Albums of the Decade: Part Two

by Katherine

3. Illinois – Sufjan Stevens

Even by Mr. Stevens lavish standards, ‘Illinois’ is a banquet of an album – horns upon horns are layered strings upon strings in a glorious, sumptuous celebration of Illinois – in glorious technicolour, Sufjan manages to encapsulate the true American spirit – standing on the banks of the Sangamon River, dreaming about Carl Sandburg, celebrating Casmir Pulaski Day, riding the train at Nichol’s Park.

But ‘Illinois’ is no glossily airbrushed 50’s travel brochure – he manages to include some of the state’s darkest moments in ‘John Wayne Gacy Jnr.’ – a stark, acoustic biography of the infamous serial killer who kidnapped and murdered twenty-seven young boys and men, hiding the bodies under his floorboards – ‘Even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs, Oh my God!’. You may cringe at Sufjan’s graceless refraction of Gacy’s life with his own – ‘And in my best behaviour, I am really just like him’ but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sincere disclosure in the singer-songwriter genre.

Even more affecting is the relentless, bittersweet mourn of ‘Casmir Pulaski Day’ – over the unassuming backdrop of  gently-strummed acoustic guitar, Sufjan puts his listeners through searing emotional purgatory – every line he delivers in that unassuming, preppy whine is utterly devastating: ‘In the morning, when you finally go/ And the nurse runs in, with her head bowed low/ And the cardinal hits the window’.  ‘Illinois’ heralded Sufjan’s growing maturity – it finds him stepping out of his camp cubscout uniform and into a black funeral suit. And it suits him.

Download: ‘John Wayne Gacy Jnr.’, ‘Casmir Pulaski Day’

4. Kid A – Radiohead

In my opinion, Kid A is the bravest record in the history of rock music. Dissatisfied with gaining a reputation as a world-class alternative rock band (Yorke consciously dislocates himself with this reputation, saying ‘Alternative rock needs bludgeoning to death by a big stick and left on a bridge to warn passers-by’) Yorke decided to leave the stadium bombast behind, and conquer the far-murkier worlds of experimental and electronica.

While Radiohead’s earlier work was focused on singular, incendiary empowerment, ‘Kid A’ embraced the powerlessness of our generation, the recklessness of the consumer lifestyle, imagery of a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape and ‘the generation that will inherit the world when we’ve wiped everything out’. ‘Kid A’ isn’t a pleasant album – it’ll never be the album you put on to sing along to in the car, or the album you play at family dinners – it won’t fit itself inconspicuously  into your lifestyle. You’ll have to fit yourself around ‘Kid A’s suffocating schizophrenia , have to consciously expand your mind to try and accommodate it’s cagey, volatile bleakness, it’s aching, mind-numbing intensity. It won’t be easy. But it’ll be so worth it.

Download: ‘Idioteque’, ‘Everything in it’s Right Place’

5. Funeral – Arcade Fire

‘Funeral’ is a record that, for many people, heralded the end of a golden age in indie rock – a time when indie rock was vivacious, unitive and entirely accessible – the time before indie rock buried itself into the underground and up it’s creators arses, choked by it’s own self-importance and hipness. It’s odd that possible this decade’s most joyful record rose from the ashes of death – Arcade Fire an undeniable talent for gleaning bittersweet joy from the most  desperate situations, a talent which has been acquired by dozens of indie offsprings – from Bon Iver to The Antlers.

Download: ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’, ‘Wake Up’

Part Three coming soon! (Probably)