The Gorillaz finally proved to people that they’re not a one or maybe two album wonder by staying relevant, exploring bold new sounds that no one else in rock is attempting and taking listeners on an exciting thematic journey on par with the ape-ocalyptic setting of their last album, Demon Days. Call it a post-post apocalyptic concept album in which nature reclaims what is rightfully hers. This time around the real Gorillaz take center stage. And by real I mean the human side of Damon Albarn and his wide range of collaborators that are finally able to take a bow in front of their fans. The army of musical artists on this ambitious project includes but is not limited to //takes in deep breath…// Albarn of Blur (natch), Mos Def, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Gruff Rhys (YES!), Lou Reed (YES, YES!), Snoop Dogg (NO!), Mick Jones & Mark Smith of The Clash and Albarn’s other band The Good, The Bad, And The Queen, Paul Simonon, Kano, Little Dragon, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and, because why not, The Syrian National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music //…exaggerated exhale//. Plastic Beach is a masterpiece on every level and in every respect. It’s is more mature, soulful, profound (eco rock!?) and refined than the band’s previous releases which have been great but often feel more like a multi-colored templates than an actual finished effort. Songs like “Stylo,” “Rhinestone Eyes” and the beautifully sad “On Melancholy Hill” transcend and even break the fourth wall to what was once considered to be a gimmicky postmodern band. This shit is for real! Plastic Beach it’s still a funky album full of animated simian hi-jinx and epic themes of man vs. nature vs. Cephalopodic breakfast foods but the human component has never shined so bright or so brilliantly.
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Nick Cave was once a dark and scary guy. Gnarled, Gothic, gritty and perhaps a few other G-words like grizzly and of course great. He changed because to stay that dark is to basically kill oneself. Still, I miss the old Cave from time to time and this new Swans albums took me back to the angry sounds of Cave and took me back in such a forceful way that I was really affected by listening to it. Not an easy listen mind you but that was just what I needed in a year full of way to surgery music. This grungy (hey, another G word!) masterpiece is equal parts brutal and beautiful. Eight tracks may seem short for a come-back album but not here. Those songs, each precious in their own filthy way, are sprawling Gothic-punk howls full of brooding damnations and the sense that the only way to get through life is to drink one’s self into a slurry oblivion. This is music to be played at the precipice of hell. Besides having the best album title of the year, My Father is as bleak as they come but the upside to that is that it is purifying in it’s total and uncompromising darkness (sample song title: “You Fucking People Make Me Sick” which pretty much sums up the vibe of this listening experience). I was shocked to find out that a sound this edgy and (seemingly) nihilistic has come from a band that has been around for almost thirty years. Where have I been all these years and how can I make up for all the lost time of not having Swans in my life?
3. Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles (II)
Not too long ago I ranked Crystal Castles’ 2008 debut as the 6th best damn album of the decade and the best new band of the decade. So, yeah, I am a HUGE Castles fan. It’s actually unhealthy how much I listen to Ethan Kath and Alice Glass’ frenzied first album. The combination of 8bit electronicanoise and Glass screaming incoherently about robots withAIDS or some shit like that proved to be an intoxicating listen for lack of a better word. The album is so raw and darkly energetic that I was scared this band would burn itself out. After hearing (and hearing, and hearing, and hearing…) their second album I can now say that they actually did burn out. But not in a bad way. Crystal Castles clearly made an effort to ease up on the 8bit furry in a successful attempt to become a more polished and artistic version of the band that made the Crystal Castles (I) album. That’s mostly good news because the band probably won’t be a flash in the pan like the equally riled up one-album wonder Andrew WK. I am a lot more confident that the band can grow, adapt and, most importantly, survive. The downside to that is that the thing that clicked withme so forcefully on the first album has been tamed and diluted to fit this “ideal.” But, look, not everything can be the best thing ever all the time so I am happy as shit that the smooth but still edgy Crystal Castles (II) turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the year. And, really, is there anything more Goththan that album cover? On a final note I am both proud and ashamed to say this is the only tangible album in 2010 that I actually paid to listen to.
4. The National
“Sorrow found me when I was young/ Sorrow waited, sorrow won.” – The National Was there anything sadder in 2010 than the music of The National? No album has captured the haunting yet beautiful qualities of loneliness and isolation this spectacularly since Beck’s Sea Change (my #2 album of last decade). The National goes on to pull off the impossible twice by topping it’s last album, the near perfect Boxer. Sounding like a heroin addict being kept awake by too much caffeine, The National has grown up on High Violet but they have certainly not grown soft or warm. This is a an album to walk the cold streets alone to. Special note: The National put on one of the best live shows I saw all year. I was expecting a dour concert experience but instead got one full of angry, self loathing energy. Singer/songwriter Matt Berninger is in some sort of insane zone right now and I can’t wait to see what’s next even if whatever that is will inevitably make me depressed.
5. Sufjan Stevens
Age of Adz
A controversial opinion but this may be SufjanStevens best album to date. I loved every second of Adz, even the ones that didn’t quite work. Not too long ago Stevens blew everyone away with his epic album Illinois, a collage of songs that literally put the State tribute singer on the map and, along the way, helped define the music of the last decade. Instead of trying to re-capture the conceptual magic of Illinois and Michigan Stevens let it all go with a funky, colorful and out of control album. Full of quirky bleeps and buzzes, Adz owes as much to British electronic master Matthew Herbert as it does Sufjan Stevens. But this album doesn’t even seem to have a genre. It’s its own genre. The final song “Impossible Soul” is a 25 minute electronic opus that defies expectation and has a way of luring you in and making you feel blissfully happy and redeemed (“it’s a long life/only one last chance/couldn’t get much better/do you wanna dance”) only to take all that away with an agonizingly brilliant slow motion coda that ends with “boy we made such a mess together.” That song is better, and just about as long as most proper 2010 album releases. In fact if that song was an entire album then it would be the best album of the year. In the end, the fuzzy sense of fun and experimentation of Adz proves to be a great compliment to Stevens’ flighty not quite folk/not quite rock sound. What’s more amazing is that this comes from a Christian rocker that actually… rocks.
6. These New Puritans
I’m at a loss for words to describe why I think this album from the British band These New Puritans is full-on amazing. If the Liars joined with Nine Inch Nails and added a bunch of drums and an orchestra and shit you would have something like Hidden. Its foreboding sound and razor sharp production is like nothing else I heard all year. The bass actually hurts! Ermm, or something like that. Who the hell knows? It’s really good. That’s all. Shut up and listen to it. Guess who’s not a music critic?
7. Belle and Sebastian
Write About Love
Is there anyone more reliable in popular culture than Belle and Sebastian? They’re the musical equivalent to comfort food except a particular piece of food doesn’t keep on giving like this album does. But including them is no nostalgia trip either. The music is genuinely good. It’s the same, yes, but its enduring qualities are as charming as ever and never grow old. Aside from an obnoxiously bland and trite Norah Jones duet (worst B&S song ever?) the album doesn’t really have any weak spots. It’s best songs like “I Want the World To Stop” are filled with what I love so much about this Scottish band: funny, sardonic, melodic, dark and almost inappropriately joyful.
8. LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
Should have been titled This is Happening? Because, yeah, it is! LCD Soundsystem makes another casually dazzling album and shows no sign of slowing in the process. Unlike a lot of dance/rock acts LCD has evolved in a very complex and hard to describe way. James Murphy somehow and miraculously knows how to avoid TOO MUCH digital bombast without ever having to scale back on the energy or insane sense of fun he adds to every second of every song. The opening song “Dance YrselfClean” starts off with a slow, almost whispering droll for a few minutes until it explodes and the energy released from the dance floor supernova doesn’t let up for the rest of the album. Happening may be an ever so slight step back (more like sideways) from the one man band’s debut album and Sound of Silver but of course it is! Anything Murphy does after those two albums will be a “let down” (quote marks used very ironically). Maybe that’s why this rumored to be LCD Soundsystem’s last album. I sure hope not but if it is he went out on a high note.
9. Beach House
I disliked Beach House’s self titled first album, finding it ponderously turgid and over-hyped. But, wow, Teen Dream has got to be the biggest improvement story of the year. Every song is not only elegant but full of emotion and great melodies. It still manages to be cold and sleepy (especially the second half of the album) but in a very interesting way with all that other cool stuff swimming around under the thin frozen layer of dreamy music. Landing somewhere between husky and girly, Victoria Legrand has one of the best voices in indie rock. I don’t know about the Teen part but Beach House sure got the Dream part of the title right. Also, it’s better than the cover of “Teenage Dream” on the Scott Pilgrim Soundtrack and WAY better than Katy Perry’s 2010 Teenage Dream album. What’s with that title popping up everywhere this year?
