Avery Island’s Favorite Albums of the Decade (00-09): 30-21

30. Intronaut – Prehistoricisms, 2008

Ancient mammoths crushing skulls, birds of the hunt swooping down upon prey, and primordial man eating, fucking, and killing everything in reach: these are the sights in the land that Prehistoricisms takes place. The album is so richly dense with severe imagery and crushing textures that when the heavy, brute-force passages flow into a headlong wander so easily, you’ll do a double-take. We’ve talked about the album before, so allow me to simply make this one a quick one; this album fucking rules.

It’s an incredible album not just because it’s played flawlessly or because it flows perfectly or even just because it’s incredibly intelligent for a metal release. It’s an incredible album because it has real weight and depth to it; sure, the riffs are awesome, the bass swoons and pounds precisely, and the drums are out-of-this-world fantastic, but at the end of the day, the album succeeds because there is more to it than it would put on. It’s not slight, or underwhelming, or misguided, but rather intense and subtle at the same time. Prehistoricisms stands along side the works of Mastodon or Isis as a true shining gem of thinking man’s metal, and we love every bone-crushing, heart-pounding second of it.

29. Animal Collective – Feels, 2005

Everyone loves Sung Tongs, but to us, Feels is the true defining moment of pre-Merriweather Animal Collective. While Sung Tongs is quite obviously the meeting place of the “old” and “new” AnCo, Feels is the album where the guys shed their previous skin of freak folk and instead became a complete psych-pop group with nature and water ambiance, vocal hiccups and harmonies, and African drum beats. Gone are the acoustic guitar campfire songs where they mimed kitten sounds (not that we dislike that at all), and now the melodies rely on genuine hooks; just listen to “Did You See the Words” or “Grass” and try not to sing along. Catchy isn’t simply the added bonus of Feels, its the quality and skill of the hooks and the odd and idiosyncratic ways they’re able to make them. After all, an album that is almost universally in-tune with an out-of-tune piano shouldn’t sound this perfect.

However, the centerpieces of the album are “Bees” and “Banshee Beat”. “Bess” is a slow, peaceful song that is desperately beautiful even with a guitar that’s distorted into a harp and odd vocals, urging you to “Please take your time”. It’s relaxing and reassuring enough when the piano and windy drone wisp in that you may start daydreaming, but suddenly “Banshee Beat” comes on as “Bees” fades out. As the longest song on the album, it is a piece that progresses from a slow, quiet start into a crescendo about 5 minutes in. “Oh there’ll be time/to get by” Panda Bear whispers, voices layered upon voices. When the drums kick in and the the grand “Wa ooooh” vocal hook kicks in, the song hits it’s stride big time; it took “Fireworks” to convince anyone that this wasn’t the best song AnCo wrote. Feels is simply a joy to hear at almost any level, however it’s the surprising amount of heart and real depth that it has that makes Feels such a rare, original, and overall terrific album.

28. Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun, 2001

Technically, this album was heard by most of the world long before the turn of the century, but we get a pass since it’s official American release was well into 2001. But what can be said of Ágætis byrjun? It’s a work of surprising depth and clarity despite being in a language that doesn’t actually exist and generally sounding like it takes place 20,000 leagues under the sea. Remember that scene in The Life Aquatic when they all finally see the jaguar shark and “Staralfur” plays and Bill Murray’s character simply weeps? That is basically the general reaction to the album, which is notoriously gorgeous and emotionally affecting. Radiohead even said as much for Christ’s sake, and they’re pretty much the kings of making sad shit sound pretty.

In all honesty though, it’s hard to argue with the album itself. It’s the harbinger of post-rock to the general populace; it even sold singles in Iceland despite the average song length being well into 8 minutes. Ágætis byrjun has not just a charm, but an aura that draws people in and pulls them together. It has an immense amount of power over even non-music fans, despite it having every reason to not be as accessible as it is; it’s long, it’s glacially-paced, it’s in another “language”, and it’s very, very indie. However, little seems to matter in it’s wake, and the angelic fetus on the cover, it’s arms still patiently wrapped about it’s knees, is a perfect visual image for an album that songs simultaneously spacey and subterranean. Where it came from doesn’t matter, what it means doesn’t matter, and who is listening to it doesn’t matter; Ágætis byrjun simply is, and we all love it.

