The best albums of 09 and the decade
Let’s call this a pre-emptive strike, or in the least a kind of Kanye West moment: “Yo Penbo, I’m gonna let you finish but your list is unsatisfactory”. Having not contributed to The Punch’s best albums of the decade I’m going to beat you dear readers to the first critique of the list.
Needless to say the 30 album list chosen by Punch editor David Penberthy, resident critic Dennis Atkins and contributor Alison Piotrowski is full of great and deserved music.
Atkins’ list is limited only to the best albums of 2009.
Thankfully there’s not a lot of cross-over, although both The Strokes and M.I.A get on two lists so maybe they have to be considered artists of the decade.
But as always is the case with these lists it’s the omissions that we seem to look out for more than the choices themselves.
Hip hop’s pretty underrepresented in Penbo and Alison’s decade lists, (no Eminem or Kanye) and whether you like them or not Radiohead probably deserved to make it somewhere - if only for the devout following they’ve inspired amongst so many.
The best indy rock album of the decade (in my opinion) was left off the list entirely: The New Pornographers Electric Version . No Elliot Smith either for you introspective types.
But probably the best band of the second half of the decade was also left off completely: The Killers. Specifically their second album Sam’s Town which could’ve taken out the title but in the least deserved a mention. I was heartened to learn that the readers of Rolling Stone also thought Sam’s Town ripped-off in the magazine’s list of the decade.
Without further complaining (by me anyway) we give you The Punch’s best albums of the decade.
David Penberthy - Best Albums of the Decade
PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.
Almost 10 years after it was released PJ Harvey’s so-called New York album still sounds as intense and passionate as ever, and is my choice as the defining album of the decade. With its songs of doomed love and longing, sleeplessness, travel, the sense of being trapped between time zones - and creepily despite its year 2000 release, one unwittingly prescient song, The Whore’s Hustler and the Hustler’s Whore, which lyrically presages the September 11 atrocities - this is the record which to me sounds like the soundtrack to a decade.
M.I.A. - Kala
This incredible second album by English-Sri Lankan M.I.A. (who famously performed at the Grammys on the day she was due to give birth) is to world music what Never Mind the Bollocks is to easy listening. The most revolutionary release of the past 10 years, Kala takes its musical cues from across the world’s cultures, sampling everything from African drumming to the Wilcannia Mob to the Pixies Where is My Mind? to the first Modern Lovers album. The brilliant single Paper Planes is used to great emotional force in the opening scenes of Slumdog Millionaire.
Beyonce - Dangerously in Love
A toss-up between this and Destiny Child’s Survivor (which opens with Independent Women, Survivor and Bootylicious) for the best dance album of the past 10 years. But Beyonce’s solo debut shades her collaboration with Kelly and Michelle for one reason - Crazy in Love might be the best dance song ever written. If you were lucky enough to see her all-girl band start her recent concert with it, you are probably still recovering too.
Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me
The band that saved rock, then kidnapped it, got it really drunk and drove it home in a stolen car two days later, The Hold Steady are a sensational pack of drunken maniacs who sound like Bruce Hornsby on speed - and I mean that in a good way. Just buy this record, get loaded, and turn it up as loud as you can.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Primary Colours
Awesome straight-up-and-down no-bullshit guitar rock from this Melbourne band who met while doing God’s work, making records in a vinyl factory. Their self-titled debut was superb (they wrote the single Get Up Morning and recorded it on tape while working at the factory) but this second album rocks even harder and Wrapped Up may be the greatest blokey love anthem of the modern era.
Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears
It seemed that nothing would ever match the perfection of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road but the sexiness and sorrow of Lucinda’s follow-up double LP, World Without Tears, make this album every bit as good as its predecessor. Real Live Bleeding Fingers, Three Days, Ventura, Righteously…so many amazing and powerful songs from the best songwriter of her generation.
The Strokes - Is This It
Jaded critics attacked this New York Band as too derivative but, hey, it had been a while since The Velvet Underground did anything - and you could argue that Is This It is actually better than anything VU did anyway. Hard to Explain might be the best rock song of the decade.
