The Microphones are about as lo-fi as lo-fi music gets. Listening through their discography, you would imagine most of the recordings were completed in the attic of a log cabin, and that certainly may be the case. Even so, their musical output sounds so much grander and richer than an album with top-notch production, and there is a simple reason for this, specifically highlighted in The Glow, Pt. 2, and that is Phil Elvrum’s heart. The Glow, Pt. 2 is a nostalgic journey siphoned through Elvrum’s lyrics, yet the underlying emotional threshold is frequently rephrased through non-spoken portions as well. Listening to the overall ambiance of tracks like “instrumental” and “My Warm Blood,” Elvrum’s specific mood is mimicked through each creaky piano strike or through the disjointed manner in which he strums his guitar. Like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, The Glow, Pt. 2 has an intangible presence surrounding the record that makes it simply divine.
Only listening to The Glow, Pt. 2 as a whole will allow such appreciation, though tracks like “The Moon” are able to be taken aside to be appreciated. It is at times disheveled, but the meaning is never lost as drums defiantly pound over Elvrum’s mum vocals, which exponentially add to the glumness story behind “The Moon.” Quite simply, it is one of the greatest musical stories told in such a unique way, connecting the natural world with the human, emotional world. It is with these moments that Phil Elvrum is able to truly show his capabilities of songwriting and lyrical prowess. Nevertheless, The Glow, Pt. 2 is not your average listen, as it is challenging and equally mystifying, but once understood, the feeling that follows listening to the album is undeniably refreshing. In all, while this decade may have more creative and groundbreaking albums, but perhaps none are as profound as The Microphones The Glow, Pt. 2. – Ryan Flatley
Gospel are true outliers. They released one album and then broke up without explanation. If you search the world wide web for reviews and interviews you’re going to find a measly collection of blog posts and amateur reviews. Despite this profound obscurity, Gospel’s 2005 LP, The Moon Is a Dead World found its way into the top ten of our best of the decade list and was even the most nominated album, appearing on a staggering 81% of staffer ballots. How could an album so unexposed and buried be such an unquestionable gem? However brilliant and original the album may be, it’s even more abrasive, alienating, and challenging, which has embalmed and preserved The Moon Is a Dead World as the strange masterpiece it was, is, and will be.
The Moon Is a Dead World is a centaur of completely different genres; it has the fierce, animalistic body of emotional hardcore and a prog / psychedelic head. Punk’s energy and prog’s technicality are a well-explored, even trite combination, but Gospel avoids the predictable path of overlaying fast riffs and off-kilter time signatures onto a hardcore background. Instead they compose songs that arc like marathons but can be executed in under four minutes. They capture 12-string guitar and synthesizer like they’re a pair of beat up Gibson SGs. Gospel’s sound is more lo-fi and acerbic than other hardcore bands, yet more grandiose and epic than other prog bands. The Moon Is a Dead World is an impossible combination of extremes, but is that much more effective because these influences are taken to such deliberate stratifications.
There’s a part in “A Golden Dawn,” after seven-and-a-half minutes of building and releasing various mystical chord progressions and trance-inducing rhythms, where the song just rips apart at the seams. Every instrument is soloing in a way that sounds like screaming and in that moment it feels like Gospel has tapped into an alternate universe. I had this realization on what had to be my thirtieth time listening to this album in full. Last June I was driving through a blanket fog on the curving roads around Twin Peaks in San Francisco in my fifteen-year old car. I was a thousand feet above the city but was only able to see illuminated white fog no more than ten feet in front of me and nobody else was on the road. The perfect pairing for this surreal experience was blasting The Moon Is a Dead World and hitting that part of “A Golden Dawn” at the same time I reached the summit of the mountain road. The line between real and unreal dissolved and I was a trespasser in a terrifying but awe-inspiring dream world created by the special intersection of experience and art. No other musical moment has even come close to being as exhilarating, haunting, cathartic, or life-altering. Such is the strange, ethereal power of The Moon Is a Dead World. – Nick Greer
When we’re looking back on dubstep twenty years from now, we’ll undoubtedly mark this album as the genre’s best offering, as well as its zenith. In that respect, Untrue is somewhat bittersweet: it’s a hell of an album, to be sure, one that focuses more on delicate emotions and feelings instead of just being a collection of sick beats – which was enough to be revolutionary. Untrue has essentially stretched the genre’s perimeters as far as they can be; no dubstep album since has hit with the impact that this has, and it’s not being cynical to say that none ever will. Hell, it’s more like being realistic.
