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

Music, whether listened to, or thought about, elicits incredible waves of memory, and emotion. Working on this project over the last four days has pitted me against some memories I'd have preferred to lose to the ether and others that I nostalgically wish to relive. For all the emotional spewing and melodramatic rhetoric of Part II, it represents a finite and brief period of my life (Roughly 1/10th, or .10714, to be exact) and if I only ever spent 1/10th of my life loving and feeling heartbreak and growing that'd be disgustingly disappointing. While a single relationship may hold a great effect, it isn't often the last one, or the most important one. And those 3 years, though utterly exhausting, both for good and for bad, were just a primer to life as it could turn out. And music, that just started to creep into my soul, was prepared to fully take hold. 2007 was huge in music. For me. For Music. Capitalized.

Armchair Apocrypha - Andrew Bird
Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
The Reminder - Feist
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
Marry Me - St. Vincent
The Stage Names - Okkervil River
Under the Blacklight - Rilo Kiley
Graduation - Kanye West
Cease to Begin - Band of Horses

In 2007, I was newly single (though still, luckily, good friends with the woman) and living alone near downtown Boulder. It was a year that unfolded strangely. I spent more time with friends in Denver. I began losing my love for Boulder. I wanted more. I wanted a city. When, in May, I received a letter from my landlord stating that my apartment, which was leased to me until August, had been rented out for the following year, I scrambled to find a place to stay. And found myself living with friends, roommates, for the first time in 3 years. But, I was still seeking the city, beyond Boulder (I just didn't know where, then, and maybe still don't entirely know.) Most importantly, 2007 was the year that I got comfortable in my skin again. Remembered who I was, and wanted to be, and decided to embrace it, if not always fully, at least more than I could during the years before. And at the end of the year, I went to Chile, slept in hostels, and saw a new part of the world.

In Andrew Bird, I received additional affirmation that "smart" and "awesome" were inexorably linked. Essentially a one-man band capable of playing violin, singing, whistling and looping these tracks to create a massive effect. "Fiery Crash" opens an album that is so spectacularly diverse and creative that it made me wish I could create music so interesting and erudite. We had this album in the office, John brought it in, and I seem to remember our amazement with it (after a couple of listens) boiling over into a mutual, "This album is fucking great!" An experience like watching your favorite sports team win, or seeing a great movie and sharing that moment of "wow" with other people. Yeah. We really just heard that. And yeah, it is delicious.

Sound of Silver is another one of those work discoveries that played again and again for months. Though not so heady as Armchair Apocrypha, it has as many, if not more memorable tracks. From the inspiring and witty "North American Scum" to the tear-jerking "New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down," the album seems to emanate energy. Being in an office that allows for this kind of free musical expression is something I will always be thankful for, and being motivated by such great music is another. Try denying that "All My Friends" is an incredible, nearly perfect song. You can't. It captures beginnings and ends, and leaves off with the wish we'll all probably wish in our last days: "If I could see all my friends tonight..."

I developed a school boy crush on Feist. I still nurse that crush. The Reminder is the album that everyone bought because of the ubiquitous iTunes commercials that year, but it is bigger than "1234" by a lot. "My Moon, My Man" may be the best song on the album. Or, maybe "I Feel It All." It's difficult to decide because it's all just good. This album also reminds me of a very talented woman I dated briefly a year later, and every time I listen to it I think of her, especially "Sea Lion Woman."

Spoon continued to churn out exceptional music in '07. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga includes a great rallying cry of a song in "The Underdog," which rings true in its words and motivates with the blaring brass back up. There isn't a specific story for 2007 and this album, other than how I would listen to it in the morning, on the bus, sometimes hungover from Johnny Walker, and feel ready to power through the day.

I have to set this next one up properly: When I started working where I currently do, I thought myself to be a relatively "in-the-know" music appreciator. I knew about Spoon, The Shins, Belle and Sebastian and a couple others. I had just left working at the bank, where I was the cool, knows-his-shit guy, and I thought that would be my contribution to my new workplace. It wasn't. My coworkers knew everything I did and more. They read Pitchfork and Salon voraciously, and were ahead of trends, rather than with them. I had to find an identity, and catch up to stay in the loop of the office. By 2007, I made my musical mark. I bought Marry Me by St. Vincent on a whim. (And because I thought Annie Clark was pretty, and there was a blurb about how she played with Sufjan Stevens previously, and the album cover, gray background with just Annie's head shot seemed to suggest something I wanted to hear.) The next day, loaded on the iPod I brought it into the office and played it, and it caught on! I loved the album, for the delicate, soulful vocals and the muddled, grinding guitars that blended into something novel, but when I got these guys, my coworkers who knew music, to love it too, that was something. I'll always remember Marry Me that way. That, and it's infinitely good. Really.

