Filed under: RECORDS OF THE DECADE
Oh dear, I spent way too long over this list. And I seem to have included at least 35% of all of the albums that have been released over the decade. Having said that, lists like this are what define a man’s worth and when I die, I hope that my headstone reads: “Chose Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs over Merriweather Post Pavilion”. And this I did, because I always work to THE FORMULA (2 parts obscure records by well known bands + 2 parts obscure records by obscure bands + 1 part well known records by well known bands in a desperate attempt to demonstrate how normal and likeable I am). So please like me, I’m so thoroughly cool and good at lists.
A wonderful, vital, pulsating album. Try to imagine a white horse galloping up a waterfall. No, that’s not a horse, that’s a unicorn. And why have you taken your trousers off?
Jim O’Rourke- Insignificance
That Jim O’Rourke as a solo artist has been so illusive since this record makes it seem all the more like a precious gift that he casually deigned to fart out for the rest of us one lazy, vacant Sunday whilst washing his car. His vocal is reserved and quiet, as if, reclined in his leatherette office chair, he is comfortably operating within the bounds of his own brilliance. This is no rushed job, however; the arrangements and the production, even the lyrics are all absolutely sublime. Son of a bitch.
Ben and Bruno- 100 Grim Reapers
Ben and Bruno is the beautiful, unsung project of Peter J Brant a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I first heard this when staying at the house of a wonderful lady called Bernie with the Seattle band Tiny Vipers after a gig. Bernie made a phenomenal vegan curry, got us some beer and put 100 Grim Reapers on. It was one of the most ethereal experiences of my life. And then I fell asleep and had a disturbing dream about accidentally pulling all the fur off Bernie’s cat and having to explain it. It wasn’t my fault, by the way, it was all just Velcroed on in the first place.
Joni Mitchell- Travelogue
This is a collection of orchestral re-recordings of songs from throughout Mitchell’s career, but rather than stumbling into re-hashed irrelevance, this record offers up something all the more poignant within the re-workings. By this point a large proportion of her vocal agility has been ravaged by age and a smoking habit that she has cultivated since her early teens, but perhaps as a consequence her phrasing and gravitas are heightened. Amelia, the soaring paean to the lost pilot Amelia Earhart suddenly transforms into a crippling summation of her emotional shortcomings from the loftier heights of old age; “maybe I’ve spent my hole life,” she sings, “in clouds at icy altitudes”.
Smog- Dongs Of Sevotion
Dongs of Sevotion probably lacks the cohesion of A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, but is an absolute tour de force of intense, minimal songcraft. Dress Sexy At My Funeral alone is a work of beguiling emotional complexity, dragging the listener in with a jangly tune and that old, detached Callahan wit before leaving them battered on the curb, mascara streaming.
Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
I once subjected Sufjan Stevens to a really terrible interview for my student newspaper, in which, before slipping him my demo, I remarked that Seven Swans was my favourite of his records. He seemed a little bit embarrassed and unwilling to talk about it- possibly because of the deeply personal nature of record’s religious subject matter- possibly because he was bored and hungry and overheard me drunkenly critiquing his satchel. Seven Swans appears at face value not to be as ambitious as his other studio records, but the intimate, pithy production of Daniel Smith emphasises Sufjan’s exceptional talent as a singer-songwriter in the classic mould. And for the record, I now own a satchel.
Microphones- The Glow pt 2
It’s tricky to isolate one Phil Elvrum record, he has been one of the few genuine musical auteurs of this decade, but this just shades it in my opinion. There are few more glorious sounds in life than the moment in the title track when doubled-up acoustic guitars surface with the line “I took my shirt off… in the yard”.
Papa M- Whatever, Mortal
This is a beautiful, mumbling, damaged folky record in the Louisville tradition, from just before that big alt-folk explosion that left everything covered in tattered cheesecloth and broken old bits of crumhorn for a few years.
Deerhoof- Apple O’
Well, it could’ve been any single one of their records, but possibly on the strength of Apple Bomb alone this album has made the cut.
