There’s always the fear with these lists that the brain-spatula will miss something important from the crevices of your musical memories of the decade. We can, and do, hope that someone else will remember the bits that we forget. We also remember the word floccinaucinihilipilificate, which means “to consider [something] worthless”, and remember that many people hold this position regarding lists like these. The noughties, or naughties, might be the last decade in which it is appropriate to laud “albums”.

If that proves to be the case, then these are the ones we want to laud last.

< 80-61 | 40-21 >

60.

Nick Cave
Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus

Mute, 2004

The reason why anyone in the past thirty years has given Nick Cave's music the time of day is because they want to have sex with him. For a certain stripe of his fanbase -- the kind of girl who keeps DVD copies of Labryinth hidden inside Criterion cases for The Night Porters -- it's all about his 80s output, when he was basically Edward Cullen with genitals. What makes "Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus" that much more pleasing, though, is that now he comes across, after a few years of "Hey you ever notice that Christ dude was kinda cool?" output, as someone you wouldn't just have 36 hours of passion in unmade sheets with, but rather as someone you could legitimately put a ring on.

So, yeah, he offers to put "one hand down our panties" on one track before comparing his cunnilingus technique to that of a deer chewing on grass, but then on "There She Goes My Beautiful World" he romantically notes that "You're not much of a muse... I'm not much of a poet" before offering to peel some grapes for us. You telling me you couldn't take that home to your parents? And what about "O Children"? If the trip-hop-through-treacle sound of that doesn't make you want to come off the pill, nothing will.

What I'm trying to get across here with this endless stream of pish is that most hoary of review cliches: this is the album where Cave finally sounded comfortable with being three decades past his youth, and made an album that sounded "veteran" without being "clapped out". Understand?

Also, get on your local friendly P2P service now and seach out the demo version of single "Nature Boy". It features Cave stylin' and profilin' in a $10,000 robe before slapping the figure-four on a bloodied Warren Ellis. Woo!

– Dom Passantino


59.

Belle and Sebastian
Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Jeepster/Matador, 2003

From the get-go, Stuart Murdoch and his band of merry men and women have had the whole “teenage angst” thing on lock. Pulling every lyrical heartstring available and reveling in the wonder and mystery of being young, confused, and in love (often all at once), Murdoch matured as a lyricist in the womb, apparently.

On Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the music finally caught up. Growing in leaps and bounds from the early Felt and Smiths-influenced sound of pastoral 80s British Indie music, the group finally started to take advantage of the size and versatility inherent in its shifting (and rather large) line-up. Strings and horns are used like actual grown-ups would deploy them; new influences shine, from the Thin Lizzy glamstomp on “I’m A Cuckoo” to the icy and precise New Wave-isms of “Stay Loose” and all manners of classic 60s and 70s pop, including the slick Philly Soul of “If She Wants Me” and the Byrdsian chime of “Wrapped Up In Books.” Nothing sounds alike, and yet everything sounds like Belle & Sebastian. An identity crisis? Hardly.

The band now functioning like a fine-tuned machine rather than a ramshackle group of friends playing in the basement simply traded in one sort of charm for another, but Murdoch’s ever-keen lyrics tie it all together. Not-so-secret weapon: If you don’t see yourself in at least one song’s romantic scenarios here, perhaps you haven’t hit puberty yet. Waitress is Belle & Sebastian’s defining statement and its most completely satisfying effort from start to glorious finish.

– Todd Hutlock


58.

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

Domino, 2009

Brian Wilson used to compose what were widely known as “pocket symphonies.” Dave Longstreth lost his pocket, and then tried to stitch it back together. Up until Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors music was the sound of the stitching—Longstreth navigating his id in an effort to attain an evocation of his Super-ego. Finally, we have the pocket. With Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman, Longstreth found the harmonies to clothe his naked, fluttering voice. Add the furtively powerful Brian McOmber—who does the best John Bonham impression since Dave Grohl—there’s the tie that binds.

Bitte Orca is, finally, a navigable map of Longstreth’s previously unwieldy ambitions. If there’s any sort of victory to this album, it’s that he and his perky post-grads find ways to hit the extremes of experimental rock without sacrificing the immediacy of pop music. While chords, time signatures, vocal melodies, guitar lines, and song structures are constructed in noticeably complex fashion, the songs are nonetheless absorbing. “Cannibal Resource” is the genetic strain shared by “Black Dog” and “The Song Remains the Same.” Fans of mainstream R&B are quick to lambast “Stillness Is the Move” for being too wooden an attempt at the genre; but as an example of how the most fringed music can learn from the most mainstream, it’s marvelous.

