Rockfeedback Records of the Decade - #75-51

21 Dec 2009

some big names fall early, some little names get justifiably elevated to loftier statuses than some might have predicted, and we have one last go at convincing you that r. kelly’s double up is nothing short of a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

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75)  Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

It's not rocket science, but by following five simple words - write about what you know - the Arctic Monkeys made a classic debut album.  Having surveyed the lyrical and thematic failings of so much contemporary music - submerged in gormless innuendo, empty clichés, smug-(sm)art arsery and bland generalizations about how life is, like, y'know, all about searching for Important Answers to Big Questions, the Arctic Monkeys seemed to simply shrug and got down to the apparently effortless business of transferring their young lives to record.  Nightclub altercations, scraps round the back of the takeaway, amorous debacles, bedsit philosophizing... And it worked a treat. As a lyricist, Alex Turner injects his songwriting with the kind of empathy and eloquence that can't be taught. It's what truly set the Arctic Monkeys apart. And it’s really not so easy - it's been much attempted before - and this record will speak to many listeners in a way that some bleary-eyed geezer in a long coat warbling 'THIS IS FAAAAR THE PAAAAAAAR' never could. To misquote Morrissey, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not said everything to me about my life. [MATT TOMIAK]

74)  R. Kelly – Double Up

Even if he’d have just stuck to making Trapped in the Closet (the hip-hopera he claims to know nothing about – “it just... happens”) and being accused of videoing himself engaged in perverse sexual practices with fourteen year olds (and he seemed to get off – the charges, that is – by claiming that it wasn’t him but his brother in the tape, or something?  Dude!), R Kelly would still have been my man of the decade without a shadow of a doubt.  He deserves it for Double Up alone, quite frankly the most ridiculous piece of music I’ve ever heard.  Occasionally, it is genuinely brilliant – the beats on the likes of ‘I’m A Flirt’ or the Snoop Dogg-featuring title track are as sick as anything R. Kelly laid to tape (audio tape, that is – we’ve heard about the videos...).  But by in large, it’s just hilarious – the most baffling and consistently entertaining example of the man’s unfettered madness to date.  Be it the descriptions of animal intercourse in ‘The Zoo’ (“let me flip you over and play yo’ as like it’s a bongo!”), the extra terrestrial love making of ‘Sex Planet’ (“girl I promise you this will be painless, painless, we’ll take a trip to planet Uranus, anus...”) or the has to be heard to be believed Real Talk, or, no, wait, the fact that he follows up the aforementioned ‘Sex Planet’ with, ‘Rise Up’ a tribute to the victims of the Victoria Tech Massacre (appropriate post-coital fare if ever I heard it)... it’s just completely, brilliantly, insane.  [THOMAS HANNAN]

73)  Interpol – Antics

A continued ascent from the dark lords of reflective, eerie posture. It exudes the epic, emotive intrigue that littered the debut, and builds upon it, with arrangements and yearning melody that confound and entice. From the understated entrance of 'Next Exit', to the almost-terrifying 'Length Of Love' and the closing slump of 'A Time To Be So Small', Interpol's second is a real journey.  Widely heralded as their second best, this writer would controversially (and incorrectly – Ed.) argue that Antics is actually the release where the band have thus far most come into their own. Full of their most accessible compositions yet, Banks revelled more seriously in a demeanour even Bowie would shudder in bleak resentment at. Through this decades' large group of bands that took their exploratory raw and dark baritone-pop beauty from post-punk heroes such as Joy Division, Interpol did it the best.  Every instrument stood out and performed individually at its optimum, yet came together in the most sadly beautiful of ways. For a young music fan and hopeful young artist engrossed by both a wave of exciting new bands cropping up alongside Interpol, (and also delving deeper into a wonderful mine of post-punk, dance music and New York giants from Reed to Bryne), I threw down my headphones after hearing Antics with a feeling of despair that this was all that I wanted from modern guitar pop at that moment had been finely achieved.  Sensitive, intense, Antics showcases a band with an unrelenting, frivolous pulse, a bleeding, ferocious heart, and an agenda to seduce.  [DANIEL MONSELL]

