30. MODEST MOUSE- GOOD NEWS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE BAD NEWS (2004)
“Good News” was Modest Mouse’s commercial breakthrough album after they had spent nearly a decade of steadily building a fanbase getting a bit bigger with each album. Lead single “Float On” was a full blown cross over hit which even hit top forty radio- one of those amazing songs that just comes out of the woodwork and resonates with the larger public even though it isn’t really stylistically different than what the band had been doing all along. Modest Mouse’s agressive guitars and the off-beat yelping vocals of singer Isaac Brock made the songs commercial appeal seem ever stranger. Some of the bands longtime rabid fans boringly dismissed this album as a bit of a sell out- or at least not equal to the bands former work but despite a couple of duds the album is fantastic. Lyrically Brock deals with the deepest of issues- questions of mortality and our relationship with the universe at large and the always tight band plays with real urgency and rocks it out. May the mainstream have more bands like them!!
29. OF MONTREAL- HISSING FAUNA: ARE YOU THE DESTROYER? (2007)
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“Hissing Fauna..” is the 11th album by this long-running offshoot of the Atlanta-based Elephant 6 psychedelic collective- an assortment of talented and eccentric musicians who play together and apart in like-minded bands. Of Montreal is led by freaky frontman Kevin Barnes and “Hissing Fauna” is a concept album about his bitter split with his ex-wife. A quick examination of the album lyrics will tell you he is one pissed-off dude but the music is anything but morose. Barnes throws everything but the kitchen sink into the production and the funkiness along with his vast ambition reminds me of a mid-eighties Prince album. I only have two other Of Montreal album and this one trumps both of them by miles. It’s not to be missed and has only gotten better with age.
28. RADIOHEAD- IN RAINBOWS (2007)
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The story behind this record almost threatened to overshadow the actual music. One of the biggest bands in the world decides to go without record label and announces out of the blue their intention of releasing and selling an album through the internet pretty much right away at no specific price point in an age when not only release dates but entire albums were leaked to the public with alarming frequency. They actually asked their fans to pay whatever price they were willing to pay for the record and due to all of the good press and good will (and amazing music) were even able to sell over a million units of the physical cd released a few months later. Amazing! And only a band as good and with as much cred as Radiohead could pull it off. Though this is not my all time favorite Radiohead record- it probably comes in fourth- the music on it is astoundingly good. Like their last record, “Hail to the Thief”, “In Rainbows” is a more song oriented release than 2000’s “Kid A” or 2001’s “Amnesiac” but the songs are much stronger and morebeautiful than on “Hail”. Although Radiohead decided to be more innovative in a marketing rather than a musical sense the songs didn’t suffer a bit for it.
27. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE- STRAWBERRY JAM (2007)
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Animal Collective had already been making music for most of the decade, with each album trumping the last in both quality and accessibility. “Strawberry Jam” was their commercial release up until that time by a long shot, but you still won’t be hearing this music on any top forty radio station. The busy, noisy and borderline obnoxious sound of the band is still in tact, but on “Strawberry Jam” the Collective bring in techno loops creating a dancier vibe than on their previous more records which had more of an acid-folk feel. The album still gives off the optimistic modern-hippie aesthetic vibe that the Collective are known for. The two song writers complement each other excellently. Panda Bear has a very sunny feel that sounds like a late period psychedelic Beach Boys, while Avey Tarey has a more versatile instrument and a darker, more spastic tone. This was my favorite AC album at the time of its release only surpassed since by their follow up “Merriweather Post Pavillion”. An amazing band still experiencing their creative upswing.
26. THE STREETS- ORIGINAL PIRATE MATERIAL (2002)
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Mike Skinner, AKA The Streets is arguably the 4th white rapper to mean anything (the Beastie Boys as a group, the dudes from 3rd Bass & Eminem being the first three) and he may be the most unique one of the lot. Straight outta Birmingham, England he is a skinny, working-class then twenty-something kid who rose out of the U.K. garage & grime scenes. He makes all of the beats on his album and they are beholden to club music rather than the funk & soul music of American hip-hop. He speak-raps in a thick (though purposefully exaggerated) cockney accent and has no discernible flow whatsoever. The self deprecating lyrics are filled with hard-luck but stories of women, weed & lager and are an incredibly descriptive look into the street life of modern U.K. urban life at the dawn of the 21st century. In his native U.K. he was the voice of a generation to young, working class Brits.