On “Temecula Sunrise,” Longstreth makes a sex metaphor out of Gatorade. Gatorade! On “Fluorescent Half-Dome,” he looks at people with needles in his eyes. On “No Intention,” which is like “Under Pressure” sippin’ on some sizzurp, the freshness of Longstreth’s reality makes him feel tingly and hot. Doesn’t the freshness of one’s reality make people feel tingly and hot too?

Dirty Projectors in 2009 remind me most of Talking Heads in 1979, ambitiously eager to confront the oncoming decade with vigor and passion. But there’s one difference: The Heads feared music, while Dirty Projectors sound like they love the hell out of it.

– Tal Rosenberg


57.

Luomo
The Present Lover

Force Tracks, 2003

Have the forlorn ever sounded so luscious, exorbitant? It starts on “Visitor” with a tremble, a plea that “I doubt you’d let me burn”, and a bass line trying to find its footing among the wreckage. And by the time “The Present Lover” arrives, Luomo ditches the depths, the slow-mo unfurls of his Vocalcity, and trades it for a more visceral pop. The title track starts and ends with the stabbing bass - propelling forward, drunkenly swaying back into the groove. The rest – displaced vocals, the snare crunch, and synthesizer freak-out – all fall perfectly in line. Even moments that initially felt like missteps on The Present Lover have fermented and made potent over time. The macro-lens re-framing of “Tessio” with a new blue-eyed guitar, sounds deliriously pristine; it trades the once-foggy anthem for the clean, anti-aliased lines. The difference is psychedelic - each hyper-real part pops in high definition.

And for that pop, Luomo’s signature expanses may have been flattened in The Present Lover, but the swirling dub still remains. The terrain might not be three dimensional, but space is created from the submerged, round bass hooks of “Could Be Like This” and “Shelter” billowing from lower frequencies upward into the shimmering synths, skittering vocals. If there’s an over-riding tension in The Present Lover, it’s the push-pull of microhouse’s sublimated tics adorning chunky stabbing hooks. More often than not, the tension is still unresolved and messy, the micro- and macro- have never been forced so hard to inhabit the same space. But the result is a series of inexplicable, almost-too-rich aural moments – the meticulous scamper of the snares on “So You” and the curly-cues made from AGF’s accent on “Cold Lately.” Even throwing aside micro-textures for the rumbling churn of “What Good,” Luomo throws in a swift key change that is a kick to the gut, in the best possible way. For all of the album’s immediate pleasures, nothing feels simple or obvious. Emphatic - oh god yes - but Luomo plunges through the album straddling the hollow and sumptuous like they were of the same emotion. It’s a bit superficial, but look at that surface.

– Nate DeYoung


56.

Booka Shade
Movements

Get Physical, 2006

Movements is the sound of an act utterly owning their moment. Berlin 2006, the force behind the Get Physical label dance duo Booka Shade synthesized the key sounds of minimal, tech and electrohouse into something world beating. The basic template is set about forty seconds in when the epic, effortless bass riff kicks in on “Night Falls.” Their trick is to craft tracks that seem directly mapped to the body’s pleasure receivers. It’s as if Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger had spent years cooped up in a bunker analysing every dance track ever released and found the essence of the rush. Each element is polished to a breathtaking shine then deployed like a serotonin firework display, each explosion more dazzling than the last. 2008's The Sun and the Neon Light felt bloated in comparison, its attempts to broaden their palette unfocused in comparison to the purity of the sound and vision on design classics like “Mandarine Girl” and “In White Rooms.” Like that other 21st century design classic the iPod, they combine function and form with beautiful precision; you can hardly imagine them any other way. It’s not all bangers though - tracks like “Lost High” and “At The Window” are startlingly pretty and coloured with a subtle sadness, a nostalgia for dance floors past. The nimbleness with which they entwine elation and regret turns Movements not just of its moment but also of the morning – and life – after.

– Paul Scott


55.

Missy Elliott
Miss E...So Addictive

Elektra, 2001

As both Missy Elliott and collaborator/producer Timbaland have inched closer towards self-parody, it's worth remembering the effect their remarkable “Get Ur Freak On” had upon first airing: a mesmerising, confounding reinvention of everything that popular R&B and hip hop didn't quite know it could be. Within a few years of the song's release, bhangra beats in pop would be as appetizing as last night's microwaved curry (particularly when wielded by Timbaland), but Miss E...'s leading single still stands as a testament to Elliott's ability to stay one step ahead of the game, as does the album. The record's sheer breadth of styles and references was reflected in its varied successes: the, well, freaky “Get Ur Freak On,” the sublime R&B sass of “One Minute Man,” the club monster “4 My People” (which, spectacularly, employed flipping records and needles on tracks as a sexual metaphor). Across the album, Elliott effortlessly shifts from rap braggadocio through to syrupy love jams and irresistible party tracks; her fearless - and curious - exploration of genres (particularly dance) that hip hop had previously looked askance at was infectious. Sure, the moments of drippy romantic sincerity were as tiresome as any other turn-of-the-century balladry (witness “Take Away,” whose slow-mo string arrangements were seemingly stuck eternally in second gear - and get a load of that mystifying vocoder solo!); Elliott's fascination with the slow jam has led her down some dreadful garden paths. But Miss E... So Addictive's "failings", oddly enough, only serve to demonstrate just how compelling its strengths are. "I know you dig the way I switch my style", was her knowing “Get Ur Freak On” wink to the listener. She wasn't wrong.

