TL;DR – Capsule reviews
Somewhere along the way, I thought it would be useful to have short, succinct summaries of my thoughts on every album I reviewed for people who were (understandably) too busy to read my long-winded critiques, but were still interested in my opinions or wanted suggestions on what to buy. So here you go, free of charge!
1. Kid A *****
Seriously: compare what the Beatles’ records did for the world on an artistic, cultural, personal, critical and commercial level and you’ll find Kid A does those same exact things with just as much success. It’s admittedly a bit odd and somewhat low-key when separated into components, yet that’s precisely the reason it’s so great – it’s the last work that is truly meant to function as an ALBUM, a single transformative experience. Its genius and perfection is indelible, undeniable and beyond compare.
2. The Moon And Antarctica *****
Though it unfairly missed my top ten list for the whole decade due to the sheer volume of stuff I reviewed, this is a first-class artistic statement if there ever was one. It’s a flawlessly executed epic – constantly entertaining and succinct, with carefully structured sprawl and involving atmospheres. And at no point does the band forget to include songwriting, performing and lyrics of the highest caliber.
3. Mass Romantic *****
A self-evidently great, thrill-a-second expression of the purest, wildest joy you can find, conveyed through everything a pop song needs, and more. It gets a little twisted and psychedelic a couple times, but hang in there – it’s not like those parts are unlistenable by any means.
4. Maroon *****
A splendid, tragicomic pseudo-rock opera that becomes more poignant and clever with every listen, while staying just as polished, humble and melodic. Come to think of it, if this is indeed a story album, it’s by far the most unpretentious, accessible one to date in rock history.
5. Stankonia *****
A ferociously independent, visionary, schizophrenic and masterfully written hip-hop tour de force from two incredible performers who would only get better. Just… wow. This is crammed with so much stuff that about one in twenty ideas doesn’t quite work perfectly, yet all is forgiven since it’s the rare recording that’s already hugely influential in its own generation. Sometimes the density ebbs and flows, and a slight amount of it is pandering and hesitant to give in to pure experimentation, but even the “normal” stuff is miles beyond most hip-hop.
6. White Pepper *****
Ween become shockingly mature, but no less clever and skilled, for one brilliant adult-contemporary classic. Not to say that they’re not still earth-shatteringly diverse; they cover a ton of stylistic and emotional territory.
7. Figure 8 **** 1/2
Patient, prismatic, preppy and powerful melodies that are pretty pleasant. Elliott Smith ramps up the energy, tunefulness and production on this landmark album.
8. The Marshall Mathers LP **** 1/2
Eminem’s power, wit, verbal onslaught, cultural influence, and endless layers of exaggerated charade (or is it brutal, sneering honesty?) cannot be denied. Nor can Dr. Dre and Bass Brothers’ excellent production on this disc. It gets lyrically puerile and repetitive at times, but that’s necessary for the desired blunt effect and even more important if this is indeed parody.
9. Supreme Clientele ****
Ghostface Killah is street smart, with an emphasis on smart – bringing the hard-knock life to life with plenty of verve, wit and style. However, he’s not smart enough to avoid the inevitable slog of most overlong hip-hop LPs, or stupid skits.
10. All That You Can’t Leave Behind ****
An inoffensive, acceptable, moderately entertaining effort from U2, who were reaching for the stars with this last-ditch shot at continued relevance and instead touched the sky, comfortably meeting expectations with a vaguely spiritual reboot.
11. De Stijl *** 1/2
The White Stripes sing the blues! Well, I know they usually do anyway, but this is an especially antiquated-sounding recording. It’s pretty authentic and sweet, and a lot smoother and more well put together than White Blood Cells, despite being very generic and trailing off at the end.
12. Fevers And Mirrors *** 1/2
Bright Eyes gets warmed up, but the product is unevenly heated. Lots of experimentation, some successful, eclipsed by later records, too lo-fi – you know the deal.
13. Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea *** 1/2
The ever-scorned chanteuse is back, with competent radio-grunge, mildly intriguing rhetoric, and a righteous attitude – it’s like the early Nineties never ended. Yet the album is perfunctory and sort of tedious, so you know they did.
14. Heartbreaker *** 1/2
Ryan Adams is a sophisticated songwriter and lyricist, but his ballads are way too plodding and minimal here (and everything here is a ballad).
15. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant *** 1/2
Belle and Sebastian exhaust their minimal indie folk sound with one last, pretty good release before a total reinvention.
16. Parachutes *** 1/2
Coldplay start out being a less clumsily ambitious group, with their schmaltzy sound already intact, several excellent songs, and an emphasis on musicianship, of all things. It works, for the most part, but the elevator-music impulse backfires on them much like their later hubris would.
17. Áegætis Byrjun ***
Despite sounding good in theory (and sometimes in practice), this is still waaaaaayyyyy too pretentious, inaccessible, slow and ridiculous to be as great as people say it is. Still, hoo boy, what a nice theoretical idea!
18. Hybrid Theory ***
You never quite lose your enthusiasm for the first music you got into as a kid, even when you later discover it was pretty crappy.
19. Mad Season **
Once upon a time, I liked this album. Its banal jam pop pales in comparison to everything I’ve heard since then. I’m glad I expanded my horizons.
20. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven * 1/2
A classical suite with some nice (but all too brief) guitar jams and a bunch of nonsense. A Lumpy Gravy for the modern age? Might as well be.
1. The Argument *****
The absolute last word on any genre involving aggression and electric guitar, and the home of the best politically-minded music of last decade. It doesn’t get any better. A thought-provoking, flawlessly structured, mind-bogglingly proficient, perfectly written, cinematically atmospheric, pointedly visceral, fun as hell tour de force and a swan song of majestic proportions.
2. Amnesiac *****
The most awesomely enigmatic, description-defying record I reviewed – not just in a stylistic sense, but in every category. After blowing apart their medium with Kid A, Radiohead triumphantly rebuild it out of familiar, yet insanely juxtaposed fragments.
3. Is This It *****
The undisputed champion of 2000s throwback rock; an ingenious, expert amalgam of everything good about Sixties guitar bands, fused with an awesome, lighter-than-air modern art deco sound.
4. Oh, Inverted World *****
The decade’s best repurposing of archaic, mellow and ornate chamber pop. Indie with heart and a sense of purpose and ambition, not to mention an almost clinical knack for detail, atmosphere and brevity.
5. Tenacious D *****
Jables and Kage set the standard for their disciples the Lonely Island by writing complex, dead-on satire that withstands the test of time and works both ways: as catchy rock and as quotable jokes.
[Furniture + 2 EP] *****
6. One By One **** 1/2
A monolithic collection of streamlined, headbanging radio rock songs. Maybe a bit too redundant and obvious, but as a Foo Fighters album, it works.
7. Miss E… So Addictive ****
Timbaland goes wild in the sound booth and saves the day, though the lady herself cooks up some fairly clever clubbing lyrics, not to mention fully establishing a refreshing persona in modern hip-hop.
8. Vespertine ****
Björk f**ks the void, and the void f**ks back. Intimate sextronica from beyond the stars – it’s slightly ridiculous and very ethereal, but has potential out the wazoo. Get to know it a little, and it might just put out.
9. Girls Can Tell ****
Spoon don’t do anything overtly wrong, but they don’t do enough things right, either. This band isn’t interesting. But once you get past that, Girls Can Tell is engaging at a basic level and haltingly memorable. A few songs are even great.
10. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings ****
The virtuosos of Radiohead recreate their dense studio sound in a live venue, and the result is good, speaking from a non-biased point of view. I mean, they capably and impressively convert studio marvels into a live experience, but it’s not exactly essential listening.
11. No More Shall We Part ****
Fire and brimstone. Rinse and repeat. But rather than invoke the wrath of Hades, Nick Cave wrenches the sinfulness out of the listener with sobering, deathly slow, sometimes fuming chamber ballads of loss and despair. As you may have predicted, it’s super boring. But an artistic success nonetheless.
12. Weezer (The Green Album) *** 1/2
Barely satiating, but comfortably familiar, pure pop from a band that was rapidly losing its edge, its inspiration and its reason to exist. However, there are certainly some career standouts here, before it switches to autopilot for the last third.
13. White Blood Cells *** 1/2
Not a new beginning; a stubborn, uneventful return. Not small-scale songwriting genius; barely-there, unengaging minimalism. Not masterful homage; careless theft. Not ragged soul; instrumental incompetence and laziness. Not relatable and witty; amateur, childish and awkward. Miraculously, still an okay record, though it stands as the most overrated piece of music from the 2000s. Like the greatest hits LPs by the second-rate Sixties bands they apparently revere, this collection is saved by a handful of outstanding tracks. The White Stripes are all about overcoming hurdles, and here they transcend the fact that, in many respects, they kinda suck.
14. Discovery ***
Daft Punk thinks they can write a few astonishingly great dance/rave songs and then sneak half an album of dreary, unimaginative filler under it and nobody will notice. I’m not falling for it, but hell yeah, the good songs are really good.
15. The Blueprint ***
This record leaves a lot to be desired. Everything is maintained on a superficial level to be just okay, but where’s the amazing stuff? I guess Jay-Z was too busy managing his empire to be creative.
1. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots *****
Singular, bottomless, life-affirming, poetic, philosophical, endearingly strange, majestic, inconceivably detailed, mysterious, blindingly colorful, vividly emotional and negligibly flawed in a charming, human way.
2. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot *****
Even this record’s potential inadequacies and excesses come across as endearing, engaging and totally unique (because they are), and it helps that this is the most humanistic experimental LP I’ve heard. It’s a left-field, dissociative burst of genius where every hard stretch is rewarding in the long run; one which offers something for everyone and yet never strays from its idiosyncratic artistic vision; a beguiling, desolate mish-mash of deconstruction that has the rare trait of remembering to reconstruct as well.
3. Lifted, Or the Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear To the Ground *****
This is the flip side of the “epic” recording – it’s pretty imposing and indulgent, but everything has a purpose and it’s all WORTH IT once it clicks. Plus, most of the elements here are top notch (as is my standard for classics), and if one lags, the others are absolutely stellar to make up for it.
4. Songs For the Deaf **** 1/2
A blistering showcase of four virtuosos with some incredibly strong self-penned songs spanning the radio dial, but united under the slogan “All grim, all the time”. Not that that prevents them from having a little menacing fun. Fantastic.
