Red Hot Fugazi Peppers?

So I was listening to the radio tonight, as I often do these days (I’ve been getting tired of making decisions about what I want to listen to) and an early decade hit came on, “By The Way” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I decided to leave it on, cause I hadn’t heard it in a very long time.

When the verse of the song came in, I felt alarmed, like I had heard this part done by another band that I liked a lot more than RHCP. It dawned on me that this was a near part for part, note for note, beat for beat ripoff of Fugazi‘s “Brendan # 1,” off their classic album Repeater.

Check out the similarities below and tell me what you think! The part in the RHCP song starts at 0:33.

And below is the Fugazi track. The part here is the beat to the whole song. Imagine it slowed down a tiny bit.


10. The National- Boxer (2007)

I guess I’ll start this off with a somewhat scattered list of the different cliches and one liners I have to describe the power of this band. The cover of Boxer depicts The National playing at a wedding, which somehow makes perfect sense. The National are the kind of band whose music is lingering in the corners of any big social event, stuck in your head while walking around by yourself in a big, lonely city, or in this case, sitting around bored and awkward at a wedding. They are distinctly American in a somewhat ironic way. Their songs tell stories of the mundane, floating through the ears of everyone pretending to hold themselves together, a fitting inner soundtrack to a boring party that’s supposed to be fun. They represent the dissolution of the American dream, which is also an American thing in itself.

I never expected to fall in love with this band but somehow it happened. At the end of junior year, in May of 2007, I took a trip with some friends to Asheville to go see Arcade Fire. I got free tickets from Merge, which happened a lot in those days since I worked for the college radio station. I knew some band called The National was opening but knew nothing about them. We took our seats right as the house lights went down and they came onstage. For the next thirty minutes I sank into the sound of songs off this record, at the time still forthcoming. There was nothing the Arcade Fire, one of the decades more overrated bands, could do to compare to the melodic, introvertive fury The National had just unleashed.

I suppose this is the album that made me believe that indie rock could be awesome. That it could go beyond hype. That even if the songs don’t have the classic feel of greats like Springsteen and Neil Young, that they could still be just as good if not better. At the time of this album’s release, I had been in a bit of a musical rut for quite a while. I had felt “over” punk and hardcore but found very little other music that moved me in a similar way. The people around me were all heavily immersed in folk and country but I didn’t “get it” just yet. So isn’t it perfect that it was this record that changed my life at that point? Lying somewhere perfectly in the middle of punk rock and country, The National’s “Boxer” is a quiet bruiser. Shunning genres in favor of an input and output of decades of American music, they are simply a logical amalgamation of their diverse array of influences, from Bruce Springsteen to Joy Division. Hell, some of these songs sound like Ian Curtis doing his best “Born To Run” karaoke. In a way, these aforementioned wandering poets play the perfect poles for this moody band. Playing all the different sides of life, this record works great for any mood you’re in. It’s calming and reflective when you’re feeling good, and empathizing and relateable when you’re feeling shitty.

I owe this record a lot, not only as a perfect soundtrack to a very up and down year for me, but also because vocalist Matt Berninger is semi responsible for making me begin to focus on a band’s lyrics as much as any other aspect of a group. I had never been one to put much thought into comprehending a band’s lyrical content, as I figured that, if the instrumentation doesn’t catch my ear, then I was done with it. Somehow, this album seemed to be telling me a story about my life I hadn’t been told yet. Since then, I’ve been told over and over again, and I’m starting to have a better idea of it.

09. Twilight Singers- Powder Burns (2007)

Greg Dulli is kind of, as I read once, the man your mother warned you about. He smokes, he drinks, engages in careless loving and does who knows what else. He opens doors into the dark truths of the human soul, specifically the male id. He’s been writing dark tales of addiction and its consequences for more than twenty years, and Powder Burns may be his finest work, if not his most thoroughly listenable.

The Twilight Singers have found him exploring dynamics of alternative rock, sounding far poppier than his work in the Afghan Whigs. It’s the appropriate next step following the unabashed soul-worshipping sex romp of the final Whigs record, 1965. The songs have more quiet/loud, verse/chorus dynamics at play, and it works tremendously well. The choruses are bright and soaring, sounding hugely uplifting for stemming from such dark content. But that’s how Dulli, and all the great soul singers that he bows down to on this album, do their mission work. They tell the truth through gorgeous song, and before you know it you’ve swallowed the hard truth, like a large pill you have to take with a hot meal.

On “Forty Dollars,” one of the album’s greatest songs, he says “love don’t mean a thing but two a.m. and a telephone ring,” tracing the root of love back to a need for a way out of desperate isolation, cause no one wants to be alone that late at night. Through the carnal grinding of “My Time Has Come” and “I’m Ready,” to the grinning fuck-off of “Dead To Rights,” to the desperate pleas of a lonely addict on the title track, Powder Burns is a journey through the socialized male instinct. Even as a gender studies minor, his storytelling strikes me to my core, making this album a totally thrilling experience for me when I first heard it. It’s the soundtrack to self loathing, psychosexual addiction. It doesn’t so much romanticize the ego of the male musician, but instead explores the emptiness that lies behind it.

It was partially recorded in New Orleans in the time following Hurricane Katrina, in a studio powered by a generator. While the album doesn’t thematically concern itself too much with the hurricane specifically, it’s pretty clear that there is some pretty heavy shit serving as inspiration to Dulli in the writing and recording process. That much does come out in the final product.

08. 1905- Voice (2002)

1905 were probably the first hardcore punk band that I fell in love with. Their songs were incredibly powerful, moving in emotional and political ways. Getting into them was a bit of a revelation, a huge eye opener. One of the most special aspects of their music was the feeling of arriving at school day to day, and thinking that I and a few other of my close friends seemed to be the only ones even aware that such a powerful, passionate thing existed. While everyone around me concerned themselves with schoolwork, the college process, extracurricular activities, and the gossip and drama of any dc prep school, I was sitting in class daydreaming about how it felt to see this band. Their lyrics would run through my head over and over. I framed my life around when the next time I was going to get to see them. I just loved this band through and through.

This band, along with local groups like The Max Levine Ensemble and Majority Rule, gave me a sense of agency and selfhood that few people are lucky to find in their adolescent years. This album is a snapshot of a specific time and place, with a specific group of people that come to mind. My friends at the time all seemed to organize around going to their shows. It was a place where we could come together, scream together, and hug and sweat together, forming bonds that could be weakened by time but never truly broken.

Now that I am listening to it again as a 23 year old, it might have less of an impact, but in a way the lyrics are more applicable to my life than ever, particularly the album centerpiece “Go.” “Wasted time is a crime/And I’m guilty.” The album is an attempt to find a voice, to find a place in a world often void of meaning. How lucky I was to find this meaning in my own city. I even ended up quoting 1905 on my yearbook senior page when I graduated. “It is our voice that gives us hope/Listen to your voice.”

07. Black Eyes- Black Eyes (2003)

The very first time I ever saw 1905 was at St. Al’s church at Gonzaga, some long blocks away from where I now live. Also playing that show were Black Eyes, a band I had seen a couple times before but felt awfully confused by. They had two full drumsets with mostly broken cymbals, a guitarist who didn’t seem to play any real notes and screamed like a young banshee, and all around played music that my 15 year old ears had never heard anything close to. But at this show, they caught my attention in a big way.

No other band I’ve seen since could put on a live show or create such unbridled energy a room. Their music was often described as “disco-core.” The base of their music was percussive, what with two drumsets and unbelievable bass riffs that could rattle the Washington Monument off its foundations. Their music, as I later understood it, was majorly influenced by dub, but it seemed that each member had their own vision of what they wanted the band to be. You could hear equal parts D.C. punk, dub and reggae, free jazz, and dance punk in their music, part of what made it so exciting and unpredictable.