– Clem Bastow


54.

Britney Spears
Blackout

Jive, 2007

Records of dissolution should be just that: fragmented, sprawling… think Here, My Dear. Think Pussy Cats. Think (Lord willing) the next Amy Winehouse album. Yet, as Britney Spears lounged in the fall cool of her own lost weekend, she worked an alternate route: a demonically lean, club-friendly set. About the Void. The record billed by some poor flack as a collection of songs about “blocking out negativitiy and embracing life fully” was actually darker than Drudkh, a defense of the popstar lifestyle too brave or dumb to shuck the dread. Poor previous chart showings and an impressive maelstrom of questionable life choices kept this album from the usual platinum status, a shame given the sound: nimble, gonzo variations on critical crossovers like "Toxic" and "I'm a Slave 4 U". Of the usual production coterie (Bloodshy & Avant, Danja, The Clutch), the Swedish B&A get in the most tricks: androgynous pitchshifting; bassy synth squelch; and with "Piece of Me," an irresistably crass defense of the whole mess. No treacle, no pity: this is the Britney that Lady GaGa sought to hermetically replicate, a set of Europe-informed broadsides unmatched that year for defiant pop bleakness. The album closes with "Why Should I Be Sad," the lone Neptunes contribution. It's a detailed breakdown of her separation from co-punchline Kevin Federline, a gentle patter of rattling percussion, stutter beat, and deft rhymes ("I sent you to Vegas with a pocketful of paper/And with no ultimatums on you/I thought 'what could separate us'/But it just seemed like Vegas/Only brought the player out of you..." ), and after the nugatory rush of the previous eleven cuts, it's a heartbreaking comedown. Even here, though, she's enmeshed in the machine: "Britney, let's go," orders Pharrell, and with that, she's done. It's not quite Richard-and-Linda, but it's a monster, and thrice the album Confessions wanted to be.

– Brad Shoup


53.

The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow

Sub Pop, 2003

How do you follow up an album that even Natalie Portman says can change your life?

Synthesizing a love of lo-fi folk-rock and Elephant 6’s neo-classicism, Oh! Inverted World was an album everyone seemed to discover, passed from a friend, older sister, or mediocre Zach Braff movie. That its 2003 follow-up failed to similarly set the world aflame should come as no surprise. Chutes Too Narrow contains nothing as immediately catchy as “New Slang” or “Caring is Creepy,” and abandons its predecessor’s analog earthiness in favor of a gleaming power-pop shine. Some artists fall into a sophomore slump by trying to replicate a breakthrough’s success. James Mercer seems to have approached this album as if his first had never existed.

Chutes Too Narrow is a slippery record, a restless showcase for impressionistic lyrics that can sound a little heady on first impact. But six years after its release, Mercer’s adroit song cycle sounds richer, more idiosyncratic, and oddly personal for such a deliberate album. Abounding with odd melodic turns and chiming filigrees of guitar, this is the work of a brilliant, if unpredictable (and if Wincing the Night Away is any indication, unreliable) pop craftsman. Mercer has a knack for sequencing, emphasizing the contrast between Big Star guitar rock (“So Says I”), intricate psychedelia (“Saint Simon”), and finger-picked balladry (“Those To Come”), but it all feels of a piece. By the time of “Gone For Good,” a neo-bluegrass gem driven by steel guitar and sheer nostalgia, you feel that you’ve shared in some secret process of self-discovery, and are ready for the end of the relationship it signals. It’s a break-up song that sounds expansive as a panoramic view of the Southwest, as American as Aaron Copeland and a lot less pretentious. When Mercer tells his former lover “You wanna jump and dance but you sat on your hands,” he’s identified the fear of stillness that lies at the root of his own restlessness. Here’s hoping he sticks to his own advice.

– Patrick McKay


52.

Sleater-Kinney
The Woods

Sub Pop, 2005

Select wisdom from Sleater-Kinney's torrential swan song: fuck Franz Ferdinand, fuck people who commit suicide, fuck the “modern” world with its TV and hunger, fuck this band, fuck me baby, fuck me. (Let's call it love.)

