Thursday, May 30, 2013

Good Grief, that's a Long Time between Posts

New stuff coming soon, going to try a few new things and break up the longer pieces with some quicker material. In the meantime, just a few points of interest. A) My top 10 albums of 2012 (late as usual) 1). Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory 2). METZ - METZ 3). Sharon Van Etten - Tramp 4). Chromatics - Kill for Love 5). The Men - Open Your Heart 6). Swans - The Seer 7). Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man 8). DIIV - Oshin 9). Melody's Echo Chamber - Melody's Echo Chamber 10). Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light B) Current running list of best albums of 2013 My Bloody Valentine - mbv (holy crap, it's not just out, it's really, really good) Savages - Silence Yourself (extremely derivative, but really effective in its derivations) The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law The Knife - Chasing the Habitual (still parsing this one, but it's an incredibly effective and impressive achievement) Youth Lagoon - Wonderous Bughouse The National - Trouble Will Find Me The Flaming Lips - The Terror (for as "wacky" as they have gotten with their gimmicks and stunts, the actual music and videos these guys have put out following "At War With the Mystics" is DARK - way darker than anything they did before, even the stunt collaboration record is pretty grimy (and great)) Iceage - You're Nothing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Top 10 Albums of 2010

I am shocked and ashamed that my last post on this blog was my top ten for 2009. How did I go over a year between posts? Hopefully this will be the start of a somewhat more regular posting schedule. I have some good ideas for the future, so... here's hoping.

I will admit that when I started putting this list together, I was worried I would struggle to find even 5 albums good enough to justify a "best of" rating. I just could not find myself getting excited about much of anything I had heard this year. Ultimately, 2010 was an incredibly down year for the kinds of records which are generally in my wheelhouse, and that colored my view of the entire scene. Once I opened up to some of the genres which I have a tendency to give short shrift to, I realized this was a REALLY good year for music. I had 20 albums on my final short-list, and these final 10 are only slightly better than any of the also-rans. By the way, those last ten out are, in no particular order, the 2010 releases by The National, The Depreciation Guild, Alcest, Agollach, Beach House, Black Mountain, Warpaint, Superchunk, The Drums, and Malory.

Interestingly, where 2010 required me to expand my horizons to find quality that I had missed during the year, I have already fallen in love with a number of 2011 releases from Asobi Seksu, The Joy Formidable, The Dirtbombs, Yuck, Papercuts, Minks, and Frank Ocean, basically ensuring that the this year's list will be at least equally frustrating to put together, but for completely different reasons. Anyway, here we go:

10) Ghost - Opus Eponymos: I have always had a problem answering whether I was "into metal". I love Black Sabbath and Mastodon, LOVE Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Motorhead, enjoy some of the Discharge and D-Beat stuff, etc. However, I kind of loath much of what is considered metal these days. The music itself is often fine, but the vocals which alternate between cookie monster, banshee, and Scott Stapp just completely kill my interest most of the time. While this is still true, my appreciation for metal (and my quantity listened to) increased exponentially this year. I chalk this up to the near-complete dearth of any interesting punk or garage records this year and my overwhelming need to listen to loud guitars. It is interesting (to me at least), that the first version of this list had FOUR metal albums on it. While I do not necessarily believe this Ghost album is "better" than either the Alcest or Agollach albums, it is the one I like listening to the most of the three. Ultimately, I am a melody (or at least hook) fiend - if I cannot hum a song after I hear it, I likely will not return to it much. Ghost makes INCREDIBLY catchy metal pop, which may come off as a damning statement to some, but it is not meant as such. The best metal has always been melody driven - Motorhead, Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Sabbath, Priest, Dio (RIP), etc. The abandonment of hooks has killed my interest in the genre. Ghost (and the other metal album appearing here) helped bring it back. The lyrics are morbid, grotesque, and absurd. The presentation is OUTSTANDING (youtube some clips). Ultimately, though, the melodies are just so sturdy and the riffs so hooky that I could not not love this record. I used the phrase "power-pop metal" in describing this to a friend, and I stand by that description.

9) Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark BLAH BLAH BLAH: I loathe putting this record on my list. I really do. I cannot stand Kanye. I cannot stand the fawning reception this record received. I cannot stand feeding this man's massive love affair with his own brilliance. And yet. Here it is. Kanye West, for as flawed as he is as a person and a rapper, and for as spotty as most of his albums are, is a genius producer. The compositions he creates are immaculate - filled to the brim with hidden elements, surprises, twists, and sharp turns. This is not a perfect record, there is some filler and some tracks which continue to fall into genre cliche. However, on a whole, this is an adventurous and complex epic with too many brilliant moments not to qualify as a highlight of the year in music.

8) Cee-Lo Green - The Lady Killer: I have yet to dislike anything Cee-Lo Green has put out. He is the closest thing we have to a contemporary soul genius - an extremely talented soul singer-songwriter who is completely unafraid to take risks. This is certainly his least risky album yet (and no, putting out a single with the F-word in the title does not qualify as a risk in this day and age). It is still an incredibly well-developed, well-written, and solid set of songs, and that is more than enough. The genius of "F*** You" is not in the internet buzz-generating title and chorus, but in the perfectly delivered line, "I guess he's an X-Box, and I'm more Atari" - Cee-Lo successfully straddles that divide, putting out old-school-quality soul in a contemporary package.

7) Monster Movie - Everyone is a Ghost: Not much to say about this one. Incredibly solid set of subdued shoegaze from the non-Mojave 3 members of Slowdive. "Fall" is one of the best songs of the year and the entire album is just superb. Criminally overlooked.

6) Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record: I was not anticipating this record. Loved their first two albums, could not have possibly cared less for the line of "Broken Social Scene presents..." quasi-solo albums released since. It took me a long time to even give this one a chance. The element of surprise that dominated those first two records is almost completely gone - nothing here seems out of their established wheelhouse. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter. "World Sick" is one of the great album openers, setting out that, while this record may not be unexpected, that doesn't make it unexciting. The album is a little overlong, and some of the songs (Highway Slipper Jam, Me and My Hand) are a little undercooked, but the vast majority of the record is more of the top-notch combination of post-rock, stadium anthems, and subdued dream pop that made those first two BSS albums so indelible and which was sorely lacking in the interim records. Surprise of the year.

5) Coin Under Tongue - Reception: (Free download here) If Yuck is presently mining the early-90's alternative rock radio nostalgia trip, Coin Under Tongue is mining the same era's more underground elements, taking bits of the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney, and any number of like-minded hard rock and noise acts. If that appeals to you, you'll love this record - nuff said.

4) Ceremony - Rocket Fire: Was there ever any doubt that a band named after one of my three favorite New Order songs and featuring members of Skywave would not be one of my favorite acts of the year? Do they do anything that wouldn't be expected of that background? No. Do they live up to that lofty ideal? They come REALLY close. The best shoegaze, noise pop record of the year in a year when that style became really trendy to attempt.

3) Gorillaz - Plastic Beach: Raise your hands if you expected that Damon Albarn would become perhaps the most startlingly inventive and unique artist in pop, and that his current music would have almost nothing directly to do with his being British. My hand is up, at least. I could write 10,000 words about this album and still feel I hadn't scratched the surface of what Albarn accomplished. "Stylo" is clearly a highlight, bringing Bobby Womack's brilliance to a new generation alongside Mos Def, but it doesn't come close to summing up the album. Wacky while still incisive, playful and melancholy, poppy but aggressively artistic and difficult. This may not be Albarn's greatest album, but it is perhaps the greatest argument for why he can NEVER be overestimated.

2) Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid: The only artist who is seriously competing with Albarn for that inventiveness and uniqueness crown (sorry Gaga, write a song that even remotely resembles your theatrics and maybe we can talk). Simply cateloging the number of hats Monae tries on here is staggering - everything from incredibly tight funk jams to British folk to cabaret to genuinely exciting hard rock (not the generally toned-down version of rock that most soul artists traffic in when they try to incorporate the genre). The story behind the concept album may be inscrutable (what else is new), but the emotion and gravitas behind it is evident in every lyric Monae sings. The theatricality that led here to go to New York to be on Broadway serves her well to adapt her tone and style with each new wrinkle. This is a SUPERB debut album (after a very strong EP), and is without a doubt the most exciting new development in music this year.

