Niagara Gazette

December 17, 2009

MUSIC: Best of the Decade

By Phil Dzikiy<br><a href="mailto:phil.dzikiy@lockportjournal.com">E-mail Phil</a>

No industry changed more this decade than the music industry. The rise of Napster and file sharing accompanied the decade’s beginning, and music sales have never recovered. The experience of attending a movie in the theater can’t be replicated on a computer. But for most people, a free mp3 is a good-enough substitute for a CD track.

Apple’s iPod and iTunes service have reduced the “anything goes” file sharing crowd. But the rise of the iPod and other similar audio players have struck a blow to CDs that should prove fatal eventually. It’s history repeating. The same thing happened to cassettes, 8-tracks and vinyl (which has found a younger niche audience). It’s simply more convenient to carry an entire music collection in your pocket.

The album format has suffered as well. It’s much easier to buy (or download singles) than it was 10 or 15 years ago. The best-selling albums of the decade say little about the decade’s best music, though the gap between “best-selling albums” and “best albums” became more pronounced back in the 1980s. After all, though Leif Garrett was popular in the 1970s, he never topped the year-end charts like the “High School Musical” kids.

As the mainstream splinters further, there are very few, if any, musicians that enjoy any kind of widespread commercial success. It’ll be much harder for the current generation to find even a few artists they might be able to use as cultural touchstones.

Of course, none of this means that people like music less. If anything, musical tastes will become more varied now. And the cream rises to the top. It always does, over time. Just remember that. So if you missed some (or all) of this decade’s best music, here’s a quick learning session.



Rock

Rock in this decade had less of a definitive sound than it did in any other 10-year span. If pressed to come up with an answer, the new garage-rock variations provided by the likes of The Strokes and The White Stripes would be our choice.

The Strokes’ “Is This It” from 2001 likely stands as the most influential album of the decade. It’s tight, melodic, cool, and a strong rebuttal to the fourth-rate post-grunge dreck that did (and still does) permeate “alternative” radio stations. Noteworthy groups like Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and Interpol benefited from this sea change. The White Stripes’ “White Blood Cells” had a similar effect, though the group’s best album was the follow-up, 2003’s more bluesy and harder “Elephant.”

A great deal of respect must also be paid to the albums which explored electronic territory. At the beginning of the decade, it was “Kid A” from Radiohead and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” from The Flaming Lips. Later on, works from TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective brought experimental sounds and melodies to a murkier mainstream.

For our money, it’s a tight battle at the top. The Strokes and The White Stripes certainly deserve to be in the mix. The Hold Steady took the mantle as a modern-day Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. My Morning Jacket modernized a classic rock sound — this group might be the best takeoff point for old rockers to hear what’s new. But perhaps Arcade Fire, the Canadian group with a soaring sound, best represented the boldness of the decade. These groups all released multiple great albums in the decade, but it would make sense to start with The Hold Steady’s “Separation Sunday,” My Morning Jacket’s “Z” and Arcade Fire’s “Funeral.”



Ten more great albums of the decade:

Badly Drawn Boy, “The Hour of Bewilderbeast”

Neko Case, “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”

Fleet Foxes, self-titled

The Futureheads, self-titled

MGMT, “Oracular Spectacular”

Of Montreal, “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?”

Okkervil River, “Black Sheep Boy”

The Shins, “Chutes Too Narrow”

Spoon, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”

Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”



Rap

The earlier part of the decade was ruled by Eminem and Outkast; the later years saw breakthroughs from T.I. and Lil Wayne. Lil Wayne’s album “Tha Carter III” and Outkast’s “Stankonia” and “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” were a few of the most acclaimed albums of the 2000s.

But perhaps the most dominant figures in hip-hop during the past 10 years were Jay-Z and Kanye West. Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” another one of the decade’s most acclaimed hip-hop albums, owed a great deal of its success to the production skills of West. West would soon after start his own rapping career, which took off immediately with the release of his debut, “The College Dropout.”

West’s persona is in stark contrast to the gangster rappers, such as 50 Cent, who had his own fair share of popular albums in the decade. 50 Cent released one of the decade’s biggest commercial successes in “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’ ” but he famously told MTV that he would retire if his 2007 album “Curtis” was outsold by West’s “Graduation.” Both albums were released on the same day. 50 lost that battle, but like many rappers, he couldn’t walk away from the game.

Out of the mainstream, rapper MF Doom was a dominant figure, for both his solo work and his work in the duo Madvillain.



Country

by Britney Milazzo

Classic country artists from Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson never die, but who are the musicians stepping up to take their places, today?

Taylor Swift’s awards point to her statistically in 2009, but some argue Swift is too pop to be considered country.

Take a look at some of the duos and trios of country music — Sugarland, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, and Big & Rich — they’re the ones dominating the country charts.

The finest solo artists, like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney say they won’t quit “because it’s just too fun.” Heck, Tim’s even been acting, recently.

But if those are the faces of country music in this decade.

If you ask me about best albums, however, nothing tops Brad Paisley’s “Playlist” and Sugarland’s “Love on the Inside.”