Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top Ten Albums of the 2000's

For no particular reason other than that I'm snowed in and have been listening to a lot of music lately, I thought I'd write up a list of my favorite albums of the last 10 years.

Note: This list is based, in part, on the CD's that have survived successive moves (some sort of proof of staying power I suppose). And are listed in no particular order.

Top Ten Albums of the 2000's:

1. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Bloodshot / Lost Highway, 2000): This is, for me, Ryan's peak. The Whiskeytown stuff is fantastic, but ultimately rough drafts for the feats he pulls off here. Gold was a solid follow-up - full of grit and verve, but from there on it's hit and miss (Honorable mentions for Pneumonia, Demolition, Jacksonville Skyline, and 29). But here, on Heartbreaker - from the straight up '65 Dylan riff of "To Be Young" to the raw beauty of "Come Pick Me Up" and "Damn, Sam, I Love a Woman that Rains" - he shows a broad range and incredible depth.

2. The Strokes, Is This It? (Rough Trade / RCA, 2001): Gritty, fun, and for a pre-9/11 minute it looked like late 70's NY Punk was back in vogue. It made me go back and re-discover Television and Richard Hell and that's reason enough for me to put it on the top-10. They were cool in a downtown way that hasn't been seen again (unless you see Lady Gaga as a pop-Laurie Anderson - pure performance art infiltration).

3. The White Stripes, De Stijl (Sympathy For the Record Industry / V2, 2001): Son House and Blind Willie McTell covers? Really? A telephone song ("Hello Operator)? This was the first White Stripes album I picked up (at the Tower by GWU) and I was hooked. It nicely shows their welding of punk and blues, with shimmering moments of pure Detroit ("Apple Blossom"), at a point when the solder still hadn't quite melted.

4. Jay-Z, Blueprint (Def Jam, 2001): The first Jay-Z song I heard was "Can I Get A.." and though it and the other radio hits were fun, I wasn't blown away (I hadn't yet gone back and discovered Reasonable Doubt). But this album took me by surprise and I was sold. Kanye's production. Em's verses on Renegade. The heart of "Song Cry." Amazing.

5. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia, 2001): Of the four albums of the "resurgence," this one, to me, cuts the deepest. After the Lanois-induced somberness of Time Out of Mind (later rectified live), this was a breath of fresh air - but drawing on the same deep sources. "Mississippi" alone would have been a revelation - but the album keeps going. A song like "Floater (Too Much to Ask)" I'm convinced, has a line relevant to just about any life situation and cuts to the bone ("My grandfather was a duck trapper / he could do it with just drag nets and floats / My grandmother could sew new dresses out of old cloth / I don't know if they had any dreams or hopes"). The borrowing is deep and wide and makes a patchwork of old and new that holds up like few other albums I've heard.

6. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea (Island, 2000): Where did this come from? As soon as I heard it - that voice, that production - I played it for months, non-stop. She's got an incredible sense of rhythm and structure - and for some reason reminds me of old bluesmen (like Furry Lewis) in her ability to stretch out phrases and make them work. Thom Yorke's part on "The Shape We're In" easily elevates this from "Honorable Mention" to Top-10 status.

7. Beck, Sea Change (Geffen, 2002): Beck's "Blood on the Tracks" - hardly an original comparison, but true. His voice has never sounded better, the songs dig deep, and it marked a turning point in his career. Perfect for a rainy day.

8. Neko Case, Blacklisted (Bloodshot, 2002): My first exposure to Neko was a review of this album on NPR while driving home from work and I immediately detoured and bought it. And I've never looked back - I'm lukewarm on the New Pornographers - but her solo stuff, what Wikipedia calls "noir country" is right down my alley. Her haunting voice, the live covers of "Buckets of Rain," and the mysterious lyrics ("It looks a lot like engine oil / but tastes like being poor and small / and popsicles / in summer") are what I love about Neko. And it doesn't get much better than this one. See also the great live album "The Tigers Have Spoken."

9. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch, 2002): Like Heartbreaker for Ryan, this was Wilco's peak for me. The lush harmonies and arrangements, the computerized layers on top of what were, ultimately, extremely personal and soulful songs makes this album work on a level above the rest. A masterpiece, and other cliches.

