Tag Archives: radiohead

On Radiohead’s ‘FITTER HAPPIER’

You know, whenever this song comes on the ol’ iPod, I almost always hit the >> because how many times can you hear a computer-generated voice say the same shit before it becomes rote. The album from whence it comes (OK COMPUTER, for those who have been in a cave or coma) has been out since 1997, after all. But like all art worthy of multiple looks, there is more to this than meets the tired ear. Especially when yr riding yr bike home from a hard day at 11 o’clock at night–I find that this is the time when I do some of my most revelatory thinking.

So last night I’m peddling up this hill and this “song’ comes on and because I am really pushing and can’t afford to let go of a handle to fast forward, I am forced to listen to it. Being as it’s right after the 10 year anniversary of the biggest catastrophe to hit our land in generations, what first strikes me is how pre-9/11 the piece sounds. And, subsequently, how pre-Mortgage-bubble-burst/economy collapse/Great Recession it all is. Just the two word phrase “At ease” sounds antiquated. I don’t personally know a single person who feels “at ease” about a single fucking thing. We’ve been at war for a decade now. And regardless of political declarations of official warzone “pull-outs, all of us know there’s no end in sight to any of it, Bin Laden shot in the face and buried at sea or not. It’s positively Orwellian, and we all know it, whether we have a close personal relationship with 1984 or not…

So as the piece progresses, I start thinking that this is the first time I’ve ever thought that Radiohead’s everywhere-trumpeted prescience has been seriously undercut by jack-booted reality. Hell, if anything (I was thinking as I peddled that monster fuck of a hill), we should be nostalgic for a time when our biggest problems was that it seemed like we had it all figured out, that were moronicly naive: We were regularly exercising 3 days a week, weren’t eating saturated fats, enjoyed drinks now and then, cried at good films (to prove to ourselves we were still human and “real” despite our robotic consumerism)…our kids safely secured in our well-tired cars.

But then, just as I crested the hill, I realized that Thom Yorke and Company might have pulled another fast one. Maybe, even though FITTER HAPPIER was released a good 4+ years before 9/11 changed everything for everyone, Thom was doing something more than merely holding the mirror up to our fragile sense of security and self-assurance, a wink in his glinting eye. Maybe he wasn’t just saying we’re pathetic when we think we have it all figured out, when in reality we’re just pigs in cages jacked on antibiotics. Maybe he was saying that that pre-9/11 feel was ALWAYS illusion. That we were never safe in the first place. Maybe he was saying enjoy these petty advances you’ve made in your lives while you can because soon, very soon, that cozy shag rug is gonna be pulled out from all of us.

Or maybe I was just overloaded on endorphins and lack of oxygen. All I know is that nearly every single person I know is struggling to keep treaded tires on their cars (if they still even own one) and is one lost paycheck away from eviction notices, can barely afford to go to a doctor let alone stay swimming in antibiotics, and gave the cats to the pound because it was just two too many mouths to feed.

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The Absolutely Definitive List of the 25 Best Albums of the 2000s

Yes, it is up for argument, of course. But I know what i hate, and for these albums, there was nothing to hate on, save a stray throw-away track here or there. That’s pretty much how I determined which albums to include and which to leave off: did the WHOLE product deliver? I didn’t limit myself to numbers, as in only 2 for each year, but instead just went with albums I could not leave off unless some Strokes hater held a gun to my head. It’s complete coincidence that I ended up with the nice, sort-of-round number of 25.

This list is not exhaustive, I’m sure people will mention a few that I’ll kick myself for forgetting while I was making this. Others will mention albums I wish I could forget, such as anything by TV On the Radio, a band that I cannot for the life of me understand why it is so well-regarded. One last heads up: don’t bother offering any Dave Matthews or John Mayer suggestions. They have, at best, 3 or 4 good songs between them, definitely not enough for placement on such hallowed ground.