The show with 1905 may have lured me in, but it was their show at The Galaxy Hut a couple of months later that truly ripped me apart. I was 16, on one of the coldest nights of the winter in 2003, crammed into a corner of an absolutely packed room, craning my head for a sight of the show. The five members of this band could barely fit in the room with all their equipment, but that was what made it more exciting. The sprawl of their gear broke down even more walls between performer and audience, making interaction with them even more possible. That is essentially what this band represents to me; the breaking down of those boundaries. What I remember most about Black Eyes shows was that the audience reaction was almost as exciting as the music they were playing. How everyone danced their asses off, sweaty and packed together. It was a sight to see, and no Black Eyes show had me leaving with anything less than a shitgrinning smile on my face, sweat dripping down my face and a t-shirt soaked through, even in the dead of winter.

Thus the band were a fairly natural pick to be on Dischord Records, the legendary D.C. scene label. I am not sure what an experience with the album would have been like if I didn’t have a chance to see them live pretty consistently. To me, this record was a great way to hear the songs in between their shows, but since I was spoiled by living in their hometown, I was just waiting for the next time I could see them live again. When friends and I listened to it, it was almost a worship ritual, trying to figure out how we could possibly re-create that kind of energy in our own bands. The album is an amazing artifact, but I’m sure I may have loved it even more as an album if I lived somewhere like California.

In a way, their follow up album, Cough, was a stronger recording and a more fully realized artistic vision, but they broke up just as the album came out, and we never got to see what might have become of them. It’s alright though, because they quit while they were ahead, as the most beloved and best bands almost always do, leaving us to mourn and love them forever.

To me, seeing Black Eyes still marks some of my favorite high school memories. This band changed my life in a pretty huge way, and no other band seems to have been able to take their place since. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.”

06. Majority Rule- Emergency Numbers(2003)

Their final album had D.C. based Majority Rule at the height of their creative output. The band had only another year to grow following this release before they broke up in the summer of 2004. Though this EP never quite reached the “classic” status of Interviews With David Frost, in many ways it is the stronger of the two.

This album and Interviews are perfect, yet very different, reflections of their time and place, which is funny, considering they came out only two years apart. But what happened in between their releases? Oh right. September 11th and the invasion of Iraq. While Interviews seemed to be the last warning to a society that was headed down the wrong road, perhaps too far gone, Emergency Numbers was their rallying cry for resistance, an urgent encouragement for any and all agency the listener can draw upon themselves. Yet even Majority Rule wondered if, as the second track suggested, “It’s Too Late.” Depending on your mood, the album could be motivational, or it could sound withdrawn, a fitting accompaniment to life in a bomb shelter, powerless against the violent inertia of the world we live in. But it never ceases to be reflective.

The title itself is clearly evocative of the mindset of the times. Following the attacks of 9/11, Washingtonians were living in a collective state of paranoia and anxiety, yet, as Michel points out in “American Feature,” never asking why. Instead of deeply probing the questions of why the attacks of September 11th happened, widespread fear took over and easily hijacked everyone into supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which happened just two months before the release of this album. It was the heyday of the Bush regime, in many ways the perfect setting for such a powerful piece of abrasive political hardcore to come out.

05. Ryan Adams- Cold Roses (2005)

You know Ryan Adams, that dick-ish alt country singer songwriter that everyone loves to hate, the guy who makes country music for yuppies who don’t like country music? Though the words “hot” and “cold,” or “hit” or “miss” seem like they were invented to describe his artistic output, we are fortunate to have this gem of an album, a totally “hot” “hit” in every stretch of the imagination.

Sounding like it was meant to be listened to in the springtime alone, I was lucky to get turned onto this record when the flowers started blooming. Sounding like pure tribute to the Grateful Dead and Neil Young, the album is a bright and sunny trip down memory lane to 1960’s California, through Topanga Valley to Haight Street. From the lilting, perfect opener “Magnolia Mountain” to the sad and reflective closer “Friends,” the album sounds like a best of collection, in that every single track seems perfectly placed and arranged.

The album is a beautiful collection of infectious tracks that can easily become a part of you after a few listens. With the rockers “Beautiful Sorta” and “Let It Ride” to the Jerry Garcia worship of “Easy Plateau” and “Cold Roses,” Ryan Adams proves that he knows how to write a god damn song better than most of his peers. It takes one of the most self-pitying Eeyore’s(like from Winnie The Pooh) not to crack a smile and enjoy this album for what it’s worth. It might not be one you dig super deep into, but it will keep you happy and occupied all 70 minutes long.

04. The National- Alligator (2005)

This album is a barn burner of bedroom songs, perhaps the best indie rock album of the decade. Starting off by asking the listener “didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?”, we know The National aren’t seeking to sugar coat anything.

The National sound like they’ve been stuck in a city for way too long, and they may never get out. Whether it’s singing about the emotional impact of the 9-5 work life on “Baby, We’ll Be Fine,” big city alienation and loneliness in “Friend Of Mine,” or throwing a big middle finger to the spineless democrats in “Mr. November,” vocalist Matt Berninger’s lyrics are a diary of first world problems, but as big influence Neil Young said, “though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.” One of these problems, which is also a persistent theme through the record, is the search for place, not shocking when you find out where they’re from.

Though this is a Brooklyn release, The National are one of the few borough bands who don’t automatically sound like they’re from Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s the fact that all the members originally hail from Ohio yet somehow ended up in NYC together, separately. They don’t sound like a bunch of east coast pricks taking up their little slice of land in an over-saturized city of twentysomethings. They literally sound just like they are; like five guys from the midwest struggling to find their place in an enormous city, along with several million others.

There’s not a whole lot of restraint on here, which is what makes it an all around more powerful record than the follow-up, Boxer. That restraint seems like a necessary, tasteful reaction to the all around epic-ness of Alligator, but I still like The National better when they don’t hold themselves back, when they give us the throaty yells, the sweeping choruses, the beautiful ballads that seem to go on perhaps a bit too long. If Boxer leaves you satisfied but coming back for more, then Alligator will leave you absolutely spent.

03. Explosions In The Sky- The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003)

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place feels like a repressed childhood memory, a feeling that comes rushing back to you when you finally hear it. Few other albums of the decade packed as much emotional power as this one, and it did it without any lyrics.

This is the third Explosions In The Sky album on this list, so I don’t feel like I have to say much about it. Their third album is a ballad of sorts, an hour long instrumental love song. The songs do alternate between light and dark, but the overall mood is bright and redemptive. This is so high on the list, and above the others likely, because it was the first EITS album I heard, and the first time I heard this kind of music. It opened me up to a brand new interpretation of music, a way of speaking words through instrument. As a guitar player, I can think of few other albums that had a greater impact on my approach to the instrument.

02. Thursday- Full Collapse (2001)

Music like this had been made in basements for years before this album came out, but somehow fate decided that Thursday would be the band that delivered screamo to the masses. They were certainly one of the first bands of their kind to have a video on MTV, to have a major label release. Hell, one of their songs wound up in car commercial! I don’t know why they were the ones that would carry the torch, but all I know is I was one of many in the joyful mass that would scream and cry along to every word when they tore through town.

This was the album I had been waiting for for years, ever since the onset of adolescence suddenly made life start sucking a lot. And the over the top, heart on the sleeve-ness of hte music makes for a perfect soundtrack, as Thursday kind of embodies the hypersensitivity of a youth spent as a weepy emo kid.

The key word here is empathy. For as much as it sucked being a teenager, Thursday really seemed to understand. They understood better than anyone in my life seemed to at the time, although now I understand that teen angst is an experience you have to go through and come out of in your own way. As a teen everything seems like the end of the world, and their music sort of sounds just like that.

