A Decade in Decomposition Monday, Feb 1 2010 

So, I promised myself I wouldn’t try to list my top albums of 2000-2009 for a few reasons. I simply don’t feel as if I’ve consumed enough music to be able to put together a decent list. My tastes are still dominated by Western pop music and any list I put together will leave out most genres that aren’t well represented here in the United States. Still, for some reason, I was moved today to make an attempt at doing a list of albums that are not necessarily the best music released this decade, but of records that I truly loved and that I believe are some of the best albums released. Having said that, this list isn’t composed of all my favorites, as there were a few albums I adore, but I simply don’t believe that they are good enough to be called one of the best of the decade (namely, albums by Brand New, The Matches, Bright Eyes, and Say Anything). Either way, I feel as if that’s enough of a preface. So, um, here’s the list that no one cares about.

Dion Beary’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000-2009

20. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
John Darnielle is the kind of artist who made it on earnest skill alone. Unlike most musicians, he’s never had to create a character for himself in order to attract attention; his music speaks volumes on its own. Before The Sunset Tree, it was hard to actually tell how much of Darnielle’s songwriting was autobiographical. This album, which he ironically dedicated to his abusive father, takes us into Darnielle’s past with such striking honesty, it is hard to not be moved. At no point during the album does he use emotionally heavy language to try and force a reaction from his listener. No, he just tells his story the only way he knows how, with incredibly detailed lyricism, rich with beautiful imagery and emotional depth.

19. DJ Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
It’s hard to make Jay-Z sound better than he already is. He’s the kind of rapper whose voice alone insists upon itself. How audacious, in that sense, is DJ Danger Mouse’s decision to remix Jay-Z’s vocals from The Black Album with music from The Beatles’ self-titled White Album? For a band that insists to their last days that they were nothing more than a regular pop band to be mixed with an artist who refers to himself non-ironically as Jayhova sounds like a stretch, at best. This is where Danger Mouse’s genius comes in, because somehow, both artists are given a new, unique light in this landmark album. I hesitate to refer to it’s twisting melodies as a “mashup,” because that takes away from how drastically original the album sounds. It doesn’t sound like Jay-Z vocals over Beatles samples; it sounds like wholly new arrangements lifting lyrics from Jay’s best album to a level they’d never found before, and never have since.

18. The White Stripes – Elephant
Of all the garage-rock revivalists, The White Stripes have always had one thing that sets them apart; they don’t have a bass player. Yeah, there’s all that shit about their them only wearing red, white, and black, and there’s the former mystery about the relationship between guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White, but that was never what really made the band musically interesting. Bass is the foundation of music, and The White Stripes don’t have one, which is what makes Elephant such a musical triumph. This little duo makes themselves sound like an army. The sound is thick, powerful, and pounding. While it’s not quite as gripping as the originality found on White Blood Cells, this record easily earns recognition as a testament the growing musical genius of Jack White.

17. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
The lyrics, the arrangements, the psychedelics, the percussion; Sam Beam may just be the most prolific “folk” musician of all time, and The Shepherd’s Dog is his most intense record. He tends to avoid adding too much obtuseness to his lyrics, making me them deceptively simple, while placing the weight of the imagery solely in his music. The guitar playing is great, but it’s the “other” things going on that make the record truly great; the ambiguous noise paints abstract mental pictures for the listener. In that sense, it is a wholly unifying record, whose musical interpretations will vary from listener to listener, but most will agree on one thing; the album is absolutely beautiful.

16. Brian Wilson – Smile
The story of Smile is, perhaps, the most intriguing musical tale of all time. Originally conceived in the sixties by prototypical insane genius Brian Wilson, creating this “teenage symphony to God” became too much for Wilson’s psyche, and he soon found himself in the midst of a mental breakdown that echoed for years, causing his withdrawal from the Beach Boys. Forty years later, Wilson once again attempted to complete the album. This time, he finished. The result was something more beautiful than anyone could have ever imagined. The melodies ascend, the chord progressions seem all-at-once extremely foreign and obvious, the instrumentation is varied and dense. This album turned out to be everything Brian Wilson and the rest of the world envisioned. It is quite possibly the greatest collection of pop songs to ever be assembled.

15. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
From the opening guitar squeals of “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground,” White Blood Cells is a nonstop thrill of an album. There is no subtlety here, no methodical approach. Jack White never lets up on the volume knob, but this album isn’t just loud. It is intense and heavy. This album is different from any other Jack White album because it has no purpose but to be itself, to be an incredible rock and roll album. It’s feels as natural as breathing. With that in mind, I make the claim that White Blood Cells is the greatest pure rock album of the decade.

