Friday, December 4, 2009

Best of the Aughts: Top 10 albums

While compiling this list, I realized just how far removed I am from "album culture." What I mean is, it's become increasingly rare that I will listen to an album from beginning to end and enjoy just about every song on it -- and then continue listening to it all the way through. With that in mind, I give you my top 10 of the 2000s (listed in chronological order):

"Discovery," Daft Punk (2001)
Oddly enough, the first time I heard a cut from this album was in an Old Navy. True story. And then I had "One More Time" stuck in my head for about a week until I figured out the band's name (hey, it was 2001, and I wasn't nearly as Internet savvy). It was techno, but it wasn't. It was dance music like I'd never heard before, with some slower, grooving tracks mixed in to give listeners a breather. And years later, Kanye West collaborated with Daft Punk on "Stronger," thus reestablishing interest in the duo's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" and reminding me how well the album has held up.

"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," The Flaming Lips (2002)
All at once bizarre and beautiful, there's never been another album quite like this one. Just look at the name -- and the two title songs (here's "Part 1," which I prefer to "Part 2"). Though perhaps overproduced at times, these 11 songs fit together and make for easy re-listening. And despite its commercialization and over-use in cheesy movies, "Do You Realize??" still strikes an emotional chord.

"A Rush of Blood to the Head," Coldplay (2002)
Part of me is embarrassed to admit how much I really love this one. It has become unpopular to like Coldplay simply because, well, they're so popular. But top to bottom, "A Rush of Blood to the Head" has few weak spots. The omnipresent "Clocks" convinced me to buy the album, but it's not even the best track. The pounding beat of "Politik" had me hooked from the opening note, "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" keeps my toes tapping, "The Scientist" evokes feelings of yearning, and the title track falls somewhere in between.

"Franz Ferdinand," Franz Ferdinand (2004)
It usually doesn't bode well for a band when its best song is the song that made it famous. But even though "Take Me Out" remains Franz Ferdinand's magnum opus (with a kick-ass video, to boot), the rest of their eponymous debut is really damn good, too. Surf guitar-esque riffs, playful lyrics and toe-tapping beats populate nearly every track. Alex Kapranos is a stellar front man with an often soothing voice and dynamic guitar work, best on display in "40' " and "Come on Home." About my only complaint about this album is its brevity: 11 songs and only 38 minutes. But in this case, less certainly is more.
Note: When I bought this album from iTunes in September 2004, the track "This Fffire" did not come with it. About two months later, I was listening to the album in a friend's car, and that song came on and I was quite perplexed. I went back to iTunes and discovered the song had been added. I still don't know what was up with that.

"Funeral," The Arcade Fire (2004)
Admittedly, I was a little late to the party on this album. But better late than never, right? The title was derived as many of the band members lost family members while they were recording; accordingly, the songs bare a somber tone both in their lyrics and arrangements. But ultimately, rather than feeling sad, the songs give me a feeling of hope, of empowerment, a feeling that while things could be bad now, they're going to get better. And yet again, I'm amazed by the power of music.

"Alright, Still," Lily Allen (2006)
Lily Allen gave pop music a punch in the face with her cheeky, playful debut release and her what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude. (She drops F-bombs so naturally in her adorable British voice that half the time you don't notice the cuss words are there.) Allen's music falls somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears, and I just can't help but love it. From the first single ("Smile") to a snarky ode to her hometown ("LDN") to a tribute to her pot-smoking baby brother ("Alfie"), the beats keep your head bobbing and the lyrics put a devilish grin on your face.

"Emotionalism," The Avett Brothers (2007)
My first taste of the brilliant brothers from North Carolina was at a live show in Newport, Ky., in May 2007, about two weeks after this album was released. What an introduction! Their sound is derived from soaring vocal harmonies by brothers Seth and Scott Avett -- who also primarily play guitar and banjo, respectively -- plucky upright bass lines and violin arrangements. Their rockin' bluegrass style is infectious and unique, and "Emotionalism" combines upbeat and dance-worthy tracks ("Paranoia in B Major," "Will You Return?" and "Pretty Girl from San Diego") with some of their most heartfelt ballads ("The Weight of Lies," "Ballad of Love and Hate" and "Living of Love").
Note: Notice the date of the embedded video: May 13, 2007, about two weeks before my first Avett show and the week "Emotionalism" was released. Great find!

"Once," Original Motional Picture Soundtrack (2007)
Does this count? Well, it's my list and I say it does. And while most of the songs are even better when taken in as part of this extraordinary film, they stand up on their own perfectly well, too. Glen Hansard's style of songwriting, singing and guitar-playing feel so personal that it's as if he's singing directly to you. Combined with the irresistible adorability of Marketa Irglova (they have since formed the group the Swell Season), we're hit with an unstoppable force of musical nature. The duo won an Oscar for "Falling Slowly," but basically every song on here is Oscar-worthy (or at least, far better than the usual Disney-flick fare paraded in front of Academy voters each year). You want heartbreaking? Try "Lies." You want catchy-cute? Here's "Fallen from the Sky." You want crescendo? Listen to "When Your Mind's Made Up." And after you listen to this album, perhaps, like me, you'll see that it's much more than a movie soundtrack.

"Dwell," The Envy Corps (2008)
Likely the one album and band on this list that you've never heard of. They're a quartet from Ames, Iowa (I'd compare their sound to Radiohead or Modest Mouse), and "Dwell" was their first major label release, though the album is populated with songs from previous EPs and their indie-label release, "Soviet Reunion" (which, according to Wikipedia, is really rare, so I'd better hang on tight to my copy). The Envy Corps gives us an upbeat song about Sylvia Plath ("Sylvia [The Beekeeper]"), catchy bass lines ("Story Problem," embedded above) and memorable guitar chords ("Wires & Wool"). I keep waiting for this band to blow up (as the kids are saying these days), but somehow they keep flying under the radar. They have spent a lot of time touring and recording in Europe, while always returning to the states for shows at places like the Iowa State Fair and the Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines, where I first saw them perform a five-song set in 2005.
Other fun facts: The Envy Corps opened for the Killers on a few of their 2006 tour dates, their song "Story Problem" was on the "Run Fatboy Run" soundtrack, and my husband and I used the song "Rhinemaidens" in our wedding slideshow. 

"Incredibad," The Lonely Island (2009)
I probably could have included this on my top five comedy album list, but it's not stand-up and most of the songs are incredibly catchy in addition to being incredibly hilarious. While Andy Samberg is the most well-known of the comic trio, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone bring plenty to the table, most notably with their work on "We Like Sportz" (a follow up to the "Just 2 Guyz" video they made before "SNL" rocketed them to fame). Don't forget that "Lazy Sunday," "D--k in a Box," and "I'm on a Boat" became three of the most talked-about viral videos since the advent of Youtube for a reason.

No comments:

Post a Comment