This post is the first in a series from Contrarian contributors, friends and associates.
Here I am listening to Béla Bartók, having spent much of last evening in a fit of Scotch-inspired pique at this decade’s lackluster crop of albums. Now, with the clarity that only an encroaching workweek can engender, I realize that there were a few decent releases in the 2000s. It’s just that, unlike offerings from the previous decade, I never really go back to any of them.
Albums aside, the aughts were total rubbish. We kicked things off with George W. Bush becoming president, and it was pretty much downhill from there — from 9/11 to the Iraq War to Hurricane Katrina to the arrival of Sarah Palin on the national political scene. If there was ever a reason for a decade do-over, we just lived it.
But back to the music. As the opening salvo in a protracted 21st century battle between the major rightsholders and the great unwashed, the arrival of Napster signaled the end of many established music industry customs — like, for instance, paying for music. Meanwhile, massive media consolidation augured by Bill Clinton‘s signing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act came to terrible fruition. Commercial radio in the 2000s was/is a wasteland, with programming homogenized to the point that you can now drive across this vast country, once rich with regional musical flavor, and hear the same playlists from sea to shining sea. MTV all but gave up on showing videos, and Disney-style “synergy” became the corporate mandate for mainstream entertainment.
Of course, there was the internet — a wild west of unauthorized content and unfiltered opinion, equally electrifying and obnoxious. As much as I enjoy rubbing elbows with the digital hoi polloi, I’m not convinced that we all wouldn’t be better off just unplugging the damn tubes and going back to writing letters and watching “Must See TV.”
The rise of blogs, MP3 aggregators and the almighty Pitchfork meant that bands who had no business in the big leagues were touted, one after another, as the next savior(s) of music. Though some were possibly deserving of the praise, most were not. And all suffered the backlash that comes from being anointed superhuman before releasing one’s debut long-player. (Black Kids, anyone?)
The number of overhyped and undeserving acts in this decade are legion. And I heard pretty much everything there was to hear, as I spent half of the decade stocking an indie record store and the other half as a full-time music critic. Call it burnout, call it aging, call it a bad attitude, but there just wasn’t a hell of a lot to get wound up about. Not that I wasn’t enthusiastic about stuff at the time — it’s just that, looking back, there isn’t a lot of, you know, there there.
I should instead compile a “best TV shows of the decade” list, as the small screen enjoyed a mini-renaissance. Perhaps I’ll get to it later.
What follows is a list of albums (in no particular order) that managed to penetrate my spiteful, narrow mind and furnish some enjoyment to this utterly unpropitious decade. You can listen to each of these records after the jump.
1. Gorgoroth — Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam
Some of the blackest metal you’ll ever hear spewed from a gay Norwegian Satanist in corpse paint.
2. M. Ward — Post-War
Just really beautiful songs, played beautifully by a guy who sounds like he means it, even though he probably doesn’t.
3. Super Furry Animals — Rings Around the World
In the 2000s, we all needed a little cheering up from these crazy Scottish progressive psych-popsters.
4. The Books — The Lemon of Pink
Organica has never been more ornate yet splendidly affectless.
5. Murcof — Remembranza
Great ambient music in a decade of subpar electronic releases.
5. Fennesz — Endless Summer
6. Meshuggah — Nothing
Biomechanical metal that has me anxiously awaiting the Singularity, when I’ll be rebuilt as a nano-enhanced killing machine.
7. Opeth — Blackwater Park
Haunting, goofy, emotional, technical, dark, ridiculous, unique.
8. Mastodon — Leviathan, Blood Mountain, Crack the Skye
This band is so bitchin,’ I swear they’re from the previous decade. (In lieu of posting all three albums, I’ve chosen their latest, Crack the Skye.)
9. The Shins — Oh, Inverted World
Transcends the hype. I was into this album super-early, and it’s so effing great that I didn’t even get mad when Zach Braff stole it.
10. Broken Social Scene — You Forgot it in People
Again, I was among the first five people to hear this. Saw ‘em play it in a club with just me and the bartender, too. Yes, I’m bragging.
11. Fantomas – The Director’s Cut
Often, I wanna punch Mike Patton in his dirt-stache for being such a tool. Not this time.
(Not available for embedding; here’s a runner-up, Suspended Animation.)
12. Queens of the Stone Age — Rated R
The kids like Songs for the Deaf more, but this hairy beast is where it’s at. Like the White Album played by gas-huffing heshers.
13. Deerhoof — Apple O
The adorable spastic elastic.
14. The Coup — Party Music
An incredibly righteous rap album in the wake of 9/11. Helped me keep my head screwed on straight amidst the jingoism.
15. Animal Collective — Sung Tongs
I fucking hate this band now. This album is bliss, though, and the best they’ll ever be.
16. Of Montreal — Aldhils Arboretum
LSD and young ladies. I miss ‘em, too.
17. D’Angelo — Voodoo
I listened to this the other day, and it was still sexy as hell. This record proves that great music can result from the curious admixture of talent, club drugs and washboard abs.
18. Outkast — Stankonia
Aquemini is a better hip-hop record, but this one has the cosmic funk.
19. Gillian Welch — Time (The Revelator)
Possibly one of the most gorgeously affecting records of any decade. Unvarnished, honest and haunting.
20. Sunn 0))) / Boris — Altar
Better than either band is by themselves. Six hundred and sixty-six tons of sludgy evil, plus Jesse Sykes!
And there you have. it. Gee, I guess it wasn’t as bad as all that. Maybe this decade will be even better. Gotta stay optimistic, you know.