PC's Top Ten Albums from the 2000s

Back in 2005, I assembled a couple of lists for Woodberry's New Music Club: my lists of my favorite albums from the 80s and 90s. Having been recently reminded of this, I realized that I never managed to assemble the next list in the sequence, PC's Favorite Albums of the 2000s. I hope the list below will redress this long-overdue dereliction of my duties as a performer, critic, educator, and music snob. In chronological order, then, from 2000-2009:

Cake/ Comfort Eagle (2001): Not everyone enjoys the interplay of the band's funk-rock rhythm section, the flourishes of trumpet, or John McRea's seemingly arrhythmic vocal delivery, but I can't ignore any of them, let alone McRea's deadpan lyrical observation. There's no good reason for "Opera Singer" or "Meanwhile Rick James" of "Shadow Stabbing" to stick in your head, I suppose, but just try to get it out once it's in there. This album is probably the band's most consistent start-to-finish set of songs, highlighted by the fantasia of "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," the pulsing title track, and the relentlessly danceable "Love You Madly." If it appeals this powerfully to my love of words, my love of melody, and my love of rhythm, how could I not put it on this list?

Aimee Mann/ Lost in Space (2002): She's not the cheeriest songwriter out there, no, but Mann has a gift for framing emotional stress in unexpected ways, not to mention a voice that can shift from a pool of clear water to an irresistible current in only a few bars. The standout track is the hard-hitting "Pavlov's Bell," which makes a simple story of air travel into something far darker and more uncertain, but there are gems aplenty: the gorgeous "This Is How It Goes," a halting list of steps the narrator expects to follow as her partner spirals downward; the warm, dark metaphor of "The Moth"; and the haunting finale, "It's Not."

Sigur Ros/ Sigur Ros (a/k/a Black Cheetos) (2002): If pressed to pick the most original album on this list, I think I'd have to go with the one composed and performed by the Icelandic quartet, consisting of eight untitled tracks sung entirely in a nonsensical language. The surprise is that something so far out on a limb could be so effective. Thanks to their collective powers of melody and arrangement, plus a fantastic sense of dynamics, the band takes us on a series of journeys through landscapes we can't quite picture. Take a ride.

Coldplay/ A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002): By contrast, this is probably the most mainstream record on the list, and oddly, it's here for some of the same reasons. Chris Martin's confessional streak is front and center, but what makes these songs work is the combination of strong melodies and careful attention to dynamics: they build to something, or sometimes collapse into something, rather than just standing there. It's basically the standard rock quartet (drums/bass/guitar/piano) enhanced with strings here and there, but the careful interplay of the instruments on tunes like "Warning Sign" and "The Scientist" makes them sound far more varied. It's not a complicated record; but it is a rich one.

Fountains of Wayne/ Welcome Interstate Managers (2003): This was the album with their only real hit, the sniggering, insanely catchy Cars homage "Stacy's Mom," but that's hardly the best reason to buy it. Better reasons might include the beautiful and evocative "Valley Winter Song," the fuzzy power-pop nonsense of "Mexican Wine," the manic twentysomething anthem "Bright Future in Sales," and what's probably the only song I know about a quarterback dropping back to pass, "All Kinds of Time." These guys are simply geniuses in the realm of pop tunesmithing, and if you're not convinced by the time you reach "Supercollider," the lines "Gather round the gas tower: don't it kinda look like a bong? I heard it backward, hidden in a Pink Floyd song" should persuade you.

The Mountain Goats/ The Sunset Tree (2005): This was, for me, kind of the Mountain Goats' decade, and I went back and forth over which of their albums deserved inclusion here, but in the end, I had to go with this one. A loosely-structured concept album about singer/writer John Darnielle's memories of his years in the house with his abusive stepfather, it's a lyrical tour de force. Some images seem mythological and/or Biblical, such as "Lion's Teeth," but the sharpness of the more mundane litanies ("I spread out my supplies on the counter by the sink, looked myself right in the eyes: St. Joseph's Baby Aspirin, Bartles & Jaymes, and you..." in "You or Your Memory") is equally striking. It's hard to imagine a more haunting song than "Love Love Love" or a more anthemic chorus than that of "This Year" ("I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me"), but once you've given this album a listen, you'll find it just as hard not to think about the innocent denial of abuse in "Dance Music" or the defiant finale of "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?" ("Held under these smothering waves by your strong and thick-veined hand/ But one of these days, I'm gonna wriggle up on dry land"). A fantastic recording.

Regina Spektor/ Begin to Hope (2006): "Anti-folk" pianist/vocalist Spektor's hit single "Fidelity" gives you some idea of her sound, but not of her wildly creative composing. There's a touch of Kate Bush audible in her willingness to use her voice as an instrument, one capable not only of delighting but unsettling her audience, and her lyrical ideas ("Hey, remember that time I tried to save a pigeon with a broken wing?/ A street cat got him by morning and I had to bury pieces of his body in our building's playground"-- "That Time") are not always Top Forty material. She can throw out a big hook (just try not to sing along with "Better"), but she can also paint a miniature ("Samson") or work up an anthem ("Apres Moi," which Peter Gabriel would later cover on his Scratch My Back album). There's a lot going on here, and Spektor is just the gal to show it to you.
 
