10. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens (2005)
In one of Chuck Klosterman's books (I can't remember which one), he tells of a question he likes to ask people at parties. He asks people what musicians they would choose to start a supergroup. You get to pick a singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and a multi-instrumentalist, and they perform songs that you write. The first person that jumped into my head for the multi-instrumentalist was Sufjan Stevens*. Nowhere are Stevens' many talents better on display than Illinois, the second entry in his aborted 50 states project (though it appears he never intended to finish). Stevens layered instrument upon instrument to accompany his geographic and historical tour of Illinois.
- John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
- Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
- Casimir Pulaski Day
- They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!
- The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
Lead Singer: Leslie Feist
Guitar: J Mascis
Bass: Kim Deal
Drums: Bryan Devendorf (the National)
Multi-Instrumentalist: Sufjan Stevens
I have no idea if this would actually work, but it'd be fun.
9. Twin Cinema - The New Pornographers (2005)
The magnus opus of a great band. Much of the praise around this album (and the piece that differentiated it from the earlier two records), was the coming out party of drummer Kurt Dahle. The drums on this album rocked - in particular, Bleeding Heart Show and Stacked Crooked. I just caught these guys in concert and Kurt was awesome. Not only did he kill it on the drums, but also provided backing vocals and whistling (while still drumming*) and also played guitar on the verses of one song, then drummer the chorus. Pretty awesome.
- Use It
- Bleeding Heart Show
- Stacked Crooked
8. The Midnight Organ Fight - Frightened Rabbit (2008)
This one is a brutal break up record. Dude was not feeling good about anything. Luckily for us, Frightened Rabbit* made a completely amazing album about it. This album is so good, I'll even ignore the title - possibly the worst euphemism for sex I've ever heard. Plus, when Chuck used 'Backwards Walk' in one of their episodes, the producers/censors didn't edit out the "you're the shit and I'm knee deep in it" lyric. Hooray for swearing on TV!
- Modern Leper
- Backwards Walk
- Old Old Fashioned
- The Twist
7. The Stage Names - Okkervil River (2007)
That Will Sheff is a clever boy. 'Plus Ones' is the song that really sold me on Okkervil River. By adding one to the numbers in famous songs (51st way to leave your lover, 9 miles high), he nails the feeling of expend-ability when you are no longer needed in a relationship. Try to count the allusions he uses* in the lyrics. It is way fun.
- John Allyn Smith Sails
- Plus Ones
- Unless It's Kicks
- Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe
6. In the Reins - Iron and Wine/Calexico (2005)
This is the scrappy overachiever of my list. I downloaded it sometime in 2005 and almost deleted it several times over the next two years. However, in the summer of 2007, something clicked and I could not stop listening to this album. I like to call this the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of my collection. Two great tastes (Iron and Wine, Calexico) that are somehow even better together.
- History of Lovers
- Sixteen, Maybe Less
- Burn that Broken Bed
- In the Reins
- Dead Man's Will
Ok, I admit to cheating a couple times before (Voxtrot, Okkervil River), but this is seriously cheating - and this time I didn't intend to cheat*! Well over half of this album was released as singles in the 90s. The band then added a couple singles from the early 2000s and released them as this double CD. Anyway, this compilation features Belle and Sebastian at the peak of their powers. Some of the older, more fey stuff to appease the old times mixed with signs of their more upbeat, rocking numbers of recent albums. Awesomeness.
- Lazy Line Painter Jane
- Legal Man
- Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
- I'm Waking Up to Us
- Jonathan David
- String Bean Jean
*If you really feel cheated, bump all lower entries up one spot and add it Blackwater Park by Opeth. How's that for an album switch?
4. Separation Sunday - The Hold Steady (2005)
...And we've reached the apex of the Hold Steady's career. Craig Finn's twisted tale of Holly, backed with the best classic rock in 30 years, reaches heights that few others can touch. When you can write lyrics that inspire wikis and the music that backs it is powerful enough that fans have made a map of the places you reference in your songs, you know you have done something right.
- Cattle and the Creeping Things
- How a Resurrection Really Feels
- Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
- Hornets! Hornets!
- Your Little Hoodrat Friend
This is very likely the most influential indie-rock album of the decade (Is This It might give it a run for its money), and it is easy to see why. Sincere, but not too earnest, personal, but accessible, throw in a little bit of bombast and some epic sing-a-long choruses, this one fires on every cylinder. I think 7 of the 10 songs have been my favorite on this album as some point.
- The Neighborhood Quadrilogy
- Rebellion (Lies)
- Wake Up
- Crown of Love
2. Boxer - The National (2007)
Let's see, what makes the National great? I tried to write my own reasons, but in the end, I pretty much just stole from this article in the New York Times. Yes, it is about the making of their latest album, High Violet, but it pretty much says exactly what I want to, but much better.
- Fake Empire
- Mistaken for Strangers
- Start a War
- Apartment Story
- Squalor Victoria
1. The Meadowlands - The Wrens (2003)
We have finally come to the end. This was the one album that I didn't have any trouble ranking. Number one with a bullet, as they say. This album finally clicked for me in late 2006. Their exploration of the transition into adulthood and leaving behind the young life as they passed into their 30s and started settling down resonated with me even though I was still in school and roughly a decade younger. I can't say this album actually changed my life, but it did sum up much of my life at that time, and isn't that part of the purpose of art? To express the things that you can't express?
- Everyone Take Sides
- 13 Months in 6 Minutes
- Boys, You Won't
- She Sends Kisses
- 13 Grand
- Ex-Girl Collection