Anyone who tagged them too smart for punk was playing pedestal; they couldn't be stupider. Lacking not only the wit and affability of Kathleen Hanna but Ashlee Simpson, they chased, embraced, amplified their principles into such a screaming act by 2005 that bringing the Alice in Chains retard-crunch to match actually justified the nonsense they were blathering in “The Fox” (“I could show you some shiny tricks he said”) and “Modern Girl” (“Took my money and bought a donut/ The hole's the size of this entire world”). Corin Tucker's yowling raises goose bumps like Kurt Cobain's “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” finish—only all the time, she wipes the millennium's ass with the crudest, most shameless hard rock since Led Zeppelin to earn such universal respect in print, not least because Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev producer Dave Fridmann bet the farm on black-vacuum sonics here: from the simulated My Bloody Valentine that breaks “What's Mine Is Yours” in half, to the blown-speaker drums that take up the cavalry on “Modern Girl,” after a feeding-back harmonica, of course. Pete Townshend-obsessed formalist Carrie Brownstein even joins the fray for an excellent scream on “Entertain”: “Where's the black and blue?”

But Tucker, whose voice already sounded wobbly enough to shatter into a million pieces on Sleater's first six records, is pushed to barely human levels here, sometimes by bandmates that left her in tears, sometimes probably just the polyp-inducing notes: “The Fox” is caked with such magma that it's impossible to believe how Tucker shrieks through it at 1:39, just before Janet Weiss' frightening, Grohl-cum-Animal drumrolls. “Rollercoaster” and “Let's Call It Love” aspired to rather lusty amends later, but Tucker was kidding herself, regardless of how much passion she could still ignite for her soon-to-be exes. If a breakup was just to deny she contracted laryngitis making The Woods, it was well worth it. Goodbye, my fox.

– Dan Weiss


51.

The National
Alligator

Beggars Banquet, 2005

A telegram from midnight of the 21st century, recorded in the long shadows of 2004’s “Armageddon election,” these deceptively small snapshots tell a bigger story. As rock music slumped through middle age “Alligator” felt like an affirmation and a eulogy for the energy and optimism that had sustained it since the mid fifties. The characters Matt Berninger allusively sketches are little men – and they are always men – under enormous pressure. Different songs enact different reactions from the “fuck me and make a drink” desperate lust of “Karen” through the brooding nostalgia of “Daughters of the Soho Riots” and the denial and finally despair essayed in “Baby We’ll Be Fine”; never has a song with such a title been so ironic. The song’s anti-hero details the mundane strains of his life in nightmarish detail before collapsing in on himself with the line, "I don’t know how to do this… I’m so sorry for everything.”

Rock bands don’t apologise, it’s not in their nature, but the world has become so much harder. The National sound like the previous years’ garage rock revivalists beaten down by the sheer grey weight of life itself. The slower songs have a rich warmth to them, sympathetic strings sweetening the sorrow. When they come out on the attack it is not with the petulant passions of adolescence but the suicidal swagger of men with nothing to lose. The protagonists of “All The Wine" and “Lit Up” are pretty much beat, but they sure as fuck aren’t going down without a fight. It’s defeat, but a glorious one. And there, at the end is “Mr November”. Whilst a couple of years later the band would authorize “Mr November” T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Barack Obama it seems more likely the song is loosely inspired by John Kerry; the sixties fossil, once the hero now forced to admit he doesn’t quite know what to do. The sound is like a battle raging in thick fog; opaque violence. Though their side would eventually win through this is the sound of the optimistic, utopian spirit of rock under fire.

– Paul Scott


50.

Kanye West
Graduation

Roc-A-Fella, 2007

Most of the headlines upon this album’s release centered on non-musical issues: was 50 Cent’s career over? Did Kanye West save the record industry? What the hell is up with those glasses?!! In retrospect, the impact of Graduation has nothing to do with any of these things. Rather, this was the coronation of Kanye West as one of the true vital musical talents of his time. Of course, there were still many Kanye-haters still lurking around, dismissive of his rapping (putting the "Christian in Christian Dior"?) and arrogant nature (Lord knows that approach didn't help Oasis much), among other things. While many anti-Kanye arguments were certainly valid, few, if any, of them have anything to do with Kanye as an artist. Kanye may be a (rightly) arrogant bastard in public, but he's a music producer at heart; a producer in theory; a producer in execution. Continuing what just may end up as the greatest winning streak in hip-hop history, Kanye didn’t craft Graduation so much as a rap record, but as a pop museum where hip-hop is merely a sculpture in the foyer. How many people could transform an ultra-prog Can song into a stadium anthem about the downside of groupie love? Or successfully combine 1940's Hollywood revues with 1980's synthesizers? Or bring in DJ Premier and a Public Enemy sample to touch up an audio reading from "The Diary of Kanye West”? Or channel his neurosis into a woozy dirge of empowerment, complete with Young Jeezy ad-libs? Or make a big, fat Daft Punk song sound even bigger and fatter? Who else could do all of this and still have time to remind us that even the worst songs from Thriller still have salvage value? For 13 exhilarating tracks, Kanye masterfully expanded upon our notions of what pop music is, and reinforced its limitless possibilities. Graduation may not go down as Kanye's greatest album, but that doesn't make this work any less brilliant. This is pop music at its very best: Challenging, charming, reflective of its time, and catchy as hell. This is one of the greatest albums of its kind, from one of the true musical geniuses of this decade.

