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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nicsperiment's Top 18 Bands of the 00s

I've been playing with the idea of a best albums of the decade list, but thought that was played out, so here is my list of the best 18 musical acts of the decade (In my opinion). These bands (I feel) composed the best collective body of work throughout the decade and showed the most growth and diversity. I will also preface this by saying I am a rock fan, and other genres will suffer in this list by comparison. I'll count down this time to make things more suspenseful:

18. Thrice
Identity Crisis (2001)
The Illusion of Safety (2002)
The Artists in the Ambulance (2003)
Vheissu (2005)
The Alchemy Index Volumes I and II (2007)
The Alchemy Index Volumes III and IV (2008)
Beggars (2009)
Various EPs

Thrice has been pretty tireless since their birth at the beginning of the decade, and their musical growth can easily be charted album to album. At first a throwaway punk band, Thrice tightened their sound until they became good songwriters. At this point, they shifted gears entirely into a more experimental rock sound, vocalist Dustin Kensrue's voice maturing and gaining character as the band went along. Thrice ended the decade as a victim of it. Their most recent album, Beggars, was leaked months before the release date, changing the entire marketing plan behind the album as well as the release date itself. The album, however, is a joy, an experiment in bare bones rock, though it begs the question, Can Thrice go anywhere else after this?

17. The Arcade Fire
Funeral (2004)
Neon Bible (2007)

The Arcade Fire look like a bunch of street ruffians. They also sound like bunch of street ruffians. They aren't particularly great at their instruments, and at first glance, they don't really seem like they would be much of band. Somehow, they have released two of the most critically lauded albums of the decade. I think this is because: 1. They write great songs, and 2. They seem incredibly socially aware and rail against personal and communal issues that should be railed against in a way that sounds innocent without being naive.

16. TV 0n the Radio

OK Calculator (2002)
Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (2004)
Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)
Dear Science (2008)

I have to start this off by saying that while I love TV on the Radio, I am not sure if they have deserved some of the extreme accolades they have received. That said, they are a pretty awesome band, and any fan of rock, alternative, funk, jazz, free-jazz, punk, a capella, soul, electronic, swing, disco, blues, techno, new wave, or hip-hop music will find something to love. Maybe TV on the Radio does deserve the accolades they have received.

15. mewithoutYou
(A to B) Life (2002)
Catch for Us the Foxes (2004)
Brother, Sister (2006)
It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream!It's Alright (2009)

This is perhaps the most grudgingly added act on this list. mewithoutYou have in many ways set the trend for the decade. They began as a free-form, freak-out post-punk band, then followed up their debut with the beautiful Catch for Us the Foxes, which sounds like mid-80s U2 at their prettiest. Personally, I would have been overjoyed if mewithoutYou would have continued to follow this path, but their following two albums have brought us in an entirely new direction. The band may as well be called a folk act now, as they have hippied out on us, mellowing out to the extreme that the band that once sang about burning like torches now sounds like a campfire sing-a-long. Still, I can't deny their skill, charm, and versatility.

14. U2
All that You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
No Line on the Horizon (2009)

Though I can still say that U2 is my favorite band, the 00s came nowhere near to matching the quality of the band's 80s output. They began the decade in style with one of their best works, an album that truly needs to be heard, an exhale of the beautiful breath of the human experience. The follow up album sounded too calculated and disjointed, though, a definite step back. No Line on the Horizon was a big step forward in the right direction. It was marred only by the bonehead choice of the song Get on Your Boots as lead single. Honestly Boots could have been left off the otherwise excellent album in the first place. Let us hope that U2 takes the 10s in stride and accepts their place as lovable, aging troubadours and not wannabe-hip grandpas.

13. John Reuben
Are We the Yet? (2000)
Hindsight (2002)
Professional Rapper (2003)
The Boy vs the Cynic (2005)
Word of Mouth (2007)
Sex, Drugs, and Self-Control (2009)

Following John Reuben's rapping career this decade has been like watching a kid grow up. His train of throwaway fun de-railed by excellent artistic redirection Professional Rapper, Reuben became more serious with each album, music maturing along with lyrics. Reuben reached an artistic peak with 2007s Word of Mouth (which AllMusic accurately describes as an "unqualified triumph"). While Jay-Z lost relevancy every year, Eminem faded into obscurity, and Lil Wayne went insane, Reuben has quietly become the rapper with the most artistic credence, honestly speaking his mind, all the while honing the music backing him up into something more and more listenable.

