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Top Albums and Songs of the Decade: Keavin Wiggins' Picks

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To celebrate the end of the decade, some of our writers are sharing their picks for their favorite albums and songs from the past ten years. We conclude today with Keavin Wiggins. Here is his list and his introduction on how he picked them!

10 Albums of the Decade

I originally wrote out my list on the fly, but then on a whim I decided to use the iTunes play count feature to see which albums I actually played the most and surprisingly half of this list changed. I decided to go with iTunes since that produced a more honest list with the albums I actually played the most. I also posted a list of the top 10 songs by iTunes play. The only rules I used is that only one album from an artist would appear in the list and the album and song lists could not overlap. So you won't find the songs from the top 10 albums in the top 10 songs. I decided on the song list because there were just too many stand alone songs I loved from albums that didn't make the album list. For an album to make the list half of their songs had to rank, in 8 of 10 cases all of their songs ranked together since I found myself listening to the full albums at each listen. With that convoluted intro out of the way, here is my Top 10 albums of the decade list!

1) Ra - From One
Ra's From One was one of the most impressive debut albums that I've ever heard and their later albums kept up the momentum. I believe to this day that had Ra been more aggressively promoted they could have been a multi-platinum arena act. Their mix of hard rock, eastern influences and melodic rock was a potent combination and this album is compelling from start to finish. If you haven't heard it, check it out at once!

2) Bird3
This album was actually at the top of my original list and missed the top here by only three plays on the iTunes play count. If I were to name my favorite band of the decade, it would have to be Bird3. While this group was short-lived with only one album and a few major tours (The Cult, Veruca Salt), they did produce an album I know I'll still be listening to in 20 years. This is definitely a group that you have to listen to the full album to "get" because if you take out only one song, you could get the wrong impression like a lot of critics who only bothered to listen to the single and simply wrote them off as "emo" which couldn't be further from the truth. If anything Bird3 bridge the gap between the Foo Fighters and The Who and this album has two distinct parts. The first half is the more radio friendly stuff while the second is the more expansive, which touches on the classic prog rock without being a bunch of wanking. My personal favorite part is the second half and living in the California desert, I always put this album on when I'm take a road trip into LA, Orange County or San Diego. But like all of the albums on this list, a week doesn't go by where I don't listen to this one and it frankly saddens me that Bird 3 is no more and more people didn't get the chance to discover them. You can still track down copies of this album for a couple buck on Amazon and digitally, but you won't find it in stores.

3) Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
Hands down this was Maiden's best album in twenty years. It was the classic Maiden we all know and love but it was also a leap forward sonically into the 21st century. While most bands at this stage of their career would rest on their laurels and churn out variations of their past work, Iron Maiden defied that convention and updated their sound without giving in to the temptation to hop on a bandwagon (See The Offspring and countless other bands). In the end, Maiden produced an album that hits the mark from start to finish and stacks up nicely to the albums that made them hugely popular. Maiden have always been in a class all by themselves and this album just showed that they still are!

4) Angie Aparo - For Stars and Moon
Angie Aparo is a case study on what is wrong with the major label system. J. Simpson had this album on his list and likened Angie to Elton John with a guitar, which I can see but I think Aparo goes beyond that and I actually hear more John Lennon influence than Elton. But like Lennon and Elton, Angie is one of the best song writers of his generation. Sadly his major label dropped the ball with his debut album. A country star took one of those songs and took it straight to number one, so a lot of potential was missed because they lost the ability to let the music do the selling. This indie follow up was a more acoustic based album but was an instant classic with too many great songs to name and what's more, despite a similar musical approach each song is diverse. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite track since I love so many but if you asked for a top three songs to look up, I would suggest "Child You're the Revolution," "Hard Woman," and "Suicide". But you really can't go wrong with any of the tracks.

5) Collective Soul - Afterwords
I'll admit that I really didn't get this album when it first came out. I listened to it a couple times and forgot about it, but then one day I was looking through my ipod and figured I would give it another shot and it instantly clicked. It's a mellower sound overall for Collective Soul, but it's a great snapshot of the changes in Ed's life at the time it was written. No more morose songs about love and loss, this one finds Ed newly married and optimistic. Even the song he wrote about how his mother dealt with his father's death is optimistic ("Good Morning After All"). While a couple of songs are just too poppy for my taste, overall this is a great album. I'm hoping that their new album will one day click for me, but sadly I think they fell prey to the Roadrunner curse with that one. That's ok, because I still have Afterwords along with their great back catalog to listen to while I wait for them to go to a decent label and put out another classic.

