The end is year
SN&R sent a blast requesting people’s favorite songs and releases of the decade; we were overwhelmed by thoughtful takes. Here’s a taste:
Favorite albums of the
Source Tags & Codes by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. This album is a Johnny-come-lately summation of all that was musically worthy during the Clinton era. It’s Radiohead with the will to live. Sadly, it was born in 2002, five years too late to be relevant. But for all you tech-bubble babies wondering what you missed out on, this is a good place to start.
Reveille by Deerhoof. A Japanese pixie beep-beeping and making Muppet noises in the mic. These are the “vocals.” Add to that a bunch of math rockers who sound like they flunked out of first grade. How could this album possibly be captivating and warm—even beatific? All I can say is Reveille will flummox you.
Medulla by Björk. Of all the broken-English lyrics Björk has written, “I need a shelter to build an altar away / From all osamas and bushes,” are the ones that get to me. Medulla is my 9/11, “the world will never be the same” moment. A music made mostly of treated vocal samples, choral parts, lip trumpets and aspirated breath, it is both a lamentation for all that was murdered and an exultation for all that continues to live and breathe.
The Golden River by Frog Eyes. This overlooked outfit is the Russell Hoban of indie rock. Who the hell is Russell Hoban? He’s the tragically overlooked American novelist. Both Hoban and Frog Eyes play with myth and devolved language. Both suffer the lash of a “pervasive eschatology.” Both will probably go on being overlooked.
Sung Tongs by Animal Collective. Much of AC and their many imitators is too precious for my tastes, but for me Sung Tongs is the sweet spot between the band’s experimental genesis and its desire to be fuzzy and friendly toward its audience. And that super-dorky meowing kitties skit melts my heart every time. (Jeff McCrory, SN&R contributor)
The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow: I listened to this album over and over on my Diskman one cold lonely night in Paris, it was my only friend in the world. Thanks James Mercer for giving me love when the French could (or would) not.
FM Knives’ Useless and Modern and the Bright Ideas’ Saturdays and Turning Tides: Upon a lot of reflection, I have chosen these two albums to be my favorite Sacramento releases of the decade and the Bright Ideas as my favorite Sac band of all time. I even tried to pay them $350 to get back together for a show a few years ago but they weren’t having it. I wonder if FM Knives would reunite for that kind of scrilla.
The Mo with Kris LeMans’ “Nostalgia Locomotive”: This is the greatest song of the decade, maybe of all time. Only the Swedes can turn a song about a “choo choo” into the most badass power ballad of all time. (G. Gustafson, writer)
Holy Ghost box set by Albert Ayler. This past decade has seen “the truth” becoming a rare commodity in short supply. As a nation, especially after the horrific events of 9/11, we have become even more sheep-like and complacent, the voice of the individual being shouted down from all corners. We have come to the point where being the loudest has more relevance than being correct, facts are deemed nuisances and are replaced by paranoiac sound-bites by people who confuse “news” with “propaganda”. It’s been said that idealism eventually leads to its opposite, cynicism. This is why I chose Albert Ayler’s monumental box set, Holy Ghost - to keep my faith in humanity alive. To remind me who I am.
During his short 34 years on this planet, nobody has created a body of work that screamed louder about the power of the individual than Albert Ayler did with his tenor saxophone. Here was a man who, during his lifetime, was the consummate outsider, blazing ahead and moving forward in a world that for most part ignored him. And, here was a man, a black man in the tumultuous ’60s, that played every note with unbridled passion, heightening all the inner pain and the beauty just within his reach. The broad tremolo he plays with harkens back to his gospel roots, intense and sanctified, all the while screaming to, or perhaps at the heavens. On the surface, this music is tumultuous and unforgiving with white-hot primal energy but there is no denying its power or conviction. But the time spent with Ayler’s music pays dividends: spiritually, artistically and with a deep and absolute integrity.
Over these 9 CDs, Ayler is interested in one thing: the truth. The truth of who he is and where in this world he fitted in. The truth at the base of his music that made everything released in the pop world in the past decade seem like the mere product of a superficial culture more obsessed with the shallow trapping of celebrity than the ecstatic soul-baring on display here. We all know what the truth is, Ayler seems to say, it’s our obligation to accept it as such. As eight years of Bush took its toll on me, I would find my solace in the music of Albert Ayler. I would hear him try to make sense of the world around him and I felt every anguished cry, putting into music what words cannot properly convey. But by 1970, Albert Ayler, exhausted and broken, had given up trying to make sense out of it all and on the 25th of November his body was found in NYC’s East River.
