40. The Avalanches
Since I Left You
A thin layer of dust was embedded inside Since I Left You, crackling as though past-tense while also sounding distinctly modern. The party it contained employed patient funk to breathe life into a staggering number of samples woven together with the thread of musical history. Mariachi mingled with silky R&B; jazz chilled out back with some 50s pop. Eight years after release, the result hasn’t aged; it just seems to float through time, unconcerned. To date, The Avalanches are without an official response, and during the interim, the mashup has ridden a peak of popularity, indirectly working to undermine the immense commitment it takes to create an album of this caliber. While mixing a few songs together can be amusing, the current crop of DJs has yet to craft anything nearly as cohesive or genre-defying as Since I Left You.
39. The Magik Markers
I Trust My Guitar, Etc.
[Ecstatic Peace!/Apostacy; 2004]
by David Nadelle
People have been making “dissonant” music since people have been making music, but there was something about The Magik Markers’ I Trust My Guitar, Etc. that trumpeted in a refreshing, ear-splitting firestorm of sound. It doesn’t take a PhD in rockology to know that Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan are firm favorites among TMT heads. We tend to accommodate their presence on the site with strange regularity, and this list is no exception. Everyone is in consensus about the unhinged genius of their “proper” debut, and for good reason. While I Trust My Guitar, Etc. was rarely mentioned without a “no wave” appendage, it really was a punk record with a strong distaste for any sort of popular-culture posturing. Yet it shocked because it was meaningful and memorable, not because it was offensive and snotty. All were in fine form: Nolan’s drumming sounded like a consummation between a marching band time-marker and “Animal” from The Muppet Show; Leah Quimby’s bass was less about hitting strings than setting off series after series of low-end seismic explosions; and Ambrogio reeled off free-verse narratives/nonsense while strangling a guitar that refused to shut its trap. I Trust My Guitar, Etc. still produces that indescribable restless body feeling whenever it plays. And it has great packaging, too.
Hell Hath No Fury
by Chris Norton
Hell Hath No Fury represents two of this decade’s great hip-hop duos hitting their peaks at one white-hot creative nexus, about as likely a phenomenon as Haley’s Comet and Hale-Bopp screaming through our airspace on the same fated night. But everything’s unlikely until it happens, and then it’s legend: Pusha and Malice, the Clipse’s brothers Thornton and the coldest-eyed lyrical pairing since The Infamous Mobb Deep, came crashing into the dark star that The Neptunes had been aiming their synth-fueled interstellar beat rockets at since Noreaga’s “Superthug.” Yeah, the spaceship funk tag has been trailing Pharrell and Chad their whole career, but with this album, they found a pair of pilots who could fly their most dissonant, avant productions right up to the mouth of the black hole and sneer “Fuck y’all been doing?” at the rest of us. Coke rap ruled hip-hop in the Naughty Aughties, but only the boys from Virginia Beach could play street slinger with all the other Dirty South party crashers and still hang onto their East Coast godfathers’ cold world paranoia — bellowing “We Got It For Cheap!” at the start of the joint but always prey to the ever present album-end “Nightmares” of the dealer’s restless sleep, chilly and merciless as the woozy soundtrack underneath.
37. Pink Reason
Cleaning The Mirror
Some of us read reviews in the hopes of revelation. Sometimes we come across taut, picturesque reviews of albums that immediately sound wrong upon sampling. In other instances, we’re dodging in-jokes, pseudo-jokes, neuroses, and other indulgence only to discover that it makes perfect sense on hearing the work discussed. Ratings are fun, maybe healthy even, but they really say nothing to what makes an album an album. Pink Reason’s first and only full-length so far is emphatically an album. Something you sit with and zone out to and cry to and pine to and eventually wind up worshipping. Cleaning received great reviews, but unlike a lot of other post-2000 albums that’ve been hyped up, it’s not going nowhere. People will be finding out about this sluggish, swaggering, slurred paradigm, industrial folk slab for years and years to come. Why? Because it brashly put its least creative statement first and its most intriguing last (the barfy, somehow upbeat “Up The Sleave”). Because it was one of several classic recent albums from Siltbreeze. Because it was the perfect companion piece to another 2007 gem, Diana (The Herald). And because, like all classic records, it was far better heard than heard about.
