Best of 2012 … So Far June 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, best of 2012, Bruce Springsteen, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Cory Branan, Dr. Dog, Dr. John, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Jay Farrar, Justin Townes Earle, Leonard Cohen, Lucero, music, Neil Young, New Multitudes, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sharon Van Etten
As the earth nears the halfway point in its annual journey around the sun, it is time we take a look back at the first half of this year, the highlights and triumphs and perhaps disappointments to date in 2012. In my strange little world, music provides the soundtrack and direction for each day, and I am always seeking to bolster my collection and to delve into the minds of artists, whether they are ones I’ve followed for years or upstarts of whom I may have only recently become aware. At my latest count, I’ve listened and paid attention to 35 new albums so far in this calendar year. These are my favorites.
Jay Farrar, Jim James, Will Johnson and Anders Parker – New Multitudes
Super groups are always kind of a crap shoot. I mean, not everybody can be the Avengers. So I approached this collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie material, as interpreted by Jay Farrar (of Son Volt / Uncle Tupelo), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Will Johnson and Anders Parker (both of Centro-Matic), with some trepidation. Fortunately, the group came through with a work that both evokes images of Guthrie’s Dust Bowl-era world and gives a timely statement on today. Jay Farrar has one of my all-time favorite voices and it’s a pure joy to hear him sing lines like “Music is the language of the mind that travels / It carries the key to the laws of time and space.” My favorite tune in the collection, though, is “My Revolutionary Mind,” as sung by Jim James. How can you not like lyrics like: “I need a progressive woman / I need an awfully liberal woman / I need a socially conscious woman / To ease my revolutionary mind.”
Download: “My Revolutionary Mind”, “Hoping Machine”
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden
I first became acquainted with the music of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American old time string band that seamlessly combines elements of folk and bluegrass with hip-hop and other music styles, after their 2010 release Genuine Negro Jig and songs like their spirited cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” so I eagerly awaited their latest release. Once again, the three piece struck gold with their modern take on an old style, successfully transporting the listener to the rural hill country where people young and old gather to make some of the original American music. Banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and an assortment of other instruments combine with an expert skill seemingly at odds with the youthful members of the band.
Download: “Ruby, are You Mad at Your Man?”, “Country Girl”
Dr. Dog – Be the Void
Dr. Dog has been writing and releasing some of the catchiest indie pop in the music world for years, and Be the Void continues in that fun, danceable vein. Having had the opportunity to see them live earlier this year, I can say this latest album captures the sing-a-long energy of their concerts – it’s unavoidable and impossible to dislike. This is music to make you smile, to enjoy life, to revel in the experiences that each day brings. “Lonesome” could make even the coldest, most indifferent listener clap and chant along in unison, while the spacey psychedelia of “These Days” will grab you up and carry you along on a strange and colorful voyage through interstellar regions often left untouched. It’s a fun ride and definitely worth the trip.
Download: “Lonesome,” “These Days”
Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
The 65 year old Ray Wylie Hubbard, perhaps best known for penning “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” has been in the business a long time, lurking just below the radar for more than four decades while influencing untold numbers of Texas singer-songwriters. This latest release shows that the aging outlaw still has quite a bit left in the tank and a seemingly infinite number of pearls of wisdom for following generations. Notable lines abound in songs like “Lazarus” (“At least we ain’t Lazarus / And have to think twice about dyin’) and in “Coricidin Bottle” (“If you ever get to heaven say ‘Woo, thank you!” / If you ever get scared say the 23rd Psalm”). But the highlight of the album comes in the autobiographical “Mother Blues” where Hubbard tells of being a young man who only wanted a “gold plated Les Paul and a stripper girlfriend.” Good stuff.
Download: “Lazarus,” “Mother Blues”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana
Did you ever wonder what it would sound like to hear Neil Young, with his grungy, loud guitar, and unmistakable, nasal voice, singing American standards like “Oh Susannah” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain?” Well, if you did, here is your answer and it’s awesome. This is one of those collections where you can imagine Young sitting around, jamming and saying, “What the hell, let’s record.” He turns American roots music on its head and totally rocks it out, blasting through versions of “Clementine” and “Tom Dula” in ways that you never imagined. Sure, it’s not an album of original music and it doesn’t have the poignancy of his greatest works of long ago or his more recent masterpiece “Le Noise,” but it is a lot of fun. Turn it up loud and enjoy.
Download: Oh Susannah, Jesus’ Chariot (aka “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”)
10. Cory Branan – Mutt
I had heard of Cory Branan before he was name-dropped in a song by one of my favorite bands, Lucero, but it was after that quick reference that I started to pay attention to the work of this great Memphis singer-songwriter. Branan shows a diverse set of influences as he deftly transitions between styles, from the Tom Waits-esque “The Snowman,” to “Bad Man,” with its E Street Band piano riff and vocal styling of Tom Petty, the Mellencamp-like summer jam “Circa Summer 80 Somethin,” (with one of the best lines of year “You were dancing barefoot on the picnic table and dammit girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn”). The centerpiece of the album, though, is the great “Survivor Blues,” a tune that takes a darker look at the “Born to Run,” escapist mythology, with the refrain of “What didn’t kill you / Will make you wish you died,” ringing out as the stark voice of realism. It’s a very good album from an artist who stands as a musical treasure of this city.
Download: Survivor Blues, Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin’), Bad Man
9. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
One of the most interesting phenomena that has come to light in the past ten-to-fifteen years is the number of late-career releases from the elder statesmen of the music world, whether it be Johnny Cash’s incredible American Music run, the continued relevance of Bob Dylan, or even the great recent works of Bruce Springsteen (who, at 62, is a mere pup compared to the others), and the 77 year old Leonard Cohen continues in the interesting and poignant trend. Dark and beautiful, Cohen’s unmistakable voice continues to complement his superb songwriting in a way that few artists have ever and will ever match. Contemplating mortality with a wry sense of humor, he kicks off the album speaking in third person, “I love to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit,” then considering a life nearing its end in the context of a failed romance, he says, “I got no future / I know my days are few / The present’s not that pleasant / Just a lot of things to do / I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too.” It’s truly a late-career masterpiece not to be missed.