A song that appears in several forms on this box set is “The Truth is Marching In”, a title that invokes a certain majesty, trampling the false, the shallow and the complacent underfoot. And this is exactly what this music represents to me - the search for the inherent truth in every aspect of our lives. This music is like the anonymous hero in Tiananmen Square standing up to the queue of tanks: Just as one brave soul stopped the powers of oppression with the simple act of doing what is right despite the consequences, Albert Ayler, whether you wanted him to or not, has peeled away the superficial and exposes the core, the essence of what is truly important in this sad and beautiful world. And that essence is, the truth. And nothing else really matters, either musically or as a way of life. (Dennis Yudt, writer)
These albums are a no brainer in my collection for the decade. Although there are dozens, if not hundreds, that were similarly important to me this past decade these albums stood out, they did everything an album should do, surprised me, immediately and profoundly impacted me, made me think “wow, this fucking music destroys me,” tickled my brain, and made things more awesome in general. To me they are timeless. Relevant then, now and forever: Radiohead, Kid A; Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People; White Stripes, White Blood Cells; Arcade Fire, Funeral; Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam; Bon Iver, For Emma, For Ever Ago. (Clay Nutting, promoter)
O-Tip’s The Renaissance. In one album Q-Tip re-inserted fun, intellect and lyrical mastery into rap, and laid it all over some stone groves. I did not have to turn off my brain in order to shake my ass and that has not happened in a very long time. And at some point earlier this year Q performed “We Fight/Love” live on Conan and sang Raphael Saddiq’s part, and did it justice. Who else in the rap world would even attempt that, much less lay it down properly? A++ across the board on this one. (Jesse Vasquez, photographer)
Wilco’s A Ghost is Born. Wilco’s 2002 release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, of course, is one of the more critically acclaimed records of the past couple of decades, and deservedly so. Perhaps I offer this record as my choice for the decade to remind people that although Foxtrot got a lot more attention, some of the innovations first presented in the 2002 record were refined, expanded, and painted more broadly in the 2004 A Ghost is Born.
The newer record replaced some of the blues sensibilities in melody lines and guitar work with more of a jazz vocabulary, which really works for me. As with “Foxtrot,” this record brilliantly integrates noise and cacophony into what otherwise would be a fairly straightforward folk record. The dueling guitar chaos in “Spiders/Kidsmoke,” and “Handshake Drugs” compels me still, demonstrating the diversity of ideas and emotions available to rock and folk songwriters by looking outside their genres for inspiration.
Avant-garde jazz and hard bop mixed in with a simple harmonic structure and great melodic base is truly my idea of a good time. The brilliant, impressionistic, storytelling lyrics throughout the record really stand out against the dynamic arrangement and mixing job, which, from what I understand was a true collaboration between the band and the great Chicago musician/engineer Jim O’Rourke. Probably noise and electronic music aficionados would disagree, but I love the 10-plus minute pure noise section in the track “Less Than You Think.”
There are some straight-ahead rockers on the album, too, to satisfy those that came to Wilco (as I did) through the split-up of Uncle Tupelo and perhaps are looking for something more “traditional.”
Am I trying to say there is something for everyone in this record? No. I am well-aware that my tastes in music, politics, and art are pretty far at the fringe. Probably most folks would either dislike this record due to a comparison with Foxtrot or with more accessible music from the same family. But, for better or worse (usually worse), I am not “most folks.” (Matthew Gerken, musician)
Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it in People (2002). With bits of pop and electronica, indie and hip-hop, this album was epic and tragic, beautiful and optimistic and it paved the way for future releases by the Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and countless other bands trying to bridge the cultural divide between pop music and art. It still sounds remarkably fresh eight years later. (Rachel Leibrock, SN&R staff writer)
The Vicious’ Alienated LP (Feral Ward Records 2007; originally released on Ny Vag in Europe). This record is flawless punk rock in the vein of the Bags or the Avengers. Total 77 snot with a Modern twist, ex and current members of DS-13, Regulations, and International Noise Conspiracy. I’ve never felt so good about listening to the sounds of mental instability, boredom, paranoia, and desperation. As Jay Walk said, “it makes me want to stab someone with a screwdriver.” Well put. (Ken Fury, promoter)
Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers (2003). Maybe some of the best pure pop music ever written. always makes me feel better when I’m listening. (David Jayne, SN&R art director)
Ricky Berger’s First Album by Ricky Berger: Besides being the most talented and lovely person I have had the fortune to know, her songs are timeless. The simplicity and straightforwardness of each song allows everyone, whether young or old, to enjoy and relate to. Drop her album into any decade and the songs will ring true. (Amy Scott, photographer)
Sigur Ros’ Takk. By far, my favorite album of the decade. I honestly feel that nothing even comes close to the beauty that is that album. It’s prefect. Whether you want to take a drive with your best friends or lie in bed, that album is epic. That album has meant so much to me over the last few years. It never gets old. The songs are timeless. I think the album is severely underrated (esp. in Rolling Stone’s top 10 albums of the decade list). But then again, it’s Rolling Stone. (Terra Lopez, musician)
Justin Farren’s Songs From Spare Rooms. Back toward the beginnings of my relationship with this sweet little Sacramento music scene, I showed up late to play some songs at a show at Red Square, one of Preston Allen’s nights, and I walked in on Farren playing a song he had recently written about people stealing the broken worthless things he had just because people can’t help themselves from stealing. His voice and guitar playing instantly struck me “oops” upside the head, and I listened intently, and then I played a few of my songs with passionate fervor … and we traded CDs. The CD I received was Justin’s first album, The Sound Of Flight, and over that following weekend I let it fill my soul.
