Unsolicited and Highly Subjective
End-of-Decade Ten-Best List

Except mine is twelve. And I don’t even claim that they’re the best, necessarily. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I haven’t even heard a lot of the best music that was created in the last ten years at this point. But these are the albums that got under my skin the most, the ones to which I’ve found myself returning again and again, the music that’s become a permanent part of my personal canon. Not counting any of the albums I was personally a part of creating in the last decade—all of which are surpassingly brilliant and together comprise their own ten-best list—and in order from most to least obvious…

The Hold Steady Separation Sunday
Well, duh.

Art Brut Bang Bang Rock & Roll
Has there ever been a more perfect statement-of-intent debut single than “Formed a Band”? Did anything capture more succinctly what it felt like to fall in love in the aughts than the single line, “So many messages to send”? The answer to both questions is a definitive no.

Rufus Wainwright Poses
The swell at the end of the title track alone would earn it a spot on this list. Debauched and despairing, reveling in the awfulness of its own unsustainability, it’s a little eerie how fully this album, released in June of 2001, prefigured what was waiting for us all. “Drunk and wearing flip-flops on Fifth Avenue.” Good times.

R. Kelly Happy People/U Saved Me
There’s happy, and then there’s psychotically defiant denial of the complete catastrophe that your life has become. With Happy People, R. Kelly made unparalled art of the latter. It is both astonishing and somehow difficult not to admire his Buddha-like insistence on “sending out love signals” to the “so many people walking around low on self-esteem / and so many people for no reason so doggone mean” while betraying absolutely zero awareness that the reasons people are mean to him might have something to do with the small matter of his being on trial for pissing in the face of a fourteen-year-old girl. And then there’s “Peace,” from the overtly and mostly cornily religious U Saved Me companion CD, which turns out to be a plea for lovingkindness so plaintive and nakedly emotional as to make “Imagine” sound like the manipulative treacle that it is, and might be the most unexpectedly moving song of the decade. (And yes, I did just elevate R. Kelly over John Lennon.)

The Thermals The Body, The Blood, The Machine
“It seems like every decade there’s a band that takes punk rock and turns it into something new and exciting and their own.” That’s how John Congleton, who recorded the Thermals’ latest, Now We Can See, explained his love for them to me, and we agreed that the Thermals were that band for the 2000s. The band fearless enough to sing—to beg, really—in 2004, “Pray for a new state / Pray for assassination!” and smart enough to ask two years later, from the perspective of the people whose “power doesn’t run on nothing” and who “need the land you’re standing on”—that would be us—”do you think it’s fair? / do you think we care?” In “Here’s Your Future” the God of the Old Testament foretells the consequences: “It’s gonna rain!” Utterly unstoppable.

Randy Newman Harps and Angels
This was the only album of the last ten years that both made me laugh out loud and made me cry the very first time I listened to it. And while the 2008 election seemingly rendered the wry doomsaying of “A Few Words” obsolete, the intervening year has only served to further demonstrate its author’s prescience. Our new president might’ve put a dignified face on it, but there’s no denying at this point that we are still very much “adrift in the land of the brave and the home of the free” and will remain so indefinitely. “You say you’re working harder than you ever have / You say you got two jobs and so’s your wife / Living in the richest country in the world / Wouldn’t you think you’d have a better life?” Mhm.

Nick Lowe The Convincer
If there is dignity to be found in hitting rock bottom, Nick Lowe mines every ounce of it here. Restrained, refined, resigned; heartbreaking, funny, and impeccably tasteful from start to finish. If you’ve ever been humbled by life, if you’ve ever been the author of your own undoing, if you’ve ever taken stock of your surroundings, shaken your head and thought: “I’m a mess,” then you will appreciate the sentiments enumerated herein, and this might very well become one of your all-time favorite albums, as it has become one of mine.

Grandaddy Sumday
My understanding of the conventional wisdom is that this is the disappointing follow-up to 2000′s widely-acclaimed, high-concept masterpiece, The Sophtware Slump. Whatever. These ten small gems are like The Office rendered in 4/4, only with the dial turned halfway to pathos instead of halfway to funny. No other album of this decade said more about what actual life was actually like for more people in this country: shitty office parks, corporate newspeak, monitor fatigue, big box retail, tumbleweed suburbia. “Guess who lost the ‘go’ in the go-for-it.”

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Etiquette
Not since the ’70s heyday of Steely Dan has an artist more viciously skewered his own audience than Casiotone did with “Young Shields,” and Owen made them dance to it to boot. “Sent a letter to Mom and Dad / ‘Mom and Dad, the money’s running out’ / Got a letter from Mom and Dad / I swear to god they don’t get me at all.” A generation of twenty-somethings is left bleeding on the street.

The Baptist Generals No Silver/No Gold
A wet and mangy orphan of an album that can neither be turned away nor turned away from. Too many to count are the occasions when this has been the only thing I can find to listen to, the only music that doesn’t fill me with contempt or derision or revulsion. It is raw and real and beautiful. For years I was impatient for the follow-up, and part of me still is, but maybe this alone is enough. Maybe this is enough.

Miranda! Sin Restricciones
Remember what I was saying about being pretty sure I haven’t heard most of the best music of the last decade? I first heard this song in my girlfriend’s cousin’s car, driving around San Salvador this summer. It came out in 2005. Miranda! are from Argentina and are massive in Latin America. Subsequent albums have gotten slicker and less interesting, but this one is pure pop gold from top to bottom. All of which makes me wonder: How much more of my favorite music ever do I not even know about?

The Idorings Self-titled
Purchased in 2002 outside Shibuya Station, Tokyo, from the street performer captured in the video below. I don’t know his name or anything else about him, because I don’t speak Japanese and “The Idorings” are the only words of English on the accompanying photocopied sleeve. One of the most brilliantly fucked-up and amazing things I’ve ever heard though. Download it here and help me figure out how to get more!

COMMENTS / 7 COMMENTS

Baptist Generals are from Denton, and I know Flemmons.

They’re still signed AFAIK, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that followup.

Posted by Andrew Hime on Dec 31 09 at 6:48 pm

I love that cranky fucker. Give him my best next time you see him.

Posted by peter on Jan 01 10 at 10:37 am

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the baptist generals .

Posted by carlos on Jan 05 10 at 6:05 pm

I <3 japan. wish i could help you

Posted by Kim on Jan 22 10 at 8:59 pm

Nice to see the CFTPA love. I don’t know why more people don’t give that album more respect.

Posted by Dan on Jan 26 10 at 5:44 am

this is a great list

Posted by Oliver on May 06 10 at 9:21 am

You know i found a extra copy of the Baptist generals first cd dog i will get it to you its good:)

Posted by carlos on Jun 29 10 at 5:41 pm

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