Albums

So it’s the big one – on New Year’s Day itself (in case there was a late entry out last night!), the final one of shotwithsound’s best of the decade lists… This one was very difficult to do, and the first one I genuinely wanted to do a top 50.

I’ll stick up an albums of 2009 list next week I think but without the writing – justifying my picks is the hard bit after all; as Mike Skinner said, I can barely remember my opinions let alone my reasons for holding them.

The photo above was an attempt to take an arty snap of a cool clock, see if you can spot the unexpected guest in the top left…

Previous entries are here: Compilations; Songs.

10 – Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend is the most contemporary of the albums to make this list and to be honest, I’ve slightly discriminated against it on that basis. I suspect if it had a few more years proven pedigree it would be top five, but have to wait until 2025′s top 25 of the 2000s or so to check. As it is, it’s a brilliant debut exploring new avenues of indie rock and afro beat and I can’t wait to hear the follow up, Contra, next year. I have trouble picking a favourite track but I love the intro to M79, more imagination in 30 seconds than Oasis managed in their career:

Vampire Weekend – M79

09 – Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
There’s not many teenage Northern kids with the gumption, nous and pretension to name their debut album after a line from a film / novel written by Alan Sillitoe. I don’t think any apart from the Monkeys could manage to carry it off with 13 tracks of kitchen sink drama in the form of perfect four minute rock songs. In my Top Ten Songs of the Decade list I already raved about Alex Turner, so I won’t do it again here – but I suspect e might well turn into Generation Y’s Morrisey; Ray Davies; Jarvis or Paul Weller.

8 – The Postal Service – Give Up The Postal Service - Give Up
How to shoe horn albums by two of my favourite artists, Dntel and Death Cab For Cutie, into a constricted list? Wait for them to collaborate on a poppy gem of an album and feature that instead of course! Creating their own backstory with cassesttes and mailboxes, Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and Dntel main man Jimmy Tamborello stayed together long enough to create one magnificant album and several singles and remixes before returning to their day jobs like guilty infidels. Incredibly, Give Up was Sub Pop’s best-selling album on it’s release in 2003 since Nirvana’s Bleach in 1989. The albums closer is the closest it gets to Dntel, and is my personal favourite:

The Postal Service – Natural Anthem

7 – Jay-Z – The Black Album Jay-Z - The Black Album
In musical terms, Jay-Z might just be the man of the decade. Rapper, businessman, the best A&R in hip hop (Kanye, Rihanna and Lil Wayne were his first three signings) and as he says, he’s got the hottest chick in the game wearing his chain. Not bad for a man who retired in 2002 – the year before the Black Album was released. And has done so again pretty much every year since. Most people seem to rate Blueprint more highly than the Black, but although I’d freely admit I know basically nothing about hip hop, I do know I prefer this. With stand outs like 99 Problems, Dirt Of My Shoulder and Change Clothes, the albums is built of brilliant hooks from producers Kanye West, Timbland and the Neptunes, and Jay’s uniquely delivered lyrics, one moment laconic, the next spat with vicious venom and speed.

6 – At The Drive-In – Relationships Of Command At the Drive-In - Relationship Of Command
It’s not been the greatest decade for punk music: indie, emo, dance, hip hop – they’ve all advanced themselves, diversified and evolved. Punk on the other hand, near stasis by the late nineties, all but slunk away at the start of the century. There were pockets of hope, glimmers of greatness throughout the decade, but nothing that felt like a wave: like the originals in the 70s; like hardcore in the 80s; post hardcore in the 90s. One of the rare exceptions grew out of the latter – feeding on scraps from Fugazi, morsals from Drive Like Jehru; even tit bits from The Pixies but combining it with a wider set of influences than anyone else managed. Their magnum opus was 2000′s Relationships Of Command, far and away the greatest record of the decade that would be filed in the punk and hardcore section. It was also to be At The Drive-In’s swansong, and following the blaze of exposure it bought them, they faded away to re-appear in other, lesser acts. Have a listen to the Iggy pop featuring Rolodex Propaganda and enjoy:

