Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Albums of the past decade: 2002

The Appleseed Cast — Lost Songs

Containing weird noise experiments ("House On A Hill"), a completely unexpected —and unexpecdtedly good— remix (the "Ambient Cannibalization" of one of the album's earlier tracks) and secretly three of the band's best songs ("Peril," "Take" and "Novice"), this comes off ultimately like exactly what it is: a piecemeal collection that is completely uncohesive, but still rewarding. Sure, a footnote of a release, but as these songs actually predate the Low Level Owl material, it's fascinating nonetheless. I think this is probably better viewed as a compilation, as it's not really a proper album within the band's catalogue. It certainly was a quencher for me because the majority of it sounded like Low Level Owl outtakes.

Beck — Sea Change

I spent many nights listening to this album by myself and just thinking. The melancholy mood coupled with the loping tempos and Nigel Godrich's sparse, airy and beautiful production seems an invitation to that sort of thing that you just can't refuse. The slight acoustic twang and brilliant touches of pedal steel in some of the songs played up the sad, boozy country singer image of the material and the album was all the better for it. I often pull this album out a few times a year and I still know the songs note for note. Kind of a downer, but my favorites usually are. Although he's seen as the poster boy for the nerdy white junk funk, I truly believe, in the long run, this is the album that Beck will be remembered for. Because it's certainly his most enduring.

Breeders — Title TK

I hated it at the time. Boy, did I ever. Complained there were no tunes to be found anywhere on the damn thing. I listen to it a lot more these days and I've found that it's just one of those albums you can't be too critical of. Like most things in the Breeders' catalogue, it has a very tossed-off, in-the-minute vibe to its presentation. It's not a particularly fun record, but it's not exactly challenging either. "London Song" and "Forced To Drive" have leveled out over the years to reveal themselves to be the album's highlights, but truly, the album is better as a whole. Aggressively sparse, perhaps to a fault. But maybe that was intentional, because the more you play it, the more you notice things you missed previously and the better it gets.

The Chameleons — Live at the Academy

You just can't say enough about how awesome the Chameleons sound live. You just hear this gigantic mountain of beautiful echoey reverby strum and it just doesn't compute that there's only four guys making this epic wall of noise. This is pretty much a greatest hits live sort of album, as it captures the band on their reunion tour. A good mix of old favorites and key songs from the then new album. Sure, you could argue about the selections, but at two discs worth of material, what's here is more than good with me. As wonderful as it is, it's still a live album, so, as such things go, it's mostly only for fans.

The Chameleons — This Never Ending Now

But, on the hand, this is a rather deceptive little record. Another semi-acoustic album of reworked old songs and re-recordings of songs from the new album? Must be a throwaway or contract fulfillment, right? Well, I went in cynically myself, but instead of just playing the songs straight, the album has a unique, intimate feeling to it that breathes new life into classics like "Tears" and "Is It Any Wonder?" The feeling of retrospect and nostalgia that permeates the performances here felt all the more magnified when the band's second disbandment was announced and these were basically the final recordings. Certainly not their most representative album, but more than a footnote and definitely one of my favorites of the decade.

Death Cab For Cutie — Stability EP

A three song EP that shed the familiarity of The Photo Album and, at that point, seemed like the band was going full force into slowcore territory. "20th Century Towers" and the 12-minute title track were a seeming homage to bands like Codeine and Karate. Smack dab in the middle was a near revelatory cover of Bjork's "All is Full of Love." Three songs of hopeful gloom. Wonderful stuff, in all truthfulness. It sounded like the band willfully challenging themselves to do something different and while it was certainly not 100% successful, I loved it at the time. Still do, in fact.

DJ Shadow — The Private Press

I remember being disappointed at the time. But, about six or eight months later, it occurred to me: anything would have disappointed after Endtroducing. There was simply no way he could top that album, especially after an eight year hiatus. Assessing the album on its own terms, you get a glorious hodgepodge of sounds and styles that shouldn't hold together, but confusingly does. The proto-mashup "Six Days" would have been the album's centerpiece were it not for the show-stopping magnificence of "Blood On the Motorway." The best thing about this album is that, besides the few vocal parts here and there, musically speaking, there was no evolution from Endtroducing. It was only a perfection and polishing of that sound. Had Endtroducing not come first, this is the album that would've changed the world. Since it did though, this can now be considered as probably one of the best albums of the decade that was also a huge disappointment.

