Thursday, December 17, 2009

Albums of the Decade

Matt's top 25 albums of the decade:

Explanation. This is not a list of the most artistic or the best produced albums. It is not a list of albums I think belong in a magazine or some sort of legitimate journalism. This is a list of the 25 records that I feel have changed my life the most. One of my biggest irks, is when people say, "it's not good, but it's entertaining." It allows them to "indulge" in low art while not acknowledging their own true appreciation for it. For me, "entertaining" and "good" are almost congruent. An album is entertaining to me when it is good, and the reverse holds true. These are not, albeit, synonyms, but for the sake of the way I judge cultural artifacts, they are. Old School is not only a very entertaining movie, but it is also a very GOOD movie. If it wasn't good (say like the movie Spawn) then it would be unable to entertaining, and if it wasn't entertaining, (like the three Lord of the Yawns, excuse me, Rings) then it would be unable to be good.

Essentially what I'm saying is this: I do not use what I like to pretend I am someone I am not. These are simply CDs that make me happy. They are good, they are entertaining, many of them came into my life at an incredibly poignant juncture, some came into my life 3 years after they came out, almost all have a connection to a girl, or a summer, or a place I was living, or a concert, or another great moment in the last ten years. That's what this list is to me.

On the first day of this decade, I saw Metallica live at Gund Arena. They were my favorite band, and this was the best day of my life. Since then, I've gone to over 70 concerts. I've bought close to 750 albums. I've graduated high school, college, college again, moved across the country three times, started relationships with people whom I've since forgotten, and probably been forgotten by just as many. Metallica's not on this list, but to that: there's no guarantee that anything here will be on a list in 2019.

I hope to hear from you with comments, arguments, concerns, and approvals. I hope you like this list. I hope this list inspires you to go back and listen to these records, and if you don't know them to give them a chance. I consume an ungodly amount of music in a year. This is the best of the best of the best. I hope you like:


25. The Decemberists, Picaresque (2005) – This album reminds me of two things: 1. the first time I heard the song "The Sporting Life," and 2. It was the last CD I listened to as I pulled into Chicago on I-90 on my way home from Washington, aka, the closing credits of the biggest adventure of my life. It is unlike any other albums on this list, and by far, my favorite Decemberists album. "We Both Go Down Together," is as haunting and beautiful as the first time I heard it and every time I hear "The Sporting Life," I am instantly brought back to Summit Street in Kent, delivering pizzas two months before I graduated.

Favorite Songs: The Infanta, We Both Go Down Together, The Sporting Life, The Mariner's Revenge


24. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin (2007) – I bought this album the day it came out. The next day, I saw the band perform many of the songs live at Amoeba, and already knew all of the words. Band of Horses is very special to me, for their debut album, "Everything All the Time" was the first album purchased in California, bought for me at the now-closed Tower Records on Sunset Strip by Cortney. However, their follow-up album is just a BIT better. The fact that they moved to South Carolina (from Seattle) to record it, gives the album just enough twang to it, and the harmonies, and power chords have the ability to break my heart.

Favorite Songs: Ode to LRC, No One's Gonna Love You. The General Specfic


23. Wilco, A Ghost is Born (2004) – Somehow, my fourth favorite Wilco album is still in my top 25 of the decade. This album, unlike many of the others, is not on here for personal attachment, but just sheer brilliance. Every track is a sonic adventure that takes you from one place to another world. Wow that sounds terrible. Ok, this album is just good. I don't have much to say about it other than when it's songs randomly come on the IPod at the bar I work at, I get mildly aroused.

Favorite Songs: Handshake Drugs, Theologians, Spiders (Kidsmoke), Company in my Back


22. Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) – Makes me think of two things: the movie Juno, and working at Beachwood BBQ. Like Ghost is Born, this album doesn't necessarily resonate with my own personal shit, but means quite a bit to me. Probably because most people prefer Belle and Sebastian's earlier shit, and I just love this one. This is the first of what I'm going to refer to as Sara Albums; albums that invariably lead me to think of an either great or not-so-great time in my life because I shared it with someone with whom life was either great or the polar opposite of great. Sara loved this CD and so there's that. There.

Favorite Songs: Step into My Office, Baby, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Pizza, New York Catcher, I'm a Cukoo


21. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Jacksonville City Nights (2005) – Cortney bought me this CD for Hanukah in 2005. I didn't really know much Ryan Adams, and I don't think she did either. Since the first time I heard the opening guitar lick of A Kiss Before I Go, I was a Ryan Adams fan. This CD LIVED in my Explorer's CD player during the winter of 2005/2006 kicking off one of the best times of my life. It also turned out to be a pretty fun drug album, and even today when I listen to it, I get a little tingle from my much rougher druggy days.

Favorite Songs: A Kiss Before I Go, The End, Peaceful Valley


20. The Fratellis, Costello Music (2007) – Sara album…Ok, here's how I feel about this record: It is what Franz Ferdinand SHOULD sound like. It has the pop sensibilities, the danceable rhythms, and quirky lyrics that Franz was trying to nail, but without any of the artsy bullshit that went with FF. This is just a really fucking fun, funny, great record. One of my all-time favorite lyrics: "She was into the Stones when I was into the Roses, she was breaking my bones when I was bustin' her noses." I never got to see these guys live, but I hope to soon. Great, underrated record, and a big part of last year for me.

Favorite Songs: Henrietta, Flathead, For the Girl


19. Kings of Leon, Youth & Young Manhood (2003) – Wow this is a tough one to write about. Their recent fourth album (which by the way, I think is brilliant) catapulted these guys into superstardom, which would be fine but now, by saying that their first album is my favorite, puts me in danger of being Yeah-but-I-liked-them-before-they-were-popular guy. I'M NOT. I like their new shit too! I just like this one more! Got this album in NYC in 2003, and I couldn't believe it. I instantly called it the Strokes meets the Allmans, and six years later, that still kinda works. Short, catchy pop-songs with southern twang and great lyrics. Despite their efforts to become the Radiohead of southern rock lately, this album remains their best, and reminds me of college, NYC, Entourage, and Megan all at once. Also, another great lyric: "In the morning, all will see, just how crazy young love can be."

Favorite songs: Happy Alone, California Waiting, Holy Roller Novacaine


18. Old 97s, Satellite Rides (2001) – Sara album…I could go two ways with this write up…ummm, it's…great…power-pop…lyrics…ok, fuck it: Sara sent this to me when I first moved to LA. I was alone, I was sad, and I needed a friend. Rhett Miller became my friend. Since she sent this to me, the Old 97s have become one of my five favorite bands, I've seen them three times, and a few of these songs have made it into my favorite of all time. You wanna talk about great lyrics, this is one of the all times: "You can go ahead and get married, and this will be our secret thing/I won't tell a soul except the people in the nightclub where I sing." Whoo…chills. How the fuck did I put this album 18. I just started listening to it, and it should be like 5 or something. Fuck, I fucked up. I just wish there was a way to move it, now that it's already on paper. Alas…"I'd be lyin' if I said I didn't have designs on you…"

Favorite Songs: FUCKING ALL OF THEM, also, Roller Skate Skinny, Bird in a Cage, Question, Designs on You.


17. The Killers, Hot Fuss (2004) – A fucking incredible album from a band I find repugnant and offensive. Makes me think of Washington, which is good. Also makes me think of 17-year-olds on their way to the Hollywood Bowl, which is bad.

Favorite Songs: Somebody Told Me, All These Things That I've Done.


16. White Stripes, White Blood Cells (2002) – First heard Fell In Love With a Girl during the last week of sophomore year of college on MTV with Michel Gondry's now-timeless video. First heard the whole record on the way down to Columbus with Scott and Neff. Bought it two weeks later with Christescu and Olsen. It's just got so much important shit on it that this album had to be on here. In retrospect, it did not age well, but these songs make me think of living in the big red house on college street, and a great time in my life. It belongs here.

