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The Best Albums of the Decade: 20-11

As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-decade lists currently overwhelming the internet. As the year comes to a close, and we get progressively lazier, please enjoy Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks their favorite shit in a bunch of different categories

 

Here we are in Act III of our Best Albums of the Decade list, and it is getting quite dramatic. As we enter the top 20 there is a noticeable escalation in quality; some of these records are beloved by a vast number of people, and deservedly so, as these are all very worthy entries.  If you have missed any of this countdown so far, here are some links to catch you up. 50-36, 35-21. Enjoy!

 

(20) The Fame - Lady Gaga

(20) The Fame - Lady Gaga

It is hard to think of an artist on this list that is more current than Lady Gaga. She is on the cover of everything, guest starring in everyone's newest singles, and appearing in countless salacious dreams all over the world. People talk about her outfits, her sexuality, and her personality; she is a fascinating figure, who is placed prominently in the collective consciousness of the moment. With all the buzz and hype it is easy to forget that she put out a fucking outstanding record in 2008; thankfully this is a MUSIC list! The Fame is a superb dance/pop record full of so many hits that it can leave you concussed. Whether it's Gaga's ode to bisexuality SMASH Poker Face, or the sparkling shimmer of dance floor staples like Just Dance (her breakout single) and Lovegame, this record practically drowns you in hooks and gonna-make-you-sweat energy. Lady Gaga is even managing to sell records in a day and age when doing so is even harder then dealing with the Paparazzi (see what I did there? That may be my favorite track on the record). If Gaga is on the verge of attaining mythic status (she still has a rather long way to go), the catalyst for her ascendancy will be this exceptional record. (GC)

(19) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

(19) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

As far as debut records go, few come out of nowhere while receiving as much adulation as Fleet Foxes, by Fleet Foxes. Some media outlets have gone so far as to call it an American classic, while others have called it the most rewarding album of this Decades' second half. My opinion is a little bit from each column. This is a unquestionably satisfying record, full of some of the most self-assured tracks you will ever find on a debut. You come to this Fleet Foxes record for the era-defying-arrangements (Ragged Wood) and peacefully glorious aesthetics (Red Squirrel/Sun It Rises), but you stay for the Appalachian-Folk meets SoCal pop harmonies like those found on White Winter Hymnal. This record is like a paean to all of the influences that one can find on this nations AM radio stations; it is reverent, devoted, and a truly wonderful work that begs to be the soundtrack of your next lazy Sunday (that line had nothing to do with SNL, by the way). (GC)

(18) Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins

(18) Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins

I have never seen Garden State, but I am aware of the exposure that movie earned The Shins. The inclusion of Caring is Creepy and New Slang on the soundtrack for the Zach Braff movie instantly changed the profile of the one time indie-rock darlings, helping record sales and upgrading the hotels they stay at while on tour. I believe that James Mercer and company were fortunate to have released Chutes Too Narrow before Garden State premiered-the pressure to release a follow up to Oh, Inverted World (from which the tracks on the Garden State soundtrack were pulled) would have been enormous, and probably would have sunk the band. Luckily for everyone (well, at least for The Shins and their fans), that was not the case and Chutes Too Narrow was allowed to be the natural development of The Shins. Chutes is a record that shows off all of the Shin's best qualities: the patented quirkiness of Mercer's melodies a la Young Pilgrims, the range and acrobatics of his voice on tracks like So Says I, and the sensible yet memorable musicality of the band's instrumentation that frames the entire record, but is best represented on Turn A Square. (GC)

(17) I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning - Brighteyes

(17) I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning - Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes dropped two records in 2005; one was a severe departure from their established sound (Digital Ashes In a Digital Urn) and the other (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning) happened to be the best alt-folk record of the entire decade. Conor Oberst is a lot of things: prolific, pretentious, polarizing, and while these labels all have some modicum of truth to them, they fail to recognize or describe his song writing genius. This is the sort of record whose only upkeep is pressing play; after that, all that is left to do is enjoy the divine voyage through the daydreams and observations of one exquisitely crafted and magnificently paced album. The first sounds that fill the silence of I'm Wide Awake are Oberst taking a sip of some tea before beginning a free verse rant about a woman and a plane crash, after some string scratches and a count-in, the music explodes with the driving, and simply perfect At The Bottom Of Everything. That track is followed by one triumph after another from the quiet, candid, cleverness of Lua, to the wonderfully shifting dynamics and build of Old Soul Song (my favorite song on the record by FAR!!!). This album is a blessing to those with the luxury of hearing, and provides pure enjoyment to anyone who appreciates music. (GC)

