Posted by: Jeff | December 17, 2009

Top 20: Most Prolific Artists of the 00’s (20-11)

As the decade winds down, everyone is making lists. Gift wish lists, itemized resolutions, and best-of’s. Now that I am finished with school for the semester/year/decade/lifetime, I am throwing my hat into the listing ring with a broad and ambiguous category: the top 20 most prolific musical artists of the past decade. The impact of each of these artists varies from mere proliferation (they were simply everywhere) to stylistic innovation.  It is highly objective.

If you take issue with the list or think there is an egregious omission, let me know, but above all keep in mind – I was only 15 when the decade started so I was probably distracted by video games and hot jams that played at school dances at some point.

Honorable Mentions: Norah Jones, The Strokes, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Timbaland

20. Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley)

Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse (in back) as Gnarls Barkley

Bootlegs may seem gimmicky, but when Danger Mouse dropped The Grey Album – a mashup of acapellas from Jay-Z’s The Black Album over the music of The Beatles’ White Album – it grabbed a lot of immediate attention (Entertainment Weekly’s Album of the Year in 2004).  Danger Mouse may have started as something of a pop culture novelty, but he soon blossomed into a true force in the music industry, collaborating on two of the most innovative pop albums of the decade and producing critically-acclaimed albums in hip-hop (for Gorillaz & MC DOOM), R&B (Gnarls Barkley), and adult contemporary (Beck).

He also penned one of the catchiest songs of the decade in Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” – is there anybody that didn’t have that song on repeat for weeks?  And if his musical production wasn’t enough, Danger Mouse captured serious prolificness by dressing in different costumes for live performances.  Gimmicky maybe, but this guy is no gimmick.  And stay tuned – announced is a 2010 album collaboration with The Shins frontman James Mercer.

19 (tie). Belle and Sebastian and The Shins

Ever wonder who is to blame for all those cutesy lo-fi ballads that peppered every indie movie of the decade to the point of over-saturation?  Well, chances are, either Belle and Sebastian or The Shins.  Their inclusion in some of the most iconic music movies of the decade (High Fidelity, Garden State, Juno) cement both groups in any review of the music of the decade.

For Portland-based The Shins, short jangly pop hooks over cutesy whistles and organic percussion launched the group to indie fame after Zach Braff couldn’t include just one track on the Garden State soundtrack.  However, the band flexed its musical muscle over the decade, which saw them evolve from simple vocal harmonizations to complex pop songs and bubbling epics like “Sleeping Lessons” from 2007’s Wincing the Night Away.  The band has evolved over time, and its success has allowed other wannabe indie bands to follow suit.

The musical reach of Belle and Sebastian far-surpassed their record sales, and though their name recognition may not be high in the American pop scene, so many new artists claim these Scots as an influence and so many directors seek rights to their music for soundtracks that their prolific nature is undeniable.

18. The Killers

After the release of debut album Hot Fuss in 2004, one might have expected that this band would end up near the top of a decade retrospective list.  Demonstrating appeal to fans of alternative (Somebody Told Me), post-punk new wave (Mr. Brightside), and R&B-infused pop (All These Things That I’ve Done), this Vegas band seemed poised to transform the American music scene.  Then they released the underwhelming 2006 follow-up album, Sam’s Town, which had its moments but failed to live up to expectations.  Sadly, this was the peak.  2008’s Day & Age is a disaster of a record, and the recent single “Human” is just confusing – “Are we human? Or are we dancer?”  Really?  Ugh.  In a surprisingly scathing (and prescient) review of Hot Fuss, Pitchfork said of The Killers in 2004:

The Killers are just the latest band to be born too quick inside the popular music vacuum, where expectations for broad accessibility kill dudes’ potential for deeper creativity quite fabulously dead.

Yeah, I guess they were right.

As someone who has seen them live twice (good the first time, awful the second), it’s frustrating that the thing I ended up liking most about this band is the origin of the name (note the kick drum).

17. Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife, Fever Ray, Röyksopp)

Karin Dreijer Andersson in Fever Ray garb.

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish Karin Dreijer Andersson from her brother and The Knife co-member Olaf Dreijer.  Though they’ve only officially worked together as The Knife, the same elements of frosty production are notably evident in Karin’s solo work as Fever Ray, and when they make a rare public appearance they’re usually wearing masks.  There is a lot of mystique surrounding The Knife – cultivated in part by their refusal to accept a Swedish Grammis award for Best Pop Group in 2003, opting instead to send a duo of gorilla suits to protest male dominance in the music industry.  So for the purpose of this list, I’m treating them as one artist.

