Friday, December 04, 2009

Best of the Decade - Albums

As another cross blog venture, my good pals at The Philosophy of Time Travel and LastBestAngryMan have invited me to participate in a number of top 5 lists as this decade draws to a close. We have very different musical tastes in terms of our favorite stuff, but I also think we all are willing to listen to a lot of different stuff so there is some crossover.

Lists like this are by their very nature completely subjective, but the point has always been to simply tell everybody they are wrong about everything.

5) Kid A by Radiohead

This album represents for me the height of Radiohead's greatness - better than everything that came before and much better than everything that has come since. They take their first steps here into really stretching into experimentation but still keep some pop hooks, and the result is just tremendous. Everybody knows at least one or two songs by Radiohead just from osmosis, but what is interesting is that all these years later, you still have a chance of hearing something from The Bends or OK Computer on your radio but very little chance of hearing anything from this album which surely must be their best.

4) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

This album is for Wilco what the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock must have been like for T.S. Eliot: once you produce something this good, how can you live up to it again? Keeping with that analogy, we still haven't seen Wilco's equivalent of The Waste Land. They are still making great music (and I just saw them in concert this year incidentally), but they've never been able to replicate the heights of fancy and genius they hit with this album early in the decade. That's not a knock against the band as few have ever hit heights like this. From the very beginning lyrics: "I am an American Aquarium drinker" you know you are going to get something a little bit different - but through it all it remains a coherent, sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful work that stands as something to be listened to from beginning to end.

3) Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness by Coheed and Cambria

Rock Band was basically the greatest thing to happen to these guys in terms of popularity as the fantastic track "Welcome Home" from this particular album is featured in the game, and was also featured in the preview for the movie "9". But more than just that particular single, this is the 3rd album in a series of 4 that comprise an entire sci-fi rock opera by the group, telling a singular tale that, while often clumsy/impenetrable in terms of narrative, serves to tie the whole project together in a single thread. This 3rd volume is in my opinion the strongest with so many great tunes that stand alone, but in particular "Ten Speed (Of God's Blood and Burial)" and "Apollo I: The Writing Writer" rise to such bizarre heights of creativity in subject matter while at the same time keeping coherent metal hooks - it's just brilliant stuff all around. All 4 albums are terrific, but this one for me is the best of the project.

2) Takk.. by Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros stands alone in their own category of music making right now for me insofar as I firmly believe they are the most important band out there today. You could argue there are other bands that are better but the reason Sigur Ros is so essential is they are in the unique position of being legitimately popular. How this, by pop standards, weird group from Iceland became pop icons is completely lost on me but I'm totally okay with it because it really shows that all is not lost - people WILL listen to truly great music given the opportunity. If you had told me when Agaetis Byrjun was released that "Svefn-g-englar" would feature prominently on an episode of the TV show "V", I would've told you that was patently absurd. It was very difficult to choose between this album and () (also called "Two Sausages Kissing" in jest) only because () was probably more important for the band's development, but I've listened to Takk.. too many times not to make this the album I choose. I remember hearing Glosoli for the first time when I saw the band in concert - they were touring just before the release of Takk.. - and having my mind utterly blown. When I think of the Platonic model of "hope", I think of that song.

1) Lateralus by Tool

This is bar none my favorite band, and this is my favorite album by that band. I get it that Tool isn't for everybody (just people who know what they're talking about), but it is tough to find a musician anywhere who won't at least admit that these guys are all absolutely ridiculous when it comes to the technical talent on display at every instrument in this band. Perfect Circle is a nice project for Maynard and I enjoy them, but this is where Maynard's home is, and this is where he does his best work. It's amazing that this album came out in 2001 and nothing has come out that has been better, including Tool's own 10,000 Days which, while awesome, didn't quite hit the level of Lateralus simply because track for track there are absolutely no weaknesses on Lateralus. Perhaps the way I can most easily sum up the level of this band is to relay this story: after seeing this band in concert with one of my friends who is a musician, he simply turned to me and said "Well, that was intimidating." Indeed.