Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade in Music, Part 4: Sonic Parthenon (2007-2009)

Well early into 2007, the personal upheavals foreshadowed in 2006 came to ahead. And so it was the ripe kind of time for another musical revolution. Enter the Hold Steady. In what has proven to be the last great band craze for me this decade, Craig Finn and the boys absolutely tore it up. On the strength of two perfect albums – Boys and Girls in America and the prior Separation Sunday – the Hold Steady brought back the bar band classic rock that my Springsteen days were about and delivered on the promise made by preceding-Minneapolis-based rockers the Replacments in the vein of “Bastards of Young”. And in eventually bringing it all together – from 2004’s Almost Killed Me to 2008’s Stay Positive, the Hold Steady time and again became my go-to source for emotional clarity, salvation, and resort. They joined the White Stripes and the Dirtbombs as the bands who made the most impact on me. And either by a lack of a new craze in 2009 or by their own merits, the Hold Steady’s hold on me has been the longest lasting of any band yet. That doesn’t make them The Best. But it certainly gives me pause to think they could be.

The Hold Steady weren’t alone though. Fellow Brooklyn immigrants the National (originally from Cincinnati) continued their ascension in 2007, soon to be armed with Boxer, another record of essential perfection. And in the triumph of the lush, broad music that started to perk up my ears in 2005, Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country found its way (again thanks to those increasingly prevalent music podcasts from public radio, this time in the form of live performance, as opposed to an mp3 of the day). The Glasgow sweethearts proved to be the most touching band around since Blanche. But wait! There’s more! Like Coldplay in 2003, I got into Arcade Fire 3 years late. How “Rebellion (Lies)” didn’t hit me when I first heard it in 2004 (thanks to Christina), I don’t know. But Arcade Fire was always there. And they were back just in time for their follow-up to Funeral, the somewhat lackluster Neon Bible. Oh well. The Stage Names by Okkervil River, namely the single “Our Life is Not Like a Movie but Maybe”, became one of the most oft-played songs on the Ipod. Metric rivaled the Dirtbombs in the intensity of live show performances, allowing for that band to elevate its consistently growing impact. It also appeared, however briefly, that – in terms of happening Midwest metropolitan scenes (a trend that seems to happen every few years), - the Chicago pop scene arrived through the Changes, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, and the 1900’s. But that didn’t hold, and once again, as reliable as Old Faithful, New York was there. Action Painters, Looker, the Orion Experience, Les Sans Culottes, Wormburner, My Teenage Stride, NYC Smoke, and the XYZ Affair were the bands that made New York as exciting as the Strokes, Mooney Suzuki, Walkmen, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs made it right before them, and the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth made it well before those bands came along. And not to be outdone by itself, New York found a way again as the decade came to a close, through twin scenes – a trendy but often substantive hip scene featuring Dirty Projectors, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Chairlift, and MGMT and a vibrant Indie-folk-pop scene made up by the likes of Shwa Losben, Bryan Dunn, Andy Mac, Christ Cubeta and Alec Gross.

This great shift required a moment to mark it. It came on this little ol’ blog. After doing it for a couple of years as a politically heavy thing that would occasionally look at music as a breather, I turned the blog into a musically minded force called Sonic Parthenon. The revamped blog first operated as a major attempt at being a scenester rag. But eventually became a simple recap of the many live shows I attended (I saw a personal best 75 in 2007) and summaries of whatever was playing on the Ipod. Even in that mode, the shift from what used to be “my thing” – both in music and certainly out of music – was clear.

