Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Naught to Be Outdone: Albums, Pt. 1

Remember when the world was all abuzz with this idea that the album was "dying"? With the world's newfound ability to buy individual songs via the mp3, appreciation for an entire 45 minutes with one artist would quickly fall, and albums would cease to exist.

Well, they weren't entirely off base. Album sales have indeed dropped. And though artists are still churning out the LPs, who knows, maybe this "death" is just taking a bit longer than we expected. Regardless, the Decade of the Mp3 still managed to produce some damn fantastic albums. Sexy, droney, hooky, fuzzy albums that pushed music in interesting directions, just as albums had in the last 5 decades (without the hindrance of the mp3). Here are a few of Pretension and Perk's favorites.

20. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. PJ Harvey. 2000.
Polly Jean Harvey has repeatedly insisted throughout her career that she was not influenced heavily by Patti Smith. Despite the overwhelming evidence against her (see: almost every PJ Harvey song), I am inclined to believe her, if only for the sheer honesty she puts into her fifth album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Simultaneously beautiful and rough as hell, the album finds PJ reaching a balance she has been on the verge of for her entire career. PJ, we beg of you: stop messing around with that John Parish fellow and give us more albums like this.

19. Franz Ferdinand. Franz Ferdinand. 2004.
Oh my god. What a sexy album. This thing is just dripping with a pansexual intensity. The hooks are what pull you in first, which, though incredible, are just the foreplay. After a bit, your mind clears and you notice the subtleties. Alex Kapranos' articulation is sultry and comforting, inviting and menacing. The the guitar licks bite you, then heal you back up. The slow builds... the resolves. What are you left to do?: Let it happen again and again for thirty-eight point seven minutes. Oh yes.

18. Sound of Silver. LCD Soundsystem. 2007.
For his sophomore effort, the consistently brilliant and consistently disheveled James Murphy sacrifices some of the biting wit found in tunes like "Losing My Edge" for a bit more heart and soul. And it works. "Someone Great" takes on the question of starting over with a repeating hum that drills into your brain; "All My Friends", meanwhile, builds on a single, droning piano riff to create a middle-age examining-masterpiece that defies classification. But by no means is his edge gone: "North American Scum" is a sly jab at the oversimplified criticism of American culture. Murphy's edge and soul finally converge in the album's closer, "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down", a song that shows him trying out a surprisingly traditional rock structure. Of course, it succeeds. Is my man-crush blatantly obvious yet?

17. The Woods. Sleater-Kinney. 2005.
When Sleater-Kinney announced their hiatus in 2006, they couldn't have been going off on a better note. Their final album sees the band not summing up their career (as so many swan songs do), but rather continuing to expand their sound. Dirtier and more elaborate riffs ground the girls' intense and desperate wails in both the album's lead single "Entertain" and the epic, 11-minute "Let's Call it Love". But it's "What's Mine is Yours" that hits the hardest: the songs swings like the girls have never swung before, but ultimately degenerates into a more familiar fuzzy mess. "It's either run or fight," yelps Corrin Tucker, just before howling in a prolonged drawl, "I'M STILL RUNNING." Hey, the band might have chosen flight over fight, but perhaps it was for the best. It would be pretty hard to create a more perfect final memory.

16. The Blueprint. Jay-Z. 2001.
Sure the hooks are great. The samples are well chosen and well placed. And Jay's flow has rarely been smoother. But what really puts this album over the top is the structure: no skits, no throwaways, and no guest rappers except one instance in which the guest is very much warranted to be there. Jay crafted The Blueprint the way more rap albums should be crafted, and he backed it up with the finest set of songs he has put out to date. It would have been an utter shame to see them spread thin by joke tracks or cheapened by lazy verses by the hot new rapper of the month. Hova proves again and again he knows just what he's doing. --insert any of the thousands of relevant, self confident Jay quotes here--.

1 comment:

  1. "Is my man-crush blatantly obvious yet?"

    Haha yes.