Richard Thompson/ 1000 Years of Popular Music (2006): If there's one musician capable of examining a millennium's worth of material, it's Thompson, whose status as a folk interpreter, songwriter, and guitar god leaves him equally comfortable interpreting British murder ballads ("Bonnie St. Johnstone"), Gilbert and Sullivan ("There Is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast"), or New Wave pop tunes (Squeeze's "Tempted"). Ably assisted by percussionist/vocalist Debra Dobkin and vocalist/keyboardist Judith Owen, Thompson serves up a stripped-down suite of music from across the centuries, and every selection offers a new kind of delight. Trust me, you've GOT to hear his cover of Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again," if only to find out how much it resembles the music of the Italian Renaissance.

Cloud Cult/ The Meaning of 8 (2007): This loose collaboration of musicians and artists from the Twin Cities is for me the most recent discovery on this list, but I've certainly come to appreciate them thoroughly. Varying wildly in instrumentation and style, these songs share an emotional rawness that stems from the death of singer/songwriter Craig Minowa's young son. You might reasonably expect them to wallow in grief, but Minowa is instead moved to examine the larger questions of how death fits into the pattern of life. As a result, there are thumping, energetic songs such as "Please Remain Calm" and "Take Your Medicine," a pensive mixture of electronic percussion and organic strings and winds ("Chain Reaction"), and the gorgeous, uplifting "Chemicals Collide," which is on the short list of songs I want played at my funeral.

The New Pornographers/ Challengers (2007): Canada's indie-rock supergroup realized its enormous potential on this record, combining the voices of Carl Newman and Neko Case in a suite of songs that manage to be lyrically opaque without sacrificing singability. "My Rights vs Yours" opens softly and builds to an unstoppable force within four minutes. Case is featured on the stripped-down title track, as well as the vibrating "Failsafe" and the triumphant "Go Places," while Newman gets the lion's share of the vocals on "All the Old Showstoppers," but the best tunes blend their voices: "Myriad Harbour" is a rhythmic guitar exercise with back-and-forth chatter between the two, while the beautiful "Adventures in Solitude" makes a perfect finale--if only they'd finished the album there, rather than tacking on the comparatively lackluster "The Spirit of Giving" at the end.


HONORABLE MENTION:

Robyn Hitchcock/ A Star for Bram (2000): You knew Robyn couldn't miss this list entirely, didn't you? These songs are supposedly out-takes from the Jewels for Sophia sessions, but "Daisy Bomb," "I Saw Nick Drake," and the psychedelic nostalgia-wagon "1974" are at least as strong as anything on that album.

Wilco/ Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002): Jeff Tweedy takes the band to the outer limits of alt-country and finds it to be an unsettling but often gorgeous place.

The White Stripes/ Elephant (2003): The fact that "Seven Nation Army" has become a staple at sporting events shouldn't be allowed to diminish our appreciation for its potency. This is an album full of earnest emotions, snarling guitars, and rock scholarship that should be enjoyed on its own merits, which are many.

Foo Fighters/ Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007): Song for song, this is the best thing the FF have put together, with hooks the size of marlinspikes and guitar power to burn.

Avett Brothers/ I and Love and You (2009): If you're looking for earnest examinations of love, you're not going to find anything more plainspoken than "January Wedding" or "I and Love and You," and "Laundry Room" is just plain gorgeous. See where the boys from Ramseur, NC, will take you.


SPECIAL JUDGE'S AWARD FOR INTERPRETATION:

The Oughts were a rich period for a particular kind of album, one where an established artist takes on material from other sources to see what he/she can do with them. I don't think these are entirely comparable to the other records on this list, but I can't deny that they are worthy of mention:

Johnny Cash/ American III: Solitary Man (2000) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002): Either of these could arguably be included at the top of this list on the strength of Cash's originals (the title track from the latter album in particular). Still, these albums are primarily reworkings of others' songs, such as U2's "One" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," and Cash's last big hit was his stunning treatment of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." Let's put them here and enjoy them.

Nouvelle Vague/ Nouvelle Vague (2004): Realizing that "bossa nova" is Portuguese for "new wave," this French combo reasoned that Eighties new wave hits would make dandy bossa nova tunes. Not just a novelty record, this album gives new life to everything from the Dead Kennedys to Joy Division to the Specials.

Patti Smith/ Twelve (2007): You won't be surprised that Smith can make "White Rabbit" her own; you may be surprised to hear her do the same with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Pastime Paradise," or her fantastic reworking of George Harrison's "Within You Without You."

Glen Campbell/ Meet Glen Campbell (2008): There's painful irony in this release, which was intended to introduce Campbell to a new audience but wound up being something of a last hurrah before Alzheimer's sent him into retirement. Still, his takes on songs by Jackson Browne, U2, Travis, and John Lennon are fitting additions to his legacy.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 11, 2016 9:31 AM.

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