1) Kylesa - Spiral Shadow: I cannot make the argument that this is a "better" album than at least a few other albums on this list. It's not. It is, however, the record I enjoyed listening to the most this year. Instrumentally, this is the sound of an incredibly tight metal band covering the collected works of Built to Spill and Archers of Loaf. The vocals use the "growling" male metal vocals of Philip Cope to great effect both by pairing them with the beautiful but gritty female vocals of Laura Pleasance (who takes lead on the clear highlight "To Forget") and by breaking out into more traditional hard rock vocals (as on the spectacular "Don't Look Back"). Simply put, I love every minute of this record and look forward to it staying in my ready rotation for years to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top 10(+) Albums of 2009

While I the last few years have been less than thrilling for new music, leaving the year-end lists a little underwhelming, 2009 has been an absolutely amazing year. My 2008 list (located here) featured a few stretches just to get to 10 (The Lodger, Deerhunter, and the Gutter Twins, while all good albums, really don't deserve to be on a best-of-the-year list), and does not feature a single album on my short list for the best of the decade. In contrast, I could easily do a top 20 for this year without straining, and I am sure one or two will make it on my decade list. Also, this is only for new stuff, otherwise Death's For the World to See would be number 1, without question. With that said, here we go:

11) (tie) Fleeting Joys - Occult Radiance / The Sleepover Disaster - Hover - As much as I love these albums, I simply can't completely get behind them. Both do an AMAZING job of pushing every shoegaze-loving button in my body (Fleeting Joys clearly channeling My Bloody Valentine and Sleepover Disaster going more to the Slowdive/Pale Saints side), but it's almost too easy. Neither of these albums take the slightest chances, and never go outside of the pre-defined shoegaze box. Neither band has any individual character at all, just a set of reference points to past glories in the genre. With that said, both albums feature tons of great songs. For the amount that I've listened to them and enjoyed them, I have to feature them on the list. I just hope both bands push themselves a little more on their next albums, and actually try to make music that isn't just a set of citations to their album collections.

10) The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Communion - On paper, I should kind of hate this. Double-disc prog rock epics are not usually in my sweet spot, but when you add absolutely ace song-craft, melodies and hooks galore, and a tight band that doesn't float away in the ether of the orchestrations, there is some different calculus going on. Over the course of 90 minutes and 24 songs, the band never loses its focus on the songs themselves. While there are some tracks that fall below the numerous highlights, the album never once sinks into embarrassing pretension. Now if only I could actually look at the cover art...

9) The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning - At 29 minutes and seven songs, almost more of an EP, but they call it an album, so it fits here. The best pure sugar rush I heard this year, coming off like the bratty little sister to Velocity Girl - just tons of fun.

8) Handsome Furs - Face Control - I liked the first Wolf Parade album quite a bit, have not heard the second, and have been pretty unimpressed with what I have heard of Sunset Rubdown. With that out of the way, this second album from the side-project of Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and his wife surprised me quite a bit. Pulsing dance-punk with hooks and attitude to spare. Including a great tribute/homage/cover to my favorite New Order song is not going to hurt my rating, obviously. Great cover art as well.

7) Mos Def - The Ecstatic - Not the best year for hip-hop, with some major disappointments along the way, but this one surprised the heck out of me. With as phoned-in as his last few efforts had been, it seemed that Mos had shifted his interests to his acting and other endeavors, putting the music on the backburner. The first track, "Supermagic" on his new effort, with its gnarled guitar samples and raging energy quickly put the lie to this belief. Tight, creative, ecletic, and focused in a way that hip-hop albums rarely are, this is a welcome comeback from an artist I had completely written off.

6) The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Like Mos Def, I had written off The Flaming Lips as having mellowed out to the point that they were virtually Adult Contemporary - good, kind of weird Adult Contemporary, but Adult Contemporary nonetheless. Then this monster falls out of the sky. I still have yet to fully wrap my head around this album, or the bizarre videos that have accompanied it, but I know I like it. Dark, challenging, paranoid, unique - The Flaming Lips at their absolute weirdest.

5) A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head - This is basically part two of their first album. Not a ton of growth, but no matter. This is a top-notch set of noisy, feedback-laden, aggressive, ear-splittingly loud, energetic tunes. I will be a bit disappointed if their third album doesn't exhibit some stylistic evolution, but for now, this is absolutely perfect.

4) Franz Ferdinand - Tonight - For as much as I love Franz Ferdinand's first two albums, I loved the sharp songwriting and rock attitude more than the dance beats, so the fact that they put out a pretty dance-heavy record initially disappointed me. However, as time passed, this grew on me quite a bit. It's not to the level of their first two albums, but it's still head and shoulders above their competition. Alex Kapranos still is one of the most underrated songwriters in the market, and his band is just top notch.