27. No Age – Nouns, 2008

DIY aesthetic and messy production will only get you so far; you need talent to stick out, and No Age, regulars at the Smell along with HEALTH, have tons of it. Nouns is their first proper album in the sense that it doesn’t meander about waist deep in shitgaze for 90% of the album’s runtime. Sure, Weirdo Rippers has it’s moments, but not many of them are to be found deep down behind reverb and electronic hiss. On Nouns, No Age go straight for it, unleashing a force of banging drums and fuzzy guitars on “Miner” and giving a single with the summer day dive of “Eraser”. They sound focused and determined to get what they have to say out, as quickly and loudly as possible.

That’s the beauty of Nouns, which is an album that has a lot to say and has a perfect aesthetic to match the punk ethos and teen dreams of the lyrics. “With passion it’s true” isn’t just a line, it’s a mantra, because we hear their passion in their intensity and immediacy. When they bring out their shitgaze sides on tracks like “Things I Did When I Was Dead” or “Impossible Bouquet”, you get the sense that their not just doing it to waste time, but rather juxtapose the calming lows with the screeching highs. That is why Nouns is easily the best album out of the recent surge of “teen rock” albums; it captures the spirit of youth in all it’s intense, fragile, and sometimes lazy bliss perfectly. Japandroids and even Best Coast to a lesser degree owe a lot to No Age, who showed us that sometimes, much like youth itself, it is the brief that shine the brightest.

26. Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow, 2003

A lot of people might see Lightning Bolt live, totally unaware of who they are, and instinctively run for cover. Even being two guys, they’ve got one hell of a stage presence. Bassist Brian Gibson fumbles around cables all geared towards refining his 5-string’s tone to the perfect timbre, a thick pump of pure unmitigated sludge. Drummer Brian Chippendale dons a frightening ski mask, modified with a mic to distort his voice into a barely coherent  wail, all the while thrashing his drum set like a heavily-caffeinated Neil Peart. Their feral live show is the most crucial part of their aesthetic, one that Wonderful Rainbow among their other albums can only hope to emulate. Regardless, what sets this album apart from its relatives is not its production, but its composition; Wonderful Rainbow is undoubtedly one of the prettiest albums of Ruins-worshiping noise rock we’ve ever heard, and yet it never lays off on the skull-crushing thrash that makes Lightning Bolt the eclectic duo they are.

The opening track “Hello Morning” weaves feedback into a harmonic cacophony, as if the noise rock equivalent of Grieg’s “Morning.” But a sudden explosion of cymbals and bass breaks the peace in “Assassins” and, in classic Lighting Bolt style, scoops up the pace into a full-on march. From the fingertap-meets-bass-stomp anthem “Crown of Storms” to the maelstrom of noise on “30,000 Monkies,” Wonderful Rainbow never fails to satisfy either noise-hungry fans or hook-crazed metal aficionados. But Wonderful Rainbow is unique in the Lightning Bolt catalog in its capacity to please from an artistic perspective. The finger-tapping melody on track “Wonderful Rainbow” is minimalist and, quite frankly, pretty, a suitable ode to the duo’s idol Philip Glass if they ever had any intention of making one. If anything, though, just give a listen to “Dracula Mountain” and you’ll see how the band got their reputation as one of the most relentless noise acts in the Western Hemisphere.

25. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend, 2007

The amount of opposition that Vampire Weekend hit in getting out of the gates was highly unprecedented. Whether it was their reliance on African influences, their button-up-Ivy-League-douchebag mannerisms, or Ezra Koenig’s propensity to occasionally interject his two-cents in wholly irrelevant situations (I can see MIA still shaking her fist), exactly what drove shuffle-gazers to retching at the perky “A-Punk” among other VW tunes remains unclear. Whatever the reason, it was undeserved to say the least.

