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The Woods is, one can claim with reasonable confidence, Sleater-Kinney’s finest hour: a wonderful anomaly that balances painstaking performance and blissful abandon. Five seconds into the first track, “The Fox”, there is little question that it’s on. And it stays on. “The Fox” displays the cacophonous ecstasy patented by The Pixies and brings it into Y2K, featuring Corin Tucker’s most impassioned vocals ever. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you open an album.
Everyone knows that women can do anything men can do, and often do it better. The Woods rocks as hard and drops jaws as low as anything anyone else did this decade. It’s difficult to try and pick and choose highlights here; the entire album is one extended highlight. The album trudges along, angry and eloquent, leading up to the ultimate one-two punch which, if it has to represent the end of this epic band’s career, is an inimitable way to go out. The 11-minute “Let’s Call It Love” (maybe their crowning achievement?) doesn’t segue into “Night Light” so much as explode into it. Along with the feedback bliss from “What’s Mine Is Yours” and the once-in-a-lifetime vocals of “The Fox”, the transition into the album’s coda is one of those moments. Too good for words. And it is an achievement, evidence of a band that has taken things to that other place and made a defining statement. Sean Murphy
The Hold Steady
Boys and Girls in America
During a year of High School Musical frenzy, the Hold Steady released an album about Boys and Girls in America having a sad time together (you could argue High School Musical’s Sharpay was depressed, Gabriella and Troy addicted to musical theatre). The Hold Steady’s hip alternative is a rousing, literate, wide-screen, sometimes alcoholic and druggy view of the messy excitement we got ourselves into during the noughties.
With awesome riffs and hooks, the band is mostly at a musical peak, and the lyrical references to Kerouac, John Berryman, Tennyson and Izzy Stradlin are pulled with ease. Most of the characters (some hung-over from previous albums) are struggling in one way or another, often due to the social curses of alcohol (“Citris”) and drugs (“Chillout Tent”), but the overall tenor is almost always upbeat. The straight-ahead bar band approach may not be all that fashionable, but the Hold Steady are at their best re-creating the rush of youth culture (“Stuck Between Stations”, “Massive Nights”). As a listener it’s easy to get carried away by the music of “You Can Make Him Like You”, become immersed in the collective recognition of “Southtown Girls”, or just get washed away in the righteous words. Passionate and non-ironic, this is a great album by some seriously clever kids. Charles Pitter
Elephant, the 4th studio album released by the The White Stripes in 2003, cemented Jack White’s reputation as a musical purist from probable to undeniable. By recording the album entirely on pre-‘60’s equipment, White encapsulated the gritty open-wound rawness of the early Delta Blues masters he is heavily influenced by. Yet there is an indisputable modernism to Elephant that makes tracks such as “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button to Button” as fresh sounding today as they did a decade earlier. The album’s core themes of relationship dysfunction and where love fits into the mess of it are the bread and butter of song writers from every musical genre which makes writing memorable songs, never mind classics, a big challenge, yet White accomplished just that numerous times on Elephant. And what better title for an album that offers all that? For like the animal that never forgets, Elephant will be remembered as one of the best albums of the 2000’s, and beyond. Dave MacIntyre
Vespertine functions as a document on the interplay of interdependence and independence, crafting precise documents about the inter-relational. For how strange she seems, Björk’s best work is profoundly collaborative, and the beauty here is the beauty of a community working together on a singular practice. She auditioned a choir of Inuit singers from Greenland. Harmony Korine contributed a song. nominally about Will Oldham. The harpist Zeena Parkins, brought the improvisational skills of the avant-classical and free jazz realms. Two of the songs were adapted from literary sources, one from ee cummings, and one from English playwright Sarah Kane (in this case, a unique version of Kane, one abstracted from the violence of her early work). Björk was never as interested in the abject like Korine or Kane. Bjork returns beauty into the shock of the new. The album makes these themes explicit in how a chorus that tells us “it’s not up to you” or a song that she talks about “trying to be a in a generous mood” or that it is not “meant to be a struggle” An album can be a struggle, a Björk album can be a struggle, but this—this is pure pleasure. Anthony Easton
With all of its exotic sights and sounds blazing past at a Mach 1 speed, it’s easy to ask, what is M.I.A.‘s Kala exactly? There’s nothing that resonates quite like it from the first decade of the millenium. On the album, M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasm) plays ringleader to a roster of guests that’s just as globe-trotting as her soundscapes, enlisting everyone from Aboriginal child rappers (“Mango Pickle Down River”) to American uber-producer Timbaland (“Come Down”). The outcome is a uniform a body-shaking extravaganza that was tailor-made for the ADD generation.
Never one to shy away from her political leanings, underneath the multi-cultural celebration lays sharp criticism of present day society. “How many no money boys are rowdy/ How many start a war?” M.I.A. chants with the disarming playfulness of a schoolyard jump rope rhyme on the raucous “Boyz”. Her influences stretch across a vast map- tribal drums join with deep bass that could only be found in first-world nightclubs while street-savvy raps entwine seamlessly with the schizophrenic beats behind her. It’s true, no one on the corner has swagger like M.I.A. Andy Belt