– Andrew Casillas


49.

Mountain Goats
We Shall All Be Healed

4AD, 2004

I always feel vaguely dishonest when I describe this album as 'about drug addicts.' Is the Bible-quoting liquor store clerk in "Against Pollution" who (he would do it again, he would do it again) kills a man in self-defense a drug addict? When John Darnielle sings on "Cotton" about "the people / who tell their families that they're sorry / for things they can't and won't be sorry for," are all of them junkies? Is the only way you can get as screwed up as the denizens of "Letter From Belgium" massive amounts of methamphetamines? Is the total fucking desperation and despair of "Slow West Vultures" the product of a hellish downward spiral caused by illegal and dangerous substances, or is it just from being alive? Does it matter?

Don't get me wrong: some of the finest songs ever written about drugs and addiction are found here. The Young Thousands" alone does more than most drug albums to portray the frayed-wire inextricable terror/joy of the stuff, proclaiming "the things that you've got coming will do things that you're afraid to / there is someone waiting out there with a mouthful of surprises." Darnielle's particular genius has been to unite all of us good people in a shared acknowledgment of the intense obsessions, irrationality, casual shittiness, and touching beauty of the human condition and then not let us off the hook. You could sit there and listen to the pristine delusion of "Quito" ("When I get off the wheel I'm going to STOP / and make amends to everyone I've wounded") or the convict trying to sweet-talk his way free in "Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into the Water, Triumph Of" and assume you're more together than these guys, but if you do the joke's on you. This album proves that Darnielle is, in the universe of his songs, the best possible kind of God: he doesn't ignore or approve of the horrible things that we do, but he can't bring himself to withhold his affection, wit and compassion anyway. He sings "every couple minutes someone says he can't stand it anymore," and We Shall All Be Healed is the only album I can think of that doesn't turn away from that; somebody's got to be there for him.

– Ian Mathers


48.

The Field
From Here We Go Sublime

Kompakt, 2007

The debut record by Stockholm’s Axel Willner is always inaccurately labeled a techno record, but what, pray, is it? Is it a somber club record? Are its easy-listening grooves a wink at stadium sized trance? Is it some sort of crossover, and do you really call it a crossover when you make a sort-of techno record for sort-of ambient listeners (or vice versa)? Especially when you involve Lionel Richie? The answer’s less mysterious than you think.

First, a bit of background: Willner’s a former punk and pop fanatic. At some point, he became entranced by the purring motor of Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient project Gas, and he’ll be the first to tell you that’s how he became inspired to try his hand at spinning submerged, broken-record sample athletics. By aping Voigt, Willner ultimately honed the creation of Frankensteinian takes on techno made out of MOR records.

What results, repeats. Boy, does it repeat. Willner builds echoes of microhouse grooves up from vocal loops, bits of inscrutable sample-sheen, effects and Tinker Toy drum machines. But I’ve seen the wily Swede perform, all decked out in an alcoholic swabbie’s nautical stripes, and the guy doesn’t really DJ so much as tease out his compositions. Watching the guy work, it seems that his biggest burden is not curating a party as a continually gyrating and evolving dancefloor, but affecting an almost tangible feeling of ascendency in his audience with each of his own works. The guy doesn’t even bother to mix the tracks together.

What he does do is collapse bits of a guitar solo from Richie’s “Hello” into itself, catching it at just that right point where a wandering line from a forgotten Motown axeman can be looped from a drip into a whirlwind. He resurrects the woman lost at sea in Kate Bush’s “Under Ice”, her moody and melodramatic vocal glitches prancing themselves into a séance. Sublime is full of such fascinating, fascinated bits like jamming Christine McVie into “Everyday” or setting straight a broken record of the Flamingos on the self-titled closer, and for the obscured, treated vocal samples and synth-bits I don’t recognize on “Silent” or “Sun & Ice”. For Willner, it’s about making us aware of what perks up our ears, which is what every good ambient producer does. But he’s also acutely invested in seeking that perfect moment, which is the undeniable mark of a pop music fanatic.

– Mike Orme


47.

