Party Like it’s 2009: My Favourite Albums of the Decade

Everyone else is making decade-end lists, so I might as well jump on the bandwagon.  Well, actually, I have been thinking about this list for a long time, and am excited to finally write it up.  As always, this is a list of my favourite albums, not necessarily the albums that I think were the best of the decade.  Naturally, it contains genre bias and idiosyncrasies, but to be honest, so does every other list.  Enjoy.

10. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

For me, this album was a what is known is the business as a grower.  Although I had a song from it early on, I didn’t even pick up a copy of this album for over a year, and then, I didn’t give it the attention I now know it deserves.  In fact, although For Emma, Forever Ago was released in 2007, it wasn’t until this year and my newfound love of folk did I realize what a gem this record is.  Of all the albums on my decade list, this one is the most sparse – most songs simply consist of Justin Vernen and his guitar.  In this sense it is timeless – these songs could have realistically been written in the early twentieth century.  But this is not saying that there is anything missing: in fact, Bon Iver makes a very good case against the increasing electronicification of modern music.

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09. The Rural Alberta Advantage: Hometowns

My inclusion of the RAA is made possible by this post’s title.  If I were making a list of the “best” albums of the decade (whatever that means), I don’t know if I would have included Hometowns.  But this list is not of the “best” albums of the last 10 years, it is of my favourite albums, and with that being the case, the RAA certainly deserves to be on it.  The songs on this album are passionate, they are driven, they are catchy, they are honest, and they are about my home province.  There are some things that I don’t like about Alberta, and I don’t see myself living there in the future, but there are some pretty wonderful things about the wild rose country and this album really highlights them in a profound way.  The album is like a love note to a person from you past that you no longer want to be with, but still miss terribly.  And that is how I feel about Alberta.

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08. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

You might be thinking it odd that on my 2009 list, I ranked Merriweather Post Pavilion lower than an album that did not make the decade list.  The reason that I choose MPP over Bruce Peninsula here is because Animal Collective also put out a couple of other amazing albums and, as a whole, the band deserves to be on this list.  Another reason is that MPP seems like it is an incredibly important album.  Listening to it, I cannot help but think that this is what music is going be like in the next number of year.  The way that AC manage to create such inviting melodies with cold electronic instruments makes me question my somewhat Luddite musical tastes.  It can also be credited for changing my music listening habits: a few years ago, I used to lie in front of my stereo listening to OK Computer, but whenever I put this record on, there is no standing still – I’ve just got to get up and dance until I can hardly breath.  (Maybe this could be the answer to America’s obesity epidemic.)

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07. Modest Mouse: The Moon and Antartica

This selection was academic.  Most of these albums are on this list, at least partially, because I have an emotional connection to the music.  But not in this case.  I do have memories associated with Modest Mouse: listening to their subsequent album, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, instantly transports me through memory into Theresa’s old apartment in Garneau towers, blowing bubbles out of her 20th story window.  Consequently, I was fully prepared to include that album on this list.  However, in the end I didn’t include Good News because I couldn’t get over the fact that The Moon and Antarctica is just so much of a better album.  Its music is just that much more frantic, and Issac Brocke’s yelp is just that much more… um… yelpy?  Anyways, there was a time when I favored chaotic, almost cacophonous music, and there is no better example of this style that Modest Mouse (well, maybe Frog Eyes would be a better example, but lets leave things the way it is).

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06. Stars: Set Yourself on Fire

Speaking of music with emotional connections, I present to you Stars.  Stars music is inherently emotional, to the point of melodrama.  This, of course, is attributable in a large way to Torque Campbell, the male lead.  Torque is the biggest diva in indie rock today, and Stars’ songs are some of the most heart-on-your-sleeve sappy.  But my emotional connection with this album is more than just because of its sentimental themes: in my mind, Set Yourself on Fire is intimately married to my courtship with Theresa, which is actually pretty ironic, considering this album is much more about falling out of love than falling into it.  But, as the case may be, I bought this album at about the same time as Theresa and I started dating, and we went to a Stars concert less than a week before I proposed.  So Set Yourself on Fire is certainly a favourite of mine, but I don’t want you to think that the only reason it is on this list is because of some random connection with my life – the music is really good.  The song, Your Ex-Lover is Dead is exquisite.

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05. Radiohead: Kid A

If Bon Iver makes a case against electronic music, then Kid A is the strongest possible counterargument.  After  their masterful OK Computer, Radiohead pulled the classic rock and roll bait and switch by abandoning everything they had done before to make themselves the greatest rock and roll band of our time with a record that sounds nothing like rock and roll at all.  The irony, of course, is that Kid A, if anything, simply solidified that very title.  To a degree greater than any other album I can think of, Kid A sucks in and completely envelops the listener:  from the opening bars of Everything in its Right Place, you are not just listening to the music, you are inside the music.  There is no doubt that Kid A is one of, if not the, greatest rock (?) albums of our time.  So then, why the number five finish?  Well, this record can be a little heavy for my tastes.  This list is of my favourite albums of the last 10 years, and when it really gets down to it, there are certain other albums that I more often turn to.

