Monday, 1 March 2010

My best albums of the decade: explained!

When I posted my 20 best albums of the decade list on the blog, I was expecting for some of my readers to agree with me. I was expecting some of my readers to disagree with me. I was even expecting there to be a lot of confusion, especially considering my list differed quite a bit from the ones suggested by the folks at Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.

I was also expecting, inevitably, having to explain some of my omissions, many of which seemed to a few people I talked to as verging on bizarre. I still stand by my list, which was guided by personal taste as much as anyone's, and hopefully the below Q&A will help explain the albums I chose and in what order I found myself placing them.

Five questions, in the order I thought they belonged. Here goes.

5. Why don't you have more rap/metal/punk/soul/etc. on your list?
Simply because I a) don't listen to enough rap/metal/punk/soul to consider selections from that genre (the last amazing rap album for me was 1999's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which I'm not sure is even rap, so that shows how up-to-date I am) or b) found the albums I did listen to in that genre disappointing. Also, I can't stand screamo.

4. Why is Kid A by Radiohead only #5 on your list?
Here's a fun fact: it was even lower, until I gave in to someone I know that said something to the effect of "You can't have Coldplay in 5th and Radiohead in 19th! Are you out of your mind?" and I, kind of grudgingly, accepted.

I think they were right, too -- A Rush of Blood to the Head is a great album, but doesn't seem to be as definitive as Kid A was. As for why it is where it is... honestly, Thom Yorke's vocals are hit-and-miss with me, as they tend to be a bit too depressing for my tastes, and suffer from the same sort of bland rock-god posturing that seems to plague every male-dominated group once they achieve success.

Radiohead without vocals would be a much better band, in my opinion. Kid A is the closest thing we have to that, so that's why I put it in.

3. Why isn't Death Cab for Cutie/Stars/Kaki King/etc. on your list?
Either I haven't listened to them enough (like Death Cab for Cutie), or I find their albums marked with a few moments of euphoric brilliance and not much else (like Stars, for whom "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" from Set Yourself on Fire will always be their finest hour). I also have a crush on the strings in "My Favorite Book" from In Our Bedroom After the War, but that's pretty much it.

2. I haven't heard of half the artists on your list. Why do you have to choose albums that nobody's heard of?
Actually, quite a few of the albums on my list are highly acclaimed; Sufjan Stevens' Illinois was the highest-rated album of 2005 on Metacritic, for instance. But you're right: I don't have to list great albums that aren't the top sellers on iTunes this week, I can just make up a list based entirely on Britney Spears or something.

And besides, just because you haven't heard of them doesn't mean you shouldn't at least check them out. Be a musical warrior!

1. Why didn't you include Funeral by Arcade Fire?
This is the question I get asked the most. Nearly all of the music blogs and sites I frequent had the Arcade Fire's debut pretty high up in their lists, if not in the top spot. So why didn't I?

I have to confess: there is something about Win Butler's singing -- and overall attitude, for that matter -- which really irritates me. He sounds like a pompous, vain indie-rock frontman that thinks he's King of the World and the creator of a new musical pseudo-evangelist movement, which he doesn't (and I hope he doesn't) seem to be; have you seen any cults dedicated to the Arcade Fire lately?

Their music for me is good, but not great, and the devotion surrounding them is something I just don't get as far as their music is considered. Especially one of the band's most popular songs, "Intervention", which to me gives everything away on first listen -- if the yes-we-are-anti-religious-blah-blah-blah chorus doesn't do it, the irritating and overused bells that seem to hit you over the head like a sledgehammer probably will.

Or maybe it's the way Win Butler sings the whole thing.

Maybe the Arcade Fire isn't such a bad band. Maybe Funeralisn't such a bad album. Maybe I just crave a little subtlety in the music I listen to.

Who knows?

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