Danielson Famile- Fetch The Compass Kids
I so desperately wanted to be in Danielson Famile. In fact I was once tentatively offered a support slot with them only to be bumped off the bill by some band called Los Campesinos!. It’s hard to imagine this record being made today, although Danielson have always been a law unto themselves and this is a joyful, unhinged masterpiece.
Joanna Newsom- Milk Eyed Mender
Seeing as Aleks chose Ys, I’ll go for Milk Eyed Mender. It’s easy to forget that when Milk Eyed Mender first emerged it was largely critically derided in the UK as kooky nu-folk hipster rubbish, but luckily in this instance the cream eventually rose to the top and still tastes as fresh as it did in 2004. What a neat little metaphor.
As you may remember, 9/11 profoundly influenced everything that bobbed in its hellish wake, but it’s easy to forget that the world before it wasn’t exactly some sort of Dario G-esque utopian dreamscape. This record dates from 2000 and tackles the familiar theme of darkness and corruption lurking beneath the placid surface of American society. The arrangements are as rich as a Norman Rockwell painting, the lyrics wry and melancholic as a Hopper.
Brian Wilson- Smile
As anyone who has heard the original Smile recordings will attest, this record sounds like Jayne MacDonald and her cruise ship choir taking on Arvo Part’s yet to be discovered Ulysses, The Musical!. It lacks any of the intensity, spontaneity and sprawling mess of the original tapes, yet standing alone this is still a phenomenal, historic record.
Grizzly bear- Veckatimest
Sir Alex Ferguson always used to muse that if he only had “a team full of Roy Keanes” he would win every game until the end of time. In reality this concept is flawed: whilst steely in midfield, this would be a team hopelessly short on pace, finishing, a decent ‘keeper and at any one time depleted by 90% due to suspensions.
Grizzly Bear conform as near to this model as any band can get, but rather than turning out a choir of tone-deaf bawling Irish midfield generals, they are four angel-voiced Ed Droste-alikes. Actually, come to think of it, Grizzly Bear are more like really good team full of fabulously talented players -like Newcastle, perhaps- but that wouldn’t have given me the chance to take a drunken swing at Ol’ Roy.
Animal Collective- Campfire Songs
Campfire Songs was recorded in one take on a porch in Maryland using 3 minidisc players with tiny Sony electret mics. The natural ambient sounds of wind and twigs cracking, coupled with the strongly impulsive nature of the performances lend this record a strong documentary feel. The record’s slow intimacy makes this feel more Mt Eerie than Merriweather, but in truth I haven’t heard anything else that really sounds like it.
Why?- Elephant Eyelash
As douchie as it will doubtless sound, I don’t think there could have been a more 00sie record than this. Broken bits of meandering, almost Tarantino-esque dialogue mixed with dazzling airtight couplets assembled with NASA precision, set to… OK I’m going to stop before I completely suck the lifeblood out of this album and all music for all eternity. Thnx.
Magnetic fields- 69 Love Songs
If Stephin Merritt weren’t such a contrarian, he’d be the Burt Bacharach of this century. Whilst Stephin too probably spends the vast majority of his time flashing toothy pianoside grins with a white towel draped around his shoulders, luckily he also possesses the kind of obscene lyrical wit that would make old Burt keel over backwards into the first chair trombone of the Tijuana Brass. 69 Love Songs sneaks into this list on the technicality that it wasn’t available in the UK until 2000, and ten years on it is as much a joy as it was then. A truly remarkable and audacious record.
Steve Reich- Daniel Variations
I’m just getting into what “they” seem to have dubbed “contemporary classical” but this was mind blowing. Steve Reich’s influence on indie music has been palpable (see: Sufjan), but equally indie music must have made something of an impression on Reich. Anyway, this is a choral and orchestral masterpiece.
Beach House- Beach House
Really cool record, but you know that already.
Joan Of Arc- Boo! Human
Probably the ultimate break-up album. I’m hazy on the details, but I’m led to believe that Tim Kinsella (formerly of Charlton Athletic) broke up with his wife and then wrote songs with titles like 9/11 2 and A Tell Tale Penis. It’s kind of like being a tourist in another’s personal living hell, but then so is a trip to Chester Zoo and that’s pretty popular.
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