Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Of the 2000's: Top 20 albums

With 2009 almost over, and as per usual, expect Random Types to turn into a list mayhem during the next few days, having a look at the best movies, records and songs that this year had to offer. But it’s also a decade that is coming to an end, so we’ll start things off first with a view of the very best albums from the last 10 years. So, let the fun begin…

20. Late Of The Pier – Fantasy Black Channel (2008)

Looking everywhere with no limits, this is an album that feels like a big mash-up of oh-so-many things. Neo-glam-synth-electro-rave-trash-pop is just one of the many possible definitions. And Bathroom Gurgle stays as the Bohemian Rhapsody of this generation.

19. Kode 9 + The Spaceape – Memories Of The Future (2006)

Dubstep, in all its incarnations, may be one of the few truly new musical genres that this decade produced, with Hyperdub serving as the main trend-setter label. It all started a few years before 2006, but the first true milestones came with two of the most suffocating full-lengths heard in the 2000’s: Burial’s debut and the dark minimal tones of Memories Of The Future. And when they arrived, we were already calling them “post-dubstep”.

18. Outkast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003)

A few years before big 1930’s-inspired musicals and grandiose self-masturbatory indulgences (Idlewild), there was a period when Outkast had the world at their feet. This was one of those rare records (well, actually they were two, and very different ones), where a rare consensus was achieved between the hipsters, the critics, the general public and even the Grammy’s.

17. The Tough Alliance - The New School (2005)

Their ability to make catchy pop music seem so revolutionary reminds me of what The KLF achieved 20 years ago, and the truth is that there’s more to these two Swedes than the eye first meets. Everything they do seems to be a small component of a bigger manifesto, an enigmatic one still being written out. And if they went on to do bigger things (like launching their own label, the excellent Sincerely Yours), The New School still remains as The Tough Alliance at their most genuine moment, almost heartbreaking in all its innocent excitement.

16. Usher – Confessions (2004)

Funnily enough, if I were to present the Michael Jackson of the decade award, it would not go to Justin Timberlake, as I’d give it instead to the least-obvious Usher. Justin may seem more forward-thinking and all, but at the end of the day, it’s the music included in this Confessions that, along with his irreprehensible voice and singing, sounds truly timeless.

15. The Strokes – Is This It (2001)

It's interesting how some records sound so vital, yet when you analyse them, they don’t really have anything specifically special in them. In a way, that’s probably why Is This It ended up being so iconic: how do they make it look so damm easy? That, and also the ability to capture the zeitgeist of a particular moment in time (New York early 2000’s).

14. Lo-Fi-Fnk - Boylife

A synth-pop classic as seen through the eyes of two indie-kids from Sweden, with so many irresistible melodies and addictive hooks that it's hard to pin down what the biggest highlights actually are (although What's On Your Mind? easily wins an award for best coming-out-song-of-the-decade). And in not much more than 30 minutes, there's space for everything, from icy keyboards, to some of the most infectious funky beats, topped by that sweet candidness only found in some of the most special Scandinavian music.

13. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

A lot has been said about Kanye West’s nerve to do something like this. Basically, giving the middle-finger to all of our possible expectations and realising an unique collection of melancholic and heavily-auto-tuned digital songs. The bare essence if it all is actually touching. And truth is, it still sounds like nothing that came before or afterwards.

12. The Notwist – Neon Golden (2002)

The early 2000’s saw the surge of indietronica, a term that didn’t last long but still gave birth to some great albums, one of which is by this german project. And besides the many gimmicks used in this immaculate fusion between indie-pop and electronica, there was also the song-writing: pretty, fierce, naïve, intelligent, cute. Basically, one of those rare records where everything really sounded at its right place, as perfect as it gets.

11. Burial – Untrue (2007)

By the time Untrue was released, Burial was still an anonymous character, hidden behind many masks, and that was the best definition for what laid inside his second full-length. The term “dubstep” was nothing but sweet memories, in an unique world inhabited by past-ghosts and digital frequencies. It was something unnamed but this album evoked it big time.

10. Britney Spears – Blackout (2007)

It may seem like a post-ironic statement, but I really think that this is one of the best records ever made documenting an artist’s fall into the abyss, at least since In Utero by Nirvana. Blackout sounds a bit like hearing heavily-compressed hip-hop inside a wind tunnel, and that is a very big compliment. And it still seems like the most futuristic pop record of the decade.

