Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.
In the 90s, Archers of Loaf was a band I missed out on fully appreciating. I caught on to them at the tail end of their career and sadly never saw them in concert. In their final album, one could kind of see the direction frontman Eric Bachmann was taking his career. Crooked Fingers' debut album was a complete departure from the angst-filled riffing that was the Archers trademark sound. Bachmann had matured and left his outward-looking anger behind him. Somehow, the transition worked superbly.
While some could argue his voice travels dangerously close to that of Neil Diamond, the music overwhelms whatever Cracklin' Rosie sonic connotations may linger. It is more simply summed as a version of Tom Waits, just three steps more modern. That's not to say the albums don't sound rustic. Just a bit, I dunno, emotionally open (yes, I was avoiding the word metrosexual). Bachmann does the most he can with his rasp. His songs give you the urge to alternately invest yourself in hearing every last detail or simply sing along.
Choosing one of their five albums released during the decade was no easy task. While the first was easily the most accessible, it's not like we're talking about prog rock here. Because Red Devil Dawn is the strongest from top to bottom, it wins by a snout. From the very first track, it is clear that Bachmann and his band have put together something special. "Big Darkness" has a lot more light than bleakness. The lyrics are a total downer, but they belie the feel of the music. Or maybe it's the other way around. The song skips ahead as Bachmann gleefully chants, "I saw a vulture swarming up above the dying crowd, above the villains and the heroes and the down and out." When he hints at a hero coming soon, you believe that he must be on his way, too.
Perhaps this album just came along at a good time in my life, but even though the songs are apparently meant to be morose, they all have an upbeat feel to me. Even lines like, "The moment that we turn away, the gods will say that the love we made was a lie," come off as hopeful and winning. At 41 minutes, it's a short record, but one that is loaded with heart. I feel like even though I've owned it since 2003, there's still more to discover. I'm still looking forward to future spins, full of hope of course.
I'd prefer to give you the album versions, especially when it's a version that's dramatically different, but Youtube is rather sparse with Crooked Fingers and I don't have the time to upload. Enjoy these anyway!
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature
#45 - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
#46 - Caribou - Andorra
#47 - Mastodon - Crack the Skye