15th Street Dinah

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Top 25 Albums of the Decade: #12-1

Were there a few surprises in the first half of this list for you?  A few disappointments?  Well, no fear.  There is no rap in this list.  Just good old rock and roll jams of the highest order.  Exactly what you’d expect.  And don’t worry, the second half of this list does not disappoint– every single one of these are albums that you should own and love.  If you don’t, what’s stopping you?  You could still complete this task by the end of the decade.  Time’s a tickin…

12.  Jon Brion-  Meaningless

Yep, this is the one that comes out of left field.  And if the other 11 albums that follow it were not all complete masterpieces, it’d be even higher.  Jon Brion is a producer and musician from Los Angeles that probably had something to do with a lot of the music you loved this decade.  Just in this list, he had a hand in five different albums.  His career got a huge boost when Kanye West selected him as producer for one of his albums, but the real genius of Brion lies in his solo work and compositions.  The music from movies like Magnolia, I Heart Huckabees, Punch Drunk Love… all that is Jon Brion.  Meaningless is a solo album that he funded and put out completely on his own (you can still find it on CD Baby), and it is chock full of the pop sensibility and incredible sense for harmony and melody that he puts into all his projects.  This is an album that you’ll have to really seek out to find, but it’s worth the search–  these are songs about life, love and lamenting it.  The absolute most underrated and overlooked album of the decade, period.

11.  The White Stripes- White Blood Cells

For most, this was the first time they’d heard the ferocious howl of Jack and Meg White.  This was the warning shot to the rest of the world, on behalf of traditional music.  And boy, it made an impact.  Surely you remember the first time you heard White Blood Cells…if you don’t, you certainly remember the video to “Fell In Love With a Girl”, the Lego animated tour-de-force that made them an MTV buzz band and indie supernova virtually overnight.  But like all great albums, this one really holds up–  blues lovers and rock fans alike had a critical meltdown at the first note of this album.  You can hear the tape rolling, a little crackle, that sonic howl of feedback and then the growling, distorted tone that launched into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.  It still sounds dangerous, because it is.  It threatened everything popular, and it still does.

10.  Bruce Springsteen- The Rising

No discussion about American life, or art, in this decade can be had without addressing the sad reality of what happened on September 11, 2001.  It affected everything and everyone and it’s still doing so.  Few moments in history have ever so drastically changed the trajectory of American life.  It should be no surprise that the most poignant artistic response to this came from Bruce Springsteen, an artist who has also done a remarkable job of chronicling American life in his career.  And so it was, Bruce’s comeback album was going to be a wake of sorts, but that didn’t mean it was a gimmick or a charity album.  It just so happens that it’s one of Springsteen’s finest albums…well, ever.  The Rising is the People’s grieving response from the People’s artist, and it’s a tough listen, still.  It’s sad moments are so, so sad…but it’s high points are so very, very high–  the title track is a glorified church service, for sure.  But the peak of the album comes at it’s conclusion, on “My City of Ruins”.  Nothing was more direct and moving than the chorus telling us to “rise up”.  It’s a true artistic mountaintop from an artist who has climbed a ton of peaks.

9.  Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker

For my money, Heartbreaker is the finest alt-country album ever recorded.  Now normally my allegiances are to Jeff Tweedy in this field, but if Uncle Tupelo would have made an album like this, the world would have exploded.  This album is a once-in-a-lifetime affair, and Ryan Adams never could reach this peak again.  But man…the peak is so damn good.  It’s such an effortless listen, still, after hearing it a million times over.  Ryan captured an emotion on this album that he never quite could bottle again– kinda that “I’m sad but fuck it” attitude that made these songs so listenable and real.  That doesn’t happen very often.  There may not have been a better song written this decade than “Come Pick Me Up”– and it embodies everything that makes Heartbreaker such a classic:  it’s a record that reads like a classic twenty-something tale.  You lay your soul bare, then it gets taken for granted, then you realize that it’s alright and you fall into the trap again.  It’s an emotional tale, but it’s real– and just about everyone can relate.  Perhaps that’s why Ryan Adams still resonates.

