We Ought to Look Back by Alan Blair

As the close of the decade neared, I felt fairly certain that when the cultural output of the 00’s was totaled and rated it would pale in comparison to my beloved 1990’s. “Things were better in my day! You damned kids and your fancy Facespace and etexts! Who took my Gold Bond Medicated Powder?!“ etc., etc. But when it came time to look back and assess the past ten years of music, film and television, the results were irrefutable: the 00’s was a fantastic decade for the popular arts in America. Moreover, technology made creating and finding that art easier than it’s ever been. Like the 90’s, I feel certain that I’ll continue to mine the depths of the 00’s for the things that I missed my first time around.

In the interest of brevity and in a not-so-subtle nod to a particular popular technology of the new decade, the raves listed below are no more than 140 characters in length. All titles are listed alphabetically so that I can cowardly avoid ranking them. And in the interests of variety and fairness to the other competitors, a certain band has bowed out of the running. Let’s light this candle.

The Avalanches Since I Left You (2000)
I once believed that this album grew on me. I now know that I grew into this album. Music as fun and as fragmented as the decade it opened.

The Bad Plus These Are the Vistas (2003)
Like Brubeck’s Take Five, this album proves that quality and accessibility aren’t mutually exclusive. The decade’s best jazz album.

Beck Sea Change (2002)
It was exciting, not surprising, to see that earnestness suited Beck just as well as irony did. Heartbreak glowing like a pink moon.

Bouncing Souls Anchors Away (2003)
The best album of the Souls’ career. These are songs of transition: growing up, dying, moving, leaving. All heart, all the time.

The Clientele Suburban Light (2000)
This is the rare singles collection that plays like an album. Music that makes you wistful for a time that never actually existed.

Deltron Deltron 3030 (2001)
The album’s sci-fi storytelling brought a new focus to both Del and Dan the Automator. Hip-hop futuristic in both vision and execution.

DJ Danger Mouse The Grey Album (2004)
Danger Mouse’s mash of Jay-Z and the Beatles bangs hard enough to escape the shadow of the album’s considerable cultural context.Doughty Skittish (2000)

Mike Doughty Smofe + Smang (live in mpls.) (2002)
Soul Coughing without the beats and without the Beats. Doughty stripped himself and his music bare and nearly perfected pop in the process.

Drive-By Truckers Decoration Day (2003)
Drive-By Truckers The Dirty South (2004)

Do I love the South because of the Truckers, or the Truckers because of the South? Yes. DBT at their best, these albums are inseparable.

F-Minus Wake Up Screaming (2003)
What do you do if you’re the reincarnated Black Flag and no one notices? If you’re FMinus, you leave with this album, a gutter masterpiece.

Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life (2008)
This is not The Shape of Punk to Come for the ‘00’s. This is the shape of punk to come for the ‘00’s.

Fugazi The Argument (2001)
A band that had earned the right to rest on its laurels, but never would. Like SleaterKinney, Fugazi made their last album their best.

Gnarls Barkley St. Elsewhere (2006)
Milk and cookies. Chicken and waffles. Peanut butter and chocolate. Shrimp and grits. Coffee and donuts. Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo.

Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
The first record that felt like the ‘00’s, even though it was high on the ‘80’s. Their secret weapon: the starch-stiff rhythm section.

ISIS Oceanic (2002)
The ocean can only dream of being this imposing. It should not have taken Metal 30 years to give us an album as expansive as this one.

The National Alligator (2005)
The National Boxer (2007)
Who gave these guys my diary? The National write beautiful songs about tired, wired America that still feel deeply intimate.

Radiohead Kid A (2000)
Isn’t it strange that the one album that we all agree on is also one of the most difficult? Isn’t it surprising? Isn’t it comforting?

The Roots Phrenology (2002)
The Roots broadened their horizons and showed that they’re not just a hip-hop band, but a great band, period. My expectations exceeded.Sleater-Kinney The Woods (2005) The sound of blown-out speakers blowing out speakers. S-K always rocked smarter than everyone else; here, they rocked bigger.

