Monday, November 09, 2009

My Top Ten Twenties on SF Appeal

I was featured on the "cover" (do websites have covers?) of SFAppeal today, as part of Corey Denis' fantastic "Top Ten Twenties" project.

She asked what my top 20 albums from 2000-2009 were. Here is my response:

What are your top 20 albums released between 2000 - 2009?

1. Austere - Curio (2000)
Austere is a mysterious duo from Portland, Oregon. The epitome of independent music. They manufacture and release their music themselves, with beautiful, unique, hand-made packaging. "Curio" came in a cover made with real gold leaf and a riddle, which when solved, prompted Austere to send me a link to a bonus track. I am a huge fan of Austere - nearly every one of their releases is fascinating and special.

2. Death Cab For Cutie - We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes (2000)
My friend Dave Lampton introduced me to this album. Death Cab's songwriting peak coupled with crisp production. Great songs filled with longing. Makes me think of college. I play this when the days start getting short and the nights start getting long.

3. Morphine - The Night (2000)
Morphine's posthumous release, and their finest hour. Murky, mysterious, and sexy. Really the only essential Morphine album. Good with a bottle of red wine and someone new to kiss.

4. Outkast - Stankonia (2000)
Stankonia catches Outkast poised between their relative hip-hop obscurity and their commercial success and following mediocrity. Their best album all the way through, with several standout tracks, including the unfortunately prescient "B.O.B."

5. PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000)
I am not a rabid PJ Harvey fan, but I absolutely love two of her albums - "To Bring You My Love" and this one. From the ringing, yowling opening track to the sweet finish, there are no weak spots. The soundtrack to my introduction to San Francisco. I don't think Ms. Harvey has made a record nearly this good since.

6. Idaho - Levitate (2001)
Jeff Martin from Idaho went on to do film and TV scoring after "Levitate". You can hear why - his aching voice and solid production are coupled to some great songs, like "For Granted". I'm a sucker for anyone name-checking freeways (see also: Death Cab For Cutie, Ryuichi Sakamoto & David Sylvian).

7. Lucinda Williams - Essence (2001)
Lucinda Williams' "Essence" is the sound of heartache. I cannot listen to this album without tearing up a little. And the title track is sexy and worthy of a soul rave-up cover version.

8. Local H - Here Comes The Zoo (2002)
Local H epitomizes angry, grungy guitar rock, and nowhere better than on "Here Comes The Zoo". "Half Life" is a solid example of the band's sound. No mere lunkheads, this record is actually a concept album of sorts, and the story it tells is as dark as they come.

9. The Church - After Everything Now This (2002)
The Church have made a lot of records (23 at last count). And their 90s output was...not very good. "After Everything Now This" marks a dramatic turning point, where they began cranking out great rock albums. If any new band released a song like "Numbers", they'd be the next big thing. And the normally oblique Steve Kilbey is quite affecting when he details learning of the death of his father in the title track. The soundtrack for afternoon sliding into night.

10. John Foxx & Harold Budd - Translucence/Drift Music (2003)
John Foxx was the original singer for Ultravox and wrote some of their best songs. After Midge Ure replaced him, he made a number of great synth-pop albums, particularly the Gary Numan-esque "Metamatic". In later years he started making ambient music. This 2003 album found him collaborating with Harold Budd. Each disc has its own character - "Translucence" is more focused on piano, "Drift Music" more synth. Great with morning coffee.

11. Tim Hecker - Radio Amor (2003)
\"Radio Amor" proves that it is possible for an album without words or melodies to tell a story. Ambient music at the other end of the spectrum from "Translucence/Drift Music", full of noise, hisses, radio static, and glitchy, stuttering piano samples.

12. TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004)
TV On The Radio is a really interesting band, seemingly bent on following their muse regardless of fashion. Great songs, hazy production. Solid for parties.

13. Harold Budd - Avalon Sutra (2004)
Harold Budd's planned valedictory album. Beautiful music largely for actual, real, acoustic instruments. Miniature masterpieces. Reminds everyone that Budd is a composer with a serious music background. The sound of Sunday morning.

14. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Chasm (2004)
Ryuichi Sakamoto has been making interesting records for a long time, ranging from progressive to pop to absolute weirdness and noise. "Chasm" contains all of the above, starting with glitchy hip-hop and moving through beautiful ambient and instrumental music. By far the standout is the track with David Sylvian - "World Citizen", which manages to name-check the 101 freeway in a beautiful, haunting song.

15. Stars Of The Lid - and Their Refinement of The Decline (2006)
Ambient music made with acoustic instruments (brass and strings), or passable samples of same. Beautiful, slow, marred only by the juvenile humor of the titles. Put the cover away and just listen. I think of falling asleep on airplanes.

16. Scott Walker - The Drift (2006)
There may be some obscure albums on this list, but none are weirder or more disturbing than Scott Walker's "The Drift". Music writers talk about "experimental" music, or records that push the boundaries. They all sound like Hannah Montana next to "The Drift", which is a veritable David Lynch film in sound. Creepy, powerful, even funny...there really is nothing else like it, all wrapped in Walker's mannered, operatic voice. Not bad for a former 60's pop star. A record worth focusing on. 

17. Burial - Untrue (2007)
The formerly anonymous poster boy for dubstep, Burial's "Untrue" is a DJ Shadow-meets-Blade Runner masterpiece, improving just enough on his debut to create a sound but not a rut. Great for subways, walks in the rain, or working.

18. Fennesz Sakamoto - Cendre (2007)
I never get tired of hearing this album. Christian Fennesz' "Venice" almost made this list, and Sakamoto's "Chasm" did. Their collaboration on "Cendre" brings the best of both worlds. Sounds like watching time-lapse film of pianos disintegrating, burning, or corroding. One track is clearly a transformation of one of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedies".

19. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
Only LCD Soundsystem can make an introspective, melancholy dance music record. The bass parts are all cribbed from other songs. Every track is good, and some reach beyond greatness into the sublime. 

20. M83 - Saturdays = Youth (2008)
I refrained from loading this list up with reissues and limited myself to just one album from a band from the 80s. But M83 has me covered. Their retro-flavored "Saturdays = Youth" reminds me of what it was like to be a teenager discovering the 4AD catalog, feeling everything with the intensity of the first time. This album has beautiful, ethereal songs played with heart, passion, and emotion. Wonderfully free of the irony infecting so much  neo-80s stuff. Some bands look at old photos and laugh about how funny everybody looked. M83 looks at the same photos, sighs, and remembers what falling in love for the first time felt like.

1 comment:

Shakki said...

I'm listening to "The Drift" and feeling like Hannah Montana.


That list has so many interesting albums I've never heard of... amazing.