Download: Going Home, Anyhow, Amen
8. Dr. John – Locked Down
Truth be told, I’d never paid a lot of attention to Dr. John. Sure, I knew Gris-Gris and I knew how important he was to New Orleans music, but for some reason I had never spent much time with his work. But, when I heard that he was releasing an album with Dan Auerbach (singer/guitarist for the Black Keys), I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Turns out, I now see what I’ve been missing. Auerbach injects his sound into Dr. John’s funky voodoo R&B to perfection, turning out one of the best and most fun albums of the year. On this work, the 71 year old music legend displays the dual reality surrounding and affecting humanity since the beginning, the desire for personal pleasure against the hope for something more, the drive to be good. Perhaps this is no truer than in the album closer “God’s Sure Good,” when he says “God been good to me / Better than me to myself.”
Download: Locked Down, Revolution, Big Shot
7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Poignant and beautiful, tender and angry, New Jersey’s Sharon Van Etten has released a true standout album of the first half of 2012. Her voice is one of melancholic beauty, one that at times reminds me of Cat Power, but that is decidedly her own. It will capture you, pull you into her world, a place where wants and desires battle with reality when she sings, “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / You’re why I’ll need to leave.” Songs like “Leonard” are heartbreaking beautiful with its opening lines of confusion and questioning, “There he goes / He finally closed the door / I turn the lock feeling more confused than before / What gives?” With releases as urgent and wonderful as this, Van Etten will not be flying under the radar for long.
Download: Warsaw, Serpents, Leonard
6. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
I first became acquainted with Heartless Bastards following their 2009 release, The Mountain, and was quickly taken by their classic rock sound and Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful vocals. Arrow takes that formula and adds excellent songwriting to the mix, crafting one of the best albums so far in 2012, one that may stand as a career-defining moment for the band. From the colossal build of the opener “Marathon” (And we all want to belong / To something more than, more than ourselves), to what may be the best song in their repertoire, “Parted Ways” (And the sun went down on this little ghost town / near the valley of the Rio Grande / I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time / to ease my troubled mind), this is truly a great work and one that deserves to be heard. I missed the band when they played Memphis earlier this year, so here’s hoping they have a return trip planned in the near future.
Download: Marathon, Parted Ways, Low Low Low
5. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
In the music business, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to follow in the steps of your father, especially when your father is someone as important to the alt-country world as Steve Earle. And Justin Townes Earle does no doubt struggle with it at times, both the fame and the evils that seem to follow behind it, and you can hear the references to his famous dad in much of his music, including the opening lines of this album, “Hear my father on the radio / Singing take me home again / 300 miles from the Carolina coast / And I’m skin and bones again. / Sometimes I wish that I could get away / Sometimes I wish that he’d just call / Am I that lonely tonight? / I don’t know.” Despite his struggles with substance abuse, JTE has quickly become one of the most important and most prolific acts in the Americana world, releasing five albums, all of them good to excellent, over the course of six years. Earle employs a Stax-style horn section on this album, a curious and welcome trend also seen with a band still to come in this countdown, Lucero. For me, the highlight of the album is “Memphis in the Rain,” a rollicking number that makes you feel as though you really are rolling down the streets of the Bluff City. Now, if only we could get him to play another show here.
Download: Memphis in the Rain, Maria, Down on the Lower East Side
4. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Songs and performances of the Alabama Shakes have been bouncing around on the web for some time, building a huge buzz for this, their debut album. Soon the Athens, Alabama band was opening for personal favorites like Drive-By Truckers, Jack White, and a whole host of other greats, even scoring a gig at Bonnaroo. In a time when Southern music is making a huge grass-roots push, Alabama Shakes have vaulted nearly to the top, becoming relatively well known in a very short amount of time. When soulful singer Brittany Howard sings of herself in the album opener, “Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old / There must be someone up above / Saying ‘Come on Brittany / You got to come on up,” she does it with such conviction you can’t help but root for her. This is decidedly old school soul, similar to contemporaries like Sharon Jones & the Dapp-Kings, but with a southern flair that oozes authenticity.
Download: Hold On, Hang Loose, You Ain’t Alone
3. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
The Boss is one of those artists who, though past the age of 60, seem to have caught a second wind in their career, putting out some of the best, most relevant and interesting music they have in some time. Following on the heels of the excellent Magic in 2007 and Working on a Dream in 2009, Wrecking Ball had a lot to live up to and fans no doubt wondered where the artist would go from that point. Never one to rest on his laurels, Springsteen took an unforeseen curve and released what many have called his “angriest album yet.” The Boss takes aim at economic justice, landing punches on the financial meltdown and corporations who are seen as making a mockery of the American Dream. In songs like “We Take Care of Our Own,” his words drip with irony as he talks of those left behind and struggling. It’s been called his “Occupy album” and perhaps that is an applicable descriptor as he slams the advantage-taking institutions in songs like “Jack of All Trades” (“The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin / It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again”). “Death to My Hometown” is an Irish-inspired anthem (They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes / They left our bodies on the planks, the vultures picked our bones) that serves as a grave indictment against the powers that be. This album is epic and deserves its rightful spot in the Springsteen canon.
Download: We Take Care of Our Own, Easy Money, Jack of All Trades
2. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Over the past several years there has been no shortage of Jack White music, but ever since the demise of the White Stripes following 2007’s stellar release Icky Thump, he just hasn’t sounded the same. Though much of it was quite good, the spontaneity and urgency seemed to be missing from his music al output with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Well, I’m happy to say that his first solo album, Blunderbuss, is a hugely welcome return to form. It does what White does best: rock. “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption” sound like they could easily have been included on Elephant, while “Freedom at 21” displays all of the crazy, riff-magic that made White a guitar god. This existence of this album makes me supremely happy and I can only hope that White continues along this same road for some time. I had the chance to see The White Stripes live several years ago and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite shows and the wildly unpredictable Jack White is among the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen.