After a lackluster first album, the Dreijer siblings were catapulted to fame in large part due to a 2003 Jose Gonzalez cover of “Heartbeats“, the lead single off 2004’s second album, Deep Cuts.   However, the duo built on the increasing critical attention and released a tour de force of an album in 2006’s Silent Shout.  From the first pulse of the title track, Silent Shout reverberated like an announcement that the Dreijer’s had seriously stepped up their game.  And the accolades poured in – 6 nominations (and 6 wins) at the Swedish Grammis followed soon by being #2 album of 2006 by Resident Advisor (an electronic music online mag) and #1 by Pitchfork (an indie music online mag).  With the rise of electropop baselines in contemporary hip-hop, it’s perhaps a testament to their abstraction that no would-be MC has taken the reins of the behemoth bassline in “We Share Our Mother’s Health.”

The music of The Knife is both frigid and haunting, a product of icy arpeggios and piercing vocals from Dreijer Andersson.  Both are now in high demand, with the Dreijers lending production to the career resurrection of Swedish chanteuse Robyn (a criminally underrated pop artist in her own right) and vocals to multiple tracks over the years from Norwegian electro-pop outfit Röyksopp.  Dreijer Andersson’s self-titled solo album under the name Fever Ray hit stores in January, and is (spoiler alert?) a favorite to land near the top of year-end lists for 2009.   Adding to Dreijer’s prolific contribution to the 00’s is the evocative imagery used in videos and marketing that fit the mystery and mood of the music to a chilling T.

16. Interpol

I was initially drawn to Interpol’s 2002 debut – Turn on the Bright Lights – after hearing a number of favorable comparisons to Joy Division.  Having listened to both bands obsessively at times, I do have to say that Interpol is a lot more than a carbon copy of their earlier influence.  Though Paul Banks sings in a low register much like Ian Curtis did, there is a lot of acoustic depth to Interpol’s instrumentation.  Songs like “Leif Erikson” are so rich in layering and atmosphere that they continue to reward repeated listens.

That said, subsequent albums did not rival the brilliance of Bright LightsAntics was solid, but Our Love To Admire felt hollow and incomplete, like the product of a band trying to break free of a comfortable mold and reach a wider audience but alienating themselves in the process.  To that extent, Interpol suffers from the same failure to live up to expectations as The Killers – however, their flawless debut and its impact on the alternative scene alone are enough to earn Interpol a higher spot on this list.  And then there’s the news that their forthcoming 2010 release will be a return to form – that’s definitely reassuring.

15. Wilco

In 2002, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco submitted their fourth recorded album to Reprise Records and were summarily dismissed.  Dropped by their label, Wilco was soon picked up by a new executive and the record was released in full.  That record is a seminal landmark of the 00’s that has received nearly universal acclaimYankee Hotel Foxtrot was my introduction to Wilco.  Over the past eight years, it is probably the album I have played the most frequently.  And to be honest, it still sounds far fresher than anything released in the past year.  It’s that good.

But what’s really amazing about Wilco is that the glitchy folk stylings of YHF don’t encapsulate the band – there are also the freeform quirky jams of A Ghost is Born and the more traditional singer-songwriter fare of Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album).  That versatility transcends genre – though labeled alt-country, Tweedy’s records range from experimental to textbook, giving each album both challenging and comforting elements.  Above all, Wilco made country folk music cool.  Which, in my mind at least, is quite a feat.

14. Spoon


One gets the sense that this band works very hard and has a lot of fun doing it.  Spoon has released four albums in the 00’s, and each of them has been better than the last – a pretty amazing feat given how high the bar was set by 2001’s Girls Can Tell.  Their sound has become more refined and the song-writing is a lot tighter on newer albums, but none of the playful fun has been lost.  That’s the real appeal of Spoon – they’re a band of solid musicians with an obvious love of old school rock grooves with a hint of funk, but with a humorous and aloof lyricism that on its own would seem unserious if not for the fine rhythmic instrumentation.

In addition to four studio albums, Spoon also produced much of the soundtrack for the Marc Forster film Stranger Than Fiction, one of the most appropriate pairings of musical act and film narrative of the decade.

