Favorite 100 Albums of 2000-2009: 80-61
From “The Radiant Mirror” to “Dopesmoker”
80. Flower-Corsano Duo
The Radiant Mirror
by Emilie Friedlander
When we first gave it a spin, The Radiant Mirror sounded nothing like the coldhearted deconstruction of form that its cover image — a man physically extracting rectangular blocks from his skull — had promised. Perhaps drummer Chris Corsano and his signature pitter-patter could be said to prance around the very space where an actual rock beat might have otherwise materialized. And maybe Mick Flower and his curious Japan Banjo (a cross between a dulcimer and an autoharp, puffed up on pickups and effects) could be said to defy our Western expectations of harmonic suspension and resolution in a return to the paradoxes of drone, cornerstone of the Indian raga: dynamic stasis, transcendent groundedness. But our overall impression of this strange new music — “avant-garde” only nominally, because we didn’t have the words to describe it yet — was not one of subtraction, but of a warm and loving addition, of two musicians earnestly listening and responding to one another to build us a 37-minute moment of pure, flickering euphoria. Without even seeming to try, the result surprised us as one of our decade’s greatest crossover records; it simply made our bodies rejoice.
79. The Strokes
Is This It?
[Rough Trade; 2001]
by Josh Constine
Blame The Strokes. Blame them for mainstreaming “lo-fi” sensibilities. Blame them for the viral outbreak of “The ____s” band names. But mostly blame them for making you feel invincible while belting out “Last Night” on your drive home and dancing double step down the street in the sunshine of “Someday.” 2001’s Is This It? grabbed us by the shirt and shook us screaming “Rock ‘n’ Roll is fun, remember!?!” Julian Casablancas made being cool cool again — no more bruised artist bullshit. Smooth talking his way into bed on the title track or drunkenly fumbling through existential crisis on “Barely Legal,” Casablancas also had the best “YEEeeAhhAhhhh” in show business (and impeccable hair to boot). And the guitars! Angular and playing the right notes with nothing in between, Albert Hammond Jr. and Nic Valensi entwined runaway trains over kit-kat drums on “Hard to Explain,” fueling a manifesto for their ramshackle style with “Take It or Leave It.” Is This It? was for the ears and the heart, eschewing brains in favor of enthusiasm, so when Julian insisted “I am too young/ And they are too old,” we wished The Strokes could have stayed that age forever.
78. Frog Eyes
The Golden River
[Animal World/Global Symphonic; 2003]
Within the first two tracks of Frog Eyes’ second full-length, The Golden River, the range of their sound is concisely laid out: “One in Six Children Will Flee in Boats” is them at their most soaring and anthemic, and “Time Reveals Its Plan at Poisoned Falls” is one of their briefest, most tightly-wound panic attacks. Rightfully lauded as a breakthrough record for the band, in my mind it will always be their apex; it’s where the languid cabaret doo-wop of Carey Mercer’s previous project, Blue Pine, crossed paths with Frog Eyes’ eventual descent into utter mania. As beautiful as it was terrifying, it carved out its own little pocket of artsy testosterone rock that drew only feeble comparisons. Mercer’s vocals are without peer, and nowhere has that been more evident than on “Time Destroys Its Plan at the Reactionary Table,” which showed that despite their rambling, often incoherent, and sometimes seemingly haphazard gymnastics, Mercer can tether them together with astounding precision when he wants to. Though lyrically inferior to its predecessor, The Bloody Hand, musically it was a revelation: brutal, searing, brash, palpitating, The Golden River still attracts adjectives not accustomed to modifying music as listeners try to grasp it in its entirety. It’s just too huge.
77. Dan Deacon
Spiderman of the Rings
by E. Nagurney
It was kickball and Nickelodeon and video games and Kool Aid and Saturday mornings and our imaginations. First word that came to nearly everyone’s mind concerning Spiderman of the Rings? “Childlike.” For one thing, the album was titled Spiderman of the Rings. For a few more things, it opened with a seemingly-endless Woody Woodpecker sample, featured a dirty rap song through a munchkin’s voice, and contained a sing-a-long centerpiece concerning a giant bear and his band of goats and cats and pigs and bats. If all that didn’t tip you off that this album was sort of kind of childish, the gooey glee it exuded probably did. Yet, if you peeled back the layers of Spiderman of the Rings, you’d be hard pressed to find anything childish in its mechanics. Dan Deacon may have come off as a mad scientist, but he constructed this record like the world’s most serious engineer. Even with all its buzz and spaz, Spiderman was a finely-tuned machine. Everything built and released at the right moments, wringing out the maximum amount of pure joy possible from such stylized music. Goofiness of image aside, were people really that surprised when they found out this guy was classically trained? They shouldn’t have been.
