Saturday, 26 December 2009

20 Albums of the 00s


Concluding the List-o-mania.

Scarlet’s Walk (2002)/American Doll Posse (2007) - Tori Amos
For me, the decade’s two most immersive album experiences came courtesy (surprise!) of Tori Amos, firstly Scarlet’s Walk’s deeply textured travelogue and then ADP’s wild, playful-and-profound treatise on the value of exploring with your identity. Albums for always. (Can I get Strange Little Girls [2001] as well?)

In Rainbows (2007) - Radiohead
After several forbidding and brittle albums, it was delightful (and unexpected) to get such a welcoming, humane and - dammit! - enjoyable record from Radiohead. “Reckoner”’s “Dedicated to all human beings” sums up the spirit of the deeply sublime In Rainbows. And Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser (2006) was pretty good, too.

Red Dirt Girl (2000) - Emmylou Harris
On which the seraphic Harris proved herself a skilled songwriter as well as a peerless interpreter of others’ work.

An Echo of Hooves (2003) - June Tabor
Tabor’s magnum opus, perhaps: startling renditions of Child ballads delivered with consummate command and feeling. Spare and intimate musical settings, but the effect and impact of a wide-screen epic.

The Man Comes Around (2002) - Johnny Cash

For me, the American Recordings series is not just an interesting addendum to Cash’s career but its major highlight. From the robust first record to the heart-rendingly frail My Mother’s Hymn Book (2004) and A Hundred Highways (2006) Cash never sounded so moving or so true. It’s almost churlish to pick favourites out of these great records, but for choice of material The Man Comes Around (2002) just wins out for me.

Aerial (2005) - Kate Bush
So now I always hear birdsong as “a sea of honey.”

Lifeline (2004) - Iris DeMent
In terms of recorded output (though not, thankfully, live performance) Iris DeMent has practically become the Kate Bush of Country. I’d love to hear an album of new music from the creator of what I firmly believe are two of the greatest records ever made, in any genre, Infamous Angel (1992) and My Life (1994). Lifeline was DeMent’s sole offering this decade, and one that gave us only one original, self-penned song. But, still, it was an utter pleasure to experience the Gospel According to Iris.

No-one Stands Alone (2002) - Blue Murder
Songs of beauty, grace, humanity and humour delivered in gorgeous, gritty harmony by seven brilliant singers. Magic.

The Animal Years (2006) - Josh Ritter
Mark Twain, Laurel and Hardy, the Bible, Westerns and silent movies provide just some of Ritter’s lyrical inspirations on this superb record, Ritter’s best so far.

Antony and the Johnsons (2000)/I Am A Bird Now (2005) - Antony and the Johnsons
Quavering between Nina Simone and Bryan Ferry, but with its own original stories to tell, Antony’s music defies gender and genre categorisation. The Mercury-winning Bird Now received the raves but I’m equally fond of the debut album which has a playfulness and brazen theatricality that his most recent work sadly seems to have lost.

Bowery Songs (2006) - Joan Baez
From 1962’s In Concert onwards, Joan Baez has produced a string of live albums which rank among her very best work. Bowery Songs is one such, demonstrating what a vital and compelling artist Baez remains in her 60s, especially in a live setting. Starting with the a cappella benediction of “Finlandia” and ending with Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem,” the set mixes old folk (Guthrie’s “Deportees”), very old folk (“Silver Dagger”), new folk (Earle, Greg Brown) and a couple of Dylans for good measure, presenting the material as one seamless story.

Vampire Weekend (2008) - Vampire Weekend
With its cool Afro-pop rhythms, ska guitars and arch, allusive lyrics, Vampire Weekend’s debut might be the feel-good album of the decade. Substantial, too. Not long to wait now for the new one.

Funeral (2004) - Arcade Fire
Epic, yet intimate, and entirely exhilarating.

Time (The Revelator) (2001) - Gillian Welch
“You be Emmylou and I’ll be Gram…” Roots music at its most hermetic and mysterious: stark, strange, beautiful.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) - Arctic Monkeys
The catchy hooks were expected; the razor-sharp lyrics weren’t. Funny, swaggering, finely detailed slices of Sheffield life encompassing takeaways, boozy nights on the town, “mardy bums” and the odd bit of police brutality. As good as everyone once pretended Oasis were.

Blues and Lamentations (2006) - Kate Campbell
Campbell synthesises Southern music traditions here with effortless grace.

Caroline, Or Change (2003) - Tony Kushner [book/lyrics] and Jeanine Tesori [score]
On stage or on record, Kushner and Tesori’s rich, political people’s opera - combining jazz, blues, Motown, classical and Klezmer - proved equally powerful and compelling.

Modern Guilt (2008) - Beck
Beck released better-received, more ambitious albums this decade but none that involved or moved me more than Modern Guilt.

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