to take pretty much everything I've listened to in the past decade and create a massive ranking system for everything in my mind. While it's not as scientific as it possibly should be nor is it as based on actual musical content as it likely should be (come on, I'm not a real music critic, nor did I claim to be), it is based around how I as a listener connected to all of it.

Ultimately, isn't that what we as listeners are supposed to judge music by?

If you want to check out the previous days, they're still up previously or you can click the links below:

- 50 through 41
- 40 through 31
- 30 through 21
- 20 through 11

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. Yann Tiersen - Amelie AND Good Bye Lenin! Soundtracks
19. The Postal Service - Give Up
18. Rufus Wainwright - Poses
17. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
16. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
15. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
14. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
13. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
12. The Strokes - Is This It
11. LCD Soundsystem - Sounds of Silver

10. Sigur Rós - Takk... (2005)

Recommended Track: Mílanó

Why I Love It: Recently I was looking at my breakdown of the best albums of 2005 I posted on my Myspace page (that's how you know it's old), and I saw this album barely making the top 10. This is what I said then:

They are always amazing, only in comparison with ( ) and Agaetis Byrjun does this album not stand out as much. It's more of the same from them, haunting, beautiful tracks full of lush soundscapes (I cannot believe I just wrote that), but with more sub-par tracks between their stunners. Sub-par for Sigur Rós is still some of the best music around though.

Yet unlike Sigur Rós's other albums, this one had a unique slow build design. While the album opens with opulent stunners like "Glósóli" and "Hoppípolla" that carried it onto my top 10 once upon a time, it's the new appreciation of quite possibly the most emotionally powerful song of their entire career in "Mílanó" that really solidified its place on my list.

Strangely enough, I never really appreciated like I do now until I was on a flight down to Seattle to go on a road trip with my wonderful friend Kellie just recently. As I sat there, the emotions I was going through became forever intertwined with that song. That really is the amazing thing about music - each song could mean different things to different people. To me, Mílanó is about hope. It's about excitement about the unknown. It's about beauty, and I think it will be that way for a long time. This album is full of tracks like that, which is why it deserves a spot in my top 10.

9. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals (2008)

Recommended Track: It's Girl Talk, just turn it on (this is not a track)

Why I Love It: Girl Talk is an artist unlike any other artist out there. I mean, Gregg Gillis was working as a tissue/biomedical engineer until 2007 when he decided that he'd rather throw dance parties for a living as Girl Talk. How cool is that? What Gillis does though is essentially combining snippets of pop tracks throughout the years (particularly rap and rock) to create original songs made entirely out of samples. What resulted from this work is an album that, in my mind, is the single greatest party album and the single greatest workout album ever made. Don't believe me? Have a party. Play this album. You'll have people coming up to you asking who it is within minutes. For that matter, run on a treadmill a few times while listening to this, and then try running to anything else. It's pretty much impossible (as my friend Joanne can corroborate).

While I also love his album Night Ripper, it didn't seem right to have two Girl Talk albums on the list. This one is undeniably better than Night Ripper (or at least to me), and while there is no real emotional connection to this album, the fact that whenever I hear it I want to party or work out is something incredible in itself. Quite the Pavlovian response, isn't it?

8. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight (2002)

Recommended Track: Vittorio E

Why I Love It: Three Spoon albums in my top 50? Well, to those who know me this should really not be much of a surprise. Spoon has been one of my favorite bands for most of the decade, and this is the first of their albums I ever listened to. Not even really sure why I first started listening to this (I'm going to blame this one on Sobo again), but once I did I was completely hooked. From the first drum beats and keyboard riffs on "Small Stakes", I could tell this was going to be an experience unlike any one I'd ever experienced before. It belongs to a small list of albums that shaped my musical taste to where it is today - more adventurous, more sporadic, more fun.

Plus any album that can have a beat derived from someone going "mm ah, mm mm ah", something that can cause a continuous discussion of where exactly the laugh on "Back to the Life" came from, or can pull an emotional response simply from the strumming of a guitar like they do on "Vittorio E" has to be a damn good one. This is Spoon at their most soulful, the most tuneful, and in my opinion at their very best.

7. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)

Recommended Track: Wake Up

Why I Love It: Oddly enough, the first time I ever listened to this album was on a cold, wintry night when I was back for winter break from college. I had just picked this album up after the deafening hype had become too much for me to ignore, and I was waiting for my parents to have dinner at my favorite restaurant Lucky Wishbone. I popped the CD in, opened up the liner notes and read the lyrics and was cast away into a different place. I had only heard "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" before this listen, but as soon as I heard the soft twinkles of the piano and the strumming of guitar on "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" I knew I was in for a treat.