U2 - All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Bit of a nerdy choice this one from the easily-ridiculed Bono and the boys, but Beautiful Day is about as perfect as a song can be, the video is inspired, and even though the lyrics are a bit overblown and hackneyed, I still find myself swept up by its sense of euphoria and possibility, while slightly hating myself for it.
Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
An album so mellow that it’s like one long lullaby, it’s actually hard to get through this record without dozing off - there are crickets sampled in the background for God’s sake - but it is so blissed out it is beautiful.
Tough Love - Magic Dirt
This isn’t the most important album ever made. It’s just a whole stack of fun. Perfect, poppy punk rock from the adorable Adalita and her brilliant bogan band from Geelong, who tragically lost bass player Dean Turner this year to cancer.
Dennis Atkins - Best 2009 Albums
Wilco - (the album).
This is the Wilco album that marks the coming of age for the Chicago band. Sonically, nothing came close any time this year. Bull Black Nova is a fantastic car song, loving and as hard as the two lane blacktop it evokes. And there’s a real Big Star moment with the beautifully delightful pop masterpiece, Sonny Feeling. In a year of standout new music this was a genuine triumph. And the band’s touring in April and May. Don’t miss them.
Tom Russell with Calexico – Blood and Candle Smoke.
Tom’s been around for a long time, carving out a niche at the sharp-eyed end of the story-teller shelf. His songs are literate and surprising, covering life in Mexico and California. One tune is a tribute to Nina Simone and another, Santa Ana Winds, is pure west coast crossover magic. What makes this record is the backing of Arizona band Calexico (touring in March, thank goodness) which adds layers of richness to Russell’s well worn vocal. A superb collection of stories, told with a life’s experience informing and crafting them.
Todd Snider – The Excitement Plan.
Snider’s East Nashville home generates some of the best insurgent country music around (find Red Beet records and get hold of their three compilation CDs) and this album is at the top of the tree. It’s Snider’s best CD since his Songs for a Lonely Planet in 1994. There’s a tune about a baseball pitcher playing a no-hitter after taking LSD, a gem about the music industry called Money, Compliments and Publicity and a solid gold country duet with Loretta Lynn called Don’t Tempt Me. This is real “do yourself a favour” territory.
Ruthie Foster – The Truth According to Ruthie Foster.
Austin, Texas songstress Ruthie Foster has been working her way through gospel, rhythm and blues, folk and soul for a while and this collection, her sixth album, is as good as anything she’s done. In the style of Aretha Franklin, Foster belts out her tunes with conviction and a heart-backed vocal. Songs like Dues Paid in Full, Stone Love and Joy on the Other Side are inspirational and intoxicating – although it seems unfair to single any songs out of this joyous package.
Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures.
What is not to like about the very best no nonsense rock and roll album of the year. Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones combined to lay down rock music as it is sadly all too seldom heard nowadays. From the opening bash of Grohl’s drums you know you’re going somewhere special. Every track is a happy place but when you have, in Scumbag Blues, the best Cream song since Disraeli Gears and, in Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up, the best Doors song since LA Woman, how can you stop listening to this?
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone.
Any record that starts with a love song for a storm called This Tornado Loves You has got my attention, particularly when that’s followed with the jaunty and cheeky The Next Time You Say Forever (which prompts the threat, “I’m going to punch you in the face …”). When this Virginian singer tells you she wants the Pharaohs but there’s only men, you know it’s a woman not to be messed with. She lines up with some first rate musicians, including members of the band she plays with in her spare time, The New Pornographers. Brilliant.
Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend.
Gillian Welch’s buddy and accomplice steps out from her formidable shadow and lays down his own set of songs, all threaded together with his delicate and compelling guitar work. You can file this one under front porch music, with some sipping liquor to be set to one side. There’s a bunch of very good covers –his pal Ryan Adams’s To Be Young (To Be Sad, Is To Be High) and Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer, which evolves out of the Bright Eyes song Method Acting. Like any good front porch music, there’s a looseness here that’s attractive and arresting. Welcome to centre stage, Mr Rawlings.
Buddy and Julie Miller – Written In Chalk.