10. Blond Readhead
I continue to worship Blond Redhead’s last album, 23. It is, no question, one of the best albums ever made. Nothing in the band’s past prepared me for it either. The question that has been nagging at me in the years since its release is if this uncanny spike in quality from an ok-ish punk rock band to a alternative band that made an album as good as anything Radiohead has done in last decade. Would this mark new trend for the band or is it simply some rare and almost accidental fluke of genus on par with, say, Franz Ferdinand. Well they made a new album…….. and, un, I still don’t really have a solid answer to that question. I know for sure it’s not the second fluke option so the new album is a success just based on that …however… it’s not anywhere close to achieving 23’s swooning ethereal serenity. What it is, though, is a competent album with an unreal sense of beauty and personality coming at us from all angles. Penny Sparkle may not have gained Blond Redhead any new fans but it sure did please this one.
11. Sleigh Bells
I won’t lie, the hype from music critics, annoying music fans (who only listen to what they think is cool) and god damn Honda commercials hurt these too cool for Brooklyn musicians. This hipster band managed to sell out BEFORE they became overrated! Very impressive and probably indicative of where “alternative” music is headed if it is indeed not already there. Still –and it kills me to say this– the album is really good so give me a little credit for putting aside my petty annoyances. The soft voice/hard-ish techno sound reminds me of what Crystal Castles would have been had they actually wanted to fit in rather than make fun of those who do. Whatever, this album proves that you don’t need to like a band to like a band’s music. Feh, may they never make another good album again.
12. Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
In a very indirect way the best thing Taylor Swift ever contributed to the music world (or society) is this album. The douchebaag scores a winner. Outside of an amazing Daft Punk rip-off, err, collaboration and thecool auto-tune song “Love Lockdown,” Kanye hasn’t been consistently good in one of his albums since practically ever. And it didn’t even matter because the great (not really) manipulator seemed to prefer people talking about his antics and big moupppph than his actual music. Well, this time around his figured out how to make good music come out of said big mouth! Bottom line: this is a solid rap album. And I’m not even into rap. At it’s musty I’m-sorry-yet-fuck-you heart is one of the year’s very best songs “Runaway,” a song with more purpose and soul than anything (and/or anyone) he’s done to date.
Was there a better album to chill to this year? And was there a better debut? Yes and no to the second question because Warpaint’s Fool had the honor of making the best non-debut debut of the year. They’ve been around in some form or another (actress Shannyn Sossamon was once in the band… for real!) but they’ve never been good. They are now.
14. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Social Network Soundtrack
The Social Network Soundtrack A.K.A “The Best of Ghosts I-IV” with “In the Hall of the Mountain King” thrown in the middle just to make sure we’re paying attention. No, really, this is the best movie score of the year. As soundtracks go, Daft Punk’s Tron album proved that just because awesome artists are making a soundtrack doesn’t mean it will automatically kick ass. Instead, it just kicks a little ass which is nowhere near as much ass as Daft Punk should be kicking. Anyway, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails did the unthinkable by making a solid album on its own that, in a lot of ways, is better than the movie it’s based on! But Reznor and producer Atticus Ross (working with Reznor since With Teeth) also managed to stir up the stodgy expectations of what a movie music in general “should be.” Movie scores sadly can’t seem to get out of this dreadful John Williams vortex of overwrought orchestral clichés but a score like the one to behold on “The Social Network” looks to mixes things up by adding much needed dissonant rock/electronic to the cinematic pallet of Fincher’s universally praised movie. And the 8bit flourishes are just about perfect given the subject matter. For instance, the scene in which the main character goes on a power trip and hacks the Harbert network would not have had the same impact had Reznor’s busy bee techno track “In Motion” not been there. Sure that song is basically an 8bit remix of “32 Ghosts IV” but it improves upon the original so no complaining here. This score does for the 2010s what his Fincher’s own Dust Brothers “Fight Club” score did for the 90s. I don’t know if Reznor is going to do more movie scores but my vote says he really should provided he doesn’t turn into another Danny Elfman.
Speaking of chill music. Spoon’s new album is so relaxed that it pratically doesn’t exist! It doesn’t grab you like past Spoon albums but it sure is catchy and, like past works, grows on you as the year presses on. Spoon has turned chilling into an art. In fact I can think of no band except maybe the one above that has achieved such an impressive level of casual rocking, but plenty of tried (ahem Hold Steady). Suddenly all the pot references make sense. On a random note Spoon’s new album is great music to paint your apartment to so put that in your pipe and smoke. No guys not literally, that shit’s toxic.
Darkstar finally release their first album and it’s a stunning if a bit divisive debut. The brooding sounds of North are slow (by design) but also very effective. Synth based electronic music has had a lot of ups and downs but this is definitely an up. Plus, I have a rule: any band that makes a song called “Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer” automatically gets a spot on this list.
17. The Knife
Tomorrow, In a Year
It’s The Knife! Without Anderrson! Doing a Charles Darwin tribute!!! With six minute pidgin call songs!!! And an Opera chick singing!!! Weirdest album of the year.
18. Ok GO
Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Another underrated Ok GO album. Hard to figure these guys out. The music is great. The videos are jaw dropping (no other band is having more fun making music videos). They’re sometimes very popular and but ignored the rest of the time. Their albums are not well reviewed either. What’s easy to figure otu though is to not listen or care about any of that and just enjoy what we get.
The Annie award for best pop record of the year goes to… another Northern European artist! It must be something in the water over there because these chicks know how to get a party started. And by party I mean singing by myself in my car. Hell yeah! Somehow, though, that seems like something Robyn would make a song out of (she made “Dancing On My Own” a hit after all). It’s safe to say though that Robyn had a good year. She released not only the best album of her career (Body Talk vol. 1) but maybe the three best! The ambitious trilogy that make up Body Talk are such light, fluffy and grooveable dance pop mini-albums that I have no problem forgiving her for asking Snoop Dog to do a duet on “U Should Know Better.” That no-talent joke tried to ruined two of my favorite albums of the year (Gorillazbeing the other) and failed both times. If he appears on Tool’s 2011 or 2012 album I will officially stop listening to music.
20. Best Coast
Crazy For You
Take Neko Case’s impossibly beautiful sound and put it through a muffled telephone quality filter. Then add some cool but rough surf pop melodies and you have the recipe for the first Best Coast album. This is an impressive debut that grew on me over the months. As good as it is I have a feeling Best Coast is going to get a lot better and that’s something to be excited about. Far from perfect but certainly a band to watch out for.
jj no. 3
Following one of last year’s/decade’s best albums is this criminally underrated follow-up from this Swedish pop/afrobeat/electronic/some-other-stuff band. If I had just one word to describe this band it would be beautiful. If I had three it would be beautiful, beautiful, and beautiful. If a hasty and unpolished jj album can sound this good then I can only imagine what an album will sound like when they put a little more effort into it.
How to Destroy Angels Self Titled
This year saw the release of two non-Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor albums. How werid is that? How to Destroy Angels is not to be confused with ex-NIN band mate Robert Patrick/Filter’s new album which titled The Trouble With Angels. This is a sold effort from Trent Reznor and his wife Yoko Reznor. Possible reason: it’s Nine Inch Nails with a vagina. I’m okay with that as long as it stays that way. But if the monotonal Mariqueen Maandig shows up on a NIN album I’ll be pissed. And you don’t want to see a pissed off NIN fan–actually, it’s kinda funny and sad and involves a lot of tantruming and screaming about how much you hate your father.
Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
The funk is gone. The fun is not.
Vampire Weekend released their successful debut the same year that MGMT released theirs. This year both released their much anticipated follow-up. As Vampire Weekend soared on a stronger sound while MGMT plummeted with utter nonsense.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
So much more than a gimmicky band within a band movie soundtrack. The likes of Beck, Frank Black and Broken Social Scene help bring the Scott Pilgrim film to life (no easy task) and do so alongside now-real “fake” bands such as Sex Bob-Omb and Crash and the Boys whose 13 second song “”I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” and 59 second song “We Hate You Please Die” is a thing of beauty that could have just as easily been featured on this year’s National and/or Swans album. The tricky part is that the songs are made to sound like they came from half-assed musicians. By the end though they end up sounding a lot better than real musicians.
