Before I get started, I need someone to explain something to me: What is the deal with The Strokes? I mean, I've heard The Strokes. I enjoy The Strokes (to an extent). I understand that they are the prototypical "New York" band that paved the way for many a hipster act. What I don't understand is how they are widely considered one of -- if not the -- best bands of the decade. I find their 2001 breakout album, Is This It to be ironically-titled... because that's exactly what I thought when I first listened to the record. "Okay... is this it?" I didn't get it, and I still don't, even though I've since softened my stance on the band. But still... pleasant-enough tunes, monotone vocals, and an excess of style a transcendental band do not make. Good jukebox fodder? Yes. Better than most of the stuff around in the late '90s/early 2000s? Absolutely. But a best-of-decade, generation-defining band? Sorry, but no. Oh, and I'm not too crazy about the Radiohead or Shins albums released this year either. Sorry.
Moving on, 2001 was an interesting year -- this list features an eclectic list of solid releases from '90s stalwarts and early stuff from some of the new decade's finest. This is also the year I graduated from high school and started at ASU, so it was interesting to see how my taste in music started to diverge. Here's my top 10:
Honorable mentions: blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (I actually really like blink... a late scratch from the top 10 though), Green Day - International Superhits! (still my favorite Green Day album, if only for the inclusion of J.A.R.), Lostprophets - The Fake Sound of Progress (ah, remember nu metal?... this record is actually pretty good though), Lucky Boys Confusion - Throwing the Game (a pop-punk gem), 311 - From Chaos (this band is better than they get credit for), Weezer - Green Album (another late scratch from the top 10... "hip, hip").
10) The Strokes - Is This It
Produced by: Gordon Raphael
Standout tracks: "Someday," "Last Night," "Hard to Explain"
I know, I know. I just spent the entire intro to this entry trashing The Strokes. But what can I say, Is This It is a hard record not to like. It's actually a pretty excellent collection of toe-tappers and bar jams. The mood lifts when any of its singles come on the juke, and it's even kind of dance-y, so it's not entirely out of place in trendier uptown joints. It's even good driving music. It's just a fun, versatile record. They even throw a little Tom Petty homage in there. Okay, so they actually pretty much lifted the riff from "American Girl," but Mr. Petty is on record as saying he doesn't mind, so it's all water under the bridge. This *is* a good record... just don't try to tell me it's capital-g Great.
9) The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Produced by: Jack White
Standout tracks: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "Fell in Love With a Girl," "I Can't Wait"
One of the great, underrated things about 2001 is the influx of "The" bands. The Strokes. The White Stripes. The Vines. The Hives. It seemed like every new, catchy, vaguely-garage rock band that came out was a "The" band. Lazy band-naming or homage to the British Invasion bands of the '60s (Beatles, Kinks, Byrds, Who, et al.)? You decide.
At any rate, The White Stripes were easily the best of the bunch, and a band that has a legitimate claim to being Band of the Decade -- and this was the record that introduced most people to them. While it's not their most accomplished record (that would be 2003's Elephant), White Blood Cells is definitely a highlight in their oeuvre. It's loud, raw, full of big, Zeppelin-esque riffs and concussive rhythms. "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is easily the best album opener of the year, announcing an album that's proudly, aggressively lo-fi -- simple, unfettered rock 'n' roll.
8) Rx Bandits - Progress
Produced by: Chris Fudurich
Standout tracks: "VCG3," "Analog Boy," "Babylon," "Who Would've Thought"
The Bandits' 1999 release Halfway Between Here and There was a fairly stereotypical (although pretty darn good) third-wave ska record, full of bouncy horn lines and songs about girls. Their very next release two years later, Progress, however, was a complex, genre-bending mini-masterpiece full of songs about technology, social injustice, and politics. Say what? In two years, the band went from an unremarkable Drive-Thru records band to a socially-conscious, indie-ska-jam band (I still don't know what to make of their live show). To put this into another context, it would be like The Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper's immediately after Please Please Me. Rarely has a band transformed so drastically from one album to the next. Whatever the cause, I'm glad they did it. My iTunes is full of unremarkable third-wave ska acts, but there's hardly anything in it like Progress.
7) Incubus - Morning View
Produced by: Incubus and Scott Litt
Standout tracks: "Circles," "Wish You Were Here," "Are You In?"