Okkervil River's best album, and Rilo Kiley's poppiest hold a similar place in my heart. They both feel like extremes. The Stage Names is uniquely poetic, quiet and hopeful, but depressed (listen to "Plus Ones" sometime and try to pick out all the references), while Under the Blacklight just wants to dance through all the sadness that comes up in its lyrics. "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" is ingrained in my musical memory, as is "Breakin' Up" because both represent transition, and realization of self value and a sort of spiritual travel. Both albums are also tied tightly to people who are dear to me, and while I don't play them as much now as I did then, it feels like going home every time I play them.

Graduation is an album that felt just like, at the time, it's title. It welcomed me further into hip hop and the beat is supremely motivating. At a time in my life when things were happening again, and I was taking control, smoking less and loving friends more, it came off as the party soundtrack to a new era... Kanye's persistent douchey-ness (and gay fish-ness) aside.

Band of Horses' Cease to Begin is on the list both for the musical merit of "Is There a Ghost" (a great song) and because I had a long discussion via email about their music with a woman who, whether she'll ever know or not, helped me trust and love "love" again. I blew that relationship, with expectations and frustration and not speaking my mind, but it was a life changing time. I know that I hurt her, and I regret that, and I regret hurting myself too, but sometimes connections are meant to alter two people so they can continue on their paths. If I ever hear from her again, I'll hope that she could forgive me, and that she's doing the great things she talked about.

Oracular Spectacular - MGMT
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Volume One - She & Him
In Ghost Colours - Cut Copy
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Dear Science - TV on the Radio

I started this blog at the end of a tumultuous, but great 2008. Going in with a mission of writing about books, music and movies while keeping a personal distance (so not to emulate the old Diaryland stuff I wrote during the earlier part of the decade) meant that I would need to craft my writing carefully. Writing short stories and poetry, or personal essays/philosophical rants was one thing, but this was meant to be entirely different. I've learned, now, that injecting myself into this blog is necessary to keep it enjoyable, both to write and for reading. It's a delicate balance. I've got to thank everyone who has read something in this space over the last year now because without some encouragement, there were times when I felt like taking a break. Many of the albums I'll discuss below made my 2008 year-end post that kicked this whole thing off, so in a way we've gone full circle. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

MGMT arrived with a solid dance/techno/pop album at just the right time for me. I was salivating over new types of sound, since LCD Soundsystem and Kanye West primed the pump. Oracular Spectacular represents a greater broadening of my musical experience, but also the thematic travails of a twenty-something. "Time to Pretend" exemplifies the desire to live young forever, and ignore the truth of growing older, getting responsible and having a "day job." It is a sad song in happy clothing, one that hooks you with every beat and measure, but also demands contemplation. MGMT provides the strongest 1 -5 line up of tracks on any album from 2008. "Weekend Wars," "The Youth," "Electric Feel" and "Kids" are all unique, but intertwined. Like a good baseball line-up, you can almost see the bases load up and the runs come in. If the last half weren't so quiet and withdrawn, this would have been the best album of the year.

Vampire Weekend, the inspired title of the first Vampire Weekend album is the only thing that's weak involved with the disc. It's another exceptional 2008 release that is more impressive with the knowledge that it was self-produced. Poetic, self-aware, and self-deprecating lyrics guide you through anthemic songs. And there's a calypso-dance beat that catches your ear immediately. "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance" even inspired Bill Simmons to call in the L.A. Clippers theme song for '08.

She & Him is my second great musical victory when it comes to the office. I bought and brought this in and the album garnered praise from my musically-educated coworkers. It's also a testament to how beautiful Zooey Deschanel's voice is (and M. Ward's composition and playing). Volume One has the most associations for me. From the first time I watched the bloody/artistic video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" to the way that "Sentimental Heart" makes me think of a dear friend and former lover every time I hear it. (I did her wrong during 2008. It's one of the moments that I've been most disappointed in myself, and I regret that I didn't give her the respect and love she was due. She changed my life, though, and I'm lucky to talk to her still. And to know that the awfulness that I dropped between us turned into some beautiful creativity on her part.) I'd love to see them live, but living in the vortex of non-touring awesomeness that is Colorado means I'll probably have to wait. "Sweet Darlin'" is an unforgettably great late album track too, which makes this one of the most balanced discs of its year.