Badly Drawn Boy It’s What I’m Thinking Pt.1 Last second edition to the list. I mean it, I’m listening to it as I post this best of 2010 list. Gotta love BDB!
PT releases an album in which they play Fear of a Blank Planet from start to finish live. Progazism!
Pantha du Prince
Another Pantha classic. Time has a way of loosing meaning when you play music from this French minimal techno band. It’s not flash and very easy to take for granted but perfect just the way it is.
Grinderman has the cure for the No Pussy Blues. Strangely enough, it’s not pussy. It’s more Grinderman.
Paul Weller Wake Up The Nation
Coheed and Cambria
Year of the Black Rainbow
Ack, I’m sick of writing about music.
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)
The National – High Violet
Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
These New Puritans – Hidden
Belle and Sebastain – Write About Love
LCD Soundsystem – Is This Happening
Beach House – Teen Dream
Blond Redhead – Penny Sparkle
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Warpaint – The Fool
Social Network – Soundtrack
Spoon – Transference
Darkstar – North
The Knife – Tomorrow, In a Year
Ok Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Robyn – Body Talk
Best Coast – Crazy for You
jj – jj no. 3
How to Destroy Angels – Self Titled
!!! – Strange Weather Isn’t It?
Vampire Weekend – Contra
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Soundtrack
Badly Drawn Boy – It’s What I’m Thinking Pt.1
Porcupine Tree – Atlanta (live album)
Pantha du Prince – Black Noise
Grinderman – Grinderman 2
Paul Weller – Wake Up the Nation
Coheed and Cambria – Year of the Black Rainbow
My Chemical Romance – Danger Days
The Black Keys – Brothers
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Health – ::Disco2
The Fall – Your Future Out Clutter (that voice!)
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Filter – The Trouble With Angels (happy to see Filter make a strong come-back)
Glasser – Ring
Mogwai – Special Moves
The Magnetic Fields – Realism (oh, it’s not that bad)
The Chemical Brothers – Further
Daft Punk – Tron
David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love (underrated album)
Best Album Cover:Klaxon’s Surfing the Void cover. Cats rock. This time I mean it literally. If only the album was half as good as it’s cover. Ground control too Cadet Kitty, you’re clear for take off, now get as far, far away from the Klaxons as possible.
Best Live Shows:
Gorillaz (unforgeable show)
The National (also unforgeable)
Muse (note: didn’t actually see them live but I tell people I did)
Belle and Sebastian
Built to Spill
LCD Soundsystem (somewhat disappointing)
Worst of the Year:
1. M.I.A.– ///Y/: I would say the album is unlistenable except I actually listened to it all the way through just so I could call it the worst album of the year.
2. MGMT – Congratulations (hideously pictured above): for going from being an overrated band to being a downright bad one. The self serving title makes me laugh every time I see it. Yeah, way to go, guys! I mean it: go! 3. Taylor Swift – Speak Now: for being the most boring and vanilla and just plain blah music act in years. Of course people love it!
4. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream: music: among worst of the year / boobs: among the best (sorry Blake Lively).
5. Any Hip-Hop/R&B/Electronic music that features what sounds like female chipmunks singing. And there was a lot! Like, a lot lot. Why did every song sound the same? And why did critics not notice or mind this? Worst offenders: James Blake’s “CMYT,” Gold Panda’s “You,” Flying Lotus’ “And The World Laughs With You” and many, many, many, many, many more. But since the last song mentioned features Thom York I’ll exempt it. Just this once though. What will be the hot music trend in 2011? My guess: Smerf rap voices. You heard it here first!
6. Ke$ha– Cannibal: for growing as an “artist” and not being as god awful as her first album. Ke$ha upgraded her shitty, no talent from an F– to just an F-.
7. Music from Glee– for making me realize that something is worse than American Idol and it’s fictional shows set in a high school in which teens sing American Idol music. The mind numbing Glee music making machine needs to die. The quicker the death the better. High School kids singing is sooooo played out.
8. Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown: for… do I even need a reason, it’s Kings of Leon.
9. Justin Beber– My World 2.0:for being Justin Beber.
10. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today: for making the most overrated album of the year. I listen to riel’s music and have no feeling. I’m either missing something or everyone else is bandwagon crazy.
11. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever – for sucking without fail since 2003.
12. Bruno Mars– Doo-Wops & Hooligans: for making me give up.
13. Titus Andronicus– The Monitor: for almost being as bad as The Hold Steady. There can be only one New Jersey rock act and his name Bruce, thank you very much.
14. Train – for making me want to inflict pain to whoever this Soul Sister bitch is that inspired that shitty song.
15. Weezer – Hurley: for not being close to good anymore and for dragging Hurley into all this. Poor guy didn’t do anything to deserve that.
What’s Good: Jeff Bridges, God-beard and all. What’s Not: Everything else. The protagonist is boring and the antagonist (30-year-old Bridges) looks like a character from “Polar Express.” This film is as dull, inert, and redundant as a Microsoft Windows product. As a side note the showing I went to at the South Bay Arclight was horrible. The screen was dark, the sound was muddled and I found myself taking my bulky 3D glasses off every chance I could during the non 3D sections of the film (which there are a lot of actually).
“TRON: Legacy” has every right to rip off “The Matrix.” After all, “Matrix” “borrowed” from the original 1982 “TRON.” What “Tron: Legacy” however does not have the right to do is be worse than “Matrix,” the original at least (it’s way better than part 2 and 3). Quality aside, the nerd in me is glad this movie has been made because how often do we get a $300 million dollar sequel to a good but not great cult film that nobody ever cared about? That it’s a a dull and lifeless but visually stimulating sci-fi film is understandable and even forgivable because that too is its legacy. Before I saw this movie I assumed that the new “TRON” would be good even if it is bad. I was wrong and should have said it will be average even if it’s bad.
“TRON: Legacy” attempts, perhaps feebly, to develop a full fledged sophisticated mythology around its thriving and self creating computer world (clunky religious symbolism and all) but falls short of taking that first Moses step across the parted sea of the unreal. What’s worse is that it displays a hint of arrogance about it’s “legacy” without actually putting much thought into its own mythology. Since it’s such an old franchise “TRON: Legacy” assumes that seniority automatically equals superiority. It doesn’t, especially in light of the fact that it is so unoriginal and lacking in identity. TRON’s early scenes it steals from “Batman: Begins” of all movies with spoiled, thrill seeking rich boy with daddy issues giving a big FU to the company he owns because he’s such a bad-ass (not really). He even poses like Batman on top of his building before jumping off. Very, very lame. After a hasty but surprisingly well delivered “you’re better than this” pep talk from the dude from the original “TRON” and, oh nothing, “Babylon 5” (Bruce Boxleitner!) the boy enters into or happens upon “the grid,” a virtual world his dad got trapped in so many years ago. The ghost in the shell transition from corporal matter to digital beingness has always been a woefully sloppy and underdeveloped feature of the “TRON” series and that’s no different here. The cancelled show “Caprica” in which a girl is trapped in a computer matrix is far superior this film. Once “inside”… I don’t need to explain the plot further because it’s the same as “The Matrix” give or take a few bot car/plane races. Young boy learns the truth. Humans are hunted. Virtual world covered in darkness (and storms for some reason). Computer program seeks absolute power and oppresses, uh, other computer programs on its way to conquering Earth (again, never explained why or how). Boy then meets a Jedi, er, I mean Morpheus, er, I mean Jeff Bridges, reprising his role as Kevin Flynn form the original “TRON.” And finally, the chosen-one-Jesus-frat-boy finds his footing and boldly heads into the digital fray for one last battle to SAVE HUMANITY from… something.
The always great Jeff Bridges of course plays Flynn from “TRON” and it’s very fun to watch how this imprisioned character has evolved over almost thirty years. The movie may be underwhelming but this is a historical role to watch for a lot of reasons. The digital anti-aging technology that went into creating a Flynn’s evil computer program doppelganger being only one of those reasons and the very worst one at that because it looks distracting and unnatural (more cartoon than human). Bridges makes the unusual choice of adding a large amount of Dude-isms (calls his son “man” all the time, says “radical!” when he sees something, uh, radical) and “Star Wars” force powers. He is a fallen digital god after all so I guess it makes sense he has powers. His Dudebe Wan Kenobi act should have fallen flat (is that all Bridges can do these days?) but it does the opposite by bringing humanity to the film’s many dead ideas, giving the film a glimmer of purpose if not logic in the process. I add logic because how on Earth, more like non-Earth, does this renigade human hide within a hostel computer program for thirty years? Well, apparently he goes all Osama Bin Laden on it by heading in a cave at the top of a mountain in the computer program. Yes, a cave! Hollywood’s best screenwriter dollars at works folks.
While Bridges is a joy to watch, full of a compelling sadness and cool-ass Zen powers, his son, the unnecessary star of the movie (gotta get them teens to watch), is annoying to put it bluntly. Taking a page from the recent, almost-good “Star Trek” movie (also ruined by the main character’s douchebaggery), Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund–the acting dynamo from “Eragon”) brings whatever energy and momentum the film may have had to a halt. He’s what we call in the video game world an NPC which stands for Non-player character. Basically, there’s nobody controlling this character. His attitude and (lack of) range in human emotion (most just cocky and cool) feels as detached as someone playing a video game. Actually way more detached, video games are more fun and you actually die in them. Flynn 2.0 can do anything in this new world and he does do everything… with ease. The boy saves world because he’s that damn awesome and even finds time to resolve some lingering family issues, thus making him even awesomer. Cool story, bro! This humorless hero bit takes the already post-human black and neon aesthetic even more off “the grid.” I found very little to identify with in this movie. Since there’s no sense of danger or emotional vulnerability the admittedly impressive action spectacles and $lick production design is rendered amusing (even a must see for sci-fi fans) but not much more–he’s this year’s Sam Worthington in “Avatar” and that’s not a good thing. Sam Flynn’s relationship with an equally by-the-numbers heroine, a hunted computer program that, like humans, is THE LAST OF HER KIND (natch) played by Olivia Wilde (Zzzzzzz) has no chemestry either. That also goes for Sam’s lifeless interactions with his pop which is hurt by the fact that his dad is so much cooler than him. The upside to Hedlund’s shallow character and binary acting sensibilities (writing/filmmaking also to blame for this, not just the actor) is that it really should make more people respect Keanu Reeves’ non-acting in “Matrix.” Grade: C
Tool: Lateralus (2001) Tool’s Lateralus might not just be my album of the decade but my favorite album of all time or at least an album held in as high regard as Nine Inch Nail’s deeply underrated Fragile album. That admission automatically takes this list out of the realm of the objective (as if even a “good” list could be) and lands it somewhere between the idiosyncratic and the imprudent. Even so, I would classify Tool’s oft-divisive work as something I can’t get by without to this day. To even call it music seems unfair. It’s meta music, something transcendent and I mean that in the most pretentious way possible. Metal rock, prog rock, math rock, art rock, metaphysical rock, rock-um-rock, I could go on all day trying to figure out Lateralus’ complex style, strange sounds, shifting genres (not to mention time signatures) and enigmatic-to-a-point-of-parody lyrics but what would be the point of all that? Tool doesn’t make albums that can or should be understood with conventional logic or rational thinking. All that’s needed is a brain, a play button and a hefty dose of repressed childhood trauma and unexpressed rage. Best Moment: Towards the end of “The Grudge” Maynard unleashes an barrage of “let go(s).” Very cathartic. Also, it’s hard to beat the alien invasion that ends the album.
Beck: Sea Change (2002) Tool was able to tap into the primal part of our brains. Beck, however, had the emotional side of things covered. It’s hard to put this album into words. And, no, calling it a “break-up album” are not the words I or anyone should be looking for. Call it that is like calling “Citizen Kane” a break-up movie. It is but… it’s really not. Sea Change is about so much more than relationships. It’s about loss, regret, self doubt and growth. But, of course, in typical Beck fashion it is about those things without actually being about any of those things. In a lot of ways this is Beck’s most honest straightforward album. The lush production, melancholic smoothness and deeply meaningful lyrics (he actually completes full and coherent sentences in this album) hint at a totally different type of artist. For a musician that was known in the 90s as a master of gimmicks and playful funk the arrival of Sea Change signals a literal see change in the artist and rock music in general for the decade. I didn’t expect it but I also (thankfully) didn’t resist it. Above all, Sea Change is a very personal album for both the person making it and the person listening. It’s perfect. Best Moment: The final moments of of “Lonesome Tears.” The violins grow and grow and grow then, with a bit of uneasiness, it sounds like a plane is passing by and everything settles. Very transcendent.
Spiritualized: Let It Come Down (2001) I must admit that Spiritualized’s music, especially on Let it Come Down, is the closest I will ever get to having a “religious experience.” Quite appropriate considering the band’s name. Best Moment: The first mention of Jesus. And drugs. And Jesus doing drugs.
Pulp: We Love Life (2001) Along with NIN, Pulp defined 90s music for me. One of the nicest surprises of the decade was Jarvis Cocker and Pulp’s ability to effortlessly carry the band’s legacy over into the new decade if only for a moment. A triumph in every way imaginable, We Love Life puts most of the music of the decade to shame. But, unlike a lot of veteran bands working in a new era (ahem, U2), it does not succeed by not a rehashing old sounds or tropes. It’s simultaneously a bold new direction and a tragic glimpse of the greatness that was surly still to come from Pulp had they not broken up. But if this this album teaches us anything it is that everything that is beautiful and thriving in this world must also eventually decay and die. Best Moment: The lyrics “Took an air-rifle and shot a man to the ground. And it died without a sound.” Stone cold! Also, the optimism of the song “I Love Life” preceded, of course, by the darkness of “The Night That Mini Timperley Died.”
Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet (2007) If putting Tool at #1 almost invalidated the list then the inclusion of Porcupine Tree is the nail in its coffin. While Tool gives Porcupine Tree a run for its money nothing can dethrone this band’s status as nerdiest, whitest rock music around. Three years in and not a week that goes by where I do not listen to some if not all of this album. What can I say: I love modern prog. Blank Planet introduced me to the prolific but little heard of (in America) British band Porcupine Tree and for that reason alone it deserves special consideration. Exploring the alienation of modern culture through technology, Blank Planet is one of the most serious (and just plain best) progressive rock albums to date. It’s the kind of album that would make people rethink their inexplicable hatred of the prog genre–provide the album was actually heard by anybody, which it wasn’t. The exquisitely exhaustive 17 minute opus “Anesthetize” is the album’s showpiece and the best Porcupine Tree song of all time. That’s no surprise considering the album it’s on is nothing short of the band’s best album to date. Which is saying something. While I’ve only been a fan of Porcupine tree for three short years they have ranked more albums on this list than any other band: Lightbulb Sun, In Absentia, Deadwing, Fear of a Blank Planet and 2009’s The Incident. Either I’m obsessed or the band is really good. Maybe both? Best Moment: The best prog song ever recorded is the sit-come length “Anesthetize.” Also the strings in “Sleep Together.”
Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles (2008) In terms of new music the biggest moment of the decade for me was when a a dear friend turned me on to this self-titled Crystal Castles album. Less than a minute into “Untrust Us” and I feel in love. For those of us who always wanted to know what was in those suspicious pills that Dr. Mario was always messing around with, the answer is Crystal Castles. Naturally I figured this 8bit, Nintendo on acid electronica noise album would cause a revolution. Though it has its fans, it didn’t. Not even Crystal Castles repeated this album’s winning formula with their second (also self titled) album. That makes this a one of a kind experience that easily ranks Crystal Castles up there as my favorite new band of the decade. Along with two albums listed above, this one’s still in my car’s six disk changer which, lets face it, is the mark of a masterpiece. Best Moment: Alice Glass says “hi” to start off the dissonant song “Alice Practice.” It’s the only intelligible lyric in the whole album. Actually, maybe not. I think I also heard her howl the word “chips,” “breasts” and something about a robot with AIDS.
Radiohead: Amnesiac (2001) Kid A got all the glory but Amnesiac meant more–to me at least. The tone, themes and musical range in this red headed stepchild of an album is all over the place. It is viewed by most as a curious Kid A offshoot but not much else. But this is one of those rare cases where the b-sides are better, or at least more interesting, than the a-sides. Amnesiac is one of the most unique Radiohead albums ever produced because it’s more impulsive, raw and awkward. It’s also not over-thought which can be a problem with some recent Radiohead works such as Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. Best Moment: Thom Yorke gets all (ironically?) pugilistic on “You and Whose Army” threatening to destroy everyone and their mothers. Aww, how cute.
