amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

5 favourite albums from the 21st Century so far

I was asked early in the year to write about my top five albums of the 21st century so far. Charles and I spent several months listing to the music in our collection. We had great discussions about music. Something that I have to admit is that I rarely enjoy every song on an album. But the albums on this list are ones that I play often and enjoy. It's hard to believe we are already twenty years into the 21st century, and what years they've been. Music is one way I find to cope. I often make playlists for friends. Many songs from these albums become part of playlists I send to friends in the form of CDs mailed to them or simply shared through Spotify. It is always my hope that if a particular musician's work resonates for someone, they will buy the albums and become fans.

1. Vic Chesnutt, At the Cut (Constellation Records, 2009)

In ten short songs, this album moves me every time I listen to it. It is an album full of tension and heartache. Lyrically, Chesnutt had a way of twisting things. For example, in I flirted with you all my life, the song seems to be about a lover, but it is about death, which he laments in a repeated chant-like chorus. The album is full of recurring imagery of destruction and endings:  the chinaberry tree becomes sawdust, the move from glide to free fall to burning grass in When the Bottom Fell Out.

Melodically and instrumentally, whether it be the brush of cymbals in Chain or the entrance of the violin on the second verse of We Hovered with Short Wings, this album feels like it’s all about timing and control. Chesnutt has a superb range, moving from low growl to plaintive sweet high notes. The dark lyrics are often in contrast to the musical treatment, which serves to create the tension.

At the Cut is a pre-death elegy written by a great songwriter and musician, who died too soon, but who contributed meaningfully to music, art, and life.

2. Ex:Re, Ex:Re (Glassnote Records, 2018)

Poetic lyrics, a strong and powerful voice singing melodiously with guitar in plaintive questioning ballads. This is a quintessential break-up album that should be listened to by anyone who’s ever had a relationship end. This is the debut album of Elena Tonra, formerly of the band, Daughter. I hope she continues her journey solo. There’s a chant-like mesmerizing quality to her voice and the repeated guitar on songs like “Crushed” that reminds me of Jeff Buckley in Grace. It’s an urban album set in New York, rhythmic and dark. The lyrics are brutal and honest, admitting envy in songs like New York, which has my favourite lyric, “I raged through, wine-wasted, shit-faced, solo, so what?” Pair this album with Lynn Crosbie’s poetry epic, Liar (House of Anansi Press, 2006), a bottle of cheap wine on a Saturday night alone with the glow of the television for a satisfying wallow.

 3. Superorganism, Superorganism (Domino Recording Company and Hostess Entertainment, 2018)

First album by this indie pop band made up of Orono Noguchi, alongside Emily, Harry, Tucan, Robert Strange, Ruby, B, and Soul is quirky delicious. With songs like “It’s all good” and “The Prawn Song,” this album is the feel-good, anxiety-reducing, eco-friendly record of the millennium. The album is full of whimsy and Orono Noguchi, the lead vocalist has a smooth and wonderful voice. They sound great together and I hope they make more albums.Thanks to Facebook friend and writer, Ray Hsu, who shared the album on his FB page, along with other great albums.

4.  Oliver Schroer, Camino (Borealis Records, 2006)

Solo violin and ambient recordings inspired by and made during Schroer’s long walk along the Camino del Santiago, this record is my most recommended album to friends who are going through difficult times.

 5. Agnes Obel, Philharmonics (PIAS, 2010)

 From the piano instrumental to Obel’s hauntingly beautiful voice, this album brings me peace when I most need it. “Down by the River” is the song from the album I play the most with its repeating lyrics and memorable melody. This album feels like a film score or the soundtrack to a fairy tale. I love all her albums so far, but I play this one the most.

Here are links to my playlists on Spotify, my wishlist and collections of albums I've bought on Bandcamp.

Do you have any favourites albums or songs from the 21st century so far? Let me know. I'd love to hear. I love talking about music almost more than I love talking about poetry. 

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