Top 10 albums of the naughties

So it's started--critics and pundits and tastemakers and hipsters are starting to list their top 10 or 20 or 50 or 200 albums of the 00s. Whatever you call this decade that is drawing to a close. I prefer the "naughties," and because I write about music here sometimes, I made a list myself.

To be very clear, these are my personal Top 10 and not an objective selection. I am limited by several key factors, one being that I don't own very many albums from this decade. If I don't own it, I don't feel that I can safely include it. So albums that I suspect might be very fine (such as Speakerboxxx/Lovesounds, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Kala or †) are not here because I've never heard them from start to finish or lived with them for weeks and weeks.

Another criteria is that I have to like most of the album for it to make this list. So while I considered MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, I only like 3 songs on it so I can't really hold it up as a great album. And I can't just like the idea of the album ("OMG, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix!"). I have to actually like the real album, every day. I have to be willing to listen to it from start to finish without rolling my eyes, without getting up to forward a track, without even really noticing it's on, because it's so good it just becomes part of my day.

Here's the list in no particular order.

Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours
If it were still the 80s, Australia's Cut Copy would be right up there with Duran Duran and The Cure and New Order in my personal pantheon of pop. If these names mean anything to you, maybe you love Cut Copy too. Because it is 20 years later, they seem all the more amazing. How do they get that pure electronic pop sound when the pure electronic pop era is so far away? This album rocked my world for most of 2008, then had a second life in 2009 when I discovered that many of the tracks are great for running. Favorite songs: So Haunted, Far Away, Lights and Music, Hearts on Fire, Out There on the Ice. The sound just makes me want to go to a high school dance and then ignore everyone because I am, like, too goth.

Gorillaz: Demon Days
Oh how long I resisted the Gorillaz concept. Damon Albarn, sure, cool. Imaginary animated band by the Tank Girl guy, also cool. But I didn't get swept away until 2005, when the local Adult Album Alternative station started playing Kids with Guns all the time. Almost every song on Demon Days is excellent and a standout, and some are also insane. I love that Shaun Ryder (to me, the voice of Black Grape) takes over "DARE." The only thing that makes me crazy is the one with Dennis Hopper talking ("Fire Coming Out of a Monkey's Head") which I have UNCHECKED in my iTunes so I never have to hear it again. Otherwise, top notch, never boring. Favorites: Tracks 1-12

Stars: Nightsongs
This 2001 album changed my life. I first heard Stars on a couple compilations, probably from Darla. One was a cover of "This Charming Man" (whaa-at!? but amazing!). The other was called "The Very Thing" and a rather depressing story of a dad taking his kid out to the park and thinking about his failed relationships. Listening to "The Very Thing" is like eavesdropping on some guy's pathetic interior monologue, his thoughts are banal and crude but also noble and beautiful. I snapped up the whole album next and it does not disappoint. Stars makes me feel like it's OK to feel smart and depressed and romantic and superior... sometimes. I guess Stars are some kinda Canadian super-duper-stars now, but I'll always remember them playing to an audience of 20 or so at T.T.'s in Cambridge. They gave us a great show, then I bugged Chris Seligman at the bar afterwards and said totally idiotic things to Torquil Campbell. Hooray! Other great tracks: My Radio (AM Mix), My Radio (FM Mix), Toxic Holiday, Going, Going, Gone, Counting Stars on the Ceiling

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
I like what everybody else likes about 2008's Vampire Weekend I suppose--the slight tinge of afro-pop, the relentlessly bright sound, and the saucy lyrics about Mansard roofs and Oxford commas and Benneton. Listening to this album makes me feel like I am living in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan: home from college, sweater sets, dances, rich parents and weekend escapes to Long Island even when the weather is not that great, just cuz all your friends are out there too and you'll probably play some more charades while drinking peach wine coolers just because they're left over in the fridge. Favorites: The Kids Don't Stand a Chance, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, Bryn, Campus, A-Punk, M79

The Strokes: Is This It?
I heard about this album through pure hype. Every magazine I picked up in that part of 2001 managed to mention it. Every celebrity interviewed said they were listening to it. It could not be avoided. And for excellent reason: Is This It? is 35 minutes of rock & roll, all rejuvenated and loud and New York-y and playing actual instruments and Not-Anything-Like-Britney-Thank-Heavens. It's so short there's hardly a point in having favorite songs. Just play the whole thing.

Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
I guess this is a guilty pleasure. It is, like the name of Gwen Stefani's second solo album, just a sweet escape. It's not, for me, some musical revelation or pop masterpiece. But this 2004 disc is damn catchy and there is no denying that "Hollaback Girl" is hilariously awesome. I also love "The Real Thing" because it sounds exactly like New Order... then I learned Gwen hired New Order to make it sound that way. Nice! I guess what I like about L.A.M.B. is its clear debt to New Wave and also early Madonna. It got me through a lot of weeding the summer of 2005, when I lived on a farm and went out into the fields with my discman (!) to help out. Other favorites: Harajuku Girls, What You Waiting For?, Bubble Pop Electric, Danger Zone, Crash

Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs
For me, one difference between this decade and the previous one is that in this decade I did not listen to the Beastie Boys every single day. I did not see them live, not once. I did not memorize all the lyrics to each and every release. I guess, like they did, I kind of grew up a little. They had kids and got more private and more political. I started a family too, and stopped arm-wrestling people in bars (mostly). That said, I still really really like To the 5 Boroughs, released in 2004. It has all the great rhymes and rhythms you'd expect from the 3 MCs. And killer liberal lyrics like "Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex" from "Time to Build" or "We got the power to make a difference" from "We Got The." They haven't really changed, but I guess I have. Or is it the other way around? I LIKE this album, but I am not RABID about it like I would have been in the 90s. Still, it's Them and I'm putting it on the list. Other fave songs: All Lifestyles, Crawlspace, An Open Letter to NYC

Kleenex Girl Wonder: After Mathematics
So Kleenex Girl Wonder is just genius. I guess it's partly the myth that everything from KGW is actually the brain child of one person, Graham Smith, even though KGW was a real touring band before they broke up in 2003 (so Wikipedia tells me). It makes Graham Smith seem like Prince--he plays every instrument, creates so many different-sounding songs, writes great lyrics, and is only, like, 20!! The main thing I like about 2002's After Mathematics is just that I can listen to it start to finish and it's all good. They're just simple songs, but each deliciously twisted somehow, whether it's musical distortions or swear words, it's hard to know what to expect. Especially good: Why I Write Such Good Songs, Ain't a Damned Thing Changed, No Melody, I Was a Serving Wench at a Themed Restaurant, Amelia

Missy Elliott: Miss E... So Addictive
It really is addictive. Missy Elliott's 2001 disc has tremendous attitude and is unabashed about liking things like sex and drugs. It's got anthems ("Lick Shots"), ballads, funk jams ("Old School Joint"), club bangers ("4 My People"), insta-classics ("Get Ur Freak On") and just raw funny stuff ("Slap! Slap! Slap!" and "One Minute Man"). I think this is a "best of" contender because whenever one of these songs pops up on my random mix, I always enjoy it and never turn it off. So Addictive is a keeper.

Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope
This one surprises me, but I think the numbers will show that I listen to this album a lot more than I would admit. What's my problem, you ask? Well I usually don't like acoustic-type stuff by "chick singers," or "singer-songwriters" or whatever. Especially red-heads with pianos. Things can get so estrogen-y and earnest. I like the bizarre and the synthetic better. But Regina Spektor's 2006 release is pretty bizarre when you listen carefully. She is a great pianist and has a beautiful soprano voice. Some of the songs are heartbreakingly pretty. But she is not afraid to sing something about "a little bag of cocaine" (Hotel Song) or about "Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Camels" (That Time) or to make the word "heart" 13 syllables long (that's "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-heart," from "Fidelity). She also sings in Russian, mentions "November Rain," quotes Louis XV, and steals piano vamps from Chopin. I like very much. Other favorites: Better, Samson, On the Radio, Après Moi, 20 Years of Snow

Healthy Granola Bars from the Manic Mommies

Sometimes I listen to the Manic Mommies podcast, billed as being for "moms trying to do it all." I also started subscribing to their blog feed. When I saw the recipe for "Grab-and-Go Granola Bars," I knew I had to make them. The recipe is actually from the Meal Makeover Moms (they also have a podcast), who have made it their mission to "rescue" unhealthy recipes by fixing them up all healthy-like... and kid-friendly. We are desperate for kid-food around here, since our littlest one has taken to going around the house moaning "Hungry... hungry... hungry...." (We feed her lots, really!)

