Sunday, January 3, 2010

Time Capsule: The Definitive Music of The 00's, according to Scene & Heard

iPod, iPhone, MacBook, Blackberry, Blue Tooth, BluRay, Myspace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Xbox, and etc. These clever little gadgets and social networking outlets are, no doubt, a part of how future generations will look back on the 00's.

But aside from living it (or reading Wikipedia!), music continues to be the purest way to get a read on the history of the world. Because while technology defines the times (whether we're talking gun powder, electricity, 8-tracks, or rocket ships), it's the times that define the music - and to me that makes it a more personal, and real, account of what the world was like. What the people were like.

For example - look at the breadth of music these past 10 years. It's easy to grasp the decade without watching a single news reel (err, YouTube clip): wildly fragmented, at times apocalyptic, and often aimless or lost. There was definitely a lot going on beneath the surface, a lot of soul searching, a lot of growing up. It seemed every single genre suffered a damaging identity crisis - pop, hip-hop, rock & roll, alternative, hardcore, metal, punk, even country, all struggled to find new voice, new ground and new listeners.

Surely, it all had something to do with the internet tanking the record business, and the social state of the world as it recovered from culturally damaging terror attacks while marching into war and conflict. But it all felt like part of something bigger to me, as if this was truly the last gasp of one era and the ignition of another, crossing streams (which The Ghostbusters always warned us against doing!). The past (or age of 'The Boomers,' if you will) was ending, the future was struggling to get started.

And so, I am writing this for the future in hopes that they listen to this music and hear what the winds of change that blew through our trees and shook us to our roots sounded like. Perhaps this isn't how everyone remembers the 00's, but this is exactly how the 00's sounded here at the Scene & Heard bunker while we lived it. And because this was the decade where I "became of age," as they say (young love, high school, college, went to Europe, drove across the country, got a job with benefits, all that jazz), I think that makes me a qualified statesman to put forth this time capsule of music. These certainly aren't all my favorite records from the time, but after much deliberation and thought, these are what I find to be the most reflective and definitive of the time and my time in the 00's.

Children of the future, I give you the first decade of the 21st century...

N*Sync - No Strings Attached
Released March 21, 2000
Even if it makes your stomach crawl, you can't talk about the 00's without talking about how it started - which was ridiculously. This boy band album was inescapable, selling more than 2.4 million copies in just it's FIRST WEEK on store shelves. It spawned the same craze that Beatlemania wreaked on the young and impressionable of the 1960s by filling the world with more silly love songs. Except these five dudes didn't go on to make a White Album or Sgt. Peppers. Nevertheless, this album remains significant because this is where the music business peaked. As far as the industry is concerned, it was all downhill from here. As far as the rest of us were concerned (the ones who wanted better, less manufactured music - and not for $20 per CD), the music world was about to get a lot better, a lot more varied, and a lot more interesting. It was all uphill from here.

Glassjaw - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence
Released May 9, 2000
Often imitated, never replicated (see also: the entire "screamo" genre, ugh). This is what emo once meant, before it mutated into the ignorant, hosed-down excuse for guitar-flavored power pop it later became. While EYEWTKAS' abrasive hardcore edge can gut a stomach or two, it's the lyrical beauty and immeasurably intense delivery by frontman Daryl Palumbo that makes this, truly, one of the heaviest modern masterpieces of music. No other album in this time capsule blisters over with more fire or emotion than what you'll find here.

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Released May 22, 2000
Easily one of the most profound records of the time. An artist like Eminem was a total paradox. A white rapper, that wasn't a joke? Wait, what? This album - his second - was unmercifully confrontational, taking on the music business, pop stars, movie stars, paparazzi, parents, teachers, and the government. Not to mention, his own demons. But more appropriately, it verbalized all the boredom and angst of pre 9-11 America, word for word. Amusing, socially aware, emotional, dark, and outright foul. It was all these things and more, which is why it didn't matter what race you were or what type of music you liked. This album was the voice of the generation, and it said, "This is what we are like, and if you don't like that, just remember you're the sh*theads who raised us." It wasn't Bob Dylan, but that was kind of the point.

Radiohead - Kid A
Released October 2, 2000
No one had heard anything like this when it first came out. It. Blew. Minds. And still, more than 9 years later, it sounds as if it's a future masterpiece, beamed in from light years ahead of us, like a 'Pet Sounds' made by robots from Mars. I confess, the songs aren't my favorite Radiohead set, but like Sgt. Pepper was to The Beatles - Kid A was a definitive moment for the band, and for the future of music. A moment that will not be overlooked when future generations talk about Radiohead, who are to our generation what The Beatles were to "the boomers."

