Mar 17, 2010

A decade of music through the bottom of a glass

Until a few months ago, I couldn't really have told you what my favorite albums of the decade were for the simple reason that I spent much of the last decade drunk. Bladdered. Blitzed. Blotto. Ratted. Heavy drinking does bad things to your liver and also to your record collection. No matter how catholic and interestingly varied your tastes when sober, when drunk all you want to do is listen to the same record over and over again. So if you'd asked me what my favorite album of the decade was, I could in all honesty reply "Daft Punk's Discovery and Rufus Wainwright's Poses" for the simple reason that for a single 3-year period, I barely listened to anything else. I'm not joking. Those two records feel almost shamefully familiar. I can play them back in my head without the record being on. All this is by way of saying that last December, I read everyone else's 'Best Of' Lists through a scrim of jealousy. These people seemed to have lived actual lives, and managed to listen to actual new records like normal people every now and again. I felt like Rumplestiltskin. At first I wondered what I had missed out on, but then I thought to myself — why wonder? Why not find out what the big albums would have been for me? Availing myself of the vast new array of music blogs, and a subscription to iTunes and emusic, I went back in time, so to speak, and pieced together what my record collection might have looked like had been adding to it every now and again. It was a bit like one of those historical digs the guy from Blackadder goes on, piecing together from fragments what kind of vase the Romans would have drunk wine from (bad example). I'm sure this process will go on for a long time, but after several months research, I can safely report the following.

2000 was all over the place. I had just moved to the US. The last album I bought in heathrow was the Lemon Jelly album. Newly ensconced in the village, I embarked on a year-long folk / rock archeological dig that resulted in me disappearing almost completely into the seventies. It was Nick Drake or the Allman Brothers or nothing. Most of my new music was heard in bars: Coldplay's Parachutes, David Gray's White Ladder, Sade's Lover's Rock, Nelly Furtado's Legend and Madonna's Music all got listened to, as did Ryan Adam's Heartbreaker, Chicane's Behind the Sun, Badly Drawn Boy's Hour of Bewilderbeast, William Orbit's Pieces in a Modern Style, and Aimee Mann's Bachelor no. 2. The William Orbit in particular fitted right in. I listened to that and the Chicane on constant loop while walking around Central Park feeling homesick. It's great music to feel homesick to.

In 2001, there were more albums released than just Daft Punk's Discovery and Rufus Wainwright's Poses, apparently! Poses I can see why I listened to so religiously. Its all about being drunk on fifth avenue in flip-flops and comes suffused in a regretful done-it-again dawn light. It's about classical ruin. Daft Punk I'm not so sure about although those chrome surfaces did offer me a fantastic opportunity to pack it in with this whole human being business — a very enticing fantasy at the time. Other albums I later caught up with included Prefab Sprout's The Gunman and Other Stories, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, Ryan Adams' Gold, Clem Snide's The Ghost of Fashion, The New Pornographer's Mass Romantic, and Bruce Springsteen's Live in New York. The Springsteen album, in particular, hinted at feelings and loyalties that were beyond me at the time. I couldn't have taken very much of it.

From the looks of it, I would say this was my low-point in terms of music consumption. Albums, anyway. The only sign I have that anyone recorded any new music at all in 2002 was k d Lang's Hymns from the 49th Parallel, which was an album of covers, and Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head. Oh and the Oukast album. I was in LA: you couldn't avoid it. I listened to a lot of singles that year, driving around West Hollywood trying to get interviews for my blockbuster book. A lot of Janet Jackson: the singles of All For You were all fantastic, I thought. Much later on, I discovered Alison Krauss and Union Station's live album, Springsteen's The Rising, Cornershop's Handcream for a Generation, Frou Frou's Details, Neko Case's Blacklisted, and Ron Sexsmith's Cobblestone Highway. The k d Lang is still my favorite though. I saw her live at the Hollywood bowl. I've never been to a more magical show. I came away thinking that the 2002 version of 'Simple' is one of the best love songs since George Harrison's 'Something'.