Favorite Songs: Hotel Yorba, Fell in Love with a Girl, Same Boy You've Always Known, Offend in Every Way, I Can't Wait


15. Silversun Pickups, Carnavas (2006) – Wow is this an LA album. I first heard them on Indie 103.1, told my friends about them, got the CD from Falk, and never took it out. Start to finish, this album is fucking breathtaking. The first song is an all-time great opening track, Well Thought Out Twinkles is a 1st ballot Hall-of-Famer. As is Lazy Eye. I remember seeing them at the Wiltern with Cortney, and before they came on, when the Wiltern was doing that thing where you can text something to a number and they'll put it on the screen, and someone wrote: "So much for the light show…" and I just got SO fucking amped. This album makes me think of driving to Vegas by myself on a Sunday to see Sara and Jones. It is powerful, a conversation piece, and very important to me. Love it.

Favorite Songs: Well Thought Out Twinkles, Melatonin, Lazy Eye, Little Lover's So Polite, Common Reactor


14. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) – Finally, a Katy album! First heard of Bon Iver on the blogosphere, first got into them from Katy. Look, you take an incredibly talented songwriter, put him in a cabin for 5 months, and tell me the album is the result, I'm in. Fortunately, it's FUCKING amazing. The falsettos, the pain in his voice. Just perfect, and heartbreaking. I'm getting the cry-ball writing this. Throw in the surreal, fucking magical day-break show at Hollywood Forever this year, throw in the fact that Katy was wearing a Bon Iver shirt the night I met her, throw in the fact that the day I bought it, I literally had to pull over outside Ameoba because I was getting emotional. This record is one EVERYONE should have. Like, now.

Favorite Songs: Flume, Skinny Love, Stacks, The Wolves


13. Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (2008) – Since this album came out, it is the most played album on my ITunes. True Story. Every song is just as perfect as the next. This album makes me think of lying outside by my pool getting tan; it makes me think of my first date with Katy. It makes me think of road trips, and the best sober concert I can remember seeing. It's got my favorite lyric on this list, "There's nothing that the road cannot heal." It really is fucking perfect. I've spent the last two years trying to convince everyone I know to listen to this record. Maybe I like it so much because it makes me think of the early stages of my relationship with Katy. Maybe I like it so much because it's about road trips, and Mexico, and love, and pain, and Conor speaks to me. I don't know. But I love it.

Favorite Songs: Cape Canveral, Lender's in the Temple, Moab, I Don't Want to Die


Yeah, I know this is long, bear with me; it's for me, not for you.


12. The Garden State Soundtrack (2004) – I can make a strong argument that this album bridges child Matt to adult Matt. I bought it before I began dating Cortney, but one of our first adventures was a NYE NYC trip that this album played a large part of. The two Shins songs started my love affair with my favorite band of the decade. The Coldplay song is amazing. Nick Drake, the Zero 7 song from the drug scene makes me nostalgic for more druggy days, and of course Iron and Wine's heartbreaking rendition of Such Great Heights, a song that will make another appearance. This album IMMEDIATELY transports me back to December 2004, an incredibly poignant transitory time of my life and captures this time perfectly. Thanks Zack!

Favorite Songs: Such Great Heights, The Only Living Boy in New York, New Slang, One of these Things First


11. Norah Jones, Come Away With Me (2001) – One of the few albums that doesn't have a particular person attached to it. I just loved this CD when I lived on School Street. I would wake up on Sundays before Jon, Fuller, and Neff and go and play darts by myself with this album on. I did this every Sunday for 4 months. I played this CD when I cleaned. I played this CD when I drove. I never really shared it with anyone. Megan didn't really like it, and most of my friends weren't into it. Which was fine. It's a sweet record that won all sorts of Grammy's and still brings me back to a cold, winter Sunday in early 2004 when I hear it.