5. Turn On the Bright Lights **** 1/2
An instrumental and tonal gold standard, with every component at least acceptable, and quite often outstanding. As sleek and consistent as a Swiss watch.
6. By the Way **** 1/2
The one where a bunch of annoying assholes and smacked-out miscreants create a spellbinding and disarmingly good-natured melodic monolith. It’s still goofy and meaningless bro rambling, but that’s acceptable if everything else is so much fun.
7. Source Tags And Codes **** 1/2
If the Arcade Fire were Fugazi… or something like that. Breathtaking shoegazer rock that’s mainstream-acceptable and not without its share of character. In particular, the hints of Medieval prog only deepen its charm and idiosyncrasy.
8. Blacklisted ****
Neko Case belts the sultry country blues, with plenty of vigor, while she begins to find her own voice (which is that of a Goddess, if I haven’t mentioned it yet.) More of an antiquated tribute than a statement, but what a tribute it is! Her originals sound so awesome and convincingly old-timey that they had me fooled.
9. A Rush Of Blood To the Head ****
Coldplay aims for teenage girls’ hearts, and hits dead center. But at least they aimed at something they could actually achieve here, and they were still pretty good at writing sappy songs, so the result is oddly appealing. It’s sanitized, simplified, mass-market pop that’s inoffensive and tasteful enough to be enjoyable and occasionally irresistible.
10. Sea Change ****
Beck startlingly turns serious, contemplative and ballad-y and just barely pulls it off, with tedium and ennui creeping in around the edges. Despite the laudable departure, it’s his worst release of the decade, according to me and probably nobody else on this earth.
[Heads Up EP] *** 1/2
11. You Forgot It In People *** 1/2
Too many cooks spoil the broth, especially if it’s made from off-brand ingredients to begin with. Still, this LP is a musical stew, and stew can’t be that bad, right? Well, maybe it’s more like gruel…
12. Kill the Moonlight ***
This forgettable release is agreeable for about one listen and has a couple high points, but as usual with Spoon, it’s so hyper-minimalistic, tedious and overly reserved that any subsequent plays feel more like working than having fun.
13. ( ) ***
14. The Eminem Show ***
Eminem forsakes most of the things that made him good in order to become an exaggerated, despicable, lazy, and – most importantly – BORING musician. Thankfully, that metamorphosis doesn’t happen all at once, so he still somehow comes up with a barely acceptable album.
15. Audioslave **
The ultimate scam – the singles here are good and the reason I bought this, but everything else is just totally worthless and turgid to me. It makes sense that you’d like the other stuff if you’re a gigantic fan of their general sound, but I have better things to do.
1. Hail To the Thief *****
A statement of effortless and masterful creativity covering numerous genres and moods, this record finds Radiohead exploring outward and conquering all they see with an eye for the grandiose, down to the smallest details. They are reborn from fiery abstraction and once again become just a band of talented guys who don’t waste a single second of your time. Like The White Album, some songs are divisive because of their extreme, divergent nature, but contrast is the whole point. Just enjoy the ride.
2. Electric Version *****
The most energetic pop album in recorded history, and one of the most entertaining, pleasant, catchy and distinctive to boot. Non-stop melodic greatness like nothing you’ve heard before, written by virtuosos of the format. Their all-inclusive appeal is so strong, I’m not even worried about overhyping them.
3. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below *****
These two are creative demigods, and so they drifted apart, as teams of creative demigods eventually tend to do. This unfathomably deep, unerringly smart, shockingly experimental, mind-bogglingly memorable and very classy double shot is the tortured result. Its peaks are so perfect, engrossing and ahead of their time that they easily make up for the still-fascinating sprawl and filler that shows up in spots.
4. Quebec *****
Ween’s most conceptually brilliant, flawlessly written, astoundingly catchy, surprisingly mature, chameleonic album. It goes without saying that it’s diverse and works on multiple levels, and with such dedicated, talented shape-shifters, it’s hard to discern where the persona begins, sincerity exists, and humor ends.
5. Everything To Everyone *****
A comprehensive look at what makes this band so great – they value humor, tragedy and everything in between, including great melodies. Yet another encyclopedic effort, covering everything they stand for.
6. Dear Catastrophe Waitress *****
An outstanding retro-chic rebirth for a bunch of pop mavens intending to change their sound, with great success. Following the 2003 trend, I suppose this counts as their genre-hopping record, and all its risks pay off.
7. Chutes Too Narrow *****
A concise, adventurous and equally verbose expansion upon the Shins’ impressive debut LP. This is quite a good sophomore effort.
[More Like the Moon EP] *****
[Fight Test EP] *****
8. Keep It Together **** 1/2
An assured, accomplished, and inhumanly sunny and catchy confection. Forget about its sissiness and sentimentality – focus on its excellence.
9. Elephant **** 1/2
The quintessential example of the White Stripes’ stripped-down aesthetic, emphasizing everything good about their early years and hiding (or, more generously, fixing) everything bad about them, along with the best variations of their basic riffs that always get vaguely recycled. Their songs would get more detailed and intelligent later, but Elephant is the bridge between the halves of their career, combining the strengths of both. If you want primal garage rock, this should be your first stop.