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04. Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary

This album is fun.  It is upbeat, it is cool, and it features maybe my favourite song ever: I’ll Believe in Anything. Although I once read an author who though this song is depressing, I think that it is in fact a hopeful and poignant love song.  I can relate to the idea of going “where nobody knows us and nobody gives a damn.”  On of the other wonderful things about Wolf Parade is a trait that it many other bands is a liability: the presence of two dueling frontmen who couldn’t be more musically opposite to each other.  I personally am a bigger fan of Spencer Krug, the Proggy, D&D playing weirdo, but the ability of Dan Boeckener to rein in Krug’s more fantastic impulses really make this the amazing album that it is.  It is amazing how well Wolf Parade is able to turn Krug’s nerdy prog rock tunes into driving area-worthy anthems.  And Boeckener’s songs are nothing to scoff at either – I still remember staying up late in our apartment watching the video for Shine a Light on the Wedge.

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03. Radiohead: In Rainbows

It is no secret that I love Radiohead.  I consider them the greatest band of my generation.  But, as I mentioned earlier, some of their work can be a little to depressing for my usually sunny personality.  It’s a good thing, then that In Rainbows is what it is:  lighthearted, fun, and even a little bit romantic.  I love that there exists Radiohead music that I can dance to, and more basically, that doesn’t make me feel like the world is a horrible place.  I think that this time around, Radiohead slackened in their quest for constant innovation, which may at first seem like a bad thing, but really is not.  From the sounds of In Rainbows, the band was more relaxed then on their previous albums, and consequently made some really lose, enjoyable music.  Oh yeah, and there was that whole “revolutionize the music industry” payment scheme.  If you want to know, I paid one pound for my download.  But then I later went out and bought the vinyl, which just goes to show, if the music is good, I have no problem paying for it.  It’s just that there is so much music that isn’t very good.

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02. Arcade Fire: Funeral

It seems funny that right after I wrote a piece about how I don’t like my music to be too depressing, I choose an album called Funeral. But despite its bleak themes, this album doesn’t seem depressing to me. Instead it seems passionate and moving.  One of its main themes, coming of age, is often portrayed through art as a horrible experience, but for me, it is just the opposite.  Sure, entering adulthood is frightening, and sometimes sad, but if you carry with you a positive attitude and hold onto a youthful spirit, becoming an adult can be a wonderful time.  And that is what I take away from this record: worry, yes, but also possibility.  My feelings towards my teenage years are similar to my feelings about Alberta, and this album really brings those emotions out.  And it doesn’t hurt that the music is just so amazing.  A lot of my favourite music is very emotional and sincere, and it is hard to believe now that before Funeral, there wasn’t a lot of music like this.

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01. Broken Social Scene: You Forgot it in People

Reviewing what I have written so far, it has occurred to me that this list says at least as much about me than it does about music.  It seems fitting, then, that my number one pick is a favourite of mine both for its music, and for the place it inhabits in my psyche.

First lets talk about me.  After I returned from my mission in 2001, I experienced a musical crisis. I grew out of the alternative rock that scored my teenage years, and I was left without any music that really excited me.  I tried classic rock for a while, to limited success, before I started testing the indie rock waters.  One of the first indie bands that I remember listening to was Broken Social Scene, which I downloaded from Kazaa onto my minidisc player (remember those?  I didn’t think so).  Well, the sounds that I heard streaming out of my headphones were unlike anything I had heard before: I was enchanted.  The songs on You Forgot it in People reignited  my love for music.  The years 2003-2005 were like my musical renascence, and a number of albums from that period are on this list (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Stars, Modest Mouse).

Another reason why I love BSS so much is what the band represents.  BSS basically broke the Canadian Indie scene.  And anyone who knows my musical tastes know that I love Canadian Indie Rock.  I also love the idea of a band as a loose collective.  I don’t know why people have the idea that the same group of 4 or 5 people have to always make music together.  I love that BSS is home to dozens of musicians, who all bring something unique to the table: this is how I think all music should be made.

But after all of this ranting about my own personal musical journey and the idea of Broken Social Scene, I cannot forget the music.  Independent of all that I have already written, the songs on You Forgot it in People are all wonderful.  I think at one point of time or another, each of the songs on that album has been my favorite track.  I guess maybe this shouldn’t be too much of a surprize, since every song is unique in a way that wouldn’t be possible for any other band.  Really, You Forgot it in People contains something for everybody.  Just listen to it.

