Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 100 Albums Of The Decade: 40-31

40. Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes

[Sub Pop, 2008]

No wonder this was the unequivocal critical favorite of 2008. Split equally between early My Morning Jacket and mid-period CSN, Fleet Foxes’ debut emits a hushed, quiet beauty that slowly but steadily enraptures all who hear it. Few albums get better with each listen; fewer still sound timeless barely a year after their initial release.

39. Doves
The Last Broadcast

[Capitol, 2002]

Studio wizards turned reluctant rock stars, British trio Doves don’t so much shun the spotlight as redirect it—onto the gorgeous, epic, far-reaching productions that color the landscape of their surging second album. This is a true headphone disc, full of tracks dazzling in their intricacies yet teeming with life... and I still get shivers remembering a trip across the Smoky mountains with Broadcast on the stereo as the sun came up.

38. Kanye West
The College Dropout

[Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2004]

Lest we forget, there was a time when the jury was still out on whether Yeezy could succeed where so many other producer-turned-rappers (Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, Swizz Beatz) had failed. Avoiding embarrassment would’ve been success in itself; instead, West unveiled one of the all-time-great hip-hop debuts, a record at once boastful yet self-conscious, audacious and agonized. Even that already massive ego worked to his advantage, whether rapping with his jaw wired shut on “Through The Wire” or one-upping Lauryn Hill herself on “All Falls Down,” and thank goodness all past (and future) stupidity on Kanye’s part can’t diminish Dropout’s influence in the slightest.

37. The Avett Brothers
I And Love And You

[American, 2009]

Along with bassist Bob Crawford, Seth and Scott Avett spent the entirety of the decade building up their audience the old-fashioned way: by touring a lot, and by releasing better and better albums. The culmination of their efforts was a major-label debut which channeled the raucous energy of their live shows into near-symphonic pop music, anchored by some of the most gorgeous songwriting to ever emerge from Concord, NC—or anywhere else on the planet.

36. Coldplay
A Rush Of Blood To The Head

[Capitol, 2002]

From the opening, pounding chords of “Politik,” it was instantly clear Coldplay were on a mission to blow up their sound to widescreen, stadium-sized levels. They succeeded beyond expectations, of course, but more importantly, they did it without sacrificing the hushed dynamics that made their debut so exquisite: the gentle tug of “In My Place,” the nostalgic ache of “Warning Sign,” and (especially) the slow-burn surge of “The Scientist.”

35. Kathleen Edwards
Asking For Flowers

[Zoƫ, 2008]

Country chanteuse Edwards is a gifted and unassuming talent whose chief crime is lack of visibility, meaning her third album was released to little fanfare in 2008 and went unnoticed by most mainstream media. The fortunate few who were paying attention, however, stumbled upon one of the best pure singer/songwriter releases of the decade, a work both political (“Oil Man’s War”) and playful (“The Cheapest Key”)—but above all else, heartbreakingly and gut-wrenchingly open.

34. Sufjan Stevens

[Asthmatic Kitty, 2005]

Surrounded by an army of instruments, buoyed by choirs of voices, and performing an album-length concept filled with song titles like “Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few,” Sufjan Stevens boasts enough pretension to make Arcade Fire sound like a bar band on Thirsty Thursday. And while it took me a long time to come around to the over-the-top pleasures of Illinois, here’s the honest truth: This is a work that needs every ounce of affectation, every odd aside, and every stray French horn… if only to make its many peaks (“Chicago,” “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!,” “John Wayne Gacy Jr.”) stand out in even sharper relief.

33. Beck
Sea Change

[Geffen, 2002]

Beck Hansen was always an easier artist to admire than love—and then came Sea Change, the one record in his library that wasn’t an elaborate joke or skillful homage. For the first and only time, there’s no ironic distance between performer and audience; instead, Beck pours out his wounded heart with nothing more dramatic than a reserved sigh or wounded aside, and yet the results—simple, unvarnished—speak volumes.

32. Queens Of The Stone Age
Songs For The Deaf

[Interscope, 2002]

QOTSA’s massive, piledriving, stampeding peak, with every facet—thick swampy riffs, buzzsaw guitars, the mix of Josh Homme’s understated vocals and Nick Oliveri’s energetic bark, and of course Dave Grohl’s monstrous drumming—converging to create one of the best hard-rock discs to appear since the glory days of grunge. The fake radio chatter between songs suggested a parallel universe where this kind of smart, uncompromised rock flourished; for nearly an hour, Songs For The Deaf makes that vision a reality.

31. Ben Folds
Rockin' The Suburbs

[Epic, 2001]

Newly divorced from the trio that bore his name, Ben Folds regrouped by releasing the album of his life, a mature-and-moving work that didn’t abandon the frat-boy frivolity of the Ben Folds Five as much as refine it into something more befitting a husband, father, and family man. Rockin’ The Suburbs is packed with character sketches both broad (“Annie Waits”) and quietly intimate (“Fred Jones Part 2”), and for every half-joking crowd-pleaser (“Fired”), there’s a break-your-heart moment like “The Luckiest” to remind you how magnificent Folds could be when firing on all cylinders.

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