Just as being a weepy emo kid doesn’t age very well, neither did this album unfortunately. Yet it ranks so high on this list because I can still recognize the good it did for me. With most albums, you can listen to it and be instantly transported back to that time and place. But now I feel so far removed from being a teenager, that listening to this transports me back to a place that I’d just rather not return to. It’s not that it brings back painful memories. The times I saw this band live and drove around with friends listening to them are some of my fondest high school moments. Indeed, it was a vital and validating part of my life then. It’s just that now that I have more of a sense of perspective on life and what the whole deal is with it, I don’t need this band or this album anymore. However, I will always be thankful for it, and smile when I see a new generation of youth getting turned on to it.

01. Majority Rule- Interviews With David Frost (2001)

Sheer and utterly brutal punk rock fury, Majority Rule are in large part responsible for making me who I am today. Having been an average punk rock band for five years at this point, the band put out this instant classic in pre-9/11 2001, as if it were a predictor of everything that was to come over the next decade.

The first time I saw them was at GWU with Darkest Hour in February of 2003. It was one of the coldest days of the year. They lit up Mitchell Hall at a benefit show to pay back one of the guys from DH’s mom for bailing them all out of jail. I picked this record up there and took it home, and over the next few months it was all I could listen to. Just a couple months after this show, I went over to a new friend named Joey’s house to jam with our friend Paul, all of us having this record on our mind when we did. We did our best to try and re-create this brutal, passionate hardcore, in a way that 16 year old kids try to do when they’ve fallen in love with a punk rock album. The band we formed and played as for the next two years, Bear And The Butterfly, tried to carry forth this influence, wearing it on our sleeves unabashedly.

To hear this album without exploring the lyrical content is to miss a huge part of it. Of course this means you would have to pop open the lyric book, since Matt Michel’s screams are a bit hard to decipher. Whether they are focusing on state violence in the amazing “Progress Of Elimination” (which features one of my favorite breakdowns of all time) or describing a late night spent with a loved one in “At 3 A.M.,” Interviews With David Frost is a scathing attack on modern day society, an attempt to reset what we all seem to have gotten backwards.

It is also an album that seems to focus mostly on the concept of re-energizing, of taking back your life. The narrator of the stories, whether it is from Michel’s own stories or not, has been living in the doldrums for a while it seems, without any driving force to give meaning to his or her life. From the first grinding drums of opener “The Sin In Grey,” the narrator promises to change things for the better, and if the urgency of the music wasn’t proof enough, he is absolutely fucking serious about it. From there the record is chock full of promises, of declarations to live life more urgently. On “At 3 AM” he yells “From now on it will be different.” On “Burial Suit,” the two minute barn burner third track, he states “I would trade it in for late nights and impossible dreams.” He doesn’t say exactly what he would trade it in, but I am sure we all have plenty of heavy things in our life we would trade in for late nights and impossible dreams. I’ve always found it interesting that he wishes for “impossible dreams” rather than something more Springsteen-ian like “chasing your dreams.” The narrator simply wants to have those impossible dreams, and realize they may never come true, but it’s having them in the first place that counts.

There is the album center, “Xoxo,” the lyrics of which are merely a couple sentences long. “Wouldn’t it be nice if life felt more alive?” asks Michel. That’s something most everyone can relate to. And then there is the second to last track “Endings,” which for me is the track that elicits the greatest emotional reaction from me. The song is an assault on the promises society made to him that weren’t kept. “Where are you now? Promises of forever. The Talk of future fable is all I’ve ever known.” It’s the angry rage of someone who’s followed the “right” path, made all the “right” choices. Someone who has followed the rules, done things as they were supposed to do…and they suddenly find themselves with nothing worthwhile, an empty existence. Now he’s doing his best to take back what he lost, or maybe what he never had. “Never lost hope, I found you, I found you now. My forever today, to stop the counting,” he yells as the song comes to a close. He’s sick of wasting his life waiting for a day that will never come. He wants to live in the here and now, before time runs out.

You can understand why, as a teen, this album had a huge impact on me. It still represents to me a great shift in my way of thinking. It was the record that encouraged me to think for myself, to develop a strong inner world of thoughts and emotions.

Ten Great Songs Of The Year

In no particular order:

Pygmy Lush- “It’s A Good Day To Hide”

Pains Of Being Pure At Heart- “Everything With You”

Bob Dylan- “Life Is Hard”

(not the complete song, some weird homemade clip of it)

Atlas Sound- “Quick Canal”

Girls- “Hellhole Ratrace”

Converge- “Wretched World”

Animal Collective- “My Girls”

Bat For Lashes- “Daniel”

Little Gold- “My Side Of The Bed”

can’t find the song on youtube, but believe me it’s good!

Bill Callahan- “Jim Cain”


20. Polar Bear Club- The Redder, The Better (2006)

I played a few sets of Bruce Springsteen songs in the summer of 2006, just me and my guitar. I wanted to play music where I was singing and playing guitar, but was too afraid to write my own music, so it made sense to live vicariously through someone who could do it better than I could.

Anyway, I got put on a show opening for Polar Bear Club at the Death Star house in Silver Spring, but I ended up just playing a few songs on the front lawn in between bands. For some reason I left as soon as my set was over, but I bought this CD right before I left. I listened to it through a few times, but it didn’t strike me too much at first. Over the next couple years, it grew on me more and more, until it became one of the first go to records on my list that I could play through from beginning to end and sing every word.

Of course, the fact that it was an EP of five songs helped. These were extremely catchy and heartfelt melodic punk songs in the vein of Small Brown Bike, Hot Water Music, and even the Getup Kids. Everything about it is tasteful, and before attempting to write more to fill out a full length, they quit while they’re ahead and give you a near perfect punk masterpiece. Perhaps they should have stuck with that concept, as their two attempts at writing follow up full lengths yielded a few decent songs but were otherwise rife with filler and forgettable tracks.

Nonetheless, this EP is a serious classic, full of relateable and heartfelt anthems of what most punk songs are about: losing friends, growing up, moving on, being alive. These guys were all lawyers and professors and had full time jobs but quit them to take Polar Bear Club fulltime, and that is inspiring in itself. In a way that is similar to greats like Bruce Springsteen, pursuing this band seems like it was a great risk for these guys, banking on a dream coming true, but their only choice was to follow it.

19. Gillian Welch- Soul Journey (2003)

In February of 2007, my friend Carra introduced me to the world of Gillian Welch when she invited me to a show of her performing with her musical partner, Dave Rawlings, as the Dave Rawlings Machine. It’s a world from where I have not since returned, and might never.

Most known for her contributions to the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack, Gillian Welch and her unspoken other half, Dave Rawlings have been at the top of the modern pack of singer/songwriters for over ten years now. This is her most recent release, which is quite unfortunate considering it is six years old. One of these days they better put out a new album. Though it is her third best out of her four records, there is no such thing as a bad Gillian Welch album, so it is still high on my list.

Taking from the classics, she doesn’t so much channel the greats here as much as she includes herself among them. Employing the subtle use of drums, electric organ, and even the electric rhythm guitar, she offers her own sort of “Highway 61 Revisited,” with the epic final track “Wrecking Ball” serving as a female version of “Like A Rolling Stone.” It’s her most rocking album, most fitting for a road trip through the deep south in the middle of summer.

A modern minor masterpiece of roots americana, this album is a central fixture in the folk revival movement of the last decade. No one around right now can do it quite live Gill and Dave can. Look for a new album sometime this year? Or get the recent Dave Rawlings Machine debut album, “Friend Of A Friend” (album of the year!) to tide you over!

18. Modern Life Is War- Witness (2005)

You’re from a small town in Iowa and life sucks. You’re from the suburbs of a large city on the east coast and life also sucks. You’re a young adult trying to make it alive in the city and life sucks too. And you don’t even feel like you have room to complain, cause somewhere someone’s life sucks way more. But still, no matter who you are, life sucks. Fortunately for you there’s Modern Life Is War’s stunning second album, Witness.

