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Top 50 albums of the decade, part three


Here is day three of the ongoing unranked ten-albums-a-day alphabetical reveal of the top 50 albums of the decade, as compiled by myself and fellow music geek, Calle Fitzgerald.

For the project introduction and part one, click here.
For part two, click here.

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (2004)

While they probably have plenty of septuagenarian fans, it's still pretty rare to hear a 70 year old raving about a White Stripes album, and rarer still for one to listen to White Blood Cells or Elephant and say, “Hell, I could do that.” Luckily, Loretta Lynn was in the latter camp and employed Jack White as producer on Van Lear Rose, bringing with him his Detroit-based backing band. On a powerful set of originals, the unlikely collaboration combines the take-no-prisoners feminist country that defined Lynn's singles of the 1960s with White's barnstorming mix of Led Zeppelin and bluegrass, and the result is a downright revelatory one-of-a-kind country album. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Van Lear Rose,” “Portland, Oregon,” “Women's Prison”

M.I.A., Kala (2007)

M.I.A.’s debut album, Arular, was one of those amazing oddities that seemed to come out of nowhere, and left many wondering if it was a one-off. Most fortunately, she smoothly and confidently put any such fears to rest upon the release of Kala. “M.I.A. coming back with power power,” she raps to begin the album, and never wavers for the rest of it. As with many of the best, most interesting albums of the decade, there is an endless wealth of sources for the sounds heard on this record, but it’s all delivered within the lens of M.I.A.’s compelling personality. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Bamboo Banga,” “Boyz,” “Paper Planes”

Mindless Self Indulgence, If (2008)

If is probably the most ridiculous album on the list, but I’m convinced that Mindless Self Indulgence are doing things no other band could ever hope to do. Their sound is muscular and intense, without ever sacrificing melody or hooks. Jimmy Urine is only half as charismatic on record as onstage, which is to say, he’s still pretty charismatic here, despite some pretty horrifying lyrics. If you’re not the squeamish sort, this is a terrifically entertaining album. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Never Wanted to Dance,” “Issues,” “Mastermind”

Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica (2000)

Oh, Isaac Brock. You had such a prolific decade, but this masterwork seemed to resonate the strongest with most listeners. Songs like “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” proved you had gone far beyond your previous work, with a formidably skanky groove, strangely alluring two-part dissonances and impassioned shouting breaks about escaping one’s body. The Moon & Antarctica is an expansive, breathtaking record; the music matches the sheer largeness of the topics Brock obsessively addresses, most notably, death. (CF)
Choice tracks: “3rd Planet,” “Dark Center of the Universe,” “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”

The National, Boxer (2007)

The National is one of those bands that have two really strong contenders for such a decade-encompassing list as this. Either choice tends to have its legion of defenders. For the record, it’s very very close for me; I love Alligator, but Boxer stands out to me as being a bit more cohesive. While it lacks the unbridled energy of songs like “Mr. November,” the subtler “Apartment Story” and “Mistaken for Strangers” fit in to the whole atmosphere of the album, as well as just being greatly effective, brooding numbers. This is possibly the best rainy day album I know of—play it alone during a storm, wallow in some self-pity, and try to emerge still not loving this album. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Fake Empire,” “Apartment Story,” “Start A War”

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005)/A.C. Newman, Get Guilty (2009)

On the chorus of “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” off Twin Cinema, the third in the New Pornographers' run of remarkable albums this decade, A.C. Newman sings, “The hourglass fills its sand if only to punish you for listening too long to one song.” It's practically a meta-challenge to the listener, since the song's undeniable hooks practically form a sharp arrow pointing at the repeat button. Really, the only reasons not to go that route are the thirteen other equally irresistible gems that comprise the rest of the album. With alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar stepping up their pop game to match Newman's, the group works with tremendous harmony (and killer harmonies) and offers up an instant classic in the power pop genre. While Newman can rest easy about the surefire canonization of The New Pornographers, his solo work gets considerably less attention, and undeservedly so. Newman's expert songcraft is on full display on both his debut album, The Slow Wonder, and his superior follow-up, Get Guilty, which is practically a catalog of surging moments of uplift. Considering the album's 2009 release capped off a decade in which Newman could do no wrong, it's fitting that Get Guilty sounds like one long victory lap. (JM)
Twin Cinema choice tracks: “Twin Cinema,” “The Bleeding Heart Show,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno”
Get Guilty choice tracks: “Prophets,” “Submarines of Stockholm,” “All of My Days and All of My Days Off”


Joanna Newsom, Ys (2006)

Joanna Newsom is one of those artists who polarizes: most of the opinions I’ve heard tend to one extreme or the other. Her talent was not to be doubted on The Milk-Eyed Mender, but on Ys, her accomplishments are staggering. No matter what you think of it, you cannot argue the sheer amount of craft and work that went into this album. Every word is meticulously chosen, every string interjection intuitive and emotionally satisfying. Newsom has also toned down her voice a bit, which calls more attention to the astoundingly well-done lyrics and the subtler musical touches. I posit that even those strongly attached to the short song form should give this a listen and take pleasure in the harpist’s massive artwork. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Emily,” “Sawdust & Diamonds,” “Cosmia”

Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (2008)

Skeletal Lamping got very little critical love. It’s a shame, as the patchwork style works amazingly well for Kevin Barnes & co. The immediately catchy numbers (“An Eluardian Instance,” “Mingusings”) hold up to repeated listens, but the multi-part songs sound natural and inevitable once the listener delves into the album’s hyperstimulating world. It is easy to play the album over and over again, as parts fly by the ear at breakneck pace. Understandably, not everyone will enjoy such a method of music-making, but Skeletal Lamping stands out as a brilliant, uncompromising work, one unique to Of Montreal and contemporary music at large. (CF)
Choice tracks: “An Eluardian Instance,” “Gallery Piece,” “Mingusings”

Okkervil River, The Stage Names (2007)

If David Lee Roth was right when he said that music critics like Elvis Costello because music critics look like Elvis Costello, then Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff is a music critic's wet dream. A former film and music critic himself, with a bookish appearance to boot, Sheff often litters his albums with references to obscure songs, movies, books, and people living (and usually dying) on the fringes of fame. On The Stage Names, Sheff takes Jean-Luc Godard's advice (to steal another overused critic quote) that sometimes the best way to criticize a film is to make another film, and applies it to music through Okkervil River's brand of amped up and oft-cacophonous folk-rock. Throughout the album, Sheff exposes and excoriates the false expectations created by pop culture, eventually turning The Beach Boys' “Sloop John B” into a suicide anthem on the climactic “John Allyn Smith Sails.” That final build-up, in keeping with the feel of the album as a whole, is at once unbearably depressing and strangely life-affirming. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe,” “Plus Ones,” “John Allyn Smith Sails”

For part four, click here.
For part five, click here.
For the individual rankings and also-rans, click here.


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