Feb 21 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – White Pony

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

28. Deftones – White Pony

I wrote about this album almost two years ago in great detail, and you can read that here. The previous writing serves as an in-depth review, so today, instead of retreading what I’ve already stated, I’ll give you my personal reflections of the album and why it ranks so high on this list. Granted, that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the Deftones’ most successful album, a mega-selling, Grammy-winning high point in the band’s illustrious career, released during the nu-metal mainstream peak. But, as with most Deftones material, to compare it to its assumed peers is myopic and just flat-out wrong.

I was anticipating exactly what I got from White Pony, a metal band reveling in the fact that the sound they had helped pioneer was now the toast of the town. It’s always a thrill for me to see a bold, genre-bending band achieve much-deserved success. The Deftones were one of the first I can remember: I witnessed a band I had loved for years prior finally earn major accolades, and it felt (and sounded) oh so good. And though the band has never made a bad album before or after White Pony (especially recently with the excellent Diamond Eyes), this album is considered the mark of Deftones’ glory days, when FM radio airplay still mattered and Ozzfest and Family Values Tours still existed.

Funny that the sound they honed was everywhere in 2000, because by the time the public caught on, the Deftones had moved away.  There’s less screaming, less rapping, more crooning, and more textured ballads here.  The raw sound of previous outings is polished and expertly executed.  These guys, even though they were just now receiving attention, had become elder statesmen at this point.  The precise White Pony only serves to support that argument.

Listen to White Pony on Spotify.

Feb 6 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

29. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?

Kevin Barnes had certainly already made a name for his project Of Montreal with two eccentric, excellent albums Satanic Panic In the Attic and Sundlandic Twins, not to mention a high-energy, over-the-top live show. But it’s the near flawless Hissing Fauna where Barnes reached the apex of his songwriting ability, and gave us an ultra-high-concept album tackling his own personal turmoil with depression, isolation, and sexual frustration.

Of course, even then, saying things like “sexual,” “high-concept,” and Of Montreal in the same sentence was redundant. But if there was any question as to what exactly the Athens-based band was up to, they made that pretty clear with Hissing Fauna. At this point, you either jumped on board to help Barnes wave his freak flag, or you bowed out. But amidst all the layered falsettos, funk-disco hybrid moments, and weird sound effects, Barnes was writing his most introspective material ever. “Gronlandic Edit” talks about isolation in Norway and the quest for religion, while “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” probably the theme for the entire album, deals with the autobiographical depression the frontman was going through, sleeping for hours in a friend’s apartment.

But if you’re like me, a person who doesn’t really delve into lyrics until many listens later, you won’t notice all this sadness amongst all the heavy dance jams this album is packed with. Hissing Fauna is loaded with fan favorites, live staples, and instant Of Montreal classics, including the sex-soaked “Fabregie Falls For Shuggie,” which is still probably my favorite Of Montreal song ever. As the years went by, it could be argued Barnes went a little overboard with the whole thing, as he’s in the middle of releasing a litany of convoluted, unfocused albums, but back in 2007, he and his group reached a personal best with Hissing Fauna.

Listen to Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer on Spotify.

Jan 24 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – One Wolf

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

30. One Wolf – S/T

Yesterday Daniel Markham released a solo EP of new material, straying far, far away from the alt-folk background of his primary songwriting venture One Wolf. Those of us who have seen the band perform live saw the transformation coming a long time ago. The sound of a One Wolf album and a One Wolf show are two different animals. One is quiet, reticent, calculated. The other is high-energy, eventful, fucking LOUD. As Markham currently makes steps to combine the two with his newer songs, we should step back and dust off his finest creation – One Wolf’s debut album.

Deviating from the straightforward alt-country of previous project Waiting to Derail, Markham, along with drummer Zach Davis and bassist Brad Ivy (Sammi Rana joined the band later), amp up the diverse instrumentation, abstract lyricism, and, most importantly, the power of a simple hook. “Don’t Take It Personal” is a Cobain-esque passive-aggressive ode to shitheads in a redneck bar, many of which One Wolf has reluctantly played in. “H(A)unted” is the album highlight, a lamentation on self-identity. “Roads” is a timeless commentary on lost love and moving forward, strung together with a naturally beautiful melody. Here, underneath all the confusion, we find optimism in Markham’s lyrics, as in the two-stepping affair “Close Your Eyes” and the surreal “Sleeper.”

