Sunday, January 31, 2010

Decade's Best - An Analysis

I know I never made a "best of the decade" list. And for that, you can forever punish me for being a lazy blogger, or a lazy journalist, or even a lazy music listener.

The honest truth, however, is that I don't actually feel qualified to rate the best albums of the 2000s. Sure, I was alive for the whole decade. Sure, I was a college DJ for half of the decade, providing me with an easily-accessible door into most new releases. Yes, I have and will always have and endless love affair with music.

BUT, here's the thing: I didn't really get into my own music groove until senior year of high school. I may have been musical (read: I was a nerd - I was in choir, and showchoir, and school musicals), but I wasn't "musical" (read: I didn't go to concerts, nor did I really start seeking out music I would personally love.) I listened to the music that was provided for me. (This goes hand in hand with books: I learned to stop trusting other people's literary tastes after reading many a Sarah Desson novel, and far too many James Pattersons (thanks mom... ).)

Listening to what was given to me? It actually provided a good variety in my life. My father's music tastes are ridiculously diverse. (To some extent - most of it is guitar-driven rock.) But I loved The Police and Talking Heads from a young age. Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, John Mellencamp, U2 (how could I forget my favorite?), The Who, Hall & Oates, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Grateful Dead... I mean, it was diverse. In middle school, I "rebelled" from good music. I explored the lands of boy bands and top 40 (whew, glad I got that out of my system). I got to high school and adopted the hilarious pop punk/fake emo stage of my life - New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carraba, Dashboard Confessional........

It wasn't until 2004 that I first heard The Strokes, Wilco, Metric, Arcade Fire, and other bands that I can still embrace as "my music." For the first time ever, I was listening to something that was "mine." Not my father's, not my crush's, not my friend's. Music for the sake of music, a personal experience that began to transform my identity. It all stemmed from that year. And my first big purchase - my first iPod.

I cannot pretend to understand the best music of the decade. I didn't hear Elliott Smith until 2005, so how can I even put his genius into perspective? I was still listening to Britney Spears when I entered high school. I cannot judge an entire decade in which I was only and independent person for half of it.

That being said - all disclaimers out - my favorite album of the 2000s is Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It stands alone for me as the single most alluring album from beginning to end, a journey that has taken me from adolescence to adulthood. Each time I listen, it grows. I notice something extra, the lyrics seem exponentially mean more and more, and the chaos of the distortion seems perfectly intentioned. Hearing the songs live - I have done so three times, two by accident (destiny?) - awakens something deeper from their mysterious depths.

The bouncy innocence melds with its slightly mischievous quality. It's like taking the purest of childhood memories and compressing them into an hour. The sweet success of riding a two-wheeler, the first time you got away with lying to your parents (and later giggled about it), the urge to create and learn and discover. My history is in this album, the very culture of life intertwined in its notes. I don't listen to the album and think about Wilco's band issues, or Jeff Tweedy's struggle with drugs. It steps aside from their drama, and it becomes mine. Every song becomes a facet of my own life.

I feel as if the album was written for me. I think lots of people feel that way about it. And isn't that just the ultimate praise one can give to a band? 'Wilco, you have created something so real, so personal... something I pretend is exclusively mine.' I think that's what music is about. Even when we don't know who we are, isn't it nice to let music define that for us? If only for the length of one album, if only short and fleeting, I am myself when I hear Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. My life makes sense.

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