72)  The Dismemberment Plan – Change

They’d already made their undisputed and yet still underrated masterpiece (Emergency & I), so by this point, The Dismemberment Plan were at the confusing stage where they were fully aware of how good a band they were.  They were also growing up, starting families, and becoming increasingly reflective about their own place in the scheme of things, both as a band, and as people.  It was a recipe for a catastrophic disaster of a record – which makes the fact that Change ever so nearly matches the aforementioned career peak every last inch of the way all the more remarkable.  This was the best kind of introspection, the sound of band turning in on themselves to find that the themes that kept them up at night were also a pain in the arse for the rest of the world.  In Travis Morrison they had a frontman who could articulate such botherances in a way that seemed universal, and as a band, they’d found that by slowing down the tempo and not relying solely on physics-defying time signature changes, they were actually some of the finest songwriters of their age.  They split up after this record, and for some of us, it’s not exaggeration to say their loss was felt as strongly as that of Michael Jackson to the larger public.  Reform whilst it’s still cool, already.  [THOMAS HANNAN]

71)  Danger Mouse – The Grey Album

Even in hindsight, it’s quite insane just how influential this cracking blend of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album became. Its illegal release confirmed record labels’ utter powerlessness to stop you from downloading music (with ‘Grey Tuesday’ Downloads Day sticking it to EMI on Web sites all over the world) - paving the way for Radiohead’s In Rainbows free-for-all.  It made “mash-up” a phrase so common, even your grandmum’s heard of Girl Talk. It shoved the Beatles into the 21st century. And it hurtled DM into production gigs shaping some of the other best albums and leading artists of this or any decade… All-in-all, not too shabby for some bedsit-made MP3’s. [JOSHUA K]

 

 

70)  The Rapture – Echoes

Oh, how this record works in all the ways you wouldn't expect. Yes, there are angular, brittle guitar-lines and the requisite, funky drums and bass (signature-track 'House of Jealous Lovers', 'Heaven', etc.). But did you anticipate straight-up acid-house worthy of 808 State ('I Need Your Love')? Ballads ('Open Up Your Heart')? Indie-pop ('Love Is All')? Short, storming, PiL-like rockers ('The Coming Of Spring')? Or that singer Luke Jenner's voice, over the eleven tracks, would morph from an odd distraction into the most distinctive musical weapon since Perry Farrell's? For this latter point, see especially 'Killing', in which he yelps '1-2-3-4/Kick that f**ker /Out the door' to launch an incredible guitar riff. Oh yeah, it works, keeping you enthralled for 47 straight minutes.  [JOSHUA K]

 

69)  Burial – Untrue

With Untrue, Burial effortlessly followed the near perfect concept of his debut, in which South London was lost under a wave of depression. In terms of evolution, he expanded his variations on a theme by the integration of vocals and more direct, dare I say it, commercial song structure, yet still seemed years ahead of his dubstep contemporaries.  Untrue is a deeply personal album, designed for these frosty evenings when the dark is rising and you're waiting for buses in the cracked pavement wilderness. A Weekend in the City it is not.  [TIM DELLOW]

 

 

 

68)  Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Released just days after George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Address, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, the fifth album proper from doe-eyed Nebraskan boy-poet Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes project was almost eerily prescient. Unleashed simultaneously with an electro companion piece, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, this LP favoured more traditional warm folk-rock and barnstorming Dylan-esque arrangements, but was nevertheless a record fully engaged with the times. As Dubya boasted of America’s divine blessing, vanquished overseas foes and the “broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights” against a backdrop of increasingly costly and divisive military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rip-roaring 'At The Bottom Of Everything' avowed to "set fire to the preacher who is promising us hell' and described a gun-toting father who "says death will give us back to God". There were anxious references to a New World Order and an eviscerating finale, 'Road To Joy', which told how Oberst had “read the body count out of the paper, and now it’s written all over my face." Not that Conor had forgotten how to emote with the best of 'em; the fragile, harrowing tear-jerker 'Lua' will strike a chord with anyone who's been forced to gingerly pick up the emotional detritus after a big night out ("What was normal in the evening/by the morning seems insane.....")  The sound of a precocious talent ripening into greatness.  [MATT TOMIAK]

67)  Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People

While Scots indie poster-children Belle & Sebastian were off finishing their fifth LP with pop luminary Trevor Horn, here come BSS, exclaiming, 'We'll take your Trevor-sodding-Horn and raise you fifty.' For the 'Scene sound like no less than a muscular B&S meets Godspeed - a powerful mix of sensitivity, acoustic strumming, jangling electrics, strings, horns and killer percussion, spiraling skyward, all while never losing sight of the gold standard: the four-minute pop song.  It's all here - from instrumental opener 'Capture the Flag', which sounds like Pink Floyd without being at all prog, to the delicate female vocals and folk instrumentation of 'Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl'. From the Radiohead-esque 'KC Accidental' and 'Almost Crimes' to the breathy chug of 'Stars and Sons' and dreamy bossa nova of 'Pacific Theme'. Never less than marvellous.  [JOSHUA K]

