Top 50 albums of the decade

It seems that everyone has been compiling not just year-in-review but decade-in-review lists lately, and I’ve never seen a bandwagon I didn’t eagerly jump on. So, without further ado (after all, why spend any time in careful reflection upon a full ten years of life?), here we go.

The challenge: sum up, in my opinion, the past decade in (semi-)popular music, in 50 albums, 5 per year. The result: the following list, presented in alphabetical order (since ranking them seemed even more arbitrary and superfluous than listing them in the first place). Enjoy.

Beck: Sea Change (2002)
One-sentence review: Beck gets serious.
Beck: Guero (2005)
One-sentence review: Beck proves he’s still Beck.
Benoît Charest: The Triplets of Belleville (2004)
One-sentence review: It’s as charming, brilliant and unexpected as the film it accompanies.
The Bird and the Bee: The Bird and the Bee (2007)
One-sentence review: The ’60s meet the ’00s at a lounge in the ’70s.
The Bird and the Bee: Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future (2009)
One-sentence review: It offers more sweet lounge-electronica delights, this time with more David Lee Roth references.
Coldplay: X&Y (2005)
One-sentence review: The Coldplay album that takes the longest to grow on you also leaves the most lasting impression.
Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs (2008)
One-sentence review: I finally realized I should have been listening to that band with the stupid name for the entire past decade.
The Decemberists: Castaways and Cutouts (2003)
One-sentence review: I dreamt I was an architect.
The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006)
One-sentence review: Victorian prog meets indie rock.
The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (2009)
One-sentence review: Victorian prog consumes indie rock.
Field Music: Field Music (2006)
One-sentence review: Here’s what Gentle Giant would sound like in the indie rock era.
The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
One-sentence review: Perhaps it’s the album of the decade; definitely the era’s answer to both Pet Sounds and Dark Side of the Moon.
Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky (2009)
One-sentence review: I got hurt feelings.
Fujiya & Miyagi: Lightbulbs (2008)
One-sentence review: Knickerbocker glory is an ice cream sundae.
Peter Gabriel: Up (2002)
One-sentence review: If this proves to be his last album, it’s a brilliant farewell.
Green Day: American Idiot (2004)
One-sentence review: I never knew they had it in ’em, but I’m glad they did.
Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest (2009)
One-sentence review: As inscrutible as its title, it’s worth trying to figure out.
Keane: Under the Iron Sea (2006)
One-sentence review: Who knew another band would write a song called “Crystal Ball” that I would inexplicably love?
King Crimson: The ConstruKction of Light (2000)
One-sentence review: It’s the album that should have been a brilliant farewell.
Kraftwerk: Tour de France Soundtracks (2003)
One-sentence review: It’s like Electric Cafe and The Mix never happened.
M83: Saturdays = Youth (2008)
One-sentence review: M83 = brilliant.
The Mars Volta: Frances the Mute (2005)
One-sentence review: Excessive noodling is offset by brilliant prog riffing.
John Mayer: Heavier Things (2003)
One-sentence review: It’s probably all you need to hear from John Mayer, except…
John Mayer Trio: Try! (2005)
One-sentence review: This.
Minus the Bear: Planet of Ice (2007)
One-sentence review: I’d like this band more if it weren’t for the stalled adolescence of some of their lyrics (and their name).
The Most Serene Republic: Population (2007)
One-sentence review: There’s nothing serene about this republic. (And that’s how you write a one-line review. Rolling Stone, I await your job offer.)
My Morning Jacket: Z (2005)
One-sentence review: You won’t be catching any Z’s with this one. (Attn. Rolling Stone: Still waiting.)
My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges (2008)
One-sentence review: Though many site Z as the band’s masterpiece, this is the one that speaks to me most.
Phoenix: United (2003)
One-sentence review: Any band that can release a nearly 10-minute track called “Funky Squaredance,” and it’s good… is worth your attention.
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)
One-sentence review: Bigger than Mozart.
Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (2002)
One-sentence review: The venerable prog band’s almost-breakthrough.
Radiohead: Kid A (2000)
One-sentence review: Radiohead managed, in a single album, to encapsulate the entire decade… before it happened.
Radiohead: Amnesiac (2001)
One-sentence review: In case you forgot, Radiohead defined the music of the decade. (Come on, RS.)
Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (2003)
One-sentence review: A minor success in Radiohead’s catalog is a crowning achievement for almost any other band.
Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)
One-sentence review: The band of the decade delivers its best work yet.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium (2006)
One-sentence review: Not only do RHCP have some life left in them, they still might have their best left in them.
Steely Dan: Two Against Nature (2000)
One-sentence review: The Grammy was an apology, but it’s still a pretty damn good album.
Tenacious D: Tenacious D (2001)
One-sentence review: Though this album shouldn’t be tenacious, plenty of its lyrics have become household staples around here.
Tool: Lateralus (2001)
One-sentence review: It’s the masterpiece of latter-day metal.
Tortoise: Standards (2001)
One-sentence review: If you only buy (or hear) one post-rock album, this is it.
TV on the Radio: Dear Science (2008)
One-sentence review: Consider this the “most slighted album” in my previous years’ top 5 lists.
U2: All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
One-sentence review: One of the all-time greats by one of the all-time greats.
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
One-sentence review: A strange introduction (for me) to this band, it’s still one of their best.
Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (2004)
One-sentence review: Though more straightforward than its predecessor, it’s a mellow masterpiece.
Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (2007)
One-sentence review: Even more back to basics, it’s their best yet, and near the top of my list for the decade.
Brian Wilson: SMiLe (2004)
One-sentence review: Better 33 years late than never.
Wolfmother: Wolfmother (2006)
One-sentence review: A brilliant, visceral throwback to classic hard rock.
XTC: Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (2000)
One-sentence review: If Skylarking is XTC’s Aja, this is their Two Against Nature, though comparing XTC and Steely Dan may be somewhat oblique.
Zero 7: Simple Things (2001)
One-sentence review: Simply brilliant.
Zero 7: When It Falls (2004)
One-sentence review: If I could produce an album like this, I would happily retire from music therafter.

