21st Century Breakdown: David Medsker’s Top 10 Albums from the 2000s That You Never Heard

A problem, sadly, that tended to happen far too often this decade.

I’m not going to write some lengthy intro for this; if you’re reading our continuing coverage of the decade that was – and thank you very much if you are – then you know that despite music’s increased exposure thanks to the interwebs, it also became damn hard to either find a good band or vault them to the next level. Several of the bands in the list below actually had both good buzz and record company support behind them, and still failed. Such was the ’00s: as the Icehouse song goes, no promises.

Here are ten of my favorite albums that no one bought, or at least, didn’t buy enough of.

Sugarbomb: Bully (2001)
A small but devoted cult has built around this completely insane group of Ft. Worth power pop aficionados. Legend has it they dressed like women and kissed onstage while rocking the ever-loving shit out of their audience. This was their only major label release, and because of the sudden belt-tightening the nation suffered upon its release – it came out September 25, 2001, ow – the band was dropped shortly afterwards. Pity, because these guys could play. And they could sing better than they could play. And man, could they do a, um, killer Queen impression. Think Muse sounds a lot like Queen? Listen to “After All,” the closing track on Bully.

The main songwriters in the band, Les Farrington and Daniel Harville, seemed so distraught over the collapse of the band that they never really gave it another shot, at least in terms of playing to their strengths. Last I heard, Harville was slumming in some Shiny Toy Guns-type band that’s far beneath his abilities, whlie Farrington has pulled an Andy Sturmer – a fitting analogy, since Farrington’s a big fan of Sturmer and his band Jellyfish – keeping virtually no profile on the web. Again, pity. All concerned deserved better.

Midnight Juggernauts: Dystopia (2008)
Odds are, if a band signs to Astralwerks, I’m going to like them. but even I was unprepared for how totally fucking awesome the Midnight Juggernauts’ debut album Dystopia is. They’re an Australian trio that melds Daft Punk beats to late ’80s modern rock stylings, with perhaps a dash of Air-style ambience. And best of all, they’re an actual band, playing these songs on real guitars, keys and drums. Anyone who listens to Peter Murphy, David Bowie and Daft Punk should own this at once.

The Lolas: Silver Dollar Sunday (2001)
Poor Tim Boykin. He’s sickeningly talented, a guitar virtuoso and a wizard at stacking harmonies like a Jenga block, but his power pop band the Lolas never quite got off the ground. It could have been a matter of timing; the band sputtered to a halt shortly after MySpace took off, and according to the band’s MySpace page, they haven’t checked it since May 2006 – but even if he had kept waving the power pop flag, the odds of a band like the Lolas making the jump is unlikely, especially if they’re based in Birmingham. The Alabama Birmingham, not the UK Birmingham. For those who scoured NotLame’s release sheets in the early ’00s like a meth addict looking for another fix, though, the Lolas’ sophomore effort Silver Dollar Sunday was, pardon the pun, a hell of a score. They wiped the floor with Oasis on “Long Time,” and turned in the best Stone Roses impression ever on “Wild Blood.” If the YouTube vids are any indication, Boykin is now a long-haired guitar instructor in his hometown of Birmingham. I urge everyone within 200 miles of his house to sign up for lessons.

Delays: Faded Seaside Glamour (2004)
Their influences are apparent – The Hollies, Cocteau Twins, the La’s – but there isn’t a band alive quite like Delays. Their debut single “Nearer Than Heaven” is a flat-out skyscraper, and Greg Gilbert’s androngynous tenor/falsetto combo is as unique a voice as you’ll find in music today. This was one of those records that just made me dance around the house in a ‘hey it’s all going to work out’ kind of way. And in 2004, that was a stark contrast to the other dark, melancholy shit we were being subjected to. This album makes me glad to be alive. That’s as nice a compliment as one can pay, if you ask me.

Rialto: Night on Earth (2001)
They may have been late to the Brit Pop party (and extremely late at that, dropping their debut in 1998), but Rialto singer and chief songwriter Louis Eliot has a way with a tune – ask the people in South Korea, they loooooove Rialto – and in many ways the band improves upon their eponymous debut with Night on Earth. They had two drummers first time around, but are down to one drummer and the occasional machine on this one, and in the case of a melodramatic song like “London Crawling” it fits like a glove. “Idiot Twin” is one of the best songs Depeche Mode never wrote, and “Shatterproof” will make any fan of OMD’s “If You Leave” squeal with delight. Of course, I bought the import, convinced that it would never see the light of day in the States. Sure enough, two months later, Eagle Rock releases it, with bonus tracks to boot. So I bought it again, and gave the import to a friend.

