Have TEN years really gone past? Madness! Where did that time go?
As 2010 (the most sci-fi of all years) sharpens into view, it gives us a chance to look back. To have a think about the albums that have been released in the last 10 years and what they mean to us, how they’ve affected us and how they’ve augmented our lives. Without some of the albums on this list - like Wilco for example - Best Fit wouldn’t have existed.
So, we got our splendid team of writers to nominate their favourite albums of the last 10 years. This is what we reckon are the best, and must hear, albums since the noughties arrived!
Producer: Jens Lekman
Label: Service / Secretly Canadian
There are not enough songs about pretending to be your lesbian friend’s fiancé in front of her father to enable her to elope with her girlfriend. Luckily Gothenburg’s king of sampling and bombastic romantic swooning Jens Lekman is here to plug that gap with ‘A Postcard to Nina’, both lyrically hysterical with its description of her father’s lie detector, and touching with his promise that “Nina, I can be your boyfriend.” It’s bolstered by huge horns and Jens’ unwaveringly physical, if sometimes sinister, belief in love, where the strings burn with the gut punch of that first infatuation to wry Stephin Merrit-esque wit and an ambrosia bright glow. (Laura Snapes)
Producer: Peter Katis, The Twilight Sad
Label: Fat Cat
The Twilight Sad find their strength in the control they have over the chaos they are able to produce. Behind every song on this album lays an unfathomable depth of textured noise, but unlike many noise rock bands, it feels as if it has to be there. The Twilight Sad don’t aim to create an abrasive listening experience that you must endure, they aim to fill a room with their power, and their texture, and they succeed. The Twilight Sad shouldn’t soar, most songs falling into what is almost a dark, treacle like mire, but they do, and your life will feel more empty when the noise stops, and you return to silence. (Daniel Offen)
Producer: Robbie Chater, Darren Seltmann
Label: Modular Recordings
As an impressionable early-teen, I along with half the nation fell in love with The Avalanches as a novelty-pop band, reciting all the words to ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ to a bemused friend on the back of the school bus. But the rest of the record wasn’t funny, so I didn’t get it. Years later I returned to it and was mystified in an entirely more alluring way. Perhaps if the hazy range of corny strings, breathy voices, and danceable beats didn’t add up to the sound of some sort of eternal lost summer then they’d be more apt for a second album, but maybe one day The Avalanches will awaken from their eternal slumber and release something just as magical again. (Tom Whyman)
Producer: Paul Epworth
With their taut, wiry debut, Bloc Party became poster boys for elements of the British rock scene who explore personal and political issues in roughly equal measure. Sometimes similar in sound and theme to The Rakes’ debut Capture/Release which was released a few months later, Bloc Party’s debut edged that record – and most of the others of the decade – out in terms of quality by being quite so inviting to listeners of different audiences and being so energetically gripping. Like other albums here, Silent Alarm is not just a great album of the decade, but a partial document of what it has been like to live in the decade. (Andy Johnson)
Producer: Phil Ek
Label: Bella Union / Sub Pop
Did Bella Union know? As they prepared themselves to release Fleet Foxes, did they have that sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the one? Their first record to be certified gold in the UK, heaped with praise by every respectable reviewer. Amid all the accolades though, it is worth remembering how wonderful the album truly is. Wrapped in a organic warmth, it sounds like vinyl whatever the media, music and voices sliding with an elegiac grace. Despite its wintery overtures it managed for many to soundtrack an entire year, ending with a final refrain of harmony as timeless as the album itself. (Simon Reuben)
Producer: Ken Thomas, Sigur Rós
Label: Geffen / EMI
Sigur Rós’ all consuming beauty and ghostly grandeur has rarely been in doubt but after the celestial brilliance of their debut, it was Takk, some four years later, that re-imbued Jon Birgisson with the ethereal warmth that had seemed to have escaped him. Still evoking all of the snowflake imagery their debut conjured, the twin hit of ‘Glosoli’ and ‘Saeglopur’ cascaded the weight and vulnerability to slide you into an introspective hole but it was the playful melody of ‘Hoppipolla’, gloriously sidling alongside the album’s heavier bombast, that gave it its intermittent, resplendent starbursts of optimism and made Takk quite special. (Reef Younis)