The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) Oddly enough, the best description of how awesome (and/or silly depending on your point of view) Mars Volta is came from the movie “Get Him To The Greek.” Johna Hill’s girlfriend asked him who Mars Volta was and he answered with this. Over the last seven years I think of a lot of us prog nerds tried and totally failed at making our girlfriends dig Mars Volta. It’s just not gonna happen. Mars Volta exploded on the prog scene with this multi-layered album that is equal parts brilliant and baffling. The often mocked band banged out some of the most unique and original sounds of the decade (a single song could range from prog to jazz to full on psychedelia), something Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala could never have done (or continued to do as they have four albums later and counting) had they listened to critics or, um, girlfriends. Best Moment: The opening song followed by the lyrics “Noooooowwww I’mmmmmm loooooooooosssssstttttt.” VOLTA!
Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero(2007) Just when I thought NIN was done with concept albums Trent Reznor released his most ambitious project to date. Year Zero, NIN’s final studio album, chronicles, through the band’s fitting industrial sound, the end of the world though the tragically necessary collapse of a civilization taken hostage by imperialism, ignorance, greed and religion. When Trent Reznor sings “As time is running out, let me take away your doubt. We can find a better place in this twilight” we not only feel his pain and passion but are exhilarated by his dark sense of storytelling. On The Fragile Reznor sang about a hand reaching down from the sky and crushing us all but it was more symbolic. With Year Zero it’s almost literal hand–“Some say it was a warning, some say it was a sign. I was standing there when it came down from the sky.” Exorcising a lot of demons (political, personal and otherwise), it feels as if this album rekindled Reznor’s love of music. Perhaps mine as well. As a bonus it’s the band’s most industrial sounding album since the misunderstood “Fixed” ep. Best Moment: Every great song ends with a minute or two of grinding industrial sounds. The uplifting (and apocalyptic!) ending is also pretty amazing.
Super Furry Animals: Rings Around the World (2001) Lead singer Gruff Rhys described Rings as a “cosmic rock record” and that might even be downplaying it. When you listen to this, or, indeed, just about any Super Furry Animals album you feel as if anything is possible and with songs styles ranging from psychedelic techno to death metal (“Receptacle For the Respectable”) you never know what you might hear next. Could be Auto-Tuned vitriol on songs like “Juxtaposed With You” (“You’ve got to tolerate, all those people that you hate, I’m not in love with you, but I won’t hold that against you…”) and “No Sympathy” (“you deserve to dieeeeeeeeeeeeeekasjdfkajskdfjkjdskfajskdfjkjk” the song goes just before undergoing the most amazing two minute stuttering schizophrenic music breakdown of all time), could be fluffy surf music (“Sidewalk Surfer Girl”) or tributes to Doris Day, could be a scathing commentary on modern religion on the underrated techno country (what?) track “Run! Christian, Run!,” or hell, it could just be Paul McCartney on “carrot and celery rhythm track.” Everything I love about the band is super sized on this deliberately bloated two disk explosion of eclectic oddities. After a triumphant 90s SFA created some of the most enjoyable music of this last decade and this album is what got the ball rolling. Best Moment: So many moments. Many are listed above.
Muse: Black Holes and Revelations (2006) One of the most exciting NEW rock bands to emerge from the last decade released their opus in 2006. In retrospect its easy to see why this robust album made Muse popular even though it took a little while to catch on (proud to say I voted it the best album of 2005). Its one of those rare cases where (a) I dig a super popular rock band and (b) I’m happy that a band –making a prog album no less!– found mainstream popularity. Some bands are so good they need to be big so they can put everything else to shame. Rock may have died these last ten years but Muse did their best to keep it alive and they did that through strobe light political/sci-fi anthems worthy of and possibly even surpassing the best of their influences (David Bowie and Queen). Best Moment: The end of “Take A Bow,” “Buuuuurrrrrrnnnnn in hell, yeah you’ll buuuuurrrrnnnn in hell for your SINNNNNNSSSSSS– dum, dum, dum, dum AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” followed by “Starlight.” Definitely gets us in the mood!
Puscifer: V Is for Vagina (2007) A hated album/band. I get that. I was also down on V the first few times I listened. Ripped from Maynard James Keenan id, Puscifer is a hard one to figure out. It’s like a junk bin full of songs that don’t belong. I was expecting Tool or at the very least A Perfect Circle. I did not expect… this. V is a funky, jokey, and totally serious underneath it all alternative (or is it prog) album with a fertility idol as a mascot. The forced imagery draws upon/creates its own pagan myth and juvenile “humor” (Maynard is as creepy as he is cool). The album is full of cult-like vagina worshiping (for real!) and country boners and that can seem off putting or dumb on the surface. But that’s not the end of it. As a vanity side project this could have gone down the same drain as Albarnn’s forgettable The Good, The Bad and the Queen but a strange thing happened, the album would not go away. I kept humming the Gregorian Monk-like chants, “wake up some of mine…,” “ho-hoooh ho-hooo,” “Je-ho-vah! Yah-weh!”etc. Long story short, the album has stuck around as much as anything released in the last few years. It was not long before I finally had to give in and admit that I love the hell out of Puscifer. In the end this underrated album is far more memorable and audacious than his popular Perfect Circle side project and ultimately worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as Tool. Give it a chance! Best Moment: Vaginas!
Blonde Redhead: 24 (2007) The most ethereal and down right dreamy album of the decade. This is an album that is easy to get lost in during long drives and thinking sessions. That’s very surprising considering the band’s past work not only went for a more rock oriented sound but was not even very original at that. This is one of those cases where sounding like Radiohead is the best thing a band could do and that’s quite ironic considering it surpasses much of what Radiohead did in the 2000s. Best Moment: This is not really an album of moments but about broad gestures.
The Knife: Silent Shout (2006) My love affair with the brooding synthpop Knife siblings (Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer) began here. Every bit as good as Deep Cuts (ranked 43 on this list), the release of the darker and more electronic Silent Shout is the moment when The Knife quietly became one of the best bands of the decade. I have little doubt that this album will stand the test of time. It’s a hard one to shake. As a bonus check out The Knife’s first ever live album called Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience for a whole new interpretation of this amazing album. Best Moment: Andersson robot voice on “Neverland.” Vader would be proud.
Nine Inch Nails: The Slip(2008) Radiohead got all full of themselves when they pretended to release a “free” on-line album (In Rainbows). NIN actually did it. That the album is one of Reznor’s best is just the icing on the razor blades and metal shard flavored cake. It returns NIN to the raw yet melodic rock sounds that Reznor achieved on Downward Spiral and Broken. Best Moment: While listening to The Slip for the 100th time on I saw that on my iPhone the lyrics and artwork show up! Trent is so cool!
Ladytron: Velocifero (2008) Velocifero surprised the hell out of me. After a lukewarm response I didn’t even expect to like 2009’s Ladytron album. Don’t get me wrong I always enjoyed this electropop band (604 and Light & Magic have their moments) but never knew they would capable of something this big. A total grower. After many listens I realized that the entire album plays like a flawless best-of that most bands take years to compile. I can’t wait to see what Ladytron does next. Best Moment: Black Cat. I mean, when was the last time anybody jammed this hard to a Bulgarian language song?
Gomez: Split the Difference (2004) Gomez’s best album to date! The all-over-the-place traks are unified only by the band’s willingness to experiment more and more with their already quirky brit rock sounds. I love how the members of the band work on their music independently and come together to form, well, Gomez. The resulting madness resulted in my pick for best album of 2004. Gomez had a great decade and a case could be made for each album (except for their last, A New Tide) being their best. Best Moment: The messy but catchy opening three tracks (“Do One,” “These 3 Sins,” and “Silence” sets the mood for the rest of the album.
The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) There was a time when the only thing I knew about The Flaming Lips is that they wrote a creepy song about jelly and made an appearance at the Peach Pit After Dark on “90210.” Then Yoshimi hit and everything changed. This celebrated album elevated The Flaming Lips into artists (at least, for those of us not fortunate enough to have heard The Soft Bulletin a few years earlier). But what’s so cool is that the band got some much earned credibility without sacrificing their sense of acid blasted fun or experimentation. This album was so special (is there any other word for it?) that it took the band a full album to recover. After selling out to every car commercial known to man and the making the confused (in a bad way) At War With the Mystics, the Lips got their groove (and integrity) back with . Oh, and they also put on what is without a doubt the best live show of the decade! Best Moment: Oh, has to be the moment that Unit 30021 awakens and makes a humming sound.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004) Cage replaced angry howls with a soulful gospel album. The results are maturity and refinement without the loss of that vintage dulcet doomed Cave-ness that we fans love. It is with this double album that Cave, in my opinion, perfected his craft. Soul, fury, god, sex and blood. Lots of blood. And with lines like “Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital/And Gaugin, he buggered off, man, and went all tropical…” his songwriting has never been better, funnier, deeper or more strange. Best Moment: Every second of “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” especially the song’s rousing chorus. How was that song not a single?
