Record Geek Heaven’s Top 50 Albums of the Decade (part 2)

Now to finish it off!

25. BjorkSelmasongs (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.

24. SloanPretty Together (2001)

Maybe it’s the fact that they are Canadian and American audiences just can’t stomach them, maybe their songwriting is just too saccharine for most American tastes—who knows. Whatever the reason, Sloan will never get what they deserve from America. The press will never acknowledge them (although their 2006 album Never Hear The End Of It did chart on CMJ’s Heatseekers list), the radio won’t play them, and their audience here will always be limited to whoever has the brains to listen to a college radio station every once in awhile. In truth, that’s okay for two reasons: One, it doesn’t make Sloan any less awesome; two, they are HUGE in their home country, so America can just go bugger off, already. Hasn’t everyone already figured out that Canada is a way cooler country than America anyway? They get free health care, their Jagermeister has opiates in it, and one of the best power pop bands of all time is commercially successful there. Seriously, America, take a hint! About the album, though…Pretty Together is one of Sloan’s best, and features all four of the group’s songwriters in top form. Unlike most Sloan records, this one finds the other members giving bassist Chris Murphy a dash for his songwriting cash. Drummer Andrew Scott’s “In the Movies” and “The Great Wall” just might be the two best tunes in his repertoire, and guitarist Patrick Pentland’s “If It Feels Good Do It” has become one of rock’s great morally ambiguous anthems. But most noticeably, guitarist Jay Ferguson really comes into his own on Pretty Together, offering up what is easily one its biggest standouts, the knockout power ballad “Dreaming of You”. Sloan may have reached their plateau with 1999’s Between the Bridges, but Pretty Together was created while they were still hanging around up there.

23. Brian WilsonSmile! (2006)

The most talked-about and longest-awaited rock album of all time just happened to finally be released in this particular decade. Great—looks like all the other albums on the list can pack up and go home, right? Not necessarily. Wilson may have finally finished his masterpiece some 40 years after the project’s original inception, but there is no way the SMiLE! that finally saw the light of day could ever have measured up to the album that should have been created in 1967, Wilson’s creative heyday. There’s just no way! First of all, Wilson’s voice is about 1/8 what it used to be—these days, he has hardly any range, and on top of that, very little personality to his voice. Still, none of these flaws make SMiLE! less great. Its impeccably crafted whimsy and stream-of-consciousness song cycle have become insanely influential, thanks to the underground circulation of bootlegs over the last four decades. Conceptually, idealistically, and in pretty much every sense save for its execution, SMiLE! ranks among the best rock records in history. It also could be #1 on my soon-to-be-written list of Rock and Roll’s Most Tragic Could-Have-Beens.

22. BeckSea Change (2002)

I’ll admit it, Beck is a total ass-clown, and I really don’t have a lot of patience for Scientology. Despite all of this, Sea Change is one badass motherfucker. It stands out very clearly in my mind as Beck’s best album, even though sometimes he sounds like he is singing with cotton balls in his mouth. Seriously, though, I really want to hate Beck, is the thing. He just seems like such a choad. Maybe it’s my love/hate thing with him that fuels my fire for this record so much, but in the love direction (it probably also fuels my hatred for Midnite Vultures). “Lonesome Tears” is one of the best things he has ever recorded—it has such a great rising quality to it, and Beck takes that Nick Drake melancholy and twists it into his own thing. “Sunday Sun”, with its downright odd piano melody and epic chorus, is right up there as well. It was probably a total accident, but Sea Change is a great record, and it’s not likely we’ll hear a better one from Beck anytime soon.

21. ColdplayA Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Coldplay may be one of the most overplayed, heavily maligned bands of the current popular music scene, but they didn’t get there without earning it. A Rush of Blood to the Head is a pretty daring and challenging record which yields great rewards. Sure, it probably has a lot of songs some people may never want to hear again, like “Clocks” which, thanks to reality TV, may be the most run-into-the-ground song of the decade. But, it was a good song before we all got sick of it, and the album has a ton of other winners as well. The best of the five singles is “The Scientist”, a gut-wrenching ode to the futileness of regret, but the real gems didn’t quite slip through the cracks. The album’s best song, “Warning Sign”, should have won an Oscar. It’s not that it was even in a movie—maybe it was, who knows—but it’s just that damn good. It deserves its own gold statue.

