Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where is our Abbey Road?

I thought this was an interesting article:

Feel free to skip the lower portion of the article, in which the author describes at length the process of his re-discovery of the Beatles. What I thought was most interesting was that the top-selling album of the "aughties" was from a band that broke up 40 years ago.

Well, it got me thinking. Because I have been spending the last month or so listening to new music and trying to come up with my top picks of 2009. Music I'd been told about and music I'd read about. And although I can come up with a few really good albums, I'm having trouble thinking of the last time I heard anything "classic." And when I say "classic," I don't mean something that I think is great, but rather something that I think will be listened to in 40 years and considered with the kind of reverence bestowed upon those classics that I just mentioned. By comparison, I think "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" was great, but R.E.M.'s "Automatic For the People" is classic.

Forty years from now, what will be our "Abbey Road" or "Dark Side of the Moon" or even "Velvet Underground and Nico"?

My preference would be to say "Kid A" or Brian Wilson's "Smile," but realistically, those are far too eccentric to have the mass appeal that a classic really needs.

Incidentally, Rolling Stone has put out their Top 100 Best Albums of the Decade:

I'm sorry, but I just can't really put much stock in a list like this where the top 25 includes 3 raspy-voice Dylan albums; 2 each of past-his-prime Springsteen, U2, and Jay-Z; and one Coldplay. Call me biased (or maybe just hopeful), but wasn't there more interesting music in the last decade than these bands?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ten Years

I've been thinking a lot lately about the last ten years. Not because today is the first day of the new decade (that happens next year), but because ten years ago last summer I graduated from high school. I think it's a truism that in our society the first years out of your parents care define who you become as a person. You fall in love, you embark on a career or course of study, you develop taste, in friends, in food, in pass-times, in art. Since this blog is focused on the latter, that's precisely what we'll do.
The last ten years have been very rich musically. This era, defined indefatigably by the disastrous Bush presidency, has produced some of the most important popular music since rock and roll muscled it's way out of the primordial soup of blues, folk and jazz that defined the middle twentieth century. If you're like me, the last decade's music will stick with you in a way unequaled since Elvis, The Beatles and Bob Dylan stole the Promethean fire from Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Ike Turner.
Certainly, part of this staying power is owed to the new methods of music distribution and portability that have been developed in the last ten years. Music has entered our lives in a way it never has before. This has led to a lessened appreciation for sustained works like albums at the same time that it has allowed music to easily and seamlessly define our experiences in ways never possible before. We now rely on blogs, intelligent streaming services like Pandora, and prime-time soap operas to influence our taste the way we used to rely on radio and recommendations from savvy friends. We listen to the music we want to listen to wherever we happen to be.
All this has had a democratizing effect on music snobbery. It is so easy to maintain a finger on the pulse of popular entertainment that the shelf-life of anything remotely popular has shrunk to almost infinitesimal. By the time you've had a chance to hear the new Vampire Weekend song, the backlash has begun and no matter how good it is, it's just not cool anymore.
But more than the technology, more than the speed and accesibility of music distribution, more than the proliferation of opinionated snobs, this era has been defined by the building blocks of great popular music: great songs and great albums. From the political ranting of Green Day's American Idiot to the heart-pounding brilliance of Girl Talk's Feed the Animals (just two of the perfect albums that didn't make the list...) music has pushed us to new appreciations of ourselves, our lives, our politics, our emotions.
This is my list of the best popular music recordings of the last ten years, the first ten years of my independent life. The years in which I met my wife, fell in love, lost my virginity, finished my formal education, embarked on a rewarding career, and established some semblance of self were constantly defined by what I was listening to. These songs and albums have followed me where I was going, but more importantly, they have showed me new ways to go. They will be with me for the rest of my life, and are, I think, some of the best and most important albums to have ever been released. If you haven't heard any one of these albums, please check them out:

1.Radiohead - Kid A(2001)/Amnesiac(2002)
2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot(2001)
3. Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of the Bewilderbeast(2000)
4. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning(2005)
5. The Arcade Fire - Funeral(2004)
6. The White Stripes - Elephant(2003)
7. Radiohead - In Rainbows(2007)
8. Beck - Sea Change(2002)
9. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago(2008)
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah(2006)
11. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots(2002)
12. Elliot Smith - Figure 8(2000)
13. Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker(2000)
14. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?(2007)
15. My Morning Jacket - Z(2005)

honorable mentions (this could go on forever...)
Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood(2006)
Animal Collective - Meriweather Post Pavillion(2009)
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther(2006)
YeahYeahYeah's - Fever to Tell(2003)
Soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?(2000)