Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#90-#81)

90. Interpol – Antics
(Matador, 2004)

The band’s brand of (dis)passionate rock with soft/loud dynamics, interplay of wiry, angular guitar, undercurrent of bass guitar and drums, and frontman Paul Banks’ cool-tone, insular vocal delivery that focuses upon relationships, desire, isolation, malaise, and anomie strikes a perversely invigorating chord.

Despite the deadpan demeanor and stark instrumental set-up, there is a taut, live-wire energy that breaks through on the chorus sections where the hard guitar lines shine brightly and Banks’ emotions come to the fore in the form of desperate exclamations and anxious relief. Antics is more streamlined and catchy than the band’s debut, and the song structures are less attenuated and empty, shifting quickly from concealing verses to revealing chorus refrains as the initial lulling calm releases into instrumental and vocal turmoil. Interpol defied the sophomore slump on this release, even while retaining much of the sonic topography of their debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

89. St. Vincent – Actor
(4AD, 2009)

When Annie Clark burst onto the scene in 2007 with her debut Marry Me, she not only possessed charm and delectable song structures but she was well aware of her impressive musicianship – not to mention that she had many, many men and women answering yes, to her quirky title. With Actor, she took everything she knew about music and applied it in a sense that it all felt pristine, peculiarly precious and purposely pure.

We knew things were changing when she premiered her first single, “Actor of out Work,” with a vivid video that found her openly welcome to whatever came her way. It was the best kind of culmination: her crunchy guitar, her precocious voice and her creative instrumentation. In bluntly dissimilar fashion, this is a mature and ‘ready to take the world for a storm’ Clark, and one that has fully displaced herself from her Polyphonic Spree roots – this is what all sophomore albums should sound like. But Actor isn’t just a brief extension of those aforementioned charms; it’s a beautifully calculated punch to the face of expression and exuberant zest that never, ever tires. – Bryan Sanchez

88. Victor Gama – Pangeia Instrumentos
(Rephlex, 2003)

On Pangeia Instrumentos, Angola-born Victor Gama’s closest relative in sound could perhaps be microtonal composer Harry Partch. Like Partch, Gama builds his own acoustic instruments and, also, explores a broad aural palette that may elude contemporaries. The two differ, though, in scope. Partch could at times be extravagant, if not downright bombastic in his compositions. Gama, however, entertains a more subdued stage.

The works on Pangeia Instrumentos are subtle and evocative, much like the graceful designs of Gama’s sound devices (one of which is pictured in the album’s cover art). And, rather than the record exist as little more than a means of presenting these instruments, Pangeia makes them feel completely necessary in delivering the tunes’ messages, communication often predicated on the dialogue between past and present, as Gama takes inspiration from traditional African instruments in his constructions. Pangeia Instrumentos drifts gently as a music box down the river of time. – Jacob Price

87. Joanna Newsom – Ys
(Drag City, 2006)

Nostalgia can be a fervent rush of emotion and one can never discount music’s ability at taking everything we thought was old and transforming it into something excitingly bold and daring. Delivering grandly orchestrated music, wound up in stories about past explorations, animals, the known and unknown and all layered by the hand of a gifted, classically-trained Harpist; yes, Joanna Newsom’s Ys was all of the aforementioned and more.

The stories are told as if we’re all invited to a children’s reading and they weave around a massively introspective author that just happens to be an extraordinary musician as well. While her debut introduced us to a decoratively talented musician, Newsom took every preconceived notion of what classical music was and ripped it into her own brand of music on Ys. Working with Van Dyke Parks, the orchestra rushes and flows beneath her singing and harp, never cluttering the sound but rather, allowing it to breath, expand and cascade like a roaring fire. Even with all of the newfound love for the past, there was Newsom’s tantalizingly unique voice and creative talent to craft an album this especially gorgeous: a landmark recording bridge for classical and pop music to join hands. – Bryan Sanchez

86. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55
(Because Music/Atlantic/Vice, 2006)

Charlotte Gainsbourg, the international icon, acclaimed actress, fashion trend-setter, cultural muse, and daughter of late, legendary Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, released an album as a teenager in the mid-80s. Over 20 years later Charlotte returned with 5:55, an album of delicate, flowing piano and guitar-based instrumentation supplied by the duo Air and introspective, sharply perceptive lyrics co-penned by Jarvis Cocker that focuses on herself and allows the outside world to view the private person behind the public persona.

Charlotte calmly and elegantly sings mostly in English, shifting between a lighter, melancholic, airy tone and a cooler, detached, sing-talking delivery, while covering weighty lyrical themes about family, love, loss and letting go, identity and individuality, fame and the unblinking public eye, and a place and purpose in the world. Listeners are passengers on Charlotte’s contemplative and transitional inner journey from dusk, through the night, and straight on ‘til morning. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

85. The Casket Lottery – Moving Mountains
(Second Nature Recordings, 2000)

The Casket Lottery is remembered for complicating the Midwestern 90’s emo sound and being the brother band of Small Brown Bike (members formed Able Baker Fox together.) The beginner’s luck of their debut in 1999 would lead to grander things a year later with Moving Mountains. It proves poppy and for the most part light in content; a contrast from the paranoid salvia trip they’d later take on Survival is for Cowards. “A Dead Deer” hints at some of that oncoming aggression with a forceful resolution courtesy of the Coalesce guest vocals, as do the noisy Drive Like Jehu spurts of “Jealousy on Tap,” but typical of the genre these feelings are fleeting.

