21st Century Breakdown: Jim Washington’s Best Albums of the 2000s

As I compiled my list of the best music of the decade (a much, much longer list than you see here) one inescapable conclusion reared its shaggy head: the last 10 years pretty much belonged to Jack White.

How many other artists produced five stellar albums in the aughts, not to mention a couple of killer side projects and (that old rock critic standby) incendiary live shows?

No one, that’s who.

So, the best album of the decade really came down to which White Stripes album did you like more, White Blood Cells or Elephant.

Thankfully there’s no wrong answer. I first became enamored of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” totally fell for “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” became quite close to “We Are Going to Be Friends” and spent a lot of time in “Hotel Yorba” and “Little Room.”

On the other hand, Elephant had “Seven Nation Army.”

“Seven Nation Army,” motherfuckers. How could a song released in 2003 sound like it invented the bass line? Not just that bass line, but the whole concept of bass lines.

So as we recap our favorites of the decade, rock lives on into the new century in various forms, from low down and dirty to high and arty to pulsating and poppy, while what was once the cutting-edge hip-hop has devolved into auto-tuned disco synth. No doubt something new will emerge in the next decade to take our minds off it.

1. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (or Elephant)
2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Outkast: Stankonia (or Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
4. Green Day: American Idiot
5. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (or maybe Mass Romantic)
6. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
7. LCD SoundsystemL Sounds of Silver
8. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
9. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
10. The Strokes: Is This It?

Just a few of the runner-ups:

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf, Rated R
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Drive By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera, Dirty South
Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel the Illinoise
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
Decemberists: Picaresque, Crane Wife
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Ben Folds: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Missy Elliott: Miss E…So Addictive
The Roots: Phrenology

  

Rob Blackledge: Inside These Walls

Mississippi-raised and Nashville-based Rob Blackledge was torn between pursuing a career in baseball or in music. But his love of music was affirmed after he decided to attend Belmont University in Nashville, a music industry hub, when Blackledge won a talent contest and had a positive crowd reaction leave him wanting more of that artist/audience connection that can be magical when it’s right. Blackledge honed his craft while touring with Nashville favorite son Dave Barnes, co-wrote country act Love and Theft’s “Runaway,” then later signed with One Revolution Entertainment. Now Blackledge has his own debut album, Inside These Walls, and his wide range of influences are all there for the world to see – James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Ben Folds among them. That may seem crazy, but it’s not – Blackledge is accomplished on both piano and guitar, his melodies soar with his falsetto (which he wisely does not overuse), and everything is tied together nicely by producer Jeff Coplan. Among a solid set of songs, the best ones are the hummable “Early Morning Riser,” the radio-ready “Should Have Known Better,” and the understated R&B-infused beauty, “Worth Taking” – the latter of which could be a huge Top 40 hit in the right hands. (One Revolution Entertainment 2009)

Rob Blackledge MySpace page

  

Lollapalooza 2009, Friday recap: would you like a little water torture with your rock?

It’s amazing what a slow, steady rainfall will do to, um, dampen one’s spirits. The Friday lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza was pretty damn good, but we felt decidedly less frisky once it meant walking or standing in a cold rain. Of course, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for brutally hot temperatures and lots of sun. Ah, Chicago. My favorite city, but the weather really is awful.

Yuto Miyazawa, Kidzapalooza stage
Medsker: How about this for our first band of the day: a nine-year-old Japanese kid who can absolutely shred on guitar. He can’t sing, of course, but no one really minded. He loves Ozzy, and played three Ozzy/Sabbath tunes in his set, as well as a Deep Purple song. Very cool. It’s funny how many Sabbath covers I’ve heard a Lolla over the years. The best is still the Dresden Dolls’ sick cover of “War Pigs.” They own that song now.

Manchester Orchestra, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Perhaps I’m showing my age when we say this, but…oh, there’s just no nice way to say this: I think these guys suck. Their first song didn’t have any discernible hook, and then the singer did that goddamn screamo thing. And their drummer…you know how drummers overact when shooting a music video, with the arms flying up and down to even the simplest or slowest beat? This band’s drummer actually plays like that. I lasted roughly two minutes, and I had had enough.

Gringo Star, BMI stage
Medsker: This unassuming Georgia band helped get the taste of Manchester Orchestra out of my mouth, but the rain was making my antsy. I left after about four songs to head south.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Vitamin Water stage
Medsker: I was thrilled that Black Joe Lewis was invited to perform at Lolla, but their inclusion also amuses me. They’re more of a Summerfest or Jazzfest band than a Lolla band, but then again, inviting a James Brown-style rock and soul group to Lollapalooza is pretty alternative, now that I think about it. I bet these guys would blow the doors off of a small club. They sounded fine here, but again, the rain was getting to me. Plus, it was lunch time.

Before Black Joe Lewis started, I listened to Hey Champ a keys-drums combo from Rockford, and they were pretty damn good. Definitely looking into them when I get home.