So I became a fast fan, and we have become friends, and that puts me at risk of being either completely biased and “into my friend’s music cuz he’s my friend,” or “over compensating to like his music even though I am sick of his music because I know him too well, or have heard it too much.”
But the truth is, like the responsible person I am trying to become—I separate my like of Justin from my like of his music—and that leads me to this: Justin’s new album, Songs From Spare Rooms, should be described as a collection of songs, rather than a “Themed Album” (which, let’s face it, even when somebody calls an album a themed album, it can be difficult to detect the theme), and that’s just fine.
Because Justin is a SONGWRITER: all caps, all writer. Sure, some people write songs that have lyrics in them, but Justin writes stories and then brings the words to his Omniscient Borrowed From Extraterrestrials Music Creator and it creates some guitar lines and chords and finger-picking methods that MATCH UP PERFECTLY. Of Course, it’s Justin who creates the music for his songs, although he may know some Sexy Aliens. and on top of superb guitar playing, Spare Rooms is filled with tasteful additional instrumentation (Brian Rogers, of Izabella, drizzles percussion all over the thing, and he’s GOOD), and the songs … OH THE SONGS! Second song, a waltzing through the woods lullaby to bears who may be be near (have no fear). “Midnight At The Fair,” a sweet sentiment encapsulating all that is poetic about a normal night of clean up at the fair. “I’M MOVING OUT TO THE WOODS WHERE I BELONG!” is sang with glory at the end of a rollicking quick-lyric’d romp through American Consumer Culture (ACC) (and other philosophical landscapes … I find Justin’s lyrics to play on several different levels). Yes. A Writer.
Often one is left with a coming-of-age sentiment, and you can’t blame Justin for going there, because on top of that progress being kind of the point to life, it’s that coming of age, overcoming odds to realize an enlightened reality sentiment that makes us love our favorite songs, am I right? Well, Justin does that well, but does much more. He puts poetry, good poetry, into song, and he has a very pretty singing voice, and an almost hip-hop ability to frame rhyme schemes in an unpredictable and thoughtful way. and there’s even groove enough to dance to in many places. One short sad song is nothing more than an explanation to a wedding couple of his apprehension at attending said wedding, and it’s a perfect example of musical poetry: easily could have been written by Charles Bukowski or Charles Simic, embodying nothing more than the sticky thoughts surrounding a snippet of real life… and then at the end of the album, the last line is “Let’s ride bikes.” which we should try to do. OMGSTFUPLS! We Must Try To Do That More. JUSTIN FARREN makes songs like NEPALESE CRAFTSMEN make warm earflap hats, and, if you can dig it, will cherish them just like you cherish the warmth those hats bring. (Dean Haakenson, musician)
David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: There were too many good records (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Agaetis Byrjun, Kid A, Our Endless Numbered Days, Master and Everyone to name a few) this decade to pick just one on short notice. Everything That Happens really stands out from the last year or so, however, and was also a bit overlooked. This duo’s last record, 1981’s My Life in The Bush Of Ghosts, was hugely influential and still pops up as a seminal listen in lots of “records that changed my life” lists from a wide variety of musicians. Everything That Happens gospel tinged pop was the last thing anybody expected from Byrne and Eno, but is easily some of the best work either one has done in the past decade, and I’m going to include Mr. Eno’s work with folks like U2 and Coldplay in that statement. What I really love about this record is that it emanates hope. There is plenty of reason to feel angst these days, and there is plenty of angst filled music being made, but to put forth a message of hope without it being cheesy is a real feat. (John Baccigaluppi, writer/audio engineer)
Favorite songs of the
“Get the Party Started” by P!nk (2001): Aside from serving as a monument to both bad fashion and the bottomless self-delusion involved in being a “poseur,” this song never made any longstanding impact on me. It instead, acted as an ever present indicator, and at times even a catalyst, of an irreparable “bad time.” Since its initial debut on my poorly attended 13th birthday party’s playlist, I can recall its unsavory presence at most hapless social events in the past decade: ill-fated club information meetings, desperate career fairs, ragers turned chill-outs, and my cousin’s bar mitzvah which ended in a still unsolved incident of arson—to name a few. (Lindsey Walker, photographer/writer)
“Beautiful Day” by U2. It came with the winter Olympics in 2000, the “classic” U2 sound, but it wasn’t for nostalgia. It was for the spirit of the song, what I consider the classic rock motif: “Raging against the dying of the light.” We had no idea how dark things would get, and how quickly.