From being ace guitarist in Emmylou Harris’s Spyboy band, Buddy Miller has developed into one of the best singer/songwriters around. And his wife Julie is an angel voiced singer who can turn old standards on end with astonishing ease. This is the second duet they’ve released and it stands as the best work from either musician. To pick just one track, Gasoline and Matches is a real gone, risky love story which manages to marry Buddy’s southern roots and Julie’s Texas background. Then listen to June, a tribute to country’s sadly lost first couple, Johnny Cash and June Carter. Sublime.
Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies.
Steve’s sensationally talented son breaks the second album hoodoo with this magnificent collection of new and old tunes. His country roots – which he says he owes to complete emersion in Woodie Guthrie – are on display in the short but very sweet instrumental Dirty Rag and his rebel side comes on stage in a cover of the Replacements’ Can’t Hardly Wait. The highlight is the personal Mama’s Eyes, which confronts his stormy relationship with his father. He’s out here in March for the blues fest.
Levon Helm – Electric Dirt.
Lead vocalist and drummer for the Band, Helm just made it into the century after a prolonged battle with throat cancer. This is his second post-illness offering and it shines. Whether it’s the Appalachian anthem, I’ll Fly Away, the New Orleans-soaked Tennessee Jed or a delightful cover of Randy Newman’s King Fish, Helm just does what he has always done - making authentic, inspiring and spirited music that tells stories of a nation and its people.
Alison Piotrowski - Best Albums of the Decade
LCD Soundsystem – Sounds of Silver (2007)
With a shake of his cowbell James Murphy, the frontman of LCD Soundsystem and the boss of the ever-influential DFA records, broke all the fundamental rules of dance music. He opened with a 7-minute repetitive bassline. He took the leftovers of a year 4 music class - a glockenspiel, a cowbell and a triangle. He even threw in a piano ballad (who puts a piano ballad on a dance record?) And yet somehow… it worked.
Sounds of Silver is a record that’s oh-so-right for all the reasons why it could have been oh-so-wrong. From the hypnotising chants of ‘You can normalize’ in the opener Get Innocuous, to the heartbreaking stripped down piano ballad New York, I Love You, this album is pure magic. But the clincher lies in the middle of the record; All My Friends and Someone Great, cementing James Murphy as one of the most prolific songwriters of our time…. while delivering a firm “up yours” to whoever thought dance music was dead.
MIA – Arular (2005)
In a whirlwind of colour that would make Lady Gaga envious Maya Arylpragasam, AKA M.I.A, blasted onto the International music scene in 2005 with her debut Arular. The album dazzles with bongos, trumpets and steel drums but what hits you the hardest is the subject matter. The daughter of a Tamil Tiger, Maya’s colourful history is on full display throughout this record - rapping about war, gunfire and political cover-ups.
Galang, Bucky Done Gun and Sunshowers are the standouts. MIA tackles murderers, snipers and dealings with the PLO over beats that are simply infectious. Blurring the line between dancehall, hip hop and baile funk, you’ve never heard anything quite like it.
Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003)
He announced it was his last album and nobody really believed him. We were right to be doubtful. But while The Black Album wasn’t Jay-Z’s swansong, it was certainly his finest. A cast of thousands contributing - 12 producers meddling with 12 different tracks. But while Kanye West, The Neptunes, Eminem and Timbaland all played their parts, The Black Album simply re-inforced that Jay-Z was the king of rap.
From Encore to Dirt Off Your Shoulder to the legendary 99 Problems the record seamlessly moves from hit to hit without skipping a beat. Six years on, Beyonce on his arm and a new album out, Jay-Z is still looks hell of a long way from retirement.
Arcade Fire – Funeral (2005)
When you put ‘rock’ and ‘orchestra’ in the same sentence I tend to think of cringe-worthy liaisons between Metallica and Symphony Orchestras. Thankfully, we have Arcade Fire who married the two effortlessly.
Funeral emerged after the death of several family members and an emotional roller coaster ride for the band. But for an album spawned from death, it ends up one big glorious record of hope, thanks to the orchestra. Strings and harps layer the record. A choir sings joyously in Wake Up. In Neighbourhood #4 explodes with unbelievable energy. ‘Cathartic’ has been overused in its reviews, but words tend to do the raw emotion and energy on the record, so ‘cathartic’ will have to do me too. An album that needs to be blasted through a surround-sound speaker system.