10. Room On Fire ****
The Strokes begin to capsize, sometimes confusing “having a sound” for “having melodies”. However, that doesn’t stop them from bravely throwing synths into the mix and writing some tunes that are more than worthy of Is This It.
11. Fever To Tell ****
A raucous, ringing and barely-controlled document of raw, boisterous fun (with a more poignant and gloomy back end). There’s nowhere new for garage rock to go at this point, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do right by their forebears.
[The Arcade Fire EP] ****
12. The Black Album *** 1/2
Jay-Z actually tries something ambitious, but doesn’t try too hard. After all, he has an apathetic, formula-following image to uphold. I wish he’d gone farther with the interesting “diary” concept.
[Ego Tripping At the Gates Of Hell EP] *** 1/2
13. Meteora ***
A relatively good Linkin Park album. If anything, it’s the best nu-metal/rap rock recording ever. Faint praise, I know.
14. Michigan ***
Sufjan needed to cut all the melodic ideas here in half and fill the empty space with stuff that’s just as good. Maybe make it more uptempo, too. Oh, and also, have slightly better lyrics! After that, a little more diversity, and bam! Good as new!
15. Transatlanticism ***
Simplistic, sappy, sad-sack songs. But a few tracks are okay, and I’m so blinded by hatred for this style that I suppose I’m not qualified to judge this one. Still, I can’t imagine why anyone would enjoy having a deluded, self-satisfied hipster whine at them over meek coffee shop soundtrack shuffling when they have to deal with it so often in real life.
16. De-Loused In the Comatorium ** 1/2
OVER. THE. TOP. More importantly, over the top for no clear reason, and to the listener’s detriment and alienation.
17. Poodle Hat **
I feel downright heretical saying this, but of all the comedy music I listened to, Weird Al’s is the least rewarding as actual replayable material. He also gets fairly lazy on this record. It’s unfortunate.
1. Smile *****
The would-be most audacious, complex, transcendentally inspiring and stunningly inventive record of the Sixties becomes… the most audacious, complex, transcendentally inspiring and stunningly inventive record of the 2000s. Its long-running legend finally has the happy ending it deserves.
2. Funeral *****
Intelligent, poignant, anthemic, and honestly, truly fun and melodic: qualities that are seen together far too rarely these days. The Arcade Fire confidently run with those concepts as if they invented them, blurring the last thirty years of rock music into something – could it be? – ORIGINAL.
3. Good News For People Who Love Bad News *****
Modest Mouse make a bunch of jerky, moody guitar pop songs that are effortlessly brilliant, thematically tight and as uniquely strange as Isaac Brock’s navel-gazing, cosmically cynical worldview.
[Books EP] *****
4. Franz Ferdinand **** 1/2
Forceful, rhythmic, and constantly impressive dance rock that’s certainly not lacking catchy tunes. They owe a lot to their influences, but dodge that criticism by making music on par with those idols.
5. Madvillainy **** 1/2
Madvillain was one of the decade’s few hip-hop acts to produce some truly stupendous, creative, poetic, surprising and downright tuneful art. Kudos to them.
6. The Slow Wonder **** 1/2
Carl Newman makes a home-brewed (and nonetheless glistening) sleeper pop treasure. Woe upon those who overlook it because it’s so low-profile – several compositions here are not to be missed.
7. A Ghost Is Born **** 1/2
An eggshell white, airless, druggy album mostly divided between pop, folk jams and noisy rock. Even the treacherous mood and crappy, indulgent novelty track can’t bring these good songs down.
8. American Idiot ****
Green Day put all their best and worst ideas into one impressively overstuffed LP, and the result is something predictably conflicted, veering between rotten and incredible. The good slightly outweighs the bad, and the whole enterprise is justified by its laudable ambition, auspicious status and heightened quality relative to the band’s normal output.
9. Rubber Factory ****
The Black Keys burst onto the scene with heavily blues-indebted rock. It takes a while to see these as more than old boogie tunes covered by a session band, but they are great with some familiarity.
[The Tain EP] ****
[The Moan EP] ****
[A Ghost Is Born EP] ****
[COMLAG EP] ****
10. The New Danger *** 1/2
Experimentation is so welcome in rap that even when this record goes overboard with it (a number of times), I tend to be forgiving. Likewise, Mos Def’s creativity, talent, and willful artistic vision are so evident that they give me a valid reason for doing so.
11. College Dropout ***
Let’s set things straight: family values, sentimentality, and vague insecurity are nothing new in hip-hop. Nor does Kanye pull them off that well here. And his production is kinda dry and overrated. Regardless, he is miles ahead of the competition, and does have a couple interesting experiments in store. The skits are awful, though.
12. Barenaked For the Holidays ***
It’s a holiday album. I’m an obsessive fan of this band. I like it, but I had to be a little bit objective here.
13. Sung Tongs **
Animal Collective traffic in the inexplicable, needless and pestering, making offensively synthetic and hookless stoner pop.
14. The Grey Album **
Incredibly forgettable novelty project, with a fun but insubstantial idea behind it. Pity the efforts of a great producer were spent on this trifling diversion.
15. Rejoicing In the Hands * 1/2
Here’s a first for the list – a release that’s both boring and bored; it’s willfully bland and thus, not much of a success. Not much of a failure, either, but don’t bother listening to it.