Download: Sixteen Saltines, Love Interruption, I’m Shakin’
1. Lucero – Women & Work
I had liked Lucero for years, maybe even dating back to before I moved to the Memphis area in 2004, and had seen them a handful of times during that period, but it wasn’t until 2009’s incredible 1372 Overton Park, that I truly came to love the band. Last year alone I had the opportunity to see the band three times, including an epic 3+ hour show at Minglewood Hall just before Christmas when they debuted much of this, their latest studio work. Since that show in December, I’ve had the chance to meet a few of the guys in the band and have conversed with some of them online, further cementing my allegiance to the greatest current band from Memphis. From the first time I listened to it, streaming it online prior to its release, I was completely blown away by Women & Work. Though I love the older Lucero stuff, the “empty bottle and an old country song” greatness, their more recent work has taken a giant step forward, keeping the elements that made them favorites among country-punk fans while incorporating new, and decidedly Memphis, elements. Memphis-style horns were added and the vocals changed to something more full and soulful, as Ben Nichols turned a major corner as a singer. The album begins with two rollicking, upbeat numbers, “On My Way Downtown” and “Women Work,” both of which pull the listener in, setting their feet to tapping and head to bobbing. I think my favorite song on the album is the strange and different crooner, “It May Be Too Late,” which to my ears represents a very interesting and welcome twist to the new Lucero sound. When Ben sings those lines “It may be too late to save me little girl / Called the phone till the numbers wouldn’t dial,” it really hits the listener deep, just like great music should. In “Juniper,” my inner nerd loves the opening line, “She looks like a superhero down on her luck.” The imagery is perfect. My second favorite song is “Sometimes,” with its lonesome (Check out Steve Earle’s distinction between the words lonesome and lonely in his incredible novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive when you get the chance), mournful sound and it’s chorus of “The road from Tennessee, it shakes and rattles to the bone / The hills of Arkansas are filled with haunted lakes and ghosts / Oh, and sometimes I hear them on those lonesome nights / Sometimes they come out of the woods and up to the house.” This has been, by far, my most listened to album of 2012 and I hope you will give it a spin, too. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Download the whole album.
Thoughts? What should I have included/not included?
Lenten Listen #14: Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball March 6, 2012Posted by Matt in Lent.
Tags: Bruce Springsteen, Land of Hopes and Dreams, Lent, Wrecking Ball
Bruce Springsteen is one of those remarkable artists that transcends the medium of music and creates something far more important and meaningful, something that speaks to people young and old, rural and urban, across the American landscape in a way that few, if any others can. Though wealthy beyond the imaginations of most of us, he has kept his feet firmly planted in the world of the working class, telling their tales of hardship and toil with such strong conviction that you can tell he understands their plight.
His later career push, which began nearly 10 years ago with The Rising, continues with this, another worthy addition to the canon. This is an angry album, one that seethes with fury at the 1%, one that mourns the death of the American Dream, while still remaining hopeful of times to come, that perhaps we can create a better world. In doing so, he becomes a prophet of our time, preaching against the ruling powers and in favor of the common people. This is hopefulness is perhaps no more evident that in the old time gospel-esque “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” which ends with this refrain:
Big wheels roll through the fields
Where sunlight strams
Meet me in the land of hopes and dreams
Carries saints and sinners
Carries losers and winners
Carries whores and gamblers
Carries lost souls
Dreams will not be thwarted
Faith will be rewarded
Hear the steel wheels singin’
Bells of freedom ringin’
Thieves and sweet souls departed
Carries fools and kings
2012 First Quarter (Plus One Month) New Music Guide February 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012, music.
Tags: 2012 new releases, Alabama Shakes, Andrew Bird, Bruce Springsteen, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Justin Townes Earle, Lucero, M. Ward, music, Sleigh Bells, Todd Snider
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I’m a little behind on this, but I wanted to go ahead and give a quick head’s up on what’s new in the world of music. There have been a handful of interesting releases in the generally dead months of January and February: particularly Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Old Ideas,” Dr. Dog’s catchy “Be the Void,” and Craig Finn’s (frontman of The Hold Steady) solo work “Clear Heart, Full Eyes,” but other than those, few releases have caught my attention yet. Looking ahead to the next few months, the music calendar becomes more interesting, lucky for you, I’m here to dig through the plethora of releases and tell you what merits your listening. Here are the ten upcoming works I’m most anxiously awaiting.
Heartless Bastards – Arrow (Feb 14)
With the dark, Southern gothic imagery and the expansive, throaty vocals of Erika Wennerstrom, the Heartless Bastards have been on my radar since their excellent 2009 release, The Mountain. This is the one album on this list I’ve cheated on a bit and already listened to on NPR, and let me tell you, it’s great. You can hear “Parted Ways” here.
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (Feb 21)
Noisy and loud, I was quickly drawn to Sleigh Bells last album “Treats,” and I eagerly await this follow up. The duo has a surprisingly full sound, with shoegazing-esque female vocals over crashing guitars. You can stream one of the new songs, Comeback Kid, here.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Mar 6)
Over the years I’ve listened to him, I’ve been drawn to the way that Bird can so effortlessly incorporate different genres, from jazz to indie rock, into his songs, thus I’m intrigued to see where this multi-instrumentalist goes with his latest batch of recordings. Stream the song, “Eyeoneye,” here.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Wrecking Ball (Mar 6)
Now into his 60’s, the Boss is still the boss and there are few people who can bring it was well as he can. His last few albums have been excellent and I expect nothing less from this, his first post-Clarence Clemons release. Check out the song “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (Mar 6)
Snider has been around a while, but his biting social commentary and funny lyrics never fail to disappoint. I can’t find any songs from this album, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Lucero – Women & Work (Mar 13)
Probably my second most anticipated album of the year (Sorry, guys, you lost out to the Boss), Lucero has been a favorite band of mine for years, and after seeing them several times last year, including an epic 3+ hour Memphis show just before Christmas, I’m more of a fan now than ever. Listen to me: Support this band. Check out the new tune “Sometimes.”
Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Mar 27)
This progeny of the great Steve Earle has carved out his own interesting niche in the music world, releasing a catalogue of excellent albums that would make any artist jealous. I have high hopes for this one as well. Check out the title track here.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (Apr 10)
Alabama Shakes have been making some noise on the Southern rock scene lately, backing up favorites of mine like the Drive-By Truckers, so I’m eagerly awaiting their full-length debut and perhaps a visit to Memphis. Check out the title song here.
M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion (Apr 10)
Singer-songwriter M. Ward has been quietly working the scene for years with mellow vocals and gentle, fingerpicked guitars and I’ve always found his work to be enjoyable. You can hear new song, “The First Time I Ran Away” here.
Jack White – Blunderbuss (Apr 24)
I’m a longtime disciple of Jack White, from the White Stripes, to the Raconteurs, to the Dead Weather, so I will quickly snatch up any recording bearing his name. This solo debut is no exception to that rule. His new song “Love Interruption” is an acoustic number, with the guitar god taking a different tact than his normal furious blasts of loudly distorted solos, but it is still quite good.
What releases are you most anticipating?
The Boss is In January 19, 2012Posted by Matt in music.
Tags: Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
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That’s right. Bruce Springsteen is back with a new album set to come out March 16. All is right with the world.
Between Either and Or April 19, 2011Posted by Matt in philosophy.
Tags: balancing life and work, Bruce Springsteen, corporations, Either/Or, Elliott Smith, Kierkegaard, work
It was a difficult morning.
The sky was cloudy, the kids were crying, and to top it off, we were completely out of that life-giving elixir, coffee. When I finally pulled away from our babysitter’s home, running late as usual, it was with a sigh of stressful relief, knowing that a small piece of another busy day was complete, but also that time was short and the work ahead was long.
I have a good job, one that pays fairly well and has a decent amount of flexibility in the work day, but oftentimes the soulless, bottom-line philosophy undergirding every action of a corporation can wear on a person and stress becomes a fact of life. It becomes difficult to extricate oneself from the corporate machine with its overlapping deadlines, impersonal interactions, and its impassive eyes of stone that only see dollars and cents.
This morning I was scheduled to conduct a meeting at a location on the east side of the city, meaning that I would have a much longer commute that is normally necessary for my work, so before leaving town I grabbed a cup of coffee and chose an album to listen to while making the drive – Elliott Smith’s Either/Or.
As I made my way onto the crowded stretch of interstate, the melancholy sounds of an acoustic guitar and Smith’s whispery vocals filled the car and my mind started to wander. The album is of course named for Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either/Or, which talks of the inner, soul-shaking turmoil of humans between aesthetic pleasure and moral rightness, freedom and necessity, imagination and rules etched in stone.
As I drive this busy Memphis freeway I think of some of the dueling forces in my own soul, between the job that provides the income to support a family but that could easily suck away my very being, leaving behind only a shell of humanity, and the drive to do something worthwhile, to change the world for the better.
The tragic story of Elliott Smith is one where he ultimately couldn’t strike a balance in his life and succumbed to pain and anguish, dying of self-inflicted wounds at the age of 34. While I am certainly not suicidal, I see the danger in giving in and becoming just another corporate automaton whose life is defined by the bottom line.
I think of one of my favorite Springsteen songs, the poignant “Racing in the Street,” where he utters these prophetic lines:
Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
And go racing in the street.
That’s me. I want to go “racing in the street,” to not let my work swallow me whole, to keep my love for my fellow man intact. I want to recognize beauty and enjoy life to the fullest. As I drove the highway, passing by those numerous monuments to humankind, a beam of sunlight broke through the cloud cover, illuminating the ground around me and suddenly I knew it would be alright.
I am on the right track.
Ten for Tuesday: 1995 August 31, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 1995, alice in chains, Bruce Springsteen, Everclear, Foo Fighters, Garbage, music, Oasis, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, top ten, Tupac Shakur, Wilco
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Hey everybody! It’s time to hop back into our top ten time machine and take a trip back a few years to see what made the music and film industries tick during that time. Over the past few weeks we’ve checked out the tens: 2000, 1990, and 1980, and we’ve looked back five years at 2005. Today we’ll take a look at 1995. In 1995 I began my senior year of high school, turned 18, and spent my time driving the backroads around our small town in an old 4-Runner. While much of the popular music I listened to at the time was not that great (Silverchair and Bone Thugs to name two regrettable choices), there were some true gems released that year, some of which I didn’t come to appreciate until much later.
10. Garbage – Garbage
I always liked what I heard from this album, but it wasn’t until later, after I saw them open for the Smashing Pumpkins, that I finally bought it. Its combination of dance-rock beats, a shoegazing guitar sound, and Shirley Manson’s vocals make this a recording that still holds up well. My favorite track is probably “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” but the best known one is undoubtedly, “Stupid Girl.”
9. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
Following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 and the subsequent demise of grunge rock in general, many music fans looked around bewildered, wondering what would be next. They would not have to wait long, though, for rising Phoenix-like from Nirvana’s ashes was drummer Dave Grohl, now as the singer/guitarist of a new band, Foo Fighters. Their brand of pop-punk-rock was a departure from the sometimes noisy sounds of Nirvana, but it was a welcome one nevertheless. “Big Me” was the hugest hit, particularly for it’s video, but I really like the songs “I’ll Stick Around” and “This is a Call” the best.
8. Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains
As the final album featuring vocalist Layne Staley, this work stands as an exit sign of sorts for the grunge era. While I don’t love this as much as 1992’s classic Dirt, it is still a good album that features a good deal of Jerry Cantrell’s trademark sludgy guitar riffs with metal sensibilities. My favorite songs on this collection include “Grind” and “Over Now,” with “Heaven Beside You” also standing as an excellent piece.