As 2007 gave way to 2008 and 2009, my taste in music seemed to be the most consistent and most disparate at the same time. I exhausted my interest in the blues by then (a series of new blues podcasts fulfilled my need for a good long while before I finally felt it was enough). I was essentially done with garage rock as a mass sound (I stopped listening to Little Steven, and I only briefly listened to a series of garage rock podcasts). The concept of the album was also essentially finished for me. The rise of the Internet finally killed off the tendency to take in whole records and therefore filler. Individual tracks ruled the roost, acquired either by word of mouth, mp3 podcasts from radio stations like KCRW, KEXP, and the Current in Minneapolis, or hipster blog postings from the Deli, Brooklyn Vegan, and Stereogum. From “Rise Up with Fists!!!” by Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins (it took 2 years for me to finally hear Rabbit Fur Coat and the follow-ups), to “American Names” by Sebastian Grainger & The Mountains, to “Nowheres Nigh” by Parts & Labor to “Ready Steady” by the Sugarettes, to “The Runout” by Maps of Norway to “No Direction” by Longwave to “We’d Be Good Together” by Evan Voytas to “Saints” by Army Navy to “Family Relations” by the Maldives “Collide” by Elks to “The Walls Are Coming Down” by Fanfarlo to ”Kaleidoscope” by Katie Costello, to “Wish You Well” by Katie Herzig, to “Bitter Heart” by Zee Avi, an endless number of tracks, my entire view of music changed maybe for good and all. To this day, I have no idea how many, if any, of these artists had whole albums to back up the singles with.

Not that there weren’t whole albums or other artists to take in. The Hold Steady, the National, and Camera Obscura were joined by Nick Cave, the Airborne Toxic Event, Heavy Trash, Hot Chip, Ra Ra Riot, Murder by Death, Langhorne Slim, Gogol Bordello, Jack Penate, VHS or Beta, Vampire Weekend, Ting Tings, Laura Gibson, Great Northern, Clare & the Reasons, Basia Bulat, the Gaslight Anthem, Feist, Carina Round, the Duke Spirit, Ladyhawke, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent, DeVotchKa, Handsome Furs, Joan as Police Woman, and Band of Horses. There was the return of the White Stripes in June 2007 with Icky Thump. On the day of the album’s release, the band played their greatest gig ever at Irving Plaza. A month later they played a decent set at Madison Square Garden, though they were upstaged by two things: the shock of seeing them headline such a venue, and by their opening act, Nick Cave, who took the form of Grinderman, a project whose self-titled album also somewhat upstaged Icky Thump.

The sensitive side wasn’t to be outdone. Justin Vernon, known as Bon Iver, released For Emma, Forever Ago and became the new force in his field. He joined the ranks of M. Ward and other singer-songwriters like Sam Beam AKA Iron & Wine, and he recalled the brief appearance of Damien Rice in 2004. Indeed, this stream of good folk-pop went back to the early and middle part of the decade. The Garden State soundtrack, the Postal Service, “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch, and joined later by the likes of Bon Iver and Bright Eyes’ “Four Winds” etched themselves in but good. M. Ward even managed to saddle alongside himself when he teamed with Zooey Deschanel for She & Him. If that wasn’t enough, these sonsabitches got me into Nick Drake (but they didn’t get me into Nick Lowe, that one was Costello’s fault. No one gets the blame for Ian Dury ((except maybe John of all people)) and Wreckless Eric since there isn’t any blame to bandy about).

My musical education of the past was shrinking during these last few years of the decade but it wasn’t without major chapters: Tom Waits, Pixies, Otis Redding, and finally, at long last, the great canon of Jazz – Billie, Bessie, Miles, Coltrane, the Bean, Monk, Mingus, Sonny, the Count, the Duke, and Benny Goodman.

In shocking developments, commercial radio and the album each made one last lunge for relevance. For the radio, this occurred at least in New York. 101.9 became WRXP, an all-encompassing rock station that taught me “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements, “True Faith” by New Order (who I first learned of mostly in part to 24 Hour Party People a few years back, and by that avenue, I also learned of Joy Division). “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void, “In The Meantime” by Spacehog (to be fair, I first liked that song thanks to my then-girlfriend I met from the White Stripes’ board) and the station was responsible for that second Lou Reed revival with the playing of “I Love You Suzanne” and “Dirty Blvd.”. The station even finally got me to warm up to Wings in the form of “Jet”. In the album world, Metric owned the title of Last Great Album of the Decade with 2009’s Fantasies. Camera Obscura did it again with My Maudlin Career, Dinosaur Jr. finally fully entered my consciousness with Farm (despite putting out what could arguably be the decade’s single best straight-up rock single in the form of 2007’s “Been There All The Time”) and bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the XX put out whole LP’s of strong material (the Pains were at the forefront of yet another New York hipster scene, this time in the realm of distorted pop-garage).