6) Anthrax - We've Come For You All
Most bands that are 20+ years into their career fall into the trap of being repetitive, but Anthrax tossed that convention into the trash heap with their amazing 2003 effort We've Come For You All, which had the vitality of a new band out to prove themselves. Sadly this was released by a not so great label (the quickly fading Sanctuary) and didn't get much exposure but this was Anthrax at the top of their game and in my opinion blows away their early major label efforts. John Bush as always shows why he's among the best metal singers of his generation (Metallica once contemplated hiring him), but the real star of this effort if Charlie, who is merciless on the drums ,which really drive each song. While it's the middle of the road in heaviness of the naughties metal, this is easily the best metal album of the decade.

7) Tonic - Head on Straight
I find it impossible to pick a favorite Tonic album, each are equally great. While there is a definite evolution from one album to the next, they always retain the key essence which makes them great. Though the full album got plenty of play on my ipod, it was three tracks "Roses," "Believe Me," and "Ring Around Her Finger" that receive so many plays that they bumped this album up to 7th place. The band had a lot of success but I still can't help but think of them as largely underrated and I think Universal really dropped the ball with them. Coming off their massively successful debut and then moving to Uni and scoring a big hit with a track on the American Pie soundtrack, it was like Universal was relying on the band's past success to sell Sugar and this follow-up. That approach worked to a point and both efforts did well, but they could have been blockbusters. Now that the band is reportedly working on a new album, they'll have another chance. Til then, if you haven't checked out this album, it is definitely worth it.

8) The Exies - Inertia
Back in 2003, I started my review of this album with this "A funny thing happened when I put this CD in and started playing it. The song was rockin' along and had reached the chorus and when the signature line from the chorus repeated for the first time I found myself signing along." Few bands can pull that off. While that particular song isn't one of my favorites, this overall album still stands the test of time. What made it so great was not only the great songwriting, but the diversity. From all out rockers to ballads to hip-hop rock, The Exies left no stone unturned and turned out an impressive debut. Their follow up had some great tunes on it but I was left thinking that it was half an album. After that they were dropped by Virgin and put out a largely forgettable album on 16th minute records (a.k.a. 10th street). But they can always be proud of Inertia, sadly the band themselves fell prey to creative inertia. But they can always make a come back if they stop hanging out with the likes of Motley Crue. Until then if you haven't heard this album, check it out!

9) Tremolo - Love Is The Greatest Revenge
I can't help thinking that this is the album that Butch Walker wishes he would have recorded. No knock on Butch, but listening to album I get the feeling that this is what Butch always wanted to accomplish. This album would have been higher in the ranking but it was dragged down by the first couple tunes which I tend to skip because of their repetitive nature, but after you get past those tracks you are in for some amazing music. Tremolo a.k.a. Justin Dillon is best described as melodic rock and this is a diverse offering touching upon many genres but no two songs are alike and with a couple of exceptions, showcases some amazing songwriting that is far superior to what we heard in the decade. This was an indie effort that pretty much went ignored in the mainstream, which is shame because this could have easily sold in the millions if it had some exposure. Dillon has moved on to filmmaking, so it looks like this will be the only showcase for his musical talent we will ever have, which is a damn shame.

10) Tool - Lateralus: A Perfect Circle's more accessible debut album was on my original list but when I tallied which album I listened to more, this one won hands down. It has all of the ingredients that made Tool special and in my mind the modern answer to Pink Floyd. They sound nothing alike but it's more of their intellectual approach to music that bonds them. The bassline to "Schism" still gives me chills every time I hear it.

10 Songs of the Decade

1) Soul Asylum - "Stand Up And Be Strong'
I was largely disappointed with The Silver Lining album, because Soul Asylum pulled a KISS and tried to chase a trend with it. In this case, pop punk. While only a couple songs did that, it tainted most of the album in my opinion, but this track alone makes up for that. This is a classic with a great message and I always find myself hitting repeat when it comes on. It never fails to lift me up when I'm down.

2) Twelvehourmary - "Face It"
Twelvehourmary aren't widely known outside the Long Beach music scene, which is a shame because they are better than 90% of the music you hear on the radio. This is probably their mellowest track but it really shows Brett's lyrical and vocal talent and sealed the deal for me. The unusual tuning key also makes it stand out. Most bands can pull off the rockers but lose your attention when they mellow out. That wasn't the case with 12. Great band that never got their shot.

