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2000s: A Musical Retrospective in List Form

January 1, 2010

2010 is now upon us and while it may be a day later than I had originally intended I have made a personal “top ten albums of the 00s” list (like any good little blogger would). Fair warning, I am using “top ten” loosely here as the albums featured here are simply albums that have meant a lot for me and have inspired me in whatever ways they have. The list is in alphabetical order by artist since there is no emphasis on one album above another album.

Brian Wilson – SMiLE (September 2004)

Brian Wilson said “Let there be SMiLE” and it is good. If there was ever a better example of something being worth the wait, it’d have to be this album. 37 years after originally trying to bring SMiLE to life (which resulted in The Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile) Brian Wilson gives us his vision for what SMiLE was supposed to be, that is if you believe that the Wilson of 1967 would have made the same artistic choices as the Wilson of 2004. The what-ifs and the could-have-beens that surround this album have been talked about in length and I by no means would say I have the knowledge or time to discuss them in this list. What I can say is that this album is incredible. The phrase “teenage symphony to God” gets thrown around a lot in discussions of SMiLE but I like to favor the idea that the album is straight up Americana for the modern age. Therein lies SMiLE‘s charm though. It can be and has been interpreted thousands of different ways.

Calle 13 – Calle 13 (November 2005)

It’d be too easy to lump Calle 13 in with the rest of reggaetoneros they are associated with. The duo from Puerto Rico bring organic instrumentation and a political edge that often times is left by the wayside by their peers. That’s not to say that Calle 13 takes itself too seriously. Throughout the album, clever double entendres bounce and ride over head-bob inducing beats. For a group that gets tagged reggaeton, there is very little of the genre’s signature rhythm, dem bow, on the record. In its place is often a mix of rhythms from different countries. This record is a good example of what I look for in music and that is to blur the lines of established genres. Too reggaeton for hip-hop but too hip-hop for reggaeton, Calle 13 shows that at the heart of both it’s about the beat and the voice.

Daft Punk – Discovery (March 2001)

C-3PO never got down like this. Daft Punk have left their indelible robotic mark on pop history and while a certain Mr. West may have helped bring them into the public consciousness, the French duo’s influence cemented itself through their own works. The follow up to their debut, Homework, Discovery sees the group wholly embracing their pop sensibilities. The opening track, “One More Time”, is catchy danceable auto-tune cheesiness at it’s best. “Aerodynamic” is Daft Punk playfully blending elements into a track that keeps on moving forward. “Voyager”‘s twinkling harp intro almost purposely sets up the listener to not expect the groovy bass line that kicks in with the beat. “Something About Us” is easily my favorite track off this album. It is mellow but funky and yet it retains its “electronicness” by using vocoded vocals. Lyrically it may not be the deepest of songs but there is a sweetness in it’s simple phrasing. The album overall has a good variety of songs, especially when you compare it to Daft Punk’s next album, Human After All. Though a lot has been made of Daft Punk’s use of samples, I don’t find that it hurts my opinion of this album much, after all good songs are good songs.

Danger DOOM – The Mouse and the Mask (October 2005)

The past decade has been filled with good music by both members of Danger DOOM and this album just happens to be the one that made it onto my list. Equal parts an awesome hip-hop collab as well as a plug for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, The Mouse and the Mask features rapper DOOM and producer Danger Mouse’s beats. Prior to this year I was not that into the Adult Swim lineup and I think my growing interest in it is what made this record seem so good. For those who aren’t, I think this record can still hold its own. Danger Mouse’s beats easily stand on their own as great cuts and DOOM’s rapping is awesome as always. Interspersed throughout the album are Adult Swim characters interacting with each other and on occasion with Danger Mouse and DOOM. Master Shake of Aqua Team Hunger Force appears most frequently providing funny moments on an already solid record.

Hazel Nuts Chocolate – Bewitched! (July 2004)

Hazel Nuts Chocolate makes probably some of the best cutest music ever. As I understand it, the main force behind Hazel Nuts Chocolate is vocalist/producer Yuppa though for some reason I recall Bewitched! featuring other members. Whoever did contribute to this album deserves some credit because its a good one. Though the lyrics are all in Japanese, the music’s cuteness gets across just fine. What makes the album one of my favorites is HNC’s willingness to use toy keyboards and other weird noisemakers to make super catchy music. One of my favorite moments on the album is the last track, ヘーゼルナッツチョコレートのテーマ (“Hazel Nuts Chocolate Theme”), wherein we can hear Yuppa playing guitar while trying to demo the theme song. The track fades in at about 3 minutes at the end of some other demo and then cuts to a series of bad starts before Yuppa manages to get through the song. It’s always interesting for me to see how artists go about creating and to put the lo-fi demo with flaws and all on the album is a great way to end the otherwise carefully produced album.

