Thursday, December 31, 2009
Seven years after Wilco's 1995 debut A.M., Jeff Tweedy, through the multitude of changing band-mates and inner turmoil, crafted (with the visionary assistance of Jay Bennett) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album comprised of the tender alt-country folk that Tweedy made famous with the group's first three records and collaborations with singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, and a creative virtue that combed and cultivated one of, if not the decade's greatest records. By far the most jarring and bleak records Wilco ever produced, songs like "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Poor Places" were briskly profound in that they teetered on the border of heart-clenching and metaphorically uplifting.
#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
To measure the brilliance of an artist, one must look at their ability to alter their sound while still remaining creative and resonant. Radiohead's Kid A, released in 2000, wasn't just a simple departure from 1997's OK Computer, it was a complete altering of the band as a whole. Thom Yorke instilled the idea of technological dependency and isolationism on Computer, but Kid A sounded like a transparent universe to where it controlled everything. From the apocalyptic requiem of "Idioteque," to the claustrophobic roar of "The National Anthem" the band created a scale of sounds that not only transformed rock music in a sense, but nearly closed it off from the new decade.
Radiohead - How to Disappear Completely (Live)
Arcade Fire's Funeral gets the unquestioned crown of best debut album of the decade (some Is This It fans will argue). It's a sadly enriching and deeply uplifting ten track salute to childhood memories and the idea of family. More so than anything else, however, is the length and size of Funeral; not in number of tracks, of course, but how far each song ultimately soars higher and higher above most other music today.
Not simply remarked for the quality of the record on its own, Funeral was reprisal of indie music in general. The strings, accordions and xylophones, all which were complimentary pieces before, sounded in the fore-front, making and breaking each waining interlude. In a sense, the record displaced a notion that the most simple of textures were in fact the best. Funeral was a score -- a finely tuned rhythm section that felt like a cold heart beating beneath Canadian frost. And that's mostly in part to the diverse and depth of the band's effort, finding a finite niche for each of every instrument to play its part and still lead the way.
#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
Many people would regard Merriweather Post Pavilion as some kind of unprecedented sonic adventure. While that is true, Animal Collective, during the span of their career, have traversed these sonic exploits before. What they haven't done, prior to MPP, was create an accessible album that translates their other-worldly innovations on such a profound and scoping scale.
The natural theme for music in the decade was not artists compromising and difficult experimentations with their work, but bringing it to collective whole. No other artist did this progressively better than Animal Collective. Take 2004's Sun Tongs and 2005's Feels. Both immeasurably brilliant and avant-guard works are essentials in the Animal Collective library, and each were iconic stepping-stones towards 2007's Strawberry Jam. Each record preceding MPP, for all their acclaim, can't wrench a listener in on such unprecedented levels, but chronologically, it's a perfect time-table. "In the Flowers," "Summertime Clothes" and "Brother Sport" are far from casual pop precipices for the band, but here it just sounds too easy.
Five years removed from their landmark Sun Tongs (and several anarchic album before that), Animal Collective have become one of the most unlikely stars of the indie universe. If you don't think so, go back to 2004 and ask yourself the same question.
Animal Collective - My Girls
Animal Collective - Summertime Clothes
#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
Here's an argument waiting to happen; Jack White was the most important musical figure of the decade. The brainchild behind The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, White is an archetypal rock n' roll visionary whose talents are almost limitless, and if he isn't the decade's most prominent musical force, who is?
That discussion starts with White Blood Cells. After their eponymous debut in the late 90's and second album De Stijl, the Detroit duo of Jack and sister/wife/friend Meg White re-released White Blood Cells on major label V2 Records (before moving a couple more times) a year after its initial release. The result, heard clearly, was a more polished and crowning record that still inhibited the gnarling and exhilarating aesthetics of their previous two albums, while (with the help of Michel Gondry) catapulting them into the mainstream discussion.
"Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground," is proud, jolting stomp that starts the record before it leaps into the alt-country pop fixture of "Hotel Yorba," and shortly there after to the two-minute garage punk romp of "Fell in Love With a Girl." After the first four songs you're exhausted, but still clenching your nails for more and more. Rarely does the beginning of a record say so much about a band and leaves the listener gasping - and that's just the start.
The following White Stripes records - Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump - for all their glory and prowess, leaps from the band's original form. That's not saying that their newer material doesn't compare with their early work, it's just that their early work was that good.
