90 Emma Pollock – Watch the Fireworks (2007)
The Delgados seemed to me to take a very clear path, from lo-fi indie to increasingly lush string arrangements and other embellishments, over the course of their first four albums. By the last of these, Hate, they seemed to have run out of road somewhat, and for their final outing Universal Audio they took a more back-to-basics approach, with a live band sound. The happiest middle ground, to my ears, was 1998’s Peloton, which used some instruments in addition to the main line-up, and Emma Pollock’s debut solo outing seemed to strike a similar balance in the production. The result was really rather lovely.
89 Yo La Tengo – And then nothing turned itself inside out (2000)
This was the first album of the decade that I bought, in the week of its release in early 2000. I never became a massive Yo La Tengo fan on the back of this, but it has always struck in my mind as a strong record. Some of the band’s later offerings were much sunnier and more upbeat, but this was a dark and brooding outing for the trio.
88 System of a Down – Toxicity (2001)
There’s not much metal and hard rock in this list, so part of me wonders whether I really should be including System of a Down at all – it almost feels like a bit of a fluke that I like this record. But I do, even though I never really got to grips with any other SOAD album – maybe it was just a phase that I barely noticed at the time. Still: it’s noisy, it’s got a clear vision behind it, it’s ace.
87 The Libertines – Up the Bracket (2002)
The prominence of this record on the NME’s attempt at a list makes me reluctant to include it here. The Libertine were not, as it turned out, an important or great band: for all the talents of Doherty and Barat as songwriters, a great band needs to do more than stumble into the studio and bash out the songs live in one take for every album. That said, for a debut album it was extremely effective, the energy and shambolic vibe of the band was refreshing at the time, and the songs were more than decent. Elsewhere in this list I plead for certain records not to be forgotten or overlooked: I’d almost plead the opposite here – it’s right for this record to be acknowledged, but let’s not overstate its significance.
86 Stephin Merrit – Showtunes (2006)
It’s hard to know which of Stephin Merritt’s many projects to include on this list: the Magnetic Fields albums and Gothic Archies venture are both credible contenders – to an extent this placing has to be taken to represent them all. I’ve gone for Showtunes however because it was such an interesting project to engage Merritt in soundtracking a set of musicals, and while the melodies are unmistakably Merritt’s, the end result stands as a unique record that can be admired from many standpoints.
85 Stephen Malkmus – Stephen Malkmus (2001)
I have long held a theory that if the Stephen Malkmus who recorded Slanted and Enchanted had been told that twelve years later he would release a ten-minute song called 1% of 1, he would have asked to be shot there and then. But before Malkmus’s solo career went all prog and rubbish, it had started very promisingly. Arguably his first solo album was really Pavement’s swansong Terror Twilight – I remember Spiral Stairs grumbling to exactly that effect in a phone interview with Dan Paton in about 2002. But his 2001 solo debut proper offered his customary wonky lyricisms, coupled with a more warm and polished sound than Pavement usually had. And it worked.
84 Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams (2008)
Perhaps I shouldn’t like this record: at times it seems long-winded and unfocused… but it never exactly goes prog. Dan Bejar is the second-string songwriter for the New Pornographers, usually contributing three or so songs per album for that collective. Destroyer is his solo alias, but he has been prolific under it, this being something like his sixth album. He seems to play a lot of the instrumentation on Destroyer albums himself, and produces a layered and often exotic sound. His lyrics sound like stream-of-consciousness poetry, but somehow hang together by using enjoyable outlandish and bizarre imagery. I remember when I bought this album, the chap who served me in Manchester’s Vinyl Exchange made a point of saying how much he’d liked this record, more so than its predecessor. It’s not hard to see why: the distinctive lyrics, rich sound and twisty-turny melodies make it more of a winner than it sounds like it should be.
83 Sergeant Buzfuz – Fire Horse (2004)
Hm, how would I classify this? Rough folk is perhaps the best I can come up with. Buzfuz emerged from the circles that produced the Broken Family Band, Chris T-T and Timothy Victor; indeed, long-term T-T producer Jon Clayton was at the helm of this record too. That list gives a clue to the sound here, but the songs are somehow more aggressively their own, sometimes viscerally emotional, sometimes stuffed with weird imagery and sometimes very funny. This feels like an odd record, but I’m not sure why – it probably isn’t really.
82 Emmy the Great – First Love (2009)
There were two big break-up albums from similar quarters in 2009: this, Emmy the Great’s long-awaited debut, and the second album from Noah and the Whale. Both ran the risk of merely being a self-indulgent whinge, and while Noah and the Whale fell badly into that trap, Emmy managed to steer mostly the right side of the line and produce an intense but absorbing record.
81 The Bluetones – Science and Nature (2000)
The Bluetones are unusual Britpop survivors: the likes of Catatonia split up and spawned solo careers, while Shed Seven split up, reformed and are still going. The Bluetones, by contrast, have been going solidly ever since their mid-90s heyday. They’re not the most prolific band, and their self-titled album of 2006 was only their fifth. The stripped-back Luxembourg of 2003 offered a reminder of the band’s quality, but the 2006 album seemed a rather bland jangly effort that I didn’t return to at all often. Their first album of the decade, Science and Nature, could be seen as the final instalment of a trilogy of their opening albums: it spawned hit singles Autophilia and Keep the Home Fires Burning, and was the band’s most lushly-produced record. And however you feel about Britpop, Mark Morris’s lyrics are amusing and engaging far more often than not, and the band can put a tune together better than most. I enjoyed their set at Leeds in 2000, which was something of a palate-cleanser amid an afternoon of crap nu-metal on the main stage. Lovely band, lovely album.