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A Decade In Music

December 7th, 2009 | 19 Comments | Categories: music reviews · Musing on Music |

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the decade.

A decade that began just a couple of weeks after my first ever solo gig.

That gig, unknown to me at the time, marked a pretty huge turning point in my music career.

The ‘session’ work I’d be pursuing and doing up til that point was to dry up pretty damn quick when word got out that I was doing gigs on my own, but equally fast, word spread about what I was up to to the people who might like to listen to it, and I started to play more and more shows, and in August 2000 put out my first solo album. A decade later, and here we are… Where? I’m not sure.

It’s customary at the end of any period of time like this for people to put together their lists of greatest/best/most significant/blah-blah-blah music of the decade. Most such lists end up being fairly cynical ploys to bait readers into agreeing/disagreeing, and the hagiographic consensus that gets built up around so much banal, tedious music always leaves me baffled.

So I shan’t attempt to speak for anyone else, or to put a stamp of importance or significance on the following list. Instead, I’ll just list the albums that meant most to me that were released during the last ten years. For a whole mess of reasons. Some trivial, some far deeper.

Here they are, in alphabetical order, by artist’s first name. Enjoy. (links are to last.fm)

  • Alan Pasqua – Russian Peasant : an exquisitely beautiful solo piano record. Seemingly unfettered by any notion of what other people might want to hear, shot through with elements of jazz, classical, hymnody and singer/songwriter sensibility.
  • Alex Machacek – Improvision : along with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe, Alex has made a record that takes the technical possibilities of fusion, combined it with a beautifully crafted sound-world some amazing tunes, some great improvising and produced an outstanding record.
  • Bill Frisell – Ghost Town : Bill’s solo album, looped, layered, overdubbed. A MASSIVE influence on me.
  • Billy Bragg – Mr Love And Justice : my favourite Billy Bragg album for almost 20 years.
  • Blotted Science – Machinations of Dementia : instrumental death metal, done to absolute perfection.
  • The Blue Nile – High : the record that defines the last 3 years for me. Everything about it is perfect.
  • Cavalera Conspiracy – Inflikted : more awesome extreme metal. In the last few years, my listening has got heavier again, and this is one of the best metal albums I’ve ever heard.
  • The Cure – 4:13 Dream : if I can be making music half this good 30 years into my career, I’ll be a very happy man.
  • David Torn – Lars And The Real Girl Soundtrack : If beauty were whittled into pure sound, it would sound like this.
  • Eric Roche – With These Hands : a record that now feels so sad I can hardly listen. Eric passed away shortly after this came out. He and I were planning to record together. It never happened. Lo and I walked down the aisle as our wedding to one of the tracks from this – Deep Deep Down.
  • Erin McKeown – Grand : heard he play live on Late Junction, couldn’t believe the awesomeness of what I was hearing. The most original, imaginative singer/songwriter record of the decade, IMO.
  • Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself : Any of Imogen’s three albums could be in a ‘favourite albums’ list. She’s amazing. Simple as.
  • Jonatha Brooke – The Works : Same with Jonatha – my most listened-to artist of the decade, according to Last.fm – she started out the decade as one of my musical heroes, and ends it as a friend. One of the most incredible live performers I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear play.
  • Julie Lee – Stillhouse Road : Everything Julie does is fabulous. Another spectacular live performer.
  • Kris Delmhorst – Songs For A Hurricane : I saw Kris play opening for Julie Lee in Nashville in 2004. Have been hooked on her music ever since. I listened to this album non-stop for a fair chunk of 2005.
  • Michael Manring – Soliloquy : hands down my favourite ever solo bass record. Exceptional in every imaginable way.
  • Paul Simon – Surprise : Paul Simon’s never mad a bad record, but Surprise is shockingly good even by his high standards
  • Rosie Thomas – When We Were Small : When I grown up I want to be Rosie Thomas. She writes and performs with a gentleness and grace that few singers ever have got close to. Oh, and she’s funny as shit.
  • Spearhead – Stay Human : a life-changing record. A party album about the insanity of the death penalty. Also the greatest live band I’ve ever seen. At least, they were when this came out.
  • Tanya Donelly – Whiskey Tango Ghosts : bought after a long evening of Lo and I trawling eMusic for our alt.rock childhood heroes. I ended up downloading this, thanks to the Belly/Throwing Muses connection. Alt.Rock for quiet people. So beautiful.
  • Travis/Fripp – Thread : Robert Fripp said of working with Theo Travis something to the effect of how inspiring it was to work with musicians better than himself. This proves both points – that Theo is amazing, and that he inspired Robert to some of his best ever ambient playing.

