I Am an American Aquarium Drinker: My Favorite Albums 2000-2010


Just because I don’t think anyone else will mention it, I am acutely aware that the more recent I go with these lists, the less people who frequent this site will care. And I get it: the older we get, the more we settle into a comfortable groove. The amount of groups I’ve discovered between ages 25-30 pales in comparison to the amount of groups from 20-25. Eventually, we just figure out what we like and go from there.

So I’m not trying to convert anyone. The truth is, part of the reason these albums are part of my rotation 10-or-so years later is that they don’t sound particularly “of a time” or place. All those dance-punk bands of the early 2000’s that were basically copying Gang of Four didn’t really have staying power, as people became tired of dance-punk almost ridiculously fast.

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But I digress.

My Favorite Albums 2000-2010

5. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

The Brooklyn (by way of Minneapolis) group’s finest record is less an album than a collection of short stories set to music. Singer/lyricist Craig Finn spins tales of debauchery and chastity, irony and sincerity over the world’s best bar band. “Chips Ahoy” tells the saga of a girl who uses her (possible) clairvoyant abilities to pick winning horses. “Chillout Tent” finds two LSD-takers having a bad trip and falling in love. Part beat poetry, part Springsteen-esque portrait of the working class, Boys and Girls in America is a collection of paper-thin slices of life that read both authentic and inspiring. Franz Nikolay’s textured keyboard work is truly the icing on the cake (too bad he would later quit the group), giving each song layers of depth.

4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Some times bands put everything on the line because they believe in their work. Iconoclastic artists like Neil Young and Frank Zappa come to mind. After Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco would famously join their ranks. Reprise Records parted ways with the group in the wake of this album, and several band members quit during the tumultuous recording sessions. Luckily, the album turned out to be fucking great. Like Big Star’s harrowing final record Third/Sister Lovers before it, Yankee practically begs to be enjoyed at 3 am. Something about this record (standouts include “Kamera,” “Jesus Etc,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You) seems to make perfect sense during the witching hour. The off-kilter instrumental arrangements recall a lost kraut-rock channel picked up by a strategic foil-covered antenna. Jeff Tweedy’s confessional lyrics and unaffected vocal style sort of give you the impression that he’s right there in the room with you. Every time I listen to this album I pick up something new, which is really the one common thread through all the albums I’ve listed in this entire series.

3. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

The song “Halfway Home” simply has to be the most dynamic lead-off track on this entire list. It sets the tone for the album to come and lays down seeds of ideas that will sprout into beautiful saplings by album’s end. There are so many colliding factors at play within TV on the Radio that it can be a little bit head-spinning upon first listen. Witness the hip-hop influence (Don’t worry, pony tail dads. Not too much) of “Dancing Choose.” How about the vintage Prince notes in “Golden Age”? There are spirits of funk and punk co-mingling all over Dear Science. To listen to it is to experience one of the most interesting rock bands out there coming alive on record.

2. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica

This album tackles quite a lot of subject matter in kind of a long amount of time. Say what you want about Modest Mouse but they make it known from minute one of this record exactly what they’re trying to accomplish. Mixing bold astronomical predictions/observations (“The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth”)  with world-weary sentiment (“Everything keeping us together is falling apart”), album opener “3rd Planet” lays out the scope of this piece fairly neatly. And Modest Mouse, for the most part, tackle the entire world here. From the inherent narcissism of mankind (“Dark Center of the Universe”) to an unspecified dystopia (“Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”), Isaac Brock’s idiosyncratic vocals lift us to a place deep within the perverted American dream. “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” is the perfect metaphor for the illusion of control and how easy it can be to surrender it. The visual image of a bunch of formerly tame pets breaking out and getting wild parallels Moon itself. After all, doesn’t the title refer to the ultimate unexplored territories?

1. Arcade Fire – Funeral

Though Arcade Fire are officially Grammy-Award-Winning “hot shit” now, I still think their first album is their finest. Funeral was inspired by a series of deaths that hit close-to-home for various members of the band, and it explores the concept of honoring the dead from every conceivable facet. The “Neighborhood” songs provide an unmistakably autobiographical thread that runs through the entire record. If lead singer Win Butler isn’t the protagonist in these achingly authentic tracks, you can be damn sure he knew the guy involved. Funeral does things to people. I was fortunate enough to see Arcade Fire in 2004 at the totally awesome and sadly defunct venue Little Brothers in Columbus, Ohio. All these years later, I remember the group as one with something to prove; they had one full-length album under their collective belts, and they were touring the U.S. and playing the shit out of it. That was something special to behold. They opened with “Wake Up,” and I was physically  taken aback by their presence and overall message. Yikes. Even thinking about that moment, when I knew I was seeing something new and exciting, gives me chills. And that was 12 years ago.

The closer to today that we get, the more I remember exactly where I was when I heard these albums for the first time. The Mountain Goats record We Shall All Be Healed reminds me of walking to class in my first year of college. Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants reminds me specifically of skipping a philosophy class and smoking a ton of pot instead. They say that various sensory impressions are very tightly tied together with memories.

The next list should be interesting in that regard.

Honorable Mention List to come. I’m too busy listening to Funeral.

See you in 2010!

Photo credit (Arcade Fire): By Tammy Lo from Brooklyn, NY – Arcade Fire @ United Palace, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2379638

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One comment to “I Am an American Aquarium Drinker: My Favorite Albums 2000-2010”
  1. Dear Science is really fantastic. I’d have to put De-loused in the Comatorium here. Also, QOTSA’s Rated R. These both get better every time.

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