Archive for September, 2009

The ’00s in Music: 2000

Saturday, September 12th, 2009
2000 feels like a long time ago, and it was. I was 15, couldn’t drive, no girlfriend, was depressed out of my mind. Bill Clinton was president, which is somehow bizarre to think about. And it’s been really difficult trying to remember everything I was listening to at the time. Medum-wise, it was pretty strictly CDs, I can say for sure. Yeah, I was well into the MP3 thing already by then — we’re talking the heyday of Napster, after all — but I just didn’t have the hard disk space to hold onto a full digital music library on the family computer, and the iPod age hadn’t started yet.
Was I still listening to the radio? I guess I must have been, but certainly not to the degree that I’d relied on it for musical exposure in the ‘90s. The alternative rock era was pretty much over by 2000, and my once-beloved Radio 104 had devolved into a Creed-and-Staind-dominated bore. Napster really did come at the right time, then — all of a sudden, I had access to all the most obscure indie fare I could think to look for, things I’d never have heard on commercial radio in Hartford (all I had to do was wait half an hour or so for each song to download via dial-up, adding on perhaps another hour or two going through several CD-Rs in a sometimes-futile attempt to burn my loot to disc). I was certainly reading more than ever before about music, poring through books on indie rock history and keeping up with the daily Pitchfork reviews. Yeah, that’s right, I was reading Pitchfork before it was cool to hate it.
Is that the douchiest hipster sentence ever written? You’re welcome.
Anyway.
It’s fun to reminisce about, I guess because it really is a long time ago now and so much changed about music technology, distribution, and habits over the course of the decade. But it really wasn’t a fun year as I remember it personally, filtered through a Prozac haze and drenched in constant, intense feelings of self-hate and loneliness. By the end of 2000 though, I was through the ugliest phase of my adolescence and things got to be pretty great for a while. Except for, y’know, that whole George W. Bush thing. I’ll try not to dwell on that too much in these entries since the only notable music to come out of the Bush administration was “Let the Eagle Soar,” but it’s tough since Bush did otherwise own the entire fucking decade.
So, 2000. What to talk about? I guess I know where to start.
Kid A
It didn’t come out till October, but my primary association with the year 2000 has to be Radiohead’s Kid A. I really can’t explain how exciting this album was to anyone who wasn’t there or just didn’t get it. Since I only really became a Radiohead fanatic after OK Computer’s release in 1997, Kid A was almost certainly the most anticipated LP of my life. I was familiar with live versions of nearly every song that had been floating around Napster for some time, as well as many that would appear on 2001’s Amnesiac. But I could only hear the studio versions in short “blip” advertisements the band released, no more than a few seconds each, in lieu of any advance singles. Their marketing definitely worked on me. Everything about it — the evil little cartoon bears, the mysterious fiery mountain imagery, the brief morsels of sound like OK Computer put through a paper shredder and tossed into the Grand Canyon — it resonated with me strongly. You would think, looking back, that no album could have lived up to the hype for an obsessive like me.
I am not the first to note this, but the most amazing thing about Kid A is how incredibly fresh it still sounds. I think a lot of people forget the criticism it received at the time of its release. Thom Yorke’s vocals were chopped up and processed into obscurity, they said. Really? Listening now, they’re so vivid and clear and honest, perhaps a result of years of autotune abuse in popular music.
And the guitars — where was Jonny’s signature, “Paranoid Android”-style soloing? Well, I didn’t miss it. When called for, Jonny Greenwood can use his guitar shredding abilities to incredible effect; Kid A simply doesn’t call for it. Radiohead were derided for taking a self-conscious left turn into electronic noodling, but Kid A is no half-assed, experimental detour. The sound on this record is rich, inspired, varied, challenging. And how can you argue with the songs themselves? This record had as great a first half as any I have ever heard. “How to Disappear Completely” in particular is a triumph in songwriting, as beautiful an expression of coping with overwhelming anxiety as popular music has ever produced. Of course this would have resonated with me around the time I turned 16. It was like it was written just for me.
Kid A was my headphones album of choice for a very long time. It has aged well, and seems to be receiving more reverence now than it did then. I fully expect that when Pitchfork unveils their best albums of the decade list soon, Kid A will be right up there at the top. How can it not be? No album has matched its power in the last nine years, and most aren’t trying to in the new golden age of the single and the iPod Shuffle.
Eels
I was already familiar with “Novocaine for the Soul” from alternative radio, but I didn’t start getting into E’s unique music until 2000’s Daisies of the Galaxy. It’s not a classic record or anything — “Flyswatter” is fun and received a memorably insane performance on Letterman, and “It’s a Motherfucker” is a great example of how E can balance honest melancholy and comedy as beautifully as anyone. But Eels’ music would turn out to mean a lot to me over the course of the 2000’s, particularly over the first few years.
Mainly, this is due to 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues. If nothing else, Daisies of the Galaxy was effective enough to convince me to buy this, the band’s second album, and it would quickly become one of the most meaningful records I’d ever heard. In the early 2000s I would lose three grandparents, and Electro-Shock Blues just seemed like such a gorgeous, accurate, epic meditation on death and loss and grief as I went through those experiences. It’s not something I listen to terribly often, but for a while there I really needed to. I still can’t listen to “Dead of Winter” without tearing up; it’s just become so personal. There is nothing indirect about this music, it is straight up soul-bearing, and it’s not for everybody. But it’s done a lot for me.
Elliott Smith
I didn’t discover Elliott Smith until 2000, either. This is strange for me to think about, as it seemed like I’d been appreciating his music forever when he died in 2003. In fact, 2000’s Figure 8 was the last album he would release during his lifetime. In any case, once I found him, his music buried itself deep enough into my brain that it felt like I’d always been a fan.
