The Top 100 Albums of the Decade (part 8)

Kill Creek—Colors of Home
Second Nature, 2001

If Kill Creek’s previous album, Proving Winter Cruel, was bleak, then Colors of Home is downright dreary. To play off a popular cliché, it feels right at home on one of those days in Kansas where the sky turns yellow-green before a tornado. The fact that Kill Creek hails from Kansas may have something to do with this distinction, but singer/songwriter Scott Born’s unbridled enthusiasm for Mark Eitzel and his American Music Club certainly plays a huge part as well. Though a few tracks on Colors of Home subtly wear some power pop influence (namely the galloping “Mousetrap”), most of the songs wallow in their own darkness while still being melodic and self-aware. Kill Creek’s music seems like transcribed turmoil—the despair and confusion of these songs has been felt by Born in a number of ways too personal to mention, but he holds nothing back when singing about it. In the song “Serotonin”, Born is scathingly candid about the music scene in his hometown of Lawrence, KS: “How much warmer are the parents of the newest brand of empty-flavored kids at all the concerts for the broken boys?”

Teenage Fanclub—Howdy!
Columbia, 2000

Long-awaited but mildly received upon release, Howdy! was not the album fans of Teenage Fanclub were expecting at the time. Their previous release, Song From Northern Britain, was a tour de force of Byrds-esque pop full of love anthems and power ballads and layer upon layer upon layer of vocal harmonies. For Howdy!, the Fanclub dial it back a few notches, exploring their patented extended riffs (“Near You”, “I Can’t Find My Way Home”, “My Uptight Life”) with a patience that only the experience of age can bring. They may be older and light years away from their 90’s weaning here, but Raymond McGinley, Gerard Love and Norman Blake each offer up a near-perfect batch of songs that play with what one experiences while growing older and realizing what one wants to make of their lives. “If I Never See You Again”, the album’s closer, sums up this idea with a simple picking pattern and a mere twelve words, while “My Uptight Life” does it with the help of a moog organ and a stellar refrain that continues for nearly four minutes. Though it is done quite subtly, it seems both extremes of power pop’s possibilities, and almost everything in between, are celebrated on Howdy!.

Elliott Smith—Figure 8
DreamWorks, 2000

(Note: I screwed up. I originally had Basement on the list because, thanks to some faulty research, I thought Figure 8 was actually released in 1999. My mistake; it should totally be on this list.)

Like a run-on sentence of the broken-hearted, Figure 8 is Elliot Smith’s adventurous attempt at a stream-of-consciousness, Brian Wilson-style presentation. It is fragmented and incomplete, yet bursting with insane amounts of brilliance. During the creation of Figure 8, Smith stated that he was attempting to make his music “more dreamlike”—songs like “Everything Means Nothing to Me” and “In the Lost and Found”, though they stand alone very well, also work as parts of a greater whole. Smith was also known to have said he was purposefully leaning away from the depressing themes and lyrics of his previous albums. Who was Smith trying to fool here? There are a few songs on this album that rank among his bleakest, like the heartbreaking ode to an ex “I’d Better Be Quiet Now”. But anyone should expect a good dose of depression when tuning into Smith’s work. What continues to make Figure 8 so appealing is the meticulous studio artistry, and how it graciously compliments Smith’s classically-bent songwriting. Though he peaked with XO, Figure 8 (as well as the incomplete From a Basement on the Hill) hinted entirely different directions for Smith’s future work, different possibilities that we can now only imagine

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