wears the trousers magazine


wears the trousers albums of the decade #75-51

part one part threepart four

Here’s the second part of our albums of the decade countdown, running from #75–51.

* * *

75

Róisín Murphy
Overpowered

[EMI, 2007]

Of all the critical droolfests that failed to ignite on the commercial front this decade, Róisín Murphy’s second solo album is among the most inexplicable damp squibs. The ex-Moloko frontwoman may have shed the avant-garde experimentalism of her solo debut Ruby Blue in favour of full-on disco diva mode, set against a backdrop of thumping, shimmering state-of-the-art production, but it seems the world wasn’t ready to accept even Murphy’s toned down personality quirks. That’s a real shame for although Overpowered is not without its flaws, there is a sense of playful grandeur here that can easily toe the line with Goldfrapp at their most teasing.

Chris Catchpole

* * *

74

Emilíana Torrini
Fisherman’s Woman

[Rough Trade, 2005]

The five years between Emilíana Torrini’s international debut Love In The Time Of Science and this follow-up were marked by tragedy when her boyfriend was killed in a car crash, understandably sending the Italian–Icelandic singer into an almost cocoon-like existence. When she finally emerged with Fisherman’s Woman, it turned out to be as honest, fragile and human a folk record as we would hear all decade, its sepia-toned melodies never rushing to unravel. Even when Torrini gets weighty in her subject matter, she does it with a bittersweet delicacy that softens the blow, her captivating vocals never too sombre to preclude a happy ending.

Alan Pedder

read our interview with Emilíana

* * *

73

CocoRosie
Noah’s Ark

[Touch & Go, 2005]

Sailing down the Seine to find where broken hearts go, with Noah’s Ark the sisters Casady threw their audience the most delicate of lifelines, proportionate only to the furthest stretch of their patience. So while those with a short fuse may well crash and burn at the first bonkers lyric or cracked, unearthly vocal, it’s best to leave them steaming in their own incomprehension than try to defend or explain why this ship is worth keeping abreast of. Noah’s Ark is a stark, brave and affecting record that flirts with the surreal and the all-too-real in irresistible fashion.

Alan Pedder

* * *

72

Meg Baird
Dear Companion

[Wichita, 2007]

Dear Companion impresses not just with its rendering of folk classics and with the poetry and emotion of the self-penned numbers, but with its marriage of the two styles. With a voice like a mountain stream of glacial meltwater, Meg Baird makes light work of traditional favourites and her own songs hold their own, not directly emulating the folk tradition of the traditional numbers but working as a counterpoint in the modern singer-songwriter mould. It might not be the most joyous album, but what folk ever is? As any good folk singer should do, Baird finds the beauty, humour and universal truth in stories of love, death and fungi.

Peter Hayward

read our interview with Meg

* * *

71

The Be Good Tanyas
Blue Horse

[Nettwerk, 2000]

This Canadian trio caused quite a stir when they first broke onto the music scene with Blue Horse, a mellow coalescence of old-timey bluegrass and country with a modestly experimental intuition and an unconventional singing style. The combination of Frazey Ford’s unusually slurred vocals and Samantha Parton’s clearer, twangy tones made for some memorable harmonies, and the instrumental embellishments they gave to stone-cold folk traditionals gave the whole ensemble a brighter, sweeter feel than any of their contemporaries could match.

Alan Pedder

* * *

70

Diamanda Galás
Defixiones, Will & Testament

[Mute, 2003]

Few artists are as reliably uneasy listening or opinion dividing as baroque star Diamanda Galás. Her fourteenth album, Defixiones, Will & Testament sees her continue her remembrance of anonymous victims with a series of meditations on the 1914 Armenian genocide and other twentieth-century atrocities. Recorded live, these songs are closer to art than to music; Galás’s anger and sorrow is expressed with enough force and power to transcend her initial subject, and her gathered army of assumed identities mourn universal loss, political oppression and historical erasure beyond their assigned boundaries. Defixiones fights tooth and nail to make the voiceless heard,  and listening to it feels like a ritual observance as well as a pleasure.

