Liner Notes

Ten Years Gone

by Sean McCarthy

Thanks to the Internet (and a few hours of boredom), I stumbled across The Daily Vault in 1997. I put in a request to review Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville and founder and then-editor Christopher Thelen obliged.

The Daily Vault prides itself on a quick response to reader requests as well as the massive variety of the reviews. It wasn't always this way -- then, it was one classic album per day, but now it's evolved into covering all genres, all ratings, all eras.

As The Daily Vault turns 10, it’s natural to reminisce about how much has changed. After all, music is generally geared to be laid out in tens: Top 10 of the year, “decade’s best” lists or, like the guys in High Fidelity, the Top 10 albums for, say, a desert island or albums to listen to while constructing computer code. The cynics say the Internet has changed the music world for the worse, as downloading (both legal and illegal) has put local record stores on the endangered species list. Optimists say the Internet has allowed greater ease of entry into the music market – if you are the slightest bit Web savvy, your band can have its own site on MySpace.

As for artists, the difference between what’s come out in 1997 and 2007 hasn’t changed significantly. With the rise of the Web, music geeks may have speculated in 1997 that the music of 2007 would probably be filled with computer blips with the rise of such bands as The Chemical Brothers and DJ Shadow. But bands like The White Stripes and The Hold Steady have taken rock back a few decades.

In the spirit of keeping with the theme of ten, here are ten albums that were instrumental in changing popular music between 1997 and 2007. Some of the albums are there by circumstance. Some are there by quality. All are there because they have had some kind of impact on the musical world. We only hope the Vault has had an impact as well.


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10. Outkast -- Stankonia

Stankonia was a perfect album to welcome in the millennium. The album may have petered out toward the end, but how could it not when you look at the amazing 30-so-odd minutes that featured nods to futuristic funk (“Gasoline Dreams”), old-style R&B (“Ms. Jackson”) and a stunner of a song that made you want to tell your friends “dude, you absolutely have to hear this!” (“B.O.B.”). One NFL player said he put on Stankonia because it was one of the only albums that most players could agree on.  

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9. Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

The saga of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the default story journalists bring up when they are profiling bands that have been unceremoniously dropped by record labels. It’s also the default story used when defending an album that was originally shunned by record label execs (see Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine). Wilco’s happy ending was a prime example of the sheer ridiculousness of the shift to monolithic label consolidation (a subsidy of AOL, Reprise Records, drops the band and the band goes to another AOL subsidy -- Nonesuch Records -- and releases their biggest selling album). Oh, the music -- the weary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is perhaps the best song Wilco has ever released and songs like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Kamera” makes you wonder who ever thought this album didn’t have any potential “hit” singles.

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8. Jay-Z -- The Blueprint

For giving Kanye West a major platform to showcase his talents. For proving that a rap artist could release something so great on their sixth release. For melding great soul samples of the ‘60s and ‘70s with the stark, hardcore beats of today. The Blueprint is just that for hip-hop since its release on September 11, 2001.

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7. Bob Dylan -- Love And Theft

Speaking of Sept. 11, Bob Dylan’s Love And Theft was released the same day that, like World War II, defined our modern history into “pre” and “post” eras. Days and months after the horrific terrorist attacks, Love And Theft was an album where people combed through for apocalyptic messages (sample lyrics: “Some things are just too terrible to be true,” “Today has been a sad and lonesome day,” the flooding imagery of “Floater,”) and basic comfort. But what made Love And Theft such a “go to” album for people looking for something to hold on to was the sheer exhilaration of an American icon reclaiming his prominence on the music scene. Springsteen may have created the “definitive” 9/11 album with The Rising, but Dylan’s Love And Theft was a first-aid response to a changed world.

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6. Neutral Milk Hotel -- In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is sort of like the Office Space of modern rock: a work that came onto the scene and essentially vanished in a short period of time. Then, thanks to great word of mouth and more than a few Web site promotions, the work becomes a cult classic. In the Aeroplane Over The Sea was a testament of the power of indie Web sites like Pitchfork and the Daily Vault. As more and more people turn to music review Web sites to learn about new bands, these sites have been able to introduce millions of curious readers to a now-defunct band like Neutral Milk Hotel as well as newly-emerging artists like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and The Arcade Fire, which sell hundreds of thousands of copies without radio or video support. You're welcome.

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5. (tie) The Strokes -- Is This It; The White Stripes -- White Blood Cells

Not only did The Strokes and The White Stripes help revive garage rock (a genre that almost any band that features guitar and drums can qualify as being a part of), but for better and worse ushered in the “hipster” movement of today. More articles have been written about Jack White’s personality and Julian Casablancas party sightings and scruffy sexiness than both bands’ total album sales. Like techno, this early rock revival was supposed to be the future of rock and like techno, the trend has yet to translate onto the major album charts. Fortunately, Is This It and White Blood Cells were good enough to survive the massive hype.

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4. Lauryn Hill -- The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill

In the wake of the murders if Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls and the rampant materialism of such artists as Puff Daddy, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a landmark album. Laying her soul bare in “Ex-Factor” and indulging in preachiness on “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill created an album that set a new standard not only in hip-hop, but in the singer/songwriter genre as well. The result: a much-panned solo “unplugged” album and a lengthy absence that has only added to Hill’s complex persona and strengthened the power of this album.

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3. Soundtrack -- O Brother Where Art Thou?

If any recent trend has been written about more than garage rock, it’s alt-country. But unlike garage rock, the alt-country genre produced at least one major label smash with O Brother, Where Art Thou? The soundtrack eclipsed the movie’s popularity, selling more than five million copies and won the Grammy award for Album of the Year. Producer T-Bone Burnett introduced millions of listeners to the forgotten sounds of Depression-era America and helped the careers of artists like Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss.

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2. Moby -- Play

It may not be the second best album of the past ten years, but with Play, Moby redefined music marketing. At its release, the album cost so much to make, Moby was facing bankruptcy. Though fans and critics raved, the album wasn’t selling. But tracks of the album eventually found their way into shows like The X-Files. Then on to TV commercials. Eventually, nearly every song from Play was featured in a movie, commercial or TV show. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, this type of commercialism would have been a capital offense, but Moby helped eliminate some of the stigma of “selling out.” As a result, bands like The Postal Service and The Shins are now featured in commercials and retain their indie credibility. With radio consolidation making it harder and harder to get exposure, many bands are now relying on commercials as more of a way of survival than “selling out.” This trend may not be the most welcome trend in the past decade, but it’s here to stay -- and thanks to it, Moby saw Play sell more than ten million copies worldwide.

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1. Radiohead -- OK Computer

I can’t say that OK Computer is influential, because upon its release most bands feared to even try to make an album that would sound like it. But the way it has captivated listeners remains untouched. When coming up with modern-day masterpieces, OK Computer inevitably ends up on the short list as the standard to which masterpieces of today are judged against. Kid A may have been the more experimental and influential, but OK Computer showed what the future of rock could and would sound like.

 

Honorable mentions:

Eminem -- The Marshall Mathers LP
Lucinda Williams -- Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
Kanye West -- The College Dropout
System Of A Down -- Toxicity
Rage Against The Machine -- The Battle For Los Angeles

 




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