1. Twin Cinema *****
Universal, truly innovative art-pop done better than you can even imagine on all possible fronts. Timeless, pristine, and beautiful; Carl Newman and friends write music that makes up for everything bad in the world.
2. Digital Ash In A Digital Urn *****
Conor Oberst writes, track for track, the decade’s best prose. With this venture, it’s the foundation of an artistically perilous sonic shift that turns out to be unbelievably successful, remarkably fitting and enjoyably deep. Incredibly intricate percussion and slippery keyboards plunge into the abyss with the fragile, flawed and ferocious songwriter.
3. Z *****
The pinnacle of arena-rock guitar jams with a distinctive synth/piano influence. Righteous interplay, soaring melodies and powerhouse chops will make these your new favorite anthems to sing.
4. The Mouse And the Mask *****
If Hanna-Barbera met Run-D.M.C. on their way to the retro-funky twenty-first century, it would sound like this. Mask is a hip-hop LP like absolutely none other, with complete artistic control, wild, vibrant ideas and absurd lyrical depth. I’m conflicted about its extremely heavy use of diverse, vibrant, catchy backing tracks that are nonetheless culled from other songs, but just this once, I’ll give it a pass and go with my gut feeling that this album totally pwns.
5. Late Registration *****
An impossibly overstuffed, but genially straightforward record boasting stupendous sonic theatrics, no filler, and a musical prodigy guiding the way with an ambition and cleverness unseen in quite some time. There’s probably some trickery and corner-cutting behind the scenes, and it’s never quite floored me like it did the first time, but it was all worth it for such a grand spectacle.
6. In Your Honor *****
Soon-to-be-classic mainstream riff rock of the highest order, backed with surprisingly great ballads by Dave Grohl and company. Again, it’s a bit corporate and straightforward, but it’s prime Foo Fighters – take it or leave it.
7. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning *****
A brilliantly simple, yet lush and detailed folk recording that will surely rank up there with the all-time greats of singer-songwriting. Dense, poetic writing, accomplished performances, swooning melodies – all are accounted for. Nothing more or less is needed.
[It Fit When I Was A Kid EP] *****
8. The Woods **** 1/2
Three badass chicks bring a hardcore, applauseworthy close to their uncompromising career with primal vocals, raw guitars and coy symbolism. Then there are the actual tunes, which rock. A Riot Grrl renaissance.
9. Picaresque **** 1/2
It’s overshadowed by the band’s later triumphs and does basically the same things, but the Decemberists nailed their style and songcraft right here (give or take a little pretension in future efforts).
10. You Could Have It So Much Better **** 1/2
Franz Ferdinand handle the “Stay the same or change wildly?” dilemma with grace and aplomb, keeping the fun and inventiveness of their debut while throwing some synths into their irresistible sound (even as it shows signs of repetition and decay).
11. Employment **** 1/2
Efficient, enthusiastic piano punk-pop with plenty of spunk, thoughtfulness and naïve charm.
12. LCD Soundsystem **** 1/2
I don’t always approve of the very long-form, sometimes minimalist approach taken here, but the band does it so well that on a case-by-case basis, I literally cannot resist some of these tunes. It helps that they also display some very compelling experimentation right out of the gate.
13. Get Behind Me Satan **** 1/2
The White Stripes shake things up! But not too much, of course. The ragged rockers enter a new phase of their career with this LP, and it’s interesting to hear how they adapt to their new restrictions of piano and marimba-based gospel and soul. That concept was a surefire way to keep things fresh, and it inspired Jack White to deepen his songwriting skills.
14. Guero **** 1/2
Beck being Beck. More immediately enjoyable and coherent than the spastic Odelay, if a bit lethargic and insubstantial.
15. X + Y ****
Coldplay strikes just the right balance between artsy and obvious, professional and genial, melodic and complex, crowd-pleasing and challenging, powerful and subtle. Despite its flaws, I have to give them this one.
16. The Vanity Project ****
Steven Page ventures out on his own, and brings his unmistakable songwriting trademarks into even greater focus. Thankfully, they survive the transplant mostly intact.
17. Chaos And Creation In the Backyard ****
Paul reliably pulls out another set of increasingly weary old-timey melodies that stand apart from the rest of his catalogue about as often as they sound like retreads. This is affable, sophisticated and well-produced, but I’d still rather listen to Band On the Run. Its saving grace is consistency and rootsiness. Also, it’s PAUL EFFING MCCARTNEY.
18. Arular ****
What you see is what you get – an idiosyncratic, multinational free spirit who seems pretty fake and dumb, but at least she’s always colorful and successfully pretends to be thoughtful.
19. Illinoise *** 1/2
Michigan was sort of gearing up towards this more grandiose project, though it makes some of the same mistakes. Still, its high points are very high. That makes the disasters (a literal one-note “song”, unceasing pompousness and self-editing problems) even more regrettable.
20. Push Barman To Open Old Wounds *** 1/2
This is a ramshackle collection of the band’s singles, showcasing their best, their worst, their solid dependability and their tedious early-period similarity. But they’re good enough overall to push it into the realm of respectability.
