6. Sufjan Stevens [UPDATE: moved to number 3.]
My deep admiration for Sufjan Stevens is paired with the sad realisation that his rapid rise to fame in 2005 inevitably wore him out. Many feared that Sufjan wouldn’t make another proper record after certain statements he made last year, but lo and behold, this year he unexpectedly released a new EP (All Delighted People) and his newest album, The Age of Adz was released on 12 October [and topped my and Greg’s Top 10 Albums of ’10]. Exciting times, and from the sound of his newest material he is pulling away from the mass appeal generated by Illinois. This recent venture back into semi-electronic, erratic, avant-garde territory is incredibly appealing to me. Three of his records are featured on my Top 50 Albums list: A Sun Came (2000), Greetings From Michigan (2003) and The Age of Adz (2010).
‘For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti’ from Greetings From Michigan, live on a farm:
‘Too Much’ from his forthcoming album Age of Adz, live at Castaways in Ithaca, New York in 2009:
Sorry Sufjan fans (and if he’s reading this, sorry Sufjan), but there’s only room for five in the ‘Top 5’ and he’s not there quite yet. In order to gain membership in my coveted Top 5 [please note the sarcasm] he’ll have to beat the five to follow, beginning with The Smiths.
5. The Smiths/Morrissey [UPDATE: moved to number 6.]
There are major differences between The Smiths and Morrissey, but it didn’t used to be such a stark contrast. For instance, everything The Smiths made was great (if not better!) while the Mozzer has been on a steady decline with few recent high points. Still, taken as a single unit they are phenomenal (and I still believe in you Morrissey!). Through their charisma and uniqueness (largely on account of the Mozzer’s voice and Johnny Marr’s guitar), The Smiths have secured their place as the kings of indie pop. Three of their records can be found on my Top 50 Albums list: The Queen is Dead (The Smiths – 1986), Louder Than Bombs (The Smiths – 1987) and Bona Drag (Morrissey – 1990).
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ from Hatful of Hollow (The Smiths – 1984), live in Madrid (after two minutes of cheering fans):
‘Suedehead’ from Viva Hate (Morrissey – 1988), live on Later… with Jools Holland:
It took me a couple (nearly three) months to buy it, but I did, frankly because I’m in love with Morrissey. Prior to Years of Refusal‘s I heard “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” and was rather unimpressed. I’ve been under the impression that Morrissey’s guitarist/musical director, Boz Boorer, has been rather booring (sic for a cheap pun).
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly am of the persuasion that Moz’s previous album was actually better than most music in general (to the credit of both Moz and Boz), but held up against, say, Viva Hate and Vaxhaull and I (to name two very solid albums), Ringleader of the Tormentors is not especially great. Something about Ringleader didn’t quite grab me in the way that even You Are the Quarry did (and did well). But I eventually got over my fears and bought it. Here’s what I discovered:
First the bad news: Years of Refusal (like Ringleader before it) has not [yet] captured me heart like the Morrissey tunes I am in love with. Something about this album feels slightly soulless and overproduced, at least musically.
This next bit can be interpreted either way: the lyrics of this album are very strong, very aggressive, and even combative/pissy. I personally enjoy when Morrissey is pompus (though I can’t say quite the same for Bono).
Now the good news: I’d consider the album to be rather dynamic. Morrissey considers this work his strongest, and I would somewhat agree with that as far as sheer vocal dynamics go. Morrissey demonstrates on this album, perhaps better than any of his recent efforts, that he is an excellent vocalist; clear, pitch-perfect, and versatile. The backing music is mediocre though (unfortunately, something I’ve come to expect from Boz), with several strong points, but leaves you begging for a Smiths reunion. *Also, there are coyote howls in the middle of a song (maybe that will entice you to purchase and listen to find them).
If you’re a fan of Morrissey and you don’t think he’s abandoned everything he once stood for when he wrote You Are the Quarry, (we’ll ignore Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted), you might enjoy this album.
Your thoughts on Years of Refusal?
Greg has done an excellent job of raking in this year’s best (at least in his highly-informed opinion) albums. That’s great stuff (I’m only speaking generally because I think Coldplay’s Viva La Vida is mostly rubbish), but how much of it will we be listening to in two years? Because music is in-and-out so frequently I’ve composed what I consider the best albums of 2008, though none of them were released this year. Lend me your ear eye.
If you or I were to look at a list of our favorite albums from two years ago it would probably be different than the list we would make today. I’m suspecting a lot of the albums that I considered my favorite from two years ago have lost ground in my personal rating and that is not to say that the latest albums have replaced them. What I’ve found is that through recycling the music I listen to I sit with an album longer and it really grows on me. For instance, I first heard Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 in 2001. Since then this album has been climbing its way up my list and I considered it my favorite album of 2005 (even better than Come on Feel the Illinoise!, the quintessential indie-folk hit that year). If Greg’s picks were subjective, mine will likely be hyper-subjective. This whole thing also has to do with the fact that the music I listen to usually gets to my ears one of three ways: by way of NPR/KCRW, by way of associated acts (i.e. I heard of Sufjan Stevens because he once played in Danielson, an earlier favorite of mine), or by way of a highly sophisticated (and elitist) filtration system consisting largely of Greg Stump.
With all of that said, I must also add that I have not purchased much new music from this year. In fact, as I look at my computer the only albums I see in my iTunes library from 2008 are Ratatat’s LP3, Danielson’s Danielson Alive EP (free online), and Danielson’s Trying Hartz. I’m not against new music, but I suppose that after sampling I wasn’t compelled to buy many new full albums this year. That is not to say that I’ve not grown in my musical breadth: according to my “date added” information in my iTunes library I’ve added more than forty albums to my iTunes this year (and it’s not over), thus I’ve purchased more than forty albums this year (buying used music on Amazon is incredible). So out of the albums that I’ve purchased this year here are my top ten.