I’m not interested in the argument over whether this new year’s marks the end of the decade-with-no-name. Since we celebrated the end of the millennium 10 years ago, I think we’re stuck. And you can bet that when 2019 rolls over to 2020 we’ll do the same.
My list, for your pleasure, is the decade in music — my personal bests. It will be no surprise to longtime readers here. This is the stuff that stuck with me through the years, that kept my body moving, my mind working and my heart opening. I’ve made most of these entries in pairs (or more) — because I can.
- Beck: The Information (2006)
- The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006)
- The Gaslight Anthem: The 59 Sound (2008)
- Richard Thompson: 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003)
- Wrens: The Meadowlands (2003)
- XTC: Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) (2000)
TOP TEN (IN ELEVEN):
(11) Garage Band and Rock Band: Apple’s software put remarkably high quality basement-taping music-making tools onto every Mac. Rock Band may be a toy, but it’s irresistible, and it schools young minds and bodies in the notion that music is to be made as well as consumed.
(10) Pernice Brothers: The World Won’t End (2001); Discover a Lovelier You (2005) — Definitely the sleeper in this bunch for me. When I first heard Joe Pernice’s work in 1998’s Overcome by Happiness I was impressed but a bit bored. Over time I came to appreciate, then crave, the combination of lush pop arrangements and astringent lyrics.
(9) They Might Be Giants: No (2002); Here Come the ABCs (2005)– For me this decade was all about raising a pair of twin boys. TMBG’s forays into children’s music were that process’s soundtrack — and frequent tonic. “No” offered my three-year-olds an early introduction to absurdism, and its charming animations proved an endless diversion. (“Robot Parade” introduced them to the term “cyborg” — and gave them a chance to misremember it as “borg-cy,” which we will never forget.) And even though, by the time “ABCs” came along, the alphabet had long been mastered, the music (and great accompanying videos) won over kids and grownups alike.
(8) The Long Winters: When I Pretend to Fall (2003); Putting the Days to Bed (2006) — Sharp tuneful alt-rock with an edge and a brain. My only complaint about singer/songwriter John Roderick? Low productivity!
(7) The Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat — The Friedbergers, brother and sister, moved from the more forthright songwriting of their early tracks to the increasing obscurity of their more recent work. But along the way they created this masterpiece of baroque verbiage and extravagant music.
(6) Tobin Sprout: Lost Planets and Phantom Voices (2003) — Deep autumnal soundscapes and pop paintings from a maestro of gentle melody. The former Guided by Voices songwriter, far less profligate with his talent than that group’s leader, Robert Pollard, hasn’t put out an album since; he seems to be concentrating on painting these days. Too bad!
(5) Green Day: American Idiot (2004); and The Thermals: The Body, the Blood, the Machine (2006)– Two punk operas about Bush-era America. Green Day’s megahit album drafted Who-style song suites and hook-laden power-trio riffs in the service of a narrative about disaffected no-future youth; the Thermals channeled a Buzzcocks sound for their grim portrait of a young couple trying to escape a fundamentalist/fascist America.
(4) Mekons: Natural (2007) — These veterans kept producing challenging, creative work through the decade. Each album, from Journey to the Edge of the Night (2000) to OOOH (2002) to Natural, improved on its predecessor. Natural is the band’s version of pastoral — a contemplative, acoustic-heavy set of laments for the end of nature.
(3) Frank Black/Black Francis: Dog in the Sand (2001); Bluefinger (2007) — FB/BF has been as prolific with his songs as he is fickle with his stage name. These albums were his peaks of the decade. Dog in the Sand ranged from fierce Stones-style rockers to the almost unbearably beautiful “St. Francis Dam Disaster.” Bluefinger used the story of Dutch glam-rocker Hermann Brood as the spine for a memorable set of Black classics.
(2) The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (2005), Challengers (2007) — I do not know how A.C. Newman and his cohorts do it, but each album adds to my respect for their genius. When I read somewhere in an interview that Newman is a big fan of Eno’s “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” it all made sense.
(1) The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee (2003), We Shall All Be Healed (2004), The Sunset Tree (2005) — Don’t think I’d have made it through these years without John Darnielle’s music. Thank you. Happy new year!