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Producer: Mike Mogis
Label: Saddle Creek
Marketed as a double release, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning could potentially have been the mundane, standard Bright Eyes album of the two. Yet, where Digital Ash In A Digital Urn failed to coherently connect, I’m Wide Awake was Conor Oberst doing what Conor Oberst does best: writing melodic, emotively orchestrated and beautifully shaky bluesy folk songs. ‘Lua’ and ‘Poison Oak’ showed Bright Eyes at their lyrical, downbeat best, with ‘Road to Joy’ and ‘Another Travellin’ Song’ settling the balance. Filled with honest anecdotes, this was a ‘social commentary’ album that somehow sidestepped the label of poor man’s Dylan, the naval gazing mopery of Ryan Adams or indeed the pretension which may have befallen Oberst in recent times, instead producing sentiments and sounds far beyond his then-24-years. (Lauren Mayberry)
Producer: The Knife
Label: Rabid Records
In what truly was a great decade for Swedish music, Stockholm siblings The Knife stood apart from all their contemporaries (albeit shrouded in shadows and secrecy) by crafting sinister sounding, moody music for the indie set. Their sound is equal parts tension and melody, with the bulk of the menacing, beat-driven arrangements handled by Olof Dreijer, while Karin Dreijer Andersson’s angelically ominous vocals adds some humanity to music that often sounds sterile and bleak. Silent Shout proved to be an innovative, compelling album that continues to offer us clues to questions that the perpetually reclusive band will never answer themselves. (Erik Thompson)
Producer: Björk, Thomas Knak, Martin Console, Marius de Vries
Label: One Little Indian
Less caustic than Homogenic and shorn of the carnival of Post, Björk’s fourth album initially seemed something of a retreat from the vigour of its predecessors. Glacial in tone and possessed of an introversion a world apart from the pantomime of ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, this was Björk looking inwards, openers ‘Hidden Place’ and ‘Cocoon’ inviting us into an amniotic half-light of music boxes and whispers that enchants and unnerves in equal measure. Fragile yet hauntingly affecting, there’s a beating warmth behind the ice that makes Vespertine easily the best of her work. (Christian Cottingham)
Producer: Peter Katis
Label: Beggars Banquet
The National is really the Matt Berninger show – the jaded lothario with the silver tongue. He’s like a filthier Robert Lowell (‘my mind’s not right’), or a New York Stuart Staples; and like Staples you pray he doesn’t find contentment – what would he write about? Every track burns. The band find a rough and rich romantic tumble to underpin some great vocal performances and some of the finest lyrics anywhere this decade. I could pick a hundred but I think if I was ever to write something as perfect as the chord change coupled with ‘we’re the heirs to the glimmering world’ I could die happy. (Matt Poacher)
Producer: Ross Robinson
Label: Grand Royal / Fearless
At The Drive In had been building a following with their incendiary live show since the mid 90’s, but they really exploded into life when Relationship of Command appeared in 2000.A brutal hardcore assault from start to finish Relationship of Command was a phosphorous blast in the face. Taking the directness of punk, elements of Fugazi’s hardcore, and Cedric Bixler’s incandescent roar – At The Drive In were a shot in the arm for a world that strangely embraced Oasis’ Standing on The Shoulder of Giants as one of best the releases of the year.Dismantling ‘One Armed Scissor’ on Jools in a whirling frenzy, Iggy Pop cropping up on ‘Rolodex Propaganda’ and the opening blitzkrieg of ‘Arcarsenal’ were just some of the many highlights.The band’s split shortly after the albums release and the subsequent formation of prog-leaning The Mars Volta by Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez meant that the promise of the most exciting band to surface in the early 2000’s was never fully realised. (Sam Shepherd)
Producer: Beach House
Label: Bella Union / Carpark Recordings
