Avery Island’s Favorite Albums of the Decade (00-09): 50-41

These are the big ones. These aren’t exactly the “best” albums of the 00s, however they are our favorites, meaning to us at AI, they might as well be. The decade was a turbulent time, one where some old faces impressed and some new ones blew our minds, yet unsurprisingly, Radiohead, Modest Mouse, and the old guard of 90s indie continued to dominate. Electronic and alternative now seem joined at the hip, hip-hop would seem dead and gone if it weren’t for all those awesome rappers still keeping it alive, and there was this one guy that wouldn’t shut up about himself, even at the expense of others. I don’t think he did anything worth mentioning, did he? Anyways, these are our favorite albums of that decade, the ones that we can’t stop revisiting; we get the feeling you guys can’t either.

50. Zu – Carboniferous, 2009

Imagine what would happen if you threw distorted wave after wave of chugging riffs like Black Sabbath, coated the air with hair-raising electronics in the vein of Neurosis and Tribes of Neurot, and made time signatures dance like a twisted marionette beneath your fingers like Meshuggah, while all the while a large bearded Italian man wrenches tortured squeals out of a baritone sax like he was a lost child of Mats Gustafsson. Sound mind-blowing? It is, and quite literally on Zu’s Ipecac debut last year.

Shadows rise and ebb like fog on “Axion.” Walls of distortion snarl like living colossi in pursuit on “Chthonian.” Pendulous thumping rings out on “Obsidian” before what sounds like Judgment day’s symphony signaling a coming apocalypse. Bass,drums, and sax are the typical fixings for a jazz trio, yet Zu play more like Borbetomagus making their token melodic black metal album. An atmosphere of morbidity seemingly hangs over this abstract record, though not of the same sect as that of, say, a Sunn O))) record. This is black metal of a whole different breed than that born of the 90’s, as if the terrors here are not entirely human.

Now, Carboniferous is not particularly ground-breaking in most respects. Everything they are and have done is a 21st century projection of what Japanoise bands did in the 90’s. The whiplash-inducing hooks are Ruins pedigree, the volume and diversity of sound straight from Boredoms, the penchant for dissonance and cacophony a Merzbow calling card. Yet this Italian trio pull it off with such distinction, carrying both a technical panache and harrowing aggression scarcely seen before from that esoteric music scene. I can’t help but be reminded of M.C. Escher’s “Another World” whenever I dive into this black morass of music. Tempo and form are playthings in the same way that space and gravity are in Escher’s work, mere phenomenons to be infinitely speculated and toyed with. It’s as if, rather than telling its own story, Carboniferous is weaving its own world, furnished by its twisted soundtrack and populated by the recipient’s imagination.

49. Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies, 2006

The odd thing about Destroyer’s Rubies is that it doesn’t sound particularly different from anything Destroyer has put out. Dan Bejar still yelps his way through sheets of dense, sometimes byzantine lyrics and narratives, the pop is still silky smooth in contrast to the vocals, and overall, it sounds pretty much like what we’ve come to expect from Destroyer.

However, this is what makes Rubies the essential Destroyer album, the culmination and the optimization of the Destroyer formula. The cryptically manifest lyrics, the pop sensibilities, Bejar’s penchant for melodic progressions, they’re all here and amplified. Meanwhile, the degradation, the midi experimentation, and all the other baggage acquired over the years were absent, making Destroyer’s Rubies Bejar’s most consistent and pound-for-pound best album so far.

48. Battles – Mirrored, 2006

Not too long ago, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton of Battles announced that he would be parting ways with the band to work on some personal projects. Not too long after, the internet wept. Profusely. Now, this eclectic group of New Yorkers have only released a couple EPs and one LP, Mirrored, so to garner such an immense negative reaction would require that those records be damn impressive. And they were.

In an era where it’s difficult to be original, Mirrored sounded like its own little forest teeming with mythical creatures. Searching for influences was like looking for a train station to take you and your ring to Mordor; it just didn’t work that way. It’s obvious the group must have delved into 70’s prog and krautrock once or twice (tracks like “Tonto” evolve like the group’s veritable “Hallogallo”), but past that Mirrored‘s quirkiness is incomparable.  Guitars don’t chime, but bounce with the levity of elves, high-pitched voices squeak of creatures and magical diamonds. There has seldom been a prog band here, Great Britain, Germany, or anywhere that’s so satisfyingly odd as Battles. Mirrored is its own space without shape or semblance to the world-weary post-grunge world around it.  Like the “Mirrors in the corner throwing images against the other mirrors” referenced in “Ddiamondd,” Mirrored‘s finite boundaries look like no boundaries at all.

47. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, 2008

As we’ve said before, Nick Cave and his band of Bad Seeds are the epitome of aging, but not with grace. Rather, they rip, roar, and tear their way through the rugged years they’ve spent violating the American Dream and Biblical stories. On Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, Cave bends the story of Lazarus, a man raised from the grave by Jesus himself only to fall prey to the sins of American life.

The album is built out of tales of violence, sex, and drugs, all under the guise of bedtime Bible stories, comparing a beautiful lover to a “Jesus of the moon” or referring to the titular character as “poor Larry”. The Bad Seeds themselves form the perfect backdrop to the narratives, expanding their usual spread with a voxed viola or a flute accompaniment. It all forms the best album these guys have done in years, and one of the best one’s we’ve heard from last decade.

46. The Stokes – Is This It, 2001

Is This It isn’t just pejoratively asking about the world around it, but also clarifying that the work they did on their first and best album truly was that easy. They build perfect rock songs about girls, New York, and of course themselves because they can, and we love it. They practically laugh their way through “New York City Cops”. Casablancas was the center of the band rather than just the center of attention, and the rhythm section was still the best in the business. These were the legends people refer to now-a-days.

This album made people claim things that sounded ridiculous even to the most inexperienced of readers, but that kind of devotion proves the power that is in this album. Sure, it’s not as good as everyone says, but it’s still really damn good. The melodies are memorable, the hooks are infectious, and the swagger is indubitable. They might never have been this good again, but Is This It is just fucking good.

45. At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command, 2000

Live shows are sometimes used as excuses to shy away from accepting the fact that sometimes, bands just aren’t very good. Some bands transcend this, Lightning Bolt are one of them, Sleigh Bells are one of them, but At the Drive-In weren’t just one of them; they were a testament to the power of live performance. Relationship of Command is the only album in the band’s catalog to truly capture the energy and spontaneity of their legendary shows.

Opener “Arc Arsenal” goes so fast and harsh that it almost bursts, but instead of assaulting the listener, they expand their sound and slow their tempo. Songs like “Catacombs” benefit from the crash course the album provides and adrenaline shots like “Rolodex Propaganda” sound even more lively thanks to the excellent progression. Sure, you might not get to see them on stage, but Relationship of Command is the sound of a band becoming not just a more album-friendly band, but a just plain better one.

44. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest, 2009

Grizzly Bear have made quite a name for themselves in the past year, and with an ease that would make even the great David Byrne raise an eyebrow. They accompanied fellow musicians the Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective in their rise to fame almost simultaneously, each with a press-exciting pop music opus, but Grizzly Bear differ from the other two ’09 heavyweights in their relative youth as a band. Grizzly Bear matured over the course of three albums in the same way their fellow Brooklyn-ites did in six or eight, managing to weave all of the intricate melodies of their intrepid experimental years quite neatly around their chart-scoring singles material, and never without losing their distinct character.

Grizzly Bear have that intimate charm of a back-country folk band, but with a psychedelic mystique that never seems to reveal its precise motive. In a sense, that’s part of their charm, in the way a Stanley Kubrick movie wouldn’t be the same if you knew exactly what was going on. Despite all of their bombastic crescendos and scurrying guitar and banjo licks, they remain ever mysterious in their ecstatic presentations, setting themselves clearly distinct from their more revelatory brothers Fleet Foxes. Even after reinventing themselves twice, first after their fuzzy closet debut Horn of Plenty, then after their captivating masterpiece Yellow House, they remain just as magically precise. The remarkable thing is that, after considering their history, they’ve managed to craft such an effective casual record of heart-warming earworms, and with no apparent signs of strain.