2000:

sunny day real estate—the rising tide

This album is full of jangly guitars and soaring vocals bellowing beautiful lyrics–it always makes me remember the ocean and the beginning of my marriage. All good memories.

Fave tracks: One, Tearing in My Heart

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coldplay—parachutes

Damn, gotta say, when this came out it seemed like Chris Martin and company actually had a chance of giving Radiohead a run for the money in the art-rock circuit (that is a circuit, right?). But then all their albums sounded exactly the same. Not saying they didn’t have good songs on other albums, but come on: most of it sounds exactly the same–for example, one single song on Viva la Vida, their latest, has been the subject of upwards of 5 different plagiarism lawsuits by artists ranging from Cat Stevens to Steve Vai. Regardless, Parachutes was a beauty when it came out, and when you factor in the sweet memories that go along with it for me, it’s only gold.

Fave Tracks: Trouble, We Never Change

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ghostface killah—supreme clientele

It could be argued that this album signaled the death knell of what many hip hop purists (such as yours truly) consider to be “true” hip hop. Yes, we are elitist bastards.  But without getting into arguments about the greatness (or lack of greatness) of Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire, anyone can at least appreciate the cementing of Ghostface’s status as the best rapper to emerge from Wutang Clan. I mean, have you heard Iron Man? And then he follows up with this a few years later. BEASTLY! Listen up. This was as good as it was going to get for many, many years (one could argue).

Fave Tracks: Buck 50, Wu Banga 101

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2001:

radiohead—amnesiac

The first of two Radiohead albums on this list, Amnesiac constantly ended up in my regular rotation during the glorious “Aughts.” It is possibly one of the most accessible ‘Head albums, surpassed perhaps by only 2008’s In Rainbows in terms of listenability.

Fave tracks: Pyramid Song, Knives Out

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white stripes—white blood cells

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this introduction to The White Stripes, and how many albums can you say that about? It blew my freaking mind. Jack White entered the realm of genius for me with his fusion of old blues and modern rock. There is still no better stimulant on the market for getting a day started off than this banger.

Fave Tracks: Hotel Yorba, The Union Forever

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the strokes—is this it?

Here we have the controversial British version of the cover for this first Strokes album, which was of course not available in the more prudish U.S. But with or without that art, it was still a revelation, and came out the gate with more buzz than a thousand beehives. Backlash followed, of course, but regardless of whether Julian Casablancas can actually sing or that his voice was doctored with various studio trappings to make him sound better (a charge I don’t buy after hearing their later efforts), this album along with White Blood Cells is a killer on every level.

Fave Tracks: Someday, Hard To Explain

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bjork—vespertine

There are some incredibly beautiful tracks on this album. Bjork is from another planet. Her voice itself is poetry. I love her.

Fave Tracks: Hidden Place, Pagan Poetry

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2002:

neko case—blacklisted

The first of three albums by Neko Case, this album showcases her voice in a way that makes the term alt-country not sound completely stupid. For whatever reason, I am reminded of the Michael Scott quote in the TV show “The Office,” when he says, ” You don’t call retarded people retards. It’s bad taste. You call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.”

Fave Tracks: Tightly, Pretty Girls

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the flaming lips—yoshimi battles the pink robots

From crazed punk beginnings to the masterpiece that was ’99’s The Soft Bulletin, this follow-up to that revelation of Wayne Coyne’s song-writing ability was a true window into this incredibly sensitive soul. And after meeting him in person (and basically forcing him to take a copy of my book), I can say that he is about as genuine a rock star who also happens to be a real person as any rock star has ever been. If that makes any sense.

Fave Tracks: Ego Trippin’ At the Gates of Hell, Do You Realize??

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beck—sea change

I first heard this Beck album while “working” as a DJ at UNC Greensboro’s 10 watt student-run radio station. It’s the first full-length Beck album that I know of that has him actually writing lyrics some sense can be made of—a real (wait for it…) sea change in his style. It is also heartbreaking, about his breakup from some model, I hear.