Devotion, the second full-length from Baltimore’s Beach House, is full of desire and loss, laden with lovelorn pop songs. Released in 2008 on Bella Union in the UK and Europe and Carpark, the Washington label home to Dan Deacon and co, the duo’s penchant for delicate, clever and bright songwriting was made clear. Their 2006 self-titled debut had displayed organist/vocalist Victoria Legrand’s ability to wind a wistful and poignant melody over multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally’s crisp soundscapes, but this ability was inarguably honed on Devotion. Legrand’s classical training is downplayed but evident in her abilities, complimenting the autumnal sonic feel. From the sparse percussion of ‘Turtle Island’, to the glittering organs of first single ‘Gila’ and the deliciously home-made Velvet Undergound feel of ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’, this record surrendering none of that Beach House charm, their sound sweet but with a that inevitable hidden bite. (Lauren Mayberry)
Producer: Ben H. Allen / Animal Collective
The words ‘adobe slats’ have taken on unprecedented profundity since December 2008, when Merriweather Post Pavilion first leaked onto the web, sparking fervent blogging activity and file-sharing, creating an ever-spiraling hyperbole for what has been dubbed the band’s most accessible album. So I’m sure that you’re already fat off all the acclaim and Pitchfork-heralding this album has inspired, having being fed adjective-upon-bloated-adjective describing the heavily layered tribal rhythms, swimming in the sounds of frogs chirping or caves dripping, and culminating in the euphoric pulse of ‘Brothersport’ or the undeniably intense and ethereal swirling mass of ‘In The Flowers’.As Hipster Runoff’s ever-amusing ‘Carles’ put-it: “Animal Collective are a band created by/for/on the internet”, and one would only have to set up a Google Alert to see this as not only true, but instrumental in propelling the band’s progressive sounds into the Billboard Top 20, and raising the bar for all modern pop music to come. (Sam Parfitt)
Producer: Rob Ellis, Mick Harvey, PJ Harvey
Nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2001, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea marked a turning point for PJ Harvey: this was, undeniably, a pop album. But pop, according to Polly Jean Harvey, is no bland, straightforward affair. Packed with reverb and lush layers, Stories From The City was a beautifully melodic reaction to previous releases Is This Desire, Rid of Me and even arguable breakthrough LP To Bring You My Love, all of which possessed a certain unnerving, extreme and dark undertone. The songwriter’s vocals were more relaxed, as gorgeous as Harvey has ever sounded, but the passion-fuelled lyrics remained, complimented by the simple, driving rhythms and expertly executed riffs. With hooks evident from the first chords of ‘Big Exit’- potentially the paramount opening track of her career-, Harvey created an accessible, welcoming version of herself whilst maintaining all the elements which made her so revered, from ‘Good Fortune’ to ‘Beautiful Feeling’ and beyond. (Lauren Mayberry)
Producer: Steve Albini
In spite of the austere title, Things We Lost In The Fire just so happens to be Low’s most exquisite and accessible work. Recorded by Steve Albini back at the beginning of the century, it uses a blend of hazy guitars, delicate percussion and truly heartbreaking vocal melodies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker to really shine. Bitter-sweet ‘Sunflower’ and ‘July’ radiate a tenderness that, despite their undoubted quality, was sorely lacking from previous offerings. Even the bleaker tracks, like the edgy, overwrought ‘Whitetail’, and the sinister lullabies that are ‘Whore’, ‘Laser Beam’ and ‘Medicine Magazines’ have more emotional exigency, driven by their ominous interweaving harmonies. Finale ‘In Metal’, grows from a downhearted elegy into one of the group’s most uplifting tracks, reflecting the progression of their music. Sure the lyrics may seem menacing, but it exudes a warmth and hopeful tone which not only make this their most direct and gripping set of songs, but also one of the finest and affecting albums of this decade. Just beautiful. (Ama Chana)
Producer: Peter Katis, Gareth Jones
