Web Toolbar by Wibiya Bears and Bullets: 2009-12-27

Thursday, December 31, 2009

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Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

#1: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco

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.

"Distant has a way of making love understandable," Tweedy croons on "Radio Cure," making an unmistakable assurance that love, or at least the idea of it, can be as disconnected as the rest of us, but at the same time simple as anything. The same goes for "War on War," when Tweedy proclaims "You have to learn how to die/If you want to be alive," which can transplant the listener to the end and right back to the beginning again. It's not as if these ideas aren't completely contingent on the album; each song parlays some images of hope, loss and distance, while still keeping everything on track.

Quite possibly, it's all explained in "Jesus etc.," one of the most beautiful and harrowing songs of the decade. "Tall buildings shake/voices escape singing sad, sad songs," Tweedy writes, confirming the tilt of humanity's beauty and hopelessness in a short three minutes. Almost every song on the album, away from the touchy electro-blips, chrome sounds and shaky but appropriate drum beats hits the listener's nerves, both touching and relative to everyone.

For those wondering why so many people consider Wilco to be America's best band, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot gives it all away -- their ingenious creativity and Earthy tremble are everything that defines a band at their peak. And this record is portrait of not only the band, but the era itself.

#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Kid A

#2: Kid A - Radiohead

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.

If The Bends and OK Computer gave ideas for new aspiring artists, Kid A all but took them away -- its creative prowess and endless vision gave music listeners fits at the time, with many harking back to the college-radio centric sounds of the band's previous work. To a degree, they were correct. Fair-weather listeners that fell in love with "Creep" and "Karma Police" often dismiss Radiohead's new work (from 2000 on), but for others Kid A was an entire revelation that no one had seen before. Ever. Yes, artists like The Beatles and U2 changed their sounds numerous times in their respective careers, but neither of them altered their approach quite like Radiohead did with Kid A.

But, more so than its importance and impact, Kid A is an immeasurably profound and genius record. All ten songs match and unify with such an architectural cohesion that, on a whole, it feels almost sacred. Polarizing for some, yes, but for those who rejoice in it, it captures the decade in a mystifying, almost unilateral definition. Perfect also works well as a description.

Radiohead - The National Anthem (Live)

Radiohead - How to Disappear Completely (Live)

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Funeral

#3: Funeral - Arcade Fire

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.

Pitchfork is completely correct to assume that Funeral was a changing point in indie music. It was a ten track companion that flirted with the idea of a concept album, but wasn't because it was just too big, too intelligent and too realistic. At the end of "In the Backseat," Regina Chassagne sings "Alice died/in the night/I've been learning to drive/My whole life," settling an end to the harrowing and ultimately tragic album. That's how far it comes; Funeral can make the world sound more beautiful than ever and still haunt you in the end. And it still does.

Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)

#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Discovery

#4: Discovery - Daft Punk

"One More Time" is an all too simple urge. Just playing Daft Punk's 2001 album Discovery or its lead single "One More Time" only once was, for most, unlikely. The lead into the albums first four cheerily enriching future house anthems was uncompromising and brilliantly individual. Then it slides into Hell's bells break of "Aerodynamic," a continually trifling love song in "Digital Love," and the robotic beat blast of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," all made popular by the group's Interstella 5555 videos, produced two years after Discovery's release.

The album, for all it's 70's disco and LED samples, doesn't hark back to the glory days of dance music. It takes a defibrillator to it and blows it wide open. The electro pulsations of "Crescendolls," a song built on a 5-second sample loop, sound like chrome blitz, shining and beating on cheer after cheer. There in lies Discovery's greatest export --addiction. The albums glossy polish and unwavering rhythms are so enriching and enjoyable, it remains to this day one of the most fun records in memory.

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Merriweather Post Pavilion

#5: Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective

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

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - White Blood Cells

#6: White Blood Cells - The White Stripes

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

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - In Rainbows

#7: In Rainbows - Radiohead

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

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Fever to Tell

#8: Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Fever to Tell is two versions of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; first there's the utterly abrasive and gnarling sentiments of lead singer Karen O with songs like "Date With the Night" and "Tick" that sound like a cement-panel garage bursting with Iggy and The Stooges-era punk blues. And there's that blistering heart beneath the stage persona exterior with "Maps" and "Modern Romance." The majority of Fever to Tell is much of the former.