Keeping to traditional melody, yet remaining progressive in texture, Markham and the rest of One Wolf created the blueprint for how they would approach this album’s sequel, and how Markham currently tackles his newest efforts. Overall, it makes for a remarkable listen, one that cannot be duplicated, and an album only a fool would pass up. Years later, One Wolf’s debut is still Markham’s finest work, and one of the best Hub City creations of the past decade.

Listen to One Wolf on Spotify.

Dec 9 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – FutureSex/LoveSounds

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

31. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds

I’m frankly not surprised Timberlake’s put down a microphone and shelved his dancing shoes for mediocre acting. There was no way he was gonna top this. Marked as a progressive foray into more suggestive lyrics and sex-soaked sounds, FutureSex/LoveSounds is a mish-mash of homages to the greats before him – Prince, Pendergrass, Michael. While not necessarily a lyrical beacon of brilliance, musically speaking, Justin’s second album is TONS better than Justified, which was basically an intro to the post-N’Sync bad boy.

The finest tracks here are probably producer Timbaland’s last GREAT ones, including “My Love” and the minimalist, classic, fantastic “SexyBack.” Medleys just as infectious as the songs they transition envelop the album, which sounds designed specifically for an evening of promiscuous fun. The first half is drinking, dancing, and going home with someone you don’t know. The second half winds everything down with pleasant slow jams and Timberlake’s reminding you the kid’s got pipes.

So if you just came back from the cineplex pissed that you just spent $10 on another shitty JT movie (he’s been on a roll of crap this year…Bad Teacher? Friends With Benefits? In Time?), my advice is to crank this up and grind and sway with your lady. It’s times like these, when our favorite boy band stars become undeserved A-list actors, we can reminisce on the moments when they focused on honing their true strengths.

Listen to FutureSex/LoveSounds on Spotify.

Nov 28 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Bleed American

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

32. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

Originally called Bleed American, but changed to a self-titled moniker due to the post-9/11 censorship mania, Jimmy Eat World’s breakthrough album is an undeniable power pop classic. Spawning four huge singles, including unavoidable hit “The Middle,” the album propelled the band into the mainstream almost overnight. Listening in retrospect, it’s easy to hear why: everything here is infectious from beginning to end. You’d have to be a robot to not find something you liked.

“A Praise Chorus” is a lovely nostalgic sendup to the 80’s, while “Sweetness” is a call-and-response shout-along made for arenas. “Hear You Me” is a somber tribute to Weezer fans Mykel and Carli, and “Authority Song,” quite possibly the best track on the album, pays homage to the old Mellancamp tune in name only. Overall, Bleed American is an easy pill to swallow, but by no means is it one you get tired of consuming repeatedly. Even after ten years, the melodies still click in a way the band has been unable to match since. Catchy, intelligent, precise, timeless.

Listen to Bleed American on Spotify.

Nov 21 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Arular

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

33. MIA – Arular

There were two albums I purchased in high school while attending Dale Carnegie courses. Before going to class, I stopped by the ol’ CD store (remember those?) and snagged Weezer’s Make Believe and this, the debut LP from MIA. Needless to say, I was immensely impressed with one of them and the other, well, it got shelved. It seems now that MIA and Weezer might have more in common than we previously thought. Perhaps they both were destined to make two widely acclaimed works and then proceed to be hit or miss for all eternity. Only time will tell.

Still, we always have Arular, an album as exotic, engaging, and flat-out bizarre as its album cover reveals. From the horn hook of “Bucky Done Gun” to Maya’s still-infectious half-croon on “Galang,” the debut certainly is more minimalist and tribal than its sister album Kala, which was certainly a step forward in accessibility and Western dance music. The charm of Arular still remains, even though our protagonist later showed the world her lack of education on the actual political issues she was rapping about.

Listen to Arular on Spotify.

Nov 8 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Sea Change

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

34. Beck – Sea Change

In 2002, Beck completely did a 180 and released an album I initially found very upsetting. Well, not initially. It’s still pretty depressing. But in a good way. After hearing the anit-folk of Mellow Gold, the dance rock zaniness of Odelay, the bluesy Mutations, and the boogie-laden Midnight Vultures, I was having a pretty difficult time pinning down the stylings of Beck. He was, and still is, all over the place. He recreates his style with every release. But Sea Change was probably the starkest transformation for the musician. And almost ten years later, it remains my favorite.