Gene: Libertine (2001)
As much of a Britpop fan as I was during the mid-’90s – seriously, what the hell else was I going to listen to, Hootie and Alanis? – Gene never grabbed me the way I expected those endless Smiths comparisons to. I loved “Fighting Fit” from Drawn to the Deep End, but scarcely listened to anything else from that album. When their 2001 album Libertine came up for grabs during my tenure with PopMatters, I thought, ‘What the hell,’ and ended up thinking, ‘Hell, yes.’ More mature, more patient, and eager to explore different textures, Gene basically laid the groundwork between Coldplay’s Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head. You’re welcome, Chris Martin.

Paul Melancon: Camera Obscura (2002)
When this album was released, I had daydreams about hooking up Atlanta pop genius Paul Melancon with Jon Brion. It made perfect sense to me; they both love classic pop melody, fractured fairy tales, and the Beatles. It’s a match made in heaven, and Brion will make him a star. Ah, but being signed to an Indigo Girl’s record label apparently only had so much pull, and the album didn’t quite jump into the general consciousness the way I hoped it would. Damn. Didn’t they hear his love letter to ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne, cryptically titled “Jeff Lynne”? Even better is the album’s final track “Fine,” which sports one of those great wordless choruses. Oh, and it ends with arson, like all love stories should.

Click to hear Paul Melancon’s “King Sham”

Republic Tigers: Keep Color (2008)
The Republic Tigers are like the American version of the Feeling – they are simply not from their time. Listen to those melodies (the A-ha tribute “Buildings and Mountains”), the patience they take with the arrangements (“Golden Sand”). Ideally, someone will hear this album and think that that is how songs should be written. But after the whole Paul Melancon thing, I’m not holding out hope. For what it’s worth, guys, the people who grew up in the ’80s think you guys are peachy keen.

Click to hear the Republic Tigers’ “Fight Song”

Kenna: New Sacred Cow (2003)
This was going to be included in our piece on the best albums you never heard, but we based the inclusion of the albums on which artists were willing to answer a few simple questions, and Kenna forwarded us to his publicist…who couldn’t be bothered to respond. Ironically, Kenna called me shortly before his second album came out, even though I told the label that we needed to reschedule the interview. As it turned out, the interview was never rescheduled, and to borrow a phrase from Led Zeppelin, it makes me wonder. Here’s me, an avowed fan of the man – one of the best concerts I ever attended was a Kenna show at Schuba’s in Chicago. The show started at 6:00, and drinks were on the house, woot! – and the label can’t coordinate an interview. I suppose it’s fitting, since labels just have no idea what to do with an artist like him. He’s black, but his music knows no color. You’d think that the fact that his high school buddies, who are now known as the Neptunes, produced the record would be enough. Not so. Oh well. I love this album, and this album also produced one of the most original videos of the year.

Swag: Catch-All (2001)
When we asked Swag singer Doug Powell about Catch All, his stint with one-shot super group Swag, he dismissed it as pedestrian pop, and seemed surprised that anyone would love it. I get where he’s coming from, since the album doesn’t exactly rewrite the rules of pop, but it sports some damn good tributes to the Zombies (“Please Don’t Tell”), Elvis Costello (“Eight”), and the Byrds (“Lone,” “Louise”). And what’s wrong with that? Not a damn thing, if you axe me.

  

21st Century Breakdown: Greg M. Schwartz’s Top 10 Albums of the 2000s

It’s been a decade of strange contradiction for the music industry. The historic decline of sales might suggest to some that rock ‘n’ roll is waning – the demise of Tower Records could even be viewed as a sign of an impending global apocalypse. But there’s a somewhat hidden story of the 2000s, which is that it’s been a fabulous decade for live music. While the RIAA cried that the sky was falling, a new wave of improvisational rock bands made a steady living by touring the country with exciting live shows that differed every night. These bands won die-hard core followings of music fans in search of peak experiences not offered by one-hit wonders and paint-by-numbers performers. Following a path blazed by the Grateful Dead and then Phish, a whole new movement blossomed into a thriving scene that made the 2000s the decade of the jam band.