All in all, a band’s lasting impression all boils down to honesty. Honesty, in music or in person, is something that we all pick up on through the subtlest of hints, body gestures, twitching of the eyes, vocal inflections. Yet most people are seldom aware of their own awareness of it. Honestly, Ezra Koenig can be an ass, but his pop songs are never far from his truths; bombastic expressions of the life, whims, and loves of being a dotey, pretentious college kid. Some people find this honesty brutal; others, including us, find it a breath of fresh air in an often stagnant music world.

In one of the landmark debuts of the decade, Koenig pulls out all the stops: torrential violin harmonies in “M79,” a clever fugue in “One (Blake’s Got a New Face), tribal drumming in damn near every song. Yet despite all of its extravagances, it’s difficult to imagine quite as effectual an album without them. This is Vampire Weekend, illustrative love songs constructed of perky guitar jingles and playful rhythms, all tied together by  a colorful frontman who isn’t afraid to do what he feels needs to be done, even at the risk of alienating potential fans fearful of such eclecticism in pop music. I could honestly say that Koenig is the 21st century’s Rivers Cuomo and insist that Vampire Weekend is the best record of pure pop since the Blue Album and have no qualms in saying it. Say what you want about Ezra, but one thing’s incontrovertible: he’s got spirit.

24. Isis – Oceanic, 2002

The oceans of the Earth may seem like peaceful places, but to Isis, it’s much more. Oceanic, their sophomore LP, is an album that emphasizes the immense weight of the ocean rather than the peace that lies on the surface. The album does foray into the less extreme with most songs having multiple parts that go for the melodic wander that post-metal is known for (“Maritime” is almost completely devoted to it), however for the most part, songs like “The Beginning and the End” or “Weight” epitomize the crushing heaviness of the waters. It’s an album of many juxtapositions, with it’s theme of water being placed against the female presence that Isis became more intimate with on later releases. Not so much mermaids as they are sirens, the occasional vocals lure you into the depths that this album carries with it, and suddenly, you’re trapped.

Far from claustrophobic, Oceanic is open and extraordinarily large even for a metal release. It achieves this kind of cyclopean size by placing an emphasis of repetition and slow progression and simple over complex; this is not a technically dense album, but it is better for it. Rather than sabotaging by finger-picking solos or arpeggios stuck into the background, Isis choose to slam you with riff after riff of huge, hulking guitar chug and relieve you with two-string strumming interludes and simple, but extremely evocative drum patterns. Honestly, this is a difficult album to talk about, because nothing truly compares to listening to it; I could tell you all day how great the melodic passages are in “The Beginning and the End” or how “From Sinking” is the epitome of slow-prog, but it all is meager to the great immensity of Oceanic, and album so focused, you might just lose yourself to it. God knows we have.

23. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002

You know, the Flaming Lips have already made an album about accepting death and the struggle of the soul; it’s called The Soft Bulletin. That being said, don’t get it into your head that this is some Amnesiac-ish rehash of an indisputable masterpiece. Even if frontman Wayne Coyne has always balanced his morbid pensiveness with viral optimism (with the exception of last year’s neurotic Embryonic), he makes damn sure never to fall into a creative rut. As the absurd name would suggest, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is an intensified abstraction of the original formula on The Soft Bulletin. That album was a laid-back breather that stared upward into the vast reaches of space; this one is a raucous fanfare championing the struggle of the soul in the face of death and its own insignificance.

Even so, I don’t mean to imply that Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots takes itself seriously 100% of the time. Yoshimi P-We of Boredoms fame guests on the album, playing the role of selfless hero entrusted to defeating a plague of monstrous pink robots terrorizing the city. If the narrative established in “Pt. 1” wasn’t silly enough for you, there’s still “Pt. 2” in store: Yoshimi’s shrill shrieks in response to what sounds like the electronic whirs  and lumbering footfalls of the malevolent pink robots is enough to progress the narrative and simultaneously depreciate its sense of gravitas. Obviously, Wayne Coyne likes to have a little fun here and there, but he never lets it obstruct his message. In “Do You Realize??,” he captures his sublime philosophy perfectly, singing “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die” with a fatherly compassion that suggests that this stark reality is perhaps more a thing of beauty than dread.

22. Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life, 2008

Fucked Up aren’t out to save the world, but they are trying to make hardcore punk fans just a tiny bit smarter. Their “debut” Hidden World was an edict on the importance of finding your own way in a world where most people aren’t. It was messy and rough around the edges, but it was pretty great overall. The Chemistry of Common Life is not messy or rough, but instead a flawlessly executed album by a band full of normal, everyday people. Our favorite part about Fucked Up is that they don’t give a shit; I don’t mean that in the cute, “punk” way where it’s actually more just like a fashion statement, but I actually mean it. Frontman Pink Eyes is huge, and not muscular mind you. I mean he is a big guy, he is hairy, and he doesn’t give a shit if he gets cuts from the crowd, shirt off and proud of his hairy back. To him, self-image is nothing more than masturbation.

Back to Chemistry though, the album bleeds intensity and intelligence, with even the most simple riffs turning into didactic epics. “Son the Father” is a perfect introduction, a lone flute greeting us with a peaceful tune. Then the guitars come in palm-muting, building with the wah, until suddenly were greeted by a screech from Pink Eyes and were through the roof. In under a minute, we hear a back chorus chanting “It’s hard enough being born in the first place/So who would ever want to be born again?” They don’t waste time. The gravel voice doesn’t overcome the multi-tracked guitars and thick bass, but rather compliments it; the absolute perfection of the instrumental end is juxtaposed against a voice that sounds like it has been treated with rock salt and buck shot, spouting out terrific lines like “Rubbing stones together ’til the magic comes out” or “Heads up if you think you’re the only one”. Chemistry of Common Life is not quiet, but it is wise, and it is not afraid to chew you up and spit you out just to remind you that you aren’t the only one suffering, you selfish prick.

21. Mastodon – Blood Mountain, 2006

As the follow-up to Leviathan, an album that was regarded as a masterpiece even by non-metal fans, Blood Mountain had a lot to live up to. With all the pressure of not only the metal world watching, most most other music fans, Mastodon did what not many other bands could do; do them one better. While Blood Mountain may not be considered superior by most, it is a more-than-worthy follow-up. In fact, relating it’s quality by comparing it to Leviathan is to do the album a great disservice. On it’s own, Blood Mountain is a  winding, grinding, technically-precise metal album of dizzying speed, pounding intensity, and intelligent progression. Like the previous two Mastodon albums, it follows an elemental theme, this one being Earth, so instead of the machine-gun blast passion of Remission or the water-logged weight of Leviathan, we get a more psychedelic-inspired progressive metal sound that is much more nimble and melodic than the former albums.

Opener “The Wolf Is Loose” is the harshest song the band had made since “Crusher Destroyer” literally roared open Remission; the song is a riff-centric blaster cap full of circular guitar and bass lines and spiraling drum rhythms that foreshadows the entire album. Songs like “Sleeping Giant” or “This Mortal Soil” slow it down occasionally, but for the majority of the album, it maintains a death-race pace as it’s perspective darts through the dangers and wonders of the forest the lyrics are tied to. More than simply typical Tolkien worship, Blood Mountain is a complete world-creation exercise with odd creatures like the Cysquatch or the Birchmen. The titular “Hunters of the Sky” and “Sleeping Giant” are all fleshed out in ambiguous detail that lends itself to repeated listenings and on “This Mortal Soil”, the theme of an Earth that is literally a living creature is brought to the forefront. Although aside from that, whether it’s lyrically, instrumentally, or melodically, Blood Mountain is an absolute success by any measure, including ours.

I’ll humor them a bit longer. [20-11]

Wait, did they really? [40-31]


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