Herbert: Scale (2006) Matthew Herbert’s electronic masterpiece takes from the best of electronica, Jazz and, yes, even classic Hollywood compositions. Beeps, buzzes, trickles, drips, bangs, and, if Wikipedia is to be believed “breakfast cereal, gas pumps and coffins.” But the album is not some heady and inert piece of electronic music. The everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink music technique is offset by gorgeously sweeping symphonic movements that paint a surprisingly elegant soundscape. There’s so much going on in terms of all the sounds that every listen yields something new and exciting. It’s catchy, it’s soulful and its fun. Contributor Róisín Murphy also does some of her best work on this album. And finally, if all that wasn’t enough, the song “Something Isn’t Right” is one of the decade’s best songs. Best Moment: The first organic sounding blip. It’s as if we’re trapped inside the bowls of a musically inclined whale!
Tool: 10,000 Days (2006) A bigger fan of Tool’s last two albums I find myself in minority. It seems that most Tool fans are not to fond of 10,000 days but Tool fans are not commonly fond of anything beyond the band’s first two albums (they did, after all, sell out and suck up to THE MAN). So is this lesser Tool? Objectively, that’s a hard one to answer because, again, going by critics and fans, one would think it is. It’s not. It’s a great work full of complexity and unrelenting rock passages that solidify Tool’s status as legends of modern music. It offers some of the band’s most ambitious and absurd songs to date. Often in the same song! “Rosetta Stoned” is about a hippie who takes some bad acid and is visited by aliens telling him he’s the messiah. Then he freaks out and “shits the bed.” That people still call Tool pretentious is one of the great mysteries surrounding the band’s impact (or lack thereof) on music. Say what you will about 10,000 Days but it features some of the best work by the best guitarist in the world, Adam Jones (check out his work on the song “Jambai”), drummer Danny Carey (“Intension,” “Right in Two”) and of course singer Maynard James Keenan who surprised a lot of Tool fans like me with his deeply moving “Wings for Marie (Pt 1),” and “10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2).” Best Moment: Easy one. “Rosetta Stoned.” Guy takes too much acid. Aliens talk to him and tell him he’s the chosen one. He freaks out and “shits the bed.” Goddamn.
Radiohead: Kid A (2000) The best album of the decade according to many. A great Radiohead album according to me. Why is that not enough? Radiohead defined rock in the 90s and almost single handily added electronica to rock in the 00s. The fact that I’m still listening to it means that everything is indeed in the right place. Best Moment: “Everything in it’s Right Place.” What a perfect way to open an album like this. Hum, is everything really in the right place? OMG, Radiohead’s being ironic again!
Gorillaz: Demon Days (2005) The best novelty band of all time. Perhaps because of that novelty aspect though the Gorillaz are not given enough credit as one of the most innovative and defining bands of the last decade. Led by Blur front man Damon Albarn, Gorillaz helped change music. The band highlights a lot of what music was about in the 2000s. They fused rap, hip-hop, rock, pop and world music better than any band, and a lot of bands tried. On top of that they a function as a gimmicky act, yes, but also a remarkably creative and robust commentary on commercial excess and even the apocalypse. Demon Days, my favorite Gorillaz album, is a full blown concept album featuring a fully animated “fake” band of primates that put most real bands to shame. That they are constantly able to adapt and evolve (hehe) is another benchmark. This new decade has already brought great promise with the new Plastic Peach album that will most certainly be featured on a list very similar to this ten years from now. Best Moment: Simple village people called “Happyfolk” are terrorized by corporate greed. World swallowed by the darkness that ensues. God looks up in Heaven and laughs at us. That’s Dennis Hopper’s spoken-word song “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head.” Like Year Zero, it ends the album on an apocalyptic note. As a bonus Demon Days’ epilogue is two blissfully sad tunes aided by the The London Community Gospel Choir.
Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power (2002) SFA scores another winner! Phantom Power even ranked as my number one album of 2005. I still regard it very highly but feel that Rings Around the World is the better, more authentic Animals effort. Still, this album, more melancholy and sober than their past work, is ambitious and offers a refreshing change of direction for the oft wild band. SFA have not revisited the sounds of Phantom Power since but that only makes it all the more special. While Gruff Rhys and his fellow insane Welshmen still find time for songs about “Golden Retrievers” and turtles named Venus and Serena, Phantom Power goes on to explore unjust wars, cycles of violence and a post-9-11 culture of fear. It is an album that is hard to define that was released in an era that was even harder to figure out. Best Moment: Goooooolden Retriever. Go-ooh-ooh-lden Retriever.
Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (2005) I don’t understand how anyone could dismiss this album. Porcupine Tree fans like me say this a lot. And they say it about each album. A towering achievement from a band that just gets better and better. PTs eighth album shows no sign of the band slowing. Quite the opposite. They upped the intensity and emotional connections to their prog rock sounds on this highly cinematic “ghost story” concept album. Perhaps Deadwing is also their most mainstream album to date as well. There are so many great PT songs are in this album (“Shallow,” “Lazarus,” “Halo,” “Open Car,” “Arriving Somewhere”) that I find it impossible not to rank it high. In fact, shame on me for not getting it in the top ten. Best Moment: The twelve minute prog opus “Arriving Somewhere but Not Here” gives “Anesthetize” a run for its money.
Daft Punk: Alive 2007…
…and Discovery (2001 and 2007) Though I have a weak spot for live albums I tried to keep them separate from the regular albums (see list below for a best live list) but this isn’t a normal live album. Daft Punk does not just present their best songs they rethink them entirely! It’s a new way of making music through artful synthesis. Mash ups are often fun but they have never been this thoughtful or cleverly implemented. Radiohead comes close when they remix their songs live but Daft Punk went one step beyond. The lovable robots looked back at their short list of songs spanning only a few albums (a few GREAT albums, notably Discovery) and, like the dutiful machines they are, reimagined them, remixed them and took them even deeper into the realm of the unreal. And they did it live! If songs like “Hard, Better, Faster, Stronger” weren’t good enough on their own, when interwoven with a club hit like “Around the World” a whole new experience is created. One of the biggest musical marvels of the decade. Best Moment: Rock!……… robot bock… around the world.
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001) What happened to Wilco? Well, actually, after two flawless back-to-back alt-rock winners, Yankee and A Ghost is Born, Wilco simply went back to… being Wilco. You know what, it doesn’t even matter because at least they got to make this totally original, genre bending, studio-be-damned album. All the overrated country folk rock albums in the world won’t change that. Best Moment: The amount of time it takes “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to get going and the effect of how cool it is once it does.
Nine Inch Nails: With Teeth (2005) Not one of the band’s best but certainly one of Trent Reznor’s most important albums to date. It is a victorious (and vicious) comeback album. After the soul crushing gap before and after The Fragile release it was uncertain if NIN would ever really be back. With Teeth answered that with an emphatic “yes.” Unlike most of his 90s peers that includes toothless acts like Pearl Jam, Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots (etc. etc.), Trent has gotten smarter and sharper with age rather than soft and irrelevant. He is able to redirect his trademark anger into something darkly beautiful and edgy. “The Hand That Feeds” and “Only” remain some of best 2000s singles. Best Moment: The spaced out “Beside You in Time” would have been the perfect note to end on but, sadly, the feelings that mostly wordless song evokes ruined by one of NIN’s worst songs to date: “Right Where It Belongs.”
Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf (2002) I never would have imagined that Queens of all bands would have put out an album this cohesive after the good but messy Rated R. This album is epic. The kind of effort that proves a classic rock album could be made in the 00s and be made as good as anything in the past. If the term Neo-Classic Rock didn’t exist before Songs for the Deaf, it should damn well exist after it. This is the last great album Queens of the Stone Age will ever make. Even if Josh Homme brought back Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl I doubt they could re-capture the magic of Deaf. Best Moment: The radio show segue gimmick shouldn’t work but it’s really cool here. My Chemical Romance does a similar thing on their new 2010 album and it’s… lets just say not as cool.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Worlds Apart (2005) …and you will also know this band by the bombastic sounds of this amazing (and amazingly underrated) alt-rock album. World’s takes all the magic of Source Tags and Codes only to blow it up, stretch it out and experiment the hell out of the boundaries of this music genre. It does not get the credit it deserves. Best Moment: The intense, almost theatrical instrumental opening followed by a woman screeching and saying “and you will know us by the trail of dead.”
