From rock to hip hop, spanning a decade of favorites
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
With all due respect and adoration for my fellow contributors blessed with the powers of Skype and podcasts, I thought I'd put down my own thoughts on the albums of the decade. So, here are my thoughts on my favorite album from each year, and then my favorite release of the decade.
Radiohead - Kid A
Looking back, I thought at the time it would set the tone for the rest of the decade, and that hunch turned out to be right. In the first instance, it blew the door open on a style of rock n' roll that is still thriving, while it seemed to break the rules of a big time rock album in an infinite number of ways. Oh, and it was an awesome album in its own right. Right after take-off on an airplane, I still put on "Everything in its Right Place" and watch the clouds.
Michael Franti & Spearhead - Stay Human
A masterpiece, mixing numerous genres in nearly every song while providing an uplifting tempo and infectious rhythm. While the music will save your soul, the fictional radio show in between tracks brings you back to a stark reality, where independent radio and the death penalty become Franti's focus. Here, the soul power of the music and the gloom of the radio show play together to tell a single story. Personally, this album paved the way for my music tastes for the next nine years, as my mind opened up to the possibility that there was listening life beyond ‘90s rock.
The Black Keys - The Big Come Up
Though I did not discover this band until late 2005, this first album aided significantly in what became my obsession in the decade: a rock band that shook the dust off the blues, then ran it through a meat grinder. This album is particularly powerful in both its originality and its ode to blues of the past, mixing original tunes with creative takes on blues classics. This is still the definitive Black Keys album.
Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow
One of my favorite hip-hop albums of all-time. The technical proficiency of an emcee was never much of a thought on my mind until I heard Gift of Gab lay it down across this gem, with a little help from his many friends. From the fun wordplay of "Chemical Calisthetics" (a recitation, in rhyme, of the Periodic Table) to the powerful message of "Brain Washers" with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals guesting, Blackalicious left no stone unturned and churned out a pure classic.
The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
Another instant classic from the Black Keys. After their first two albums crumbled the blues and recreated it in the Black Keys image, Rubber Factory was a far more accessible record. Every song on this album is dripping with soul and character. Listening to this album to this day feels as comfortable as any album I've heard since childhood, even if I've only owned it for the past four years. To this day, anyone interested in listening to the Black Keys for the first time should be directed here.
My Morning Jacket - Z
The first time I heard this album, I was intrigued. By the second listen, I was convinced My Morning Jacket was Pearl Jam and Radiohead rolled into one. The rock blew me away, the psychedelia took me to another universe, and the echo at the end of a long tunnel that was Jim James voice made me reach for more. I am still hard pressed to find a single album in the decade that was as varied as this one, while still feeling connected by the single thread of James' voice.
Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
While the post-mortem from the fans has been mixed on this album, I personally consider this the best straight-forward rock album from anyone since 1998's Yield. Consistent and stunning throughout, Pearl Jam put aside pretense and art rock, and delivered a classic filled with riffs, topical and timely lyrics, and pounded with their signature hooks from start to finish. While "Gone" was the subject of most debate, it will always remain special to my life, as this was the song that always seemed to be playing as I rode the bus from New York City to Middletown, N.Y., studying for the New York State bar exam.
Eddie Vedder - Into the Wild
This soundtrack echoes the film and its characters perfectly. It is perfectly flawed, in that the songs are too short, and seem to cut off just as they get going — just like the film’s main character. However, these songs' transcendent atmospherics lend themselves perfectly to the film's wide open spaces and suggest the same level of possibilities as the story tells, up until the very end. The real beauty of the soundtrack, though, is that these same songs also lend themselves to just about any journey, from Chris McCandless' through the country and rural Alaska to a simple walk home from work.
TV On the Radio - Dear Science
In what may be the crowning achievement of the hipster era of Brooklyn, TV On the Radio nailed an album with the potential to speak to a generation. While such hyperbole seems over the top, this album played on every last one of our fears, anxieties, and hopes, all in one bunch, while delivering some of the more consistent and hook-friendly songs collected on a single rock album. You may or may not have shared in their topical neuroses leading up to the 2008 election, but you definitely nodded your head in rhythm and at least imagined shaking your hips.
Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
Perhaps it helped that I first heard this album on vinyl, but to me this epitomized the perfect arc of a record: two distinct sides with their own journeys, but when listened as a whole, a wonderfully cohesive album. Opening with the beautiful "Trouble Weighs a Ton", the album stretches Auerbach's concept of blues rock and folk as art, and then brings it all together with a topical range that seemed to cover just about every human emotion and desire. From the pure lust of "I Want Some More" to the sweet-yet-creepy lullaby of "When the Night Comes" and the pop sensibility of "My Last Mistake," Auerbach proves to perhaps be even more prolific working in this venue than his day job with The Black Keys.
'ALBUM' OF THE DECADE
Turns out, after thinking long and hard about this one, my pick turned out to be none of these. I based my final pick on the personal impact that it had not just on rock ‘n' roll in the 2000s, but also that which affected me the most over the past 10 years. In keeping with the "anything goes" musical era of the 2000s, I am choosing a live series that shows no signs of slowing down:
Pearl Jam - Bootleg Series, 2001-present
First, on the larger scheme of things, Pearl Jam boldly went where no artist or record company had gone: releasing virtually every concert they've done this decade in some form of CD or digital download, culminating in a virtual drowning of the market on their live recordings. After starting by releasing 72 live albums over the course of eight or so months in 2001, representing every show on their 2000 tour, Pearl Jam changed the face of the live album. They designed minimalist covers and packed entire two-plus hour concerts into each package. As a fan, you could choose your favorites, which were given subtle labels to indicate the band's favorite from each leg, or you could choose to virtually go on tour with the band, following them from stop to stop through your stereo.
Later years would lead the band to scale back and perfect the art of making every show accessible to their fans, releasing only their favorites to record stores and leaving the rest available on their Web site, but the ambition and transparency the band displayed spoke volumes about how they felt about their fans, and to their own abilities to rock it out every single night.
If for nothing else, these live collections have cemented Pearl Jam as my favorite band over the years, and nothing gives me greater excitement than knowing that I can still add to these releases every time they play a new show. I may not own every single show they've played, but I am infinitely intrigued by the anticipation of what will come next.
E-mail Joshua Lieberson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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