3) Asobi Seksu - Hush - I loved their second album, Citrus, which was a gigantic sugar rush of an album, so the more sedate, plaintive nature of this set confused me initially. Here they go back to some of the roots of their shoegaze origins, to the dream-pop of the early 80's and come back with an album that could have been released by The Cocteau Twins - and it would have been one of their best efforts as well.

2) Dinosaur Jr. - Farm - The confirmation that Dinosaur Jr. is genuinely back as an on-going concern. The first "come back" album featuring the original trio, Beyond, suffered from an over-abundance of enthusiasm, sometimes becoming tiring in its eagerness to please (and sometimes ruining potentially great songs with over-long meandering solos). Farm is a calmer, more even-handed record. This is the sound of a band that knows it's great and has nothing to prove to anybody. They just produce the best pure rock album of the year as if it was easiest thing in the world.

1) The Big Pink - A Brief History of Love - One of the most impressive debut albums of the decade. While their initial single, "Velvet" is still the best song they have produced, the fact that every song on the album competes with its brilliance is very impressive. Equally impressive is that, while it mines a lot of the same shoegaze and Jesus & Mary Chain reference points that many other bands are appropriating, this band manages to put a number of unique spins on the formula that shows that not only are they not a one-trick pony parroting the past, but they have a good handle on their own sound that indicates they are capable of even more. I have described the album to my friends as Automatic-era JAMC trying to be the biggest pop band in the world, and the description seems to hold up. Noise rock merged with big drums and incredible pop hooks, with the vocals right out in front. Easily the album I have loved the most this year, and one that I will be listening to for years to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In lieu of actual content, this is amazing.

Look for a real post later this week. In the meantime:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"We are the army you see through the red haze of blood" - Horror in Music

This comes a full one day after Halloween, as I completely forgot to post this yesterday. Think of this as giving you a full 364 day head start on your October listening for Halloween 2010 (which sounds like a terrible Stanley Kubrick/John Carpenter mash-up - The Monolith is Michael Myers!). ANYWAY, I am a notorious wuss when it comes to horror-themed entertainment, be it movies, books, or even music. Blood and gore doesn't bother me, and, while I hate BOO! type scares, those aren't really what I am talking about either. Instead, I am fairly easily scared by genuinely creepy things. The Shining, Romero's first three Dead films, the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (if you haven't seen it, I recommend it, but be prepared), etc., those things scare me more than they should.

For the most part, music that is explicitly horror-themed just can't measure up. While horror-based rock music has been around for a long time (see, e.g., Screamin' Jay Hawkins). While I have an odd love for Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, even though they use plenty of horror elements in their lyrics, I have never found myself even slightly disturbed by a bit of it. It's kind of like the old Universal horror films, I know they are great, I know they're supposed to be scary, but, while I enjoy them, they don't bother me.

Likewise, the Misfits, the Cramps, and the Damned use LOTS of horror imagery, but their appeal is in more of the campy, B-movie horror variety. Tons of fun, but not scary in slightest - it's hard to take Danzig seriously while he's singing "I want your skull!" in his over-the-top "scary" voice, and even less so to hear Lux Interior (R.I.P.) singing "I've got 96 tears... and 96 eyes". This is not to knock any of these bands, as I love 'em to death, but they really are the Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive of the scary music genre.

There are also the more "gothic" (and I use the quotes for a reason) bands, which call to mind more of the Interview With the Vampire, The Hunger, The Lost Boys, Near Dark (kind of), and even (ugh) Twilight. Basically, music that presents a more "romantic" view of horror themes. Some of these groups are great (I'll vouch for early Bauhaus any day, and The Cure (sorry Mike, you are right, though - Pornography is scary stuff) and Joy Division arguably somewhat fall into this category), but there is a TON of terrible stuff under this banner, which has recently sky-rocket due to the over-lap between the sub-emo "scene" that has embraced teen girls' obsession over Twilight.

The music that genuinely gives me chills comes from stuff that is a little more off the beaten path. Some of it is not necessarily meant to be "scary" music, such as some Robert Johnson, Leadbelly ("In the Pines" is a terrifying song), or even most Joy Division. It's scary music about the fact that everyday life is often really terrifying much of the time.