Favorite Songs: Don't Know Why, Feelin' the Same Way, Turn Me On.


10. The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music (2003) – If this CD wasn't given to me by Cortney three years after it's release, I might put in number one. This CD has defined my life over the second half of the decade. Each of my girlfriends is connected to a certain song on this. In fact, when I first started going out with Katy, and she put on Tampa to Tulsa on my Ipod, I all but had a fucking heart attack in the middle of Venice. I understand that Mark Olson isn't on this, but for a late-arriving Jayhawks fan, I can't imagine a more emotion-filled, poppy, twangy, beautiful collection of songs with so much personal connection and so many full plays. Oh my god, I just started it over, and it didn't transport me back to a certain moment, but completely encapsulates everything that's happened to me over the past five years. I've always been going through a Rainy Day Music phase. This album is perfect.

Favorite Songs: Tailspin, All the Right Reasons, Angelyne, Tampa to Tulsa


9. The Postal Service, Give Up (2003) – I can make a strong argument that along with the Strokes's Is This It, this is one of the most influential albums of the decade. Do me a favor and if you own this, put it in right now. Tell me those first few chords aren't harbingers of things to come. In addition to being an incredible collection of music, Ben Gibbard's lyrics and voice make this record unforgettable. Throw in the fact the Such Great Heights is arguably my favorite single song of the decade, and that I believe it to be the best love song ever written, and this album becomes a hall-of-famer. There's random Kennedy Assassination references, haunting instrumentation, and the fact it was written via FUCKING SNAIL MAIL. I give this a 21/10.

Favorite Songs: The Disctrict Sleeps Alone, Such Great Heights, We Will Become Sillouhettes.


8. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) – Wow is this cd good? What a great, dynamic, timeless piece of music. I really don't know what else to say about this record. I'll say this, every single song means something to me, I can argue that the title track (part 1) is the best song I've ever seen played live, and I can say for sure that almost every time I've ever heard the song "Do You Realize", I've been, at least close to tears. Reminds me of college, reminds me of NYC, reminds me of the concert I saw two days before I moved to LA. I don't know what else to say.

Favorite Songs: Fight Test, YBtPR part 1, Are You a Hypnotist, Do You Realize


7. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008) – I bought this CD the day it came out, gave it to everyone I knew, and before long, they were the hottest band in the US. This CD completely captured the moment it was in. Perfectly. In early 2008, THIS was music. Think of it like this, you know when you hear a record from, say, 9th grade, and you think about your 9th grade hair, and your friends, and the girl you had a crush on??? Well, when I hear this album, it takes me back to early 2008, and what I associate with that moment, isn't my friends, or job, or hair – it's just Vampire Weekend. When I went to go try to scalp tickets outside the El Rey in April, they were selling the 14-dollar face value tickets for 250 dollars. And people were buying. When I saw them six months later, I was genuinely concerned that their music was over. That their music was so perfect for that moment, that six months later, it would already be nostalgic. It wasn't. This CD has survived the limited test of time, and remains the best rock CD of the last five years. Still, when I hear the first few notes of "Mansfard Roof", it's hard not to think about a moment twenty months ago, when this album was my soundtrack.

Favorite Songs: Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, M79, Walcott


Note, we've moved into the absolutely heart-wrenching, most important things, absolutely ruled my world section of the countdown. Enjoy

6. Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams (2005) – I bought this CD 3 days before it came out. Don't ask. I put on "Better Together" on the ride back home. It was my favorite song ever. I took the CD upstairs and heard "Never Know," and now that was my favorite song ever. They're all my favorites. From the moment this cd came out, until the time I moved to WA, I must have listened to it 200 times. Seriously. The night Cortney moved to Washington, we drove out to Shmutzville at 4 AM to have breakfast with a friend and listened to this CD the whole time. I listened to it constantly while delivering pizzas, I listened to it twice on the way out to Washington. It made me cry then, it makes me cry today. The cover is awesome. The videos are awesome. The concert is awesome. When Erik had his first dance with Emily at this wedding to "Better Together," I became mildly irked because this was MY SONG! Eventually I got over it under the law that I can't own songs that Jack Johnson wrote, and also with the knowledge that the day I drove down Main street in my Exploder, 3 days before this CD even came out, that it WAS my song, and I'll always have that.

