A year-end list isn't a terribly difficult concept to wrap your head around. If anything, picking 10 of your favourite recordings from the thousands issued each year is a touch too easy.
But try scouring your brain for the best music released during the past decade. That's a taxing task. How could I pick something excellent that came out this year over something that has been in rotation since 2003? Do I choose Kings of Leon or Queens of the Stone Age? The Black Album or The Blueprint?
I took the path of least confusion by selecting from myriad categories, with hopes of giving a fair and balanced overview of the decade that was.
It was a good one, to be sure. Here are the results.
1 Best solo debut: Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild (2007). Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder came out of left field with his first solo full-length, an ebb-and-flow soundtrack to Sean Penn's elegiac film, Into the Wild. Some critics complained that it sounded too much like a score. That's precisely what is so moving about the union of the movie and its music. Rarely have pieces that have no business sitting side by side worked so wonderfully together.
2 Best career resuscitation: U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000). Irish greats U2 released three albums this decade, each bursting with their own rewards. The best by a long shot was the first one out of the gate: All That You Can't Leave Behind, an intensely personal offering that was adopted as a rallying cry by the American public following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York. The album opens with Beautiful Day, Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Elevation and Walk On, a salvo that rivals anything in the band's catalogue.
3 Best drug-free acid trip: The Black Angels, Directions to See a Ghost (2008). The sound of these Texas tornadoes is densely textured sonic wallpaper not far removed from Jefferson Airplane or the Velvet Underground. Songs range in length from four minutes to 16, which gives the group plenty of time to weave its trippy spell. You will be transfixed.
4 Best example of ego as art: Green Day, American Idiot (2005). It's official: After being adapted for the stage by Berkeley Repertory Theatre -- which debuted the musical in September to a standing ovation -- Green Day's masterful American Idiot is now a certified classic. It's a concept piece, which always draws haters from the wings. Put away your guns and salute these punk pioneers.
5 Best inhabitants of hip-hop: Jurassic 5, Quality Control (2000). Any group that has the cojones to sample Sesame Street and Blowfly, without ever dropping an F-bomb or resorting to gangsterism for effect, is better than OK in our books. The group (four rappers, two DJs) has since broken up, but the spirited performances and stellar songs on Quality Control are timeless.
6 Best retro-rock: The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely (2008). Think Led Zeppelin without the drugs, or the Who if they were American. Jack White led his Nashville band to the promised land on its second recording, but he was hardly alone on this pastiche. More so than the White Stripes, his other group, the Raconteurs are a full-blown band -- and a terrifically impressive one at that.
7 Best underdog story: Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). Chicago indie rockers Wilco found themselves without a home in 2001 when their label, Reprise Records, refused to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Dejected, they began streaming the record for free on their website, which led to them signing with another imprint. Result? The biggest-selling record of Wilco's career, and easily one of its best.
8 Best four-legged groove machine: The White Stripes, Elephant (2003). White never seems at loss for ideas, but he always saves his best ones for the White Stripes, and on Elephant, his Grammy-winning fourth album with Meg White, he's at the peak of his powers. Instantly upon its release, Elephant was deemed one of the best records in rock history.
9 Best inspirational music: Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (2002). Bruce Springsteen's best release in years was the Americanized equivalent of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind -- an album of great comfort for a nation reeling from a terrorist attack. The songs are amazing and uplifting; The Rising is magic on a multitude of levels, with a fist-pumping quotient that's through the roof. A great record from one of this generation's finest songwriters.
10 Best Can-Con: Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004). No other Canadian record in recent memory has united both coasts of the country like the debut from Montreal's Arcade Fire, an album rich in detail and grand in scope. Three years after its release, it was voted No. 8 in a juried list ranking the Top 100 Canadian albums of all-time.