8.  U2- All That You Can’t Leave Behind

A lot of artists tried to make a “comeback” in the 2000’s, but only one did it this gracefully.  U2 has always been a band in a different weight division– it just seems that when they stomp, everything shakes a little bit more.  This album was no exception.  All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a worldwide smash, a critical success and a brilliant return-t0-form for a band that still captures imaginations like few others.  Anchored by classics like “Beautiful Day” and  “Walk On”, this album is a bold statement of purpose for a band that’s chased a lot of rabbits in it’s career.  Basically, they are the biggest rock band in the world.  As always, U2 is anchored by the imaginative work of The Edge on guitar, and his work defines this album– tracks like “Kite” and “Elevation” are propelled by his talent…but it’s Bono who delivers the emotional weight and pull that makes U2 so magnetic.  This album is one of their finest.

7.  Radiohead- Amnesiac

Apart from Pablo Honey, Amnesiac is the great overlooked and underappreciated album in the Radiohead canon.  It’s too bad, too, since this album might pack the hardest punch of them all.  Amnesiac is an album that takes you on a trip through so many moods and sounds, that it’s almost impossible to define what the hell it’s even doing in the first place.  Musically, it’s a technical wonder.  Emotionally, it’s a heavy hitter.  Sonically, it’s goes from flat piano brooding to electronic beatboxing at a pace that’s sometimes hard to comprehend.  Nevertheless, this might be the most far-out entry in the Radiohead catalogue, something that is an achievement in it’s own right, but certainly not a reason to write it off.  If anything, this is Thom Yorke at his most disjointed– vocals masked in delay and reverb, sonic landscapes that sound like a psychedelic horror film, haunting piano and time signatures that folks are still trying to decipher…and then a little horn section at the end to finish it off.  From start to finish, Amnesiac is an experience like no other, and it’s still the Radiohead album I listen to the most.  Just brilliant.

6.  Arcade Fire- Funeral

This is the point in the story where all the indie kids stop getting sad and unite!  They dry their tears, throw out their Bright Eyes and start a revolution!  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the soundtrack.  Funeral really is that good and that influential and that moving and that remarkable.  It’s the sound of an outbreak of hope– it’s the reawakening caught on tape, if you will.  It’s the soundtrack for Obama Nation.  The great thing is that none of this is hyperbole, either.  In 10 tracks, the Arcade Fire proceed to take you on a journey that few other albums do.  It’s a game changer.  It’s a life affirming listen.  It all comes to a head on “Wake Up”, a song that prods along until it’s grandiose buildup…guitars churn, that little rimshot keeps clicking, and then the band joins in together in a procession, the choir builds and the crowd explodes into a chorus of….well…”OH’s”.  That’s the secret to Funeral.  It forces you to believe that if “oh” can be a chorus, then anything is possible.  And that’s true.

5.  Sufjan Stevens- Illinois

Sufjan Stevens’ story is such an interesting one, and you should totally read about him, but the most interesting thing is how an obviously faith-based artist became a folk hero and the flag bearer for Pitchfork Nation.  It’s simple– he made an incredibly accessible and lovable album that didn’t sacrifice quality or content in the name of the Lord.  Not only that, but the instrumentation and eclecticism of the musicians added a depth and grandiose spirit to the album that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.  Maybe it was just a grand alignment of the stars that someone this out-of-the-mainstream could produce a work so glorious and listenable and inspiring…or maybe Sufjan is just being honest.  Either way, it connects on a level that few other albums did this decade.  It crossed barriers.  When’s the last time you heard a bunch of scene kids singing “you came to save us!”?  That’s what I thought.