21. Make Believe ***
The “meh” heard ‘round the world. It’s quite possible to actually get into this stuff, and I almost did – that is, before I found some actual good music to distract me.
22. Gimme Fiction * 1/2
Gimme one reason to stay here. Gimme Shelter. Gimme shock treatment. Gimme Gimme Gimme… anything but this awful trash.
1. The Life Pursuit *****
A postmodern fusion and revival of several antiquated genres in a slick Scottish pop package that never gets old. This is the fruition of Stuart Murdoch’s style and perspective, bringing all his strengths together in one place and catapulting B&S to previously unreached levels of awesomeness.
2. The Crane Wife *****
A mystical, anachronistic, allegorical story arc with some truly inspired pop tunes as well as ample colorful progressive arrangements. To top it off, lots of rousing, memorable refrains make the whole folk singalong more accessible.
3. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood *****
A woodsy, scattershot, difficult-to-assimilate masterpiece that points the way towards the more polished 2009 effort Middle Cyclone. But taken as a solitary work, it’s still quite twisted and interesting. And then, there’s Neko’s voice, of course, which could almost even save a dubstep album.
4. At War With the Mystics *****
Another idiosyncratic, intriguing, usually transcendent (and this time relatively mainstream) offering from the Flaming Lips. It’s very uneven and starts their trend of occasional overt silliness, but the high points make up for it. Plus, as usual, there’s so much in the mix that the sounds are entertaining enough by themselves.
5. The Eraser **** 1/2
Thom Yorke makes nuanced, evocative electronic pop that even a guitar shredder could love. It’s small-scale enough for a modest, one-man project, yet so broad in emotion and appeal that it became a pretty big deal – and rightfully so.
6. Return To Cookie Mountain **** 1/2
TVOTR enter the public consciousness with this head-spinning, epoch-spanning, sonically thorny, self-destructively horny romp. It’s kinda pretentious and spins its admittedly shiny wheels a bit much, but this is a bold new frontier.
7. The Information **** 1/2
Beck really, really tries to make another Odelay (what else is new?), and he more or less succeeds. Except the record’s a little flat and the ending pastiche is polarizing – but otherwise, right on target.
8. Barenaked Ladies Are Me ****
Some embarrassing stagnation and sameness, but otherwise, BNL greatness all over again. Oh, also way too many ballads. Still, I’ll give them one mulligan.
9. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not ****
Pub funk punk ska. What? Yeah, I invent genres sometimes. This is youthful and irreverent without being immaterial or annoying. Kudos, ya damn whippersnappers! Or wankers, colloquially.
10. Endless Wire/Wire And Glass/Live At Lyon ****
The Who shouldn’t have made this LP – they aren’t really the Who anymore, their trailblazing days are long gone, and despite their valiant efforts and past dominance, their live shows are now pleasantly competent at best. But I’m sort of glad these songs were released. Yes, there’s a boring live album, some old musical themes, and a confusing story. But there’s also Pete Townshend making surprisingly great tunes in his old age, and that’s enough for four stars.
11. Drum’s Not Dead *** 1/2
Art-rock mood paintings. Completely inscrutable, but once you get past the numbness, you’ll realize that it’s not as weird or dull as it initially sounds.
12. Tenacious D: The Pick Of Destiny *** 1/2
A partially-formed, lightweight, sometimes brilliant soundtrack to a movie that’s the same way.
13. Boys And Girls In America ***
Forget the accolades you’ve heard – this is a decent bar band playing rudimentary melodies with ambitious, but frequently self-indulgent lyrics sung by the most offensively, inexcusably terrible “singer” I’ve heard in my life. Not deserving of wild-eyed praise, but it’s alright if you’re into this kind of stuff. I’m decidedly not.
14. Ys ***
Yeah, I was really looking forward to some hippie chick with a harp singing epic-length narrative songS.
[It Overtakes Me EP] ***
15. Night Ripper **
This album has the integrity, usefulness, creativity and craftsmanship of ten Kidz Bop CDs thrown into a blender and dispensed into the vacuum of space. Literally.
1. In Rainbows *****
In case there were any non-believers, Radiohead showed in 2007 that they were indeed capable of affection and optimism (not to mention approachable, solid pop music) with this organic, impeccable, immaculate masterwork. (Though surface appearances aren’t always as they seem with this band). In Rainbows once again sails beyond any and all expectations.
2. Cassadaga *****
This epic recording is a travelogue on the road to nowhere, with exquisite backing, incredible-as-usual lyrics, a ton of tight melodies, and only the barest hints of rote repetition or tune recycling. It’s also Bright Eyes’ most diverse album by a long shot. Another classic.
3. Sky Blue Sky *****
Possibly the best roots-rock album the decade produced. Wilco write great songs seemingly without artifice or pretense, calm yet packed with enthralling details and humble yet incredibly proficient.
4. Neon Bible *****
A dark, earthy, thematically and musically dense follow-up to a classic debut. Toes the line of political propagandist self-indulgence without quite crossing it.