Mac Donald Duck Eclair – The Genesis Songbook (November 2005)

Think French ye-ye meets Atari Teenage Riot in the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya. Mac Donald Duck Eclair is the kind of band you don’t see around much, that is, unique AND good. The Genesis Songbook takes their frantic picopop sound in a more focused direction that still has that punk-like noisy randomness from their previous efforts. Somber at times, the album showcases the group’s ability to go beyond gabba inflected pop with songs like “Talk” and “Le Diable”. It is disheartening that the band has gone on hiatus for a bit and even more so that their official website seems to have gone offline. Assuming they haven’t broken up, I eagerly await another album or single or some comp appearance from this great band.

The Mars Volta – De-loused in the Comatorium (June 2003)

De-loused may be the closest The Mars Volta will ever come to a pop record. Compared to their subsequent releases, De-loused takes nowhere near as many risks but that says more about the direction The Mars Volta were heading in than it does about their debut album. At the behest of their producer, Rick Rubin, the band supposedly toned down the original intent for the songs on De-loused. All this however did not stop De-loused from giving rock and roll the kick in the pants it needed.

MIA – Arular (March 2005)

The first MIA song I ever heard was “Sunshowers” accompanied by it’s music video. What immediately struck me about it was how different it sounded. I wasn’t sure where to place it in my head. It sounded raw and playful but the lyrics were oddly dark. Intrigued I looked up who it was who made whatever it was I just heard. This album ended up being in constant rotation on my mp3 player. Arular, much more than MIA’s second album Kala, has an unpolished sound that doesn’t detract from the production (if anything it adds to it) and reinforces the gritty nature of most of the lyrics. In a time when a lot of music is too self-conscious I appreciate how the beats just seem to give themselves up to the groove of the track instead of being forced to play the role of time keeper or be an ornament in the house of melody and harmony.

Perfume – Game (April 2008)

What more could I ask of a musical act? Cute girls + robotic dancing + amazingly catchy techno pop helped make Perfume not only one of my favorite electronic groups but of hundreds(maybe thousands?) of people with their ears to Japan. The three girl group comprised of Ayaka Nishiwaki, known as A-chan, Yuka Kashino, nicknamed Kashiyuka, and Ayano Omoto, who goes by Nocchi, are produced by Yasutaka Nakata of electro-pop duo Capsule. Game definitely offers some of Nakata’s best pop compositions including singles “Polyrhythm”, “Baby Crusing Love”, “Secret Secret”, and “Chocolate Disco”. The album managed to displace some very crappy Jpop on the Oricon charts (Japanese equivalent to the Billboard chart) and became one of only two techno pop albums to hit #1 in Japan joining Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Naughty Boys. The album’s influence, along with the group’s image as a pop group of the future, can be seen in the countless “Perfume-clones” and sound-alikes that have cropped up, some better than others but never equal to. Without fanboying over the group too much I can say that the album is great with its only flaw maybe being it’s repetitiveness.

The Protomen – The Protomen (September 2005)

I’m a big fan of the 8-bit Megaman games and its seems that so are The Protomen. Their self-titled debut is the first act of an operatic dystopian version of the Megaman mythos baring little resemblance to it. I’m a sucker for a good concept album and this one definitely ranks up there for me. It’s got a clever subject, dramatic storytelling and of course great music. Hints at the 8-bit origins of the story abound, from the whirling synthesizers to the whistling intro of “Unrest in the House of Light.” The Protomen seem to revel in the over the top epicness of their music. Whole parts of songs are dedicated to dialogue between characters in their story with the most prominent being in “The Sons of Fate” where the Megaman character and the newly reconstructed Protoman debate whether humanity is worth saving at all. If the concept doesn’t grab you then the band’s sound will. Gritty distorted guitars gallop through the songs “Vegeance” and “The Will of One” while megaphone vocals backed by a choir seem to blend in and out of fuzzy keyboards in “The Sons of Fate.” What it all adds up to is a very big noisy wall of epic that sends chills up your spine.

Honorary Notables:

Bjork – Vespertine (2001) – Ethereal washes of sound sweep over you in one of my favorite Bjork releases.

Capsule – MORE! MORE! MORE! (2008) – Nakata Yasutaka drops the Perfume girls for his long time vocalist Toshiko Koshijima and electro-pop with a harder edge.

Justice – † (2007) – The album that launched a thousand blog posts and brought the Ed Banger crew to the forefront of dance music.

Maria Mena – Apparently Unaffected (2005) – Probably one of my favorite contemporary lyricist.

UVERworld – Proglution (2008) – Epic electronic pop rock.

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