But even if Untrue is the Loveless of dubstep, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t still be celebrated as a masterpiece. Equal parts intimate, mechanical, and even a little disturbing, Untrue is a ghostly album, its hazy, atmospheric soundscapes accented by disembodied voices that whisper genuine R&B hooks and then drift off, out of sight. Yet, as ghostly and even as foreboding as Untrue can be, this album isn’t as high on this list as it is because it isn’t weirdly embraceable: it’s an album essentially made by a non-entity, with songs “sung” by artists we don’t know. This anonymity of the album – even if we now know Will Bevan’s name, there’s still that sense of the unknown on Untrue – gives it a bit of accessibility, in that it’s applicable without having to take note of whatever Bevan’s intentions were. It’s an album you can effectively make your own.
To be honest, no other dubstep album even comes or probably will ever come in the vicinity of stirring up the kind of emotions Untrue does, in me and various other staffers – and that’s probably why you won’t find any other dubstep album on this list. And yet I don’t care that this is, as far as I and probably many others are concerned, the only really notable dubstep album to date. Its impact is just too great; this is not untrue. – Cam
Even those who adore Animal Collective don’t have much to argue when it comes to how difficult the band might be. Since their inception in 2000 (then only childhood pals David Porter and Noah Lennox, or Avey Tare and Panda Bear, respectively), the members have approached their brand of pop music with the sort of abrasive and off-putting diligence reserved for hardcore outlets. That’s not to say the band’s work, from Spirit They’ve Vanished, Spirit They’ve Gone (2000) to Strawberry Jam (2007), features the mind-melding breakdowns or drumfills that characterize the works of a certain artist that grabbed our top spot, but that to match their ideas and concepts (on familial woes, violent human nature, feeding on fast-food and possibly liking it) Animal Collective will venture far into rabbit hole to shake us up and feel these notions, communicating through crayon-coated freak-folk the simple decisions we make, like not going to college, or treating percussion rhythms like the drunken scramble to retrieve a lover’s purple bottle. It’s not hard to imagine, early in the noughts, a young Panda Bear pounding against woodblocks on stage as Avey Tare raced about, screeching and pouring milk on audience members; while their methods have altered, their passion to push against normalcy to understand truly what makes us so normal, and the need to gnaw and claw at it like an irritated lion, remains fully intact.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is all of that, plus you and me and everyone we know, absorbed into the spinning force that has become Animal Collective’s ten year arc. The band that once wrote, “I’ll bet the monster was happy when they made him a maze ’cause he don’t understand intentions, he just looks at a face,” is now trekking the maze to meet us head-on: “Then we could be dancing and you’d smile and say, ‘I like this song.’” With the way Panda Bear tackles his responsibilities on “My Girls,” the sentiments feel pure dad-rock, all Wilco and barbecues, but the band float it atop big bass and crystal blue shards of Brian Wilson melodies, tying an other worldly aesthetic to a tune you can’t forget with feelings too simple to ignore. The monotonous click-pound on “Daily Routine,” the push and shove beat that buoys the splashy synths on “Summertime Clothes,” the sensual waltz and curves on the lovely “Bluish;” they are all swashed together in the blue blanket of production, speaking in tandem with their themes, the monotony broken only by the forceful escapism in “Lion in a Coma.” We’d have to go back to Pet Sounds to find a pop album that felt so life-affirming to a life that feels far from affirmed. Boring, even, kind of pathetic. And that is why Merriweather Post Pavilion feels like such a triumph: it doesn’t sugarcoat our mundanity while championing it, mirroring ancient tribal rhythms with modern electronic instruments in ways no less weird than before, but far more remarkably human. – Lewis Parry
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven may physically be an all-consuming monolith of an album with just four tracks clocking in at a daunting eighty-seven minutes, but at its heart, its core, it’s all about the moments. I’m not talking simply about the moments on the album, stunning as they may be: the triumphant horns that melt over the opening of ‘Storm,’ and the resulting kick to open the gracious violins and first drums; the end-of-the-world screeching guitars and rusty feedback that terrifyingly and ceremoniously build after the soul-wrenching God-man speech in ‘Static;’ the painfully restrained sadness in the words of Murray Ostril when he immortally laments that ‘they don’t sleep any more on the beach’ in ‘Sleep’; the cry, then stand, then fight for hope in the rising strings and percussion that appear towards the end of the same track; the piercingly high-pitched, harrowing wails of distortion that close out the album on ‘Antennas To Heaven.’ No, I’m talking more about the moments that last but a few seconds, the moments you can’t get back. The moments that arise and flourish in the listener themselves, where the world reveals itself just for a second and, in that genuinely electrifying moment, the crashing cymbals and shimmering guitars wash over the listener, giving them a fleeting glimpse of a life without separation. It’s a hard thing to explain, especially without resorting to clichés, but almost everyone who has given the real time of day to this record will know what I’m talking about unequivocally.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what Godspeed You! Black Emperor comes up with now they have finally come out of hiding. Yanqui U.X.O notwithstanding, the band had improved with every release, with Lift Your Skinny Fists emerging as their magnum opus. The cynical amongst us may even say that Godspeed are the reason why post rock has been caught in a downward spiral since the start of the decade. They arguably perfected the genre, and everything since has been stuck trying to escape (or, in many cases, replicate) their imposing shadows. Regardless of what happens with the band in the future, the release of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven ten years ago had already undoubtedly cemented the band’s legacy: as masters of overwhelmingly evocative, unapologetically epic music; as kings of subtlety in storms of breathtaking intensity, making for rich rewards with extended listening; as creators of a sound that shook listeners in a powerful new way whilst resonating in each one differently; and as undisputable Gods of their field. – Matt Wolfe
Surprisingly, El Cielo is a very polarizing album. Many people who, given their other musical interests, should love the album actually hate it. Gavin Hayes’ voice (which is fucking angelic) seems too distant, too unconvincing (how can you miss his pleading tone at the end of “The Canyon Behind Her” at the line “I cannot find the other half?”). Some find the concepts of lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis a highbrow, distant concept that no one can possibly relate to (“Same Ol’ Road” definitely makes a point outside of these concepts). And then, on top of all that, the album is actually inspired by a bizarre, obscure Dali surrealist painting.
I admit, El Cielo is a densely packed 51 minutes of music. It can be overwhelming to try and understand what exactly dredg is doing here. As an avid fan, I can attest that the effort is worth the payout; El Cielo only gets better the deeper you go. Yet, that might not even be necessary to appreciate the considerable musical strides dredg makes on the album. That huge sound near the end of “Δ”? They do that with one guitarist, one bassist, one drummer, and one vocalist with a slide guitar. Guitarist Mark Engles takes inspiration from The Edge and similar arena rock guitarists, but instead of placing the sound in a soundspace the size of Wembley, he jams it into a place much more intimate, much more warm. The result is something transcendent, all-encompassing, and simply blissful. Drummer Dino Campanella and bassist Drew Roulette create interesting nuances in their grooves, always remaining energetic and unpredictable.
In the end, however, Hayes is the star of the show. Throughout countless textures and styles, Hayes sings with enough passion and power to gracefully float on top and send chills through your spine. His lyrics take what should be a terrible, boring concept and transform it into something universally applicable that makes El Cielo accessible to a wider audience.
Hayes questions and asserts on “Eighteen People Living in Harmony,” “Art is trying, is art dead? Art is dying, is it dead? Believe it, we need it to move on.” On El Cielo, dredg breaks all of the boundaries and creates a true work of art. – Tyler Fisher
Inevitably, it seems as if Funeral has appeared in every single decade-end write-up on the entire internet. What’s surprising, though, is just how much sadness it’s inspired. For a whole generation of music listeners – broadly speaking, the ones who are old enough to remember a time before Napster but young enough to still care about new music at the expense of old favourites – Funeral has become a monument, a painfully young and fresh reminder of a time when albums could be genuinely massive events. It’s easy to forget how slow the spread of this album was at first – it didn’t reach much of Europe until 2005, and its final single was still in the charts over here in 2006 – but it’s unforgettable just how strongly it united the worldwide indie community under one banner.
The fear is that such a thing will never happen again – that there’ll never be another OK Computer, or Nevermind, or Automatic for the People. Truthfully, there probably won’t be; the internet has destroyed any sort of continuity in the masses, leading to a hoard of music obsessives who disagree on anything and everything. Had Vampire Weekend or Viva la Vida come out in 1999, they would have been this huge, but people have just become too jaded, too worldly, too eager to stand out from the pack, and the media has been less willing then ever to attach itself to albums they know won’t sell in a crowded, dwindling market. Funeral – fittingly released just a month before The Pirate Bay became a fully-fledged website in its own right – snuck in just as that lineage of albums was coming to an end.
