I distinctly remember sitting with my mother in our living room in Taipei in late 1979 listening to the top 40 songs countdown of the 1970's. I was amazed at how great "Bridge Over Troubled Water" sounded at #2 and how truly awful it was that "You Light up My Life" beat it out for the #1 song of that decade. That was back when pop songs still had some remnant of art in them, and the top 40 still had some meaning.
I have since realized how phenomenal the 1970's were for music and I have also since then loved looking over and listening to lists of top songs or albums for each passing decade. So to commemorate another great decade in music, I decided to make my own list.
Bear in mind that I am not a rock mogul with a team of reviewers sifting through hundreds of albums issued over the past 10 years. Putting this list together has actually made me realize just how much music I missed, as it has made my "Must Buy CD" list grow immensely. I am sure this list will continue to grow and change as I get an opportunity to listen to albums on other people's lists.
Here is it, enjoy and please comment!
20. D'Angelo - Voodoo
This album is just so smooth. I could definitely do without the occasional dirty word, which is probably why there aren't more rap albums on this list, but they can be overlooked to get at the heart of this great effort.
19. John Legend - Get Uplifted
A very apropos title indeed! Uplifting, joyful, soulful and often danceable. Highly recommended. The highlight is "I Can Change".
18. Nikka Costa - Pebble to a Pearl
This is a solid effort all the way through. Earthy, funky, jazzy and amazingly soulful, this veteran singer has outdone even herself. The highlight is the enigmatic "Bullets in the Sky".
17. Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Gorgeous and lush. Intelligent lyrics, a great story. The only remnant of prog rock on this list and worth every minute.
16. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
This album mixes experimental sounds with pop quite attractively. Beautiful and challenging through and through.
15. The National - Boxer
A beautifully contemplative album. Everything here is rich - the voice, the jangly guitar, horns and the piano. I can't bring myself to not synch it to my Ipod despite having listened to it far too many times. It may take a few listens to grow on you, but it will. The highlight here is "Start a War".
14. Beth Orton - Daybreaker
Contemplative and thoroughly pleasing. This album is just full of great songs, one after the other. Again, nothing rocks here as anybody familiar with her work will tell you, and that is just fine with me. This is a very personal record fueled by the passing of her mother. This is the best folk music the '00 decade has to offer. The highlight here is "Paris Train".
13. Minus the Bear - Menos el Oso
I have to quote Mark Prindle to give you a good idea about this album: "An absolute 10, Menos El Oso features the band's strongest production, most memorable melodies, most diverse guitarwork and most passable synth lines yet. The axemen are of course still all over the 'interplay' tip, but instead of relying on the old "tapping vs. arpeggiating" gag, they're coming up with strange, bizarre chord conglomerations and note combinations, then mixing them with weird rhythmic guitar noises -- backwards high-pitched 'fweets!,' speed-manipulated call-and-response licks, insanely high plucked passages that sound like electronic pulses, sick bendy chords created either by tremelo bar abuse or infinite delay silliness, purposely ugly too-high-on-the-neck picking of palm-muted strings and lots of just odd-sounding guitar sounds created by fiddling around with the knobs on the delay pedal. This isn't random fooling around though; these are extremely smart and disciplined guitarists manipulating their equipment to compose and perfect sad, dark songs that sound unlike any you've ever heard before."
A collection of fantastic songs. The highlight here is "Hooray".
12. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
This is a brilliant debut album from these British post-punk, indie rock band. This is fast and funky, and so innovative that many were saying this this album really reinvented the rock sound from the ground up. Worth every minute.
11. Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior
I just can't understand why this is not on any of the top albums of the decade lists I have read so far. As always, the writing is impeccable as is his guitar work. "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is the most scathing and intelligent commentary on the war in Iraq from any artist. Literate and challenging, this adds to his legendary collection of albums.
10. New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
The name of the band and the cover of this album are meant to throw off the light of heart, not to represent the music. I am usually not much of a power pop fan, but this is the best power pop album ever issued bar none. This music is just really fun and catchy and just gives me faith in pop music again, not that any of these songs would ever get played on a pop radio station, heaven forbid! The highlight here is "Mass Romantic".
9. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
This is such a revolutionary sound that it just can't be adequately explained in words. This isn't exactly electronic music because it is so melodious, but it isn't exactly rock either. This has a lot of base, a lot of beat and most of all an absolutely incredible use of vocal harmonies, not seen since "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys so many years ago. They go 'round and 'round and the sound just engulfs you completely until you lose track of time and become one with the sound. An absolute masterpiece. The highlight here is "Bluish".
8. Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple
Unlike anything you have heard before, this album will make you laugh and sit up and think. This has rap and dance influences, not to mention just about any other genre you can think of, all wrapped into a brilliantly warped package. The highlight here is one of the top 5 songs of the decade: "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"
7. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Whispy, simply folkish, graceful and fun, this is an excellent listen. Consistently great, this deserves a place on all of the end of the decade lists without any doubt.
6. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,
TVOTR is one of the most creative and exciting bands making music today. I really enjoyed "Return to Cookie Mountain" but this is more accessible and better. It is a dark album, with multi-layer production and heavy, polyrhythmic beats. The horn section adds real grit to the mix. The lyrics are beautiful too, but I keep going back to this album because the songs are incredibly catchy. People categorize this as indie rock just because it can't fit into any other category; it bends genres better than any other this decade. The highlight here is "Red Dress".
5. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
Ignore the messenger, and a good portion of the message and just get caught up in the music and the stunning vocal delivery. This is an absolutely brilliant soul album from start to finish like none other released this decade. Soul, that is, with a punk attitude. It has such an authentic sound, both because Winehouse understands the genre perfectly and because she writes from the hip. "Back to Black" is a perfect example, and the highlight here.
4. Arcade Fire - Funeral
This is pretty much on top of everybody's end of the decade lists for a very good reason. I have read reviews about this album that I haven't seen for anything since "Sgt. Pepper", basically saying that it is a perfect album. One commentary that really caught my attention was that it was really the last attempt by an indie rock band to make a cohesive album in the traditional sense of a thematic story line that connects the effort like a book. One reviewer describes this music as "near-cinematic, folk-influenced chamber pop" which gives an accurate idea of how this sounds.
Apart from all of the hype, this is an undeniably a great album. Every song builds up to an emotional crescendo that is focused on enjoying life, and encouraging listeners to waste no time in following their dreams.
3. Radiohead - Kid A
Abandoning straight ahead rock to create panoramic electronic soundscapes threw all fans for a loop, until we got it. This is an absolutely sublime opening to the new century, foreshadowing the direction rock will probably take over the next few decades. This is deliberate, often eerie, pulsating and utterly creative. There is no better vocal delivery on any album this decade as Mr. Yorke's vocals perfectly enhance the music. The highlight here is one of the best songs ever: "The National Anthem".
2. Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun
I cannot get enough of this album. Topping the list of albums released in a new genre called Nusoul, this is just about as soulful, jazzy and funky as albums come. Most of the disc is smooth soul with Badu's voice just rolling over delicate rhythms, luring you into her personal space she creates through the music. The highlight here is "Bag Lady".
1. Los Lobos - The Town & the City
The album from this decade that I keep going back to is The Town and the City by Los Lobos. I was turned on to this through a review by Dave Marsh in the Rock Rap Confidential who said that it is a harrowing first-hand account of illegal immigration. It is impeccably arranged, features lyrics that are as authentic as they are poetic (hold on, hold on to every breath, and if I make it to the sunlight, I'll do it all over again) and is firmly grounded in the best roots rock tradition. I am eternally amazed that these guys aren't much more widely known than they are. The highlight here is "The Town".