I’m a chiliastic purist.
“Chili” is not where I’m going (there’s another column for that), I’m talking about how there’s a plethora of “best of this decade” lists and, well, the decade isn’t over yet. We still have another year.
So, you’re not going to get a “best of the decade” list from me — at least not until next year.
Nonetheless, I should explain why this is not the end of the decade.
The way our calendar is laid out, such that we’re at the end of 2009, is based on the supposed date of Christ’s birth. Any year before Christ’s birth is designate “B.C.” (“Before Christ”) and the year before Christ’s birth is 1 B.C. (the year Caesar decided to mandate a census), while “A.D.” (Anno Domine: “In the Year of Our Lord”) marks the year of Christ’s birth. In that scheme, there is no year Zero.
The math is easy. One marks the beginning, Zero marks the end.
Sure, I realize it’s convention (and a sorry one, at that) but I refuse to bend to the tide. You’ll get no Best of the Decade list from me, at least not this year. Psshaw.
However, you do get a Best of the Year list from me (and wait until next year for my Best of the Decade picks) and, as usual, I’m loathe to say which one is first and which one is last; The ranking merely indicates what I’ve listened to the most this year, not what is necessarily the best of this year.
And, before I start this list, I have to say that aside from U2 and Springsteen, no big bands (especially in the indie scene) released anything — no Radiohead or Arcade Fire or Spoon, no amazing newcomer surprises like My Morning Jacket or Fleet Foxes. Like the rest of us, the selections are, frankly, slim pickings. Still, there’s great music being made out there and I hope you’ll seek these selections out.
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: I keep reading comparisons to The Strokes but I think that’s disingenuous — I don’t hear anything that suggests jumping onto the last big thing much less derivative twaddle. These guys are not just fun but deep — probably the reason why they’ve had more play on my Pod than any other band this year. “Girlfriend” and “1901” are well worth grabbing up the whole shmeer but “Lisztomania” is my favorite — a band that gets my affection for Liszt!
Passion Pit, Manners: I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of synth-pop but Passion Pit (like The Postal Service and, to a lesser extent, Death Cab for Cutie) have converted me. “Sleepyhead” was my single of the year, but there’s so much more on the album to recommend the album.
U2, No Line on the Horizon: Wow. These guys never cease to surprise me, impress me. The album rocks out in a way that stretches all the way back to Boy, through War and (gratefully) sidesteps their less-than-stellar shots at being Rock Gods. “Breathe” and “Moment of Surrender” have to be the best songs they’ve done in decades, which is saying something.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Up From Below: Karl suggested this (Karl! The consummate wine snob, the guy who tells you how to turn Ramen into a world-class dish!) and I’ve been grooving on it ever since. Beatles-ish pop (circa Sgt. Peppers) and Arcade Fire darkness mushed into stew of grandiose weirdness. “Home” also has to be my second favorite single of the year.
Sonic Youth, The Eternal: When indie Gods age to the point they can be the parents of the indie bands they’ve influenced, what do they do? Apparently they produce the best album since the one the broke all ground (Daydream Nation) and defined what would become indie rock. Not groundbreaking (it would be absurd to expect that) but head-and-shoulders above the bands they influenced.
Micachu, Jewellry: Again, comparisons are absurd — I’ve seen too many to M.I.A. but those are bogus. The beats are original, the mixes are inspired and everything falls into place to the extent that you are amazed that a singular genius has pulled all this together.
The Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca: Nascent yet prescient, The Dirty Projectors take of where the Talking Heads left off (with Speaking In Tongues) and hold so much promise — which makes sense since they’ve collaborated with David Byrne — but if you’re looking for “Once in a Lifetime,” move on. They have, to the Nth degree.
Black Moth Super Rainbow, Eating Us: Indescribable psychedelic music, music that demands a handful of hallucinogens and the days required to ingest the experience. Yes, I’d consider them “indie” but only in the way that Pink Floyd stands outside “classic rock” as far as, as Timothy Leary said (stealing from Zen Buddhism), “Those who say, don’t know; Those who know, don’t say.”
XX, XX: Putting the “Hip” in “Hip-Hop,” XX has managed to bridge indie music to rap and modern R&B in a way that has escaped so many artists (Timbaland, et al) and make it real. The reason Jay-Z is not on this list is that I find most rap interesting but limited: There’s no rap album that stands the test of time. Not Run/DMC, not Public Enemy, not Dr. Dre. Lots of good cuts but too much filler. XX has managed to create something that, I think, lays out a template that may, hopefully, change the dynamic.
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion: I almost didn’t include this but it grows on me. Earlier Animal Collective albums hit me with their weirdness but this took awhile. Which, in retrospect, tells me that they’ve matured. And, as all AC albums, something pointing to the direction of music in the years to come.
My bonus 11 is Bruce Springsteen’s album, Working on a Dream. There’s no single cut that I would call a classic but he seems to have returned to the years when I loved him the most (Born to Run and, especially, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle), the story telling that brought to life an individual’s struggle in the midst of a system created to crush the working man. Call it “Socialism,” Springsteen calls it as he sees it.
Enjoy your bogus decade; I’ll wait until next year before I call it a wash.