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favourite albums 09

You didn’t think that my complete cessation of blog entries for the last 7 months would prevent me from posting my favourite albums of the year, did you?  Well, if you did, you were wrong.  In previous years, I have always included a long introduction to my list, but this time lets just cut to the chase:

10. japandriods: post nothing

Lo-fi had a big year.  I have not considered myself a fan of fuzzy distorted guitars for a long time, so the fact that I really enjoyed Post-Nothing is quite an achievement for Japandroids.  This band is composted of just two guys from Vancouver on drums and guitar, playing fuzzy anthems about love, the city and  growing up.  Seems pretty straightforward, but there is just something infectious about these raucous tunes.

download i quit girls

09. various artists: dark was the night

I’ve never included a compilation CD on my year end list before: there is something about them that seem antiquated in the digital music, shuffle-all age.  But the thing is, Dark was the Night was just really good.  It featured track after track of amazing songs from some of the decades biggest indie artists.  Sure, it may be a little on the easy-listening side of things, but everyone needs some chill-out music once and a while.

download train song (feist and ben gibbard)

08. dan mangan: nice nice very nice

In a very short post about a band that did not make this list, I mentioned in passing my deepening interest in simple, folk music.  There is something very comforting and relaxing in songs composed with just a guitar and voice.  And this years album that reflects this simplicty best is Dan Mangan’s Nice Nice Very Nice.  These are simple songs, but they tell detailed, compelling stories that I just cannot get enough of.  I also enjoy that this disc of folk ballads pulls more themes from urban life than from rural.

download robots

07. natalia lafourcade: hu hu hu

When I was living in Mexico, I had a strange obsession with buying pirated music cds.  I bought a tonne.  But there is only one that I still occationally listen to six years later: a debut, self titled album from a young chilanga named Natalia Lafourcade.  Well, this year, Ms. Lafourcade is back with a new disc that surpasses her debut by leaps and bounds.  Her music retains a hint of mexican influence, while expanding her sound in to the much wider field of indie singer-songwriters.  Her songs are beautiful, even if you don’t understand spanish.

watch azul

06. phoenix: wolfgang amadeus phoenix

I will admit now that I did not give Phoenix much of a chance (either this album or their last), until Theresa and I vacationed in San Diego for a week in August.  There, our good friend Daniel Harker blasted the same two Phoenix songs over and over at full volume in his car.  The fact that I was not completely sick of those songs by the end of the week is the best testament I can give of their quality.  This album is full of songs that are so upbeat and joyful and danceable and I still get excited when any come up on my iPod (although 1901’s overuse in commercials is testing my patience for the song.)

download lasso

05. dirty projectors: bitte orca

A lot is said in the music press about how complex this album is, with its 2/3 time signatures and all of that.  Well, I am no music expert, and I wouldn’t be able to tell a 2/3 from a 6/8 signature.  All that I know is that I really, really like this album.  One of its best qualities, like Phoenix, is the joy that it expresses.  I also enjoy that these incredibly complex songs are all about everyday experiences in suburban life: it is cool to hear music that paints common experiences so vividly and uniquely.

download two doves

04. rock plaza central: …at the moment of our most needing, or if only they could turn around, they would know they weren’t alone

Yes, that is the title of Rock Plaza Central’s latest album.  If I praised Dan Mangan for playing simple folk ballads, I must complement RPC from their over-the-top, complex folk ballads.  This collection of songs feature a number of instruments, all packed together to back Chris Eaton’s evocative  storytelling lyrics.  A number of my favorite bands came out with albums that did not quite live up to my expectations, but RPC, whose last disc was featured on my 2007 list managed to pull off an album even better their their highly-praised Are We Not Horses.

download them that are good and them that are bad

03. grizzly bear: veckatimest

A few years ago, Theresa and I saw Grizzly Bear open for Feist.  At the time I thought the band was good, if a little boring.  Now my opinion of the band has changed.  Veckatimest is a wonderful, beautiful album that is still downbeat, but not at all boring.  These tunes are meticulously crafted, which each layer of sound complementing each other the same way that the band member’s voices complement each other in their multi-part harmonies.  This is Theresa’s favourite album of 2009.

download two weeks

02. animal collective: merriweather post pavilion

It seems like with so many year end (and decade end) lists coming out with Animal Collective featured prominently at or near the top, this band is experiencing a sort of hipster backlash.  This is a shame, because Merriweather Post Pavilion is a masterpiece.  As I mentioned in my album club post, AC have managed to make electronic music warmer and more human that I have probably ever heard.  At at a time of economic turmoil caused directly by debt and overly-lavish livestyles, it is great to hear Panda Bear explain that happiness only needs four walls and adobe slabs for his girls.

download my girls

01. bruce peninsula: a mountain is a mouth

What is this?  Once again Randal has chosen an obscure Canadian album over the most critically-praised album of the year?  There must be some sort of conspiracy going on here!  Well, perhaps there is some subconscious patriotism at play here, but I can honestly say that A Mountain is a Mouth was my absolute favourite album of 2009.  Its unique gospel-choir-turned-indie-rock-band style is like a breath of fresh air.  At it is so captivating – when I put on my big headphones and turn up the volume, BP carries me away to a different place: one that has a big sky and big trees, and is untouched by man.  No other album this year (or in recent memory) has produced as strong as emotional reaction in me as A Mountain Is A Mouth.

download steamroller