Monday, February 01, 2010

Albums 2000-2009: 30-21

Barry has his decade list posted (finally) (pot/kettle/black), so if you want a look at a genuinely nuanced selection, check out his top 30 of the '00s (about a third of which I'm familiar with).

30. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (Interscope, 2009)
A far cry from the garagey art-punk of Fever To Tell, which, "Maps" and all, is rather... it's not specifically boring, but it also doesn't inspire me to search for another term. Fortunately, deep inside Karen O and the other two guys (Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, but no one cares but the posers) lurked glittering electro/dance-punk decadents, which roles, as it turns out, they're better at playing. The art-punk isn't all washed away -- you can hear squealing guitars on "Runaway" (albeit buried beneath crescendos of strings and piano) and on "Dull Life" (albeit serving at the propulsive pleasure of that beat and those rhythms). The crown of the album, though, is "Heads Will Roll": fat iridiscent slabs of almost-shoegaze synths slapped on like paint, culminating in a doozy of an imagist couplet -- "Glitter on the wet streets / Silver over everything" -- that strikes me as an improvement on Pound's "In a Station of the Metro." But you know what? The song is about abandoning mindful pretensions ("Off with y'head") in favor of, well, "Dance dance dance till you're dead," so:

29. Pussycat Dolls - Doll Domination (Interscope, 2008)
Considering the number of dope beats he must have bargained with Satan for, you'd think that Timbaland would be deep, deep in the red, soul-wise -- and so I would've doubted that he'd bother to give anything revelatory to as trivial and universally derided a group as the Pussycat Dolls. Yet, the chorus alone on "Magic" -- those strings! those synths! like a Akira remade as a bourgeois pop song! -- is something that could drive Pat Robertson into a bedeviled phantasmagoria. Then the apogee, "Halo," a mountain of a song, all triumph in its industrial-strength claps, stuttering production, a-a-and acoustic guitar? even while Nicole's warning the listener about fatal imperfection (when she sings "Promise not to let anything come between us," her voice has this stunning clarity and transparency).

It's not just Tim's Midas touch, either (though I find one of his songs -- "Whatchamacallit" -- quite tedious). "Takin' Over The World" and "When I Grow Up" make me feel like it's 2006 again and I can use the word "fierce" unironically to describe their swagger, while even the requisite R&B slow jam (with Autotune!), courtesy of R Kelly (whom I normally hate), is astonishingly listenable. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "I Hate This Part." Just like the group itself, the blatant obviousness of its parts -- simple piano melody, orchestral flourishes, midtempo 4/4 beat -- doesn't dilute its intimate prettiness.

28. Electrelane - Axes (Too Pure, 2005)
With The Power Out, Electrelane molded their brand of hook-laden post-rock/krautrock to fit into playful pop song structures; on Axes, they remapped and stretched their pop instincts to fit their unrelenting motorik drive ( e.g. "Bells" goes off its pretty pop rails to become a brain-melting jam, while "Two For Joy" starts with the brain melting before it bursts out into singalong joy). (Hey, dialectic!) Throw in a great accordion harmonium rave up ("Eight Steps") and a gentle banjo lullaby ("I Keep Losing Heart"), and I will be you best friend forever, Electrelane.

27. Espers - II (Drag City, 2006)
Otherworldly, like an acid trip of a Matter of Nightmare Britain where the traveling minstrels could plug in.

26. Ladytron - Velocifero (Nettwerk, 2008)
Velocifero doesn't reach the heights of the "International Dateline"/"Destroy Everything You Touch" combo -- "Ghosts" and "Burning Up" come very close to that level of potent, unadultarated dancefloor groove -- but unlike Witching Hour, Velocifero is a much more coherent and solid record. Ok, perhaps Ladytron have been rewriting "Seventeen" for nearly a decade now, except draining more warm cheek with each passing year in favor of the cold and robotic. But when the result is something as sleek as "Deep Blue," which sounds like night-driving in the future (in our own personalized hovercars), I for one welcome our new robot Ladytron overlords.

25. Lightning Bolt - Wonderful Rainbow (Load, 2003)
Deliciously gonzo noise rock for the Saturday-morning cartoon set.

24. The Microphones - The Glow, Pt. 2 (K, 2001)
A one-man cottage industry of lofi pastoralism, Phil Elverum throws all his production tricks into The Glow, Pt. 2 -- lofi explosions, heart beats, church organs, steel drums, rural found sounds -- to become, briefly, the Phil Spector of lofi with his ability to deploy sheer bursts of sound and noise to elevate a song. Although that formula doesn't quite work on later releases, here, Elverum never lets his studio wizardry overwhelm or come at the expense of song-craft unparalled in his career and in fact the careers of a lot of artists. Often Elverum writes songs that are, in and of themselves, deceptively simple -- I, as a barely novice guitar player, can almost play some of his tunes, but then he synthesizes everything together that more than just a lovely, idiosyncratic, indie pop record, he uses the pastoral aesthetic to build a towering, bizarre, timeless, and personal epic.

(Elverum also holds the distinction of being one of the very few lyricists whose words I actually pay attention to.)

23. The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band (with choir) - "This Is Our Punk-Rock," The Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing (Constellation, 2003)
To state the obvious, Efrim Menuck's soured-milk vocals can be a little difficult to, um, tolerate? And ifyou click on that Youtube example ("Babylon Was Built On Fire/Starsnostars"), you'll have to wait about five-and-a-half minutes before the singing starts, which is something else that can try the listener, i.e. their tendency towards patience-taxing orchestral sweep. I love it all, though, because I find it fits beautifully into their aesthetics of cast-off alterity, an aesthetics that sounds more vital and alive than life itself.

22. Boris - Akuma no Uta (Southern Lord, 2003)
Except for the shoegaze of the first track (called, duh, "Introduction"), this is pushed-into-the-red greasy-biker-mustache blasted-blues metal that I can appreciate, made by, oddly enough, an ex-art school Japanese power trio.

21. The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control (Vice, 2009)
They may have dialed down the vicious noise here, but the Raveonettes also pour on the vintage '50s sugar-sweet melodies.

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