25. Various Artists – The O.C. Mix 1 (Soundtrack). Rounding out the top 25 is a record that indirectly began this list in the first place. One of two soundtracks on my decade’s best list (both in the top 25, in fact), this album taught me everything I’ve ever needed to know about music – real music. I heard The O.C’s awesome television soundtrack while I was still in high school and remember being particularly moved by Alexi Murdoch’s Orange Sky and Jem’s Just a Ride while I was still listening to my favourite pop/rock mainstream acts and my mom’s oldies compilations. When I bought this soundtrack, it didn’t leave my C.D player for an entire summer. Listening to Doves’ Caught by the River, I wonder how a song could ever be so good. And hearing Joseph Arthur coo, “if you weren’t real I would make you up” is one of the most adorable and moving lyrics I’d ever heard at that point in time. The Dandy Warhols made a big impression on me with We Used to be Friends, a rollicking good time stylish dance/rock tune that seriously packs a punch. And lastly, I don’t know how I ever lived before hearing Paint the Silence by South. And Dice was my first exposure to Beth Orton’s sultry voice too. In short, this album was a sample of amazing songs that got me started on my real life journey. It truly functions like a mix tape that Seth or Marissa made just for you. In Marissa’s words, “let your musical education begin.”
24. Matchbox Twenty – Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty. Any true music connoisseur on earth would see a Matchbox Twenty record in someone’s top 25 records of the decade list and think I was bat-shit crazy for including such a bland, vanilla mainstream abomination on a list of otherwise amazing, life-changing collections of gorgeous, staggering art. Well, fellow critics? I was a mere child when this record was released at the dawn of the then-new decade, and so this record was stepping stone for me and influenced me and my tastes and life greatly. And because it was essential listening for me for years and my all-time favourite album until I moved to Edmonton in 2004 and discovered what life outside my small-minded town really was, it needed a very special place in my top 25 records. Rest Stop was a song that deeply affected me, and I still think of the line “I was listening to the radio and wondering what you’re dreaming when it came to mind that I didn’t care” as the quintessential out-of-love song. Rob Thomas writes such great poppy songs. Maybe they won’t stand the test of time, but they’re surely always going to remind me of going to Bamfield in 2003, biking home from a day trip to Cabin Creek in grade 8 with my discman wobbling around in my coat pocket in the rain, and listening to the title track even recently and singing out, “I’m crying – isn’t that what you want?”
23. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells. Like another favourite band of mine, Wilco, the White Stripes are incapable of making a bad record. Every record they’ve ever made carries with it the same novelty-meets-serious rock shtick that made the ‘Stripes famous in the first place. The fact is, Jack White is incredibly talented, borrows from all my favourite genres and creates songs that are irresistibly lo-fi and gritty, yet often lighthearted in content and simplistic in style. White Blood Cells was my first exposure to the duo and I first heard it after seeing the Lego-inspired video for Fell in Love with a Girl on Much Music’s underrated underground music show, The Wedge. This album is more than catchy grunge/pop though; the rambling alt-country blues/rock of Hotel Yorba, my favourite track on this album, is simplistic retro gold. And We’re Going to be Friends, a childhood school friendship song and what I look at as the ‘Stripes’ introductory song, is an incredibly innocent song with guitar GOD chops boiling beneath the simple acoustic surface. Little Room is a powerful song with a VERY powerful message, a screaming ode to creativity packed neatly into a mere 50 seconds. And The Union Forever is a Kinks song disguised White Stripes blues-flavoured ballad simply FULL of raw emotion. Every musical moment on this album is a jaw-dropping lo-fi, under-produced, un-glossy spectacle.
22. Josh Rouse – Nashville. Nashville is Rouse’s masterpiece. The songs are catchy and very well-produced with a kind of slick yet raw precision; the songs feel like AM radio smashes from previous decades without losing their rough edges. It’s the little touches of Nashville that make it one of my favourite-ever records; the little dashes of heavy piano and call-and-response in Why Don’t You Tell Me What; the lyric, “called you up ‘cause I felt so guilty/ended up it was not such a pretty scene/let’s dump the ashtray and wipe the table clean” which merely implies but never outright states the event of a conversation, making it a writerly and thought-provoking moment in one of my favourite tracks on the album, Streetlights; and most of all, the rising crescendo in Sad Eyes; the stripped-down version of that song on the Best of the Rkyodisc Years pales in comparison. Rouse has, as of late, been living in Spain and making cutesy Spanish language records. I wish he’d make another album like Nashville.
21. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky. So many Wilco albums in the top 25… and it’s really no wonder why. Wilco are the kings of a near-perfect repertoire. From their first official release, A.M, to their most recent release, the accessible yet unforgettable Wilco (the Album), there is something inherently cool and likeable about Wilco, even when they are making what many critics have described as “dad rock” (though in all fairness to Jeff Tweedy, he is a dad – but a very, very, VERY cool one). On Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy at last abandons the mystique of his alienating drugged-out former persona and surrenders; yes, I’ve made mistakes, and I am learning from them, growing as a person, and calming down. But just because music is calm, doesn’t mean it’s not good; while a completely different direction from slightly better previous releases Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, there is nothing innocent or throwaway about Sky. You Are My Face shines with unpretentious blue-eyed soul; the guitar solo in Either Way almost sounds like conscious weather channel music, and when accompanied with Tweedy’s crying out of “maybe the sun will shine today”, is a perfect start to the new sober/Nels Cline era of Wilco. Walken however, harkens back to the (very) old days of Wilco, the Being There-era country-flavoured pop. Please Be Patient With Me might be Wilco’s most straight-up song ever. Sky Blue Sky brings Jeff Tweedy from the feared king of the underground who sang about disposable Dixie cup drinkers, to a humbled musician who can reach out and hug his fans. It takes a lot of moxie to sing a lyric like, “I call your mom/she says you’re not there/and I should take care”, no matter how un-poetic and conversational that might sound. Sky Blue Sky was actually my first legitimate exposure to Wilco, and am nothing but grateful for that.