Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Records of 2009

2009 was a year of songs, not albums. Well, that's not true. There were some amazing, gamechanging records that came out this year, but only a couple. Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear etc are being fawned over but if you subtract those mammoths from all the top ten lists you've read this year the pickins are a little slim. Basically, this feels like 2006 all over again (I could only think of five albums for a list that year). However, if trends re-occur, 2010 will be another 2007, which I'll call the best year in music of the decade.

The forthcoming songs list will have probably 100 songs, because there were a lot of spotty records this year, and there were a lot of samey records this year, but there were a lot of records that had one or two drop dead amazing jams. That list will maybe come a little later today.

This list is based on the amount of obsession I poured into each album. The ranking is based mostly on how often I listened to these albums in my car rather than an esoteric merit system. Flat out, these are my favorite records of 2009 because they're the ones I couldn't get over. Some of them are flawed and some of them might be technically better than others, but these are my picks. The ones I'd want to drive me home.

Now, honorable mentions. I was going to make a Top 25 but decided that I didn't really spend enough time with these records and they would have just been filler. I really should have, because these records are really, really good. They just haven't completely revealed themselves to me yet. I'm waiting, and I'm sure it'll happen in the next six months.

Honorable Mentions
The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

I think this album has some pretty glaring flaws ("Heart Like a Kick Drum" being at the well, heart of it). Rick Rubin seems to have neutered their off the cuff style a bit, but about half the songs shine through that because they're just so fucking good. "Slight Figure of Speech," "January Wedding," and the title track kill me, and this record introduced me to music that the new and improved adult me likes (when the rough and touble youth me would have scoffed at).

Drakkar Sauna – 20009

Need to get more into this one. It's the first Drakkar Sauna I've given any attention. Amazing lines abound on this weirdo space opera.

Andrew Jackson Jihad – Can't Maintain

Fuckkkkkkkk yessssssss. Folk punk at its finest. Really nice to see that someone picked up the mantle of Against Me! when Tom Gabel and crew decided to sell out and make really bland records.

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

This album is just too daunting for me to undertake right now. I know it's good because Yo La Tengo hasn't released a bad album this decade, and the few songs I've really latched on to have been massive jams. But, I don't feel confident putting it on the list just yet.

Cass McCombs – Catacombs

Again, another album I took in a sort of piecemeal fashion. "You Saved my Life," "Dreams-Come-True Girl," and "The Executioner's Song" almost made me put this on the list, but I refrained. I just got this record on vinyl for xmas because I feel that will be the best way to explore its nooks and crannies.

The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come

It is well known that I am an acolyte of John Darnielle. This record though, this one took a while for me to get into. When it came out, I instinctively bought it on vinyl at Love Garden. I'd just traded stuff in for credit when I saw the sticker: Limited to 777, 2XLP, purple vinyl. I had to have it. It's gotten better, but I still can't shake something about it that I can't quite get into. Maybe it's the melodies not being up to par or falling a little flat sometimes, but when he hits, he strikes gold.


20. The Thermals – Now We Can See
Spring and Summertime (for god and country)

The logical follow-up to their masterful The Body, The Blood, The Machine, this picks up right where the last one left off. It's the same band (they never seem to change much, but fuck it, their formula is one of the best in modern indie-rock), but they've somehow managed to come up with another batch of infinitely listenable punky pop jams. It's life-affirming, in a way. But all the Thermals albums are life-affirming to me. They're a shoe in any year.

19. A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
January (at home, for KJHK and for myself)

I panned this one when I reviewed it for KJ. After that, I found myself listening to it constantly and felt really bad about panning it and planned on re-reviewing it. I never did. This is my apology of Carl, because this is a really terrific record. It was the album's final track that did me in though, and the time period when I heard it. It was mid January, I was alone, I'd just cut off my ex-girlfriend forever in an attempt to move on and I met my current girlfriend, all within a 2 week period. “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” was my song for Jenny, that warm day in January at the beach when I decided that I would continue pursuing her by being charming as hell despite her sort of dumping me a week after we'd been pseudo-dating. Opening track “There May Be Ten or Twelve” is another surefire hit, as are the mid-album jams “The Palace at 4AM” and “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer.”

18. Modest Mouse – No One's First and You're Next
November-December (at work, for the kiddos)

I don't know why I'm not obsessed with Modest Mouse. I should be, and I remember buying Good News for People Who Love Bad News the day it came out. At Best Buy. Through all their making themselves more accessible and having their songs on Kidz Bop (the compilations where popular songs are sung by atonal children), they are STILL so fucking good. They haven't really made a bad album despite the major label and the newfound fame. Granted, they've never made something as dense as The Moon & Antarctica, but it doesn't matter. Their latest EP is a fun collection of jams that just shows Isaac Brock and co have no intent of not being awesome or watering down their sound. “Sattelite Skin” is a pure winner, and, well shit, they're all good. I've been listening to this one a lot at work and wondering how Brock does it. He should have started sucking years ago.

17. Cursive – Mama, I'm Swollen
November-December (at work, for my inner film-school drunk)

Cursive dropped off my radar after The Ugly Organ. I love Tim Kasher's side project The Good Life, but Cursive just got too aggro for me or something, too dark maybe. The only reason I even listened to this was because it came into the store and I was like “Shit, why not?” and it's really been blowing me away. I play it pretty much every day and wonder why I stopped listening to Cursive because Tim Kasher is just as good a songwriter as he's always been. The title track is pretty fucking amazing, too.

16. Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Summer (for my 18 year old self)

Wanted to hate this because I for some reason thought the bass and drums indie rock should have died with DFA1979. But I was wrong. I thought this was bland at first and then it grew on me, that seems to be a reoccuring trend. Records that sound kind of samey that just end up being subtle. “The Boys are Leaving Town” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire” were ultimate Summer jams.

15. Califone – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
September-October (for my aging hipster)

This record is all over the place, and that quality is ultimately what made it infinitely listenable this year. I'm constantly amazed that they opened this record with “Giving Away the Bride,” probably the worst track they could have opened with of only because it's one of the more difficult tracks on the record. It's the longest track though, and it's cold, electro folk with an industrial vibe to it. It's a jam though, and there's a hook to it that sucks you, eases you into the record. On track 2, the excellent “Polish Girls,” they're back to being Califone at their rootsy best and by the time they get to jawdropping pseudo-title track “Funeral Singers,” it's all over. That is, at that point I completely give myself over to Tim Rutli and co for the next 10 tracks on this pseudo-soundtrack.

14. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
Autumn (for my beard-rock fix)

Bazan's best album since Control. An ultimate testament to losing your faith and being a recovering alcoholic.

13. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Winter-Spring (for my experimental-pop jones)

Originally a lock for album of the year, I got pretty bored with Dave Longstreth's warble after a while. Except on “Useful Chamber,” because that song is the m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-i-n-g JAM. I'd just keep skipping to that when rocking this in the car.

12. Transmittens – Our Dreams
Spring (for my friends and bandmates who are much more talented than me and make me work harder)

This is technically Transmittens' first legitimate CD. I play in a band with them, so this is naturally biased, but they were my favorite band in Lawrence before we ever played together so it's OK. It's just perfect pop and they'll never go anywhere unless someone scoops them up because they really just want to make amazingly good pop songs in their bedroom.

11. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
January-Early February (for the perfect medium of accessibility and great leap forward)

This was in my car when Jenny and I had our first kiss. I specifically put on “Summertime Clothes” because I thought it would be romantic. And it was freezing cold. And I really, really, really wanted to kiss her. I kind of got sick of the record around Valentine's Day and while it's deserving of all the praise that's been heaped upon dirty laundry to a basket in the corner of a room, I never really TOTALLY lost my shit over it. Although, I will say, the first time I listened to it all the way through was pretty amazing. A burnt CD in my stereo with big headphones and completely stoned. One of my top 5 music moments of 2009!

10. The Antlers – Hospice
December (for my concept album jones and infinite sad bastard)

Don't know why I didn't listen to this when it came out...or even before it came out. I'm pretty sure Nick Dormer told me to listen to this and he is never, ever wrong about a record. It's a real goddamned gorgeous piece of work. On first listen I thought it was another bombastic indie rock record. Then a few weeks ago I gave it another shot after it placed highly on a bunch of year end lists (hence, my argument for lists). In the past few months I've learned to appreciate subtlety in addition to learning to be more open minded with records after casually dismissing albums after one minutes during my three year tenure on music staff at KJ. So I let this one work me over, and now it's the only thing I have listened to on my macbook in a week. The only new music I listen to is either whatever CD I've got in the car stereo during my commute that ISN'T the Strokes This is It and this Antlers record when I get home and before bed. It reminds me of the lyrical excellence vocal lines of Okkervil River tied to the bombast of Arcade Fire, who always manage to make songs that are epic and intimate at the same time. Hospice is intimate to the point of discomfort. It's a record about watching someone die of bone cancer, and yeah, shit gets sad but it's never depressing or sad-bastardy. Anyway, this just surprised the hell out of me and I needed it to make the top ten because I know this is going to be huge in the early part of 2010 and I don't want to make the same mistake I did with Titus Andronicus, who didn't make my list last year and totally ruled the early part of this year and are left...list less.

9. Islands – Vapours
August (for my 17 year old self and look how far you've come, Nick Diamonds!)

“I've seen some great things but I don't want to see anything if I can't see you,” Nick Thorburn sings on “Tender Torture.” It's the best song on the record, and subject matter wise, it's completely different from anything he's done up til now. Gone is the creepy death stuff that's been a recurring theme in his songwriting since the Unicorns. It bogged down Arm's Way, and it was good that he stepped back, stripped his band down and put out a synth-heavy pop record. It's pretty fantastic, and definitely more cohesive than Islands' debut LP Return to the Sea.

8. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
February-April, June-July (for experiencing every molecule of joy capable of pop music)

I don't know why I ever tried to hate Phoenix. I did, at first, even after seeing the video for “Long Distance Call” on MTV some late night. It didn't last long though, because I got really into that song (but never the album it was on, for some odd reason). So, when this came out, and I saw it was so awesomely titled, I got kind of excited. Then I heard “Lizstomania” and I was fucked. It's got this pure, unadulterated bliss that's absent from almost all mainstream pop these days. That dancing alone in your bedroom, rocking your head from side to side while bobbing your knees up and down. “1901” is the other obvious jam, but the real brilliance of this record lies in it's back half, which is effectively every song that follows the two mammoth jams that lead off the record. It's almost ballsy, like Phoenix saying “Hey, check out these totally awesome singles and THEN realize that this is a perfectly cohesive record.” This record should be huge. Honestly, after nearly a year with this album my favorite track is the sorta slow jam “Rome.” Mostly because it it completely perfect in every single way. Everything so thought out, so precise and, well, perfect. There's this longing there that never ever becomes sentimentalism, there's sadness that never bogs you down. It's a heavy heart sort of feeling, a regret tinged with the necessity to move along. It's representative of a year that had two camps duking it out: the organized, meticulous pop of groups like Phoenix, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent, etc vs. the rough and tumble neo-psych-garage-lo-fi-distortion of groups like the Smith Westerns and every band with “Girls” in their band name that are not, ironically, the band Girls. Phoenix make it sound fun though, classic even. Every time I listen to this I feel extra stupid for not trying to weasel my way into the FREE show they played at the Record Bar this summer. Stupid me.

7. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young
October-December (for my dumbass punk rock ideals in high school)

I never listened to the Strokes, ever. Well, that's a lie, I liked the singles, but mostly I wrote them off in high school because I was punk rock and they were a bunch of rich kids. Only recently have I realized that those rich kids made a couple of really fucking incredible records that I'm only now learning to love. I listen to Room on Fire at least three times a day when I'm working at CD Tradepost and I'm still not sick of it. As with this, the debut solo LP from frontman Julian Casablancas. Unlike his bandmates solo records, this one is actually really good. It's a bit uneven (two songs in the middle really drag), but there are five tracks that could easily be in my top ten songs of the year.

6. Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy
September-October (for being the most badass record of 2009 and one that all these shit-wave bands should aspire to)

I listened to this on my way to get fired from First Management. I'd spoken out of turn, essentially, by leaving a note for one of my managers that asked to please not craft her instructions in an insulting manner that treated me like an idiot. They called me in to can me. So, I pumped opening track “Hunchback” to get my swagger up. It's got a blusey, boozy sort of drawl to it. Like staggering into a room with sunglasses covering up a black eye, a cigarette hanging out of the mouth, a vague recollection of the previous nights events. I stayed in the car til the song was over, got out, and face what can only be described as something that didn't really matter. My hours had been cut to six a week and I absolutely hated the business practices of the company, so when they fired me over something so small (although to them it was big, I stuck up for myself and thus did not know my place at the bottom of the food chain) I didn't really care. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked Malia, my favorite boss, as the new girl, the bitch Jackie sat there like a goddamned deer in the head lights. Surprised I'd been so brash. I asked if they knew what it felt like to get phased out of a job, to get hired for a week in the summer and then just get your hours cut til you were expected to quit, and how the insulting weekend instructions didn't help. The only clumsy part was getting my keys off the key ring and throwing them on the table, but I did tell them to get bent. All thanks to Kurt Vile!

5. Why? - Eskimo Snow
Late July - October (for every miserable moment in the last three years and moving on)

I don't know why but everyone seemed to hate this record. It's no Elephant Eyelash or Alopecia, but it is a fitting end to a trilogy of albums. I guess it does have a kind of Return of the Jedi vibe to it. Shit, this trilogy is set up like Star Wars come to think of it. Elephant Eyelash is like A New Hope, a shockingly good record that kind of came out of nowhere, featuring Wolf toning down the hip-hop in favor of rock and pop song structures. Alopecia is The Empire Strikes Back, the masterpiece that everyone can agree is the best of the series. Eskimo Snow is, as I said, Jedi. There are no ewoks, but it does lack the emotional gravitas of the first two because it's trying a little too hard to give you the emotional gravitas. Still, I couldn't stop listening to this record.

4. Girls – Album
August - September (for living life the way you see fit)

Album is a pretty appropriate title, because every song sounds like it's from a different album. It's a mish-mash of styles all thrown together to make one of the most unique documents of 2009. From that opening chord on “Lust for Life” it just never lets up, it's like a journey to the end of the night. Songs full of heartbreak and an aching longing to just fucking LIVE. Basically, this record is one of the few times I will ever justify the use of drugs. This was my summer jam, and sadly, it came at the end of the summer.

3. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
October-December (for old haunts and tradition)

This one took me a while to get into because I was so convinced Random Spirit Lover was perfect. This is a different record, this time utilizing a full band recording live as a unit opposed to segmenting everything down track by track. It sneaks up on you. It's full of incredible lines that just hook you, stop you in your tracks. Spencer Krug just keeps getting better, and while I can't tell if this is better than Random Spirit Lover or not, I do think it's much more focused. It's trimmed down, more bare, and the songs are epic but incredibly personal and affecting. I listen to this album when I need something to put on that's comfortable.

2. St. Vincent – Actor
April - May (for buttoned-up adventure brimming with excitement and delivered with grace)

Annie Clark is so fucking good at what she does. I get lost in this album. I wonder how she can be a real person, having deftly crafted such an extraordinarily cohesive record. I seem to remember listening to this on drives to Miracle Video. I think on multiple occasions. If I had to pick a best record of the year, this would probably be it. It's artful, but it's fun. It's buttoned up but it also knows when to show a little skin.

1. Rooftop Vigilantes – Carrot Atlas
January-April (for local music that destroys the "it's good, for local music" adage, and for the immensely talented people who live in my postal district)

The best record out of Lawrence since, well fuck, I don't even know. Things were really boring for a while after the Get Up Kids and the Anniversary broke up. Two scenes were formed, Range Life and Chomp Womp. While the latter seemed to cling to the ideals of local music past, Chomp Womp was devoted to pushing past that to an obnoxious degree. Then there was Rooftop Vigilantes, a band composed of members of other bands I thought were OK. Somehow, they formed the best band in the whole fucking area. Every time I listen to a local record for the Pitch I compare it to Carrot Atlas and if it is anywhere near as fucking good as Carrot Atlas is. This year, no other local records even came close. It's a record full of energy, enthusiasm, ideas and a way of co-opting the turns of bands past and making them sound original (unlike most bands who just tend to rip another band off and hammer away at it until it's dead dead dead). Zach is the Bob Pollard to Oscar's Tobin Sprout and they effectively made the last great GBV record...if GBV were from Lawrence and drank PBR instead of whatever lite beer was on tap. And was younger and were goofier. And I fucking hate the Lawrence music scene now. It's become this weird, out of control thing that I can't even grasp EXCEPT for Rooftop Vigilantes, who are effectively the only Lawrence band (other than Transmittens) who would be able to coax me out of my apartment and three blocks down to the Replay to see a show. And fuck, “Copper is Free.” The fact that someone I know wrote a song that fucking great amazes me and gives me hope. Why can't EVERY one of my friends write a song that good? Clearly, it's possible.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Favorite Records of the Decade: 25-1

