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10:42 pm: The 2000s in sound
It has become a tradition around New Year for Chris and I to make lists of the best songs of the year. And this year, it being the turn of a decade, it seemed appropriate to do one for the 2000s. Thing is, all of those songs ended up having layers and layers of personal associations - where I heard them, what else I was doing at the time, and so forth. So it's almost a meme of the decade. Or at least, specific points of it, with nothing in between.

I like to be able to listen to songs when people write about them, and the least problematic way of doing this seemed to be to post youtube links. So that is what I have done.

As it turns out, I'm writing this in a very specific music-environment setting itself - up on the sunlit balcony of an old chapel in Ellsworth, with a friendly cat by my side, whilst Chris and others rehearse the Bach B-minor mass below. Which is sort of appropriate for the start of the decade, when I listened to mainly classical music. I have arbitrarily excluded classical music from this list. If you want a soundtrack and an image for then; perhaps me writing up my thesis in an office with an enormous window (through which squirrels would sometimes enter), listening to Britten's Peter Grimes, the Ring Cycle and Verdi's requiem. Eventually I finished my PhD and got a job astrophysicing in Leicester.

The actual list begins (I think) in 2005, based on when I first heard the songs rather than when they were recorded, with:

Alan Moore & Tim Perkins - The Angel Highbury (not on youtube - however the first and second tracks from the same album are here and here)
Sometime back in the almost-distant past, duranorak posted a playlist of songs about London. At the time, Chris and I were living in Bedford; to amuse and distract ourselves, we went quite frequently to London. I had been reading Peter Ackroyd's biography of London, and sundrie books about cities and psychogeography and urban exploration and lost rivers and suchlike. Later on, there was an expedition to put a rubber duck in the decidedly lost Fleet River (via a drain near St. Pancras, as it turned out). This song was on the playlist, and the album it's from is a sort of psychogeographic resurrection of Highbury, via Chang and Eng, suffragettes, the 1925 Arsenal team, Aleister Crowley, Coleridge, Joe Meek and so forth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was completely hooked. This track is the glorious apotheosis of it all. And the CD was released in 2000, so it just about counts.

Muse - Supermassive Black Hole
In the slightly bonkers anime Read or Die (bear with me - honestly at least slightly relevant), the big final plot which needs to be foiled is the following. The evildoers have cloned Ludwig van Beethoven. They plan to put him in a massive space rocket surrounded by keyboards. Aided by a global airborne speaker system, Beethoven is to play a symphony so tragic that the world's population will commit suicide. I mention this because whenever I listen to Muse I think of a particular anime still of mad-haired Ludwig van B, surrounded by ridiculous keyboards, being shot into fucking space on a fucking rocket. As to life relevance, I was back at Leicester postdocing my little heart out at that point on very similar topics. In fact I can do no more than refer the reader to this entry.

Joanna Newsom - Only Skin
I realised that I liked this song - that is, really liked it - about half-way up the A3's curving ascent of the Devil's Punchbowl on the way to the Isle of Wight. At the time I liked it because it sounded a bit like Kate Bush, if Kate Bush had had a harp and about a million fingers to play it and a penchant for longer songs. Now I like it because it sounds like Joanna Newsom. For reference, Joanna Newsom is a tiny blonde cute person with a harp and about a millon fingers and songs that sound like brightly-painted myths and beautiful, fragile glittering worlds.

Neko Case - Hold on, hold on
May 2006, and Chris and I are engaged, and astrophysics grants have become hard to come by. I'm applying for jobs in diverse academic fields and organising a wedding and going to conferences all at the same time. For a hazily-remembered, sleep-deprived week, I go to UCL for an interview on antarctic science, get straight on a plane to New York, take the train to Boston for a conference at Harvard, present a poster on the stars surrounding the supermassive black hole (qv) at the centre of the galaxy, spend a couple of days exploring Boston and New York, and then come home for an interview at Cambridge on the environmental impact of air transport. There's a page in my notebook of the time full of sleep-deprived doodles; amtrak trains, compasses, ducks, durian milkshake and bird-headed women in ballgowns. On this page are two phrases that struck me at the time: "A light here for the hospital of the blind", a mis-heard announcement on the tube at King's Cross as I was travelling to the first interview; and "The most tender place in my heart is for strangers", the opening line of this Neko Case song. It's strangely haunting.

The Decemberists - Sons and Daughters
2007, and the Cambridge job came good. So I'm now there, in the basement of a big old rambling house with sunflower stained-glass windows in Chaucer Road, the department of Architecture's Martin Centre. I'm cycling again. Life is good, filled with ideas and art and music and readthroughs. People come to our house to sing. I make a life-size papier-mache crocodile for Ed and Claire's wedding. Chris and I go to Glastonbury and come back caked in mud but full of fine sounds. When life is good, I have a tendency to sing as I cycle along. This song is one which saw a lot of bike-time in the winter of 2007; it's catchy and joyful and the rest of the album (The Crane Wife) is superb as well.