At The Drive-In (featuring Iggy Pop) – Rolodex Propaganda

5 – The Streets – Original Pirate Material The Streets - Original Pirate Material
Without the sucess of Mike Skinner’s witty, wilful, lyrically loquatious music, the world would most probably be without Kate Nash and Jamie C; buy then it might also have lost out on Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal, so it’s swings and roundabouts I suppose. Another story teller in the mold of Alex Turner, Skinners witty rhymes and skitty beats tell tales of the decade. If you packaged this and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not up in a time capsule, future anthropologists would have a pretty perfect picture of life in 21st Century Britain. The Streets seem to get lumped in with grime a lot in a pretty unjustified way I think, Skinner’s beats are fresher and his lyrics speak of a different world to those of Wiley or Kano, or even Dizzee before he was a megastar. The intelligence and social critiques displayed in The Irony Of It All sums that up for me, and it’s pretty funny too:

The Streets – The Irony Of It All

4 – Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
Good, old-fashioned rock music. I’d normally use terms like that in a perigative, slightly looking down my nose kind of way, but I honestly can’t think of a better description for Kings Of Leon’s proggy, rocky third full length, Because Of The Times. At once a tale if their past and an audible expression of the desire to leave it behind, it came before fame went a little to their heads and they became a latter day Oasis of sibbling rivalry and drunken buffoonery – not that that has stopped them selling millions if records. From the opening tale of teenage pregnancy and eloping Knocked Up, to closer Arizona’s balladry it is the best traditional ‘rock’ album of the decade.

3 – Sigur Ross – TakkSigur Rós - Takk...
In the first decade of the 21st Century, historians will remember Iceland’s premium export not as haddock, or financial collapse, not as Bjork or Eidur Gudjohnson, but as the pixietronica (I know, I know) of Sigur Ros. Their fourth album, Takk, was overplayed in the same way Moby’s play was overplayed in the 90s: in bars, clubs, adverts, living rooms, dinner parties and coffee shops. So unless you live in a Siberian cave with no access to iPlayer, it’s pretty likely that you will have heard at least twenty seconds of one of Takk’s songs. Let’s face it, there can’t be anyone alive in the UK who hasn’t heard Hoppipola. But like Play, overexposure hasn’t lessened the album’s brilliance, and it’s shimmering, almost verdant beauty still haunts me every time I hear it.

2 – Radiohead – Kid A Radiohead - Kid A
During the past ten years, Radiohead first of all changed music with the release of Kid A and then attempted to change the way we consume music with the release of In Rainbows. The jury’s still out on the success of the latter but Kid A is undoubtably a triumphant vindication of the philosophy that music needn’t appeal only to the lowest common denominator to be popular. A wonderful, wierd welding together of electronica, glitch, and indie it paved the way for much of the best music of the past decade with it’s release in 2000, mostly be succesfully borrowing from and building on much of the best music of the Nineties. Although I’ve pushed them into second for the album itself, for me, Radiohead are the band of the decade.

1 – Bright Eyes – Lifted, Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground Bright Eyes - LIFTED or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
If anyone had greater vision, more creativity, wilder imagination, and certainly a better work ethic than Radiohead, in the last ten years, it was Conor Oberst. During the last decade (and remember as 2010 dawns he is still only an agonisingly precocious 29) he has released over a dozen albums, with at least four different bands and as a solo artist. Lifted – I’m not minded to keep typing out its full title if you don’t mind – is my favourite of them, coming in early in the decade, somehow at once fully realised yet naive. The album identifies ideas that would come to be Conor cliches (ridiculous title? Check. Spoken / found sound intro? Present. Massive orchestration dissolving into the most fragile and haunted whisper? Indeed.) What really gets me about the album is how few of these lists it is in – or for that matter any of his other album – I wonder if maybe Conor us to prolific for critics to take the time to realise the brilliance? On Lifted, too many of the songs are standout tracks, but any album that features Bowl Of Oranges and From A Balance Beam was always going to sit pretty high up my list of best albums. The former in paticular with it’s gambolling story telling is a minor work of art and may be where all those Dylan comparisons come from. Have a listen to my favourite Bright Eyes song (today):

Bright Eyes – Bowl Of Oranges

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