If you want to hear them, and live in a country where Spotify works, here’s a link to  a playlist with as many of them in as are on there.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • James Corachea

    A good list. Normally I detest lists of best albums of the decade because they nearly always favour albums by bands such as The Strokes, The Libertines or The Streets – the usual lo-fi, hastily bodged together music that makes it seem that if you don’t like it then you’re not considered cool.

    I didn’t know you had a connection to Eric Roche. On his live DVD he hooked up the guitar to a midi synth on ‘Deep Deep Down’ so that there was a kind of octave fretless bass sound in there. Whenever I hear that again I’ll think of you accompanying him and all that you could have composed together.

    Speaking of a previous list you made of the ten best basslines, that list led me to buy D’Angelo’s album Voodoo. I think that would be in my list of top albums of the noughties. The production and vibe it instils doesn’t make you think you’re listening to an album full of similar hip-hop tracks. There’s real musicianship in there.

  • Gareth J M Saunders

    The doom, the doom
    the doom of all fires.

    The ghost, the ghost
    the ghost of all martyrs.

    The dust, the dust
    the dust of empires.

    The list, the list
    the list of all Steve’s music.

    The crash, the trash
    the best of the decade.

    The grind, the mind
    the grind of all life.

    The horror, the sorrow
    the horror of all sorrows

    The pain, the hate
    these songs remain insane.

    (With apologies to Max Calvalera.)

  • Kennan Shaw

    Paul Simon’s “Surprise” is just an amazing thing. It absolutely sneaks up on you, with it’s layers deep approach. I’ve always liked Simon, but this one kills me every time.

  • Sigurdór

    So you’re not giving 2010 a chance ?
    The decade ends after 2010
    2001-2010 😉

  • Sigurdór

    Well..

    You start counting by saying “1” … right?
    There never was the year 0 (zero) … you do the math 😉

    Those who celebrated 1999/2000 simply got it wrong.

    But this (mis)understanding probably comes from the English use of 20’s 50’s etc. So it’s more of a sentimental “looks good” reason than anything else to call the decade from 0-9.

    I had this misunderstanding back in 1999 … until my father explained it to me :-p

  • Sigurdór

    My bad.. I thought you were talking about the first decade of this century. :)

  • Hannah Nicklin

    A tad bemused by the attention paid to the definition of a decade rather than the *actual music* here – seems to completely miss the point. I did 2000-2009, personally.

    And I rather think no one counted the first year because sentience and conceptualising ‘time’ was a little far off…

    I did a list, with a heavier emphasis on lo-fi bodgy music, because I like it, and it’s important to me. And it’s MY LIST MOTHERFUCKERS

    http://hannahnicklin.posterous.com/top-ten-top-ten-top-ten

    love xx ^_^

  • steve

    I think it’s REALLY important that these lists are respected as someone’s taste, as the soundtrack to someone’s life. The hubristic nonsense of claiming to have made any kind of accurate sampling of ALL the music released around the world in a decade can be left to the morons that try to write definitive lists for magazines and papers.

    This isn’t about music, it’s about MY music.

    As I just commented on Twitter, I find it a very exciting thought that my top 10 records of the decade are ones I haven’t even heard of yet.

