10: GANG GANG DANCE
Saint Dymphna might not have received the same widespread appeal as Gang Gang’s fellow Brooklynites Black Dice and Animal Collective did with their respective decade highs, Beaches and Canyons and Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it sounds better than both.
Much was made of Gang Gang ‘going pop’ on this album, but what makes Dymphna stand out is its vibrancy: the depth and emotiveness of the colours that saturate from its every corner. It featured some of the decade’s richest house music, a couple of its catchiest pop songs (one a collaboration with Tinchy Stryder before he became a chart topper) and marked Lizzi Bougatsos’ transformation from kneeling Earth mother to strident frontwoman. [Tom Lea]
09: LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
SOUND OF SILVER
James Murphy warned FACT in 2006 that LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver was “bound to be second best” when compared with the band’s debut. One suspects the canny old dog was being disingenuous: he knew how good SoS was shaping up to be.
It turned out to be a more coherent album than its predecessor, more ambitious, and broader in scope. LCD Soundsystem and the majestic bridger 45:33 were fundamentally underground dance records, destined to be loved chiefly by the small huddle of hipsters and DJ-types depicted/derided in ‘Losing My Edge’; with Sound of Silver, by contrast, Murphy set himself the challenge of making a pop record, one which would appeal to everyone (well, everyone with working ears). Hell, he even decided to sing – and the gamble paid off. From the heart-stopping, Bowie-meets-Telex opener ‘Get Innocuous’ through snotty college anthem ‘North American Scum’ and sentimental festival singalong par excellence ‘All My Friends’, this is an unashamedly big and brash record, but one possessing uncommon depth and wit. Sound of Silver was the sound of a band losing their “edge” – whatever that means, or meant – but gaining in maturity, authority and for-the-ages excellence. [Daniel Feeld]
08: PANTHA DU PRINCE
Among the most candidly beautiful and accessible electronic full-lengths ever made, Pantha Du Prince’s second album represented the climax of the “romantic techno” narrative that began with Kompakt at the turn of the decade. Only Pantha’s label boss, Lawrence, has come close to charting such heights of prettiness, longing and mystery in the context of the dancefloor, and I dare say even he’d wilfully defer to This Bliss.
A sequence of precious instrumental poetry crafted from chimes, bells, fragmented piano and field recordings, set to a steady, rolling 4/4 bump and the rudest basslines in central Europe, This Bliss is breathtakingly sensuous, original and complete – right down to the enigmatic calligraphy and cheeky Ballard quote that adorn the sleeve. All the tracks are exquisite, but ‘Saturn Strobe’ – based around an extraordinary string arrangement by The Scratch Orchestra’s Robert Skempton – is first among equals. Divine doesn’t do justice. [Ben Baglin]
In a move that some considered weird, Radiohead began the decade by ditching the indie rock albatross for which they had been backslapped by all and sundry, and coming out with something a bit leftfield. Much had been made of the band holing up in a manor house while Thom Yorke divided his time between an ideas blackboard and the Warp Records back-catalogue.
The result was a thrilling journey into the world of a band both big and imaginative enough to do whatever they wanted. ‘Everything in its Right Place’, essentially Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out’ re-imagined as a blissed-out slab of electronica, nestled next to the super-Plone return to childhood that was the title track. Elsewhere, you’d find the agit-pop breakbeat brickbat ‘Idioteque’, Krautrock party piece ‘The National Anthem’ and the Björk-level serenity-in-discomfort of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’. Throughout, you’d find post-rock interludes, ambient epilogues and no wasted moments. It got some stick for not being really avant-garde, but the point was to open the ears of Radiohead’s myriad mainstream fans.
It was also supposed to be the dawn of a new era: no more singles; the band would release whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted; no more 2-3 year album hype cycle. Compromise was inevitable, as they returned to singles and the multi-year wait. But, for a short while, Britain’s biggest band was also its most intriguing. And that’s not something you can say very often. [Robin Jahdi]
Recorded all over the world with contributions from Switch, Diplo, Blaqstarr and more, Kala marks the point where M.I.A. went from a talented multi-tasker punching admirably above her weight to the leader of a movement. First album Arular’s nods to grime, dancehall, soca and more are still present, but the songs are more refined; the production sleeker without sacrificing personality. Tellingly, M.I.A.’s live shows after this albums release featured a whole tribe of backing musicians, dancers and vocalists – after Arular people got behind her; after Kala they followed. [Tam Gunn]
As of writing, The Blueprint sits at the exact midpoint of Jay-Z’s career, his sixth of 11 albums; and from this perspective, it seems like the one that everything he made before it built up to, and that everything since has been gently sliding back down from. The moment that encapsulates the best of Jay-Z more than any other; when all his ambition, talent and potential came to its fullest fruition and was crystallised in one 15-track statement that, oh yeah, happened to actually live up to its title and end up being this decade’s commercial and aesthetic blueprint.