Phish kicked the new decade/century/millennium off in maximum style by throwing down the most epic performance in rock history with their 12/31/99 New Year’s Eve show at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Everglades before 80,000 revelers (the largest ticketed millennium party on the planet.) After having played a three-set show on December 30 and an afternoon set on the 31st, the band returned to the stage at midnight and played until past the dawn, delivering a monumental seven-hour plus set with no breaks. Phish would go on to have their ups and downs in the decade (a hiatus in 2001-02, a stunning “permanent” breakup in 2004, a triumphant return in 2009), but the jam band scene grew to the point where it could flourish without an arena-level entity like Phish to lead the way. There are a slew of great bands touring clubs, auditoriums and theaters year-round now, keeping alive a counterculture music scene birthed in the ’60s but evolving in fresh, exciting ways in the 21st century. These bands rarely make classic albums, because the songs don’t fully evolve until they’re worked out on the road. But for many fans, the live experience delivered by these bands far surpasses anything that passes for “popular” music.

The growth of the jam rock scene also led to the rebirth of the festival movement. The inaugural Bonnaroo Festival in 2002 was built on the template of the big Phish festivals – lots of custom psychedelic scenery, fan-friendly event staff, reasonably priced amenities and remote location to better establish the alternate reality of counterculture utopia. The first Bonnaroo was a jam band Woodstock, featuring nearly all of the top acts from the scene. Bonnaroo kept growing and branched out to include more genres, only to see the Rothbury Festival created in 2008 to rekindle that jam-centric vibe. Lollapalooza was also reborn as a weekend festival, while Austin City Limits flourished and the similarly-scoped Outside Lands Festival was launched in San Francisco. A slew of smaller regional festivals dot the music calendar. The bottom line is that there are more opportunities than ever to see great live music here in the 21st century.

Another secret of the jam band success is that all of of these groups encourage audience recordings and many allow them to be freely available for downloading at Archive.org, a site that is easily the greatest gift the music gods could have bestowed on Earth at this juncture. It’s an absolute treasure trove. And conjunction with our End of Decade series, here are my top ten albums of the decade. Stay tuned for my top ten concerts I had the good fortune to witness this past decade, with links to hear the shows where available.

Top Albums of the 2000s (in chronological order)
Michael Franti & Spearhead: Stay Human (2001)
Franti and crew blew everyone away at the 6/15/01 CD release party at the Fillmore in San Francisco with a mix of socially conscious hip-hop, funk, soul and rock that I’d never heard blended together in such a strong way before. This powerful concept album features lamentations for all that’s wrong with the world mixed with a cathartic and uplifting vibe about taking the power back. Woody Harrelson guests as a right-wing governor to serve as a foil to Franti’s pirate radio station. “Oh My God” and “Rock the Nation” were the post-9/11 songs of the year, presciently released in the summer.

The String Cheese Incident: Outside Inside (2001)
This is one of the rare jam band albums (Widespread Panic’s Til the Medicine Takes from 1999 is another) where the band’s collection of songwriting matches their instrumental prowess. SCI’s third studio album saw them shifting from a bluegrass-based sound to more of a rock flavor, yet without abandoning their roots. A socially conscious tone that most larger bands eschew also helped make SCI the unique entity they became. “Black and White” is a funky take on hidden history, while “Rollover” warns of impending Earth changes. “Close Your Eyes” and “Sing a New Song” demonstrate the band’s melodic rock talents and instrumental chemistry, as does the hard rocking title track. Nearly all 11 songs became live fan favorites, the true mark of a classic album.

Incubus: Morning View (2001)
Alternative rock didn’t all collapse into rap metal at the turn of the century. Incubus had blown up with 1999’s Make Yourself and followed it up with this gem of an album that mixes hard rock with heartfelt vocals, melodic hooks, and some turntable flavor. Vocalist Brandon Boyd scored the only rock radio hit of the decade that mentioned UFOs with “Wish You Were Here,” while the band also demonstrated their versatility with feel-good funk on “Are You In?” and ambient psychedelia on “Aqueous Transmission.” Guitarist Mike Einzeiger is a master of mixing hard rock crunch with psychedelic flair on tunes like “Nice to Know You,” “Circles” and “Warning,” showing that you can be a metal head and a Phish-head too.

Green Day: American Idiot (2004)
The Bay Area trio evolved from mere pop-punkers into one of the most ambitious rock bands on the planet with this concept album that got back to what punk is really supposed to be about – taking issue with authority and commenting on society’s ills. “American Idiot” was not only the anthem of the year, it summed up the Bush regime’s entire first term. Billy Joe Armstrong’s songwriting brought in a majestic Queen flavor, while still retaining punk rock roots for one of the top audience crossover albums of all time. It’s too bad more bands don’t have the guts to show such ambition. The follow-up, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, is also a most worthy successor that could have made this list as well.

Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs (2004)
There’s been little in hip-hop this decade that combines the Beasties’ knack for mixing funky grooves with insightful social commentary. Tunes like “Right Right Now Now,” “All Lifestyles” and “We Got The” deliver an uplifting vibe about bringing the planet together, with slamming beats and psychedelic tricks. The lyrical flavor is a sharp and welcome contrast to the petty rivalries and superficial obsessions that infect hip-hop like a cancer. But tracks like “3 The Hard Way,” “Triple Trouble” and “Hey Fuck You” still flat-out jam with the party vibe that made the Beasties famous, all of which makes this album a mainline into the cultural zeitgeist of the decade. The Beasties know that we want to party and save the planet too, and they dare to dream it possible to do both.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cold Roses (2005)
Adams put out a string of great albums throughout the decade, arguably making a case as songwriter of the decade. Rolling Stone may favor 2000’s Heartbreaker and 2001’s Gold, but this double-album opus is Adams’ true masterpiece. It caught Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s ear to such a degree that he not only invited Adams to collaborate, but brought in a number of Adams’ tunes into his own repertoire after Adams left the fold. Adams has an amazing knack for tapping into universal emotions that correspond to all levels of love and loss. The depth and variety of emotion he explores on this album is a supreme achievement. “Mockingbirdsing” might be the most heartfelt song of the decade, with “Magnolia Mountain,” “Easy Plateau,” “Let it Ride” and “If I Am a Stranger” close behind.

Neil Young: Living with War (2006)
It’s kind of a shame that a younger band didn’t put out this album, but thank the music gods that Neil was up to the task of putting out “Let’s Impeach the President.” Pearl Jam had taken a disturbing amount of flack for “Bush Leaguer” in 2003, so maybe younger bands were afraid to speak out. But with the Bush regime plunging the planet into utter chaos and ruin, it was imperative that rock ‘n’ roll have a response. Young recorded this album in a matter of days, and it’s utterly brilliant in its urgency and social commentary, all of which takes on renewed relevance here at the end of the decade with Obama escalating the Afghanistan war. This album rocks like a Crazy Horse classic, filled with catchy melodies, grungy guitars, a choir of harmonies and brilliant lyrics. It’s a shame on America that it didn’t sell better.

Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam (2006)
Pearl Jam has always been a force to be reckoned with in the live arena, but they started the decade off with a couple of lackluster albums with 2000’s Binaural and 2002’s Riot Act. So it was most inspiring to hear them come back with an album that rekindled the band’s original fire with more up-tempo energy and some instant classic tunes. “World Wide Suicide” was not only one of the most prominent songs of the year, it was an anthem for the entire decade, taking the powers that be to task for their reckless ways that endanger all humanity, yet doing so in the context of one of the catchiest songs the band has ever written. “Severed Hand” is one of the most electrifying guitar workouts the band has ever laid down, and that immediacy bleeds over into other hot tunes like “Life Wasted,” “Big Wave” and the grandeur of “Inside Job.” Eddie Vedder’s lyrics are consistently strong throughout, with the birth of his daughter stoking his justifiable anger at the state of the planet.

Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)
I didn’t have this album as best of the year in 2007, but it really grew on me after witnessing the band’s awesome set at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival in 2008. Trendy consensus ranks 2000’s Kid A as the band’s best album of the decade, but for my money, there’s only one song on there (“National Anthem”) that rocks like “Bodysnatchers,” “Weird Fish/Arpeggi” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place,” three songs as good as anything the band has ever produced. There’s a power at work here that only continued to build the band’s aura as a cultural force to be reckoned with. This was augmented by the band’s bold and innovative decision to release the album online with only a digital tip jar to collect donations. This made In Rainbows more than just another big rock album, it made it a true cultural touchstone.

The Black Crowes: Before the Frost… Until the Freeze (2009)
After putting out a merely decent comeback album with a handful of great moments on 2008’s Warpaint, the Black Crowes dug deep into the well for this magnificent double album that re-stakes their claim as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands of their generation. Recorded live at Levon Helm’s home studio in Woodstock, NY, there’s an immediacy missing from albums of most bands that like to jam like the Crowes do. Chris Robinson is at his soulful best on bluesy southern rockers like “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love),” “A Train Makes a Lonely Sound” and “Houston Don’t Forget About Me,” as well as deep ballads like “Appaloosa” and “Last Place that Love Lives.” Guitarist Rich Robinson leads the band in a dazzling array of musical depth and maturity that runs a gamut of stylistic references, with lyrics from Chris that clearly come from deep in the heart. The Freeze disc features a collection of acoustic-oriented winners that are tasty icing on the cake. This is the kind of rare mid-career album that enables a band to really expand their repertoire with quality material.