This record is a hardcore punk classic, a vindictive declaration of anger, of resistance against the overpowering forces in everyone’s lives. The band might not be able to stop or tear dawn the walls of depression, existentialism, poverty and powerlessness that they are faced with, but they can scream at them as loud they can so that others might hear. They do it in a original and tasteful way, too. Though they are tagged as a straightforward hardcore band, akin to the likes of Comeback Kid, they don’t play to the predictable tendencies of the genre. They almost completely forego breakdowns, never giving into the cheap and played out temptations of the the “jud jud jud WEE” world. They keep it simple musically, and leave plenty of room for the vocals, the centerpiece of the band, to take the lead.

Singer Jeffrey Eaton crafts some of the most personal, perceptive, intelligent and relateable lyrics of any hardcore singer around. “In this modern life, cheap and disconnected. Where there’s a siege going on, the besieged will be the last to know.” As with many song lyrics, it doesn’t sound like much without the chugging guitars and drums behind it, but his lyrics do cut deep into my soul. Through the dark times of the latter half of this decade, this album was a guiding light for me, telling me to keep my head up and keep moving down the narrowing path.

17. Interpol- Turn Off The Bright Lights (2002)

Interpol are the “coolest” band of the decade that was actually really good. Though most people just compare them to Joy Division, Interpol are a band on their own, channeling many of the gothic indie greats, from early Afghan Whigs to Echo And The Bunnymen. But they did it really damn well. Few other records recieved as much deserved hype, getting street acclaim as much as critical acclaim.

Through “Obstacle 1” and “Obstacle 2,” to the classics “PDA” and “Stella Was a Diver and she Was Always Down,” Singer Paul Banks does his best Ian Curtis impression, if Ian Curtis were a a sly and sexy hip new yorker living without a severe mental illness. The classic centerpiece “NYC” brings up instant nostalgia when the first chords hit. This record was big for me my senior year, after a lot of my closest friends had left for college. “It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights” seemed quite relevant to me at the time. I’m not even sure those are the right lyrics, but that’s what I thought he was saying at least. I felt on my own, with the sudden responsibility to find a new niche, a new life. It was the first time I had ever had to “start over again,” and though I’ve done that a few more times since and it gets easier, it was brutally tough, and this album helped me through that.

16. Twilight Singers- Blackberry Belle (2003)

Though some may view this statement as an utter travesty, I’ll go out and say it. Greg Dulli’s project The Twilight Singers far surpass his previous project, The Afghan Whigs, in nearly every way. Of course I’m saying this as someone who came of age this decade, and if I had been a young man when an album like Gentlemen came out I would decry such a statement.

I wouldn’t call the Afghan Whigs a totally accessible band, but I would certainly use the “a” word describe this work. A tribute album of sorts, this record was inspired by the death of Dulli’s director friend Ted Demme. Each track is a beautiful mixture of sound that takes as much from Marvin Gaye as it does from 90’s indie/alternative. Through each track, Dulli crafts a perfect sequence of songs that can be listened to easily from beginning to end before realizing what hit you. From classic “Teenage Wristband” to “Papillon,” this is one of those great albums where your favorite song on it will change according to whatever mood you’re in. And there are so many to choose from.

My dear friend Jacob Mazer was pretty obsessed with Greg Dulli in high school, which I couldn’t relate to at the time since I was in Saves The Day/Taking Back Sunday emo world. A few years down the road, when his next project, Powder Burns, came out and bowled me over, I gave this one a well deserved listen and it achieved the same affect. If you hear it and it doesn’t strike you at first, keep it around. It’s one of those albums that will hit you hard when you are ready to hear it.

15. Sun Kil Moon- April (2008)

Sun Kil Moon’s third album comes into your life much like the month it’s named after does. With a total welcome, revealing for you life as it is, was, and will be underneath the melting snow. This soundtrack to the thaw isn’t perfect, but few other records have hit me as hard as this one when it came out. Perhaps that’s because I first heard it a month before college graduation, a time in your life that just has that cinematic kind of quality to it, as everyone is getting ready to leave behind their friends and venture off into the world unknown. If that month or two of my life had been a movie, though a fairly boring movie, this would have certainly been the soundtrack.

Starting off with the long, drawn out open tuned crooning of “Lost Verses,” Kozelek starts off with the theme that will carry him through the record. Looking back and contemplating at things, people, places, events in his life he has forgotten to write down. He enacts the power of memory to recall these things, but of course ends up twisting the truths and re-creating the past as a result. This record, like Ghosts Of The Great Highway, is a late night lonely walk through memories, ghosts of lives past, things that could have been or should have been, and things that should have been kept but weren’t. And in the process of trying to get them back, these lost verses “steal our time.” He loses the present in trying to recall the past, forever leaving him in the cycle of longing and regret that make his albums so captivating.

The rest of the album follows through on the promises of “Lost Verses.” He employs a slow Neil Young four chord chug on the 7 minute “The Light” and the 10 minute “Tonight The Sky.” On “Moorestown” and “Unlit Hallway” he mourns the loss of lovers who seem like they could have really been the one, though how many songs has Kozelek had like this, and therefore how many muses? Guest vocals from Will Oldham on “Unlit Hallway” and “Like The River” prepare us for album centerpiece “Tonight In Bilbao,” a simple tale of traveling alone through Spain, but used as a metaphor for the greater journey of walking alone through life, not remembering where he had laid his head the night before. Kozelek is not necessarily a gifted lyricist. Sometimes it works, and sometimes his lyrics sound rather forced, like an english literature 101 class. Nevertheless, his lyrics work as a delivery for his deep croons, and convey the somber messages that his layers of guitar work already get across.

The album is a long, repetitive dirge of folk rock, that explores the positives and negatives, the ups and downs of his 70’s folk pantheon. It may dip into gloomy weather but it always brings you back to the middle at the end. It’s a transformative piece of art that, as I read in a review that put it perfectly, “paints where you are in a new light.” This record kept me coasting through 2008 and on. In a year that was full of transitions it was one of my only constants.

14. Godspeed You Black Emperor- Lift Your Skinny Fists (2000)

Of all the great “post rock” albums that came out this decade, Godspeed were one of the originators, the groundbreakers, the ones who created the paths that countless imitators would soon walk down. This album, a long symphony composed in four parts, encompasses all of the triumph and misery one encounters in life. The album is a transformative journey from these Canucks. Words can’t really express much more, just get this album if you don’t have it.

13. Gillian Welch- Time The Revelator (2001)

This, Gillian’s first album as producer is also her best. the album sounds like a dark and uplifting journey through the past, present and future of the great American south. While her first two albums, Revival and Hell Among The Yearlings, are modern folk classics, this is the album where the two start following the path that crossover visionaries like Bob Dylan had laid out before them at the Newport Folk Festival in 63. Though these songs live in the acoustic realm, they have the structure and feel of rock songs.

Welch and Rawlings turn out heartfelt, soothing folk ballads that work as well in a New York City living room in 1966 as they do on an empty dirt road in Tennessee in 2009. A major theme is, as the title suggests, time and how it changes you. Opening track “Revelator” and “Everything Is Free” concern the changing nature of a life of playing music. “Elvis Presley Blues” is the story of the king; he had it all and then he lost it. Then there’s the closing track “I Dream A Highway,” a 15 minute, four chord slowcore doozie that seems to take up half of any long road trip you might find yourself on. The refrain of “I dream a highway back to you” says it all. It’s for anyone who wishes there was some possible way to make it back to easier times, to that person who made you feel complete but went away for whatever reason. But there just isn’t, and all you’ve got left is this song and this album.

12. City Of Caterpillar- City Of Caterpillar (2002)

If there was one album for a depressing wintertime spent in D.C. as a teenager, trudging back and forth to stupid high school, it’s this one. Except it’s not a record for taking you out of your dismal state, it’s one for when all you wanna do is stay there. Members of other seminal Virginia punk bands like Pg.99, Darkest Hour and Majority Rule all took part in this band over time, crafting a depressing as hell punk album of hopeless dirges through darkness. Most of the songs on here exceed six minutes, and though they travel through many different lands on this journey, they all seems to be shrouded in permanent night.

