These 10 hold on in a disposable music culture
By Steven Uhles| Columnist
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our disposable culture has made 10 years an eternity in the music industry. We live in a download and discard world, a place in time where music has become so accessible that, unless it's something very special, it all becomes noise. Some acts with major label marketing might have managed to carve out careers with only a minimal measure of talent. Others have done it with talent.

They've thrived and survived because they have something interesting to say, something that urges repeated plays despite the contemporary compulsion to play, acknowledge and move on. Here's my list of the 10 records that did that best in the past decade:

10. D'ANGELO -- VOODOO (2000): Man, this is one smoking soul record. Because D'Angelo fell off the map after this release, it's often forgotten. It's a shame, because his uncanny ability to write tight and perform with organic looseness is a wonder to behold.

9. RADIOHEAD -- IN RAINBOWS (2007): I can't tell you how happy I was to see Radiohead discard the chirps, beeps and buzzes and start writing real songs again. I've always been disappointed when a rock band explores too far afield, and Radiohead's electronic era was a prime example. This is a great rock record that manages to incorporate the atmospheric lessons learned from those experiments without sacrificing songcraft.

8. U2 -- ALL THAT You Can't Leave Behind (2000): After spending the 1990s indulging its experimental impulse, U2 opened the decade with its most daring idea yet -- a straight-ahead rock record. The wonder of this record is listening to a band relearn the simple idea that a great song doesn't need much adornment and that U2 is an exceptional rock band.

7. JAY-Z -- THE BLUEPRINT (2001): This autobiographical concept album succeeds not only as a document of hip-hop's master craftsman in a particular time and creative place but also as a textbook on what makes the genre relevant and righteous.

6. THE STROKES -- IS THIS IT? (2001): It's no coincidence that the generation of modern rock acts that have followed in this New York act's jet stream have seemingly chosen to ape the band's predilection for marrying old rock forms to a completely contemporary style. Listen to this record and you'll hear the influence of everyone from Buddy Holly to television. It holds up beautifully.

5. M.I.A. -- KALA (2007):

There are few people left in the world who haven't jammed to Paper Planes, the best-known track off this spectacular mash-up of a record, but that tune is hardly the complete story. A master amalgamator, M.I.A. deftly combines elements of dance, hip-hop, rock and world music without causing confusion.

4. OUTKAST -- STANKONIA (2000): This is, quite possibly, what music will sound like in the future. A hip-hop record of effortless grace, it is at once deeply funky and lyrically affecting. OutKast was the hip-hop standard for a time, having the level of creativity and talent to which every DJ, producer and MC aspired. The duo has been conspicuously quiet, but I like to believe there's still some of that space-age superfunk left in them.

3. FLAMING LIPS -- YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS (2002): Unabashedly emotional and certainly experimental, Yoshimi is an album that, on paper, seems destined to trip over its artful intentions. It never happens. Instead, the band used the simplest of arrangements as a sturdy foundation for songs that soar and, even when sad, inspire. Do You Realize might be the happiest song about the inevitability of death ever written.

2. THE WHITE STRIPES -- ELEPHANT (2003): I initially dismissed the Stripes as a band with interesting style but little substance. My bad. This was the record that, for me, illustrates the genius in the band's willfully primitive style. By eliminating much of the standard rock arrangement, the band was able to provide guitarist/singer Jack White the space he required to play freak-scene guitar without compromising structure. I find it hard to believe that anyone can resist the siren squeal of Seven Nation Army. I know I can't.

1. WILCO -- YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2002): Stripping its sound of all the expected alt-country trappings, the band reinvented itself as a true pop artisan with this CD. It's an album that's lyrically brilliant, musically unparalleled and the obvious choice for album of the decade.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

From the Thursday, December 31, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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