The initial appeal of his music came from his impressive pop instincts. Elliott was masterful at weaving together strange chord progressions and ending up with something surprisingly straightforward and catchy. But as much as the term “Beatlesque” was thrown around when his music was discussed, Elliott came from a very dark and sensitive place. Figure 8 was a glossy, well-produced effort relative to the rest of his catalogue, but no Smith record was short on stripped-down, lo-fi, acoustic expressions of quiet angst. As depressed as I ever felt back then, I could always listen to Elliott and walk away thinking, “Jesus, I’m glad I’m not him.”
He was a truly unique songwriter, and I have always wished I’d seen him live.
Post-Rock and IDM
A return to pop basics would run as a constant theme through much of the decade’s indie rock, but in 2000 things were almost bizarrely dark and abstract. It’s funny, since the state of the country was actually pretty great at the time, but a lot of the new music I was hearing was grim — particularly the abundance of stuff that fell into two wretchedly-named genres, post-rock and intelligent dance music.
My interest in both was briefly pretty high. The absolute peak in post-rock for me was 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You Black Emperor! (later Godspeed You! Black Emperor — I know, bunch of pricks). As a genre, post-rock was musically overindulgent, but with enough subtlety and restraint that it never quite veered into prog-rock territory. Lift Your Skinny Fists certainly shares what are probably the genre’s fundamental faults, but it’s actually still quite beautiful listening now. The double-disc’s four expansive instrumental tracks really succeeded at capturing something harsh and evocative, and unlike many other similar bands (and other Godspeed records), it never gets dull here.
I recall having to order this album online (you weren’t going to be able to just walk into Borders and pick up the new Godspeed, even then). When it arrived, I was fascinated by the eerie ink-on-cardboard packaging and track list pretentiously displayed as a visual timeline. My mom thought the band name was so befuddling and hilarious she had me say it to my grandfather.
IDM was all about sucking the fun out of techno, essentially. Artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre manipulated drum machines and synthesizers to craft electronic music that was impossible to dance to. Like post-rock, it was often more pompous than it was worth. Still, some of it has had some lasting value for me: Boards of Canada’s first two albums are excellent, and Squarepusher, who I believe I discovered in 2000, was able to mash up jazz and drum and bass influences into something fascinatingly unique.
Much is made about IDM’s influence on Radiohead during the Kid A sessions. Thom Yorke is obviously a fan, but I’m never going to get as much out of Tri Repetae as I have out of Kid A.
The New Pornographers
There will be much more on A.C. Newman and friends later, but I have to note that the Canadian power-pop group’s amazing first record, Mass Romantic, came out in late 2000. Insanely, I was not very open to it at the time; when you’re listening to a lot of Godspeed and Mogwai and Portishead and you hear the unabashed pop glory of “Letter from an Occupant” for the first time, your brain doesn’t know how to handle it. But as I said in my previous post, I was brought up on Squeeze, and I would come back around to adoring this stuff soon enough. I knew it was great, but I wasn’t yet at a place in my life where I could comfortably embrace it.
Additional Notes
Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump came out in May of 2000, and for much of that year it was one of my favorite albums. It hasn’t dated too well, but it was kind of the nerdy American response to OK Computer. “The Crystal Lake” is still pretty great.
PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea actually sounds better than I remembered. Thom Yorke sings on it, which is probably why I bought it then, but it really is a standout in her excellent discography.
Sigur Rós is an Icelandic band often grouped together with the other post-rock bands of the time, but they were always kind of doing their own thing. An opening spot for Radiohead during a pre-Kid A Radiohead tour led to a great deal of attention for their 1999 LP Ágætis byrjun in 2000, and it was well-deserved. Their music was always a touch too — sleepy, maybe? — to be among my true favorites.
I should probably be taking some time here to talk about OutKast here — Pitchfork recently called “B.O.B.” the best song of the decade, and it is undoubtedly excellent — but honestly, I don’t listen to much hip hop now, and I listened to none at all back then.
I also want to make sure I mention Clinic’s debut CD, Internal Wrangler. I first heard about them because, surprise surprise, they opened some shows for Radiohead. I remember finding this CD on a family trip to New York City, and I made everyone listen to it during the car ride home. I am pretty sure my parents hated it. But listening to it now — spectacular! What a great, fun album. And “Distortions” — one of the best songs of the decade for sure.
Finally, 2000 was a productive year for Fidel and the Castronauts, my half-baked musical venture with John Glover. I spent a lot of time hacking away on this stuff with free sound editing software that was completely ill-suited for music making. It is mostly unlistenable, but we had an absurd amount of fun making it.
Best song of the year: The New Pornographers – “Letter from an Occupant”, whether I knew it or not.
Best album of the year: Radiohead – Kid A (duh).
Best concert of the year: Hard to remember what I saw in 2000 (living in Canton and not driving means probably not too much), but I’ll go with Fiona Apple. When the Pawn is a classic record from the tail end of the ‘90s, and she put on a memorable show. I also attended with a memorable companion.
Most overrated album of the year: Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica — I like Modest Mouse, and this isn’t a terrible album by any means, but I was a little “meh” about it when it came out and I still don’t really understand the accolades it received.
Worst song of the year: Creed is tempting, but I’m going to go with “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down. This is a great representative of the unapologetically dumb shit that entirely ruined commercial rock for the whole decade. Witless, soulless, and still somehow hugely popular.
Next: George Bush is President! The whole world goes to hell! Plus, The Shins! Party like it’s 2001, everybody!