7. Everclear – Sparkle and Fade
This album is included more for the nostalgia it induces than anything else, especially since I was part of a band at that time that played “Santa Monica.” Overall, the album is a good one about growing up and moving on, topics that were important to me as an 18 year old. Though I still occasionally like to turn this one on, its place was somewhat diminished after I saw Everclear put on one of the worst concerts I’ve ever seen several years ago. Check out the aforementioned “Santa Monica” and “Summerland.”
6. Tupac Shakur – Me Against the World
Tupac was widely known as one of the best rappers of the decade even before his murder in 1996, and this album, along with the even better All Eyez On Me, display him in top form. For better or worse, Tupac took the 90’s thug persona to a whole new level and his untimely death made him a legend. On this album, check out the monster hit “Dear Mama,” and the title track.
5. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
With the possible exception of the aforementioned Everclear album, there were no new discs that I listened to from beginning to end more often as a high school senior than this one. The Gallagher brothers reached the pinnacle of their rock star careers with this one and that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. “Wonderwall” is one of the best and most nostalgia-inducing songs of the decade, while “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” are also great listens.
4. Wilco – A.M.
Wilco’s debut album following the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, evaded my interest as a high school senior and it wasn’t until several years later that I first realized the brilliance of Jeff Tweedy. Sure, this is not among their best albums to date (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth), but it is still a very good one, particularly on songs like “Passenger Side,” “I Must be High,” and “Box Full of Letters.”
3. Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
There is something criminal about the way that this incredible acoustic work from The Boss was swept under the rug in the mid-90’s. Harkening back to the great Nebraska, this album finds Springsteen traveling back to the Midwest, to the trials and tribulations of the common man, and emerging with sparse tales of hard times. Check out the title track, “Youngstown,” and “My Best was Never Good Enough.”
2. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mellon Collie is no exception to the general rule of double albums. It is bloated, ego-driven, and sometimes displays a little too much self-importance, but when Billy Corgan’s band is on target, which they are most of the time, they are one of the best around. The band rips through some huge riffs in songs like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” that can still blow the listener away.
1. Radiohead – The Bends
Before The Bends, most thought of Radiohead as little more than a one-hit wonder of the grunge era. Their song “Creep” was huge, but there was little else on their debut that captured the imagination of music fans. When they burst back on the scene in 1995, though, it was with a true game changer and one of the best albums of the entire decade. Everyone remembers songs like “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” but it is the album in its entirety that truly astonishes. The Bends also marked the first entry in a trilogy of works, along with 1997’s OK Computer and 2000’s Kid A, that stands as quite possibly the best threesome of albums in the history of rock music. Seriously, I will put these three up against any three album span of The Beatles, Dylan, anyone, and I think it will fare just fine. For now, though, just listen to The Bends. Turn it up loud and let the genius of Thom Yorke take you away. You won’t be disappointed.
Ten for Tuesday: 1980 July 27, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 1980, AC/DC, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, George Jones, Joy Division, Ozzy Osbourne, Prince, Talking Heads, The Clash, top ten albums, U2
This week we hop back into the top ten time machine and set our course for 30 years in the past, to 1980. It was the year my brother was born, when I turned 3, and when several top-notch pieces of entertainment were released to the public. So, without further, ado, let’s get on with the lists.
Top 10 Albums Released in 2010
10. George Jones – I Am What I Am
Truthfully, I don’t actually own this album, but I do know that two of the songs contained on it are among No-Show’s best, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will).” Now that’s what country music is all about.
9. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Uprising
Marley’s last studio album before his death the following year was one of his best, with well-known tracks like “Could You Be Loved” and the acoustic classic “Redemption Song,” leading the way.
8. U2 – Boy
When U2 burst on the scene in 1980 with their debut album, Boy, nobody could have known that Bono and the boys would go on to become one of the biggest bands in the world. Songs like “I Will Follow” and “A Day Without Me” helped solidify their spot in the post-punk movement and served as a good first step to superstardom.
7. Prince – Dirty Mind
The Purple One’s third album, released when he was only 22, proved to be the catalyst for one of the greatest careers in American music. His mixture of funk, dance, and rock styles with obvious sexual overtones proved to be a winning combination and a star was born.
6. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
This early 80s classic is a must-hear to understand the New Wave phenomena of that time period. The critically-acclaimed collaboration of David Byrne and Brian Eno was an inspired one that can be best heard on tunes like “Once in a Lifetime” and “Houses in Motion.”
5. Joy Division – Closer
Joy Division’s downbeat, post-punk sound was made even more poignant by the untimely suicide of frontman Ian Curtis just before this work was released. This isn’t uplifting stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still very good, particularly on songs like “Atrocity Exhibition” and “Isolation.”
4. AC/DC – Back in Black
There are few bands in the history of rock music that can survive the death of an integral member, especially if that person happens to be the frontman, but, following the death of Bon Scott, AC/DC proved that it was possible to not only survive, but thrive. Back in Black proved to be not only their best album, but one of the most important albums ever in rock music. Their combination of riffs, sexual energy, and suggestions of evil in songs like “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and “Back in Black” proved to be the key to a long, successful career.
3. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz
Ozzy has been around a long time and has released copious amounts of music both as a solo artist and with Black Sabbath, but this is widely regarded as one of the, if not the, best. On this solo debut Ozzy teamed with a young hotshot guitarist named Randy Rhodes and blazed through some of the greatest heavy metal recordings in history. From “Crazy Train,” to the controversial “Suicide Solution,” to the insane guitar work of “Mr. Crowley,” this is the Prince of Darkness at his best.
2. Bruce Springsteen – The River
Double albums are hit-or-miss affairs in rock music, generally seen as vanity projects by artists who have achieved sudden stardom. Sometimes, though, they work to near perfection – and this is one of those rare occurrences. It is quite a collection of music, combining songs like the keyboard-driven, 80s sound of “Hungry Heart,” with the acoustic title cut and melancholic tunes like “Independence Day, and it is both the quality and diversity of the music contained here that make this a must-own.