The soundtracks to Lost in Translation and Garden State are both very good but they will not do as a substitute for all the music released in 2003. Reliving old habits I played Rufus's Wainwright's Want One into the ground, particularly 'I Don't Know What It Is' which has more plays on my itunes software than any other record except the Human Leagues 'Don't You Want Me'. Had I ventured further afield I would have fallen in love with: — Beyonce's Dangerously in Love, Kathleen Edward's Failer, Cat Power's You Are Free, Annie Lennox's Bare, Deathcab for Cutie's Transatlanticism, The Chemical Brothers Surrender, Sun Kil Moon's Ghosts of the Great Highway, Phoenix's United, The Postal Service's Give Up, The Radio Department's Lesser Matters, and Stephen Merritt's Pieces of April.

Here's something I bet you didn't know: while in the last throes of writing a book about blockbusters through an almost permanent hangover and the only records you will want to listen to will be by Peter Gabriel. That's a fact. I think it has something to do with the weight and mass — the sense of big heavy things grinding their way through to inexorable completion. I still have many blanks in 2004 but thanks to the miracle of the internet and the recommenations of friends, I have reconstructed a more varied pallette of music that includes: The Magnetic Fields I, Keane's Hopes and Fears, Patty Griffin's Impossible Dream, Royksopp's Melody AM, Arcade Fire's Funeral, Alexandre Desplat's score for Birth, Jon Brion's Eternal Sunshine score, U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, George Michael's Patience, and Rilo Kiley's More Adventurous.

Theoretically 2005 should have seen a big improvement in my listening habits but only Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself registered. Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust, the Chemical Brothers's Push the Button, David Gray's Life in Slow Motion, Kraftwerk's Minimum-Maximum, Deathcab For Cutie's Plans, Goldfrapp's Supernature, Oasis' Don't Believe the Truth, Inara George's All Rise Sun Kil Moon's Twin Cities, Sufjan Stevens Come On! Feel The Illinois! and Josh Rouse's Nashville all came later.

I didn't even buy Amy Winehouse Back to Black in 2006. (Too much irony underload)I did catch Scritti Politti's White Bread, Black Beer, Lily Allen's Alright Still, The Beatles Love, and Corinne Bailey Rae's debut album. New additions include Camera Obscura's Let's Get Out of This Country, Cat Power's The Greatest, the Decembrists The Crane Wife, Josh Rouse's Subtitulo, and Midlake' s The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Things were picking up by 2007. I was paying enough attention to buy Feist's The Reminder, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Rilo Kiley's Under the Backlight, and Josh Ritter's The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin's Children Running Through and The National's Boxer. To which I'd like to add: Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha, Kiln's Dusker, Band of Horses' Cease to Begin, Justice's Cross, MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, Robert Plant and Alison's Krauss's Raising Sand.

No excuses. No hold outs. 2008 was Adele's 19, Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, Cat Power's Jukebox, Estelle's Shine, Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree, Kaskade's Strobelight Seduction, the rerelease of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, Owl City's Maybe I'm Dreaming, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, Vampire Weekend's debut, Oasis's Dig Out Your Soul. Just added: Marching Band's Spark Large and Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours.

In 2009, the following all hit me in real time:— Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, The Temper Trap's Conditions, Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, Empire of the Sun's Walking on a Dream, JJ's JJ no.2, Lily Allen's Its Not Me Its You, Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, La Roux's debut, The Low Anthem's Oh My God Charlie Darwin, The Bird and the Bee's Rayguns Are Not Just The Future, and the Dark was the Night compilation. Late arrivals: Miike Snow's Miike Snow, Noah and the Whale's First Days of Spring, Annie's Don't Stop and The Leisure Society's Sleeper.

So far in 2010, I'm in the can for Laura Veirs July Flame, Midlake's The Courage of Others, Clem Snide's The Meat of Life, The Bird and The Bee's Hall and Oates tribute album, The Local Natives' Gorilla Manor, Yeasayers Odd Blood, the Magnetic Field's Realism, and Hot Chip's One Life Stand. I love that there is so much music out there, coming out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and all of it produced just on the slim, crazy, offchance that someone, somewhere, will happen to like it. It's such a good deal, the second best deal in the world after $500,000 3-D movies about blue people for just ten bucks. Amazing. and you don't even need glasses.