Well, it’s here, folks: The end of the decade. Some say 2012 will be the year our species is annhilated, whether we’re decimated by a hostile alien race, killed off by a meteor collision, thrust underground by a nuclear holocaust to die slowly of radiation poisoning, and so on and so forth.
At any rate, this may be the last time we all get treated to any biased, over-general “Best of the Decade” lists. I’ll be submitting my own over the next few weeks. This week: the five best pop albums released between 2000 and 2009. Christmas Eve I’ll reveal my video game faves, and New Years Eve we’ll reminisce about the best television had to offer this decade.
Bear in mind any “best of” list is highly subjective, and I certainly welcome your thoughts on any omissions or opinions on my choices.
Unfortunately, many will remember the 00’s as the years of the Spears, Cyruses, Jonases, and Lil Jons. We saw mainstream rock devolve into pseudo-intellectual emo-trash and/or half-constipated Pearl Jam aping. Popular hip-hop degraded into hook-driven, contrived studio slickness, Auto-Tuned vocal melodies, and emotionally vacuous, self-obsessed lyrical posturing.
But of course, as was the case in any Dark Age of pop music’s history, life was teeming just below the surface. Most of these groups have since had a day (or two) in the sun, and some old dogs turned out solid albums to keep the torch burning.
In my opinion, these were the five best recordings of popular music (with runners-up) of 2000 -2009. The list is rock-heavy as my hip-hop, country, and pop knowledge (and interest) is limited at best, so sue me.
5: Tom Waits- Real Gone
I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for just about anything the man does. His music is not for everyone by any strech of the imagination, but if you find yourself wanting something a little (or a lot) different, this record delivers.
“Real Gone” oozes Waitsian flourish. For every brutal, bristling minor-key blues arrangement there’s a heartfelt, evocative ballad, and there are even a few weirdos thrown into the mix for good measure. And Waits’ signature howl is the spine behind them all.
Overall, this is dark, alarming stuff, and it’s not the most readily-accessible record in the world. But I submit that Waits is among the last truly singular voices left in American music.
Standout cuts: “Hoist that Rag,” “Trampled Rose,” “Make It Rain”
4: Radiohead- Kid A
Many would contend that the true measure of a great musical act is its ability to evolve over time, to never make the same record twice.
The challenge most bands face lies in finding a new sound without compromising the qualities which made them great in the first place. And English alt-rock quartet Radiohead set a remarkably high standard in 1997 with “OK Computer,” an album widely regarded by critics and fans alike as their opus.
“Kid A” was a paradigm shift for the band; instead of repeating the success they achieved with standard rock instrumentation on “OK Computer,” they branched out and experiemented more liberally with synthesizers, computers, strings, and brass; they allowed influences from jazz, classical, and electronica to seep into their work.
This is bionic rock for the computer age, babbling, cascading electronic noise standing in stark counterpoint against pop sensibility and an indefagitable sense of warmth and humanity.
Standout cuts: “Everything In Its Right Place,” “Idioteque,” “Kid A”
3: Interpol- Turn On the Bright Lights
It’s a crying shame this four-piece NYC post-punk revival group never doubled down and made another album like this one. Though they’ve relased two records since, neither has come close to clearing the high bar set by “Turn on the Bright Lights.”
From the opening track, chiding, tremolo-picked guitar notes sink right into the deep, complex grooves held down by a competent rhythm section. Singer Paul Banks’ dramatic baritone peals out over it all, evoking in the listener memories Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. The overarching effect is swooning, emotional, but driving rock music dense with lush instrumentation.
This record will keep you up at night. Don’t miss it.
Standout cuts: “Obstacle One,” “NYC,” “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down”
2: Aesop Rock- Labor Days
This is the only hip-hop album on this list, and for good reason. If it weren’t for “Labor Days,” I’d have never gotten into the genre.
The thing that caught my attention about this artist was his lyrical flow; Ace spits at 100 miles a minute, but he still sounds calm, in control, humble.
To say nothing of this record’s unparalleled production savvy, Aesop Rock’s raps are not self-aggrandizing, nor are they petty; Ace possesses a vocabulary the most literate English speakers should envy, and he snakes it through a dense urban narrative with ease.
If this album doesn’t sell you on hip-hop, nothing will.
Standout cuts: “Daylight,” “No Regrets,” “Labor”
1: Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
No band this decade strode with such competence the fine line between abstraction and accessibility, between subtle nuance and solid, down-home rock and roll know-how.
This is a fragmented, haphazard work. The tone drifts between alt-country grooves, understated rock riffs and meandering explorations of what is ultimately a digestible soundscape.
Wilco have made plenty of good albums, but “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is their crowning achievement. This is an album to enjoy in any company, under any circumstances, under the influence of any emotion.
Standout cuts: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Kamera,” “Reservations”
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