40 At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command (2000)
With hindsight, I regret not sticking around to see At The Drive-In’s set at the Leeds festival in 2000, as a year later they were defunct. I caught the first track, which was a squall of noise and Cedric the singer climbing all over the amps… I can’t remember now exactly who I went to see in preference; it might have been Badly-Drawn Boy… Anyway, this album managed to be noisy and noodly without being prog, and screamy without being inane. Its lyrics were pretentious wank, but they were improved by the music. If you’re in the mood for some angry shouty music, you’d still struggle to do better than this.
39 Shivaree – Rough Dreams (2002)
When I was on student radio, I regularly contributed to a news and reviews show called, believe it or not, The Music Show. This programme would decide a Single of the Week for the station, and Shivaree provided one of the earliest, during the show’s first term, in the form of Goodnight Moon. We were somewhat amazed that lead singer Ambrosia Parsley’s name was real… but apparently it is. The album that accompanied Goodnight Moon generally lacked its atmosphere and character, but its follow-up, Rough Dreams, was far more consistent, effective, and smoothly produced. It was very much the album that I had hoped Shivaree would produce… and it sank without trace. And that was only in the UK: in their native America, record company shenanigans meant it never even got a proper release – indeed one track was recycled for the next record, 2005’s Who’s Got Trouble?. That record was, however, a bit too consistently mid-paced, and I’d still recommend Rough Dreams, if you can track it down, as the definitive atmospheric and sophisticated Shivaree album.
38 Feist – The Reminder (2007)
More good stuff from Canada, where Ms Feist seems to be a collaborator, or even protege, of Ron Sexsmith, whose Secret Heart she covered to great affect on this album’s predecessor Let It Die. Mushaboom, also from that record, was used in a perfume commercial, but the confident production on this album led to even greater commercial use, not least to promote Apple services and products. But for once I don’t particularly mind: Feist is a distinctive songwriter whose jaunty tunes and lovely vocals are the sort of delight one normally finds languishing in undeserved obscurity. That said, this isn’t a very immediate record: on my first few listens, I was actively disappointed by it – though smoothly produced, it’s un-ostentatious, and there’s little to grab onto in the music. You need to put the work in and get to grips with these songs: though they sound deceptively effortless and simple, they’re rich and well-judged.
37 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones (2006)
There’s lots of reasons to admire the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O’s uniquely clear and pure vocals, the un-obvious drumming, the scroungling guitar, the effortless pop hooks. But perhaps more impressive than anything is their reluctance to repeat themselves: their three albums have all sounded distinct from each other, but have all worked superbly. I’ve gone for this one because the acoustic guitars let the songs stretch out, and give it a lovely open spacious sound. I look forward to seeing what the band do over the next ten years.
36 J Xaverre – These Acid Stars (2003)
Who would have thought, when Kenickie split up, that five years later their members would, between them, have produced only one album, and that would have been from Pete Gofton, aka Johnny X, aka J Xaverre? I used to have a massive Kenickie obsession, to the point where these days, on the odd occasion when my friends meet former members of Kenickie, they immediately text me about it. And long may it continue. But back to 2003: unexpected as it might have seemed, Gofton emerged as something slightly sideways from a balladeering singer-songwriter, with a rather lovely lo-fi/hi-fi production job on it. I’m struggling to think of any obvious comparison points, other than perhaps a more electronic Badly Drawn Boy – this too is a delightfully produced yet hopespun indie one-man effort. Lovely.
35 McLusky – McLusky Do Dallas (2002)
Song titles on this album include: The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch, Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues, Dethink to Survive and To Hell With Good Intentions. Manic and deranged lyrics are coupled with manic and deranged playing, by an apparently alcohol-fuelled trio of deliriously noisy Welshmen. This was the middle of three albums, and probably the best – if you’re in the mood for some cathartic indie thrashing, this is an almost endlessly listenable record.
34 Life Without Buildings – Any Other City (2000)
Looking back, I’m surprised I was quite so taken by an album as self-consciously arty as this, but I listened to it a lot after buying it (admittedly a good year or so after it was released in 2000, when I remember hearing the band doing a rather good session for Steve Lamacq). Musically the setup was simple: guitar, bass, drums playing an angular type of thing that would have been a lot more fashionable seven or eight years later. But the USP of Life Without Buildings (also: what a bloody brilliant name for a band! Try imagining it. Go on, try it!) was Sue Tompkins’ breathy stream-of-consciousness vocals, pouring out over the songs apparently uncontrollably. The overall effect was quite compelling. Although the band split up in about 2002, a retrospective live album, recorded in Sydney, was released in 2007 and brought me more pleasure than most other albums from that year, even though the performance was largely a note-for-note replication of this album. I really regret never getting to see this band live.
33 Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000)
Context is a funny thing. Before its release this album was touted as “the next Soft Bulletin” by the NME, which in turn had seen that album as following in the footsteps of their 1998 album of the year, Mercury Rev’s overrated Deserters’ Songs. From the other end of the decade, The Sophtware Slump stands out as the strongest album from a band that seemed somewhat pointless as time marched on. The album rightly identifies the growing role of technology in our lives as a pertinent theme, but the unease with which it seems to view this development now seems rather misplaced and quaint. Nonetheless, for an album about robots and rockets, it’s impressively melancholy, even epic. It was surprising that its follow-up, Sumday, was so one-dimensional by comparison, although I seem to be unusual in holding Grandaddy’s final album Just Like The Fambly Cat – effectively a Jason Lytle solo outing – almost equal in esteem to this 2000 outing. But not quite: this album is neatly crafted and seems to feature Lytle being unusually clear in knowing what he wants to say. I remember seeing the band live in the Hop and Grape in Manchester shortly after I left school; Badly Drawn Boy was in the audience and I wrote it up in my fanzine. Those were the days.
32 Elbow – Asleep in the Back (2001)
Elbow were one of the bands that emerged from Manchester in 2000; I first encountered them at the same rainy D:Percussion festival at the Castlefield arena where I first saw I Am Kloot. So it was deeply gratifying and pleasing to see their Mercury Prize win in 2008; back in 2001, just after they had missed out to PJ Harvey in the Mercury for their debut album, I interviewed Pete and Craig for student radio. So, much as I admire Elbow and feel an attachment to them, I’ve got to admit that if there’s a criticism to be had of them, it’s that they do tend to produce the same record every time. Saying that, it’s a smashing record, of grand scope but always intimate, melancholy but uplifting, intense but always enjoyable. Perhaps partly for nostalgic reasons, but also I think because the songs on it were particularly strong and immediate, of their four albums I’m still inclined to rate Asleep In The Back most highly.
31 The Hidden Cameras – Awoo (2006)
Their third album, Awoo was probably the record the Hidden Cameras had been threatening to make since they wandered over from Canada to these shores in c.2003. Their first album and a superb show at the now long-defunct Boat Race in Cambridge remain among the more pleasant memories of my last year as a student. A swift follow-up LP, Missisauga Goddamn, was a bit of a disappointmend in 2004, but with Awoo they nailed the gay politics, with striking vocals from Joel Gibb and a musical backdrop that veered between the indie and the baroque. 2009’s Origin: Orphan was even grander, seeming to aim at a James Bond theme sound in places, and perhaps if I’d had a chance to get some more perspective on it, I would have included it here instead. And to think this is a band who were sometimes compared with the wretched and pointless Polyphonic Spree.