Photos/illustration by David Greenwald
It is with great joy, pride and excitement that I present to you this week The Rawking Refuses To Stop!‘s Top 100 Albums of the Decade. In 1998, with Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” atop the VH1 music video charts, I began taking music seriously. (I also became a man. Ask my rabbi.) In 2002, my first pieces of music criticism — and my first year-end list — were published. To say things have changed tremendously since then would be the understatement of the decade, but if nothing else, it’s been a hell of a ride — and an endlessly exciting time for great albums. This list represents that journey of discovery; it is, and is nothing more or less than, a record of the records that have made an impact on yours truly over the last 10 years. Apologies in advance for the dearth of releases by, say, (spoiler!) TV On the Radio, Bjork and Relevant Elephant, among others. (If you’re going to ask “But what about…,” the answer is, “No.” Sorry. To coin a phrase, tell it to your blog.)
That said, before launching into this list, you should know a few things about me: I like acoustic guitars, scrawny dudes and odd voices; songs about girls; songs; girls; cymbal-heavy percussion; major 7th chords; harmonies; emotions; dynamic range; the production style of Jim O’Rourke; the early 1970s; the late 1990s. I like dancing — to rock music. My favorite hip-hop albums were released between 1992 and 1994. I don’t like hype, trends or the vast majority of Brooklyn. You’ve been warned. Excelsior!
100. Coldplay – Parachutes
Might as well start off embarrassing, huh? It’s easy to forget now, but in 2000, Coldplay was just one of the abundance of bands picking up where Radiohead left off with “Fake Plastic Trees” — and despite their latter-day sins, songs such as “Shiver” and, yes, “Yellow,” are sterling efforts from Britpop’s last days.
99. Ravens & Chimes – Reichenbach Falls
Without ranting too much about the lackadaisical state of post-2004 indie rock, Ravens & Chimes are the rare New York band who really sounds like they mean it. At times, Reichenbach Falls — an urgent, haunting record produced with care by ex-Arcade Fire drummer Howard Bilerman — evokes Arcade Fire’s hungry desperation, but with none of that band’s big-tent ambition. It’s music for bedrooms and street corners, sweaty and intimate.
>> “January”: mp3
98. Guided By Voices – Isolation Drills
The story of indie rock in the 2000s is at least in part a battle between ’90s heroes competing for relevance (and Internet buzz) with their younger, tighter-pantsed counterparts. On Isolation Drills, lo-fi progenitors Guided By Voices cleaned up their sound with the help of Elliott Smith and his usual production team, Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, with the result a collection of power-pop singsongs as engaging as any of the band’s earlier garage epics.
>> “Chasing Heather Crazy”: mp3
97. The Long Winters – When I Pretend To Fall
There’s a special place in my heart for so-called “literate bands” — read: former English majors who realized guitars were a better way to get girls than Shakespeare folios. But few of these acts are as sharp as the Long Winters, whose power-pop sounds squeezed from a life given lemons — and great choruses.
>> “Stupid”: mp3
96. The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
A band boondoggled by a misfired sophomore album, the British quartet were at their best the first time around, when they polished ’60s pop into urgent, updated anthems. To their credit, they were equally energetic live — even at a 1 p.m. shift under the Coachella sun in 2006.
95. Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
One of the decade’s most prolific folk luminaries along with fellow ’90s holdovers Will Oldham and Jason Molina, age has been kind to Bill Callahan and his Smog moniker. Well, not so much in this record’s case, but the songs — crisp, atmospheric, wryly heartbroken — reveal an artist as hungry and hugely creative as ever.
>> “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”: mp3
94. Boat Club – Caught The Breeze EP
In the last few years, I’ve leaned less on acoustic tunesmiths and more on the washed-out sounds of bands like Boat Club — music informed by both the drifting haze of shoegaze and the sweaty sonics of house and disco. The result is a set of perfect summer songs, melancholic and groovy — dance music for dorks.
>> “Warmer Climes”: mp3
93. Calexico – A Feast of Wire
A feast indeed. Calexico has never sounded better than they do here, when all of their influences — Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western film scores, Fleetwood Mac-sized rock, Mexican rhythms and cowboy melodies — earn a day in the sun.
