Random Five: Covering Elvis August 11, 2011Posted by Matt in Random Five.
Tags: Dead Kennedys, Dwight Yoakam, Elvis cover songs, Elvis Week, John Cale, Nick Cave, Pearl Jam
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Those of you not living in the Memphis area may not realize it, but this week marks one of the most important ones on the city calendar: Elvis Week. Yes, this time commemorates that day in 1977 when the King passed from this world and into the great nether beyond.
Admittedly, I’m not a big Elvis fan. I mean, I’ve lived here for more than seven years and have yet to visit the Mecca of Elvis fans, Graceland, but despite my ambivalence to his mountains of recorded music, I do appreciate his role in the formation of rock music and have enjoyed several covers of his songs over the years. So, in honor of Elvis Week, today’s Random Five will celebrate a few of these renditions of his songs.
5. Dead Kennedys – Viva Las Vegas
Nihilistic 70’s punk rock and Elvis might seem like a strange combination, and it is, but in this instance they make a pretty cool version of a classic song.
4. Nick Cave – In the Ghetto
Nick Cave is a weird dude and that characteristic has surely aided him in making some memorable and unique tunes over the years. This haunting version of an Elvis hit is no exception.
3. Dwight Yoakam – Suspicious Minds
Yoakam has made a successful career out of reintroducing the world to a honky tonk sound forgotten in today’s slickly produced world of country music. So, with an eye always on an earlier era, he is an excellent choice to respectfully take on an Elvis number.
2. John Cale – Heartbreak Hotel
Cale came to fame as a founder of the experimental rock band, The Velvet Underground, and his career has long been one that challenged listeners to move beyond the mundane confines of popular music. “Heartbreak Hotel” is just one piece in a long line of artistic triumphs.
1. Pearl Jam – Can’t Help Falling in Love
I had the good fortune of being present at a Memphis PJ show, back in 2000, when they blew the top off the Pyramid with this incredible version. Starting off slow and soft, its unexpectedly sudden dynamic change to a punk rock blast brought the house down. Pearl Jam rocks.
So, those are five of my favorite Elvis covers. What would you add to the list?
A Playlist for the Apocalypse May 20, 2011Posted by Matt in music, top ten.
Tags: AC/DC, Apocalypse music, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, end of the world, Hayes Carll, John Prine, Johnny Cash, May 21, Nirvana, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, playlist, Prince, Radiohead, Soundgarden
My friend Susan gave me an idea today when she posted R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” on my Facebook wall in celebration of the global apocalypse scheduled for tomorrow (Check your local listings). I think we need a good playlist to celebrate our last day on earth. Here are some choices from my iPod.
10. Hayes Carll – She Left Me For JesusIt’s time for those last minute conversions and this is the perfect song for it.
9. Beck – Earthquake WeatherAccording to the apocalyptic prognosticators, we can expect a global earthquake tomorrow that should reach us around 6:00 pm. I think we should dance to Beck.
8. Prince – Sign O’ the TimesYes, we should have been looking for the signs, I know, I know…
7. Radiohead – How to Disappear CompletelyWell, that is what happens in the rapture, right? Cars will veer off the road unattended and suddenly unpiloted planes will crash and burn. Well, either that or it will just get a little more pleasant for the rest of us.
6. Pearl Jam – Given to FlyThen again, maybe we’ll actually see people ascend bodily into heaven. That would be much cooler.
5. Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around / Metallica – The Four HorsemenYeah, worldwide destruction is what’s in store for those of us left behind. At least we have some diverse music choices dealing with it.
4. Soundgarden – Black Hole SunThe sun will turn into a black hole? I think they’re reading of Revelation may be a little off.
2. John Prine – Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven AnymoreMaybe extreme patriotism isn’t the best way after all…
Most likely, though, I think this song will be appropriate for those actually expecting the world the end tomorrow.
Bob Marley – Waiting in Vain
What songs would you put on the End of the World Playlist?
Free Music Friday: Still Doin’ the Evolution March 25, 2011Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Do the Evolution, Pearl Jam
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Every day is a good day for Pearl Jam.
The Grammy Awards Get It Right February 14, 2011Posted by Matt in Best of 2010, music.