20. My Morning JacketZ (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.)

19. Yo La TengoPopular Songs (2009)

Since the 90’s, Yo La Tengo have yet to release a bad album. In fact, in the 00’s, they have released three of their best—2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, 2007’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, and this one. Up until a week ago, Inside-Out was going to be on this list. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I love Popular Songs, and how it is the album I have been waiting for from Yo La Tengo for a very long time. Rating these three albums seems nit-picky—that’s how good they all are. But for the sake of having to choose, I am choosing the one that most enjoyably and consistently takes the listener on the most multi-faceted journey possible. The members of Yo La Tengo are not just music fans, they are music geeks, and you can hear that all over this record. Very apparent is not only an appreciation for all types of music throughout history, but an appreciation for the music of Yo La Tengo themselves—within the album’s 13 songs, it seems every point of YLT’s storied career is referenced. It’s an album that simultaneously gives the big and small pictures, something that rarely happens anywhere but in the contradictory world of rock and roll.

18. Someone Still Loves You Boris YeltsinPershing (2008)

An unassuming, unpretentious pop record that boasts not one bad song, Pershing is the second album from Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, the little band with the big name from Springfield, MO that most people still don’t even realize are making some of the best indie pop since the Shins’ first two albums. Alternating between fun, feel-good power pop, sun-drenched beach jams and acoustic balladry, SSLYBY have been mostly unnoticed because they don’t make much of an attempt to be noticed. The songs on Pershing whisper into one’s consciousness unknowingly because they are executed with such modesty and nonchalance that it’s hard to tell whether it should be noticed at first. But songs like “Modern Mystery” and “Glue Girls” are so good, they can imprint themselves into one’s consciousness without the listener even realizing.

17. Animal CollectiveMerriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

In a given year, I will usually have a summer record, a fall record, a winter record and a spring record. Very rarely, a record will come along and it will be all four. MPP is a record like that. It encompasses so many different moods and feels that it can easily be transcribed to any season, or mood, or whatever. It seems very stream-of-consciousness idea wise, and is constantly going in unexpected directions, yet without feeling like it was forced in any particular direction. For how many great things that have been said about this record, it’s not surprising that people want to hate it. But it’s just so easy to like—it’s weird, it’s all over the place, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, and on the basis of purely trusting in ideas, Animal Collective makes it all come off as effortless fun (which makes the best rock and roll).

16. PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

If a band bridges the gap between genres well enough, something entirely new is created. That’s kind of what Phoenix has done with their fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It’s all there in the title—there are undoubtedly numerous influences abound that span the history of music and all sorts of musical genres, but the end product is inarguably the work of Phoenix. The allusions to classical music and its periods are all over the place, even in the opening track “Lisztomania”, which refers to the popularity of old-school composer Franz Liszt. It may come off as cocky to put your band in even the same sentence as these musical figures, but it’s not that Phoenix want to be revered as highly as these great composers they are referencing. It’s almost as if it was a personal goal that this album would be their masterwork, enough so that they could feel like a bunch of Mozarts when it was finished. As the title suggests, it is Phoenix refined, perfected, and ready to take on the world. (Note: This is the RGH selection for Best Album of 2009.)

15. At the Drive-InRelationship of Command (2000)

Of all the bands that have broken up over the past decade, At The Drive-In should be missed the most. They brought a much-needed punk rock “fuck you” to the music industry in the late nineties, and took everyone completely by surprise—which is exactly what we need to happen today. Not a theoretical today, but actually TODAY. Tonight, At The Drive-In, or a band like them (yeah, right), need to be on David Letterman hopping around and dive-bombing the special guests. They need to be completely shredding ass to “One Armed Scissor” or a song like it (yeah, right). We NEED that, because seriously, how much more Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance can this nation take? Why did ATDI have to go? If they had made one more album like Relationship of Command, it is likely music would be different today. Maybe that was too much pressure for them, which is understandable. This business eats people up. The question needs to be asked though—is this writer alone in the feeling that Mars Volta and Sparta were like the Devil’s cruel joke to anyone who never got lucky enough to see At The Drive-In live? Seriously.

14. The Exploding HeartsGuitar Romantic (2003)

The story of The Exploding Hearts is terribly tragic, especially when considering how great their one LP was. Without detracting too much from the music, the fact is that ¾ of the band is no longer alive, and their music-making was cut short due to a terrible accident. However, between Guitar Romantic and a collection of b-sides, The Exploding Hearts left behind quite the punk rock legacy. With garage-style production, a winning cocky attitude, and instantly hummable power pop melodies teamed with raunchy guitars, these guys were really onto something, and it’s sad they can’t do it anymore. “Throwaway Style” sounds like what The Strokes could have been had they not been shined for commercial glory, with a chorus as infectious and as back-alley as the kicks one can get in the shady parts of town. There is an overall sense of orneriness to Guitar Romantic that makes it unforgettable and, like smoking cigarettes or shoplifting, purely addictive.