Junior Boys
Last Exit

Domino, 2004

When Junior Boys first surfaced in the early part of this decade with a string of under-the-radar singles, one of the comparisons that cropped up was "Hall and Oates meets Timbaland." This was generally meant as high praise, especially from a certain kind of pop-leaning critic one began to encounter around that time, who held New Wave and millennial R&B in equally lofty esteem. But as facile as such "X meets Y" analogies can often be, this one sort of made sense. Frontman Jeremy Greenspan, though not particularly svelte or well-coiffed, had something of the cynically romantic blue-eyed soul singer about him, and Johnny Dark's stuttering hi-tech beats did resemble an Aaliyah production or two.

Whatever the influences (more astute fans also cited the British dance microgenre of two-step garage), it was a remarkably self-assured sound for an act that seemed to come out of nowhere (or even Hamilton, Ontario), and by the time they had cobbled together enough material for a full-length, there was considerable buzz, even if it was restricted to small pockets of the Internet. As one of those who followed that initial wave of interest, what appealed to me about Last Exit was that it felt like a self-contained world. It's a moody, spacious album, decorated with cold, quivering synths, echoing ping-pong beats, and muffled static that, when you close your eyes, sounds like waves lapping against an empty shore. And there's a consistent vulnerable intimacy to Greenspan's voice, even as he moves from softly menacing ("More Than Real") to wounded ("Birthday") to bitterly helpless ("Teach Me How to Fight"). For all the focus on the cutting-edge, crystalline production, it's this bottomless lovesick melancholy that lingers; toward the end of the album, he sighs, "You can't pretend that you're not sentimental, too," and by that point, he’s right. We can’t.

– John M. Cunningham


46.

Lindstrom
Where You Go I Go Too

Smalltown Supersound, 2008

The project of Norwegian producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm could be said to be an attempt to engineer the perfect synthesis of Giorgio Moroder-style electronic disco and the kosmische synth sprawl of groups like Tangerine Dream—musics that are at once kindred spirits and light-years apart. If his breakthrough track, 2005s “I Feel Space”, remains his most perfect distillation of uplifting electronic disco (the title gives it away), that is, Lindstrøm reigning himself in, then 2008s marathon Where You Go I Go Too is his greatest achievement at the other extreme. Or probably the greatest achievement of his career so far. The album spans three long tracks with a total length of 55 minutes, but they may as well be a single track for all the likelihood of me ever playing them, or even conceiving of them, as separate things.

It’s hard to talk about Lindstrøm’s work without referencing the past—like many of the noughties most interesting musicians he’s a master at slotting together disparate retro-sounds in different contexts for new uses—but this is especially true of Where You Go I Go Too. Comparisons to epic head-music like Ash Ra Tempel guitarist Manuel Göttsching’s hour-long E2-E4 and French disco producer Cerrone’s cheesily magnificent “Supernature” are unavoidable. Face it, since the eighties really got rolling there haven’t been all that many lengthy suites of post-Kraut ebbing and flowing cosmic-synth spray and certainly none have been as tightly controlled and as dedicated to overwhelmingly lush sensory pleasure as this one. This is the album designed as a complex, interrelated eco-system enveloping the listener; from the bedrock of the solid kick-drum and bass through the clipped, bubbling guitar chirrups to the support structure of hollow sounding sequencer grids and up to the canopies of simple sounding melodies sliding in and out of focus. Even human breath is used as an organising principle throughout. When Lindstrøm builds everything to its peak, then drops everything back to warmly rippling keys and echo it’s like the sudden splashes of sun on the face you get whilst driving through trees.

Considering the album's length and minimal tracklisting it might seem crazy to suggest, but this is an album-qua-album perfectly constructed for listening to in post-iPod times, one that makes one forget about the existence of the skip button. The astonishing amount of variation and barely-contained excess generated from a few seeds and the constant forward motion makes this is the best travelling music since Kraftwerk realised that writing tracks about anything with wheels was a fertile idea. Don’t leave home without it.

– Patrick McNally


45.

Bark Psychosis
Codename: Dustsucker

Fire, 2004

Back in 2004, when ///codename:dustsucker was our #8 album of the year, I wrote a ludicrously pretentious blurb to commemorate the event. Much of it was complete bobbins and rather embarrassing to revisit, but I'm happy enough with one sentence to lazily bring it back for another airing. "Austere, metallic hues stare coldly back from the industrial cube that encapsulates this enigmatic garden," said the 2004 version of me.

Yeah, it's one of those albums. Exploring the imagery it conjures up inside those brain-housing cocoons we call heads is really the only way to articulate its effects. It's either that or flounder around for catch-all genre words. Ambient? Sure, you can call it that, but some passages are far less restful than the term might suggest. Post-rock? Probably, but who even knows what that really means. Impeccably crafted by Graham Sutton over a period of about ten years? That's not a genre, but absolutely.

