What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?
Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.
From now through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections – tell us why you agree or disagree – and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.
Post-punk splintered in two directions some time in the late 70s/early 80s and we’ve been dealing with the relative branches of that tree ever since. There are those who embraced the craggier, more aggressive branch (see fellow Decade member Mclusky) and those who embraced the artier more fractured one – in simpler terms, who went off chasing the Dead Boys and who went after Pere Ubu. Without question, Washington, D.C.’s Dischord Records was home to bands that embraced both sides of that divide, but one of the finest examples came in the 00s with the rise (and demise) of a band named Q and Not U.
Q and Not U started life as a four piece creating some pretty interesting, though standard sounding, post-punk on their debut. But then their bass player left the fold and it was announced that they weren’t going to replace him. This was an interesting tack as the band seemed to rely on its bass to ground the twin guitars. Where would they go exactly? The answer came in the form of their sophomore album. 2002’s Different Damage makes a lot of sense in retrospect if you look at the post-Q and Not U projects from the three members, whether Chris Richards’ Ris Paul Ric solo work and its lo-fi fractured pop, Harris Klahr’s President solo work and its dancey, electronic driven shakes or John Davis’ band Georgie James and its embrace of purely classic 60s and 70s pop. Different Damage holds this same split personality, only wedged within songs, not just among them.
One of Q and Not U’s biggest weapons was Davis and his incredibly gifted drumming. His touch is all over the shifting rhythms and start/stops of the album, starting from moment one and “Soft Pyramids.” The album is put together masterfully as the melodica outro of “Soft Pyramids” leads into the breakneck loops of “So Many Animal Calls.” Different Damage is simultaneously a challenging and infectious record. Songs like “Everybody Ruins” deconstruct the very idea of a song with its large introduction gaps, hypnotic and uneasy howls, gradual increase in speed, sudden finish and relapse to the beginning howls, or “O’No” and its short, uneasy drone that feels like a surrealistic beehive. But then comes “Snow Patterns,” a song that would’ve felt at home within Elliot Smith’s able hands, or “Meet Me In the Pocket” and its more traditional verse and chorus, guitar-driven indie rock. All of these moments live at home among each other, balancing ease and unease on the tip of a pin.
The closing pair of “No Damage Nocturne” and “Recreation Myth” bring the album back to a more traditional focus, but are in no way a compromise on the album’s artistic intent. Rather they are the crowning finish to a record that, much like the movement of Post-Modernists did with poetry, embraces the fractured nature of rock and roll and finds in its crevices a non-traditional beauty. Different Damage still sounds as riveting and as forward thinking as it did seven years ago and that is more than enough to name it one of the decade’s best. words/ j. neas