However, this is not to say that explicitly horror-themed music cannot achieve its goals - Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a concept album about witches, is one of the creepiest things I have ever heard. While the lyrics (including the title of this post) can be sort of absurd, the constant feeling of unease, odd sounds, creepy instrumentation (the drums most notably) all add up to an album that is really disturbing to listen to while walking or driving on a dark autumn night. Sonically, the closest parallel I can make is that it sounds like "Mole"-era Residents covering The Shining soundtrack (as if the Residents aren't creepy enough). Basically, it sounds like a David Lynch silent film about witches in audio play format. Likewise, while The Residents and Liars effectively evoke the the sense of creeping unease and absurdity that permeates Lynch's better work, His Name is Alive, perhaps the most under-rated genuinely scary band, pulls more from David Cronenberg's "body horror" sub-genre. HNIA's second album, "Home is in Your Head" is just really, really unnerving (I wish I had a better word, but the only thing I can think of when I think of that album is "GAH!", and that's not exactly poetic). Seriously, though what other word is there for this? It's a loose concept album (I think), which seems to be either about an abused woman killing her husband or him killing her and her coming back to haunt him. Either way, it's incredibly effective, and pulls its horror from a deep sense of uncertainty, jarring shifts in tone and sonics, and Karin Oliver's uncanny vocal resemblance to a ghost. While the follow-up Mouth By Mouth doesn't achieve the same sustained effect (mostly because it is decidedly more song-based and straightforward), it has sections that are among the most unsettling in recorded music. "The Dirt Eaters", "Lip", "Cornfield", and "Ear", for example, perfectly evoke that sense of disgust and horror of the human body and biological process that Cronenberg expressed in "Videodrome" and "The Fly". Both albums are highly recommended (they are genuinely great works), but just be advised of the mood you need to be in to listen to them.

Anyway, while I love the Halloween season and the music that goes along with it. I will be somewhat glad to turn my iPod away from music that doesn't cause me to eye with unease the dark trees I run past with my dog in the evenings. It's almost time for Christmas music to make it's way onto my listening schedule, and you can't be too scared while this masterpiece is playing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dancing About Dancing About Architecture

I will admit that, despite my literary aspirations and my need to keep updated on my legal knowledge, I am far more likely to pick up a book about music than about anything else. My favorite book is Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus (a pretty literary music book, to be sure, but still). Anyway, I just finished a couple of the many books on my growing "to be read" shelf, so here's what I thought of them.

Joe Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic - This book is infuriating on at least two fronts, some intentional and some unintentional.

The intentional one is Carducci's constant, and almost pathological, interest in tearing down sacred cows and accepted theories regarding rock music. More to the point, he enjoys tearing down these idols with a pointedly foul mouth. While much of this is funny, and he usually makes a valid point, it gets a bit old over the course of book.

Further, Carducci's staunch political conservatism starts to grate as he constantly rages against "hippies", "liberals", and "feminists". While I am more than happy to read disparate viewpoint, Carducci's screeds have an unsufferable grating, pedantic tone. This carries over into his dismissal of much of the music industry and music criticism in particular. Carducci is obsessed with his long treatises on how out-of-touch music writers are to the music they cover, a fair point, but one Carducci beats into irrelevance by his constant repetition.

Carducci's intentionally limited view of what rock music is can also be irritating. Rock is defined as heavy music using drums, bass, and electric guitar, period. He summarily dismisses synth-based and other music that falls outside of this box as not "rock music", and seems insulted that it could ever be confused as such. There is a major flaw with this categorization which I never was able to overcome. I will agree that the umbrella of what the public deems rock music to be is absurdly large, as it basically covers all popular music that is not hip-hop, R&B, or vocal pop (and even then there is some cross-pollination). Truthfully, I can endorse Carducci's thesis here, that the definition of rock should be limited, and I can even accept his definition. However, in throwing out a number of styles, Carducci makes so attempt whatsoever to classify them as anything other than "not rock"- leaving the whole endeavor pretty pointless. Ultimately, its a straw man argument that Carducci puts up to say that his favorite bands are somehow more authentic and of greater value than bands he dislikes. Ultimately, Carducci's entire theme throughout the book is that the music industry and critical press is outdated, out of touch, and terminally flawed as it was unreceptive to Carducci's idea of the perfect rock band, Black Flag.