You know, this album really jumped back in my mind this weekend.  I saw the new Ricky Gervais movie, “The Invention of Lying”…a movie that, well, sucks.  But it’s deeper than that.  Basically, it’s a romantic comedy that tries to make a huge statement about the stupidity of believing that a God in the sky actually exists.  While clever at points, it failed to address the subject in a way that was respectful of the subject matter.  You’re talking about the belief system of an entire world.  Sufjan Stevens didn’t try to convince people of the evidence of God, he just wrote an album about the way he feels.  In the end, it comes off as completely honest and moving.  If you see the movie and hear this album, tell me which one is more convincing.  No contest on this end.

4.  The Strokes- Is This It?

Is This It launched a LOT of garage bands this decade.  It wasn’t exactly because The Strokes came off as the definition of NYC cool, but that certainly didn’t hurt.  It was because the music sounded so damn effortless and, in turn, was completely irresistible.  Every single song on here is a stone cold jam, a no-brainer for your next house party– but again, that’s not the genius of it.  It’s the way Julian Casablancas pseudo-sang his songs and the rest of the band churned along without breaking a sweat.  It’s the way they looked after the played.  Bored.  Ready to go do something else.  It’s the very fact that these guys looked like they didn’t give a fuck about playing rock music.  The Strokes revived garage rock, and made a lot of kids in this country believe they could be rock stars.  I know a few of em.  You do too.  And soon, we all will.  That’s the power of a great, great album…and this is, well, it.

3.  The White Stripes- Elephant

Epic.  Hell, the album cover just about says it all.  When you see it you know.  You barely even have to listen.  But man, that listen.  Elephant opens with a bonafide stadium anthem, rolls into a stomping thrash-fest, carries on into a Burt Bacharach cover, gets a little sexual, then ignites with “Ball and Biscuit”, a blues-rock tune that devolves into a complete fury of distortion and vitriol.  Next up is a victory march, then a creepy dude talking about “Little Acorns”.  A start-stop-start-stop stomp comes next, then a little organ creeps in, and then Jack White screams, and it gets real again.  Finally, you get a little duet and the album ends.  It feels like it took 10 minutes, tops.  If there was one album this decade that deserves to be turned up to 11 and rocked-the-hell-out, then you’ve found it, friend.  This is the finest rock-and-roll album of the decade, and so far, the high point of the Jack White era.  Your kids are going to ask you about Jack White someday.  Get hip to it.

2.  Radiohead- Kid A

It’s rare that you can actually pinpoint a moment where things really changed artistically.  Kid A is that rare moment.  It’s where rock music and electronic music finally collided on a grand enough scale for everyone to see and take notice of.  I know, right?  Rock and electronic music together sound terrible.  And usually, it is.  Radiohead just operates on a different scale, a different level–  they don’t follow our rules.  They follow their rules.  At the time, Kid A was a really, really shocking piece of work.  Nothing really sounded like this.  Really, nothing still does.  People just don’t see the world through Thom Yorke’s glasses, and musicians don’t play quite like Jonny Greenwood.  That’s why Kid A is this generation’s Dark Side of the Moon.  You can try to explain it, and obsess over it, and tell all your friends…but they just won’t get it until they throw some headphones on and take the journey themselves.  It’s a modern classic and an artistic triumph from the premiere band of our time.

1.  Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

This is the sound of America, ladies and gentlemen.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the sound of art under fire– pop songs layered over sonic landscapes and disorienting noises, and the story of a band being reborn– the struggle of seeing your vision through and discovering new, exciting methods of doing so in the process.  In the end, it’s Jeff Tweedy’s masterpiece, delivered in a musical world courtesy of the late Jay Bennett.  It is at times country, at times electronic, at times rock-and-roll and at times folk.  But the thing about YHF is that it’s undeniably accessible.  It’s high art in an accessible package, singable and memorable.  It’s an album full of bold statements and sad admissions that draws you in with it’s humanity.  It’s deceptively simple and deceptively complex.

It stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.  Why?  Because Jeff Tweedy and Co. realize a vision on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that the greats that came before them all understood.  Paul McCartney understood it.  Kurt Cobain understood it.  Brian Wilson understood it.  You can make music that is both commercially acceptable and popular, yet artistically risky and groundbreaking.  It takes a rare talent to realize this goal.  Jeff Tweedy is one of those rare talents, and this is one of those rare albums.  One of the greatest albums ever?

Yes.  It’s simply that good.

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Filed under: Lists

The Top 25 Albums of the Decade: #25-13

You knew it was coming.

What is there to say about the decade we’ve all just lived through?  So much chaos, so much alienation, yet so much triumph and so much hope for the future.  Music has mirrored our national psyche–  sometimes ridiculous, sometimes brilliant and sometimes even fake.  But through it all, great art has endured, just as it always will.  I think the following 25 albums are truly a cut above the rest, albums that will stay with me until the very end.  These are my personal Top 25…I don’t think I can explain it much further, but I think when you get to the end you’ll agree that I either have:

a) great taste, or b) horrible taste.

What more can be said about that?  It’s been a pleasure to constantly fall in love with music over and over again this decade.  Here’s the stuff that’s really moved me:

25.  Phoenix- It’s Never Been Like That

So many artists this decade disguised their awful music with the “pop” label.  As if “pop” music somehow lowered the bar to an acceptable label for some of the auto-tuned, instrumentally dialed-in slop that we were forced to hear on the radio the past 10 years.  Phoenix is a group of french kids who play awesome, catchy and undeniably worthy pop music.  They are a band that is finally getting a bit of press for their latest LP (look for that one on a list later)– and while it’s a very, very good record, It’s Never Been Like That is where Phoenix made the graduation from fringe-pop to worldwide critically acclaimed buzz band.  Next up, stadiums.

24.  The Black Keys- Thickfreakness

Blues made a comeback this decade, and it’s safe to say that The Black Keys from Akron, OH had a heck of a lot to do with it.  While they had been making waves with earlier efforts, Thickfreakness is the record that broke them into the mindset of indie-America.  It’s a bare bones affair, to be sure, but the Keys succeed on the simplicity of rock-and-roll.  These are songs that sound fresh because they are what we were begging to hear for such a long time:  a loud, brash, simple rock record.  Sadly, the Keys went the way of the rest of the 2000’s– Dangermoused and beatmachined– but word on the street is that a return to form is coming.  Lets hope.

23.  Yeah Yeah Yeah’s- Fever to Tell

Indie darlings, garage band from an alternate universe, two guys providing background music for the yelps and squeals of an oddly attractive and endearing woman with a single letter for a last name.  All these may apply to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.  The genius of Fever to Tell is that it defied all explanation or description.  The pounding drums and spiraling guitars made hipsters wet themselves in excitement, sure– but the band lies in the ups and downs of frontwoman Karen O.  So go ahead and try to tell someone what they’re doing– explain Karen O to the unknowing.  Try.  This is 37 minutes of unexplainable ass kicking.

22.  Elliott Smith- XO

Perhaps the most painful loss of the musical decade for me was that of Elliott Smith.  Well, no perhaps about it.  It was.  Smith was one of the most misunderstood and underrated musicians of our time, and XO is proof in spades.  You see, while Elliott Smith wrote some of the most emotionally affecting music I’ve ever heard, he was also a Beatle-freak like the rest of us, writing music that drew you in with it’s pop sensibilities and then took you on a lyrical rollercoaster.  XO was his major-label debut, and you can hear the accessibility- a lot of this is radio ready, California sunny pop.  But beneath the surface was a storyteller of the highest order.  If you haven’t discovered his genius, now’s the time.

