It’s that time of the year again. End of year lists are listed and critics pontificate at length about their favourite cultural artefacts of the past twelve months. Normally, I’d be joining in with all this opinionated criticism by compiling a list of my albums of 2009, but I must confess that I haven’t really been paying much attention to the wonderful world of music this year. So, as the end of another decade grinds ever closer and I get ever geekier, I have compiled a list of my favourite albums of the ’00s instead.
Now, this isn’t a list of the best albums of the decade (you can find one of those here – there is some crossover with my choices, but there are also, in my opinion, some glaring omissons from The Observer‘s best of list); ‘best’ is such a subjective, relative, personal concept. My list of the best albums would doubtless be very different from yours, and for very different reasons (feel free to let me know yours!).
Instead, this is a list of my favourite albums from the last ten years. And it’s listed in no other order than the one I thought of them in; I haven’t got the mental energy to nitpick them into any sort of hierarchical order and they’re all bloody great anyway.
These are the albums that have taken up residence on my stereo and in my head. These are the albums that make me want to smile and sing and dance and play air guitar along to. These are the albums that keep me company on headphones while I go about my day. These are the albums that have become part of the soundtrack to my life over the last decade. I couldn’t give a stuff what the critics say about my choices – these albums are on the list because I love them.
As a 90’s kid, I may frequently be found in the pub, bemoaning the state of today’s music industry to anyone who’ll listen (and quite a few people who won’t), but the truth of the matter is that the last decade has actually produced some amazing music. And this is my choice of just some of it. Let me know what you think….
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – ‘Raising Sand’ (2007): This is just the most blissful, intimate and earthy collaboration between two absolutely wonderful singers, and is chock-full of delicious, classic country-tinged blues and the odd bit of folky sixties pop. This is one of those albums that just wraps you up in its warmth, from the opening distorted guitar-led groove of Rich Woman to the final plaintive country-folk of Your Long Journey. Absolutely gorgeous and completely essential.
PJ Harvey – ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000): Certainly her most positive and accessible album to date, but also just as powerful in its own way as her deeply intense earlier albums. This one finally got her the Mercury Music Prize (at the third time of asking) and won her whole new droves of fans (helped by the stunning duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, This Mess We’re In), but its glorious intensity manages to retain the dark fire and passion that always made Polly Harvey so special.
Tool – ‘10,000 Days’ (2006): Their albums often have dark, epic themes behind them, and they play in some very bizarre time signatures – but Tool are not prog rock, nor even prog metal. 10,000 Days has a very slightly glossier and deeper sound to it than their raw-edged earlier albums, but it’s still full of serious riffage, and both lyrically and sonically it still packs an enormous punch. This is the sound of a band truly evolving. An album to get lost in.
At The Drive-In – ‘Relationship Of Command’ (2000): Terrifying, noisy, surreal, adrenaline and anger-fuelled Texan post-hardcore brilliance. This album starts kicking you in the head with the opening track Arcarsenal, and doesn’t let up with the beating until the dying notes of closer Catacombs. A band and an album to make you sit up and take notice – you have no other option, they won’t let you.
Paul Hartnoll – ‘The Ideal Condition’ (2007): If you’re a fan of nineties British electronica, you will know this man already as being one half (with brother Phil) of the legendary dance act Orbital. This, his first solo album, is almost exactly what you would expect from a man with Hartnoll’s musical background; immaculately produced, lush and filmic, The Ideal Condition still hints at Orbital, but takes their trademark sound off into a new (and rather lovely), more soundtrack-y direction. Gorgeous.
Lamb – ‘What Sound’ (2001): Why were these two never superstars? Despite only a few commercially successful singles, Lamb (aka Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow) were always one of the most interesting of all the trip-hop/breakbeat-style acts who emerged during the mid-1990s. This, their penultimate studio album, is a jittery, gorgeous, haunting minor masterpiece of chillout art, featuring Barlow’s distinctive, wonderful vocals in all their dark beauty.
Elbow – ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ (2005): I could have chosen their Mercury-winning masterpiece, The Seldom-Seen Kid (a truly awesome album), but I went for its predecessor instead, which is, arguably, just as good. The epic build of opener Station Approach kicks things off in fine, fine style, and the rest of the album continues to weave its slightly mischievious and beautifully elegaic spell around you without you even noticing. A band of quiet genius.
The Postal Service – ‘Give Up’ (2003): This Death Cab For Cutie side-project was never meant to exist for more than one album – but what an album! Life-affirming, uplifting, strangely thought-provoking indie-electro-pop with a quirky wit, Give Up is an album from an eccentric and wonderful place I think I’d quite like to visit one day. A band you either get or you don’t, and an album it is possible to fall intensely in love with on the first listen whether you like it or not.
Sigur Rós – ‘Hvarf/Heim’ (2007): There is absolutely no-one else out there even remotely like Sigur Rós (although some try). Their music is an ethereal, epic, sprawling, slow-building post-rock law unto itself, and this album is no exception. Despite being a compilation of acoustic, live and previously unreleased tracks, Hvarf/Heim works as an album as well as just a collection of songs. The live stuff is particularly lovely, this will really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – ‘Rodrigo y Gabriela’ (2006): This is easily one of the most exhilerating, exciting and entertaining albums I’ve heard in years, and if it doesn’t make you want to jump around your living room, you’re probably dead. Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela perform fast, rhythmic, thrash metal-influenced acoustic guitar music with great energy and style – and masses of musical ability. The whole album is brilliant beyond belief, but watch out for the cover of Metallica’s Orion in particular!
Watch out over the next few days for the rest of my Albums of the Decade list. If you’ve got something to say about my choices so far, or you want to share your own list, please feel free to leave a comment…