13. DeerhoofFriend Opportunity (2007)

One of the coolest things about music is that it does not have to make any sense whatsoever. Sure, there are “rules” and there is “theory” that one can follow if one so chooses, but if one does not, there is no Music Police that will hunt them down if all their songs don’t stick to the verse/chorus/verse formula. Deerhoof know this, and for many years, they have shamelessly produced what many have called “noise”, “crap”, “talentless garbage”, etc. But like a lot of bands that have stuck around and put out albums relentlessly (see Animal Collective), Deerhoof have carved their own little niche into rock music, a niche that cannot really survive without them in it. It’s brilliant, really—how else do you simultaneously justify and solidify your existence? It certainly can’t happen without releasing at least one album like Friend Opportunity, an album that is simultaneously anti-rock and rock tribute, while all the while being so much more. “The Perfect Me” is the perfect opener, wielding a stabbing, infectious guitar/keyboard riff which sounds like some drugged out cousin of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”. Deerhoof prove with the following “+81” that their weirdness does not come without pop sensibilities, but predicting what comes next might prove difficult—the beauty of “Whither the Invisible Birds”, the chaotic cadences of “Cast Off Crown”, and the final apocalypse that is “Look Away” are not the everyday rock and roll fare…and that’s a really good thing. (Note: This was the RGH selection for Best Album of 2007.)

12. Elliott SmithFigure 8 (2000)

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.

11. Sun Kil MoonGhosts of the Great Highway (2003)

Between the band name and ten song titles on the debut of Mark Kozelek’s post Red House Painters project, the names of four boxers and one Judas Priest guitarist are mentioned. Often sprawling, gorgeous odes to past relationships and experiences, the songs of Ghosts of the Great Highway work like telescopes to memories of old photographs when set among these real life characters of pop culture. Kozelek has always relied on objects of focus for his imagery—even in the Red House Painters days, there was always a “Rollercoaster” or a “Blue Guitar” he would utilize to get a point across. Though Highway is at best a very loose concept album, Kozelek’s focus is uniform in that these characters become his main source of expression. Granted, it’s not entirely clear what sort of significance they hold in his life—or why we should think they are important—but in the end, that’s not the point. The point is they were significant enough for Kozelek to devote a record to them, and a few people cared enough to listen. Yes, Kozelek still has that stubborn take-it-or-leave-it approach about him, but he also still has one of the best voices in music—a voice that sends the 14-minute-plus “Duk Koo Kim” into epic territory. (Note: This was the RGH selection for best album of 2003.)

10. Starling ElectricClouded Staircase (2006)

The ploy worked—I bought this album purely because of the sticker on the front. I had never heard of Starling Electric at all before then. It featured a quote from Jon Auer of the Posies, calling Clouded Staircase “a bona-fide stunner”. When I took it to the register at Love Garden, the guy at the counter made some comment about the album cover and how it looked old. I said, “So what’s the deal with this? It looks like it’s from the seventies or something.” He said, “Yeah, it’s some old obscure classic. Read the liner notes; all the info is in there.” I left Love Garden thoroughly convinced I had discovered some vintage magic. Upon putting it in my car stereo, however, I had the feeling I had been duped. The album sounded like it had to have been recorded within the last 5-10 years. At first I was like, “Wow, it’s kind of ahead of its time.” I’m a little slow, folks. Sure enough, upon reading the liner notes, I found no “info” to speak of, aside from the recording details. Props to Love Garden guy for the dupe of the century—laugh it up sir, as I’m sure you did when you saw me leaving your store that day, wide-eyed and delusional. All that aside, whenever the fuck this album came out—it was originally released in 2006, but given a wide release in 2008—it is a pop rock experience. Eighteen tracks long, combining fully realized songs with dreamlike fragments and gorgeous segues, it attempts to document the range of emotions and experiences of a doomed relationship. It almost seems like track one, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, could be a guy bumping into an old lover randomly at the store or something, and every track after that is a flash back leading up to “Dust Chord”, where the dude realizes the best years of his life were spent with this person. While at once a tribute to all kinds of music between the 60’s and 90’s (everything from the Byrds to the Zombies to Sebadoh to Guided By Voices), Clouded Staircase is also something of its own breed—a pastiche of a real life experience set to Brit-influenced jangle pop hallelujah.

9. The ShinsChutes Too Narrow (2003)

For many, The Shins have become the band to look to for great new records; while for others, they have become a pretty OK indie band that should have evolved into something way more vital. When a band all of a sudden becomes too popular to ignore—and in the Shins’ case, too good to forget—a dividing line like this eventually forms. But for the sake of great records like Chutes Too Narrow everywhere, forget all of that and just focus on the music for a second. No matter how overplayed “Kissing the Lipless” was, it was pretty much impossible not to sing along with that childlike refrain every time. For how amazing the opener is, you’d think the album would falter at some point—but it doesn’t. Since Chutes was released at the end of 2003, its infectious, thought-provoking pop was enough to make it one of the most important releases of that year, as well as the following year. Everything came together at just the right time—including Phil Ek’s flawless production—to help make Chutes Too Narrow a self-sustaining indie rock behemoth, and to this day, it hasn’t lost much steam. Also, it still has some of the coolest album art ever.

8. SpoonKill The Moonlight (2002)

Remember how many memorable riffs Led Zeppelin II had? “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Lemon Song”, “Thank You”, “Heartbreaker”, “Ramble On”… It’s not even their best album, yet it contains a ton of the more iconic tunes of the 1970’s. Kill the Moonlight is that album for the 2000’s, and the best album so far from Spoon. Count the ways: “Small Stakes”, “The Way We Get By”, “Jonathon Fisk”, “Paper Tiger”, “Don’t Let It Get You Down”, and “Vittorio E” are all songs that have become iconic already, in the same decade they were released. The opening keyboard riff of “Small Stakes” alone would be enough to solidify a spot for Kill the Moonlight on this list, and with a song like “The Way We Get By” placed right after it, it’s already bound for top 10 glory. Tons of publications have mentioned this album in decade lists already and it may seem kind of cliché, but it’s the most consistent album form one of the decade’s best bands—what do you expect?! Plus, a lot of folks don’t talk about “Vittorio E”, the moving closing track that represents a more atmospheric and psychedelic side of Spoon they have yet to fully explore, and the numbers of ways this band can grow in the future.

7. SuperdragIn the Valley of Dying Stars (2000)

Despite the fact that this album was virtually ignored and viewed as the last gasp of a desperate band upon its release, In the Valley of Dying Stars has proven over time to be a classic record. For die-hard Superdrag fans who stuck with them long before or after their one-hit-wonder status existed, it was quite apparent that In the Valley was the band’s best work yet. There is no arguing with an opener like “Keep It Close to Me”, especially when it so bluntly hits the rock music conundrum on the head: “I want rock and roll, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle”. Perhaps John Davis is referring to hassle from the major labels, and the interference that kept their previous album (Head Trip in Every Key) from being the classic it could have been. Fortunately, the freedom provided by an indie label finally allowed Superdrag to play to their strengths, and they do so with a raw, garage-like intensity on this record. It sounds as if these songs were all banged out in the studio in a day or two by a band still hungry to make the record of their career.

6. MidlakeThe Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

There is a strong possibility that Austin, TX’s Midlake is the least-known band on this list. Van Occupanther is only their second full-length, and it has broken through only to a small audience. But as far as that audience is concerned, Midlake is where it’s at, and this album is one of the most stunning examples of modern pop songwriting around today. If one can forgive the ultra-pretentious album title and cover that grace this otherwise stunning work of art, it would be well-advised. “Roscoe”, one of the best album openers of the decade, is the perfect introduction to what Van Occupanther has in store—lush, beautiful, and extremely simple songs (some have no more than two chords in a progression) that combine a fine-tuned classic rock sensibility with a strong passion for analog synths and mystically diffuse lyrics. Midlake have a knack for making the most out of the simplest ideas, and are able to harness and focus all their talents—from their brilliantly staged vocal melodies to McKenzie Smith’s effortlessly inventive drumming—which helps to send nearly every track through the proverbial roof.

5. The StrokesIs This It (2000)

Julian Casablancas has said that he learned how to “sing cool” from Lou Reed. There is definitely a ton of that New York, Velvet Underground-style swagger to the music of The Strokes, but never was it more immediate and more purposeful than on their debut. Let’s face it—sometimes it takes years or a few albums to achieve your ultimate moment, but sometimes it happens right away, without even really planning on it. Sure, The Strokes had a ton of money and rich-kid notoriety to push them even further into the limelight, but that just made it even more surprising to most of the music world (who wanted to hate them so) when they turned out to actually have some great songs. The singles from this album (the initial breakthrough “Last Night”, “Hard To Explain”, and “Someday”) don’t really ever get old, and a couple of the songs (like “The Modern Age”) are even better than those. It’s just really good, really straightforward-yet-clever rock music that manages to evoke extremely catchy melodies without any sense of cheesiness whatsoever. If this is it, there should be no complaints—it’s fun, it’s hard-hitting, it’s timeless.