But even through the darkest of years—and I’ve never had a worse one—and during what has been an entirely fucked-up decade, these climactic lines trigger a faith in me bigger than I thought I had:
“What you don’t have / You don’t need it now
What you don’t know / You can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now, don’t need it now …
It’s a beautiful day.”
(As soon as I finished typing that, my best friend called to tell me that a good friend tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge over the holiday. Trust me, songs that inspires hope have never been more important to me. It isn’t ONLY rock ’n’ roll.)
On the other hand, the I-can’t-believe-it ear candy of the decade was “Work It” by Missy Elliott.
Consolers of the Lonely by Raconteurs
Of Great and Mortal Men by Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher and J. Matthew Gerken
Mutations by Beck
Kid A (and ) by Radiohead
Kish Kash by Basement Jaxx
Wincing the Night Away by the Shins
Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Z by My Morning Jacket
Poses by Rufus Wainwright
Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon
Unspeakable by Bill Frisell
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
Elephunk by Black Eyed Peas
Smile by Brian Wilson
Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire
The Rising by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
All that You Can’t Leave Behind by U2
The Eminem Show by Eminem
Arular by MIA
Tiny Voices by Joe Henry
Concert for George (Harrison) by various artists
One Way Out (Live) by The Allman Brothers Band. (David Watts Barton, SacramentoPress.com editor)
“Do You Realize??,” the Flaming Lips (from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Warner Bros., 2002). What’s funny is I didn’t even have to think twice about this one. “Do You Realize??,” while it may be an uncompromisingly Caucasian anthem bereft of the pan-cultural banquet of influences one might assume would qualify this decade’s most important musical work, nevertheless is just a fucking great song. Yeah, it’s been pimped for advertising several times, and it’s probably been used as stirring entry music for empowerment talks by shaved-headed personal-transformation gurus more than once, but that doesn’t seem to dim its luster, at least for me. Built over the kind of majestic chord progression that pegs the Flaming Lips as modern successors to Pink Floyd in the stately post-psych bombast department, the song’s soaring, quasi-hymnal melody illuminates lyrics with an essentially Buddhist sense of ephemera, the payoff line being “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die.” Singalong affirmations of inevitable mortality have never sounded more joyous. Plus it’s now the official state song of Oklahoma. How can you argue with that? (Jackson Griffith, writer)
“Do You Realize??” Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips. My soundtrack for an adventurous 2006, from teaching astronomy in the San Bernardino mountains to backpacking throughout Europe. “Do You Realize??” is my anthem for living life with moxie, appreciating loved ones and thinking for myself. (Jenn Kistler, writer)
“Red Eye”, Twopointeight. The Street Dogs Mike McColgan called it the best song of the year while on tour with them in 2005. I’ll do him one better and give these guys song of the decade. I can play this song for punks, hipsters, skramz revivalists, frat boys, flower girls, my mom, whoever, and everyone has the same response- “this is sick.” Vocalist Frederik “Echo” Erikson’s brash and raspy holler would do Joe Strummer proud while the rest of the band hits the shit out of their instruments. I still have not successfully found any of their albums, but the eight songs they have posted on their Myspace page is enough to give me some hope that punk rock is still more than a glittery piece of shit on Billie Joe Armstrong’s front lawn. (Derek Nielsen, SN&R contributor)
Favorite albums of 2009:
Bows + Arrows by the Walkmen. It starts off with this quiet wavering sound by their piano/organ player while the singer asks “what’s in it for me? I came here for a good time and you’re asking me to leave”. Someone’s asking him to grow up and he doesn’t want. Then the albums just launches into a barely-restrained tirade about anger, regret, sorrow, love, selfishness, doubt, and is occasionally broken up with quiet reflection, which pretty much sums up most of the Oughts for me. This album, from its quiet beginning to it’s long ending, has resonated with me more than any album in the past 10 years. (Johnny Flores, artist)
The Church, Untitled #23. I was in to The Church as a lad but stopped following them long ago. A listing for “The Church” at the Press Club (which, it turns out, wasn’t THE Church) started me on a Church kick that resulted in me checking out their newest record & being completely blown away by it. I had no idea they were still even a band, much less on their 23rd record! There’s something epic about this record and it continues to unfold & get better on each listen. If it were made by a new band I feel like this record would’ve gotten a bit more attention.
