Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The AV Club's 50 Best Albums of the Decade Are All Wrong: Albums #30 - #11

Intro & The AV Club's #50 - #31The AV Club's #30-#11
The AV Club's Top 10 & AfterwordAlan Greenspan Presents Our Top 10

by Mobutu Sese Seko with Rigamarock & Shwaywhat

(Note: all thumbnailed images go to Youtube videos of relevant songs from the band.)

30. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005)
This is pretty much the least essential album anyone's ever heard, so of course it's on the AV Club list. If you were wondering what happened to Cat Stevens and Fisher Stevens' improbably orders-of-magnitude-lamer lovechild, this album is your answer. Meaningless gimmickry is the name of the game in indie music, and this gimmick is the most meaningless in recent memory: album conception via Rand McNally. Still, it's great to hear Zamfir getting work again in pointless one-minute instrumentals. And the lyrics? EVERY ONE A MASTERPIECE:
Steven A. Douglas was a great debater
But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator

Chickenmobile with your rooster tail
I had my fill and I know how bad it feels
Stay awake and watch for the data
No small caterpillar, go congratulate her

Denominator, go Decatur, go Decatur
It's the great I Am
Abominate her, go Decatur, why did we hate her?
It's the great I Am
Fun Fact: in 2003, Stevens announced his intention to create a "50 States Project," recording albums for all 50 in the United States. In 2005, he reiterated his ambition to complete the project. In 2009, he disavowed the seriousness of the project that he'd repeatedly affirmed over the course of two years, claiming that it was, "Such a joke." Of course, at the pace he'd established (two albums over the course of six years), he would have finished his project sometime in 2153, at the age of 178. However, given the cycle of pop-cultural mining and re-mining for marginal talent and bizarre musical gestures, this span would have given his music time to be rediscovered on at least nine more occasions, allowing Stevens ten opportunities in his life to imagine himself relevant to anything or anyone.
Sufjan Stevens also looks like a candyass.

29. Basement Jaxx, Kish Kash (2003)
I love this. I love distorted upmixed grinding noises that max out the red. I love bwipbweep noises singing over it. Hear that? That thing's so fucking tight, I don't even know what it is. It might have gotten onto the record on it's own, like the beat is alive. Hear that? That's me tweeping a keyboard. That's songsmithery. I'm British and have sex with British girls who get old and become British women who are ugly and have crags for cheekbones. Speaking of which, they're singing on my album in the few years they have between now and their greatest hits album or lung cancer, whichever comes first. I open my face and a dozen toffees fall out. Those were my teeth. It's raining.

28. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (2000)
"We're really just seeing how many white people we can get to buy a record by a guy with a name that implies he murders white people. Buy it."
"We're also trying to round out our deliberately obscure and safely bleached rapper choices by picking an act that we know black people know about. Too bad this guy isn't huge solely in the Athens scene. If he were, he wouldn't have to be ghostfaced."
"We would have chosen MF Doom, but we filled our mask quota with Slipknot at number 17."
"You ever see Dead Presidents? America's already fighting a war. On our streets. Puts it in perspective." (fires up a spliff and starts replying to an email on an iPhone)

27. Björk, Vespertine (2001)
Would you like hearing a castrato Ian Anderson shrunk down to microscopic size so he could sing inside David Bowie's reverberating adenoid while breaking his range more than Dolores O'Riordan from the Cranberries getting cunt-punched during the chorus of "Dreams"? If so, you'll love this offering from indie darling and screeching Icelandic she-chimp Björk, who continues to garner critical adulation by obnoxiously advocating for public causes millions of people support every day without being an asshole about it, and by making music so singularly unpleasant that it triggers some chemistry in the rock-reviewer amygdala that creates a yearning for meaning in what is simply annoying fucking bullshit. If reading this review is causing you to breathe heavily, squirm and make a "nnnggyeeeAAHHHH" noise, be careful: you may be performing an unlicensed reproduction of a song by your precious ape.
Or, as it was put in another great article by Michael Lewis:
Because Iceland is really just one big family, it’s simply annoying to go around asking Icelanders if they’ve met Björk. Of course they’ve met Björk; who hasn’t met Björk? Who, for that matter, didn’t know Björk when she was two? “Yes, I know Björk,” a professor of finance at the University of Iceland says in reply to my question, in a weary tone. “She can’t sing, and I know her mother from childhood, and they were both crazy. That she is so well known outside of Iceland tells me more about the world than it does about Björk.”

26. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black (2006)
Brian Johnson gives an amazing performance, admirably filling the shoes tragically left empty by the death of Bon Scott. From the opening chords of "Hell's Bells" you realize that the bad boys from down under haven't lost their touch, simultaneously conjuring up the corpse of their dead bandmate while assuring you that they've still got the badass guitars, vocals and crotch chops to go one-on-one with the Prince of Darkness and win. The title cut is equally rockin', like the band themselves are deliberately crashing the funeral they just attended, and the single "You Shook Me All Night Long" is a timeless rock-and-roll-fueled celebration of sex — drugs not required.

25. Madvillain, Madvillainy (2004)
Hey, you know all those stupid-looking mask avatars on message boards, the ones that weren't inspired by people who only know about Guy Fawkes via V for Vendetta or 4chan staging ineffectual and annoying internet protests? Now you know where they're from! Of course, you'll love Madvillain's music best of all for appearing on shows on Adult Swim, where badly made cartoons that subversively reference marijuana go late at night to keep from, like, totally exploding your parents' minds. Another critical source of appeal are lyrics you may never decode and a sound that's distinctly anti-commercial. Maybe underneath the skin, these fellas have the white stuff! Downside: frequent absence of plangency.

24. Beck, Sea Change (2002)
Scientologist and originator of the role of Mumbles on the old Dick Tracy show produces his first record in which he eschews his winning formula of putting a child's record player, a harmonica, an acoustic guitar, a rhyming dictionary and an itinerant bluesman in a cardboard box and then shaking repeatedly. This gesture of directly addressing his audience with sincere statements immediately alienates the perfectly intelligent people who got into colleges and everything and claimed their lives had been specifically touched by the "meaning" in songs that read like pre-teen homages to "I Am the Walrus" generated by 25 simultaneous games of Boggle. Other fans, however, bravely soldier onward and trade in their vigorous defense of adolescent stream-of-consciousness ironist obscurity for hysterically overblown comparisons between this pretty decent breakup album and rock classics like "Astral Weeks."

23. Missy Elliott, Miss E… So Addictive (2001)
Overweight, pushy, boring, made an attempt at an acting career, and intentional or unintentional beneficiary of some vague campaign to get more people shaped like bowling balls on magazine covers? Move over, Mo'Nique, a Misdemeanor is about to be committed. This album isn't just better than watching an episode of The Parkers: it's better than living it. When another Missy album's about to drop, you better grab a hardhat, and that's not because she's got some heavy beats: it's because you about to get some fat shit. Things this album is better than: starring in a movie with Jimmy Fallon, burning down Andre Rison's house and pellagra. Nobody has given a shit about Missy Elliott for eight years, which is just now beginning to make up for all the time that they did.

22. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)
It's a pretty good rule of thumb that nothing good ever comes from collectives, whether it's collectivized farming and the slaughter of a bunch of Ukrainian "kulaks," Collective Soul, or 30 people who live in the same place all not getting anything done aside from getting scabies from one intolerable dirty in their midst. Animal Collective are no different, and you deserve everything that happens to you if the name alone didn't give you enough pause to suspect that their product would be at least mildly retarded. If you went ahead and listened to them after finding out the members were named "Avey Tare," "Panda Bear," "Deakin" and "Geologist," you are a dumbfuck of the first goddamn order. Animal Collective probably represent the apotheosis of the "Pitchfork Formula" of upper-middle class white people spending a great deal of time finely crafting their eccentricities before creating music that's a twee'd-up/dumbed-down version of an already castrated Pet Sounds. They discovered their sound and ambitions on the hardscrabble streets of a Baltimore private school, and it's not too much for all of us to hope that they embark on a trip of cloying manufactured nostalgia and try to return to that school and subsequently get lost within the city and gunned down by someone. Anyone.

