Thursday, March 25, 2010

Egregious omissions: Albums that should have made it

I made my list of the top 100 albums of the last decade back in September, and overall I could still live with it. My mathematical ordering system may have been misguided, but if I'm ranking this list there are only a few ridiculous placements (Volume One & 8 Diagrams in particular aren't as good as the score would indicate).

And then, inevitably, there's all the music I'd discover after the list was completed. Here are some of the albums that would have made the list if only I'd heard them earlier:

A Fine Frenzy - Bomb in a Birdcage (2009)

A Fine Frenzy (born Alison Sudol) is the second coming of Joni Mitchell. That's a superficial comparison, since they don't sound anything alike musically or vocally, but it fits if you follow a certain logic. With her playful lyrics, ability to experiment with different pop styles, and willingness to risk sounding completely ridiculous (the "Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh" hook in the chorus of "Blow Away" skirts the line between pretty and obnoxious. Either way, it is obscenely catchy), she's as versatile and potent a songwriting force we've had since the prime of Miss M.

Feist - The Reminder (2007)

I was skeptical about Feist at first. "No way she's that good," I thought. "She's a happier version of Cat Power and that's it."

Oops. Turns out her songs are some of the most haunting and loveliest of the decade, with arrangements so layered and thoughtful you can picture exactly what the video for "One Two Three Four" will look like before you even watch it. I was even wrong about her voice - not too many women in this genre sing at this almost uncomfortable level of intimacy.

Phantogram - Eyelid Movies (2009)

Phantogram are the soundtrack to the coolest dance party ever. Booming beats, sexy boy-girl vocals, and psychedelic textures create a groovy trip-hop sound that could either lull you to sleep or make your car bounce. Great multi-purpose music.

Maps & Atlases - You & Me & The Mountain (2008)

Maps & Atlases have yet to release their full-length debut; the entirety of their output so far consists of two EPs. Yet they've already built a strong cult following, thanks to their unique blend of quirky melodies, guitar pyrotechnics, and hyperactive rhythm section. The vocals are a bit rough, but if you can handle that they're an incredibly fun band to listen to -- combining math-rock chops with straightforward songwriting.

Nisennenmondai - Destination Tokyo (2009)

Three Japanese women who thrive on noise and repetition, Nisennenmondai (which supposedly means "Year 2000 problem", referring to the Y2K bug) get by on heart and creativity more than structure or melody (all their songs so far are instrumentals, and most of them just ride one groove for 10 minutes). Wendy says "This is great background music" and I couldn't agree with her more. Unless she meant it in a bad way, which I don't think she did.

Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (2008)

Yeah, just ignore the album title. Despite having the most boring-sounding name ever, guitar goddess Marnie Stern comes on like a kid on the world's most epic sugar rush. Assisted by the monster talent of Hella's Zach Hill (perhaps the greatest drummer of his generation), her spastic, hyperactive songs are equal parts pop songwriting skill and face-melting guitar craziness. Yes, most of the press on this woman focuses on the "chick can SHRED" aspect of her sound, but these songs are as catchy as they are technically impressive, which sets her apart from the Yngwie Malmsteens of the world.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums - The Snake (2009)

They're very aptly named. Most of this Swedish couple's songs are nothing but heavy percussion and extremely passionate singing; if there's any musical accompaniment, it's about as simple as it gets. Sometimes this formula makes them sound like they're doing tribal chants or children's songs. But it works. This music is fraught with an unbearable amount of tension, the way it toys with the listener's expectations. We hear so much buildup, and expect it to culminate in a certain way -- instead it just keeps teasing us and leaves us frustrated in a weirdly satisfying way. That's how it works for me anyway. You might not like it. But it is unique, and that's what I tend to look for more than anything else these days.


Wendy said...

You've never called ME a goddess and I'm carrying your kid in my pelvis. I still have to question your taste in female artists (including the need for a Joni Mitchell II?) but I'll have to listen more to some of them.

Jacob I. McMillan said...

You're a goddess. A mere mortal woman could never handle such awesome seed. And you like Phantogram, so it's OK/there's something to live for/etc.