As the beginning of the turn of the new century winds down, it is common for us all to look ahead to the future with the coming new year. This year has been quite tumultuous in a lot of ways for me, but extremely productive and prosperous in other ways. I lost love, friends, family. I gained wisdom, accolades and more friends. I went to Europe twice this year, two highlights in their own right. I stopped and started performing again and the return to the stage was a great feat for me.
Now it’s time to keep on keeping on, bearing the burden of reminiscence, while treating every moment as a possible monumental memory. I thought I’d make a list for my favorite things so far for the year, but I’ll follow suit and do the whole decade, despite some of the lame art we received over the past 10 years.
Since music is my number one inspiration, I am going to start with my top ten albums of the decade. Of course it is hard to judge based on the fact that there are many artists out there that I listen to, but have only heard a few of their songs. I based my decision on albums I own in their entirety. Other criteria include those albums that I can listen to without skipping over a track or two, the cohesiveness of the album, and of course, the rock factor. Also, I’m biased just as much as anyone, so these are according to my personal taste.
Sadly, it’s not the 90s anymore. While browsing other top ten lists, I thought I’d never be able to put one together for the old aughts. Lately, I’ve been tremendously nostalgic for real rock and roll. I hardly go to live shows anymore because they wear me out in the worst kind of way. I miss that energy I used to get from going to a rock show. You never knew what was going to happen.
1. Is This It? (The Strokes) – 2001
Favorite Track: “Barely Legal”
“Can’t you see I’m trying?
I don’t even like it. I just lied to
Get to your apartment, now I’m staying
Here just for a while.
I can’t think ’cause I’m just way too tired”
Starts the first title track of the album and it’s all up and downhill from there. There’s a coy honesty that pervades not only the witty and irreverent lyrics, but the music as well. There’s nothing more I love than a well balanced band with a drummer that can keep a sustained beat but add a hearty dose of masculine roughness to the soft, funky bass line accompanied by staccato rhythm guitar matched with an a classic rock driven lead guitar. This is all highlighted and complimented by Julian’s raspy, sweet, vibrantly soft singing, moaning and screaming that woke up the sound of rock n’ roll that has been constantly resurrected in sporadic bouts by the industry’s elite. The debut album is where you have nothing to lose, and they managed to create something not short of perfection to start out the decade, putting New York back on the map in a big way when it needed it the most.
2. Fever to Tell (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) – 2003
Favorite Track: “Black Tongue”
Speaking of maps and New York, this might possibly be one of my favorite albums of all time. Despite the fact that I want to slit my wrists every time I hear a girl that wants to slit her wrists singing “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you…” there is something about this album that is pure magic. It is unique, it has a special quality and there is nothing like the sound that the band pulls out of their every song. And the energy is amazing. Not only was this renewed trend of less-is-more in a two piece band plus singer a remarkably ballsy statement noting that you can make a lot of noise with three people, the rock was also about the show. Rock show.
3. Get Thee Behind Me Satan (The White Stripes) – 2005
Favorite Track: “Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)”
I stumbled upon this band way too late and just in time. I would have like to have seen their earlier work as it was happening and it would have been splendid to see them live, but I didn’t have that opportunity. I will never forget the time I saw the video “Fell in Love With a Girl” and thought to myself, “Who the fuck is this?”. It was a total omg moment. It looked, sounded, tasted, felt like rock. I had to have it. I had to choose this album because it’s the only album I have listened to regularly. Any …Stripes fan will tell you they love their earlier stuff more and have a specific album they love, but this one was like my first true love. Particularly, the way they (or should I say Jack the brainchild) meld(s) the soul and the rhythm & blues together in such an auspicious way. Another band with only half the normal size of a band, they can affect you in a really really big way. This album speaks volumes about love and deception and fighting through temptation of sins. Brilliant title for a brilliant record.
4. Juliana’s Pony: Total System Failure (Juliana Hatfield) – 2000
Favorite Track: “Let’s Get Married”
This was a tough one. Anyone who knows me knows I have the utmost respect for Juliana Hatfield. Through all her inner-personal struggles, she has managed to dole out album after album for almost 20 years. It was hard choosing just one out of the 5 she released in the past decade (with another on the way in 2010), but I choose this one for a very specific reason: I saw it in concert before I heard it on a CD.
I was just starting to warm up to her softer side (I’m always a fan of more uptempo, harder songs) when all of a sudden she busts her heart open with this amazing non-tribute to love album where she talks about everything but love (but still manages to broach the subject just a lil’ bit). She set out to write an album sans any love songs and came up with this explosive, amazing rock record with a beautiful pace and story line and a couple of edgy ballads thrown in for good measure. My favorite track reads like a droning, heartfelt cry to a lover, starting with, “I think I love you, they think I’m desperate. Give me the ring. Come on let’s prove it…”. She proves that there’s nothing more less romantic than love in the way that it is commercialized and presented in our culture today, and I love that shit. I love it.