So of course it’s a special record, and of course circumstances and context have enhanced its legacy. It should never be underestimated, though, just how perfect a record Funeral is, not just on its own terms but for the context it found itself in and the history it closes out. To be blindingly obvious about it, Funeral is a record about death, and loss, and longing, and as an accidental tribute to the loss of indie music as a unifying force, it could scarcely have been more poignant. Even the massed vocals of “Wake Up” and the sweet lyric of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” suggest a voice that wants to reach out and be part of something bigger, but knows the moment has passed.
Plenty of people have taken pot-shots at Funeral in the past 5 years, just as they have with any other major rock album in the canon. Thankfully, its acclaim and its stature remains unwavering. The truth is, we’ll always need records like Funeral, and if we find ourselves having to look to the past to find them, then it’ll be a tragedy. A tragedy softened by life-affirming lullabies like “Crown of Love”, mind. – Nick Butler
It has been six years since As the Roots Undo was released and its notoriety amongst screamo fans has spread, heating debates amongst detractors and supporters alike, most of whom stand firmly at opposite ends of the spectrum: those that reject the album vehemently on certain grounds that can’t be argued with, and those that embrace the album for those very qualities. For those reasons, the album still lacks easy definition. Supporters will tell you that loving As the Roots Undo is at first no easy feat; quick descriptions of Circle Takes the Square’s signature sounds starts throwing up red flags for most poor souls: “grindcore,” “experimental screamo,” “lo-fi hardcore.” The male/female vocals are usually pronounced in a screeching tone, and the album’s structure can aptly be described as chaotic.
For the uninitiated, and more specifically those who know outright their aversion to anything remotely “-core”, these ingredients sound excruciating, sometimes even unlistenable. It certainly isn’t accessible, relying on a heavy/light dichotomy and a demonic aggressiveness to evoke specific emotions. But under repeat listens, As the Roots Undo blossoms, stubborn little weed it is, as an obvious product of a lot of labor (of love or what have you) that is first overshadowed by its own insistence on fragility, erratic and random in a confusing and oft disorienting way. It is not an album for passive listening, pre-packaged with its own concept and meaning, printed in the album’s slip: “…to document the different points on a path to self-realization…the wanderer ends up essentially in the same place that he or she began, if not humbled and even more overwhelmed…”
The band assert that they are only expressing themselves through their rock ‘n roll, which doesn’t make parsing the excessive silliness any easier, but there’s something to be said for an album to sound so vulnerable because its creators are: young, wayward kids just making music. What saves As the Roots Undo’s unchecked framework, the band’s moment-to-moment homage to whichever sound strikes their fancy regardless of taste, are precisely those ingredients. Take the experience as the splatter fun of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) in lieu of the Saw VI (2009) detractors will try to sell it as: a work that frames all its ideas, novel or… otherwise, in a way that makes its immediacy all that much more intense, allowing for a greater poignancy to the creator’s attempts to deepen B-grade shock novelty into a commentary on the human condition.
In short, it’s all excessive silliness. But if one can stomach the hairpin turns and shortage of inhibitions, there are a few reasons As the Roots Undo is sitting in the ballpark of Album of the Decade, least of which being that, for all the obvious points of references, it sounds like little else. The path is rewarding if the mood permits, if not humbling and even more overwhelming, exactly as the band seemed to predict. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that this is not the album the band set out to make, nor would it ever have been, and the lack of a proper follow-up six years later is perhaps evident of the accidental classic they created. How do you follow-up a masterpiece about ending where you began? In an evolving scene that has yet to even attempt something this portentous and succeed, I argue: will anyone? – Lewis Parry
Well, duh. Kid fucking A.
What, I can’t leave it at that? Do I really have to tell you about how awesome this is as if you didn’t already know? There’s a reason I put an expletive in the title up there. If any album deserves one, it’s Kid A. As Merriweather Post Pavilion ruled 2009, Kid A ruled the decade; released at the start of the 00s, before 9/11, before Bush got really shitty, before iPods, before Katrina, before the recession, before we added another post to post-modern, Radiohead released this record and neatly folded their arms as if to say “told you so” in anticipation of every apocalyptic sign that beleaguered our late decade. Kid A was already the album of the decade before the decade even happened.