21.  The Libertines- Up The Bracket

If everything would have gone according to plan, this would have been the first of a few albums by The Libertines on this list.  Sadly, it’s the only one.  Up The Bracket might have been the introduction of the UK’s version of The Strokes, or it might have been something even greater.  As long as Pete Doherty continues to be a screwball drug addict, we’ll be waiting to see if the second half of this story ever gets written.  Nevertheless, this album is a good way to pass the wait– it’s one of the most confident debut albums you’ll ever hear.  It’s good ole’ British snarl-rock with a healthy dose of genius.  The songs are great and the sound is that of a takeover.  Will it ever come to pass?

20.  Spoon- Gimme Fiction

If you had to pull up a band as “indie posterboys” for this decade, I’d argue in favor of Austin, TX’s very own Spoon.  While the Arcade Fire are just too peppy and Radiohead is just too, well, good, Spoon falls right in the middle.  A lot of swagger, a lot of pretentiousness…and a lot of talent.  Gimme Fiction is this band’s crowning effort– it does everything that this band does well, and it does it consistently and to great effect.  It it at times brooding, at times swinging– but it reaches it’s peak in the middle with the straight-on rock assault of “Sister Jack” and the follow-up acoustic wonder “I Summon You”.  Other albums got all the hype, but Gimme Fiction is where the real treasure is.

19.  Aimee Mann- Lost in Space

Lost in Space is not only the actual sound of melancholy, but it’s Aimee Mann’s quintessential work.  It is impeccably produced and executed, all the way down to the liner notes and snare drum sounds….but it’s the voice that carries this to the next level.  Mann is one of the great songstresses of our time, an artist that can effectively relay dissapointment and irony in one fell swoop, knocking you on your ass and compelling you to do it again.  She writes beautiful songs, most of them cutting and dripping with discontent– but Lost in Space is about heartbreak and rejection.  It is the ultimate album for that night coming up where you’re gonna get really depressed and go for a drive.  Sounds horrible– but it’ll make you feel better.  There is a light at the end of every single one of the tunnels that Aimee takes you through, because those tunnels are just called “life”.  That’s something worth singing about.

18.  Interpol- Turn On The Bright Lights

You remember back there where I was talking about the ultimate “indie” band of the decade?  Yeah, most of you probably were screaming the word INTERPOL at your computer screen.  My argument against that is they are beyond indie– they are just flat out pretentious.  Maybe not, but they sure seem like it, er, look like it.  And while their bassist looks like a Hitler Youth and their singer sings in a continual onslaught of E-Minor goodness, the music makes it all possible.  In other words– they are as good as they think they are.  Turn On The Bright Lights is evidence of this, taking the listener on dark roads through brilliantly constructed soundscapes that compliment the songs rather than distract, making the emotional impact even greater.  It almost seems too orchestrated to be real– almost like a parody of indie–but Interpol walks that line with impeccable ability.  This album is a trip, no doubt about it– but it’s also a masterpiece.

17.  Elliott Smith- Figure 8

There’s the indie Elliott Smith and the major label Elliott Smith.  The first is trying to be as lo-fi and somber as possible, while the latter is trying to construct some kind of perfect combo of the two extremes.  Figure 8 is Elliott Smith’s grand vision.  This was the album that should have broken him into the mainstream, the work that should have defined him as he entered the new stage of his career.  Sadly, it never made it that far, but this is still the mountaintop of a heap of great material for Smith.  It’s certainly his most “poppy” album (album opener “Son of Sam” could have and should have been a major crossover hit), but it’s the introspection and self-revelation buried beneath swirls of guitar and jangly piano that really pays off in the end.  Figure 8 should have been the first of many, however, it was the last.  Either way, it is an absolute essential.