76. Joanna Newsom
The Milk-Eyed Mender
[Drag City; 2004]
by Judy Berman
Do you remember the first time you heard Joanna Newsom? I do. My first instinct was to recoil at the weird-girl cuteness of her precious, little voice. (I am, after all, a longtime Björk hater.) But then something unexpected happened: She won me over. I think it must be Newsom’s literary nerdery that got to me. Not only was she a master wordsmith, but her sheer adoration of the English language was obvious. When she sang, “The signifieds butt heads with the signifiers,” on slow, sleepy “This Side of Blue,” my linguistics-loving heart melted into a puddle of Saussurean goo. From there, it wasn’t long before I was losing myself in the verbal gymnastics and delicate harp work of “The Book of Right-On” and the frustrated, fairy-tale escapism of “Cassiopeia.” Many would argue that Ys is Newsom’s stronger, more mature work. And those songs certainly exist on a grand scale, their sheer massiveness dwarfing any single track on Milk-Eyed Mender. Yet Ys, like the epic poem it is, also held us at arm’s length. The Milk-Eyed Mender, which reminds me most of a well-thumbed collection of nursery rhymes, invited us to sink into it, memorize it, keep it with us always.
• Drag City: http://www.dragcity.com
Conference of the Birds
[Holy Mountain; 2006]
by Chizzly St. Claw
It began with tumbling cymbal tones, a simple rhythm, and a plodding elephantine bass line. Two tracks and thirty-two minutes later, the album took us much further. Terrifying skies, sentient elementals, and strange religions were hinted at through a chant that was as incomprehensible as it was mesmerizing. Birds of prey and mystical ceremonies were invoked as aeons of human civilization and dark spirituality were memorialized in a ritual of doom. OM’s Conference of the Birds, an allusion to a 4,500-line poem by a Persian author of the 1100s, amazingly defied its seeming monotonous trope of repetitive experimental stoner drone metal and created a sound that was worthy of the epic celestial metaphors it invoked in bizarre lyrical form. The cryptic chants of Al Cisneros, the subtly shifting bass lines, and the perfectly executed drumming of Chris Hakius neither tired nor bored. Rather, through the beauty of simple heaviness, we had an album that excelled at elevating the listener. Even hydra-headed canine labyrinth guardians must’ve nodded and fell prey to the hypnotizing dread. Listening to this romantic pall of erotic metal, like slow-fucking at the Sphinx’s feet, you could have swore you were Ra for a second.
by Tyler Craig
This decade saw an entire generation of angry young men grow older and more complacent. Their long locks began to show touches of grey. The tattoos were erased by that odd shade of green that covers them. Likewise, this decade saw concert halls and amphitheaters close their doors permanently. Old and hardened composers of strict minimalism, their magnum opus long behind them, began to go to their local park, sit on the bench, and wait for Death. With both the High and Low slowly fizzling out in the water, it only seemed appropriate in 2005 that Mick Barr’s Orthrelm, a group normally responsible for jittery and jazzy grind-spasms, created Ov, a series of electric guitar phasings of hundreds of notes, one block after another, over a horizontal sonic canvas. The album allowed us to appreciate virtuosity of the electric guitar, while not simply being a document created solely for players. It wasn’t fucking Dream Theater. Indeed, we were all able to intellectualize the importance of this glorified minimalist composition in our own lives, and its inclusion on this list as a perfect melding of brows high and low is ridiculously deserved.
Afro Finger and Gel
by Mike McHugh
America’s putrid obsession with dime-store fame and celebrity misery climbed to such dizzying heights throughout the aughts that the word “shameless” has probably been excised from new editions of Webster’s. While Mu’s husband-and-wife team of Mutsumi Kanamori (vocals) and Maurice Fulton (everything else) didn’t name names until their second LP, 2003’s caterwauling shitstorm Afro Finger and Gel snapped a frenzied picture of the mid-00s pop landscape and seemingly filtered it through layers of grouchy synths (“Jealous Kids”) and bastardized house tropes (the tinkling piano of “Hello Bored Biz Man”). In actuality, Mu’s pop filter was razor thin. The lyrics to “My Name is Tommi” read like a direct transcript from the reality show Cheaters, while the frantic keens of “I Hate U” paled in comparison to any recent Real World shouting match. But even if Afro Finger’s legacy is that it held a fun-house mirror up to garbage culture, it stands as an invaluable reminder that the trash emanating from your TV screen and stereo can be gaudy, profane, and, most of all, fun without being dumbed down to a heap of infantile nonsense. Mu didn’t silence the asses’ braying with Afro Finger and Gel; they simply gave their bleats a beat.
