Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the Decade: Music (3-1)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 5:52 PM

And so it finally ends. Remind me to choose a smaller number the next time a decade ends. Coming up in a few weeks: The Decade in Film, a collective affair with a very different format.


Album: "Love and Theft" — Bob Dylan (Columbia, 2001)
This album has aged so well and I thought it was classic pretty much immediately. A Top 5 Dylan album for me. From my 2001 year-end piece:

I've listened to "Love And Theft" more in the last four months than I've listened to the supposedly sacred Time Out of Mind in the last four years. Casually profound and profoundly casual, this startling return to form reminds us that the key to Dylan's greatness has always lain less in the weighty pronouncements that got him dubbed the "Voice of a Generation" than in the warm, open tone of his music, the freeness of his vocals, and the consistent humor and wit of his lyrics. It is (Oh no! Here it comes!) his best record since Blood On the Tracks.

Song Sample: "Summer Days"

Single: "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" — Jay-Z (2001)
The MC of the decade at his apex, each verse digging a little deeper than the one before, and a new producer (Kanye West) showing off.


Album: Arular — M.I.A. (XL, 2005)
The springy exuberance of the debut gets the edge over the sticky depth of the follow-up. Might be Artist of the Decade off just two albums. From my 2005 year-end piece:

It was absolutely no surprise to see this Sri Lankan/British import fail to cross over into the American mainstream. No matter: Fusing Jamaican dancehall, Brazilian baille funk, American hip-hop, and British techno and grime into something as spellbindingly new as it is utterly familiar, this homemade polyglot pop is an instant dance party. Twentysomething Maya Arulpragasm may not have completely sorted out her conflicted feelings — terrorist or freedom fighter? — about her estranged Tamil Tiger father, but in the crossfire of global pop genres, political bullhorn lyrics, lovely double-dutch melodies, and utter confusion, she fashioned something more important: the year's most undeniably crucial album.

Song Sample: "Pull Up the People"

Single: "Ms. Jackson" — Outkast (2000)


Separation Sunday — The Hold Steady (Frenchkiss, 2005)
Once I settled on a Top 5, putting them in order — and deciding on a #1 — was tough. Truthfully, Separation Sunday climbed to the top mostly through process of elimination. Stankonia is too long and demands too much stamina for the top spot. The College Dropout was eliminated for its skits. "Love & Theft" might deserve to be here, but I couldn't bring myself to tap a BOB DYLAN ALBUM as the best record of the aughts. And having settled on my top single, I didn't want to double-dip on one artist at the top. And so it's Separation Sunday, a more personal pick than anything in the Top 10, much less top 5, but it's probably the album I've listened to most — and most obsessively — over the past decade. It's also a perfect album. What I wrote in 2005:

This intricate concept album from a Brooklyn guitar band mostly illuminates a world of its own creation. While his comrades are busy cribbing classic-rock guitar and piano riffs, songwriter supreme Craig Finn spins a chronologically complex, intellectually addictive, and emotionally engrossing tale about a Catholic high school girl sucked down a drug-culture rabbit hole and onto a 16-year, cross-country journey back to salvation, with Sopranos-worthy subplots ("Charlemagne in Sweatpants") along the way. Mixing up their mythologies and pushing them out through p.a. systems, the Hold Steady concoct a twisty good-girl-gone-bad narrative that plays like a rock-and-religion version of Mulholland Dr., albeit with a much happier ending.

Song Sample: "Stevie Nixed"

Single: "Paper Planes" — M.I.A. (2007)
A Song of the Decade candidate for at least a year before it went worldwide via a movie trailer, an Oscar winner, and a hip-hop posse cut. Official video here


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