The Top 100 Albums of the Decade (part 5)

Bjork—Selmasongs
One Little Indian, 2000

Like the film Dancer in the Dark did for the musical, “In the Musicals” reinvents the musical number. It has all the rising, uplifting trajectory of the best Rogers & Hammerstein tunes without being cheesy and overbearing like those were. Sure, musicals were the thing back in the forties, but it can be safely said that their popularity and credibility are slipping these days. Back then, it was easier to convince people that everything would be okay if you kept a smile on your face and a song in your heart. After all, everyone was petrified of nuclear war, and if it wasn’t “smile and sing”, it could just as easily have been “duck and cover”. Though people are a little less like sheep now, Lars Von Trier takes this idea to a whole new level in his film, a level that might not be for everyone (it makes Terms of Endearment look like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). It’s fortunate, then, that Selmasongs stands up as a great album all on its own. Granted, one who has not seen Dancer might become curious as to what exactly the “107 Steps” are, and the film opens up entirely new dimensions to songs like “I’ve Seen It All”. But even after viewing Dancer, Selmasongs retains elements of mystery. Any way you look at it, the two are separate entities, and the album represents Bjork at her best.

The National—Boxer
Beggars Banquet, 2008

The National make up part of the Williamsburg scene, but were it not for this, they might not seem so hip. After all, they are all actually from Cincinnati, OH. Plus, Matt Berninger’s deep baritone simultaneously recalls Leonard Cohen and the crooners of old, and it’s never been cool to listen to your parents’ music. If his lyrics didn’t so candidly reflect the nomadic hearts of today’s youth, The National’s songs may not work as well, and Boxer might not be as near-perfect as it is. As with most of The National’s music, much of Boxer seems to play with the idea of things falling together, whether or not it is in the desired form. The unique chemistry of the band—a morose yet controlled chaos—coupled with the indifferent confusion of Berninger’s lyrics provide the perfect soundtrack for embracing helplessness. As Berninger sings on “Racing Like a Pro”, “Sometimes you get up and bake a cake or something, sometimes you stay in bed/sometimes you go la de da de da de da until your eyes roll back into your head.” Never have mundane tasks done so much for the greater good.

Field Music—Tones of Town
Memphis Industries, 2007

Field Music write and record music when they want to, and claim the band is a “by-product” of their existence and not their “reason for it”. With that said, Tones of Town is a truly great record, one that many will attempt to emulate for years to come. If the members of Field Music don’t even make the band a top priority in their lives and STILL create pop music this adventurous and memorable, they should be waiting to pull another masterpiece out of their ass and two more out of each ear here pretty soon. This album pushes the limits of all of its elements—everything from the Brian-Wilson-meets-Andy-Partridge arrangements and the recording of the songs to the way we listen to them is challenged in some way. Specifically, Tones of Town should be considered a ProTools blueprint for all engineers or aspiring ones. The way the band plays with the endless possibilities of the program (as with the reverse effects of “A House Is Not A Home”) still sounds fresh. The songwriting is angular without being overwrought, catchy without sacrificing originality, and effortlessly melodic. Most importantly, at just under 32 minutes, Tones of Town avoids outstaying its welcome; and if it under-stays it, what’s left is the urge to start the whole damn thing over again.

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