45. Joanna Newsom-Ys (2006)
This album did for the harp what The Beatles did for the guitar. Well, who knows, but what is for sure is nothing else quite so remarkable as this album came out this decade. Who the hell knows what genre this falls under, what kind of music this is. It doesn’t matter. While both of Joanna Newsom’s full length albums are something to be marveled at, the massive, larger than life feel of this particular one stays with me more than “The Milk Eyed Mender.” Through five songs and more than an hour of music, you enter another world you’ve likely never been to.
Except for the awkward and uncomfortable second track, “Monkey and Bear,” each one of these tracks is a masterpiece of introspective, in your room alone late night music. The centerpiece of the record remains the 16 minute plus opus “Only Skin,” featuring guest vocals from Bill Callahan which nearly steal the show. Then there’s the all too short yet appropriate closing track “Cosmia,” where she ends this journey by yelping “And I miss your precious heart.” Simple words that strike deep into my soul every time I hear them. Not to mention that anyone who can get a guy who worked on the composition for “Pet Sounds” (Van Dyke Parks) and a guy who produced “In Utero” (Steve Albini) to work on the same project must be doing something right. Lastly, probably my favorite packaging of any LP that I own!
44. Sun Kil Moon-Tiny Cities (2005)
Most people would kill me for putting this on my list, but the truth is, fuck the haters. In a way, I feel pretty silly loving this album as much as I do. Mark Kozelek, one of the most consistently dreary, provocative and talented songwriters of the last two decades, goes to town on this one, putting out a whole album of Modest Mouse covers. Although you can hardly call them covers, since each song sounds like Kozelek wrote it himself, with barely a trace of Isaac Brock’s artistic eccentricities that make Modest Mouse so unique. They are more reimaginings, with Kozelek taking Brock’s white trash philosophy on the universe and setting them to the gorgeous, shimmery, and easily digestible folky melodies he is known for pulling out so efficiently. In doing so, he brings out a certain poignancy and sadness present in Brock’s lyrics that is not always readily decipherable when listening to Modest Mouse. Kozelek succeeds not in reproducing already brilliant songs, but in making them into his own interpretations, occasionally surpassing the artistic impact of the original (“Ocean Breathes Salty,” “Space Travel Is Boring”).
While some tracks are throwaways, his track selection here is his strength. Rather than covering the “hits,” he goes for lesser known songs and breathes new life into them, making for an achingly beautiful album of melancholy folk songs that even Modest Mouse fans might mistake for original pieces if they didn’t know what they were listening to. I suppose I have a personal attachment to the album as well, since Kozelek’s 90’s group Red House Painters and Modest Mouse were both bands that i found out about and got into while at summer camp in New Mexico. It’s the perfect amalgamation to bring up instant feelings of being in a seemingly perfect place. It’s this album that helps me revisit that place even when I’m thousands of miles away.
43. Broken Social Scene-You Forgot It In People (2002)
One of the best concerts I saw all decade was Broken Social Scene at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC in the fall of 2006. Surprising, since I had only ever been a passive fan. Their concerts have a feeling similar to what christians at those big megachurches must feel. There are almost as many people onstage as there are in the crowd. Well not literally, but it sure looks crowded up there, with over then members playing a variety of instruments.
While there are layers and layers of melody and music going on in each track, all in all it’s a pretty simple pop album. The thing is that they do it exactly right, never missing a chance to make any given moment that perfect moment on the record. They aimed pretty high on this record, and they succeeded. Tracks like “Cause=Time” and “Lover’s Spit” will keep me warm when I’m old and cold. A pretty classic, and downright influential, album of the indieverse, this is one of those records that was responsible for bringing independent music into the mainstream, uh, not so independent world of pop culture in the last decade.
42. Death Cab For Cutie-We Have The Facts And Are Voting Yes (2000)
A solid freshman year dorm room constant, this is the record where death cab were still trying to get out of the basement, and it’s pretty fascinating to listen to this and think about how far they’ve come. Before they were the darlings of The OC, they were a bunch of twentysomethings like you and me, with a whole host of bitter breakups and unfortunate “emo” male entitlement to boot. That youth certainly comes through on this record, and is part of what makes it such a great album, with raw, angry and edgy songwriting giving the songs real life. It’s clear they made it before they knew anyone was listening.
Ben Gibbard is the quintessential everyliberalartscollegegraduateman storyteller of the decade, using his occasionally unbearable full sentence phrasing to spin relateable tales of alcoholic summers, early twentysomething unemployment, false flings disguised as promising relationships, your ex-girlfriend marrying some douchebag, etc. Still, when you’re in the right mood for this record, it hits you harder than you might expect. I’ve always thought of Death Cab as a band that tries pretty hard, as the Lit Rock tendencies of Gibbard’s lyrics kind of make him seem like a bit of an egomaniac. When listening to it now though, it just sounds like a very simple, lo fi indie rock band fronted by a guy who likes to read a lot of books. “Title Track,” “Lowell, MA,” and “Company Calls” are some of their greatest songs to date.
41. Malady-Malady (2004)
In 2004, in the wake of the demise of the powerhouse Virginia bands Pg.99 and City Of Caterpillar, avid fans eagerly awaited news of the many rumored sequel bands, all rife with tags like “ex-pg.99” and “ex-COC.” Malady was one of those bands. I don’t remember when I first learned of their existence, but it was exciting since I and my friends had been turned onto the aforementioned bands at the tail end of their time, and their end left us craving more. This was a a band led by pg.99 vocalist Chris Taylor and COC guitarist Jeff Kane. Here, Taylor traded in his high pitched screamo shrieks for a low, grungy snarl and Jeff Kane traded in his Godspeed worship guitar buildups for a more melodic Nirvana. The songs were shorter, less chaotic and more arranged, yet somehow they seemed just as powerful as their punk rock pedigree.
The influences were less predictable for a band whose members just got done making some of the most abrasive music in the world. Taking from decades of punk, indie, and alternative, you could hear Rites Of Spring, Pavement, and even some Archers Of Loaf in there. The tasteful melodic interplay of the guitar work on this album is some of the decade’s best, and had a huge influence on me as a guitar player. After this 8 song beast of an album came out, a U.S. tour in support of Japan’s legendary Envy followed, yet suddenly they were gone almost as quickly as they arrived, breaking up with no explanation. A flickering footnote in a decade of amazing music, this band packed a lot of power and like so many of their contemporaries, ended far before their time was up.