But the foresight isn’t what makes Kid A fantastic. It’s its weightlessness, its breaking down of human emotions into tiny fragments such as “I’m not here/ This isn’t happening” or “I think you’re crazy/ maybe,” making it personal to everyone even outside of the apocalypse it conjures. Yorke’s concept doesn’t dominate Kid A. The loneliness and the paranoia that permeates throughout the record does, perfectly nailing the zeitgeist of the time. “This is really happening” isn’t just the zinger that marks “Idioteque” but the rationalization of just what the hell we’re doing.
This is never really made explicit in the lyrics nor the concept. Kid A has been dissected and re-interpreted over and over (and over) again because nothing really is explicit; all theories are all only implied. The music is frigid, cold-hearted, apathetic and, quite frankly, frightening. Kid A can shift from sinister lullaby to anarchic assault to barren landscape seamlessly, drenched in a fearful vision of life when people simply stop caring. Just hear the irony seething from Thom Yorke in “Everything In Its Right Place” as he and Jonny Greenwood turn the title lyric into a mechanical doctrine they can sneer at throughout Kid A’s running time. Nothing is in its right place on Kid A. Why the fuck is a New Orleans marching band murdering a legion of kittens on “The National Anthem?” How in the world does the title track end up in 4/4 with that hook? What the hell is “Idioteque?” Kid A has perpetually fascinated and confused us and delighted in doing so.
Virtually every publication releasing a best-of-the-00s list has faced a similar predicament to the one that I do now: trying to say something original about an album that’s been written about obsessively for ten years. By now it’s become practically impossible. There’s nothing left to say about Kid A which is why it sits so high atop our list. It’s not even its influence in music; it’s its influence in culture. This album made Radiohead the band of our time and we’ve subsequently forgiven any pretentiousness they’ve indulged in throughout the decade because, well, they gave us Kid A. – Adam Downer
An admission, before anything then: For an album that we’re crowning as the best of the decade, Jane Doe stands as perhaps one of the ugliest works of art to receive any sort of admiration from just about anyone, music critics or not. But we won’t stop there, no, allow us, if you will, to go further and admit – embrace, in fact – that every critic that Jane Doe has ever had is right, that, yes, for all her technical achievement in bringing together metalcore and grind, Jane Doe is grotesque, Jane Doe is vile, Jane Doe is miserable, and let’s get to the crux of it here, raucously inaccessible. So how did this happen? What malin génie could have possibly allowed us to let it creep its way up to the top of our list here? The answer here is more obvious than might be immediately thought – it lies in a name, in the name: Jane Doe, the anonymous dead. Consider the paradox: for a record that unabashedly drowns itself in noise, it is nonetheless condemned to the silence of the dead. No one actually understands what Jacob Bannon is screaming about. Not only can she not speak, her anonymity allows no one to speak on her behalf.
But it’s from this deadlock that Jane Doe gives birth to an entirely new language: for all her muteness, for all her inability to communicate, Jane Doe nevertheless speaks: she speaks in a language entirely of her own, unassimilable to those that came before, and radically redefining the very terms that musical language thought was its own. Converge, in other words, had managed to not simply pioneer a new form of expression, but did it by reinventing everything that came before it. And we’re happy to admit too that for most of us, it took a while to learn it, to grasp what she was saying – but when we did, when it finally clicked, its force was tremendous and its message was familiar: a singular, majestic expression of anger. In her own words, this bitch was Bitter and Then Some. And by Gods what a fury, focused and brilliant, from the crashing dissonance of “Concubine”’s calamitous opening to the evangelically apocalyptic “Jane Doe” and everything in between. Understood or not, Jane Doe’s musical force remains one untouched by any record the decade past, and we’re more the better for it. – Alex Silveri
Contributing Staff Members
Sobhi Abdul-Rakhman | Nick Butler | Adam Downer | Tyler Fisher | Ryan Flatley
Channing Freeman | Nick Greer | John Hanson | Andrew Hartwig | Rudy Klapper *
Lewis Parry | Alex Silveri | Trey Spencer | Mike Stagno | Dave de Sylvia
Adam Thomas * | Cam Wilson | Matt Wolfe