14. Jonny Greenwood – Bodysong
Jonny Greenwood comes from a little band called Radiohead. Aside from lead singer Thom Yorke, it is Greenwood’s influences that direct Radiohead albums. In this decade, both Yorke and Greenwood released solo albums, but whereas Yorke’s record often felt scatterbrained and unfocused, Bodysong is a wonderfully cohesive piece of work. This post-rock gem recalls the krautrock influences that first drove Radiohead into the land of Kid A, which spoke to society as a whole (more on that later). But here, Greenwood explores something much more physical: the human body. Most of the record lacks any real guitar work, but it consciously aims to maintain a guitar aesthetic, making the record fascinatingly experimental. It’s one of those albums where the songs simply can’t exist on their own. It’s abstractly beautiful, oddly discomforting, yet wholly satisfying.

13. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Girl Talk is extremely fitting in lists like this, as his songs are mostly collections of every interesting nugget of pop music he can find. There’s not really much to be said about Girl Talk except that his mashups are extremely refreshing. It’s so carefree to listen to music without an ounce of pretense. Each song is tons of tiny happy musical moments thrown into a blender, producing a sugary sweet concoction that is as hyperactive as it is exciting.

12. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
This album is why I simply can’t accept anything Eminem has released in the last few years. With this record, Eminem became the biggest artist in the world, thrust there by his amazing sense of characterization. Whether rapping as Eminem, Marshall Mathers, or the insane Slim Shady, the lyrical depth of this record cannot be denied. Eminem’s flow is carefree and natural and his subject matter has never been more varied as it was on MMLP.

11. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
The simplicity of the music can be forgiven. mewithoutYou is a band that is driven solely by one man: Aaron Weiss. It is in his lyrics that mewithoutYou find their main strength. Delivered through Weiss’ desperate screams, the words weaved into this album jump between praise, worship, and questioning of God. In that vein, it is amazing to see an artist right strictly about God without having to be divisive. I’ve never really been one to believe music is a great venue for ministry, but Weiss turns his musings to God into personal narratives, which may mean more to him than any of his listeners, but I’m still thankful for the opportunity to hear them.

10. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III
I hated Lil’ Wayne for a long time. I didn’t get it. Unlike most people who hate Lil’ Wayne though, I decided to give him a chance. I downloaded Tha Carter III and listened to “A Milli” first. Afterward, I said to myself, “Wow, this really is the most terrible thing I’ve ever listened to. How could anyone like this? It’s so bad, I want to hear it again.” and I spent the next three hours listening to the record non-stop. Lil’ Wayne’s appeal lies in his swagger, which permeates into his rap. His punchlines are constantly assaulting, and he only slows down to parody big ass sell-out hits (I find it funny that so few people know that “Lollipop” is an intentionally over-the-top, oversexed radio anthem).

9. Paul Baribeau – Grand Ledge
One man and one acoustic guitar. That’s all Paul Baribeau has, plus a keen sense of melody and heart-wrenchingly honest lyrics. What separates Paul Baribeau from other overly melancholic acoustic acts is that he’s eternally optimistic. There’s something so genuine about an artist who can sadly reminisce about past relationships while still able to acknowledge the beauty in things as simple as clouds. This is an album that has helped me get through a lot of things; it’s so genius in it’s relatability. Lyrics like “And even though I’m home now, I feel completely homeless” perfectly sum up those little moments in our lives that we never want to forget, no matter how good or how bad they are. For an artist who seems so anti-pop, Baribeau captures so much of what pop music should be.

8. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill
It’s not just lo-fi. It’s not just melancholy. It’s not just a suicide record. From a Basement on a Hill is the perfect Elliott Smith albums because it captures every aspect of his music on one disc. There’s the sad finger-plucked guitar loner Elliott Smith, the chamber-indie genius Elliott Smith, and the pop aesthetic struggling against the rock instrumentation Elliott Smith. Although the album is technically unfinished, it feels more complete and cohesive than almost any other album I’ve ever heard. It’s a testament to Elliott’s vision as an artist. Perhaps the record is summed up best with it’s climax track “King’s Crossing,” in which Elliott Smith delivers what many consider to be his suicide note over a sprawling, noisy musical landscape. It’s a beautiful song, the best of a beautiful record.

7. Weatherbox – American Art
Maybe there are albums out there a lot better than American Art, but I know that every time I think of this decade during my life, I will remember this album and this band. The sharp, double guitar attack of the album is somehow overshadowed by Brian Warren’s sprawling lyrics. He touches on everything; God, drugs, the origin of man, Native American Boxism, hip-hop, and everything else. Still, the record remains deeply personal, reflecting Warren’s inner-thoughts at the height of their absolute insanity. What’s best is Warren is absolutely unforgiving about everything he says, barely feeling the need to conceal it in metaphor. He was ballsy here, although out of his mind.