1. The Clash – London Calling
It may not be possible to overstate the importance and influence of this punk rock masterpiece. Its perfect mash-up of rockabilly, ska, rock, and a host of other styles and its socially relevant content propel London Calling to the top of the list. Joe Strummer and the band were at the top of their game in 1980, leading them to be widely referred to as “The Only Band That Matters.” A truer statement may not have been spoken in 1980.
Ten For Tuesday – Running Songs April 27, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: Blues Traveler, Bruce Springsteen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Phish, Pink Floyd, running, songs, The Beatles, Tom Petty, top ten, Van Halen
In keeping with the running theme from today’s earlier blog entry, I put together a list of ten songs with the word “run” in the title. These are not necessarily good songs to run along with, but they do include the word and I will add a few of the lyrics pertaining to running. Some of these are from memory and some are from my Ipod, but I’m sure I left a lot of great ones out. Let me know what should be added.
10. Blues Traveler – Run-Around
Why you wanna give me a run-around?
Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up
When all it does is slow me down.
9. Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning
If it’s all for nothing
All the road running has been in vain.
8. The Beatles – Run for Your Life
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl
7. Phish – Run Like an Antelope
Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul
You’ve got to run like an antelope, out of control
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Run Through the Jungle
Better run through the jungle,
Whoa, don’t look back
5. Pink Floyd – Run Like Hell
Run, run, run, run
You better run all day
And run all night
4. Tom Petty – Running Down a Dream
I’m running down a dream
That never would come to me
Working on a mystery
Going wherever it leads
Running down a dream
3. Van Halen – Running with the Devil
(Ahh!) Runnin’ with the devil (Ahh-hah! Yeah!)
(Woo-hoo-oo!) Runnin’ with the devil
2. Neil Young – Long May You Run
Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run
1. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run
Best of the Decade – Music Artists February 9, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Arcade Fire, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, drive-by truckers, Green Day, Interpol, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, josh ritter, Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, neko case, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys, The Decemberists, The Flaming Lips, The Hold Steady, The White Stripes, top artists of the decade, Wilco
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Over the past few months we’ve taken a look at the music from the past decade in my ranking of the top 100 albums released during that time period. To arrive at this list, I considered more than 400 releases from those ten years, the majority of which I actually own. But, this undertaking led me to yet another question – if these are the top albums, who are the top artists? So, using these 400 albums and my rankings as a guide, I have compiled a listing of my 30 top artists of the time period stretching from 2000-2009. Let me know what you think.
30. Bright Eyes – Between his solo work and that with Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst is one of the most prolific artists on my list. Though he can be a bit over-earnest at times, I’m still a big fan of his unsure, wavering voice.
Notable Albums: Lifted or The Story is in the Soul, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002), Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005), Cassadega (2007)
29. The Avett Brothers – I became an instant fan of The Avett Brothers after hearing 2007’s alt-grass classic Emotionalism, a feeling which has only grown stronger through 2009’s piano ballad-driven I and Love and You.
Notable Albums: Mignonette (2004), Emotionalism (2007), I and Love and You (2009)
28. Modest Mouse – Modest Mouse had been around in indie rock circles for several years, but it was 2004’s unavoidable catchy “Float On” that propelled them to stardom.
Notable Albums: The Moon & Antarctica (2000), Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004), We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)
27. Interpol – Downbeat and depressing, Interpol brought back everything that was good about the early 80’s post-punk movement.
Notable Albums: Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007)
26. Ryan Adams – Another prolific artist, Adams released the equivalent of 10 studio albums over the past decade. Though most of his work is hit and miss, when he is on, he’s among the best working today.
Notable Albums: Heartbreaker (2000), Gold (2001), Love is Hell (2004), Easy Tiger (2007)
25. Johnny Cash – The Man in Black may have passed away in 2002, but that didn’t stop him from being among the highest rated artists of the decade. His final series of works with Rick Rubin are some of the most poignant to be found anywhere.
Notable Albums: American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
24. Jay-Z – There are few hip-hop artists who reach stardom that continue produce top-notch albums. Though Jay-Z has had his fair share of misses, he continues to be one of the best in the game.
Notable Albums: The Blueprint (2001), The Black Album (2003)
23. Neko Case – I fell in love with Neko Case’s soaring voice following her stellar ’06 release, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and she has yet to disappoint me.
Notable Albums: Blacklisted (2002), Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), Middle Cyclone (2009)
22. Arcade Fire – With a huge sound and a big Springsteen influence, Canada’s Arcade Fire burst onto the scene in a big way with their 2004 debut Funeral. They have a great deal of energy and passion that translates well in their stadium-ready songs.
Notable Albums: Funeral (2004), Neon Bible (2007)
21. Wilco – Though 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may be the creative pinnacle of their career thus far, in my opinion, the 1990’s were a far better decade overall for Jeff Tweedy’s band. Nevertheless, they did produce some enjoyable and inventive fare over the past ten years.
Notable Albums: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), Sky Blue Sky (2007), Wilco (The Album) (2009)
20. The Decemberists – As I have mentioned in the past, there is probably no success story that is more unlikely than that of The Decemberists, with their obscure lyrical references and use of uncommon instruments (accordions, Wurlitzer organs, etc.).
Notable Albums: Picaresque (2005), The Crane Wife (2006), The Hazards of Love (2009)
19. Outkast – Given the fact that they have released two of the all-time quintessential hip hop albums over the past ten years, I wanted to place Big Boi and Andre 3000 higher then this. But, their lack of quality output since 2003’s double album extravaganza hurt them in the long run.
Notable Albums: Stankonia (2000), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
18. The Flaming Lips – Trippy and weird, these Oklahomans have been cranking out alt-rock oddities for more than two decades. The past decade from the Lips brought us pink robots, politics, and a penchant for sonic insanity. Really, what else do you need?
Notable Albums: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2000), At War with the Mystics (2006), Embryonic (2009)
17. The Black Keys – This is down and dirty blues-rock done right – by a couple of hippy-ish white guys from Akron, Ohio. The Keys have put together work after work of irresistible riff-rock that needs to be heard.
