The 2000's in Music: A Personal History Part I

A dear friend of mine recently said, in response to my top 10 (13?) albums of 2009, that she was waiting for me to tackle the entire decade. I gave this a lot of thought. I considered all the music I've listened to since I was 19 years old... Yes, it has been a while... and I decided that rather than attempting to rank memories of music with all their attached emotional fodder in some sort of pseudo-objective catalogue, I'd rather run through the years, 2000 - 2009 and note a handful of albums that meant a lot to me then. Some of these held value for me because the music was especially prolific, some because I was a tireless fan of a band I didn't know as sputtering out, and some because I needed (really NEEDED) an album to get through a part of my life. Seeing that the 2000's are essentially the place where I've grown the most (emotionally and philosophically) this undertaking requires a certain amount of humility. I really liked some relatively shitty (in retrospect) songs and albums, and I saw a lot of events and changes unfold in my life that these songs either rallied me through or reminded me of, to my own success or detriment. I told myself, when I started this blog, that I wasn't going to get too personal. No one wants another hole in the internet loaded with the demented ramblings of a man in his late-twenties playing up one strange idea or sad-sack story after another. Although, Chuck Klosterman, whom I admire greatly, takes just that path sometimes with his work, and I hope that this post even remotely emulates that greatness. Now, without further exposition, my personal history of the 2000's, in music:

Veni Vidi Vici - The Hives
Parachutes - Coldplay
Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols
Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams
Blur: The Best of - Blur

In 2000, I graduated high school in the spring and left quiet, conservative Castle Rock, CO (I thought it was conservative then, but an influx of money and baby boomers seeking "the country experience" has led to infinitely more flag bumper stickers.) for college at the University of Colorado in Boulder in the fall. This was before CU had been named Playboy's party school this-or-that eight-times running, and the school was respected and a liberal, new oasis for my young mind. I made good friends in the dorms there, and through one in particular, my next door neighbor whose sister worked for a record company at the time, I heard The Hives and Coldplay months before the official album release. The Hives were my first experience with truly raucous Euro-pop-punk, and would plant the seeds for my love of Art Brut in the latter half of the decade. And Coldplay's Parachutes, over-play of "Yellow" aside, is a truly spectacular album; more honest and sparse than their subsequent stadium-rock releases.

The Dandy Warhols came at 2000 with a shot through the single "Bohemian Like You" and I'll admit that I bought the album for that song, but it also opened my ears to their previous ... The Dandy Warhols Come Down, which is definitely the best of their full-lengths.

Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker was just the dose of sad-sack, beer-soaked blues-rock that my heart desired. It was before I had ever had a serious relationship, and in the relatively massive expanse of Boulder, compared to my old high school, I felt even more lost and confused about where I might find the romantic (and sexual) connection I thought I was due. "Come Pick Me Up," specifically, magnified and gave import to every sense of heartbreak I had at the time (which was not nearly as much as could come) and I relished the strained vocals and dragging guitars.

Blur was a boat I'd missed in the '90s. I discovered the breadth of their catalog, from droning, grungy, Radiohead-esque emulation, to the synthy, dancing tracks and mournful ballads that fill their Best of. It was a new style of music for a kid who grew up on the '60s and '70s rock of his parents, and the top 40 pop of the '80s and '90s.

Gorillaz - Gorillaz
Green Album - Weezer
Bleed American - Jimmy Eat World
Room for Squares - John Mayer
Is This It - The Strokes

During my sophomore year of college, a couple good friends from the dorms and I moved into a house only a few blocks from campus. (Perfect for walking, but close enough to campus to be absurdly expensive, despite being a shithole. The landlord even wrote a rent increase into the lease, which we signed for two years, that would take affect between year one and year two. We were kids and didn't know that this was cheating, b-hole bullshit.) When the Gorillaz first album came out it represented a continuation of the new musical experience that began with The Dandy Warhols and Blur, with a genre-bending, hip-hop infusion that I'd never heard before. It's an album that still feels like growing up, and not just because of the Anime-style toons of the artwork and subsequent videos. I loved Weezer more out of legacy and anticipation than actual appreciation. When Green Album came out, it was loaded with poppy, empty, but driving guitar rock, and I ate that shit up. I specifically remember singing "Island in the Sun" in my car (actually a 1991 Plymouth Grand Voyager) time and time again, and loving that song so much that I learned to play it on guitar just so I could sing it acoustic. Weezer, though, wasn't really that good any more, and had only one more nearly-great album in them. With Jimmy Eat World, we heard a combination of neutered male outcry and existential disillusionment, set to garage-noise rock riffs. Bleed American remains an album that reminds me of my friends Derek and Kim, and riding around town belting it out. "The Middle" and "Sweetness" are excellent tracks.

I know John Mayer has turned into a shamelessly self-promoting jackhole, but when Room For Squares came out it was something special. Songs like "My Stupid Mouth" and "3 x 5" showed a vulnerability and frankness that caught me as a young man. I listened to this album while driving up to Nebraska to visit my mother, who was at the time in a lamentably abusive relationship with my then step-father. Driving through flat land and red rock walled two-lane highways to that album is something I'll never forget. The sunset playing off of the small plateaus and mesas, creating something almost magical in an empty field of grass. This is also the album to which I first kissed my first major girlfriend, on my bedroom floor, a year later.