3) Apocalyptica - "I'm Not Jesus"
A metal band without guitars? Yeah right. Chellos and drums? Are you nuts? But it works. For this track they brought in Corey Taylor of Slipknot and amazingly he actually sings this one straight up and it made me wonder why he hides his talent with Slipknot, he's got a great voice when he wants to really sing and not growl. This song has a really heavy subject matter that fits the music perfectly. I was surprised this wasn't a massive hit, but it was probably the subject matter that made radio programmers tepid. Or the label didn't have enough money for payoffs =) A great track from a great album, from a great band.

4) Alice in Chains - "All Secrets Known"
30 seconds into this song any doubts about the reformed Alice in Chains fell away. I would have included this album in my list but I tried to keep that list to albums which have withstood the test of time (eg, over three years old). I'm sure this one will still be a favorite in five years. This album is a mix of classic Alice in Chains and a more evolved band, but they retained the magic that made them stars in the first place while bringing forward a new voice for the group. This song best shows what Alice in Chains in 2009 is all about and that's basically all about great music! If I were to pick the best album of 2009 this one would win hands down. No one else was even close. It was a true masterpiece and in my opinion, AIC's best album. I know a lot of hardcore fans would disagree with that but I call em as I see em.

5) The Mars Volta - "The Widow"
A lot of people want At The Drive-In to reform but every time I hear "The Widow" I wonder if that band could produce such a masterpiece. While in a lot of ways TMV is a like Tool and not readily accessible, or geared towards radio, this song opens the door to the Volta sound and for me, it got stuck in my mind immediately and has been in heavy rotation since it was released.

6) Guns N' Roses - "Better"
There was so much speculation about what Axl was up to musically. We heard rumors of raps with Shaq and Axl trying to channel Trent Reznor, so when this song leaked it was met with a collective sigh of relief. While it wasn't GNR circa 1987, it had a more modern approach and was still a hard rocker and not a bastard child of Limp Bizkit that some feared. Overall, Chinese Democracy has a lot of great music on it and in my opinion is largely underrated, I think "Better" sums up the album perfectly. A great track from a great album.

7) Bangkok Five - "Start Me Up Again (Diary of a Teenage Cutter)"
I got to watch this band evolve from formation under a different name with some different members to the band that produced this track on their major label debut. While this music really is totally different from where they started, Bangkok Five mixed the garage punk with pop sensibilities (no pop punk lameness here) perfectly and this is one of those songs that gets the adrenaline flowing!

8) The Cult - "Rise"
The Cult's comeback album Beyond Good and Evil was a mixed bag, but this track was pure gold and showed that they still had it. Raw but accessible, they made the drop tuning work without losing Billy's signature leads.

9 a) Mandy Moore - "Only Hope"
The problem with most "pop" singers is they are only marginally talented and cover that up with studio tricks and effects. While most of Mandy's music has been produced the same way as your Britney and Ashlee's and as a result is largely forgettable, this track showcased her amazing voice. With just Mandy and a piano led accompaniment, her beautiful voice soars and she made this version of the Switchfoot rock ballad all her own. It's too bad that she hasn't left the studio tricks behind with her other music and let her voice shine, because she is basically covering up her amazing talent with mediocre pop music. She's still young and maybe her husband will rub off on her!

9 b) Cold - "No One" (Tie)
Out of all of the post-grunge modern rock acts, Cold were perhaps the best songwriters in the bunch. This song typifies why that is with it's mid tempo yet rocking approach. This won't get the adrenaline going but I found myself listening to this song a lot when I was in a mellower mode but not mellow enough for the real mellow stuff. They have great melodic sensibilities but don't come across as later day Nickelbacks writing for radio airplay.

10) Switchfoot - "You"
There were actually three Switchfoot songs that came in with the same play count and while I could have included one of the heavier tracks here, I went with this one because it just inches ahead of "Dare You Move" and "Learning To Breathe" as a favorite. I didn't get this band at first but they are one of those bands that I grew to love with more exposure to their music.

* albums on my original list: Pantera's Reinventing The Steel, Bigelf's Hex, Donnie Vie's Extra Strength, A Perfect Circle's Mer de Noms, and Lamb of God's Killadelphia.
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