The Strokes – Is This It (2001)
Clear winners of the most hyped band of the early noughties, this was the record it started it all. Clocking in at just under 60 minutes Is This It was a whirlwind of 2 minute songs taking you right to the streets of New York, channelling the mood pre- September 11 .
Since the first listen I’ve always been head over heels for this album. I still find it impossible to listen to Last Nite, New York City Cops and Someday without needing to do a wild jig around the room. Critics were quick to label them over-hyped and say their songs sounded the same. And in a way they all did – they all sounded bloody good. Their follow-ups have struggled to get anywhere the dizzying heights of this release and have left fans thinking ‘was this it?’ Maybe. But damn if it WAS it, that’s fine with me.
The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)
The opening chords of Seven Nation Army have become arguably the most recognisable opener of any song released this decade. But there were many years of obscurity leading up to it, and it took album number four (although the first whilst signed to a major label) for Meg and Jack White to command the attention of international rock audiences. It was rock music at its simplest: scratchy and raw. Recorded on equipment from the 1960s, it wasn’t even mastered on a computer.
This album catapulted Jack White into the stratosphere – starlets on his arm, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns with Coca-Cola, and at multitude of ‘side projects’ to keep him busy. (I’ve always kinda felt for Meg).
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell (2003)
Frontwoman Karen O plays the modern day rock n’ roll star to a T. She gets overexcited, she growls, she squeals, she shouts. Complemented by Nick Zinner’s guitars and Brian Chase’s rhythms, the trio are as raw and as edgy as they come. But the reason why their debut Fever To Tell makes this list is because of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ability to strike an emotional chord in the songs that come between the rock n roll epics.
In Y Control Karen O softens, and whispers and sulks and the result is mesmerising. In Maps the tempo slows and Karen sucks you in because she says she’s devastated, and you believe her - It’s hard not to. That song also provided one of the most memorable moments in live music this decade: during a particularly emotional rendition of Maps at the Metro, Karen O was so into it she toppled off the stage. As the crowd stood in stunned silence she valiantly got back up, wobbled her way through a couple more songs before exiting, stage right, to be rushed to hospital for head injuries. No one asked for a refund, we were all too gobsmacked.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2000)
When it comes to Australian music, Modular Records have been one of the stand-out performers – hurtling the likes of Wolfmother, The Presets and Cut Copy onto the international stage. But Modular’s decade of success began here – the debut (and so far only!) record from The Avalanches. From the album’s title track to the addictive repetition of “that boy needs therapy” on Frontier Psychiatrist, this albums a winner from start to finish. Boys, if you’re reading this though, you’ve had a decade to follow-up…. Surely you’re ready now?
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (2005)
Silent Alarm opens with Like Eating Glass – and ten seconds in you realise you’re not in for your normal pop rock record. Bursting with energy, Banquet, Helicopter and thundering rumbles of She’s Hearing Voices are flawlessly executed, and with their well-spoken and impeccably groomed frontman Kele Orekele, Bloc Party couldn’t put a foot wrong.
Almost a rock record, but without the rough stuff… almost a pop record, but without the mindless lyrics, this album keeps both sides of the fence happy. Nearly every song could’ve been released as a single and had significant success. A big salute to the gentlemen of pop rock.
Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future (2007)
In years from now we were look back on our fluoro tight pants of 2007 and wonder what the hell were we thinking. I will blame Klaxons. The boys from East London delivered fluoro and new rave with unbelievable panache, and the cool kids followed in droves.
Myths of the Near Future ticked all the right boxes – Atlantis to Interzone and Magick sucked in those who liked their music with a rough edge, Golden Skans gave you an excuse to dig out your glow stick, and their cover of Grace’s It’s Not Over Yet won over the popsters and gained serious commercial airplay. Their efforts were rewarded with the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, beating Amy Winehouse, Dizzee Rascal and Arctic Monkeys. Bonus points for rocking tight pants.
Honourable mentions: The XX – xx (2009), The Presets – Apocalypso (2008), Junior Boys – So This is Goodbye (2006) , Radiohead – Kid A (2000), Tom Vek – We Have Sound (2005)
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