#8 - Bright Eyes
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (Saddle Creek)
Legend has it that this album was recorded long before it's release, but Conor Oberst decided that it had all been too easy. Thus, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was recorded, and the two were released simultaneously in January 2005. While this album may have been "easy" (and it features little noticable post-production), it was the one beloved by most, and certainly the one to garner the most critical acclaim. Oberst had seen success with a similarly styled record with 2002's Lifted..., but the music feels even more stripped down than ever. More importantly, this is a great album, one that flows from song to song to deliver its concept about American life during a time of war; during a time of growth (he's not much older than I am). And yeah, this is a bit of a country record, though not the commercialized type you might have brought to mind. The topics covered here are more urban than suburban, though. "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order) describes a protest scene and the feelings that accompany it. "Lua" is a fairly heartless recollection of a night of party-hopping where Oberst proclaims, "Me, I'm not a gamble/you can count on me to leave." Yet, single "First Day of My Life" is a beautiful ode to a lover, with potentially my favorite lyric praising long-term relationships: "I'd rather be waiting for a paycheck/than waiting to win the lottery." Obert may not have the greatest voice, but he has some of the greatest words. If an album this accomplished comes so easily, perhaps he should release three records a year... wait, he did (including the live album Motion Sickness, also recommended).
Key Tracks: "Lua," "First Day of My Life," "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)"
#9 - Gatsby's American Dream
Volcano is a concept record, just not about one concept. There seem to be many which combine to form a literary punk rock opera of sorts. You may start the album thinking it's about the destroyed city of Pompeii. Shortly thereafter, you may pick up on the references to the classic novel The Lord of the Flies. If you're a fan, you should also notice some references to their previous albums... like I said, many concepts tangled up throughout the album. It's enough to drive fanboys nuts on message boards (and it has). Regardless of the main theme, this is an excellent record completely unlike anything else in the scene. Find a similar band that is celebrated for lyrics like, "Far beyond there lies the vaudeville where creatures are gathering/the assembly cackle and drool at a land slowly dying" ("A Mind of Metal and Wheels"). The songs are individually addicting, but it's the album as a whole that impresses the most. My interest was surely piqued, regardless of what it might be about.
Key Tracks: "A Mind of Metal and Wheels," "Theatre," "Your Only Escape"
#10 - Fall Out Boy
From Under the Cork Tree (Island/Fueled by Ramen)
Fall Out Boy could have rehashed 2003's Take This to Your Grave and I would've been pleased. Instead, on their major-label debut, they expanded their sound and tried a few new things. Not all of them worked, but what it adds up to is a perfectly imperfect pop-punk anthem album. The honesty is more brutal than ever, thanks to songwriter Pete Wentz' intense introspection (not to mention his breakdown during recording). The lengthy song titles might not fit entirely on your iPod screen, but they're occasionally amusing ("Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends" -- priceless), though they may not accurately describe their respective songs in any way. Who cares? It's fun, right? Cork Tree features the massive singles "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Dance, Dance," which sounds like what would happen if you spliced an 80's era Michael Jackson song with the catchiest pop-punk song you've ever heard. Rediculous. Every song is a potential single, which is the sign of a well-crafted pop album. It may not be one the best albums you've ever heard, but it's probably one of the most enjoyable.
Key Tracks: "Dance, Dance," "Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued," "Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends"
(I spent more time writing the entries for my top ten list, so I'll be putting them up via shorter posts. It should be a total of either three or four posts to encompass the whole top ten. Again, I'd love your feedback. Leave a comment, no registration is required.)