Inspired, or maybe tormented, by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Beck penned these uncharacteristically un-ironic songs about utter sadness to traditional instrumentation and beautiful string arrangements written by his father. Singles “Lost Cause” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” especially the latter, perfectly capture the theme of Sea Change, one of alt-country heartbreak and burgeoning depression. This album is still perfect for comfort after loss, or even just a contemplative drive along a lonesome country road, preferably on the vast, falt terrain that is West Texas.

Listen to Sea Change on Spotify.

Oct 17 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Hell Hath No Fury

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

35. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury

Most people prefer Lord Willing. I don’t blame them. After all, it was minimalist coke rap like “Grindin'” that made the Neptunes so famous. And four years later, when they finally dropped this follow up, that sound was less fresh. “Mr. Me Too” isn’t as sharp. No argument here. I guess I just like this one better because it was the first I heard. I came to the debut late, and while I can’t deny how great it is, nostalgia has the edge on this one; I spent more time with Hell Hath No Fury, and I still do.

But let’s get one thing straight: this album is a worthy contender, it’s excellent. Every song is a banger. How can you hate on the unpredictable percussion alongside Slim Thug’s guest chorus on “Wamp Wamp?” Pusha T’s wit is in high gear throughout, he makes peddling cocaine sound like an articulate profession. Fan favorite “Ride Around Shining” bumps (“the black Martha Stewart, let me show ya how to do it!”), “Dirty Money” is still hilarious, and I’ll never forget when I learned what the word “trill” meant. There’s no getting around it; Clipse’s second LP, probably their last great one, is an album for the popped trunks, or, in my case, the blown-out factory tweeters.

Listen to Hell Hath No Fury on Spotify.

Oct 4 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Vampire Weekend

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

36. Vampire Weekend – S/T

If I remember correctly, these guys took quite a while to get pretty popular, at least they did by comparison to some of their blogosphere peers who had almost overnight success (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Black Kids).  I recollect finding rough demos of “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” on Aquarium Drunkard up to a year before they released this gem, their debut album.  I also remember the Paul Simon comparisons being made almost immediately, as most critics are wont to do when they hear anything remotely referential to Afro-pop.

VW were the first to really incorporate the sound into the ever-growing indie pop landscape, however, and they brought the influences to a much younger audience.  They dubbed the sound “Upper West Side Soweto,” and indeed it had a small movement of its own, generating bands like Ra Ra Riot, the electronic experiment Discovery, and more traditional projects like The Very Best.

I’m not saying the Simon relation isn’t correct; it obviously is, but to deny the band’s growth from that blueprint is simply dismissive.  One listen to the simple pop of the aforementioned two tracks, as well as the stomping “A-Punk” (my personal favorite) and the falsetto friendly “Blake’s Got a New Face,” and you’ll see these guys either were showing all their cards at once or they had healthy knowledge and a palette to grow from.  We know now from their great sophomore effort two years later the latter was the case.

Listen to Vampire Weekend on Spotify.

Sep 26 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Permission to Land

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

37. The Darkness – Permission to Land

You’ve gotta be crazy not to love this. There are a select few albums out there that are perfect, absolutely front to back, for road trips. The karaoke staple that literally no one but frontman Justin Hawkins can sing, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” is the highlight, sure, but there are plenty of gems here to keep your fist pumping until your arm falls off. “Growing On Me,” a subtle-at-first ode to sexually transmitted diseases, is a tongue-in-cheek classic. The incredible “Love Is Only a Feeling” is the best ballad from the 1980’s that wasn’t really from the 1980’s. “Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman” is a comically vulgar screech-along from beginning to end.

Yes, it’s derivative. Yes, it’s in on the joke. But to write off the Darkness and Permission to Land as novelty is simply myopic. If a band is going to completely channel the glory days of guitar rock, the glam, the sexuality, the….hair, well, they’ve gotta have the chops to pull it off. And they do. This album rules. Hawkins has undeniable pipes. The guitar SHREDS. The melodies are infectious. Your face melts in 40 minutes.

And sure, their next album was a little more late-Zeppelin and not as good, and then they broke up, and the reunion isn’t really going anywhere thus far, so, yeah, you could argue the Darkness were a bit one-note. That after Permission to Land, there wasn’t much to offer. That they burned out just as quick, that they showed us all their tricks on their first effort.

But man….that was one hell of a first effort.

Listen to Permission to Land on Spotify.