Sunday, December 6, 2009

Albums of the past decade: 2000

Hi, so like a lot of other semi-music focused things, I am going to take some time out and reflect across the past decade as it was heard through my ears. There is a catch to everything I am presenting though: I will be including all the albums that made an impression on me on some way. Positive, negative, full length, EP, relevant and irreverent — it will all be here and it will all be fair game.

So, to start at the beginning, here are my picks for the year of 2000. For convenience, things are listed in alphabetic order.

The Appleseed Cast — Mare Vitalis

I likened it to a noisy sonic rendition of Albert Camus in my initial review and while I'm not quite sure what I was getting at back then, it has stood up incredibly and can now be recognized as the band's big leap forward. The longer song forms, the more complicated arpeggios and guitar layers, the shying away from screamo vocals... it's all there as a good foundation for the rest of the band's catalogue. They certainly got better, but for all intents and purposes, the Appleseed Cast, as they became to be known, starts here.

Erykah Badu — Mama's Gun

An outright beautiful album with a brilliantly realized epic scope, it was definitely one I did not see coming. I expected to like it and bought it on its release date, but I just did not see something this perfected and cohesive coming from Erykah Badu. It articulately touches on many themes of love and loss in a wholly unique way and that alone makes it one of the decade's best albums. But musically, it also represents a landmark as well: it was one of a few meetings of the production super group, the Soulquarians, masterminded by the Roots' Questlove and spearheaded by James Poyser and the late James "J Dilla" Yancey. Albums are rarely as complete as this.

Bjork — Selmasongs

I hated it the first few times I played it. To this day, it's probably my least favorite Bjork album, but it does have a couple really worthwhile songs that sound less like Bjork performing in character and more like Bjork the musician developing her sound. And, as such things go, those two or three tracks provide a wonderful preview for her following album. But as a proper Bjork album, it's probably her most challenging and overall, not that rewarding.

Blackalicious — Nia

This is the hip hop album that made me question whether or not I should continue to call the sonic backdrops in hip hop just 'beats.' Because, disregarding the absolutely strong lyrical performance by the Gift of Gab, Chief Xcel's production on this album made the term 'beats' seem wholly inadequate. Lush layers of chunky drums and melodic samples mingled with live instruments like nothing and it all blended together to make for a downright feel good affair.

Ron Carter — When Skies Are Grey...

One of a string of recent Ron Carter albums that finds him in perhaps the happiest mood of his entire career. It's almost like, with his more recent Blue Notes, he's saying, 'Yeah, I've changed the face of jazz in the past, now it's time to have fun.' And on this Latin-themed session, it's all about that. Latin jazz standards like 'Corcovado' and 'Cubano Chant' show up in outstanding, though far from revelatory, renditions that place enthusiasm over experience. Sure, this album, maybe even more than any of Carter's sessions with him, could be viewed as more of Stephen Scott feature than a proper Ron Carter album, but that's not the point. The point is that this is a fun album by a living legend.

The Chameleons — Strip

I too cried foul when the reunion was announced and the first album was basically an acoustic rehearsal tape. But the years, like all of the Chams' music, have been kind to this one. At the the time, I often skipped ahead to the two new songs at the end: the surprisingly Durutti Column-ish instrumental 'Road to San Remo' and the equally as eye-opening first, rootsy sun-baked run-through of 'Indian' (later to be resurrected as 'Indiana'; but we'll get to that). If I hadn't been so impatient, I'd have noticed somewhat revelatory revisions of old favorites like 'Less Than Human', 'Nathan's Phase', 'On the Beach' and especially 'Soul In Isolation.' A good table setter.

Coastal — self-titled

You know an album is worthwhile when you hear it for the first time roughly eight years after it was released and it still sounds fresh. Such is the case with Coastal's first album. It's that plodding slowcore sound, but in more a pop-oriented mode than say, Sigur Ros or Low. Pure slow, pretty, glacial brilliance. An album that I revisit frequently.

Coldplay — Parachutes

Sure, it's easy to look back at it in retrospect cynically now, but at the time? It truly displaced my life for a good few months. It was like Radiohead's poppiest moments mellowing out with the Cure's most resonating singles, all the while having that yearning quality of deep down just wanting to be noisy melodic rock band. The formula has been abused by this point, but suspend all that revisionism, go back and listen to "Shiver" or "Don't Panic" and try not to enjoy the hell out of it. It'll be one of the hardest things you ever fail at.