One-Way Ticket to Candyland
[Rune Grammofon; 2008]
by Keith Kawaii
I spent a good part of the last decade wondering what a seminal noise album might sound like. The more I thought about it, though, the more ridiculous a harsh noise equivalent of Sgt. Peppers seemed. Composing songs full of pop craft, making sure each track stood on its own and as part of a larger whole, inserting clever instrumentation — this all seemed antithetical to what this relatively young genre was about, right? It’s fucking noise, not “Hey Jude.” But MoHa! got it anyway: by keeping the dynamics of rock, the sheer force of metal, and the general mayhem of harsh noise, One-Way Ticket to Candyland became a cheat-sheet for making a riveting “noise record” front to back. In my original review of the album, I claimed that if you imagined harmonies and melodies in place of the dissonant crunch, MoHa! might sound like a slightly spazzed-out prog band, but now I understand how dumb that proposition was. First of all, they didn’t sound close to one. Second, it was the interplay between the sounds that was most significant about the album. If you think about each element on its own terms, then the sound of the drums, for example, stop being synonymous with a 4/4 rock beat and become a separate set of tones and textures. This mentality provided the jump-off point that One-Way Ticket builds on so wonderfully, and it continues to be felt amongst bands that like things harsh.
The Runners Four
[Kill Rock Stars/5 Rue Christine/ATP; 2005]
Having already spent years depantsing Rock and short-circuiting Pop in ways that neither has ever really recovered from, Deerhoof set out in 2005 to hone their more-than-slightly-askew sonic tendencies into a collection of full-blooded songs easily identifiable as such, and The Runners Four was the supremely successful result. From the sucrose overload of “O’Malley, Former Underdog” to the woozily abstract “Bone-Dry,” from the taut, blistering “Running Thoughts” to the shambling, rapturous “Siriustar,” these were songs so stuffed with ideas and interplay and fusion and discovery that eventually the number of untranslatable high points seemed to outweigh the number of notes that produced them. Only a group like Deerhoof could have managed all this with zero evidence of excess or concession to accessibility, partly because their sound had always been gestural and immediate, but also because every song was already pre-soaked with the wide-eyed enthusiasm and joy of its players. In these hands, traveling up and down a simple scale felt revelatory, even vaguely dangerous. Yes, Deerhoof had plenty of amazing lab experiments this decade, all worthy of praise, but none were as potent or freeing as The Runners Four.
Drums Not Dead
by Dave Gurney
Not necessarily a sonic surprise following their even more overtly abrasive They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, Drum’s Not Dead still received excessive noise complaints from some of the indie community. It also found Liars making the most fully realized artistic statement of their career thus far. A roughly-hewn concept album full of tribal drumming, tweaked vocals, and somewhat in-jokey lyrical content, what could have been an insular album actually transcended its conditions to emerge as an emotional treatise on the competing forces of creativity and complacency. Although a more balanced album than many initially gave credit for — playing deftly with contrasts in silence and cacophony, beauty and ugliness — this was the tortured statement of a band that had previously struggled to break the mold of its alignment with the early 2000’s NYC dance-punk scene, losing fans and press support along the path in order to create something they could more meaningfully call their own. Indeed, no other band has been as successful in marrying such antagonistic and experimental registers with rock instrumentation and songwriting in this decade, and the album’s appearance on this list suggests that esteem for this accomplishment has only grown since its release.