It's kind of a weird experience, plotting out the records that affected you the most from the last ten years. Some self-reflective bullshit. For me, this decade was defined by a growing obsession with music that started right before or around 9/11. I'd just started high school and lost a bunch of weight and was excited about EVERYTHING. I started writing for a punk rock website in 2002 and ended up interviewing to be music editor at the Pitch in 2009. I had no intention of bullshitting about music becoming a full-time thing, or something that I could use to support myself (if only a little bit). Anyway, these are the top 25. I don't know if they're the best records or not, value judgments like that are a pain in the ass, but they're the 25 that have stuck with me and that I expect will stick with me for a while.

25. The Postal Service – Give Up
SubPop, 2003

If there's one thing I learned from this stupid, stupid decade, it was to take my goddamned guard down. I spent a couple of years trying to be so so cool and downplaying my love for certain records despite listening to them constantly. For instance, when the Postal Service became the toast of every girl who finally realized if she got a different haircut and bought some t-shirts she could be the coolest girl in school, well, I stopped professing my love for Ben Gibbard's crowning achievement of the 00s. His songwriting hasn't really returned to this level of excellence, probably because he's trying too hard. Here it seems non-chalant. Some fun project between friends and despite the fact that the music here is full of things to explore, it still feels like a one-off that was one of those rare collaborations that is just perfect. Jimmy Tamborello, I should add, has never been as on as he is here. Rumors of the Postal Service's sophomore album float around the internet, but I get the most excited when Gibbard says there's not going to be one. There shouldn't be, unless it's for a nasty cash grab. Anyway, Owl City already tried to make a follow-up to this record and really only proved that he was a child who could absolutely not run with the big dogs, assuming Tamborello and Gibbard are big dogs, which after hearing that fucking godawful Owl City single, they are. Oh how far we've fallen!

24. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
Secretly Canadian, 2007

I tell Jenny that if I could have a boyfriend, it would be Jens Lekman. I know he would treat me good, buy my dinner, hold the door for me, etc. Jens pretty much revamped twee pop for the modern age and I don't even think he was trying. Bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been trying to do the same thing but they're trying too hard and sounding way too much like their predecessors to move anything forward. Lekman, on the other hand, just croons songs full of sweetness and whimsy and makes you fall in love with him via his irresistible charm. I mean, the guy's backing band is composed of BEAUTIFUL SWEDISH WOMEN. How cool is that? He put out three goddamned amazing records in the 00s and this one was the most cohesive, the most ambitious, and had the most staying power. Although, I will say I listen to his other two records on a regular basis as well, equally as much as this one, but this one feels like the masterpiece. I mean, anyone who can write a song about getting a haircut and make it profound is a genius, right? Right.

23. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
Matador, 2005

This soundtracked the months after I got back from LA in Summer of 2005. Lots of driving around looking for jobs, lots of driving North on I-35, and just lots of listening to this driving around looking for something to do. It's been a record that reoccurs, and the New Pornographers record I always cite as my favorite (it's a tough call). It's the one where AC Newman really spreads his wings and flies like a mighty Canadian eagle (or heron or something, whatever they have up there that's majestic as hell). I mean, the utter grandeur of “The Bleeding Heart Show” is the reason Jenny and I are dating. Our mutual love of that led me to make her a New Pornographers mix AFTER she said she didn't want to date me and ultimately led to us going out. That's a personal reason I love this record. On a rock chump music critic level it's just a fucking outstanding pop record, and one that puts all the haters in their place. To the haters who say pop music can't be art, fuck you, listen to these hooks! Listen to the cohesion of three amazing artists who pretty much rule in their own right (Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar aka Destroyer) and watch them turn into some indie-pop Transformer and do whatever a Transformer does (I really have no idea, something about Decepticons, I don't know).

22. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – The Tyranny of Distance
Lookout, 2002

My ultimate road trip record. There's some sort of forward motion going on on this record that I can't quite explain. Something about “Parallel or Together” that makes me think of the highway and freedom. While I haven't necessarily liked Leo's most recent, punk-leaning records as much as this or Hearts of Oak, I still think he's probably the coolest dude in indie rock. Effectively, the heir to Malkmus' throne. It's hard to believe that this is Ted's first real solo record (disregarding the fucking weird batshit experimental record as tej leo), and that he was able to so completely hit the mark. I mean, have you HEARD “Timorous Me”? To not have heard that song is to not have lived! It's pure bliss, especially when those handclaps come in after the Thin Lizzy build-up. Here's hoping that Matador doesn't fold in the early 10s given that Ted has had incredibly bad luck with labels (in that the label he's on tends to fold and he signs to another label, which also folds).

21. Why? - Alopecia
Anticon, 2008

Why?: My favorite discovery of the 00s. If only because it was random. Dormer said I should go to his show at the Jackpot when he was touring in support of this record and I went and sat at the bar with him watching the show on the screen, completely dumbstruck. Indie-rock-pop-hop-whatever, trying to tag it gets in the way of enjoying Yoni Wolf's knack for writing songs that make me feel like I need to take a shower, with all of that raw brutal honesty and all.

20. Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Matador, 2001

I don't know whether or not this is their best record, but it's the Yo La Tengo record I've spent the most time with. It's the most perfect late-summer record I can think of, listened to mostly in the evenings with the exception of “Cherry Chapstick” which is perfect for sunsets on hot days. It's amazing how much of a feel-good record this is despite how sad it is sometimes. Or maybe not sad, but just a little maudlin. Or maybe not maudlin, just down-tempo, relaxing, quiet. And then there's their cover of George McCrae's “You Can Have it All” which has landed on many a mix-CD in my time. Though the band later released and album titled I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (that album was awesome) and every album they released in the 00s was great (Summer Sun haters be damned), this is the best one, natch.

19. Jim Guthrie – Now, More Than Ever
Three Gut, 2003

Why Jim Guthrie has yet to record a follow up to this goddamned spectacular record is beyond me. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this record and when I saw three copies of it at the Love Garden 50 cent sale, I bought two of them because, well, one might get broken and even though I could burn a copy like I've been doing for the past five years, it's nice to have a back-up. Someone told me that Jim is Woody Guthrie's grandson, and while I can neither confirm or deny this, I can say if it's so, he's inherited some damned fine songwriting genes. This is the record I want everyone to hear. The one I want you to bittorrent because you've probably never heard it. And I don't mean that in a Professor Tibbetts “you've probably never seen this which means I'm better than you way.” I mean it in a this is a pretty out of left field record. One that I pry would have skipped over if I saw it in a bin with a hundred other records. It's a record I'll make you a copy of because I'm sure you'll love it. Or not, I don't know. Maybe it's just me, and that's why this record seems to get perpetually overlooked. But how can you listen to the absolutely transcendent “The Evangelist” and not be moved? Especially when you've got someone like Owen Pallett on your record, who not only had a successful decade with his own project Final Fantasy, but contributed string arrangements for some of the hottest bands of the 00s (Notably contributing to both Arcade Fire albums, Grizzly Bear's Yellow House, the Mountain Goats, Beirut, Fucked Up, and the fucking Pet Shop Boys. Homeboy's versatile as hell). But Jim Guthrie, holy shit, I can't believe I haven't grown tired of this record. I listened to it one the way home from work today and realized that I'd forgotten to put it on the list, which would have just been unbearable so I had to make room. Anyway, this one'll hit ya if you give it a chance.

18. Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls
Too Pure, 2007

A sleeper hit if there ever was one, No Shouts, No Calls is the final album from the all-girl British band primarily known for their instrumetnal work. Adding vocals to the mix though, seriously, fucking brings the house down. It's like Kraut-pop or something, and not in a Hasselhoff way. In a totally fucking accessible and not 18 minutes long like Can way (no offense, Can, I get bored though). I never get bored with this, and I always chill out. These are chill out jams! They're mellow, somber, and fucking sonically adventurous without ever feeling bloated or pretentious. They're currently on an indefinite hiatus and I hope they come out of it soon, because they really realized their full potential here. If not though, there really isn't a better record to go out on.

17. Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
Fat Cat, 2008

I thought this was boring too. This is another record that I really, really liked the year it came out and have since become obsessed with it. There was a whole fortnight where this was all that was in my car stereo and I started analyzing it. I see it as the Wrens Meadowlands meets Scotland, which means misery, a brogue, and a lot of talk about fucking. It's really amazing, the Scottish and their fucking. Arab Strap, Ballboy, and though they're not Scottish, Los Campesinos! (Wales! Close! (Though they're actually British). Anyway, I picked up a promo of this at the Love Garden 50 cent sale and have listened to it once a day pretty much since. I appreciate that the album's hottest jams are buried in the back half which ultimately ends up making the record worth listening to all the way through every time. On top of that it's a goddamned amazing break-up record (another trend on this list) and I wish I listened to this more during the misery that was 2008. Frightened Rabbit would've made good company.

16. Girls – Album
True Panther, 2009

A burst of fresh air in a year where every hot new band either sounded like a million other bands cobbled together or sounded completely non-descript minus one awesome song. Girls were a weird exception, because their album draws from nothing but influences yet it was one of the most original and fresh sounding records of '09. It's not flawless, but it's REALLY close. The thing about the influences is that it's never specific bands, but movements, sub-genres, and basically sounds like whatever the fuck Christopher Owens felt like writing and recording at any given moment. Perfect classic pop on the utterly amazing “Lust for Life,” shoegaze on “Morning Light,” greaser rock n' roll on “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker,” and that girl-group drum beat on “Ghost Mouth.” Then there's the oddball tunes, the ones that don't really fit with anything I can think of. “Hellhole Ratrace,” for instance, is just so positively brilliant because it sounds so incredibly familiar yet I can't put my finger on what it sounds like other than “Hellhole Ratrace” by Girls. It's honest. It's real. It's a record whose producer is a handful of pills, a bagful of pot, and god knows what else and it's a fucking magnificent record with a short attention span that HAS to have a short attention span. Or doesn't. It doesn't really matter, it's just, goddamnit. There's something very, very classic about the way Owens writes his songs. Every b-side sounds even MORE classic. I don't know, it feels honest, and though the dudes in the band seem a bit shady it doesn't even matter.