36. Broken Social Scene
You Forgot It In People
[Arts&Crafts/Paper Bag; 2002]
by Ze Pequeno
Why do we live? What defines our existence? To each individual, the answer is different, obviously. But what if an album can define so many people, so many moments at once? The depth of You Forgot It In People is underestimated: The fact that 13 artists from various parts of the Toronto scene not only came together to create an album of this intensity, but also offered anthems that defined our people, our time, is a testament to collaboration. Whether it be the young, romantic falling for “I’m Still Your Fag” and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” or the determined bastard working through “Almost Crimes” and “Cause=Time,” each song could be expanded to an album that looks upon their themes. More important, though, was the undeniable presence of David Newfeld’s craftsmanship. From his fourth-wall-breaking talkback on “Looks Just Like The Sun” to the extensive layering on “Capture the Flag,” the man’s insanity was a necessity for turning these songs into practical definitions of life. As for me, I can only wish to work for him, but at the very least, his work has made me determined to make something this definitive.
35. Kevin Drumm
Sheer Hellish Miasma
Sheer Hellish Miasma was a massive work, most obviously as a listening experience. From front to back, the album was packed with immense grinding, lacerating noise. Highly reminiscent of earlier guitar feedback-driven noise, of which Drumm had previously proven himself a savant, it was also equally informed by electronic avant-garde and drone. Boasting noise’s squalls, electronic’s precision, and drone’s impenetrability, in my estimation it’s unlike anything that came before it. And, sadly, anything that came after as well. As a revolutionary work, it placed itself uniquely at the nexus of those highly disparate but sympathetic forms. Marrying the insipid nihilism of rock-descendant noise, the often overwrought intellectualism of the avant-garde, and the casual beauty of drone resulted in an irresistable cocktail to a new generation of musical outsiders and adventurers. More than any other album Sheer Hellish Miasma was responsible for the cachet and explosion of “noise” that so largely defined the 2000s. Unlike anything so many of us had ever heard before, yet so immediately appealing, it birthed innumerable fans and practitioners alike. Inevitably, in launching a thousand ships (wrought by novices no less), many, many of them will be untenable and either sink or limp along pathetically. But, as with all evolutions, unexpected beauty will blossom as well. All the chaff that Drumm’s harvest yielded is rendered inconsequential by the fruits of creativity and progress it bore, but this precisely grafted initial seed has still yet to be duplicated.
• Mego: http://www.editionsmego.com
A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure
by Timothy Terhaar
A reminder just after the inception of the new millenium that musique concrète was still as radical and meaningful a concept as it was when Pierre Schaeffer delivered it in 1948, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure put the I in IDM. Unlike Schaeffer’s recordings, which ultimately failed to disconnect the recorded audio from its signified, we might have listened to “California Rhinoplasty” and not recognized the sound of a nose being broken had we not read the title and the liner notes beforehand. What was truly revolutionary about M.C. Schmidt’s and Drew Daniel’s mastery of splicing and weaving medical and other sounds into dance tracks was that we couldn’t be certain that the liner notes were truthful. If most people never guessed that the groove they shook to was stitched together from the suckings and slurpings of a liposuction surgery, wasn’t it possible that Matmos were simulating their audio sources? And then, in the middle of the intricately and precisely orchestrated (and perfectly cohesive) bricolages that stimulated our minds and asses alike, “For Felix (And All the Rats)” maybe almost made us cry — beautiful and frightening, emotive and emotional as it was. “Now I know how it fits,” indeed.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
by David Brusie
They didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was not only Wilco’s best work to date, but a quintessential cultural document of early 21st-century America. Made before but officially released after the September 11 attacks, the record’s imagery — shaking buildings, ashes of American flags, etc. — was enough to console us, but it also had enough melancholy, even on seemingly upbeat songs like “Heavy Metal Drummer,” to permeate every moment of the record. Even without that place in history, however, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would be an amazing achievement. The songs were endlessly catchy but never cloying; Jim O’Rourke’s detailed production was — and is — a consistently rewarding experience; and the lyrical imagery was achingly sad, all set to Jeff Tweedy’s rough and cracking voice. Many bands have tried to reach Gram Parsons’ goal of making “Cosmic American music,” but Wilco continues to be the only band who have done it. Instead of making the goofy psychedelia of The Flying Burrito Brothers, however, Wilco created American music from a parallel universe: a cosmos that we couldn’t quite, but suddenly had to, believe.
32. Oneohtrix Point Never
Zones Without People
by Paul Bower
Daniel Lopatin spent the better part of the last decade finding interesting ways to fuck with old genres. Ambient, noise, electronic, and experimental music all fell under his inventive gaze, helping to shape his deft touch and keen ear for perennial sounds. Working with Taylor Richardson in their joint project Infinity Window, Lopatin made a name for himself in the circles that he now influences, in the process reinvigorating the underappreciated electronic ambient tones of a bygone era. In 2008, however, Mr. Lopatin began releasing albums as Oneohtrix Point Never. By far the fullest realization of this solo project was last year’s Zones Without People, which came across as a simultaneously brooding and exultant meditation on the transience of humanity and its interaction with the technology it invented. At times recalling the work of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack to Legend, Lopatin’s Zones Without People pulled off something approaching R.P. Blackmur’s definition of art, namely, the fusing of existing disparate elements into a new and coherent whole. Oneohtrix Point Never took vintage synth samples that had previously been used to create twee and insignificant electro and transposed them into a brilliantly realized and completely new context. By referencing the past with such crystal clarity, Lopatin gave us an intricate and illuminating glimpse into the future, beckoning all of us to explore the nearly infinite ways in which the sounds that surround us can be manipulated to create something truly beautiful.
31. Venetian Snares
Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
[Planet Mu; 2005]
by Alan Ranta
Winnipeg knob-twiddler Aaron Funk was onto something special with Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (a.k.a. the Hungarian album). Conceived during his travels, the album paired the producer’s previously established breakcore style with various classical themes by some of history’s greatest composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Mahler, and Hungarian golden boy Béla Bartók. While it is hard to give Funk complete credit as a “songwriter” here, VSnares succeeded by making the borrowed musical information his own. It is doubtful anyone without knowing its context would confuse the Hungarian album for so-called “high art”; the classical material was entirely reconstituted into a dynamic new form. Unlike the majority of drum & bass that uses easily recognizable samples to make otherwise pedestrian instrumentals interesting and/or kitschy, Funk allowed his “samples” to heavily influence the very flow of his music. As such, the compositions were the focus of his tracks, rather than the dressing. Also, unlike most breakcore albums, which are typically scattershot and difficult (e.g., Funk’s own Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole), the album maintained focus with recurring moody faux-cello and violin melodies, giving the LP a forward momentum that even those with no previous breakcore exposure could follow. Rossz Csillag Alatt Született sounded like a true album, and it remains one of the genres most spectacular and moving achievements.
30. The Music Tapes
Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes
by Seth K
Julian Koster, mastermind behind The Music Tapes, didn’t change the formula on 2008’s For Clouds and Tornadoes, but it was a lot more warmly received than its predecessor, First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad. That’s not to say that For Clouds and Tornadoes reflected or defined any stylistic trends of its decade — it didn’t. Even more so than In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’s function in the 90s (another album which Koster was in part responsible for), For Clouds and Tornadoes was neither timely nor timeless; it transcended a time period all together. This was largely due to Koster’s approach to recording, which utilized 1930s ribbon mics and wire recorders, Hi-8 Cameras, a ping-pong ball orchestra, and other things far removed from Pro Tools. But the timelessness was also thanks to his fantastical imagination. Penned with youthful sensibility and exuberance, the likes of which is rarely seen in any adult, Koster was able to articulate ungrounded and intangible themes as no one else could. Referencing events like the Nottingham Goose Fair of 1903, Koster negotiated fantasy with amazing lucidity. So continually spot-on inside his world, we were left with no choice but to believe in his every word.
Ice Cream Spiritual
Native to Baltimore’s sweaty, neon-hued collage-rock scene that was by 2008 a marketable ware, Ponytail always seemed less tethered to a specific time and place. Unlike the Daggers and Deacons among us, Ponytail emitted an enthusiasm neither ferocious nor strictly recreational. Ice Cream Spiritual will stand as an early communiqué, to be sure, but it’s the sort of art record whose range, whose sheer muchness, provokes speculation. Paths of inquiry, calls to action, radiate out, unbridled, from its 34 minutes like so many fishing lines. Yes, the harbor’s filthy, but believe there’s treasure everywhere. It’s live, of course, that the quartet’s (a)tonal magic takes corpuscular form as Molly Siegel’s calls of the wild, seemingly incidental on record, motor the corps forward. Consequently, it’s tempting to accept Ice Cream Spiritual as the relatively static, relatively safe, relatively aura-free facsimile of these bizarre, breathing beasts. Not so: in the arpeggios, between the squalling melodic layers, at the point of impact, we intuit the organic, kinesthetic dimension of outsiderhood. A studious silliness rules the day thematically (cf. “Die Allman Bruder”), and in the most organic, scene-independent way, Ponytail may have crafted the decade’s purest document of eclectipunk excitement. Art school, meet charm school.
