For me the 2000s were a musical "lost decade". And what does one do with what is lost? Find it! And so I set out to identify and review 20 of the top albums of the decade that I had heretofore missed. You can read the Intro to see how I compiled my list, and then my reviews of albums 1-5 and 6-10. And next up? Well, 11-15, of course! Highlighted in yellow below...
Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (3)
Arcade Fire, “Funeral” (7)
Beck, “Sea Change” (5)
Daft Punk, “Discovery” (4)
D'Angelo, “Voodoo” (3)
Eminem, “Marshall Mathers LP” (3)
Interpol, “Turn on the Bright Lights” (4)
Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (6)
Kayne West, “Late Registration” (4)
LCD Soundystem, “Sound of Silver” (6)
Madvillian, “Madvilliany” (3)
MIA, “Arular” (3)
MIA, “Kala” (4)
Outkast, “Stankonia” (6)
Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (3)
Spoon, “Kill the Moonlight” (3)
Sufjan Stevens, “Illinois” (3)
The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (3)
TV on the Radio, “Return to Cookie Mountain” (3)Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (8)
If you start off your album with a two minute collage of supervillains from movie serials, it’s pretty much like you’ve slipped me a twenty for the review. Track two, “Accordion”, seems to feature one. I’m also appreciating how they pronounced the “w” in “swords” to make a rhyme work, and justified the accordion. Next thing to love: average song length of two minutes! A good deal for anyone, and a miracle in a hip-hop album. I’m really liking this so far- spare beats, restrained sound effects, and the ongoing supervillain subplot. It reminds me, in a good way, of the conscious hip-hop of the 90s that gangster drove off the radio and practically out of existence. It’s a really clever use of some classic soul & jazz samples, sound effects and news and media clips to back lyrics that have something going on and aren’t wall-to-wall violence and misogyny. All of which, in track 6 “America’s Most Blunted” gets us an ode to how weed helps creativity. These guys are practically hippies! So far I’d have to say that this doesn’t aim as high, or get as dangerously personal, as the best albums from this list so far. But it’s more consistent, and fun to listen to, than almost any of them. This is the kind of album that would lend itself to heavy rotation. “Shadows of Tomorrow” track 12 is delivering a meditation on the relation of past & present & future. I think I’m getting this album- it’s like the musical equivalent of the conversation that follows getting stoned while watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Which explains why I like it so much! And track 15 “Hardcore Hustle” is turning into a manifesto on making music that’s not crap- take that 2000s! The next one gets political/philosophical about terrorists just being tools of those in power, part of the same old game, and the next track is a more personal post-breakup song. Like the whole thing is opening up thematically, even as it relaxes the supervillain theme. Man, these guys are pretty good. My esteem for it is growing by the track. Although I am sad that they have a song titled “Rhinestone Cowboy” that didn’t sample the original song. Stupid copyright laws… Still and all, if this isn’t one of the best things anyone turned out last decade, I don’t know what is.
M.I.A, “Arular” (2005, 3 votes)
First off, kudos to M.I.A., in fact, to anyone who would have the stones in the mid-2000s to begin an album with “In’shallah”. And then into the muscular metallic beats of the second track exhorting us to “pull up the people, pull up the poor.” This was like the 99% early, and with rap braggadocio spin and a reminder that she’s a soldier, a fighter, and has the bombs to make us blow. You really haven’t gotten much as self-consciously politically dangerous since Public Enemy, made even more edgy by its call-outs to the signs and symbols of the era of global terrorism. Which is great, but would get tiresome if it wasn’t working as music too. I’m really liking the spare production behind this, and the driving nature of her boom-boom delivery. I think it’s no accident that I mentioned Public Enemy a few lines back. Now track six “Amazon” is here, and has such layers of sound and dense lyrics while delivering a story about her being held for ransom with handclaps in the background. This is delightful! Nice laser sounds starting off track 7 too. I’m already mourning the fact that this is over in 6 more tracks. It’s getting more world beat in the middle, but I won’t hold that against it. And getting more personal, track eight “Hombre” is like a straight up sex you up number. Well, she’s thrown us enough substance at this point to earn it. In fact, on the comparative front, that’s what strikes me. This is as fun as Daft Punk or LCD Soundsystem, but with more substance, as tough as Jay-Z or Eminem, but with less bragging and beefs. Totally deserving to be near the top for the 2000s. I mean “Ten Dollar” seems to be about child prostitution, name checks “Lolita” and is delivered with a sound reminiscent of the best of mid-80s hip-hop. Come on! And it all comes together on the last track “MIA” into something like a manifesto. A manifesto you can dance to! Someone should give this woman (and this album) a medal.