As down as I am about much of this book, what makes this discussion difficult is that I can't legitimately pan it and say it is of no interest. Carducci is brilliant, and parts of this book are exceptional. He has some insights into the music industry that are truly unique and fascinating, particularly the titular discussion of the "pop narcotic" which dooms bands to irrelevancy. A good and tough editor could have made this one of the great music books. Instead, it remains an irritating, over-long, infuriating, sloppy, one-sided, hopeless gem of a book.

Greg Prato, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music - In the tradition of Please Kill Me and We've Got the Neutron Bomb, this book attempts to draw together the recollections of those involved in the boom times of Seattle music at the beginning of the 90's to present a definitive history of the era. For the most part, Prato is successful at achieving his goals.

The first 1/3rd of the book, where Prato solicits memories of acts pre-dating the grunge era, does suffer from some major problems, the most egregious being that its pretty boring overall. Most of the anecdotes are some variation of "this band was really cool" or "punks weren't well regarded by the rest of society" or "everyone was really friendly and communal, before it got all commercial". Part of the blame for this is on the subjects, as they just don't present very interesting stories, but part of the blame has to fall on Prato, who needed to either ask better questions of his subjects or realize that, as he didn't have very interesting material, he needed to cut back on his coverage of that era.

Once the book gets into the Green River/Mother Love Bone era, though, things start to pick up. Prato assembles a very strong and diverse range of subjects, with only a few notable omissions (no Cornell, Lanegan, Novoselic, Grohl, or Love), but almost everyone else, including all of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, the surviving members of Alice in Chains, the rest of Soundgarden, Tad Doyle, the Van Conner brothers, etc. For the most part, everyone is willing to discuss things from a "warts and all" perspective, and it is interesting to see events that are fairly well known in music circles from alternate perspectives (for example, seeing both sides of the infamous Green River show where the guest list was made up almost exclusively of music industry people who didn't bother to show up or realizing that Jerry Cantrell really does seem to be that much of a callous jerk). Prato has some issues with editing, in that he tries to have the book arranged by subject but also chronologically, leading to some confusion about exactly when certain things occurred in relation to others, but for the most part he keeps things moving. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So have we ever reached a consensus on what this decade is even called?

First of all, thank you to everyone who came out to the Cleveland Music Industry Panel. It was an amazing event. I met some great and fascinating people and learned a TON. I cannot wait for the next event from the Modern Revival Media people.

Ok, as we reach the last gasp of this decade, I've started thinking about lists - the perennial "best albums of the decade". What I find interesting and startling is that there seems to be a paucity of records that I just KNOW are going to be on all the critics' list at the end of this year. Every previous decade has had those albums that just stood out above the pack (i.e., for the 90's, Nevermind, Slanted & Enchanted, OK Computer, Odelay, Loveless, Screamadelia). There just doesn't seem to be one of those watershed albums that sort of defines this decade. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of great music, but much of it either did not make enough of a long term impact to really reach that level of importance (let's face it, while Nevermind was a great album, its impact on the music industry, fashion, culture, etc. was what really made it one of the best albums of the 90's) or was so backwards looking in its inception that it couldn't really represent this decade (i.e., the countless bands doing the 80's revival thing).

Anyway, in lieu of trying to make an actual "best" of the decade, here is my unranked short list of my favorite albums of the last 10 years. Expect this to be updated constantly, and look for my final ranked list at the end of the year.

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker
Might not be on my final list, but this album continues to amaze me. It's a true pinnacle of the alt-country genre, right as many of Adam's peers were either shifting away from the genre or becoming self-parody. Adams quickly proceeded to do both of those things, and has not been a consistent presence since, but that first album (and half of the second) and his Whiskeytown records remain true gems.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
I have a feeling their first album will be what is on most of the top lists, but it is a bit too twee to me (though parts of it are amazing, "Wake Up" most of all). This album was regarded as a bit of a step back for most fans, but I love it. It's a "big, important" rock album like those made by U2 or Springsteen, but absent the pretension that makes those records so insufferable at times.

Ash - Free All Angels
Without a doubt, the best pop(-punk) record of the decade, and probably the record I've actually listened to the most for the decade. The addition of Charlotte Hatherly (who would leave after the next album, sadly) on guitar and vocals adds a nice extra element to a band that was already extremely strong. I love this record, from the spry "Burn Baby Burn" to the swinging "Candy" to the swooning "Shining Light" to the wistful "Sometimes". Top-notch.

