Posts Tagged ‘Best of the 2000s’

The best albums of 2004

Friday, December 11th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

If you’re looking for a pivotal year in the development of music in the 2000s, look no further than 2004. I don’t believe this is the decade’s strongest group of albums, but I do think there are a lot of records on this list that significantly shifted the musical landscape, or at least portended a coming shift. To wit:

-This was the year Kanye West took over the decade. He has not yet let go.

-The success of the Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” — released by the independent Merge Records label — opened a door to the mainstreaming of indie music and indie culture that would dominate the second half of the decade.

-DJ Danger Mouse, who blended Jay-Z with the Beatles, and DJ Diplo, who reconstituted what would soon become M.I.A.’s stunning debut album, introduced a wider world to mashups and mixtapes. It was a harbinger of things to come as the Internet evolved, first in hip-hop and then spreading to other genres.

Oh, and Brian Wilson got a 38-year-old monkey off his back by finally releasing “Smile,” Franz Ferdinand helped usher in a dance-rock revival, Arthur Magazine‘s “The Golden Apples of the Sun” comp shined a light on the freak-folk scene, and everyone liked Snow Patrol but no one could figure out why.

Arcade Fire, “Funeral”
Aveo, “Battery”
Danger Mouse, “The Grey Album”
Eluvium, “An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death”
Franz Ferdinand, “Franz Ferdinand”
Helio Sequence, “Love and Distance”
Iron & Wine, “Our Endless Numbered Days”
Kings of Convenience, “Riot On An Empty Street”
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, “Shake the Sheets”
Ben Kweller, “On My Way”
M.I.A. and Diplo, “Piracy Funds Terrorism”
The Mountain Goats, “We Shall All Be Healed”
Rogue Wave, “Out of the Shadow”
Josh Rouse, “Rarities”
Snow Patrol, “Final Straw”
Sufjan Stevens, “Seven Swans”
The Thermals, “F–kin A”
Various Artists, “The Golden Apples of the Sun”
Kanye West, “The College Dropout”
Brian Wilson, “Smile”

The best albums of 2003

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

(Note: I messed up. I had The Postal Service’s “Give Up” on my 2002 list, but it was actually released in 2003. So I have removed it from the 2002 post and placed it here.)

I have long believed that 2003 was the best year for recorded music in the 2000s. Only time will tell if that’s true, once the sounds of the decade’s later years have settled into their legacies.

But 2003 will be hard to beat. In my book, about half of the albums listed below are undeniable classics that I continue to reach for frequently in 2009. This is the 1983 NFL Draft quarterback class of music in the new century.

Just look. We have amazing debuts from Kathleen Edwards, Jose Gonzalez and Damien Rice, plus sweeping epics by Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens and Sun Kil Moon. We have Fountains of Wayne, Nada Surf and The Shins at the peak of their powers. For variety, there’s hip-hop from U.K. grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal and twitchy, German electro-pop from The Notwist. Brad Paisley and Switchfoot both released excellent albums that earned them oodles of mainstream success.

There’s even tragedy here. Click on The Exploding Hearts album to read about the late, great Portland pop-punk band.

Add in great EPs from The Decemberists, Benjamin Gibbard, Ben Folds and The Morning After Girls and a roster of pop singles that remain some of the defining songs of the decade (Outkast, “Hey Ya!” / Beyonce, “Crazy In Love” / 50 Cent, “In Da Club” / Justin Timberlake, “Rock Your Body” and “Cry Me A River”) and you have a year of music that can pummel your ears with wave after wave of great stuff.

Death Cab for Cutie, “Transatlanticism”
The Decemberists, “Her Majesty the Decemberists”
Kathleen Edwards, “Failer”
The Exploding Hearts, “Guitar Romantic”
Fountains of Wayne, “Welcome Interstate Managers”
Jose Gonzalez, “Veneer”
Damien Jurado, “Where Shall You Take Me?”
The Long Winters, “When I Pretend To Fall”
Nada Surf, “Let Go”
The New Pornographers, “Electric Version”
The Notwist, “Neon Golden”
Brad Paisley, “Mud On the Tires”
The Postal Service, “Give Up”
Dizzee Rascal, “Boy In Da Corner”
Damien Rice, “O”
The Shins, “Chutes Too Narrow”
Sufjan Stevens, “Greetings From Michigan”
The Strokes, “Room On Fire”
Sun Kil Moon, “Ghosts of the Great Highway”
Switchfoot, “The Beautiful Letdown”

Superb songs of the decade: Robbie Fulks

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

“Where There’s A Road,” the best song from Chicago-based singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks‘ excellent “Georgia Hard” album, synthesizes sound and lyric as well as any song I know. Fulks augments his tale of restless wandering and highway horizons with banjos that roll like wheels and a chorus that soars just as the protagonist’s motor roars. Get this: Fulks wrote a song about busting out and seeing the world and, at the same time, a song that sounds like busting out and seeing the world. There is a reason the man has one of the most impressive catalogs of the past 15 years.

The best albums of 2002

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

Music history is littered with under-appreciated power-pop bands and records that deserved better. For every act that broke out of this insular genre — Cheap Trick, the Raspberries, Fountains of Wayne — there are dozens that, for whatever reason, couldn’t make their guitar-crunchy, ultra-catchy tunes connect with the masses. (There’s an excellent overview here.) And so, power-pop auteurs are often viewed as oddball geniuses, crafting power-chord progressions and hook after hook in basement lairs under the watchful eyes of The Beatles and The Who posters in a quixotic quest for the perfect melody.

There are no fewer than four amazing (mostly) power-pop records on my list of 2002′s best albums; Brendan Benson, Ben Kweller, The Mayflies USA and Superdrag each released records packed wall to wall with solid, guitar-based rock. Which is good, because their energy was needed to counteract what was otherwise a year of downers: Beck released his ode to a crumbling relationship. So did John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes bleated his way through an epic of self-loathing. The Decemberists and Dixie Chicks each put out the most downcast records of their careers, and the world was introduced to the fragile whispers of Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine.

The most important musical event of the year, however, was one that many people had already been listening to for months. Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” — delayed by label problems and leaked to the Internet by the band before it was officially released — is not only one of the best albums of 2002, but also a turning point in the way we consume music. More on that next week…

Bobby Bare Jr., “The Young Criminals Starvation League”
Beck, “Sea Change”
Brendan Benson, “Lapalco”
Bright Eyes, “Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”
Broken Social Scene, “You Forgot It In People”
The Decemberists, “Castaways and Cutouts”
Dixie Chicks, “Home”
Hot Hot Heat, “Make Up the Breakdown”
Iron & Wine, “The Creek Drank the Cradle”
Ben Kweller, “Sha Sha”
The Mayflies USA, “Walking In A Straight Line”
The Mercury Program, “A Data Learn The Language”
The Mountain Goats, “Tallahassee”
The Postal Service, “Give Up” (Oops. Released in 2003.)
Sigur Ros, “( )”
Spoon, “Kill the Moonlight”
Superdrag, “Last Call for Vitriol”
Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

Superb songs of the decade: Bedouin Soundclash

Monday, December 7th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

I’m not terribly familiar with the music of Bedouin Soundclash, who opened for Ben Harper at Les Schwab Amphitheater in 2006. Not sure if that’s because their other songs have never made much of an impression, or because every time I hear this tune — “Walls Fall Down,” from the 2007 album “Street Gospels” — I’m transported to a bouncy, reggae-fied happy place and I forget everything that ever happened to me before that moment.

The best albums of 2001

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. Tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

You’ll note that neither my best-of-2000 list nor the one below contains a nice, round number of albums. Instead of sticking to a top 10 or 20, I’ve decided to cut off my lists wherever it feels right — wherever I think there’s a noticeable drop in quality. These lists should contain great albums, not merely very good ones.

One advantage of this method is that you can see how the individual years stack up against each other. The 2000 list has 17 albums; 2001 has only 14. That means just what you think it does: When compared with its predecessor, 2001 looks a little anemic. There are a couple classics here and a few other solid albums, but overall, the quality drops off pretty quickly. Heck, this list almost had 13 entries. I’ve often thought Gillian Welch’s “Time (The Revelator)” is overrated, but it was the perfect soundtrack for a recent drive to Portland, so it snuck in at the last second.

The most striking trends I see here are that it was a strong year for some big alt-country acts (MMJ, Whiskeytown, Old 97s, Easton, Welch) and we got a bunch of albums from bands (Death Cab, Shins, Strokes, Spoon) that would soon become big-time stars. Sprinkle in some melodic electro-noise from Fennesz, a little Scottish punk by Idlewild, a blueprint for hip-hop’s future from Jay-Z and the joyous choir-pop of The Polyphonic Spree, and you have the world of recorded music in 2001.

Death Cab for Cutie, “The Photo Album”
Fennesz, “Endless Summer”
Jay-Z, “The Blueprint”
My Morning Jacket, “At Dawn”
Tim Easton, “The Truth About Us”
Idlewild, “100 Broken Windows”
The Old 97s, “Satellite Rides”
The Polyphonic Spree, “The Beginning Stages Of …”
The Shins, “Oh, Inverted World”
Spoon, “Girls Can Tell”
The Strokes, “Is This It”
Gillian Welch, “Time (The Revelator)”
Whiskeytown, “Pneumonia”

The best albums of 2000

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to tune in Dec. 18, when I’ll post “Near/Far,” our annual, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, to go along with our year-in-review package in that day’s GO! Magazine.)