4. Nada SurfLet Go (2002)

This is the album that broke Nada Surf free of the one-hit-wonder status for good. After a couple listens, it was hard not to believe in this band. “Blizzard of ‘77” is such a perfect opener, so immediate and hard-hitting, yet nothing more than a couple voices and an acoustic guitar. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of Let Go, an album full of songs that masquerade as subtle pop tunes, but after repeated listens, reveal themselves to be true rock and roll gems. It may take until the second to last track (“Treading Water”) to realize how great of a record you have just sat through, but if it takes that long, you have definitely missed something. The album’s centerpiece, “Hi-Speed Soul”, is one of the decade’s greatest songs, combining punk rock urgency with the very human need to dance one’s ass off in such a memorable and melodic manner. There is a glorious mix of a paradoxical lust for life and social awkwardness in all of the lyrics that makes the songs instantly relatable, a little more than a nice plus to already wonderful and fully-realized tunes that are brought to life with the help of Nada Surf’s unbeatable power-trio chemistry.

3. WilcoYankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

This was the last Wilco album to feature multi-instrumentalist and sound-tweaker Jay Bennett, who died in early 2009 while in the beginning stages of a royalty battle with his ex-group. Not coincidentally, it is also the last Wilco album to feel like a truly original, classic piece of work. Granted, the band’s 2009 offering Wilco (The Album) is the closest they have come to this since Bennett’s departure, but it still lacks that other-worldliness that Bennett’s experimentalism gave to the group. On Yankee, the disorientating sound collages that make up “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” or the creaturesque wah-moog that lurks through “War on War” are some of the more memorable examples of this. Bennett’s sonic genius was one of the main factors that drove Wilco from its original alt-country upbringings into the territory we know them to tread in today, and though the peak of this era is actually 1999’s Summerteeth, Yankee was the album that had the tunes and the mythology to match (the fact that the band’s original label refused to put it out, and after finding a label, it ended up being one of the biggest records of the year). Thus, it will be the album for which they are most remembered.

2. Pernice BrothersYours, Mine & Ours (2003)

Very rarely do albums this sad evoke such feelings of happiness. It’s possible when the songs are just that good, and such is the case with the third album from the Pernice Brothers. Their career milestone to this day, Mine & Ours surprised and delighted those who were nonplussed by their iffy sophomore effort and carries a distinction very few records receive—it is a perfect album. Granted, these songs are very melancholy and for the most part suit a certain mood, but music this good can’t be pigeonholed as “mood music”. It’s not something the listener can control. Undeniably catchy mope-anthems like “Weakest Shade of Blue” and “One Foot in the Grave” permeate and eventually become the mood. Once under the spell of the rock tunes, the listener is no match against breathtakingly beautiful ballads like “Blinded by the Stars” and “Number Two”. Almost always, they are rendered helpless and goo-like.

1. Super Furry AnimalsRings Around the World (2001)

When I started compiling this list and first asked myself what my favorite album of the decade would be, I thought of Rings Around the World. Not wanting to rush to a decision, I carefully considered all my options—was there any other album that combined a clear and assured sense of purpose, a penchant for irresistible hooks, a glorious self-deprecating wit, sheer tenacity and BALLS while managing to not only sum up what we were all going through at the time, but show us the direction we were all headed? I can picture a scene to “Alternate Route to Vulcan Street” (one of the greatest opening tracks of all time) where a huge line of people are boarding some dark cruise vessel that’s about to take them on a tour of life’s harsh realities, and every song after that acts as a soundtrack to the various fucked-up places and situations one can witness on this voyage. It’s like the boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but all at once funnier, scarier, more insane, and set to better music. Most importantly, with Rings, SFA managed to blaze through every door of innovation opened by Radiohead’s Kid A before any other band could even blink at the thought—most notably combining pop and rock themes and music ideas with electronic instruments and production styles—and they did it better than anyone else has yet to achieve.

One more thing to add: When compiling this list, I had to pull a bunch of these records out to verify dates and such. In the process of doing this, I went to find my copy of Rings and it wasn’t there. When you are a record collector and you have parties and leave things out, eventually shit gets stolen; or maybe I just lent it out to someone and never got it back for whatever reason. The point is, this usually happens with the more memorable or defining records of my life, and when I noticed I didn’t even physically own a copy of Rings, it further cemented its placement at the number one slot. Even though my copy was not present in my collection and I know it is now in the possession of someone else, I still feel like the album is mine somehow.

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