BEST OF THE DECADE: 40-36

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.

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