Best of the Decade: Music (21-19)


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Moving into the Top 20 with the first mentions of some of the decade's signature artists: Jay-Z, M.I.A., the Hold Steady, and TV on the Radio.


Album: The Blueprint — Jay-Z (Roc-a-Fella, 2001)
I know a lot of people dote on Jay-Z's first two albums, but I think he peaked with 1999's underrated Vol. 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter and this juggernaut, albums where the energy and hunger of the early stuff meets pop reach, expanding subject matter, and talented young producers (Kanye West here) pulling out all the stops. This is glossy, celebratory, braggadocios modern hip-hop at its most undeniable and ambitious.

Song Sample: "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)"

Single: "Kerosene" — Miranda Lambert (2005)
A runner-up on Nashville Star self-pens a break-up song as class-rage anthem then rips off (and betters) Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright" to put it across. Pop music: where the unexpected can always happen.


Album: Dear Science — TV On the Radio (Interscope, 2008)
In the past 10 months, Dear Science has gone from my 18th favorite album of 2008 to my 20th favorite album of the whole decade, so who knows what I'll think a year from now. It gets better every time I listen to it and I think I underrated it initially because I'd struggled with their previous records and it's not generally the kind of record I love. But over time it became clear that this so-called "Williamsburg Radiohead" hadn't created an album of dystopian art-rock but of utopian dance-rock, full of rhythm and joy but with tinges and darkness and noise adding gravity.

Song Sample: "Golden Age"

Single: "What's Up Fatlip?" — Fatlip (2000)
Ex-Pharcyde MC goes solo with this deliriously self-deprecating, deadpan-sad gem, and with an equally astounding video:


Album: Boys and Girls in America — The Hold Steady (Vagrant, 2006)
Maybe my favorite band of the decade (and, yes, that's a spoiler). From my 2006 year-end list:

"You're pretty good with words, but words won't save your life," a woman advises poet John Berryman on the album-opening "Stuck Between Stations," but songwriter supreme Craig Finn might be singing that line to himself. On Boys and Girls in America, Finn rachets down the verbosity that dominated previous records and gives more conventional song structures (and more conventional singing) a spin. The band also trades in their previous dense conceptualism for something breezier: a theme album about romance amid the kind of messed-up teenage lives chronicled on [2005]'s Separation Sunday. The result is as observant, compassionate, and subtly funny as rock-and-roll gets. Don't be surprised that America's greatest rock band is such a subterranean sensation: With rare exceptions, it's been that way as long as there have been American rock bands.

Song Sample: "Stuck Between Stations"

Single: "Galang" — M.I.A. (2005)
Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts:


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