A perfect soundtrack for the general confusion, anger, malaise, et cetera America experienced post September 11th, 2001. Eerily these four epic pieces foreshadowed that emotional state despite being released a year before (interesting side note: this album was released on September 12th, 2000).
While hard to quantify here, I'd be remiss not to at least list the following artists who I spent the better part of 2000-09 discovering and whose work peppered my musical experience this past decade (in alphabetical order):
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Gang of Four
Neutral Milk Hotel
Public Image Limited
Okay now that that rather embarrassing list is out of the way, here are 20 albums actually made between 2000-09 that stood apart to my ears and the space between. I have limited this list to one album per artist, which provided some Sophie's Choice like decisions on my part. I apologize in advance for the general Pitchforkyness of this list, but at least the fucking Fiery Furnaces are nowhere to be found.
This list is presented in chronological order with an accompanied music video or live performance extra:
Compressing elements of pretty much every phase of low budget/garage rock history from its blues based genesis to punk rock, Clinic forged a sound that is as distinctive as their on stage costuming (doctors smocks with surgical masks covering their faces) is anonymous.
Radiohead-Kid A To follow up one of the two most influential rock albums of the 90’s (Nevermind being the other), Radiohead ditched the guitars and subsequently the opportunity to become the world’s biggest band in favor of this more Brian Eno-esque atmospheric soundscape. The result was a rarity: an evolutionary step. Ironically, another result is that they became the world’s biggest band. Kid A’s sister album, 2001’s Amnesiac and 2007’s back to basics In Rainbows would’ve made the list were it not for my one artist per countdown limitation.
Elliott Smith-Figure 8
Upon its release in 2000, Figure 8 garnered shrugs in wake of Smith’s prior ambitious major label debut X/0 and his three independent, more introspective earlier albums. But the album is a slow burner, a sprawling 16 track discs whose charms, its Smith’s most expansive work, come to light during repeated listens. Tragically, it would be his last album to be released before his death.
Yo La Tengo-And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Consistency is one of our more undervalued commodities, especially in the blogger/hot new band of the moment climate of the 2000 music scene. In that respect, Yo La Tengo is as sexy as, well, the unassuming members of Yo La Tengo. 2006’s I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass and this year’s Popular Songs with their myriad of genre variety are worthy of note, but it’s their quietest and most personal work that makes my list.
Electrelane-Rock It to the Moon
I discovered these four British ladies at the Matt Groening curated All Tomorrow Parties in Long Beach (the only ATP I attended and sadly the last on the west coast) and their toe tapping Krautrock inspired (mostly) instrumental dirge has become the soundtrack for movies created in my head ever since. 2004’s The Power Out and 2007’s No Shouts, No Calls are more basic lyric/song rooted and recommended for newcomers.
The Shins-Oh, Inverted World
While I usually don’t feel the need to play the credibility game, I would like to mention I discovered the perfect 1960’s rooted pop stylings of The Shins a good three years before Natalie Portman informed the world of their life changing capabilities.
Interpol-Turn on the Bright Lights
Interpol came out of the gates with a fully formed sound on their moodily evocative debut album, albeit a sound that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Velvet Underground, the Cure and, yes, JOY DIVISION. Hey, wheel invention is the exception, not the rule.
The White Stripes-Elephant
Rock n roll stripped to its basic primal essences: guitar, vocals and drums that makes band with two to three times the amount of members and instrument sound lacking in scope. Jack White became one of the more interesting and eclectic rock stars discoveries of the decade. Also recommend 2001’s breakthrough White Blood Cells and 2007’s Icky Thump.
A bombastic get your friends together and bang on whatever you can find to create music anthemic celebration of life in the face of death; an epic through the prism of lost childhood. Its scope sonically is large while never losing its intimate and personal charm.
Danger Mouse-The Grey Album
Chocolate and peanut butter. Sex and Violence. You can now add the Beatles’ self titled album (aka the White Album) and Jay Z’s The Black Album to the echelon of two great tastes that taste great together thanks to this remarkable, and never commercially released, concoction by producer Danger Mouse. While it may have briefly spawned the dreaded “mash-up” movement, its legacy can be felt now whenever I listen to a track from the source material and not only expectantly wait for the other artist to appear, but become disappointed when they do not.
The potent duo of inventive beat creator Madlib and distinct rhyme purveyor MF Doom, who is channeling an amalgam persona of Saturday Morning cartoon and comic book villain, resulted in my favorite hip hop/rap album of the decade, a genre in which my collection is admittedly sparse.
Cat Power-The Greatest
What happens when the shy introspective introvert singer-songwriter embraces her inner soul diva and finds the backing band that allows for that transformation.
TV on the Radio-Return to Cookie Mountain
Blistering. Fiery. Ferocious. TV on the Radio’s sophomore album finds the Brooklyn band at their best, combining elements from pretty much every musical genre no matter how disparate (examples: blues, punk, glam, math rock, soul to name but a few) and forming an ambitious hybrid that mercilessly addresses the state of the world in the middle of Bush’s second term.
The Japanese/Italian trio’s best album comes 13 years into their career, long after the initial “next big thing” sheen as worn off. While 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly, their first for the 4AD label, was beautiful and evocative, it was also so different than their prior work that it sounded like an audition for their new label (sound similar to the bands historically on 4AD). Here they find the perfect balance of the more lushful elements of Misery and the art rock dissonance of their prior decade’s work.
Who would’ve known that the combination of a Clash sample, a Wrecks-N-Effects sample, the chinging of a cash register and gun fire would serve as the foundation for the most infectious pop song of the decade? M.I.A. (or Maya Arulprgasm if you’re nasty) is who. The media spent the better part of the 2000s pontificating on the impending multi-culturism of the new millennium. M.I.A. provided its soundtrack.
Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga
Another hard decision for me, both 2001’s emotive Girls Can Tell and 2002’s eclectic Kill the Moonlight are strong candidates, but my heart lies with this, their latest, leanest, meanest and most soulful collection of songs.
Haunting and beautiful. Ideally, music to listen to on your porch on a winter morning while sipping from a strong mug of coffee and breathing in the morning air. Though I find it sounds just as good under other, less specific, circumstances as well.
After two wonderful darkly ambient and cinematic records that help propel the trip-hop genre into the spotlight in the mid 90’s Portishead vanished. Eleven years later they reemerged, the sound was a little grimier and messier, but the rawness displayed a band that has rediscovered their love of the form looking towards the next step instead of resting on their past laurels.
2006’s Yellow House is a worthy candidate, but their third album is the perfect culmination of their wall of sound and vocal harmonizing style. A completely specific (and often times beautiful) work, one whose ambitious design rewards multiple listens yet weirdly has some tangible pop crossover appeal.
Beirut-The Gulag Orkestar
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-No More Shall We Part
Modest Mouse-The Moon and Antartica
Joanna Newsom-The Milk-Eyed Mender
Sonic Youth-Murray Street
Wilco-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wolf Parade-Apologies to Queen Mary