Tags: Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, Grammy Awards, Mumford & Sons, Neil Young, Neil Young and Pearl Jam got screwed, Pearl Jam, thanks for reading my blog Grammy Award voters, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys
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I haven’t watched the Grammy Awards in years, mostly due to my dismissive attitude towards mainstream pop, and, though last night was no exception to that rule, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that my favorite album of 2010, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, won the prize. To top things off, I also found out that two of my favorite newer bands, The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, played with none other than the great Bob Dylan.
So, what does this mean? Well, the narcissist in me believes that the Grammy Award voters obviously read my blog. There is no other explanation for some of their choices this year. Just check out 3 of my top 4 albums of 2010, as posted in December:
4. The Black Keys – Brothers
Winner – Best Alternative Music Album
2. Neil Young – Le Noise
Nominated for Best Rock Music Album (lost inexplicably to Muse)
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Winner – Album of the Year
Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, my choice for best album of 2009, was also nominated in the Rock Album category.
The other album in my top 4, Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy, missed the September 30 cutoff date for the year’s award show, but I fully expect him to be nominated for everything next year.
And, if you missed it like I did, check out this link to the video of Dylan, Mumford, and the Avetts before they take it down. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading, Grammy voters. Feel free to laud praise on my music choices any time.
Ten for Tuesday: 2000 July 20, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 2000, Coldplay, Eminem, Johnny Cash, music, O Brother Where Art Thou, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, The White Stripes, top ten
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Today we step back in to the metaphorical time machine to take a quick trip back to 2000, the year that marked the beginning of a new millennium. In 2000, I was 23 years old, graduated from Harding University, and began my first failed career as a public school teacher. My music collection was quite large, for I had high speed internet and no qualms about using whatever method of file sharing I could get my hands on, from Napster to Kazaa to others. I quit participating in music thievery long ago, but at that time it was not a big deal to me, especially since I had massive student load debt and a job that paid barely over $20K a year.
But I digress, 2000 also marked our entrance into a new age, one of uncertainty and unrest, with a once-booming economy starting to show some strain and threats to safety looming just over the horizon. Today’s list will look at the entertainment defining that year – specifically in music and film.
Top 10 Albums Released in 2000
10. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Say what you want about Eminem, but in 2000 he set the standard for shock-rock, incurring the wrath of parents across the country as rapped, with a delirious exuberance, about doing drugs and killing his girlfriend. Sure it was twisted stuff, but few artists had ever truly captured youthful angst in a violence-obsessed culture the way he did then.
9. Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues
In the 1980’s Steve Earle was riding high as a new breed of country-rocker with hit songs like “Guitar Town,” but drug problems and a prison stint in the early 1990’s quickly put a hold on his burgeoning career. He returned with several excellent works in the second half of the 90’s, but it was Transcendental Blues that truly blew me away. Mixing country music pain with a Beatles-esque psychedelic sound, Earle made an early decade masterpiece that continues to astound today.
8. The White Stripes – De Stijl
Though their big mainstream breakthrough was yet to come, this nugget marks the period when music fans started paying attention to the duo of Jack and Meg White. On De Stijl, the Stripes blaze through a number of blues-rock cuts with such insistent fervor that you cannot help but be impressed. The cover of the blues standard, “Dead Letter,” is an incredible piece of work – particularly if you ever see it live.
7. Pearl Jam – Binaural
As all of you are probably aware, I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan, have been for nearly 20 years and probably will be until Eddie and company finally hang it up, but I was not that impressed with this work upon its release. It wasn’t until after I saw them live again that year that I came to really appreciate this more experimental sound.
6. Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
This collection of revivalist folk/bluegrass music was probably the surprise hit of the year and helped old-timers like Ralph Stanley enjoy a career resurgence and younger artists like Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch to be propelled into the American mainstream. The most recognizable songs, though, belonged to the film’s fictional band, The Soggy Bottom Boys. A great movie (more on that later) and a great soundtrack.
5. Coldplay – Parachutes
Coldplay rightly deserves some of the criticism they receive for being derivative, unchallenging, and a bit boring, but that doesn’t mean all of their music is bad. Parachutes, the band’s full-length debut, is one of their better works, with great songs like “Don’t Panic,” and the piano-driven “Trouble,” leading the way.
4. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man
The late-life run of The Man in Black and producer Rick Rubin is the stuff of legend and introduced him to a whole new generation of fans. This collection of original tunes and unlikely covers is the type of thing that will touch a nerve with anyone. In particular, you should check out his versions of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” U2’s “One,” and the amazing cover of Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat.” This is powerful stuff.
3. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
When Ryan Adams is on, the guy is among the best young singer-songwriters working today and this, his solo debut, is without a doubt the greatest musical achievement of his young, but prolific, career. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” is quite possibly one of the best country songs from the past decade and the fact that it received little to no country radio airplay is a sad reminder of what the genre has become.
2. Outkast – Stankonia
If rap music is art, this is a masterpiece. The Georgia-bred duo of Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton blew everyone away with this, their fourth and probably best album. Together they mash up a variety of styles, from Sly and the Family Stone-style psychedelic funk to classic rap to the funky rock sounds of Prince. This was an instant and unavoidable classic.
1. Radiohead – Kid A
After two universally acclaimed, era-defining albums in the 1990’s (“The Bends” and “OK Computer”), all eyes were on Radiohead as the millennium turned. When they finally emerged, the product they offered was so different, so out of the ordinary, and so not radio-friendly, many of their past fans, myself included, did not know what to make of it. Ten years later this challenging and strange work, incorporating electronic sounds, danceable beats, and few guitars, is the stuff legends are made of. This was the perfect album, fraught with fear and uncertainty, to usher in the new millennium.
Next: The top movies of 2000.
Free Music Friday: Good Friday and Pearl Jam April 2, 2010Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Amongst the Waves, Good Friday, Pearl Jam
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Seeing that this is Good Friday, the day commemorating the death of Jesus, I thought it would be a good time to post some music with spiritual significance. As I said before, I pretty much refuse to listen to overtly Christian music, instead opting to find the spiritual themes in the secular. Today’s piece comes from my favorite album of last year, the incredible Backspacer from Pearl Jam. I learned more about God from Eddie Vedder than I ever did in a church pew.
Amongst the Waves
What used to be a house of cards
Has turned into a reservoir
Saved the tears that were waterfalling
Let’s go swim tonight, darling
And once outside the undertow
Just you and me and nothing more
If not for love I would be drowning
I’ve seen it work both ways, but I am up
Riding high amongst the waves
I can feel like I
Have a sould that has been saved
I can feel like I
Put away my early grave
Gotta say it now
Than too late
Remember back the early days
When you were young and thus amazed
Suddenly the channel changed
The first time you saw blood
Cut to later, now you’re strong
You’ve bled yourself, the wounds are gone
It’s rare then where is nothing wrong
Survived and you’re amongst the fittest
Love ain’t love until you give it up
Riding high amongst the waves
I can feel like I
Have a soul that has been saved
I can see the light
Coming through the clouds in rays
Gotta say it now
Than too late
That Secular Spirit March 29, 2010Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, music.
Tags: Contemporary Christian Music, Eddie Vedder, music, Pearl Jam, secular, spiritual truths
It’s no secret that I love music of almost all kinds – from heavy rock to hip-hop to older country to blues and jazz – but there are some genres that just grate like fingernails on a blackboard to my ears. One of these types is that atrocity known as Contemporary Christian Music. Few things make me want to jab sharpened pencils in my ears like the squeaky-clean, emotion-manipulating, poorly written songs for Jesus. I’ll bet they even get on Christ’s divine nerves.
True story: A couple who are close friends of ours were recently at our house. Knowing the disdain I have toward all things CCM, they made the announcement that they were going to see some well-known act at a local church. After saying it, they looked at me expectantly with smiles on their faces, waiting for me to throw myself to the floor in a demon-induced tantrum, but I just looked back, and confusedly asked, “Who?” Truthfully, I have been so successful at divorcing myself entirely from the world of Christian music, that I had (and still have) no idea who this act is.
Recently my friend Coleman wrote a piece about Christian music, which in turn caused me to think about it again. Though I avoid all things overtly Christian in the music world, there have always been certain songs from secular bands through which I find certain spiritual truths. Without bludgeoning the listener over the head with the name “Jesus” 600 times in a three minute span, the artists find a way to avoid preaching and convey these ideals.
The first work I thought of that fit these criteria was Pearl Jam’s latest release, Backspacer, an incredible album which I have written about in the past. Sticking with the Eddie Vedder motif, I would also include his work on the Into The Wild soundtrack. I know there are a ton of other recordings I would also need to include – Radiohead’s The Bends, maybe Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, some great Dylan tunes, and I’m sure there are many others I can’t think of off the top of my head.
What about you? What secular albums/songs do you like that convey spiritual truths?
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.