6. Kanye West – Late Registration
Next time you get pissed about Kanye West saying something cocky, remember Late Registration; he’s earned the right to say anything he wants. Before this record, “arrangements” weren’t a word you often heard in hip-hop. The music here is more than just beats, they’re compositions. The absolute grandiosity of “We Major” will always as one of the brightest moments in music history, no matter how many Grammy’s and VMA’s Taylor Swift wins. Kanye West’s lyrics are deeply personal, representing a shift in hip-hop that many have since followed, but it truly is the music that dominates this record. Kanye really is hip-hop’s first (and currently only) true singer-songwriter, willing to experiment without fear, with a self-confidence that everyone loves to hate. But no amount of hate will change that Kanye is the most important solo artist making music today. Period. No questions.

5. Cloud Cult – The Meaning of 8
Out of all the deeply personal records on this list, none are quite as touching as The Meaning of 8. Lead singer and songwriter Craig Minowa lost his infant son six years before this record was created, in celebration of what would’ve been his son’s eighth birthday. Going through something that would’ve destroyed so many people, Minowa instead used it to create music dedicated to his son. Before this record, however, a lot of it was cute, but here, we’re presented with what is the real heartbreak Minowa suffers through everyday. On “Your 8th Birthday,” Minowa screams the name of his dead son over and over again during the chorus. On “Dance for the Dead,” he says he’ll miss his son everyday, and through that, he will live on. The music is strikingly original and affected. Strummed acoustic guitars, buzzed electronics, and unidentifiable noises make the album’s music as deeply rooted in Minowa’s mind as the memory of his son. This is the only album that has ever made me cry. On top of that, it was the first indie-rock record I ever listened to, beginning a musical journey that lead me to become the annoying music snob you see before you today. Exciting, eh?

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Through almost-too-bright guitars playing post-pop chord progressions, through on-again off-again three part harmonies providing the canvas for seemingly random melodies, through touchingly tender acoustic numbers side by side with indie’d out modern R&B numbers, through lead lines that either express guitar virtuosity or a complete lack of playing ability, Dirty Projectors crafted an album that pleases everything I’ve secretly lusted for as a music fan. Remember when we were younger? We listened to anything and everything, and we danced to it, because we loved music. Before we knew the internet, the blogs, the Pitchfork, the AbsolutePunk, the genres, the cred, we knew unabashed love for sound. This album appeals to that part of our psyche without condescension. Its lyrics are infantile and immature, its music rebels against the rules of both the pop and indie rock worlds. Finally, we have an album that teaches us how to be young again, but does it in a way that we can understand: guitar, drum, bass, laptop, voice. When it comes down to it, that’s all it is. Yet, it’s brilliant.

3. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Sufjan Stevens is like a musical version of a novelist. He tells the stories of others and creates soundtracks for them, always careful to separate himself from the music as far as possible. He tells the stories of America. How odd that a man named Sufjan is probably the most essentially American artist since Bruce Springsteen. He sings about American issues with American references, often times using American modes of expression. The musical arrangements on Illinois are dizzying at times, recalling classical composition, indie-rock, folk, Americana, country, gospel, and everything in between. All of this serves to highlight Sufjan’s comparatively sparse vocals, which are soft and flat, but are elevated by his arrangements. It all works together to create a record that is as pleasing as it is long, never coming across a boring moment. It’s a testament to everything self-indulgent, but awesome.

2. Kanye West – The College Dropout
With his production work on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Kanye West revolutionized the way hip-hop sounded. The samples were soulful, rich, and just as much a part of the songs as Jay-Z’s rhymes. On The College Dropout, he revolutionized everything else about it. Kanye didn’t walk around in jerseys and oversized clothes; he dressed fashionably. He didn’t rap about guns and gold, but about Jesus, poverty, and family, creating an album more universal than any hip-hop record before it. But all of these aspects on their own aren’t what make The College Dropout the greatest hip-hop album of the decade (and of all time). It’s hard to put into words, so I’ll just what I feel; this album is perfect. There is no weak moment, there is no wasted breath, and even the skits serve to tie the album off with it’s anti-college theme. No other artist can give testament to having such an original debut album, to finding their individual musical voice so quickly. Keep in mind, this was before any of the antics, before the blog rants, before the stage crashes. This is who Kanye is: an artist, maybe the best one ever.

1. Radiohead – Kid A
No Surprises here (lol OK Computer joke). In the same way Kanye West broke through hip-hop’s slump, Radiohead broke through rock’s. From it’s opening lines of gibberish, to it’s leanings towards techno, Kid A is the kind of album rock needed to break to levy, to make it known to the industry that there were still a ton of things left to be done. The album is incredible challenging and it took me months to really get into, but the pay off is so rewarding. Rarely has a record seemed so simultaneously alien and so familiar, so warming and so disturbing. Everything I think about music in one way or another can be traced back to this record.