Whether they are coming at you full throttle in a spastic hardcore part, or bashing empty 40oz bottles to keep the beat on a long and drawn out buildup, City Of Caterpillar crafted an intense piece of art that transcends the sum of its parts, like all good music must do. If Godspeed You! Black Emperor got together with a band like Orchid, it might have come off something like this. I got into them just in time for a rather sour period of my teenage years, picking the album up at the last Pg.99 show in May of 2003. That was a tough one for me, with major teen angst drama, but I had City Of Caterpillar to guide me through it. The music has worn out its welcome for me at this point, as it is hard to listen to without associating it with feelings that I’ve left behind, but I’ll always have the upmost respect for this DIY hardcore masterpiece.

11. At The Drive In- Relationship Of Command (2000)

Following the release of Relationship Of Command, Guitar World Magazine, better known for covering the latest news on Dream Theater and Jimmy Page, called At The Drive In the “future of punk rock.” As a young freshman in high school, the unwarranted and silly comparisons to Rage Against The Machine that friends had claimed for it caught my attention. Of course this disappointed since it was nothing like Rage, and left the CD to gather dust in my room for the next few years. Yet sometime in 2002, when I had grown a little more and my taste and awareness of music had as well, I got it out again, due to the advice of a dear friend to give it another listen. And well, it fucking ripped and is still one of the greatest punk albums of all time.

Relationship Of Command turned out to be the greatest album that Fugazi and Thursday never made together, a classic of punk and emocore. Supposedly one of the greatest live acts in history, my friend Jacob knew someone who followed this El Paso, TX group around for a whole summer because they just couldn’t get enough of the passion and chaotic fury of their live shows. The band followed in the footsteps of those D.C. forefathers and maintained strict punk ethics, calling down crowdsurfers and touring the house show circuit for many years before their breakout fame in 2000. This sudden surge in fame very likely led to their unraveling.

Most people know the story; In February of 2001, after achieving international acclaim, at the height of their popularity, At The Drive In unexpectedely broke up. At a big festival in Australia a month earlier, they left the stage in the middle of their set, in true Fugazi style, because fans would not heed their pleas to stop their violent slamdancing and moshing. Most people would probably frown upon such a high horse, pretentious move, but it turns out they were right; later that day at the festival, a teenage girl died from asphyxiation in a crowd surge during a Limp Bizkit set. I guess they realized that suddenly they had been lumped in with a terrible mainstream. Suddenly they had been lumped in with all the Korns, Limp Bizkits and Kid Rocks, with whom they shared the radio waves. Their music had become out of their control, as so often happens with bands that experience mega success (see, Nirvana) and I suppose they got out while they still had their dignity. Fortunately they left while they were on top. Every song on here is fantastic, from the burning opener “Arcarsenal” to MTV single “One Armed Scissor,” to the slow, melodic, quiet/loud dynamics of “Invalid Litter Dept.,” which was about the rampant murders and rapes that happen in the border town of Juarez.

I just read that there are rumors of a reunion in the next couple years. This is one of those bands that I definitely wouldn’t mind if they hopped on the reunion train. Here’s hoping!


30. The Max Levine Ensemble- Goes To Jail (2002)

For a few years at the beginning of the decade, The Max Levine Ensemble were one of my major reasons for being alive. I credit them with my first ever “punk show,” if you can call it that. My first band, Spoont, played three songs at a coffeehouse/open mic night at the Jewish Day School in Rockville in January of 2002. Later that night, The Max Levine Ensemble played a short set, and I can still recall how incredible it felt to watch them play. I felt run over by a bulldozer, a galloping stampede of wildebeast, and all it took were three chord pop punk songs. I was instantly thrust into a new world of music, meaning and friendships that I never knew had existed, from which i never returned, and never will most likely. This was music I had ownership over, made by people I could be friends with, and play shows with. And it was ten times better than any of the junk on the radio I had been listening to up until that point.

The show was followed soon by the release of this album, their second CD. Maybe it had already come out actually…but even if many early fans consider their first release their ultimate classic, it was this one that got the most rotation in my discman, perhaps cause it felt so present and urgent in my life at the time. This CD encapsulates high school for me in many ways. Rebellious, catchy anthems of youthful disillusionment, it perfectly sums up how it felt to be a teenager: stuck in a life where you desperately want to make your own choices, but you just can’t. So if you can’t change going to school and your parent and peer expectations, you change your outlook as best you can. This CD was what helped me do just that. Songs like “Conventional,” “Dittography,” and even the highly effective “Stop” (no one had ever told me not to eat at McDonald’s before) became part of me. Over the years, I’ve seen them probably fifty times, and even if my quasi-adult-ass self doesn’t respond to the music the same way I used to, I’ll always love The Max Levine Ensemble, and credit them with changing my life in a big way.

29. Q and Not U- Different Damage (2002)

I’ve been delaying writing these reviews for so long, so all I’m gonna say is HIGH SCHOOL. but in a good way, not in an excruciating, angsty Conor Oberst kind of way. Wait, I’m gonna say one more thing: GOT THE NERVE TO SING LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!

28. Des Ark- Loose Lips Sink Ships (2005)

Moving to North Carolina for college when I was 17 felt like a pretty unpredictable life decision, as the decision to go to college normally is. Local music was a huge part of my life as a teenager in D.C., but I didn’t know what kind of role it would play in my life in North Carolina. Perhaps a part of me still felt like it was a phase of some kind, something I might shed to be a part of the in crowd in school, a crowd that resigns itself to collegiate matters. I obviously didn’t know myself all too well…

I ended up discovering Des Ark in the spring of my freshman year, right around the time this album came out. Loud, bluesy, sexy, and all the while punk as fuck, I can’t really describe what this sounds like, except for awesome. Through my years in North Carolina, I saw Des Ark over a dozen times through different incarnations, from a two piece, to a three piece, to a solo act. She/they became my favorite North Carolina band, and I got the incredible opportunity to book them on several shows in Greensboro. The drummer on this record, Tim Herzog, left the band not too long after its release, causing songwriter Aimee Argote to go solo. This yielded incredible results, to which a friend of mine once described “Des Ark is the only band to ever lose a drummer and get ten times better.”

This collection of songs was in constant rotation at my old college radio station, WQFS, that spring. Unfortunately you couldn’t play the best tracks cause they were rife with cuss words, but there were still come choice tracks. It was heavy in content and passion, with lyrics that cut like a knife. It transcended genres and scenes, and ended up being certainly the best North Carolina release of the decade.

27. The Dismemberment Plan- Change (2001)

The seminal band of the D.C. 00’s indie scene, The Dismemberment Plan still hold up to this day as one of the greatest bands of the decade, period. By combining a variety of styles, the D Plan accomplished a pretty amazing thing: they took the “D.C. sound” and added layer upon layer to it. They took the post hardcore of D.C. bands like Fugazi and Jawbox and included R&B, new wave and dance into the mix. Few other bands could get a D.C. crowd to dance like the Plan, and retrospectively that may have even been their goal, considering what a judgmental and unforgiving crowd a D.C. one can be.

It took me a little while to get into this record, and it doesn’t hold a candle to their classic “The Emergency & I,” but it’s still a great work of art from a very important band in my life. Two of my best high school friends, Jacob and Daniel, showed me this record, and their shows still feel like frozen moments of euphoria to me. Now Travis Morrison, their frontman, is retired from music and lives in Brooklyn, and I am facebook friends with him. That’s about all I got.

26. Bright Eyes- Lifted… (2002)

This is going to be a hard one to write about, so I’ll keep it brief. To be quite honest I’ve got nothing more to say about this record than “high school.” I am sure you know what that means.