5. Icky Thump *****
Get Behind Me Satan was a cool change of pace for the White Stripes. And then… it was right back to blues rock! But don’t fret, because the duo has finally become a studio band on this release, enriching their sound tenfold while thrillingly exploring new genres. Plus, everything is catchy, sly and convincingly antiquated. A few songs use the same old stock riffs and tricks in an alarmingly lazy and repetitive fashion, but this time, the Stripes have clean production on their side. Though the rewrites aren’t necessarily better than their predecessors, Jack White’s delivery adds character to the rote retreads. Plus, the amazingly low percentage of self-plagiarism is commendable. This is far and away the best White Stripes album, taken on its own terms. Classic.
6. La Cucaracha *****
Ween begin to clown things up again, but stop short of negating their newfound maturity. This is an unhinged, colorful pop experience with the band’s typical quality standard.
7. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon *****
A freaked-out, totally enthralling and schizophrenic marathon, featuring Devendra the chameleonic hippie at his most tolerable and talented.
8. Wincing the Night Away *****
A deep, satisfying surf-rock reimagining for the endearingly quirky, unapologetically literate indie band. People may reject it because it’s slightly slow and jammy, but even they have to admit that’s a surprising turn for such a typically effete group.
9. Barenaked Ladies Are Men *****
Like Foo Fighters, Barenaked Ladies run the risk of being too glossy and predictable. And they also have the ever-present danger of trying to be too clever and merely coming off as silly or precious. But on BLAMen, they toe the line with their sly humor, deliver convincing pathos, and I’ll be damned if these melodies aren’t great fun. A late-career high point. Lovely, well-produced and as usual, incredibly diverse.
[The Friends EP] *****
10. Challengers *****
The New Pornographers bring their jubilant sound into the realm of chamber pop, with surprising success. It’s a bit more restrained, tepid and redundant than usual, but the man who can deny a good NP hook is a man who scoffs at joy.
11. Liars **** 1/2
A peculiar, loungey, postmodern agit-rock album that betrays the form and comes out quite accessible, while losing none of its unique perversity.
12. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? **** 1/2
A trippy, colorful psych-glam stomper, with something bizarre and inventive around every corner. A breakup record disguised as a grandiose, danceable ecstasy trip.
13. Sound Of Silver **** 1/2
James Murphy makes the entire genre of electronica mature along with him, as he intelligently, creatively and adequately approaches the hardships of middle age in these often brilliant (though sometimes self-plagiaristic and repetitive) songs. But the rating is deserved because the three best tracks would make even Raditude halfway decent.
14. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga **** 1/2
Spoon actually become good for one surprising release, but still come up short of the praise that has been heaped on them. It helps immeasurably that they changed their producer to someone who recorded songs instead of reducing them. However, in all fairness, this is a great record. I still think the band is overrated, though.
[Icons, Abstract Thee EP] **** 1/2
[Four Winds EP] **** 1/2
15. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank ****
Modest Mouse expands listlessly outwards, making an LP that’s part dense and bulky ballast, and part thin air, while Isaac Brock stokes the flames more than ever and the archetypal, increasingly samey compositions narrowly keep the train rolling. But Modest Mouse is so good anyway the ship stays above water. (That was supposed to be a mixed metaphor. I guess.)
16. Graduation ****
What it’s like to be Kanye West – surprisingly well-rounded on most fronts, cocky, yet contemplative, and always out looking for that new sound. Whenever an embarrassing failure arises, you make sure you have two shocking successes waiting in the wings. Sure, it’s solipsistic, but that doesn’t preclude it from being interesting.
17. Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace *** 1/2
Foo Fighters begin to stagnate, but pull off some great tracks and a couple surprises while they wallow in the numbing comfort of self-plagiarism and their creative impulses dull with age, inviting a proclivity for slow, dreary ballads.
18. Kala *** 1/2
M.I.A. gets more ethnic, more inept, more boring and more fake. But it’s not that big of a decline yet, and while it’s frequently annoying, it’s annoying in a far more original and inventive way than most novelty music.
19. Let’s Stay Friends *** 1/2
Strokes ripoffs that aren’t half bad, with screamo attributes that are half bad. But there’s some unpracticed indie band charm to be found here as well.
20. Boxer *** 1/2
A frequently bland, but likeable group that casually tosses off sad, sobering sketches of fastidiously orchestrated disaffection. Coldplay for the literate set. Yeah, you heard me, hipsters! THEY’RE LIKE COLDPLAY. That’s not condemnation or praise; it’s taking the middle road.
21. There Will Be Blood Soundtrack ***
See Barenaked For the Holidays, but with a wordless movie soundtrack.
22. Raising Sand ***
What it’s like when the blues is just about to die and gives in to ballad after ballad, getting more bloated and boring with each track. Although in theory, and taken one song at a time, it’s nice enough.
23. Person Pitch ***
A droning samplefest with some nice harmonies and a few good melodies. If you’re willing to spend enough time with it to get past its harrowing repetition, lazy tempo and general gimmicky sound, it’s not too bad.
[Get Nice! EP] * 1/2
24. Untrue *
Eh…this is just your unremarkable, average type of miserable failure. The critics that praised this need to seriously reexamine their lives.
1. Vampire Weekend *****
VW aren’t saying anything new, but they are enunciating it differently. When blue-blood, ascot-wearing West Coast trust fund kids learn about African music, things are gonna get indie. Luckily, they’ve done their homework. Unbelievably good (though tragically lightweight) tunes ensue.