-Dion (I know there are a shit ton of typos. I’ll fix them whenever.)


Recommendation – “Hearing Damage” by Thom Yorke Saturday, Nov 21 2009 

Thom Yorke

Making Twilight movies cool since... the first Twilight movie.

I’m going to request that you do something that may be difficult for many; I need you to put away all your preconceived notions about Twilight. Yes, I know it is our sacred duty as Bohemians to hate anything and everything popular (I’m being sarcastic, which is very Bohemian of me) but how many of us can honestly say we’ve even given the Twilight books a chance? I can. And they suck, but that’s not the point. If there’s one thing that can make a Bohemian change their stance on something, it’s Radiohead. Therefore, I recommend you check on Thom Yorke’s track from the New Moon soundtrack.

“Hearing Damage” may sound pretty sophisticated and dense to some, but Radiohead fans know that this is actually pretty simplistic music for Thom. A pulsing backbeat and a programmed drum sample are pretty much all that drive the music. However, Thom’s voice and killer sense of melody paint a strikingly sincere picture of love on the cold, electronic canvas.

I, like many, was a little apprehensive when I heard Thom Yorke was not only contributing music to New Moon (as he did with the first Twilight movie), but that he had written a song specifically for the movie. I formed my lips to scream “sell out,” but just as the lyrics of “Hearing Damage” speak to an unnamed love, I will now speak to Thom: “You can do no wrong in my eyes.”

Radiohead Giving Away New Song For Free Monday, Aug 17 2009 

Our Paranoid Androids are just as cool as they were in the 90s.

Our Paranoid Androids are just as cool as they were in the 90's.

A few days back, I posted about a new Radiohead song that had leaked onto the web. Never to be a band that scoffs at the relationship between music and the internet, Radiohead have decided to give away the song for free. It can be downloaded here. There is nothing cooler than a band that understands music is not about selling and buying but about delivering quality tunes to a fan who loves their music. What impresses me the most is that Radiohead is ten times as big and ten times are good as most other bands making popular music today, and they still give away free music and play free shows whenever they get the chance. These younger bands need to take a tip from Radiohead; when you respect your fans, they will respect you.

All that’s left to ask is what purpose this track is supposed to serve. Is it part of one of those EP’s Thom York mentioned would be coming out of the Radiohead camp? Is it the song from New Moon that Thom York is producing? Is it just a song to make sure tight-jeaned hipsters don’t pass out from lack of Radiohead material (this is one of their first new songs in two years, you know)? Either way, I don’t really care. Yeah, I’d prefer for this to be part of an EP but, in the end, there’s nothing bad about new Radiohead music. Plus, it’s free. What more could you ask for?

New Radiohead EP Rumored Saturday, Aug 15 2009 

Just a few weeks removed from announcing that they had no plans for a new album, Radiohead have set the internet on fire once again. The above video is rumored to be leaked Radiohead song from an upcoming EP. I am one of the many people who were legitimately upset to find out that Radiohead may never release another LP. I arrived to the OK Computer party late, as I have only been a fan of Radiohead for about three months. For a second there, I thought it was odd that as soon as I got into this band, they would quit recording music (continuing my unfortunate trend of only loving bands who no longer record).

With all that now behind us, I have got another new release to which I anxiously look forward (the other being an upcoming LP or EP from Jacquelyn Lee). The leaked track in question is a very solid piece, which would fit at home on Radiohead’s discography somewhere around the Hail to the Thief era, or even on In Rainbows. Without further prattering, I just want to say that I am anxious to hear new material from Radiohead, as it would be a wonderful distraction from all the pop-punk silliness this year has provided.

Thom York and Bon Iver to Contribute to New Moon Thursday, Jul 23 2009 

According to an article on Pitchfork (which can be read below), Thom York and Bon Iver have both written songs from the new Twilight movie. On one side of things, I am happy that teenage girls will be exposed to these two powerhouse musicians when they undoubtedly by the soundtrack and masturbate to it while thinking of Edward Cullen’s pale face pressed against their breasts. Still, there is something disturbing about two of the biggest musicians in the world agreeing to write music for a movie that seems so far removed from what their music is about. Perhaps I’m assuming too much and overstepping my bounds but the Twilight series seems to be the opposite of everything that is genuine in the world, and thus, the opposite of Radiohead and Bon Iver. Without a doubt, I will buy this soundtrack just to see why Radiohead and Bon Iver are on it.

Wait. Maybe that’s the plan…