Best of the decade: 31-40


Band: Pinback
Album: Blue Screen Life

As mentioned in the bit about the Raconteurs, this list is often a romp through my life story since Jan. 1, 2000 (and mostly since May 2003, my college graduation). Thhe deeper I go into the list, the more I find the records that soundtracked my daily existance: The Metro, playing video games, girlfriends, whatever.

Blue Screen Life — and this is going to sound weird — is my time at The Washington Post, specifically, the Metro rides there and back. The album was my most listened-to during that time. It seemed that it was the only thing on my iPod at the time. For whatever reason, I needed to hear a song about computers (“Offlinke P.K.”) or a sweet tribute to a dead fish (“Penelope”) or a thumping math-rock song (“Prog”) or the lament of “Boo.”

And, man, it sounds just as good now as it did them. I loved that album and still love it. Angular guitars, two-man vocals and snap drums make for a great record and one that holds up.


Band: Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Album: The Brave and the Bold

When my favorite band and one of the premier songwriters teamed up for a covers album, it was clearly going to be interesting. Though everyone doesn’t agree, I’d argue that the record surpassed even the highest expectations, with interesting arrangements and wonderful playing by everyone involved.

The album is not for the faint of heart, of course. The album starts with a sped-up version of a song by a (obscure, by Americans, at least) Brazilian guitarist. Other bands covered include the horrifying Don Williams, the unctious Richard Thompson and Melanie (of “Brand New Key” fame, though they don’t cover that song). Probably typical for the backgrounds of those involved, they cover Lungfish, Quix*O*Tic and the Minutemen, but moreovers, the highlights are the three most-known artists the band covers: Devo, Springsteen and Elton John. Oldham’s voice on “Daniel” is tender, energetic on “That’s Pep!” and perfectly desperate on “Thunder Road.” Indeed, the cover of the Springsteen classic is stripped of its nonsense and boiled down to a few things: A great lead line brought to the front and played on vintage synths, a start-stop beat and a lyric that yearns for something more.

I’ve heard a bunch of versions of this song and none is one tenth as good as this one. It’s the perfect cover: a reimaging of a song.


Band: Deltron 3030
Album: Deltron 3030

Crappy Roland Emmerich movies aside, the end of the world is a pretty scary concept. Hip hop supergroup Deltron 3030 paints a surprisingly clever and surprisingly possible picture of said event on the group’s self-titled 2000 release. I love the album and believe it to be Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s best work and among Dan the Automator’s, as well. “Virus” is amazing.

Indeed, it’s kind of easy to forget, but a lot of people were really scared that the entire grid was going to explode on Dec. 31, 1999. Of course, that was all overreaction, but people were genuinely scared. Ah, 1999. You seem so long ago.


Band: Cat Power
Album: The Covers Record

Because an album can’t be in the top 10 based on one song, I’ll just say that “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is the best cover song ever recorded. Anyone who compares it disfavorably to the original completely misses the point.

This was actually the album that introduced me to Cat Power. Released my freshman year of college, it was reviewed at our station by one of my idols, a dude named John. He spoke of its charms and I finally picked up on the beauty that is Chan Marshall’s voice. I’ve been in love since.


Band: 90 Day Men
Album: To Everybody

I could’ve sworn that I’ve written about this album before, but it appears I have not. I guess I’ve started to write about To Everybody a few times and stopped or something, the mark of a truly great, undescribable album.

Indeed, to say To Everybody is math rock is to say that, like, Tha Carter III is a hip hop record. Sure, yeah. It is a math rock record, but it’s so much more. It’s what the form should be.

What similarly striking is that To Everybody is a small moment in time for 90 Day Men, not a great band. Their others records are passable for what they are, but th turgid repetitivness of Panda Park was largely unbearable and a direct contrast to the dynamism of purpose and lyrical interest shown on To Everybody.

And those opening seconds of “I’ve Got Designs on You?” Pure cacaphonic heaven.


Band: Jens Lekman
Album: Night Falls Over Kortedala

The longest unpublished thing to come from my metaphoric pen would be the piece from over the summer on this album. My girlfriend had just broke my heart and left town for three weeks. That sort of thing’ll mess with even the strongest, healthy person. For a self-involved idiot like me? Bad times. Basically, I took Lekman’s gorgeous chamber pop album, parsed nearly every word and tried to apply it to my own heartbreak. It took me a week to write, and three edits.

That I could extrapolate that much from a record is not a testament to my lunacy as much as it is a testament to the album’s grandiosity. It should probably be higher.


Band: Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
Album: Ballad of the Broken Seas

I really underwrote this album when I reviewed it originally. Campbell’s voice is heavenly and bounces off Lanegan’s Tom Waits impression to huge success. The guitar work is intricate and the arrangements are really lush. Moreover, “Revolver” is a counfounding, cryptic song. The lyrics are hard to figure and the harmonies are just off.

It’s also among the 10 or 20 best songs released this decade.


Band: Justin Timberlake
Album: Justified

Justin Timberlake’s debut album showed the world that he wasn’t just another pretty face and a nice dance step. Working with some great producers — Timbaland and Pharrell, specifically — Timberlake was a revelation, a blue-eyed soul singer to actually enjoy.

“Rock Your Body” is pure sugar, but brilliant in its joy. “Senorita,” silly as it sounds, lodges itself into your brain and “(And She Said) Take Me Now” has that great stutter that often eludes hip hop. “Like I Love You” has a great guest appearance from Clipse and “Take It From Here” is the slow jam for the ladies.

These songs are all good and well, but “Cry Me a River” is the breakup song to end all breakup songs. Likely written about Britney Spears, the song’s production is pure Timbaland, with little synths and shuffling beats. Timberlake’s voice gets into a crazy falsetto range that, on its own, is strange. In the song? It’s a perfect ache.


Band: Ludacris
Album: Back for the First Time

When I first moved out here, “Act the Fool” (from some dopey soundtrack). was unendingly popular. The only two radio stations of which I was aware were the top 40 station (Hot 99.5) and the sports radio station (Sport/Talk 980, which is now ESPN 980), so I heard “Act the Fool” about 1,000,000 times that summer. It sucked.

Which is sort of crazy, because Ludacris’ first major record is so very good. Back for the First Time — an album largely culled from the independently released Incognegro — is a revelation. Save for troll (well, only in looks. I’m sure he’s a nice fellow, but, man is he ugly) Jermaine Dupree and one track by the Neptunes, Back for the First Time is self-produced or produced by Atlanta-based Bangladesh.

Beats schmeats. As a friend recently said of “What’s Your Fantasy?” “This song is repetitve.” The key is that Ludacris is the Drew Magary of hip hop, dropping loving references, blunt object phrasing and overall smiley fun to hip hop. Indeed, there is a distinct lack of humor in hip hop — a smirk every six months from Jay-Z and a DXM-induced giggle from Lil Wayne do not count — and Ludacris is nothing if not funny. “Ho” is a three-minute joke, while “What’s Your Fantasy?” is the first goofy sex rap with the oustanding “pick up your thighs and call me the Pac Man” line said with a wink and a smile.

Sure, “Southern Hospitality” isn’t drop-down funny, but the video sure is. He dies! He’s upside down! Awesome.


Band: The Shins
Album: Oh, Inverted World

The album that launched Zack Braff’s idea (also mine) that he knows something about music.

This entry was posted in Best of the decade. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment