Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Preteens

It's the end of decade! That is, unless you're one of those pedantic technically-speaking-2010-is-the-end-of-the-decade-because-there-was-no-year-zero people. Which I'm not. Say goodbye to the 00's, the "Ohs", the "2Ks", the "Noughties". I'm calling them the "preteens" purely becuase I haven't heard anyone but me offer it up as a potential name for this decade. Yep. I'm that self-satisfied.


I know, I know. Top 10 lists are soooo cliche. Tough. Here comes a top ten list, along with my thoughts about the albums. I hope you enjoy!

Do you disagree? Anything you'd put on your list? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

God, I love music.

Top 10 albums of the preteens, according to me
I'm trying reaaaaaallly hard not to weight this list too heavily to the last couple of years, with albums like Grizzly Bear's Vekatimest that I adore right now, but -- let's be honest -- I'll hardly remember in five years. Also, I refuse to rank them, so it's alphabetical. Also, there are twelve entries. Whatcha gonna do about it? Huh? HUH!? Okay, here goes:

The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
I debated long and hard (nearly two minutes!) over which Decemberists album to put on this list, and I almost included two. Upon my first listen, I didn't care for the Crane Wife as much as Picaresque. Maybe becuase it's a little less quirky. But as it grew on me, I discovered it was a deeply rich and engrossing album, with common threads (both figurative and literal, if you listen to the lyrics) running throughout the album. Like all Decemberists albums, it's one for storytellers and story lovers.

If you liked this album, check out bluegrass artist Sarah Jarosz's album Song Up in her Head to hear a gorgeous and chilling cover of the song "Shankhill Butchers".

The Dresden Dolls, The Dresden Dolls
If you're not already a Dresden Dolls or Amanda Palmer fan (you probably are), go buy this album right now. Listen to it. Then once more. Then come back here. Congratulations! You're now a Dresden Dolls fan!

Elastica, The Menace
This album is probably not making many best-of-the-decade lists. But you know what? I really like it, so there. Oh, how I miss Elastica.

Goldfrapp, Felt Mountain
Goldfrapp has become quite popular as a sort of weirdo-disco artist in the last few years. Even if you don't know her (she's not gotten near the attention here in the US as in Europe), you've heard music her on TV shows, in commercials and in films.

Felt Mountain, Goldfrapp's first album, is quite a bit different from later releases. Rather than quirky eletcronic dance pop, this album sounds like it was recorded in a smoke-filled speakeasy in the middle of an enchanted forest. How's that for a metaphor? This album is filled with haunting, jazz-ish melodies; strange howls and whistles; and an unrelentingly erotic air. The most upbeat song here, "Human", might as well have been a Shirley Bassey song, and that is not a bad thing at all. I LOVE this album.

PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Anyone who knows me knows that I love me some Polly Jean Harvey. She's almost certianly on my list of top five favorite artists. But there really are two different PJ Harveys, and it seems that they alternate between albums. One PJ is a manic, rocking badass who could eat Mic Jagger for a midnight snack. The other is introspective, soulful, haunting and (relatively) subdued. I tend to prefer my PJ loud and in charge, but this album is by far the best of "quiet" PJ (though it's FAR from quiet at times) and is one of my favorite albums. Period.

The Thom Yorke duet "This Mess We're In" is beyond gorgeous, and "A Place Called Home" would surely be one of my answers if this were a lame Facebook "If you could only listen to the same five songs..." quiz. Which it is not.

Metric, Live It Out
Blah blah blah. I just wrote a long and pretentious passage about how so much of the decade's important music (blah blah Arcade Fire blah blah Broken Social Scene yada yada Feist) came from Canada, and it included jokes about Crash Test Dummies and William Shatner. But I scrapped it. The point is this: Metric is one of the best bands making music today, in my opinion. Any of their albums could have made this list, but I went with this one. There's not a song on it that I don't love. Excellent.

Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero
I "discovered" music in part because of NIN's album The Downward Spiral, which *HOLY CRAP CAME OUT 15 YEARS AGO WTF!?!?!??!*

After Spiral, it seemed like a looooooooong wait for another proper album from Reznor & Co. When The Fragile (and later, With Teeth) was finally released, I was more than a little disappointed. It just didn't speak to me at all, and I considered giving up on NIN entirely.

Then came Year Zero. YZ is so many things: It's a concept album. It's social activism. It's environmental activism. It's pointed criticism of religious fanaticism, racism, nationalism, fascism and corporate greed. It's a multifaceted, multilayered story told across different media, including the album itself, music videos, websites from the "future", real-world events orchestrated as part of an alternate reality game, and even mysterious USB drives filled with hidden clues left where fans might stumble upon them. And on top of all of that, it's a phenomenal album musically. A superb evolution of the NIN sound. I heart it.

Also, in case you were keeping track, the total number of words ending in "-ism" in the last paragraph: 7

Noisettes, What's the Time, Mr. Wolf
Every time I listen to this album, I find myself singing along, loudly, whether I want to or not. Nothing fancy here, just really well-executed, loud, fun rock-and-roll. If you've not heard this ridiculously fantastic album (and you probably haven't), imagine what the Pixies might sound like if they were fronted by Billie Holiday, and you're getting close. Unfortunately, the Noisettes went in a different direction for their second album: mostly boring, over-produced pop. They're more successful now, so good for them. But I miss this incarnation of the Noisettes.

Portishead, Third
Do this right now: Build a time machine, go back in time to 1998, find one of the newfangled "Internet Cafes" and look at some profiles on an internet personals site. Find the question that asks what music is the best to make love to. You'll likely see one of two bands (strangely, both hailing from Bristol, England): Massive Attack and Portishead.

The Portishead of the 90s was phenomenal music. I adored their first two albums, which sounded like they'd been designed with three purposes in mind: fucking, bleak rainy days, and early James Bond films. Their first two albums of truly excellent music helped spawn an entire new genre of music: trip-hop.

But even I, a Portishead fan, can recognize that another album of the same sound would have been overkill. I suspect the band members also realized this, so a long time passed before Portishead's third album called, uhh... Third, was recorded. And WOW, was it worth the wait.

Gone are the idiosyncratic spy-theme grooves and the record scratches. This Portishead is ferocious; full of distortion, aggressive drums and hypnotic sounds. And Beth Gibbons voice sounds more willful than ever. And yet, it still Portishead down to the last ounce. Every time I listen to this album, I discover new layers and new sonic adventures. (Huh, that statement sounds a lot more like it should involve cartoon hedgehogs than I'd intended it to).

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
Best album of the decade. End of review.*

*-Except to note that it's also S-K's final album, which sucks.

Runners Up (i.e., superb albums I'm too lazy to write a review for):

Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box

Mary Timony, Ex Hex

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just to move that last post down from the top

I'll have more real substance in my posts coming after the year. (Maybe before, who can say?)

This post is mainly to move that last post down the page a bit. I was having a bit of a bad day that day.

Aaaand, on that note, I'm out!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas this year.

It's been nearly a month since I've written a post. I think it's a record!

So, Christmas this year will be strange for me. It really is going to be just like any other day
and no, not for the reasons you think: Sure, I'm an atheist, but I've got nothing against Christmas. Ultimately, it's a secular holiday with a religious name and a few religious traditions attached to it (and, really, it always has been).

No, this will be the first Christmas I'll be spending more or less like every other day. I'll have no family in town, and all of my friends have elected not to do gift exchanges this year... This makes Christmas shopping REALLY easy, but still I feel like I'm missing out on something, and I'm not quite sure why. Despite not having anything against Christmas, neither have I any particular attachment to it... Still, it feels like I should be doing SOMETHING on the 25th.

Any ideas?