It’s odd, though: if any buzz theme springs to mind when remembering turn-of-the-century hip-hop and R&B, it’s sonic innovation, hyper-futuristic production and technicolour beats. The Blueprint isn’t like that. It’s built on old, crate-dug soul and funk samples – not so much recontextualising them, but using them as the solid foundations on which to build towering skyscrapers. Sometimes you have to move backwards to go forwards. And Jay-Z more than matches the music: on ‘Takeover’, he doesn’t just crush his opponents with swagger, but makes it seem as though the entire concept of beef is beneath him; on ‘Song Cry’, he’s hard enough to be hurt; pride and masculinity in his words and sentimentality in the underpinning piano. And on the album’s finest moment, ‘Heart Of The City’, the sheer momentum of his confidence is irresistible. He’s at the height of his powers here, and eight years on, it’s still impossible to tear your ears away from his voice. [Alex Macpherson]
As Ricardo Villalobos went through the last decade, his music became ever more oblique, sometimes to the point of being near impenetrable. Yet, at the heart of his music has always been a pretty straightforward joy; a love of the possibilities of rhythm and dancing, and a desire to let the beats run on forever. Re-visiting Alcachofa, Villalobos’ breakthrough 2003 masterpiece, what stands out is just how generous and inviting a listen it is. It’s such an easy record to love.
Forget the ‘minimal’ tag; these tracks are overgrown, spilling over borders, covering the lines, angles and points of techno with thick layers of prettiness. There are countless moments here that give an immediate pop-rush – the floating-in-space bass of ‘Dexter’ being a particularly intense one – but a kind of pop that still sounds like it comes from 50 years in the future. It’s also a record that demands to be danced to; just check ‘I Want to Live (Can I Live)’, in which Villalobos turns what sounds like creaking leather into a ferocious jacking acid track.
Listening back to the album, it feels more and more like a key to further understand Villalobos’ recent, more daunting output. There’s a lightness, simplicity and funkiness about this music, for all its details and strangeness. Although it’s become less obvious, Villalobos is still coming from that same place. [Simon Hampson]
03: DIZZEE RASCAL
BOY IN DA CORNER
A singular vision, a singular sound, a singular voice. This remains Dizzee Rascal’s – well, grime’s… hell, London’s – crowning achievement. Only a teenage genius with nothing to lose would start their debut with ‘Sittin’ Here’, one of the harshest musical and lyrical descriptions of modern Britain imaginable, like a grime version of La Haine.
If you can endure that with your head still up you’re confronted with the buzz of robot helicopters and then the blitzkrieg bombardment of ‘Stop Dat’ – grime as transcendent aggression. The unadulterated glee when DJ Spyro dropped this at The Egg earlier this year – 300 people effectively having a massive fight with the space in front of them – reiterated the tragedy of grime’s live banishment: a shower-face and a beaming grin are the same thing.
It’s painful to dwell on what Dizzee did next, on pop and paps and Paxman – and Boy In Da Corner’s three singles have a place in a generation’s hearts and on their dancefloors that ‘Bonkers’ never will. “Being a celebrity don’t mean shit to me / fuck the glitz and glamour hit em with the blix and hammer” he yelps joyously on ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’. 2009’s Dizzee Rascal can perform with Shirley Bassey as much as he wants to; it’s the 2003 Dizzee Rascal that changed British music forever. [Dan Hancox]
02: THE STROKES
IS THIS IT
(RCA / ROUGH TRADE, 2001)
With their debut album The Strokes caused a sea change in mainstream pop music in the US, but particularly in the UK. Suddenly three minute garage rock jams were the pinnacle of cool, and indie landfill ruled Britain’s charts for the next nine years.
But what the copyists could never match was the attention to detail and the hoarse, heartfelt emotion that The Strokes brought to their music. When Julian Casablancas begins this album with “Can’t you see I’m trying / I don’t even like it”, it conjures up a hundred images – of forced fun, of relationships resigned to mutual antipathy – and it follows one of the greatest opening samples of any record. The perfect three-and-a-half minute pop songs on Is This It might seem casual, but they’re constructed with craftmanship and care: check the rhythmic scrapes of fingers on guitar string that punctuate ‘Trying Your Luck.’ Not for nothing did these songs become the stuff of universal consciousness.
So as the decade fades, and mainstream indie rock continues to nauseate and bore in equal measures, do me a favour. Forget The Killers, forget T4, forget The View, forget Colin fucking Murray, and just listen to this album, contextless. Is This It’s status as the decade’s most influential guitar record may be a double-edged sword, but its status as the decade’s best pop album shouldn’t be in doubt. [Tam Gunn]
Less melancholic and seeped in static than its predecessor, Untrue is haunted by uncanny, almost wordless vocals that seem to flicker with a muted alien radiance, touching the listener on some deeply personal label. Voices hover in a void, suspended above some of the most elegiac and glacial-sounding strings since Joy Division’s Closer.
This is music in a state of suspended animation, timeless and frozen, yet also firmly embedded in the urban now. With his second album, Burial stripped UK garage of its twitchy micro-textures and created a fabulous new strain of future soul, underpinned by hollow-eyed, stumbled drums liable to turn Timbaland green with envy. Untrue is achingly lovely, but perhaps ill-suited to the CD format. Check the vinyl edition instead: it’ll give your ears more time and space to digest the music – otherwise an illusion of uniformity will set in and you’ll start to feel that each track is just the same jewel viewed from a different angle. [Kek-w]