Tuesday, May 15, 2007

5-Star Albums from the New Millenium

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?


John McCollum said...

The Sun Kil Moon album is fantastic.

mg said...

your list made me feel old.

i remember when Y2K was all anyone was talking about. it's hard to believe it's been 7 years already since then...

...it feels like yesterday.

jackscrow said...

Sorry to break it to you like this, but Paste is just a good acquaintance.

But No Depression is my bestest buddy.

Anonymous said...

here are my absolutely unimpeachable picks so far for the new millennium (2003 is my year):

The Arcade Fire - Funeral
The Books - Lost and Safe
Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
Stephen Malkmus (and the Jicks) - Pig Lib
The New Pornographers - Electric Version
Joanna Newsom - Ys
Radiohead - Kid A
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
South San Gabriel - The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation's Through
Spoon - Gimme Fiction
Sufjan Stevens - Come on! Feel the Illinoise!
Brian Wilson - Smile
The Wrens - The Meadowlands

and let me take a risk and add:

Panda Bear - Person Pitch


Brian Estabrook said...

Here are the top albums from that time period that I have personally experienced:

Over the Rhine: Ohio, Drunkard's Prayer
Radiohead: Kid A, Hail to the Thief
Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker
Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
Sigur Ros: ( )
Tom Waits: Orphans
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Bob Dylan: Love & Theft, Modern Times
Pedro the Lion: Control
Iron & Wine: Our Endless Numbered Days

e said...

I have to say that Andy's list looks the best to me, with the exception of that Dylan album (I really feel like he lost his touch after the '95 MTV unplugged album), although I concur with JNF's Panda Bear, Destroyer, Spoon, and Wrens picks.

I'm surprised no one listed:

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--Wilco
Twin Cinema--New Pornographers
The Glow pt. 2--The Microphones
Elephant--The White Stripes
Yoshimi--The Flaming Lips
The Crane Wife--The Decemberists
anything by TV on the Radio or Beirut....

I'm not sure these albums would "bump" anything from the other lists, but I think all of these will go down for one reason or another as "historic" albums. And for that matter, so will "Give up" by the Postal Service and Moby's "18". Even if they aren't that good....

mommy zabs said...

totally off the subject... but...
I read this interesting blog called problogger and he is a guy that runs b2media.... he just posted a paid blogging position for music bloggers and i thought of you.

Someone Said said...

I'm with you on Arcade Fire.

KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope
My Morning Jacket - Z
Joseph Arthur - Redemption's Son
Sam Phillips - Fan Dance

scott said...

Having not heard the vast majority of the albums you - or anyone who has commented - have listed, I offer the following 21st century albums that I listen to a lot because I like them:
John Prine - Fair and Square; Johnny Cash - American IV ("When A Man Comes Around" still blows me away every time I hear it); Flogging Molly - Drunken Lullabies (with thaks to my son John for first playing this one for me); Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer - Drum Hat Buddha; and Light of Day - various artists doing Springsteen songs.
And please tell me you made it to the April 5 Carnegie Hall concert I just read about where various artists perfomred Bruce Springsteen songs, then Bruce sang a few, and then they all sang Rosalita. My daughter showed me a photo on page 26 of the 40th anniversary Rolling Stone magazine. Here's a link to the only article about the show I could find


Andy Whitman said...

I appreciate the additions, folks. JNF, I think you might be right about that Panda Bear album. I think more time will tell.

I am one of probably three people in the universe who not only doesn't think Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" isn't a 5-star album, but who doesn't even particularly like it. I prefer the early, alt-country Wilco before they discovered feedback and radio static.

Scott, I'm a big Flogging Molly fan. What a wonderful, fun band. Here's my take on a Flogging Molly concert I attended a couple years ago: http://andywhitman.blogspot.com/2005/08/dublin-your-fun.html

scott said...

