21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001’s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)

  

Sonos: Sonos

A cappella music is supposed to be the domain of fun-for-a-minute novelty acts like the Nylons or the Blenders, and even the best of the genre often sounds as though it was recorded by the same grinning, finger-snapping, vest-wearing nerds you laughed at during spring assembly in high school. The last time anyone cared about an a cappella single was in 1993, when Huey Lewis and the News scored a fluke hit with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright” – and when a genre’s last taste of success came from Huey Lewis, you know it’s seen better days. Into this cultural vacuum steps the six-member Los Angeles outfit known as Sonos, and although their press materials contain all the dreaded buzzwords used by makers of terminally unhip music – “push the envelope,” “redefine a genre” – their self-titled debut is actually far better than you might expect, especially given their über-hip taste in cover selections (Bjork’s “Jaga,” Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” Imogen Heap’s “Come Here Boy”) and/or the presence of AAA radio pox Sara Bareilles, who contributes vocals to her own “Gravity.” It helps that they aren’t a straight a cappella outfit – many of the tracks incorporate light instrumentation, and they aren’t afraid to chop and twiddle with their vocals – but what really puts Sonos across is the ease with which the group manages to substitute a cool modern feel for the stereotypical Up With People vibe. No vests here, in other words – and if Sonos is still a novelty, it’s one that’ll take a good, long while to wear off. (Big Helium 2009)

Sonos MySpace page

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Taylor Long’s picks

2008 was a year of many highly anticipated albums, from long-awaited follow-ups from big names to indie debuts. There were the albums I listened to most and felt left a lasting dent on the current musical landscape.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Brooklyn’s critical darlings hit it out of the borough again with their third full-length, Dear Science. They continue to defy even the most coherent explanations and descriptions. This is what the future sounds like – and it’s exciting.

2. Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood
The Pacific Northwest is finally producing, once again, the caliber of music that its isolated atmosphere and gorgeous surrounds should be stimulating. Driven by front-man Robin Pecknold, but by no means a one man band, the Fleet Foxes have the best lockdown on vocal harmonies since a certain supergroup in the ’70s — and the songs do their fair share of standing out, as well.

3. Pattern Is Movement: All Together
Throw all notions of what a two-piece should sound like out of your mind. This Philidelphia duo is nothing like what you’d expect them – or anyone – to be. Avant-pop-rock meets classical form and textures in the most beautiful mess of an album. If, at first, you’re taken aback, don’t worry, just press repeat.

4. Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth
While there were bands that hit it bigtime with their exploration of international sounds (see below), Dengue Fever didn’t come nearly close enough to receiving the kind of attention they deserved. Boasting Chhom Nimol, a singer who actually sings in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, the LA inhabitants’ mixture of Cambodian pop meets surfer pop and psych rock is not only legitimate but bred of some serious talent.

5. Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
It could perhaps be argued that At Mount Zoomer, the follow up to Wolf Parade’s first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, doesn’t pack the same punch in terms of pop hooks. In many ways, this is true. In other ways, it doesn’t matter. The over-10-minute-long album closer “Kissing the Beehive” is just as memorable – if not more so – as any of their shorter tunes.

6. Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
One of the weirdest yet most beautiful, comforting yet most alienating albums in recent memory – or double-album, if we’re getting technical. Get lost in the repetition, then find yourself in the breakdowns and freakouts.

7. The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me
The highly, highly anticipated follow up to the German group’s earnestly romantic and soothing electro-pop album, Neon Golden. The Devil, You + Me continues in the same vein as the album that they broke out with. What more could anyone ask?

8. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
As pleasing as it might be to be able to deny the righteous climb of the afro-pop appropriating, stereotype-perpetuating ivy leaguers known as Vampire Weekend, the honest truth is, aside from its lack of emotion, their debut is pretty undeniable. And in a musical climate where one too many bands have been overly saturated in their feelings, perhaps a little break from them ain’t so bad.

9. Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Every year, there’s a band that gets the sentimental vote. This year, it’s this one. Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie bounce back from glistening pop to a strangely inconsistent yet cohesive sixth album. Piano ballads, power pop and, of course, the experimental stalker jam first single – it’s all here.

10. Portishead: Third
The last slot is almost always the hardest. What pushed it over to Portishead were two things. Firstly, unsurprisingly, the group’s history. One of the most influential players in trip-hop, Portishead recorded a measly two albums (though there was nothing measly about the content). Secondly, they bounced back some 10 years later to deliver not just another album, but another groundbreakingly, strangely beautiful one. If only every long-term hiatus had such remarkable results.

Top 10 Songs From Albums Not On My Top 10 List

1. “Put On,” Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West
The video alone would have warranted the number one spot on this list, but as it just so happens, “Put On” is a completely unforgettable song, the kind I heard blasted on my Brooklyn block night and day. Also noteworthy: the only time Kanye West used a vocoder this year that didn’t sound stupid.

2. “A Milli,” Lil’ Wayne / “A Billi,” Jay-Z
Weezy arguably had the more successful summer jam over Jeezy, but truth is, his voice is still slightly irritating, no matter how many times I hear this. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that I like Jay-Z’s freestyle cover just as much as Wayne’s original.

3. “U.R.A. Fever,” The Kills
This is the sexiest song released in 2008. Really.

4. “L.E.S. Artistes” / “I’m A Lady,” Santogold
I refuse to choose between the two hottest jams on the debut from Brooklyn’s Santogold. So I’m not going to.

5. “Take My Love With You,” Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves
Why wasn’t this song blasted from the speakers of every single person who loved retro-revival acts like Amy Winehouse and the Pipettes over the last year? It should have been. Also: people in long-distance relationships, you have a new jam. Trust me.

6. “Mr. Alladatshit,” Kidz in the Hall
Kidz in the Hall made my mid-year list, but the second half was just too strong and knocked them out of contention. That said, this song from the Chicago rap duo is, to quote the song, “flyer than giraffe’s [privates].” Assuming they meant that as a good thing…

7. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1,” My Morning Jacket
The My Morning Jacket album was a little too uneven, but its high points were very high, including this lilting, sensual jam that’s exemplary of everything the band does right.

8. “Many Shades of Black,” Raconteurs
Without as much influence from Brendan Benson, the Raconteurs are starting to sound like another White Stripes… which would be ok if there wasn’t already the White Stripes. Having said that, this soul-infused break-up tune is not just more of the same.

9. “Lately,” The Helio Sequence
The duo from Portland continue to evolve their sound with Keep Your Eyes Ahead, their most memorable album to-date, which boasts the repeat-worthy lead off track “Lately.”

10. “Sensual Seduction,” Snoop Dogg (or “Sexual Eruption,” if you have the unrated version)
It’s as if Snoop Dogg heard any of R. Kelly’s recent albums and said, “That man knows what he’s doing.”

  

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