Weezer: Maladroit (2002) The hardest Weezer has ever rocked. And the funniest they’ve ever been. And the most iconoclastic (as the title would indicate). Oh, and of course the creepiest and most neurotic (the song “Love Explosion” opens with this classic Rivers Cuomo gem: “Take a listen around you/to all the people that crowd around in your house/They be wanting to kill you… in your sleep”). In a way it’s also their most confident. Maladroit is sound of Weezer hitting their peek. Sadly, it was all downhill from here. This is easily my favorite Weezer album to date and that’s mostly because I’ll never understand why Pinkerton is so trendy. Best Moment: The “Keep Fishing” video. Oh nothing, Weezer is just jamming with The Muppets!
Neon Neon: Stainless Style (2008) A retro 80s concept album from the frontman of Super Furry Animals. The album is a biopic of sorts about the crazy, drug fueled life of the inventor of the Delorian. Yes, that’s the Back to the Future car guy. How cool is that? Actually, it would not be that cool at all if the album wasn’t really good. It is. Give it a shot. Best Moment: A small moment in the song “I Told Her On Alderon” (Han Solo’s home planet?). Gruff sings about a doctor and then does the doctor’s voice “hello, come right in.” For some reason I find that hilarious!
Beck: The Information (2006) While it didn’t make my top twenty the year it came out this is one of those albums that grew and grew and grew on me until I could not deny it’s status as a masterpiece (the opposite happened with Guero for some reason). The Information combines all the eras of Beck-dom with ease and fun and a lot of funk. There’s love songs (“Think I’m In Love”) there’s old school Beck (“1,000 BPM,” “Elevator Music”), stoner beck (“Nausea”) and there’s even a new Beck: space age time travel. The final epic, a three song suite featuring Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze talking about space crafts is an moody ambient masterpiece. If the album ages any better then ten years from now it may give Sea Change a run for its money no pun intended. Best Moment: The last song is so trippy it defies words.
Tenacious D: Tenacious D (2001) Call it joke album if you want but it happens to be a joke album with really good rock music. And the comedy skits that are just as good (Drive Through, Friendship Test etc.). Listening to Jables (Jack Black) and Rage Kage (Kyle Gass) double team the ladies, vanquish dragons and fight over kielbasa sausages only to make up through a song about friendship and running naked through the park is just as enjoyable to listen to today. I’ve quoted this album way too much over the years. “Yeah, that’s right, that’s a karate chop.” Best Moment: Don’t make me pick just one… okay it’s when JB and KG double team a woman, treating to a night of toe sucking pleasure that most of us dare not dream of. “Now we’re talking… DOUBLE TEAM!”
Doves: The Last Broadcast (2002) After this album the Doves should never be considered secondhand Radiohead British knockoffs. Best Moment: The song “Words” chills me out.
Robbie Williams: Sing When You’re Winning (2000) I was once really into Robbie Williams. “greatness.” After revisiting this playful and catchy album earlier in the year I do not regret it either. Best Moment: Rock DJ. What a song! The video where Robbie Williams tears off his skin and throws it to the ladies is amazing.
Gomez: In Our Gun (2002) Gomez’s has had an astonishingly good run but the kind of run nobody even knew was in play. Still, this hot streak didn’t even start with In Our Gun. It did, however, intensify with it as it’s Gomez’s most complex album to date. An album that pointed the band in the right direction. This album got me into Gomez. Best Moment: The first time I heard it I was impressed by the range of singers in this band and album. That still makes Gomez very unique.
Badly Drawn Boy: One Plus One Is One (2004) Not bad from a solo artist that many believe to be past his prime. While mostly known as a 90s artist, Damon Gough did some of his best work last decade. From the beautiful About a Boy soundtrack to 1+1 to his underrated meditation on being British Born in the U.K., this singer/songwriter is able to have fun with his never-pretentious music. Best Moment: Ba-by, Ba-by… buzzzsssccchhhhh.
Dave Matthews Band: The Lillywhite Sessions (2001) The most talked about non-released album of the decade, maybe ever. After their scrapped album leaked (and was loved by fans) DMB said, okay, how about we re-record it and release a souped-up studio version minus producer Steve Lillywhite. And it sucked. Well, it didn’t suck (“You Never Know” is a DMB classic) but it was lacking the previous album’s magic. Just listen to the new/neutered version of Bartender for an example of what’s missing from the original (thankfully a great live version of Bartender is floating around). DMB was looking to have a really good decade until the Lillywhite/Busted Stuff mishap took them out of their game. The result was the abhorred adult contemporary ez-listening soft rock Stand Up. They lost their way but found it again at the eleventh hour with 2009’s triumphant Big Whiskey come-back album. Best Moment: Very few moments in rock match the brilliance of the song Bartender. That moment was squandered on Busted Stuff but thankfully resurrected whenever DMB plays that song live.
Marilyn Manson: Holy Wood (2000) Manson is not cool any more. That’s stating the obvious. Maybe he never was. I don’t know. What I do know is that Holy Wood is a very good rock album that became a victim of Manson’s annoyingly arch “goth” theatrics. That does not change the work at hand. This album is better even than his iconic 90s releases Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. But it was too late and by the turn of the century people were really sick of him (including me) and nobody was able to look past the passé artist to recognize the art. So, yes, I will defend this album. Best Moment: The moment you realize a Marilyn Manson album doesn’t suck.
Pantha du Prince: This Bliss (2007) Techno has a bad name. Like, even the word sounds cheesy and lame. The elegant minimalism offered by bands like this in albums like this are looking to change that. Bliss was made for people who would rather soak in atmosphere and think than mindlessly dance. It is, in the best sense of the word, the closest thing we have to classical music. Pantha du Prince proves that, when it comes to techno, less is better. Less says more. And less makes more of an impression. Best Moment: It’s hard not to fall in love with the album the moment you hear the song “Asha.”
The Knife: Deep Cuts (2003) Not as dark as Silent Shout but, amazingly, just as good in a lot of ways. For one it’s more accessible. “Heartbeats” is easily the best pop song in years. Speaking of pop, this album taught a lot of people that euro and/or electro pop is not just for, well, Euros. Oddball Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijerget a simultaneous award for most changed band and most versatile (not only did Andersson release a solo album with her band Fever Ray in 2009 but The Knife’s live album Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience is a blast. And perhaps likely to end up in prison. The Knife also made going out in public in Venetian masks cool again.
Best Moment: Lots of moments. Certainly “Heartbeats.” I also love Andersson’s voice on “Got 2 Let u,” and “You Make Me Like Charity.” Never has a singer sounded so cute while singing about “paying enough taxes.” I am particularly obsessed with the lyric “I felt the war. I felt her exposed… position.” And, no, I have no idea what that means either.
Stars of the Lid: and Their Refinement of the Decline (2007) It’s a tossup as to which Stars album from the last ten is my favorite seeing as how both Refinement and Tired Sounds… are equally impressive. Each album, while nuanced and changing ever so slightly, feels like an extension of this Texas ambient band’s last. Besides, we’re not even dealing with album in the typical sense of the word. More of a wandering and ethereal experience that transcends typical feeling we get from modern music. A mandatory requirement to enjoying this music is to give in to the lack of structure. Side Note: over the last few years its the album of choice to nap to and I mean that as a compliment. Best Moment: The moment the album ends and you start it all over again.
Annie: Hey Annie (2009) Less than a year later and I’m upset with myself for not giving this album of the year for 2009. Oh well. Hey Annie is even better than Anniemal, the album that put the Norwegian electropop singer on the map. Sure, Annie name drops every chance she gets and even dresses crazy (lipstick necklace and all) but she is able succeed where the superficial Lady Gagas of the world failed. Annie backs up her funky and somewhat self aware (err, at least I think) dance-pop sound with something infectiously fun that also seems to have substance. Pop music hasn’t been this good in ages. I love you, Annie! Best Moment: Annie asks what we want for breakfast. The answer: Annie!
