Sunday, 13 December 2009

Best Albums of the Decade Part 8 (of 8)

36. the Rapture - Echoes (2003)

Every time someone counts to 7 I just want to shout out "I'M FLOATING IN A CONSTANT HEAVEN." That's powerful. From the opening notes of "Olio" right through the immense hit "House Of Jealous Lovers" and up until the bluesy and kind of theatrical "Infatuation," Echoes is an astoundingly good album. Of all the dance-punk bands, the Rapture managed to balance their influences and write memorable songs. And that's the important thing about Echoes, it's incredibly inconsistent, but all the songs are very interesting. There's nothing to skip. It's like a really good buffet, with all types of different dishes, none of which you want to miss. I freely admit that the lyrics are rather lovey-dovey and even slightly saccharine, but I don't really care. I listen to the melody, sing along, but I'm trying to derive any deep meaning (frankly, that's not the point of this music, now is it?). I'm here for the party: sweet disco riffs (guitar and synth), thick beats, and saxy flourishes. And when it cools down on the slower numbers, like "Open Up Your Heart" or "Love Is All," it's a good break from the energy of the others. Don't forget your cowbell!

37. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat (2002)

Sleater-Kinney ruled and their breakup ("hiatus" -- I have to keep repeating that to myself) really sucks. This album is my favorite of the ones I happen to own (still a few records left for me to explore, so I'm not too upset). S-K seemed to have so many influences, both retro and current, and they distilled it all in to awesome rock greatness on One Beat. Structurally, the songs aren't too complex, but the little flourishes, such as the keyboard on "Oh!" and the strings on "The Remainder," and the spot-on execution across the board make this album a really satisfying listen. Two distinct vocalists, angular and bluesy guitar lines all over the place, and incredible drumming are the main elements at play here, all of which are intowoven perfectly in these dense, energetic songs.

38. Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That (2008)

This was my favorite album of 2008, and not surprisingly, I've selected it for this list as well. What's not to love here? Marnie Stern has a unique voice, both in terms of her actual singing voice and her style as a songwriter. I almost don't know who to compare her to. Maybe Joanna Newsom? Or am I saying that because I just listened to the two artists recently? There are some similarities: both somewhat folky voices and very particular styles on their primary instruments (Newsom = harp, Stern = guitar), both acquired tastes, both wordy, both fairly intense. Maybe that is an apt comparison, at least in non-surface features. On a more superficial level, Stern's music is more akin to Don Caballero or Hella, if you add an appropriate vocal compliment to their instrumental frenzies. It's a tightly controlled chaos on Stern's second record, and it feels like no second in any one song is wasted, much like the first Talking Heads record. You can't ask for a whole lot more.

39. Sunn O))) - Black One (2005)

It now seems really obvious to me that one of the most innovative acts in metal, known primarily for their extreme dronedoom, would decide to make a black metal album. Black metal lends itself well to experimentation and Sunn O))) is exactly the band to push the boundaries. Now, I definitely call this a black metal album, but it is Sunn O))) doing a black metal album, so it doesn't sound quite like Immortal. Anyway, Black One is a throughly unsettling, paranoid hellscape of a record. And, it has an incredible calming effect, so it's rather contrarian. I suppose that adds to the appeal of Sunn O))) in general. It's surprising that after so much Earth worship and around five albums prior, Sunn O))) still successfully and effectively expands their sound on BO (and then again with 2009's Monoliths And Dimensions).

40. Yoshida Tatsuya & Fujii Satoko - Erans (2003)

And so the list comes to an end with this jazzy number. There's some jazz influence on some of the other albums, but this is the only one that I would primarily classify as jazz. And it ain't no symphony of trumpets and saxophones. Nope, this is jazz as sanctioned by John Zorn (it was put out on Tzadik), featuring Tatsuya Yoshida, drummer of Japanoise greats Ruins. There's nothing but drums and piano (and a tiny bit of vocalizing), but who really needs much more? These pieces have so much heft are are both invigorating and contemplative, which is certainly the result of the chemistry between the two musicians. Every driving piano line is matched with the perfect combination of manic percussion, a great example of which is the theme of "Westerlies." Composition undoubtly relies on improvisation and the directions in which they take these tunes is always exciting and refreshing, whether it's building on themes or giving the pieces some breathing room. The tracks are memorable, but so complex that repeat listens are mandatory (and welcomed). The emotional character here cannot be denied: the force and energy present in these pieces conjures up so many feelings, often over the course of just one track. Despite the high potential for all the tracks to cave in on themselves, the competency of these musicians prevents them from sounding too fractured or scattershot. It's the control, balance, and utilization of chaos that makes Erans so successful.

And that's it! That's the whole decade in a nutshell. I can't help but reflect on my list and then think about some candidates that could've made the cut. I could have extended the list, but chose to leave it at 40 since I think the ones on here are really the most important albums to me. Some are innovators or "game changers" or some stupid band that I think is FRICKIN' AWESOME. I think there's enough stylistic diversity, but I wish there was more electonic and death and/or black metal. Oh well. But, I would like to acknowledge the following albums for being so close to making the list:

Mastodon - Remission : Soooo close. I came pretty late to the Mastodon trend, so I didn't get Remission until like, 2008 or something. Otherwise, this record may have been on.

Portishead - Third : I love this band and Third is really great, but it just can't beat Dummy. It doesn't feel definitive enough to make this list.

Uusitalo - Karhunainen : This is another great album, but I just don't think I listened to it enough to merit a spot here.

Electric Wizard - Dopethrone : Obviously this is a stoner-doom metal classic and I do in fact think it's awesome. But again, I didn't get it until recently so it hasn't had enough time to settle in.

Orthrelm - OV : I actually don't know why this one didn't quite make the cut.

Godspeed You Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven : Yeah, this one should be on the list, too. I just don't think I know it well enough.

Radiohead : I like Radiohead and I own Kid A, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows. However, as good as RH is, they are supremely overrated and I don't have any special connection to their music. RH is just good, not SUPER EARTH-SHATTERING GENIUS.

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