Anyone who dismisses Interpol as purely a derivative rip-off of Joy Division clearly hasn’t been listening enough. There are few bands that can claim to have come to prominence and influenced the decade with such a bang. Of course, there are thousands of third-rate unsigned mate’s bands that try treading similar ground, but that can’t take away from the splendour of Turn on the Bright Lights. That the two follow ups didn’t quite match up was inevitable given the quality through – from the thudding brilliance of ‘PDA’ to the frenetic energy of ‘Roland’, there’s not a foot put wrong throughout. Downbeat whilst being danceable and filled with some of the better lyrics of the past 10 years, the album pivots on Paul Banks’ unique monotonous droll and still sounds more fresh and exciting than most of the crop of current hopefuls. (Matthew Britton)
Producer: Daryl Smith
Label: Kranky / Constellation
Lift Yr Skinny Fists… was the sound of a band absolutely at the heart of its own sphere of possibility: a summation of all that bluster and pomp and urgency that drove ‘F#A#’ and ‘A Slow Riot…’ The band also added new broad layers of dissonance and queasy ambience to their already dense palette and there was a self-confidence about the whole enterprise, as if they damn well knew that this was a defining album- and for once here was a double album that absolutely demanded the form. From the opening triumphal waltz of ‘Gathering Storm’ through Ephrain’s astonishing screwdriver-driven wailing guitar on ‘Monheim’ to the treated voices that close ‘Antennas to Heaven’ this feels like a record big (in every sense of the word) enough to warrant end of decade plaudits. (Matt Poacher)
Producer: The Flaming Lips, Dave Fridmann, Scott Booker
Label: Warner Bros.
Having already released The Soft Bulletin in 1999, it was almost unthinkable that The Flaming Lips would be able to match the majesty of what, at the time, was their most accomplished work. However, with the band on form and taking a slightly more electronic direction, they quickly went about consolidating their position as one of America’s finest bands. Wayne Coyne reached spectacular heights with his lyrics. The allegory of the pink robots is inspired, whilst the simply stunning ‘Do You Realize?’ made jaws drop, hearts pound, and eyes water. That song in particular showcased the Lips’ capacity to inspire, delight, and break hearts within the space of a few minutes. This year it was picked as Oklahoma States’ official rock song, which isn’t bad for a bunch of Fearless Freaks. (Sam Shepherd)
Producer: David Newfeld
Label: Arts & Crafts
You wonder if a record as huge and as rammed with disgustingly talented personnel as You Forgot it in People could happen today – appear fully formed out of nowhere, fit to bursting. Each nuance would be hyped and dissected before release, each member ransacked, interviewed, profiled. As it was, it seemed to drop out of the sky, and so perfectly timed. A suite of 13 beautifully crafted pop songs, ripe and tumbling over themselves with invention. And exactly how did they fit this many people and so many ideas into the space of one record? The truth is they didn’t, and it’s the secret to the albums rolling, almost improv-feel magic (‘come in after this, here we go Kev’)– these cavernous songs are still fresh and new now, things spill out of them and multiply into the middle distance. (Matt Poacher)
Producer: Gordon Raphael
The key to the Strokes’ debut album, Is This It, is the slacker attitude that permeates the record. The album’s title and title track certainly suggest as much. When Julian Casablancas asks the titular question, he’s wondering if it’s the end of a relationship, but he may as well be asking the question of himself, of the band, of the whole post-punk reawakening that occurred at the beginning of the decade. The question isn’t answered by the end of ‘Take It or Leave It’, either. Yet, it doesn’t matter because the care-free, shit-kicking ride was the reason behind it all, anyway. There is no explanation, and you squares don’t get it. Indeed, as Casablancas proclaims on ‘Last Nite’, “I said, people they don’t understand/ No, girlfriends, they can’t understand/ Your grandsons, they won’t understand/ On top of this, I ain’t ever gonna understand.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. (Steve Lampiris)
Producer: Kevin Barnes
Just how good this album is came as a huge surprise, even to long-time fans of the band. Eight albums into their career, of Montreal were already a pretty damn hot band. It’s just, there was nothing really that hinted at how hard-hitting this album would be. Previously they’d flirted with songs of this intensity, but never before had Kevin Barnes committed something of such beautiful and cutting honesty to record.