28. The Fiery Furnaces
[Rough Trade; 2004]
by Jeff Roesgen
Will we ever entirely lose our sense of narrative? Over the past decade, trends in technology and culture have dictated that, in order to succeed in these times, one has to be succinct, timely, connected, informed, direct. This decade’s popular music has followed in suit moving toward function, minimalism, repetition, and simplicity. So as trend turned to fad and we became inundated with such music, it seemed like a happy accident to encounter The Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat, a 75-plus-minute, 13-song epic wrought with dizzying, unpredictable sonic turns and close-knit, long-form, woeful, childlike tales of kidnapping, piracy, Born-Again pets, and fratricide. As alienating as that sounded, the album presented as an operatic, vital human narrative that occupied a realm somewhere between The Who’s Tommy and a J.D. Salinger anthology. Both through sheer strength of voice and music that shifted abruptly from electronica, to cabaret, to skronk, to garage-rock, to 60s Motown with the abandon of a clock coming undone, siblings Matt and Eleanor Freidberger compelled us to enter their strange, crystalline worlds.
27. sunn 0)))
[Southern Lord; 2005]
by Bryan Reed
I couldn’t take it all in one sitting. The box from Amazon had arrived, bearing not nearly enough postage to cover its heaviest of payloads — sunn 0)))’s Black One, the acclaimed drone metal album enough critics had convinced me I must hear. I sat. I put the cups of my headphones over my ears. I pressed play. And somewhere near the halfway mark, I couldn’t take it anymore, so afraid was I that my soul was on the verge of being sucked out of my body, plunging into the abyss with the frayed chords Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley were steering lower and lower, as if to reach Hell itself. But as unsettling as it was, the experience was also exhilarating. And so I returned to this blackened tree of knowledge and explored the secrets in its many layers; the cavernous, sinister vocals of Leviathan’s Wrest and Xasthur’s Malefic; the sheer force of sounds wrangled by Anderson, O’Malley, and Oren Ambarchi. This was for me, as I presume it was for many others, a portent and portal, opening worlds of avant-garde classical and noise, doom and black metal all at once. It was a massive, fearsome monolith, but it was also a wonder to behold, as if sunn 0))) had condensed the fall of Eden into five inches of plastic.
26. Daft Punk
by Dave Gurney
Still in those halcyon days of the first half of 2001 — before terror-alert levels, duct-tape shortages, and the aggressive swagger of Bush/Cheney-era foreign policy came to dominate the decade — Daft Punk gave music lovers everywhere a hedonistic treasure trove of soul-satisfying pop music with the March 2001 release of Discovery. Having already conquered dance floors of the 1990s with the narcotic throb of Homework, the French duo upped the ante by delivering more elaborate lyrics, melody, and overall humanity than they had before, with infectious tracks like “Face to Face,” “Too Long,” and “One More Time.” However, they still found space to play coy with instrumentals and vocoder-laden bangers, giving the album a broader, more expansive feel than their previous masterpiece. The result propelled DP to an even greater level of renown and has remained a resilient and dominant piece of their oeuvre, even getting a second moment in the spotlight with Kanye’s 2007 appropriation of “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” Still overshadowing DP’s one-and-only follow-up studio album of this decade, something tells me that these dance floor mavens can still (and likely will) cook something just as monumental up for the next decade.
On the tail of dropping a series of well-received albums, Outkast unleashed their most successful meld of genres and styles over 24 delicious tracks in 2000 with Stankonia. André 3000 and Big Boi proved they were among the most honest (“Ms. Jackson”), smooth (“So Fresh So Clean”), and unpredictable (“Humble Mumble”) to make waves outside of New York or L.A. hip-hop. They lifted their peers back home by injecting a small dose of the South’s style and unique flow into every idea on the record, and they won new fans by making something genuine without driving it too far into left field. Above all of the album’s strengths stood “B.O.B,” an artisan-crafted pop single that traveled at a breakneck pace, dispensing cryptic caution to the inner city with the help of a sweaty guitar solo. The impact of the album can still be heard on the radio today, with stations dominated by artists from neither the East nor West, but from the South. Outkast opened doors and has since moved on to create a paired solo album and a movie, neither of which have surpassed their combined effort on one of the decade’s best.