  

Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown” meets the critics

Green Day - 21st Century BreakdownFive years after releasing 2004’s career-defining American Idiot, Green Day is back with their follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, hitting stores today. Does it live up to the considerable hype?

According to Bullz-Eye’s David Medsker, Breakdown is a solid 3.5-star affair — perhaps not the towering achievement that Idiot was, but as he says, you have to “give the band credit … for not shying away from the impossible expectations that have been thrust upon them, and trying their damndest to make an album every bit as massive” as their last outing, even if their reach exceeds their grasp a bit:

The problem is that this time around, that whole reach-exceeds-their-grasp thing comes back to haunt them. The band simply bit off more than they could chew, and had they been willing to pare down the track listing to a more reasonable length (18 songs! 69 minutes!), we could be talking about Breakdown and Idiot the same way that people compare and contrast The Bends and OK Computer.

These sentiments are more or less in line with the qualified praise doled out in reviews from a number of outlets, including the UK’s Guardian (“a little less bold, a little less surprising than its predecessor”), Entertainment Weekly (“The band seem oddly immune to the fact that success … has rendered Berkeley’s gutter-boys-done-good accidental targets of their own ire”), and Popdose (“bucks the current trend of churning out singles in favor of creating deep tracks that beg for repeated listens — and may the gods bless ‘em for it!”)

And what does the band say? Well, watch this Total Assault interview clip to hear directly from the boys themselves:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
  

Seen Your Video: Green Day, “Know Your Enemy”

We proles can’t possibly fathom the kind of pressure that Green Day must have felt when they were putting the finishing touches on 21st Century Breakdown, their first album since the multi-platinum – and game-changing – American Idiot. Perhaps that is why they played around with side projects like the Foxboro Hot Tubs (which was a damn good record, by the way), because it enabled them to get their yeah yeahs out without having to worry about commercial expectations.

Ah, but they could only put the world on hold for so long, and at last, they give us “Know Your Enemy,” the debut single from Breakdown. Does it raise the stakes of American Idiot? No, but that appears to be the point. There was no sense in even trying, so instead, they deliver something more akin to their “unplugged” album Warning, which is one of my favorites of theirs. Big choruses, hand clap-ready snare drums, and a no-nonsense performance video to promote it. It’s as if they’re asking us to forget that American Idiot ever happened, and while that makes sense, it’s just not gonna happen. Still, this definitely has me excited to hear the rest of the album. Only a couple more weeks…

  

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

With American Idiot in 2004, Green Day released one of the best rock albums of the past 20 years. I immediately went from casual fan to huge fan with that record. The music was incredibly powerful, but the lyrics were even more impressive. Green Day was willing to make a rebellious political statement at a time when most of the country was in a collective stupor, consumed by the “war on terror.” They didn’t hold back, and the result was stunning. Bullz-Eye’s David Medsker summed it up in his review of the record.

Green Day’s biggest conceit was that they were what they seemed, a group of snot nosed punks who would rather beat off in front of the TV than take a stand on anything of importance. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. No band writes tunes as sharp as “Longview,” “Geek Stink Breath” and “Hitchin’ a Ride” without some synapses firing. And with their newest, American Idiot, the cat’s out of the bag; they wrote a concept album, which actually brings the band full circle. With songs that both rocked and popped, they were more of a mod band and a punk band, and American Idiot pays heartfelt tribute to their mod forefathers the Who while eviscerating the current pop culture climate at the same time. It’s heady stuff, to be sure; they’ll certainly never get away with acting like slackers again. The world knows better now.

Many fans have been waiting for their follow-up effort, and 21st Century Breakdown arrives in stores in May. Rolling Stone scored an “early listen” to six tracks from the record. We weren’t so lucky, but we bring you their impressions.

As previously reported, the 16-track album is broken into three acts — Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades — and Dirnt told AP magazine that the songs “speak to each other the way the songs on [Bruce Springsteen’s] Born to Run speak to each other. I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘concept album,’ but there’s a thread that connects everything.” The songs are defiant, but also defiantly hopeful, referencing the unsettled political climate as well as more personal and generational turmoils. Its blend of claustrophobia and freedom is well illustrated by the album’s cover art, which depicts a tight shot of a young couple kissing against a graffiti-covered wall.

Defiant. I love it. Can’t wait.

  

Related Posts