Ten years in the world of pop music can be a lifetime. Just ask Britney Spears.
In 2000, CDs were still selling, Facebook and MySpace were in their infancy, and Auto Tune was something producers only occasionally applied to a vocal performance.
Today, music is purchased almost exclusively online, listened to on tiny little hard-drives, and publicized via social networking sites.
So rampant and rapid has been the rate of change in the pop music world that the decade now ending is probably the most tumultuous, music-wise, since the 1960s. Not just the music itself was evolving, but the way music figures in people's lives -- or doesn't -- was undergoing some serious plastic surgery. At this point, it's becoming difficult to keep up.
There doesn't seem to be any one, unifying theme to this activity. It all feels random, and inevitable, as if technology has outpaced human creation in some manner, and we're reaping what we've sown. Still, somehow, some fantastic music was created and released this decade, much of it boldly inventive, fresh and imaginative. There was also an awful lot of garbage blowing around in the digital wind, same as it ever was.
>The sound of the decade
The overapplication of Auto Tune -- a digital program originally developed to "push" out-of-tune vocal performances into their proper pitch space -- is certainly the sound of "the Aughts," just as the Fairlight synthesizer colored much '80s pop, the splashy gated reverb applied to snare drums defined the early '90s, and lengthy improvised guitar solos marked the late '60s and early '70s. (A huge subculture still appreciates this stuff today, suggesting that a return to an emphasis on musicianship might be in our near future.)
Lathering a mediocre vocal performance in Auto Tune helped Disney make just about every single teen actor on its television shows a pop star, primarily because it has become impossible to tell who can sing and who can't. While in the past, Auto Tune was something smart producers attempted to mask or fold into the mix, over the past decade it became desirable to go for the clenched, robotic and severly inhuman effect Auto Tune abuse provides. You can hear it everywhere, from Miley Cyrus to T-Pain, Lady Gaga to Selena Gomez.
Yes, in five years this is going to sound as ridiculous as Styx's infamous "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Actually, make that five minutes.
For today, though, here's a map to the best and worst of the decade. Remember that it's only a map -- it's not the road itself.
*The Flaming Lips, "Do You Realize?": Listening to this song is like receiving some sort of affirmation.
*David Gilmour, "On an Island": This is a profound piece of music, with wonderful harmonies from Graham Nash and David Crosby. Sublime.
*The Killers, "When You Were Young": Big, dumb, glorious arena-rock.
*Bruce Springsteen, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes": One of those melodies that just won't quit, and proof, if any was really needed, that Springsteen is indeed a great singer.
*Steve Earle, "Jerusalem": Angry, skeptical, world-weary, but still hopeful.
*Joni Mitchell, "Shine": Sad, poignant, dignified.
*Phish, "Joy": Proof that jam bands can write great songs, too.
*The Flaming Lips, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots": Futuristic, weird, wonderful.
*Mercury Rev, "The Secret Migration": Like an art-rock Neil Young.
*Beck, "Sea Change": A chamber-folk masterpiece.
*Gnarls Barkley, "The Odd Couple": The most exciting hip-hop based recording of the decade.
*U2, "All That You Can't Leave Behind"; David Byrne and Brian Eno, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today."
>Best local concerts
*David Byrne, UB Center for the Arts (2008): Byrne and band played "An Evening of the Music of David Byrne and Brian Eno." Fantastic.
*Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, HSBC Arena (2009): he "Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey" show.
*The Dead with Bob Dylan, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center (2003): The best Western New York Dylan show in years. The Dead with Warren Haynes = outstanding.
*Steve Earle, the Tralf Music Hall (2003): This was Earle at his absolute peak.
*The Tragically Hip, Artpark (2009): Four shows in Lewiston. Felt like a vacation!
>Best New local bands
*Peanut Brittle Satellite: Western New York's most exciting progressive band. These guys can play, too. (myspace.com/peanutbrittlesatellite)
*The Tins: Alt-rock for a new decade. This band is making big waves in the UK as we speak. (myspace.com/thetinsmusic)
*Roger Bryan and the Orphans: With guitarist Matt Smith flanking him, songwriter Bryan has found his perfect ensemble. He's Buffalo's own Jeff Tweedy. (myspace.com/thetinsmusic)
*Little Mountain Band: The coolest newer jam-band in town. (thelittlemountainband.com)
*Deja Fuze: Funk-jazz-rock-jam fusion with a bite. (myspace.com/dejafuze)
>Best New national bands
*Animal Collective: The band's "Merriweather Post Pavilion" is a must-have.
*The Black Keys: Swampy, Zeppelin-esque hard blues for a new generation.
*Arcade Fire: The U2 of its generation? Could be.
*TV On the Radio: Weird New York City hipster underground music goes for the mainstream.
*Blk Jks: A South African band with its own sense of alternative funk and world beat.
>Most mind-blowing newcomer
*Esperanza Spalding: She can sing, she can play, she can write, she knows that an album should be an artwork, and she's a mesmerizing live performer. We haven't seen her like in a while.
>Band/Artist that continues to do no wrong
Radiohead: It doesn't tour enough, and it hasn't exactly been prolific this decade, but Radiohead never wastes our time.
Honorable mention, Tom Waits: The guy just simply can't seem to make an album that's less than brilliant.
>Best band name
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead...
>Worst band name
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Phish, summer 2010
>Dumbest event in rock 'n' roll
Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift at the Grammys. Can't we all just get along?
>The "Wow! Really?" award
Miley Cyrus' "bong" video on YouTube. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Or something. Guess you can't really have the best of both worlds.
>It's about time...
Billboard debuts "Social 50" chart, which tracks and ranks artists based on hits, song plays and page views via MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and iLike. Since no one is really buying CDs in vast quantities any longer, this makes sense.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: The pair's "Raising Sand" deserved all the Grammys it was awarded. The ensuing concert tour was absolutely killer, too.
The Black Eyed Peas: These guys are hyper cheesy. I'm just sayin'.
"People are crazy and times are strange/I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range/I used to care, but things have changed". -- Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"
Yeah, I get that.
"Some say this country's lookin' for a fight/Well, after 9/1 1, man, I'd have to say that's right." -- Darryl Worley, "Have You Forgotten"
Responding with a David Bowie lyric seems appropriate: "By the dawn's early light, baby, dumb is forever."
Black Eyed Peas, "My Humps," and anything by Taylor Swift.
"My Girls," Animal Collective: Interesting, unusual, and smartly developed melodic lines weave around each other.
"I Got a Feeling," the Black Eyed Peas: The very definition of banal. And it sounds like it is being sung through a vacuum cleaner.
>Best exorbitantly overpriced box set-reissue type thing
"The Promise," Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" remaster/reissue: Everything one of these catch-all box sets should be -- tons of worthwhile bonus content, brilliant design and packaging, wonderfully remastered sound. Worth the money.
>Accident waiting to happen
Amy Winehouse: Someone help her, please!
Demi Lovato: Um, guys, you do know that we can all see what you put up on your social networking pages, right?
>Quote from a previous decade that turned out to be prescient in this one
"The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows." -- Frank Zappa.
Modern record producers should bear this in mind, perhaps.