21: Camera Obscura - Let’s Get Out of this Country (Merge/2006)
Wily Scots Camera Obscura neatly side-stepped out of the shadow of fellow countrymen Belle and Sebastian with this career-defining album. Both Camera Obscura and B&S have shorn their fey mentality in recent years for more bombast and a move towards the mainstream but Camera Obscura have pulled it off with more style and aplomb. Opener Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken (a response to Lloyd Cole’s Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?) is a fizzy blast of sunshine pop which races along and implores you to keep up, If Looks Could Kill is choc-full of rama-lama glitz and the title track makes small-town ennui sound great fun. Frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell has never sounded so confident and assured and with Let’s Get Out of this Country, Camera Obscura have joined the elite and written one of the pop albums of the 21st Century.
22: The Decemberists - Picaresque (Rough Trade/2005)
Picaresque is the finest example of what The Decemberists do best - putting engrossing, literary stories to music. But as well as stop-you-in-your-tracks rockers like The Infanta and Sixteen Military Wives, there are tender laments like Eli, the Barrow Boy and Of Angels and Angles. This is before even mentioning nine-minute epic, The Mariner’s Revenge Song, which tells the tale of a young sailor dedicating his life to avenging his mother’s death courtesy of her vagabond partner. Those nine minutes take in jaunty rhythms, sea shanty, waltz time and what resembles a Zorba’s Dance to produce something which couldn’t be any band but The Decemberists. Picaresque is captivating from start to finish and works almost as well as a collection of short stories as it does a phenomenal album.
23: David Ford - I Sincerely Apologise for All the Trouble I’ve Caused (Independiente/2005)
After disbanding severely under-rated power pop trio, Easyworld, David Ford branched out into the solo world with this verbosely-titled album. Rumours are Ford was unhappy with his previous record label and the direction they wanted to take Easyworld, and this is the sound of one man’s frustration and fury at modern life. Righteous anger seeps from every pore, steadily rising and rising on State of the Union as Ford attacks anyone and everyone in a surprisingly erudite fashion. Ford has other strings to his bow though, and his touching recollection of a relationship where the fire died in A Long Time Ago could melt the hardest of hearts. Since the release of I Sincerely Apologise…, Ford has been on a seemingly non-stop tour and releases his third album early in 2010.
24: CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy (Sub Pop/2006)
What too many artists seem to forget is that music should be as much about enjoyment as anything else. For Brazilian partygoers CSS, the enjoyment of life appears to pretty much be their ethos, for Cansei de Ser Sexy is an album about the good times, however depraved they may turn out to be. This album is packed full of alcohol-fuelled lust and has no inhibitions whatsoever - it’s basically a record about parties and fucking. Patins drips with I-want-you-right-now yearning, Art Bitch is possibly the most grotesque but compelling song you’ll ever hear and the hipster-baiting Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above is one of the singles of the decade; if you don’t dance to it, check in and pick up your own death certificate. Refreshingly free of pretension and revelling in its own trashiness, Cansei de Ser Sexy is a blast of a good-time album.
25: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell (Fiction/2003)
Sometimes, you should believe the hype. In a post-Strokes world, it would’ve been easy to write off YYYs as another über-trendy New York band for the critics to get themselves in a tizzy about. Their début EP then showed promise (particularly the fantastic single, Bang) but Fever to Tell was even better than anyone expected. The first half of the album disappears in a blur as Karen O shrieks, purrs and yelps her way around Nick Zinner’s jagged riffs - each track exuding confidence, bluster and raw sex appeal. It’s easy to see why Karen O has become such an icon with her unique sense of style and withering putdowns of men who aren’t up to scratch. But before Fever to Tell becomes in danger of coming over all riot-grrrl, cracks begin to show in the façade. The tracks become slower and more introspective, culminating in the sonically stunning Maps, where O appears to be on the edge of tears as she insists “they don’t love you like I love you”. Imagine that, a lead singer who can carry the band, rock with the best of them but still reveal their human side. Fever to Tell announced to the world that a star had arrived.
