So far the 2000s have been pretty sucky. (We also need to face up to the subsidiary fact that nobody has come up with a name for this decade yet. My favorite suggestion is “the naughts”, but this doesn’t seem to have caught on.) The political and military carnage of post-9/11 existence is the most obvious symptom of our collective malaise, but the decade hasn’t been great shakes in musical terms either. I expect this to perk up in 2009 (see my November 14th entry). In the meantime, even in a musical night there are always dots of light. Here are 20 reasons why the 2000s might not totally suck:
Begin de Cycle
1. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (U2, 2000)
As the French will tell you, you can’t properly begin a new cycle until you have put the fin to the old one. This album finds U2 in a turn of mood and music that perfectly captures the pivot point between the old and the new. We’re all stuck in a moment we can’t get out of, and this album just might encourage us to get ourselves together.
Calling out to idiot America
2. One Beat (Sleater Kinney, 2002)
3. American Idiot (Green Day, 2004)
The problem with politically themed music (or art of any kind) is that it can get so caught up in its ideology that it forgets its artistry. Sleater Kinney never fall into this trap on One Beat, producing a record that rocks without pause and cries out in the wilderness to remind us, just a few months after 9/11 and well before the press or the political opposition came to life again, that dissent is not treason. If the ladies from Olympia produced a political-musical John the Baptist, it cleared the way for the Jesus that is American Idiot, a masterwork the is political without getting didactic, punk without getting repetitive and a rock opera that actually works as a coherent story. Let’s repeat that- Green Day tried to make a political punk rock opera and pulled it off. Wow.
Muses (Throwing and otherwise)
4. Sunny Border Blue (Kristin Hersh, 2001)
5. Beautysleep (Tanya Donelly, 2002)
6. Title TK (the Breeders, 2002)
As someone on the leeward side of thirty, I find it heartwarming that thirtysomething musical veterans made three of the best albums of the decade so far. Half-sisters Tanya Donelly and Kristin Hersh helped form the rock underground of the Eighties (see, that decade has a name, and it doesn’t even deserve one!) and inspired the alternative rock outburst of the Nineties by co-founding the Throwing Muses. Kim Deal meanwhile did the same, in even more influential fashion, with the Pixies in the Eighties and the Breeders in the Nineties. More than fifteen years after starting out all three of them are still going strong, as evidenced by this marvelous trio of emotionally poignant, musically searing, lyrically sophisticated albums.
There’s still life in the old beast!
7. Elephant (the White Stripes, 2003)
8. Chain Gang of Love (the Raveonettes, 2003)
9. the Konks (the Konks, 2005)
10. Carnavas (Silversun Pickups 2006)
If the previous three deserve praise for keeping moving past the age of thirty, how about a round of applause for Rock and Roll itself for still being capable of making dangerous noise past the age of fifty? During every musical trough some opining occurs that maybe, this time, Rock is dead. Even a quick listen to these four records shows that that’s a bunch of bullshit. The White Stripes and the Raveonettes get there through roots revivalism, the Silversun Pickups surf a wave of feedback and distortion, and the Konks, well, there are no words to properly describe what the Konks do, but it’s best to hide the children while they’re doing it.
11. Dying in Stereo (Northern State, 2002)
12. Straight to Hell (Hank Williams III, 2006)
13. Losin’ It (Vancougar, 2007)
Three white girls from Long Island putting out a totally fresh feminist hip hop album? The grandson of the great Hank Williams producing honky-tonk music with a punk rock attitude? An all-female pop-punk quartet from Vancouver making a record in four days that is better than anything else you’re going to hear this year? These three albums remind you that, in loving and inventive hands, surprising things can still happen in even the most formulaic of musical genres.
Promising new voices
14. Chutes Too Narrow (the Shins, 2003)
15. So Jealous (Tegan and Sara, 2004)
16. Martha Wainwright (Martha Wainwright, 2005)
Each of these albums represents a truly unique voice, in both the sonic and the lyrical sense, coming in to its own. Without sounding like each other, all three abound with lyrical sophistication, clever turns of phrase, a surprising emotional vulnerability and an unnerving ability to slip in the knife and twist it just when you thought you were in the middle of a safe pop melody. I hope that long and interesting careers lay ahead of them.
There must be some kind of way out of here
17. 18 (Moby, 2002)
18. Reveille (Deerhoof, 2002)
19. You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (Death From Above 1979, 2004)
20. College Dropout (Kanye West, 2005)
Despite signs of life, the 2000s as a whole has been stuck in a musical rut. Sooner or later something will come along that will get us out of it. (In 2009? Ibid.) Could it be in the form of electronica and rock meeting, a la Moby? Or through Deerhoof playing the exploded pieces of a power-pop song in asynchronous tightness? With heavy metal as dance music as brought to us by Death From Above 1979? By Kanye West shaking hip hop out of its stagnant gangster subroutine through multi-genre sampling and rhymes that are actually about something? Whether or not these four albums contain glimmers of what the future might sound like, they at least show that the spirit of searching and innovation remains alive.