16.  Drive-By Truckers- Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

One of the most consistently intriguing bands of this decade had to be the Drive-By Truckers.  DBT is a product of the Shoals region of Alabama, and while this wouldn’t really matter to most, that simple fact has been the fuel behind some of the band’s greatest songs and statements.  Simply put, the Truckers are flag-bearers for a South that most folks don’t know…and we’re not necessarily talking about good things.  Their career has been marked by statements and stands for beliefs and causes that make the most sense to people from here, sure.  But none of it would matter if the music wasn’t so damn great.  Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is the band’s latest, and greatest, work– a culmination of years of personnel changes and disputes, and the current high point for a band that’s survived it all to tell the tale.  The Truckers are critical darlings, but the general public seems to be hesitant to jump on board– a sad statement for a band of this magnitude.  However, if you like them– you love them, and you love them because they are the quintessential American band, not afraid to speak it’s mind or rock your ass off.  This album is evidence of both.

15.  Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Neko Case, while unashamedly Canadian, crafted one of the finest Americana albums of our time with Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, an LP carried by her absolutely jaw-dropping vocal talents.  It’s a haunting trip, full of echo and delay and master storytelling– all anchored, again, by that voice. Neko is the modern-day Patsy Cline, backed by one of the finest bands and production team that an album like this could possibly have.  People wanna foam at the mouth about vocal talents like Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis, and while they may have the range– Neko has the emotion.  Hell, Neko could clear her throat with more emotion.  That’s why she’s responsible for one of the finest alt-country albums ever made.

14.  The Hold Steady- Boys & Girls in America

What may initially sound like the ultimate party album (it is, actually) is in reality one of the most effective monologues on growing up our generation has ever had.  It may be the finest.  And I use the word monologue because that’s what Craig Finn does on this album– he speaks.  With vigor.  Don’t get it?  You will.  Doesn’t sound appealing?  Trust me.  This album blew up like a pumpkin implanted with M-80’s that fateful summer, and it was the soundtrack to all the cool house parties.  It’s another classic, joyous rock and roll album, delivered with a ferocity and manic literary sensibility.  Rock and roll noir?  Again..maybe.  The most ironic album to be played at parties this decade?  Abso-friggin-lutely.

13.  Death Cab for Cutie- Transatlanticism

Runner up for “most indietastic band” of the decade has to go to Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie.  Hell, they made indie cool again for a lot of folks.  Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it isn’t worth anything, though.  This Cohen-approved album is truly a once-in-a-generation work that captures the mood of a national clique’, going from apprehensively hopeful to hopefully cautious.  It never really goes too low or too high, too sad or too excited.  It’s a little reserved, but it captures the mood of the 2000’s in a way that few other albums could.  Ever since, Death Cab has become a national name– signing to a major and selling tons of records, but this was their statement.  I doubt they’ll ever top it, and I wonder if they even could.

Filed under: Lists

Five Great Rain Songs

If you live in the deep south right now, chances are you’re in the middle of a torrential downpour.  It’s been raining for days and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop.  Another week of it, probably.  This makes some folks complain…but I love it.  Rain is peaceful.  It also makes people slow down a bit, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Here’s five wonderful songs with “rain” in the title, in honor of our sudden onslaught.

Notes: The Beatles- Rain is probably the greatest song ever written with “Rain” in the title, but for the sake of the list, I decided to give it a rest.  McCartney’s bass playing in that song will forever put it at the top.  Also, “Who’ll Stop The Rain” is a better tune than “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”.  Just my opinion.  And is that R.E.M. video not hilarious?  Letterman slagging on Athens never gets old.  Everyone knows Dylan, but that song’s been in my head so it was included.  “No Rain” is a wonderful song, very underrated, if you ask me.  Plus, it makes our Mississippi friends happy.

And just for kicks and giggles…click here.

EDIT: Because we love R. Kelly here at the Dinah, here’s the remix.


Filed under: Lists

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About Us

15th Street Dinah is a blog primarily about music coming to and coming from the Tuscaloosa, AL area. From time to time, we might veer off course...but for the most part, that's our thing.

We're named in honor of the great Dinah Washington, Tuscaloosa native and "Queen of the Blues".