Asobi Seksu - Citrus
Pretty firmly established as one of the most consistent bands to come out of the decade, with three sublime albums. This one is their best, melding indelible melodies on top of some of the prettiest noise possible, but somehow always maintaining an aggression and propulsion that prevents second of this album from being boring.

The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts
I love The Decemberists, and their live show is a ton of fun. On record, though, their quirks and schtick can sometimes get the better of them. That's why this record works so well for me. It has a germ of the tropes they would later blow up into the basis of their work, but it's mostly just a great, quirky alt-country record with accordions.

The Dirtbombs - Magical Dangerous Noise
Oh man, I love this record. My favorite record of my favorite currently active band. Noisy, catchy, danceable, rocking, soulful, perfect.

Doves - The Last Broadcast
In the wake of Kid A, a number of British bands stepped up to the plate to take the "big emotional British guitar-rock band" throne that Radiohead abdicated to play with their electronics and soundscapes. Coldplay was the clear commercial winner of the ensuing fight, but Doves were the artistic winner, and this is their zenith.

Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic
Probably the greatest musical tragedy of the decade. Brilliant and exceptionally promising young band releases their first album, goes out to tour behind it, and encounter a tragic accident which claims the lives of many of the members. These guys could have been, should have been, huge. Instead, we just have this perfect scrappy garage-rock masterpiece to remember them by.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink

Say what you will about The Flaming Lips output this decade- it's AOR, mom-rock, whatever, and I will probably agree with at least part of what you say. I'm sad they lost the guitars as well. However, this record is GORGEOUS. When you have songs like "Fight Test" and "Do You Realize", who cares if people's parents like it? Everyone would fall in love with this record - it transcends every gap, like only that rarefied strata of pop music can.

Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Of all of the bands riding the odd mid-90's neo-disco-punk wave, Franz Ferdinand was always the one that seemed to have an actual chance of sticking around after the fad ended, as their lyrics, tunecraft, and musical diversity were way ahead of the pack. This has clearly turned out to be the case, as the other promising bands (i.e., Bloc Party, The Futureheads, Maximo Park) have failed to live up to their initial promise. I'm sure it helped that they were actually some of the older players in the game, and had some serious chops to back them up. All three of their albums have been top-notch, but its their first album which still impresses me the most. "Take Me Out" and "Dark of the Matinee" are just perfect songs.

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
The best soul album of the decade. If Al Green had kept playing the sonic innovator and not become a traditionalist (not that I'm bemoaning the great albums he made this decade), he would sound like this. Their second album, The Odd Couple may be even better, but this one has "Crazy" on it, so it's the one on this list.

Guided by Voices - Isolation Drills
With this album, GBV embraced the chance to make a big rock record, and they drilled it. "Chasing Heather Crazy", "Glad Girls", "Skills Like This", and the rest are big and bold rock anthems with a ton of heart. While I love lo-fi GBV, it always seemed like Pollard that embraced that style out of necessity or novelty rather than because it emphasized his songwriting or the talents of his band. As anyone who has been to a good GBV show knows, these guys rock, and it was great to see them make their rock statement.

Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
Loud, anthemic quasi-punk rock with a singer who sounds like the guy from Trashcan Sinatras mixed with mid-period Michael Stipe. About as solid, durable, and lovable an album as came out this decade. Prior to this, they were a scrappy pop-punk act, following this, they moved toward bigger and bigger sounds (producing the indelible "You Held the World in Your Arms Tonight", by the way, which is easily among the top songs this decade), but also began to sink into some mid-tempo boredom. This album is their zenith so far, perfectly mixing fist-pumping ravers with beautiful ballads, and an easy recommendation to just about anyone.

Jay-Z & Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
I loved The Black Album, I love the Beatles, and after this record I knew I loved Danger Mouse. Is it a novelty record? Sure, but it's an ingenious one, and one that actually improves on The Black Album. The original version of "99 Problems"? Awesome. The Grey Album version cutting "99 Problems" with "Helter Skelter"? Crazy-Awesome.

