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.


  1. Oddly enough, my favorite albums on this half of the list might be the last three. Well, okay, Arcade Fire and Electrelane, too; but between Postal Service and the New Pornographers, I've got all I need. I don't know why you sound so conflicted, 'Twin Cinema' is DEFF their best, pop songwriting at its best so far as I can tell. And I wasn't big on admitting my love for Postal Service, either, but fuck it's absolutely the best thing Gibbard's ever done, at least that I've heard (not too familiar with early Death Cab.) That album just FEELS, you know what I mean? The effect has worn off a bit over time, but christ, I'll be damned if anyone can ever write a song that makes me feel like a lovesick high schooler more than 'Clark Gable' did.

  2. I think your last sentence convinced me more than anything to give YHF about ten more listens, and then ten more.

  3. You have bad taste in music.