Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best of the 2000s: Twenty-Five Best Albums

Sure, we have about six weeks left, but I have decided that I am going to post my top 25 Albums of the Decade.

This decade really changed my music listening habits, and not just because of the invention of the iPod (although that had an incredible effect too). The fact that so much music was available online for download and for listening meant that I didn't have to rummage through some indie record store where some asshole with bad hair looked down on me because I wasn't buying the new "hip" album. I didn't have to take as my chances on my purchases, because for the most part, you could listen to part of every song on any album you wanted to. And if I heard something online or saw some great new artist on Conan, I didn't have to wait till the next day to pick up the album. I know this all sounds rudimentary, but the sheer availability of music made me so much more knowledgeable and made this decade a lot richer for me.

Also, the fact that there are SO MANY SOURCES online which to read about music has pointed me in some really great directions. Pandora, Last.fm, Stereogum, Pitchfork, AllMusic.com, RateYourMusic.com... These have all been great resources for me to find stuff I never would have heard of or known of otherwise.

The last is satellite radio. There is no better way to serendipitously come across great new bands than on Satellite. Go to one of the niche stations and just listen for a few hours, and you will find yourself hearing things you would never hear on regular, terrestrial radio. I really hope that the fledgling format finds an audience because it is now an indispensible part of my life.

I don't think the 2000s (are we calling them "the Aughts" now?) have been THE best decade of music, but they have been one of the most diverse. And although I think pop music hit its nadir some time around 2005, hard-to-find music has flourished and become richer than ever. So here we go ... the soundtrack to my life for the last ten years.

I had considered breaking them up into pop/rock music and hip hop music, but let's face it: the decade has been sort of thin on both, and so I just picked my tops from both and I'm putting them together. Still, I stand by this list as being 100% great. I also considered ranking them but then I just got too lazy.

I will start by saying that my top three albums from 2000-2009 are, in alphabetical order by artist:

  • Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle
  • Shearwater - Palo Santo (Expanded Edition)
  • The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

Don't ask me to pick my favorite because my mom always said that she couldn't pick her favorite kid, even though she's lying it's clearly me.

I will also give you 40 or so very excellent albums worthy of honorable mention:

  • AESOP ROCK - Labor Days (2002), Bazooka Tooth (2004), None Shall Pass (2007) - Indie hip hop
  • ARIZONA - Welcome Back Dear Children (2006), Fameseeker and the Mono (2007) - Indie pop
  • BABBLETRON - Mechanical Royalty (2003) - Indie hip hop
  • BLACKALICIOUS - Blazing Arrow (2002) - Indie hip hop
  • BLACK MILK - Tronic (2008) - Hip hop
  • BLITZEN TRAPPER - Furr - (2008) - Indie rock
  • BLOCKHEAD - Downtown Science - (2005) - Hip hop instrumentals
  • BLUEPRINT - 1988 - (2005) - Indie hip hop
  • BROTHER ALI - The Undisputed Truth - (2007) - Indie hip hop
  • CANDY BUTCHERS - Making Up Time - (2006) - Piano pop
  • CARIBOU - The Milk of Human Kindness - (2005) Electro-pop
  • ROB CROW - Living Well - (2007) - Indie rock / math rock
  • CUT CHEMIST - The Audience's Listening - (2006) - Hip hop instrumentals
  • DANGER MOUSE - The Grey Album - (2004) - Hip hop
  • EDAN - Beauty and the Beat - (2005) - Underground hip hop
  • EL-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead - (2007) - Indie hip hop
  • EMILY HAINES - Knives Don't Have Your Back - (2006) - Chamber/piano rock
  • FEIST - Let It Die - (2004) - Indie pop
  • THE FLAMING LIPS - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - (2002) - Experimental rock
  • DJ FORMAT - If you Can't Join 'Em ... Beat 'Em - (2005) - Indie hip hop / nerdcore
  • GHOSTFACE KILLAH - More Fish - (2007) - East Coast hip hop
  • ILLOGIC - Celestial Clockwork - (2004) - Underground hip hop
  • JOY ZIPPER - American Whip - (2004) - Dreampop / Indie pop
  • MF DOOM - MM..Food - (2004) - Indie hip hop
  • MGMT - Oracular Spectacular - (2008) - Indie/electro pop
  • MIDLAKE - The Trials of Van Occupanther - (2006) - Lo-fi / indie rock
  • MOTHER MOTHER - Touch Up - (2007) - Indie pop, experimental folk
  • PINBACK - Tour EP 2008 [Ascii E.P.] - (2008) - Indie/math rock
  • RADIOHEAD - Amnesiac - (2001) - Progressive rock
  • DJ RHETTMATIC - Exclusive Collection - (2004) - Underground hip hop
  • SOUL POSITION - Things Go Better with RJ and Al - (2006) - Indie hip hop
  • SPOON - Gimme Fiction - (2005) - Indie rock
  • SUN KIL MOON - April - (2008) - Indie folk
  • SUPER FURRY ANIMALS - Rings Around the World - (2001) - Neo-psychedelia
  • SWITCHES - Lay Down the Law - (2008) - Indie pop / retro pop
  • WOLFMOTHER - Wolfmother - (2006) - Hard rock
  • ZERO 7 - Simple Things (2001), When It Falls (2004) - Ambient techno

