PopMatters’ coverage of the 2000s’ best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electro-R&B.
After making a strong impression with the acclaimed 2003 album Deep Cuts and bolstered by the success of the single “Heartbeats”, the enigmatic brother-sister duo of Karin and Olof Dreijer returned with a 2006 follow-up that stripped the pair’s already minimalist electronic music down to near-skeletal form. In fact, Silent Shout was as much a musical evocation of the near-perpetual darkness of Swedish winter as the shimmering Deep Cuts resembled the brightness of summer, a decidedly icy, gothic affair that combined clattering, nervous rhythms, severe synth stabs, and unsettling, pitch-shifted vocals into a surreal, unforgettable, wildly original experience.
True of any music coming far removed from one particular “scene”, Silent Shout bears resemblances to established artists here and there, but more than anything it was the twisted product of the siblings’ weird little world. There are moments of striking, stark beauty (the Umbrellas of Cherbourg-influenced “Marble House”) and haunting ambience (“Still Light”), while such tracks as “Like a Pen”, “We Share Our Mother’s Health”, and the throttling “Neverland” cast a pall over the proceedings while luring listeners with spectacular hooks. Adrien Begrand
Van Lear Rose
While the current trend of legendary artist/younger, worshipful producer team-ups can be traced back 20 years to Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin’s American Recordings sessions, the subgenre’s apotheosis is, without a doubt, Loretta Lynn and Jack White’s unimpeachable 2004 offering, Van Lear Rose, the decade’s best country album by a—uh, country mile. White gave the 72-year-old icon Lynn the opportunity for a near-perfect victory lap, simply by reminding everyone what made her so great in the first place: she’s fun (“Portland, Oregon”), committed to family (the campfire rave-up “This Old House”; the soaring title track), and hell on wheels if you mess with her (“Family Tree’s” evisceration of the homewrecker who’s “burning down our family tree”; gleefully hunting down a delinquent husband on “Mrs. Leroy Brown”). Lynn and White are having a blast making music together, and that joy shines through on every track.
Plenty of other fine albums have sprung from the fertile collaborative ground sown by Van Lear Rose—Mavis Staples/Jeff Tweedy’s One True Vine, Dr. John/Dan Auerbach’s Locked Down, Wanda Jackson/Jack White’s The Party Ain’t Over —but nothing will match the enduring spirit of the best album that either Loretta Lynn or Jack White have made. Steve Haag
Speakerboxx/The Love Below
“Ready for action / Nip it in the bud / We never relaxin’ / OutKast is everlastin’.” Having already attained hip-hop immortality with the ambitious Stankonia in 2000, OutKast wasn’t about to limit its horizons for its next LP. The plus-size Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was the next logical step for the duo, with Big Boi and Andre 3000 each allotted a full disc to themselves to indulge their freakiest musical fantasies. Both men were certainly game: even though each disc has a clearly defined character (Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is a rambunctious party record, while Dre’s The Love Below is a humorous, honest examination of the artist’s love life), the Atlanta rappers call upon down-and-dirty rap, bebop jazz, Prince-inspired guitar freakouts, Earth, Wind & Fire-indebted soul, British Invasion-style pop, and everything else that could add color to their already-heady sound over the course of the set’s sprawling tracklist. Heralded by the one-two punch of chart-topping singles “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move”, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was the crowning glory of OutKast’s decade-long ascent, and though Big Boi and Dre’s output rate as a duo dropped sharply thereafter, that album assured their legacy would be secure. AJ Ramirez
Up in Flames
In some alternative universe, the summer of love never stopped, the spiritual energy was so overwhelming that it ended the Vietnam War and prevented 9/11, and the music kept growing and evolving with every passing technology and every creative breakthrough. Up in Flames is a transmission from that universe, an effervescent psychedelic portal to a reality so gorgeous and transformative that you can only access it through a recording. Mathematician Dan Snaith, first known by Manitoba and then, for legal purposes, as Caribou, cracked the formula to open the stargate, producing a very un-math-like rock album in the process. Up in Flames is a naughts record fluent in harmonics, but unindebted to any Beach Boys release. It’s an album that’s pastoral and green, but awash in syntheziser. It’s an LP that floats in elegant phrases and also double-drums a holy rupture of the cosmos. It’s an experiment in dynamics that is simultaneously immense and intimate, forecasting many naughts trends from the apocalyptics of M83 to the preciousness of xylophone twee and the indie obsession with innocence, all while surpassing the understudies and sounding nothing like them. On paper, you could make the case that it’s spiritual jazz gone electronic psych-pop, but it’s so much more of its signifiers. Up in Flames is not best measured by its impact or its significance, but by its singularity, a standalone entity that feels unlike anything else in this consciousness, a rarity in an age of recreational style curation. Snaith-Ra kept the quality levels high throughout his career, but was never as vital as this again. Timh Gabriele
Chutes Too Narrow
Critically lauded for their 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World, the Shins upped the ante with 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow. Properly produced, Chutes Too Narrow took the band’s insouciant bedroom rock to a level of broader mainstream appeal. Released in a nebulous musical period with no distinct style, the Shins quickly became the indie standard bearers amongst their peers, including the nascent the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket and the Postal Service.
At its heart, Chutes Too Narrow is a pop album. Recalling ‘60s-era acts, the Shins mixed in chamber pop (“Saint Simon”) and country (“Gone for Good”) with singer James Mercer’s buoyant melodies and the band’s vocal harmonies. Post-release, the album and the band were given a major boost after Oh, Inverted World‘s “New Slang” was anointed a song that “will change your life” in the independent film Garden State. Sales of the band’s first two albums more than doubled, resulting in mainstream attention. A springboard to future success, Chutes Too Narrow‘s 2007 follow-up, Wincing the Night Away debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and earned the band a Grammy nomination.
Formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but having relocated to Portland, Oregon, prior to recording Chutes Too Narrow, the Shins melodic approach no doubt informed its Sub Pop label brethren, Band of Horses, as well as countless other alt-folk acts now so prevalent. No longer the same band after Mercer dismissed the group following Wincing the Night Away, his time is split between side project Broken Bells (with Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton) and the Shins, last releasing Port of Morrow in 2012. Despite its follow up’s accolades and sales figures, Chutes Too Narrow remains the band’s greatest artistic achievement, owing as much to the songs as its exposure following Garden State. Eric Risch
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