Tenacious D Tenacious D (2001)
The problem: by their nature, comedy records don’t offer much replay value. The solution: non-stop rocking! That’s innovation, holmes.

Perfect Records
Beaten Awake “A&E” from Let’s Get Simplified (2006)
Less is much more. John Finley’s hoarse tenor deserves to be heard by more people. Let’s start with America.

Bouncing Souls “Kids and Heroes” from Anchors Away (2003)
“Self-Reliance,” for the kids with safety pins in their noses and stars in their eyes. “…the truth was right here in my own song.”

Bouncing Souls “Lean on Sheena” from The Gold Record (2006)
Originally recorded by Boston’s Avoid One Thing. Sheena is a punk rocker and the Bouncing Souls are her big brothers.

Cat Power “I Found a Reason” from The Covers Record (2000)
Chan Marshall borrows only a handful of lyrics from the Velvet Underground original, but creates something new, direct, and beautiful.

Kelly Clarkson “Since U Been Gone” from Breakaway (2004)
When Clarkson sings That Note at the 2:41 mark, I stop minding that this song was carefully engineered in a Swedish lab to elicit my joy.

The Clientele “Five Day Morning” from Suburban Light (2000)
A challenger to “Waterloo Sunset,” for the coveted title of “Most British Sounding Song Ever Recorded.” A musical daydream.

Doughty “The Only Answer” from Skittish (2000)
Doughty “No Peace Los Angeles” from Skittish (2000)
Doughty “Looks” from Skittish (2000)

Unrequited love, drug rehab, and furtive glances. These songs form the core of Skittish. “Looks,” is a cover of NY’s Student Teachers.

Mike Doughty “40 Grand in the Hole” from Rockity Roll (2004)
Mike Doughty “Laundrytown” from Rockity Roll (2004)

Broke and diseased, Doughty vows to change his ways. Maybe he’ll start with the big girl who lives above a Laundromat.

Mike Doughty “Sunkeyed Girl” from Smofe +Smang (live in mpls.) (2002)
Mike Doughty “Madeleine and Nine” from Smofe +Smang (live in mpls.) (2002)
Mike Doughty “Grey Ghost” from Smofe +Smang (live in mpls.) (2002)

Try to guess who the best songwriter of the ‘00’s was. Go on, guess. Here’s a hint: he also made the best live album of the decade.

Drive-By Truckers “Outfit” from Decoration Day (2003)
Drive-By Truckers “Decoration Day” from Decoration Day (2003)

No one writes better songs about fathers and sons than Jason Isbell, from the upright man in “Outfit,” to the fucker in “Decoration Day.”

Drive-By Truckers “The Day John Henry Died” from The Dirty South (2004)
Isbell again. He reintroduces the American legend as a bastard, but the lessons remain the same, generation after generation.

Drive-By Truckers “Let There Be Rock” from The Southern Rock Opera (2001)
And I never saw Lynard Skynard, but I sure saw Drive-By Truckers, with Patterson Hood singin’ “Let there be rock!”

Drummer “Mature Fantasy” from Feel Good Together (2009)
Five drummers from five different Ohio bands come together and pound out the decade’s last, greatest Summer Jam.

elliott “Halfway Pretty (acoustic)” from If They Do (2000)
If the entire genre had delivered on the early promise of this song and this band, we would feel differently today about the word “emo.”

Fucked Up “Black Albino Bones” from The Chemistry of Common Life (2008)
Lunatic wailing, guitar squalls stacked to the ceiling, hardcore flexing its brains. “It’s the little things that get us through life.”

Hepcat “Earthquake and Fire” from Out of Nowhere (2000)
Anyone who would joke about ska’s Third Wave never heard this band or this song. Come out and put on your dancing shoes.

Idlewild “Mistake Pageant” from 100 Broken Windows (2000)
Idlewild spent the decade as the world’s premiere R.E.M. tribute band. Not really, but this is the best song that Peter Buck never wrote.

