Choosing My Top 13 Albums of the Decade

by Gordon Elgart on September 17, 2009

I had a lot of albums to choose from.

I had a lot of albums to choose from.

There’s this fun little website called The Top 13 Albums Project. For the last two years, they’ve invited anyone who’s interested to enter their top 13 albums for the year into the database. They then compile all of these lists into one master top 13 list for the year. Why 13? I have no idea. All I know is it tends to be a pretty good look at what the blogs are loving that year. Fleet Foxes and The Boxer by The National were the top albums in the last two years. Now, they’re doing a Top 13 of the decade, and in order to participate, you need to submit your list by October 2nd. Of course I’m participating. Follow me now as I run through my personal list.

Before I start this post, some things to note:

  1. This is my own list, and does not represent Spinning Platters as a whole, or any of the other writers.  In fact, many of my colleagues are going to disagree vehemently with this list, and I hope they’ll argue with me in the comments section.
  2. In order for something to be eligible, it has to be released from 2000-2009, but I am loathe to choose anything too new because it’s hard to know if it has staying power.  In other words, I’ve tried to choose things with staying power.
  3. I decided early on to only allow one album per band to be on the list.  Apologies to Neon Bible and Lightbulb Sun.
  4. There are a lot of bands who I would probably put in a top 13 list of favorite artists of the decade, but after I was done, none of their albums ended up on my list.  I feel like they deserve to be mentioned, though.  These artists are:  Muse, The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie, Explosions in the Sky, Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Polyphonic Spree and Opeth.
  5. I gave these albums a score based on not only how much I like them, but also how influential the album was to my own decade in music. How influential an album is to the decade’s music as a whole is not considered here because I can’t personally quantify it.
  6. My favorite genres and sub-genres are indie rock, power pop, and prog rock.  There are definitely genres missing from this list.  Though they may have had great albums, I either didn’t listen to them or don’t appreciate them.

And, now on to my self indulgent list with album #13.

13.  The Feeling – Twelve Stops and Home.  There are two versions of this album in the wild.  One is the original English version with a charming cover and a thoughtfully sequenced collection of perfect pop nuggets.  The songs have pretty melodies, bittersweet lyrics, bright harmonies, and glittering production.  The lesser American version has much of the same, but the sequencing has been changed to front load the singles, and a lot of the charm is lost.  The original album has a flow to it like a series of short stories; the American remake loses this sequence, but this is only the half of it.  The original cover was replaced with an out-of-focus blue-tinted band photo, sure to chase away its target audience.  This was in a seven-way tie for 13th place, and I broke the tie based on “album no one’s heard that I want to champion.”  Check it out if you haven’t.  Resequence the tracks on your iPod to match the original.  Enjoy.

12.    The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever.  This is definitely a very personal choice, as I think this particular record speaks to me in a way that very few records can.  If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics on this album, you’ll think it’s a silly record full of toy instruments and lots of songs about animals and monsters.  If you pay attention, you’ll realize it’s basically a tribute to Peter Pan Syndrome, and the words of a man struggling against being an adult.  It’s brilliant stuff, and it’s looking a bit more like lightning in a bottle every day because the band’s second album hasn’t made a similar impact on me, and I wonder about the future of the project.  This record, however, is a total gem, and loving it is easy.

11.  Girl Talk – Feed the Animals.  A lot of Girl Talk fans will say that The Night Ripper is a better album.  A lot of Girl Talk fans would be wrong.  Feed the Animals is not only a perfect party mix, it’s fun to listen to all on its own, with no party in sight. I’ve never been much of a fan of the traditional mash-up, but this truly is a different animal. The pieces of music come fast and furious, and little teases of a track pay off in unexpected ways. This album has more smiles per minute than anything else I’ve been listening to over the past couple of years. Also, bring it out with the right crowd, and you get a nice long debate over fair use laws. An album that makes people dance and think? Sweet!

10. Wolfmother. I was at Amoeba in San Francisco shopping for DVDs (back when I used to buy those), and they were playing this incredible rock band that sounded like the love child of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and I just had to know what it was. I hadn’t heard Wolfmother yet, but I had heard of them. That year, at NoisePop, I got to see them at Bottom of the Hill and was totally blown away. This album is on here both for hitting the retro sound just perfectly, but also partly due to their fierce live performances. The original rhythm section is gone now, and I’m not as jazzed for their future material, but this was one tremendous debut album from a band that was super exciting for a brief moment. I still play the record every month or so, and I still get down to “Love Train” and “Joker and the Thief” like I bought it yesterday. Instant classic rock.

9. Spock’s Beard – V. Spock’s Beard is a band with a split history. Though they’ve been a symphonic prog rock band for over 15 years now, the first half of their career, the songs were written mainly by Neal Morse, who has since left the band to focus on Christian prog rock (really good Christian prog rock). By the end of his time in Spock’s Beard, his lyrics had strayed toward the religious, but this album (the band’s fifth, thus the title) was the perfect blend of pop spirituality and instrumental virtuosity. It has the longest song they ever recorded (“The Great Nothing”) as well as the best, “At the End of the Day,” the 15-minute corker that begins this album. If you love the classic symphonic prog sound, this is the must-have record of the decade for you.

8. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm. This album cost me more than $500. I only paid $10 or so for the CD, and the drum set cost me the rest. That’s because Matt Tong’s drumming on this album inspired me to pick up the drums again. I needed to play again so that I could play these songs. (Other modern drummers that have a similar effect on me are Dominic Howard of Muse, Benjamin Weikel of Helio Sequence, and Nick Dewitt of Pretty Girls Make Graves.)  These are also great dancing,  jumping and shouting songs, with politically tinged lyrics from Kele Okereke.  Sure, their sound is somewhat cribbed from earlier legends of post-punk, but of all the somewhat similar albums that came out of the British post-punk revival of the mid-2000s, this one stands out above the rest.

7.  Green Day – American Idiot.  I imagine Green Day sitting in a room somewhere finally deciding that there’s nothing wrong with loving The Who as much as they do, because this is an all-out Quadrophenia-inspired rock opera.  Before American Idiot, Green Day was on the commercial decline,  having gone from the crazy multi-platinum success of Dookie to the non-platinum sales of Warning.  Although Warning was by many accounts their most interesting album, it seemed like a return to cult status was in the cards for them.  Then there was George Bush which clearly gave Billie Joe inspiration to write what would become Green Day’s best album, as well as arguably their most popular one. (6x platinum in 2004 is roughly equivalent to twice that in 1995.)  Like many rock operas, the story doesn’t make perfect
sense, but every track is a winner.

6.  The Postal Service – Give Up.  When I like a band, I tend to hate the existence of any side projects that the lead songwriter contributes to.  I feel like these are songs stolen from the band’s future.  If they’re good, when will I see them live?  So The Postal Service had a hard road to climb with me.  I like Death Cab For Cutie, and I was ready to reject anything that might take quality songs away from them. So the reaction when The Postal Service turned out to be better than any Death Cab For Cutie album?  Happiness!  “Such Great Heights” is the ubiquitous single from the album, ironically appearing in advertisements for UPS, but this is a great collection of Ben Gibbard songs, served well by his collaboration with Dntel.  The recording sounds like it was all done on the cheap using Pro Tools as opposed to giving
it a big studio feel.  Because of this, it is the first platinum album with a truly recorded-in-the-bedroom feeling about it.

5.  Radiohead – Kid AKid A was the first album I ever pirated in full.  I downloaded the leak, burned it to a CD, and listened to it over and over again until it was finally released, when I finally bought it and started listening to it over and over again.  It took a year or more for me to warm up to this album, and when the utter failure of a record Amnesiac (jokingly named  “Kid F” among my friends) came out, I appreciated it even more.  This is still the only time the experimental side of Radiohead merged with truly great songwriting.  I find it notable that my favorite live Radiohead tracks (“Idioteque,” “National Anthem” and “Everything in Its Right Place”) are all on this album even though this is known as a very “studio” record.  Just remember: listening to Kid A properly requires a quiet room, headphones  and dance space.

4.  Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet.  It’s come out through time that this production came out of multiple songwriters and producers, and was calculated to appeal to people in its particular way.  That’s a disappointment, for sure, but the Andrew W.K. that made and toured this record is one of the all-time greats.  The “party” concept is his way of telling you to enjoy your life and make the most of it.  There’s a religious fervor to this album; if you’re not ready to embrace positivity and a go-for-it attitude, you’re not invited to the party. I can’t listen to this album without wanting to jump up and shout.  I don’t think there’s an album that causes a stronger physical reaction in me.  The songs and lyrics are pretty simplistic, almost silly at times, but the arrangements are intricately thought out.  I truly mean it when I say I feel sorry for you if you can’t enjoy this album.  You’re missing out.

3.  Porcupine Tree – Deadwing.  This is the ultimate album from one of the last remaining Album Bands.  The songs on the album all revolve around a mysterious script to a movie that doesn’t exist.  Whether the movie will ever exist doesn’t matter because it’s the hint of a story that adds extra purpose to the songs on here.  And this is an absolutely perfect collection of nine songs.  There’s “singles” on here like “Halo,” “Shallow” and “Lazarus.”  There’s lengthy mood pieces like “Mellotron Scratch,” “Start of Something Beautiful and “Glass Arm Shattering.”  And finally, there’s a centerpiece that is possibly the best track in the entire Porcupine Tree catalog, “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.”  If someone ever asks you, “Who’s this band Porcupine Tree, and why does their back catalog vinyl sell for so much on eBay?” you can hand them this album.  You carry a copy around with you at all times, right?