The band's 2006 album Show Your Bones and recent release It's Blitz! were all progressions of the Brooklyn trio's raw form on their 2003 debut, but neither can definitively rival it. Karen O's shake and grit that made her an indie girl icon is all here in its most pure and ecstatic form. "Y Control," Karen O's effigy on the Y-chromosome, implores a bigger picture. "I wish I could buy back the woman you stole," she bellows, almost making every man who listens feel worse in some odd, disconnected way.

Yet, it's "Maps" that endears this album more than anything else. For all the sneering punk in the albums first eight tracks, "Maps," was an instant grasp at glory. Easily one of the best songs of the last decade, it portrays a brilliant cascade of a group, who, at the time, were thought to nothing more but another name to throw on the emerging garage band pile in the early 2000's. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, mostly in part to "Maps," ensued and continue to prove themselves as one of the industry's finest artists, showcasing maturity, brilliance and progression with each new record.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Y Control

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Dear Science

#9: Dear Science - TV On The Radio

Dear Science took TV On The Radio to place that struck people familiar at first, but was platooned beneath an expansive exterior. Many people look at 2006's awe-inspiring Return to Cookie Mountain as the band's crowning achievement for the decade, citing its biting experimentalist nature, tight production and white-knuckle ideals. All well and good, of course, as Return to Cookie Mountain is the direct link to Dear Science. The elements (as with the band's 2004 release Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes) are all apparent -- fuzzy bass-lines, political touches, pounding percussion, electro-fusion blends and funky interludes -- but for the first time the band achievement, without much question, an accessible pop presence that shadows over the band's previous work.

The albums opening tracks, "Halfway Home," "Crying" and "Dancing Choose" are as big and boisterous as the Brooklyn band has ever sounded. Dave Sitek's pristine production and minimal progressions are fuel behind Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone's wrenching and reeling harmonies. Still, behind the glorious sounds, Adebimpe and Malone have found a profound comfort zone. For all of Return to Cookie Mountain's glory, several of the tracks are admittingly polarizing and rigid. Many of the songs surpassed six minutes a piece, and much of those six minutes were, as experimenting goes, a tad jolty. With Dear Science the band rid of most of those awkward fringes and created a body of work that still borders on primal and beautiful.

But it's the album's most fragile moments, "Family Tree" and "Love Dog," that echo stronger than the bands previous work. Never has the band felt or sounded more solemn than in "Family Tree," accompanied by a string section and a dark, dissonant bleakness that plays like a star fading out on the horizon. In "Love Dog," Adebimpe's tale of loneliness and desperation, sounds almost heroic, but never lets the listener go. The rest of album, in many ways, has the same feeling.

TV On The Radio - Love Dog (Live at Le Live De La Sema)

#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bears and Bullets Top Ten Albums of the Decade - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

The 2000's are over. It was decade more mired by displacement than status. The internet thrived, and took over most if not all facets of modern culture, contorting and distorting anything and everything in music, films, news, politics, and so on. What emerged, however, despite the collapse of the record industry and print media, was music in itself.

The 2000's don't have a definite image because life has never been more expansive and all-encompassing. Every day is more vibrant, explosive and meaningful than the last, and we experienced it on levels that we cannot even fathom. So to look at music for the past nine years and 362 days and what sticks is not one thing, but everything.

So where are we then? Is it completely possible with the motions of music today that 2010-2019 is going to be a mirror image of 2000-2009? Yes and no. It's hard to say that if there was nothing definite about the 2000's that there will be something definite about the 2010's. Then again, with the speed and unpredictability of culture that we've witnessed in past several years, how anything from this point on can resemble something in the past would be nothing short of remarkable.

What we have to remember the decade is, in itself, nothing short of remarkable on its own merits. After the mass arrival of MP3 technology no individual genre thrived on unprecedented levels. Indeed, many facets of the music, while not as popular as others, began to grow on a more even playing field. What used to be referred to as underground in the 80's and 90's doesn't entail the same meaning anymore. Aside from your town's local talent show band, underground and in many ways "indie" music doesn't mean the same thing anymore.

The definition, gone from bands working to promote themselves and publishing their own records, has become artists who aren't as popular as others but are just as good, if not better. Of the ten albums I put on this list, only one hit number one on the Billboard charts. Is any coincidence that it is also the oldest album on the list? See for yourself.

#10: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

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

Spoon - You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb