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The 2000s: The Decade the Sad Ladies Took Over

Tim

Timothy DeLizza lives in Baltimore, MD. During daytime hours, he's an energy attorney for the government. His novella 'Jerry (from Accounting)' was published by Amazon's Day One imprint. His work can be found at timothy-delizza.com.

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This week, SportsAlcohol.com will be counting down our 101 Best Songs of the 2000s. Before and after we publish our three-part list, some of our contributors will be offering additional thoughts on the years 2000-2009 in music.

The 2000s saw an unprecedented explosion of brooding female songwriters.

Women writing sad songs were not an entirely new phenomenon. Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and “Into Dust” were ’90s mixtape staples. Well before then, Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell added feminine touches to sad folk. The influence of Nina Simone’s “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair” and Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” can be heard in many 2000s brooders.

But the 2000s brought a bumper crop that felt like a breakthrough. Amy Winehouse was likely the most commercially successful (and tragic) example. But the decade features career-defining albums from numerous regions and styles: from a Canadian indie-pop scene that included Tegan & Sara, Emily Haines/Metric, and Stars, to more class-conscious and gritty alt-country bands like Lucinda Williams and The Everybodyfields. American indie-darlings Cat Power and Jenny Lewis/Rilo Kiley reached broad audiences, while plenty of dream pop bands like Trespassers William, Camera Obscura and garage rockers Those Darlins never fully broke through, but should have.

I grew up on a steady diet of ’90s grunge, bands headed mostly by sad men, with Radiohead bridging the gap from grunge to the indie rock of the early 2000s. As this new wave built, the 2000s also marked a shift such that melancholy women became the majority of the artists on my rotation.
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BEST MUSIC OF 2014 RECAP!

Marisa
Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

For our coverage of the Best Music of 2014, we…

crowned St. Vincent’s St. Vincent as the best album of the year, doing a track-by-track analysis of her greatness (and also a quick study of her magnificent hair).

…also celebrated four other albums as the best of the yearTeeth Dreams by The Hold Steady, The Voyager by Jenny Lewis, Complete Surrender by Slow Club, and Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs.

…called out the best-of-the-best, our very favorite songs from our very favorite albums, including “Blue Moon” by Beck,  “Goshen ’97” by Strand of Oaks, “Nothing but Trouble” by Phantogram, “Lazerray” by TV on the Radio, “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands, “Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten, and “Lights Out” by Angel Olsen.

…stumped for our favorite songs that didn’t come from our favorite albums, including “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothings, “Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney, “Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs, “Mr. Tembo” by Damon Albarn, “Lariat” by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Bright Eyes” by Allo Darlin’, “Backseat Shake Off” by The Hood Internet, and “Scapegoat” by The Faint.

Is there a Spotify playlist for all this?” you ask. Of course there’s a Spotify playlist.

The Top Five Best Albums of 2014

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It sounded like a lame joke I might make to myself or on Twitter: Rolling Stone has thought it over, and they’ve decided that the best, most interesting, and/or most inspiring albums of 2014 are: the one that U2 gave away for free, and the one that Bruce Springsteen pulled together from a decade of outtakes. I like U2 and I’ve got love for latter-day Springsteen. But the question remains:

Don’t you think we can do better?

Not every music publication’s best-music list is as lame as Rolling Stone‘s, of course, but there is a certain familiarity and timidity in a whole lot of them. The kind of over-the-top poptimism that gives Taylor Swift a lot of bonus points for making an album that isn’t unlistenable and that a lot of people bought. Or the kind of inclusiveness that insists you need to count down 50 top albums of the year, which is to say mention a lot without really calling anything way better than anything else. I understand that a crap-ton of albums are released every year. But is a list of 50 a best-of, or is it an abridged chronology?

So here’s the SportsAlcohol.com music nerds to tell you what’s what. Rob, Marisa, Sara, Craig and I submitted fairly disparate Best Albums lists and rallied around a few top vote-getters to create our rock-solid top five. We’re pretty sure it’s the best one on the internet. So there’s nothing left to do but enjoy it. And then argue with us like we’re Rolling Stone.
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Paint’s Peeling: At a Rilo Kiley Show in 2003

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Some of your beloved SportsAlcohol.com writers are going to see Jenny Lewis tonight. She will probably play Rilo Kiley songs. I first saw Rilo Kiley in 2003. This is a made-up story about other people seeing Rilo Kiley for the first time in 2003.

