One thing I love about my job is interacting with a range of brilliant people. And the Future of Music Coalition board is packed with expertise (and opinions). Oh, and the best part is they’re the good guys. Which is nice, ’cause I’d hate to think how these powers could be used for evil…
Today’s “best of the decade” list comes from FMC’s Peter DiCola, an assistant professor of law at Northwestern University. Peter has been a driving force in several of our studies about why commercial radio has gotten so sucky, and he’s also one of the funniest, smartest people I’ve ever encountered. Cheers, Peter!
(Picks after the jump.)
(1) Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005)
When I first looked at the track listing, I thought “These super-long titles are too precious. I’ll pass.” I waited a year to even listen to it. The first time I really heard it was in the pristine Detroit airport, waiting to fly to Montreal for the Future of Music Policy Summit and Pop Montreal. Well, Sufjan showed me. This album’s got everything: historical context, music-theoretical complexity, heart-rending lyrics, and beautiful melodies. My current favorite is “Casimir Pulaski Day.”
(2) Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002)
I love the spare mix on each track. Every piano or guitar lick catches your attention as it cuts in and out; each part of the arrangement is reduced to its essence. Also, I just think Britt Daniel is a great rock and roll frontman.
(3) Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007)
If I were picking songs of the decade, it would be “Everything in its Right Place” from Kid A. But for the moment I suspect In Rainbows is the best Radiohead album of the decade. It’s compact, with great rhythms and delicate, clean guitar work. Many of the song styles the band has experimented with over the years have representation here — from the complex “15 Step” to the bleak “Videotape.”
(4) Ida, Will You Find Me (2000)
I probably listened to this album the most. All three singer/songwriters compose great songs and harmonize so well. I was particularly obsessed with “Radiator,” “Man in Mind,” and “Maybelle” at different times. Beyond the vocals, the instrumental work is brilliant (by the band and its friends/session players). [Editor's note: this one isn't available to stream, so here's Heart Like a River instead.]
(5) Joanna Newsom, Ys (2006)
Ambitious and weird, this five-song album includes my favorite song about a bear. (It’s also about her husband, a devious monkey, but I feel Ursula — that’s the bear’s name — is the true protagonist.) Newsom writes well, and what’s stunning is the fit between her lyrical subject matter and the instrumentation of primarily harp, guitar and strings. [Ed's note: also not available to stream, and I'm not gonna bother with finding a replacement, because there frankly isn't one.]
(6) Akron/Family, Akron/Family (2005)
At the time I felt like this was as good as the White Album. A/F’s multiple songwriters have a hippie spirit and solid rock chops. They can also roll out one pensive ballad after another. Go see their live show and have fun watching them combine country rock, free jazz, sitar music, folk, psych and whatever other part of the musical universe they visit that night.
(7) The Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
I remember speaking to a friend who saw an early club show of theirs, beaming as he told me of the band’s enthusiasm as they belted out “Wake Up.” There’s something special about the Arcade Fire’s ability to convey that kind of emotion. Their live show in Chicago in 2007 was probably the best I saw this decade.
(8) The Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree (2005)
John Darnielle is an amazing, disciplined songwriter with increasing range in terms of the particular styles he’ll use. The subject matter on this album, his abusive childhood, is jaw-droppingly raw. But he delivers each song, especially “This Year,” with joy. Thanks are also due to him for recommending Paper Anniversary by Christine Fellows to his blog readers; that album almost made this list, too.
(9) Fugazi, The Argument (2001)
Their talent for writing about politics and social issues urgently, literately, intelligently and poignantly is unparalled. Their particular wall of sound is a credit to all four members working together phenomenally well. The title track/closing song ends starkly, with a sudden halt, leaving me wishing for a new Fugazi record to fill the void.[Ed's note: have we published a list where ALL the albums are available to stream yet?]
(10) Destroyer, Streethawk: A Seduction (2000) and New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005) [tie]
It was too hard to choose. First there’s Dan Bejar‘s main project, a glam-rock band with wry lyrics about a never-ending series of sellouts and poseurs. And on the other hand there’s my favorite power-pop band, to which Bejar tosses a few gems to go alongside Carl Newman‘s perfectly crafted songs. “The Bleeding Heart Show” is my sentimental favorite. [Ed's note: hilarious. Our Policy Director is the co-owner of Misra Records, who publish this Destroyer record. I'll have to give him shit for not getting it on the new digital services.]
Peter DiCola is an assistant professor of law at Northwestern University. He is a former researcher and current board member of Future of Music Coalition. Back in the ’90s, he co-hosted The Metronomic Underground on WPRB-Princeton and booked shows at the Terrace Club.