December 31, 2009

album of the decade

No alarms and no surprises...Kid A is my favourite album of the decade. I expound below. Here's what the rest of my list looks like. Follow the (highlighted) links to the write-ups. There are some recent additions here that I haven't had time to properly address. Oh well. Maybe next decade.

25. Chad VanGaalen - Infiniheart (Flemish Eye, 2004), Skelliconnection (Flemish Eye, 2006), Soft Airplane (Flemish Eye, 2008)
24. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery (Rough Trade, 2009)
23. PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island, 2000)
22. Beck - Sea Change (Geffen, 2002)
21. White Stripes - White Blood Cells (V2, 2001), Elephant (V2, 2003)
20. Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God, 2005)
19. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell (Interscope, 2003)
18. The Weakerthans - Left and Leaving (G7 Welcoming Committee, 2000)
17. Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador, 2000)
16. Constantines - Shine a Light (Three Gut Records, 2003)
15. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat (Kill Rock Stars, 2002), The Woods (Sub-Pop, 2006)
14. Menomena - Friend and Foe (Barsuk, 2007)
13. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre, 2004), Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005), Greetings From Michigan (Asthmatic Kitty, 2003)
12. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino, 2009)
11. Grizzly Bear - Yellow House (Warp, 2006)
10. The Books - The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab, 2003)
9. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City, 2004), Ys. (Drag City, 2006)
8. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Pig Lib (Matador, 2003)
7. Deerhunter - Microcastle (Kranky, 2008)
6. Sonic Youth - Murray Street (Geffen, 2002)
5. Cat Power - You Are Free (Matador, 2003)
4. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (Matador, 2002)
3. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope, 2006)
2. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica (Epic, 2000)

1. Radiohead
- Kid A (Parlaphone/Capitol, 2000), Amnesiac (Parlaphone/Capitol, 2001), Hail to the Thief (Parlaphone/Capitol, 2003), In Rainbows (2007)

Here we are at the top (sort of). Kid A is my favourite album of the decade, but if I'm going take the decade seriously, I can't ignore the rest of their out put. Amnesiac, for example, followed quickly after Kid A and is a product of the same creative peak. Though a weaker album, Hail to the Thief was certainly a big event for me: for a while my entire universe seemed to revolve around that release date; and In Rainbows was a triumphant return to form and a revitalization of the band's sound, now inseparable from the minor stir it caused in the online music world.

Everybody's already pontificated on the significance of Kid A (both in terms of musical innovation and its relevance to the end of physical media). Oddly enough this was my first Radiohead album and so I didn't really have a prior relationship with the band's 90s output. I knew Radiohead were important for a variety of reasons, but as for "Radiohead trying not to sound like Radiohead" and the other postmodern claims that accompanied this album, they were over my head and, to be honest, I just wasn't interested at the time.

I loved Kid A not for the statement it was supposed to be making, not because of where it fit into the band's output, not because it represented the "death of rock 'n' roll" or because it nearly broke up the band; I loved it because it introduced me to a new world of sound and music, I loved it because of its sheer beauty, its ambient textures ("Treefingers"), the manufactured purity of Thom Yorke's vocals (especially on the title track), the urgency, energy, but also the simplicity of songs like of "Ideoteque" and "National Anthem." I identified with the dreams of solitude on "How to Disappear Completely," but also with the social/evolutionary angst of "Optimistic." How could an album be so many different things all at once?

Another bit of subtext: I bought this album right before departing for a trip to England. For the three weeks we were there, this cd did not leave my discman. What did I care if it was raining, if the sun refused to shine? I had Radiohead to keep me company. Listening to "In Limbo" while wandering through the crowds of Heathrow still stands out to me ("You're living in a fantasy. . . I'm lost at sea, don't bother me, I've lost my way"). I remember buying a magazine with the cover headline: "Cheer Up! Here Comes Radiohead."

A smaller part of Kid A's brilliance lies in the absence of any liner notes. The album booklet is made up of more art by Stanley Donwood, and so listening (for me) became a far more interesting process of interpretation; you can hear one line in a variety of ways. "Ideoteque," is a good example. At first, "Here I'm alive...everything all at a time," then I started to hear "Here I'm alone...everything all at a time" and finally it became clear that Yorke was probably singing "Here I'm allowed everything all of the time." Okay, so it's not that profound. But I love how disorienting Kid A makes the solitary listening experience. There's something comforting about it.

Kid A has plenty of cultural significance, but in the end, it's important and appealing because it's a beautiful work of art that asks difficult questions evades easy answers. It's simply an album that I'll never tire of.

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