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The Decade in Music, Part 1: Honorable Mentions

I have no grand pronouncements for the music of the 2000s. Defining it in terms of its technology downplays the music. Defining it by any singular trend or genre ignores the incredible expansion enabled by the technology. Marketers tried shoveling crap down everybody’s throats while the fans revolted. All I can say is I found a tremendous amount to love and above all else, it was a decade of joyous discovery and celebration of great music.

In developing this Decade in Review, I spent a lot of time listening, a lot of time thinking and jotted a lot of notes all the while. What I came up with, at least in terms of format, is a relatively short list of the best albums, another list of my favorite Tucson albums of the decade, and a fun and loose catch-all that covers a good deal of the rest.

So today, enjoy these lists, of close to 100 albums that helped define the shape of the decade, and certainly what I listened to. Best of the decade and Tucson favorites to follow:

Where you been?
Nobody can manage to be on the leading curve of every great album or band, but there are several of the decade’s best that I found myself catching up to, years too late:

Drive-by Truckers – Decoration Day
The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism
The National – Boxer
The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Dan Bern – New American Language
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Shake The Sheets

Again & Again

Few bands ever make truly excellent albums – but all of these struck gold multiple times in the decade. Some could do no wrong in the 2000s, some had an excellent string of several albums, and some had consecutive peaks, but all could be counted on time and time again for great music:

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan
Band of Horses – Everything All The Time, Cease To Begin
OutKast – Stankonia, Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, Modern Times, Together Through Life
Neko Case – Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Middle Cyclone
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent, Post-War, Hold Time
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People, Broken Social Scene
Feist – Let It Die, The Remainder
TV On The Radio – Dear Science, Return to Cookie Mountain
The Walkmen – Bows + Arrows, A Thousand Miles Off, You & Me
Giant Sand – Chore of Enchantment, Is All Over The Map
Kathleen Edwards – Failer, Asking For Flowers
New Pornographers – Mass Romantic, Twin Cinema, Electric Version
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The Decemberists – Her Majesty, Picaresque, The Crane Wife
James McMurtry – Childish Things, Just Us Kids
Clem Snide – The Ghost of Fashion, End of Love
Wilco – A Ghost Is Born, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album)
Okkervil River – Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See, The Stage Names, The Stand-Ins


Early Decade Favorites
While all of these albums did have some pretty good staying power, each one was the shit for me at various points in time in the decade’s first couple years.

Old 97s – Satellite Rides
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
Dwight Yoakam – dwightyoakamacoustic.net
Lambchop – Nixon
Mike Doughty – Skittish

Out of Touch?
It’s no surprise the mainstream music buying populace and I would find little to agree on. I own just four of the top 40 selling albums of the decade (according to Nielson, which I don’t find online, but it’s printed in the back of the Rolling Stone decade in review issue), but let’s not kid ourselves here, it was a decade of almost entirely shit when it came to radio and MTV. I’m surprised these four even sold as much as they did:

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack (12th)
Green Day – American Idiot (28)
OutKast – Speakerboxx/The Love Below (31)
Dr. Dre – 2001 (39)

Gone Before Their Time
Chronicling all of the musical deaths of the decade would be a whole separate post, but I wanted to mention those musicians who died young, and the posthumous projects that were all the more treasured as memorials:

Morphine – The Night
Elliott Smith – From A Basement on the Hill
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Streetcore
All Autonomy (and my friend, Brian Gianelli) – Nothing New For Trash Like You (reissue)

Old Favs
Since when should making some of the best music ever count against you? Some of my all-time favorites are still rockin’ – and if the very latest albums are always their absolute best work, they all too often get overlooked. I say screw that, these albums are better than most people will ever make:

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising, Magic, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Tom Petty – Highway Companion (and though The Last DJ wasn’t excellent, “Have Love Will Travel” is my favorite Petty song of the decade)
Social Distortion – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Loved & Lost (Track Of)
Prolific artists can be the easiest to lose track of, and no matter how great these albums are, or how much I hear about the newer ones, sometimes I find it hard to want to wade into album after album after album. But I’ll always love these ones:

Beck – Sea Change
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker, Gold

San Francisco Bay Area Bands
Since I began writing for the East Bay Express, I’ve paid much more attention to music from the Bay Area, and got to vote in the newspapers Best of the Decade poll. Here are my top three albums:

Green Day – American Idiot
Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway

Best Comebacks
Whether cult favorites from ages past or Hall of Famers already, some unexpectedly make stunning return albums, typically with a young buck producer on hand to guide the way:

Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me
Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
The Flatlanders – Now Again

Stellar Debut Albums:
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank The Cradle
Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast
Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
The Strokes – Is This It?
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Format – EP

The New Dylans
Troubadours & folkies will never die. Here’s to the emerging generation, some of whom are stunningly accomplished already, and all of whom are making timeless American music (even the dude from Sweden):

Elvis Perkins
Josh Ritter
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons
Mason Jennings
The Felice Brothers
The Tallest Man On Earth

Tip of the Iceberg
Highly creative and musically imaginative bands with deep catalogs are some of the most daunting things to me, and they’re the ones that invariably yield side projects that are just as well regarded. My listening has barely started:

Will Oldham
Animal Collective
And more, yet undiscovered…

Kid A Can Suck It
Probably the most often cited No. 1 album of the decade, Radiohead’s 2000 effort didn’t do it for me. Not remotely. Not even after going back to it, years later, after finally seeing them live. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the band. But why Radiohead would abandon guitars – and frankly, songs – in favor of making a middling techo record was always a mystery to me. So was the universal praise that followed as a response. And so were the next two albums.

So when the band made In Rainbows, an album as textured and esoteric as any of their techo albums, but which marked a return to what I loved about the band, I couldn’t help but listen and listen and listen and listen.

Favorite Record Label
Several of the stalwart indie labels had outstanding decades – Merge and Matador both broke excellent new bands and continued their support of those who’d been making great music for years and years. Jagjaguwar released some fantastic albums, especially in the last few years.

But for me, Sub Pop takes the honor, for its complete redefinition, moving beyond grunge to woodsier, folkier bands. Make fun of the beards if you want, but try arguing with the excellent albums from Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Postal Service, The Fruit Bats, Wolf Parade, Blitzen Trapper and a great many more.

Published Jan. 13, 2010 at Catfish Vegas presents…

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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