“Vista Point” floats as high as its name, with looping leads creating a calm atmosphere.  The invigorating fan favorite, “A Thousand Oaks (Away from Home,)” is a walk on the beach, literally speaking. “All I need is salt and pepper sands / and a handful of my best friends.” The two records that bookend Moving Mountains are essential, but this truly is the best of both worlds. ­– Brian Kraus

84. Stars of the Lid – And Their Refinement of the Decline
(Kranky, 2007)

Droning ambient mood music doesn’t typically appeal to a wide demographic of listeners, but Stars of the Lid’s cerebral brand of electro-acoustic soundscapes should be required listening for anyone who has ever been awestruck by the natural beauty of a raging blizzard or a halcyon sunset. In foregoing any discernible sense of pulse and instead reinforcing the emotive capacity of dynamic contrasts, Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie have always specialized in particularly eerie and nocturnal textures. They reached a new peak with 2007’s triple LP, And Their Refinement of the Decline.

It might be hard to imagine listening to two hours of floating atmosphere, but you’d be hard pressed to find any other act in the genre that can pull so many disquieting emotions out of slowly unfolding string and keyboard harmonies. The two-part drama that unfolds in “Articulate Silences” is particularly mesmerizing, as swells of volume gently sigh in overlapping sequences. It’s a track like “Even(Out)+” though, that really shows the group at its finest. At five minutes in length, the climax and release doesn’t come until the 4:00 mark. Immediately gratifying pop music this is most certainly not, but those with patience will be handsomely rewarded. – Adam Costa

83. Sons and Daughters – The Repulsion Box
(Domino, 2005)

Glasgow, Scotland is a hotbed for musical talent that includes The Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Delgados, The Twilight Sad – and Adele Bethel (vocals,) Scott Paterson (guitar, vocals,) Ailidh Lennon (bass,) and David Gow (drums) of Sons and Daughters. The songs come out swinging, like the pulse-raising floorboard stomp and wiry guitar work of “Dance Me In,” the hard, scrambling guitar lines and kicky beat of “Hunt,” and the relentlessly thumped drums on “Medicine.” “Red Receiver” features sharply carved vocal interplay between Bethel and Paterson, while the latter sing-talks and whistles against a loping beat and cymbal tap on “Rama Lama,” the former viscerally bursts out on the wild chorus, and “Taste the Last Girl” pays homage to The Smiths with its jaunty, angular guitar jangle.

Attraction (the rousing pace, catchy refrains, and vibrant vocals) and repulsion (bristling, bitter lyric sentiments and menacing, hurled vocals) vie with each other to create tense, but high-spirited tunes with tightly-coiled rhythms of bass, drums, and reeling guitars as frontwoman Bethel’s tart to scathing vehemence is smoothed out by Paterson’s deep, velvety lilt and Morrissey-like hollers. Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

82. School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms
(Ghostly International/Vagrant Records, 2008)

Alpinisms, the debut album from School of Seven Bells, is named for a purist form of mountain climbing requiring self-sufficiency and utilization of the smallest amount of baggage possible. While the lush sonics – which flesh out these eleven tracks with a vibrant aura both tribal and mystical – don’t conform to this ideal, the textual themes covered in the songs do. The characters inhabiting this album are frequently in the midst of a cognitive awakening to the mental and emotional dormancy they’ve accepted as a substitute for a courageously self-directed life.

The angelic voices of Alejandra and Claudia Deheza combine in close harmonies, transfixing as if they were singing a ceremonial chant, turning compound sentences built from polysyllabic words into ear candy. The tribal and spiritual overtones here, instead of supporting surrender to a higher master, outline a religion constituted of the power of the human organism and its moral duty to itself. Conceptualizations aside, the group takes basic indie songs and transforms them into exhilarating, blood-pumping pop by embodying them in bold synthetic elements and atmospheric effects pulled from the best of dream pop’s past. Refreshing with each new peak, Alpinisms never stops its climb. – Greg Argo

81. Lambchop – Nixon
(Merge, 2000)

Since their debut in 1994, Lambchop has remained one of the most interesting bands in music. By taking elements of country and western, soul, a little Motown, and some Smithsonian Folkways records, songwriter Kurt Wagner crafts beautiful songs of every day occurrences that anyone can feel familiar in. Nixon continued to expand on the Lambchop sound, if they even stayed still for one to settle, and in doing so became the consummate light night album.

More soul than country than their previous works, Wagner goes falsetto on more songs, balancing out the deep throated speaking that is standard. The addition of subtle string arrangements and pedal steel accentuate each effortless chord pattern, creating a backdrop for the stories Wagner tells. It’s a slow and quiet album, 10 beautiful moments, just right for star gazing in the middle of nowhere. – Matthew Smith

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