Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of the Decade: Albums

There’s a bunch of catching up to do with best of lists. Look for the best film and TV of 2009 tomorrow, but for now, here’s the best albums of the decade…

10. Justice – Cross - I like a lot of things about Daft Punk’s Human After All, but Cross seems a lot more like the second best Daft Punk album of the decade. Of course, Justice do have their own slightly harder aesthetic, crafting some of the most intense dance songs of all time on tracks like “Phantom” and “Stress.” But, they could still kill it on the best hipster dance anthem of all time, “D.A.N.C.E.”

9. Scissor Sisters – Scissor Sisters - The album leads off with a succession of instant classic hits, ranging from the glam rock of “Laura” to the rock stomp of “Take Your Mama” to the Moroder inspired neo-disco of “Comfortably Numb.” Those three songs alone would make a classic album, but the rest of the album doesn’t let up. It’s one of the all time great debut albums.

8. The Raveonettes – Pretty in Black - The Raveonettes are a strange case for me, I like everything they’ve done, but I absolutely love this album. They bring the hidden darkness of 50s pop to the fore, crafting songs that seem to come from another world. Rockers like “Somewhere in Texas” or “Twilight” are great, but the best song for me is by far the ballad “Uncertain Times.”

7. The Polyphonic Spree – Together We’re Heavy - On their first and third albums, the Spree generally played tightly structured songs, only on this album did they sprawl out for epics befitting the massive size of the ensemble. One of my all time favorite concert moments was hearing them open their 2004 Irving Plaza set with “We Sound Amazed,” with a sound so huge it literally shook their floor. This album feels very much of a piece, moving seamlessly through longer and shorter songs and culminating in an epic callback to the sun, that brings it full circle with their first album.

6. Junior Senior – Hey Hey My My Yo Yo - One of the greatest pop albums of all time, every song on here is an ecstatic, instantly catchy piece of musical candy. “Take my Time” is a great 80s style dance track, but the high point is the soaring tribute to music “I Like Music” which soars to Michael Jackson heights of pop greatness.

5. Phoenix – Alphabetical - Phoenix broke out with their fantastic fourth album this year, but I still don’t think they’ve topped the smooth synth sound of their second album. Very emotional, but still danceable, the album features the most consistently catchy songs of their career. “Run Run Run” is haunting, layered and totally danceable, and is always the highlight of their live set. If you’ve only heard their most recent stuff, dig back and check this one out.

4. Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress - A controversial album for many of their fans, DCW saw Belle and Sebastian shift to a more poppy direction, a change that obviously worked very well for me. Virtually every song on here is a joyous anthem, from the cheeky opener “Step into My Office, Baby” to the 80s inspired closer “Stay Loose.” The album features killer guitar solos on “Loose” and “Roy Walker,” but the high point for me is the anthemic “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love,” a pure piece of sonic joy.

3. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible - I loved many of the 00s’ anthemic multi-instrumental bands, but none of them matched the work that Arcade Fire did on their second album. Diversifying their sound from their already great first album, they crafted one of the deepest, most moving albums I’ve ever heard, full of incredibly beautiful moments. From the climactic crescendo of “No Cars Go” to the majesty of “Intervention” to the cathartic release of energy in “Ocean of Noise,” it’s an album of moments that will last forever.

2. Lovage – Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By - I’ve tried to find more albums like this after listening to it, but nothing else has matched. Dan the Automator’s production lays a soft bed of strings and mood that perfectly accompanies the vocal interplay between Mike Patton’s animal growls and Jennifer Charles’ sexy purr. It’s an album that builds its own world, alternating between skits that poke fun at the very idea of a sexy album like this, and songs that deliver on the title’s promise.

1. Daft Punk – Discovery - You could make a very convincing argument that every trend in 00s pop music began here. Autotune’s roots lie in the vocoder on “One More Time,” and were catapulted to prominence when Kanye sampled “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” The 70s cheese synth aesthetic started out as weird here, but has now become pop, thanks to bands like Phoenix and MGMT. And, most importantly, the album made it cool for music to be fun and pop and cheesy without worrying about “authenticity” or “selling out.” Discovery is as pop as it gets, and that’s its joy! It puts a smile on your face, starting with the greatest album opening run of all time, seamlessly transitioning from the disco pop perfection of “One More Time” to the hard rock dance blend of “Aerodynamic” into the 80s synth cheese perfection of “Digital Love” into “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” No album makes me as happy as this one, and no album has influenced the past decade of music more than Daft Punk did with this masterpiece.


Mercer Finn said...

Nice list. Do find it funny that the three B&S songs you highlight are the ones I absolutely cannot stand. My Dear Catastrophe Waitress does the decent thing and ends at 'Lord Anthony'.

Also: looking at the kind of music on the list, may I recommend British dance duo Basement Jaxx. Lots of music obsessives were arguing at the start of the 00s about whether Jaxx or Daft Punk would crossover and become massive. It's clear now that the latter won hands down, but I still nurse a soft spot for the underdog...

Patrick said...

I will say those songs are probably the least B&S like, but they work for me. From the standpoint of being a good B&S album, I think The Life Pursuit does a better job of fusing the strengths of their older work with the new energy of their later work. Now, if only they'd get a new album out, Life Pursuit was five years ago now.

And, I'll have to give Basement Jaxx a deeper listen. I've heard a couple of tracks, but never anything serious, but it sounds like they're worth checking out.

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