There was a time (probably most of the early part of the decade) when Incubus was my favorite band. I'm not sure how I got into them (I just spent about 10 minutes trying to remember how I even heard of them... couldn't do it), but S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was the first record of theirs I got a hold of. I just loved its electro-funk-rap/rock craziness. This record was about as far from that vibe as I could have imagined when I played it for the first time. I didn't care though -- one of the things I've always loved about Incubus is their refusal to stick to one particular sound (although I think their newest effort, Light Grenades, is largely derivative of earlier material... namely, this record). Morning View, then, is their "mellow" record. It's full of deliberate, textured jams that play to the band's strengths -- Mike Eizinger's crafty guitarwork, DJ Kilmore's wonderfully subtle work on the turntable, and, of course, Brandon Boyd's unparalleled ability to not wear a shirt. Kidding... (not really, that guy can not wear the shit out of a shirt) but he's actually one of my favorite rock vocalists. Although it's not my favorite, or even the best, Incubus record, Morning View is still damn fine listening. "Wish You Were Here" (yeah, yeah, not nearly as good as the seminal Pink Floyd track) is one of my favorite songs of this year and one of many excellent love songs the band has written.
6) Tool - Lateralus
Produced by: Tool and David Bottrill
Standout tracks: "Schism," "Parabola," "Lateralus"
A couple months back, I had one of those legendary, 4:00 a.m. drunk conversations about music with a couple friends after a party had died down. These are always a tricky proposition -- tempers flare, the line between opinion and fact becomes skewed, and outrageous assertions are made. Sometimes, the police become involved (this seriously happened once). Fortunately, police involvement was not necessary on this occasion -- we all managed to agree that Tool would go down as one of the best, most important bands of our generation. Years down the line, they'll probably be remembered as one of the defining rock bands of all time. They'll probably be inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame (whether or not they care is another question entirely). This record is a large reason why -- tribally powerful and artfully complex at the same time. It has everything from cat-squeezing ("Mantra") to the Fibonacci sequence ("Lateralus"). It also has some of the best drumming of all time, courtesy of Danny Carey. A true classic album. Does it get any more epic than "I know the pieces fit" over and over? The only reason it's not higher on the list is because, to me, it's just not something I can throw on any old time. I have to be in a specific mood to listen to Tool... that's not the case with the rest of the albums on this list.
5) Tenacious D - Tenacious D
Produced by: The Dust Brothers
Standout tracks: "Kielbasa," "Tribute," "Fuck Her Gently"
"Inward Singing." "Cock Push-Ups." "Drive-Thru." All classics.... and those are just the skits! It's not often that the so-called "filler" tracks on an album can be described as classics. But c'mon: "One is all you need." "A JUNIOR Western Bacon Chee. I'm trying to watch my figure." Eminently quotable and hilarious. And then there are the songs! Show me someone who doesn't know all the words to "Fuck Her Gently" and I'll show you a dirty, dirty liar. And do I even need to mention the genius of the line "Dianetics, your buttcheeks is warm"? Finally, there's "Tribute," which might actually be my favorite song of this year. A perfect blend of homage and hilarity. (There always seems to be one word that pops up too many times in a given entry... "homage" is it this time.) This album is just the perfect hybrid of laugh out loud comedy and balls-out rock. Literally.
4) Brand New - Your Favorite Weapon
Produced by: Mike Sapone and Brand New
Standout tracks: "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," "Failure by Design," "Last Chance to Lose Your Keys," "Magazines," "Soco Amaretto Lime"
The last four albums on this list are all important records to me for various reasons. They'd all be in serious contention for Top 25 of the Decade consideration. First up is Brand New's debut record, Your Favorite Weapon. I was introduced to Brand New by a girl in an English class my junior year of ASU, and the record she showed me at Hoodlums in the M.U. (R.I.P.) was Deja Entendu (which immediately blew my mind). What I'm trying to say is that I didn't hear YFW until after the fact. I was sort of leery, to be honest. From what I had understood, YFW was basically a pop-punk record, whereas Deja was (is) probably one of the most accomplished albums of the decade (sort of like the leap between the Rx Bandits albums). What I didn't know, and what I found out, was that YFW is one of the best pop-punk records of all time. Sure, it's mostly three chords of angst and songs about girls, but it has a certain panache and underlying current of genius that just isn't there is most (or any) pop-punk records. "Last Chance to Lose Your Keys" is probably the best, most authentic song about girl problems ever ("It's girls like you that make me think I'm better off / home on a Saturday night / With all my doors locked up tight / I won't be thinking about you, baby"). "Soco Amaretto Lime" is one of the best slow-jam, singalong album closers around. I could go on (I haven't even mentioned "Jude Law"), but I'll stop here. A *remarkable* pop-punk record that definitely anticipates Deja if you listen close enough.
3) Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
Produced by: Mark Trombino and Jimmy Eat World
Standout tracks: "A Praise Chorus," "Your House," "Sweetness," "If You Don't, Don't"
Jimmy Eat World is one of my favorite bands of this decade. (I know, they've been around for a while, but they are definitely a product of the 2000s.) That much I know. What I don't know is what my favorite Jimmy record is. Clarity is their most iconic and perhaps most influential. Futures is their most musically accomplished. Chase This Light is their catchiest. What, then, does that make this record? Their biggest? That's obvious, but it doesn't really say anything about the songs not named "The Middle." Their best? That's a question you could ask four (or five) different people and get four (or five) different answers to. Too subjective. Honestly, I'm not sure how this record fits into the band's catalog or how it will be remembered, but it settles in on this list nicely at #3. The singles (you know them all, and know them well) are uniformly excellent, perfect pop rock masterpieces. The album tracks are the ones that make this album worth listening to again and again though. "Your House" is one of the most heart-rending songs I've heard... "I had you once / Oh, I can't forget that / Sometimes I wish / I could lose you again." Yikes. "If You Don't, Don't" is probably one of their most underrated songs -- so, so great, yet I never hear anyone talk about it. All I know is that it's gone on more than a few mixes I've made. "Hear You Me," "The Authority Song"... I could go on, but, again, I won't. Like I said, I don't know how this record will be remembered, but I know it will.
2) Saves the Day - Stay What You Are
Produced by: Rob Schnapf
Standout tracks: "At Your Funeral," "Jukebox Breakdown," "As Your Ghost Takes Flight," "All I'm Losing Is Me"
I'll be honest with you: I have probably four other Saves the Day albums on my iTunes. I'll also tell you that I've can count on my fingers and toes the amount of times I've listened to them all *combined*. Why? Because I know, with complete, utter certainty, that they aren't -- can't be -- as good as this record. Again, why? Because none of them contain the song "At Your Funeral." Here's another Hoodlums story: My freshman year at ASU, I spent most of my time in my dorm, playing Madden 2002 or Final Fantasy X, drinking Pepsi by the 12 pack, masturbating to dial-up porn, having awkward roommate moments, and watching whatever college-oriented music video channel ASU had access to. Anyway, the video for "At Your Funeral" came on one afternoon. I was blown away. Hoodlums had one less copy of Stay What You Are by dinner time is what I'm trying to say. *That's* how good this song is. If you don't believe me, I've included the video below. Watch it. Love it. The rest of the album is almost as amazing as that song, full of quirky little three-minute gems about teenage tragedy, awkward silences, and obsessive (and perhaps murderous) ex-lovers. In short, there's something everyone can relate to. Now, watch this video:
I really do miss the old days sometimes.
1) Ben Folds - Rockin' the Suburbs
Produced by: Ben Folds and Ben Grosse
Standout tracks: "Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara," "Rockin' the Suburbs," "The Luckiest"
Ben Folds is solely responsible for me being the person I am today. Okay, that's not exactly true, but if you buy into the whole hyperbolic "music is central to my being" shit that people post in their facebook interests, then the statement is pretty close to the truth. That is to say, Ben Folds is pretty much the reason that I'm not still listening to shitty nu metal and power pop. I somehow stumbled into a little record called Whatever and Ever Amen (I think I saw the video for "Brick" on this weird show on MTV2 where a bunch of parents would watch videos and decide if they would let their kids watch... I don't think "Brick" passed the test... too depressing) and I was not the same after that (get it??). I very much doubt there's a more influential record to me. At any rate, this is about Rockin' the Suburbs, Mr. Folds's first record after he dropped the Five (actually just two other dudes) responsible for Whatever et al. It's also the second best record in his catalog, after... oh, that should be obvious. Here, Folds shows the same combination of rollicking smart-aleck tracks (the eponymous track, "Zak," "Fired") and emotional, introspective compositions ("Still Fighting It," "Fred Jones, Part 2," "Luckiest") that endears him to his many legions of fans and irritates his many critics. He may never release a record as good as Whatever again, but I love him for trying (and this one comes close). This (along with many of the other records on this list) was the soundtrack to many a drive to and from Sedona. Oh, nostalgia. Mr. Folds has a lyric on one of his later records goes a little something like this: "[Kids today] get nostalgic about the last ten years / before the last ten years have passed." So true. Thank you, Mr. Folds, for the memories, and for saving me from nu metal.
Wow, I managed to keep this one under 3000 words... huzzah! Maybe some of these albums spark a memory or two for you as well... good ones, I hope! Good night, all... until next time.