69. The Flaming Lips
[Warner Bros.; 2009]
Paul McCartney already tried this whole back-to-basics-themed record thing twice. But both times, the resulting record — The Beatles’ Get Back project and, ugh, Wings’ Back to the Egg — ostensibly served not as a creative eureka and career jumpstart, but rather as the contrived and anemic last gasp of an ailing creator trying entirely too hard to “outwit” his own creative presuppositions. Luckily for the Lips, the phrase “get back” doesn’t continue “to where you once belonged.” It’s more like “get back behind the spaceship’s wheel again, once the acid is finished kicking in.” See, unlike McCartney, the Lips don’t always need to win their creative battles, and Embryonic was the eerie but bracing sound of their complete surrender. Instead of the bright, bold, primary-colored twee partyscape that had defined their past decade, metallic Rhodes clanged exotic augmentations in the unanswering dark, battered snares and kick drums battled two-at-a-time for place at the edges of a blown-out and decomposing stereo field, and Coyne’s tinny voice warbled from underneath the rubble, not about beautiful faces and buzzing love bugs, but about submission, corrosion, panic, and isolation. This is not to say that Embryonic wasn’t successful in getting the freak-flaggers “back on track,” but the vehicle was not headed home; it was headed obstinately forward to suicide. Beautiful, unknowable, event-horizon suicide.
by Jon Lorenz
You might say Hairdryer Peace was the ultimate “shit-gaze” record. You might also call it the “shittiest” shit-gaze record. You wouldn’t be wrong to say it was much more shitty than those shitty Times New Viking records, for sure. This shit had shit stains that stretched down to Portugal. This one was so shitty that the band couldn’t even convince anyone to release it, so they had to do it themselves. Indeed, this was total shit-fried, San Fran-style weirdness, bringing together the history of the bizarro West Coast, from Caroliner Rainbow as spectacle, Brian Wilson huddled up in his sandbox, San Francisco Tape Music Center gone awry, and a healthy dose of Chrome. With the help of Eat Skull’s Rob Enbom and Rod Meyer, as well as The Hunches’ Chris Gunn, Adam Stonehouse delivered songs about being stoned, about not wanting to get out of bed. It was all doused in blown-out drums, total trash guitars, and vocals yelled through broken amps from the back of the room, thrown together and smeared with Vaseline-drenched production. This wasn’t no lo-fi bedroom record; it was total basement scuz. A perfect record to bring a bummer your summer.
• Hospitals: http://www.loadrecords.com/bands/hospitals.html
67. Josephine Foster
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
by Split Foster
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing was a weird, worldly album that may end up the most telling emblem of aughties folk. Like any kid with a cable hookup, this record channeled the eccentricities of bygone eras and distant countries, combined them, and rebroadcasted them for the rest of us to download, deconstruct, and delight in. Except Foster did it with heaps more talent than your average undergrad. Or your above-average artist. As folk freaked forward and peeked backward over the last 10 years, Banhart, Bunyan, and Newsom monopolized indie headlines. In the hubbub over these new or re-newed careers, Josephine Foster went relatively unnoticed. For shame. Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing out-freaked and out-folked the lot of them. Foster’s mash-up of psych guitar skree and homespun acoustic figures was enough for even the hipsterest among us to say “Okay, this is weird.” When you then heard her spooky voice intoning Goethe’s words and Schubert’s melodies, with rain and creaking furniture embroidering the whole, you realized this stuff was not just “nu-” — an old idiom with a change of clothes — it was new. Full stop.
66. Gang Gang Dance
[Social Registry; 2005]
by Jay Dryburgh
The real treasure of God’s Money was the dig for it. Wrought with heavy tension, Gang Gang Dance’s sophomore album practically begged the listener to devote their entire immediate attention to it and absolutely required multiple exposures. As “Before My Voice Fails” proved, Gang Gang’s biggest strength is keeping their audience on a string. The cut’s opening groove was tantalizingly accessible, but fleeting, replaced by a dissonant wail from shamanistic vocalist Liz Bougatsos. The sudden return of the initial riff demanded the bizarre interstitial atmospherics be heard, and those who braved it were rewarded with a climactic burst even more intoxicating than the initial idea. The slowly unfolding “Egowar” consumed nearly a quarter of the record, built rather innocuously on bells and a pan flute. It should’ve been a respite from the noise, yet in context it’s a foreboding passage rife with unpredictability. But when the effort is made to digest the headiest of Gang Gang Dance’s primal dub, the payoff is relieving. In a moment of clarity, a friend once remarked “drinking a Chimay is like eating a huge meal, but afterwards, I feel as if I’m talking to God.” For me, listening to God’s Money is not a dissimilar experience.