Fleet Foxes - Blue Ridge Mountains
2008, and now I have a conference in Anchorage to go to. It's not cheap to travel to Alaska from Cambridge, and it turns out that the most budget-acceptable way to do so is via Houston. So off I go to Houston. On September 11th, 2008, which is coincidentally about the same time that Hurricane Ike also decides to visit Houston. The inbound flight is consequently rather empty. There are rumours of flight chaos to come, of the airport's likely closure hour. And as it turns out, I also enter US immigration just after a planeload of suspicious (to the TSA, at least) Mexicans and spend most of my connecting time queueing. My flight out, although it hasn't actually left, is by this point vastly overbooked. So it is perhaps unsurprising that a song containing the line "I heard that you missed your connecting flight" becomes a persistent earworm.
I didn't miss the connecting flight. So that was good.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
I first heard this album on the A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith, on the way to Ardgour 2008. I was desperate to pee, and the surrounding beautiful lonely fells were uncontaminated by service stations, so perhaps I paid less attention to it than it deserved. But I still remember liking it. Later on, at the end of the conference just mentioned I have cause to spend about 12 hours at Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage (in the meantime the global financial system has lurched to the brink of collapse, Sarah Palin has had a lot of airtime, and Rick Wright has died). I am in a strange mood; blank as a white and hole-eyed Inuit mask. I have an enormous paperback of Don Quixote with me which I don't feel like reading. So I sit, for 12 hours, watching the rain sweep over the Chugach mountains and rainbows rise and fade and seaplanes chug past and the sun slowly set, and listen to music. This was one of the albums I listened to. The album is very long and quite fucked-up in places but this song is small and perfectly-formed. I'm not sure if it counts for this list - it is, after all, a cover version of a non-2000s song by Tim Hardin. But I like it, so it's going in.

The National - Mr November
I come back from Anchorage. Sarah Palin remains on the news. Barack Obama remains on the news. The National, a band not particularly in the news at this point, throw their support enthusiastically behind Mr. Obama, and (this song being curiously appropriate for the US election and its eventual outcome) have a bunch of t-shirts made captioning his face with "Mr. November". On the feverish days surrounding the election itself, sharing an office with a bunch of people who have lived in the US, I listen to this song a lot.

Elbow - Some Riot
I like songs in 3-based time signatures, OK? And this one has plenty of associations for me, I just don't quite understand them. One is to ivy - why ivy? Other than that there's a bramble metaphor, the tune is somehow twining and curling, or overgrown by static, I have bugger all idea. I have a similar association with Mad Margaret and Despard's duet from Ruddigore.

iLiKETRAiNS - Terra Nova
You may have gathered by now that I have some *hem* interests of a geeky nature. So do iLiKETRAiNS, a group of post-rockers with deep voices and submariner beards who are not afraid to embrace their inner geek. Progress Reform, their debut EP, includes songs about Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition, Bobby Fischer, and the Beeching Report (they are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not in favour). I am a sucker for a doomed expedition in particular (listen to me bore for England on Sir John Franklin's doomed search for the Northwest passage!). So this is the track about Scott.

Honourable mentions:
Belle and Sebastian - Piazza, New York Catcher
This had a fight with iLiKETRAiNS for the final spot and lost. Still a great part-joyful, part-wistful travelling song, though.
Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)
These people were responsible for the best gig I went to this decade.
The Moldy Peaches - Steak for Chicken
Because sometimes I have the sense of humour of a 12-year-old. See also: the Tiger Lillies (here singing a song about Slough).

And, because it's hard to place things from the past year, here's a separate top 5 songs associated with 2009:
Bat For Lashes - Glass
This was probably my favourite song from this year. All fractured sunlight and peacock feathers and and crystal palaces and tribal drums.
Editors - In this light and on this evening
I've just started getting to know this album, which doesn't give it a fair shot in best-of lists. But I like me a big slice of traumatised urban wasteland electronicy indie, and this has what I like.
Animal Collective - In the Flowers
Wonderfully joyful. And has the best tempo-change bit since Franz Ferdinand's Take me Out.
Patrick Wolf - Get Lost
Imagine Kate Bush and David Bowie had got together in the 1980s and had a secret child. And that secret child grew up to be a fine-looking young bisexual multi-instrumentalist with incredible stage presence and a penchant for inventive costumes (and taking them off on stage). And also incidentally wrote great songs. What I mean to say is, yay.
Herbie Hancock - Watermelon Man
Released in 1973. In no way qualifies for the best of the 2000s. But it was the song which we heard in the neon-lit sidestreets around near the Drum Tower in Beijing and spent ages trying to identify; so if any song this year is associated with a specific time and place, it's this one.

I think that's quite enough for now. But if this list happens to suggest to you things I might like, feel free to suggest them! It would make a good start to musical-2010.


[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
I'm just writing up some of my albums of the year, in no particular order, and yes, The Decemberists are on there. Nothing like as good a review as they've had in previous years, though.

"Sons & Daughters" cheered me because of the use of the word 'dirigible' to rhyme with 'cinnamon', which prompted alextiefling to go and research the brief history of cinnamon exports. Happy days. But I love "Summersong" far more - and seeing Colin & Jenny perform "Yankee Bayonet" live, whooooah!
[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, and you may or may not like the Michael J Sheehy album 'With These Hands'. I shall blather about it in my own post very soon, for further edification.
[User Picture]
Date:February 22nd, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
OK, finally got around to listening to this. And it is awesome! So, um, thank you lots.
[User Picture]
Date:February 22nd, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
Hey, you're more than welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think it's a great album, and I'm very happy to blather about it.

I was a big fan of Sheehy's work with DCFC back in the day, but I think his solo career is pretty amazing too.
[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
Neko Case - Hold on, hold on
The National - Mr November

These are songs of the decade for me as well, and 'Glass' by Bat For Lashes is also on my list of favourites from this year.

Two of my fondest music-related memories from this year are seeing Patrick Wolf with you in Cambridge and listening to Neko Case's new album for the first time in your living room. :)
[User Picture]
Date:January 2nd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Awesome post!

I need to watch RoD now, because it sounds *ridiculously* Douglas Adamsy.
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