2. Fleet Foxes *****
Woodsy, choral, soul-inflected folk rock with a pure, ageless feel and a bold aesthetic; not to mention extremely satisfying and ingratiating melodies. Some are much slighter than others and sound fairly similar, but the record’s power and beauty is so overwhelming, it definitely earns five stars.
3. Dear Science *****
An even more focused, gratifying and distinct experience than TVOTR’s breakthrough, with striking uses of melody and arrangement throughout.
[Sun Giant EP] *****
4. Attack And Release **** 1/2
Blues rock expertly tweaked and tainted with tons of other cool influences, polished and skewed just enough by Danger Mouse. Though the band themselves certainly rule as well. Marred only by the sameness of the whole affair.
5. Modern Guilt **** 1/2
Beck buckles down and finally writes moderately meticulous songs built to last, paired with his always interesting genre-hopping antics. Incredibly solid and entertaining, and it appears he may have even developed a conscience! Pity that everything’s so lightweight, then, and stretched a bit too thin.
6. Death Magnetic **** 1/2
The comeback of the decade. Metallica tear into a bunch of thrashing, streamlined, exemplary metal cuts as if they’d never gotten sick of each other, cut their hair or sued their fans. All is (almost) forgiven.
7. Oracular Spectacular **** 1/2
Two glam pioneers mash all sorts of retro-kitsch together with countless influences, and come up with a cooler-than-cool debut that’s only noticeably substantial after several listens. Their irony and detachment could serve as standard-issue Kevlar, it’s evident that they’re inexperienced dilettantes and only a couple tracks are really outstanding, but the songwriting perseveres.
8. Flight Of the Conchords ****
If you come armed with a knowledge of the duo’s show, this set is excellent. Without the visual element, it loses some of its luster and the occasional instances of melodic laziness are more noticeable. But mostly, these guys keep it classy.
9. Third ****
A stately album featuring ear-catching sonic experiments wisely and professionally incorporated into lackluster tunes with amateur lyrics.
10. Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends ***
I never realized how much I hated Coldplay until I listened to this record. Brian Eno rules on it, though. It was brave of them to experiment this much, but it only demonstrates how they mostly blow at experimentation.
[Prospekt’s March EP] ***
1. Them Crooked Vultures *****
A hard rock masterwork made by three legendary talents. Of that there is little argument. Their composing and performing talents present themselves in abundance.
2. Middle Cyclone *****
A bold, intricate, and mystically creative record helmed by the most awe-inspiring female vocalist in recent memory, and packed with her best collection of songs.
3. Embryonic *****
Nobody except the devoted expected a psychotic, noisy, hallucinogenic and ultimately astonishing return to abrasive form for these ever-vigilant Oklahomans, but it happened. The Flaming Lips never fail to push the limits of sound and concept without totally alienating listeners. Although this record is especially aimless and bloated, the sheer ambition of Wayne Coyne and the talent of his band pulls it through.
4. The Ecstatic *****
A meticulously structured, willfully varied, extremely honest and soulful document. The classic that Mos Def has been building toward for his whole career.
5. Incredibad *****
The Lonely Island elevate the concept of the parody album to new heights, with dense, clever and awesomely juvenile tunes that hold up as just plain good music.
[In Rainbows Disk 2 EP] *****
6. Veckatimest **** 1/2
Baroque as hell symphonic pop that’s hard to get a bead on sometimes, but unfolds amazingly and exponentially when you do. A watermark of tasteful, yet ambitious composition.
7. The Hazards Of Love **** 1/2
An astute and invigorating rock opera with next to no filler and music that’s as good as anything the band will ever write. The ridiculous plot makes sense taken one track at a time, and that’s all you need to enjoy this entertaining LP.
8. Wilco (The Album) **** 1/2
Wilco capably recapitulate their whole career arc in a very diverse, dependable collection. But they seem to be experiencing a bit of dementia, getting a bit too cutesy, predictable and trendy for their own good at times, and repeating melodies here and there. Still, for such tried and true veterans, it can be forgiven.
9. Get Guilty ****
It seems sort of dreary, flat and uninspired compared to Carl’s towering achievements with the New Pornographers, but his second solo LP is refined, unique and tons of fun from all other perspectives (not to mention its high replay value). Nonetheless, it is a bit lacking on some songs, lowering it from pure genius to just plain excellent work.
10. Dark Was the Night *** 1/2
If you’re not easily “indied-out”, then go for broke with this daunting double set; a charity record with a miraculous confluence of great musicians (and some crappy ones), and even more surprisingly high odds that each band’s contribution ranks among their best. HAVE YOU HEARD “HEY SNOW WHITE” OH GOD IT’S SO GOOD.
11. Merriweather Post Pavilion *** 1/2
Animal Collective finally evolve into mildly tolerable, somewhat comprehensible human beings instead of crack addicts from Dr. Seussville. It had to happen eventually, and the result is a little sketchy, but not too shabby.
[No One’s First And You’re Next EP] *** 1/2
12. Raditude 1/2
Two songs of respite (and tenuous respite, at that). Then: bludgeoning, all-encompassing, painful, unimaginable, cringe-inducing, offensive awfulness. Terrible. THE ABSOLUTE WORST. IT MAKES YOU KILL ORPHANS.