Belle and Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) I recently had a chance to listen to all major Belle and Sebastian albums and EPs. What a great idea! This is so much more than an indie pop band. B&S has never released anything close to a mediocre album. I don’t think they could if they tried. This album may be their best while the same time it is the one that appropriately divides its fans. On one hand it’s certainly their most joyful and catchy work to date but what puts it over the edge is the dark lyrics that undercut the cheery facade. “I’m going deaf, you’re growing melancholy/ Things fall apart, I don’t know why we bother at all/ But life is good and it’s always worth living… at least for a while.” Ah, Stewart Murdoch, all it takes is a few tracks from this album to put me in a great mood. Thank you. Best Moment: Love the horns.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Behind the Music (2003) An album that seems to belong to a different era. As someone who hates “classic rock” I should clarify that I mean that in a good way. Behind the Music is T.S.O.O.L.’s best album to date. It’s full of sounds both epic and classic. There’s a lot of range and a lot of heart from this Swedish band. Best Moment: The brooding “In Your Veins” is a highlight.
Arcade Fire: Funeral (2004) A beautiful, singular album. One of those rare musical endeavors that just about everyone can agree is a defining moment for music in the 2000s. The kind of album that anchors you to the time you heard it. I’ve even tried not to like or downplay this album… until I heard it again with an objective lens. There’s no denying it’s power or place in history. Best Moment: Lies!
Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007) A late addition to this list. Outside of the brilliant song “Labyrinthine Pomp” which made my top ten songs of 2007, the album Hissing Fauna did not interest me when it first came out. I found it to be annoying and over the top. I’ve learned to appreciate the quirky sounds that vacillate between high minded and frivolous. Everything just comes together perfectly here. Not in a tidy way either but in a slapdash release of funky angst way. And, really, nobody is writing lyrics like Kevin Barnes, er, pardon I mean Georgie Fruit (his Fauna alter ego). Weather it’s songs about drugs “come on chemicals,” a kick ass choirs if there ever was one, or random as hell stream of consciousness musings like “I spent the winter on the verge of a total nervous breakdown while living in Norway/I felt the darkness of black metal bands” this is a one of a kind album. The kind of crazy I can really relate to these days. Best Moment: Chemical-eul-eul-eul-eulaaaaaas!
Coheed and Cambria: Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV (2005) I’m counting this one in my top fifty because Daft Punk took up two spots. I have come to regard Good Apollo as a major prog album in the vein of Rush, Pink Floyd and At the Drive In. Claudio Sanchez’s comical falsetto and heavy rock influences didn’t impress me at first but it literally did at second and it hasn’t stopped since (the follow-up No World For Tomorrow is just as good as Apollo). Coheed does not even stop at delivering amazing guitar heavy prog albums, they create a whole sci-fi world around the music in the form of comics. Really ambitious and yet also really unnecessary because the album is so good on its own.
Postal Service: Give Up (2003) It’s rare that an artist’s side project eclipses in every possible way the band said artist is best known for. Not only did that happened with this amazingly polished electronic side project by Deathcab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard but it’s so good that I found myself annoyed with every new “Deathcab” because that meant Gibbard was not working on a new Postal Service. Note: points lost for selling out big time to to credit card commercials and Grey’s Anatomy. Seriously, Grey’s Anatomy? Soooo not cool.
Franz Ferdindand: Self Titled (2004) Not a single weak on the whole album from this Scottish rock band. Every song rocks and every song could have been a single. What’s more improbable than that is that nearly every Franz Ferdinand song/album after this spotless self titled epic has pretty much sucked. Franz Ferdinand never needs to put out a “best of” album because they accomplished that tasked on their first try.
Green Day: American Idiot (2004) I am not a an of Green Day/I am a huge fan of this Green Day album. It’s possible.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling (2001) Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk about it.
Sigur Rós: ( ) (2002) Taps into so much energy, emotion and sadness while at the same time saying so little. An album that literally transcends language by inventing its own. The album’s empty title makes perfect sense even though it does not even begin to express the depth at work here.
St-Germain: Tourist (2000) Jazz fusion made fun. Pop this sophisticated electronic gem in to impress your friends. Or just go into chill mode and listen away. If only St Germain made more albums.
Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga (2008) Weed. Underdogs. Japanese cigarette cases. What a delightful album. Spoon brings much needed humor and sense of fun to the pretentious, often insufferable indie rock genre. And they managed to do it in just over 30 minutes.
At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command (2000) At the Drive-In is a faded memory at this point. This album keeps that memory alive. The band may have splintered into Mars Volta and Sparta (both good bands) but this album will carry the legacy of ATDI for years to come.
Blur: Think Tank(2004) Blur, sadly, is no more. If the band, or I should say Damon Albarn, ever chooses to come back –and Dear Lord I hope they do– they can use the awesomeness of this album (which totally should have sucked) as an impetus to get back on the horse or back in the tank or back to modern life or back to the park or, um, 13? Whatever. Come back, guys! Oh, and if you do please remember to pick up some Graham Coxton on your way home. Okay, thanks.
Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (2002) Did I mention I like Porcupine Tree?
Dangerdoom: The Mouse and the Mask (2005) If all rap was inspired by Adult Swim cartoons then I would probably like rap.
Jaravis Cocker: Further Complications (2009) Pulp may be dead but Cocker sure isn’t. Now this is how a rock star should do a solo album! Angrier, funnier, hornier and as melodic as ever. If Cocker keeps this up I may not even miss Pulp anymore.
66 to 100ish
The Horrors: Primary Colours
Nine Inch Nails: Still
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Source Tags & Codes
Porcupine Tree: The Incident
TV On the Radio: Dear Science
Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun
Belle and Sebastian: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant
PJ Harvey: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
Nine Inch Nails: Things Falling Apart (best NIN remix album of all time)
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP
The National: Boxer
Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport
Super Furry Animals: Hey Venus
Mastadon: Crack the Skye
The Rapture: Echoes
Mars Volta: Bedlam in Goliath
The Bravery: The Sun and the Moon
LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
Cake: Comfort Eagle (underrated)
The Strokes: Is This It?
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
Godspeed You Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists…
Depeche Mode: Exciter
Beirut: Gulag Orkerstar
Basement Jaxx: Rooty
Tom Waits: Alice
Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit
Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights
Bob Dylan: Modern Times
Mars Volta: Francis the Mute
No Doubt: Return to Saturn
New Pornographers: Twin Cinema
The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
Favorite New Bands of the Decade:
The Mars Volta
Most “Relevant“/Innovative/Culturally Important/Whatever Bands and Artists of the Decade: (not that I agree with all of these…)
Radiohead (for the second decade in a row!!!)
The White Stripes (ugh)
Favorite Live Albums:
Daft Punk – Alive 2007
Nine Inch Nails – And All That Could Have Been
Porcupine Tree – Arriving Somewhere…
Tool – Salival
John Coltrane & Thelonius Monk – Live at Carnegie Hall
Blur – All the People: Blur Live at Hyde Park
Radiohead – I Might Be Wrong
Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum
Ladytron – Live at London Astoria
Wilco – Kicking Television: Live in Chicago
Dave Matthews Band – The Central Park Concert
Leonard Cohen – Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid Live at Abbey Road
The Knife – Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience
Porcupine Tree – Ilosaarirock
Muse – H.A.A.R.P.: Live From Wembley Stadium
My Morning Jacket — Okonokos
Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live
Neko Case – The Tigers Have Spoken
Nirvana – Live at Redding
Porcupine Tree – Coma Divine Live in Rome
Albums ranked #1 At the Time:
2009: Porcupine Tree’s The Incident (okay, so there were some better albums released that year) 2008: Crystal Castles’ Self Titled 2007: Blond Redhead’s 23 2006: Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations 2005: Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth (lesser NIN but still solid) 2004: Gomez’s Split the Difference (I stand by it) 2003: Super Furry Animals’ Phantom Power 2002: Beck’s Sea Change (right on, Greg!) 2001: Tool’s Lateralus (got it right!) 2000: Robbie Williams’ Sing When You’re Winning (woops)
One More List… Best Album of the 90s:
Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile
Radiohead: Ok Computer
Super Furry Animals: Fuzzy Logic
Nine Inch Nails: Broken/Fixed
Pulp: This Is Hardcore
Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
Nine Inch Nails: Downward Spiral
Pulp: Different Class
Nirvana: MTV Unplugged
Depeche Mode: Violator
U2: Achuting Baby
Pulp: His n’ Hers
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless
Wu-Tang Clan: 36 Chambers
Radiohead: The Bends
The Pixies: Bossanova
Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister
The Beta Band: Three E.P.s
Best Songs of the Decade in the next week or so… then a break for the best of 2010 then of course Best Movies of the Decade after that (whenever I’m done catching up on/rewatching all those films. Argh, too many best ofs!