Putting together a list of best albums is difficult enough to do for just one year, but I have always wanted to do a whole decade because it makes me reflect on albums that I still listen to today, have forgotten because they didn’t stick with me long-term or have known all along that they are my all time favorite. I spent more time determining the order of albums then I did picking which to include among the 30, agonizing which album was better than the other. It was a fun exercise and might even lead to further “best of the decade” lists so I hope you enjoy!
Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)
Oh Coldplay, how you have managed to go from a rock band to be reckoned with to a poster child for what is wrong with modern pop music is beyond me. Maybe it’s front man Chris Martin’s desire to be a rock star or maybe they just got lucky for two albums, only they know. To overlook this album because of ones feelings of the band would be a huge mistake and this is coming from someone who has despised everything that they have done since. This album is filled with epic rockers “Politik”, radio friendly pop tunes “In My Place” and “Clocks” and heart felt sad songs “Warning Signs”. Everything in between is just as solid as well with standouts like “The Scientist” which is a grand piano ballad that avoids the pitfalls of cheesyness. Had Coldplay gone the Radiohead arc instead of their chosen route they could have been a great band.
Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer (2008)
I have to admit that I was one of those who initially said “what the hell is this” after loving the drunken rocker debut from Wolf Parade “Apologies To The Queen Mary”. Being a patient lover of music I gave this album time and space and let it dictate how I listened. A car ride to the store with the ipod on random gave me a listen to “California Dreamer” and I thought “damn, this song kicks ass”. Later a run in with the epic 10+ minute closer “Kissing The Beehive” had my jaw dropping and re-evaluating my thoughts on this album. Had my love of their debut clouded my judgement of the sophomore release? The guitars were just as crunchy and the snyth just as interesting, the songs were just more polished, not only from a recording standpoint but a writing standpoint as well. “Call It A Ritual” is up their with the best songs written by a great band, it just took me a bit to realize that they were the same band that I fell for in the first place.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007/2008)
Too much is made of the three months Justin Vernon spent in seclusion while making this album. Had this album been made on a tropical island with tons of people around, it would have been just as great. Just listen to his “Hazelton’s” solo album and you will see that these are the kinda songs that he writes. Saddening, painful, honest, falsetto vocals backed with earthy sounding acoustic guitar strums and a lot of space. This album isn’t feel good in anyway. Just listen to “Skinny Love” (which is in the top 5 all time songs played on my itunes) which almost starts out too innocently with its detuned acoustic guitar strums and the line “Come on skinny love just last the year” but when the song rolls into the chorus it erupts with emotion to a point that is almost disarming. The real strength of the album is the songs like “Blindsided” and “Creature Fear” which don’t catch your ear at first but get you later when you think you might be getting over the album.
Don Caballero – American Don (2000)
Math rock is a very divisive music genre. Its biggest fans will fawn over any dueling guitar runs written in an odd time signature while its detractors (ie most of the population) find it to be music only fit for elitist and music nerds. I can’t blame the detractors, as much of the genre is filled with noise and what amounts to instrument wanking but American Don is a rare exception to the vast amounts of math rock blah. The three musicians in Don Caballero are excellent at their respective instruments but instead of showing off for 9 songs they decided to craft some densely layered, borderline pop jams filled with guitar hooks and monster drums. Layering loops of guitar and bass lines to an almost dizzying effect (see “The Peter Criss Jazz”) they managed to convert their amazing musicianship into some great tunes. “Details On How To Get ICEMAN On Your License Plate” is a fine example of the pop hooks with Ian Williams guitar line that starts at the :51 mark. With each layer the pop factor goes up another notch. If you view this album as more than just math rock you are in for a rewarding listen.
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
The Shins took all the sweet hooky sounds of their debut record “Oh, Inverted World” gave it some polish and gave us a strong, superior album. The acoustic strums of opener “Kissing The Lipless” turn into driving electric riff with syncopated drums only to come back down to acoustic strums. This to me, is what a pop record should sound like: Fun, hook filled, original and interesting. The second half of the 10 song album is filled with mostly slower songs that are a great compliment to the more upbeat first half because front man James Mercer’s voice and lyrical aptitude are really the strength of The Shins. His song writing is straight forward but the overall sound is anything but and that is what sets The Shins apart from the throngs of crummy indie pop bands that come and go every year.