12. Blindside
A Thought Crushed My Mind (2000)
Silence (2002)
About a Burning Fire (2004)
The Great Depression (2005)
The Black Rose EP (2007)

The kind of growth Blindside made in the 00s is the kind that makes a true fan giddy. Beginning the decade as a throat-shedding hardcore band, the group made a shockingly good left turn into the mainstream-rock world with Silence. The band used this as a jumping off point to About a Burning Fire, an album that flirted with jazz, techno, folk, yodeling!, and pretty much everything but cohesion. Miraculously, the band fused all this and more into perfection on their follow-up, The Great Depression, crafting arguably the best rock record of the decade. The Great Depression essentially sums up the Western world of the 00s, decrying a people that could easily be happy and bring happiness to others, but choose otherwise.

11. Portishead
Third (2008)

I know that in Portishead's 18 years together, they have only managed to release three albums. They have only released one album this decade. That being said, Portishead summed up the feeling and emotional palette of both decade's with the albums released therein, and if they only release one album in the 10s, I have no doubt they will create another timeless, yet seminal masterpiece.

10. The Mars Volta
De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
Frances the Mute (2005)
Amputechture (2006)
The Bedlam in Goliath (2008)
Octahedron (2009)
Various EPs

No mainstream band put out crazier music this decade than The Mars Volta. Despite their eccentricities, their long form frenetic noodling and extravagant musical chops almost always paid off the patient. Despite a signature sound, The Mars Volta proved they could find surprising diversity in their music. While their first album is a more focused blast of rock energy, their second creates possibly the best rock opera of the decade, their third explores some surprising, original textures, their fourth redefines what "relentless" means, and their fifth, most shocking of all, proves that a band like The Mars Volta can create something slow, quiet, and beautiful. Number Five also proves that the Mars Volta can write a song or two with lyrics that actually make sense.

Hagnesta Hill (English Version) (2000)
Vapen and Ammunition (2002)
Du & jag döden (2005)
The hjärta & smärta EP (2006)
Tillbaka till samtiden (2007)
Röd (2009)

Poor Kent. Kings of Sweden, they ventured to America late last century with dreams of similar success only to have their hopes dashed. No matter. Kent spent the majority of this decade crafting perfect pop-rock albums, weaving the acoustic and electronic like no one else, making dance and rock music seem like perfectly natural bedfellows. Even with zero understanding of the lyrics, the hooks are still catchy. Age-wise, the band seems they would be past their peak, but if they are able to keep up this continuous vigor, a worldwide breakout might still be on the horizon.

8. Deftones
White Pony (2000)
Deftones (2003)
B-Sides and Rarities (2005)
Saturday Night Wrist (2006)

Few bands followed the trajectory of the decade like the Deftones. The masters of moody, atmospheric hard rock began 2000 with unbridled creativity and optimism, creating White Pony, a masterpiece of the genre. As post-9/11 America slipped deeper into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the band put out the more uncertain, aggressive follow up album. Finally, mired in abject confusion and misery, slipping into despair, the Deftones released Saturday Night Wrist. In 2007 and 2008, the band regained their optimism and joy only to have their bass player fall into a coma. They now face the oncoming decade as most of the Western World, unsure of what just happened, even moreso of what's to come.

7. Drive By Truckers
Alabama Ass Whuppin (2000)
Southern Rock Opera (2002)
Decoration Day (2003)
The Dirty South (2004)
A Blessing and a Curse (2006)
Brighter than Creation's Dark (2008)
Live from Austin, Texas (2009)
The Fine Print (2009)

The Drive By Truckers exist in a strange place. Obsessed with the mythology of the South, and yet laser-focused on the complexities of the present, the Truckers took their chance to shine and ran with it. Eighty percent of the material they released this decade is absolutely classic, melding alt-country with their Skynyrdesque southern rock. Almost every moment, musically and lyrically sounds impressively thought out. Best of all, the lyrics follow Southern literature's reknowned standard of excellence, and this band shows no signs of stopping.