It’s actually somewhat criminal that this band isn’t higher on the mainstream radar.  But you know whose radar they are on?  Robots.  Did I mention that this band is a lot of fun?  With their next album due in January of 2010, let’s hope Spoon is as prolific in the 10’s as they were in the 00’s.

13. Pharrell (The Neptunes, N.E.R.D.)

Here’s a list of a few early songs that Pharrell produced:

  1. Justin Timberlake – Like I Love You
  2. Britney Spears – I’m A Slave 4 You
  3. Clipse – Grindin’
  4. Kelis – Milkshake
  5. Nelly – Hot in Herre

Here are a few songs that Pharrell has appeared on:

  1. Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot
  2. N.E.R.D. – She Wants to Move
  3. Pharrell – Frontin’
  4. Gwen Stefani – Can I Have It Like That?
  5. Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, and Pharrell ft. Thom Yorke (Child Rebel Soldiers) – US Placers

Here are a few artists Pharrell has collaborated with or produced for (beyond the above):

  1. Madonna
  2. The Hives
  3. The Strokes
  4. Jennifer Lopez
  5. The Roots
  6. Maroon 5
  7. Shakira

Ok, I’ll stop.  The man was everywhere.

12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Lollapalooza

Oh, Karen O.  I’m on record already calling her amazing.  She gives Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison a run for their money in terms of charisma, but she manages to do it in such a wholesome and nerdy way.  Known as much for her iconic image as her primal scream, she’s taken this New York band from the bar to Radio City.  Literally.  This is a band that worked its way up – cutting rough demos of 2 minute stormers just six years ago, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs now have three albums to their name – each with a distinctly unique style.

2003’s Fever to Tell was a rough post punk tour de force – Karen O howled and screamed and hurtled through a torrid set of pure rock before capping it all off with perhaps the most defining ballad of the decade.  2006’s Show Your Bones was a more refined offering, losing some of the raw edge and adding a healthy dose of melody.  Singles “Cheated Hearts“, “Gold Lion“, and “Phenomena” were all tightly-crafted radio-ready cuts that gained critical as well as commercial acclaim.  And 2009’s It’s Blitz! incorporates synthesizers and a dance groove, offering a steady balance between the usual high energy Yeah Yeah Yeahs pace and more reserved offerings that show off Karen O’s softer side.  And along the way they’ve managed to release a few quality EPs, a brilliant acoustic set, a raucous live DVD, and a wonderful soundtrack collaboration between Karen O and guitarist Nick Zinner for Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are.  And the best music video of 2009.

The accolades have matched the effort.  NME named Fever to Tell the fifth best album of the decade.  They’d previously named Show Your Bones the second best of 2006 and It’s Blitz! the third best of 2009.

Has any other band evolved this much over the past decade and maintained such quality?

11. Kylie Minogue

So this may be a controversial choice.  Kylie hasn’t exactly been a regular on the radio in the United States, although I would argue that this is more a critical fault of American pop music than anything Ms. Minogue has done wrong.  In fact, Kylie has consistently offered pop music that stays one step ahead of her pop princess proteges (Britney, I’m looking at you).  And she managed to do it while battling breast cancer.

Kylie released four full albums in the 00’s, and though she isn’t often placed in the same category as starlets like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Jessica Simpson, she was nearly as prolific on the pop charts – particularly abroad, where she dwarfed her peers’ record sales in Australia and the UK.  2000’s “Spinning Around” rejuvenated her career, but it was 2001’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” that catapulted Kylie into the American spotlight.  All of Fever is incredible pop music – as rare as it is to find a pop album enjoyable to listen all the way through, Fever is the creme de la creme.  Not since Ace of Base (yes, I just wrote that) had a pop album been so solid.

Well, until the release of Body Language in 2004.  Though short on radio-ready singles, Body Language is a deeper album that sees Minogue branch out into more vocal range and stylistic variation.  There’s more consistency and sophistication here, out-pacing the blunt club anthems and formulaic call and response style in vogue on the radio during this period.

And I’ll go further than that.  Kylie has been influential on the music scene by being at the forefront of the reintroduction of disco into the mainstream.  This is still emerging – but at 41, I think Kylie Minogue will become a more and more frequently cited influence for the next generation of pop stars.

Stay tuned for 10-1 within the next week.

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Responses

  1. Any list without Lady Gaga has egregious omissions. I’ll be awaiting 1-10.

  2. […] Top 20: Most Prolific Artists of the 00’s (10-1) Previously: 20-11. […]


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