Rhian Jones

* * *

69

Le Tigre
Feminist Sweepstakes

[Chicks On Speed, 2001]

Le Tigre’s second outing took the same basic elements as their debut – essentially hip-hop dance tunes with a punk sensibility – and cranked the politics up a notch, and in doing so proved that they were able to demonstrate their feminist credentials without becoming preoccupied with being taken oh-so seriously. As many of their lesser contemporaries have proved, this is no mean feat, and Feminist Sweepstakes formed the perfect antidote to men with sparse guitars whining about losing their beautiful girlfriend up a mountain or down a well or on the Dyke March 2001.

Chris Catchpole

* * *

68

Lucinda Williams
World Without Tears

[Lost Highway, 2003]

If the title and cover of Lucinda Williams’s seventh album gives off the impression of a romantic, suggestive and intimate record, the contents are anything but. World Without Tears is intimate only in the way that a razor nicking your throat feels, lodged in an endless loop of stinging pain, bleeding, stinging pain, bleeding… Unflinchingly visceral, it remains the most gutsy entry in Williams’s catalogue, providing a window of uncomfortable clarity looking in on a mess of co-dependency and scorched, irreparable love.

Alan Pedder

* * *

67

The Distillers
Sing Sing Death House

[Epitaph, 2002]

Sing Sing Death House charges forth like a furious dog, flashing its canines and snarling at anyone around who might dare to describe The Distillers’ music as anything other than authentic punk. It’s impossible not to look back in awe at the fact that Brody Dalle was only 23 on this record as she rides out this aural beast of sharp hooks and thundering drums while letting out all manner of disturbing emotional horrors as though she were a hundred years old. Sing Sing Death House is a highly provocative punk rollercoaster of a record that hasn’t lost one bit of its vicious drive.

Chris Catchpole

* * *

66

Kirsty MacColl
Tropical Brainstorm

[V2, 2000]

A decade after Kirsty MacColl’s tragic death, Tropical Brainstorm still seems like a curious swansong for one of Britain’s best female artists, whose frustratingly sporadic solo career never gained her the kind of commercial respect that her witty, acerbic and well-observed songs deserved. MacColl’s fifth album is founded on a familiar pop core, but her years spent immersed in the music of South America and the Caribbean led her to craft songs draped in Latin textures and effects from the environment which inspired them. Coupling sunny, sultry brass and percussion with her trademark deft lyrical touch and sparkling vocals, the album avoids tourist-brochure cliché to achieve the impossible-seeming task of making Anglo-Hispanic a credible musical genre.

Rhian Jones

* * *

65

(The) Gossip
That’s Not What I Heard

[Kill Rock Stars, 2000]

Gossip is a band that has somewhat burned out in terms of broad popularity, partly due to overexposure and partly due to the fact that they are just that little bit too weird to enjoy long-term mainstream appeal. In retrospect, That’s Not What I Heard succeeds artistically over Standing In The Way Of Control due to its sheer conciseness. This record encapsulates everything great about Gossip – Ditto’s huge earthy caterwaul, the feminine lyrical edge and the washout of dance-punk and bluesy garage rock – parcelled in an exhilarating 24-minute gem.

Chris Catchpole

* * *

64

Sleater-Kinney
All Hands On The Bad One

[Kill Rock Stars, 2000]

Carrying the fierce energy of ’90s riot grrl and queercore punk into the new decade, Sleater-Kinney’s fifth album was as consistently rad as anything that had come before, boasting  a lean, no-filler tracklist and a clutch of full-blown anthems that justified their status as one of the genre’s most revered outfits. They would only make two more records after this, disbanding in 2006, but All Hands On The Bad One remains the definitive ’00s statement of the trio’s die-hard determinism and celebratory punk passion, captured with brilliant irreverence in the cover photo depicting a passed-out Carrie Brownstein being carried off of a dancefloor.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews

* * *

63

Emmylou Harris
Red Dirt Girl

[Grapevine, 2000]

On Red Dirt Girl, the seraphic Emmylou Harris proved herself not only a peerless interpreter of others’ work but also a skilled lyricist in her own right. A haunting sense of loss and regret pervades these 12 self- or co-authored songs. Sonically, the record revisits the more expansive soundscapes of Harris’s previous studio album, the career-rejuvenating Wrecking Ball, but the overall tone is warmer and more inviting. Turbulent rhythms, heavy percussion and ambient electric guitar work take the album far from traditional country, but Harris’s gorgeous, ghostly voice gives the songs a spiritual dimension and stoic strength that somehow connects to the genre’s roots. A highlight of a great career, Red Dirt Girl is a beautiful and compelling album that hurts and soothes in equal measure.

