Top 50 Albums of ’00s (10-1)

Here’s a quick recap previous installments: #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, & #20-11.

Without further ado, here’s the very best of the decade…

10. With Love And Squalor – We Are Scientists

The brilliance of With Love And Squalor might seem confusing at first. Everything clashes, but it sounds like noting clashes. That is to say, none of the musical elements are similar parts; the drums tap a certain rhythm, which varies from what the bass plays, which sounds nothing like the guitar part. Yet, when all these pieces come together, the result is some of the most fun dance rock in existence. Over backdrop, frontman Keith Murray muses about the proverbial “scene” and all the troubles and hook-ups that go along with it. The album does have some moments of clarity amongst the late night antics, be it the sense of being slighted (“Inaction”) or the realization of a desperate need for companionship despite what others might think (“Lousy Reputation”). However, the album’s essence is really found in tracks like “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “It’s A Hit,” which are just too fun to ignore. With Love And Squalor is one scene that never grows tired.

9. Nightmare Of You – Nightmare Of You

On a list of overlooked gems from the ’00s, Nightmare of You’s self-titled debut has to rank near the top. The group delivered a blissful collection of jaunty tunes in the vain of The Smiths. There’s a certain pop sweetness that prevails throughout the album (especially on songs like “The Days Go By Oh So Slow”), but there is also nuance beneath the surface. Each song has a devilishly wry smile about it, as if its a little more cunning and devious than it want to let anyone realize at first glance. This aspect really pops out on ditties like “I Want to Be Buried in Your Backyard” and “Dear Scene, I Wish I Were Deaf.” The mix of atmospheric instrumentals and sharp lyricism really do the trick. Case in point, it’s to find a better lyrically simple chorus than “My Name is Trouble”‘s “This is the last time that I’ll hold your hand, I want to kiss you on the mouth an tell you I’m your biggest fan…” It is things like that that make new biggest fans out of those that listen to Nightmare Of You.

8. Stay What You Are – Saves the Day

Laying the direct groundwork for the emo boom, Saves the Day’s Stay What You Are is just about as much as anyone could ask from an emo/pop punk album. There’s well-worded hate (“At Your Funeral”), hyperbole of the pain a relationship can cause (“See You”), and tender shyness (“Freakish”). The emotions are all allowed to shine thanks to a sundry set of catchy instrumentations. By the time Stay What You Are burns out on “Firefly,” Save the Day’s Chris Conley manages to get the heart he wears on his sleeve to find a little place inside the listener’s own ticker. Stay What You Are is aptly titled. It would be foolish to want these songs to ever change.

(Full review here.)

7. Relationship Of Command – At The Drive-In

Aggressive and otherworldly, 2000’s Relationship Of Command is like a mule kick to the jaw (which appropriately enough is frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s signature moves in concert) Each song still feels like it’s way, way ahead of anything that’s currently being released, and it dropped in 2000. The band’s hardcore spirit mixes with instrumentals that manage to be simultaneously crazily cacophonic and yet smoothly grooving. As the guitars wildly cascade from track to track, Bixler-Zavala shifts his vocals from the hyper spoken word verses of “Invalid Jitter Dept.” to the aggressive yelps on “Enfilade” and “One Armed Scissor.” The bottom line is Relationship Of Command has an inherent life-force; an energy which makes it seem vital. With the At The Drive-In long since split, this station may be non-operational, but with the signals that people can still pick up anyone would be crazy to touch the dial.

6. Control – Pedro the Lion

Control is portrait of married life and accompanying adultery which makes the notion of wedded “bliss” sound like the worst thing imaginable. David Bazan takes this concept and runs with it, finding the sordid details of a relationship gone awry. The opener “Options” sets the tone, taking one of Pedro the Lion’s signature single note riffs and weaving it into a story of halfhearted love that both parties begrudgingly accept (“And I told her I loved her, and she told me she loved me. And I mostly believed her, and she mostly believed me.”) That moment of sad, solemn togetherness is quickly broken by “Rapture” and it’s unguarded words of infidelity’s physical bliss. As the husband’s cheating ways become more and more evident (“Rehearsal”), the tensions eventually escalate until the reach a tumultuous end (“Priests And Paramedics”). Even the couple’s children, and their brief period of youthful innocence, complete with blissful unawareness of the crumbing situation around them, is broached on “Indian Summer.” All of these pieces of the story are matched perfectly by each tracks instrumentals, from electronic hums to harshly plucked acoustic strings. But the thing that stands out most is not the tale itself, but the underlying question of “why” things like this happen. Is it lustful instinct? Sheer stupidity? An insatiable urge to simply escape the monotony of everyday life? And where is the supposedly loving God in all of this? Control leaves the listener with more than just intricate tunes, it leaves them with philosophical quandaries.
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Your Favorite Weapon – Brand New

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Teens are a complicated lot. And while 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon was released when Brand New’s songwriter extraordinaire Jesse Lacey was in his early 20s, no album better encapsulates the raging emotions of that youthful time. Lacey’s lyrics read like an elaborately detailed diary (probably because it is) and his intense vocal delivery gets the points home authentically. Some may say Lacey get a bit melodramatic, but isn’t that perfect? Aren’t the teenage year one long melodrama?

Your Favorite Weapon is composed primarily of songs dealing with the anguish of love; mostly of the lost variety. From the shot- out-of-a-cannon burst of a drum roll that begins “The Shower Scene,” Brand New begins riffling through melodies and emotions.

“Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” deals with the fracturing of very long distance relationships with Lacey opining, “I hope the next boy that you kiss has something terribly contagious on his lips…,” and, “even if her plane crashes tonight she’ll find some way to disappoint me, by not burning in the wreckage, or drowning at the bottom of the sea.” The continued sense of bitterness is evident on “Mix Tape.” With lyrics spearheaded by the line, “I got a twenty-dollar bill that says no one’s ever seen you without makeup. You’re always made up,” the feeling behind the words is direct and impactful. The song builds up from a basic arpeggio to full on distorted and noise by the end.
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Stay What You Are – Saves the Day

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Here goes a rendition the classic music critic gripe: 

If the world was a “just” place (oh silly critics) Saves the Day would have the career of Fall Out Boy, only with way more credibility. 2001’s Stay What You Are is the most radio-ready emo album there is and it’s not even that close. It’s melodic bliss, yet somehow it just didn’t click. Saves the Day was just four years too early. The album came out in the height of pop punk’s infiltration of mainstream teen culture, and this album just didn’t fit the mold of the Blink-182s and Sum 41s of the world. But hey, as a music listener, it’s better for an album to be unappreciated and great than known and unlistenable.

Atypically, the album begins with a funeral on the aptly titled “At Your Funeral.” The track is not as melancholy as one would expect, in fact, musically it’s bouncy. It, and most of the songs on Stay What You Are emote more bitterness than sorrow. The follow-up “See You” features leadman Chris Conley at some of his lyrical best, with vivid imagery that is instantly relatable:
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From Under the Cork Tree – Fall Out Boy

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It’s easy to dismiss Fall Out Boy due to the over-saturation of coverage about them and their reliance, specifically Pete Wentz’s reliance, on image over substance. However, the album that made them the powerhouse that they are today, From Under the Cork Tree, is so finely crafted that it’s hard for even the most cynical hater to completely dismiss it.

From Under the Cork Tree has one major strength – its instrumental arrangements are superb. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, who writes the music for the band, has a touch for detail and variation that far surpasses most of his genre’s peers. Each song has it’s own distinct sound while maintaining a hooky stickiness. The range encompasses everything from Van Halen-esque staccato guitar on “7 Minutes In Heaven (Atavan Halen)” to heavy sound of sliding drop D chords on the excellent “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’.”

The main issue of contention with From Under the Cork Tree is the lyrical work. While Stump handles the music, it’s bassist Pete Wentz who handles the lyrics with varying levels of success. One moment catchy and clever wordplay is forefront and then out of nowhere come lines that are stomach churningly bad.
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Un Mas Dos – Straylight Run

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Straylight Run is a band in a transitional period. With co-lead vocalist/instrumentalist Michelle DaRosa leaving the band to purse a solo career, the group has lost the most interesting aspect of its sound. After her departure the band has released the EP Un Mas Dos, which finds Straylight Run having morphed into a straightforward rock band, with fairly archetypal tunes.

Un Mas Dos doesn’t tread much new ground. The lyrical ground is so familiar as is the music that backs it up. The one thing Straylight Run clearly still has going for it is lead singer John Nolan’s vocal; which are as emotive as they come. This allows the group to be better than the run of the mill rock group. While “Wait and Watch” is an overly typical tune of alienation, “Try” is an interesting autobiographical tune, finding Nolan fighting to find importance in the musician’s life. The final track, “Ten Ton Shoes,” is the good type of electronic rock song; a bit over the top in it’s lo-fi aesthetic.

While Un Mas Dos is nothing to write home about, it does show that Straylight Run isn’t a lost cause without DeRosa. There’s enough solid rock here to be hopeful about the band’s future endeavors.

Review Score: 5.8

Mean Everything To Nothing – Manchester Orchestra

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Andy Hull is incredibly talented. The frontman and creative force behind Manchester Orchestra isn’t even old enough to rent a car, but already has one great album (2006’s I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child), and a fair share of side projects under his belt. With that in mind, Manchester Orchestra’s new LP, Mean Everything To Nothing, just doesn’t seem to be able to pull everything together and be as good as it could be. All the pieces are there, they just don’t seem to be fitting together tightly.

If every song on the album was as good as the opener, “The Only One,” than Mean Everything To Nothing would be the clear favorite for album of the year in 2009. The track gets the album into full swing in a matter of seconds with sliding guitar and frantic clapping. The lyrics ring sharp; an angry rant from the son of a pastor. The track is as hard as any Manchester Orchestra track to date, but is only the beginning of a heavy shift.
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Bug Sessions Volume 1 – Saves the Day

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Originally released only at Saves the Day tour stops, Bug Sessions Volume 1 is so far above and beyond most EPs of its type. It consists of reworked acoustic versions of songs from Saves the Day’s first 4 albums (and one from their B-side album) done with the whole band. While this may sound mundane and run of the mill, the execution is nearly flawless.

It’s refreshing that the band decided not to do the typical, “well it’s acoustic, so let’s slow it down” thing that often plagues acoustic rock songs. All the tracks keep a quick pace and pack a punch because of it. Essential to the drive is Pete Parada drumming on this record. The drum sounds he gets are golden. They mesh so perfectly with the acoustic sound, especially the crashes and rides.

Bug Sessions Volume 1 begins with “Certain Tragedy” and “In My Waking Life”, two tales of disconnect that showcase the band’s talent at putting together a more interesting musical arrangement than most of its peers cannot touch. After a version of “Freakish”, maybe Saves the Day’s best known song, that actually is uptempo from the original, the album really gets to it’s high point.
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