So about a month ago everyone compiled their best of 2009 and best of the 'noughties' lists - and, don't worry, I'm not going to do that now - which had the effect of making me go back and listen to some of my favourite albums of the past few years, and download a few classic songs I didn't realise that I didn't have. Though in some ways it maybe started off a bit shakily, the noughties was a great decade for music: the rise and fall of 'indie' from Is This It and Up the Bracket to the teenyboppers-with-guitars that are now inflicted upon our ears; the proliferation of electronica and its many forms; the rise of dubstep; folk revival; and just some really great artists, albums and songs. But looking back, which artists will really be remembered in years to come as driving music forward, pushing the limits, innovating, being the vanguard and not the zeitgeist?
I offer three suggestions amongst many possibilities:
1. M.I.A.: If we live now in a truly post- (or post-post-) modern world, then M.I.A. is one of the first artists to truly capture it in such dazzling style: the fragments of cultures, lives, technologies, worlds, all colliding is right here in her samples, ultra-modern electronic sounds alongside ancient rhythms and sharp, witty and sometimes damning lyrics sung with the confident swagger of a decade that saw no limits, for both better and worse. 'Paper Planes' become one of the defining anthems of the decade, with its combination of a Clash sample, gunshots, and biting satirical lyrics that made you think politics whilst joyfully singing your heart out.
2. The Knife: The present and the foreseeable future are electronic, and The Knife have not just embraced this but used electronica in previously un-thought ways. Not simple dance or pop music, on Silent Shout, the swedish act found away to capture mood, atmosphere, weather, and the world in epic yet intimate, grand yet subtle ways. Just as classical symphonies and programme music used 'traditional' instruments to evoke everything from claps of thunder to hidden sorrow, so The Knife harness the possibilities of new, electronic technology to do the same thing. Hauntingly beautiful soundscapes of rain and wind, desparation, loss and sorrow stretch the boundaries of electronic music to startling effect. And it doesn't stop there: their new electronic opera recently premiered in Copenhagen, and from the youtube trailer promises to be a spectacular new take on an old form.
3. Animal Collective: Taking something from a huge range of genres and constantly evolving, this is innovation itself, and surely the sound of the future. Dispensing with traditional popular music styles, the Collective manage to create music that is catchy, listenable and of great beauty, evoking mood and emotion in an entirely new, unique and original way. Challenging on first listen, you come to realise that this is only because our ears are thus far untrained to their sounds, and on repeat listening they are an utter revelation. Not for nothing was last year's Merriweather Post Pavillion one of the most feted album releases in years.