Now here is the full list of 25 (plus one EP), in alphabetical order by artist (click on the album cover for more information):


Independent Hip Hop, 2000

ARIZONA - Glowing Bird

Indie Rock, 2009

BECK - Sea Change

Folk pop, 2002

BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago

Indie folk, 2008

CANNIBAL OX - The Cold Vein

Underground hip hop, 2001

NIKKA COSTA - Everybody Got Their Something

Electro/dance pop, 2001

DM STITH - Heavy Ghost

Experimental rock, 2009

BEN FOLDS - Songs for Silverman

Piano pop, 2005

SAGE FRANCIS - Sick of Waiting Tables (Compilation)

Independent hip hop, "emo rap," 2004

GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest

Art-rock, indie rock, 2009

IRON & WINE - The Creek Drank the Cradle

Lo-fi alternative folk, 2002

MADVILLAIN - Madvillainy

Underground hip hop, 2004


Grungy indie rock, 2003

OH NO - Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms

Underground hip-hop, 2006


Adult contemporary pop, 2005

RJD2 - Deadringer

Independent hip hop instrumentals, 2002

ROGUE WAVE - Out of the Shadow

Indie rock, garage pop, 2004

THE ROSEWOOD THEIVES - From the Decker House EP

Indie rock, folk-pop, 2006

SHEARWATER - Palo Santo (Expanded Edition)

Chamber pop / power folk, 2006


Indie rock / power folk, 2008

THE SHINS - Chutes Too Narrow

Indie pop, 2003


Indie pop / progressive folk, 2005

TOBACCO - Fucked Up Friends

Techno hip-hop electronica, 2008

WEEN - Quebec

Ironic art-pop, 2003

WILCO - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Alt-country/rock, 2002

If you want, you can also read about my Best Post-Golden Age Hip Hop albums.

So that's been my decade. If you are interested in sampling any of these artists, I would suggest signing up at Last.fm, because it's the most accessible, it can track the songs you listen to on your iPod automatically, and to my knowledge there is no limit on the number of listens you can have. You can pretty much type in the name of an artist (or any artist you like) and listen to a whole truckload of songs. And let me know if you agree, or if any of my choices stink.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Perils of Avid Living

Caring about things sucks. You might think that is a terrible thing to say, but it's true.

I heard a very interesting conversation the other day, where some people were talking about the fickle nature of sports fans. It seems that sports fandom is a nice microcosm of what I'm talking about.

Let's take my Bills. They are not good right now, nor have the really been that good this decade. (One winning season in the 2000s: 9-7 in 2004.) I am what you call a "diehard." I almost never miss a game on TV, and I will be loyal to that team until the day I do, or the day they leave Western New York, whichever comes first.

But there are other fans that we'll call "casual." They like the team during a week that they have just won, but in the losing weeks, these people are nowhere to be found. They even talk of being SO FRUSTRATED that they switch allegiances. Sometimes in the middle of the season! They will usually latch on to another team they sorta like (or just don't despise) since they have a better chance to win. We call these people "poseurs," "frontrunners" and "bandwagon-jumpers."