15. The Strokes – Is This It?/Room on Fire
RCA, 2001/ RCA, 2003

I never listened to these records all the way through until about three months ago. I'm a stupid asshole for writing them off because of their clothes and their rich parents. Fuck that shit. Yes, they are priveleged and yes they probably got everything handed to them but fuck if they didn't make two of the most exemplary rock records of the 00s. And I ignored them because this was the decade where hype was born and blown up by the internet. Where every band was suddenly only worth their weight in the ink people wrote about them and could be written off in an instant. These records last though, and I've been listening to these two at least once a day lately. I listen to Is this It? In the car on the commute to work and I listen to Room on Fire at least twice a day when I'm at the store because it's one of the few records there I can tolerate to listen to over and over again. I never seem to get sick of this. And all of this Strokes love was spawned by my obsession with Julian Casablancas' solo record! Homeboy knows his shit, and fuck, any band that gets taken under the wing of Guided by Voices AND gets them to lose to you in Family Feud is pretty fucking cool.

14. Tender Forever – Wider
K, 2007

I listened to this record so many times and I really can't explain why, other than that I'm drawn to it like a moth to um, a sexier, more French moth with a beautifully awkward voice and a penchant for diva-esque vocal breakdowns filtered through classic K Records twee-pop. It's an incredibly mature album despite sounding quite girlish at times. It's about lesbians, which is pretty awesome, and not in a teenage boy fantasy way, but in a way that you don't really have many records dealing with same-sex relationships other than the outlandish Hidden Cameras, who tend to glamorize golden showers from my experience. Basically, it's about a lesbian couple but not in a token way. It's notable because it's so rare these days, which is weird because there's gonna hopefully be a time where homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality. It's a nice change of pace, this record. Oh, and it's a break-up record, too. So you know I'm down. I don't know why, but I was drawn to this record and ended up listening to it every night before bed for like, an entire semester. I bought it on vinyl from the K Records online store and would listen to side A one night and side B on the next. It's amazingly detailed and full of heart and all the things that make records good.

13. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances
XL, 2008

This is one of those “how the fuck did I get in on this so late” records. It got tons of positive press, tons of hype and I was like “Whatever it sounds like Bright Eyes in a punk band.” I thought this was boring when I first heard it. Then I saw them live opening for Los Campesinos! And holy fuck I was sold. I listened to the album obsessively for the bulk of 2009. I don't know what changed, I still don't, because I now retroactively liked it all along. I don't know what the fuck I was wrong with me, because this is everything I like. It's like the Hold Steady if they were a bunch of twentysomethings from New Jersey and were more excited than focused but it suited them better. There's just so much excitement, so many awesome solos, so many transcendent moments from such a young band. It's the sort of thing you only get with a debut LP, the bristling enthusiasm is unmatched.

12. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Jagjaguar, 2007

Despite the National's Boxer becoming the most affective record (for me, at least) of 2007 in hindsight, I still look at that year through Random Spirit Lover. I was obsessed with this album and listened to it constantly that summer. That was a good year, too. It seemed to compliment my joy and excitement with life. Since the release of Dragonslayer, Random Spirit Lover has looked a little bloated but I still love every second of it. It's what happens when you get incredibly ambitious. You try to cram every single idea into one record and in anyone but Spencer Krug's hands this would have been a failure. Instead it's a fucking triumph, bordering on experimental at points and always saved from the murky depths by Krug's consistently unique (to him, at least) vocal lines and craftsmanship. This is a record that was thought out and I think Krug accomplished whatever it was he laid out in blueprint. “The Mending of the Gown” still attacks me whenever I hear that opening guitar riff and the way that piano comes in, good god. I can't think of a more rousing song of the 00s (ok, Girls “Lust for Life” matched it). It also laid the groundwork for Dragonslayer, which came very, very close to making this on the list but ultimately, I had to go with Random Spirit Lover because every desire I've ever had can be summed up in the line “Or any other random spirit lover busted/ I have lusted after you /The way bloodsuckers do.” It became mantra. I still get giddy when I hear this record.

11. Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago
Jagjaguar, 2007

December of 2007. Heartbroken and unwilling to leave the house to get drunk, instead pulling the covers over my head in my bedroom with this seeping out of my computer over and over and over. The album with the most immediate oomph since Arcade Fire's Funeral, which I recall so fondly and associate with a very specific time and place. Although, I was pretty happy when I got that record and pretty miserable when I got For Emma, but still, the gravitas that this record carries is something incredibly special that rarely comes along. I got to see Bon Iver live twice the following year at SXSW, with only ten songs under his belt but both times were jawdropping, incredible. Justin Vernon, like Girls, has his thumb firmly placed on the idea of classic. Melodies that sound so instantly familiar and timeless yet are completely original and setting the bar for another decade of singer songwriters to try to hit.

10. Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy
Jagjaguar, 2005

Everything Will Sheff & co put out in the 00s was great. Nothing less than great, great to fucking oh my god good. Ultimately, this is the one I always come back to and the one that always ends up on my turntable. It's definitely their most ambitious and a risk that led the two amazing records that came after this one, The Stage Names and the Stand Ins. This is where Sheff plateaued as a songwriter and the way he weaves this story of the Black Sheep Boy is pretty much flawless. The way he can use his voice to find the cord of your heartstrings and just PULL, but never sentimental, never gooey, always raw and painful and longing. I saw Okkervil River play to 1000 people in Austin in 2008 (granted, they were opening for Roky Erikson (and acting as his backing band that night!)) and it was the most epic hometown show I've ever attended. I've never seen a band that on, giving that much. The thing is, it was only slightly more than they gave the any number of times I've seen them in Lawrence. I first saw them when they were nobodies, opening for John Vanderslice in the early 00s. Will Sheff almost fell off the bass drum when he climbed up on it at one point during the set. After that I was a lifetime fan, patiently waiting for their records to leak and to fawn all over them. The three songs at the end, though. That's where it's at. “Song For a So Called Friend,” “So Come Back I Am Waiting,” and “A Glow” round out this already incredible record.