Thank you for your link to your Flogging Molly article. I had a similar eperience at Flogging Molly'f first ever appearance at the Dublin Irish Festival several years before yours. They were playing in a large tent, and were the last of several bands we saw that night. My teenage son John and I were standing right down front for the other shows - Seven Nations was quite good, especially when their two bagpipers came off the stage and right into the crowd. When Seven nations set ended, the crowd size imediately doubled, with everyone having to be standing next to me up against the hockey boards that had been brought in to put some space between the crowd and the band. I'm a tad over 6' tall, and when someone behind me said "that bald old f*ck needs to get out of here so I can see" I couldn't resist turning around and telling him to cool down, we'd all get through, and I'd been doing this since before he was born. When Flogging Molly came out, it was the same mayhem you described. Even Dave King pointed out that in his day, people just jumped up and down in one spot, but no one was content to do just that. I made it through seven songs - and after Kilbourne High Road, I'd had enough. As my son followed me out to make sure I survived, I got many kind pats on the back and other more forceful recognition from the other pit members.
I haven't felt that young since. But that feeling didin't last long, as from the side of the crowd I watched my son surf the crowd about a dozen times. Whenever a surfer would get to the band, they'd be placed down behind the hockey boards, and then run to the side, and just come back and surf again.
John and I have caught several other Flogging Molly shows here in Columbus since. Local artist Mike Martin of Engine House No. 13 has done some great posters for those shows.
Can't wait until this year's Dublin Festival to see them again!

Anonymous said...

a few albums i couldn't get away from and I thought were amazing...
Bouncing Souls – How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Green Day – American Idiot
Lucero – That Much Further West
Minus the Bear – Menos El Oso
Ted Leo and the Rx – Shake the Sheets
Sage Francis – Human the Death Dance
Strike Anywhere – Exit English
The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving
Richard Buckner - Impasse

...agreed about Wilco and Foxtrit (and Ghost)...Summerteeth remains one of my all-time faves

Anonymous said...

These are some great lists. I tend to agree with andy about the latter day wilco fare. when i heard yfh, i almost puked. it seemed contrived and silly.

love mark mulcahy's 3 solo albums and tom waits' "real gone". sam phillips' "fan dance" is sublime.

gillian welch's first 2 albums are treasures (and i am not even that fond of her voice, but those are winners.

as i mentioned, greg brown's "the evening call" works for me, as does his "over and under" and "further in".

just heard neutral milk hotel in the kitchen of the venue i played on friday night. that was impressive. not sure which album--only know how it works.

kronos quartet hit a home run with their "early music" cd.

susana baca's albums are tremendously satisfying--particularly "espiritu vivo".

i also enjoy the past 3 david byrne solo albums (the full-length ones).

bjork's "vespertine" is a perfect album.

and that is about it, unless you want me to start talking about all of the jazz and classical music that i spend most of my time listening to.

SON LUX said...

JRW, i agree with you about vespertine, and andy, i agree with you about that yankee foxtrot album.

oh, and if i finish my record in this millenium, please add it to this list.

Andy Whitman said...

I could probably go along with the New Pornographers and Weakerthans suggestions. And I forgot Joe Henry's "Tiny Voices." Never forget Joe Henry's "Tiny Voices" in any list of 5-star albums.

And I'd go along with Gillian Welch, too, although I'd probably opt for "Time (The Revelator)" instead of one of her first two albums, which I like, but which are a little too beholden to the Carter Family and old-time country music.

And a lot of these suggestions -- Bjork, The Shins, Over the Rhine, Sam Phillips, Richard Buckner -- are "close but no cigar" folks for me. I certainly like them, though.

Ryan, if you finish your album, I promise you I'll add it to my list. No, I'm not kidding.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid my expertise in this arena is limited, but I'd still like to make two little suggestions...

Nobody mentioned Josh Ritter's "The Animal Years"! I'm still desperately in love with this album!

Also, I think Coldplay's "Rush of Blood to the Head" is phenomenal.


Anonymous said...

I think these really marked the decade:

2000 Radiohead - Kid A
2001 The Strokes - Is This It?
Radiohead - Amnesiac
The New Pornos - Mass Romantic
Daft Punk - Discovery
2002 Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2003 The Strokes - Room On Fire
The White Stripes - Elephant
Radiohead - HTTT
2004 Arcade Fire - Funeral
Franz Ferdinand
Scissor Sisters
2005 Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
The White Stripes - GBMS
2006 Joanna Newsom - Ys
2007 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

We've still got a long way til 2010...

Anonymous said...

you are a joke...music today sucks...the 60's and 70's and to some extent the 80's were mythical times in music aesthetic and creativity...today garbage is either mass manufactured and marketed, or indie garbage that only lowlife bloggers listen to...dont put down the great music of yesteryear or even try to compare it to the garbage being made today.