Today’s “best music of the decade” list is from Candace Clement, musician, activist and all-around defender of the common good. I’m psyched that she’s offered up her picks, cuz the lady’s got good taste. Plus she feels my pain about not being able to include records from the previous decade. It hurts! But enough of my editorializing; Candace’s list and bio are after the jump…
Anyone who claims it is easy to write one of these lists is either lying, hates music, or is the kind of person you dread getting stuck talking to at a party.
For me, this list was especially hard because my stereo predominantly cranks out albums recorded in the 1990s. It is with great remorse that I couldn’t include anything released in the previous decade by Guided By Voices, Liz Phair, Pavement, Sleater-Kinney, and half a dozen other artists whose careers I regularly celebrate like it’s still 1999.
Nevertheless, here are two lists based on two very different criteria. The first was inspired by NPR’s “The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings.” The idea of “importance” is slippery at best. This list represents a crew that I can’t believe were left off. To me, when I read NPR saying “important” I thought it should mean breaking new ground, influencing a landslide of records that follow it, and maybe inspiring a little hope and faith in humanity. Importance is also, of course, relative. I don’t disagree with everything on that list, but there are a few who certainly could have been knocked off.
The second list has an easier criteria: “Five Albums That I Have Listened to More Than You This Century.” It’s self-explanatory. If you think you can prove me otherwise, you better get in touch. Because apparently we were meant to be best friends forever.
List #1: Five Things NPR Forgot When They Said “Important”
The Books, The Lemon of Pink
As an avid fan of pop music and a sucker for a hook and a melody, the frenetic-meets-melodic sounds on The Lemon of Pink make it one of my desert island records. Nothing beat that late September I first heard them… roaming through the streets of my tiny, New England college town in headphones and believing that every leaf that spun by was doing it in time and just for me and The Books. Found sounds never sounded so good.
J Dilla, Donuts
I discovered Jay Dee too late to send my psychic appreciation to him while he was alive. Dilla left us too early, and this album was released only three days before he passed away. Simply put, it is one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard. My friend tells me that the siren noises are totally relevant because sirens are part of the sonic landscape of living in a city. But I think Dilla just liked the way it sounded.
MGMT, Oracular Spectacular
I am almost ashamed to admit that it took a really awful movie preview for me to discover this band. They’re up there on the scale of sheer, overwhelming pop. Tracks like “Time to Pretend,” “Kids” and “Electric Feel” would move the feet of even the most dubious. But really, it’s the psychedelic brilliance of the epic three-part-and-under-three-minutes “Weekend Wars” and the lyrical genius of “The Handshake” that sold me on this band. MGMT, I don’t care if everyone thinks you are a one-album-wonder. I have faith and I will stand by for round two.
I literally don’t know what to say about Madlib. If you haven’t listened to this album, you are missing out on one of the greatest things in hip-hop ever. Note: While the album from front-to-back is brilliant, I could live the rest of my life without ever hearing the track “Eye” again.
Girl Talk, Night Ripper
FAIR USE DANCE PARTY! Stunning and flawless execution. This album is to dance parties what water is to sea monkeys — just add Girl Talk and PRESTO! Instant dance party! It’s hard to know if this or Feed the Animals is the better record, but it’s impossible to top the perfect mash-up of Elton John‘s “Tiny Dancer” with Biggie’s “Juicy.” [Editor’s Note: I am frankly SHOCKED that this is and Feed the Animals are available for legal streaming, considering the unprecedented use of uncleared samples. My guess is that the labels are actually scared to sue, because they don’t want to lose and inadvertently set a fair use precedent for music. Fascinating!]
List #2: Five Albums That I Have Definitely Listened to More Than You
Califone, Quicksand / Cradlesnakes
This one is a little unfair because I literally discovered this band about two months ago. Still, I have no doubt in my mind that I have listened to this album more than you over the past two months alone. A friend of mine recently retorted in an email: “You and Califone need to get a room.” Fine, fair, enough said, but I discovered this band on my own group’s first tour, after we had torn the sideview mirror off of the borrowed minivan, while driving through the overgrown woods of the counties surrounding Asheville, NC looking for junkyards. I have devoured their catalog and feel fairly certain this was their best ever. “Horoscopic Amputation Honey.” Just wait for the second part to kick in. Then you’ll know what I mean. [Ed’s Note: not available to stream, so here’s Roots and Crowns.]
The Breeders, Title TK
If it takes a ten year hiatus to create an album like this, then it’s worth it. The Deal sisters are my favorite singers in the whole wide world and they hit their stride in this album. It’s sparse, sluggish, and gorgeous. I wouldn’t trade this record for a hundred more tracks equally as catchy as their big radio hit, “Cannonball.” I like it that much.
Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica
I remember the CD cover artwork being purple. It always show up blue in iTunes. I miss the purple art. Even if it was never real and I made it all up. Songs about entropy, space, uncomfortable living quarters, wild dogs, death, and drinking drinking, drinking, coca, coca, cola. “The universe is shaped exactly like the earth. If you go straight long enough, you’ll end up where you were.”
Animal Collective, Sung Tongs
Long, long before we knew what a Merriweather Post Pavillion was, my best friends and I rode around in a pickup truck without a stereo, singing this album from memory while slamming on our vocal chords with our fingers to get that crazy sticatto cutting-in-and-out sound in “Leaf House.” We later discovered he does that live by waving the microphone rapidly in front of his mouth. We still can’t find our good haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabits…
Ugly Casanova, Sharpen Your Teeth
I thought there could be nothing greater from Issac Brock than Modest Mouse. Simply put, I was wrong. This record marks the start of every fall and winter in my life since its release. It’s a mix of everything I am drawn to: honesty, toxicity, and nonsense. For years, “Barnacles” was my favorite. Then it was “Hotcha Girls.” Now it’s “Ice on the Sheets.” Check back in a year. My money is on “Things I Don’t Remember” to take the prize next.
Candace is a self-described indierocker from Western Massachusetts who spends days working to get people excited about the wild and crazy world of media policy and nights plotting the rise of her awk-pop band Bunny’s A Swine. Though not on these lists, she agrees that The Strokes, Arcade Fire, and Broken Social Scene did create some of the greatest music so far this century. But lists are all about drawing lines. She loves Fenders, hoppy beers, 24-hour instant-band challenges, and the sight of a soundwave. She hates writing her own bio, but doesn’t so much mind using the third-person to do it.