Top 100 Albums of the Decade (part 4)

Modest Mouse—The Moon and Antarctica
Epic, 2000

Despite the overwhelming success of 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, The Moon and Antarctica still seems to inspire the most resounding acclaim from longtime Modest Mouse fans. It highlighted a point in Modest Mouse’s storied career where, even though radio still wasn’t really playing them, they were becoming impossible to ignore. Their enormous fan base was built almost solely from extensive touring, and when a band plays together that much for that long, the music can reach insane highs. Moon proved two things about Modest Mouse to the world: 1) They weren’t going to be fading away any time soon, and 2) They were capable of much more than ripping off Black Francis. Those things were important to establish, but the record is actually much more than a stone of proof—though thematically similar to MM’s other albums, Moon has the ability to work on many levels. There’s a sort of code of ethics to its moral ambiguity, a kind of spirituality to its atheism. It’s a very human record that deals with human afflictions, while not failing to comment on how silly many of these afflictions are and how badly they cause some people to screw up. “3rd Planet” and “Dark Center of the Universe” have both become anthems on this topic in their own right, boasting melodic yet dreary guitar lines that tend to inspire ornery grins—the stuff from which rock and roll is brewed. Amazingly, Modest Mouse never lose themselves in this process of reinvention, a sure-footed attitude that no doubt helped to poise them for the great takeover. (Note: Though this album was reissued in 2004 with a new mix and new artwork, all the info in this review is based on the original 2000 release.)

My Morning Jacket—Z
ATO/RCA, 2005

Like Summerteeth did for Wilco in 1999, 2005’s Z changed how the world listened to My Morning Jacket. It showed the band taking their alt-country upbringings, slingshotting them as far off into the mountains as they would go, and replacing them with a more psychedelic-pop-oriented approach. Jim James’ songwriting may have taken a more upbeat turn on this record in favor of commercial appeal, but he sounds more driven than he ever has before or since. Plus, the songs on Z are still as emotionally immediate as his earlier gospel-inspired work; and on top of that, it’s easy as hell to rock out to them. “Anytime” sounds like a radio hit in all the best possible ways—the verse feels like a chorus, the chorus feels like a verse, and the bridge feels like Jerry Lee Lewis somehow avoided self-sabotaging his career back in the 50’s. “Off the Record” is probably what Sticky Fingers would have sounded like with some more reggae thrown in, with an extended end-solo a la “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” that feels more tip-of-the-hat than uninspired rip-off. James’ ability to humbly wear his influences on his sleeve while still creating unique rock music is one of the many things that make MMJ so much fun. (Note: This was the RGH selection for Best Album of 2005.)

Portastatic—Be Still Please
Merge, 2006

Superchunk may be the banner under which Mac McCaughan achieved his status as indie cult auteur, but Be Still Please (the 2006 offering from Portastatic, McCaughan’s solo project) is one of the finest records he has made—bold proof that he not only deserves more credit as a songwriter, but is in fact one of the indie generation’s greatest. As an album, it is a departure from everything McCaughan has done in any of his projects, boasting Dylan-esque arrangements and loads of unorthodox instrumentation like clarinet, oboe and bassoon. Given this fact, as well as the ultra-personal nature of the songs, one could wonder why McCaughan didn’t choose to release the album simply under his own name. It probably has something to do with the fact that—despite the overall melancholy tone of Be Still Please—he is still too rock and roll to pull that move. He could easily become the old guy who is still making music because a handful of people like him enough to buy his records, and to make it easier for them, he records and performs Michael McDonald style. But, as proven by the track “You Blanks”, he is anything but that guy: “All my songs used to end the same way/Everything’s gonna be okay/You fuckers made that impossible to say!” Whomever those “blanks” are, the tone is not an accommodating one, and it’s clear from this album’s beautiful beginnings to its whispery end that McCaughan is doing this for himself.

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2 Responses to “Top 100 Albums of the Decade (part 4)”

  1. Rich Yarges Says:

    I wouldn’t put any of these records in a Top 1000 list.

  2. Record Geek Says:

    I can’t win ’em all with you, Yangs. So why even try? 😉 Happy turkey day!

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