So Not the Best of the ’00s
What a decade, huh? This one's notable as having been spent entirely in NYC, and entirely of the digital age which changed the way everybody listened to music. (Maybe not my parents but everyone else.) We had more access to everything, and less to to spend with it. That said, there was no shortage of good music, though I don't think anything hit me quite as hard as the previous decade — partly due to age, party due to aforementioned information overload. There's nothing from this year, as I feel it's too close to really tell how a record is gonna hold up over time, and only a couple from the last four years. (Though in 1999 I knew The Soft Bulletin and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides were among the decade's best and that's not changed. Different Times.) There's also way more from 2000 than I woulda thought before I spent the last month trying to figure out this list.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a Best of the '00s, because lists like that have to include Important Albums, Influential Albums and the like. I listened to Radiohead, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, The Knife, The Strokes, Phoenix and whoever like everyone else. (I also listened to Louis XIV and Hot Hot Heat.) But, for the most part, these are a little more buried treasure-ish. I think the records that didn't get played to death in public are the ones you come back to the most. These are mine, in chronological order.
Super Furry Animals - Mwng (Placid Casual, May 2000)
Radiohead Schmadiohead. From 1995 to 2005, no band expanded the boundaries of guitar rock while remaining what you could call "commercially viable" than Super Furry Animals. Released in early 2000, less than a year after their last album (1999's Guerrilla) and the height of their creative peak, Mwng might be my all-time favorite SFA album, a relatively stripped-down affair — not much in the way of electronics, but some of their catchiest songs ever. And it's sung entirely in Welsh. Initial pressings came with a second CD's worth of songs (also all in Welsh) that was nearly as good.
MP3: Ymaelodi Â'r Ymylon
MP3: Dacw Hi
The Aislers Set – The Last Match (Slumberland, June 2000)
With Henry's Dress and, later, The Aislers Set, Amy Linton was the sound of Slumberland Records in the '90s and early '00s, and has proved highly influential on the label's new crop of bands. Listen to "The Way to Market Station" and you can building blocks of Crystal Stilts sound. There's a timeless quality it, and I have little doubt it will still sound awesome in 2020.
MP3:The Way to Market Station
MP3: Been Hiding
The Go-Betweens – The Friends of Rachel Worth (JetSet, Sept 2000)
Nearly all reunions are worthless, just "we're in it for the money" affairs with new albums merely made to give excuses to tour and play the hits to an aging fan-base. But there was a chemistry between Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, even though they wrote separately, that could never be replicated with solo material. So this understated album, recorded 13 years after their last album — with Sleater Kinney as their backing band — it's doesn't just not suck, it was the best they ever made.
MP3: Surfing Magazines
MP3: Going Blind
Cinerama – Disco Volante (Scopitones, Sept 2000)
David Gedge formed Cinerama as a side project with his then-girlfriend as perhaps wrist relief from The Wedding Present. It wasn't until the band's second album that Cinerama found it's sound: indie rock meets Ennio Morricone. (Lyrically, Gedge only does one thing — endless variations of romantic entanglements.) Disco Volante ties TWP's Seamonsters (both recorded with Steve Albini) as the best record he ever made.
MP3: Your Charms
Teenage Fanclub – Howdy! (Sony UK, Oct 2000)
Scotland's Teenage Fanclub have never broken any ground, musically, but they are remarkably consistent songwriters. I'm not sure that this album is that different than the one before or since but this is the one I tend to come back to a lot. Stick-in-your-head melodies, great harmonies, and really nice arrangements this time. They've mellowed out by this point and it fits them like a favorite sweater. This one barely got released in America.
MP3: I Need Direction
MP3: Accidental Life
Oranger - The Quiet Vibrationland (Amazing Grease, December 2000)
Underrated band from San Francisco, not unlike Teenage Fanclub in that they're clearly enamored with '60s sunshine pop. But Oranger will always a little louder, a little more raucous with a drummer who loved to go apeshit Keith Moon-style. (And appropriately, the album's title comes from Tommy.) Hands down their best record, The Quiet Vibrationland still sounds swell ten years later. Apparently they're still together, though somewhat dormant now.
