22. Air, 10,000 Hz Legend
If there was any doubt whatsoever about the appeal of the crystalline French duo Air to a certain subset of college radio denizens after their widely adored 1998 debut full-length, Moon Safari, it was surely eradicated once the band provided the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. There couldn’t have been a better cinematic match for Air’s precious pop than the achingly beautiful feminine fragility of Coppola’s first feature as a director. With 10,000 Hz Legend, the follow-up to their dalliance with movie scoring, Air pushed even more deeply into strange, ethereal electronica with songs such as the singles “Don’t Be Light” and “How Does It Make You Feel?” They also used their growing clout to bring in no less significant a collaborator than Beck, arguably near the height of his notoriety at the time. 10,000 Hz Legend is so icy and wispy that it sometimes seems to recede into the speakers midway through the playing of it, but that seems to be the vibe the band is going for. Maybe just as importantly, it’s what the most devoted fans of this brand of music want it to be. That quality of elegant wispiness always struck me as difficult to sustain across a long career, but Air continues to make music, including a new album earlier this year that took inspiration from the most famous film by Georges Méliès.
21. Mercury Rev, All is Dream
The band Mercury Rev started in Buffalo, New York, but their lush music always made them seem more solidly in place in England, where they enjoyed their greatest success. Originally a fitful union for the purpose of recording music for one another’s student films, they were eventually convinced to record a demo by Tony Conrad, a famed video artist and avant-garde composer whom they encountered at college. They didn’t pursue it much beyond that, at least until the recording made its way to London’s Rough Trade Records through mysterious means. The band was signed, started recording and forging an especially tumultuous career. In 2001, they also faced the burden of trying to top the biggest album of their career. Deserter’s Songs, released in 1998, was roundly celebrated can became the sole gold record in the U.K. Initially they sought out the services of Jack Nitzsche, famed arranger for Phil Spector, for the follow-up, but he died a week before recording sessions were to begin. They still clearly took inspiration from him, though, as the eventual album that resulted, All is Dream, certainly has a lush, wall-of-sound approach to it. The album cover, featuring a portion of Jennifer Hathaway’s painting Breakthrough Dreaming, further confirms that there is going to be a lot going on with the record. All is Dream didn’t exactly build on the success of its predecessor, but provided a heart new dose of music for those who’d already fallen for the band’s beautifully baroque pop.
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order