For the next week or so I listened to this album repeatedly, and I have to say, I'd like to thank Arcade Fire here. Back then, I was listening to far different music than I listen to now, and definitely music that was not "college radio friendly." I was filling out my application to be a DJ at the radio station at my college and I tend to think the inclusion of Funeral on my application as a recent album purchase was a big reason why I was picked up as a DJ. In that way, this album sculpted my listening habits more than anything as my time as a DJ at KUOI opened me to a whole new world of music.

Even without that, this album is completely brilliant and really one of those one of a kind albums a person always is looking for. Something you know when you're listening to it that this is something unlike everything you've heard before, and likely will after it. In that regard, this album is unquestionably one of the best of this decade.

6. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

Recommended Track: Gone For Good

Why I Love It: The Shins were another band that helped me discover a whole new world of music, and no, before you say it, it was not because of Garden State. I remember the first time I saw the music video for "So Says I" in my apartments at Jefferson St. in Moscow, Idaho, and while the video was completely absurd, but it was completely wonderful at the same time. I had to hear more. Shortly thereafter, I acquired this album and the rest was history.

While many albums have greater reasons for me liking them simply because they're simply well constructed pop gems, this one is not one of those. From the very beginning, I knew that this diverse, bizarre and completely engrossing albums was one of the best I'd ever heard, as James Mercer and co. even made me appreciate Steel Guitars and what could easily be labeled as a near-country ditty with my favorite song by the Shins - "Gone for Good." A band that can make me appreciate country stylings? Now that's a damn good band.

5. Sigur Rós - Agaetis Byrjun (2001)

Recommended Track: Olsen Olsen

Why I Love It: First off, I want to note that depending on your source this album possibly should not be on this list. It was released in Iceland only in 1999, but was not released in North America until 2001. The Top 13 Albums Project did not count it, but Paste Magazine did. Given that I like the answer Paste gave more, I will go with their answer (it's fun how that works, isn't it?).

No less, to explain why I love this album so much, I'm going to explain why I love the track "Olsen Olsen" so much first. I once had a discussion with my friend Sobo about this song, about how when I listened to it, I visualized Sigur Rós playing in a giant parade created by Hayao Miyazaki, with all kinds of Miyazaki like characters dancing and prancing about. I also said I could never really visualize what was at the front of the parade. Then one day, I found out my dog Benji had died, and I was completely distraught. As a tribute to my beloved lifelong pet, I talked about it on the air before I played this song on my radio show, about the parade, and how now when I hear it I think of Benji leading the parade. Ridiculous maybe, but that one segment led to more calls than I had ever received before as almost everyone knows what it's like to lose a pet.

It isn't a sad thing though, as I visualize it as a celebration of his life, sort of like Benji's own Big Fish ending. I touched on this before, but the interesting thing about Sigur Rós is that because it is in Icelandic (or Hopelandic in Olsen Olsen's case) and the music is so grandiose and beautiful, every song really takes on its own meaning for the listener. This album finds Sigur Rós at their most grandiose, their most beautiful, and because of that this album has the most meaning to me. That's saying something from one of my two or three favorite bands ever.

4. Gatsby's American Dream - Ribbons and Sugar (2003)

Recommended Track: Recondition, Reprogram, Reactivate

Why I Love It: Gatsby's American Dream, I will argue eternally, were one of the most criminally underrated bands ever. While they are the last remaining remnant of my once prodigious obsession with punk/emo business, their incredible talent allowed them to survive the culling of the herd (a musical survival of the fittest if you will). This album is my favorite album of their's by far, as it finds them trying to bring their unique blend of literary based storytelling to the world of technical rock, as they loosely based this album around George Orwell's Animal Farm (very, very loosely).

What you'll find different within their sound from the rest of their confederates is an ability to create a music that is seemingly completely absent of structure as they flow effortlessly from mini sections of song to the next. They do not follow the verse-bridge-chorus paradigm whatsoever. In fact, there is not a single chorus on this entire album. While this made it so major labels found them to be "unsignable" as they lament on later albums and in interviews, it endeared them to certain fans who expected a bit creativity and effort out of their music. This album finds them at their apex, as they had released enough albums to know what didn't work and they were not so jaded with the industry to bring down their desire to do what they love. While the band is no longer really in existence, they live on whenever I start listening to this album again. Still as fresh as it was when I first started listening to it, which is incredible given where they came from and the pressures from the industry they were faced with.

3. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup (2007)

Recommended Track: Nantes

Why I Love It: I've already spoken of the origins of Beirut and how incredible it is that this kid makes music so assured and so unique, thus I will need to take this synopsis a different direction. Thankfully, Zach Condon took this album an entirely different direction as well (Beirut goes to France!), thus making it easy.

Beirut is in many ways a skeleton key of when you try to combine music and the written word, as it fits into any given topic you'd like to write about and it is incredible to read to. Strangely enough, I didn't love Beirut as much as I do now until I sat down and read City of Ember (a freaking kids book!) while listening to this album and Gulag Orkestar. Something about Beirut's sound seemed to mesh in my brain with the steampunk visuals and bizarre dystopian future Ember provides the reader. From that point on though, it had created a monster, as this album escaped its simple pairing with a steampunk style book into Chuck Klosterman stories.