Favorite Songs: Every fucking one of them.


5. Death Cab for Cutie, Plans (2005) – Wow, what a CD. I bought this on a Saturday at Record Revolution on Coventry. I had to work at 4. I had already heard "Soul Meets Body" on the radio, but I didn't know what I was in for: a start-to-finish emotional gouging. Gibbards lyrics are killer. Every note hits so hard that I forget that this CD had come out 6 months before I bought it. Plus it reminds me of my favorite time of my life, the winter/spring/summer of 2006. Throw all of this together with my second favorite love song of all time, the Shinsy, harrowing, "I will follow you into the dark," as well as my pretty keen ability to play it on guitar and sing it, and you have the album that best defines my post-college Cleveland life. And you will hear ten million songs before you hear a lyric as poetically heartbreaking as "If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I'll follow you into the dark."

Favorite Songs: Marching Bands of Manhattan, I Will Follow You Into the Dark, Your Heart is an Empty Room, What Sarah Said, Crooked Teeth


4. The Strokes, Room on Fire (2003) – Most people think I'm retarded when I say that I think Room on Fire is better than their more-acclaimed record, Is This It. However, despite a never-ending string of jeers and assaults on my taste, I am here to inform you, that I am 100% confident in this. So much so, that, not only did I rank Room on Fire above Is This It, I left the latter (or the former chronologically) off the list entirely. Room on Fire, to me, at least, is…well; I'll just say it, the best drug album of my life. It represents the happiest times of my life (as well as the most miserable come-downs), it spans very important moments in three very important romantic relationships, and quite simply, while the highs are equal on both records, this one has no lows. From the opening guitar track, through the first single, "12:51," all the way through the end, this record takes NY punk sensibilities, adds incredible flair for pop melodies, and Julian's filtered voice takes it to new levels. Lyrically, it's impeccable, "Failing can be quite a breeze he told me that these girls are easy." Temporally it IS early 2000s rock, and I'm sorry if I just think it's a tighter album than its predecessor.

Favorite Songs: What Ever Happened, 12:51, The End has No End, Automatic Stop.

OK boys and girls…or after 4000 words, more likely, boy and girl…we've reached the top three. I stop here to acknowledge that from this point forward, the albums are essentially interchangeable. I know that these are my three favorite albums of the decade, but I'm not sure the order. At different moments of the decade, they have all been my favorites. So for the sake of this list, I will rank them by how much they meant to me for the longest amount of time; that is which of these were my favorites for longer, and also, how will I view these albums in 2019, when I do the next list. I think I've got it. I think.


3. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2000) – Here's what this album has going against it: I did not fall in love with this album until Cortney played me Jesus Etc. five years ago. Here's what it has going for it: It is arguably the greatest piece of music produced since 1970 (read: Let It Be). Every single song is so expertly and finely crafted that it's hard to pick this album apart and critique it in any way. The band wrote the songs with regular instruments, and then broke them down and deconstructed them to sound so new and different, that their record label dropped them AFTER they handed it in, forcing the band to release the record for free on the internet. The subsequent documentary, I am Trying to Break Your Heart, chronicles the band through the song-writing which saw band member Jay Bennet exit the group, and through the final days with the record company, and might be the best music documentary I've ever seen. This album is scary, it is emotional, it is pretty and sweet, and hard, and haunting, and dream-like. It is genre-bending, yet poppy. It is complex and layered, yet at times; it is as simple as any Beatles song. The lyrics—"I know I would die if I could come back new," "You were right about the stars; each one is a setting sun," "Distance has no way of making love understandable,"—are brilliant and heartbreaking, and every chord change has meant something to me since this record entered my life. Of all of these records, it is the one that will end up on most people's "top 10" lists, which might hurt it with me, but that shouldn't matter. I love this CD.