///c:d is defined by its phenomenal use of space, dynamics, and tone: from the jazz trumpet melody that dominates the second half of "The Black Meat," to the heavenly juxtaposition of fuzzed-up drone and looping layers of backward vocal harmonies in "INQB8TR." Throughout, there's a precision and a care to the placement of ///c:d's astonishing variety of sound. Even the sound of collapse made by god-knows-what towards the end of "Miss Abuse" feels as though it was positioned for maximum impact (namely to make headphone wearers shit themselves every time.) Retro drum machines and electronic squalls sit alongside crisp, clearer instrumentation, but the fluid structure allows phrases and tones to flow seamlessly into one another. It's the kind of superlative production that could only flourish through bloody-minded perfectionism and having a lot -- an awful lot -- of time to burn.

Speaking with Stylus' very own Nick Southall, Graham Sutton commented that "Once you release something and hand it over to someone else they can do what they like with it, have their own reactions." Sutton has done the hard work. All we have to do is listen, and let the record sketch a scene; extract a new sensation; tug at a distant memory. Maybe my 2004 blurb wasn't as far off the mark as I thought. Really, there are no marks to be missed -- only feelings and responses to embrace.

– Peter Parrish


44.

The Mountain Goats
Tallahassee

4AD, 2002

It's already been talked about how tenderly John Darnielle wields his scalpel, forgiving his pet alcoholics as he publicly humiliates them. What more is there to say of imagism like “Moon stuttering in the sky like film stuck in a projector,” much less the well-known stuff: “I hope you die/ I hope we both die,” or the abruptly cold “Ah, but look at this showroom/ Filled with fabulous prizes” that switches off “Game Shows Touch Our Lives”? Maybe there's still room to boost Darnielle as a melodist, with the scale-ascending “yous” that hook Tallahassee's title tune, or as an arranger, for the cocktail piano on “No Children” or the backwards guitar slithering beneath the already-ominous “Oceanographer's Choice.” After all, music critics have a field day with this stuff.

If the 2000s encompassed any one trend it was dine and ditch, notching Tapes 'n Tapes, the Von Bondies, Passion Pit (too soon?) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, to name a few, on the critwise belt never to appear again. Most of these mp3-blog causes celebré were indifferent wordwise, and the decade's beloved storytellers who enjoyed longer fanbases were still talked up relatively instantly, due to the high gimmick content of such bumper stickers as the Hold Steady or the Decemberists’ madrigals. By contrast, Darnielle sat on a catalog fatter than any of these by the time 2004's The Sunset Tree finally took him #29 Pazz & Jop. That one was somewhat gimmicky itself—a child abuse elegy dedicated to his stepfather? Hi, Korn. With crits just as behind as the general public in embracing them, the Mountain Goats represent a rare, evenly nurtured anomaly during Web 2.0 hype-hysteria, with a happy ending, too—see Stephen Colbert breaking character to blubber all over Darnielle's national TV debut in October. And if it took a few years to realize this is their best, I'm sure he'll forgive you too.

– Dan Weiss


43.

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

XL, 2008

Ubiquitous to the point of nausea for most of 2008 – hell, even Mickey Rourke’s daughter in The Wrestler had the poster on her wall as a token of presumed “edginess” – it seems almost indecent to disturb the refractory period that big hitters like this require. And as an early convert – primed by blog leaks of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kawassa” and “Oxford Comma,” then blown away by the very first full-length play – it feels almost embarrassing for me to revisit the source of such giddy joy.

But “blown away” I most certainly was. Halfway through “M79”, and I was already composing superlative-stuffed emails – just like that golden afternoon when “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” surfaced on gabba.net, leaving me too hyped up to get any work done for the rest of the day.

Instant hits can yield diminishing returns, of course. I delayed the decline by deploying the album as a social soundtrack. It was hook-rich enough to work subliminally as easy, buzz-fuelling background clatter. (“This is nice, who is it?” “I’ll get a pen, shall I?”). But “Blake’s Got a New Face” first crossed the line that separates an agreeable earworm from a bothersome pest. The CD was duly shelved, then retrieved a few weeks later, ahead of an unsatisfactory gig. The venue lacked intimacy. The band didn’t scale up. Freshness and finesse were smothered in the soupy mix. And where were the strings, dammit?

For while much has been made of the album’s occasional African excursions (whose detractors seemed curiously unable to identify which genre was being so ignorantly mis-appropriated – soukous, high-life, township jive?), it was the crisp, crunchy, mock-Baroque string arrangements that first reeled me in: florid but concise, dainty without being prissy, and arguably the most effective pop/classical marriage since ELO. Perhaps that’s why the string-drenched “M79” first drove me to evangelical, missive-firing frenzy – and perhaps that’s why it remains my favourite track, nearly two years on.

