December 29, 2009

Some people look at the Fallout Boys and Brokencydes of the world and think ‘ugh, that’s my generation’. To those of you guilty of such thoughts, can it.

Molly Hatchet, Vanilla Ice, Chumbawumba, R.E.M. (yeah, I went there,) Cannibal Corpse, The Scorpions, The Rubettes. Any of these ring a bell? Painful, hollow bands will always exist so long as formula music yields Beverly Hills vistas and groupies. Not everybody knows this, but Fallout Boy used to be a mediocre metal band until they realized that their mockery of pop rock was insanely lucrative. Living a lie is pretty metal, as is bassist Pete Wentz’ intimidating demonstrated understanding of the industry beneath the marketed douchebag exterior.

Anyway, the point was that there is hope, and some wonderful things to remember this decade by…good bands and good albums have continued to emerge. Without further ado, a little time capsule — good things that happened in the 00’s:

Explanation mark.
1. Jaga Jazzist, The Books, and Tyondai Braxton
Electronic music makes its point with a bang.
The relationship of computers and music could get so ugly sometimes — inorganic, inflated, cheap, goofy. We gave it time, and these artists ensure it will pay off. The 00’s saw the decline of Richard D. James, who reminded the world that the computer didn’t need to make all the sounds it processed, tinkering endlessly to establish a plethora of new distortions and mechanical beats using anything he could get his hands on. Sampling allows a small band of talented individuals to produce any composition that’s on their minds, disregarding any technical challenge or expense their ambitions would have faced in the past. Sampling has, with these three groups, found its use for jazz, folk, and classical music. All genres are now [more] free to mingle.

An unbroken gaze.
2. Meshuggah
Rise of the Polymeter.
Meshuggah used to be nobodies in the world of metal, with repetitive drives and nonsensical jabberings about thought control. They looked back on jazz theory, had a few revelations and technical overhauls, and came back in the 00’s with I, Nothing, Catch 33, and ObZen to live up to their name (Yiddish for ‘insane’). The premise was simple: to use the old fishing metaphor, two hooks are better than one. Polymeter is what it sounds like, the simultaneous use of multiple meters, and along with the use of polyrhythm the result in Meshuggah’s work is truly mind boggling. Not content to be outdone for ‘heaviness’ by the largely disgraced Nu Metal genre, the guitarists bought eight-string guitars and dropped them a couple steps, squealing through tritones and always following their drummer’s masterful lead. This new sound caught the attention of fans and skeptics alike as a hypnotic percussive din that brought the world of metal quaking to its knees. The material is far from perfect, but it defies any other artist of any other style to imitate and improve upon their method. So far, few to no takers.

Hot as you've got.
3. At The Drive-In
Black sheep bite back.
At The Drive-In took the hand of punk aesthetics and twisted, hard. None of their trademarks should sound good: hyper, flailing vocals, dissonant harmonies, stream-of-consciousness rants…but it all makes a wonderful impression. The effort couldn’t be called innovative, but it proved influential. At the lip of the 00’s, the band fashioned their strongest album with a bullet, Relationship Of Command. It’s an acquired taste, but an invaluable lesson that many rockers hereafter have heeded, because every aspect of At The Drive-In’s sound is a tremendous risk that allowed them to soar above the conventions of pop punk peers. One more reminder that music needed the gritty eclecticism of Sonic Youth a lot more than it seemed to at the time.

Clowne towne.
4. Xiu Xiu
Pop returns to the shadows.
Pop music gets a bad rap for avoiding any form of independence or perspective. All Xiu Xiu had to do was the opposite. As far as ‘indie’ and hipsterisms go, the dynamic duo is the cream of the crop, building their own Dr. Seuss-like instruments from children’s toys and employing eastern styles of percussion and melody while investigating a brutal, cynical masochism that puts the whining of ’emo’ stereotypes to shame. As an ex-elementary teacher, frontman Jamie Stewart holds an exquisite talent for tapping into the tone and psyche of youth, and by holding this up to the events of his private life he most acutely expresses an otherwise nameless suffering. As the son of a California engineer and producer, he ensures that the instrumentation and compositions of Xiu Xiu match this tone with precision, plunging bubbling sing-alongs into wrenching atony. Experimental from the ground up, the band extends countless unique hooks from a hostile parallel universe.

A touch of class.
5. Outkast
No good thing ever dies.
Alright, Outkast may have been around since the mid-90’s, but it took until 2000 for them to explode into view with
Stankonia. Accessible and open-minded, the band blended funk, soul, pop, and hip-hop to crank out singles beloved by kids, parents, grandparents, domestic pets, and certain varieties of plantlife. Never the biggest band on earth, but always playing like it, the flair and short attention spans of their tracks produce something almost unthinkable by modern standards: mainstream music everyone can agree to enjoy.

 Sam Beam
6. Iron & Wine
Always more to say.
Iron & Wine may be a dorm standard by now, but Zach Braff’s endorsement doesn’t make Sam Beam any less of a songwriter. His voice is distinct from the greats, but the barrage of imagery always has a firm hold on the listener. The debut album,
Creek Drank The Cradle, is also far closer to genuine folk than whatever ‘alternative’ is — one man alone in a room with his thoughts — but Beam displays excellence in storytelling above all things.

Who can't find me?
7. MF Doom
Feasting on scraps.
Daniel Dumille is a face in his crowd, but the mask makes him the perfect subject. His theory: anybody can rap. Dumille has constructed his image by hopping into the shoes of anybody; a career made of side projects, cameos, and elevator music confirms him as hip-hop’s Frankenstein monster. Even the pied but logical progression of his rhymes make his writing seem like it’s been exhumed from beneath the concrete. His big break? Late night cartoons. Dumille is an after-hours sort of performer who doesn’t want to get found or be figured out, relying on cultural madness to have a method, and every critical and commercial success proves he’s not alone.

We'll make something out of them.
8. The White Stripes
We’ll make something out of ’em.
Ridiculously plain yet incomparably bizarre and inventive, The White Stripes are a hard slap in the face concerning the artistic mind and its inner workings. It’s all in the arrangement. Jack White has been so overrated as a guitarist that people seem to forget what a mastermind he is as a lyricist and sloganeer. He and his ex-wife have made six critically acclaimed albums with little more than power chords and a cymbal because of his feverish commitment to analyzing what’s right under everyone’s nose. The band’s work will find use for years to come more as a riddle and an icon than music, the product of absolutely subtle, absolutely simple songcraft that practically screams ‘Dylan just ain’t dead.’

Come on up to the house.
9. Bob Dylan and Tom Waits
Golden years.
Oh, that’s right. They’re still alive. They’re still great. They can make you feel like their best work is still ahead of them. While we’re at it, let’s not forget Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Rufus Wainright, and Beck.

Your life here.
The internet. It holds the names, the histories, and the music of almost every band you’ll ever hear of. The computer has made it easier than ever to get both good and bad exposure. I know my library would be a quarter of the size it is if it weren’t for Wikipedia, Pandora, and the HUB.

Hope you have all appreciated the ups and downs of this crazy decade, and are ready for another. Once more with feeling…