(16) Turn On The Bright Lights - Interpol

(16) Turn On The Bright Lights - Interpol

If you went to a hipster-thrown party in 2002 then your bottles of Stella, and conversations about the Bush administration, were probably soundtracked by the din of this record. You were not even allowed to consider yourself hip without thorough knowledge of this record, and the understanding that this album was awesome. Emerging from the (at that point burgeoning) New York City rock scene that was so "it" this decade, Interpol brought its particular blend of post-punk revival and Joy Division impersonations (let's just get that out of the way now) to the sonic landscape with this very polished and super well received debut album. At the time of its release, Turn on the Bright Lights was lauded as the artistic and sophisticated answer to the neo-garage denim-clad fad that was sweeping the nation's trend epicenters. It was considered "big-boy" music for people who are in touch with their nihilism and wear it proudly on their sleeves instead of trying to drink it away. This type of buzz is hard to live up to; it usually tears through carefully calculated images and exposes albums for what they truly are. In the case of Turn On The Bright Lights, no amount of scrutiny can find shortcomings on songs like Obstacle 1 (a powerful song with a chorus that bursts through the almost maddening restlessness of its verses). Other notable tracks include PDA (their most popular tune to date), Stella Was A Diver And She's Always Down (a song that manages to overcome its obscenely pretentious title), and their ode to the greatest city in the world, N.Y.C. (GC)

15) Stankonia - Outkast

15) Stankonia - Outkast

There was a moment when it looked like Outkast was going to become the P.Funk of the third Millennium (that was WAY before they started acting). Upon hearing Stankonia for the first time I wished that all hip-hop records could sound like this one. Big Boi and Andre 3000 fucking broke the mold with Stankonia, a record so fresh and inventive that it ranks as my favorite rap record of the oughties. You name it and Outkast excels at it on this record: Comedy sketch interludes? Only some of the funniest ever. Sick beats? Someone should call the goddman CDC. Tight rhymes? This record practically suffocates! Stankonia is as unconventional as the emcees who grace it, and so are its songs. Miss Jackson is a song that tells a story that is beyond trite in the world of hip-hop... but it's told in such a singularly unique way that it feels completely original. So Fresh and So Clean is a number that groups with turntables generally don't even try to attempt, and B.O.B. not only has the kind of energy that will inspire you to conquer the world, but the also the kind of lyrical fireworks that will burn down your house.(GC)

14) Black Holes & Revelations - Muse

14) Black Holes & Revelations - Muse

Frequent readers of this website are already aware of my profuse love of Muse. I became a devoted fan when Absolution made it state-side; they were sort of like Radiohead, but younger, heavier, and a lot more prog! Back in 2006, I was anxiously anticipating the release of Black Holes & Revelations - I can vividly recall the day I "obtained" my copy and the immediate shock and awe I experienced upon first listen. This record is what distant intergalactic races listen to as they cruise the Universe, looking for adventure. It is a phenomenal collection of songs that cover all of the facets of our modern psyche, from interstellar love songs of breathtaking beauty (Starlight, Invincible), to epic tales of conspiracy fueled paranoia (Knights of Cydonia) and Euro-dance infused moments of unequaled coolness and vitality (Supermassive Black Hole). In the wake of their latest release, The Resistance, it becomes instantly apparent that BH&R is/was the peak of the band creatively (a lamentable realization for fans), and what a peak it was! Black Holes and Revelations is only a few tracks away from being this generations' Dark Side of the Moon, though as it is it's still utterly brilliant. (GC)

13) In Rainbows - Radiohead

13) In Rainbows - Radiohead

There is a somewhat well known game that you can play with Radiohead records: if you listen to the opening track from each of their albums serially, you can distinctly hear not just the details and aspects of their latest evolution, but also the hyper-aware deconstruction of their previous works. The first track on In Rainbows (15 Step) blitzes your ears with soaking wet drum machine hits, and handclaps... HANDCLAPS! This is fucking Radiohead we are talking about! Thank God for us that this IS Radiohead, and that opener (along with the rest of this record) is superb. In Rainbows is Radiohead's seventh studio release and its most urbane; this album is full of the type of compositions that you could only expect from The Best Band In The world. This record is an exemplary example of a band mixing atmosphere (Nude), tension (Jigsaw Falling Into Place), and gleaming musicianship (Bodysnatchers), into relevant (yet trend-defying) rapture. The story of In Rainbows isn't just about the stupendous music, though... Something has to be said about the ingenious and ground-breaking distribution method that the band used to release In Rainbows. In October of 2007, Radiohead made this record available as a digital download using a "name your own price" method of purchase. Consider that for a moment... The largest band in the world put out a new record of unreleased material (not a single or E.P.) and theoretically gave it away for FREE! I have heard a lot or arguments that try to dismiss this feat, such as "They have already made their money." While the members of Radiohead are surely all stinking rich, that wasn't really a determining factor. There are a litany of other bands that are in even better fiduciary positions than Radiohead that would never compromise their profit margins in such a fashion (that's right, I am talking about you, U2)... But there is only one Radiohead. (GC)

12) Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea - P.J. Harvey

12) Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea - P.J. Harvey

When it comes to being a successful and respected woman in alternative rock it helps if you are fearless, audacious, and otherworldly talented. P.J. Harvey is all of those things and probably even more that we aren't aware of. A critical darling, Harvey has been making music on her terms since 1992 with only one record in her catalogue achieving real commercial success before Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (that being 1995's To Bring You My Love). The release of Stories From The City showcases a Harvey that is at her full strengths as a singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitar player; this record brims with a fierceness and attitude that you will never find from some other less-everything "alternative sirens." The record goes for the jugular right out of the gate with the ferocious Big Exit, it then goes on to venture through all sorts of sonic landscapes from the sixteenth-note high-hat celerity of A Place Called Home, to the stirring and indelible The Whore's Hustle and The Hustler's Whore, a rip-roaring four minute sprint through the trademark soft-loud-soft structure that is at the core of most alternative music. The record does lag a tiny bit toward the end (except for the rockin' and extremely lascivious This Is Love), but it doesn't at all detract from just how fucking good this record, and P.J. Harvey, is. (GC)

11) What Ever People Say I am That's What I am - Arctic Monkeys

11) What Ever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys

Call me un-American, but I am a bigger fan of Britain's Arctic Monkeys than I am of The Strokes. Sure, The Strokes were there first (that is, if you don't count the actual garage scene of yesteryear), but there is something more kinetic about the Monkeys, something more fun. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, kicks off with the thunderous drum hits of The View From Afternoon, a song that announces the arrival of the band bombastically with the almost spit-like cadence of its verses, and the hunt and peck feel of the guitar line. Once that track is over, you are pushed right into what is probably their most massive U.K. hit, I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor, a song whose chorus is so good it is like a fucking license to print money. The highlights of the record are not limited to the first few selections; the second half of Whatever is undoubtedly the strongest part of the record. With songs like the pugnacious From The Ritz To The Rubble, the candid A Certain Romance, and the outstanding When The Sun Goes Down,Whatever People Say I Am is the kind of record that will NEVER leave your music generating device. (GC)

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20 Responses »

  1. Stories is PJH's worst album!

  2. Now, now, Bill, let's not let obsessive fandom cloud our judgement. I am not going to claim to have as definitive an opinion on PJ as you do, but they are all just opinions, right?

  3. I can't believe PJ Harvey is higher than In Rainbows....seriously. At least Gaga made it into the top 20. She definitely deserves that spot!

  4. 01111010111101111111

  5. This list is suffering from a debilitating lack of Helmet.

  6. You're right dude... Come to think of it... It is also suffering from a lack of Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins, Neutral Milk Hotel and all the other bands that put out their best stuff in the 90s.

  7. I hope Lady Gaga is pleased too! I direct messaged her on Twitter. She ACTUALLY follows me!

  8. Great work Giovanny! Can't wait for the finale! Hopefully Jere hasn't convinced you to add any more of those crappy bands he likes. BTW, Helmet's best work was in the 90's and their feeble output this decade doesn't compare to the ferocity of albums like In The Meantime and Betty! Word!

  9. Hell yeah Return to Cookie Mountain (Albeit earlier on in the list) Although I feel like a case could be made that Young Liars is the superior album. For my money, I feel like a case could be made for Bright Eye's Cassadaga album, stricly for the fact that it is well (for lack of a better word) bright. I'm anxious to see where the list heads, because with only 10 spots left I feel it will be hard to fit in some My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, or atleast the Black Keys. Where are the Keys??? 5 Albums this decade and each one can be replayed front to back.

  10. Also, feel free to check out the Top 15 Albums of 2009 over at http://willstockert.spaces.live.com. Let me know what you think.

  11. Obviously they put out their best stuff in the 90s. That doesn't mean that Size Matters isn't fucking bad ass.

  12. I like Kurupt and Quik, but I haven't listened to their album for pretty much the reasons you mentioned. I'm going to check it out based on your recommendation though.

  13. It's definitely the listen. Surprisingly good, and I'll be anxious to see what you think.

  14. Giovanny, that reasoning fails to explain why you guys put Muse's BH&R on this list at all, while "Showbiz" and "Origin of Symmetry" are far and beyond better albums. This isn't up for debate. They just are better albums.

  15. Size Matters is alright but it is hardly a Helmet record. The lack John Stanier and Henry Bogdan make it feel more like a Page Hamilton vanity project/pension scheme. Besides, the bad ass list was two weeks ago.

  16. I totally hear you on Young Liars Willias, I have even heard the argument be made for Dear Science, but I think that overall, Cookie was a good call. I am a fan of Cassadaga too, I just felt like I'm Wide Awake had more primacy to it. As far as The Keys and MMJ are concerned, both Rubber Factory and Z were on early drafts of the list, but as it was tweaked and examined through the lens of pop-culture, things got added and dropped in order to better represent the Decade as a whole. A perfect example of that are records like A Rush of Blood to the Head, and American Idiot, those are both albums that I would never have anywhere near my own personal list of this sort, but it would be an incomplete depiction of the Decade without them (this goes for the Killers too). BTW awesome call on St. Vincent!

  17. Hold on Heywood... The debate over Muses' inclusion on the list was Absolution vs. Black Holes & Revelations. Showbiz is AMAZING, but also from 1999 (if I could have snuck any record in from that year it would've been Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros), and Origin of Symmetry is also quite good, but pales in production quality to BH&R, and lacks a little something as far as scope is concerned too.

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