9.Arcade Fire – Funeral
Merge, 2004

Again, hype. Hype hype hype. And where hype destroyed many a band in the 00s, the Arcade Fire persevered. Their only flaw was that Funeral was too good and set up their sophomore record to a life in the shadows. That is, until it becomes the next Pinkerton, because it's really, really really fucking good and would have made this list had Funeral not been a flawless record that still resonates with me every time I hear it. I still brag about seeing them play at the Jackpot right as they blew up. It was intense, it involved Win Butler putting a mic-stand through the ceiling on the FIRST FUCKING SONG and that energy only building throughout. It was intense, unforgettable, all that bullshit and thank god my girlfriend at the time had a weird thing about being right up front at every single show because that was the place to be. I specifically remember the guy next to us, though. The guy who refused to get into it and only unfolded his arms to grab the set list at the end. I saw this guy at every big indie show in Lawrence and it was the same arms-folded stoicism that made me realize exactly what I never, ever wanted to become. This show made me realize why I love seeing bands, and this record fills me with nostalgia I shouldn't even be having.

8. Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction
Misra, 2001

I was really tempted to make my top 5 the 5 records Dan Bejar released in the 00s. They're all amazing, and ultimately, I chose the one that hooked me. “Hey girl, come on and take a whirl in my machine” he sings on “Streethawk 1,” the album's opener. “Why yes, I will take a whirl, though I am not a girl,” I responded. This is where the Bowie comparisons come from, though Bejar has shed them over the years. This is the record where he's at his most giddy and playful. Granted, he's always got a sense of play at work but other masterful efforts like Destroyer's Rubies and This Night are exercises in density and space. These are just straight up pop jams filled with incredible one-liners (“No man has ever hung from the rafters of a second home,” “You had the best legs in a business built for kicks,” etc) and overall sick musicianship. This is where it's at.

7. Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic
Kill Shaman, 2003

Fuck Michael Jackson, this is the most tragic music moment in the 00s. A band of scrappy Portland punks put out a perfect record and then all but one of them get killed when their van flips on their way home from tour. This is catchy throwback-garage punk before catchy throwback-garage punk became trendy, and it's legit as all hell. It's become the stuff of legend since their tragic demise, but it's only gotten better over the years. I actually just got the record on vinyl for Christmas and the songs sound just as good or BETTER than they did the first time around in 2003. It's a perfect record, and though the b-sides collection that followed is fine and all, I'm kind of glad that this is the only one, and sad that they'll never have a chance to top this, because I'm sure they could have.

6. The National – Boxer
Beggars Banquet, 2007

One of the most utterly American records of the 00s. While “Post 9/11 America” was a big talking point this decade, and one that defined a specific plot point of our culture, this is what America FEELS like at the end of the decade. That is to say, it's full of aimlessness and very specific desires and pleasures. There's something shifty about this record though, and that's ultimately what makes it so powerful. There's a sense of facelessness in the lyrics of Matt Berninger and the mood crafted by the Dessener twins that creates this wonderful unease. “Mistaken For Strangers,” which I initially wrote off as an Interpol-wannabe (after hearing it on 96.5 the buzz with the tag “IF YOU LIKE INTERPOL, YOU'LL LOVE THE NATIONAL”) and ultimately ended up replaying hundreds of times. “You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends” seems to sum up the identity crisis most people seem to be going through. Or by most people, I mean me when I heard this record for the first time. It's one that sticks to my bones, one that I can't escape and one that sounded like a classic from the opening piano line on “Fake Empire.” It's a record people are going to keep coming back to and by the end of the next decade, when P4k makes their “Best of the 00s: We were so dumb in 2009” list in ten years (or maybe five, because who knows) this could end up in the top 3. Ok, that's a lie. When I return to the 00s in the 00s in ten years, I think this will move even further up. Right now though, I'm blinded by the present and the five records that somehow managed to weasel their way ahead of this one.

5. The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving
Sub City, 2000

The Weakerthans are the band I latched onto to transition out of punk rock when I had a punk friend who chastised me for liking a Radiohead song that was played in the lunch room one day, junior year of high school. This was how I snuck out of the stupid, stupid punk rock scene of like, two people. “Oh, John K Samson played bass in Propagandhi and they're punk as fuck.” That was just bullshit though. This is probably the record I've kept with me the longest and one that I like even more than I did in the first place. Though the rest of the top five is comprised of fiercly American bands, the Weakerthans are the representative of a decade where a good 30% of my music was imported from Canada.

4. The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Absolutely Kosher, 2003

The best break-up record of the 00s. Every generation has to have one. The 70s had Blood on the Tracks. The 90s had Dear You. The 00s has The Meadowlands. The lyrics often get in the way of how spectacular the music is, and when I pair the two I don't know how this record exists. Maybe because these dudes had a LONG time to put it together, six years I believe. I mean, how can an album with a song like “Ex-Girl Collection” not be on this list? A history of women all told in under five minutes with genius story telling, turns of tongue, and just an absolutely biting wit to all of it. But then there's that epic misery of “13 Months in 6 Minutes,” which involves watching someone slip away not doing a damn thing about it, or not being able to. Then there's the bitterness of “Hopeless” (“Go thank yourself for nothing/ It's really all you're good for”), the surprisingly upbeat “This Boy is Exhausted,” and “She Sends Kisses,” which is probably the song this record will be known for. “Past clumsy crushes beneath Thrill Pier/ Hopes pinned to poses honed in men's room mirrors/ A sophomore at Brown/ She worked lost and found/ I put your face on her all year.” There's a poetic quality to this record. There's also a fucking goddamned rock and roll quality to this record, and you know what? I saw the Wrens play at SXSW this year and though the guys are in their 40s they rocked out harder than most of the bands I saw that were half their age (tied only with Titus Andronicus). I mean, the bass player jumped off a four foot tall amp. AND HE'S IN HIS FORTIES! Anyway, it's been another six years and no new Wrens album. Since patience tends to be a virtue with these dudes, here's to hoping their next release in the 10s is a hit.