Jason Isbell “Chicago Promenade” from Sirens of the Ditch (2007)
Isbell puts aside storytelling and takes stock of his own life. The chiming piano and pitch-perfect guitar solo say as much as his lyrics.

Jessica Lea Mayfield “For Today” from With Blasphemy So Heartfelt (2008)
Only 19 when she recorded this song, Mayfield seemed too young to know the things she sings about. I believe her, though.

Talib Kweli “Get By” from Quality (2002)
The song that should have made Kweli a household name. You can’t blame Kanye, though; this is West the beatmaker at his very best.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists “Timorous Me” from The Tyranny of Distance (2001)
Punk rock’s Ichiro: bats for average, fast as hell, beloved by his fans, great defense. “Timorous Me,” is a towering shot of power pop.

Less Than Jake “Look What Happened” from Anthem (2003)
LTJ have always written songs about the dream of leaving. This song isn’t merely about the hope of escape, but the desperate need for it.

Low Red Land “Dog’s Hymn” from Dog’s Hymns (2008)
Low Red Land play with such conviction that a chorus like “Say your ‘Amens’ in dog’s hymns,” never feels as silly as it may sound.

Mirah “Sweepstakes Prize” from You Think It’s Like This
but Really It’s Like This (2000)

What Mirah manages is simple and so complicated, sounding adorable without being cloying. If Ronnie Spector had grown up on Beat Happening.

The National “All the Wine” from The Cherry Tree (2004) and Alligator (2005)
Perfect for when you feel like a champion or like a complete phony. The song works gorgeously in either extreme and everywhere in between.

The National “Fashion Coat” from Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
The city or the country? In love or out of love? A well-dressed man divided against himself cannot stand.

The New Pornographers “The Bleeding Heart Show” from Twin Cinema (2005)
You’re not too late. NP play it cool for the first half of this song before careening into a glorious coda of “Hey la’s.” Neko Case stars.

Beth Orton “Carmella” from Daybreaker (2002)
Beth Orton “Carmella (Four Tet Remix)” from The Other Side of Daybreak (2003)

So gorgeous that even her cooing “Ooooh, yeah yeah…” seems to encompass the entire spectrum of human emotion. No, I’m not joking.

The Roots f/ Cody ChesnuTT “The Seed (2.0)” from Phrenology (2002)
The Roots lick the competition and keep their legend alive by blowing out ChesnuTT’s lo-fi original. Name it rock’n’roll.

Sleater-Kinney “Modern Girl” from The Woods (2005)
Sleater-Kinney “Entertain” from The Woods (2005)

S-K were so consistently brilliant for so long that they earned the righteous indignation on display in these songs. Still want that donut?


Ohia “Farewell Transmission” from The Magnolia Electric Co. (2003)
Jason Molina has spent his entire career writing lines like “Mama here comes midnight with the dead moon in its jaws.” Chilling, no?Tegan & Sara “Nineteen” from The Con (2007)
A song that undoubtedly launched 1,000 mash notes. It’s a strange thing to feel nostalgia for awkwardness and heartache.

25 th Hour (2002)
Spike Lee trying to sort out the lingering hurt of 9/11. Led by Ed Norton, the brilliant cast exudes NY’s guilt, betrayal, and defiance.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
This works so well because Judd Apatow and Steve Carell make Andy Sttizer more believable than 90% of the characters in dramatic films.

Almost Famous (2000)
“So Alan…what do you love about this film?” To begin with, everything.

Amelie of Montmartre (2001)

The filmic equivalent of puppies licking your face. Poor Audrey Tautou is so perfect as Amelie that she can never again be anyone else.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Will Ferrell and friends revel in stupidity and supreme silliness, creating the decade’s most quotable film, which is kind of a big deal.

Children of Men (2006)
This film is terrifying because its miserable vision of our future is so recognizable. Buried among the big ideas are huge action scenes.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee’s treatise on love in bloom and love unrequited. The Chinese backdrops are as vast as they are rich. Also, kickass flying kung fu!

