The following represents what I consider the top ten albums of the last decade. The decision was beyond hard, but this reflects the albums which hit me the hardest and stuck with me the longest.
10: DM Stith – Heavy Ghost (2009, Asthmatic Kitty Records)
This is an extremely daring debut album from graphic artist David Stith. Stith contributed the album artwork to My Brightest Diamond’s album also featured in this list, with contributions made to Heavy Ghost by both Shara Wordan (of My Brightest Diamond) and Sufjan Stevens (who, according to the liner notes, on the song “Pity Dance” clacked a stapler, and a pair of scissors, and played a Lakewood 18 inch 3-speed high velocity fan with a Vermont state quarter). This experimental pop jem is just the beginning of things to come from Stith.
02. Pity Dance
11. Braid of Voices
9: My Brightest Diamond – A Thousand Shark’s Teeth (2008, Asthmatic Kitty Records)
Shara Warden’s followup to her debut surpasses the album in most every way. An American Björk, Shara Warden’s voice runs the show. Trained in opera and the daughter of musically talented individuals, Warden uses her pipes like a surgeon uses a scalpel. The instrumentation is so lush it could stand on its own if it were required to, thanks to the contribution of the Osso String Quartet. The lyrics maintain the same personal exploration of relationships through simple imagery and observation which made Bring Me the Work Horse so great, but here they have the benefit of maturation a couple years can bring.
01. Inside A Boy
02. Ice and Storm
8: Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood (2007, Nonesuch Records)
Director P. T. Anderson took a risk when he asked Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to write the score for his feature length story of ambition, power and betrayal. The risk paid off in a big way, giving us one of the most unconventional and unnerving scores in all of cinema. Equally as expansive and moving as the film which it was made for, the soundtrack is as rich and rewarding as oil itself. This album is a must have for any fan of the movie or of other similarly interesting neo-classical experimentation.
08. Proven Lands
09. HW / Hope of New Fields
7: Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007, Jagjaguwar)
An exercise in minimalism which continues to reward repeated listens, Justin Vernon’s product of a Wisconsin winter thrust him into the indie spotlight. This album, more than most, proves that one does not need flashy, expensive studio equipment to make an incredible album of music. With the Blood Bank EP release and contribution to a few compilations being the only thing we’ve heard from him since his arresting debut, all of us are anxiously awaiting his follow-up.
03. Skinny Love
04. The Wolves (Act I and II)
6: Anathallo – Canopy Glow (2008, Anticon)
Anathallo is easily one of the single most talented bands which still has not had a real breakthrough record. Comparisons to Sufjan Stevens abound, with the major difference being that while Stevens himself often wears many hats, Anathallo is more of a many-headed creative hydra. Canopy Glow is a wonderfully collaborative effort, with every band member pulling at least triple duty, playing multiple instruments and contributing to the complex glee-club vocals and multi-layered chorals. It is the next step of maturation from their brilliant 2006 concept album Floating World. Unbound from any clear narrative, Canopy Glow is the sound of a musical collective, which has seen many lineup changes since 2000, finally find firm footing and create something truly unique.
01. Noni’s Field
08. John J. Audubon
5: The Acorn – Glory Hope Mountain (2007, Paper Bag Records)
Being their LP debut, Glory Hope Mountain is a rich, folk-driven record which plays more like a punk-rock album. Each song is both bursting with energy yet quietly intimate under the surface. The album is loosely built around the story of songwriter and lead vocalist Rolf Klausener‘s mother, Gloria Esperanza Montoya. The album title is a loose translation of her name.
04. Crooked Legs
07. Low Gravity
12. Lullaby (Mountain)
4: Damien Jurado – Caught in the Trees (2008, Secretly Canadian)
This benchmark of songwriting is the culmination of Jurado’s long career as troubadour. The songs feature deeply personal, narrative driven lyrics which while not unique to the genre, are visible here in a form only a mature. While not quite as intimate as Ghost of David or 2005’s Where Shall You Take Me?, Caught in the Trees features a more mature instrumentation and attention to detail not found to the same extent in any of Jurado’s back catalog. This album is a perfect example of a singer-songwriter at the top of his game.
09. Everything Trying
3: The National – Boxer (2007, Beggar’s Banquet)
Boxer is an album which on the surface appears to be a simple and solid piece of work, but upon repeated listens reveals complex facets in both musical craftsmanship and lyrical depth. The National have been doing their thing since 1999, but they didn’t gain much notoriety until this release eight years later. Apart from the guitar work by Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Padma Newsome’s orchestra flourishes add a depth to the instrumentation that compliments perfectly the deep baritone moan of Matt Berninger. What truly drives the album is the drum work from Bryan Devendorf. The entire album makes for the perfect late night, driving through the city, windows down, staring at all the lights, soundtrack to your life.
02. Mistaken For Strangers
06. Slow Show
2: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002 , Nonesuch Records)
There remains very little to be said about this album, given how much has already been exposited upon pertaining to its bold experimentation, brilliant songwriting, and now legendary story surrounding its creation. Listening to it over and over again, there is still no track which gets old, no song that didn’t live up to its creative potential. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will go down as one of the greatest pieces of music of this generation, and one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
01. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
06. Ashes Of American Flags
10. Poor Places
1: Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005, Asthmatic Kitty Records)
Speaking of anxiously awaiting a follow-up (see Bon Iver above), it has been four years since the Brooklyn-via-the-Midwest multi-instrumentalist gifted the world with this epic masterwork. No concept album has ever used its subject material better in order to delve deeper into the self. The song “Chicago” isn’t about Chicago at all. Instead, Stevens’ personal association with the city throws the song into an existential meditation on traveling through different cities, the choices made along the way and where home might ultimately be found. Although he has kept plenty busy with a B-sides album, a box set of Christmas songs, a multimedia ode to The BQE, a couple producing roles on other albums, and compilation track contributions a plenty, the indie-rock world is rapt with attention watching what he will do next. Even if it his 50 States project won’t continue, it will be interesting to watch and listen to where Stevens will go.
10. Casimir Pulaski Day
15. The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
19. The Seer’s Tower