Notable albums: Thickfreakness (2003), Rubber Factory 92004), Attack & Release (2008)
16. Coldplay – Sure, their sound may be a bit contrived and safe, but this band, which is certainly among the most popular groups of the decade, know how to make stadium-ready rock.
Notable albums: Parachutes (2000), A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
15. Kanye West – With the kind of talent Kanye has who cares if he’s not a nice guy. If there is a single hip hop artist to be identified with this decade, it must be him. He is creative, fun, and a definite risk-taker across all four of his excellent releases.
Notable Albums: The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
14. The Hold Steady – The band once proclaimed to be the “best bar band in America” has become one of the best bands period in America. Openly wielding a love for Springsteen, the band tears through song after song about the dead end people and towns.
Notable Albums: Separation Sunday (2005), Boys and Girls in America (2005), Stay Positive (2008)
13. Bob Dylan – Dylan’s career resurgence following 1997’s Time Out of Mind carried through the first decade of the millennium, a time in which his releases went from incredible to strange (whoever guessed we’d have Dylan Christmas album?), but never boring.
Notable Albums: Love & Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), Together Through Life (2009)
12. Kings of Leon – KoL began the decade as little-known Southern rockers, the sons of a Tennessee preacher, and ended it as one of the biggest bands in America.
Notable Albums: Youth and Young Manhood (2003), Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), Only By Night (2008)
11. Beck – Eschewing his “two turntables and a microphone” persona, alternative rock’s Dylan began the decade with a sad and darn near perfect collection of acoustic laments before carrying on with a return to the fun-loving and danceable tunes that propelled him to stardom in the 90’s.
Notable Albums: Sea Change (2002), The Information (2006), Modern Guilty (2008)
10. Sufjan Stevens – Earnest and uncertain, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens chose to do things his way over the past decade, releasing entire albums devoted to the states of Michigan and Illinois, producing a collection of Christmas EPs and wearing his spiritual side on his sleeve.
Notable Albums: Greetings from Michigan (2003), Seven Swans (2004), Illinois (2005)
9. Pearl Jam – The majority of Pearl Jam’s releases this decade were good, but lacking a bit when compared to their work from the 1990’s – or course, that was prior to 2009’s Backspacer, which ranked as one of my very favorite albums of the entire decade.
Notable Albums: Binaural (2000), Riot Act (2002), Backspacer (2009)
8. Green Day – This decade marked the evolution of Green Day from juvenile pop-punkers to worldwide fame and renown. Their newfound maturity and political themes turned Billy Joe’s band into one of the most important ones in America today.
Notable Albums: American Idiot (2004), 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
7. Spoon – Though Spoon had been around in the 90’s, it was not until the early 2000’s that I came in contact with their infectious, danceable tunes and I loved it. There are few bands that have been as consistently good as Spoon over the past 10 years.
Notable Albums: Kill the Moonlight (2002), Girls Can Tell (2001), Gimme Fiction (2005)
6. My Morning Jacket – Jim James’ band burst through their reverb-soaked haze early in the decade to claim a piece of the 2000’s Southern rock crown. Though their sound can veer from Neil Young to Prince, the overall product is a distinctly Southern one and not to be missed.
Notable Albums: It Still Moves (2003), Z (2005), Evil Urges (2008)
5. Josh Ritter – Ritter is quite possibly the best songwriter of my generation, and that’s really saying something. He could be the next Springsteen or the next Dylan, or maybe sometime in the future we’ll be calling another young singer-songwriter the next Ritter.
Notable Albums: Hello Starling (2003), The Animal Years (2006), The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
4. Drive-By Truckers – There are few artists that I have followed as intently over the past ten years as DBT. There is just something about their stories of the dark side of the South that I find appealing and they have a killer live show.
Notable Albums: Southern Rock Opera (2001), Decoration Day (2003), Brighter than Creation’s Dark (2008)
3. Radiohead – If my generation has an answer to The Beatles, it is Radiohead. Thom Yorke’s band has continually pushed boundaries for the past 15 years and, in so doing, have produced some of the most creative and incredible pieces of work to be found in the music business today.
Notable Albums: Kid A (2000), Hail to the Thief (2003), In Rainbows (2007)
2. The White Stripes – I’m an unabashed worshipper of the power of Jack White and his guitar. The guy can pull incredible solos out of nowhere and make them look easy. This duo’s five albums of blues-rock are among the best of anybody for the entire decade.
Notable Albums: White Blood Cells (2001), Elephant (2003), Icky Thump (2007)
1. Bruce Springsteen – Who cares if the Boss topped 60 last year? The guy can still bring it like no other. The 2000’s have proven to be his most fruitful time since the early-mid ‘80’s, with 5 great albums released over the course of ten years. All hail the Boss, he’s still the man!
Notable Albums: The Rising (2002), Magic (2007), Working on a Dream (2009)
Best of the Decade – Music Edition (1-10) February 2, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: Beck, best of 2000's, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, josh ritter, music, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, The Swell Season, top ten, Wilco
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I hope you have enjoyed our look back at the top 100 albums of the past decade. Today we will complete our journey with my top ten. Enjoy.
You can see the past entries in our countdown here:
10. Green Day – American Idiot (2004)
American Idiot marked a true milestone for Green Day, for it was the moment in which they truly grew up, maturing beyond their bratty 90’s punk rock to another level where they donned the mantle designating them as one of the greatest bands of a generation. Combining influences like The Who with their own punk sensibilities, Green Day constructed this magnum opus, a rock opera centered around the fictional character Jesus of Suburbia who is desensitized by a diet of “soda pop and Ritalin.” The album has a number of great songs, including the 9 minute “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Holiday,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
9. Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova – The Swell Season (2006)
I was introduced to Hansard, Irglova and, by extension, The Frames, through their work in the incredible 2007 film Once. This album, recorded prior to the movie, contains much of the same material found on the soundtrack. The music is sparsely orchestrated, preferring to put most of the focus on Hansard’s emotional appeals to love with the Czech-born Irglova. Like the movie, it is quite a ride and one that everyone should experience. “Fallen Slowly” is the great Oscar-winning love song that most people have heard, but you should also check out “This Low,” “Lies,” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”
8. Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
Funky and hard-hitting, this is what Southern hip-hop is all about. The Atlanta duo of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin have proven themselves time and again to be among the most creative and interesting artists working in the rap world today. The album seamlessly blends different styles and genres of music, at times employing heavy guitars, George Clinton-like psychedelic funk, and others, layering them on top of each other from song to song to create one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded. Listen to “Gasoline Dreams,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “B.O.B.” and you’ll agree.