3. The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee
4AD, 2002

The best fictional break-up record of all time. Hands down. I want John Darnielle to write movies. And novels. And I want him to adapt Tallahassee to a musical because every time Jenny and I listen to this while we're cooking dinner (which is most of the time), I choreograph dance moves to “See America Right,” “No Children,” and the like. This is my favorite Mountain Goats record. Yes, I love it more than All Hail West Texas. Somehow this is possible, and really, choosing a favorite is pretty hard but it's always been Tallahassee. The story of Darnielle's Alpha couple meeting their demise in a decaying house in Tallahassee, Florida. Watching them fall apart, turn on each other, and drink themselves to death is beautiful the way a pile of burning tires is beautiful. There's something gorgeous about something so big going up in flames. There are hidden gems on this album, too. Songs I didn't learn to love with all my heart until years after falling in love with the album. “Game Shows Touch Our Lives” is a big one, what with lines like “I handed you a drink of the lovely little thing on which our survival depends/ People say friends don't destroy one another/ What do they know about friends?” It's an ode to mutual self-destruction, if that's even possible. Basically, this is the way Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is assuming Joel and Clementine keep falling in love with each other forever. And then there's “No Children,” which is the perfect encapsulation of this record. There's a reason everyone yells for it at shows: It's just that damn fucking good and the finest tune Darnielle has ever penned. Shit, that sort of bitterness has yet to be matched. It's a cautionary tale, a warning sign, a “THIS COULD BE YOU SOMEDAY.” The fact that Darnielle is happily married boggles my mind, because he wrote one of the most sinister records about relationships ever.

2. The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday
Frenchkiss, 2005

The Hold Steady is the one band I can think of that I want to be like. The band I see as a role model for what I want to be when I grow up. That is, I want to be Craig Finn. As you can see from this list, I love me a good concept album, and this yarn about Hallelujah (the kids call her Holly) and her druggy adventures through the American West (and Ybor City, for whatever reason) always draws me in. I know a few people who absolutely hate this band, and while I usually say to each his own, most of the time I'm thinking “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU” or, more likely, “I DON'T KNOW IF WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS.” Essentially, I use the Hold Steady the same way most people use Christianity. They set up a firm belief system and I spent my early twenties trying to follow it best I could. Their live shows (I saw them play three times at SXSW this year) are like sermons and I am a loyal follower, joined up front by my brethren reciting lyrics like passages of scripture and shunning the non-believers. It was hard not to put all four of the Hold Steady's releases on this list, but paring it down to one was easy. This is the one I default to, and a record I can listen to at any time and get the fuck yeah spirit. It's my shitty day, life sucks jam, and got me through all the shitty days in the 00s after I first heard it in 2006.

1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Nonesuch, 2002

I decided that this would be the album of the decade in 2006 and patiently waited three years to make this list. I had to wait to see the trajectory, the point B to Wilco's point A. Though recorded before 9/11, this album presciently knew what we were in for. There's a sense of loss here, and a sense of nostalgia and a sense of well, just being really, really pissed off because for some reason, things just will not ever work out. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the soundtrack to the American landscape in the 00s and I can't separate the two. I listened to this on so many miserable drives around Lawrence during my worst times. I'd drive down Kentucky to 6th. 6th to Wakarusa. Wakarusa to 23rd. 23rd to Iowa, and then I wouldn't go home til the record was over. It's the record I interchange with Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as my favorite record of all time. I think I love it because I hated it for years. When it was released, I was just getting into music and, most importantly, downloading music. I got Yankee Hotel Foxtrot when it leaked because it was all the rage and I couldn't make it a minute into “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” As soon as Jeff Tweedy started rambling, I was done.

I tried for the next couple of years to understand why people loved this record, and I didn't get it until I got to college. Not that you need to be in college to get this record or anything, but somehow I heard the one-two punch of “Jesus Etc” and “Ashes of American Flags” and I was done. Then “Radio Cure” came on shuffle one day and I stopped in my tracks because someone saying “Cheer up, honey I hope you can” was exactly what I needed someone to tell me that day. I'm sure there was some girly drama going on, and as soon as he sings that line “Oh distance has no way of making love understandable” I loved this record and felt incredibly foolish. It was as if Wilco had set out to make an album to be revered fifty years after the fact. Everything here sounds so classic, but it's new classicism. The record is full of sonic experimentation that seems unlikely for the band that made alt-country famous. It's like an album founded on feedback and ghostly radio transmissions (special thanks to Jim O'Rourke for making that happen).

Ultimately I've used this record to relate to people because I think it's about human connection in the 21st century. Recorded only a year into said century, it's amazing how spot-on Wilco were about the next ten years. There's the decline you see on “Ashes of American Flags,” but the solution is at hand when you listen to all of the aching sweetness Tweedy plants throughout the record. “I've got reservations about so many things but not about you” seems to sum it up. This album has a grip on my heart, and maybe I'm biased (how so, I don't know) but this FEELS like it's the defining record of the 00s, and that's what matters.