Ryan’s Top Albums of the Decade

It’s a new year, a new decade, even.  And for Stereo Control’s first post of 2010, I figured I’d wax rhapsodically a little on my favorite albums of the past decade.  So, I might as well start seeing as I should get this post up soon.

The 2000’s saw a huge shift (I almost used the word “paradigm” in this sentence, but I’ve read enough “Dilbert” to know that that word has no meaning to anything) in the way people listen to music.  Early on, record companies were at the pinnacle of their existence.  They were able to control the flow of popular music, and physical albums were selling amazingly.  Artists barely make any money off of record sales, so record companies were reaping huge profits. 

Then came Napster, completely changing the music scene.  All of a sudden, songs were available illegally for free to literally anyone who used a computer and the internet (notice how I used “literally” correctly?  It’s a pet peeve of mine when people don’t. Literally.).  Since then, record companies have hit a huge problem.  With songs available online for free, combined with the recession (or depression) that are economy is in, CDs are just not selling at all.

However, with new technology comes new ways to listen to music.  Apple introduced the Ipod – an invention that redefined this act, even if it broke down nonstop.  Online radio stations such as Last.Fm and Pandora have become extremely popular.  And bands (mainly indie) have created different ways to access their music.  Examples:  Wilco, beginning with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, began streaming their albums online for free.  Each album since has become an even greater success for them.  Radiohead offered their album In Rainbows for any price that the customer was willing to pay.  That album became their biggest seller.

Basically, the music scene was ready for a change, whether or not record companies like it.  Indie music is actually gaining in popularity now that the modern population is not being fed boy bands and horrible pop songs nonstop.  MTV no longer matters.  Normal radio stations are being ignored for Sirius/XM and online ones.  TV shows (like The OC, for example) are using more obscure songs in soundtracks, as well as commercials.  We’re entering an exciting and challenging time for music, and no one knows what’s going to happen.

Honestly, I prefer the album format to MP3s.  That’s why Stereo Control was started.  Albums and CDs, to me, represent whole artistic thoughts.  They provide insight into that particular era of an artist’s career.  I like the cover art.  I like having liner notes.  I like having the song lyrics printed out on glossy paper.  I like seeing how much space the case takes up in my collection.  If you own any CD by Of Montreal, you know that the album case itself is a piece of art work.  I really hope that this idea of having a physical thing to hold doesn’t become obsolete.  And I don’t think it will – vinyls are actually making a comeback, surprisingly – and I think that the CD will always be around because of its artistic value.

I don’t own an Ipod.  I have an RCA Lyra that I don’t normally use.  You know what I use if I have to go somewhere?  A Walkman.  I actually own a Walkman.  Or a few.  They always break on me.  But they’re cheap, so I don’t mind.  I get to listen to whole albums the way they were intended to be listened to.  I like the idea of MP3 players, I really do.  But there are a few problems that I’ve noticed with them:

– First, albums are neglected.  As, I’ve just ranted, the artistic idea of albums is one that I absolutely love.  MP3 players, especially the shuffle ones focus more on songs.

– There are way too many choices.  I suffer from this with my albums, but once I pick one to listen to, I listen to it.  Most people I know don’t have any idea what to listen to.

– Which leads into this.  No one listens to full songs anymore.  MP3s have ruined full songs.  Everyone changes the damn song halfway through to a new song.  Only to repeat this behavior.   I can’t stand it.

– Lastly, and least importantly, is that MP3s can have the wrong information.  Look through someone’s IPod.  They’ll have the same artist misspelled numerous times.  That just annoys the perfectionist in me.

Anyway, now that I’ve gone off on my rant, I might as well give you what you’ve read this far for (read: skimmed through just to get to this): my top 10 albums of the decade.

10. Jon Brion – Meaningless (2001)
– I love Jon Brion.  I will listen to almost anything that he has any part of.  This is his only solo album of actual songs, not soundtracks.  And it’s downright amazing.  He has a great ear for sounds and production, yet is still able to have value to his art as a musician.  His lyrics offer great wordplay, and the themes to his songs are ideas with an important impact.  Not to mention he covers Cheap Trick.  Released independently, you should definitely buy this.  It’s nearly perfect.

9. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005)
– This album is the Porno’s third release.  While most critics actually prefer their first album, I find that Twin Cinema is more polished.  Newman, Bejar, and Case each provide their unique talents to their songs, and the rest of the band fills in all of the quirks that make The New Pornographers so relevant.