It’s the candidness that really makes it. No break-up album has ever so perfectly tapped into the psyche of a man staring into the bleakness of impending loneliness, the thoughts that cross and overlap and where nothing makes sense, “how can I explain? I need you here, and not here too.” The album’s bleakest points, lyrically, are underpinned by bouncy-rubber-ball basslines and Human League synths – see the wonderfully titled ‘Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse’ with it’s chorus of ooohs, or the massively Bowie-influenced ‘Suffer for Fashion’ for further evidence.
So there’s all that crap about manic depression, and bisexuality, and Barnes turning into a forty-year old “black shemale” called Georgie Fruit, and that’s all well and good, but somehow, despite the complicated “biographical” story Barnes is trying to tell, it remains to me deeply personal. I’ve never, to my knowledge, transmogrified into a transexual African-American. This album’s biggest triumph is, possibly, that of Montreal almost make me think I have. (Adam Nelson)
Producer: Joanna Newsom, Van Dyke Parks
Label: Drag City
Maybe it was the tumbling flow of imagination, of words and lyrics meshing into stories. Maybe it was the sensual orchestrations, the rambling length of songs that somehow never got tiresome. Or maybe it’s the quirky way she said “meteorite”. Against all expectations (an album of five songs, most of them nearly 15 minutes long and by the way, it’s played mostly on a harp), a lot of us fell deeply in love with an unlikely album.
Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” was a powerfully feminine collection of songs, full of fascinating imagery, evocative story-telling and utterly gorgeous music, the equal to Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” where the idiosyncratic nature of the lyrics is never forced, or just for effect – it is always to enhance the tale and the emotional resonance with the listener. The songs are rammed with words and phrases as each individual tale unfolds, none more powerful than the epic “Only Skin”. The moment where Bill Callahan’s vocal emerges in the song’s twilight is akin to a sinister, creeping tendril, never failing to send the hairs on the back of the neck skywards.
Three years on, we still wait for a follow-up, but should be thankful that Newsom is not rushing her return, especially considering the transition made from her debut to “Ys”. This album shines as a beautiful connection with folk stories of old and the nature that surrounds us, and when all the noise has abated will continue to sparkle. (Simon Reuben)
Producer: James Murphy | Label: DFA
Where the self-titled debut was a warning shot across the bows, Sound of Silver was the nuclear explosion. The exquisite blending of dance, disco and rock n roll, it was the sound of one man’s adrenaline fuelled rush through 50 years of music.
I remember hearing the opening, pulsing, beats of ‘Get Innocuous!’ and being floored. I literally stopped what I was doing to pay complete attention to the music. It was amazing. That noise, those beats, the cowbell. It was also an album that mixed the good times with intelligence. The tongue-in-cheek of ‘North American Scum’, the end of an era defining ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ – it was astonishing stuff.