Common — Like Water for Chocolate

Wow. I can't fathom where to begin with this album. Fuck it, I won't even try. In it's original form with the original "Geto Heaven Part Two," it's one of my top ten personal favorites of all time. Just know that. Words don't do it justice.

Nicola Conte — Jet Sounds/Bossa Per Due

This one blew my wig off as well. It was like, 'Wait... you can make an entire composition out of pure samples and still make it sound like jazz?!' He's moved on to bigger and better things since, but this album is pure sample weaving, lounge jazzy magic.

The Cure — Bloodflowers

I've loved this album since the first time I heard it. It's Robert Smith not trying to delude himself into thinking he's an arena rocker and just falling back on his old tricks. Old tricks for him, however, are entirely unique and special when compared to everyone else. One of those most representative of all of the Cure's albums, it holds a special sentimental place because it was my first 'new' album they released after becoming a fan.

D'Angelo — Voodoo

And a third Soulquarians-related release. This one actually came first in the year chronologically. It hasn't aged as well as Like Water For Chocolate or Mama's Gun, but it's one of those albums that I often underrate until I pull it off the shelf and play it again. Then I hear songs like "The Root," "Send it On" and "Africa" and it all makes sense again.

Death Cab for Cutie — We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes

Difficult second album, indeed. Besides "405" (which can be deceiving) this album is a labyrinth of regrets, minor changes and an overall melancholy outlook. I absolutely didn't get it upon initial listens. But, I've found throughout the years, it's probably the DCFC album that I go back to the most. Maybe not their most well-rounded album, but it still mines a certain mood and executes it perfectly for fourty minutes. And it was recorded in analouge. How can you not love that?

Death Cab for Cutie — The Forbidden Love EP

A wonderful companion piece, it contains two sprightly songs (the perennial live favorite "Photo Booth" and one of the band's most perfect pop songs, "Song For Kelly Huckaby") that weren't on the full length and make the EP totally worthwhile. The rest of the affair is great as well. Program a playlist of Facts and this EP and you get sixty one minutes of focused greatness.

De La Soul — Mosaic Thump

Awesome for the first listen, disappointing ever since. Sure, some songs still stick out ("Foolin'" mostly), but it was their first album in four years and mostly was average. I played it to death regardless. Simply because it was a new record by one of my favorite groups.

Doves — Lost Souls

It took years for this one to really make sense. And to this day, I don't think anybody (myself included) has really fully grasped what Doves are doing. A noisy, distinctly Manchester-bred, blend of anthemic hooks and sporadic danciness presented itself here for the first time. It was like Portishead meets the Chameleons meets Oasis. And, when it's all said and done, Lost Souls may go down as probably their most unfocused album. But still, who had the balls —then or now— to be this uncaringly aloof that their musical stew shouldn't work? An appropriately dense first work from one of the decade's best (and most undervalued) bands.

Earthlings? — self-titled

Weird sci-fi desert rat cartoon stoner rock. Supposedly, Dave Grohl plays drums on a few songs. Who cares when the music is this good? I've heard other things by them and they were nowhere near as fun or as unique. Truly a sleeper or hidden gem.

PJ Harvey — Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

Really heartfelt, heart-tugging stuff from PJ in her self-professed pop mode. I've always thought that this was like PJ's ode to the Cure, as she writes these absolutely wrenching and emotional songs that have these epic, instantaneously memorable hooks. It's probably lame of me to admit this, but this is probably my favorite PJ album, just because it's the one that really hooks people.

Ahmad Jamal — Olympia 2000

Fantastic guest feature from George Coleman on a few tracks, but also the album that pinpointed Ahmad's big creative renaissance of the 2000's. In the classic Jamal mode, it finds him exploring his way through predictable standards in an unpredictable way. Probably one of his more fun albums of the latter half of his career.

The Ocean Blue — Denmark EP

The title track was an 80's jangle pop update from the group's comeback indie album, while the three b-sides were then recently recorded strummers that were 100% satisfying for fans. Oed Ronne's "Sweetheart, You're Surrounded" has become one of my all time favorite songs by the band.

