A friend asked me a couple days ago if I thought that the overall quality of popular music had declined in the past twenty or thirty years. I told him “No” because I don’t think it has. Although I know plenty of boomers my age who lament that it’s all been downhill since Led Zeppelin stopped releasing album titles with Roman numerals, this guy is not one of them, and he stays fairly current on popular musical trends and innovations. But he did start me thinking. Are there as many great albums being released now as there were during, say, the supposedly halcyon days of the 1960s (funny how everybody forgets Herman’s Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers)? And I don’t know the answer to that question. Part of the dilemma is that hindsight is a great teacher, and artists who were virtually ignored when their music was initially released (e.g., Nick Drake) are now justly recognized as the innovators they were. So it’s entirely possible that some obscure band in Vancouver or Omaha will be heralded as musical geniuses in 2030.
But I certainly believe that great music is being made these days. You have to dig a little deeper for it than you did thirty years ago, when you could actually hear it on the radio in most major American cities. That’s no longer the case. But there are ways to find it. Think Paste Magazine. Paste is your friend.
For what it’s worth, these are, in my opinion, the 5-star albums that have been released since 2000:
Radiohead – Kid A
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts on the Great Highway
Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
The Arcade Fire – Funeral
Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of this Country
Drive-by Truckers – Southern Rock Opera
Brad Mehldau -- Places
Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinoise!
Bob Dylan – Love and Theft
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
Konono No. 1 – Congotronics
Kate Rusby – Underneath the Stars
That’s my list. What’s yours?