Monday, January 4, 2010

Me and My Decade 3: The Final Chapter

New Year's took a little bit more out of me than I expected it to (which seems like a gross miscalculation on my part, but I digress...), so this is a few days later than I had intended.  But after thousands and thousands of words to sort it out--and thousands more below, to be sure--we've finally arrived at the end of my attempt to document the music of the decade that mattered the most to me.  It's been fun, but please let me know what some of your choices would have been, or why some (or all) of mine are terrible, or even just chime in with some "Supergrass, hell yeah!" level remarks.  And if you haven't read parts 1 & 2 yet, just scroll down, or you can find them here and here.

10. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Now we come to the first band that really suffered from my 'one album' rule.  If I had just compiled a list of my favorite 28 albums of the decade, or even 20, Wilco would have occupied at least one and possibly even two more positions.  But while I do love A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the clear choice.  Like many others on this countdown, YHF was essentially my introduction to a band that I grew to love, but it seemed like more of a longshot than the rest.  For years the book on me has been that I like the rock (a fact that should surprise no one who's read this far), and a band like Wilco seemed too country or pop or, worst of all, soft to appeal to me.  As it happened, the song that reeled me in was one of the slower, sadder ones, "Radio Cure."  I can still remember riding in my friend's car, tuning out or talking over the first couple of tracks, but when that song came on I paid attention.  A lament with a musical sparseness that is present throughout the album, "Radio Cure's" first line is singer Jeff Tweedy's mournful "Cheer up, honey, I hope you can/There is something wrong with me," and something about it moved me.  And he follows that up with a chorus of "Distance has no way of making love understandable," which I can only assume is Tweedy's rebuttal to that old adage about hearts and fondness.  Though it wasn't released until 2002 because of a dispute Wilco had with Warner Bros., the band streamed it for free on their website in September of 2001.  The week after 9/11, to be exact, and despite having been written before the attacks, the words "Tall buildings shake/Voices escape singing sad, sad songs," from "Jesus, Etc.," must have felt eerily poignant at the time; I know they were for me even in April of the following year.

Luckily, the whole album is not that sad.  "Heavy Metal Drummer" looks back fondly on summers past, filled with concerts and pot and innocence.  "Pot Kettle Black" pokes fun at feuding through song, and "I'm the Man Who Loves You" is a declaration of love that bemoans the need to write it instead of just saying it: "If I could you know I would just hold your hand and you'd understand/I'm the man who loves you!"  Never sad, the song is all cheerful guitars, 'woo woo' backing vocals and horns rising up to punctuate his point.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's mix of contemplative, despondent, optimistic and weathered was perfect for the time, and occasionally it can be hard to listen to because it recalls those emotions so well, but it remains a beautiful record by a band pushing out against the boundaries of its early alt-country sound, and the beginning of a strong creative decade for Wilco.  Because of those things, I suspect I'll still be listening to this one at the end of the next decade, and beyond.

9. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006)
Ah, Craig Finn and his stories of bars and concerts, kisses and lovers, Berryman and Kerouac, Minneapolis, and of course Charlemagne, Gideon and Holly.  The other band on my list with lyrics I love as much as the music (along with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), the Hold Steady are easily the fastest risers on here.  Though it came out in 2006, I've only had Boys and Girls in America since late last year (which means it just barely evades my 2009 exclusionary clause), but I love it and the band so much that it might have ended up higher, and likely will eventually.  For a few years people familiar with the band had been telling me to check it out, based on their musical style and a vague resemblance that I have to lead singer Finn, and I just didn't do it.  'The Best Bar Band Ever' sounded intriguing, but it wasn't exactly lighting my world on fire.  Then I heard the more recent Stay Positive, and I'm sure you can guess what happened.  I scooped this up next and found that it was even better, taking a more overt classic rock approach to the songs.  While the bar band comparisons make sense, especially given the lyrical content (more on that later), the Hold Steady are really just a classic rock band, disciples of the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Ramones and, of course, The Boss.  Taking 60s and 70s style riffs, big verses and even bigger choruses, and sprinkling in liberal amounts of piano and occasional horns or strings, the Hold Steady make some of the best straightforward 'rock' of anyone.  Guitarist Tad Kubler may not be reinventing the wheel, but he is a monster, capable of ripping off a huge solo or a catchy little lick at any moment, and keyboardist and primary backing vocalist Franz Nicolay adds an extra level of emotion through both.

