10. Nikaido Kazumi 'Mata, Otosimasitayo' (2003)
Hearing Nikaido Kazumi sing is a thing of pure wonder. Her voice, capriciously whipping from whisper to wail, is an incredible interpretive instrument of aching emotional tenor, known to reduce listeners —and performer— to tears. Both live and on record, it often sounds as if she's trying to connect to a primal part of herself, away from words and language, communicable only through pure sound. Kazumi was born and raised in a Buddhist monastery in rural Japan, and, there, sung night and day to the stars and sun; eventually teaching herself guitar far from the prying eyes of pop-culture. It's no surprise, then, that her awe-inspiring debut album has no obvious reference points; Mata, Otosimasitayo is simply the sound of one woman's soul.
Like some mystical successor to the Raincoats' 1981 mind-alterer Odyshape
, New Yorker dames Rings pirouetted through an eco-mystical song-cycle called Black Habit
, in which their odd music sounds as if from nature; growing out of the primordial swamp of punk, into an audio eco-system of awe-inspiring life and staggering, unexpected beauty. Black Habit
bespeaks its evolutionary wonder in every strange, misshapen song. Rings' swirling clouds of drums, piano, and voice, dowsed in echo and spun in spirals, initially sound like pure chaos, only for subsequent spins to reveal recognizable shapes and interpretive logic; sounds that once seemed serendipitous starting to feel far too fated, too mystical, too meaningful to be random acts of chance.
's second record, 2004's sparse Young Prayer
, was shocking in its intimacy: one long poem whispered into the ear of a dying father. Three years on, with father gone, and new wife and child by his side, Sweet Panda wanted to shed that heaviness, and just feel the joy. Borrowing from the Beach Boys and Basic Channel techno records, the two-years-in-the-making Person Pitch
heaves with these good vibrations, exemplified by “Comfy In Nautica”’s exhorted chorus: “try to remember, always/always to have a good time.” Yet, it's more complex than a mere good time: bursting with happiness yet tinged with sorrow, immediately accessible yet distant and mysterious, gloriously summery yet sounding like a soft, slow snowfall. It's incredible.
After years in the 'exploratory' musical wilderness tending to a slowly-growing cult-following, Animal Collective
exploded onto the greater pop-cultural consciousness with Merriweather Post Pavilion
. Hailed with near unanimity as the best album of 2009
, the jam-band's ninth LP found them wholly embracing their evolution into major musical players. No more wonky experimentalism: here Animal Collective functioned as a joyous, rambunctious, infectious outfit fashioning ever-evolving walls of sampled sound into dancefloor-friendly anthems of no known genre. Big, bizarre, and intensely beautiful, Merriweather Post Pavilion
cemented Animal Collective's reputation as one of the most important, distinctive voices in modern music.
The Social Registry
Perhaps no album from the '00s got better as the decade ticked on as did God's Money
. On its release, the third album from Brooklynist hipsters Gang Gang Dance
was but a delirious rabble; a cobbled-together concoction of cacky sounds slathered into hypnotic, hot-footed dance jams that straddled some never-before-straddled line between tribalist and futurist, highbrow and low-, avant-garde and in-da-club. Yet, as the years went on, it started to feel like a landmark: leaving behind a litany of impressive outfits working in post-GGD fashion (Crazy Dreams Band, Rainbow Arabia, Rings, Telepathe, These Are Powers, Yeasayer
), it sounds both of its time and, even still, every time you listen to it, like it exists in its own magical musical future.
It's the most unexpectedly influential album of the '00s: the percussive noise orgy that rewired and inspired Gang Gang Dance, Black Dice, and Animal Collective. Of course, Vision Creation Newsun isn't so much an 'album' as it's a pagan ritual, a tribal drum-circle in which Boredoms play themselves into transcendent trance-states. Essentially a single 67 minute incantation, the set relentlessly pursues a shared, sustained, singular ecstasy. Boredoms send torrents of noise and circumvolutions of polyrhythmic percussion spiraling upwards, skywards, in search of some kind of communal, musical transfiguration. It's religious music for people whose religion is music; a profound, universal truth for those who seek enlightenment in sound.
Otomo Yoshihide's concept of jazz is not as style, but as interpretation: his out-rock big-band undertake radical reworkings of the material of others. And, on the suitably dreamy Dreams
, they set to work bashing out stormy stagings of compositions by Otomo's friends and peers, including Seiichi Yamamoto of Boredoms and Jim O'Rourke. In a raucous highlight, the NJE —here fronted by sweet/sour vocalists Jun Togawa and Phew— explode O'Rourke's quirky, quizzical nine-minute mood-piece “Eureka” into 16 minutes of musical fireworks; going from a Jun-sung lament to a cacophony of percussion, guitar, woodwinds, and sine-waves. The band's utterly ecstatic tribute to their contemporaries is an inspired antithesis to jazz's blinkered nostalgia.
Where OK Computer
was steeped in pre-millennial anxieties, Radiohead ushered in the third millennium with an album that sounded entirely integrated into the digital diaspora; musically, aesthetically, and conceptually. On Kid A
's title-track, Thom Yorke's voice —theretofore the rockband's defining instrument— is warped and stretched out into a sinister, slippery, pitch-rupturing locus of digital manipulation; sounding, for all the world, like a fragile lullaby sung by a tender motherboard. Reborn as children of the computer age, Radiohead shed the anthemic guitars and the 'next U2' tag; instead becoming, by way of their restlessly inventive and genuinely uneasy music, the thinking man's stadium band.
One Little Indian
In the decade's early days, back when Metallicorp was battling Napster, the ever-visionary Björk was already peering into the future. Wanting to make an album that sounded good after suffering through crushing digital compression, the Icelandic icon constructed a set from dry vocals, brittle harp, and patterns of electronic static. Working with American sampledelic darlings Matmos, Björk fashioned a unique kind of 'minimalist lushness,' where tiny, crackling, skittery beats weave sound-blankets spun from so much sonic silk. Laying atop such, Björk's breathy vocals intone every syllable with a dramatic intimacy that, even when at a whisper, carries a monstrous emotional weight. The result is the best record of this mighty artist's career.
When Joanna Newsom arrived with The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004, she all but stitched up the 'album of the decade' title. But who knew that it'd be her second album, Ys, that would end up trumping all others. After delivering one of the greatest debuts in the history of the recorded medium, Newsom somehow succeeded it with her follow-up. A five-song, hour-long song-cycle in which her virtuosic harp-playing and scraping, squeaking voice are trussed in the ornate orchestrations of Van Dyke Parks, Ys showcases Newsom as one of the most gifted songwriters ever to put fingers to harp strings, one of the most idiosyncratic lyricists ever to put pen to paper. Forget 'album of the decade': Ys might be the greatest artwork of the 21st Century, period.