2.  Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid.  My current favorite band gets the number two slot for their modern masterpiece, The Seldom Seen Kid.  This is an absolutely inspired collection of songs by a band that keeps getting better and better.  This record even won the Mercury Prize, annually given to the best album released by a UK artist.  It’s a carefully constructed album; the track order is no accident.  It begins with an unrequited love song (there’s no better kind), “Starlings,” and moves through beautiful lyrics about love and loss. There’s sweeping melodies galore on here, all sung by Guy Garvey, who I personally call the “best singer ever.”  The song that would be most familiar to others is probably “Grounds For Divorce,” on which the Coen Brothers based an entire trailer for Burn After Reading.  (You’d know it if you heard it.)  But the two songs that capture what makes this such a beautiful record are “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” which is a showpiece for the best singer ever, and “On a Day Like This” which is a rousing celebration of being in love.  You should watch the video of this song being performed at Glastonbury.  And when you’re  done, buy the album.

1.  Arcade Fire – Funeral.  My album of the decade goes to the likely favorite to win overall.  This album went a long way toward popularizing blogs as a way to discover music, as its review from a traditionally harsh music blog caused people to stand up and take notice of this formerly unknown Montreal band. Seemingly overnight, tickets to see their shows went from unsold curiousities to hundred-dollar rarities.  Just about everyone had this album as their 2004 album of the year, including me.  Nearly everything to say about it has been said before, so my grand finale is brief.  I’ll just say that no other album this decade is as ingrained in my psyche as this one is.  I feel like it’s been with me forever.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony Butterworth September 17, 2009 at 1:38 pm

The list was great…. and the I saw Wolfmother which totally devalued every other selection LOL.

I can’t do an albums thing, I just don’t really think in albums any more, I am unquestionably a shuffle play single songs person. I do track plays religously on iTunes and Last.fm so I could probably figure this out though.

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Gordon Elgart September 17, 2009 at 1:54 pm

I don’t know why you’d reject the awesome power of Wolfmother. I hope you can do albums soon because you’ll be invited to help select our Official Best of 2009 list when we do it for the site.

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J. Lawrence King September 17, 2009 at 1:55 pm

While I would disagree with you on quite a few of your selections, this is still a nice set of albums. I can’t help but wonder if the White Stripes will be forgotten in this compilation. Personally, I don’t know if there is a band that’s been as influentual on me this decade.

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Gordon Elgart September 17, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I would have thought Elephant might make my list as it was on my giant nominee list, but then I noticed I don’t even have the whole thing on my iPod right now. How can an album that’s not on my iPod in its complete form be considered? That eliminated it from contention. I guess I just didn’t like it enough.

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Brian September 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Nice list, Gordon. I encourage all of the commentators to submit their top 13s at top13albums.com.

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Caroline September 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm

You were right when you said this was a self-indulgent list. I laughed when I saw The Boy Least Likely Too and Spock’s Beard. I’m likely to shoot myself if I ever hear another track off of The Best Party Ever.

Who are The Feeling?

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Gordon Elgart September 17, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Spock’s Beard are not worthy of laughter! So much Boy Least Likely To hatred … who knew? The Feeling are an English pop band, straight up, no frills. Just catchy songs with tight harmonies.

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Marie Carney September 17, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Some albums I don’t know, some I do and wouldn’t necessarily agree.
I am excited to make my own list, though it’s going to take FOREVER. How long did it take you? And am I allowed to post mine on here too?

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is I couldn’t agree with you less about The Boy Least Likely To. I find them cringe-worthy now when they come up in a shuffle, and I LOVED the album when it came out.
Though I will say Funeral is still great, though I often forget about it. So kudos to your number one.

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Gordon Elgart September 17, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Yeah, you did once love Boy Least Likely To. I’d rather not post a second Best 13 of the Decade list (it took me about a week to decide on them and write it); how about something slightly different? Best songs of the decade? Best artists? Something else? Add your Top 13 to the top13albums.com website, and then Spinning Platters will be the taste-makers of the oughts.

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Ben September 18, 2009 at 6:48 am

Respect the Beard! I guess this list means I finally have to go out and buy Deadwing, which I’m reluctant to do since In Absentia really put me off for some reason.

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Josh Parks September 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm

I think the Polyphonic Spree’s Beginning Stages Of would have fit nicely into this list.

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Gordon Elgart September 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

The Spree are so much more live than they are on record, I just never considered their albums for inclusion, but I listened to Beginning Stages Of just this morning (after reading about their Boston show from last night) and it definitely would fit.

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Joby September 18, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Great list, though I too reject the awesome power of Wolfmother. Kid A is the best Radiohead album (which by the transitive property, makes it the best album). I can’t see a UPS commercial without chuckling that the music is by the Postal Service. And thanks to you, yes, I do carry a copy of Deadwing around with me at all times.

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DJKuulA October 12, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Most accurate statement here: At the End of the Day is indeed the best Spock's Beard song (which is saying something).

I embrace with every fiber of my being the awesome power of Wolfmother. Not sure if it'd make my decadary top 13 though. That'd include The Dream by In This Moment, and something from the East Village Opera Company. . .probably some Dream Theater or other. . .I guess I'll work on that list.

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