6. Sufjan Stevens
A Sun Came (2000)
Enjoy Your Rabbit (2001)
Michigan (2003)
Seven Swans (2004)
Illinois (2005)
The Avalanche (2006)
Songs for Christmas (2006)
The BQE (2009)

Sufjan Stevens vocals can be an obstacle. They are quiet and wispy and can unpleasantly tickle the first-time listener's ear. To accustomed ears, though, there is a grand journey of music to follow here. Sufjan started humbly with his first album, one that can be missed, then followed it up with one too weird for most. He suddenly began to hone his art on Michigan, tweaked the quiet parts on Seven Swans, then released Illinois, which is about the history of Illinois, and also everything else in the world. With a banjo as his lead instrument, Sufjan surrounds himself with the equivalent of a Vince Guaraldi orchestra, and then adds and subtracts when necessary. Here in late 2009, Sufjan seems absolutely uncertain what his place in music is, or if he should even keep making it. If not, I am sure some people will call the 00s the musical decade of Sufjan, and with good reason.

5. Jars of Clay
The Eleventh Hour (2002)
Furthermore: From the Studio, From the Stage (2003)
Who We Are Instead (2003)
Redemption Songs (2005)
Good Monsters (2006)
Christmas Songs (2007)
The Long Fall Back to Earth (2009)

Jars of Clay are unfortunate. Their self-titled debut (1995) is so well known, most people can't see past the song Flood. These people don't know what they are missing. From the start of this decade, Jars of Clay have shown more artistic skill and integrity than most other bands can dream of. Every album has had a specific artistic vision, from taking things at a European angle, to looking at their own music through the eyes of Johnny Cash. Despite starting out the decade on top, their musical potency has only increased, and with The Long Fall Back to Earth, they haven't crashed, only blasted even further into the stratosphere.

4. Sigur Ros
( ) (2002)
Takk... (2005)
Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008)
Various EPs

Sigur Ros started out the decade carrying quite a mystique. Some people thought they were aliens, some creatures from the future. They appeared to hold traditional rock instruments in their band photos, yet their 10 minutes or more grandiose opuses did not sound to be crafted from any instrument found on Earth. Sigur Ros, therefore, spent most of the decade making their sound human, Takk... an outburst of joy made up of much shorter songs than its predecessors, and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, an almost entirely organic outpouring of beautiful (mostly) three and a half minute songs...though, still, only aliens could make music this good.

3. The Appleseed Cast
Mare Vitalis (2000)
Low Level Owl, Volume 1 (2001)
Low Level Owl, Volume 2 (2001)
Lost Songs (2002)
Two Conversations (2003)
Peregrine (2006)
Sagarmatha (2009)

The Appleseed Cast is the most under appreciated band of the last decade. Despite being hailed as America's answer to Radiohead by several publications in 2001, including AllMusic, few ears perked up. The Radiohead comparison is actually a bit valid--while Appleseed Cast sounds little like Radiohead, their radical progression nearly mirrors them. After a remarkable but slightly derivative debut with 1998s End of the Ring Wars, The Appleseed Cast came back with Mare Vitalis, an album that sounded like nothing else--Missing the Sea Rock would perhaps be the best description. Appleseed Cast then returned to subvert all expectations with Low Level Owl Volumes 1 and 2, comparable to Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac. Where Radiohead subverted their sound with electronics, Appleseed Cast did the same with found sounds and tape loops--blowing leaves the equivalent of bloops and bleeps. The beautiful result earned them the Radiohead moniker, but to completely subvert expectations yet again, Appleseed Cast returned with of all things, a heartfelt rock album about a ruined romantic relationship. After shooting for the treetops, such earthly concerns seemed mundane, but the Cast pulled it off, and for a short time, won a following outside of their hardcore fans. They then released Peregrine, a culmination of every album they had ever done with subtle new elements, and this years mostly instrumental Sagarmatha, which proved that Appleseed Cast could still peel the roof off of skyscrapers. Sagarmatha is just another word for Mount Everest, after all. It is a shame that such beautiful music is falling on so few ears, but the Appleseed Cast keeps on trucking, and their fans will be with them until they stop.