When I saw this show live (at the TLA) she played with her hair in her face the entire time. Usually she’s a little manic/depressive, but this time, she was totally distant, in some euphoric place in her head where only the music existed. The only audience interaction came when someone offered her a stuffed teddy bear and she said, “Thanks, my dog will love this,” and continued to rock our socks off.
5. Back to Black (Amy Winehouse) 2006
Favorite Track: “Me & Mr. Jones”
I was going to just leave the description as this: “Everyone loves a hot mess who can sang.” But I guess I can go into further detail. I mean, despite the fact that her name is a play on words to describe a place to store booze, the girl can sang. She too brought back something and reinvented it, this time that bluesy jazz that we didn’t know we missed so much until she thrust it back into the spotlight of the radio. Now everyone at the bar thinks they’re an alcoholic with major Daddy issues, and loves singing her epic song about rehab even though most of them will never even come close to that strife. She provided us with a refreshing amount of drama, yes, but if her previous, underrated album is any indication of her talent, we should just accept her for who she is (and isn’t).
6. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (PJ Harvey) 2000
Favorite Track: “Kamikaze”
This album was released around the time where I was still buying physical CDs. I remember going to the now closed Tower Records and picking up a copy, loving the “Sex and the City” overtones on the cover and I went right home and listened to the whole album, only stopping to repeat a track or two. I remember loving “This is Love” like nobody’s business and I still sing it rather loudly in the shower. Listening to “Kamikaze” always makes me hope that some day I will be in a band with a drummer who can dish out beats like that in that song. Even some of the slower songs thrill me with their complacent pain and beautiful construction. Often I hear this album in bars and it always makes for the perfect background music, event though it is remarkably distracting, in a heavily affecting way.
7. You Could Have It So Much Better (Franz Ferdinand) 2005
Favorite Track: “Walk Away”
I know some or all will disagree and say that their first self-entitled debut album is better than their second, but I think this one really was so much better. The speed and variety was much more acceptable, the songs were richer and thicker and more true to rock. I think their first album was a little timid, but they kind of eased into their style and of course, their niche market and made their songs a little sharper the second time around. This band is all about presentation and I know that they would rework every song if they had the chance to. They also managed to formulate and develop one of my favorite music videos of the decade that was made to my favorite track, “Walk Away” that was neck and neck with “Well That Was Easy” (a song way too close to my heart).
8. All Hands on the Bad One (Sleater-Kinney) 2000
Favorite Track: “You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun”
Less is more prevails again with a simple yet affective three piece girl band. There is nothing like some of the things I have heard from these girls. Despite the rocking stylings of the two frontwomen, it is really the drummer, Janet Weiss, who is the golden thread of this band. And she does it all in a skirt! Words cannot describe my love for this album. Sure, sometimes the wailing is a little grating, and it’s not the best music to wake up to, but it’s syncopated, mad brilliance, and I will forever be in debt to these girls for keeping the riot grrl tradition alive at a time where we needed it the most.
9. Revelling/Reckoning (Ani DiFranco) – 2001
Favorite Track: “School Night”
This woman can put out three albums in a year. I choose this one as one of my favorites because to me, this is the perfect demonstration of her duality. This two part album is perhaps the apotheosis of all of her works, a wondrous ride through the wild sides of her love lives and political slants. She shed the feminist lesbian power persona and settled in nicely to this soft, gut wrenching soliloquy, explaining herself to herself.
10. Super Extra Gravity (The Cardigans) – 2005
Favorite Track: “”Losing a Friend””
This is the most depressing album I have ever heard. I listen to a lot of depressing music, so that’s saying a lot. I don’t really believe in depressing music per se, you have to be depressed in the first place no matter how sad the content is. This was a big come-back album for one of the most underrated bands in the world. Unfortunately they have since split, but the wonderful combination of styles from all the members of this band (that I will love forever) really shines in this (seemingly ominous) last album.
Idlewild (Outkast) – 2006
Rock Steady (No Doubt) – 2001
Under Construction (Missy Elliot) – 2002
Desperate Youth/Blood Thirsty Babes (TV on the Radio) – 2004
Resolver (Veruca Salt) – 2000
Future Sex/Love Sounds (Justin Timberlake) – 2006
Third (Portishead) – 2008
Songs in A Minor (Alicia Keys) – 2001
B’Day (Beyoncé) – 2006
Extraordinary Machine (Fiona Apple) – 2005
Music (Madonna) – 2000