PHW's Albums of the Decade - #50-41

This week on PHW I’ll be running a countdown of my 50 favorite dad-rock albums of the past ten years. I’m not trying to be dramatic or self-important by doing it over 5 days and breaking it into 5 equal segments, it’s more a result of the difficulty I always have in formatting posts of this nature. Blogger can be a pain in the ass with large posts featuring multiple images, and I’ve never figured out how to make these things look just the way I want them. Breaking it down like this makes that somewhat easier for me.

Anyway, I’ve listened to a lot of albums over the past decade. Some that I’ve actually paid for. The following are 50 that, upon reflection, I feel best represent the music fan I have become over that time. These are my favorites right now, over the past month or so that I’ve spent drafting what you are about to read, and the ones that I anticipate going back to most over however long the rest of my life may be. Many of these albums you’ll recognize from various other End-of-the-Decade lists or wherever, but I promise lots of upsets and underdogs in here as well. I hope you enjoy reading, and feel free to comment about what you agree with and where you think I fucked up. Peace.

50. Impasse - Richard Buckner (2002)

Impasse may be the most overlooked record in the already underappreciated catalog of this Texas-by-way-of-California singer-songwriter. Not as emotionally naked as Devotion & Doubt, as all-encompassing as Since, as historical as The Hill, and predating his contract with Merge, Impasse is simply a collection of great indie-folk songs that are spruced up by Buckner’s wife on drums and some unexpectedly convincing synth-work. The result is an album with a uniformly moody, mid-tempo sound that centers on Buckner’s deep-throated rasp and elliptical lyrical style. It’s a personal favorite that I never get tired of. Obviously, or it wouldn’t be here.

49. Endless Summer - Fennesz (2001)

Endless Summer is quite a departure from the music that makes up much of the rest of this list. While in no way a less inviting album than, say, Since I Left You or Fleet Foxes, this classic from sound manipulator Christian Fennesz is mostly comprised of strummed, distorted acoustic & electric guitars surrounded by hissy, ambient noise effects. The result is a beautiful album to submerge yourself into like you would the cool ocean on a hot and hazy summer day.

48. Dear Science, - TV On The Radio (2008)

By the time of Dear Science, TV On The Radio had already made a pair of the most critically-lauded albums of the preceding few years. This album was received similarly, but managed to reach a larger audience than ever before. The difference here is the band’s willingness to strip back some of the more challenging, noisier elements of their repertoire and let the accessible side of their songs shine through. This is clear right from the opening moments, as those thumping first beats and doo-wop “bom-bom-bom-bom-boms” of “Halfway Home” kick in and lasts all the way through to the triumphant finale “Lover’s Day”.

47. American Hearts - AA Bondy (2007)

One of the most unadorned albums on this list, American Hearts is an album of songs, and what a great collection of those this is. The intimate folk music of his 2007 solo debut make Bondy sound like a man out of time - a relic from an era when songs were sung and remembered instead of ever actually being written down, much less recorded in a studio. There are highlights throughout (“There’s A Reason”, “Black Rain, Black Rain”, and the elegiac “Of The Sea” spring to mind), but on “Witness Blues” it’s like he re-wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” for the Bush administration - “and once there was a time to join the army, and once there was a time to hear the news, and once there was a time for easy silence, but now the jury waits for you”.

MP3 :: There’s A Reason

46. Untrue - Burial (2007)

The underground dubstep on the mysterious Burial’s sophomore album is the perfect soundtrack for long walks through urban winters; a distant and alien sounding collection of R&B vocal samples, emaciated beats, and ambient noises. Whatever haunted universe this music is beaming from must be lovely, dark, and deep.

45. Everything All The Time - Band of Horses (2006)

The influences here may be easier-than-easy to spot, but Band of Horses’ debut overcomes pigeonholing on the strength of Ben Bridwell’s reverb-soaked vocals and some really kick-ass songs. “The Funeral” is one of the very best rock songs of the decade; a soaring anthem that could encore their shows until the wheels fall off. But there are plenty of other highlights here that nearly match it - particularly the pulsing “Our Swords” and the slow-building, melodic folk of “Monsters”.

MP3 :: The Funeral
MP3 :: The Great Salt Lake

44. Mono / Grandpaboy (2002)

Despite a promising 1993 solo debut, 14 Songs, most of Paul Westerberg’s post-Replacements output has lacked the spark of his former band’s best years. For that matter, so did the last few Mats albums. But at some point in the mid-90’s, in between lackluster major label efforts, he found time to sneak out a quick 5-song independently released EP under the Grandpaboy pseudonym which managed to recall the tossed-off spirit and snappy songwriting of his youth. In typical fashion, it went pretty much unnoticed by everyone except his diehard fans. After being dropped in 1999 by his second major label in as many albums, Westerberg retreated to his basement and started bashing out home recordings of similar quality to that EP at a fairly rapid pace. He’s now been doing it for 10 years. The best of the bunch is Mono, a collection of ragged rockers (again under the Grandpaboy moniker and released in conjunction with the folk-leaning Stereo) that is easily his most exciting set of songs since Pleased To Meet Me.

43. Distance And Clime / Centro-matic (2003)

It was a hard task choosing just one album for this list from this Denton, TX band, as every single one they’ve released (and God knows there a bunch) is essential stuff in my book. But Distance & Clime flaunts everything I love about Centro-matic in spades - passionate, egoless rock songs bursting with energy, Will Johnson’s sandpaper growl, and my favorite guitar tones (buzzy, feedback-heavy, and right up front) of any working band.

42. The Sunset Tree - The Mountain Goats (2005)

The Sunset Tree is unique in the way it makes someone’s personal anguish so endlessly inviting. John Darnielle’s often uncomfortably personal documentation of surviving an abusive stepfather is also one of the most redemptive albums I've ever heard. Much of it is fairly typical late-period Mountain Goats (acoustic guitars driving the rhythm, sprinkled piano, Darnielle’s penetrating vocals, and detail-oriented lyrics that use jarringly direct similes), albeit quieter and more contemplative. But a handful of truly anthemic songs, like “Dance Music” (“so this is what the volume knob’s for”) and “This Year” (“I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”), force us to sing along, and in turn must offer a sort of communal healing for Darnielle, especially when performed live.

MP3 :: Lion’s Teeth

41. Bows + Arrows - The Walkmen (2004)

The Walkmen’s sophomore album sways between bracing rockers (“The Rat”, “Little House Of Savages”), and woozy, romantic ballads (“Hang On, Siobhan”, “138th Street”) that proved The Strokes weren’t the only relevant post-punk band in NYC during the early years of the decade. Bows + Arrows thrives on pent-up tension, either brought out by the clash of chugging rhythms and clanging electric guitars, or by Hamilton Leithauser’s anxious, growling lead vocals. Though they went on to make a better record a few years later with You & Me, Bows + Arrows is an essential early statement from one of the decade’s best rock bands.


Wayne said...

Hey James,

Interested to see how your list plays out. I am working on a similar post too. Although I think I will do it all in one hit. I can say The Sunset Tree is in my 50.

James said...

Looking forward to it Wayne.

James said...

Oops, by the way - Distance & Clime was from 2001, not '03 as I listed. That was Love You Just The Same.