The 00s: Music – 15-11

15. Quinn WalkerLaughter’s An Asshole/Lion Land (Voodoo-Eros)

I’ve only heard 8 of the 29 tracks on Quinn Walker’s double-disc opus, but they’re so good I can’t imagine any album that features them failing to crack my top 20 for the 00s.  Walker is very much the wild card in this list, a prolific independent one-man band whose music embraces experimentation and humour, but never at the expense of depth.  The drum kit crashes, square synths wail and the guitars solos spin you right round, and above it all, Walker’s often falsetto voice weaves hilarious and unforgettable poetry.  All of these songs I know are to be savoured, but it’s ‘Save Your Love For Me’ that appears to be the quintessential Walker song – brilliantly unhinged, poetic and unforgettable.
Most representative track, and my favourite: ‘Save Your Love For Me’

14. The AvalanchesSince I Left You (Modular Recordings)

I’ll speak more about mashups later, but the great innovators in this field at the start of the 00s were Australian duo The Avalanches.  Since I Left You remains one of the most purely enjoyable records of the decade, one which just about anyone can throw on and enjoy however they wish – as a soundtrack for work, as a party or dancefloor staple, as a vehicle for reminiscing, whatever.  Chater once said the album was about “the idea of a guy following a girl around the world and always being one port behind”, and that wistfulness is tangible even amid the shining joy.
Most representative track: ‘Since I Left You’
My favourite: ‘Electricity’

13. Sufjan StevensIllinois (Asthmatic Kitty)

To appreciate Sufjan Stevens, you have to get over how much of a pompous ass he appears to be.  Consider the title of track 14, a 20-second ambient hum: ‘A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze’.  There are literally dozens of tracks on Illinois with titles like that (though that’s the worst); luckily, the man is an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter, and not even the most hopelessly puffed-up designation can obscure the talent evident in every one of Illinois’ 22 tracks.  I find myself wondering why he didn’t become super-mega-ultra famous, given that this album would fit pretty comfortably on commercial radio as well as in the dens of indie hipsters.  Maybe he did, but I missed it because I live in India; maybe he just burned out.  That seems more likely after such a feat as creating this record, whose scope extends well beyond the borders of the state in the title and into the hearts and stories of people all over the world.
Most representative track: ‘Chicago’
My favourite: ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’

12. Arcade FireFuneral (Merge/Rough Trade)

Coming on the scene in 2004/2005 with Funeral, Arcade Fire wound up defining the kind of sound that leads people to make YouTube comments like ‘If you don’t cry watching this, you are dead inside’.  I myself have made fun of their heart-on-sleeve approach, but damn it, they’re so sincere and such good performers that they stay just the right side of ridiculous, like Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting of the 00s.  I can’t fault them for seeing problems with the world and wanting to state, in no uncertain terms, how troubled they are by them; such emotional honesty should be celebrated.
Most representative track: ‘Wake Up’
My favourite: ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’

11. Four TetRounds (Domino)

There are great album openers, and then there is ‘Hands’, pulsing into life with a beating heart before layering in textures that slowly reveal themselves, surrounding you, the listener, and sweeping you along in a wave that almost seems to be physically raising you up.  Most of Kieran Hebden’s output is concerned more with texture than melody, with enough rhythm to keep your feet tapping, and Rounds is the apex of his career thus far (though There Is Love In You comes close and will surely be on the 10s list).  His other albums are frustratingly inconsistent, comprised generally of stunners and fillers only, but Rounds keeps its game up after an astonishing opening.  Indeed, the opening quartet of tracks seem to me so good that they might perhaps always have existed somewhere, an undercurrent of energy that Hebden harnessed and converted into a sonic form.  As much as any musician I know, he does things that make me stop dead in my tracks and say, “I could never do that.”
Most representative track: ‘My Angel Rocks Back And Forth’
My favourite: ‘Hands’

For the next part, click here.

The 00s: Music – Intro & 20-16

I’ll level with you.  I’m no Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes or whoever you actually read for your music tips.  I can’t compete with 200 albums of the decade, given that I have never listened to (or heard of) the vast majority of whatever is included on their lists.  I can honestly say, however, that I love music, and that there has been music during the 00s that I have particularly loved.  Some of it has been a soundtrack to certain times in my life; other albums have wormed their way into my consciousness to become an ongoing part of who I am.  This is that music.

I’ll have to limit myself to 20, but acknowledge that several of these artists would have occupied places on an expanded list if I weren’t keeping it to one album per artist.  Radiohead would have been on here at least twice (Hail to the Thief, in case you’re wondering).  I also had to omit quite a few albums that were hard to leave out, for example Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album and Battles’ Mirrored, but for whatever reason these were the 20 that made it.

I must also acknowledge, again, that I’m sure a lot of incredible stuff was released that I missed for whatever reason.  I’m only just getting to listen to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and it is extremely good and might have been on here if I’d gotten to it a couple of months earlier…  but anyway, that’s what the comments are for – tell me how much of a philistine I am, and what I need to do to catch up.

As for trends, I think the list can speak for itself but am looking forward to things being noticed along the way as I post it.  We can address that in the comments too.  (In case you haven’t got it yet, I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS.)

Note that thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can hear the music as you read about it by clicking the track links at the end of each album write-up – one for the track I feel is the most representative (i.e. the best introduction to the album), and one for my favourite track.  Here we go…

20. Breaks Co-OpThe Sound Inside (EMI/Astralwerks/Parlophone)

Kicking it off with some Kiwi sounds, the best ‘summer’ album of the 00s came from this skilled trio (though I’m told the live lineup of five adds plenty to the sound).  I of course bought it when it was bafflingly released in the middle of NZ’s winter and was promptly chewed out by my flatmate Nic, but it was such a great soundtrack to my student days that it stayed on high rotate through until the temperature started rising – and beyond.  Now I’m living in India where it’s always summer, and there’s a never a bad time to rediscover this record’s lazy, comfortable atmosphere lying with a beer in the hammock.
Most representative track, and my favourite, and the one everyone knows: ‘The Otherside’

19. David Bowie Heathen (ISO/Columbia)

Don’t get Heathen mixed up with the thrash metal band from California.  It is in fact Bowie’s emphatic return to form after a decade or two patching together albums out of patchy material.  Here, reunited with producer Tony Visconti, Bowie comes to terms as best he can with his own mortality; but as always, he’s never completely at ease.  Whether it’s the afterlife or the state of the world he expects – and perhaps wants – to leave behind, Bowie prefers to remain in the grey areas rather than committing to any one philosophy.  He doubts, questions, pleads and implores and it makes for a conflicted, thought-provoking masterpiece.
Most representative track: ‘Slow Burn’
My favourite: ‘I Would Be Your Slave’

18. Animal CollectiveMerriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

The first three or four tracks of Merriweather Post Pavilion are un-be-lievable.  Opener ‘In the Flowers’ plants you firmly in an otherworldly trance with its slow but heady build, then explodes into life at the two-and-a-half-minute mark; ‘My Girls’ is the catchiest, prettiest bit of synth-pop in ages; ‘Also Frightened’ darkens the palette and opens up the record into more wide-reaching themes, while keeping the pace up; and ‘Summertime Clothes’ evokes a high-energy dash through the streets of your city with the one you love.  Pity the rest of the record couldn’t keep up to the same standard; though several of the subsequent tracks are very good (and one exceptional), they just feel underwhelming after the glory of those first 20 minutes.  Perhaps on another album, I’d love them all equally.  In any case, this is a heartfelt and singularly distinct work that heralds plenty more brilliance from Animal Collective to come.
Most representative track: ‘My Girls’
My favourite: ‘Lion in a Coma’

17. Daft PunkDiscovery (Virgin)

As a means of re-energizing and reclaiming the floundering dance music scene in 2001, Daft Punk, always concealed behind robot masks and suits, positioned themselves as interplanetary discoverers dredging our musical past for forgotten hooks and converting them into something they, and we, could embrace.  Even if it was a triumph of marketing and pop culture gimmicks over originality, Discovery was a sensation.  Its retro factor gives it a timelessness such that it continues, a decade later, to poke its head up on dancefloors and TV promos worldwide.
Most representative track: ‘One More Time’
My favourite: ‘Too Long’

16. The FieldFrom Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)

For the most repetitive sounds of the 00s, look no further than The Field.  Some tracks contain only three or four alterations to the same looped sample.  Thankfully, the sound happens to as purely ecstatic as it is unvarying, and after enough listens, the patterns will be so etched in your mind that you’ll know exactly when the next loop is going to start and feel a kind of exhilarating release when it does.  The Pitchfork reviewer said that if From Here We Go Sublime ‘doesn’t hit at least some of your pleasure centers, well, forget your ears– your nerve endings might actually be dead’.  I concur, and it could endure for decades to come precisely because its aim is simple:  to make you feel good.
Most representative track: ‘Everday’
My favourite: ‘The Little Heart Beats So Fast’

For the next part, click here.