26: Easyworld - Kill the Last Romantic (Jive/2004)
Ah, Easyworld. We all have our bands who we believe never got the attention, praise and sales they deserved and Easyworld are one of mine. Their début, This is Where I Stand, was rough around the edges but hinted at more to come. Kill the Last Romantic delivered on that promise, but in an unexpected fashion. Rather than build upon the power-pop sound they were known for, KTLR was a more grown-up pop record, using a wider range of instruments and featuring the odd piano ballad. Detractors may label it AOR, but it was every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor, but now with added pathos. 2nd Amendment is a 3-minute four-to-the-floor epic, Drive charts the helplessness of growing up almost perfectly and ‘Til the Day is that rarest of things - a declaration of undying love you can actually believe in. Kill the Last Romantic also has a couplet to stir the heart for bookends. When the final track (aptly titled Goodbye) builds and builds, the cymbals crash and make way for the same lines that open the album, it’s a spine-tingling moment up there with any album of the last decade.
27: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner/2002)
Nobody familiar with the Lips’ self-destructive, drug-fuelled space rock of the 1980s could have predicted the critical and commercial success that they would become in the 21st Century. Of course, it all began with The Soft Bulletin, their breathtaking masterpiece that arrived at the fag-end of the 90s. However, it was Yoshimi… that took them into the mainstream. The concept is more than a little ridiculous, but despite the abundance of robot themes and the massively distorted drums, it’s the human warmth that shines through on this album more than anything. The string arrangements seem to be choreographed to match sounds that stir human emotion (witness the coda of One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21) and this album also gave us the most show-stopping line of the decade (“Do you realize that everyone you know some day will die?" from the initially fluffy and innocent sounding Do You Realize?? - now the state anthem of Oklahoma). Perhaps no-one will ever understand what goes on in their minds, but Yoshimi… demonstrates that The Flaming Lips know what’s going on in ours.
28: Arab Strap - The Last Romance (Chemikal Underground/2005)
Arab Strap are fantastic storytellers, though they tell you the stories you may not want to hear, for theirs is a world of regret, too much to drink, bad decisions and disappointment. Your opinion of The Last Romance could hinge on what you make of the opening line to first track, Stink (“Burn these sheets that we’ve just fucked in”). It may not be happy listening but there’s something about the relish in Aidan Moffatt’s voice that makes these tales of twentysomething dreams compelling. It may be somewhat unremarkable sonically (mostly the usual guitar/bass/drums setup) but the strength of the melodies really shines through though the star of the show is Moffatt’s acerbic, cutting wit. The Last Romance would cut short any party, but by yourself on a rainy day, it’s a cathartic and somehow uplifting experience, worthy of many a repeat listen.
29: The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop/2003)
As I get older and hear more and more music, I start to reach the conclusion that more often than not, simplicity is king and what I really love is pop music. There’s clearly a place for your nosebleed techno and drill n’ bass “classics”, but nothing quite beats a well-crafted three-minute hook-laden, melody-driven, bona fide pop song. Chutes Too Narrow is the best example of this from the last decade, and possibly even longer. It follows a pretty standard verse-chorus-verse setup and isn’t going to change the world, but it’s so well-crafted and bursting with memorable melodies that it begs to be listened again and again. Some may deem it unworthy, and The Shins certainly have their detractors but this really is quality, timeless songwriting of the highest order. Just typing this paragraph has put Fighting in a Sack firmly in my head, and every time I hear a snippet of this album, I have to go back and play the whole thing. A victory for quality over style, reputation and other things that barely matter.
30: Martha Wainwright - Martha Wainwright (Drowned in Sound/2005)
The opening track of this album is beautiful, simply stunning and beyond my feeble words. For a proper explanation of why it’s so good, you should go here: http://bit.ly/5OrHSM. However, the rest of the album ain’t half bad either. Factory fades in like a half-awake dream and lazily rolls along like an hour on a beach, and This Life and These Flowers are similarly captivating. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is an album without balls, because Martha Wainwright has more attitude and feistiness than your average album. In fact, anyone titling a song about their father Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole is pretty confident, especially when said father is songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Tracks such as Ball and Chain also pack a bitter, cutting edge. Wainwright’s voice is a fabulous instrument, capable of capturing the good and the bad, the rough and the smooth, and is never, ever dull. Ignore the males of the Wainwright family, Martha is the one to invest in.