Fave Tracks: Little One, Lost Cause

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2003:

yeah yeah yeahs—fever to tell

This 3-piece, Karen O-fronted band is garage rock at its finest as far as I’m concerned. She’s so weird and rock-starry. I’d be afraid of her in real life. Which is just how she likes it, I’m sure. Just listen how she whispers “I’m rich, rich, rich rich rich. I’ll take you out boy.” F-ing hardcore, regardless of the tear sliding down her cheek in the “Maps” video.

Fave Tracks: Rich, Y Control

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death cab for cutie—transatlanticism

For me Ben Gibbard is sort of the poor man’s Thom Yorke, and a total bastard (he married my imaginary girlfriend, Zooey Deschanel). But with this album and his other project, The Postal Service, he pretty much cemented his place in the starry night of my soul or whatever. He writes some catchy shit. But I think an Amazon reviewer said it best: “If you’re an overblown emokid with a yen for the melodramatic, you should buy this CD. You may now stop reading.”

Fave Tracks: Lightness, Passenger Seat

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2004:

air—talkie walkie

This album is on here because I like it more OVERALL than their previous Aughts effort, 10,000 hz Legend. But to be fair, there are a couple of songs on that generally disliked album that are some of my favorite Air tracks, such as “How Does It Make You Feel” and “Vagabond.” But this record is definitely more cohesive and sets a great mood for being drunk/high/tired, so we’re going with this one. And for the record, it is WAY beter than 2007’s Pocket Symphony.

Fave Tracks: Run, Another Day

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danger mouse—the grey album

While this is not officially an album you can buy, since Danger Mouse never got the rights to any of the Beatles or Jay-Z tracks he used to make this groundbreaking album (which, for anyone living in a musical cave for the past ten years, is a mash-up of The Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album”), I would be remiss not to include it on this list. For better or worse, DM started the massive wave of mash-ups with this effort, and also got himself a pretty good paying gig as half of Gnarls Barkley. Plus, this shit just kicks. Whoda thunk it?

Fave Tracks: Encore, 99 Problems

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2005:

my morning jacket—z

I believe that, along with Death Cab, Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes and My Chemical Romance, My Morning Jacket helped create and nurture the wimpy mid-Aughts  juggernaut that was known as Emo. But unlike Dashboard and Bright Eyes, they don’t totally suck. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. So, cheer up, Emo kid.

Fave Tracks: It Beats 4 U, Knot Comes Loose

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eels—blinking lights and other revelations

Mark Everett is the frontman of EELS (or eels), and is probably, when I really consider it, the person I most relate to as far as “getting” exactly what he is talking about with the majority of his songs. This double album has songs on it that I absolutely hate (such as the co-penned with one of the guys from R.E.M. “Hey Man”), but since there are over 20 songs on offer here, there is definitely at least a full album’s worth of incredible compositions. My favorite memory associated with this record is painting my daughter’s bedroom in preparation for us to move into our first owned home. Tears me up just thinking about it.

Fave Tracks: In the Yard Behind the Church, I’m Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart

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2006:

neko case—fox confessor brings the flood

Second Neko album on the list, and arguably her best ever. Her voice reminds me so much of Patsy Cline’s. She is a true artist, with seemingly little care about her “image” as far as whether or not she fits into the sterotypical chanteuse mold. She’s all about the voice. Example: her album “Blacklisted” was supposedly named that because while performing at Nasvhille’s famous Grand Ole Opry, she took off her shirt (I never heard if she was completely topless or just offended the genteel southern sensibility with her bra alone) and was banned for life. Totally punk, and what puts the “alt” in her country stylings, I can only suppose.

Fave Tracks: Star Witness, Dirty Knife

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decemberists—the crane wife

Along the Flaming Lips album that follows, this was the last album that my wife and I shared. Every time I hear the 3-part Crane Wife song the album is named after, it destroys me. In a good way. I’ll leave it there. Don’t want to make a complete fool out of myself, after all. Not drunk enough for that anyway. Give me a few hours. Perhaps that dragon will rear its head in the comments.

