Best of the decade: 51-60

60.

Band: Outkast
Album: The Love Below/Speakerboxx

OK, complete honesty here: I don’t love Outkast. More and more I think they fit my Kanye West/Lil Wayne theory of white journalists liking hip hop: it’s graded on a certain curve. The dudes in OutKast are, essentially, hipsters (not unlike Common, see below) and journalists fancy them more than, say, Jay-Z. Jay, by the way, is infinitely more talented.

Nevertheless, I think doing a double album not long after the duo’s greatest success (and excellent album) is ballsy and interesting. The problem is that the music isn’t nearly as good as that on Stankonia (an album I love and one that you’ll see high up on this list in a few weeks).

“Hey Ya” is a lovely little number, no doubt. “The Way you Move” is catchy and Sleepy Brown’s voice sounds great. “Roses” isn’t much. “GhettoMusick” is decent enough. Otherwise, it’s a whole bunch of nothing interesting.

59.

Band: Lily Allen
Album: It’s Not Me, It’s You

As mentioned in the introduction to this list (and, really, just about everything I’ve written about music and fancied interesting, though, surely it is not interesting), the way music soundtracks our lives is the driving force in our views of said music. It’s hard to separate yourself from that; Pete Yorn, despite his general blandness, will always mean something to me ebcause of the college road trip a girlfriend and I took while he sang through my stereo.

I was introduced to It’s Not Me, It’s You through traditional means but one notable moment involved my defiantly putting it on as a (mostly unspoken) deal was agreed upon. Time limits were imposed, imbalances struck and that was that. All we had left to do was finish those final 50 miles and get home. Deal with the consequences later.

I’d say it ruined the record, but it didn’t. Bad times one spends with a record shouldn’t define the record. It may be human nature to associate one memory with the record, but the whole of your experience with the record creates a fuller understand and appreication of it. Just because the end of something was horrible doesn’t mean the intial moments and middle portions aren’t life-affirming and beautiful. It’s good to remind ourselves of this sometimes.

(I bet you didn’t expect to read “Ross Gianfortune: Motivational speaker,” did you?)

58.

Band: T.I.
Album: King

I like T.I. enough to put him on here, but I’m not really confident with this album being here. Paper Trail could’ve gone here; Maybe Trap Muzik would’ve been a better choice.

Either way, I find King to be the record on which T.I. really found his voice. “What You Know” is defiant in the way T.I. only can be, while “Top Back” is a great boast record. “Why You Wanna” is among T.I.’s best records, as well.

Really, it’s about as good a collection of songs that T.I. has ever put out.

57.

Band: Nine Inch Nails
Album: The Slip

“This one’s on me.”

So wrote Trent Reznor in 2008 in announcing the release of a free record. All one needed to get the album was an e-mail address and an internet connection.

Considering his previous experiment in distribution, Ghosts I-IV, was a revelation — according to some reports, Reznor made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the release — Reznor’s nod to the fans was excellent. It appeared — as opposed to Radiohead’s In Rainbows “pay what you want” experiment — that Reznor figured it out.

But, moreover, Ghosts was an atmosphere album, sounding more like the filler tracks on The Fragile than actually like the taut brilliance of Broken and With Teeth.

(Of course, Reznor’s opus The Downward Spiral combined the two to near-perfect results.)

The Slip, rather than working in strings and lush, takes off where With Teeth and Year Zero leave. The songs are tight and aggressive, with political content coming from Reznor’s sidekick. In classic Reznor fashion, the lyrics are brooding and over-the-top, as he contemplates killing himself and others throughout the record. Taking from Depeche Mode and Bauhaus, the Slip is danceable and fun.

56.

Band: Camera Obscura
Album: Let’s Get Out of This Country

Belle and Sebastian are perfectly pleasant, but Camera Obscura is far better at that style of music. Let’s Get out of This Country is, at times, sweet and saccharine, but aching and pretty at other times. Chamber pop isn’t complex, but Camera Obscura’s version is as evocative as it comes.

55.

Band: Smog
Album: Dongs of Sevotion

Armed with his best band (jazz bassist Matt Lux and Tortoise members John McEntire and Jeff Parker), Bill Callahan put out a solid Smog record. Most of his post-2000 output has been spotty — the albums under his own name both just missed this list — but Dongs of Sevotion sits among Julius Caesar, Red Apple Falls and Wild Love as Callahan’s best.

“Dress Sexy at My Funeral” has the odd logic of earlier Smog record, but without the Jandek-esque out of tune problems. “Bloodflow” has the odd cheerleading and Callahan’s baritone. “Distance” is misanthropic and weird, while “Strayed” is among Callahan’s most personal tracks.

54.

Band: Band of Horses
Album: Cease to Begin

“No One’s Gonna Love You” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Mistakenly (though, admittedly, not that mistakenly), I lauded Iron & Wine’s “Boy With a Coin” as the best song of 2007. It’s not.

“No One’s Gonna Love You” is so beautiful. I don’t think Ben Bridwell has a great voice, but on this one song, he belts it out. The easy guitar surrounds him. The rhytymn section is tight. The lyric aches with resigned sadness. It’s perfect.

53.

Band: Common
Album: Be

I’m a certain type of person and Be hits me in the places where it should. As I’ve written about Kanye West and Lil Wayne, a rapper simply needs to be not sexist and violent and even mildly self-reflexive to be attractive to this certain type of person.

Common is kind of in a funny place for this to work. On one hand, he’s not superbly talented — good writing, mediocre flow, works with mediocre producers. On the other hand, he is a smart writer and on Be, working with fellow Chicagoan West, the results are pretty good. The record has its bad tracks, but “The Food,” “The Corner” and “Real People” are hearty and excellent.

52.

Band: Justin Timberlake
Album: Futuresex/Lovesounds

I’ve already touched on this record here, so, let me quote myself.

Justin Timberlake is, no doubt, this type of person. His immense talent is mostly in “packaging” things — his voice, his bone structure, his dance skills — and not in the creative places like his songwriting (bleah) or production skills (bleah). So, instead, he chooses to work with those more skilled than he and puts out good records.

Even better, Timberlake doesn’t seem to feel the need to stick his nose in everything or release an album every five minutes. He appears in a movie here and there, but he doesn’t guest on every record under the sun. It’s kind of nice to know that Justin Timberlake appears to enjoy being Justin Timberlake.

I stand by this. Futuresex/Lovesounds is a really fun record and better than most of the things on the radio. Timberlake is talented.

Appropos of nothing, the name of this album is cumbersome. This fact probably knocked it down a position or two on this list.

51.

Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Album: Transatlanticism

I struggle with my fandom of this band, as I’ve written. And though I probably enjoy their albums as much as any other band, simple shame (I don’t want to be lumped in with the teenage girls and skinny boys) has kept all but two albums off the list.

Transatlanticism is, like all Death Cab records, strikingly emotional and more evocative than the law allows. “The New Year” explains the complaint we all have about party holidays: any time you’re supposed to have fun is disappointing, as Gibbard intones the opening lines: “So, this is the new year/and I don’t feel any different.” “Title and Registration” is one of Death Cab’s signature songs, with a moderately-paced melancholy guitar line. The much-televised “Sound of Settling” (The OC made it big, guys!) is spunky with it’s “bob-pa” chorus (the song was also on the soundtrack for Wedding Crashers). “We Looked Like Giants” is a standout, as well, notching five and a half minutes of anticipation. It is, to make an odd comparison, Death Cab’s “Dazed and Confused.”

Again, I like everything this band has done. I should’ve included more albums on the list, but this will do. One near the top. One near the middle.

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