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.

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