7. Bruce Springsteen – Magic (2007)
Springsteen’s comeback in the 2000’s, during which he released 5 albums, is the stuff of which legends are made. Today I’ve settled on Magic as my favorite of the Boss’s releases this decade, though with the volume and quality of his recent work, it can be hard to choose. This work flows exceedingly well from great song to great song all the way from beginning to end, putting it on par with his classic works of the ‘70’s and 80’s. If you have any interest in Springsteen at all (and if you don’t, you should), you need this album. Check out “You’ll be Comin’ Down,” “Livin’ in the Future,” “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” and “Long Walk Home.”
6. Sufjan Stevens –Illinoise (2005)
This second volume of the banjo-wielding Sufjan Stevens’ “50 State Project” consists of 22 songs and interludes, all of which reference something about the state of Illinois. It is a strange and interesting work, and one that caught the attention of the public upon its release in 2005 as Stevens led them on a guided trip around the state. My favorite songs include, “Come On! Feel the Illinoise,” “Chicago,” “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” and “Decatur, Or, Round of Applause for Your Step-Mother!”
5. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
After years of toiling away under the radar making great albums, Jeff Tweedy’s longtime band broke out 2002 with this, their masterpiece. Wilco’s preceding album, Summerteeth, displayed a band longing to break free from the alt-country constraints, but when they readied this Radiohead-influenced work for release, their label balked at its non-commercial sound, so Wilco decided to take matters into their own hands. In September 2001, they began streaming the album in its entirety on their website, amassing tens of thousands of hits. Soon after the web success, it was released by another label where it sold more than 500,000 copies and garnered rave reviews. Check out songs like “Kamera,” “War on War,” “Jesus, Etc.” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
4. Josh Ritter – The Animal Years (2006)
I was first introduced to the music of Ritter, who I now consider to be among the best songwriters of my generation, with this incredible album. Combining the sound of a young Springsteen with Dylanesque wordplay, he shows himself to be a true rising star among folk singer-songwriters. I’m a big fan and have no qualms whatsoever telling you that you need to buy this entire album. Just listen to “Monster Ballads,” “Lillian, Egypt,” “Good Man,” and “Thin Blue Flame,” and you’ll no doubt agree.
3. Beck – Sea Change (2002)
If I could only have two words to describe this album they would be, beautifully depressing. For this release, Beck eschews his fun-loving “Two turntables and a microphone,” persona and instead takes on that of a sad countryish balladeer, one that matches his real life personal heartbreak following the end of a longtime relationship. It is an incredible work, the best thing that Beck has ever done and that’s really saying something. This was my personal soundtrack when it came out and it accompanied me in a really tough time in my life. “Lost Cause” may be one of my favorite songs of all time, but you should also check out, “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” and “It’s All in Your Mind.”
1. (Tie) Radiohead – Kid A (2000), Pearl Jam – Backspacer (2009)
It may be a bit of a cop out to choose two best albums of the decade, but in my estimation there were no two works that better encapsulated the ten year period that these that bracketed each end.
With Kid A, Thom Yorke’s band faced a monumental task – following up both 1995’s incredible The Bends and 1997’s generation-defining OK Computer. The band took this daunting endeavor and completely turned it on its side, taking a different approach as they pushed the guitar-driven sound of their prior releases to the side and embraced a more experimental electronic sound. It was a bold move to say the least and one that probably turned off a lot of past fans, but it turned out to be a fitting way to open a decade full of uncertainty and fear. I graduated from college in 2000, saddled with a ton of debt (much of which I still have) and with a certain amount of dread as I entered the real world. The future was shrouded with darkness and mystery and my faith had taken its first real hits (with many more to follow), so it makes sense that this album, a cry of loneliness and uncertainty in a big dark world, became so meaningful to me. This is a true work of art and something not to be missed.
Now approaching middle age, Eddie Vedder’s band is not the same one that set the world on fire in the early 1990’s with stadium-filling anthems, flannel shirts, and crowd surfing. The maturation process has been kind to them, though, replacing youthful angst with a feeling of contentment, a belief in love, and a sense of mortality. I’ve been following the band closely for 18 years of my life now, collecting their music and seeing them live whenever possible, and I do not think I have ever felt a connection with their music that equals the strength of this one. Listening to Backspacer from beginning to end is a spiritual experience, one that is beautiful and moving and like no other. It is a fitting way to end a tumultuous decade, one full of fear and anger and discontent, and look ahead with hope at a brighter future. It is a particularly poignant work for me, personally, at the end of a sometimes stormy ten years. This was the decade in which I became a father x3. This was when I finally and quite painfully destroyed the belief system that had characterized my life to that point and embraced a new and different way. This was the time when I really found myself and came to some sense of understanding. This was when I learned that the only thing that truly matters is love, not doctrine, not education, not money. Pearl Jam’s 2009 masterwork sums it all up perfectly.
As a man in my 30’s with a wife I love and a houseful of kids I’ve come to an understanding. I’ve ventured through peaks and valleys, trials and triumphs, disappointment and victory. I’ve been forsaken by some and embraced by others. In 2000, I faced the world with trepidation, in 2009 that has, for the most part, been replaced with hope and love. The next decade will not be perfect and I’m sure that we will revel in highs and suffer in lows, but I’m looking forward to it – not because I have to, but because I want to.