You can tell great albums by their legacy. Most of the indie world has spent the years since Sound of Silver desperately trying to emulate its greatness. Sure, the Nike project smelt a bit, but the fact John Cale graced us with an amazing cover of ‘All My Friends’ should be enough justification of greatness. And yes, the detractors will point to James Murphy’s Bowie fascination, but that’s fine. This was an album that freshened up a dying genre whilst creating a few new ones whilst it was at it. At the end of 2007 there was only one album of the year, only one work of art that everyone could agree on: Sound Of Silver. (Rich Hughes)
Producer: Justin Vernon
Label: 4AD / Jagjaguwar
Who hasn’t wanted to escape the evils of the real world at some point in their life? The monotonous routine, the sprawling smog and traffic jams, the all engulfing maze of the concrete jungle. Why not decamp to the wilderness, live off the land, fight a grizzly and wear heavy work plaid shirts? Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) took just such a voluntary exile to a Wisconsin wood hut and returned with For Emma, Forever Ago; an album made and played out to the stars and the wolves.
An all-American Junglebook, it was a debut that absorbed its secluded surroundings with words swirling over valley chasms, bouncing off steep gorge walls and rolling across a moonlit canopy of fir. Vernon’s vocals ached and agonised with the contentment isolation as ruminative melodies intertwined with his now bewitching, hallmark vocal. Blindsided picked tentatively at Neil Young, the simmering mantra of ‘The Wolves (Act I and III)’ injected a small swathe of Spiritualized grandiosity and ‘Creature Fear’ hinted ever so slightly at the downbeat intensity of Elliott Smith.
If you listened closely enough between the swells and fades, you might have heard the crackle of a log fire. Immediately arresting and eerily superb, this was the real remote part. (Reef Younis)
Producer: Nigel Godrich
For the media, In Rainbows presented a problem. We all got it at the same time. The mainstream press prematurely spurted their views, foolishly scribbling during that initial listen (I am sure Pete Paphides of The Times regrets quoting hearing “I’m in the middle of your kitchen” on ‘All I Need’, and let’s not speak of Morley’s attempts at a live blog). This time, the blogs got it right, TLOBF’s editors wisely allowing a week for its writers to assess the album, as there was no point rushing things. For once, everyone was listening, in a truly communal experience.
And what an album, the perfect blend of all facets of their character and imagination, the static, frantic drums of ’15 Step’ taking us back to Kid A, the rolling, rhythmic guitar of ‘Bodysnatchers’ the finer moments of The Bends. And as usual with Radiohead, it was all in the details, the little touches. The wail of children on ’15 Step’ elevates the track with a sudden burst of adrenalin whilst the snap of snare drum leading to the crescendo of ‘All I Need’ heralds one of the finest moments they had committed. The monotony of ‘Videotape’ ends the album perfectly, urging you back to the album’s militaristically tight opening to start the whole process again.
The gimmick surrounding its release did not hurt sales, whatever you paid for it. Most of us bought the physical release, and a few of us dug deeper and bought the deluxe version. But all of us got to enjoy the moment, free from the jaundiced filter of opinion and critical analysis, judging the contents on their own considerable merits. Possibly the most exciting album launch of the decade, and certainly the one we all got to mutually share collectively. (Simon Reuben)
Producer: Peter Katis
Label: Beggars Banquet
82 years after F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, one of the few things that had altered the pursuit of the American Dream is that prohibition is no longer in force. It’s evident from 2007’s Boxer, where Matt Berninger’s numerous alter-egos slip a slug of contraband into a bottle of lemonade, stand at the punch table swallowing punch and feel intoxication ebb from their centre like a drop of ink in a glass of water in pursuit, or perhaps avoidance of an ideal. But The National never use alcohol as a simple metaphor for escapism; that would be gauche. Instead it’s a prop, a tangible detail of the periphery of the awkward everyday acts in which the 12 songs here lay their scene. Despite having lost some of the lyrical abstractions from Alligator to move into a universal domestic reality, the lyrics here are chronicles of what happens away from the action – sometimes equally funny and pathetic, such as “I leaned on the wall, the wall leaned away” from ‘Slow Show’ to the recognizable conversational awkwardness and disconnection of “standing in an empty tuxedo with grapes in my mouth” in ‘Ada’. Painted by green gloves, being pink, middle class and blue-blazered is a portrait of capitulation to adulthood, of masculinity, set to a panoply of immeasurably beautiful horns, propulsive drumming, and pattern-weft guitars that form a backdrop to Berninger’s arc as subtly, yet on inspection, exquisitely detailed as a set piece from Mad Men. Matt’s joked that his resonant tones have been compared to every different type of whiskey – it’s a fitting simile, not least because of the addictive quality of it, the warmth, and the fact that every sip destroys you just a little bit more. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Lauren Snapes)
Producer: Sufjan Stevens
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Since its release and subsequent critical adoration in 2005 the second in Sufjan Stevens 50 states project is a record that is genuinely era defining and so befitting of the term Magnum Opus that you expect it’s graceful sprawl is the main reason for him discontinuing his 50 states project (if rumours are to be believed).