I highly recommend this recipe, especially if you like fruitcake. It suggests using a blend of dried fruits--I used apricots, cranberries and raisins. The result was packed with fruit, super sticky and delicious. Somehow it almost tasted like it had all been soaked in brandy (good!) and yet of course it had not (also good... that kid-friendly thing, right?). Note that this is another recipe that requires the purchase of a popular brand of cereal that I don't usually buy. Kind of like the All-Bran muffins I made in the spring.

Do check out this recipe if you need something to grab & go. (These do contain delicious chocolate chips, sometimes making it a struggle to save them for the child.)

Packed up for future hungry moments

Alliums in the sun

Autumn farmer's market finds. Garlic, red onion, shallot, lots of yellow onions. Something about this photo has a soft, glowy Old Master vibe.

New England Clam Chowder

I feel a bit silly writing this down because there are so many great New England Clam Chowder recipes out there. You probably have your own. But this one really worked, so I want to save it!

  • 4-5 waxy yellow potatoes
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 1 t butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • A can of clams
  • 2/3 cup clam juice
  • 1/4 cup water (or bit more)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt to taste


1. Cut the potatoes into chunks (see above photo) and boil for about 15 minutes. Drain boiling water and leave potatoes in the pot to dry and cool. Then, cut them up into small pieces.

2. Cut the bacon into thin strips--I use kitchen shears for this. Fry in a large Dutch oven. When bacon is just starting to shrink and render grease, add the butter and onions.

3. When onions become aromatic and a bit glassy (about 2 minutes), add the celery and bay leaf. Continue to stir and cook for another few minutes.

4. Add the potatoes, clams and the clam juice. You can also add a splash of water--just enough to cover the ingredients. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

5. Check liquid levels--if the soup is fairly runny, you're fine. If things are starting to dry out and stick, add a bit more water and heat. Then, sprinkle a third of the flour all over the surface of the hot soup (see below). Stir it in and let heat.

6. Repeat the flour sprinkle two more times. The soup should become creamy (see below how my spoon makes a trail in the thick soup).

7. At this point I consider the soup something of a concentrate--it can be used right away, left to cool and meld for up to an hour, or refrigerated for a day or two. When ready to eat, reheat and add the milk. Salt to taste. Bring to something just below a gentle boil, and serve. Serves 2-4.

Nice with black pepper, cayenne pepper, oyster crackers and/or saltines.

Mid-autumn music

The sun sets at 4 now. Mornings are frosty. The garden is put to bed and the play-porch strewn with leaves. I'm starting to think about The Holidays. But first, I'm trying to enjoy this waiting period before the Thanksgiving-birthdays-solstice-Xmas cyclone hits. It's quiet now. But it's out there... and spinning this way.

The 10*7*09 edition of Beef Jerky Time has 2 Phoenix remixes. Part of Phoenix's greatness (PR greatness?) is their encouragement of remixes by any and all. The one with Devendra Banhardt is awesome--I think it's teen movie soundtrack material (after the breakup, in the car, bleak afternoon, rain). Also the song by Wild Beasts (All the King's Men) has been worming its way into my skull. At first it seemed "interesting," now it's like an addiction and I must play it daily. (Pitchfork describes them as a "Leeds art-pop group," which has a nice ring to it.)

The 10*14*09 show was a black eyeliner edition--I was trying to play music slightly mournful and goth. The threefer of New Order, The Smiths & The Cure in the middle of this show almost sent me into some high-school related PTSD. That is good stuff.
  • Terror Couple Kill Colonel: Bauhaus
  • Are We Ourselves: The Fixx
  • Dogs of Lust: The The
  • 68 State: Gorillaz
  • Crazy: Ladyhawke
  • Here Come Cowboys: Psychedelic Furs
  • Reunion: Stars
  • Bizarre Love Triangle: New Order
  • Still Ill: The Smiths
  • Boys Don't Cry: The Cure
  • You've Got Love (xx remix): Florence & the Machine
  • Bittersweet Symphony: The Verve
  • Curran Curran: The Nocturnes
  • Metal Heart: Cat Power

On 10*21*09 I was having a stressful day, so I played some mellower chill-out music for medicinal purposes (except "Too Fake" is not very mellow, I had to apply Coldplay to reduce the swelling). This set includes "Love at First Sight" by The Gist--a great, great song. Welsh band, they broke up in 1983.
  • Someone Great: LCD Soundsystem
  • Too Fake: Hockey
  • Be the One: Jack Peñate
  • Clocks: Coldplay
  • Charming: Ritual
  • Orange Skies: Love
  • Love at First Sight: The Gist
  • Harvest Time: The Clientele
  • October: U2
  • I Don't Believe: Paul Simon
  • Sweet Disposition: The Temper Trap
  • White as Diamonds: Alela Diane
  • An Anniversary Away: Reverie Sound Revue

The obligatory Halloween show was 10*28*09. I played Gentleman Reg & the Hidden Cameras as well because they were in the area the following Monday. I actually got to go to the show! (Thanks AK!) Also, remember John Norris, the MTV VJ guy? I was googling Dan Deacon and found that John Norris, now a sandy blond, has a 7-part interview with DD as he tours the country on a refurbished bus.
  • Cemetry Gates: The Smiths
  • Cemetery Lawn: The Rosebuds
  • Devil Town: Groovie Ghoulies
  • Home: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
  • Paddling Ghost: Dan Deacon
  • FROST: Audraglint
  • You'll Have Time: William Shatner
  • Doctor Who theme
  • Les Zombies et les Loup-garous: Raffi
  • Loupgarou: Crispy Ambulance
  • How We Exit: Gentleman Reg
  • In the NA: Hidden Cameras

The 11*4*09 show had two special guests choosing records from the stacks as struck their fancy. Basically we knew we wanted to play Frank Zappa, and then just riffed from there. Thanks T&T!
  • Whole Lotta Losin': Monsters of Folk
  • Handle Me with Care: Traveling Wilburies
  • Handle Me with Care: Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins
  • Bells of Rhymney: The Byrds
  • She's Not There: Vanilla Fudge
  • O verde virgissima: written by Hildegarde of Bingen
  • It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding): Bob Dylan with The Band
  • Teacher: Jethro Tull
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: Paul Simon
  • Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Frank Zappa
  • Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder
  • Our House: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • Time in a Bottle: Jim Croce
  • 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy): Simon & Garfunkel
  • Mountain Melody: Kay Gardner

Common Kitchen Implements

I was inspired by a recent Papawow post, called "The Big Drawer—Kitchen Gadgets", to consider the items I can't live without in the kitchen. A few weeks later, Michael Ruhlman posted about his corn cutter (after also writing about his favorite spoon) and this sealed the deal--I'm going to tell the world about MY favorite kitchen implements.

Top to bottom: We got the garlic press as a wedding gift (along with a bag of garlic). I used to scoff at these after attending chef school and learning how to puree garlic with a knife, but this garlic press changed my mind. It's super-easy to use and not hard to clean either. Zyliss. The chef's knife is a chef school artifact. It was part of the bottom-of-the-line equipment package and is pretty cheap I guess, but at the time it cost me part of my rent so it seemed very very expensive. It's 13 years old and I still use it all the time. (Probably because I never became a professional chef--I don't know any better!) The fine-mesh strainer (which I call the "small sieve" in real life) is key for straining my morning chai. This is my second one and already starting to wear out. The small grater was a Christmas gift from my true love. It is fantastic for grating just the right amount of cheese onto a steaming dish of spaghetti or onto an omelette in progress. The Steam Whistle bottle opener was a wedding favor from this summer and it has usurped our older bike chain bottle opener. (Getting married at a pilsner brewery under the CN Tower is The Coolest in my opinion. Thanks JMM!)

Clockwise from top: I feel like we use the box grater every day. It's either for carrots or cheese--I guess we eat a lot of both. The red spoonula was part of a fabulous Le Creuset gift set from ATCB (OMG happy bday!) and I adore it--it scoops AND scrapes! (J'aime bien Le Creuset.) The masher is my soup friend. In the comments to Michael Ruhlman's 2008 Kitchen Gadgets post, some people are enamored of their immersion blenders. This masher is my immersion blender. To the left of the masher with the white handle is our Nigella Lawson mini whisk. I love this thing (thanks Alli!). It is perfect for getting rid of clumps in waffle batter, making single-meal vinaigrettes, quickly emulsifying just about anything that is 1 cup or less. Last is my 1 c measuring cup. Just the shape of it is so satisfying, reminiscent of a childhood day of baking with my Ma. We also have a 2-cup measure, but somehow this smaller one always gets pressed into service.