The decade of the 2000s saw an interesting change in the way music would be produced and listened to with the downloading revolution started by such file sharing services as Napster and later pioneered by legal software like ITunes. With this sort of a-la carte way of consuming music, many were quick to point out the death of the album as an art form. However, a funny thing happened. Instead of dying and turning the music industry into a singles dominated industry, the album quietly survived by pushing music in new directions, giving the first decade of the new millennium a landscape of sounds. Here are the most groundbreaking records that heralded new sounds or trends that were lifted to the top of the musical consciousness of the 00s.
Radiohead: Kid A
Released: October 2, 2000
There's not too much else to say about this record that hasn't been said already. No, it?'s not the end of the album as know it (as Pitchfork said), but it did predict some interesting trends. The electronic flourishes that downplayed the rock aspects of Radiohead would appear multiple times across various genres, culminating with 2009's Merriweather Post Pavillion by Animal Collective. The lyrics are cynical and apocalyptic, predating the various records that played with these themes in the aftermath of 9/11, bringing forth a very different sound from the rap metal and teen pop that flooded the airwaves in 2000.
O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
Released: December 12, 2000
This is something of a dark horse. Hugely popular upon its initial release, it has faded from the public eye almost ten years later, but it seemed to signify the return to Americana based music that would permeate throughout indie and rock circles. Act such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, Beirut, and M. Ward all borrowed from this sort of old time music. The record may have faded away, but its influence is alive and well.
Jay-Z: The Blueprint
Released: September 11, 2001
Released on 9/11, Jay-Z?'/s first record the new millennium decade brought about two crucial factors in hip-hop. The first was producer Kanye West, who would become one of the decade's most notorious public figures (and an excellent artist on his own). The other, which is partially the work of West, was a return to the 70s soul influenced style of hip-hop that had seemingly disappeared in the 90s due to gangsta rap.
Beck: Sea Change
Released: September 24, 2002
Beck's 2002 album seemed out of nowhere upon its release. Largely eschewing Beck's genre bending albums filled with pop culture references, Sea Change brought to light a new persona of Beck: the singer/songwriter. Sure, he had done acoustic records before, but there was never anything as personal or heartbreaking as this. While he returned to his old ways soon enough, the influence of this record can be felt in bands such as Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes.
The White Stripes: Elephant
Released: April 1, 2003
Fun fact: There was only one year in the 00s that Jack White did not produce a record. That would be 2002, the year he spent recording Elephant, which was the moment Jack White became a genuine rock star. Every record White would have his hands on since has been surrounded by the Jack White hype, often sounding like a rock band on fire (see: records by the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather). Ironically, while White would rock out in other bands, his work in the White Stripes after this album moved inwards and progressed in strange unseen directions.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
Released: April 29, 2003
Sure, the Strokes are the go to band for the beginning of the ?"garage rock?" phase, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs managed to perfectly capture the nervous energy that permeated New York (and by extension the country) in the years following the 9/11 attacks. A better band and a better record than Is This It?, Fever to Tell is all punk bluster until the beautiful Maps, signaling the path the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the scene they inhabited would take.
Danger Mouse; The Grey Album
Released: February 2004
An absolute game changer. Illegally combining the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album, Danger Mouse changed not only the way hip hop works, but how mash-ups and mix tapes were presented. Danger Mouse would go on to be part of Gnarls Barkley and a producer for the Black Keys. Jay-Z would approve and begin releasing albums with only his vocals to capitalize on the mix tape market. In addition, EMI, owner of the Beatles music, would sue Danger Mouse.
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Released: September 14, 2004
Indie rock was already on the upswing due to a larger audience from file sharing, but the Arcade Fire's Funeral was when the genre turned into a Springsteen-like arena ready monster. An album seeped in epic U2-like grandeur with a band that seemed out of a roaming carnival, Funeral was both hopeful and painful in its honesty about love, life and mortality. Then, there is the Springsteen worship that appeared in numerous indie bands, all of which hit its stride with this album.
Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds
Released: September 12, 2006
Who in 2000 would have guessed that Justin Timberlake would become not only become respectable, but would also be seen as a capable actor, a hilarious SNL host, and the heir to Michael Jackson's throne as the King of Pop? Somehow surviving the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl debacle, Timberlake and producer Timbaland turned in a mature pop record that built on the work of MJ in the 80s to create the best pop album of the decade. Somehow, it even transcended the teen friendly genre, receiving accolades from hip-hop and indie rock circles.
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