MP3: Suddenly Upside Down
MP3: Stoney Curtis in Reverse
The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music (Telegram, Feb 2001)
There's a lot of '60s psych inspired bands on my list, and TSOOL were like a greatest hits of the era all rolled into one nonstop Swedish Rock Machine and one of the decade's most amazing live bands. 2001's Behind the Music was their third record, the first to get recognition in the States, though it wouldn't get released till mid-2002. Sure, you can dissect the songs into its borrowed elements but why spoil the fun when tracks like "Sister Surround," "21st Century Ripoff," "Keep the Line Movin'," and "Nevermore" sound so great cranked all the way up.
MP3: Sister Surround
MP3: Independent Luxury
Spoon - Girls Can Tell (Merge, Feb 2001)
You could make a pretty good case for Spoon being Artist of the Decade, a band who made great records all through the '00s. Pretty amazing for a band whose first album is so unremarkable. Maybe like Radiohead, it just took Spoon a bit to figure out what they wanted to be. By Girls Can Tell, they'd figured out that almost minimalist sound, where you hear every instrument clearly. I know a lot of people prefer 2003's Kill the Moonlight, but it's this one that proved A Series of Sneaks was no fluke and grabbed me the most… and still does.
MP3: Anything You Want
MP3: Fitted Shirt
Pernice Brothers – The World Won't End (Ashmont, June 2001)
This is clearly the work of someone raised on '70s AM radio pop before having their worldview (and sense of humor) informed by gloomy '80s Brit haircut music. Meet The Pernice brothers, a band who have t-shirts that say "I Hate My Life." The World Won't End (pretty sure the album's title is not meant to be a good thing.) is a gorgeous mix of those two worlds, with Joe Pernice's honeyed, weary vocals (and the swooning string arrangements) the icing on the cake. All the Pernice Brothers albums are good, but The World Won't End is the classic.
MP3: Working Girls (Sunlight Shines)
MP3: Let That Show
American Analog Set – Know By Heart (Tigerstyle, Sept 2001)
Warm yet chilly, lovely yet sinister, American Analog set on Know By Heart made music that seems to have come from that space between waking and sleep. Like the Austin neighbors Spoon, this is spare music, but methodically put together… and will haunt you like a half-remembered dream. AmAnSet never bettered Know By Heart.
MP3: Punk as Fuck
MP3: The Kindness of Strangers
The Notwist - Neon Golden (City Slang, Feb 2002)
Incorporating the glitchy sound of of the then-current laptop scene, long-running German band The Notwist finally got America to take notice with Neon Golden. Rightly so. Digital manipulation is as evident here as it is on Cher's "Believe" but the Notwist make it sound as organic as blood coursing through veins. It hasn't dated one bit.
MP3: One with the Freaks
Edwyn Collins – Doctor Syntax (Setanta, April, 2002)
Before being sidelined by a stroke in 1995, Edwyn Collins was an in-demand producer when not working on solo material. 2002's Doctor Syntax (unreleased in America) might be his best album, slinky funk with a wicked mean streak, mostly aimed at the record industry. The production is brilliant. You could imagine couple of the songs here — "Johnny Teardrop" and "20 Years Too Late" — reworked to be hits for Beyonce or Girls Aloud.
MP3: 20 Years Too Late
MP3: It's a Funny Thing
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it In People (Paper Bag, Oct 2002)
The start of the new Canadian Invasion, though Toronto never developed into an actual scene the way Montreal did. Seeing Broken Social Scene at Mercury Lounge summer of 2003 was kind of a revelation. Most American bands didn't try this hard, or have this many members. It helped that they were touring for an album as great as this, that echoed the '80s and '90s but fresh and new.
MP3: Cause = Time
MP3: Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
The Dears – No Cities Left (MapleMusic, April 2003)
Let's set this straight. Dears frontman Murray Lightburn does NOT sound like Morrissey. Damon Albarn, I can hear that, but not really the Moz. And Lightburn has bigger aspirations, anyway, on No Cities Left, an epic album in every way that might collapse under all the bombast and melodrama if the songs weren't so damn good. And their shows around the time, they were one of the best live bands in North America. One thing Lightburn and Moz do have in common: not getting any enough credit for their sense of humor.