And then there's Finn.  Even though he's essentially the soul of the band, he's also the most polarizing aspect.  Not blessed with the best singing voice, his nasal and talky delivery turns a lot of people off.  For me, though, without his voice, singing his lyrics, the Hold Steady wouldn't be nearly as interesting.  Every song is its own little story, but he has recurring themes, phrases and even characters that span songs and even albums.  I don't know if these people are real, or just representative of the lifestyle he's trying to convey, but their repeat appearances give the music a continuity that's less heavy-handed than a concept album.  On "First Night" he revisits the three I listed at the top, but it's mostly a sad tribute to Holly as she struggles to get past her party girl days.  "Holly's not invincible/In fact she's in the hospital/Not far from the bar where we met/On that first night," when "she slept like she'd never been scared."  But on "Stuck Between Stations" Finn imagines what poet John Berryman's last night was like before jumping off that bridge in Minnesota: "The Devil and John Berryman took a walk together/And they ended up on Washington talking to the river."  Look, I don't want this to turn into an English essay, but the man has a way with words, and that has an appeal to me, as you might imagine.  And any record that can combine energetic, ecstatic rock and this type of storytelling is a winner in my book.

8. The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
Speaking of energetic and ecstatic rock, here we have the Jack White coronation I couldn't give the White Stripes.  I have a feeling that more than any other choice before or after, the Raconteurs will be met with the most resistance.  And that's fine.  Just know that no other album has excited me like this one did when I first got it.  Admittedly, that may have had something to do with my expectations, and the surprise of there even being a second Raconteurs album.  When Jack White first recruited Brendan Benson and the rhythm section of the Greenhornes, it sounded like a great idea; White's songwriting ability paired with a near equal in Benson, and most importantly, a full band behind him.  But their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, was merely an enjoyable collection of songs, with a couple standouts.  So when Consolers of the Lonely came out with almost no advance warning early last year, I was only curious.  As it turned out, the band had holed up and transformed into a classic rock juggernaut, throwing in bits of bluegrass, country and even funk.  "Consoler of the Lonely" starts off the album with the sounds of people joking around and having a good time in the studio, before laying down a vicious riff that Benson springs from declaring, "Haven't seen the sun in weeks/My skin is getting pale/Haven't got a mind left to speak/I'm skinny as a rail!" before a sudden time change brings White offering his services ("If you're looking for an accomplice..."), and then the whole band goes off on a jam breakdown for the last minute.  It's one of the best album openers I've ever heard, getting the listener in the mood and letting you know exactly what you're in for, only no two songs sound alike.  "You Don't Understand Me" is a White-led piano ballad where he tells some girl "in the court of my heart your ignorance is treason."  Benson brings us the county-tinged "Old Enough" (track down the actual bluegrass version if you can) and the theatric western "The Switch and the Spur."

White is obviously the main attraction for most, but Benson is a great singer and guitarist in his own right, and they switch off beautifully.  I'd say White sings about 55% of the time, but they're constantly singing each other's songs or providing excellent backup, giving the album a communal feel.  "Hold On" may be the best example of this, featuring constant 'woo's,' 'yeahs' and group vocals, even though White sings lead, and if there ever was a song that sounded like a great big party (without feeling corny for a second), it's this one.  Drummer Patrick Keeler makes you wonder why Jack ever bothered with Meg, and bassist Jack Lawrence fills in the holes that some White Stripes songs inevitably suffer from.  Compared to the Stripes albums that never stuck with me the way they should have, this feels like a revelation.  The Raconteurs have taken the template of classic rock and added their own touches, so while it doesn't sound revolutionary, it never sounds derivative, and it's always invigorating.  As time goes on I actually love it more, and I had to restrain myself from putting it too high.  But if the 8-14 range is really as close as I said it was (and it is), Consolers of the Lonely has to be the top dog among those.  The band seems to be on indefinite hiatus, but for now, this stands as Jack White's high point.  I'd love to see him top it.

7. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007)
For someone who found Kid A to be such a colossal disappointment, In Rainbows almost felt like the band had heard my complaints.  Where Kid A sacrificed songs for experimentation in all but a few cases, this one is all songs with just the right amount of strange touches thrown in.  Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and company have long been one of the best bands around, especially live, and even in a crowded 90's they probably had the best album of that decade with OK Computer.  But at the start of this decade I felt like they lost their way.  If you culled together all the truly great songs from their first three releases in the 2000's, you could make a really great album, but this was the first one that I loved beginning to end.  It starts off somewhat precariously with a stutter beat and electronic drums on "15 Step," but when Yorke starts singing, and then Greenwood comes in after the first verse, it all comes together.  The next song, "Bodysnatchers," is the best guitar rock song they've done since "Just," and one of my favorites.  "All I Need" revisits the obsessed narrator from "Creep," only now he isn't quite as sure of what he wants ("I'm an animal/Trapped in your hot car...I am a moth/Who just wants to share your light.").  And the closing song, "Videotape," rides a simple but affecting piano melody into looping optimism.

There's not much I can say about Radiohead that hasn't been said. Even my slightly contrarian opinion of Kid A is not unique, but as much as I resent it for letting me down, I recognize that has everything to do with what I wanted the band to be, not what their own vision was. I also know that without that album, In Rainbows wouldn't sound the way it does, and that would be a shame. But to me, Radiohead sound so much stronger here than on anything else since OK Computer that it makes me want to love everything in between, and I just can't. Whether that's an indictment of the band or just high praise for this album, I'm not sure. I tend to think the latter.

6. My Morning Jacket, Z (2005)
Here we have another band that has gone through a major evolution, though in a more condensed timeframe. Z actually stands as an interesting counterpoint to my problems with Kid A, since it also featured significant change that could have potentially alienated fans like me.  My Morning Jacket started as very country-tinged indie rock, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they were indie-tinged country.  Jim James' soaring, high-pitched, reverb-soaked vocals made already strong acoustic songs even better, and each of their first three albums got progressively more complicated, balancing more of a classic/southern rock sound with the early ballad style.  But Z starts out with a bass guitar all by itself, before going into a keyboard heavy groove.  Where did the guitars go?  Then James starts singing, higher up in the mix than ever before, and the 'ahhhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh' of the chorus kicks in, and it sounds gorgeous.  As if to top all that and prove that the guitars aren't always necessary, James coos and howls and wails over the last part of the song in an insane vocal display that may be the finest moment of the album.  Just one song in, and MMJ have already shown that the following nine could be almost anything and it'd still be good.  "Gideon," my personal favorite, starts with a simple beat and an almost Castlevania-like guitar line, then builds into an ever heavier and more layered conclusion, with the crash of the band being led by James' seemingly indefatigable pipes, all in only three minutes.

Throughout the album, the band tries to balance the pretty and interesting parts with their need to just rock the hell out, and on balance they nail it.  "What a Wonderful Man" has pop pianos and guitar, but after the first chorus James shrieks and they jam for twenty seconds or so before going seamlessly back to the song proper.  The reggae leanings of "Off the Record" transition into an outro of spacey keyboard and backward vocals.  "Anytime" is another classic rock romp that manages to reference Madonna lyrically, and "Lay Low," one of only two songs that actually sound like they would have been on a previous My Morning Jacket release, channels Lynyrd Skynyrd with a three minute guitar solo at the end that manages to never sound gratuitous.  The whole band sounds great, and moving James' voice to the fore was definitely a wise choice.  No matter how collaborative they may be, MMJ is Jim James and his vocals, flying-V guitar and ensuing shredding, and on Z he sounds better than ever before.

5. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (2007)
So we go from a bunch of classic rock-leanings (and Radiohead), to...a dance record?  Well, no.  Being the rock curmudgeon I am, a band called LCD Soundsystem, whose big hit is called "Daft Punk is Playing at My House," didn't sound very appealing.  But, like with many other bands on here, I had a transformative moment that changed my mind.  For this one, it was watching them by accident at Coachella.  I had headed over to the tents to see the Black Keys, I think, but I was standing near the Sahara tent while I was waiting, because, you know, there should really never be a time when you're not watching bands at Coachella.  I didn't even know it was LCD Soundsystem until I had heard a couple songs, realized it was pretty great, and looked it up in my schedule.  For about twenty minutes I was having one of the best times ever, wondering why I hadn't been informed about this earlier.  Not surprisingly, the poor Black Keys just couldn't measure up, love them though I do.  Sometime later I received a copy of a mix my friend had made that included Sound of Silver's "All My Friends," and I fell hard.  The track, which has to be in any discussion for song of the decade, starts with a quick, almost stumbling piano reminiscent of the Who, before the drums, bass and guitar slowly rise up in its wake, sounding like a musical train.  "That's how it starts," singer and mastermind James Murphy announces, and what follows is a steadily escalating story about someone, possibly Murphy himself, hanging on to his partying ways as long as he can.  Musical touches get added with every verse, and when it finally stops I always want to go back and do it again.

