Friday, 19 February 2010

My 50 favourite albums of the 2000s [45-41]

45. Beck - Sea change (2002)

Beck surprised most of his fanbase when he unleashed this dark and melancholic piece of work in 2002. Prior to this album, Beck's work could best be described as quirky folk-pop which mixed elements of lo-fi (Mutations), 80s-era Prince (Midnite vultures) and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink (Odelay). While he had received a lot of critical acclaim (the overrated Odelay is one of the most revered albums of the 90s), this was the album which to many will probably stand the test of time.

Inspired by the breakdown of a relationship, this was Beck's Blood on the tracks or Pink moon. Minimal, yet quietly melodic, its subdued mood rarely lifts over the course of the album. While some songs are bordering on depressing (the beautiful Round the bend), the foundation of the album is built on indie folk of the highest order: The golden age, Guess I'm doing fine and the stunning Lost cause are some of the finest songs of his career.

This album is completely timeless; when the flavours of the month are past their use-by date, it will remain a compelling piece of work.

44. Muse - Origin of symmetry (2001)

I have known to be quite critical of Muse in the past few years, but this album of progressive space-rock remains an impressive piece of work, and has passed the test of time for me.

While their debut Showbiz was a collection of (sometimes) great songs (in particular Muscle museum and Cave), it didn't quite gel into a cohesive album for me. Their sound was very developed for a debut album, but they couldn't sustain the quality over all of the tracks (especially towards the end).

From the opening piano arpeggio of New born, you can hear the growth on this follow-up album. Every song has something to say, from the modern Pink Floyd of Bliss, the air-guitar riffage of Plug in baby, the crazy operatic vocals of Micro cuts, the note perfect cover of standard Feeling good (made famous by Nina Simone), and the grandiose scope of Citizen erased and Megalomania.

This is pretentious noughties prog-space-rock at its very best.

43. The Soundtrack Of Our Lives - Behind The Music (2001)

Noel Gallagher fuelled the hype machine when he called this "the best album to come out in the last six years". Counting back 6 years leads us to 1995, the year that (What's the story) morning glory? was released, which we can only assume was the benchmark Mr. Gallagher was using. Cocky bastard.

While this album from the 6-piece Swedish outfit is certainly a product of its influences (Pink Floyd, The Who, Beach Boys, The Beatles), they meld them all into a thoroughly entertaining 60-minute album where every song has something to say and sounds unlike any other song on the album.

As good as the songs are, it's those special moments that make the album for me -- the way Ebbot Lundberg sings "You're such a lightweight after all" on Broken imaginary time, the gorgeous vocal performance and piano on Tonight, the way it all goes crazy at the end of The flood and the ethereal humming during In your veins. And it's all topped off by Nevermore, one of the greatest Beatlesque anthems of the decade.

42. Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006)

Joanna Newsom's debut album (The milk-eyed mender) was an impressive effort, but it wasn't too far removed from the work of some of her contemporaries in the freak-folk movement (Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham, et al.) From the moment that the Ys opener Emily hits your speakers/earphones, it is the sound of your expectations shattering.

This hour-long 5 track album is more than just an album: it is a world of Joanna's creation to inhabit and immerse yourself in. The shortest song of the album (Cosmia) is 7 minutes long; the longest (Only skin) is 17 minutes long. Epic is a word which is often used to describe the sound that artists achieve on albums, but the widescreen palette that Joanna employs here justifies (more than any other album of recent memory) the use of such a word.

None of the songs follow any sort of conventional structure, each consisting of multiple movements with different lyrical themes, time signatures, instrumentation and moods. Take a listen to Emily, which sounds like something from Alice in Wonderland before it goes off on a tangent, returning to the recurring theme of meteorites, meteors and meteoroids. This is sheer bloody poetry set to some of the most exquisite music imaginable.

Produced to perfection by the legendary Van Dyke Parks, and engineered by none other than Steve Albini, this is a lush musical time capsule which rewards repeated listens more than any album of recent memory. Call it generation Y's Astral weeks, if you may.

41. The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)

I'm pretty sure that this album wins the award for the most critically hyped album of the decade. The music industry had started to get into a rut in the mid-2000s, and we needed an album like this to show that there was still vitality and creativity in what appeared to be a stagnating musical landscape.

There's a certain sort of romanticism to it all: debut album with a tragic back-story, seemingly coming from nowhere, from a relatively unknown band from Montreal. Many critics and fans included this in their top 5 albums of the decade, while opinion of its follow-up Neon bible generally falls into the "It's no Funeral" camp.

So, does it live up to the hype for me? Well, as you can probably tell from the position on this list, not quite. Don't get me wrong -- there are some fantastic songs on this album (Tunnels, Laika, Wake up and Rebellion all get 5-star ratings on my iPod). There's also a great conceptual flow to the record, with the whole Neighborhood suite on the first half and its nostalgic themes of childhood and adolescence.

My problem is simply that not all of the songs work for me. I've never quite loved Power out as much as everyone else does; it seems to be missing that special something which other kick-ass indie anthems like Wolf like me and Banquet have. Kettles and Haiti don't really seem to go anywhere for me, although Haiti has definitely taken on a deeper meaning in light of recent world events. Une année sans lumiere is a decent interlude in the Neighborhood suite, but it seems to be more of a breather between the rocking numbers than a self-contained song of its own.

The great songs on this record are really, really great. If only some of the lesser songs were a little more developed, this album would have been much higher in the list. Still, a very impressive debut album.

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