Best of the Decade: Music (9-7)



The first of the final three posts.


Album: Kala — M.I.A. (XL, 2007)
From my ’07 year-end piece:

Sri Lankan-born world citizen M.I.A. mashes up Western pop (Modern Lovers, Pixies, Duran Duran) with Third World rhythms on this follow-up to her ecstatic debut Arular. Where the earlier record was an intensely pleasurable, beatwise brass-ring grab, Kala is a more rattled, woozy sonic miasma. Fantasizing about a Third World stick-up of First World wealth as she demands (or does she?) that soulja boys the world over toss away their guns; losing her mind in the midst of putting "people on the map who never seen a map"; falling in love on a Darfur tour, rapping joyfully with Aborigine kids: No album this year took in more of the world or did so with such a playful, disorienting rush of ideas.

Song Sample: "World Town"

Single: "Crazy" — Gnarls Barkley (2006)
One of the five most universal singles of the decade.


Album: One Beat — Sleater-Kinney (Kill Rock Stars, 2002)
My favorite band of the ’90s with the best musical response to 9/11. From my year-end blurb:

In 2002, the era's greatest rock-and-roll band released the best record of their lives, and far too few took proper notice. But that's okay, because One Beat is also the record on which Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss stopped worrying about their place in the pop-culture landscape and instead took on topics both bigger and smaller than all the metarock that had come before. In between the meditation on the mysteries of change that opens this album and the frightened prayer for a newborn son that closes it are songs about love energizing ("Oh!," which earns its exclamation point) and enervating, a hymn to their hometown, and uplifting anthems of dissent. And yet, they could be singing in Swahili and this would still be my favorite record of the year, because the greatest thrill of all is the way these three women dramatize community and interdependence, the way Tucker and Brownstein's voices and guitars come together and fall apart, and the way Weiss' drums push everything skyward.

Song Sample: "Step Aside"

Single: "Sunshowers" — M.I.A. (2005)
Hooking a choice Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band sample to a compelling, conflicted family story that rings the zeitgeist bell. Official video:


Album: The Marshall Mathers LP — Eminem (Interscope, 2000)
Given that the inevitable backlash that came with being the first white MC to rival the genre's greats was followed (a few years later, in my opinion) by a diminuition of skills that makes his current music a shell of what he was at the beginning of the decade, I'd say he's pretty underrated now. The Marshall Mathers LP is a great album: Profane, provocative, and utterly devoid of self-censorship, he threatens to kill us all on the very first song and proceeds from there — to dada rhymes, surreal vignettes, raw confessional as self-deprecating comedy, the most empathetic pop-song portrait of fandom ever, a direct consideration of the role of race in his popularity, a bit of painful primal-scream therapy that unpacks hip-hop's usually flippant misogyny, priceless sotto voce asides that imagine how the world will react ("Oh great, now he's killing his own mother, abusing a whore, snorting coke, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover." or "Oh wait, you're kidding. He didn't just say what I think he did, did he?"), and the funniest skit in the history of album skits ("Steve Berman"). It's a tour de force. Through the first 8 tracks, it's the album of the decade. I docked it a couple of notches only because near the end it occasionally descends into the cheap sensationalism many thought was its only quality. And because as the year's pass I think I might prefer the out-of-nowhere and less fame-conscious debut, 1999's The Slim Shady LP.

Song Sample: "Who Knew"

Single: "Umbrella" — Rihanna (2007)
Probably the most universal single of the decade.


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