Friday, November 11, 2016

A Decade Under the Influence: 10 Albums For 10 Years

It is hard to imagine we have been doing this for 10 years. This website, blog, whatever you call it started in November 2006 when I was still living in my parents basement. I had graduated from college in May and still looking for work. I was a college radio DJ and many people kept asking me for new music, I figured a blog would be the best way to lay it all out.

In the decade we have been around, we may not have changed the landscape of anything but I am super proud of what we have accomplished. Having interviewed new artists from around the world and heroes like Mike D. of Beastie Boys, Dave Grohl, the Gallagher brothers, Bad Brains, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, among others, this has been a music nerds dream.

Within this decade, so many wonderful records have come out that shaped the course of music forever. Some of those records just shaped our souls. Here is a look back what I feel are the 10 best records to arrive since we started in November 2006.

10.  The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound (2006)

The sophomore record from these Jersey punks struck a chord with us thanks to their heartfelt lyrics, throwback to arena rock sound that made them feel larger than life. A decade later, the record still resonates with its themes of growing up, leaving things behind and starting anew.

9. Amy Winhouse - Back to Black (2006)

Without Amy there would be no Adele. Without Amy the music world would be a lot less funky. It was as if the Ronnettes were fronted by a woman who was able to sing and speak her mind and not be told what to do. It was a record of love, loss and liberation and 10 years later, we still go back to black.

8. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)

When Laura Jane Grace announced she was transitioning it shocked the music world due to her signature abrasive voice and style. Transgender Dysphoria Blues became a record of what it was like for her to realize what she needed to do and what needed to happen for her. It is a love letter to our bodies and the boldest, bravest statement in the history of music.

7. Robyn - Body Talk (2010)

When Robyn released her Body Talk series in 2010, the singer reinvented herself for a whole new audience. The spellbinding sounds of heartbreak and hip-hop mixed with Euro trash beats created one of the most loved albums of the decade.

6. Kanye West - Graduation (2007)

West broke hip-hop boundaries with Graduation and was, in my opinion, his final masterpiece. It was a transitional record that saw him sample Daft Punk, Elton John and call out Jay Z. It was a record that showed West had no boundaries and why, at that time, he was the most important name in music.

5. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (2007)

To sum up this whole record in with just one word - "Wow." Every band with one album out should take note, if you want to know how to define the sophomore slump and create a brilliant second disc, listen to Neon Bible. The Canadian 10 piece stormed back from their 2004 debut, Funeral, with a record about modern times. A much more mature album, they may have lost their random dance breakdown's in the middle of songs, but picked up a narrative writing style that rivals most poets. They express what they do not like in this world, our obsession with young celebrity, war, and how we respond to natural disaster. Their combination of folk and classical with a punk edge made them appeal to the masses.

4. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 (2014)

Since 2012, independent New York producer and rapper  extraordinaire El-P linked with Georgia emcee Killer Mike, these two have been making beautiful music together collaborating on their own albums and then coming together as Run The Jewels in 2013. heir debut was a great way to declare who they were and what they planned on doing, but it is the follow-up record that is their impact statement, their call to arms, their way of letting the world know they are not going anywhere. As Killer Mike proclaims on "Blockbuster Night Pt.1," "Last album voodoo, proved that we was fucking brutal," yet, is is the second album that takes that verbal and beat brutality to a whole other level. The only thing more aggressive than El-P’s beats is the sound of a black metal bands roaring guitars and that is not even touching on Killer Mike’s lyrical flow and words. What Killer Mike does on RTJ2 is become a hip-hop news commentator to tell us what it is like outside of our mindless lives and that we need to wake up, no wonder Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine jumped on to work with these two to craft this dynamic, diverse, and brilliant record.   

3. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) 

Two days after the 20th anniversary of Tupac’s Me Against the World, Kendrick Lamar surprise released his sophomore album a week ahead of schedule and if anyone ever doubted that the Compton rapper could be the second coming of Pac, all doubts are officially pushed aside. Beautiful, raw, honest, intense, To Pimp A Butterfly is a modern poet putting social commentary and storylines over beats provided by the likes of Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Terrace Martin, Pharrell, Dr. Dre, among others. Clocking in at 80 minutes, which is long for any record, especially by today’s standards, Lamar lets his feelings about celebrity, love, the hood, and black culture out with a vengeance. Combining hip-hop, funk, jazz, psychedelica, and rock, Lamar defies the sophomore slump and proves he will not be pigeonholed. With lyrics about Trayvon Martin to Michael Jackson to Nelson Mandela, as well as his “interview” with Tupac, this record is a lyrical document of our times by a one-man verbal wrecking ball. It is an album that speaks to our times and a record that decades from now will still be the center of conversation. It became an instant classic and the soundtrack to a movement -- "We Gon' Be Alright!" was the anthem for those still fighting a struggle. The power and brilliance behind this record goes beyond it being the album of the year, it might become the album of the decade and one of the best we will ever hear in our lifetime. Hail, Hail King Kendrick!  

2. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

Maybe it is because they told EMI to fuck off, maybe it is because they realize the golden age of album collecting maybe coming to an end and we need to adapt, maybe it is because they are musical geniuses. Whatever it is, Radiohead are always ahead of their time and are always willing to take chances. In Rainbows is no exception, announcing on their website just a week before they intended to release the new material, Radiohead told fans "pay whatever you want," and even do whatever you want with it. Granted an established band like so has the ability to do so, but the fact they did it is just very cool. Aside from a unique distribution, the record also pushed the band to beyond the limits of their control and showcased their genius once more.

1. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America (2006)

This is not the best record musically in comparison to others on this list, but in every sense of the world Boys and Girls in America changed my life. I first heard it a few months after it was released and was blown away. It was everything a confused early 20-something-year-old needed to hear. A decade later, it is everything a sorta confused 30-something-year-old needs to hear. Life is going to be okay and the plan you have may not happen right away but the adventure that takes you there is what makes or breaks you. Your heart will break, you heart will get filled, your life is something all of your own. The Hold Steady told me that with this record and whenever things feel strange, this is the record to put on.