I’ve heard they cry at Bright Eyes shows. Not just from Emily. I did some research on the internet. It’s kind of embarrassing but I didn’t realize people my age didn’t really use newsgroups for this stuff anymore. The Bright Eyes newsgroup is mostly a bunch of assholes making pretty good points about how Bright Eyes sucks, and I don’t really have a problem with that except it seems like kind of a weird theme for the Bright Eyes newsgroup, and also makes me think, fuck me, is this how I sound on the Star Wars groups? So it makes sense that you have to hunting around LiveJournal and the Saddle Creek message boards and, for as long as your eyes can take it, MySpace to find a bunch of people – let’s be honest, mostly girls – crying their virtual tears over Conor Oberst and his stupid one-man band and haircut.

I don’t know if Rilo Kiley people are going to be the same as Bright Eyes people. I would think they’d be as different as Rilo Kiley sounds from Bright Eyes, which to me is pretty different, but apparently they have a lot of fans in common so maybe I’m the weird one. Anyway, research can’t hurt. I want to know what those internet-type people are like even if I’m not going to be one of them. Some of them sound okay.

I chatted with this one guy on AIM. He gave me the idea of what this Rilo Kiley show would be like. I mean, I’ve been to shows; I know what that’s like. I know the difference between hardcore bands playing the back room at the pool hall and the assholes from the seventies and eighties and today who play at Kalamazoo or Ann Arbor. But I don’t know: somehow the Saddle Creek bands seem different, like they’ll change the shapes of the rooms by entering them and bringing in whatever. The AIM guy backed that up, actually. He said it’s like nothing else although at that point I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what “it” was and I didn’t really want to ask.
Continue reading Paint’s Peeling: At a Rilo Kiley Show in 2003

TRACK MARKS: “Love U Forever” by Jenny Lewis

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

I get impatient with songs about how things are going great. So many sad, ambivalent, or complex songs already use upbeat melodies or a fast pace to make themselves sound more rousing than they would be based only on lyrical content that so many fully upbeat songs — like, say, Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” if one wanted to continue picking on a catchy and harmless decade-only song that one might still kind of loathe — sound like empty overkill. It takes a deceptive amount of skill to write a song about something happy that doesn’t sound kind of insufferable or empty-headed. That goes double if the happy thing is something beyond the heedless rush of love or triumph that informs say, early Beatles songs, or Japandroids. That goes triple, at least sometimes, if an artist used to sing about heavy-duty angst, then got happier as he or she aged, and wants us all to know how serene, centered, and balanced his or her life is now.

Jenny Lewis used to sing about heavy-duty angst, with Rilo Kiley and on her solo records. She still does, on her latest and possibly greatest record, The Voyager. But her songs have taken on a rueful, sometimes slightly detached quality that in no way diminishes their storytelling emotional pull. She also manages to let some light in, both musically and, on “Love U Forever,” lyrically.

“Love U Forever” is a song about being in love. Even the title is spelled out something like a yearbook inscription. In the verses of the song, Lewis sings about stuff that might sound, if not inane, perhaps not material rich in poetic potential: easily identifiable, relatable stuff like getting together with her girlfriends, drinking burgundy wine, getting “a little high” and reminiscing.

Beyond a bouncy intro guitar riff that promises impending rollicking, what makes this song work so surprisingly well are the nuances J-Lew brings to her narrator’s happiness. At the end of her list of things to do, she keeps adding: “I can’t believe I’m getting married in May” — and we might assume her disbelief is wistful, but it’s hard to say for sure. Then, in the chorus: “I could love you forever.” The key word here is could. This is in no way a break-up song; it’s not (as far as I can tell) about the narrator realizing she’s about to make a huge mistake or leaving her intended at the altar, or wanting to change him just a little bit. She gives no directives for how “could” might become “will.” But there is a sweet tentativeness in turning her love hypothetical. The narrator is engaged to be married, and she’s still saying: this could be it. The final verse adds even more ambiguity, observing: “But there are some things money cannot say, like the feeling of hell in a hallway.” So many love songs sound like fantasy; “Love U Forever” sounds like the act of fantasizing.

If it sounds like I’m saying this upbeat love song is great because it’s secretly not all that upbeat, well, I might be kinda-sorta saying that. I’m also saying, though, that this upbeat love song is great because it finds notes and subtleties beyond YES! and YAY! It’s not vital that Lewis express doubt or ambiguity so much as it is that she make this experience sound more specific than just a rush of excitement over seeing old friends and talking about a wedding. It reminds me of Liz Phair’s “What Makes You Happy,” which also approaches being in love from such a specific angle, with such a clear authorial voice, that it makes some old sentiments seem brand new. That’s what listening to Lewis is like these days: hearing an old, familiar friend rephrase and reposition herself as she continues to grow up.