Music I Should’ve Grown Up With (2001-2003)
by Parker Ziegler on July 8, 2013
Posted in: Album Review, Eclectic, Folk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Rock
It’s your friendly 90s-child blogger DJ Parkie-Park back to give you another rousing analysis of those gems I (and perhaps many of you) missed back in those childhoods of ours (ah, the nostalgia). If you’re just joining us now (and are perhaps a little lost on the concept), check out my posts from the past month here:
This week, we’re headed to the heart of my elementary school years from ’01-’03. To think, I was messing around on monkey bars while these amazing artists were doing THIS. Enjoy!
2001—The Strokes, Is This It
Nothing better illustrates post-90s teen apathy than The Strokes’ 2001 Is This It. Julian Casablancas and company craft a collection of smart, heady, and defiant classics for the youth, all of which hold a suave, indifferent coolness that make them timeless. Casablancas’ monotone on “Is This It” is the album’s most recognizable point, as he questions, “Can’t you see I’m tryin’? / I don’t even like it…Is this it? / Is this it? Is this…it?” The bass grooves along steadily with a bopping rhythm that sarcastically betrays a peppier mood than the lyrics allow. But the apathy here is what makes Is This It so attractive. It’s true, it’s honest, but best of all, it isn’t pervasive or overdone like most ‘90s grunge or garage rock.
The Strokes quickly pick up the pace after “Is This It” with the pulsating “The Modern Age” and “Barely Legal”, both of which have driving guitar to back more vocal elasticity from Casablancas. “Soma”, a reference to the numbing drug from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, smartly deals with the issue of substance abuse for the sake of slipping away. And the irresistibly catchy jive of “Last Nite” is almost anthemic, with the repeat of “Oh, people they don’t understand” giving justification to every teen who’s ever lived. In fact, it feels like The Strokes themselves have forever stayed teens…really talented, musical, bada*s teens.
“Someday” is the standout on the album, and offers a glimmer of irony and hope for all angsty adolescents going through first romances. The lines “Alone we stand, together we fall apart / Yeah. / I think I’ll be alright” are practically tailor-made for these times. “Hard to Explain” drives the central mood further, the best line here “Oh, I don’t see it that way.” Ultimately, it’s hard to find an album more representative of both post-90s rock and post-90s teenagehood that’s as sarcasticly artistic and as honestly observant as Is This It. Too bad I was listening to Matchbox Twenty and Switchfoot (holla) when this gem, and my first instances of teen angst, hit.
2002—Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
True, there is nothing that so symbolizes 2002, and really the early 2000s altogether, as Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Simply put, this one is the classic, and it was with full conviction that this writer decided, “I have to talk about this album.” But my original introduction to Wilco wasn’t quite so convincingly passionate. In fact, the first time I even remember hearing the name “Wilco” was when I read the bumper sticker on my babysitter’s car and tricked him into thinking it was the name of the neighborhood’s stray cat. Looking back all these years, I realize how both foolish and brilliant I had been.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot forces me to picture stray kittens, but there is something both rough and sweet, sour and soft about Jeff Tweedy’s crew. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a rollercoaster of emotion, spinning poetry with tinkling piano, an effervescent cowbell, and hopeless lines like “What was I thinkin’ when I let you back in.” Similarly, “Radio Cure” gives the listener a lesson in how to drawl beautifully, its echo of “There is something…wrong with me” a dripping bit of honesty few artists are able to reach. But as was written earlier, it isn’t all pessimism and drear on Wilco’s magnum opus. Both “Kamera” and “War on War” emerge with stronger melodies, and the call of “You’ve got to learn how to die / If you wanna’ wanna’ be alive” on the latter lets you know this band has seen heartbreak and hardship and come out of it asking more of life. It’s a powerful message on an album that inspires so many young songwriters and poets, including this one, to ask “I wonder why we listen to poets / and nobody gives a f**k?” (from “Ashes of American Flags”).
“Jesus, Etc.” is the classic from this album, and rightfully so for its quietly beautiful lyrics involving cigarettes and those sshrill, graceful violin lines. However, this writer is still more enamored to the honky-tonk, country pulse of “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and that piece of lyrical perfection, “If I could you know I would / Just hold your hand and you’d understand / I’m the man who loves you.” It’s something any overly romantic 19-year-old might say, but somehow, no one can say it quite like Jeff Tweedy amidst overdrive guitar solos. It becomes all the more emotionally trying when accompanied by yet another line of sheer honesty in “Pot Kettle Black”, as Tweedy sighs “It’s become so obvious / You are so oblivious to yourself.” Such are the difficulties of love, difficulties Wilco explore, in musical brilliance, on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
“I’m the Man Who Loves You”
2003—The RH Factor, Hard Groove
If ever there was an album to get my teenage self in the mood for an evening of slam poetry, wine sipping, and seduction, it would be Hard Groove. Of course, I wasn’t exactly having too many of those in high school or any time before; thus, I hadn’t even heard of The RH Factor until a very cultured friend wired the album over Dropbox as a “welcome home from your first semester of college” gift. I knew I was in for something special the instant the bumping hits of “Hard Groove” spattered my eardrums. The follow up on “Common Free Style” (with, true to its name, a stunning freestyle by Common) only builds the excitement, especially as band leader Roy Hargrove’s trumpet ad libs subtle, cheeky lines over absolutely lyrical poetry.
The RH Factor combine a lot into Hardgroove—swatches of bebop, funk, hip-hop, soul, and good ol’ fashion muted trumpet. The unique difference here, though, between similar albums and Hardgroove is that, despite it’s supreme length (13 of 14 songs exceed 3:50), there’s no slack in creativity. Nothing can be written off as “background music”, and Hargrove, especially on tracks “Kwah/ Home” and “The Joint”, brims with artistic energy and impetus. The RH Factor also pay homage to the greats, covering the original guardians of funk, Funkadelic, on “I’ll Stay”, a cover of the outfit’s classic of the same name. Somehow, each 5-minute tune leaves you wanting more, craving more, as Hargrove swaggers his way through each chord change and each melody.
Back in the days when I didn’t believe I actually enjoyed music, I used to tell everyone that I simply enjoyed “jazz”, hoping that at least someone would be convinced of my sophistication. But even as I pretended to wax poetic on Coltrane or Rollins or Davis, I couldn’t have guessed that something as exciting and innovative as Hard Groove was coming out as I spoke. My advice to my younger self: Take a good 2 hours out of your day and sit down with this album. My advice to all of you reading this: the same, but repeat, repeat, repeat.