Favorite Tracks: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Radio Cure,Jesus Etc., Ashes of American Flags, Heavy Metal Drummer, Poor Places.


The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2003) – Like my selection of Room on Fire, critics may argue that the Shins first album, Oh Inverted World, or even their third, "Wincing the Night Away," are better records. Nope. They're not. I bought this CD in Washington in 2005. I listened on the way from my house to the Seattle Airport to pick up my parents that night. It is everything I ever wanted from a pop record. It is melodic, it is whimsical, there are incredibly serious moments such as the mildly-depressing "Pink Bullets," in which James Mercer sings "two loose kites falling from the sky, drawn to the ground and an end to flight." [weep] In early 2006, after I got my tax return back and scored relatively high on the GRE, I took the CD to the local Cleveland Guitar Center, played the song "Young Pilgrims," and asked the clerk to help me find a guitar that sounds like that. My Ovation Celebrity Deluxe that I bought joined my clothes, my computer, and my golf clubs as the only things that traveled across the country to LA with me. The production on the CD is bright and cheery; the pacing is perfect going seamlessly from fast-tempo pop songs to sobering ballads without one noticing because of the brilliant guitar sounds and Mercer's ability to make melodies that, quite frankly, I don't think I've ever heard before. Since this CD came into my life, it has been the standard bearer for every CD I've bought., and because I got into this before everyone I know other than Zack Braff, I've always felt a special personal connection to it. It is my baby.

Favorite Songs: Kissing the Lipless, Young Pilgrims, Saint Simon, Pink Bullets, Gone For Good


1. Red Hot Chili Peppers, By The Way (2002) – I remember the day I bought this CD; I was going to see Weezer that night. It was a month before I moved into my first house. I didn't know Megan, or Cortney, or Sara, or Katy. It was summer 2002, my life was starting to round into the shape that it is now. I was in love with California, and had every intention of dropping out of school, moving to LA, and being a rockstar. And then this record came into my life. I felt like every song was written for me. I felt like this must be what it was like for my parents hearing Stairway to Heaven for the first time. From the first chord to the last, I was captivated. I have said this before, and I will say it again, this is the closest thing we've had to a Beatles album in 40 years. The melodies are perfect. The instrumentation is unparalleled. The production is the best thing Rick Rubin's ever done. John Fruiscante's guitar sound changed my life on this record. It sounded like he was playing piano on guitar. His voice, which I have described as "tortured falsetto" on tracks like "Dosed," "I Could Die for You," and "Tear" has broken my heart a thousand times by now. And well it may seem easy now, especially since my girlfriend lives a mile from the Venice Pier, to be 20 years old in Cleveland, Ohio and put in a CD and instantly be taken to California was somewhat of a miracle. It was magic. Winters melted when I put this in. Grey skies turned to sepia tones of ocean, busy streets, music, and love. On the album's centerpiece, "Tear," Anthony's lyric "California sky's got room to spare, this is my time…" became my mantra. That was what I wanted then, 4 years before I ever knew where Melrose, or The Wiltern, or Runyon Canyon was, this was going to be my time. This was going to be my home. Now, at age 27, at the end of what will surely be the most formative decade of my life, I'm here. This is home. I have an apartment in the Hollywood Hills, I have a job ten blocks from the Pacific Ocean, I have a girlfriend in Venice, a car parked on Hollywood Blvd, and next week, the last week of the decade, I'm climbing a mountain into that same California sky with room to spare. This is my time.


Favorite Songs: Universally Speaking, Dosed, Can't Stop, I Could Die For You, Cabron, Tear, Venice Queen.

1 comment:

steven said...

Very informative, cosidering the fact that I have only heard of 5 artists mentioned, and 2 of them I only know through you.However I understand your passion for the music, as every generation has music that offers recalls, and watersheds.