21. New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000)
No novelty. No nudity. No point.

20. Daft Punk, Discovery (2001)
"The reason Discovery is the most wondrous, lush, beguiling house album imaginable is because it never stops going for the gut." You can't get this kind of analytic transcendence just anywhere, but it misses the point. Daft Punk is the techno corollary act to nerdcore: music for people who aren't old enough to remember Atari but still feel like their social lives are enriched by being nostalgic for it anyway. Hey, look, kids: guys dressed like robots! Aside from that, Daft Punk almost never do anything with what they sample. They take a 15-second funk riff, drop the pitch by a note, loop it 32 times, maybe add a different beat and call it a day. They're the ideal techno band for the enthusiast who wants to experience lots of great music by tons of other people without the drudgery of finding it themselves. They're taking up a spot on this list that could go to any of the dozens of acts that fuel their music, if only those acts weren't sufficiently obscure these days to be stolen from without compunction or consequences. On the plus side, Kanye West sampled one of their songs and sent white nerds into paroxysms of Aspergian rage, because I guess it's bad form when black people steal music from white people or something. But, hey: ROBOTS.

19. The Strokes, Is This It (2001)
Judging by the next two albums, yes. Yes it is.

18. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)
Really? You guys really want to do that? That's the thing you're going with, is it? Okay. Phoenix is pop produced and polished to a high degree of being clean and poppy and having keyboards and vocals with melodies and occasional stabs at depth by saying things and then contradicting them — because, get it, the narrator is confused just like you, young man. These guys also look like Franz Ferdinand after four days of sleeping in the same clothes in which they performed a show at a Latin Quarter café. Which is just as well, because they sound pretty much like all that snappy-high-hat Britpop that everyone's been listening to for at least four years now, or maybe the MGMT album that everyone's been listening to for the last two. Either way: you already have this album. Only this one's a little different because even now you completely fucking hate one track because someone thought to try to sell Cadillacs with it.

17. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
Have you ever gotten a little too excited by Simon and Garfunkel records, especially that primal drumming that got added to "Sounds of Silence"? Are you hip enough to like Peter, Paul, and Mary in spite of the blasphemy but still feel that at times it might be "too raucous"? Did you once hear a Foghat riff while but a tot and become so transfixed by the terror it inspired that you stood like a blue-fleece-clad statue whose crotch area was darkening with a spreading stain? Then this Shins album may be for you. It will change your life: this is music for dreary people in tight t-shirts. It isn't even their best album. If it weren't for a "precious" look at being unhappy in your twenties for absolutely no goddamn reason, in a movie in which every young man in America inserted himself in the role of the main character in a Portman-kissing fantasy, the number of people who give even a scrap of a fuck about this album would plummet by 75%.

16. Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)
Giving the cool name of an international crime-fighting agency to a band like this is like going to show headlined by "Big Pumpy the Crocodile Fucker" and finding out the only band members are Jean-Pierre Rampal Jr. and a greek dude duetting shit up on flute and a dulcimer. If there were any justice in this world, Interpol would be some kind of kickass Swiss techno band that put gunshots in their songs all the fucking time and then ended longer acoustical "suites" with car-crashes. Meanwhile, most songs would have multi-lingual news reports about people like Carlos the Jackal mixed in almost subliminally low, until their fans were just scared shitless for no reason. Instead, they sound like Interpol, which is to say, like practically everyone else.

15. Spoon, Kill The Moonlight (2002)
Ahahaha! Yeah, dudes, I watched The Tick, too. Awesome stuff. Remember when that guy carved his name in the moon, but he only got out the letters "CHA"? Ownage. And American Maid? Remember her? Her whole identity was a pun. Do you think she was even aware of that, like maybe on some level she suspected that maybe she wasn't an entity created by parents but rather by consciousness — some corporealized expression of a common pun known to the English-speaking world that took form as her and then, as the monster stormed around our consciousness, began to affect our consciousness itself, as we reacted to it? Also, Spoon is a post-punk/pop band from Brooklyn Portland Austin, Texas.

14. LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver (2007)
I know what you're saying: "Yeah, repetitive electronica garbage is great, but what I really want is repetitive electronica garbage overdubbed with some idiot nerd's monotonous whine. Also, mediocre drumming. Live." Look no further, friends, because LCD Soundsystem is on the money. They've already got the white-dudes-fucking-with-sequencers sound that you know and love, but then they also suck live. The diversity of instruments on this record (including the clavinet, glockenspiel, and kalimba) ensures that, if you haven't yet discovered how parochial your interests are, you soon will as you branch out into world music, like your own little David Byrne or Paul Simon. George Harrison was Indian, right? Whatever.
Social-Consciousness Bonus: they have a video where a person is blacked out entirely and interacting with others. It forces us to ask some tough questions about whether we spend more time defining people by their skin color instead of by their silhouettes.

13. Sigur Rós, Ágætis Byrjun (1999)
Interested in Sigur Rós? Here:
*strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum*
*strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum*
*strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum*
*strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum strum*
Now you've heard everything they've ever recorded.
They have contributed nothing to the world outside of hearing nerds pronounce their name and having other nerds argue about how that pronunciation is wrong.
Also, dude, they invented a language called Hopelandic. No, really, the lead singer makes mouth noises and then assigns them arbitrary meaning after the fact. You can't tell me that doesn't count. I read Manufacturing Consent, and Chomsky is a linguist.

12. M.I.A., Kala (2007)

"The edge goes to Kala for pushing its predecessor’s melting-pot mentality to the brink of chaos without sacrificing an ounce of its world-dance-party ethos. To list the influences that permeate Kala—Bollywood and Tamil cinema soundtracks, Aboriginal hip-hop, and Trinidadian soca music, just to scratch the surface—is an exercise in musical esotericism, yet Kala never feels inaccessible or abstruse."
THE BRINK OF CHAOS: Aboriginal Hip-Hop's Embrace of the World Dance-Party Theorem and Methods of Universality via Bollywood Technocism Toward the Isolation of the Higgs-Bosunngghh. Dr. Mike Tubes, Ph.D., Chair of the Vitalogy Department at the Hardy-Bennetton Institute for Figuring Out What's with All These Black People.

11. The Walkmen, Bows + Arrows (2004)
Okay, so they add this kind of plinky-plink piano sound in there, which sets them apart, if for no other reason than waking up to this would probably make you have dreams of being stuck on a fucked-up nightmare carousel being pursued by people who appear in clown porn. If you hear it during the day, you probably just think some busted ice cream truck is rolling down the street trolling for victims. And, yeah, the lead singer has this nasal "YEEEAAAH-THIEU, DIEEEEEENNN BIEN PHUUUUU" kind of half-stopped-up style that sounds kinda like Greg Dulli starting to yell and then Elvis Costello silencing him by blowing his nose while saying the word "blue." But at the end of the day, you're still listening to post-punk indie rock and clutching at these tiny shards of uniqueness so tightly that they cut into your flesh, just to get past the terrible fact that this is yet another post-punk indie band. What's mindblowing about the AV Club list isn't that these people apparently listen to 31 flavors of the same thing, it's that in aggregate they must listen to over 50 — so much so that not only are these the best culled from a giant mass, but the reviewers have actually immersed themselves in enough of "the same" that they were able to walk away distinguishing this one. This isn't to suggest that The Walkmen are bad — they're interesting — but it's enough to wonder if the reason they're "good" is because of the company they keep. An average 15-year-old Dominican little leaguer is going to hit the shit out of the ball like Babe Ruth if you take him out of the DR and plunk him on some Vermont 10-12 league. That only means he's an adolescent playing against children.
Alternate Take: Little tip for vocalist... uh... Hamilton Leithauser? Are you fucking serious? Whatever. Heads up, bro: Nobody wants to listen to Shane MacGowan do an impression of Bob Dylan, and no one wants to listen to your impression of same. Except for the producers of The OC, who are such soulless wastes that they make art worse just by liking it. They came for the guitar rock equivalent of a dentist's drill, but they stayed for the commercial appeal of a moderately attractive guy yelling like a drunk. On another critical front, internet people seem to have the same reaction to this band as they do to Tool/Slipknot/Led Zeppelin/any number of worthless metal bands. Namely, "Their drummer is good. I REFUSE TO ANSWER FURTHER QUESTIONS!" Ugh.
• Follow-Up: You read the part about the drummer being good, right?

Intro & The AV Club's #50 - #31The AV Club's #30-#11
The AV Club's Top 10 & AfterwordAlan Greenspan Presents Our Top 10