Madvillian - Madvillainy
My favorite hip-hop album of the decade. Fabulously blunted beats with incredibly witty and impressive rhymes. As much as I love Madlib and DOOM separately, this album is just a huge step above anything else they have produced. It's a hard record to dissect briefly, because it is so dense, so, until I get the chance to devote a larger discussion to it, let's just leave my description as "brilliant".

Malory - Not Here Not Now
Is this a massive Slowdive rip? Absolutely. Is this incredibly entertaining and beautiful neo-shoegaze? Absolutely. Does this belong on a list of the best albums of the decade? Absolutely.

Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
I would never use the word "sellout" to describe Modest Mouse. While their last two albums have certainly been more polished than their earlier work, it is still highly idiosyncratic and uniquely their own sound. This album was the start of that process, and their most effective and consistent start-to-finish album.

The National - Alligator
This record really snuck up on me. I was a little less than impressed the first time I heard it, but after about the third listen, I was enthralled. Smoky, smoldering rock which builds to beautiful and cathartic climaxes. A perfect record for late-night drives.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Black Sheep Boy may actually be the record that makes my top 10, but for now I'll leave this one. Perhaps the best lyrics of any record this decade - with impressively developed characters, clever jokes, tangible emotion, and just enough subtext and tricks to keep you on your toes. "Plus Ones" and "John Allyn Smith Sails" are brilliant inside baseball treats for record geeks like me, as well.

Old 97's - Satellite Rides
Sorry alt-country die-hards (God bless you for keeping the faith), but the twang is gone (it did come back, kind of). In its place, Old 97's created an indelibly strong set of Kinks-ish pop-rock. "King of All the World" is a perfect song, and "Rollerskate Skinny", "Buick City Complex", "Question", etc. are not far behind.

A Place to Bury Strangers - A Place to Bury

Beautiful, beautiful noise. While The Jesus & Mary Chain made perfect pop songs and bathed them in feedback and gnarled white noise, APBS's songs are simply built out of the stuff. This thing is punishingly loud even at low volume. I love it.

Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
I remember buying this album the day it came out in 2000 and just being thrilled at the idea that this was the way music was heading in the new decade. There is perhaps nothing more upsetting to me than the fact that this simply didn't happen. Primal Scream completely transformed themselves with this record, and created a series of exciting, complex mash-up of styles and attitudes that was genuinely inspiring, and it was pretty much ignored. The agit-punk-techno of "Swastika Eyes" and "Exterminator", the jazz-electronica of "Blood Money", and the shoegaze-industrial of "MBV Arkestra" (featuring Kevin Shields in one of his rare appearances of the early half of the decade) all could have supported an entire career for other bands. Not to mention that the lyrics and the tone of the album eerily pre-sage the Bush era of politics. This should have been the defining record of the decade, but instead, it's just a great, inspiring rush of an album.

The Red Telephone - Cellar Songs
If this list inspires you to buy one album, make it this one. The most over-looked record of the decade, without a doubt. Coming out on the ridiculously obscure Raise Giant Frogs label, this album melds Bends-era Radiohead's guitar workouts and atmospherics to a solid nineties power-pop melodic foundation (the press kit at the time compared them to Wilco, but I don't really see it). This is a GREAT album, front-to-back, and infinitely more people need to hear it.

Sloan - Never Hear the End of It
At the time this came out, Sloan was in a bit of a rut, putting out solid, if unexceptional records on a regular basis. They had their die-hards who would buy everything they released (guilty party right here), but they didn't seem like a band that would be taking any chances anytime soon. This is why this album, an 80+ monster that crammed a CD to its brim with a seamless suite of stellar songs (I seriously did not intend for that to turn into a tongue-twister). For my money, this is the best album Sloan has ever released, and it's certainly the most ambitious.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
It's cliche to say, but no album captured that post-9/11 dread and apprehension quite like this album. Without intending to (as the record was recorded before that date), Wilco captured the mood I was feeling at the time. It's a perfect comfort record that came out at a time when a lot of people really needed a comfort record.

The Wrens - The Meadowlands
Right now, this is my album of the decade. Stunning melodies, incredibly poignant and moving lyrics, great production, everything about this record clicks. On a personal note, this album really has managed to sort of clock my growth this decade, with the mournful tone soundtracking my mopey early twenties and the mature lyrics about love and loss speaking to me as a slightly more mature person. I've probably listened to it more than any other album this decade, and I imagine it will be the album I come back to the most in the future. As perfect as rock gets.