Alex Ramon

* * *

62

Julie Doiron
Goodnight Nobody

[Jagjaguwar, 2004]

Listening to Julie Doiron’s post-divorce output, two albums in which she digresses away from the sketchy, disconsolate folk that she’d gradually been mastering since her 1996 solo debut Broken GirlGoodnight Nobody feels even more like a perfect relic of simpler (musical) times. Doiron’s two-decade long career may have been rejuvenated by the rangier songwriting of 2007’s Woke Myself Up, but it warrants emphasising that it wasn’t the quality of her few previous albums that had seen her somewhat fade from view. Where Goodnight Nobody succeeds over Doiron’s other recordings this decade is in the way it so brilliantly encapsulates and exemplifies the immense subtlety of her songwriting, qualities she amplifies through her distinctive vocal phrasing to the point where the starkness of her lyrics transcends mere honesty and taps straight into the brain’s empathic region. Somehow it feels like a dialogue.

Alan Pedder

* * *

61

Juana Molina
Tres Cosas

[Domino, 2004]

It’s hard not to love the against-all-odds tale of Juana Molina’s transition from one of Argentina’s best-loved comedic actresses to a critically adored musician whose uniquely alchemical way with ambient electronica and acoustic guitar lines never fails to mesmerise. Tres Cosas, her third album, is where it all came together the best; where Molina’s increasing popularity synergised with her growing confidence to produce an album of rare grace and reflection.

Alan Pedder

read our interview with Juana

* * *

60

kd lang
Hymns Of The 49th Parallel

[Nonesuch, 2004]

On this nicely conceived tribute to Canada and its music, kd lang pays respect to her favourite artists, who include Jane Siberry, Joni Mitchell and Ron Sexsmith. Some of the song choices may seem rather predictable at first glance (Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’), but as a celebration of some of the finest lyricists to grace any country, there’s no arguing with the classy calibre of lang’s material. Hymns Of The 49th Parallel is a stripped-down affair with simple arrangements that were intended to allow the music to speak for itself. Trouble is, with a voice like lang’s this sometimes proves difficult.

Alan Pedder

* * *

59

Erykah Badu
New AmErykah Part One (4th World War)

[Island, 2008]

It’s fair to say that Erykah Badu is not everyone’s cup of tea. For every person who sees her as a unique and righteously talented woman on a journey to spiritual and creative heights, both musical and personal, there are probably at least two who think she’s overbearingly off her rocker. Thanks to this sprawling, ambitious and soulful masterpiece – her best since 1997’s Baduizm, though it could not be more different – changes of heart among the unconverted were achieved with an impressive hit rate, ensuring that old and new fans alike will be waiting eagerly for the sequel in February.

Chris Catchpole

* * *

58

The Dresden Dolls
The Dresden Dolls

[Roadrunner, 2004]

With this intoxicating introduction to the world of Amanda Palmer, hermaphrodites and self-mutilation, The Dresden Dolls set out to dazzle and intrigue with minimum clutter and maximum clatter, the piano-and-percussion duo riding the theatrical high wire while expressing a sort of brassy torment that left us wondering what just happened and whether it was for real. A punk cabaret classic if ever there was one – indeed, this may be the only one – The Dresden Dolls was a cult word-of-mouth hit and one of the decade’s most unignorable debuts.

Chris Catchpole

read our interview with Amanda

* * *

57

Espers
II

[Drag City, 2006]

The beauty of Espers is that although they use a modern approach to recording, the technology never seems to compromise the authenticity of their songs. On II, the Philadelphia collective’s blend together modern and classical elements extraordinarily smoothly. The closely-miked recording of the vocals left us wondering how something so distant and unearthly could be so near. Espers may indeed be hunters of ghosts, but listening to this excursion into the future-past it’s clear that they are not beyond indulging in a little haunting of their own.