9. Björk – Vespertine (2001)

The swan dress was just the tip of the iceberg. In 2001, Björk turned inwards and made the most beautiful collection of songs of her entire career. With a full-orchestra, an angels choir, low frequency digital noises and whispered melodies, Vespertine was the ultimate quest for a world of perfection and beauty, naturally cold (like her home-country Iceland) but extremely overwhelming.

8. Studio – Yearbook 1 (2007)

With afro-beat-inspired rhythms, new wave melodies, Balearic guitars and irradiating a blinding light, Studio seemed all but coming from Scandinavia. Actually, come to think about it, this should be considered as an alternative kind of world music, one with no other frontiers than the ability to make our mind travel. And Yearbook 1 still remains as a precious document of that rare ability to fuse two usually distinguished activities: the cerebral and the physical ones.

7. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster... (2008)

With so much enthusiasm felt all over this record, Los Campesinos! gave us a perfect document to that end-of-adolescence phase, full of contradictions, with both the excitement and the disenchantment about what lies ahead. This debut was a non-stop breathtaking dose of sugar-rushed twee-pop, sweet and cathartic, with each song seeming like a lifetime anthem. And indeed, Hold On Now, Youngster... had the “once in a lifetime” tag written all over it. Actually, what came afterwards proved this tag wrong, but that’s another story…

6. Khonnor – Handwriting (2004)

A 17-year-old kid locked inside his room, alone with his thoughts and putting them on a tape-recorder… how many times have we heard this story? Apparently not enough, and the fact is that the naivety of this music ended up touching more than a few souls, including mine. Entering the intimacy of his world was like walking into a secret place illuminated by just a few subtle phosphorescent lights, and basically feeling privileged (and comforted?) to be inside it.

5. The Horrors – Primary Colours (2009)

They had the concept and the looks already, and with their sophomore album, The Horrors finally achieved an aural equivalent to their already huge ambitions and apparent creativity. A psychedelic monster marrying their gothic world with the suffocating sounds of Portishead’s mastermind Geoff Barrow, Primary Colours was as dark as you’d expect, but also (and hence the genius of it) extremely luminous. How did they achieve these two opposite poles simultaneously? It still remains a secret.

4. Björk – Medúlla (2004)

We all know that Björk has a small tendency to sometimes go too far in her eccentricity, but Medúlla was the record with the perfect proportions, thus representing a high peak in her prolific career. She had never been so extreme (a vocals-only album with no instruments? whoa!) but her ability to write perfect catchy pop melodies was also better than ever. This balance was enough to produce what is still, for me, the best record in her entire career. And considering the amount of masterpieces that her catalogue includes, this is really an amazing achievement.

3. The Tough Alliance – A New Chance (2007)

One of the two only names with more than one record in this list, The Tough Alliance sum it up pretty well what the 2000’s represented for me, at least musically. A fuck-off attitude towards categorizations, done with a rebellious DIY spirit, applied to a brand of pop music not afraid to sound insanely catchy. In A New Chance, this concept was taken to the extreme, with hook after hook hitting virtually all the right pleasure centres.

2. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)

An ordinary guy doing music for ordinary people… except that there’s nothing really ordinary about this Swedish guy or his music. What we got here were immaculate songs that told us some amazing stories, which is something rarer than you’d expect. These stories were sometimes funny ones, others touching and others plain sweet, but ultimately, Jens showed how much common lives can be so grandiose. And with that, in a subliminal way, this record was actually a source of hope for all the ordinary people out there.

1. D’Angelo – Voodoo (2000)

So, you’ve read this far into this list and at number one you find a record released just 3 weeks after the decade had started? Yes, the 2000’s had a lot of genuinely amazing moments (and for a proof of that you have the 19 entries above this one), but what D’Angelo achieved in Voodoo belonged to another universe. Aiming to take into new extremes the “neo-soul” tag first attached to him with his debut album (1995’s Brown Sugar), he actually came out with something so intense that even himself couldn’t bare it. And it’s telling that after Voodoo hit the stores, he ended up losing his confidence and entered a sabbatical period that still lasts today. Truth is, in all its intensity, this record could only become an unique moment, impossible to overcome: an act of exorcism in a contained form, music turning inwards in a tension-build-up fashion that only actually exploded in the song whose iconic video can be seen below.


JP said...

Medúlla over Vespertine? I'm shocked! But I agree! :)))

PR said...

haha! and i was expecting a comment from you about the fact that Usher is in this list :)

Jamie said...

I am so bookmarking this blog because of that choice!

PR said...

I've been Handwriting a lot again (maybe because of the Christmas spirit?) and it still feels as special as on the first day. Welcome Jamie :)