From there, it was only a matter of time before it started being played constantly in my car and on my iPod (as what is Klosterman but the written form of life?), and then a monster was born. According to my Last.FM profile, I've listened to Beirut more than anyone else since I started tracking my listening habits in 2005. 1,602 listens. The most amazing thing about that is that 1,498 of the listens came in the last 12 months. While it may be a bit strong to say this album that I've evidently only really been listening to for a year is my third favorite from the decade, I would disagree with that. It hit me like an infection, and once it got in my veins it became impossible to get rid of. Not only that, but I had no desire to do such a thing. Who would want to? It's freaking awesome, after all.

2. Anathallo - Floating World (2006)

Recommended Track: By Number

Why I Love It: The way I acquired this album was pretty entertaining. I had read a review online for it (not the Pitchfork destruction but the Absolute Punk lovefest), checked out a few tracks, and then decided I wanted to pick it up. I went to a few local stores and had absolutely no luck. Then I went to Barnes and Noble in Anchorage and looked around as a ridiculously cute employee of the store came over to ask me if I was finding what I was looking for (if I was smoother I would have responded with "I'm looking at her" instead of "Umm...Anathallo's Floating World, but perhaps that is why I'm single). I informed her, and she looked a little shocked. She asked me to follow, walked behind the counter and grabbed it from the holds section. I said "I can't take this, it isn't my copy." She said she had ordered it for herself on a whim (*swoon*), but that I could have it (*double swoon*). I begrudingly accepted, and the rest is history (I later came in and told her it was awesome. She of course wondered who the hell I was).

One listen to this album and you can tell that this is a group who absolutely loves making music and has a deep love for everything that they do. It's as if they're the world's best marching band and the world's best choir fused into one brilliant collection of musicians, and then they released an album that is deeply influenced by Japanese folklore and that same deep love for life. That may sound like something completely insane. More than likely, it sounds like something you can't even imagine. That's because there really hasn't been a lot of albums like this. This is the definitive album for the "wait, this is too hard to explain...just try it" approach. Floating World is some of the most beautiful and intelligent and invigorating music I've ever heard (plus it has the best album art ever created), and I often wish more people would try it out. You'd love it if you gave it a chance.

1. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)

Recommended Track: Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig

Why I Love It: Alright, I'll pause this for a second to give my mom a second to pick her jaw up from the floor.

We all good Mom?


So how in the hell did Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala end up being my favorite album of the decade? This is an album I at one point described to my mom (on one of my very early listens) as a Japanese man at a really cheesy karaoke place. How could that translate to being my favorite album?

Well, strangely enough, it all ties back into that karaoke statement. That's part of the reason why Lekman is just so awesome. No album that was released this decade could match this one in terms of infectiousness, glee inducing moments, and sheer joy, and that's because Lekman loves what he does just as much as that Japanese man at the cheesy karaoke place does. Every thing about this album is about love, whether it is Lekman sharing what his first kiss was like ("And I Remember Every Kiss"), his love for his lesbian fake girlfriend ("A Postcard to Nina"), or how hysterically awkward his love makes him ("Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig"), it all comes back to love and his emotional connection to the women in his life. To a young man whose life was forever changed by Moulin Rouge! and way too many romantic comedies, there is a huge point of connection there.

Not only that, but Lekman's lyrical prowess is almost unheard of. Partially because they're so good I have to pay attention, and a big part of it is because of the way he uses lyrics in actual realstic ways to describe situations and tell stories. For example, this little bit from "Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig" (kills me):

"I saw on a TV about this little kid/who had a big for a pet/his mom had once been attacked by a dog/so a pig was the closest thing he could get/this of course has nothing to do with anything/I just get so nervous when I'm talking to you/all I think about every day is just kissing you/An old feeling that feels refreshingly new"

The amazing thing about those lyrics is instead of simply stating that he gets awkward and nervous around the girl (which he does later), he gives an example of the type of thing he says to a girl he is into. Something so gloriously mundane and refreshingly insipid that you wouldn't think anyone would ever share that they had thought it, let alone said it. Lekman's unflinching honesty and laugh out loud hilarity is abundant on this album, but no more evident than on "Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig", a track that means "Maybe I'm in Love With You" and is a glorious modern day take on doo wop that allows me to live my dream of being a backup singer for a Motown band every time I drive around listening to it.

I adore every aspect of this album. Whether it's Jens Lekman the lyricist, Lekman the vocalist...it doesn't matter. Every time I listen to this album I'm transported to another place, a better place where every day is sunny and there is never a reason to stop smiling. I cannot think of a single better reason to name this album my favorite of the decade.


MOM said...

Now I KNOW where Jens stands!

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