The Knux, Citi stage
Eldred: This New Orleans-based alt-hip-hop group may have been saddled with a side stage appearance, but they could have dominated the biggest stage in Grant Park with their swagger and cocky attitude. They had the tunes to match and ended their high energy set by turning the stage into a dance party, complete with their DJ spinning MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

White Lies, Budweiser stage
Eldred: It’s pouring down rain and I’ve never heard these guys before, but in every photo I’ve seen of them, their pale asses looked ridiculous, so I had to make time to see them, if only for novelty’s sake. After trekking across the park in the rain and getting colder and wetter, I realize that this is a hell of a commitment for a joke. However, once the pale London boys took the stage, I was shocked that they weren’t that bad. Actually, they were pretty damn good. However, I’m cold and wet so I head back to the hotel after just a couple songs for a drying pit stop.

Amazing Baby, Citi stage
Medsker: I’m very fond of this glam band’s debut album, and they sounded really good live, but enough was enough. I was drenched. I headed back to Eldred’s hotel room (he got a room at the Hilton on Michigan, lucky bastard) to dry off. His friend Lisa gave me a poncho. What a difference that made.

Ben Folds, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Ah, it’s good to see Ben with a band again. The last time I saw Folds live was that piano tour with Rufus Wainwright, which was cute but a far cry from Ben Folds Five’s live shows. His new band is damn good (especially the drummer), and Folds gave the soaking wet audience a good mix of songs from his whole career (though he didn’t play anything from BF5’s first album). The cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit” got the crowd moving, and then he stunned me by pulling out “Narcolepsy.” Well chosen set, even if he skipped the first album. Even better, I almost literally ran into Folds in the media area during Black Joe Lewis’ set. Very cool.

Crystal Castles, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Refreshed, dry and now safely covered in a poncho, I return just in time to see a special breed of insanity by the name of Alice Glass. The lead singer of the electronic duo ran out on stage with a bottle of vodka and tore it up, even when her microphone fell apart. She got a working model just in time to run into the audience and nearly pick a fight with someone in the crowd. Things are reconciled when she pours vodka into the first three rows. Amazing show, but that bitch is crazy.

Of Montreal, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Speaking of crazy: capes, men dressed as tigers, gas masks, gender-confused back-up dancers, Of Montreal took crazy to a whole new level, living up to their reputation as one of the most entraining live bands on Earth. It was glamtastic brilliance, so needles to say the cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” was not at all unexpected. Strange but awesome, however I had to take off early to get a choice spot for Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode, Chicago 2016 Stage
Eldred: I’ve been waiting to see Depeche Mode for over 10 years. They lived up too all of my unrealistic expectations by blowing the crowd away with choice cuts from the new album, including the single “Wrong” to lesser-known older tunes like “In Your Room” and “Policy of Truth.” (Editor’s note: “Policy of Truth” is lesser known?) Gahan and co. are firing on all cylinders and by the time they get to the epic finale of “Enjoy The Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again,” I’ve lost my damn mind (along with most of the audience). The encore of “Personal Jesus” is expected, but still welcome. The bar has been set high for the rest of the festival’s closers.

Medsker: They played three songs from Black Celebration. Hell, yes.

On deck for Saturday: Band of Skulls, Beatles offspring, Arctic Monkeys, Miike Snow, and Eldred is faced with a choice: Santigold, or Glasvegas?

  

Ian McGlynn: This Is the Sound

Every once in a while, an artist’s music has this way of striking us in our musical pleasure center. Singer/songwriter/pianist Ian McGlynn’s second full-length album, This Is the Sound, is likely going to have that effect on you if you are a fan of dreamy alt-pop. McGlynn’s tenor and some of his melodies will remind you a bit of John Lennon, but his songwriting leans more towards a cross between Ben Folds and Aqualung, and the production on this effort (it’s self-produced with help from songwriting partner John Mosloskie) bring the songs to life in powerful fashion. Much of McGlynn’s material has a cool underground vibe, but some of the tracks on This Is the Sound stand out. In particular, “Night Driving” paints a vivid picture with its dark yet melodic feel, and “Memorial Day Parade” is as close to straight-up pop as McGlynn gets. And he takes things up a notch on the opening track “Play Dead,” which is haunting, beautiful and able to stop you from whatever it is you were doing before you started listening. McGlynn’s music has been placed in both independent and major motion pictures, and whether or not you have heard him before or think you may have, he’s well worth seeking out. (LABEL: Bailey Park)

Ian McGlynn MySpace Page

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Ed Murray’s picks

Perhaps due to the waning days of the mortifying political regime we’ve been burdened with for eight years, not to mention ongoing economic palpitations that finally erupted into a full-blown global meltdown, 2008 turned out to be a pretty fantastic year for music. Classic R&B/soul sounds seem to be making a comeback, the indie kids have finally figured out how to absorb ’80s music influences in a more meaningful, less derivative way, pop music (whether or not it’s actually popular) is everywhere, and hard rock is finally seeing something of a resurgence (albeit only slightly at this point). Maybe it has more to do with the death knell sounding for the record industry? It’s pretty obvious at this point that while the CD business is pretty hurting these days, the music business is doing just fine, thank you very much.