Coldplay - Parachutes
Released November 7, 2000
Speaking of Radiohead and The Beatles, Coldplay's pristine debut sounds at times like the well-mannered offspring of both musical giants, with a dash of U2 (circa Joshua Tree) for good measure. But this album remains their most basic, most poignant, and best. Particularly at a time when the musical landscape was cracking and shifting between soulless boy bands, Britney Spears, anger-fueled rap-rock and tough boy gangsta rap, four charming lads from England with guitars and pianos was more than a breath of fresh air - it was the first real moment of clarity and soul we'd gotten on the radio since Nirvana gave us that raunchy whiff of teen spirit in 1991.

Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
Released July 18, 2001
By 2001, the hyper-passionate "emo" scene was gaining steam and young listeners by the cartload, and all it took was a little nudge from a catchy song called "The Middle" to push this burgeoning scene over in to the mainstream consciousnesses - even if this record was more an upbeat rock n' roller than Jimmy's 1999's "emo" masterpiece, Clarity. Suddenly Jimmy Eat World, and fellow groups like Saves The Day, The Juliana Theory, The Get-Up Kids, and Death Cab For Cutie all had the immediate ears of record label execs as they scrambled to find "the next big thing" in a business that was about to break. The album's title is still frighteningly prophetic of the terror attack that was about to rock our country to it's core (9/11) a few short months later. But Bleed American is so hopefully thunderous, and masterfully crafted with a hunger to be heard, that it provided us with affectionate relief from the wound.

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Global a Go-Go
Released July 24, 2001
The world was about to get a lot more complicated, not to mention fragmented, but this late career masterpiece by the late great Joe Strummer (former frontman of The Clash) took the precious time to embrace the world and it's rich supply of culture, ideas, sights and sounds. From the rollicking "Johnny Appleseed" through the hypnotic 17-minute opus, "Minstrel Boy", Strummer and his band of musical gypsies stir up a brighter view of the world, one that's wholesome, simple, fascinating, and ripe for the picking. We weren't prepared for the storms ahead, but this was most certainly the beautiful, peaceful calm before.

The Strokes - Is This It
Released July 30, 2001
Jack White often gets the due credit for the 21st century resuscitation of rock n' roll - and rightfully so - but it was this landmark album by some young, greasy-haired New Yorkers that really reminded us how good rock n' roll made us feel. The White Stripes brought back bone-saw blues and a Led Zeppelin-like mysticism, but it was The Strokes who brought back the swagger, the cool, and the booze-soaked nights of being, young, lost and in love. A sound reminder that the heart of rock n' roll still has plenty of blood left to pump.

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
Released July 30, 2002
As the tale goes, shortly after the attack on 9-11, Bruce Springsteen was spotted by a stranger in Asbury Park - and the stranger said to him, "We need you." The Boss knew what he had to do - get the ol' band back together. Sure enough, the "the heart stopping, pants dropping, earth shattering, hard rocking, hips shaking, earth quaking, nerve breaking, history making, legendary E-Street Band" returned months later with their first blast of new music in 18 years. And for all that had fallen, this album rose magnificently to the occasion - and who better? For Bruce and the E-Street gang, it was the comeback of a lifetime - for the rest of us, it was the candle we needed to light such a dark hour.

Bright Eyes - Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
Released August 13, 2002
As the pop world continued to shift and buckle beneath us, new voices continued to sprout up through the cracks. But none showed as much generational promise as young Conor Oberst did on this breakthrough album. And with such captivating honesty and lyrical mastery, it was hard to resist branding him the next Dylan, particularly now that we were at war overseas and mired in political unrest. But unlike most "next Dylans," Oberst has made good on his promise, delivering classic album after classic album throughout this decade (recording as both Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band), and he has done so without pause or ever once looking back. If this was a decade of growth and new voice, there isn't a finer example - or one to be prouder of - than Oberst.

Brand New - Deja Entendu
Released June 17, 2003
For the young and restless of this decade's new breed of emo, this is the album that raised the bar. To fans of the band's straightforward buzz-sawed debut, Your Favorite Weapon, Deja Entendu was a radical reinvention, with entirely new song structures and a much more sophisticated and varied approach to song structure, flow and lyrics. Seems like a little leap now, considering how much the band continued to morph on later recordings, but this is one of the emo scene's proudest moments of growth this decade, not unlike when Radiohead jumped grunge for U2, taking the leap from Pablo Honey to The Bends.

Over It - Timing Is Everything
Released November 18, 2003
Emo might have been riding high, but pop-punk was riding higher. Bands like New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Good Charlotte, and Simple Plan had all found their true calling on MTV's popular after-school music video countdown, TRL (Total Request Live), waving around catchy anthems about being young, and/or in love. This album didn't register as even a blip on any mainstream radar, but it was a run away freight train, packing way more lyrical and breakdown punch than any of the bubblegum parading as punk on TRL. It wasn't a vein that other punk and emo bands hadn't already bled, but it's a treasure - and a rarity - to find such a record hammered out with such heart at such volume.

TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Released March 9, 2004
If you could imagine what it would sound like if Radiohead kicked Thom Yorke to the curb and got Otis Redding and Sam Cooke to fill in on vocals, than you can see why music geeks wet their proverbial pants at first listen to this album. Aside from Radiohead's Kid A, this was the first sign that music was really starting to move into a new, and beautifully hypnotic, direction.

The Killers - Hot Fuss
Released June 15, 2004
Unless you read up on them, chances are you thought The Killers were Britain's next big thing. But these Bowie-esque Joy Division lovers were, quite the contrary, born and bred Americans from Las Vegas. Achieving immediate success with hit singles like "Somebody Told Me" and "Mr. Brightside," The Killers quickly established themselves as one of the decade's best, and brightest, new groups.

Green Day - American Idiot
Released September 21, 2004
As the presidential election drew near, there were a number of artists who stood up to cry foul on George W. Bush and his Cabinet's continuing wars on terror and the middle east in response to 9-11. But none of these artists left as big a mark as Green Day did with this album, their first Who-inspired "rock-opera". And it was a welcome surprise indeed, coming from a band who had all but lost inspiration by the dawn of the decade. Just like the fire that made them hot in the first place, Green Day found rejuvenation by creating an outlet for a world they were disgusted with. Except, this time their disgust was with the grown up world, not the world of growing up - as on 1994's Dookie. It wasn't just a return to form, it marked a bold new direction that made the Bay Area trio one of the biggest bands in the world.

Nada Surf - The Weight Is A Gift
Released September 20, 2005
By now, the mainstream music business was in free fall. And because of it, better artists from smaller "indie" labels were on the rise - thanks in part to TV shows like The OC who brilliantly licensed and plugged these smaller bands. Groups like Arcade Fire, The Shins, and Spoon were all doing just fine without any major label muscle, thanks. Nada Surf, however, had already been up to the majors and been knocked down by the end of the 90's. There were lots of great indie records from this time, but none feel more accomplished or as instantly rewarding as this one. And few lyrics sum up this time better than "I watched life turn into a TV show" (from "Blankest Year"), partially due to the explosion of reality TV that was then in (disgusting) full bloom.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Released March 3, 2007
The Arcade Fire's previous album, Funeral, is often cited as one of the decade's finest pieces of music - but I think this darker, denser set of songs is much more focused and reflective of the time it comes from. No, it wasn't the dark ages, or even The Cold War, but 2007 was a very claustrophobic, and hopeless, time. Britney Spears had lost her mind (homegirl shaved her head and attacked a pap car with an umbrella!). We were still at war in the Middle East and were still led by a president who had little - if any - respect around the globe. The whole world was a drag. The Arcade Fire sucked that in, and breathed out this anthemic, Joshua Tree-like hymn of hope for the times. It was moody on the edges, but if you got to the core, it sparkled light - and that wasn't easy to find at the time.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Released October 10, 2007
The times, they were-a-changing. When Radiohead unveiled their latest album without a record label and with a "pay-us-whatever-the-heck-you-want-for-it-even-if-that-means-you-don't-pay-anything" model, there were those who said this was the future of the music business. It's hard to say it actually changed a thing, really, but it did prove that the record business was going to have to get much more creative if music was going to remain relevant in this brave new century of media overdose. Thankfully, there was much more to In Rainbows than how it was released. This delicate set of seared soul, breakneck guitars, and heart-wrenching love songs is Radiohead's most beautiful collection yet. Leave it to Radiohead to craft a record this gorgeous out of both hope, and apocolypse.

Girls - Album
Released September 22, 2009
This decade was hard on us. Growing pains, if you will. But the decade was exceptionally rougher for Girls frontman Christopher Owens who was raised in a cult that forced his mother to prostitute herself and watched his brother die because they didn't believe in modern medical methods. But salvation found him when he ran away and was taken in by a millionaire and moved to San Francisco where he met Chet White to form their band, Girls. Of course, running away doesn't clean out your closet - but building honest pop songs out of the pieces of your own broken heart helps. Musically, Album is vintage sun-soaked Happy Days garage rock, harkening back to a simpler time when things seemed warmer, happier, stronger. That's what this record is all about, and that's what the 00's were about: Building a better, brighter future out of the pieces of a broken past, to get back to where we once belonged. Couldn't end this decade on a more appropriate note if we wanted to. Here's hoping this decade treats us better than the last.

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Anonymous complexity said...

Good article homie.

January 11, 2010 9:29 PM 

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