But of course an album has more than one song, and the other eight on Sound of Silver are almost as good.  Murphy has melded dance and rock perfectly, achieving something I never would have thought possible: he's made dance music palatable to an atheist (and noted un-dancer) like me.  "Get Innocuous!" has one of the more conventionally dancey beats, but like "All My Friends," it adds subtle layers as it goes, and Murphy's vocals seem to stretch back and forth across the music.  "Someone Great," which goes back to back with "All My Friends" to form an impressive middle of the record, is an incredibly catchy song about loss: "The worst is all the lovely weather/I'm stunned it's not raining/The coffee isn't even bitter/Because, what's the difference?"  In addition to being a strong lyricist, Murphy has a great voice, ranging from Brian Eno-esque deepness on the title track, to a nasal tell-off on "Time to Get Away," to joyous ringleader on "Watch the Tapes."  The album ends with a curveball, and the only song without a dance beat: the piano-led lament "New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," which features digs at the police and other public figures ("Your mild billionaire mayor's now convinced he's a king"), but is ultimately a love letter to the city, culminating in an out of character but somehow perfect guitar solo.  Considering my former dismissive attitude toward LCD Soundsystem, it amazes me how often I can, and want to, listen to Sound of Silver.  These nine songs make up one of the most effective crossover albums ever, and it really excites me to think what Murphy might do next.

4. TV on the Radio, Dear Science, (2008)
I was thinking about this a little, and then my friend pointed it out to me yesterday: as much as the lower levels of this list had many albums that would not have been on most critic's lists, as I get closer to the top, more and more critical darlings are popping up.  Considering my general aversion to being told what to do, I'd say that speaks to the universal excellence of some of these.  And TV on the Radio are indeed excellent, though for me they had to prove it.  When Return to Cookie Mountain came out to mass praise and general pants-wetting, I heard "Wolf Like Me" and almost had an accident myself.  If that's not the song of the decade, then I am Mickey Mouse!  (How dare he?)  But the rest of the album seemed fairly impenetrable, with strange ambient sounds, sometimes awkward song structures, and a serious lack of hooks.  Basically, it suffered from having one incredible and accessible song that made the rest seem like a chore.  I heard the ideas, and the effort to mesh funk and soul with rock and just about anything else they could think of, but I didn't enjoy it so much as respect it.  Seeing them play live only made it harder, because the songs burned with a different kind of urgency that the layers of production and sound tended to obscure on record.  Well, Dear Science manages to address all of my concerns without ever sounding like anything but exactly what TVOTR's next move should have been.  From the opening drums of "Halfway Home," all the way to the flute-assisted outro of "Lover's Day," Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone, and friends make song after song of incredible hooks, killer grooves, and alternately exhilarating and devastating lyrics.

"Crying" is all soul, with Malone's voice going from bass to falsetto over a funky guitar and funkier beat.  "Dancing Choose" makes me wish the term 'rap rock' had never been coined, with Adebimpe rap-singing maniacally over a fuzzy bass, and then horns, horns, horns and a big rock chorus that brings it all together.  Malone slows it back down again for "Stork & Owl," cautioning us to "turn from the fear of the storms that might be," before switching gears and envisioning impending musical utopia ("An age of miracles/An age of sound") on "Golden Age," featuring drums like hand claps and yet another horn-elevated chorus.  I don't know that it's intentional, but "Golden Age" may as well be a meta comment on this album, which sounds like the direction rock, or just music in general, should be headed, even if I couldn't have told you that before I heard it.  Of course, any expectation that TV on the Radio's next album will even sound like this is probably folly; they have such a strong desire to explore, it'd be hard to predict what they might do.  All I know is this would have certainly been higher, maybe even number 1, if it had come out a year or two before.  It really is that great.

