So, Sunshine Playroom’s Top 10 Albums of the decade continues with the top five. I’ve already discussed Flight Of The Conchords, The Cure, Suzanne Vega, Lloyd Cole and Sia, but who will top the tree? Will it be an old stalwart from decades past, or someone new?
Before I reveal all, I’ll just take a moment to mention a few albums that didn’t make the Top 10. These are also highly recommended. The Eels Daisies Of The Galaxy (2000), New Order Get Ready (2001), The Bangles Doll Revolution (2003), Homespun Homespun (2003) and Elbow Cast Of Thousands (2003) were all snapping at the heels of the Top 10. So with that out of the way, let’s move on to the all important Top 5…
5. A Camp - A Camp (2001)
A Camp is a side project from Nina Persson of The Cardigans, released during a break the band took between tours. Produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, he also co-wrote the closing track Elephant. Persson shares the writing credits with Niklas Frisk (of Swedish band Atomic Swing) and Nathan Larson (now her husband).
When you start listening to opening track Frequent Flyer, you realise it’s very different in style from The Cardigan’s usual output. It finds it’s roots in country music, and continues this throughout whilst mixing them with more familiar rock sounds. In fact when The Cardigans returned in 2003 with Long Gone Before Daylight, the same influences can be heard.
A Musical Cornucopia
What follows is a musical cornucopia. Cellos, violins, steel guitars and harmonicas all mix with Persson’s rich, strong trademark tones. They are all blended to perfection by the brilliant production work. Songs such as I Can Buy You (the first single released), Such A Bad Comedown, and Algebra all shine. And as the album draws to a close they serve up possibly it’s most beautiful moment. A relatively obscure cover version The Bluest Eyes In Texas, originally recorded by country outfit, Restless Heart.
A follow up was recently released called Colonia. Alongside the last two Cardigans albums, showing what a musical treasure Persson’s work has become.
4. Beck - Sea Change (2002)
Beck Hansen had released seven studio albums in the nineties before Sea Change became the first of his noughties output. His previous work had varied in style from one release to another, with some albums themselves varying from track to track. Therefore it was somewhat of a surprise to find this one had such focus.
Lyrically drawn from an emotional romantic break up, it’s underlined throughout with beautiful string arrangements, and Beck’s melancholic acoustic guitar.
From the opening track The Golden Age, you’re drawn in to a wonderful, lush, late night soundtrack for the broken hearted. Gone is the overblown, bombastic production sound of much of his better known work, replaced with evocative and sometimes psychedelic arrangements.
This continues throughout, among the many highlights being Guess I’m Doing Fine and Lost Cause. The latter was released as a promotional single (with accompanying video), no other singles were released from it. This was unusual at the time, especially for an album released on a major label.
The style of Sea Change has been likened in many places to that of the legendary Nick Drake. And it’s fairly easy to see where this comes from. If you’ve played all your Drake albums to death, and are unfamiliar with Beck’s work, this is the perfect album.
At the end of 2002, Rolling Stone magazine named Sea Change as the best album of the year. An accolade it truly deserves.
3. Bran Van 3000 - Discosis (2001)
It’s always difficult for a band to follow up a commercial success, more so when it’s been mostly off the back of a tv commercial (Drinking In L.A. featured in an ad for Rolling Rock beer in 1999), so Discosis came along with high expectations. I doubt many people foresaw the rich melting point of styles and collaborators it delivered.
The album opens with Astounded (also the first single taken from it), which features the last recorded performance before his death of soul legend Curtis Mayfield. It’s a great, catchy pop tune, with layered strings, and a disco beat, but probably not very indicative of the style of the rest of Discosis. Elsewhere on the album you’ll find guest appearances and contributions from Big Daddy Kane, Eek-A-Mouse (on the funky Go Shoppin’), Momus, Badar Ali Khan (cousin of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), and Youssou N’Dour on the track Senegal.
Interludes & Samples
Discosis also boasts some great female vocals from Jayne Hill (on Predictable) and Sara Johnston (on the melancholic Rock Star), and the little interludes and samples thrown in all add up to really give it a sound and identity that’s all it’s own. It’s a happy album, it’s fun, and has many clever lyrics that will make you smile to yourself. It goes in directions it’s hard to predict, especially on the penultimate track Love Cliché, which if you didn’t know better could perhaps be mistaken for S Club 7, or other chart acts.
Unfortunately due to record label changes, and being so hard to pigeonhole in to any one style, Discosis was a commercial flop, but to most people who’ve ever discovered it, is seen a forgotten gem of a masterpiece.
2. Kate Bush - Aerial (2005)
A wait of twelve years in the making was always going to raise expectations for this long awaited return. The announcement that it was to be a double album could sound simultaneously like good and bad news. Preceded by King Of The Mountain (the album’s first track) as a single, things started to look good straight away.
A familiar sounding style on show, it’s a quirky little song about Elvis working in a diner. It builds nicely, growing until the big rock drums come in midway through.
As you delve further into the album, you first come to Pi. A song that only Kate could ever get away with. In other words a song about a man obsessed with the mathematical figure of Pi. The chorus becomes an intonation of those numerical figures! The rest of the first album (subtitled A Sea Of Honey) continues covering familiar Kate styles. There are songs about her son (Bertie) and washing machines (Mrs.Bartolozzi).
The second album (A Sky Of Honey) is a piece of work presented as a whole. It is in the style of some concept albums. Similar in style to the second side of her 1985 album Hounds Of Love. Kate has described A Sky Of Honey as simply being about “just having a really nice day”, and it’s filled with beautiful imagery, atmosphere and melodic soundscapes. For me, the highlight of this is the penultimate track Nocturn. In this, Kate sings of tiring of the city and escaping to a better place, one of moonlit beaches, dreams, footprints in the sand, a diamond sea, and staring out at the panoramic beauty of the atlantic. Her voice sounds perfect throughout, quite often understated. She always conveys the belief in what’s she’s singing about.
Aerial truly is a masterpiece, although not quite her best work ever (which for me is still 1982’s The Dreaming). It really was worth the wait, something I never believed it would fulfil. Since then, Kate has contributed another new track, Lyra, for the soundtrack to the film The Golden Compass, so maybe we won’t have to endure another ten year wait before she treats us to a new album. Let’s hope not.
1. The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
A truly wonderful album that I never tire of, and one that has a wide appeal well beyond that you’d expect. A sound that was truly fresh even then, Give Up opens with what were to be the main singles released from it, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and Such Great Heights (one of the few positive love songs Gibbard has penned).
The soft beauty of these two continues throughout, but at times taking darker turns such as with We Will Become Silhouettes (about the effects of a nuclear blast), but all the time wrapped up in infectious melodies. Other tracks that really stand out are Sleeping In and Clark Gable (about making home movies with an ex).
Formed accidentally almost by members of two other bands. After that The Postal Service went on to give seminal label Sub Pop it’s second best-selling album of all time (behind Nirvana’s Bleach). The band consists of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel, Headset and Figurine), although Give Up features contributions from others. Most notably vocals from Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley. The collaboration was forged via the United States Postal Service. Ben and Jimmy sent DAT’s backwards and forwards between themselves to make the tracks.
Described by many as “electronic indie pop”, it’s hard to argue but rarely does the music justice. It perhaps suggests a slightly retro sound, something that never comes across when listening to it. If you’ve never heard it, you really should go out and buy it right away. Although you’re likely to find that you have heard them before without knowing. Their songs have featured in numerous tv ads and shows. In fact, Such Great Heights held the top spot in Last.fm’s most played song for almost the whole of 2005.
Well that’s it. I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums again, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading the article. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.