Best of the decade: 71-80

The series continues after the jump.


Band: The Donnas
Album: Spend the Night

I make no secret that I believe the Internet to be mankind’s greatest invention. One of its many great contributions to humanity and society at large is that the notion — probably fostered by media in the 1990s — of musical taste being boxed into a genre or two. Hippies listen to jam bands, punkers listen to punk, jocks listen to nu-metal, classic rock is for your parents, etc. Blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum — hipster publications, no doubt — often tout the merits of mainstream bands (see Pitchfork’s coverage of Dave Frohl’s latest project).

So, I guess this doesn’t apply as much as it used to, but there are a few bands I really enjoy that may not fit what someone might see as my tastes. I certainly project certain bands I love and they remain my absolute favorites. Lil’ Wayne. Death Cab for Cutie. Slint. Tortoise. Mastodon. Black Sabbath. Isis. The Sea and Cake. The Beatles. Sufjan. Mogwai. Pink Floyd. No real surprises, all those bands occupy a “classic” thing or some indie rock thing. Nine Inch Nails surprises some people and was something of a guilty pleasure for many years. Coldplay surprises some people, but, really, I don’t Coldplay. I just think they get unfairly maligned.

However, there are definitely two bands I love that surprise everyone. Tom Petty is one. I think Tom Petty is fucking amazing — every one of his singles makes me smile. Yes, I hate middle of the road dad-rock, but I think Petty’s music, for whatever reason, rises above that distinction. I always get quizzical looks when I tell people I love Petty.

The other is the Donnas. I imagine that’s because the Donnas are, for all intents and purposes, a band of no consequence. They were never really popular — they got dropped from their label after Gold Medal because no one bought it — and most people only know them from their sorta novelty covers of hard rock hits (“Dancing with Myself,” “Strutter” and “Livin’ After Midnight” come to mind). Or maybe people know the Donnas from their early records, clearing jailbaiting it up.

But, I love the Donnas. I don’t tend to like punk rock, but the Donnas occupy that space just a little to the complex side of punk rock — such great guitar solos — and are just a hard rock band that liks to sing about partying. They’re like Kiss, only chicks and not crappy. No pretense. Like Andrew W.K., only not a completely crazy Michigander.

Spend the Night is 13 songs about drinking, making out with dudes and having fun. It’s not brain surgery, but it is outstandingly catchy and outstandingly fun.


Band: The White Stripes
Album: Elephant

The White Stripes are something of a stupid person’s Radiohead. They were the “it” band of the decade, in a lot of ways, but did so by blatantly ripping off the Kinks and early blues riffs. Lo-fi as they are, Jack White can write a riff.

Nevertheless, Elephant is the pinnacle of the band’s powers. Where Icky Thump was self-indulgent and White Blood Cells was unrefined, Elephant is neither. I’ve written about it before, but it remains a very enjoyable listen.


Band: Jim O’Rourke
Album: Insignificance

I’m sort of a sucker for O’Rourke’s misanthropic, taut songwriting. Considering his ex-status as “indie rock man about town,” O’Rourke’s hook should be less than they are and songs like “All Downhill from Here” just show that off.


Band: Iron & Wine
Album: Our Endless Numbered Days

It’s no secret I love Iron & Wine. On his second album, Sam Beam slowly moves toward a more Nick Drake future by moving outside of the American South into the rest of nation’s musical traditions. Our Endless Numbered Days is forward and lovely. “Naked As We Came” is one of his best tracks.


Band: Beyonce
Album: Dangerously in Love

It’s kind of easy to forget now — she’s, obviously, one of music’s biggest stars now — but Beyonce’s first album was looked at with some skepticism when it came out. After all, a solo album from a girl group lead woman was seen as risky.

Indeed, this record helped make her into the superduperstar she is now. The album’s bombastic title track propelled Dangerously in Love to the top of the charts and the video made her face even moreso. The song is awesome and, really, the first three songs (all singles) are near-unstoppable. “Naughty Girl” is another club jam, though smoother and “Baby Boy” features Sean Paul and makes him somewhat listenable. That’s really something.

Nevertheless, the record’s second half is largely ballads, which Beyonce nails. The record has R&B tracks, more hip hop-influenced stuff and those ballads. It’s varied and enjoyable. Like the Rihanna record, it’s the kind of thing everyone puts on, in order to get a party going.


Band: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: Fever to Tell

I cannot decide if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are wildly overrated or properly rated as a band. When the band’s first record was released, they were seen as a New York “it” band, based on a number of EPs and a music press-approved slew of information (Vegan! Mixed-race, sorta hot chick lead singer! From Brooklyn! Met at Oberlin!). Fever to Tell was released amid all that stuff swirling around the atmosphere.

Still, sometimes, the hype overshadows the actual record. Karen O is hot for an indie rock star (see also Case, Neko and Feist, Leslie), but not actually attractive. Her intonation varies very little; she either screams like a cat getting brained or uses her lowish register to detach herself from the lyric.

Of course, one of the 10 or so best songs of the decade comes from her vocal, the penultimate Fever to Tell track, “Maps.” It’s an unstoppable song.


Band: The Shins
Album: Wincing the Night Away

Like so many other bands, the Shins don’t do much outside of normal rock and roll. On some level, that’s annoying, as I’d prefer my music to have even the tiniest interesting thing about it. But, it’s hard to hate the Shins. The Shins are Zach Braff’s middle-of-the-road wet dream, having made eminently pleasant records. The Shins are the best and most accessible of a certain type of band — literate, smart, easy guitar-based stuff. It’s the type of music NPR listeners like.

I saw the Shins this past spring and my companion and I both had the same reaction: It was good. It wasn’t as good as the Yo La Tengo show we’d seen later in the summer. It wasn’t half as good as the Neko Case show we’d seen earlier in the spring. It was pleasant.

Wincing the Night Away is hardly the best record in the world, but it’s a really nice group of songs.


Band: Bright Eyes
Album: LIFTED or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Whenever a songwriter is compared to Bob Dylan, it’s easy to recoil, but I’ll say this: Conor Oberst is a strong songwriter and not a great singer, just like that nasally dude from Minnesota. LIFTED is the last of his original sounding record, when he was still acting the angry teenager, throwing tantrums and screaming about lost love, the opressive world and the everyday. “Waste of Paint” is brilliant and “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)” is far better than it should be.


Band: Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Album: Master and Everyone

Great songwriter, even better beard.


Band: Dianogah
Album: Millions of Brazilians

Dianogah’s brand of post-rock is both unique and comforting at the same time. The band dances around time signatures, but never rocks out fully. Two bassists and a drummer make for a unique sound, but hardly anything that makes you recoil.

On the band’s third LP, Jay Ryan, Jason Harvey and Kip McCabe really destroy it. “Take Care, Olaf” — named after a signature at the end of an international fan letter — is lovely and “Maria, Which Has Got Her Heart Completely Fucked Up” is among the band’s greatest songs.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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