Back to the synth-dance-rock! I didn't really listen to a lot of, or own Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours until this year (2009), but it's fucking incredible top to bottom. Yes, it's a disco-fueled dance album, but it's not trite. The album builds with energy throughout with the sort of medley that creates a perfect blend. I suppose my love of dance music, at least non-techno, non-house (etc.) dance music is the continuity. There's something classical about it, like a symphony or extended suite that changes directions, evokes emotions and feelings, but also stays a general course. This is one of the reasons that The Fiery Furnaces Widow City is so wonderful too. The first half (nearly) of the album is almost one song, broken into tracks by name only. The flow is valuable, and feels natural, alive and progressive. I love a good, multi-track-with-clear-breaks album, but it's something special when everything fits together like a puzzle; sort representing the completion that can be so difficult to attain in life. Maybe that's why we love good art.

I always think of my friend Jen, whom I visited in Chicago during November of '08, and the performance of Porgy and Bess we attended at the Lyric Opera House when I listen to Fleet Foxes. (Also a subsequent day at the pool with friends when we listened straight through while drinking beers and doing crossword puzzles comes to mind.) The album is reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash in its harmonies and echoing folk style, but where CSN was embroiled in love and protest, Fleet Foxes are all about the disguises we wear, the ways we break down and fail, and the near-mystical ways we succeed in strange and trying circumstances. It's also a nearly hymnal, pseudo-liturgical album where God appears as nature and experience, rather than deity. Jen's poetry can be that way too. Especially a set about Lizzie Borden she sent to me during the winter of '08, which certainly factors into my album association.

Dear Science was my best album of 2008. And I stick by that. The bombast and pomp provided by TV on the Radio hits a sort of maturity that comes rarely to many bands. It is an acknowledgment of their past success and a strong reach toward what they could become. Every year works that way. Embrace the friends and loves you have, and reach forward to obtain the new, and expand your personal horizons. (During that Chicago trip to visit Jen- and also my friend Sara from college, I was joined by my dearest male friend, Jared. Jared has, whether he knows it or not, heavily influenced my life. And on a day that Sara had to work, and we were left to our own devices in The Windy City, we got lost looking for the modern art museum. It was horrendously cold, and we had the best pissed-off-assholes-wandering the city day ever. That always resonates from 2008. The way in which we were both utterly miserable, cold and tired of wandering, plus I'd dare say the fact that we were up until 5 the night/morning before didn't help, but still capable of being only jokingly angry, or at least sharing our mutual misery as a way to build warmth was excellent. Oh, and I listened to Dear Science on the plane trip there... so the story ties in.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
Hospice - The Antlers
Actor - St. Vincent
It's Blitz! - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I'm Going Away - The Fiery Furnaces
Travels with Myself and Another - Future of the Left
Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors
The Hazards of Love - The Decemberists

I've already talked enough about these albums in Part One, Part Two and The Forgotten posts earlier this month, but what I will say is that I was lucky enough to see St. Vincent, The Fiery Furnaces, Future of the Left, Dirty Projectors, and The Decemberists live over the course of 2009. Not one show was a disappointment. It is a collection of experiences, shared with friends and loves that simply will not escape my memory. From the perfect album performance of Hazards of Love (and the cover of Heart's "Crazy on You"), to standing right in front Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger as they belted out song after fucking-incredible song, to hearing "Two Doves" sound as angelic and full as the album version, to watching the steady downpour of saliva escape Andy Falkous's mouth as he screamed "Arming Eritrea" into the mic, I've never been so impressed and thankful for live music in my life.

For the albums from bands I didn't see this year, its simply love and the way the music makes me feel. Phoenix reminds me of old friends, lifts my spirits when I hear it. The Antlers is dark and thoughtful, guiding me through the most depressing of thoughts and showing that there's a grace and beauty in loss even when it hurts like hell. Yeah Yeah Yeahs get my feet moving and also bear their hearts on tracks that simply paint human frailty and limitation as the most beautiful curse of all.

2009 also brought a few great things into my life. A new love. A trip to visit the aforementioned Jared in San Francisco and meet a houseful of the most amazing, loving and welcoming people I've ever had the privilege to meet. New projects in writing, like doing this very three-part column, for myself, and for the limited audience I have. And a children's book that I'm trying to get published during 2010. There's a lot of greatness on the way as we teeter on the ledge of 2009, looking into the crevasse of expanding time and experience. I wish everyone a happy new year, filled with health, love and deliciousness.

Thanks for reading.

Next Year: A 2000's book retrospective, more music reviews, and some creative deus ex machina.

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