25. Pygmy Lush- Mount Hope (2008)

The byline for any media review of Pygmy Lush’s gorgeous “Mount Hope” usually goes something like this: “hardcore veterans of seminal punk band Pg.99 go soft and put out a record of all quiet acoustic songs! omg!” While it seems at first a bit of a headscratcher that the people responsible for crafting some of the early decade’s most abrasive and confrontational heavy music are the same ones responsible for some of the later decade’s most somber and wintery folk rock, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a seminal band make a near flawless trade in of electric guitars for acoustic ones (Nirvana, anyone?).

I read in an interview with Pygmy Lush that this is music they’ve always wanted to make, but haven’t been brave enough to try until now. The sound of this record is one that’s come only with age and experience, after thousands of miles have been logged in cramped touring vans. They’re following a path that many punks seem to follow as they get older; The need for quiet, the need for space, for reflection and introspection. It’s music for when the road weary tales of artists like Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan begin to make more sense to you than the angry punk of your youth. They’re driving down the same highways they’ve been on for years in their old bands, but they’re not the same people anymore. On Mount Hope, they’ve traded in their Born Against and Swans albums for Neil Young, for “Nebraska” style Bruce Springsteen. Fortunately this album is not an ultimatum of their future direction, as their follow up split with D.C.’s Turboslut would showcase they are nowhere near done with exploring more sonic possibilities of loud and abrasive punk music.

But don’t let the term “folk music” fool you, Pygmy Lush are more interested in expanding their sonic scope than they are in playing to genre limitations. Album centerpiece “Red Room Blues” begins with Neil Young and ends in Godspeed You Black Emperor, starting with a mellow acoustic chord progression and fading out with a four minute wash of soothing ambient drone. “Butch’s Dream” and “Concrete Mountain” dip into “freak folk,” sounding like Tom Waits or even Devendra Banhart. I read in the Give Me Back review that this album provides the perfect soundtrack to days spent wallowing face down in your hole. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Yet even with its distinct heir of melancholy, much like key influence Red House Painters, there is a transcendent power in the music, a lilting calm that makes things feel even a tiny bit better while the lazy repetitive strums of album closer “Tumor” fade out.

Pygmy Lush prove that artistic survival requires a shedding of the skin, the bravery to move forward into a dark unknown territory, and it challenges the listener to do the same in their own life. Mount Hope is one of the most surprising stories of the decade, inspiring proof that every person has untapped caverns of selfhood and expression within them.

24. Modest Mouse- The Moon And Anarctica (2000)

One of the first in the decade’s crop of indie bands to get big, this was Modest Mouse’s major label debut. Even though they’ve become huge over the course of the decade, even scoring a #1 Billboard album, they’re still a great band with great songs, and this album is chock full of them.

The sound here is more refined, a bit prettier and definitely more accessible, yet in a way that still built on their sound and moved it forward. They shed their grungier, post punk side a bit, yet all the while, made an album that amounts to a 70 minute rumination on the meaning of life, death and the afterlife. It accomplishes what their first few albums were able to get done, in being a perfect companion to a lonely trip, perhaps a long drive for somebody with nothing to talk about. This is Isaac Brock’s older, wiser, more seasoned theory on the way the universe is, from a creation theory (album opener “3rd Planet”) to the drawing of a cosmic map (“The Stars Are Projectors”), to where…the dark center of the universe is? (“The Dark Center Of The Universe”) You don’t need me to tell you anymore, but don’t let their popularity keep you from remembering what a great record this is. Maybe the best major label release of the decade?

23. Sun Kil Moon- Ghosts Of The Great Highway (2003)

The “road trip” album is a personalized kind of genre. Most indie rock kids who’ve taken a family car to college have a number of records that they are likely to pop in during the first few hours of the trip home, or the trip away from home (whether that’s college or the house you grew up in…). Even though I was very into this record during my college years, it never became a road trip constant, for reasons I can’t remember. It’s a shame, because this is one of the very best collection of songs from one of the most underrated songwriters of our time. It’s an album that colors every passing lane divider, every mile surpassed, with a personalized narrative.

Mark Kozelek, the voice behind Sun Kil Moon and his former band Red House Painters, is a strange pick to have a cult following across this country and others, but he has a fairly rabid one. First and Second pressings of his records get snatched up instantly, his rare concert appearances are played to guarantee sell out crowds. Perhaps because he keeps a pretty low profile, he always seems to leave his fans wanting more.

This is his first record behind the Sun Kil Moon moniker. The songs are decidely more concise and move swifter than any of his work with Red House Painters. It’s the sound of an artist hitting his stride, accumulating the tools to achieve a grand artistic vision years in the making. Kozelek traverses every mood here, all the while bound together with a common theme: nostalgia and the past, which makes the album title so incredibly fitting. Whether it’s lost loves, memories long gone, or the life journies of deceased boxers (for whom several of the tracks are named after), the album is the soundtrack to a ghost tour of sorts. However, it’s not one of those hokey ghost tours you do in a town’s historic district, led by some guy in a top hat holding a lantern: no, it’s an inner tour of your own ghosts, some of which you’d rather lay to rest. Dreams of paths not taken, the passing of time, people and faces long gone, empty roads no longer traveled down. The songs bring you back to all the bars, houses, and patches of grass you used to inhabit that seem a million miles ago. The lyrics are ambiguous and unintelligible enough that the listener can include their own ghosts.

The music calls to mind for most listeners a modern day Neil Young, whether it’s the grungey, rocking “Salvador Sanchez” or the dreary, minor opus “Duk Koo Kim.” Present also are heavy influences from artists more likely found in thrift store bins than in your local indie record store, artists like Cat Stevens or James Taylor. It’s enough to make you realize you actually think “Fire & Rain” is one of your favorite songs. Kozelek has never shied away from his love of classic rock (his album of AC/DC covers, the Red House Painters song “Golden” which is a tribute to John Denver). My new roomate, Diana, told me a story in which she met him at a friend of a friend’s house and he played them a whole set of Def Leppard covers. This album is the result of someone who has massively succeeded in crafting his own unique aesthetic, a niche that can’t be easily copied or rehashed by thousands of wannabe songwriters. Trust me, I’ve tried! A modern folk masterpiece.

22. Sigur Ros- Takk (2005)

When I spent the fall of 2005 in Beijing, I was pretty much starving for new music. I had stocked up on a few new records just before I left, knowing I would have limited access to new music when I was over there. Some of those records clicked and some didn’t, and all I had that was really working for me was the Red Sparowes album, which I reviewed in a previous update. That record worked for me phenomenally in a very existentialist way, providing a great soundtrack to how small and insignificant I felt in such a vast, foreign place. But after spending a couple months there, I felt a lot more comfortable and had managed to carve out a tiny niche. I had made good friends, felt more at home there, and was reveling in the weirdness and absurdity of my life all the way across the world from everything I knew and loved. I wanted something a bit more, well, transcendentalist I suppose. When my family came to visit and spend ten days with me, my mother brought me this album.

If I had been living back in North Carolina when I heard it, it might not have sounded so damn magical, but because I had lived for a couple months as far removed from my comfort zone as I have ever been, I remember just being in silent awe when I put this on for the first time after my family left. I can think of few other records that I had as strong a reaction to the very first time I heard it. The music is kind of like tofu, in that it acquires the taste of whatever you cook with it. The record paints wherever you are in a new light. Even if it might not be the outright best Sigur Ros album, it has the most personal significance to me.

Years later, two days before college graduation, when a couple tornadoes touched down in Greensboro, a few friends and I drove out of town to go see the wreckage, and while driving around late at night and contemplating how our lives at the time seemed like some coming of age movie, we put this record on, and it provided us with the perfect soundtrack. If you’re one of those people who likes to think of your life as if it’s some melodramatic movie, then you might consider this record for the opening and closing credits.