Anja McCloskey

* * *

56

Sarah Blasko
What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have

[Dew Process, 2006]

What is so special about this second album from Australian artist Sarah Blasko may not be immediately obvious. Often furtive and sombre, and sometimes textured to the point of being impenetrable, these nautical songs work their oracular magic with a beguiling complexity. Once seduced beneath the waves, though, the cultivated beauty of Blasko’s vision becomes vividly apparent. With songs like bright palaces of coral, twisting and turning in elegant and deceptively organic ways, rolling from dense electronic canvases to chamber pop flirtations and minimalist ballads, What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have marked the proper arrival of an exciting new talent.

Alan Pedder

read our interview with Sarah

* * *

55

My Brightest Diamond
A Thousand Shark’s Teeth

[Asthmatic Kitty, 2008]

Originally conceived as a simple string quartet album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth turned out to be denser than a nugget of iridium. A tumbling, soaring, confusing, soothing avant-rock injection of wonder and weirdness, it’s easy to see how some might find it a little too much to take in one sitting…but as 11 course meals go you couldn’t wish for a finer spread. Drawing on several literary influences, Shara Worden’s often oblique lyrics come alive with her operatic trills and octave-hopping prowess, breathing a surreal and often creepy element into her passionate cartwheels of profound emotion.

Alan Pedder

read our interview with Shara

* * *

54

Rosanne Cash
Black Cadillac

[Capitol, 2006]

For 20 years now, Rosanne Cash has created an exquisite blend of country, pop and rock that tends to get overlooked in the final reckoning, but remains one of the cognoscenti’s best-kept secrets. With Black Cadillac, she has triumphed; it’s a masterclass in living with the paradox, providing more of life’s truths, and laying to rest with dignity and beauty some of her troubles. The overall tone is one of sadness, but never defeat. For every heartbreak, there is acceptance that life continues. Buy it. Empathise. Feel better.

Paul Woodgate

* * *

53

tUnE-yArDs
BiRd-BrAiNs

[Marriage / 4AD, 2009]

One of the most enjoyably weird releases of the decade, BiRd-BrAiNs reinvented the one-woman band paradigm with a lip-smacking freshness that held scant regard for anything vaguely resembling a rulebook. A homemade, creaks-and-all debut, New England native Merrill Garbus weaves lo-fi folk made with a ukulele and a collection of found/made instruments into a bold yet intimate tapestry of wild, magical vocals that veer from a faintly androgynous R&B timbre to almost tribal calls. If Garbus can exhilarate on this scale using only a handheld digital voice recorder and the most minimal of programming software, there’s no limit to what she might be able to achieve now that people are paying attention.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews

read our interview with Merrill

* * *

52

Rilo Kiley
More Adventurous

[Warner Bros., 2005]

Lavished with extravagant praise upon its release, More Adventurous conversely achieves its perfection by virtue of restraint. Expansive and soaring, its scope was wide but judiciously aimed. Country, soul, alt-rock, punk and lush acoustic folk were all somewhat inconceivably absorbed by this melting pot of talent. Where pedal steel guitar should sound corny, here it sounded heart-wrenching and yearning; where radio crackle and vocoder should sound clichéd, here it added depth to a seemingly bottomless chasm; where distorted thrash guitar should sit uncomfortably amongst such diligent arrangements, here it sounded natural and thrilling.

Alex Doak

* * *

51

Soap&Skin
Lovetune For Vacuum

[PIAS, 2009]

It is frightening to believe that an 18 year old could put out an album that is this shadowy and brooding without being either (a) a member of the undead, or (b) on day release from solitary confinement. Lovetune For Vacuum is a weighty album, filled with Vienna native Anja Plaschg’s highly unusual, leaden voice, almost choking itself as though it were in an actual vacuum. It is almost as though her poor piano is being played in the way that a cat plays with its prey. Fascinating stuff.

Chris Catchpole

read our interview with Anja


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