2. Radiohead
Kid A (2000)
Amnesiac (2001)
Hail to the Thief (2003)
In Rainbows (2007)
Various Singles

Enough has been said about Radiohead's dominance over the rest of the pack. I will attempt to say something different, though obvious:
The reason Radiohead is so loved is that they have tapped into the basic notion in everyone's subconscious that something is wrong. They have taken this feeling and done variation on variation upon it. After taking regular old rock to its limits with this concept in the 90s, they blew it up with their (let's be honest) double album Kid A/Amnesiac by relegating their three guitar attack to nowhere and bringing cold, scary electronic noises to the front. Then they brought the guitars up to the level of the electronics on the underrated Hail to the Thief, an album anyone having a rough time in the mid 00s could identify with. Knowing they couldn't get away with doing the same thing again, In Rainbows was just Radiohead being a band, proving once and for all that stripped of bells and whistles, Radiohead is still incredible. They make experimental music for the masses, turning alienation into a populist notion. This is why many people love them. This is why a certain few hate them.
The certain few are wankers.

1. Project 86
Drawing Black Lines (2000)
Truthless Heroes (2002)
Songs to Burn Your Bridges By (2004)
...And the Rest Will Follow (2005)
Rival Factions (2007)
Picket Fence Cartel (2009)
Various EPs

Project 86 has truly pushed the envelope. Starting the decade with their still best-selling breakout hardcore album, Drawing Black Lines, Project quickly signed with major label Atlantic. Like many bands who made the majors jump early in the decade, Project quickly became disillusioned. Finding that complete artistic control was nearly impossible in their situation, Project attempted to conform to the label's demands by subverting them. Truthless Heroes became a veiled attack on indulgent American culture (including monster record labels) and led to the band being not only dropped by Atlantic, but also by many fans who didn't get the album. Project immediately roared back with the punk-influenced Songs to Burn Your Bridges By, releasing the album first independently, then with their previous label, indie Tooth and Nail. This righteous vitriol was followed by ... And the Rest Will Follow, an experimentally melodic foray which seemed to put Project's demons to rest. This cleared the way for Project 86's intimate masterpiece, 2007s Rival Factions, an album that escapes description. As opposed to most of their peers, Project 86 ended the decade more certain of what they stood for than ever. Picket Fence Cartel, a focused, heavy, gritty slab of rock proves that Project 86 not only knows exactly what they want to do musically, but that they can do it, as well.

And now, just because I said I wouldn't do it:
The Nicsperiment's 18 favorite albums of the 00s:
18. Furthermore-She and I (2002)
17. Bjork-Vespertine (2001)
16. (Tie) The Mars Volta-Frances the Mute (2005)
16. (Tie) John Reuben-Word of Mouth (2007)
15. Norma Jean-Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child (2002)
14. Zao-Self-Titled (2001)
13. Craig's Brother-Lost at Sea (2001)
12. Sigur Ros-( ) (2002)
11. The Dismemberment Plan-Change (2001)
10. Drive By Truckers-Brighter than Creation's Dark (2008)
9. Deftones-White Pony (2000)
8. U2-All that You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
7. Blindside-The Great Depression (2005)
6. Interpol-Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
5. Sufjan Stevens-Illinois (2005)
4. Portishead-Third (2008)
3. Project 86-Rival Factions (2007)
2. The Appleseed Cast-Low Level Owl (2001)
1. Radiohead-Kid A/Amnesiac (2000-2001)

NOTES: Project 86 was originally not in the top spot, but upon doing their write-up, I suddenly realized there was no way possible they were not the best band of the decade. Radiohead got bumped back to number two.
Also, I could not provide a mental value of difference between my appreciation of The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute and John Reuben's Word of Mouth. That is why they are tied for number sixteen.
This is the longest blog entry I have ever written.


Anonymous said...

Almost completely off-topic: I find it very interesting that I first commented on your blog about Project 86, and here they are your top band for the 00s. I was thinking, "Drawing Black Lines" wasn't in the 00s. I was in college when it came out and bought it!" Then I remembered that I graduated in '02 and I'm not really as old as I feel...

Anyway, I never recovered from Truthless Heroes, myself, but I still need to give them another try, I think. (I said that to you several years ago, too, so let's hope it doesn't take another few years for me to actually do something about that. ;) )

Nicholas said...

Yeah, you graduated two years before me, and I'm not old, so you're not old.
Maybe you should try "And the Rest Will Follow" first. It seems like a lot of people who were burnt by Truthless Heroes came back because of that one.