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!
The Futureheads – S/T (2004)
There were a lot of post-punk indie bands that sprouted up in the 90’s and early 2000’s but no one did it like The Futureheads. The punk stylings are in place with chunky chord anthems and catchy/sing along chorus’ but there is a huge difference with The Futureheads, which is the 4 part harmonies that are dripping from every song. Take their great cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” which starts with a layer of vocal chants before the instruments even kick in, or the fun harmonies painted all over “Decent Days and Nights”. Oh and don’t think for a minute that the guitar playing is anywhere close to the four chord nonsense of bands like the Ramones, instead they are distinctly more British and interestingly layered with open notes used to build a wall of sound.
Spoon – Girls Can Tell (2001)
In 2001 I spent a fair amount of time in East Lansing, Michigan trolling Grand River Ave’s assorted indie record shops. Because of my frequent visits I developed a pretty good friendship with one of the record store owners who ran a store called The Lower Level (which sadly is now closed). I would always find out about some great bands with the new friend I had made and Girls Can Tell was one such record. I remember putting on the headphones to the discman he handed to me spinning a band that I hadn’t heard of named Spoon and listening while I browsed the store. The sparse rock tunes gave me some solid listening to browse and then track five “The Fitted Shirt” came on and I thought “this is why he wanted me to listen”. Crafted like a slow cooked pot roast, the song builds and builds until the distorted guitar outtro which gets your fingers ready to hit the repeat button as soon as it finishes. I finally “got” the rest of the record and ended up listening to the first 4 tracks again in a new found light. Spoon was not a smack in the face, instead they were a gentle ease into understand and an addiction that built with each repeat visit.
Jim O’Rourke – Insignificance (2001)
2001 was such a great year for music and saw some of the strongest albums from established artists. Insignificance was the third album in a trilogy to be named after films by Nicolas Roeg and while they don’t follow the themes of his movies it does give listeners a great way to know which of Jim O’Rourke’s albums had the same writing style. The songs have a Burt Bacharach meets John Fahey feel to them and add a hard rock spin to the mix on songs like “Therefore I Am” and “All Downhill From Here”. O’Rourke’s snarky, bitter lyrics really take the album to the next level as you listen to a song like “Memory Lame” and wonder who pissed him off enough to write “Looking at you, reminds me of looking at the sun And how the blind are so damn lucky”. While his delivery is not aggressive or angry, his casual approach and wit are his strongest assets and provided me an album that captured feelings that we all have from time to time but could never put so eloquently.
The National – Alligator (2005)
Alligator was my first introduction to The National and from the first few notes of “Secret Meeting” I was overwhelmed. Catchy melodies and the crooning voice of lead singer Matt Berninger, how had I missed these guys? Berninger’s voice really is the centerpiece of the band as his baritone voice sings stories to you that you may not fully understand but are lapping up every word as if it was his last. What exactly does “Looking For Astronauts” mean? I don’t know for sure but I will sing it out loud all day long as if I had a master degree in its meaning. Album closer “Mr. November” is another great example of a band with a great ability to shift between emotions as the pop verse builds to an epic chorus………”I’m Mr. November!!!!!!” The National followed up Alligator with 2 more great albums but to me this was an amazing release from an amazing band.
Owls – S/T (2001)
It is debatable if Tim Kinsella is a good singer or not with his nasal y0well that can jar even the most ardent of music fans but what is not debatable is the 8 brilliantly crafted tunes that the Owls wrote for their only full length release. Guitarist Victor Villarreal who’s abilities can make even the most skilled guitar players blush, lets his fingers craft hypnotically looping guitar licks that will go down as some of the best ever written. The only thing holding down the guitar line on “Life In The Hair Salon-Themed Bar On The Island” is the strong bass and drums backing as his fingers seem to not know when they are going to stop and start ignoring down beats and convention. As for Tim Kinsella’s vocals, yes they are jarring and borderline awful but they are the perfect complement to the insanity crafted by the 3 other musicians in the band. Take “Everyone Is My Friend” where you will find yourself singing “I know what I have to do and do it” and not caring that most of the words can be construed as nonsensical babbling. This is one of the most rewarding albums of the 2000’s for those with a patient ear and love of amazing musicians.