From the opening chords of ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting’ to the lo-fi fuzz of ‘…Metropolis’ this is an album that boasts numerous classics that which now can be considered indie staples. There is also a case for Illinois to be considered the most influential record of the noughties although the countless banjo toting imitators are yet to provide a fitting heir. Building on the solemn, minimal folk of Seven Swans, Sufjan added lush orchestration and an an ambition that came as close to possible to realisation.
And so to those highlights; ‘Chicago’ is as transcendently beautiful as upon first listen, ‘Casimir Pulawski Day’ heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure (even I want to take up the banjo after listening) and ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ takes the most gruesome subject matter and injects it with now trademark warmth and humanity. Proof perhaps that in a decade dominated by the religious right in the US and a growing form of particularly strident atheism in pop culture, that infusing your work with your beliefs didn’t have to mean preaching and could make it even more powerful. Christianity apart though, where on earth will he go next? (Adam Grillo)
Producer: Jim O’Rourke, Wilco
Our third favourite album of the decade opens with what may be its greatest lyric: “I am an American aquarium drinker. I assassin down the avenue…”A postmodern take on Iggy Pop’s “streetwalkin’ cheetah” for the new millennium (how long has it been since you last heard that phrase?), the line works as a microcosm for the album with which Wilco made their name, and encapsulates the uncertainty with which they entered the 21st century.
Their first album with drum genius Glen Kotche, the self-produced Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the sound of a band in flux; Jeff Tweedy’s scattered imagery – taking on the media, religion, and what exactly it means to be an American – is laced gracefully across some of the band’s most testing and endearing melodies. Paranoid lullabies like ‘Radio Cure’ and ‘Poor Places’ sit alongside the hymnal ‘Jesus, etc.’, the lyrics of which (“Tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs”) make an obvious case for why so many Americans held YHF to their hearts after September 11th – coincidentally, until Reprise dropped the band, also the album’s original release date.
Meanwhile, in the album’s latter half, the sumptuous pop of ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’, ‘Pot Kettle Black’ and ‘I’m the Man Who Loves You’ make for a perfectly-timed triptych which saves the album from caving in on its own dystopian vision; the former’s breezy nostalgic acoustics could be picture in reverse on the dashboard of R.E.M.’s ‘Nightswimming’, while the latter is one of the most riotously uplifting moments in the band’s catalogue.
