A Slice of Fried Gold

Favorite Albums of the Decade

Sunday, October 4, 2009
For ease of use, I compiled all fifty of my top albums of the decade into one intensely long post. Jumping between posts to see the whole list seemed a bit demanding of me, so here it is, all in one fell swoop, my top fifty albums of the decade.

One note: as I said in my other posts, these albums are entirely based off of what my favorite albums were, not necessarily the best. Sure, Sufjan Stevens' album Illinois may be a more expansive and well made album than Anathallo's Floating World, but I connected more to the latter album. Music in my mind is the medium in pop culture that we most personally connect with, and that's why some albums skew higher on my list than they would with others.

Now on with the show...

50. Andrew WK - I Get Wet (2001)

Recommended track: I Get Wet

Why I love it: I Get Wet holds a special place in my heart, as it's an album I first started listening to around the time I went to college freshman year and it also represented the first concert I saw while living out of state (not to mention the single best concert I've ever been to in my life). Andrew WK didn't make anything resembling the best music ever on this album, but it did represent pure good and pure awesome distilled into music form. Listening to any track from this album is guaranteed to put me into a good mood, and from where I'm sitting that has to count for something.

49. The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)

Recommended track: Get It Together

Why I love it: The Go! Team was a band I first started listening to right as I first started doing my radio show Moscow City Soundtrack at KUOI in Moscow, Idaho. In fact, it was one of the first albums I picked up from their library, as their lo-fi cheerleader rock anthems had a lot of buzz around the station and sounded like something that would entertain me to no end. Simply listening to the recorder jams on "Get It Together" (featured in last year's amazing game Little Big Planet) makes me grin ear to ear, but there is a lot of secretly good musicianship within this album. They're more than just a novelty act.

48. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire (2004)

Recommended track: Your Ex-Lover is Dead

Why I love it: This is another album that came my way because of KUOI, but definitely from a different direction than the Go! Team. This album was a very emotionally devastating album, filled with anguish, stellar vocals, and lush arrangements layered with synth and strings. Once upon a time, I shared that I thought this band would hit it big with The O.C. egging them on, but they never became as big as I thought they would (they did end up on The O.C. though). It's a shame too, because this was one of the truly surprising beauties of the decade from the music industry.

47. Badly Drawn Boy - About a Boy Soundtrack (2002)

Recommended track: I Love NYE

Why I love it: This album hearkens back to my first love, back when we went and saw About a Boy and both quickly fell in love with the movie and the soundtrack. The girlfriend is long gone, but the deep admiration for the film and the music within it are still there, as Badly Drawn Boy crafted one of the best made for film albums I've ever heard. In many ways, it captures all of the themes that the film targets (change, coming of age, love) as well as the film itself does, and that is saying something. Filled with beautiful interludes and charming ditties alike, this is one of the most unique and underrated albums of the decade.

46. Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (2007)

Recommended track: Welcome, Ghosts

Why I love it: If Sigur Ros grew up in Texas and really focused on ambiance, this is the type of album they would release. As emotionally devastating as something the Icelandic troop would release, but created almost entirely with guitars and drums. The level of talent within this group is astounding, as they take you through emotional journeys strictly through cinematic arrangements of instruments and clever placements of peaks and valleys. Intensely beautiful and beautifully intense, all at the same time.

45. M.I.A. - Kala (2007)

Recommended track: Boyz

Why I love it: This is an album everyone got behind after M.I.A.'s superb single "Paper Planes" became a club jam, but really, this is not an album that is propped up by a single. Wall to wall, this album is filled with banging tracks loaded with a message, and I'd be lying if they weren't fun to dance and sing along to as well. Infectious and experimental and something I never thought I'd like strictly because I couldn't imagine anyone being audacious enough to create something like it.

44. of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007)

Recommended track: The Past is a Grotesque Animal

Why I love it: of Montreal is about as weird of a band as you can possibly find, and this album as a whole is a pretty good indicator of that. However, hidden underneath that oddness is an album loaded with intensely personal messages (evidently Kevin Barnes love life was quite rough around this time) wrapped in disco-funk-rock-electronic-synth goodness. This is an album really quite a bit unlike any other release on this list, but this album has progressively grown on me in the two plus years since its release. Now it's no longer odd, but charming, infectious, and completely stellar music.