The year 2000 was my last living in my home town in Kentucky, and my last working at the greatest college radio station in the world, WRFL, and living around the corner from a tremendous record store, CD Central. It marked the end of my opportunity to grab an unfamiliar CD or LP off the station’s shelves, give it a spin, and, sometimes, discover a new favorite band. Probably half the bands on the list below I found through DJing at WRFL. And it marked the end of my ability to stop at the record store on a regular basis and browse for hours. In early 2001, I moved to the wilds of Idaho, more than two hours from the nearest shop, and even that one was pretty underwhelming.

Here, in alphabetical order, are what I believe to be the best albums released in 2000, which was a pretty strong year for music. It’s a nice mix, I think, with some indie rock, some power pop, some twangy stuff and a little hip-hop, plus one of the weirdest records I own. (And yes, no “Kid A”.) Stick around to find out if any of these ranked among my favorites of the entire decade.

Ryan Adams, “Heartbreaker”
The Anniversary, “Designing A Nervous Breakdown”
Death Cab For Cutie, “We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes”
Steve Earle, “Transcendental Blues”
The Glands, “The Glands”
Godspeed You Black Emperor, “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven”
Grandaddy, “The Sophtware Slump”
Marah, “Kids In Philly”
Modest Mouse, “The Moon & Antarctica”
The New Pornographers, “Mass Romantic”
Outkast, “Stankonia”
Pontius Copilot, “Madagascar”
Slobberbone, “Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today”
Sunny Day Real Estate, “The Rising Tide”
Superdrag, “In the Valley of Dying Stars”
Ultimate Fakebook, “This Will Be Laughing Week”
Wolf Colonel, “Vikings of Mint”

How about you? Sort your iTunes by “Year” and tell me what 2000 release still strikes a chord with you.

What good are year-end or decade-end lists anyway?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

At the end of each year, music geeks (like myself) rank their favorite albums, singles, reissues and so on, and post them in public places for fellow geeks to deride. And each year, a small chorus of dissenters question the value of such an exercise, asserting that a true music fan can’t fully absorb the year’s sounds by the end of December. Great music takes time to sink in, they say, and the best time for ranking, say, 2008′s releases would be at least the end of 2009, if not later. Only with the passage of time can you truly know which records have stuck with you, and which are collecting dust on the shelf.

I’m here to tell you, reader, they’re absolutely right.

I’m living proof. Last year, I wrote up a big, splashy year-end review and we put it in GO! Magazine. (Here, here, here and here.) Included in that review was a list of 25 albums I believed were the best of 2008. I wrote thousands of words about those albums, going on and on about their good qualities, and why I think you should listen to them. For some, I wrote a lot, and for others, just a sentence, because there’s only so much space in the paper.

And a year later, after another year of listening to those albums and discovering new ones, I must say that what are now my two favorite albums of 2008 took up only a small fraction of that space.

Back then, I thought no one had made a better album in 2008 than Fleet Foxes and Throw Me The Statue and Sigur Ros and Raphael Saadiq. But today, if I revised my list, I’d have Kathleen Edwards’ “Asking For Flowers” at the top, followed closely by Frightened Rabbit’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.”

A year ago, I dedicated 28 words to Edwards’ album because its brilliance hadn’t yet washed over me. And the Frightened Rabbit was nowhere to be found, because I hadn’t even heard it yet. And yet those two albums have dominated my ears in 2009, to the point where I have to force myself to listen to other things.

And so, those end-of-year list-making naysayers are right. This whole exercise is poppycock. You can’t get a permanent, accurate ranking of your favorite albums of a given year in December. You probably can’t even get one a year later. These kinds of things are works in progress, of course, subject to changing moods, evolving tastes, new discoveries, the passage of time, and so on.

All. That. Said.

Welcome to Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade and 2009! Forget everything I just said and join me as I take a look back at the best songs and albums of the 2000s, both through my eyes and the eyes of others.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting list after list and song after song from the past 10 years, and we’ll wrap things up on Dec. 18 with my overview of Bend’s music scene in 2009, including the third installment of our downloadable MP3 compilation, “Near/Far.” (Get the first two volumes by clicking here.)

It’s going to be fun for me, because I love stuff like this. And I hope it’s fun for you, too. I hope you’ll jump in at any time to agree, disagree, debate or just chat about music.

Just remember: Anything you read here could change tomorrow, next month, next year, or next decade. And that, at least in part, is the beauty of a living, breathing love of music.