MP3: Lost in the Plot
MP3: 22: the Death of All the Romance
Radio Dept. - Lesser Matters (Labrador/Shelflife, March 2003)
Here's a record that I still can't quite put my finger on why it's so good. It was like the sum of everything I loved in the late '80s and early '90s, as played and recorded on shitty equipment. The enigmatic nature of the band helped too, and you could be convinced that the tapes for this album were discovered by accident while cleaning out someone's basement.
MP3: Why Won't You Talk About It?
New Pornographers – The Electric Version (Merge, May 2003)
Canadian Invasion, West Coast Division. I know the tastemakers say their debut, Mass Romantic, is the end-all be-all. But for my dollar, The Electric Version does it better and catchier. Carl Newman and Dan Bejar' songwriting had grown even more confident… and the hooks are undeniable.
MP3: From Blown Speakers
MP3: Chump Change
Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place (Domino, May 2003)
Laptop shoegaze, beautiful and hypnotic like Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, which are the obvious and admitted influences here. Perhaps my favorite sleeping album of all time, it's also good for walking around the city, road trips and doing the dishes. Dancing, not so much.
MP3: On My Own
Komeda - Kokomemedada (Sonet/Minty Fresh June 2003)
Like Stereolab's zany Swedish cousins, Komeda always swung a little too kitsch/novelty for my tastes on their first album so I checked out until hearing Kokomemedada, and my opinion changed immediately. Komeda stayed playful but became more sophisticated about the songwriting, sort of Krautrock with a personality and sense of humor. Also, ridiculously catchy stuff. 1998's What Makes it Go? is pretty great too.
MP3: Victory Lane
Komeda - Kokomemedada (Sonet/Minty Fresh June 2003)
The Darkness – Permission to Land (WEA, July 2003)
No, I'm not kidding. At the time, debates raged — RAGED — about whether The Darkness was serious or not. Well, clearly you don't wear spandex cat suits, sing in a Tiny Tim falsetto and write a love song to a genital wart ("Growing On Me") and not understand irony, but it was clear singer/guitarist/songwriter Justin Hawkins loves this stuff. Part Thin Lizzy riff rock boogie, part Queen flamboyance, Permission to Land is all hits, start to finish. (If you can get past Justin Hawkins' falsetto.) And some of the most inspired, melodically-driven guitar solos (some songs have three) on any album of the last 20 years. Plus "Friday Night" which could almost be a Pulp song. And hilariously insane videos (especially "Growing on Me".) It all went up Hawkins' nose on the overblown second album, but Permission to Land is brilliant.
MP3: Growing on Me
MP3: Friday Night
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade, Oct 2003)
Who'd have thought having Trevor Horn, producer of some of the most bombastic records of the last 30 years, work with twee royalty Belle & Sebastian would be a good idea, let alone a brilliant one. Instead of turning them into Seal (or taTu) he focused the band back to their stong suit: Stuart Murdoch. Where B&S's three previous records had been democratic to a giant fault, letting everyone in the band contribute songs, Dear Catastrophe Waitress was almost entirely written by Murdoch who was up to the task, branching out from his VU safety zone into glam and new wave territory. Their best record since If You're Feeling Sinister and a terrific return to form, that would continue through the rest of the '00s. (Also seek out the 2004 b-side "Your Cover's Blown," one of their best, most ambitious songs ever.)
MP3: I'm a Cuckoo
MP3: Stay Loose
Lomax - A Symbol of Modern Living (93 Records, Nov 2003)
Of all the bands aping Gang of Four's postpunk in the early '00s (and there were tons of them) Lomax came the closest to feeling like the real thing — the anger, the aggression, the politics. And almost nobody heard this record, which is strange in some ways Lomax's frontman was Paul Epworth, who ended up producing some of the most hyped bands doing nearly the same thing (Rapture, Futureheads, Bloc Party…). Maybe because this record was never shoved down my throat is why I still listen to it.
MP3: Brought to Rights
MP3: Modern Life
Moonbabies - The Orange Billboard (Hidden Agenda, Jan 2004)
Sparkling pop music with lovely boy-girl harmonies, chiming guitars and a twinkle of electronics. It's just a lovely lovely record that got almost no attention at all at the time, though that changed somewhat when Moonbabies ended up on one of the Grey's Anatomy soundtracks. This is the musical equivalent to what I imagine Sweden to be like in the Springtime. Defintely one of the '00s unheard gems.
MP3: Sun A.M.
MP3: Forever Changes Everything Now
The Fall – Real New Fall LP (aka Country on the Click) (Action/Narnack, March 2004)
Though 2000's The Unutterable contains perhaps my favorite Fall song of this decade ("Dr. Buck's Letter") I have to give the edge Real New Fall LP for overall quality. Coming off of one of The Fall's worst album's ever (Are You Missing Winner), Mark E. Smith rallied with a tight new band, a focused outlook and generally seeming fairly with it. This was the last great Fall album, though I have no doubt M.E.S. will deliver another to us soon. An album on Domino (a good sign) is due in January 2010.
MP3: Green Eyed Loco Man
MP3: Mountain Energi
The Scissor Sisters – S/T (Universal, July 2004)
Originally part of the shortlived electroclash scene, Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears envisioned that extended further than Grand Street in Williamsburg. Their debut album (reportedly recorded in Shears' apartment) is the best bits of 1976 that weren't punk: glam, glitter, and disco. An ode to the fading flame that was the NYC nightlife scene, Scissor Sisters debut has a staggering number of phenomenal songs. Like the Darkness album, it's almost all hits. "Take Your Mama Out" and their Gibb-i-fied take on "Comfortably Numb" may have been the showpieces, it's ballads "Mary" and the stunning "Return to Oz" are the showstoppers.
The Rakes – Capture/Release (V2, Aug 2005)
In a sea of similar bands to pop up in Franz Ferdinand's wake, The Rakes were the best because they had personality and a point of view thanks to spazzy singer Alan Donahoe. They actually sang about something. "Everything's temporary these days/Might as well go out for the fifth night in a row" — still relevant! Capture/Release's tales of urban 20-something ennui still hold up. Donahoe's a Jarvis Cocker in the waiting, hopefully he won't give up music following The Rakes recent split.
MP3: 22 Grand Job
Elbow – Leaders of the Free World (V2, Sept 2005)
My top album of 2005. Gorgeous melodies, inventive arrangements and musicianship, and some of the most heartfelt (without treacle) lyrics around. And Guy Garvey's amazing voice on top of it all. Elbow finally got some well deserved recognition (and the Mercury Prize) for 2008's Seldom Seen Kid, but this album is better.
MP3: Mexican Standoff
Hot Chip – The Warning (DFA, June 2006)
My top album of 2006 and they have yet to better it. (That could change when One Life Stand comes out, we'll see.) "Over and Over" has been played to death, but you know it still sounds great, as does the rest of this album. It’s the sound of real live people playing – not programming – synthesizers, and that human element shines through.
MP3: No Fit State
MP3: Look After Me
Sloan - Never Hear the End of It (MurderRecords, Sept 2006)
One of my favorite bands of the last 20 years, Sloan had a rough start to the decade trying to grab the brass ring. (The Canadian brass ring at least.) For Never Hear the End of It, they went back to doing what they do best – being themselves. The result was their best album in years; a sprawling, beautiful mess of 30 interwoven songs that never gets boring.
MP3: Fading into Obscurity
Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure, March 2007)
There is nothing you could call new or groundbreaking about Electrelane's final album. It's a sound echoing of the Velvets, the Pastels, and many other indie touchstones. But they just do it so well, with lyrics so sad and romantic this time, and for whatever reason No Shouts, No Calls really stuck with me. It's kind of perfect. I wish they'd change their mind and get back together.
MP3: To the East
Metronomy – Nights Out (Because Music, Sept 2008)
My top album of '08 and it still holds up a year later. Metronomy have a distinct sound that is instantly recognizable whether it's their own tracks or the remixes they do for other artists. It's manic, with a water-damaged quality to it that sounds like what it feels to be up for 36 hours straight, buzzing on espressos (or whatever) but dead tired. In a good way, obviously. It still sounds like nothing else. Metronomy are now a four piece, with a drummer and new bassist, so who knows what 2010 will bring for them, but I can't wait to find out.
MP3: A Thing for Me