8. The Beatles – Love (2006)
– Well, of course a Beatles album is on here.  It’s me.  Love was made for Cirque do Soleil, and released as an actual album in 2006.  Essentially, it’s only George and Giles Martin remixing the Beatles’ songs, combining them, and looking into the archives of unreleased tracks.  For a Beatles fan, the album offers a new way of listening to their legendary music, a new thought process, which is what music (and The Beatles) are all about.  So yes, of course I added this into my top 10.

7. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007)
– This beautiful release by Wilco may not be important as Summerteeth, or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Sky Blue Sky, with its delicate arrangements, metaphor-filled lyrics, and just really great atmosphere pulled me in completely.  From the day it was released, it was prominently featured in my lineup of CDs to listen to for a year and a half (at which point I decided to randomly listen to every single one of my CDs – hence it’s reign ending, and Stereo Control beginning).  So, I could not not put this album in my top 10.

6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
– Every song on this debut album is wonderful.  The band knows how to write interesting songs, and the music shows off a very talented group of musicians.  The harmonies are the greatest thing, and it’s so surprising that a band would have this strong of a debut.  Definitely a group to watch for in this new decade.

5. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)
– Adams may never match the sincerity or the mood on his first solo album, but it won’t matter.  This was one of the most heartfelt albums quite possibly ever (a stark contrast with his later stuff), and he fills every track with all the energy he has to offer.  It is unrivaled in that aspect.  Brilliant.

4. The Vines – Highly Evolved (2002)
– The Vines’ first album offered a punk band that wasn’t afraid of melodies, a grunge band that wasn’t afraid of polish, and a rock band that wasn’t afraid of… well, anything (as all rock bands should fucking be).  They seemingly transition between hard rock and piano ballads, while still keeping their credentials.  None of their albums have measured up to this yet, but I think they can.  Really.

3. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
– The Shins became huge after their first album was mentioned by the beautiful Natalie Portman in Garden State.  And her character was right when she said that they’d change your life (even if the scene was exceptionally awkward).  Their second album proved that they weren’t just a fluke.  Chutes Too Narrow was better in every aspect.  More interesting songs, harder, softer, better lyrics, the production quality was more polished, and every single song was utterly mind-blowing. 

2. Elliott Smith – Figure 8 (2000)
– Smith’s music is unfortunately surrounded in the idea of his suicide.  His songs seem intrinsically sad.  But really, I’ve always obtained a sense of hope out of his lyrics and the music that accompanies them.  Figure 8 is a perfect example too.  The melodies are beautiful, and the sound is much more complex than his earlier folky stuff (which is still awesome, but I prefer this to be truthful).  This album hinted at what was to come, but would ultimately be his last finished piece of work (with In a Basement on a Hill to be released posthumously as well as New Moon, a collection of unreleased songs).  His music is so emotional, yet, I find anyway, really inspiring.

1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
– This album, without a doubt, is the most important album of the decade.  The story (retold countless times already) is that the record company, suffering from the loss of album sales that would plague the rest of the decade, dropped Wilco because of this album.  The band then streamed the album online for free and went on a widely succesful tour.  They finally found another label to release the album – ironically, Warner Brothers owned both labels, and the album became their biggest success until that time.  Finished in 2001, the album was originally slated for release on September 11th, but with the loss of two members of the group and the labels changing, the band didn’t stream the album until September 18th, and the album wasn’t released physically until the next year.  Eerily, the lyrics reflect a sense of American drama, and seemingly coexist with the terrorist attacks that happened on 9/11.  So, the album definitely deserves to be in the top 10, if only for the back story.  But the music, is what’s important.  The songs are amazing, the lyrics are predominantly important, and the album is one of the best artistic statements ever.  Every note means something.  I won’t rave about this album until I actually review it, but it is by far the most important album of the last decade.

Anyway, Stereo Control will resume its album-review based format, probably tomorrow.  I sincerely hope you have enjoyed our top lists, and even your winter break.  The new year, and new decade, will hopefully bring about exciting and important changes, and I plan on giving every one of them a chance.  Happy New Year.

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2 Responses to “Ryan’s Top Albums of the Decade”

  1. Great job. keep going.

  2. […] mentioned numerous times before, but I get a huge nerd-boner for anything that has to do with Jon Brion.  As […]

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