Best of the decade: 81-90


Band: Nelly
Album: Country Grammar

There’s something invariably important about the music that soundtracks our existence. In writing up this list, I knew I had to put Country Grammar on here somewhere; I’m not even close to OK as to the placement of this record here at 90.

It’s not that I love Country Grammar. Because, really, I don’t. I actually found it unendingly annoying when it came out. You see, I went to school at the University of Missouri and Country Grammar was released between my freshman and sophomore years. A great plurality of Mizzou students are from St. Louis and it’s not exactly an arty campus. Lots of “I only listen to what’s on the radio” types.


Every party I attended — well, the ones not hosted by pretentious radio types — bumped “Country Grammar (Hot Shit),” “E.I.” or “Ride Wit Me” at some point in the night. I heard it when I would drive to St. Louis for baseball games or to visit my then-girlfriend’s family over the summer. I would hear it in my fucking dreams.

And you know something? Those singles are infectious. “Ride Wit Me” is fun, “E.I” is jiggly and the title track has the sing song/nursery rhyming vocals of the best hip hop. Nelly’s not a great MC, but, boy he caught lightning in a bottle with “Country Grammar (Hot Shit).”

And, as such, this was the decade that defined my growing up. The albums here helped make me who the young adult I am now; I was 19-28 during this decade. During the first third of the decade, I was in college, working at the radio station, ingesting as much music as possible. This decade is my wheelhouse.

I mostly included albums I love and sought out for my top 100. Country Grammar was foisted upon me. And you know what? I’m kind of happy about that now.


Band: The Dixie Chicks
Album: Taking the Long Way

The first album I wrote up on my albums blog, Taking the Long Way is a record that works well on a few levels. The Dixie Chicks made an angry, charged record with Rick Rubin’s hand at the wheel.

It’s not my normal type of music; I don’t tend to like country music much and middle-of-the-road pop music generally bores me. Still, their politics and work with Rubin piqued my interest.


Band: The Mountain Goats
Album: The Life Of The World To Come

I’ve never enjoyed the Mountain Goats, as John Darnielle’s voice gets a little whiny for my tastes. But, on the 17th Mountain Goats record, Darnielle’s literacy hits the Bible as he names every track after a verse, then writes a song around said verse.

That’s not the say the record is even religious in a sense that the songwriting bases itself around Jesus or Moses or whoever. Indeed, Darnielle weaves narrators and song subjects through themes; in “Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace,” Darnielle takes the verse’s apocalyptic torrents and creates a hostage situation, mostly absent of the God’s presence. “John 4:16” is an exploration of love, though not necessarily that of God’s love. It’s smart, it’s clever. It’s amazing.


Band: Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co.
Album: Magnolia Electric Co.

Jason Molina’s name thing seems to be in flux far too much, but nevertheless, the final Songs:Ohia release (or maybe the first Magnolia Electric Co. release) counts among his best work. Working with Steve Albini, Molina explores his love of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, “Farewell Transmission” may be Molina’s best song.


Band: Badly Drawn Boy
Album: About a Boy

I loved this record when it came out. It’s faded into the memory of “things I used to enjoy, but stopped loving.” I’m not really sure why. Badly Drawn Boy probably didn’t make it as big as he should’ve because he is not a handsome man. When you play mostly pleasant music that breaks zero barriers for a neutered Nick Hornby movie soundtrack, you’d better be pretty handsome or outstandingly talented. Sadly, Damon Gough looks like this:


Band: Rilo Kiley
Album: More Adventurous

I’ve already covered this particular piece of ground, but I will add that More Adventurous is easily Rilo Kiley’s best record. The record finds the band in transition between quaint indie rock outfit it was on previous albums to the LA rock glammy rock outfit that gave us Under the Blacklight.


Band: M.I.A.
Album: Kala

In addition to being a really bumping record, Kala is a picture of urban living in this decade. M.I.A.’s influences are vast and her chanting/singing is somewhere between Eastern and Western hemispheres. She’s British by way of Sri Lankan immigrant parents and has co-opted as much from hip hop as she has from the subcontinent. In literal terms, she reflects so much of the changing world. She’s politically active, she tweets hours after she has her baby. She performs on stage with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Jay-Z, showing that a woman can play in the same game as four male rap giants. She wears gaudy, bright colors and her album cover is a wreck. She’s the carry out naan place in downtown DC; she’s the wonderful subcontinental food in central London. She’s Slumdog Millionaire, the soundtrack of which her record appear.

She is this decade.

As with the Nelly record, I am not comfortable with Kala‘s placement on this list. Ultimately, as personal blogger, this record should be in the 80s; I don’t listen to it much.


Band: R. Kelly
Album: Chocolate Factory

In February 2002, R. Kelly was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Not just that. He was, supposedly, peeing on the girl. This made Kelly the butt of many, many jokes, most of which he didn’t take well. He’s not a man known for his sense of humor.

Of course, the scandal also gave us one of the most hilarious things Dave Chappelle ever did (non-Rick James division). It’s perfect if only because it’s so close to a R. Kelly song:

What’s so great about R. Kelly is that, amid all this swirling scandal, record an album. Chocolate Factory is a brilliant piece of soul music, with Kelly’s vocals in rare form. A friend of mine compared the vocals on “Step in the Name of Love” to “Jordan in ’92” and I don’t disagree. It’s a sweet little dusty-inspired song that could — had it not been recorded by such a scandalous dude — become a wedding classic.

Chocolate Factory also has the most curious of things, a remix that was released as a single before the actual song. Honestly, “Ignition” was remixed on the same fucking record. It’s the kind of balls-out thing that only R. could pull off and pull off, he does. Again, let me remind you: This guy was being hit from all sides about a sex crimes situation while he was recording this song. What kind of song is it? Is is “I Believe I Can Fly 2002?” Nope.

It’s “I’m about to take my key and stick it in your ignition.”

Look, Trapped in the Closet showed us that R. was insane, but Chocolate Factory started all this insanity. Too bad the album is near-perfect.


Band: Pelican
Album: The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

Instrumental music is a hard thing to do well. It’s easy to fall into the background. Metal is a little easier, largely in that the melody is driven oftenby a lead guitar line. Pelican’s two-guitar attack is refined and lovely on the band’s ominously-named second record, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw.

“Last Day of Winter” somehow makes for an interesting 9:36-long song, partially due to a little acoustic thing at the end of the song. “Red Ran Amber” is gorgeous. “Aurora Borealis” crunches and “Sirius” soars. “March to the Sea” might be the band’s best song. Unlike other instrumental metal bands, Pelican makes memorable music. The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw is their pinnacle.


Band: Sleater-Kinney
Album: One Beat

A lot of records released in 2002 included some post-Sept. 11 musical nonsense, and One Beat was among the best, most overt and most passionate of the political music. Layered and mature, it was the first of S-K’s final two record, the two most mature and complete albums in the band’s discography. It was on One Beat that S-K became a full band and not just a punk/riot grrrl/whatever band.

I love it.

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