25. DIRTY PROJECTORS- BITTE ORCA (2009)
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The Dirty Projectors weren’t on my radar until 2007’s “Rise Above”, their 5th album, which was a totally unrecognizable cover of Black Flag’s seminal 1981 album “Damaged”. Seriously, without reading the press on the record a big Black Flag fan could even be forgiven for not noticing that the tracks are cover versions. The DP’s are eccentric and experimental to say the least. The band is really a long term art project of Yale University dropout and current Brooklyn dweller Dave Longstreth. As interesting an album as “Rise Above” was “Bitte Orca” is significantly better and one of the best album releases of 2009. The beautiful harmonies and amazing musicianship of the DP’s is counterbalanced with surprising time signature changes and atonal noise. They seem to be equally influenced by R&B/Hip Hop, Indie-rock, free jazz and out-there music like Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. The music requires a lot of its listeners but there is an intense beauty to it once you dig a bit deeper into it.
24. THE WHITE STRIPES- ELEPHANT (2003)
“Elephant” was the White Stripes first release from the mainstream stage after breaking through with their third album “White Blood Cells”. They were already rock stars during the recording of “Elephant” and practically became world-beaters once the album hit- a rarity for a band starting their career at a very-indie label. “Elephant” contains their biggest hit to date with “Seven Nation Army” and the album as a whole has left the biggest cultural and commercial mark on the public. The album contains less filler than even “White Blood Cells” despite the lengthy blues workout “Ball & Biscuit” (which is actually quite fun) and the jokey album ender “It’s True that We Love One Another”. If it doesn’t quite achieve the highs of some of their other work it still stands as their most consistently good album.
23. GIRLS- THE ALBUM (2009)
The Girls debut album keeps growing in stature for me with every listen since its fall 2009 debut. Frontman Christopher Owens has a heartbreaking back-story about being raised in the “Children of God” cult where his brother died because of the cult’s lack of belief in medical care, his father abandoned his family and his mother was eventually forced to prostitute herself to make financial ends meet. Owens grew up a street kid in Texas and was only able to start his career and move to San Francisco after a local millionaire took an interest in him began to support his art with financial backing. Owens’s sadness shows in the hiccupy quiver in his voice, bringing to mind past greats like Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello & Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes. The songs feel sun drenched and bohemian. Pissed-off but free spirited but heart breaking. These kids are trying to navigate their way through tough living conditions and messy relationships as well as they know how and are trying to have as much fun as they can in the meantime.
22. KANYE WEST- LATE REGISTRATION (2005)
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“Late Registration” is the second and best album from the most interesting and best new face in hip hop music of the 00’s (with apologies to Lil’ Wayne). The beats are better and the songs are stronger than on Kanye’s also excellent debut “College Dropout”. This is really where Kanye was able to cement himself as a huge mainstream artist with the enormous hit “Gold Digger” that even your grandma has probably heard. West also takes plenty of artistic chances here including adding non-mainstream Houston chopped & screwed rapper Paul Wall to the track “Drive Slow” (actually one of the best tracks on the album) and getting dubious Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine to sing the chorus for single “Heard ‘Em Say”- it somehow works beautifully. As a gifted producer he obviously has quite an ear for talent and what works musically. It seems that almost everything he touches turns to gold. Unfortunately as his stature grew later in the decade he would become a human gaffe machine.
21. AT THE DRIVE-IN- RELATIONSHIP OF COMMAND (2000)
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This album hit me like a thunderbolt the first time I heard it- similar to the way I felt when I first heard “Appetite for Destruction” and “Nevermind” though I didn’t expect “Relationship of Command” to change the world like the other two albums. While the sound of the record was not completely unlike the nu-metal and emo which was fashionable at the time, the music felt both more aggressive and more passionate. It has a punk edge that is heartfelt and not a put-on like so many of the other emo bands. The musicianship is top notch- filled with awesome riffs and tempo changes throughout. Though “Relationship” was my introduction to this great band, it would end up being their last album- the members would split and go on to form the much proggier band The Mars Volta and the more mainstream rock band Sparta. Neither compared to the original. Please come back ATDI. We miss you!