 

66)  Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

Transatlanticism starts as it means to go on, “So this is the new year, and I don't feel any different”. Yes, the mood is sombre, but then when did sombre become so underrated? When this album was released back in 2003, many wrongly pigeon-holed it in the 'emo' genre, but long after those fringes have been cut and that heavy eye-liner has been scrubbed away, this album still shines bright.  Previous releases from Death Cab had of course shown little glimmers of what they were capable of, but none could have predicted just how epic this album would be. Like all good albums, it takes the listener on a journey, from the jovial highs of 'The Sound Of Settling', to the sweet melancholy of 'Title and Registration', and who could forget that title track? At almost 8 minutes, it was bound to stand out, but any fan of the album would surely agree that Gibbard's simple but poignant lyrics means that it's a track much revisited.  Despite its success and recognition from the oddest of sources (most notably from hit teen drama, The O.C), this album still feels like a rare gem. Mutual fans of Death Cab still get excited when they meet one another, and thanks to that age old tradition of word-of-mouth, this album continues to be listened to and adored more every day.  [IZZY JAMES]

65)  The National – Boxer

Boxer is a dark, cold night by the fire. It is a long chat with an old friend and a bottle of whiskey. It is leafing through old photo albums with sticky fingers and breathing memories of what has been. Swimming in a deep, oaky melancholy Matt Berninger’s charcoal vocals
cup your face and allow a careful pensiveness to unfold. The brief twinges of a hope that is no longer allowed to flourish, rise and fall between the shades of deep, blood red. But yet it has the stones to shake you up and dust you down. Because there are guts, in every single second. ‘The Gospel’ is a perfect abstract (albeit the finale) to this work – gritty and matured with heartache(s). [SOFIE JENKINSON]

 

 

64)  The Futureheads – The Futureheads

The Futureheads is a spasmodic, jittering series of infectious convulsions from the get-go. 'Le Garage' is both harmonic and fierce, 'Robot' grappling and with a freak-out chorus that we didn't see coming, 'A To B' is inane in its repetition (not that we mind when the parts are this desirable), and 'Decent Days And Nights' is a snappy riff-racket that seems somehow both random yet more cautiously, intricately designed than a submarine.  Every one of the painfully short, fourteen tracks is crucial - they follow one another more or less instantly, and, save for a solely vocal-guided 'Danger Of The Water', are classic, anthemic shoulder-boppers in the making.  Genuienly one of the decade’s most promising – ah, sod it... best– debuts.  [TOBY L]

 

63)  Battles – Mirrored

Mirrored is the kind of album that subtly changes the way you consider music in some way, whether that is for just a second or for the rest of your life.  Its compacted sounds weave and bob between individually carved pockets of the idiosyncratic and the non-human, layer upon layer of which blend together to create a vibrant and delicious chaos from which emerges a moment of perfection.   A lot is said about the notoriously well executed ‘Atlas’ but it’s ‘Leyendecker’, buried deep in the centre, that pins this body of work down from the core with majesty.   [SOFIE JENKINSON]

 

 

 

62)  Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

There was so much hype around this band it was far too easy to fob them off as fad, but the more you heard ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘Bryn’ and ‘A Punk’, the more you wake up to the fact you’ll be playing this record to your grand-kids, if for no other reason than to introduce them to Peter Gabriel, The Beach Boys and Paul Simon. The influences are obvious but used respectfully, the sound to this record being so minimal in places there’s often nothing more than the odd string-flutter, proving less can be more as long as you have an immaculate ear for melody and arrangement, this being a record that’s so straightforward it sounds practically effortless. It’s a breezy, catchy, kitschy wedge of pop that every record collection should have, and no doubt – by now – does. [ALEX LEE THOMSON]

 