21. Yo La Tengo- And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)

In my sophomore of high school, there was a new a girl in the year above me named Gabriela. I believe her parents were from Spain. Either way, she had a unique fashion sense and a foreign accent, which was enough to make her stand out from the crowd at my high school, a somewhat elite D.C. private school where morning meetings looked like ads for Ralph Lauren and class attendance sheets read like a social networking site for the offspring of famous politicians. It didn’t take a long conversation with her to find out she was very passionate about music. So was I, so I figured we would have a lot to talk about! Except we didn’t seem to have any bands in common. At the time I thought good music meant bands like Incubus or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Maybe she could tell that I was in dire need of a good music education, or maybe she was just super nice, but either way she agreed to burn me a couple CD’s and bring them to school. The next day she handed me two CD’s, Pavement’s Brighten The Corners and Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.

Pavement’s accessible indie rock sounded familiar and likeable (the album turned into one of my alltime favorites, and my favorite Pavement record), but Yo La Tengo’s music didn’t sound like it was supposed to be made anymore. I went out and picked up their other album I could find (at the old DCCD…oh how i miss that place), and over the years it would prove to be my favorite of theirs. The album is a grower, not revealing itself entirely at first. Rather it builds on you overtime, and now when I listen to it as a 23 year old, it sounds shockingly full, every song having grown more personally relevant and more beautiful through the years. The songs move at a very slow pace, painting a dreamy, near sleep inducing piece of art, though not sleepy in a boring way, but rather in a calming and lilting way. You can put it on and before you know it, it’s over, like one of those naps you don’t intend to take yet you wake up from an hour later.

“Our Way To Fall” is an indie rock wedding song, while “Saturday” and “The Last Days Of Disco” make for two of the better slow, hypnotic numbers on the album. “Tears Are In Your Eyes” made for a great high school angst “everything sucks and i hate being a fucking teenager” kind of song. The upbeat numbers “Cherry Chapstick” and “Madeline” remind me of being driven around the city in the backseat of a car, marveling at the freedom of being out with your friends, even if this record was probably never playing when that happened (more likely it was Taking Back Sunday). Then of course there’s album closer “Night Falls Over Hoboken,” a 17 minute, slow urban folk ballad that somehow encapsulates the feeling of industrial north jersey into a single song. I could keep listing all the great songs on here, but I’ll stop there and encourage you to check this one out for yourself.


35. Murder By Death- Like The Exorcist But More Breakdancing (2003)

Flashback to the fall of 2002, a little band called Little Joe Gould came through Washington D.C. to play a show at WMUC studios at the University Of Maryland, with The Chase and Off Minor, and they damn near burned the house down. Quite literally, in fact, as the band turned off all the lights and lit their cymbals on fire at the beginning of the set. Oh, pre-Great White in Rhode Island days…They were one of the most powerful touring bands to come through D.C. in some time, considering what a buzz they put on all attendees at the show. Of course I wouldn’t really know, as instead of being there, my high school emo band was playing a show that same night at the Electric Maid in Takoma Park. Either way, the drummer of one of the bands I was in got his hands on their tape, and we would end up listening to it all the time that fall.

Soon after this record came out, they changed their name to Murder By Death, and continued on their path. At the time they may have been one of the more innovative bands I had heard. Perfect for late night drives, some tracks have a brooding, gothic darkness to them, while some are rife with wistful, light and breezy nostalgia. “I’m Afraid Of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” still has the power to take me right back to the time and place when I was first listening to this record, the sign of a lasting, important, vital work of art. Complete with a cello player, they must have had a big influence on fellow midwesterners Cursive, who along with bands like Interpol, Lucero and the Weakerthans ended up taking them on tour. They continued to put out new records and are still a band I believe, but nothing they’ve put out since has compared with the destructive beauty of this album.

34. Explosions In The Sky- Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever (2001)

This decade, Explosions In The Sky ended up being the definitive band of the “post rock” sound, not so much because they deserved it, but more due to the exposure that the “Friday Night Lights” soundtrack brought them. Yes, every time you tune in to the hit TV show or watch the critically acclaimed 2004 film, you can hear the solemn guitar lines and rising crescendos and cymbal crashes that make a strangely fitting soundtrack for stories about a high school football team in Texas. Explosions made a devoted following of obsessive fans by essentially applying the Nirvana approach to the Post Rock sound, honed and pioneered by bands like The Mercury Program.

This may be their most groundbreaking record, their sophomore album, yet miles high above their debut How Strange, Innocence. Accompanied with a riveting album cover depiction of the Angel Of Mons (a folktale from World War One, where an angel was said to be seen halting advancing soldiers from attacking each other), the songs are a soundtrack to introspection, where the listener fills in the gaps left open by the absence of vocals with their own life experience. This album features my favorite song by this band, “The Moon Is Down.” A record that will bring things out of you that may have been buried for a long time.

33. Death Cab For Cutie-The Photo Album (2001)

Even though Ben Gibbard is known more for The Postal Service and the last three Death Cab albums, this record is undoubtedly the best thing he’s ever put out. Written before Gibbard assumed the crown as the spokesperson of the Garden State generation, this captures some kind of emotional lightning in a bottle. This is total high school, a record I listened to relentlessly, while driving to school with my friend Peter.

The cool thing about Billboard 100 picking up indie bands this decade is that it caught many of them several albums into their career. Thus bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab For Cutie had several opportunities to make urgent records that weren’t yet in the spotlight. Though this wasn’t quite the album that broke them, it was the one that brought them to the edge.

Here, Gibbard builds on his everytwentysomethingman status, crafting even more stories of heartbreak, loss and failed relationships, but also countering it with more upbeat tales of life lived in the present moment that every young indie rocker yearns to relate to. Gibbard finds a way to extract beautiful moments out of even inanimate objects, by crafting an indie rock fashion statement with “I don’t mind the weather/I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters/I’ve got long johns under slacks for blustery days.”

Whether it’s memories of laughing in a living room with old friends (album highlight “We Laugh Indoors”), or smoking a cigarette on a porch (classic opener “Steadier Footing”), he finds the subtleties in our lives, and memories of those lives, and romanticizes the fuck out of them. That’s his simple equation, and it works every time. Anyone who’s ever had a livejournal or read “Perks Of Being a Wallflower” when they were sixteen can’t help but love Death Cab For Cutie, and though history may look back and talk more about Transatlanticism or “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” most longtime fans know this is their career best.

32. M.I.A- Kala (2007)

In the summer of 2008, I had just graduated from school in North Carolina and had gone home for a few weeks, waiting around to head to New Mexico for the summer to work at a summer camp out there. Just when the weather started getting warmer, I saw that M.I.A. was planning a concert at the McCarren Park pool in June. Immediately I began planning a post-graduation meetup in New York with friends Anna, Kate and Shaina for what was sure to be the show of the year. The concert did not dissapoint. In retrospect, it seemed to define the time and place in which it took place. M.I.A.’s music has the mass pop appeal of Jay-Z or even Beyonce, but wields the raw punk power of The Clash or The Stooges. The undeniable accessibility of her music means she can reach a huge population, but the powerful social and political messages in her music are still present. In that way she’s kind of like the trojan horse, coming into attack and destroy everything banal about pop music. In much the same way that Nirvana did when Nevermind came out, M.I.A. had the power to reach the people who were consuming it for its face value, and the people who really got it. But who knows, maybe the internet has destroyed any such distinction in our generation.

During the show, she invited all the ladies onstage to dance to “Jimmy” and a few other album highlights, much to the dismay of the security and NYPD that were there. But with the music blaring and nearly a hundred ladies getting their freak on to one of the catchiest beats of the year, there was nothing they could do to stop the inertia created by the combination of the music and the people reacting to it. For a moment, it seemed that pop music could save the world. It was clear that the powers of authority can’t hold a candle to the potential energy that urgent music can create.

31. Rachel Jacobs- Mechanical Kid (2003)

DIY singer/songwriters of this caliber only come around so often. As a sheltered 17 year old, I always thought the label of “singer/songwriter” seemed distant, far off, something that seemed inaccessible to me. Most of my friends were in punk and hardcore bands, and that was all that registered on my radar at the time. I saw her at a show with Stop It!! and Tiny Hawks (retrospectively one of the best shows ever!) and was surprised at how much it spoke to me. I picked up this CD (which came in a brown paper bag) and played it through and through for years to come.

