A Varied Decade

The decade in music proved once again that if you know where to look, there's a lot of great music out there.

Bibek Bhattacharya | Print Edition: January 10, 2010

As you read this, you’ve probably been through a deluge of countdowns titled "Best of 2009" or better still "Best of the Decade". While such lists are mostly subjective ones from the point of view of critics who are trying to capture the zeitgeist, they do reflect the maddeningly diverse world of popular music today. So many different sounds that genres blur—Radiohead's epochal Kid A was both the greatest rock band in the world playing at the peak of their powers as well as the greatest rock band in the world playing experimental music. And therein lies the beauty of music. This past decade you could have tapped your feet to the tunes without being a musicologist. But the sheer plethora of sounds meant that to train your ears better to enjoy music on a deeper, more cognitive level, you looked up the Internet, unlocking answers about every genre, every band, every singer, the notes they played and whether the scales were Pentatonic or Diatonic. Knowledge wasn't essential, but it deepened the satisfaction to be gleaned from the music. This led to a new phenomenon— the music blog. These were blogs by music nuts—sometimes full-blown magazines in their own right, like Pitchfork or PopMatters—where you could hear new music via live streams as well as read about the musician, his/her influences and tastes, recording techniques, studio footage, what have you. Of course, this was tied to the defining phenomenon of this decade—file-sharing. Many of the music-blogs would simply upload songs ripped from an over-thecounter CD, so all that the visitor had to do was to download the song (sometimes the entire album) for free. Illegal it was, but it challenged big music companies in a way they've never been since Napster. Album sales fell spectacularly over the decade and they're still falling as we speak. So the industry started changing its game. You don't want to buy the entire new album by U2? Sure, buy their lead single on iTunes for 50 pence. Artists found the Net to be a great way to market their music, be totally in charge of their distribution, and break the stranglehold of A&R executives. The Arctic Monkeys, MIA and Lilly Allen are but three very successful artists who broke through purely on the strength of music blogs and MySpace! Radiohead gave away their last album online on a pay-as-you-wish basis. Over in India, the independent music scene came of age—driven by rock bands who finally started getting around to playing their own songs instead of trotting out the same old Doors and Led Zeppelin covers. So while Thermal And A Quarter came into their own with funky pop songs, The Supersonics wowed everyone with their expert take on Garage rock. They and many other bands and artists showed that the best of Indian pop music could hold its own with anyone, and owe nothing to Bollywood. A varied decade indeed. M

RADIOHEAD KID A (2000) This album influenced almost everyone.
THE STROKES Is This It? (2001) It made Rock sexy again.
THE WHITE STRIPES Elephant (2003) Heralded the rise of a new superbrand.
EST Seven Days of Falling (2003) The most vital Jazz album of the decade.
KANYE WEST Late Registration (2005) Rejuvenated Hip Hop and created a superstar.
THERMAL & A QUARTER This Is It (2006) The sound of a truly great Indian band.
MIA Kala (2007) Married Pop and Politics in a vibrant package.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM Sounds of Silver (2007) This album was a dance-pop classic.
THE DIRTY PROJECTORS Bitte Orca (2009) This masterpiece closed the decade in style. T
HE SUPERSONICS Maby Baking (2009) This Indian band showered some impeccable pop music.

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