24. The Arcade Fire
One of the many moments when you know you’ve “made it” as a successful band is when you hear up-and-coming acts mimic your musical nuances. Although The Arcade Fire have only been together for a short while, the dramatic sound they refined on their 2004 debut album, Funeral, has since been absorbed and channeled by countless bands that owe a huge debt to the Canadian seven-piece. What is weirder than The Arcade Fire’s almost immediate transition from new kids on the scene to indie rock godfathers is the fact that Funeral is already five years old. Although it certainly sounds like it was recorded during George W. Bush’s reign (the anxiety in “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” speaks for itself), Funeral is anything but stale. Whether you’re hearing the double hand-clap to “Rebellion (Lies)” for the 1st or 100th time, it is utterly impossible to feel jaded towards these 10 tracks. Amidst the plaintive romanticism of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” the euphoric cries of “Wake Up,” and the memorable three-chord progression of “Haiti” lies The Arcade Fire’s empowering message and earnest attempt at turning the indie rock world on its head. A testament to a young band struggling to carve out their niche, Funeral is a timeless work of art that has only just begun to fully exude its influence.
23. Scott Walker
[4AD ; 2006]
by Brian Richardson
Is it better to burn out or to fade away? For those few artists who are truly incandescent, the answer is “neither.” While we are accustomed to careers starting off full of raw power and end up in the middle of the road, Scott Walker has done exactly the opposite: five decades in to his illustrious and varied career, Walker managed to craft an album more frightening, ambitious, and uncompromising than any contemporary recording by musicians half his age. The Drift was challenging and experimental, but sacrifices nothing in the way of emotional impact — and while most avant-garde musicians are pushing envelopes with samplers and synthesizers, Walker still finds oceans of uncharted territory in what can best be described as a 21st-century chamber ensemble. Wholly unique and deeply affecting, The Drift was not just a farewell-tour feather in the cap of one of the 20th century’s most accomplished performers; it was a rallying cry that should have 20- and 30- somethings scrambling to put away distortion and delay pedals and rediscover how to make music that actually packs a punch.
• 4AD: http://www.4ad.com
22. The Books
Thought For Food
by Rachel Brodsky
Over the last 10 years, The Books built a credible reputation as being ambitious musical innovators while staying relatively under the radar. And while their output is nowhere what it should be for a group this talented, they have repeatedly succeeded in pushing the envelope where sound production, sampling, and wizened audio beauty are concerned. With their 2002 debut Thought for Food, The Books spun a strange but beauteous world out of commonplace string instruments, deeply innovative and ever-changing rhythms, and, perhaps best of all, seemingly out-of-context but oddly thought-provoking audio samples plucked from the ridiculously obscure library of guitarist Nick Zammuto and violinist Paul de Jong, who placed them lovingly into each track on the album. You could hear everything from a kvetchy old middle-aged women moaning about waiting for her unemployment checks, to two young men asking each other “What about my ankles? Do you like them? And my thighs, too?” Only the geekiest film buff would recognize these voices from Jean-Luc Godard’s artfully depressing film, Contempt. Indeed, it was a bizarre world Zammuto and de Jong created, but their labors may comprise some of the most deeply original orchestrations heard this decade.
by Liz Louche
Early 2005 was a strange time, a quiet time. It was two years after America’s invasion of Iraq, and a year after the destructive tsunami in Indonesia. Hurricane Katrina had yet to happen. The scares and struggles of the last few years had left many of us with this undercurrent of political malaise — hushed and latent, but by then accepted. Enter M.I.A.’s debut album Arular. The previously unknown visual artist/videographer cum musical instigator came screeching like a neon bat outta hell and onto the stereos of music fans and critics around the world. This was the pop music of the future: exquisitely layered, globally conscious, and danceable. Revolutionary in every sense of the word. You’d be dancing your ass off, marveling at this beautiful, poised Sri Lankan woman who had named her album after her freedom-fighter father, and then it’d hit you. There was something so deeply sincere in that hypercolor combination of baile funk, rap, and punk in the recurring chant to “Pull up the people, pull up the poor” that it made you feel like you weren’t helpless, like you were part of the larger world. That you could do something. Arular was more than a dance album; it was a call to action.