Every Xiu Xiu album is like a twisted opera, so it only makes sense that we’d like to see Jamie Stewart step out from the fortress of instruments he builds onstage at each performance and really own the role of tragic hero. While just about all of the band’s oeuvre would work, Fabulous Muscles is the most memorable so far — and we think “I Luv the Valley OH” and “Bunny Gamer” would make unforgettable production numbers.
of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl, 2007)
Kevin Barnes and his merry band of glam-hippie freaks already have theatrical performances down pat. (Surely you’ve heard about Susan Sarandon spanking a pig-man at a recent gig?) So why not celebrate of Montreal’s best album of the decade with a rock opera that follows its narrator’s transformation from dejected casualty of love to glittery, flamboyant transsexual?
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra — Horses in the Sky (Constellation, 2005)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion have always worked on an epic scale — and given their penchant for multi-part, 15-minute opuses, performing 2005’s standout Horses in the Sky (which kicks off with the near-religious experience of “God Bless Our Dead Marines”) would give the audience the chance to witness this enormous collective complete a single, defining song cycle.
Radiohead — Kid A (Capitol, 2000)
The most obvious pick on this list, Kid A has already been named the Album of the Decade by a slew of venerable critics and publications. Part of what makes it so great is the tension it builds between pre-apocalyptic panic and post-apocalyptic depression: Kid A is gorgeous and terrifying all at once. While individual songs like “Idioteque” and “Optimistic” are masterpieces unto themselves, it is the album’s particular rollercoaster of paranoia and alienation that makes it so powerful.
The Coup — Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph, 2006)
The activist hip-hop group’s 2006 release is a protest album with a sense of fun (see “Laugh, Love, Fuck”) and humor (the wonderfully titled “Baby, Let’s Have a Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy”). It has also become an invaluable record of life in the mid-’00s, before the economic meltdown but in the midst of enormous frustration with W. and his war. Wouldn’t it be nice to reflect on this era a few years later without having to actually, you know, relive it?
Gowns — Red State (Cardboard, 2007)
Like Pick a Bigger Weapon, Red State is a protest record, but its nature is more personal. Set in the frozen wasteland of the Dakotas in winter, this album takes on everything from poverty to abortion through the eyes of its evocatively sketched characters. These portraits of desperation, and the glimpses of redemption that peek out from among them, ring as true and cut as deep as any play we’ve ever seen.
Matmos — The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (Matador, 2006)
Thank God for Matmos, a provocative and experimental band that can never resist a good concept. On The Rose Has Teeth, the erudite duo of Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt celebrate their personal pantheon of gay icons, from Wittgenstein to Burroughs to Valerie Solanas. If they came up with an informative slide presentation or puppet show to accompany the performance, it could even be educational. Matinee shows for school groups, anyone?
Gang Gang Dance — God’s Money (The Social Registry, 2005)
It’s just a crime to break up some albums into their constituent parts. GGD’s 2005 symphony of ululations and noise is one of those records.
The Thermals — The Body, the Blood, the Machine (Sub Pop, 2006)
Concept albums built around Christian imagery are nothing new, but The Thermals’ The Body, The Blood, The Machine is undoubtedly among the best. And a band that consistently puts on such stellar, high-energy performances could no doubt come up with an apocalyptic New Testament tale that would blow Jesus Christ, Superstar out of the water.
The Mountain Goats — The Sunset Tree (4AD, 2005)
We’re not saying it would be an utterly blissful experience, but we’d still like to see John Darnielle take the beautifully rendered story of the abuse he endured as a child on the road. Many of the songs that fill the album are already fan favorites that remain integral to The Mountain Goats’ current setlists. Without context, though, it’s easy to forget the pain that gave birth to them.