[Southern Lord; 2006]
by Kid Midnight
Boris’ Pink was a hyper-charged meteorite aimed straight towards your brain. A fantastically adept and aggressive record that has, through the combined efforts of band members Wata, Atsuo, and Takeshi, cemented its place as one of the most rewarding and exciting metal records of the decade. Seven-minute opener “Farewell,” a song that recalled the mellowed psychedelia of My Bloody Valentine thrown together with the icy sludge of Isis, was one of the album’s rare moments of quiet, but once it faded away, the speed kicked in: second track “Pink” charged in like a pissed-off bull, and you were the red cape — until song 10, the pure riffage and ferocity never let up. “Woman on the Screen” sounded like a Stooges and sunn 0))) collaboration; “Pseudo-Bread” was an in-the-red distortion fest; “Afterburner” sounded like an even druggier Melvins. Then came 18-minute closer “Just Abandoned Myself,” which can only be described as the entirety of the record rolled together into one mind-churning epic. By the time the album ended, we were left with the surety that Boris’ next album could sound like anything in the world, but probably louder than we could ever imagine.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
by Lorian Long
“Money, gear, drugs, guns, good years/ All my niggas sit smelling the tears/ Cookin snow white/ It’s just the poor life/ Never living off fear/ We all millionaires/ Now where my shares.” Part myth, part manifesto, Raekwon’s long-awaited Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II continued the coke-addled narrative found on the first album, creating another work of proud, but slightly desperate, genius. The Chef returned to the sonic kitchen with a recipe of kung fu, soul radio, pounding instrumentation, and the kind of urgency hip-hop definitely needed to close out the decade. The sound was vintage Wu-Tang, but also prescient. Rae’s Mafiosi aesthetic, and the rumor that Outkast will release a new album in 2010, jolted hip-hop out of its Kanye and Jay-Z lethargy. Cuban Linx II was relentless, never once catching its breath. Everyone from Ghostface to RZA to Masta Killa told the story of living in a “broad day jungle,” where drugs both cook in the summer heat and can love you like a mother before killing your best friend. “Anson Jones,” a eulogy for ODB, transcends the album’s ferociousness with a nostalgic tenderness, as Rae admits, “I just miss this nigga/ And now I understand the meaning of love when I kiss the nigga.” The grave is just another NYC street corner. Let Rae be your preacher.
63. Major Organ And The Adding Machine
Major Organ And The Adding Machine
[Orange Twin; 2001]
by Monocular Cognition
• Orange Twin: http://www.orangetwin.com
[Stones Throw; 2000]
Madlib has always been a strong competitor for freshness and innovation. From the ongoing Beat Konducta series to Yesterday’s New Quintet’s hip-hop jazz-soul, Madlib has always incorporated a creative soundscape on each release throughout the last decade. His records merit recognition, but none compare to his surreal and bizarrely complex The Unseen, recorded by his drug-soaked, helium-overflowing alter ego Quasimoto. Initially started as a side project supported by label mate Peanut Butter Wolf, Quasimoto developed into a peculiar brand of lounge breaks, loops, and jazz undercurrents filled with digestible skits and laidback hip-hop thumping. In fact, even when his high-pitched vocal technique grew weary, the creative spontaneity and manic rhythms kept the album flowing stylishly and impressively. The Unseen was Madlib’s first conception that presented his growing predilection for creative freedom, one that threw his persona slightly left of center on numerous occasions. He dug deeper than ever into the crates, leaving the straightforward formations of his preceding work with Lootpack and forming an aperture that has lead to future imaginative tours de force (the release of Madvillainy with collaborator MF Doom, for one). And he did it all while having fun astro travellin’, loop digging’, and rhyming about his favourite jazz cats.
[Tee Pee; 2003]
by Emilie Friedlander
“If yooz highly influenced by another band’s sound, there are two methods for forming your band. You can apologise and have a sense of humour about it, or you can be so much more full on than your predecessors that you surpass them by the second LP.” Julian Cope’s much-quoted essay on Dopesmoker, released posthumously in 2003 by the 90s stoner doom metal outfit Sleep, rightly aligned these dreadlocked miscreants with the second approach to appropriation. Like contemporaries sunn 0))) and OM, Sleep took a pop musical idiom that was already larger than life — classic 70s baroque metal, minted by Black Sabbath in Britain, then Pentagram in the States — magnified it through massive amounts of marijuana consumption, and landed on a sound that was shockingly millenial. Dopesmoker didn’t just sound like a heavy metal apocalypse; it dissected that apocalypse as a sum of ingrained musical associations, elongating and bending and repeating them into abstraction. Built upon down-tuned guitar lunges as thickset and horrifying as Buzz Osbourne’s own neck, this one-track shuttle to eternity easily provided months of meditation fodder — luckily, not only for those ready to “Drop out of life with bong in hand/ Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land,” as bassist Al Cisneros intoned.