60 Gorillaz – Demon Days (2005)
Quite a daring proposition, really: a virtual and fictitious cartoon band seems like a rather tiresome conceit, and in truth I never took much notice of the animation side of this project. Even without it, this is an audaciously good album, with all the disparate collaborators and styles stitched together into perfect pop music. Perhaps a bit long? Churlish. Perhaps the multimedia approach has left it looking a bit dated now, more so than other records from the time, but it would be unfair if it were to become overlooked. One of the many failings of the NME’s Top 50 list is the omission of this, but inclusion of the Avalanches’ similarly synthetic but ultimately less worthwhile Since I Left You.
59 Santogold – Santogold (2008)
I never really found much out about Santogold, but this is a brilliantly-judged pop album. A massive blend of influences, from indie pop to reggae and apparently Middle-Eastern sounds. Well worth a listen.
58 The Handsome Family – Last Days of Wonder (2006)
To a large extent The Handsome Family make the same album every time, but it’s always extremely listenable. Brett Sparks’ deep voice and Rennie’s peculiar lyrics are among the most recognisable sounds in American music; it seems sincerely meant although perhaps it’s as well to take it all with a pinch of salt. But there are dependably excellent melodies bolted on as well, which sells the endeavour as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never seen them live, although I’ve noted the venom with which Frankie Machine regards them, having seen them once; I’m not sure if that’s a fair reflection on the live shows, but it certainly doesn’t accurately reflect the wonky charm of the records.
57 My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves (2003)
My Morning Jacket are one of the bands I encountered in my final year at university and have followed with interest ever since. It was perhaps as well that I encountered them live first of all, where their easy-rocking tunes and Jim James’s echo-swamped vocals were showcased to best effect – with plenty of humour and hair. Their album of around that time, At Dawn, contained a lot of accessible songs, but as Dan Paton once put it to me, once you’d seen them live it felt like they had all been recorded slightly too slow. There was also some rather rambling self-indulgent stuff as well. 2005’s Z was probably their most accessible record overall – plenty of solos and stoner rock, but reasonably concise and with some unusual excursions into reggae and something approaching synth pop here and there. By 2008 James had clearly found lurrvve and the resulting album, Evil Urges, was a sentimental affair – but overall I felt it worked really well. For my pick of the decade, however, I’m going with 2003’s It Still Moves: it’s a very long album at over 70 minutes, has many long songs and lots of solos – for that reason, a lot of listeners found it less accessible than At Dawn and concluded it wasn’t as good. But they were wrong – it needs a lot of listens, but will repay them handsomely. Every moment on this record has value, and I think it stands as a greater achievement than the two more immediate albums that followed.
56 British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power (2003)
This album almost breaks my rules about needing to be good al the way through, as it contains a ten-minute track that I always skip through; shorn of that and the opening thirty-second vocal intro track, it’s really just nine songs… and actually all the better for it. I bought it one afternoon after an exam in my finals had not gone as well as I’d hoped, and it cheered me up. BSP’s distinctive sound is now well-known, but it was fresh and striking then (admittedly these songs had been knocking round as singles for 18 months, but had largely passed me by); the breathy vocals and jagged guitars were complemented by a lovely warmth of sound that you don’t normally get in indie rock. I was there in 2007’s Do You Like Rock Music? but somehow absent from 2005’s Open Season, which seemed a bit perfunctory as a result. Back in 2003, however, I spent months listening to this: it’s one of those records where at first the songs really sound the same, but with a lot of listens distinguish themselves from one another. Seven quid well spent at Fopp that day.
55 Misty’s Big Adventure – Misty’s Big Adventure and their place in the Solar Hi-Fi System (2004)
I regard myself as slightly jinxed where Misty’s are concerned: I always seem to be unable to make arrangements, or have other commitments, or have something go wrong, whenever I try to see them live, with the net result I’ve only seen them twice – once in 2003 just before my finals and again in 2007 just before Christmas. I regret letting other chances go begging really, as they’re always a great proposition live and tremendous fun. Rather like Madness, they are also musically very good and reliably put out records that have much more substance to them than might be expected from such an overtly funny and poppy band. This, their debut, was pretty well fully-formed, and their subsequent records have been every bit as good. If you’re looking to get into Misty’s – which I strongly advise – you could happily either start here and work forward, or start with 2007’s somewhat melancholy Funny Times and work back. Either way, you’ll enjoy it. Frontman Grandmaster Gareth’s solo albums are also worth tracking down – I deeply regret drunkenly leaving a copy I’d just bought on the tube after that gig in 2007. Oh well.
54 Flipron – Biscuits for Cerberus (2006)
Flipron are one of the bands I got to know through the acoustic stage at Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, where I saw them play in 2006. Musically they have a woozy combination or vaguely psychedelic organ and twangy guitar or lap steel going on, but their eccentric lyrics are what really set them apart. On this album, their second, Youth and Old Age have a race, brides are available in flat-pack by mail order, dogs howl and Cerberus keeps guard. Manic and hugely enjoyable stuff that deserves a wider audience.
53 Pet Shop Boys – Yes (2009)
My blog review from earlier in the year. I question whether I should even bother writing about records when the Metro says it all. It described this album as being “like a greatest hits, but with new songs”. Exactly right: it sounds like, and is, a classic Pet Shop Boys album. Purely synthesised music often leaves me a bit cold, and even here I struggle a bit to retain my interest throughout – but that’s just me. I’m not sure that Xenomania have added much other than a dollop of traditional Pet Shop Boys sound – happily they’ve used the squelchy synth sounds they seem to favour quite sparingly. I’ve only got into the Pet Shop Boys a little recently, and I’m glad they’ve steered away from the rather chronic acoustic guitar-drive stuff of the 90s and more recently; much as I hesitate to applaud a band for playing to everyone’s expectations, the result here has been a triumph.
52 Hefner – Dead Media (2001)
Sadly, the album that arguably finished Hefner off before their time. The indie kids of Britain were divided in their views on the adoption of synths by Hefner (how influential did it in fact turn out to be, when synths and 80s sounds made a comeback at the end of the decade? We’ll never know, but it’s an intriguing thought), and somehow, for whatever reason, the band didn’t survive. I always felt this was unjust as it was a consistently strong collection of songs, with many of Darren Hayman’s most affecting lyrics, and a really lovely blend of instrumentation with Jack’s steel guitar and Amelia Fletcher’s guest vocals thrown in here and there. Ultimately, this is a record that deserved a better reception, and deserves to be remembered more fondly, than has been the case.
51 The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)
The definitive White Stripes album? I think so: its three predecessors were even more lo-fi, but also frankly weren’t as consistently good in the songwriting department – this album succeeds as a run of genuinely excellent songs. Jack White said at the time that the duo had probably achieved as much with this record as was possible with such a limited line-up, and implied the band would split up. Further albums followed, but they largely offered diminishing returns, and White’s side-projects generally proved more interesting as the decade wore on. I now can’t think of Meg White’s swirlly red and white bass drum skin without having a yen for Campino sweets. Which you can’t get in the UK any more. Annoying.