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Tommy’s Top 6 Albums of the Decade

At the wake of a new decade, everybody’s putting out lists about the best and worst things of the decade that lays behind us. Classifying stuff is just really hot these days.  There are quite a lot of those. And – needless to say – I almost never agree with them.

Just to get it off my chest, I’m giving you my personal top 6 Albums of the Decade. In no way it’s well balanced or representative for all the good music that came out of the 00’s. It’s just a of-the-top-of-my-head  list of MY favorite albums in no particular order. It’s not a definite one as well. I’m probably forgetting a few. And yeah, it’s way to short! There are about a hundred albums I could write a praise to. But I haven’t got the time. I’ve got an album of my own to make!..

Eels – Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

Eels - Blinking Lights and other RevelationsNot very much albums bring me to the verge of tears. This one does. Sometimes. I think it’s Mark ‘E’ Everett’s masterpiece. A very well crafted double album that took him years to make, releasing ‘in between’ albums on the side. There are a lot of things I love about this album, but the most important ones are: the simplicity of the songs; the instruments used (including bells, melotrons, accordions, auto harps and the piano Neil Young used on After the Gold Rush!); the instrumental pastiches; the string and horn arrangements; and the (sometimes deeply personal, sometimes humoristic/cynical) lyrics. In E’s words, the album’s about “hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it’s a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory.” Amen to that. My favorite track from this one is The Dust of Ages.  But Railroad Man and Old Shit/New Shit are brilliant too. Man, I could go on and on.. By the way,  this album isn’t even mentioned in all the lists of best albums I read so far.. Now that’s an utter outrage!

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Ryan Adams - HeartbreakerI think a lot of people will agree that Ryan Adams’ restlessness and tremendous output of material is not always an advantage. Whereas most artists and bands put out one album a year, Adams easily puts out three. In my humble opinion, that leads – besides one or two gems per album – to a lot of ‘fillers’. Not on Heartbreaker, though. Here, every song hits the bullseye. Heartbreaker was his first solo album, largely an exquisite collection of charred and tattered songs about a doomed relationship and its bitter aftermath that promised a glorious future for Adams’ perfectly nuanced Americana. Channeling a lot of my own favorites (Dylan, Stones, Springsteen, Gram Parsons), he shows us what a good song needs: not much. It’s a songwriter’s delight. Listen to Amy, or Come Pick Me Up, or To Be Young (if you’re in a more upbeat mood), and you know it.

The Strokes – Is This It?

The Strokes - Is This It? (European edition)This is something of a no-brainer. The Stokes’ debut is in almost every top 10 I read. And rightfully so. It reset the clock for rock in the 00’s, just like Oasis’ Definitely Maybe reset it in the 90’s. A band everybody suddenly wanted to sound (and look) like. Singer Julian Cassablancas wrote the great, catchy songs and gave the band their boyish and arrogant/stoic charisma. To me however, the playful but crafty interplay between the two guitars, bass and drums made the band really irresistible. By the way, in contrast to popular opinion I like the follow up album, Room on Fire, almost just as much as this one. My favorite track from Is This It? has to be Hard To Explain, but Someday is equally irresistible. And what a joy it is to stand in a bar at 3 A.M. and suddenly Last Nite comes blasting out of the speakers..

Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

Sufjan Stevens - IllinoisA masterpiece by almost every standard. Ambitious, bold and long. Sufjan Stevens proves himself a brilliant craftsman in both composing and arranging. The music pushes boundaries between pop and classical, and the emotional weight of his lyrics grounds his feather-light voice. At the first listen the album didn’t quite win me over immediately, though it certainly caught my attention. I more or less watched it from a safe distance with the watchful eye of a private investigator. But after a few listens it lured me over, and boy, it hit me good.. Stevens’ orchestrated folk epics, and it’s indie pop melodies  draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. As reviewer James Christopher Monger puts it: “… there’s a newfound optimism that runs through much of Illinois that echoes the state’s “Gateway to the West” pioneering spirit. [It has] an expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings.” I think my favorite track is the dark John Wayne Gasey Jr. Off course Chicago and Casimir Pulasky Day are of rare beauty as well.

The Black Keys – Attack & Release

The Black Keys - Attack & ReleaseThis roots rock duo are without a doubt one of my favorite contempary bands. I’m a huge fan of Dan Auerbach’s battered but soulful singing, his inventive guitar playing, his crafty songwriting and electrifying performing. I chose this Black Keys album because of it’s more interesting production (by Gnalrs Barkley’s Danger Mouse), but it could easily be Rubber Factory (featuring my favorite BK-song Stack Shot Billy) or Thickfreakness (featuring my other favorite BK-song Thickfreakness). On Attack & Release, there are typical Black Keys songs, like I Got Mine, but some more adventurous stuff as well in which you can clearly hear the influence of Danger Mouse. Spooky choirs and that sort of stuff. Really cool. A good example of this is Psychotic Girl.

Beirut – The Flying Club Cup

Beirut - The Flying Club CupWhen I first heard Gulag Orchestar, Beirut’s debut album, it immediately struck a chord that radiated all the way back to the days when I blew off the dust of the old marching band records of my grandpa. The racious, melancholic Balkan brass, stretched out on top of sweet ukelele strums.. It sent shivers down my spine. And when the horn theme in the middle of Postcards From Italy came marching in (at 2.01) you could drag me away. So why didn’t I choose Gulag Orchestar? Well, because I only wanted one album per artist and on follow up album The Flying Cub Club the songs are better, the singing is better, the sound is richer and the arrangements are more diverse. On this album Zack Condon (Beirut’s brains, voice and conductor) zoomed out his focus on Eastern Europe and inlcuded a lot of Southern Europe in it. Especially France. Beitut’s best song, Elephant Gun, is not on the album (it’s on the Lon Gisland EP), but my favorite song on this album is A Sunday Smile.

If this was a longer list, these albums would be on there too:

The White Stripes – Elephant
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Drive By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

Calexico – Feast Of Wire
The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America
The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Grave
Oasis – Don’t Believe the Truth

Johnny Cash – Man Comes Around
Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)