Doves — The Last Broadcast

Like all of Doves' albums, a seriously unified musical statement. Where some albums get criticized for not being cohesive enough, I would say that The Last Broadcast is too cohesive for its own good. Every song here is so good that they all start to sound pretty samey after a few listens. Oh, except for that little seven minute mini-epic about the fear that is basically a sound collage history of Manchester music. That one wasn't half-bad. On the whole though, probably my least favorite Doves album.

J-Live — All of the Above

To this day, one of the most mature hip hop albums ever created. And please note that I'm using the description 'mature' here as a good (great, in fact) attribute, not as a synonym for 'uneventful' or 'boring.' Technically J's second album, but his first to really be released on schedule as he intended, it was a wonderful blend of carefree boom-bap chunkiness and more soulful, thought-provoking organic elements. Songs like "The 4th 3rd", "Nights Like This" and "Satisfied?" showed there was somebody out there in hip hop land that was able to take the reigns from older similarly-minded groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest and do the music justice. An album I revisit sporadically, but enjoy the heck out of whenever I do.

Public Enemy — Revolverlution

Yes, that's my own Chuck D-autographed cover for this album. It would be the last new PE record that I would buy. It was the first time that I started to have the realization that PE was just not as creatively fertile as they used to be. Even their previous album (the bleakly brilliant There's A POISON Goin' On) was good old classic-sounding Public Enemy. But, amongst a smattering of fan remixes and irrelevant live cuts, the few new songs here were just not good. They've gone on to flood the market ever since and, I'm sad to say, I just don't care anymore.

Q and Not U — Different Damage

Probably the Q's best album, it's definitely their most focused. Starting off noticeably (and quite effectively) toned down with "Soft Pyramids" and running through a cycle of post-hardcore rants and sidebars, it was one of those things that I listened to at the time for the sheer uniqueness it held within my music collection, but as the years have passed and the dust has settled, this one stands up as one of the hidden indie rock gems of the decade.

The Roots — Phrenology

And here is where the line in the sand is drawn. Some hated it, some loved it. Nobody thought this album was 'just ok' or 'not bad.' I didn't think too highly of it at the time, but I still listened with intent ears because it was a new record by one of my favorite groups. Listening now, I can't really say what I disliked so much about it, because it all sounds somewhere in the range of 'not bad' to 'pretty dern good.' The most enduring songs here for me are "The Seed 2.0" simply for the fact that it amused me that they got more popular than ever with one of their least poppy songs and "Water" which was such a rare moment of gut-wrenchingly personal confession from Black Thought that it seemed like I didn't really have a choice of whether or not I liked it. I remember hearing that song for the first time and it wasn't a question of whether or not I liked it; it was more a question of just how good the song was (the answer, as it turned out, was 'epic good'). Certainly not their best album, time has revealed it to be, perhaps ironically, just ok.

Roddy Frame — Surf

The album that would've made him a superstar had he released it in 1986. It's strange to think that this album, released twenty years into his career, was his first all acoustic affair. And it's a good one, to be absolutely sure. At the time, it struck me as his most direct —and, let's be honest here: best— songwriting in quite some years. That last Aztec Camera album was too overproduced and his first album under his own name was import-only, so this was the first new music of his I heard since Frestonia. And it pretty much rocked my world as much as an all acoustic album can. It surprised me thoroughly and it's become one of my favorite middle of the summer midnight walk albums.

Sonic Youth — Murray Street

Hailed as a return to form at the time, I liked about half of it more than anything on their previous two or three albums. The remaining material was pretty good too, but all of it was certainly nothing new. It can now be viewed as the start of a trilogy of albums for the band that found them in a creative renaissance that revealed nothing new, but found them in better spirits than they'd been in for years. If anything, it was the first album where I really started to notice the jammy aspects of the band, which was confusing and simultaneously awesome.

Much more on the way.


1 comment:

xmnr0x23 said...

I loved Private Press when it came out, and it didn't disappoint me. However, I sort of let go when The Outsider was released. I salute Shadow for trying different things and not trying to repeat himself, but it's no longer my cup of tea.

Public Enemy holds a special place in my heart as they triggered my love for hip-hop a looooong time ago. I saw them live (with the Terror Squad,) and the raw power of that gig was... Impressive!