M.I.A, “Kala” (2007, 4 votes)
Say what? “Bamboo Banga” is starting by lyric-checking “Roadrunner”. Not much music, as such, on this yet, almost more like performance poetry, ah and now we ease into it halfway through. A little more droney and repetitive than the last album. Also lighter, content-wise, as in empty of. Maybe I need to stop comparing and see if I can appreciate it for what it is. “Bird Flu” on track two is much more musically experimental than anything on “Arular”. And I don’t like it. (Yes, I’m failing at not comparing.) Allright, track three “Boyz” has some more dynamic beats and soul samples, but her lyrics are still a little chanty and monotonous. And the lyrics are also a little, “eh, so?” Track four “Jimmy” now has the music and the vocals going for it. Still a little content-lite compared to “Arular” (it’s just a song about a boy) but at least the lyrics are starting to fire. Ah, here we go, track five “Hussel”. It finally has all three going for it- dynamic vocal, lyrical content and musical engagement. Five tracks is a while to wait for it, though. “Mango Pickle Down” is a beautiful strange thing, though, and her early 80s style rap on it is as unguarded as I’ve heard her on either album now. Yeah, it’s definitely into a groove now (ha, and sampling from New Order and lyric-checking the Pixies) on track 7 “Twenty Dollar”, and slipping in the line “I put people on the map who’ve never even seen a map”. So really, I just think I’d drop the first three tracks, start with four, and all will be well. As for “Down River” she’s politically feisty again, and sampling gun and typewriter sounds. That I can get behind. Even more so on next track, which is quiet and disquieting, and possibly remixing polka music. Then “XR2” which is maybe channeling the spirit of global rave culture. And now “Paper Planes” is getting ethereal and floating, with some shots, cash registers and “Straight to Hell” sampling thrown in for effect. Doing my AMG & Wikipedia research at the end, and reading that it was made with multiple producers and all over the world, it doesn’t surprise me that it sounds more scattered, musically and thematically, than “Arular”. Folks seem to like it better, which I don’t agree with, but, well, I’m a sucker for narrative. Isn’t some kind of through line important for an album? Still 10 out of 13 great tracks in a variety of styles is nothing to sneeze at…
Outkast, “Stankonia” (2000, 6 votes)
Live from the Center of the Earth? Seven Light Years below the surface? Which reminds me of Parliament and then goes straight into a series of sexual slurping sounds that could be straight out of Prince. Then they’re straight into talking about burning the American Dream on “Gasoline”. You know, the second interlude is straight out of Prince too. Oh, but then we start to slow jam into “So Fresh, So Clean”. I’ve got to say that makes a nice contrast to the political rage of the first song. These guys have range! Then “Mrs. Jackson”, a seemingly heartfelt mea culpa to the baby mammas and their mammas. That’s their words, not mine. Hey, and I just spotted a Kanye West sample, which makes sense, because the lyrical strength and musical sophistication here remind me of him. I wonder if he had a part in production here, or just followed their lead? By track 6 “Snappin’ & Trappin’”, we’re down in some gangster material thick with paranoia and a weird warbling sound effect in the background. Got to say I really like these guys so far, a quarter of the way in. Oh, and a “My Adidas” call-out on the otherwise darkly-inflected “Spaghetti Junction”. The next interlude and track actually gives the female voice some equal time, a rarity in 2000s hip-hop for sure. (Though admittedly, with its October 2000 release date, this album is more like 90s afterburn.) After which “B.O.B” gets fast and furious and brings up the Gulf War before Iraq II started. The next track is on to talk of hand grenades and homemade bombs. Pretty interesting given that this is all pre 9/11. I do like my artist as prophet. Then on “We Luv Deez Hoez” we get the artist as womanizing misogynist. Oh, boys… Which gets fully redeemed on “Humble Mumble”, half social critique and half silly rhyme play. Like I said earlier, these guys have range. They also have a good sense of sequencing in terms of sounds and themes, aka this is a really honest-to-goodness album. I like to think the next track “Red Velvet” is actually about cake. Not sure if I’m able to follow enough to tell, but they did just name-check Bill Gates. The interlude that follows is probably the first time a rap song featured the shout “break” since 1987. So, wrapping up now (track 20 of 24), where are we? I feel like this is either a gangster rap album with some uncommon self-reflection and mirthful musical inventiveness, or a conscious hip-hop album gone gangster. Either way, it doesn’t sound like everything else and I really like it. Oh, even more now that “Toilet Tisha” has chilled me with its heartfelt anguished tale of suicide. Which they knew to follow with a slow jam, a skit, and a gospel finale. I’d definitely put this toward the top of what I’ve listed to so far. Which is nice to be able to do since it’s the last hip-hop album in the mix. Well done 2000s hip-hop, well done…
Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (2009, 3 votes)Well, I have to say this is a pleasant surprise. Based on the knowledge that they’re an indie band, and the self-consciously smart title, I was expecting something that would be like a lot of 00s Indie Rock: droning and bleary, or experimentally over-arty. Whereas “Listzomania” actually made me happy and had my head bouncing from the first second. This was more of an instant “like” than anything I’ve heard so far on this list. Definitely New Wave influenced, as a lot of the 00s Indie scene is, but not in a way that sounds like a day-glo mausoleum of the 80s. There are lyrics. Fairly dense lyrics. I think they mean something. But I don’t care because the surging Neo-New Wave rock is so much fun to listen to! Four tracks in now to “Fences”, and this is something I could picture listening to a lot. It certainly reminds me of things- Tegan and Sara’s “So Jealous”, Pretty Girls Make Graves, the Postal Service. And those are all things I like too. So it does appear, after all, that the Indie scene has something going for it. I’m sending that this probably doesn’t get to the profundity of Arcade Fire or Beck, but I don’t care! Listening to it makes me feel like a teenager waiting for my favorite moment in my new favorite song. Whoa-whoa-whoa-what? They’re French? Mon dieu! Goes to show you how accurate my prejudices are. Well done, continentals, well done.
Next stop-albums 16 through 20!