Perhaps it was Daniel Rossen’s practice with Department of Eagles that readied him for the task of making a pop album. Veckatimest does sound a lot like a Department album, particularly because of the faster pace and centrism on vocal arrangements. Make no mistake, though; this is a Grizzly Bear record right down to the DNA, and the cymbal crashes will make certain you know this. If the folk revival ever happened, know that Grizzly Bear were the kings of it.

43. Boris – Boris At Last: -Feedbacker-, 2003

I’ve written about this album before, but little seems to compare to listening to our favorite Boris album (we’ll just call it Feedbacker for easiness sake). Infamous in their apparent hop-scotch genre act, you never know what you’re in for with a new Boris album other than the fact that it will sound like Boris in some strange, indescribable way. Feedbacker is no exception, with it being the most psychedelic of their discography; guitars wail and hum and hiss, the bass drones and shakes your ears, and the drums somehow manage to keep it all in check. The occasional vocals humanize the beast, with passage at around the 25-minute mark being easily the most memorable moment.

However, the album itself is an exercise in build and expansion, give and take, with the introduction being as lengthy as the outro; the album is built from the ground up to be all about the climax. And what a denouement it is, with every element we love about these three Japanese weirdos being amalgamated and focused so thickly, you could cut right through it. It’s the polar opposite of Pink, an album all about getting straight to the point. On this one, they dance and meander about it, but they make procrastination sound so damn good, you’d hardly notice.

42. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, 2001

The White Stripes are still turning out music, but never again will they spin such a perfect blend of sour/sweet garage rock. The folk, the blues, and even what can unironically be referred to as rock n’ roll was all here and present on White Blood Cells, with guitars that either sounded larger than the small lives described in the songs or as tiny as the towns they grew up in. Jack and Meg’s synergy was at it’s peak here as well, White still keeping his crunchy riffs in tune with Meg’s childishly innocent drumming which was simplistic but endlessly charming. They could place a song like  “Fell In Love With A Girl”, a punk riot, in between the bluesy “I’m Finding It Hard To Be A Gentleman” and “Expecting”, and it still sounded perfect just because of how in-sync they were with their subject matter.

The Whites’ and their halcyon relationship, one of ambiguity and myth, was still fully intact and unexposed when White Blood Cells was released, giving each song’s romantic nostalgia another layer of depth; whatever the relationship, it didn’t matter. The songs were about the love itself, not the nature of it, so sister, spouse, or just friend didn’t matter, but it did make for an interesting listen while you digested every little phrase to unlock the secret between the two. White Blood Cells lost some of it’s magic with the revelation of their relationship, but it also still serves as a reminder that the overdriven hearts of Jack and Meg White were once devoted to the small, the charming, and most important, the devotedly nostalgic.

41. Isis – Wavering Radiant, 2009

Isis are no more, but they left a legacy behind, one that will be matched only by the best metal bands around. On Wavering Radiant, we saw Isis at their most consistent with riffs that were colossal and a rich production that was as entrancing and open as the night skies the album takes it’s namesake from. We found Aaron Turner and crew at their sharpest with songs like “Hall of the Dead” and “20 Minutes/40 Years” matching the likes of “So We Did” or “The Beginning and the End” and with keyboardist Bryant Meyer in toe, they explored the space between the giant metal passages brilliantly.

The songwriting was tip-top as always, with Turner spinning out the thematic exposition that he is known for, much of the subject fixed directly upon what lies beyond death, the exploration of time and space, and of course, it wouldn’t be an Isis album without references to past legends that never truly existed. The jazz influences were also much more open and bare, with “Ghost Key” and it’s lackadaisical opening and “Stone to Wake A Serpent” and it’s odd drum timing. The keyboards, the variable song structure, inescapably enthralling subject matter, and everything else in between, Isis left on the highest note possible; what lies beyond for them and for us is anyone’s guess, but at least we’ll have the likes of Wavering Radiant to guide us.

Hmm… Go on. [40-31]

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1 Comment

  1. 08/30/10: It Begins… « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Avery Island’s Favorite Albums (00-09): 50-40 […]

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