2000 was a long time ago, and it feels like it. I was 15, couldn’t drive, no girlfriend, depressed out of my mind. Bill Clinton was president, which is bizarre to think about. And it’s been really difficult trying to remember everything I was listening to at the time. Medum-wise, it was pretty strictly CDs, I can say for sure. Yeah, I was well into the MP3 thing already by then — we’re talking the heyday of Napster, after all — but I just didn’t have the hard disk space to hold a full digital music library on the family computer, and the iPod age hadn’t started yet.

Was I still listening to the radio? I guess I must have been, but certainly not to the degree that I did in the ‘90s. The alternative rock era was pretty much over by 2000, and my once-beloved Radio 104 had devolved into a Creed-and-Staind-dominated bore. Napster really did come at the right time — all of a sudden, I had access to as much obscure indie fare as I could think to look for, things I’d never have heard on commercial radio in Hartford. All I had to do was wait half an hour or so for each song to download via dial-up, adding perhaps another hour or two spent ruining several CD-Rs in a sometimes futile attempt to burn my loot to disc… ah, joys my children will never know. I was definitely reading more than ever before about music, poring through books on indie rock history and keeping up with the daily Pitchfork reviews. Yeah, that’s right, I was reading Pitchfork before it was cool to hate it.

Is that the douchiest hipster sentence ever written? You’re welcome.

Anyway.

It’s fun to reminisce about, I guess because it really is a long time ago now and so much changed about music technology, distribution, and habits over the course of the decade. But it really wasn’t a fun year as I remember it personally, filtered through a Prozac haze and drenched in constant, intense feelings of self-hate and loneliness. By the end of 2000 though, I was through the ugliest phase of my adolescence and things got to be pretty great for a while. Except for, y’know, that whole George W. Bush thing. I’ll try not to dwell on that too much in these entries since the only notable music to come out of the Bush administration was “Let the Eagle Soar,” but it’s tough since Bush did otherwise own the entire fucking decade.

So, 2000. What to talk about? I guess I know where to start. (more…)