Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 40-21

From breathtaking reformulations of shoegaze to British soul revival, this batch of stellar recordings from the 2000s is an eclectic one.

 
Artist: Bright Eyes

Album: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Label: Saddle Creek

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/brighteyes_imwideawakeitsmorning_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 40

Display Width: 200

Bright Eyes
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Released in 2005 alongside the stylistically opposed Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning features ten brilliantly crafted songs about frustrating love, the struggle for identity, and the youthful uncertainty that accompanies the hazy landscape of post-collegiate life. Like an updated version of Dylan's Chronicles, it's Conor Oberst's New York story, snippets of recollection detailing various madcap adventures, boozy train rides, and leery temptations beckoning around each and every street and avenue. Musically, it's a sweetly arranged folk album, running the spectrum from arrestingly earnest near-lullabies ("Lua", "First Day of My Life") to shuffling country ditties ("Train Under Water", "Another Travelin' Song") to combatively cranky and politically charged pleas ("Road to Joy", which advises that "if you're asked to fight a war that's over nothing/It's best to be on the side that's gonna win"). Oberst has never before nor since sounded as confident and assured of himself and the freewheeling abandon of his musical accomplices backs up the self-assured vibe. The album remains a fascinating document of mid-20s life, where fear and hesitation often stood in the way of personal growth and how sometimes you could be your own worst enemy. Jeff Strowe

 
Artist: Alcest

Album: Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde

Label: Prophecy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/alcest_souvenirsdunautremonde_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 39

Display Width: 200

Alcest
Souvenirs d'un autre monde

By the mid-'00s, black metal was already flirting with the sounds of early '90s shoegaze, with artists starting to notice a similarity in the hypnotic, atmospheric side of that most extreme of metal sounds and the hazy, innovative sounds of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive. Interestingly enough, the most significant breakthrough in this budding marriage between the two styles was made by a French musician in one of the happiest accidents imaginable.

Multi-instrumentalist Stèphane Paut, working under the black metal nom de plume "Neige", in an effort to forego the negativity of his past projects decided to try to create the musical equivalent of an otherworldly vision he'd had as a child, the only way he know how, by approaching the black metal sound through innocent, optimistic eyes rather than nihilism and misanthropy. He had no clue what shoegaze was, had never heard any such bands, but Neige wound up creating an album of stunning pastoral beauty, his harsh, distorted guitars offset by dreamy melodies that rival such classics as "When the Sun Hits" and "Vapour Trail". Its sheer positivity was unprecedented in metal music, its power -- metal's most crucial characteristic -- coming from the heart instead of the gut, yielding a landmark album in what would subsequently be deemed the "metalgaze" movement. Adrien Begrand

 
Artist: Ghostface Killah

Album: Fishscale

Label: Def Jam

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/g/ghostfacekillah_fishscale_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 38

Display Width: 200

Ghostface Killah
Fishscale

Ghostface Killah distanced himself from his Wu brethren on his solo records by having the most carefully honed pop sensibility. Raekwon is smooth, and post-Tical Method Man aimed as populism, but Ghostface always seemed away of pop's (and hip-hop's) history. Fishscale, his finest and most expansive album, seeks to defend that and other sorts of histories. As always, Killah is all irrepressible id, as full of anger as he is anguish, as capable of bragging as he is gritting his teeth or morning. Fishscale, with its tales of drugs and crime gone bad mixed with Ghostface's confusion over the state of hip-hop in 2006, is a statement of principles from a voice committed to hip-hop as a culture. He covers this declaration in two fascinating ways. The first is his untouchable wordplay on the record, from the ethereal redemption tale of "Underwater" to the business-like detail of "Kilo" to the heartbroken anger of "Back Like That", Ghostface is a genius with detail on this record, but he also makes clear what his partner Raekwon makes impressionistic.

