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Tim Mohr

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Rolling Stone is Gathering Moss, Big Time

Posted: 12/15/09 05:37 PM ET

For decades, Rolling Stone's reputation -- at least as far as music coverage goes -- has been a bit shitty and a bit of a joke. The publication has certainly solidified that reputation in their new end-of-the-decade issue: the whole thing reads as if it was beamed in from some other decade. Dylan, Springsteen, and U2 all score multiple entries on the list of best albums of the 2000s. There's also space devoted to a familiar list of artists that old men apparently cannot get enough of: Radiohead, Wilco, Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and the newest member of the club, Animal Collective. Yawn.

And while Rolling Stone does acknowledge the existence of MGMT, MIA, and LCD Soundsystem, otherwise it's as if recent developments in music -- the developments that have relegated U2 to the nostalgia circuit, with their latest album greeted by a collective shrug, or worse -- never happened in Wennerland.

We're living in the most exciting moment in the history of music -- a time when listeners have unlimited access to music even if they live in a two-bit village in Siberia, a time when musicians can record for virtually nothing and distribute their music anywhere on the planet for literally nothing, all of which has led to a completely unparalleled and inconceivably rich and diverse golden age open to any and all -- and Rolling Stone commits the cardinal sin of making it seem boring. The amazing thing about this decade is that it became totally routine to listen to a Peruvian trip-hop act, a British rapper, a Hungarian psych-pop combo, a Berlin electro artist and a maudlin crooner from Gothenberg, Sweden, one right after the next, and without needing to have a trainspotter's knowledge of the scenes in any of those places--or even a specialty record store. Another interesting development has been a glut of interesting reissues as the cost of unearthing and distributing obscurities dropped; digital-only labels like Anthology can afford to bring out stuff that would otherwise never have seen the light of day--another great opportunity for listeners.

It's hardly surprising (and perhaps even for the best) that, given their inability to muster enthusiasm for much of anything new or interesting, the book limps in at barely a hundred pages. Matt Taibbi aside, why would anyone but wizened boomers continue to read this rag?

Instead of going on about the misguided inclusions on their various lists--after all, who wants to spend that kind of time -- let's just touch upon a dozen seminal aughties artists who don't rate a mention in any context in the issue, whether for an album, a song or even a passing reference.


Peaches

Her potty-mouthed rhymes and homemade electro-punk set the stage for a boom in empowered female electro artists like Miss Kittin and Uffie, all of whom collectively became a sort of antidote -- both in terms of sexual politics and musically--to the Britneys of the world. She also taught MIA how to rap.


Justice

Sure, they self-consciously cast themselves in the Daft Punk mold--a French duo making distorted electro. But their record was a beast, and they filled huge venues with revelers ready to dance to a sound that prior to the loosening of corporate control of the music biz would have sounded like it was from outer space.


Queens of the Stone Age

These guys wrenched stoner rock into the future, bringing smarts, melody, and sinister precision to a genre that couldn't otherwise have survived the 2000s.


Gwen Stefani

The former No Doubt singer never gets credit for her adventurous experimentation in production styles and sounds. Yes, she operated in the old major label milieu, but her stuff was way more daring and imaginative and far less dogmatic than most hipster acts. A decade retrospective is when corrections about such things should be made. Gwen got hosed.


Crystal Castles

No band of the past decade was more rock and roll than this Toronto duo. Their vintage video game blips and bleeps are given bounce and heft by a low end worthy of another Toronto act, MSTRKRFT. And frontwoman Alice Glass is a maniacal goth-punk utterly possessed on stage. This is easily the most emblematic (and exciting) band of the new era, taking lo-fi home recordings to worldwide indie stardom, and turning shows into wild, free-for-all dancefests.


Bonde Do Role

From the slums of Curitiba, this Brazilian act combines local Baile funk with elements of Miami Bass, crunk, dancehall, and electro. (It should come as no surprise that Diplo discovered them.) Like Sao Paulo's CSS and Portugal's Buraka Som Sistema, Bonde Do Role represent a new trend--music from beyond the borders of the rock and roll world entering it via hipster channels rather than via world music channels. And that makes all the difference--there's nothing cheesy about this stuff. A contemporary west African band able to pull off this same trick is the next logical step--all of which speaks to the wonderful new reality of today's wide-open music scene.


Ladyhawke

As with Bonde Do Role, I'm using Ladyhawke as a stand-in for an entire movement--in this case, the burst of synth-based creativity coming out of Oceania. Ladyhawke--aka Pip Brown--is from New Zealand, but her label, Australia's Modular, has since unleashing the sample-delic Avalanches on the world in 2000 brought out the Presets, Cut Copy, Bumblebeez, and Van She, among others, and helped create a roster of like-minded artists from beyond the Pacific Rim, including Chromeo, New Young Pony Club, Soulwax, and Klaxons.


Jens Lekman

Here's another example of the beauty of the current music landscape. This Swedish bedroom producer was able to release his inner Morrissey on a series of melancholic pure pop tunes and find an international following as a result. He's part of yet another wave of Scandinavian indie pop bands that washed across the Atlantic this decade, taking in the hushed sounds of Norway's west coast (Kings of Convenience, Sondre Lerche, et al), the throwback noise pop of Denmark's Raveonettes, Singapore Sling and Seabears from Iceland, and a bunch of mellow Swedes including Peter Bjorn and John, the Concretes, Jose Gonzalez, El Perro del Mar, and many more.


The Streets

French hip-hop took off in the 1990s, with many artists even using samples from their own musical heritage (such as MC Solaar's Serge Gainsbourg clip in "Nouveau Western"). Mike Skinner--the slam poet behind the Streets--has done the same trick for the UK, hitching his quirky tales of working class life to the pulsing sounds of British club life. Acts like the Streets, Lady Sovereign, and Dizzee Rascal are deliciously regional despite working in what's become a global idiom. It's yet another benefit of the current situation: musical forms that are sometimes quite universal, but music that is much less homogeneous than in prior decades.


Spoon

From Austin, Texas, Spoon rose to prominence on the strength of their moody but anthemic rock classicism on three nearly perfect albums beginning with 2002's Kill the Moonlight. Main man Britt Daniel also got in on the boom in indie musicians scoring movies (a trend that culminated in Karen O's scoring Where the Wild Things Are), making music for 2006's Stranger Than Fiction.


Sharon Jones

Jones is an example of a phenomenon that could never have happened in the old days--like the 1990s. She broke out while already middle aged, and the urgency of her vocals and the spectacular musicians behind her -- the Dap-Kings, house band of the Daptone label--ignited a worldwide trend in retro R&B that eventually propelled Amy Winehouse and Duffy to household name status.


Doves

There was a moment early in this decade when Doves were getting even odds against Coldplay to become the next U2. Things didn't pan out that way as the years wore on, but the band's releases have continued to hold their own against anything around, particularly as enveloping experiences--brooding and dark, with the chiming guitars of 1980s Celtic arena rock, ace percussion, and pacing made for album-length listening.


And finally, as an aside, anyone who doesn't have Daft Punk's Alive 2007 among the top handful of albums of the decade has let time pass them by. The record documents a tour that revolutionized the concert experience--and not just for its stage set and visuals. The way the duo mashed up its own catalogue was even more significant than the pyramid and wiggy effects that got so much attention, and the mashups created complete hysteria as fans -- 10,000 at a time, by the way--lost their minds. Forget Discovery, the recognition of Alive as a masterpiece of the first decade of the new millennium should represent a sort of musical litmus test.

 

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