10. Lil Wayne, The Carter III: I've probably played this record more in the last year than all other hip-hop albums combined (well, minus the Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic, and Ready to Die trilogy), in part from laziness (it's almost always in the CD player), but also just for sheer fun. As Eminem said in a recent interview you have to listen to Wayne 4 and 5 times to pick up all of his jokes. And the fact that he brought jokes to serious hip-hop is a gift in itself. The samples, the production, the sincerity (or at times complete lack thereof) is beyond refreshing - it's invigorating. Also, No Ceilings is a perfect follow-up mix tape.. catchy, irreverent, playful.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice, 2004)
  • Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (TVT, 2001)
  • Kanye West, Late Registration (Roc-a-Fella, 2005)
  • Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador, 2006) - Really should be in the top 10 but I couldn't figure out what to cut. Working with Al Green's band she found an incredible sound that wrapped around her voice perfectly. Soulful, with an edge.
  • Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem Show (Interscope 2000, 2002) - for dexterous wordplay and delicious fun.
  • Ezter Balint, Mud (Bar None, 2003) - One album and then she disappears? Amazing, bluesy, gritty - but somehow smooth. Like PJ Harvey only.. not.
  • The Two Gallants, The Throes(Alive 2004) - Why they're not as big as the White Stripes probably has more to do with self-promotion and style than with talent. This album is a keeper.
  • Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story is in the Soil.. (Saddle Creek, 2002) - Oh Conor. I love you some. I hate you some. I love you, when I forget about.. you. Over the top, but undeniably heartfelt and passionate and restless and creative. And exhausting. And a little boring. But I keep coming back.
  • Black Lips, 200 Million Thousand (Bomp! 2009) - Nothing quite tops their "Katrina" single but this album is fun and unpretentious and gleefully rocking. And they're a lot of fun live.
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Fever to Tell (Interscope 2003) - I was happy that "Maps" became a big hit, but I prefer the uptempo crazy-Karen-O songs a bit more: "Rich", "Date With the Night", etc..
  • Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca - I'm reluctant to put brand new albums on the list because I'm just not sure they'll hold up over time. But so far this album has been on heavy rotation in my CD player and I can see myself reaching for it years from now.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Whiskeytown and the Replacements..

So I'd always heard that Whiskeytown was influenced by the Replacements (see Popmatters Review of "Strangers Almanac" re-issue: "Whiskeytown was the Replacements of the so-called alt-country pack of the mid-‘90s—when it wasn’t on fire, it burned fiery and bright.").

But I never really got it until tonight when I put on the Replacement's "Let It Be". And it's not just the sound - the loose, jangly guitars (like Bright Star dragged through a little mud) - it's the phrasing, the delivery, the guts of the songwriting.

So, for fun, here's a live version of "I Will Dare" by the Replacements:

Compared against Whiskeytown's "Drink Like a River:

Ryan's in fine form for this show (1997, St. Louis)- the intro alone is priceless.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bitte Orca?

Everything says that I shouldn't like the Dirty Projectors. Too intellectual. Too much poly-rhythmic syncopation and contrapuntal harmonizing. Yale Rock. Without any of the 4/4 danceable gut-bucket blues / soul / country I usually enthuse about.

And yet.. it's the CD I reach for now by default. Without thinking. I want to hear those winding intricate harmonies. The way the songs move and shimmer and.. play. There's something going on. Something interesting. We'll see how this plays out (and stop me if I start buying Vampire Weekend CD's and tying sweaters over my shoulders).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Discovery of the Day - Graham Nash in the Hollies

So this is basic RnR history stuff, but I recently discovered that Graham Nash of CSN(Y) was in the British "invasion" group The Hollies, known to lovers of Oldies radio for such classics as "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Ann." Listening to them again, and those tight close harmonies, unravels yet another piece of the Laurel Canyon puzzle.

Here's a great live version of Bus Stop!

25 Great Country Music Artists Singing Their Famous Original Hits

Does it get any better than this? There's something special about 50's Country to me. It was in a strange spot - between pop and hillbilly, which, come to think of it, that country music is still in today. Anyway. I pulled this record out again last night - it's long been my favorite 50's Country Compilation. Easily.

A1 Roy Acuff - Wabash Cannonball
A2 Bill Anderson - Still
A3 Eddy Arnold - Bouquet of Roses
A4 Bobby Bare - Detroit City
A5 Johnny Bond - Cimarron
A6 Johnny Cash - I Walk the Line
A7 Patsy Cline - I Fall to Pieces
A8 Dave Dudley - Six Days on the Road
A9 Red Foley - Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy
A10 Lefty Frizzell - If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)
A11 Don Gibson - I Can't Stop Loving You
A12 Pee Wee King - Tennessee Waltz

B1 Roger Miller - You Don't Want My Love in the Summertime
B2 George Morgan - Candy Kisses
B3 Buck Owens - Act Naturally
B4 Ray Price - Heartaches by the Number
B5 Jim Reeves - He'll Have to Go
B6 Tex Ritter - Rye Whiskey
B7 Marty Robbins - Singing the Blues
B8 Hank Snow - I'm Moving On
B9 Hank Thompson - Humpty Dumpty Heart
B10 Merle Travis - So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packedd
B11 Ernest Tubb - Walking the Floor Over You
B12 Kitty Wells - It Wasn't God Who Make Honky Tonk Angels
B13 Hank Williams - Your Cheatin' Heart

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's spinning...

Lately I've been playing Jim Carroll Band and Richard Hell and the Voidoids over and over.

More in-depth thoughts coming soon.

Raining books..

When it rains it pours - A Fall new-book reading list:

Jonathan Lethem: Chronic City - October 13.

E.L. Doctorow: Homer and Langley - Already out.

Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood - Already out.

Zadie Smith: Changing My Mind - November.

Nick Hornby: Juliet, Naked - Sept. 29.

A New Literary History of America (Marcus / Sollors, eds.): - Already out.

And Gary Shteyngart and Chuck Klosterman have books rumored for the end of 2009 - at least Jhumpa Lahiri and Edward P. Jones have taken some time off!