With the decade at an end, I take all the music in and sit back in awe. For every band I mentioned in this story, I left out dozens if not hundreds of others. I don’t regret any of it. Not one lick. Not one chord. Not one note. Every life is full of regrets. If the music in one’s life is the music of No Regrets, then one’s life is something akin to whole.

In fact, the best way to conclude this piece is to just list off all the other artists and bands that meant something in the last ten years but couldn’t fit into the narrative of all the above, perhaps because they defy the narrative, but more likely because they just took part in the best damn cumulative decade of music in my life and that is all they needed to do:

The Rolling Stones (they don’t fit because they fit into all of it – in every period of this decade I found a Rolling Stones song or two or three to get into), the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver, the Who, Death (the band that existed for a few years in the ‘70’s treated as a new band in 2009), Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”, Ben Harper, Dave Matthews Band, the Yarrows, the Cell’r Dweller’z, Hard Cider, Le Tigre, the BellRays, Moby, Beirut, Art Brut, the Caesars (“Jerk It Out”, remember that?), Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Gossip (for Christ sakes’ the Gossip), the Heartless Bastards, Gorbachov (“Beat Machine”!), the Reigning Sound, Jolie Holland, the International Noise Conspiracy, the Avatars, Bloc Party, Lucero, Ezra Furman, Frightened Rabbit, Sons and Daughters, the Long Blondes, \the Music, the Swell Season, Phoenix, Regina Spektor, the Rapture, the Hong Kong, Sahara Hotnights, Yo La Tengo, Georgie James, Holy Fuck, the Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos, KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES, James Hunter, Nathaniel Mayer, Old Crow Medicine Show, the Virgins, Editors, the Antlers, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Carbon/Silicon, Spoon, Stereophonics, the Romantics covering the Dirtbombs, Cat Power, Sam Roberts, Company of Thieves, the Stills, Head Like a Kite, Miss Alex White, Mr. David Viner, Knight School, the Von Bondies, Sea Wolf, Stars, the Submarines, Maritime, Mates of State, Mixtapes and Cellmates, the Notwist, Patrick Wolf, I Was a King, Ingrid Michaelson, Brazilian Girls, Chris Thomas King, Bat for Lashes, Be Your Own Pet, the Now Time Delegation, Franz Ferdinand, Headlights, Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Soundtrack of Our Lives, Southern Culture on the Skids, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the Heavy, Illinois, Stephanie’s Id, Interpol, Oysterhead, the Cops, the Takeover UK, the Features, Bob Marley, Jack Johnson (holy crap I listened to his first two records for months and then just forgot about him), OK Go, CSS, the Woggles, Stellastarr, the Violets, White Rabbits, Outrageous Cherry, the Duchess and the Duke, the Okmoniks, She Wants Revenge, the Duchess and the Duke, Thin Lizzy, Paul Simon, Savoir Adore, Surfer Blood, Jesse Malin, Lissy Trullie, the Love Me Nots, SSM, Sarah Mclachlan’s one record this decade, Hobie, Ravens and Chimes, the Coral, Erica Cashman, Tullycraft, the Ditty Bops (my goodness, the Ditty Bops!), the Black Lips, the Blacks, the Black Hollies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Forms, the Muldoons, the Ribeye Brothers, Tralala, Triple Hex, M.I.A., the Pipettes, the Dansettes, Amy Winehouse, all that stuff from Outkast, the stuff I got into by Prince,!!!, +/-, Fiery Furnaces, Islands, Jaguar Love, Josh Joplin Group, Passion Pit, Hercules and