Category Archives: music is my girlfriend

My ten albums of the decade:

Thing is, I don’t take music all that seriously. I like what I like, and screw everyone else. But holy mother of God, this list in the Times (London) has me reeling. Kid A as the album of the decade? KID FUCKING A? I couldn’t give that piece of shit away once I realised I hated it. OK Computer was a good album, sure. But this pile of wank I couldn’t get past a second listening of.

So, here are the ten little masterpieces that gave me aural heaven in the last ten years:

10. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

This isn’t even a favourite amongst Ryan’s fans but I find it far less heavy than ‘Heartbreaker’ in the good way. ‘Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard’ remains one of his best songs for me, along with ‘Somewhere, Somehow’ which is the kind of song you wish your lover sang about you. (Pity Kaite, I just make up dirty limericks about her…). Not to mention that there’s a non-nauseating anthem to New York and a gorgeous breakup song in the form of ‘Harder Now That It’s Over.’

9. Wicked Little High – Bird York (2006)

What can I say? I love her voice and her hair. This is a sort of ‘best of’ in a way, a more marketable smushing up of earlier stuff with the new (and yes, including that song from Crash/House/everything that was nominated for an Oscar!). ‘Save Me’ breaks my heart, and it’s proof of that rarest of things in songwriting – a fresh perspective. The title track is a perfect deconstruction of why we’re all such a mess in relationships, and sums up perfectly all those people you should have known better about.8. American Demo – The Indelicates (2008)

God, I love smart music. The lyrics are playful, intelligent, cruel and incisive. Exquisite dissections of history and pop culture (‘Unity Mitford’, ‘If Jeff Buckley Had Lived’). Compulsively catchy tunes, unique voices and a hundred moments of thinking “if I wrote songs, I’d want them to turn out like this”. It’s like a less whiny version of The Smiths for my generation.

7. The Stage Names – Okkervil River (2007)

I’m a fairly recent convert to this band, but my GOD, I like their songs. They have just enough of the ‘whiny boys with guitars’ flavour, but some seriously punchy basslines to go with it. As an album, this showcases about the best of them – their reworking of an old folk song (‘John Allyn Smith Sails’) will have you on your feet punching the air and singing along. I love the movie theme that runs through the songs – ‘Plus Ones’ kills me with its reference to Paul Simon and ‘the 51st way to leave your lover’. What else can I say? I love a man who knows when to wail.6. The Green World – Dar Williams (2000)

I feel like this album is a perfect riposte to anyone who whines about female singer-songwriters. This is life and poetry and fun, folk meets pop and rock without losing anything along the way. The songs that focus on family or childhood (‘After All’, ‘We Learned the Sea’) have a pleasing innocence to them, while ‘Another Mystery’ and ‘I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono’ make me really happy about being a girl. Thoroughly, indisputably awesome. Her lyrics snap, crackle AND pop.

5. More Adventurous – Rilo Kiley (2004)

Choosing a favourite album from Rilo Kiley wasn’t easy, since there are two or three of my all-time favourite songs on each one. But ‘Portions for Foxes’ remains my ultimate ‘get up and kick ass’ song, so that swayed the balance in the end. There’s satire in the form of ‘It’s A Hit’ and a scathing look at love and affairs in ‘Does He Love You?’. It’s got everything from mellow and dramatic strings to synth-pop and good old fashioned guitar thrashing. Perfection.4. A Brighter Beat – Malcolm Middleton (2007)

My second favourite love song of all time is ‘Fuck It, I Love You’… and they say romance is dead? Not only that, but this witty, depressing yet upbeat little collection is also home to the best anti-Christmas video ever in the form of ‘We’re All Going To Die’. It’s nothing if not brutally honest. I was never a fan of Arab Strap in any meaningful way, but I love Malcolm’s solo stuff. Oh, and ‘Superhero Songwriters’ would get an honourable mention for the title alone, but the song isn’t bad either.

3. The Photo Album – Death Cab For Cutie (2001)

For eighteen months after I first discovered it, this was the only Death Cab album I had. That’s because it was the only one I needed. ‘Styrofoam Plates’ is a vitriolic rant against the hypocrisy of deadbeat dad that makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut every time I hear it, with the kind of zinging guitar solo for a bridge that makes you need a lie down afterwards. ‘Why’d You Want To Live Here’ is a love/hate letter to LA, but in a lot of ways it could be about any big city and the overcharged fools who live there. ‘Information Travels Faster’ remains has some of my favourite lyrics and is one of the few tracks I never, ever skip when it comes up on shuffle.

2. Lost In Space – Aimee Mann (2002)

My first brush with a ‘concept album’ and I was hooked from the first few lines of ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Jo originally got me into Aimee with snippets of ‘Bachelor no 2’, but with time this has become my favourite of Aimee’s albums. It’s about drugs and the lies and deceptions that come along with addiction, the miscommunications and false hopes that they provide. ‘Invisible Ink’ is epically fantastic, I can’t even put into words how much I love that song. It’s all a tad mellow and maudlin, but that’s how I like my music a lot of the time, okay? ‘Real Bad News’ and ‘Today’s The Day’ are other contenders for best song, but with the pure emotional connection I have to Invisible Ink, nothing can touch it.

1. Tallahassee – The Mountain Goats (2002)

I suppose it’s not exactly shocking that my favourite album of the last ten years is the one that contains my all-time favourite song. But this is about so much more than the ‘screw you love ballad’ that is ‘No Children’. You might not think there’s much that’s uplifting in an album about the world’s most dysfunctional couple (“The Alpha Couple”) who are determined to drink themselves to death while taking lumps out of each other, but somehow there is. Mixed in with all their hate is the love they had for each other in the first place, and that old familiar feeling of ‘oh we’d have been fine if life hadn’t gotten in the way’.
It’s about a relationship, essentially, in all its fucked up glory. Some of the best lyrics ever penned are on here, set to simple acoustics or a simple guitar/drum combo.

Our conversations are like minefields, no-one’s found a safe way through one yet” //

In this house like a Louisiana graveyard, where nothing stays buried” //

“People say friends don’t destroy one another, what do they know about friends?” //

“Someone’s going to do something someone else will regret, I speak in smoke signals and you answer in code” //

“I want to say I’m sorry for stuff I haven’t done yet, things will shortly get completely out of hand.”


As with so many things, John Darnielle’s lyrics say more for the album than I ever could.