Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Millenium (and the also rans)

One hand clutching a sword raised to the sky
They wonder how, they wonder why
The sky turns white it all becomes clear
They felt lifted from their fears
They shed tears in the light
--The Streets

This is by no means an authoritative list, and is not meant to be an outline of the greatest albums (ie: best by critical acclaim) necessarily, but my own personal review of the albums that shaped my millenium. They are not listed in any particular order, other than by year.

1. Renegades - Rage Against the Machine (2000). Generally, cover albums are done by bands ready to break up and Rage was no exception. Before they did disband, they released a work of holdover pre-millenial tension and raised one more defiant fist against the man, paying homage to their heroes, stretching from the Rolling Stones to Cypress Hill. After a listen of this album you could never hear any of the original songs the same way. For me, this album represented the last great fusion of rap and metal before the Los Angeles created sound (starting with the RHCP) flaked out with Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and assorted dimwitted friends killing the now dormant genre.

Close seconds 2000: Lost Souls - Doves

2. Vespertine - Bjork (2001). This album was released in the summer of 2001, but was definitely in the tradition of Scandinavian-based winter soundtracks. For me, it represented the dark period after 9/11 when it was clear that the west would be at war for an extended period. Songs like Coccoon and Pagan Poetry were a hyper-modern escape from reality. Even now, it seems like Bjork had extended a hand into the vast oceans of time of the future to bring us back something unique. Legend has it, she created the album at the top of snowcreseted mountain in Iceland.

Close seconds- 2001: "Is this It? - The Strokes.

3. Original Pirate Material - The Streets (2002). The Streets, aka Mike Skinner, was just a wee raver lad during the nineties, bringing his influences into modern hip hop. With one song, "Has it come to this?", he launched British grime out of Brixton and onto an international stage with wit, honesty, and chopped up, laptop-screwed beats that define a raw debut album. The intro, "Turn the Page" mocks the boring US gangsta rap era at its twilight and explicitly states he will not be following the lead of aping his North American cousins. It was the dawn of a new era.

Close seconds- 2002: "Veni Vedi Viscious" - The Hives

4. Hail to the Thief - Radiohead (2003). At the turn of the millenium, Radiohead were widely regarded as the kings of pop for Kid A and Amnesiac. By 2003, their focus was dead set on George W. Bush, with anti-war music subtlely implying that the Lilluputians of "Go To Sleep" should attempt to hold down the sleeping American Gulliver. It was an album full of imagery, intelligence and candor.

Close seconds- 2003: "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" - OutKast

5. College Dropout - Kanye West (2004). Before Kanye West (aka: Gayfish) became the biggest douchebag on earth, Kanye changed Hip Hop, clearing a path for conscientious hip hop of Talib, the Roots (as much as they cleared a path for West), Common, Kid Cudi and Lupe Fiasco. While Kanye's rap skills were lacking, his production and lyrical skills in terms of originality and content were a shot across the stagnant pond of Hip Hop (exceptions of course), which was navel-gazing at this point. The album starts off with "If this is your first time hearing this/You about to experience/something so cold", and from that point it became a journey, an autobiography and a triumph.

Close seconds- 2004: "Boy in da Corner" - Dizzee Rascal

6. Silent Alarm - Bloc Party (2005). I knew the first time I heard the first bars of "Helicopter" that Bloc Party were going to be band I had to know. Like most of the English imports during the millenium they never quite made the jump over the pond, but their jet engine beats coupled with the unapologetically English vocals and caffeine infused guitar riffs became timeless.

Close seconds- 2005: "Hot Fuss" - The Killers

7. Pieces of the People We Love - The Rapture (2006). The Rapture was often compared to U2 because of the ultra-fast strum style that permeated the guitar work, but beyond that, the Rapture had staked out their own style. The Rapture used humour, touches of New Order dance sensibility, and call-and-response hip hop techniques to craft an album that stands out in my mind as a defining work of the year.

Close seconds- 2006: "Show Your Bones" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

8. Untrue - Burial (2007). The first time I heard this album it was late at night, and I was listening to my iPod as I fell asleep. The album came on, and I listened. And re-listened. And I stayed up most of the night listening to this masterpiece. Burial had taken the soundtrack of night, laced it with the percussion of flicking lighters and dropped coins, and vocals that switched in an instant from female to male, warping the perception of the songs in an instant.

Close seconds- 2007: "Kala" - M.I.A.

9. In Ghost Colours - Cut/Copy (2008). Cut/Copy exuded ballsyness in releasing an album like "In Ghost Colours" which would have been a smash hit in 1990, and would have made them the world's biggest band. They cheerfully updated the Happy Monday's English dance rock, post-rave influence and went full-throttle with an album that is self-confident and brimming with melodies that stay with you long afterwards. A DJ favourite, "Hearts on Fire" will bring a smile to your face with the ancient and overused-at-the-time cliche dance sample.

Close seconds- 2008: "Tha Carter III" - Lil' Wayne

10. Yesterday and Today - The Field (2009). The Swedish techno master's follow up to the critically acclaimed "From Here We Go Sublime" was an album focused on musical texture, creating long-sequenced soundscapes that build element on element. The first time I heard "I Have the Moon" was as I traversed an artic ridge during a beautiful clear day at -35C. It was pure magic, and the album remains on heavy play.

Close seconds- 2009: "Post - Nothing" - The Japandroids

Other albums that defined my decade but did not appear on the list include:

- Coldplay's "X&Y", which I first heard while relaxing on a deck from a beach in Thailand. The opening notes of "Square One" inevitably lead me back to the same state of mind at that one day.

- God's Son - Nas. I first really listened to this album while at top volume from an apartment overlooking Kashihara, in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Nas' "Made You Look" was and remains real hip hop.

- "Takk - Sigur Ros".

- Franz Ferdinand (self-titled debut)

- Up the Bracket - The Libertines

- Rooty - Basement Jaxx

- Nordic Light Hotel - The Field

- The Bravery (Self-titled Debut)

- Push the Button - The Chemical Brothers

- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

- Justice - Cross

- Feed the Animals - Girl Talk

- The Inhuman Condition - Sam Roberts

- LCD Soundsystem (self-titled debut)

- Loyal to the Game - 2pac

- Elephant - The White Stripes

- Highly Evolved - The Vines

- Our Love to Admire - Interpol

- Demon Days - Gorillaz

- TI vs. TIP - TI

- A Grand Don't Come For Free - The Streets

- West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian

- Crystal Castles (Self-Titled Debut)

- In Rainbows - Radiohead

- Medulla - Bjork

- 24 Hour Party People - Soundtrack

- Yoshimi Battles... - The Flaming Lips

- The Black Album - Jay Z

Interpol's "Mammoth"

No comments: