20. Various Artists – Garden State (Soundtrack). Garden State is a good movie. But I kind of think the film is over-scored (no pun intended, of course) by its killer soundtrack, all songs chosen by Zach Braff, who apparently has friends in high places and impeccable taste in music. It is great to see a little gem of a song by Colin Hay that didn’t involve vegemite sandwiches; it was also nice to introduce the world to the Shins, through their instant classic and I think, best track to date, New Slang; it’s true, Sam—it is indeed a life-changing song. Simon & Garfunkel’s perfect The Only Living Boy in New York is a great accompaniment to these 21st century indie darlings too – it’s kind of like there’s a place for everyone on this mix tape-esque playlist, but that certainly doesn’t mean the soundtrack doesn’t feel like it’s made just for you. Like the aforementioned O.C. Mix 1, the Garden State soundtrack revolutionized the way I saw and heard music – real music, not the kind that you pick up on the ‘Charts’ section at HMV.
19. Third Eye Blind – Ursa Major. I’ve talked a LOT in my blog about this album, multiple times – perhaps because it was such a revelation. Third Eye Blind, the pop/rock 90s band known for their one hit, Semi-Charmed Life, making one of the finest records of 2009, crowning the end of the old decade, the decade during which that they weren’t even really famous anymore and vaguely known as bar rock has-beens. I’m not even joking about Ursa Major though; it is truly brilliant. Frontman Stephen Jenkins demonstrates not only his political side, but his truly sensitive mature side – he moves from “those little red panties they passed the test” to “you could live such a life with me/you could knit baby sweaters, we could watch a flat screen TV”; this album is a mature effort from a really and truly underrated band. Jenkins writes a good melody and solid, clever and often literary lyrics. Because of all these winning factors, I really do wonder just WHY Third Eye Blind is only known for just one song; this album though, regardless of how many copies it sells, is definitely something to be proud of; it’s a testament to the band’s talents, and proves they’re more than what the charts made them.
18.Leona Naess – Thirteens. Oh, Leona Naess… sigh. Yeah, I sound like I’m crushing on her. I kind of am. Her long dark hair and bony features, those freckles and her wicked sense of style with the hats and the jackets… she’s a total hetero crush/idol of mine. And it’s not just her that I love, but it’s also most certainly her songs and voices. While few people may have heard of Naess other than her relationship with Ryan Adams, she’s a neo-Mitchell coffee house-friendly singer/songwriter with songs that are not “important” necessarily, or “grand”, but tell a young girl’s story; in that story are songs about unrequited love, breakups, being in love, dressing up and most importantly, dancing until the wee hours and drinking and leaving your boyfriends behind. As soon as I heard this album, I connected to it quite deeply; it spoke to everything happening in my life at the time when I first heard it, and did so seamlessly and beautifully; in the blink of an eye, I was captivated by every single track, and it made me think and laugh and swoon and want to wear fedoras and shawls and learn to play guitar. Sigh…
17. Rachael Yamagata – Elephants/Teeth Sinking into Heart. Rachael Yamagata didn’t do a lot for me before this record; she seemed kind of… you know, too jazzy, not melodic enough, her songs didn’t really have that kick-in-the-guts emotion backing them that I usually go for. And then I heard this and DIED. This is a double album, the first disc a melancholy collection of hopeless breakup songs and the second disc an angry collection of “fuck you” breakup songs; yeah. Rachael’s got your breakup covered. And this may sound random, but on the song Sunday Afternoon, I appreciate that the last line of the gorgeous 9-minute tell-tale bring-me-to-my-knees epic is “I’m not gonna shed one more tear for you/at least until Sunday afternoon”; it’s a lyric that is specific to Yamagata, and mysterious to the rest of us, and yet I can still understand somehow what she’s saying and what she means by that. The title track, Elephants is a mystifying, perfect lament begging her ex-lover, “if you have to take sides with the animals/won’t you do it with one who is kind?” Both of those tracks mention blood and killing and stabbing and all this kind of physical gore that transcends the words and mimics just how awful it feels to be heartbroken. On the first disc she also duets with Ray LaMontagne on a song that, though perhaps more suited to a LaMontagne record, works on Elephants due to Mike Mogis’ watery, stripped production. On disc 2, Rachael rips it sick on tracks like Faster in which she states with fervor, “you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone” – again on this song, she talks about physical violence which to me, is a manifestation of those angry tear-pictures-in-half feelings. On the album’s very last track, Don’t, Yamagata breaks down and weeps her sorrows away; the line “I can sympathize with all you want to be/but don’t fuck me in front of me” reflects everything this album stands for – truer breakup album words were never spoken. Yeah – total masterpiece, this one.
16. Travis – The Invisible Band. Drawing both Coldplay and Radiohead comparisons (often in the same sentence), there is, despite critics’ beliefs, something unique about Travis; and that difference lies in, aside from technical factors, that they’re not some big arena rock band, nor are they one of critics’ favourite bands of all time. But they’re one of mine because they write simple cute songs that, while they possess simple cute qualities, are really quite powerful. And this is precisely why Travis is totally underrated. The Invisible Band is my favourite release of theirs. I never tire of hearing Flowers in the Window, and I get chills hearing Safe and Indefinitely every time. Pipe Dreams is one of my favourite songs ever, not just of the last ten years – it lyrically speaks to me and I love its infectious jangly pop melody. The Humpty Dumpty Love Song is just so sad and cute, it’s like an abandoned kitten you want to hug. It’s kind of rare that a band with such an upbeat energy makes an album with the kind of agency of The Invisible Band – one might wonder if that kind of record can stand the test of time, but I’ve owned this album since its 2001 release day, and STILL love it to pieces.