Speaking to the power that one person with a chair, an acoustic guitar, and a set of vocal chords can hold, here was music that seemed to combine a little bit of Neil Young, a little of Team Dresch, and certainly some Nirvana (not that I was able to make those connections at the time). Rachel Jacob’s songs were honest, raw, and certainly confessional. Her lyrics sent shockwaves down my spine. Exploring the classic singer/songwriter pantheon of self-deprecation, regret, bitterness, severe bouts of depression and reflections on youth, she added even more layers as a female artist who wasn’t afraid to include gender issues in her subject matter. She wasn’t afraid to say anything, and she always seemed to go there.

In “Melissa’s Song” she sees herself as a jaded twentysomething who wonders where the punk inspiration of her youth has gone. In the chilling, three chord conclusion “Hobby Hunting Is A Full Time Job,” depression is a sickness that can’t be shaken and nothing that ever held importance matters anymore. “Productive Vampires” is a catch-all anthem of feeling like a total fuck up. Her lyrics don’t leave much to ambiguity, as she pretty much says exactly what she means in each song. Yet, with each track there is the underlying mystery of “why?” that isn’t really explained. After listening enough, it becomes clear that there is no why, only how, and the how is fairly self evident here.

I speak in the past tense only because she hasn’t put out anything in quite a while, or played any shows as far as I know. She moved to D.C. for a little while now she lives back in New York City. We got to become kind of friends in the time that she lived around here, which must have been weird for her because I was a pretty dumb 18-19 year old at the time. All the same, she is one of the most genuine, nicest people I have ever met. I can think of few artists that I have personally known who I have admired more than Rachel Jacobs. I hope she is not done putting out music.


40. Grouper-Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008)

When I was doing my best of 2008 countdown, I found this album on a couple year end lists and liked the description, yet hadn’t heard it. All I have to hear is the phrase “drenched in reverb” to give something a listen. What I found was one of those records that feels like it fills a perfect role in your collection. Perhaps if Enya and Tara Jane O’neill got together to make a record, it would sound like this. The person behind Grouper is Liz Harris, one lady from Portland who has released several albums already this decade. While most of her other work was more free form ambient drone, this is her first album that seems to resemble that an actual song structure is at play, and the results are astounding. Whistful, ghostly voices emanating from layers and layers of somber guitar strums, the music sounds as if it’s calling to you from a deep, watery grave. When the weather started changing for the worse a few weeks ago, this was all I wanted to listen to for days. It will continue to be like that for years to come, since no other record is as satisfying to cold, reclusive introspection as this one.

39. Converge-Jane Doe (2002)

Perhaps the most abrasive album of the decade, or at least the one heard by the most people, Jane Doe belongs in some kind of hall of fame of heavy music. Taking the hardcore/punk/metal extremities they began wielding in the 90’s, Converge built on their artistic sensibilities, bringing dark melodies and extended slow metal a la Neurosis into the fold. The result is a stunning work of art that brought a lot of new fans to heavy music when it came out. Now at Converge shows, you can see hardcore kids moshing side by side with hipster and indie kids. They hit hard on tracks like “Concubine,” “The Broken Vow,” “Bitter and Then Some,” and slow it down several notches with hypnotizing psych metal tracks like “Phoenix In Flames” and “Jane Doe.” This is the beginning of a sound they would hone throughout the decade, one in which Converge have outlasted most of their peers to remain one of the very best hardcore bands in the world.

38. Explosions In The Sky-All The Sudden I Miss Everyone (2007)

I’ll talk more about the sound that this band honed throughout the decade in later reviews, since believe me, more of their albums are to come on this list. But for now let’s just focus on this record, their most recent. Casual listeners may think it’s just another formulaic post rock album. You have your quiet parts, and then it builds up…and then it gets LOUD, and the music explodes into a quasi orgasmic release of tension that results in a modest catharsis for listeners. Here, the songs are drearier, almost quieter, slightly more abstract, with an existentialist tone at play, only reinforced by the stunning album artwork. There is a definite tone of introverted feelings at play. If the triumphant, cathartic release of 2003’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was the sound of Explosions finding meaning in life, this is the sound of them losing it again. The album name and song titles are seemingly taken from lines in famous works of art like John Cassavettes films, Holden Caufield’s The Catcher In The Rye, and even John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It goes to show that Explosions were trying to explore some deep themes of the human condition here, with song titles like “It’s Natural To Be Afraid,” “What Do You Go Home To?” and “So Long, Lonesome.” This record is Explosions great attempt to sift through the meaning of loss, loneliness, fear, and mortality. Rather than using words to set the mood, the music conveys the tone. You wouldn’t get a very good sense of the record from listening to a track here and there; unlike their other albums, there are no real standout tracks, no “hits.” the album functions as a whole, and nothing less. it’s meant to be experienced from beginning to end, in order to really get it.

37. Red Sparowes-At The Soundless Dawn… (2005)

I might have never enjoyed this album had it not been so damn appropriate to the phase of life I was in when I first heard it. In August of 2005, I was getting ready to spend a semester abroad in Beijing, China, a somewhat impulsive decision that was more about escaping my life than anything else. I was looking for new music to take with me, since there weren’t going to be any great record stores over there. I decided to buy this record from this post rock supergroup, comprised of members of Isis and Neurosis. Their songs seemed to follow the post rock formula, with certain departures (their songs maintain a pretty steady pace and rhythm, plus an abundant use of the pedal steel). Strangely, it’s the content of these songs that drove them home for me.

The song titles inform you that the main motif at play is the inevitability of human extinction if we continue destroying the planet at the pace we’re working at. How appropriate, considering I suddenly found myself in the world epicenter of earthly decay, the grossly polluted and vastly sprawling city of Beijing. The first morning I woke up in my dorm room there, I could not see buildings across the street due to the smog. On certain days, the sun was a glowing orb in the sky as opposed to a shiny beacon of light, as the smog was blocking the light from shining through. I got the worst cough I’ve ever had, and had it for two months of my time there. The city seemed to go on forever, the landscape a never-ending repetition of faceless tall buildings that could be built in just a few months time. Trash filled the streets, while car exhaust filled your lungs and the sound of traffic filled your ears. This album seemed to paint perfectly what I was experiencing at the time, not only by describing my strange and bizarre physical surroundings, but also by providing the soundtrack to the isolation and out-of-place-ness I felt being just an 18 year old in a sprawling mega city, on the other side of the fucking planet from my home. I would walk down to the market, walk to a neighboring park, take a taxi downtown to Tianamen Square, with these existentialist, brooding tunes in my ear. It was also the album that helped me come to accept Beijing, as a new experience, a new place, an adventure, a phase of my life that proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

36. Envy-A Dead Sinking Story (2003)

For maybe a year or more, this was probably my favorite album by my favorite band. Japan’s Envy seemed like the best band in history back between 2003 and 2005. I guess I had never heard music that sounded as powerful, emotional, tragic and uplifting all at once.

It’s hard to put into words how powerful this band can really be, even if my interest in them and this kind of music has waned through the years. With three guitars relentlessly tearing your heartstrings apart, and vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa taking his crown as perhaps the most passionate “screamo” vocalist to ever hold a microphone, Envy convey the raw depths of the human experience, even if you can’t understand anything he’s talking about (all vocals are in Japanese).

This album was a constant through my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. I got the incredible privilege to see their first ever appearance in North America, at the Warehouse Next Door in Washington D.C. No concert has ever surpassed my already sky high expectations like this one did. Envy would go on to explore more post rock terrain, and sound like a hardcore version of Explosions In The Sky, but it’s this record that serves as a stepping stone from their hardcore days into their hazy hardcore ambience. Envy will always be the best screamo band of all time, and few people would argue with that.