61)  Animal Collective – Feels

On Feels, Avey Tare and co. took perhaps the most significant artistic step forward in a career filled with significant steps forward. Following the more Western Pop-arc set in motion by Sung Tongs, the group struck a near-perfect balance between expert song craft and their inimitable Animal Collective-ity. Opener ‘Did You See the Words’ lulls the listener into a haze of sparkling major key arpeggios and canonic harmony that conceals darkness in lyrics about “inky periods” and “blood flies”. This is very much a theme of Feels– an exploration of something dark in a seemingly idyllic setting, the desire to delve deeper and discover more. There is a throbbing urgency to tracks like ‘The Purple Bottle’ and ‘Turn into Something’, undercut by uncertain, fuzzy beds of noise, that seems to jar with all the joyous feelings you know you should be eliciting from this music. The group seem to know they’re in the process of making a vital record, and everything, whilst it may at times appear ramshackle, is in fact meticulously and deftly co-ordinated. Tare’s vocal performance is exceptional, his Baltimore twang chiming just as poignantly if he’s sneering like a Lewis Carroll creation on ‘Bees’ or sending chills running up and down your spine in the gorgeous ‘Banshee Beat’. This is a record about the washing out of the final dregs of innocence, a desire to both dwell on early years (of life as a recording artist and life in general) and at the same time eschew them for an exciting and terrifying future. On ‘Grass’, Tare asks over and over, with all the shyness of a teenager talking to his first crush, “would you like to see me often?” – yes, yes we would.[FRED MIKARDO-GREAVES]

60)  The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is a muddled, yet simultaneously coherent, body of recordings, whose theme throughout is on the perplexing subject-matter of a girl (Yoshimi) that battles evil machinery (yes, those 'Pink Robots'). Admittedly, when analysed so simply as this, you'd be forgiven for laughing or wondering if Flaming Lips frontman and general source of inspiration, Wayne Coyne, had finally and completely lost it. Yet, aurally, the endeavours are exquisite. Ear-pleasing, yet challenging, Yoshimi... marks an end of sorts to the Lips' gorgeous fixation with creating lullaby-standard symphonies as marked on their previous record, the scintillating The Soft Bulletin, and instead an escape into the DJ Shadow-esque noodling with drum-machines and synths (with the odd acoustic guitar here and there, if you're lucky).  But who said moving on can't still bear the hallmarks of what made such a gifted band so classic in the first place?  On this evidence, an idiot, that’s who.  [TOBY L]

59)  Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump

Radiohead may have tackled the subject on "contender for greatest album of all time"OK Computer, but the second album proper from Grandaddy demonstrated the start of the decade fin de siecle concerns of human interaction with technology. But took the side of Technology. Abused toasters. Keyboards crushed by unstoppable vines and centuries of sediment. Alcoholic Robots - obsolete and unloved. Man has become God and followed in its father's image; abandoning his creation for pastures (or pass times) new. From the epic nine minute (single!?!?!) ‘He's Simple He's Dumb He's The Pilot’, through the vintage synth-pop of ‘The Crystal Lake’ to the crushing closer ‘So You'll Aim Towards The Sky’, this is an album to treasure. A concept album full of vivid imagery, bold musicianship and electronic humanity. [TIM DELLOW]

58)  Bon Iver – For Emma: Forever Ago

For Emma...'s uniqueness, which even Vernon says he cannot accept full-credit for, must be attributed to the circumstances in which it was born. More than anything, it manages to capture an exquisite sense of space, in which not a single chord, harmony or lyric seems out of place. It is hard to believe that the album's incredibly lush production was achieved with such minimal equipment (the story goes that Vernon had to exchange a haunch of the deer he had hunted to live on when his guitar needed to be repaired...) yet the sounds created in the recording are certainly evocative of its environment, from the icy metallic ring of the guitars to the eerie and somewhat lupine quality of Vernon's endlessly layered falsetto. Crucially, however, this is not an album about the landscape, the wilderness or 'the great outdoors', but an album about all the tedious demons and personal anxieties that, far from being left behind, have a habit of becoming overwhelmingly amplified when you go somewhere to give yourself time and space. [SOPHIE DODDS]

57)  Hot Chip – The Warning

Hot Chip are where electronica begins to develop a social conscience to go along with its attention grabbing moves. Cementing their stance, they even mock the other options on the remarkable groove of 'Over and Over', lambasting the current dance scene's repetition obsession for being about as intelligent as the music of "a monkey with a miniature cymbal". Their point is clear to see, their riling against it a joy to witness. A joy, that is, in the sense that it's remarkably impressive - not that it's always attempting to give rise to unadulterated glee. Bits of it possess melody so sublimely arresting that it could produce tears in an android - 'And I Was a Boy from School' particularly being so wistful that you wonder, momentarily, if you'll ever do anything other than sigh and think of the good times ever again. [THOMAS HANNAN]


56)  Dirty Projectors – Rise Above

You could ramble on about the concept behind Rise Above - Dirty Projectors main man Dave Longstreth apparently attempted to record a version of Black Flag's Damaged, his favourite album as a child, entirely from memory, and came up with this - until you're blue in the face. Still you'll never have it quite figured out, and you'll never quite decide whether the whole thing is a joke or not. For indeed, it sounds nothing like Black Flag. Lyrically the songs are (pretty much) the same, sure, but this sounds more like Paul Simon, R. Kelly, David Bowie and Captain Beefheart than it does the work of some American hardcore punk band.  Somehow though, regardless of the artier-than-thou air that surrounds it, it's one of the most remarkable pieces of music, inventive and rewarding, abrasive and soothing, that I've ever heard in my life.  [THOMAS HANNAN]


55)  Grinderman – Grinderman

Nick Cave absolutely had to do Grinderman, if only for the purposes of re-invigorating the Bad Seeds to the extent that they could make what many claim to be their defining opus, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (more of which later).  Complacency was about to set in, so Nick kicked the living sh*t out of it.  One of the most remarkable things about Grinderman was that each of the players on it was behind an instrument they could barely play (Nick for example this time finding himself working a guitar rather than a piano) – but as the likes of Scout Niblett or PJ Harvey will tell you, this can often lead to channelling something true and primal, and Grinderman the band rocked in the bluntest, most straightforward and hard-hitting way man can – just hitting things REALLY BLOODY HARD and moaning about women.  It was basic, yes.  But it was basically brilliant.  [THOMAS HANNAN]

 
54)  Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly

If Melody for Certain Undamaged Lemons marked a move away from the Sonic Youth endorsed guitar noise of the first part of their career, Misery Is A Butterfly refined their new sound with a step up in the songwriting department and remains perhaps their most complete and rewarding album. Produced in a haunted house with Ryan Hadlock (The Gossip, Stephen Malkmus, Johnny Flynn) the record pours spiritual incantations into your ears leaving a foggy mist around your brain; songs growing on you like fungus in these fertile conditions. It's only once the Burton-esque beauty of these Victorian ghost-house hallucinations subside, and you step into the light at the end of the album that ‘Equus’ a funky stead of sexual liberation carries you onwards into the further adventures of a special career. [TIM DELLOW] 

 
53)  Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around

This was Cash’s last really great, memorable record… the one to hang his legacy on, and the one that summed up six decades of writing, recording and performing music. Known mostly for its heart-hacking rendition of ‘Hurt’, the powerful album connected in such a commanding way, giving him a final stab at immortality and in-arguably a presence among a younger generation. The best examples of Cash’s steady and unsettling voice, covers of ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘In My Life’ might have had little emotion delivered by anybody else, but through Cash’s ‘Man In Black’ persona they’re mystifying, bitter ballads that cemented his approach to melodic dark pop prior to his death just a year later. This is simply everything you need to know about the latter years of Johnny Cash.  [ALEX LEE THOMSON]

 

52)  The Avalanches – Since I Left You

Estimates suggest that in total there are 3500 samples on what remains the only full LP release from mysterious Australian production team of the Avalanches. Copyright concerns were so high that that the band actually never thought they would be able to release it. Such a casual approach to sampling (reportedly they didn't even note down what they were actually using at times) was an all win situation for the listener, as it resulted in a free spirited, all embracing approach to making club music. It's one that still sounds incredibly fresh and mischievous today: was that Madonna's ‘Holiday’ just then? Yet it was. Rumours of what's going on with their follow up still abound today, and each year some kind of report emerges that it's "on it's way". However, with the impact of singles like ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and ‘Since I Left You’ resonating through the decade like little oddball gems of creativity (and very noticeably leading to the likes of Passion Pit taking on their colourful electro-pop mantle in a similar way), this quality work of musical patchwork (alongside a slew of remix work) has done enough to cement the group as music mavericks right out of that top draw.  [DANIEL MONSELL]

51)  The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

Recorded in a basement, but sounding like a million dollars, the shot of summer that can thaw this seemingly eternal winter, and the first album by a band since Love to sound both soulful and pleasant. Stripping away the wallpaper with creative use of a hot-tongued witticisms and instrumental eclecticism, the dreadfully titled 'Pink Bullets' re-writes Chris Isaac's 'Wicked Game', defusing any bitter sentiments of infatuation and focussing on the essence of adoration, the line 'warm light on a winters day' an accurate summation of the worth of the wide-eyed exuberance of this album. The Shins effortlessly prove that the post-modern scavenger doesn't need to be a cynical, patronising gravedigger, but can be a well-meaning bird, searching out sustenance in a stark desert of dreary repetition, and bringing its findings to your breakfast table.  [TIM DELLOW]

 

THIS IS PART THREE

>> PART ONE IS HERE

>> PART TWO IS HERE 

>> PART FOUR IS HERE

>> PART FIVE IS HERE

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