But I ask you this: who has the more pleasant life? The poor sap who is loyal year after year, only to have his heart broken? Or the faux-aficianado who can turn the game off at halftime and go to the movies? (Hint: not me.)

You can see this kind of dynamic rear its head in other walks of life too, such as politics. People who are politically aware and/or active have to be the most miserable collection of assholes in the world. (And yes, I do count myself among them.) Why? Because they are constantly putting up a fight. Politics today is not about solving problems, it's about skewering the other side and being "right." Both sides are guilty of it, and so am I.

People who don't give a crap about politics don't have this added frustration in their lives. If you don't care one way or the other about politics, then these Tea Party assholes probably don't bother you at all. And the quote-unquote Reverend Al Sharpton's race-baiting doesn't have any more effect on your psyche than your fantasy football league standings.

And such is the ironic curse of the engaged, passionate life. If you don't care about anything, it seems that you live a much more stress-free life, not unlike the post-hypnosis Peter Gibbons in Office Space. You can feel free to meander from interest to interest, not really caring if one doesn't meet your needs. You don't get mad when your favorite director makes a piece of shit movie, or that your favorite band sold out. If your team loses you find something else to do for the next game, or if your politician doesn't win, you go to the mall. Rather than trying a local microbrew, you pick up a 30-pack of Rolling Rock.

I'm definitely not crapping on these people: they seem to be doing it the right way. It is an internal defense mechanism that keeps them from getting upset about things that really don't matter. They are the people who say "I don't care" when a discussion gets too heated, or "Whatever" when they get called out for being incorrect. It is this kind of life that I wish I could lead.

But I can't.

In fact, if anything, my own stubborn nature has created a life for me that is fraught with unhappiness, frustration and incredulity. Many people can see a comment on a message board and let it go: I am not one of those people. Some people can overhear a discussion in which one of the speakers makes a major factual error: I must be heard! When thirteen year old girls say that Twilight is by far the best movie ever made, I feel the need to rattle off twenty superior films.

I just can't let people have their own misguided opinions or incorrect facts. In my own brain, I'm actually trying to educate them. I want people to be freed from the shackles of their limited experiences. I want people to transcend their reluctance to explore things outside their knowledge base. But rather than coming off as a sage source of grand experiences, I come off as a pedantic prick.

I remember this starting in about 1998, when the movie Titanic was a colossal mega-hit, still making tons of money from its release in late 1997. The movie was so big that it was sure to win the Oscar (which it did that year), and was very popular with the teenage girl set. [Twilight:2009::Titanic:1998]

I remember being on the internet and reading people gushing about Titanic being the greatest movie ever. At the time, I was a burgeoning film scholar, and was DISGUSTED that anyone would have the AUDACITY to stay that this very long, very overrated film would even crack the top 50 American films! In fact, that same year the American Film Institute came up with its 100 best films, and they had to create a press release saying that Titanic would not be on the list because it wasn't eligible due to the year it was released. (The implication being that Titanic would otherwise, of course, be #1 on the list.) I allowed this injustice of such an overrated film to consume me that summer, and I would tell anyone that would listen that L.A. Confidential was ten times the film that Titanic was, and that Titanic was a poorly-written fairy tale created for simpletons by a megalomanical director. (By the way, these assertions are still all true.)

But I realized that if people really wanted to love that Leo-Kate boat movie, let 'em. Why should I care if they want to settle for lesser entertainment instead of getting out there and digging for true art? Yes, it irks me when shitty or mediocre things get attention without having earned it. (Tony Romo. Paris Hilton. Tiki Barber. 50 Cent. Slumdog Millionaire. Glenn Beck.) But I really shouldn't care. It's not going to stop good things from being made, and not going to stop me from finding them.)

I am now self-aware of this predicament, and have been making efforts to allow myself to step back, take a deep breath, and stop giving a shit. This is outside my nature, as I care too much about everything. But I'm slowly learning that not everyone in the world has the "curiosity gene," as they say. And trying to get everyone to try new things and experience a passionate position is not my job. I can't make anyone like craft beer anymore than someone is going to coerce me into watching "Nip/Tuck." It doesn't make them bad people, it just is foreign to me that people wouldn't want to expose themselves to the best things in life.

All I can do is continue to enjoy the things that I enjoy, and silently look down upon others because they do not.