But, Is This It was the real revelation, musically, of 2001. It came out just after 9/11, even being postponed from 9/25 to 10/9 in the wake of the tragedy. The version I heard was the original, with the smooth curve of a woman's hip and butt on the cover, and with the song "New York City Cops" on the disc. Regardless of what version I heard, though, The Strokes made rock and roll cool again. It wasn't a market dominated by pianists and waifish crooners any longer. Rock was going to be dirty and tight-pantsed, long-haired and bombastic. Rock was going to be clumsy, but complex. It was like the logical creative conclusion of the work in the late-60s and early-70s that was always meant to come along finally appeared, out of nowhere. A Cinderella story.

About a Boy - Badly Drawn Boy
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
Maladroit - Weezer
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips
Songs for the Deaf - Queens of the Stone Age

I fell in love in 2002, the kind of nothing-can-ever-go-wrong young love that inevitably goes wrong and forces growth and introspection upon you. I had bought Badly Drawn Boy's soundtrack to the Nick Hornby-adapted film About A Boy during the last months of that relationship, and it still catches in my memory to listen to it now. All the songs are about the changes that must come with growing up, as they apply to a child and to a man who never grew up during his youth. That was the soundtrack to the first half of that year, as so much was unclear both personally and nationally.

At the same time, Wilco released their most amazing album, and perhaps the best of the decade. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot remains an incredible listening experience, opening with the haunting and truthful "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and continuing divinely for nearly an hour. Shortly thereafter, Weezer's Maladroit came out. And again, I awaited it with hungry ears. And it turned out to be the best album they've released since Pinkerton. Heroic guitar work and self-effacing writing combined to create a brilliant piece of work and Weezer's third best album ever.

But, wait, there's more. The Flaming Lips released Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in 2002, too! Holy shit, you say? I agree. Their tenth album was an instant classic, with the haunting electro-pop title tracks and the lamentative, heartbreaking "Do You Realize?". I would, years later, be told by a girlfriend, while in the waning moments of our time together, that the album reminded her of me. I didn't know for sure what she meant, and I'm still not sure I do, but I choose to take it as a compliment. Sometimes I wonder if she even remembers saying that, or if I remember correctly. She had also told me that she thought of me while watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Was it a hope for memorable legacy? For purpose? I think I was so drowned in my worries about the relationship ending that I didn't hear her correctly, but then, it's a hindsight thing. But I can always take solace in "Do You Realize?" for its message and for its musical greatness.

Queens of the Stone Age was the first time I'd listened, passionately, to a band that was both entirely tongue-in-cheek, and entirely angry. Unapologetic in their grinding guitars and growling vocals, Queens of the Stone Age gave me a taste of rock music that wasn't punk for the sake of punk or even music that feigned being deep and thoughtful. It was just loud, and meant to be loud, both to deafen the ears and the mind.

Elephant - The White Stripes
Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Essential Simon and Garfunkel - Simon and Garfunkel
Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins
Let It Be... Naked - The Beatles

By the end of 2003 I had fallen in love again, a more weary, but ultimately more passionate and tumultuous love than the first. I spent the majority of that fall focused on my studies, writing an honor's thesis, and trying to love a complicated woman. Before that, I felt the power and drive from The White Stripes fourth album through "Seven Nation Army" and "There's No Home For You Here". These two songs are some of the greatest anthems of rock from the first half of the decade. They are relentlessly aggressive, crass, mean and passionate. They were songs that wanted to change everything and feel everything at the same time. And I felt that way too, so it worked nicely.

Another album full of artsy vitriol and aggression was Yeah Yeah Yeahs first, Fever to Tell. Karen O changed the scope of female-lead pop-punk with screaming, yet palatable songs about taking all the things men had written songs about taking for decades: sex, money, power. And how can anyone forget the beauty of "Maps," a song that is both lovely and haunting in its uncompromising pleas for love and affection. I love this album now much more than I did then, perhaps because I grew into it, perhaps because I wasn't ready to appreciate it fully when I first heard it.

Now, I know Simon and Garfunkel well preceded 2003. And I know I heard them long before. My parents were the types to listen to great old music loud and often, so my exposure to everything on their best of collection began in early childhood. I went through a phase in '03, though, rediscovering all the great songs, and understanding the poetry and simplicity of a guitar, limited instrumentation and great harmony better than I ever had before. I would put the CD on and listen to each disc, back to back, over and over, while writing short stories for class, typing away at my thesis, and smoking cigarettes. And I even remember listening quietly while my girlfriend of the time slumbered peacefully in my one-bedroom apartment. In a way, it became as much meditation as listening. And I still love these songs. "America" and "Cecilia" especially.

The Beatles reissue isn't an album I particularly love, but it is one that holds value for me. It was a gift that I held dear at the time and one whose giver I'll never forget. It's more acoustic, perhaps the way The Beatles intended, stripped of all the flourish and echoed production of the late '60s. It has a certain honesty, and it also has vulnerability.

But, I didn't forget The Shins, not to worry. Chutes Too Narrow is one of my all-time favorite albums. It can always bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes with each listen. Songs like "So Says I" and "Young Pilgrims" are both powerful and frail, representing the ultimate in pop-song construction mixed with a child-like energy. But, from this album I will always remember "Pink Bullets" both because of the way it made me feel the first time I heard it; a combination of hollow sadness and awe, and for the way I listened to it on lonely nights when I wasn't sure who I was or where I was going anymore. This album was a crutch for a breakup or two, and a balm for a stack of brief rejection letters from publishers back before I was ready to accept how difficult writing professionally could really be. It reminds me of cigarettes and watching rain outside the window, but also of waking up to the sun and needing to fight another day.

Part II and III upcoming...

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