43. Hot Hot Heat - Elevator (2005)

Recommended track: Elevator

Why I love it: Pop alert! Pop alert! A lot of people chastised Hot Hot Heat for making a far more straight forward rock album after the art rock mess that was their debut album Make Up the Breakdown, but I for one did not. I really believe that this album should have been the single biggest one of 2005, as every track is a radio single that is better than anything else out there. It is completely loaded with infectious pop songs that are guaranteed to get you singing at the top of your lungs and get your toes tapping, which once upon a time was a recipe for a hit. Evidently no longer, as this under appreciated gem is an afterthought these days.

42. The Stills - Without Feathers (2006)

Recommended track: Destroyer

Why I love it: The Stills debut Logic Will Break Your Heart was extremely well received, and for good reason. It was a damn good album that fit the niche of indie rock flavors that year. This album on the other hand was chastised and poorly received...yet I love it more. From the opening track "In the Beginning" to the killer trifecta of "Halo the Harpoons", "It Takes Time", and "Destroyer", this album is loaded with tracks that I (and only I, it seems) completely adore. Yet what is a favorite albums list without some surprises, and there is my first one.

41. Cake - Comfort Eagle (2001)

Recommended track: Shadow Stabbing

Why I love it: A lot of groups that I've been listening to since I really started listening to music have not stood up to the test of time. However, Cake has somehow not only maintained their lofty status in my mind, but improved on it. Albums like Comfort Eagle certainly help, as from the first track to the last track it is filled with quirky and infectious tracks from John McCrea and the rest. This album won't win any awards for lyrical content, but not every album is developed to elicit a response other than to feel happy and good about life. This is a drive around with the windows down and shout out lyrics album, regardless of how ridiculous they make you sound.

40. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

Recommended Track: My Girls

Why I Love It: While the cries of "album of the decade!" may have been a pinch strong at this album's release, the hype that this was Animal Collective's best yet was not. This is AC distilling their sound into more of a pop structure, as you can sense Panda Bear's influence (after 2007's stellar Person Pitch) becoming more and more prominent throughout. This may be the definitive headphones and audiophile album of the decade, as this album is all about rich textures and layers of sound. Not only that, but when they take us through the chorus on "My Girls" and we get the gleeful "Ohhh!!", there may not have been a more euphoric moment from music this decade.

39. The Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder (2007)

Recommended Track: 7 Stars

Why I Love It: The Apples in Stereo were another out of nowhere band for me, regardless of the fact that they had been around for 16 years before I knew any better. This album is one that is filled with delicious vocoder driven vocals, 70's pop instrumental arrangements, and a sunny disposition mostly about...science? Whatever it is really about (obviously I am all about the lyrical content here), this album is one that surprised in its ability to alternately get me screaming out vocals and to regress into a far more contemplative state. This is not an album weighed down by import, but mostly one wondering "can you feel it." Yes we can, and it feels good.

38. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (2006)

Recommended Track: Shakey Dog

Why I Love It: For all of the reasons Raekwon's Cuban Linx sequel is a success, so is this album. While for the most part Wu Tang Clan had a quiet decade, Ghostface exploded to become the most dominant voice from that crew. With his searing vocals, Ghostface tells us yarns of what a day to day life for a coke pushing gangster is like on the East Coast. Especially on "Shakey Dog", which is, to me, the apex of rap as a form of inner city storytelling. Not only that, but we get all kinds of guest appearances (including an honest to god Wu track), comic book and kung fu flick nods, and we learn a little about the metric system on the way as well. Who saw that coming?

37. The 88 - Over and Over (2005)

Recommended Track: Nobody Cares

Why I Love It: The 88 released one of the best albums of the 1960's, giving us rather straight forward pop rock tracks with soaring vocals, clap along rhythms, and tracks about sweet things such as coming home to your love, or things of that sort. Of course, the fact that it was released in 2005 to relative obscurity sort of alters that concept a bit, but that does not rob this album of any of its brilliance. While their follow up was...not strong, this album (which I found when I first started reviewing albums at my radio station in college) is laden with pop gems that I'd say match up with nearly anything from this decade.

36. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (2008)

Recommended Track: Hearts on Fire

Why I Love It: Cut Copy is a group that so effortlessly fused indie pop, electronica, and influences from the 1980's into their sound on this album that they were pretty much impossible to be denied. While it's true this album really doesn't intend to be much more than an album that is light, airy, and fun to dance to, it doesn't really matter. Cut Copy is so obviously comfortable with their identity and their sound on this album that everything they do ends up sounding like everything you wanted to hear from them, but you didn't even know it. That's how you know it's good.

35. Muse - Absolution (2003)

Recommended Track: Butterflies and Hurricanes

Why I Love It: Muse is one of the most incredible bands on the planet, as in many ways they are about as talented as anyone out there. For example, Matt Bellamy, lead singer, guitarist, and pianist for the group, can do all three things about as well as anyone in music today. Whether you're looking for a classically trained piano piece in the midst of a track, or an absolutely insane riff, or some of the most beautiful vocals you'll hear from any man, they'll deliver this and plenty more. This album became a very popular one because of a few standout singles, but the depth of the album is where the gems are hidden, such as the more slow burning pieces like "Butterflies and Hurricanes" and "Blackout."

34. Cursive - The Ugly Organ (2003)

Recommended Track: Art is Hard

Why I Love It: "When you get on stage and they scream your name...oh Cursive is so cool...". From the very moment I heard those moments, with the former part sang in standard style and the "so cool" part in the background with muted vocals, I immediately knew I was a little bit in love with this band. At first, I was drawn in by the arty aggressiveness of "Art is Hard" and "Some Red Headed Slight of Hand", but later on I was pulled in by the more introspective moments like "The Recluse" and "Staying Alive." About that time I started to realize just how stellar of an album this was, and it ended up being my favorite album by one of Saddle Creek's absolute finest. Front to back, this album is loaded with power, brains, and a hidden soft streak that they'll scream at you to ignore. Brilliant.

33. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (2005)

Recommended Track: I Summon You

Why I Love It: First, I have to say that if I was going to make a list of favorite tracks of the decade (I may still do that), "I Summon You" would have to be up there for the top prize. This album followed their less structured and more eclectic album Kill the Moonlight and really focused on focusing the bands strengths into more straightforward tracks. For the most part it was a success, as tracks like the aforementioned "I Summon You" and "My Mathematical Mind" end up being every bit as wonderful as anything else in the Spoon discography. However, it falls somewhere in between the spontaneity of Moonlight and the polished pop sound of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and that lack of identity keeps it in the 30's for me.

32. Phantom Planet - The Guest (2002)

Recommended Track: One Ray of Sunlight

Why I Love It: Alright, cool it with the laughter. If you're thinking "really? the band that made the O.C. theme song?" well, you'd be right. That is in fact this band. However, hidden under that overplayed (but infectious) track is an album that is 60's bubble gum pop at its finest. Loaded with more hooks than a meat locker and featuring more toe tapping beats than almost anyone should be expected to handle, this was my album of choice for one entire summer during the middle of this decade. It still stands up to the test of time as an album that will get spins from time to time, just because every once in a while you need a little bit of pop in your life.

31. Air - Talkie Walkie (2004)

Recommended Track: Alone in Kyoto

Why I Love It: Whether it's the simmering creepy beauty of "Run", the effortless cool of whistle happy "Alpha Beta Gaga," or the Eastern quietness of standout track "Alone in Kyoto", Parisian duo Air takes us on a journey through their sound on this album. The way they structure their purely electronic sound gives the album the feel that it is more organic than your average album of this sort, giving it additional weight and soul throughout. This is their masterpiece in my mind, and one of the best electro pop albums of the decade, assuredly.

30. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground - Self Titled (2008)

Recommended Track: Simon Courage Flees the Coop

Why I Love It: Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground rose from the ashes from my once upon a time favorite band Gatsby's American Dream, as it was fronted by one time Gatsby's bassist Kirk Huffman and also featured keyboardist Kyle O'Quinn, yet it did not feature really any of the technical rock brilliance that made Gatsby's such a great band. This band was an entirely different animal, channeling Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band and psychedelia into modern day indie rock to create a sound that was altogether unique and original in its own right. Their self titled debut featured a dense and beautiful instrumental sound (it better, given the fact they have roughly 1/5th the population of Washington state in their band) and Huffman's smooth vocals, and it blew me away. It maintains itself as one of the most obscure of gems from this decade, but I think one day they'll find their audience outside of the Pacific Northwest.

29. Gorillaz - Self Titled (2001)

Recommended Track: Slow Country

Why I Love It: This album reminds me of driving around in high school with my best friends, being alternately entertained by their more popular songs such as "Clint Eastwood" or "19-2000" while marveling in the creepy cool of "M1A1" or the monstrous relaxation powers of "Slow Country." This album could easily have been just a gimmick (it's a band fronted four cartoon characters!), but heavily featured on this album is all of Damon Albarn's musical prowess and Dan the Automator's incredible production. Individually, their powers would assure a project success. Together? They make something special, as this album clearly demonstrated.

28. Passion Pit - Manners (2009)

Recommended Track: The Reeling

Why I Love It: This album only came out this year, but any album that cause me to immediately text my friend and say "it's like they made this album specifically for me!" has to be a strong contender for one of my favorite albums. This album is all soaring vocals, delicious synth, clap along beats, and unforgettable hooks, and really, that's about as good of a recipe for "David music" that you could possibly come up with. Perpetually exciting, energetic, and dance party inducing, this album is assured a place in my rotation well into the next decade.

27. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)

Recommended Track: Everything In Its Right Place

Why I Love It: After seeing massive success with The Bends and OK Computer, Radiohead effectively abandoned their more straightforward rock sound to adopt the sound of the future. More keyboards, more electronic production, more post-modern glances at what the future of music could be like. Before this album, no one had so successfully adopted this type of production and such intense focus on textures and depth of sound, and it is something that has obviously affected many artists since. Even without the pioneer nature of this album, this is one that is filled with every bit of the Radiohead songwriting talent that we'd come to expect, and in many ways surpassed even OK Computer as Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and the rest clearly were not fearful to adventure as far as their sound could take them on this album. Completely brilliant, and a great marker for where music was going to go in the decade that followed it.

Bonus points for "Everything in its Right Place" being one of the single coolest performances of any song I've ever seen live. When I saw them, they closed their encore with it and it ended up being Jonny Greenwood with a series of pedals remixing the song live with all of the instruments looped through and controlled by him. Brilliant.

26. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar (2006)

Recommended Track: Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)

Why I Love It: Zach Condon is a talent that is about as surprising as you can find. Here is this 20 year old kid from Albequerque who releases an indie rock album positively buried in Balkan musical influences in which he plays anything you can think of: guitar, accordion, trumpet, mandolin, ukulele...everything. This kid is just massively talented. Not only that, but he is blessed with one of the most unique voices in music today and a nearly unparalleled songwriting ability. This was his stunning first release and it is as filled with sweeping emotions that you would expect from someone of his age. The fact that he managed to imbue it with such genuine feeling and such a unique sound really solidifies him as one of the most exciting young talents in music today.

25. Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things (2002)

Recommended Track: My Slumbering Heart

Why I Love It: "You don't like girls!" my mom says hysterically. We're talking about music and how I'm not a big fan of female lead singers, but her phrasing leaves something to desire. It turns out that I actually like both girls (in general) and girls (lead singer varieties). Especially when it comes to Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Rilo Kiley, who combines with guitarist and occasional singer Blake Sennett to form one of the best songwriting duos in music (as long as it isn't on Under the Blacklight). This album finds them at their best, pairing occasionally dark subject matters with atypically sunny presentation, as they brilliantly hide the lyrical weight in jangly guitars and simple and beautiful melodies created by Lewis. Not bad from the kids from Troop Beverly Hills and Salute Your Shorts.

24. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanists (2009)

Recommended Track: The Home

Why I Love It: Portugal. The Man automatically get bonus points for being from Alaska, but really, that doesn't matter when it comes to this album. While previous albums featured elements of brilliance but ultimately fell off because a few tracks that were a bit weaker or because they simply did not stand up to the test of time as well, this one combined all of the strengths of their first three albums and removed the negatives. It's as if John Gourley and his brethren made a pros and cons list of their sound and simply crossed off the cons. This album highlights Gourley's beautiful vocals, which occasionally touch on falsetto but never egregiously so. They do this by focusing their sound more towards a pop influenced version of their funk groove sound, targeting melody and rhythm over their more surprising sound of the past.

Some would say it's less challenging than their older albums, I'd say it is similar to what Animal Collective did with Merriweather Post Pavilion: the distillation of their sound to focus on the elements that work the best. After many spins of this album, it's hard to argue that their decision was the wrong one.

23. The Thermals - Now We Can See (2009)

Recommended Track: How We Fade

Why I Love It: The Thermals have long been a band that I've enjoyed but never one where I ever sat down with an album, listened to it all the way through and thought "man, I loved every second of that." Well, that is until this album, in which we found them tightening up their sound a bit and focusing more on production and songwriting. Tying into a theme that Hutch himself described as "The Thermals Guide to Better Dying" (or at least I coerced him into that one), this album packs their typical lyrical power into an album full of tracks that rival the power of personal favorite "Returning from the Fold" (from their album The Body, The Blood, The Machine). It's like a greatest hits all on one new album from of the Pacific Northwest's best bands.

22. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

Recommended Track: In the Morning of the Magicians

Why I Love It: The Flaming Lips are really a magical band. There are not a lot of other ways to describe them, as their sound is so unique and uplifting and spiritual in ways that typical phrasing does not describe them that well. This album finds Wayne Coyne and the rest harnessing their sound into their most infectious and often beautiful album yet, creating the theme song of Oklahoma and my life simultaneously. This album is almost the musical manifestation of John Michael Higgins character on Community tonight, as if with every passing track Coyne is telling us to live life to its fullest. When I'm listening to this album, I don't really see any reason why that isn't possible.

21. The Killers - Hot Fuss (2004)

Recommended Track: All These Things That I've Done

Why I Love It: The Killers?! What are they doing here?! I must have made a mistake! Okay, maybe I didn't. Under the bravado, before the terrible follow up albums, and even if you say they're unoriginal and deriviative, I will say this: they write some damn catchy tunes. This album was entrenched in my CD player for quite some time and still is an album that can get me to effortlessly sing along to in no time flat. Sure, they may be all of the negative things you think they are, but it is impossible to deny that this album is infectious beyond words and possibly the single best popular album to be released this decade.

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.

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 pig 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.


Kevin said...

Superb list and a great #1. Glad it wasn't Kid A or Animal Collective; instead, you put in something that's personal and subjective (not to say that Radiohead or AC are objectively the best bands of this decade, anyway). This was very fun to read! Finally a list with a VOICE.

Anonymous said...

"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."

That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with PItchfork and its followers.

In the shittiest and saddest decade in America, the self-titled purveyors of "independent" music and "alternative" culture were a bunch of suburban (if not in location than in spirit) and bourgeois soma-addicts: sitting in bedrooms, buying fast food culture from AA and Urban Outifitters, and whining about their selfish feelings. It's an entire orchestra fiddling while Rome burned.

Bravo, sissypants. Thank god that voting for Obama seemed "cool" to you knuckleheads. At least you have one thing about which not to be embarrassed.

David Harper said...

Wait, what? Did you just say that my list is bad because I said an album makes me happy? That's completely perplexing. Well written, but perplexing. Thanks for calling me sissypants though. Never been called that before!

However, thanks to you Kevin. Much appreciated, and I prefer writing a list that shares who I am, rather than just something that is a retread of every other list.

Dave said...

Excellent list, well done. It's pretty extensive, but you deserve a lot of credit you've clearly given it a lot of thought, and I'll be having a listen to a lot of the albums featured above, that I may have missed first time round.

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