But more than his choice of detail, it's the contradictions in the record that prove its most brilliant asset. "Back Like That" objectifies a woman, but does it through an illogic that criticizes types of hip-hop masculinity rather than relying on them. "Big Girl" encourages young women to avoid the pit fall of drugs and partying, while Ghostface himself supplies (here and all over Fishscale) the drugs they like. And then there's the breathless "Shakey Dog", the kind of long and perfect rap moment that really puts, say, Kendrick Lamar's "Control" in perspective, which is as much a braggadocio crime story as it is a perfect encapsulation of in-the-moment fear most hip-hop avoids talking about. Ghostface's tales on Fishscale are complex and all over the map, but a murderer's row of producers -- from MF Doom to Pete Rock to J Dilla -- give these tracks roots in the soul and hip-hop that came before. It's own dedication to the classics, and its ability to turn a careful, critical eye inward, is what makes Fishscale a classic in its own right. Matt Fiander

 
Artist: The Fiery Furnaces

Album: Blueberry Boat

Label: Rough Trade

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/thefieryfurnaces_blueberryboat_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 37

Display Width: 200

The Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat

It's not often that an album comes along that's as completely overstuffed, both lyrically and musically, as the Fiery Furnaces' polarizing 2004 breakthrough Blueberry Boat. Sibling bandmates Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger had demonstrated plenty of restless creativity on the previous year's Gallowsbird's Bark, but that album at least kept one foot firmly planted in garage / indie-rock tradition -- enough so that the listening public largely knew how to approach it. The same can't be said for Blueberry Boat, where the songs ballooned into long-winded adventure stories and the guitars gave way to a jumbled mass of keyboards, electronics, and odd sounds. With its convoluted song structures and off-the-wall arrangements, the album attracted plenty of criticism, including one NME review that memorably dismissed the work as "toe-curlingly unlistenable". But for listeners with the patience to wade through it all, the album revealed new treasures with each play, as melodies bubbled to the surface and recurring themes came together in a way that rewarded careful study of the lyric sheet. Perhaps most importantly, Eleanor's vocals lent the group's tales just the right amount of warmth, making even the most bizarre plot events (keeping pirates away from precious blueberry cargo, discovering a runaway dog preaching at a church service, and so on) strangely relatable. A celebration of wide-eyed imagination, childhood nostalgia, and unchecked musical appetites, Blueberry Boat stands as one of the decade's most ambitious and original pop statements. Mike Noren

 
Artist: Green Day

Album: American Idiot

Label: Reprise

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/american_idiot.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 36

Display Width: 200

Green Day
American Idiot

Who would've ever guessed that the most successful politically-charged album of the '00s -- a rock opera, no less -- would be authored by the puerile punks best known for an album named Dookie? American Idiot heralded the second coming of a thoroughly revitalized Green Day after some commercial lean times, and the record's critical accolades and gangbuster sales cemented the trio, once seemingly on the verge of being commemorated by music historians as little more than lucky chancers in spite of their authorship of roughly a dozen rock radio staples, as an institution. The funny thing is, Green Day hadn't changed all that much in the decade since "Longview" vaulted the group to stardom. Really, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool are as bratty, restless, and irreverent as they had ever been on American Idiot (doubters need only listen to Cool's "Rock and Roll Girlfriend" segment of the "Homecoming" suite for proof).

The key difference is that on this full-length the members' bad attitude and the devil-may-care spirit found righteous inspiration in their outrage at the state of Bush-led America circa 2004, and that sense-of-purpose galvanized the band into making bold statements and tackling ambitious musical detours that in the end proved thoroughly rewarding. Running the gamut from the speedy punk blasts of the title track and "St. Jimmy" to the multi-movement centerpieces "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming", to the weepy stadium-ready ballads "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends", American Idiot is as effective a manifesto of the band's musical capabilities as it is its political leanings -- it's no wonder that Green Day has spent the following decade of its career trying to match it. AJ Ramirez

Next Page

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image