Elsewhere, I’m still chuckling at the lyrical juxtapositions (lamas, butlers, Lil’ Jon! Vuitton, reggaeton, Benetton!) and revelling in the cloistered New England preppiness of it all (I’m English, I get to mythologize these things), and, I admit it, drifting off a bit during the second half (when you’ve thrilled to “A-Punk” and “Campus,” “Bryn” to “Corrected” is a comparatively dull run).

A played-out, dissected, consensus choice, or an era-defining future classic? It might still be too early to judge, but I already know which way I’m leaning.

– Mike Atkinson


42.

TV on the Radio
Dear Science,

Interscope, 2008

TV on the Radio were always hard to miss, yet Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes impressed more for the promise it dripped so copiously than for its songs: solipsistic and a little stiff, it broke new ground without quite knowing what to cultivate there. Dear Science,, in contrast, is supple enough to be downright fuckable in spots: the insistence on polyglot rhythms sounds vital without any contrivance; the obsidian-toned horns borrowed from Fela are now their own; the drowning depths of their sound, even when attempting something like levity, are peerless.

Dear Science,’s songs reap every ounce of the potential sown in 2002, yet the most striking development is Tunde Adebimpe’s newly assured singing. Always striking, earlier albums cushioned his voice in the mix and bolstered it with double tracking, to give that peculiar burr that could suggest Peter Gabriel, until now. On “Shout Me Out” – his most confident delivery to date – Adebimpe sings dry and nimble above the band, his crisp phrasing eventually inciting the band to rush his stage in thunderous lockstep. But confidence be damned. In Rachel Getting Married, in a moment that defies scripting, Adebimpe’s utterly unadorned delivery turns a vomitously squirmy moment swooningly romantic as he smudgily sings his bride Neil Young’s heart-on-sleeve “Unknown Legend.” It is a breathtakingly sweet moment for a musician lionized as vanguard.

But then, TVotR have always made use of awkwardness, their own as well as your own, witness the panicrapped introduction to “Dancing Choose,” not to mention the groaning titular pun. And “So Sirius / So it falls apart / It just reveals the perfect nothing / Of everything you are / Of everything we are” (“Stork and Owl”). And those aren’t even the best bits. How many bands could sheath an earnestly anti-war song in as Lagos-import-sexy a sleeve as “Red Dress”?

A decade from now, when a film flashes back to the knock-kneed, militarized and nervous late noughties, I wager TV on the Radio’s murky, bright-shining sound will telegraph the epoch. Without having lost lost the wunderkind’s bedroom-studio agoraphobia of Young Liars, Dear Science,’s production is as accomplished and even lush as the most overproduced goop of its agemates, yet their sonic depths stay unplumbed, lit by phosphorescence and beautiful long-toothed pilot fish. And, in case the comma wasn’t clear, they aren’t done yet, not nearly.

– Andrew Iliff


41.

The National
Boxer

Beggars Banquet, 2007

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau put it, and that counts even if, in the words of The National’s Matt Berninger, “You’re young, you’re middle class/They say it doesn’t matter.” Boxer is a quiet, desperate album, one with solemn piano chords, Berninger’s creamy baritone, and dark apartment corners and dimly lit city streets. But, as Thoreau knows, “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation,” and The National’s mannered domestic drama veils — thinly — a throbbing heart thumping terribly and gushing blood through a body desperate to believe itself to be still alive. The popular fantasy of youth is the impassioned cris des coeur of On the Road and Born to Run, but its real face is revealed in this album’s miserable little byways. “Turn the light out, say good night, no thinking for a little while,” Berninger promises — or pleads — on the opener, “Fake Empire.” “Let’s not try to figure out everything at once”: This is a record not of restless adolescence but instead about what comes after. Boxer aches with loneliness; the subdued sadness of being “mistaken for strangers by your old friends/When you pass them at night beneath the silvery, silvery Citibank lights.”

This record shares little with the abrasive origins of indie rock, and one could drily observe that in 2007, after the genre had lived through its Garden State/“The O.C.”-fueled explosion, its core audience had grown up a bit and grown weary of prickliness, and that maybe, growing older, they had begun to accumulate a preference for adult responsibility over adolescent impetuousness. It’s better, though, to take The National on its own terms. Allowing Boxer to transcend its stink of middle class privilege, its scenes of young go-getters “showered and blue-blazered,” permits the listener to penetrate the record’s emotional heart.

And true, all the introspection could be dull were it not for the music’s determination to unearth these emotions. This is, after all, an album with a rhythm section as memorable as its melodies: propulsive drumming that thrums on like that small spark still flickering away inside every dull-eyed office drone. And if all that spark is saying is, “I want to hurry home to you, put on a slow dumb show for you, and crack you up,” then that brilliant dumb show of humanity is better than all the tramps born to run. Boxer is, in the end, as desperate as it is quiet, and a living dog is better than a dead lion.

– Jonathan Bradley


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