The White Stripes - Fell in Love With a Girl
The White Stripes - We're Going to Be Friends
The White Stripes - Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground
In Rainbows exists as an anomaly for Radiohead. It rarely appears in the same conversation as OK Computer, The Bends or Kid A, but at the same time it's still regarded as an immense accomplishment on the band's part. So what is it, then, that makes In Rainbows a vanguard in the Radiohead catalog? Culturally, it's the self-promotion. We all know the story; the band leaves their long-time label, EMI, and produces the album themselves, allowing users to download all ten tracks for any price they please, including 'free.' Never before has the tactic been used by such a popular band. The result, as some regard it, is a shockwave that will inevitably destroy the record industry. If not destroy it, it certainly didn't help.
But the reason In Rainbows grabs the number seven slot on Bears and Bullets' list of the Top Albums of the Decade isn't solely because of its impact on the industry. The album, on its own merits, is an exploratory measure of how far the band has come and the beautiful and meticulous transformations that come with it. Some of the overbearing and unsettling electronic overtones of Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief are toned down here, bringing Johnny Greenwood's jagged guitars back to the forefront again. However, it's not the same college-radio bombast of old Radiohead -- it's smarter, cleaner and more conductive than any album since OK Computer.
The band's previous records, to a degree, had a variant of challenge in them; either they needed more than one listen, or they sounded completely different from the previous record. But that challenge with In Rainbows isn't distant - it's easy. Every genuine, tightening note hit by Thom Yorke is louder and clearer than ever. With "Nude" and "All I Need," Yorke evokes more with two notes then he has in nearly a decade, and that's saying more than a lot.
The argument of 'free' will continue, along with the discussion of whether In Rainbows sits amongst Radiohead's best work. Looking back two years, it's acclaim continues to climb, and sooner than later it will be in that discussion.
Radiohead - House of Cards
Radiohead - All I Need (Live From The Basement)
#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
#9: Dear Science - TV On The Radio
#8: Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps
#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
Monday, December 28, 2009
2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a maturity extension of Spoon. The wry witticism lead singer Britt Daniel made popular on Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight is cleaner and more coherent on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga than on any of the band's previous albums, and yet the subtle variations that are prevalent on each new album are still apparent here. In "Finer Feelings," Daniel expects "I'll find a love/One that's gonna change my heart," leading into a drippy atmospheric spasm of echoing electro-filler. Much of that first two minutes is what really settles and describes Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga -- its minimal drums and guitars helping Daniel plead and understand, and then the sounds float into the quiet ether. The experimentation, as is with most of the Austin, Texas band's records, isn't overwhelming - it's a careful groove the band has been smart enough to settle in without making themselves loose and careless. Carefulness, here, may make more sense than any other description of the band's work. Every tambourine hit, xylophone cling, hand clap and bruising horn isn't what brings the listener in; it keeps them listening.
If, indeed, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, could be deemed Spoon's masterwork, what separates itself from the aforementioned Kill the Moonlight should be a little more clear. The latter album equates to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's predecessor more than the their elaborate 2005 album Gimme Friction; the sounds are simpler and more decisive, utilizing saloon-piano and acoustic harmonies with minimal electronics to hone in on Daniel's quelling lyrics. But foremost, it's indie-pop in it's more clean element - clean and sharply produced, with experienced and crisp craftsmanship guiding it. Each of those forces is prevalent in the former album, but with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga the quiet tremble is missing. As clean and polished as it is, the album can boast its triumphs - particularly on "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," "The Underdog" and "Black Like Me" - that soar and revel any of the band's best work. "Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" are achingly appropriate pop anthems for a band that had, more or less, trouble finding accessible tracks on a multitude of levels. "Black Like Me," is band's most solemn moment, with Daniel recounting that "I believed that'd someone take care of me tonight," over and over until the track breaks into the dusk.
A Series of Snakes, Kill the Moonlight, Girls Can Tell and Gimme Friction, all of Spoon's memorable albums released prior to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, are minimal progressions to the band's ultimate achievement. They experiment and polish what makes the group such quiet perfectionists. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is what we get when those elements are all brought together in a terrific blend, combining Daniel's man-in-the-corner aesthetics and observations with the pristine sounds standing in the back. But more than anything else, it doesn't rely on those quiet, blissful bench-marks that made the band popular. It still uses them though, and better than ever.
Spoon - The Underdog