Donnie Darko (2001)
This movie makes an inspired case for why the magician should never reveal his tricks. The fun is in trying to puzzle out the impossible.

Eastern Promises (2007)
This is Cronenberg for people who don’t like Cronenberg. Viggo Mortensen’s Nikolai could kick Aragorn’s ass all week and twice on Sunday.

In Bruges (2008)
A highly episodic and bleakly funny take on the European gangster picture. Brendan Gleeson is reliably great, but Colin Ferrell kills.

The Incredibles (2004)
It’s never a question of whether a Pixar film is going to be great, but of how great. So take your pick, but this one is the most fun.

Lost in Translation (2003)
Like so many albums that I love, this film struck the right chord at the right time. No one captures a vibe better than Sofia Coppola.

No Country For Old Men (2007)
After seeing him terrorize the Texas plains in this film, I long for Anton Chigurh and his air gun to show in Katherine Heigl’s next movie.

Spellbound (2002)
“The word is ‘Wonderful.’” “Can you use it in a sentence?” “The documentary Spellbound is wonderful, brimming with the American Dream.”

Syriana (2005)
Yes, the plotting is wound too tight for its own good, but it’s impossible to miss the film’s dark, troubling view of world affairs.

Tropic Thunder (2008)
Of the decade’s great comedies, this one benefits the most from repeated viewings. This satire of Hollywood is deeper and funnier each time.

Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006)
If Seinfeld taught us anything, it’s that we love horrible people. No TV family this decade was more horrible or lovable than the Bluths.

Carnivale (HBO, 2003-2005)

Deadwood (HBO, 2004-2006)

Rome (HBO, 2005-2007)

HBO has to be admired for the risks they took in creating these three gigantic genre epics. Each show’s precise universe satisfied deeply.

Chappelle’s Show (Comedy Central, 2003-2006)

It’s better to burn out than fade away. Chappelle was the decade’s Bugs Bunny, using his charm and smarts to get away with comedy murder.

The Daily Show (Comedy Central, 1999-Present)

John Stewart so completely reshaped and improved this show that I now refuse to acknowledge that it existed before he became its anchor.

Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000)
No show had more empathy for its characters than this one. The frequent and crushing
defeats made the small victories feel much bigger.

Generation Kill (HBO, 2008)
The invasion of Iraq was confusing for the soldiers, too. David Simon chases The Wire
with this bracing adaptation of Evan Wright’s book.

Gilmore Girls (WB, CW, 2000-2007)
With its over-caffeinated dialogue and nods to pop culture, few shows gave their
audiences as much credit as this one. Also, Edward Herman!

Jeopardy! (Syndicated, 1984-Present)
America’s best game show thrived by adapting, doubling dollar amounts and lifting the
cap on wins, thus paving the way for Ken Jennings.

Late Night with Conan O’Brien (NBC, 1993-2009)
Conan is my favorite comedian, so silly and so smart. Forget the way this new decade has treated him and remember the better days.

The Office (US) (NBC, 2005-Present)
The American adaptation exchanges wincing discomfort for wackiness and is better for it. Frequent changes have also kept the show fresh.

Pardon the Interruption (ESPN, 2001-Present)
This show is deceiving because it isn’t actually about sports, but about the way that sports bonds us as a culture and as friends.

The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007)
Of the many things the decade’s defining drama changed about TV, its refusal to tie up every loose end felt the most radical and refreshing.

This American Life (Showtime, 2007-2008)
In retrospect, TAL’s radio devotees were foolish to worry about adapting the show for TV. The stories lose nothing in translation.

When the Levees Broke (HBO, 2006)
Katrina brought so much tragedy to New Orleans that capturing all of it is impossible. Spike Lee’s mini-series is a moving primer, though.

The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008)
A gripping portrayal of life’s dire circumstances in Inner City, U.S.A. As much as we fear the villains, we fear for the kids even more.

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