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beck—the information

This album is the epitome of cool. And one of about 45 albums that Beck released in the Aughts. I’m still not sure if I’m being impartial enough regarding choosing this album over, say, Guero or Modern Guilt, but whatever. These year/decade-end lists are always subjective and come down to much more about what effected the listener personally more than something like whether the songs held complexity in their structures. This album came with a DVD of every song being lip-synched by Beck and his friends, and I would often put it in the DVD player and hit repeat on it over and over again. It was like having a bunch of tripping acid-freaks to keep me company through surely some of the strangest times in a lifetime of strange times.

Fave Tracks: Cellphone’s Dead, No Complaints

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the flaming lips—at war with the mystics

They played a free show in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on May 21, 2006 in support of this album. It was amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoIohWnbVSk

Fave Tracks: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion/ Vein of Stars

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2007:

radiohead—in rainbows

As I said earlier in this post, this is probably the most easily listened to Radiohead album (which is most likely why it won or was nominated for more Grammys than any other from their amazing catalog, most notably OK Computer, which is (not so) arguably one of the greatest albums ever recorded). But this one is definitely right up there, and if nothing else serves to cement Radiohead’s place among the greatest bands to ever record together.Plus, they gave it away for free on the internet, and that’s totally kickass.

Fave Tracks: Nude, All I Need

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amy winehouse—back to black

Fuck this album. I can’t even remember why I have it on here, and it was easier to write this sentence than to screw up the formatting on this post by erasing it.

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2008:

MGMT—oracular spectacular

When I finally got up to NYC to meet my agent and publishing house handlers in January of this year, MGMT was still all the rage, and I therefore felt much less of a cultural disconnect than I had originally feared, ’cause I’d been on this bandwagon for a long time, based mainly on the fact that two hippie guys made up the band and had lyrics like, “I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars/ You’ll man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars,” which totally runs contrary to their hippie guy image. Plus many of the songs on here an infinitely hummable, as my 9 yr. old daughter will happily testify.

Fave Tracks: Time To Pretend, Kids

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fleet foxes—fleet foxes

I first heard Fleet Foxes when they appeared on SNL in January. They are from Seattle (how cliche…1991 called, it wants its premiere underground music scene back), but sound like they are Straight Outta Appalachia. Which is kind of disturbing to me, since this means that the two most well-known Appalachian-sounding artists are from the west coast (the other being Los Angeles’ Gillian Welch). But no matter. Listen to this record and know that what you are hearing is authentic bluegrass-tinged. Every time I hear it makes me yearn to go back to Kentucky, if Kentucky weren’t so littered with ignorant rednecks and memories of unbridled happiness that make everything now pale in comparison. And you just can’t live like that.

Fave Tracks: White Winter Hymnal, Blue Ridge Mountains

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2009:

neko case—middle cyclone

I’ll be the first to admit that my exposure to much new music has been severely hampered this year, so it’s pretty anemic of me to only have one album listed for 2009, and to have the one album listed be by an artist that already has 2 other albums on this list. But this record is my favorite of Neko Case’s so far, and her insightful lyrics never cease to amaze me along with her incredible voice. Plus almost all the songs are about love (a first time for her), and the album ends with 28 minutes of frogs and crickets making night noises, which is a perfect way to fall asleep. So there’s that, too.

Fave Tracks: The Next Time You Say “Forever”, The Pharoahs

ARTIST OF THE DECADE:

I decided on this designation based solely on who had the most presence on the list. Radiohead, Flaming Lips and Beck came close, with two albums each on here, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Thanksfully I didn’t have to think much on it, since only one artist had three albums on my list, and that was, of course,

NEKO CASE

She’s incredible. Have I mentioned that yet? Watch this video, buy her albums, thank me later.

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