3. Fugazi, The Argument (2001)
If it seems like I've been overusing the 'this one would be higher, given more time' superlative, it's because I probably have.  There are only so many ways to gush over one album, never mind twenty-eight.  But we've officially reached the point in my countdown where there is no upward momentum, only three entrenched classics looking down on the other contenders, wondering if they will someday be unseated.  The Argument is my favorite album by one of my five favorite bands, and I may love it more now than I did in the honeymoon phase.  There are bands on here that have been described as 'indie rock,' but no band was more aggressively independent than Fugazi.  Releasing all of their recordings through Dischord Records (co-owned by co-lead singer Ian MacKaye) at cheap prices, playing only all ages venues, trying to only charge five dollars to shows, and actively discouraging violent moshing and slam dancing, they were fan friendly as well.  And as they got older, new elements would get added into their sound, evolving from a punk blueprint into something not easily definable.  The Argument, their last album before going on hiatus, stands as their creative peak, mixing the unbridled aggression of their earlier sound with a new ear for melody.  MacKaye's voice has never been good (remember when I compared Against Me!'s Tom Gabel to him a million words ago?), but his feral, spitting delivery has always fit their music perfectly, and when it didn't they just had Guy Picciotto sing instead.  But for this album MacKaye softened his delivery at times, starting with "Cashout," a song about the evils of development and eminent domain, using the scream selectively during the closing refrain: "Everybody wants somewhere!"  "Full Disclosure" switches to Picciotto doing his own screamy thing, with the familiar spiky guitars and frantic drums of Fugazi's older material, but then the chorus slows down ever so slightly as a choir of 'ooooooooo's show up to support.

A few songs have a second drummer, and it really beefs up the sound.  The best of these is "Epic Problem," with MacKaye punctuating lines with 'Stop!' as if he were sending a telegram, and when it hits a crescendo midway through, the dual kits jump to the fore.  "Life and Limb" sounds like Fugazi's insane idea of jazz, with Picciotto demanding, "Hey, we want our violence doubled (no, but really in a loving way)."  The middle section of the album slows down a bit, detouring through a spacey landscape on "The Kill" and "Strangelight," but once it gets to the double drums intro of "Ex-Spectator" it launches into some of its most impressive music, featuring inventive lead guitar and bass, and "Nightshop's" use of acoustic strumming gives it extra depth.  And as the last track, "Argument," boils over into an angry, anti-war screed, MacKaye unleashes his howl one more time, bringing to a close what may be the final brilliant album by a legendary and yet somehow simultaneously overlooked band.

2. Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf (2002)
I spend a lot of time ranking things (I know, right?  You never would have guessed).  I just have this need to put things in the proper perspective, the right order, so I know where they stand.  Before I ever got my hands on an advance copy of Songs for the Deaf (thank you, Rishi!), I knew Queens of the Stone Age were reaching 'favorite band' status.  Their self-titled debut, and especially Rated R, worked for me in so many ways, it was like eHarmony had set us up.  They are the chief reason I limited myself to one album per band, because there would have been at least three QOTSA entries in the top fifteen alone.  But even without that rule this would have still been number two, both for the impact it had on me then and how much I'm still obsessed with it now.  Speaking of 'then,' let's hear from Brian, circa 2002:
Queens of the Stone Age were already, without question, one of the best rock bands in years when their last album, "Rated R," came out. Now, with the addition of two great refugees of the Seattle music scene, they are approaching perfection. Mark Lanegan, former lead singer of the dearly departed Screaming Trees, and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Nirvana are both on board this time, along with original bassist/singer Nick Oliveri and guitarist/singer Josh Homme, for "Songs For The Deaf." The album opens with the Oliveri-led "Millionaire," a high octane screamer reminiscent of his songs from the previous album. After that, the band's pop sensibilities shine. "No One Knows," the first single, has a beat that you cannot get out of your head, and Josh's vocals are almost beautiful on "First It Giveth" and "The Sky Is Fallin'," which sounds like the Beatles meet Black Sabbath. After the ridiculously rude and heavy "Six Shooter" the catchiness comes back with "Go With The Flow," "Gonna Leave You" and "Do It Again," each a possible second single. Grohl's distinctly heavy style of drumming is a great advantage, adding a dimension to the songs that was slightly lacking before. Lanegan lends his wonderfully deep and raspy voice to "Hanging Tree" and the best track on the album, "God Is In The Radio." He also co-writes three songs, including the final track, "Song For The Deaf," which harkens back to their self-titled debut album. And let's hear it for a "hidden track" that is listed on the back cover of the CD. Here's hoping that Queens will get the recognition that far less interesting and talented bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn, The Hives and The Vines are getting. Even if they don't, however, they will continue to put out fantastic albums that those of us lucky enough to like them will cherish forever.
I wrote that on the Amazon page for Songs for the Deaf right after it came out; it's not nearly as embarrassing to read as I'd feared it would be.  I should point out a couple things.  First, I'm strangely proud of myself for pegging "Go with the Flow" as one of a trio of potential second singles, since it became the band's biggest or second biggest hit.  With the jittery piano, wavy lead guitar and Homme's high, catchy vocals, it's one of my favorite songs--it's interesting to look back on a version of me that hadn't given over to it completely yet.  And second, my omission of "Song for the Dead" is almost criminal.  It's a dirty, dirgey tune sung by Lanegan; bookended by crazy jamming, its starting and stopping, moaning background vocals, intermittent riffing and soloing all make it an obvious highlight.  Otherwise, my feelings on it haven't changed, and the puffing out of the chest you sense when I bash those other bands still rises up in me when I listen to it.  I may laud TV on the Radio for making exciting new music, taking things in a new direction, but Queens of the Stone Age have long been the perfect version of what I think rock and roll should sound like.  Songs for the Deaf is their mission statement.

1. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
Figuring this list out has been a stressful process these past few weeks.  My room's a mess, my shirts are wrinkled, I haven't been sleeping enough or eating well, and my facial hair is out of control.  Oh, none of that is different than usual?  Fine, but even without visible side effects, it has been difficult, first figuring out everything that came out this decade that might be worthy, then deciding what I could leave off, then ranking what I had left over.  I listened to every one of these albums at least twice before I started writing, and I had trouble sometimes figuring out how to separate the ones I found almost equal.  I say all of that only because I had no such problems with the very top.  It was always going to be Songs for the Deaf and Funeral; the first time I thought about doing this they were the first two that came to mind.  The only problem I had was the last one, the ranking.  I'd probably listened to Songs more, but I'd had it longer, so that wasn't exactly fair.  Songs also played more to my tastes, what with all the killer guitars and crazy drums and Mark Lanegan, but every time I tried to place it higher than Funeral, it felt false.  Ultimately it came down to one thing: while I love them just about equally on a music level, Songs merely gets me amped up or happy, whereas Arcade Fire's debut digs up deeper emotions, feelings of love, loss, elation, confusion, anger and sadness.  And no matter how intense the feeling, I always welcome it back.

When I first got a hold of Funeral, there was a lot of stuff going on in my life.  I had been depressed, though I couldn't figure out why; I was in one of my unrequited love cycles; and I had just recently become close with someone who would become one of my best friends, and at that time her family was struggling with the impending loss of her brother-in-law.  As is my way, I got close to not only her but her family as well, and specifically her nephew, the one who would likely be losing his dad soon.  All of these things were taking their toll, feeding into each other, and then I found this beautiful elegy to heart and home and loved ones.  Win Butler sang with such unselfconscious passion, straining past the limits of his voice for the sake of the moment, and the music was like nothing else I was listening to at the time.  Integrating accordion and xylophone--along with the more conventional strings and horns--into their Bowie and Talking Heads-influenced compositions, the Arcade Fire were making emotional music that never sounded like it was trying to be anything more than a vessel for what the members were going through when they wrote it.  An inspection of the liner notes revealed that several band members had lost family during the recording, and it seemed to explain to me why it spoke to me so much.

"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," the leadoff track, is still the one that hits me the hardest, with its tale of children escaping tragedy.  But their fantasy can't last forever: "But sometimes, we remember our bedrooms/And our parents' bedrooms/And the bedrooms of our friends/Then we think of our parents/Well, whatever happened to them?!"  Butler's voice cracks on that last part, and many times I would shout myself raw right along with him.  "Crown of Love" sounded like both the obsessive I was and the ruined person I would be if faced with rejection by the object of my affection.  The slowly building strings added to the resignation of the narrator, leading up to his final desperate plea: "You gotta be the one/You gotta be the way/Your name is the only word/The only word that I can say!"  (In a testament to the music, that line and song took on a very different, infinitely more positive meaning for me when I really did fall in love years later.)  And the Queens-ish guitar of "Wake Up" is merely the backbone for the majestic choruses that sound like everyone you know is singing.