And, since it just seems necessary, here are my top 5 albums of the decade, hastily and subjectively compiled, and subject to rapid and frequent change:

5. Tortoise: Standards
4. Tool: Lateralus
3. Radiohead: Kid A
2. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife
1. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Top 5 Albums of 2006

At least it didn’t take me until July this time, but the only reason I’ve gotten around to this year’s list so soon is because I just happened to be looking at last year’s list and I realized, “Hey, I haven’t made a new list yet!” So, here you go.

5. Field Music: Field Music
This is what Gentle Giant might sound like if they appeared on the scene today. What’s amazing is how much nerdy intricacy these guys can cram into each song without coming across as pretentious, something first-wave prog rockers constantly struggled with (or, occasionally, as with Gentle Giant, embraced with tongue in cheek).
4. Beck: The Information
As I said with 2005’s Guero, any Beck is good. When I first heard this I thought it was too reminiscent of things he’s done before, but now I’ve come to see it as a further refinement of his style. I don’t get the last track though… and I pride myself on getting weird-for-the-sake-of-weird stuff.
3. Keane: Under the Iron Sea
I’m not sure the world really needs the next Coldplay yet, but here’s the next Coldplay. Great atmospheric yet melodic piano-driven pop-rock.
2. Donald Fagen: Morph the Cat
Half a Dan is better than no Dan at all. The Fagen/Becker duo has given us a lot to relish in the new century, and that continues with this fantastic album, easily the best of Fagen’s outstanding (if very slowly emerging) solo trilogy.
1. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife
I consider this to be the best album in nearly a decade, certainly on par with the likes of OK Computer. I was immediately blown away by this band upon hearing this album and within a couple of weeks, had bought everything they’ve released. Why are you still reading this? Buy the album! Now!

Honorable Mention

Here are some other great albums released in 2006 that didn’t make the cut:

Umphrey’s McGee: Safety in Numbers
Wolfmother: Wolfmother
Dave Douglas: Keystone
Tool: 10,000 Days
The Mars Volta: Amputechture
The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium

Love Spatula (I don’t know what it means either)

The first release candidate for the track formerly known as “Bluesy Groovesy” is ready.

As for the title… I have a list I’ve been compiling over the past couple of years (ever since I finished my last solo CD, which was in June 2005) of potential song titles. That’s been the source of most of the titles I’ve used so far in this project. (I’m saving the best few for last… but it’s mostly just about finding a title that seems like a good match for the music.)

Well… I had this one title in the list. “Love Spatula.” I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean, and I can’t remember why or how I came up with it. It seems like it’s probably one of those situations where I misheard someone speaking to me, thought they said “love spatula,” and found the phrase so strangely intriguing that I had to write it down.

At any rate, it seemed fitting for this song, for whatever reason. Enjoy.

Note: To conserve server space, I’m clearing out older versions of the Hors d’Oeuvreture songs. Visit the album page to hear the latest available version of each track!

WordPress is great, but the documentation leaves a little to be desired…

Alas, the woes of using open source software rear their heads. WordPress abounds with undocumented, or at least very poorly documented, features.

My dilemma: the default function for displaying a list of page links (used on this site to populate the Points of Interest panel in the sidebar) sorts links alphabetically, and there isn’t any obvious way to make it sort by the database’s menu_order field, which logically, to me at least, should be the default especially given that this is how they’re sorted in the admin tool.

Finding little help in the documentation or by my usual means (Google), I decided it couldn’t be done without modification. In my previous installation of WordPress I actually modified the core code itself to change the sort order, but when I upgraded to version 2.1.1 today, it overwrote that change. This time I decided to try the plug-in approach, so my changes would actually stick through version changes, and so I could get familiar with the powerful but arcane plug-in system WordPress uses for extensibility.

After poking around futilely trying to get my plug-in to work (to the point where it was sorting all of my blog posts the way I wanted the pages to be, but not the page list), I stumbled upon a relevant post in the WordPress forums, where a snide jab at “theme designers” (which seemed to be such a broad swipe that it included me) happened to mention an input parameter in the function that calls the page list!

Silly me… the system has built right in a very simple way to sort the list by whatever field you want, and all you have to do is pass in the right parameters in your theme files. The change couldn’t have been simpler… but learning that it was possible certainly could have!