The album paints a desolate picture – albeit one in which, in true patriotic fashion, there’s always a glimmer of hope; the Stars and Stripes may be reduced to ashes, but still the band salute. I had reservations about so many things this decade, but not about Wilco. (Alex Wisgard)
Producer: Arcade Fire
Label: Rough Trade / Merge
Funeral is the sound of winter’s past, of tragedies endured, of hope reclaimed. It’s an album that pulls at the heartstrings without sounding overwrought, an album that can make you dance (and maybe even jump around a little) without ever sounding basic or simplistic. And although it’s not the most immediate of albums, it’s one that pays back perseverance a hundredfold- at first, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, but when it finally “clicked” it was as an epiphinal moment as I’ve ever experienced. Opener ‘Tunnels’ is sheer perfection in song form- gloriously evocative both musically and lyrically, it’s beautifully put together; the sharp piano chords piercing the muted, shimmering production like children stomping through the snow, the crisp, sustained report of the snare drum and the breathtaking harmonies of the coda (which for my money is the single most sublime minute of music committed to record this decade). Some would contend the jerky, ramshackle chaos of ‘Laika’ or ‘Power Out’s scintillating assault on the senses is where Funeral excels, and it’s certainly an understandable point of view, but for me it’s all about the emotional rawness of ‘In The Backseat’ (an elegy to lost loved ones) or the sheer, unrestrained anthemic vitality of ‘Wake Up’. Perhaps the album is short on subtlety but there’s something endearing about a band so willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves- ‘Crown of Love’ is permeated by an earnestness that would be unpalatable in lesser hands, but it’s underpinned with such achingly beautiful passion it’s transformed into something truly joyous (and that cathartic orchestral-disco breakdown must rank as one of the most wonderful climaxes ever).
Meaningful and moving without collapsing under the weight of its own self-seriousness (a fate Neon Bible didn’t entirely avoid), it’s clear with Funeral Arcade Fire weren’t trying to be cool- you just need to look at any publicity photo for proof of that- they weren’t trying to capture the zeitgeist or jump on whatever bandwagon was rolling through the indie scene at the time. They were just a bunch of guys (and girls) putting all their hearts and soul into their music, wrapping it up it sumptuous arrangements and producing what remains a peerless testament to the joy and wonder the best music can elicit. (Adam Elmadhi)
Producer: Nigel Godrich, Radiohead
Label: Parlophone / Capitol
Has there even been a band who’ve topped a strong first decade in such a magnanimous, definitive manner? In the late-90s, Radiohead were already being described in such certain terms as “the most important band on the planet”, OK Computer was near-universally lauded as the best album of the decade, a tour-de-force from a band at the height of their powers.
Height of their powers my arse. Going into the noughties, Radiohead were a band with everything to lose. It seems silly to even speculate about this now, but the potential for them to release albums of ever-decreasing impact and slowly fade into old age was pretty high, especially when you consider the stories of in-fighting and enmity within the band that leaked during the touring and recording before Kid A’s release. In retrospect, “doing a Kid A” was the only way to go.
Funny, isn’t it, how “doing a Kid A” has become such common lazy journalistic parlance for “a band changing their sound a bit”. Because the thing is, Kid A doesn’t really represent a massive leap from their previous work. Revisiting OK Computer with Kid A in mind reveals not a band at the height of their powers, but a band awkwardly trying to figure out what the hell those powers even are. “Doing a Kid A” should really refer to those rare occasions when a band tops an exceptional album with a truly, truly essential one.
And essential it is. Even only 9 years on, it’s easy to underestimate the impact and influence Kid A had on just about everything since. Not simply in the kind of music people were making, but the kind of music people wanted to listen to. The most important rock band of the ‘90s were suddenly responsible for a re-invigoration of serious dance music, and though I barely dare venture to suggest it, the huge popularity of dubstep in the latter half of the decade still feels as though it owes some debt to Radiohead making it not only acceptable, but necessary to indulge in that end of the musical spectrum. With one album, Radiohead shattered the elitist rockism that had reigned the ‘90s, from grunge through britpop to Radiohead themselves. The upshots of this were many, the downsides were bands like Keane thinking that having a synthesiser made them a radical creative powerhouse.
And yet, all this context is just bollocks, isn’t it? It might look good and sound good, but really, if you listen to Kid A and are sat there thinking about how different the musical landscape of the noughties would have been without it, then you probably don’t deserve to be listening to Kid A. The simple, undeniable fact is that Kid A is one of the finest albums ever written, recored and released. It transcends context and biographical waffle, it makes everything else into an irrelevance. It’s Kid freaking A. (Adam Nelson)