Fiery Furnaces, I’m Going Away. Their “straightforward” record. This isn’t my favorite Fiery Furnaces record but hey, it’s still a Fiery Furnaces record & they never disappoint me (even when they disappoint me if that makes any sense). I love how they’re just completely in their own world & you must decide if you want to live in that world or not. It’s rare that a band keeps you on your toes as much as they do.
Sonny & the Sunsets, Tomorrow is Alright. This guy Sonny is kind of a mash-up of Jonathan Richman & the more 50’s sounding moments of the Velvet Underground. Just a totally catchy, stripped down pop record that really blew in to 2009 like breath of fresh air for me. I’m not doing this record justice here! All I know is that everyone I’ve played it for has dug it.
The Fresh & Onlys, Grey Eyed Girls/Bomb Wombs. The F&Os are a prolific (some might say overly prolific) group of dudes from S.F. who I love but have a really hard time explaining why! In another band’s hands, I feel like their songs would just be OK but it seems like musically these guys are really on the same wavelength and that the WAY they play their songs is as interesting as the song itself. It sounds like a lot of thought is going in to these relatively small ditties. Do you ever listen to bands & wish you were in them? That’s how they make me feel.
James Ferraro, Genie Head Gas in the Tower of Dreams. I hesitate to list this because it’s pretty obscure but I’ve been a fan of James’s stuff for years now through all his various guises & something of his always ends up on my year-end list. No reason to break that tradition now. This is real head music. Some would dismiss it as noise but I find it very musical. It’s at turns hypnotic, humorous, eerie & beautiful. Its ever-changing nature makes it near-impossible to fully get your head around so you end up just letting it go where it goes. I always listen to James’s stuff on Amtrak rides - somehow it perfectly complements the hidden world of the train-route blurring by. Fact: this particular CD is the exact length of the train ride from Sacramento to Richmond. (Scott Miller, musician)
(Read this in auto-tune:) Since Biggie and Tupac violently killed each other and the Wu-Tang Clan franchised themselves into irrelevance, softies in cardigan sweaters and stunna shades took over, turning rap into an all out fruit-fest. Kanye West somehow convinced people that they should only rap about how good it feels to be rich and how hot their chicks are. Hint to Sacramento rappers: In 2009, biting Kanye made you look stupid (and not the good kind of stupid) because you’re not rich and I’ve seen your chicks. Since originality doesn’t seem to be an issue in rap music, in 2010, at least make sure to bite these guys:
Get Busy Committee, Uzi Does It.
What’s not to love about a group with an unhealthy obsession with both cocaine and Will Smith? That’s right, nothing. GBC took the Knife’s near-perfect electro-pop jam “Heartbeats” and turned it into “My Little Razorblade”—a goddamn masterpiece of darkness and debauchery. The crew—made up of Ryu (Styles of Beyond, Demigodz), Apathy (Demigodz, Army of the Pharoes) and Scoop de Ville (Kid Frost’s son!)—sampled songs that nobody would ever want to hear again and somehow made them work. For example “Stylish Clothes” utilizes Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rumpshaker”, which reinterprets part of El DeBarge’s “I Like It”. It’s like the Matrix of weird samples. And lyrics like, “I can shoot a balloon and make it look sexy/ It’s a hard rock life I live it out of focus/ Looking for a vein to spike before I’m dope sick” (from the track “Shoot Me Up”) are so interesting and intelligent that young Americans will never catch on, which is actually a good thing. The GBC crafted one of the only evocative hip-hop albums of the 2009, but nobody will ever hear it over Mos Def’s “singing voice” that doubles as a dog whistle. (Josh Fernandez, writer)
Sonic Youth’s The Eternal: This one just came out in 2009, and it’s a slammer. These guys are older than my parents and still know how to crush. Smart music, weird with mountains of groove. Mission control to brain police. (Andy Morin, musician/producer)