>> “Not Even Stevie Nicks”: mp3
92. Richard Hawley – Cole’s Corner
On Cole’s Corner, the former Pulp sideman and Longpigs guitarist does everything right. The album is a breathtaking sweep of jazz balladry, jovial rockabilly and New Wave jangle — a summation of rock and pop’s softer side without losing its edge.
91. Centro-Matic – Fort Recovery
With the best of the alt-country movement long behind us, Centro-matic might play too loud to be mistaken for Whiskeytown or Wilco. Still, the band sounds quintessentially American even when it looks to Canada for inspiration: songs such as “Patience For the Ride” roar with the passion of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s most vital efforts.
>> “Patience For the Ride”: mp3
90. Morning Recordings – Music For Places
As the title implies, Morning Recordings’ debut is a quiet, dimly lit record, but a gripping one nevertheless. Much more so than vocal theatrics or heart-on-sleeve sobbing, I’m always attracted to more subtle, reluctant emoting; this album is full of it, pain eased by pills and chamber pop.
>> “Your Light Has Never Shown”: mp3
89. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country
The Glaswegian heirs to Belle & Sebastian’s high-drama twee step out of their predecessor’s shadow on an album buoyed by joyfully muddy Motown production and songs to match.
>> “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”: mp3
88. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Indie’s best elements — Black Francis’ yowl, Johnny Marr’s guitars — collided here, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, with this debut’s success, the band got too weird, too fast, but it remains full of brave, brilliant efforts — showing once again that playing outsider rock doesn’t have to mean sacrificing songs. Thanks to a surreal 2005 tour after their buzz reached a fever pitch, their success also aided that of fellow Top 100 band The National, which deserves notice here.
>> “In This Home On Ice”: mp3
87. The Walkmen – Bows + Arrows
The last Great White Hope of the decade’s pre-Brooklyn noisy New York rock scene, the Walkmen never sounded better than they did on their sophomore album, pitting clattering rock (“The Rat,” “Little House of Savages”) against late-night bar ballads all fueled by singer Hamilton Leithauser’s dour, Dylanesque angst.
>> “The Rat”: mp3
86. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Contrary to popular belief, Illinois wasn’t Sufjan Stevens’ best effort — just his most colorful. But it contains too much of his best material to ignore, and as 2005 eases further into the rearview, it stands, like the “Tallest Man” it sings of, ever larger as the last great album of a chamber-folk genius who seems to have turned his back on his calling too soon.
>> “Chicago”: mp3
85. John Vanderslice – Cellar Door
In 2004, I gave this album four-and-a-half stars in the UCLA Daily Bruin roughly around conducting a 30-minute interview with John, in which he was exceedingly nice and explained that “guitars and marijuana love each other.” Five years later, the album — a film geek’s oddball studio opus — remains my favorite effort in his exceedingly consistent catalog.
>> “Pale Horse”: mp3
84. The Thrills – Teenager
Most wrote the Thrills off after a less Byrds-y, more Wedding Present-y sophomore album, but Teenager, a semi-concept record about small-town suffering and big screen romance, captures the restless spirit of rock ‘n’ roll with sweetness and heart.
83. Whiskeytown – Pneumonia
There are a lot of Ryan Adams albums on this list. This is because they are fucking great. Pneumonia, his third and final album with Whiskeytown, is one of his weirdest releases — Nashville pop mingles with hushed existential angst and alt-country twang. The shape of things to come? Perhaps — but if nothing else, arguably his best set of choruses.
82. Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther
I was unfortunately a latecomer to this, a record that sounds like the Decemberists with their tongues sans cheeks. Singing of simpler eras with rich musical backing that wouldn’t be surprising from mid-period Steely Dan, the band’s earnestness carries the album — and propels it toward the same vividly imagined world occupied by out-of-time storytellers from Joanna Newsom to Tim Hardin.
>> “Roscoe”: mp3
81. Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That
The French band’s more recent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is its most exciting record, to be sure, but this is its most consistent — start to finish, a set of sleek, exuberant rock anthems tailor-made to soundtrack summer in the city.
>> “Long Distance Call”: mp3
Discuss today’s picks in the comments or we can rap on Twitter at #Rawkblog100.
The Rawking Refuses To Stop!’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade:
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