This is the third and final part of my list of albums of the decade (the first two parts can be found here and here). To reiterate: this is not a list of the ‘best’ albums of the decade, because ‘best’ is impossible to define. Neither is this listed in any hierarchical order. I just scribbled down my favourite albums of the last ten years in the order I remembered them, and this is what came out…
Antony and The Johnsons – ‘I Am A Bird Now’ (2005): A haunting, melancholy collection of fragile songs that linger long in the memory, this is a remarkable and brave album from the British-born singer-songwriter Antony Hegarty. If you can get past Hegarty’s stunning but unusual voice (many can’t), I Am A Bird Now offers a beautiful and poignant insight into his unique approach to art and his experiences of a mentally and physically marginalised transgender life. Also featuring some quite delicious guest appearances from the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Boy George and Devendra Banhart, this album rightly (in my view) won the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and gave Antony’s truly beautiful music the wider audience it deserved.
Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Songs For The Deaf’ (2002): In my book, any album that features the mighty Dave Grohl on drums (and vocals from grunge legend Mark Lanegan) has to be worth a listen – and that’s an especially valid point when the album in question is as downright kick-ass as this one is. The followup to 2001’s excellent Rated R, Songs For The Deaf has slightly shinier and glossier production values than its essential and raw-edged predecessor, but it still succeeds in creating a tight, compact, crunchy, irresistibly guitar-heavy, kinetically-charged groove that pulls no punches. This is a fiercely melodic concept album with a rich, dark seam of wit and a quirky intelligence.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – ‘Source Tags and Codes’ (2002): Despite the fact that I’m always itching to add that missing ‘the’ to their name (the lack of which really is irritating if your mind works like mine does!), I can’t fault the power and intensity of this jaw-droppingly epic album. Lumbered with the (possibly meaningless) tag of being an ‘art rock’ band, …Trail of Dead manage to combine a knack for tight, percussive and melodic riffs with the maintainance of a firm grip on the more arty, experimental-sounding (and often quite wonderfully screamy) stuff. This is an intense, important and satisfyingly multi-layered album, which utilises the now-legendary quiet bit/noisy bit musical meme to proper head-pounding effect.
The Ting Tings – ‘We Started Nothing’ (2008): Addictive, bouncy, edgy girl/boy pop which wears its influences very openly on its sleeve, We Started Nothing spent most of 2008 glued to my stereo and made the charts a much brighter and more cheerful place for its clever, knowing, slightly snotty presence. Katie White’s ballsy lyrical and vocal style and fuck-you (nicely) attitude make a refreshing and necessary change from the warbling autotuned pop divas who have infested our charts and our radios in recent years, and the band’s electro twitch-pop sensibilities make this album an immediate and infectious (albeit a very slightly guilty) pleasure. More please!
System of a Down – ‘Toxicity’ (2001): This is an album that gets right up in your face and screams very loudly and angrily at you in a way that metal hadn’t done for quite some time prior to its release – and this is, indeed, unashamedly fierce, highly politicised and shiny metal for the new millennium. Toxicity is, in fact, an album crammed full of serious riffage, angry, anti-establishment lyrics, and the kind of scream-a-long choruses that get you bouncing round the room. S.O.A.D are a band who tend to divide opinion, but I can’t help but to love the tightly coiled and barely contained fury of anticipation that runs through all their music; almost as if it could all collapse into a messy, angry heap any second now and quite likely will – but never actually entirely does.
Seasick Steve and The Level Devils – ‘Cheap’ (2004): Quite fantastically, this is old-school blues, played the old-school way by a man who has lived the hobo life he sings about. Even better, this is also music played for one reason alone: the simple and all-encompassing love of music itself. All this means that Seasick Steve is definitely one of my favourite discoveries of a decade in which I learned to truly love and properly appreciate the blues. Despite having a musical career that dates back to the 1960’s, Seasick Steve (like many American musicians) only became a huge success after being noticed in the UK in the mid-2000’s, an eventuality that seems to have surprised and delighted the man himself – although, on the strength of Cheap and his other, more recent albums, he most definitely deserves it.
Dizzee Rascal – ‘Boy In Da Corner’ (2003): Vivid, raw and the sound of a young, urban London, this album is a very different proposition to Dizzee’s recent pop-inflected chart successes. Meshing grime, hip hop, electronica and ragga effectively and with great ease, this album showcases Dizzee Rascal’s distinctive lyrical and musical voice. Remarkably assured and complete for a debut release, particularly from one so young (Dizzee was a mere 18 years of age at the time), Boy In Da Corner has a fierce energy that immediately marked it and its creator out as something special. Quite a lot of other people appeared to agree with me in that assessment, and it rightfully won the 2003 Mercury Music Prize.
Vampire Weekend – ‘Vampire Weekend’ (2008): This album divided many people right down the middle. There are some who find it almost too twee and cutesy for words – and then there are others (like me) who fell in love with this irresistibly quirky album at first listen. Pulling together a hugely diverse set of influences (which include a mixture of everything from African popular music to Western classical music), Vampire Weekend create a highly distinctive and completely unmistakable sound all of their very own. This, their self-titled debut album, has a sort of endearing power about it that soon pulls the listener into a world quite unlike anywhere else.
Burial – ‘Burial’ (2006): Dark, haunting and brooding, this album seemingly came out of nowhere (south London, actually) and, although there are moments that, to me, are strangely reminiscent of the legendary Future Sound Of London (which is no bad thing), it somehow actually manages to sound like no-one and nothing else on this planet. This is a subtle, thought-provoking and strangely cinematic album of many layers which hints at many genres; simply taking dubstep as its starting point on a twisted and darkly beautiful journey into sound. This sort of eclecticism more usually results in an unholy mess of a noise but the enigmatic and mysterious Burial is in total control at all times, making this an accomplished and essential album.
Mogwai – ‘Mr Beast’ (2006): Probably one of my favourite bands, Mogwai make truly beautiful, yearning music by building up layer upon layer of intricately textured guitar sounds, until it all comes together in a powerful post-rock explosion of sound and intensity to create albums like Mr Beast. This is easily my favourite of all their recent output (although last year’s head-melter of an album, The Hawk Is Howling, came very close to making this list too, and 2001’s Rock Action is also well worth your time). This is an intelligent album full of barely hidden emotional depths and surprising twists that demands repeated listening, preferably played very loudly indeed.
Honourable Mentions: Here are a few more albums I really liked but that didn’t quite make it onto the list. All are worth your time –
CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy (2006)
Death Cab For Cutie – Plans (2005)
Everclear – Songs From An American Movie, Vol 1: Learning How To Smile (2000)
The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
Royksopp – Melody AM (2001)
Underworld – Oblivion With Bells (2007)
Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation – Mighty Rearranger (2005)
Beck – Modern Guilt (2008)
Feeder – Comfort In Sound (2003)
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)
Radiohead – Hail To The Thief (2003)
The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)
Rufus Wainwright – Want Two (2004)
Panic! At The Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005)
Goldfrapp – Black Cherry (2003)
Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position (2007)
As always, I’d love to know what you think. What have I missed? What albums would be on your list? What would you add/remove from mine? Let me know!
Have a very merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful 2010 – thanks for reading in 2009!