OutKast — Stankonia

I actually didn't like at all at first. It came out the same day as Mama's Gun and it got put on the shelf indefinitely after one play. Time has been no less kind to it though. I still hate the singles, except "So Fresh, So Clean," which is Ok. The album cuts have a lot to offer in retrospect: "Gasoline Dreams," "Humble Mumble," "Spaghetti Junction"... all great songs. I was happy to see them get a bigger and brighter spotlight on the back of "B.O.B." and "Ms. Jackson." The unevenness of the album still bugs me though. Too eccentric for its own good. I can appreciate it on its own merits by now. But truly, coming after Aquemini, it was disappointment supreme for me.

Archer Prewitt — Gerroa Songs

Probably the Archer album I've listened to the most over the years. I can't say why that is, because I love those big, 70's pop style arrangements he usually does — and this is by far his most stripped down affair. He just seems so happy to be singing such miserable songs on this album. Not to mention, they are probably his most consistently catchy tunes. Sure, these songs reward intent listeners, but on the surface, they still have whistleable hooks. And plus, I love the photos on the cover art. Somehow, from music to cover art, I imagine this is probably the purest representation of what Archer is like as a person.

Radiohead — Kid A

So, never before have I been so resistant to something but loved it so much at the same time. I was not into liking "popular" stuff when this album came out, but when I actually heard some bits and pieces over internet previews, I was shocked that something that had so little to do with hip hop had so much in common with it. Even to this day, I kind of don't like that I like it. How well-sequenced is this album, too? Seriously, the first three songs are EPIC and then "Idioteque" is one of the last three tracks and it's one of the decade's best songs. How stupid of them, putting it that late into the album. But, seriously, it's one of the most well-rounded and perfectly realized albums of the decade. And, just maybe, it's the most representative album —for music as a whole— of the decade as well. I inevitably arrive at the point that: any album that's still as talked-about as much as this one is, this long after its initial release, is worth the hype.

Reflection Eternal — Train of Thought

Maaaaan, if it weren't Like For Chocolate, this would've been my hip hop album of the year. Another one of those albums that I underrate until I really sit down with it again. It represented —and still, represents— that really small portion of hip hop that strives to be as artistically relevant as anything else. But it doesn't have that, "Look at me!" quality to it. On the contrary, it's just that high quality and that well-executed. It really contributed to my contemporary philosophy of how important an album's sequencing is approached and how that affects the overall feeling and impact of the material. They —not even Talib or Hi-Tek— just don't make 'em like this anymore.

Sade — Lovers Rock

Yeah, when you talk Sade, it's just presumed that you're talking about that next level of musical quality. It's almost like, if everyone else is in considered the professional league of their country's athletics, Sade is the Olympic calibre athlete of the music world. And, while this album was more streamlined and poppy than her previous classic Love Deluxe, it was not a misstep or disappointment in even their most abstract of definitions. I have a hard time listening to this album and not getting uncontrollably excited, even to this day.

The Sea and Cake — OUI

On some days, my favorite S&C album, it's certainly their most cohesive album. I mean, there have been times that I've sat through this album two or three times straight, front-to-back and not noticed at all. A perfect synthesis of the band's dancy, orchestrated trip-pop and their loungey, jazz-inflected uniqueness. Outstanding.

Sonic Youth — NYC Ghosts & Flowers

Far from my favorite Sonic Youth album, I still find it's one of their albums that I revisit the most. I guess I do so because it's so unlike anything of theirs that came before or after it. It's a really labyrinthine album whose beginning and ending are easy to lose track of during consecutive listens. Some of the band's most inventive later-day guitar work is to be found here. Certainly not their most approachable album, but for longtime fans, consider it a hidden treat.

Trembling Blue Stars — Broken By Whispers

It's easy to listen to this album once, hear "Sometimes I Still Feel the Bruise" and subsequently write off the rest of the album. But, as the Stars go, it is an album that takes multiple listens, sometimes even years (quite literally), to mature and grow into to the point where each song develops its own identity. When that finally does happen, it reveals itself to be a standard TBS affair. That is to say, a uniformly excellent, refined effort that is presented on produced, but defiantly modest, terms.

Sorry this first one took so long. The others are on the way.



Anonymous said...

interesting thoughts and opinions. seems mostly focused on albums, and not songs. hope you keep up the 00s decade retrospective.

- inpulse

Austin said...

That's why the series is called 'ALBUMS of the past decade'!

Just kidding... sort of =)

Thanks for stopping by!


Anonymous said...

ah, missed that. i was thinking it just said 'best of the decade.'