    As with my 15 albums that changed my life post, so many of my favourite records reach my ears years-if-not-decades after they reach the shelves :)

  • Guitartim

    Steve, you’ve gone and done it again. Specifically, given me a big pile of listening to do!

    Of the albums you list, I’ve only got one of them (Stillhouse Road), I’ve only even ever heard of seven of the artists, and two of those are through your good self (Imogen Heap & Michael Manring).

    *sigh*

    However, it has got started thinking about ways I might come up with various kinds of “top 10s of the decade”…more anon.

  • John Goldsby

    Wow — thanks, Steve. There’s so much music in your list that piques my interest. I always get fresh and inspirational ideas from your blog . . . that’s why I keep comin’ back here!

  • Andrew Durkin

    “I think it’s REALLY important that these lists are respected as someone’s taste, as the soundtrack to someone’s life. The hubristic nonsense of claiming to have made any kind of accurate sampling of ALL the music released around the world in a decade can be left to the morons that try to write definitive lists for magazines and papers.

    This isn’t about music, it’s about MY music.”

    Awesome. Just awesome.

    I wish more writers were inclined to provide the caveat you do when they indulge in this list-making enterprise.

  • Tim Hall

    If anyone cares, I’ve posted my totally subjective list. The bass player of one of the bands on the list claims it’s ‘varied’, which is news to me….

  • steve

    ahh, no! Now you’ve mentioned Voodoo and ought to add it to the list. It’s SO in my top albums of the Decade.

    Right, I’m going to have to make a rule for myself now that I can’t add anything to this post, other than in the comments, or I’ll end up with an even more massive list…!

    Eric and I only met properly around the time that he was diagnosed the first time. We had all kinds of plans to play and record together, he was listening to a lot of my music in his recovery to the first bout of cancer, and other people have told me since that he wanted me to play no Deep Deep Down on the record, but that Martin Taylor wanted it to be an all-solo record. For the sake of the record, I think he made the right call – that solo version of the tune is so beautiful.

    My tune, ‘Deeper Still‘ was written as the companion tune to Deep Deep Down – I do a solo version of DDD live sometimes. I ought to get it recorded…

  • steve

    There is something magical about it. I love the album that came before it – You’re The One – but there’s something deeper about the sound of this. I wonder how much of that was Eno, if without him, it would’ve just been awesome songs sounding like Paul Simon (no bad thing at all!), but with him, there was something magical about the sound-world it all lives in.

    Proper great :)

  • steve

    which decade does? A decade is 10 years – 2000-2009 is 10 years, so is 2001-2010. Take your pick.

    These are the 10 years beginning 200* – the 10 years that followed the millennium celebrations that ended the previous 1000 years.

    make sense?

  • steve

    there’s no misunderstanding. It’s the last one of the 10 years that start 200* – like I said. That’s a decade. Start and end points are moot. 1995-2004 is a decade.

    This decade is one that feels worth marking because of the way our numbering system works – so these years all share 3 of their 4 digits.

    But, by all means, feel free to publish your own list whenever. Or do you favourites from the last 1000 days, or 6 weeks or whatever…

    For the purposes of making lists, date ranges are entirely subjective affairs. Want to write about the best 73 records made in the last 73 lunar cycles? Go right ahead. :)

  • steve

    Max just called. Apology accepted.

    \mm/

  • steve

    …I don’t see anything remotely lo-fi or bodgy in your list! A few I’ve only heard of but never listened to… I’ve got some digging to do :)

  • James Corachea

    If the lo-fi bodgy remark was aimed roughly in my direction, I don’t really hate the bands that I listed in my first comment. I’m not as close-minded about listening to different musical genres as I made out, and as someone who writes music I can’t afford to be. If I wasn’t a middle class southern softie who studied classical music at uni, I’m sure my musical tastes would be very different! At the other end of the spectrum, I’d equally turn my nose up if I had to sit through an overly complex 90 minute prog epic. I think the correct terminology should be “My favourite albums of the decade” rather than “The Top 100 best albums of the decade” but the latter title’s always going to get a higher readership.