My favorite song, though, is "Rebellion (Lies)."  A driving bass line starts it off, soon joined by piano, xylophone, drums, violins and just about everything else.  "Sleeping is giving in/No matter what the time is/Sleeping is giving in/So lift those heavy eyelids," Butler sings, and I used to feel angry and drained when I sang along.  But then I saw the Arcade Fire for the first time, at Coachella 2005.  It was a highly anticipated set, the album having come out just the fall before.  My friends and I made our way up through the crowd as best we could, finally settling on a spot maybe two-thirds of the way up, left-center.  They played great, and the people got into it, but the real magic was when they closed with "Rebellion."  Win's voice was worn down from all their touring and the wind at the venue, but it didn't matter.  At the start of the song, as the bass signaled the beat, a sea of humanity all started clapping in unison, seeming to stretch out from the stage forever, and the sense of joy was palpable.  The momentum carried throughout the whole song, as did the goofy grin on my face.  I have never had a happier moment at a concert; just thinking of it now is making me smile.  There was a time when I thought I wouldn't be able to listen to this album ever again because of the negative emotions that would undoubtedly be tied to it; now it reminds me of the good times and the bad, and how connected they all are.  That's the power Funeral has, and that's why it's my favorite album of the 2000's.


Tom said...

Excellent piece.

Hatfield said...

Thanks! And for those who may care, a list of albums that almost made it: Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning; A Perfect Circle, Mer De Noms; The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots; Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica; Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker; Mercury Rev, All Is Dream; Muse, Black Holes and Revelations; The Bellrays, Grand Fury; Hot Snakes, Automatic Midnight; Rocket from the Crypt, Group Sounds; and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (or the Swell Season), Once soundtrack.

And albums by bands on the list that would have made it if I hadn't limited it to one per (and expnaded the number a bit):

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R and Era Vulgaris
My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves
Wilco, A Ghost Is Born and maybe Sky Blue Sky
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
White Stripes (maybe), White Blood Cells

FDecatt said...

Your music taste is stupendous! You should be a professional! Person who listens to music!

Hatfield said...

Wow, high praise from Fred Decatt makes me both happy and worried.

Shayne said...

Yeah, so I might sorta, uh, disagree with you on a few of these picks, but I will tell you what Brian P. Hatfield -- You nailed Numero Uno mi amigo. Yes sir, you did. Congratulations! That was a joy to read. I second Mr. Decatt! You should be a professional! Person who listens to music! This is what you were born to do Big Bri, it pours out of you like the salmon of capistrano and we're the bears. Think about it. Love, Shanaynay

Hatfield said...

I appreciate the kind words, Shayne, though the simile with the salmon is a little weird. But hey, eat it up hungrily all you like.

As for disagreeing with some, or maybe most of my list, throw out some other suggestions. Even my girlfriend has issues with some of my choices, so I'd love to hear what you would have included.

FDecatt said...

There is, of course, one obvious omission:

I think it is safe to say this album made quite the splash.

Shayne said...

Well, since you asked, I definitely would have put () on here -- unless I can sneak in Agaetis Byrjun...either way, this list needs a Sigur Ros album! Um, what else...somewhere in my top 28 would be the first Clap your hands say yeah album...Elliott Smith's unreleased stuff -- I think the album's called New Moon. And I would have put the Moon and Antarctica on mine and maybe All is Dream (although I would prefer Deserter's Songs). There's probably more but I can't think of them all right now. I'll get back to you on the rest.

Yoshimi is probably in my top 28 too.

OH oh, here's one you might hate me for! Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope! Yeah, definitely in my top 28! Not Kidding. Deal with it.

ok thats all i got right now...

Hatfield said...

Ok, thank you for pointing out that I'm an idiot. Sigur Ros' ( ) definitely needed to be on the "almost" list. I apologize to Jónsi and the rest of the terse Icelanders in that band.

I think Bright Eyes was the last cut, but The Moon and Antarctica and All is Dream were close too. Deserter's Songs came out in 1998, so while I agree that it's better, it wasn't eligible.

Regina Spektor? I haven't heard that album, but she was really good when I saw her at Coachella. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, on the other hand...well, I'll just not say anything at all.

Tom said...

I didn't think I'd have any worthwhile opinions about oversights, but -- what about Smile? Yes, it was mostly written long, long ago, and Brian Wilson just uses the keyboard as a prop these days and has to read his lyrics from a prompter ... but Smile is still among the most innovative, passionate, and beautiful albums of this or any decade. Plus, the thing almost killed him the first time around.

Hatfield said...

I'm not ashamed to say that I've never really heard Smile. The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson are incredible, but at the same time they aren't something I ever really feel like listening to. Take THAT, Rodney Bingenheimer!