Love Affair, Ida Maria, Kaiser Chiefs, LCD Soundsystem. Les Savy Fav, Los Campesinos!, the Mars Volta, The Muslims/Soft Pack, Peter Bjorn and John, Suckers, the Teenagers, Yeasayer, Forro in the Dark, Bad Veins, Belle and Sebastien, Bound Stems, Broken West, Buck 65, Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club, the Harlem Shakes, Controller Controller, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Imogen Heap, Fleet Foxes, Gomez, Sam Champion, Drug Rug, the 1990’s, Neon Indian, the Young Werewolves, the Misteriosos, the Blue Van, Daniel Johnston, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, O’Death, Hoots & Hellmouth, Amy Rigby, David Ford, BellX1, Vega4, Snow Patrol, the Killers, Bob Log III, the Postelles, Patrick Thomas, CATL, Cause Co-Motion!, I Seem to Be a Verb, Ghetto Ways, the Forty-Fives, the Fleshtones, the Insomniacs, some of that band Radiohead, the Launderettes, the Lost Sounds, Titus Andronicus, the Ponys, Turpentine Brothers, the Tough and Lovely, the Volebeats, the 22-20’s, the Foxboro Hot Tubs, Green Day’s American Idiot record, Kylie Minogue, that cover of “Smooth Criminal” by Alien Ant Farm, Cake, a couple of tracks by that Eminem guy, Battles, Blonde Redhead, Celebration (an unforgettable concert), late appreciation of Pavement, Keren Ann, Land of Talk, Magnetic Fields, Magnolia Electric Company, My Morning Jacket, Pela, the Legends, Phantom Planet, School of Seven Bells, Pas/Cal, Asylum Street Spankers, Daniela Cotton, Dooley Wilson, Fat Vinny and the Wiseguys, Little Red Rooster, Marcia Ball, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Mavis Staples, Boogaloosa Prayer, Henry and June, Roomful of Blues, Shemeika Copeland, Diana Reeves, Sidney Bechet, Monsters of Folk, Old 97’s, Those Darlins, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, Laura Veirs, Laura Cantrell, Laura Marling, the Golden Republic, the Most Serene Republic, Republic Tigers, Tiger City, Steve Earle, the War on Drugs, Fruit Bats, Black Mountain, Blitzen Trapper, Tapes n Tapes, Bona Roba, the Dead Weather, De Novo Dahl, the Distillers, the Donnas, Joan Jett, Blondie, Free Energy, Honeyhoney, Johnny Lives, Wolfmother, the Coup, Joan Osbourne, Nicole Willis, Raphael Saadiq (and Tony! Toni! Tone! For that matter), Ray LaMontagne, the Saturday Knights, Vieux Farka Toure, Seun Keuti, Andrew W.K. the Apples in Stereo, Arctic Monkeys, Benji Ferree, the Muldoons, Cut Copy, Daft Punk, Funeral Party, the Go! Team, Lookbook, Junior Boys, Junior Senior, Justice, Late of the Pier, Little T & One Track Mike, Lordi, Louis XIV, Milky, Scissor Sisters, T.H. White, Walter Meego, We Are Scientists, the Zutons, the Dollyrots, Hockey, Amos Lee, Au Revoir Simone, Beck, the Bloodsugars, Brakes Brakes Brakes, Don Cavalli, Architecture in Helsinki, Dressy Bessy, Beaulah, Hatcham Social, Greycoats, Mark Mallman, One for the Team, the Redwood Plan, Tutankamon, the Veils, David Dondero, Devendra Banhart, Joshua James, Loretta Lucas, Kathleen Edwards, Marissa Nadler, the Missed Connections, Missy Higgins (who opened for Blanche one night and was on Conan O’Brien a year later), Turin Brakes, Free Blood, Bobby Bare Jr., Black Joe Lewis, Pork Tornado, Death Cab for Cutie, the Vexers, SJ Tucker, Thomas Function, Nellie McKay, Rachel Yamagata, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Ultra Orange & Emanuelle, the Bird and the Bee, Bishop Allen, Black Kids, the Brunettes, Emiliana Torrini, Generationals, Lykke Li, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, Lenka, the Postmarks, Rooney, Yael Naim, Acrylics…



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