Top 10 Albums (New Releases)

Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Most mature effort yet from this Atlanta-based five-piece, blending their shoegazer-noise art-rock into a more melodic and much mightier mix. It’s a two-fer as well, seeing as their third album Microcastle was co-released with the bonus Weird Era Cont., a move which, with all the drama surrounding this band, should surprise no one.

Airborne Toxic Event: Airborne Toxic Event
This band’s been compared to everyone from Springsteen to Franz Ferdinand, and I’m usually turned off by bands who sound like they’ve dug no further into rock history than 1983, but there’s something about this debut that keeps me coming back for more.

MGMT: Oracular Spectacular
Joyous, hypnotic, neo-psychedelic and catchy-as-hell. It’s pure ‘80s-influenced indie dance rock, but beyond the sheer grooviness of it all, MGMT is deeply experimental and hard to pin down (in a good way, of course).

The Black Kids: Partie Traumatic
Beyond the vibe – a Robert Smith meets Tom Tom Club kind of thing – it’s the songs that stand out on this fun and highly danceable album. Anthemic sing-alongs either work or they don’t. Here, they work…despite the occasional inane rhyming couplets.

The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
Craig Finn, Tad Kubler & Co. just keep getting better – and achieving ever-bigger heights – with each new release. Okay, Springsteen comparisons still abound…but those only pertain to the lyrical nature of the songs and Finn’s vocal delivery. The music is riff-heavy cock rock most of the time…and if anything’s desperately missing from a lot of new music, it’s that classic rock connection. “Our psalms are sing-a-long songs,” indeed.

New York Dolls: Live at the Fillmore East – December 28 & 29, 2007
Fully expecting to dislike this live set from late last year because it wasn’t the “real” Dolls, I think what I like best about it is hearing all these tunes with an updated sound, a sonic blast of power that the originals just never had – at least as you hear them on the original band’s scant recorded output. Whatever Johansen’s motivation, I only wish there were more than 10 songs!

Clinic: Do It!
Maybe these guys aren’t doing anything differently because…they don’t have to! Their retro fuzzed-out garage vibe just plain works. Still. Though I am a little tired of the surgeon’s masks, heh-heh.

Helio Sequence: Keep Your Eyes Ahead
A hell of a lot of noise for just two guys. Equally epic and spacey, they’ve actually achieved new heights with their blissed-out melodies, layered sonic wash and experimental but grounded approach. Beauty abounds here, even an acoustic side not always apparent on previous albums.

The Walkmen: You & Me
A great album from a great band. Softer than Bows + Arrows, but no less powerful. In fact, tempering the anger and bile (as in “The Rat”) has allowed them to find new depths in their fairly eclectic songwriting.

Spiritualized: Songs in A & E
Jason Pierce’s best since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Blistering, blissful and beautiful. Welcome back.

Best Reissues of 2008

Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs – Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006
Forget about all that folk-rock protest-song ancient history. And don’t even mention the mid-period born-again Zimmerman. Late Model Dylan is where it’s at, as this awesome volume in The Bootleg Series proves.

Various Artists: Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia
Oh yeah. This one was long overdue.

The Eels: Meet the Eels – Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1 and Useless Trinkets – B Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2007
A decade of genius, really. Newbies should stick with Essential Eels, diehards can jump on Useless Trinkets.

Top 10 Songs (NOT featured on New Releases list)

In no particular order:

“The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers AKA the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty,” Dandy Warhols
If you think you’ve got this band pegged, one listen to this epic tale will set you straight.

Surprise,” Gnarls Barkley
Upbeat, but with a definite ‘60s surf-vibe. Not as instantly classic as “Crazy,” but what is?

Sure Hope You Mean It,” Raphael Saadiq
The opening track off this phenomenal album will blast you right back to Detroit (or Memphis) circa 1963.

You Don’t Know Me,” Ben Folds w/ Regina Spektor
Perhaps the best song on this uneven set, it’s more touching than bitter, which is probably why it rises above most of the rest. Regina doesn’t hurt, either.

Crawl,” Kings of Leon
A blistering slab of riff rock. Very nice.

Right as Rain,” Adele
Lots of great cuts on this New British Soul chanteuse’s debut, but this is the one that does it for me every time. A unique and amazing voice.

Dance with Me,” Old 97s
It’s been a while since I listened to Rhett Miller’s work. I guess it took amping up the volume, guitars and energy a bunch to do it for me again.

“Business Time,” Flight of the Conchords
This song about the monotony of married sex cracks me up every time I hear it, and it’s a good, well-played and -produced tune in addition to the laugh-out-loud funny.

“Wreck My Flow,” The Dirtbombs
Perhaps the best song on this not-their-strongest effort.

Salute Your Solution,” The Raconteurs
A powerhouse of a jam, it’s a gritty sonic blast that’s better than anything on Icky Thump, that’s for sure.

  

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