Albums of the Decade 2
published: 24 /
Our writers and photographers in the second of a three part feature choose their Album of the Decade.
Die! Die! Die!/'Harmony' (2012)
The beauty of being able to write and photograph for Pennyblackmusic is when you discover a new band. In 2013 I reviewed an album by Dunedin based band Die! Die! Die!. That same year I got to see the New Zealand punk outfit for the only time at a gig in Leeds. It wasn’t just the album 'Harmony' that got to me but also their live set just blew me away. I hadn’t felt like that about music for a long, long time. It took me back to the 1980s when I was discovering new bands all the time and getting excited every day about it. When I heard 'Harmony' and saw the band live I was spellbound. The highlight overall has to be 'Trinity' on this album, which was produced by Chris Townsend of Portishead fame. Lead singer Andrew Wilson is mesmerising live, and the band possess the fastest drummer live ever seen. I didn’t realise that shortly after I had been to see them live the split, and Wilson ended up finishing the album on his own. I am glad to say that they are a group again and released their sixth album last year. Awesome.
Sodastream/'Little by Little' (2017)
So, it’s time to sum up the 10s, and to pick the best album of the decade.
And I can tell you that I have been thinking about this a lot, and have hardly come up with any real contenders to the crown. Sure, there has been some great music coming out during the past ten years, but I can mostly come up with songs.
Albums are a different matter, but with that said there are a few great albums that finally comes to mind as well. Should I pick ‘Realism’ by the Magnetic Fields? While a great album, it’s quite far from being their best one. Maybe Darren Hanlon’s excellent ‘I Will Love You At All’? Or the Decemberists’ ‘The King is Dead’? Well, no. I decided to go for Sodastream, and their brilliant album ‘Little by little’, which came out in 2017. In my review for Pennyblackmusic, I almost called it their best effort yet, and in hindsight I really think it might be true. The highlights are still ‘Habits’ and ‘On the Stage’, but they are all good songs on here, and I really hope that they have another album ready for us soon. Sadly, things have been awfully quiet in Sodastreamland for the past year or so… But, if you have yet to discover Karl Smith and Pete Cohen’s amazing songs, you’re in for a treat!
Ryuichi Sakamoto/'async' (2017)
The criteria I used in choosing my album of the decade (after a great deal of consideration) were as follows:
1. Does this album break new ground?
2. Does this album move me emotionally?
3. Is this album a contemporary listening experience?
4. Does this album have something to say to our world?
5. Does this album stand up to repeated listening?
There were some superb records that also answered these questions but in the end the fact that Sakamoto’s recovery from throat cancer allowed him to create this masterpiece of fragility and mortality won it. Warm and thought provoking, 'async' has a warm and healing ambience enhanced by two spoken word pieces that magnify the sense of our temporal existence. Wonderfully the album has a sense of lightness and hope that in the end "All will be well”.
This sense of timelessness gives 'async' the edge over my other contenders.
Anaïs Mitchell/'Young Man in America' (2012)
Anaïs Mitchell began the decade as one of many acoustic singer-songwriters trying to make a name for herself by playing solo gigs in small rooms and clubs. By its end, her labour of love, 'Hadestown' was a multi-award winning Broadway musical, while a collaborative album of folk standards bagged a BBC folk award and was performed at the Albert Hall. Almost overlooked amidst all that was this album of original solo songs, which is a crying shame as it is a flawlessly executed masterpiece. Totally original, hypnotic chord sequences set up daringly personal lyrics - as good as anything released by Cohen or Dylan (Yes, really). Underneath, the arrangements are consistently sublime. Many hundreds of listens later, and I am still blown away by this. And with her biggest solo show to date coming up at the Roundhouse in January, this doesn't feel like the end of the story.
Black Keys/'Brothers' (2010)
Like several bands in the early 2000s, as a duo the Black Keys were in some ways a stripped-down version of the traditional rock group line-up. On ‘Brothers’ they triumphantly mastered this apparent self-limitation. Dan Auerbach’s emotive yet never overstated guitar playing and Patrick Carney’s consistently inventive drumming underpinned a collection of fine songs.
Auerbach’s singing of the simple but heartfelt lyrics (e.g. “If I think too hard/I might lose my mind”) brings them alive, his emotional range embracing regret and grit (‘Next Girl’); anguished tenderness (‘Too Afraid to Love You’); despair (‘The Go Getter’); raunch (‘Sinister Kid’, a song also distinguished by some switchblade-sharp slide guitar); and familial love (‘Unknown Brother’). ‘Tighten Up’, produced by regular collaborator Danger Mouse, brings together all these qualities in a stew of rock, funk and blues that is spiced with a dash of electronica .
Across a variety of studios, the sound created somehow constantly mingles past with present. The often slightly distorted vocals seem as if rescued from some long-neglected blues or rockabilly cut, only then to be combined with hints of synth; the sound of a cramped primitive studio conjured by ‘Sinister Kid’ is set against the luxuriant spaciousness of ‘Too Afraid to Love You’.
‘Brothers’ was the band’s commercial breakthrough. More importantly, it restated the possibility of making great rock through putting true feeling and imagination above succumbing to any passing musical fad, in this decade or any other.