Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

This is the first of some posts I'll be making when I'm not in the mood to write a formal film review but still want to share something with you guys - in this case, music.

If you have any favourite albums from the past decade, let us know a few in the comments! I'm always looking to expand my tastes.

Here are three of my favourite albums of the 2000s with youtube previews of some of their best tracks.

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Brian Wilson - SMiLE
Genre: Baroque Pop-rock

After recording Pet Sounds with The Beach Boys (today often ranked as the greatest album of all time), Brian Wilson started work on this album, an epic chamber-pop suite of Americana recorded in 1966 and 1967. Alas, Wilson went bonkers and the album was shelved. Snippets of songs and one or two officially released songs from the album (including the career-defining "Good Vibrations) solidified its legend as the greatest lost album of all time. Decades went by, and Wilson recorded fairly decent but unremarkable music and dismissed SMiLE in interviews.

Then he tried again.

Wilson recorded SMiLE again and finished it. his aged voice suits the maturation of style on the album better than ever, and the album is as much of a landmark of composition and production as Pet Sounds. Smooth song segues, constantly exhilarating songwriting and gorgeous harmonies adorn it. No one has ever released a better comeback album, or perhaps even a better album.

Portishead - Third
Genre: Trip-Hop, Electronic, Experimental

After two great albums in the 90s (the first of which, Dummy, was the milestone of the nascent trip-hop genre), Portishead went on a decade-long hiatus before returning to the studio to record Third. They'd been gone so long, and the trip-hop genre so long ago burned out, that worries that the band's sound had dated abounded. But Third was as much of a surprise as SMiLE. Though Portishead didn't entirely leave their easygoing trip-hop sound behind, their earlier works didn't predict the tension and emotional range on this one.

In fact, Third couldn't be more removed from Dummy in that sense. It's a demanding, often jarring listen that forces the listener's commitment before its virtues are clear. Its sounds are dense and often unnerving, but for those willing to navigate them it's an intensely rewarding experience.

La Dispute - Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair

Genre: Post-Hardcore, Progressive Rock

Somewhere at the Bottom is beyond challenging. It's an emotional wreck of an album; as fragile as the makeshift boat on its cover but as angry and frightening as the rough, scratchy artwork. Even those who hear this album and dismiss it for its abrasive, often screaming lyrics rarely have anything but praise for the instrumentation, making it a good entry point for the harsh vocals of screamo.

The album has no unifying concept beyond a vague mourning of a lost lover, past mistakes, and self-hatred. But don't run! This has some of the least generic lyrics in its genre, and they're damned poignant, thoughtful and identifiable, rather than the typical ranting self-obsession in post-hardcore. That said, it's far from nihilistic, and after it's finished battering your feelings for 50 minutes it scrabbles together hope and lifts its body up on its thin, shaky legs.


N.W. Douglas said...

My first pick has been - and will likely remain - Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible." "Funeral" is brilliant as well, but I think "Bible" edges it in terms of production and cohesive storytelling/theme exploration.

Switchfoot's "The Beautiful Letdown." This band exploded with new energy with "Letdown," and then dissipated with the follow-up. "Oh Gravity!" restores some of that but song for song, doesn't match "Letdown's" overall impact.

U2's "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb." This may be my favourite of their albums; most of its tracks just hit the spot exactly, particularly the last two.

Over The Rhine has had a superb decade, and picking one album is difficult, but I'll go with "Ohio." A must-listen.

I've really enjoyed Johnny Cash's final album "American V: A Hundred Highways."

I'm so taken with The Decemberists that on any given day, I would choose "The Hazards of Love" or "The Crane Wife." They both belong on the decade list.

TobyMac's "Welcome to DiverseCity," and the follow-up "Portable Sounds," are both worthy compilations.

I don't know if it belongs on the decade list, but MGMT's "Oracular Spectacular" keeps grabbing my attention.

¬Will Ross said...

Thanks N.W.D.! There's a few albums on there I'd never heard before, and a couple that I think definitely belong on there. Neon Bible and American V are definitely fantastic albums, but just to be clear, V was not his final album - it was neither the last one released in his lifetime nor will it be the last one in the American series (American VI has been confirmed). I think Funeral is better than Neon Bible for bolder instrumentation and more consistently great songwriting, but we're just quibbling over great albums at that point.

Over the Rhine has been very good this decade, but I wouldn't call them consistently superb - they've released three studio albums that range from pretty good to great, and two pretty good live albums with some listenable compilations in-between. That said, Ohio isn't a bad pick at all.

I'm pretty skeptical about listing HtDaAB as one of the best albums of the decade - let alone as one of U2's best albums! It's a good listen, but it feels too much like a holding-pattern retreat into easy guitar rock rather than the back-to-roots blast-off I think they were hoping for.

Decemberists are pretty damn good, probably as good as any band out there, and I've never heard anything by them I didn't like a lot, but I don't feel like they've ever pulled it together and made one album that pulls its tracks together and really hammers them home as a whole.

I'm pretty sure Diverse City or Portable Sounds are compilations... regardless, those and "The Beautiful Letdown" are on my listening list thanks to your list.

As for MGMT... I'll talk about them another time.

N.W. Douglas said...

Ah, good to know about Cash. As for OTR, I only started listening about two months ago, and haven't heard all of this decades albums (The Trumpet Child, in particular), but songs like "Changes Come" thrill me so much that I know they'll make my best-of-decade list eventually, when I finally sort out which album I prefer most.

I agree that Atomic Bomb feels like a holding pattern. I'm just a sucker for Edge's joyful strings.

I forgot to add Joe Henry. I've only heard his latest, "Blood From Stars," and am meaning to check out his other works, but "Blood" really struck a chord (or two, or three). Nothing like a bit of beautifully modulated/ tortured soul-searching to lighten the day.

Devan said...

I'm not quite as well-versed in 21st century music as I should be, ironically.

My favorite album of the decade might very well be Rufus Wainwright's 'Want One'. Fantastic record, beautiful production, great songwriting.

There's also Jarvis Cocker's 'Jarvis', which I love, although I wouldn't put it in the same league as Want One. It's still one of the most enjoyable records I've heard in a long time.

In terms of live albums, there's Bruce Springsteen's Live In New York City and Matthew Good's Live At The Massey Hall, although I'm admittedly somewhat biased towards both of those artists for various reasons. I'm also big on concert movies, and David Gilmour's Remember That Night and especially Neil Young's Heart of Gold were both worthy entries to the genre. Heart of Gold may very well be the greatest concert film I've seen since Stop Making Sense, in fact.

And, of course, there's Neon Bible, which has already been talked about to death, so I won't bother.

I'm not the biggest fan of Atomic Bomb, despite my enjoyment of Vertigo (Which mainly lies in the fact that it's really just a really fun and cheesy song) I much prefer U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind.

I've got nothing new to add to anything else, except that you should try listening to American IV, if you haven't. A great record with one of the best opening tracks I've ever heard. It took me a while to get into Cash, but Live At Folsom and IV basically convinced me of his greatness.

¬Will Ross said...

"I'm not quite as well-versed in 21st century music as I should be, ironically."


Devan said...


Avis said...


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