This post was initially going to be about my albums of the decade (so far). I put an initial list of 20 albums together, agonized a lot over the order, and had started writing the blurbs when I decided to abandon the whole thing because part of me just felt like it was a waste of time. Most people just want to see the list anyways, so here is what I ended up with at the time I threw in the towel a couple weeks ago:
20. Allo Darlin’ – Europe
19. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
18. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
17. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance
16. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent
15. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
14. Nona – Through the Head
13. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid
12. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
11. No Joy – Wait to Pleasure
10. Colleen Green – I Want to Grow Up
9. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
8. Ex Hex – Rips
7. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
6. Afrirampo – We Are Uchu No Ko
5. Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise
4. Björk – Vulnicura
3. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
2. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
(I made a youtube playlist with a song from each album if you’re interested.)
The toughest part of the list was deciding what to do with my two 2015 favorites: Björk’s Vulnicura and Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up. With albums that have been around for a few years, my opinion on them is pretty set in stone, but these two were new enough that my feelings on them were constantly shifting throughout the process. And they both ended up illustrating my problem with making these sorts of lists, which is that my personal feelings get inevitably tangled up with ideas of objective Importance in music, and it becomes this unsatisfying struggle between brain and heart.
These sorts of lists and rankings were basically made for albums like Vulnicura. It’s original, complex, and beautiful, the work of a truly individual artist in peak form. Most of all, it’s very serious, and year-end lists are the natural habitat of “serious art.” The top of my list certainly reflects these biases, and I do have a soft-spot for a well-executed serious album that I feel accomplishes something beyond just being enjoyable to listen to. So I never really thought twice about putting Vulnicura very high on the list, since it just felt right.
Figuring out what to do with I Want to Grow Up was a lot tougher. Originally, it wasn’t on the list at all. As I grew more and more obsessed with it in the last few months, I eventually threw it on there, and then continued to move it up as I seemed unable to stop listening to it. It became kind of the Cinderella story of the list: mentally, I envisioned Colleen Green stunning Wild Flag in round one, scrapping past St. Vincent, beating EMA with a three-point buzzerbeater, etc.
This underdog image fits Green, who is about as far from Björk as an artist can be. While Vulnicura is made by an artist with seemingly no limitations, I Want to Grow Up is all about working within them. Green doesn’t have Björk’s ridiculous vocal range (it’s okay, no one does). Her songs are conventional, simple guitar-driven pop nuggets — far from the lengthy and complex sonic landscapes of Vulnicura. And while Björk always has fantastical imagery in her album covers and videos, the cover of Green’s album shows her just wearing a plain dress with a sad birthday hat on her head.
Those limitations are why I initially didn’t think I Want to Grow Up was as good as I think it is now: it’s an album that doesn’t really present itself as “important” in the way albums on these lists are supposed to be. On the surface, it sounds so much like it’s going to be another one of those 90s revival albums that is fun to listen to but quickly forgotten about. And the subject matter of the songs — Green’s slacker anxieties and difficulties with becoming an adult — can also easily be perceived as trifling or juvenile compared to something like Vulnicura that is so adult. I actually suspect Green wants be underestimated and not taken seriously, so the truths in her music hit that much harder.
Green’s current Twitter bio (@ColleenGreen420, by the way) is “I can only be me,” which sums up her appeal: she may not have the prodigious natural gifts Björk has, but she knows it, and I Want to Grow Up is (somewhat ironically) a very self-assured album made by someone who knows exactly how to use the skills they do have. Green establishes herself as a great pop songwriter on the album, which is stacked with addictive hooks. But I think what Green really has going for her is her personality, and I Want to Grow Up is really a masterpiece of character. Her lyrics are funny, sad, and moving in equal measure, and she writes with remarkable clarity. I get a really strong sense of who Green is through her music, which is difficult to accomplish and a trait I really value.
Most of all, I Want to Grow Up has meant more to me personally than any album in a long time. No album has ever felt like it was reading my mind this way, and I have huge respect for Green’s ability to capture the feeling of mundane slacker terror and self-destructiveness that has been so familiar for me. This is really cheesy, but it actually made me feel less weird and alone, knowing that someone else is out there who is having these similar thoughts. To the extent that music can really be “important,” I think it lies in that kind of connection with the artist, which is why I’ve come around on the innocuous I Want to Grow Up as one of my favorite albums of the last five years.
The comparison with Vulnicura isn’t meant to try to figure out if one album is better than the other — debates like that are why I kind of soured on making a big deal out of the list. I just find it interesting that two albums can succeed with such different angles of attack. It illustrates something I like about music, which is that each artist has their own tools to work with: Colleen Green can only be Colleen Green, and Björk can only be Björk. And each, in their own way, is capable of making an album that feels important and necessary to me, as they each have done in 2015.