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2000: The Year in Music

by Tim McMahan

It was the worst of times and it was the worst of times, as far as popular music was concerned in the year 2000. Last year will be looked upon as one of the most forgettable since that big-collared, polyester era circa 1973-1977, when everything fell into a formulaic, disco-powered black hole.

The good news is that it can only get better, right? I mean, can it really get any worse than:


  •  Impotent, slightly fey, homoerotic "boy bands" pandering to the prepubescent Tigerbeat sect and/or flaccid gay males who were left wandering, lost and lonely, without a new Pet Shop Boys CD?
  • Moronic, "high-road," pseudo-Christian, chest-beater anthem rawk by ungifted, earnest thieves like Creed, who's music is merely badly performed Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam with a God jonze and bad hair?
  • Misogynistic hate-hop by an incredibly untalented, Mickey Mouse-voiced, white-ghetto, K mart-styled poseur with a loathing complex targeted at his mother/wife/American dream?
  • Simple-minded, goon-driven aggra-rap bleetings by over-coifed, Cookie Monster-voiced, white gangsta-wannabes who don't realize that the Vanilla Ice-flavored "word-to-your-mother" riffs wore out their welcome a decade ago?

We are living in tired times artistically, when drolly choreographed production jobs by the Christina/Britney/Creed/Blink 182 brain-drain faction, with their fake MTV-driven feuds and Big Mac vs. Whopper marketing jingoism, are hoisted in victory upon the slouched shoulders of today's mall-bred, baggy-pants-wearing imps who carry cell phones and pagers like fashion tumors growing out of their hips and heads.

"Pop Music" (a more wretched catch-phrase I could never hope to invent) has, carelessly or not, floated to the bottom of the cloud of odorless, flavorless, colorless gas we call the listening taste of the American public. There were signs in '99 that these new depths in what were already intolerably low levels of artistic boredom could be breached to even lower levels. We all saw the "boy bands" emerging in their sickeningly sweet, candy-cotton glow, but like the Spice Girls (who, thankfully, have faded like a bad dream from America's collective psyche) we thought the trend would be short-lived and relatively harmless. Little did we realize how cleverly the shit peddlers who produce this insipid dreck would market, then remarket the pose-able Ken and Barbie dolls to every horny 12- to 18-year-old who, I guess, drive all decisions concerning radio and music television airplay.

Yeah, I could go on with this bitter rant for another 10,000 words, by why bother? The sad fact is that even though trite, uninspired, market-driven hack-noise has always dominated commercial radio/television to some degree, there were always at least a couple bright spots that burned through the flatlined, mind-buzz FM fog. Not this year, though. Not one act managed to break through to the public gestalt. No Nine Inch Nails, Clash, Nirvana, Liz Phair, U2 or Tracy Chapman to provide a "Gee-Whiz, ain't-music-headed-in-the-right-direction" moment, like when those bands first made ripples in popular music culture.

Zip. Zilch. Not a single one.

There were signs in '99 that these new depths in what were already intolerably low levels of artistic boredom could be breached to even lower levels.



Things were equally as unremarkable in the beneath-the-radar flight path of indie rock, the sphere in which new ideas are suppose to bubble up, unhampered by Andy Travis-like program directors, like magma through the music world's rock-hard crust. Suddenly, everything sounded emo or angular, over-emoted or over-conceptualized. No one indie band raised its head above the crowded fray. Regardless, the steady-as-she-goes indie stalwarts did come through, for the most part, and again produced the most interesting and enjoyable new music of the year.

Without further ado, my "top-10 favorites" of 2000:

1.  Yo La Tengo -- And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2.  Deathcab for Cutie -- We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes
3.  Sunday's Best -- Poised to Break
4.  Centro-matic -- All the Falsest Hearts Can Try
5.  The Good Life -- Novena On A Nocturn
6.  The Explosion -- Flash Flash Flash
7.  Fizzle Like a Flood -- Golden Sand and the Grandstand
8.  Pedro the Lion -- Winners Never Quit
9.  Aimee Mann -- Bachelor No. 2
10.  Silkworm -- Lifestyle

While national music was in the doldrums, local music hit a high-water mark, thanks to Saddle Creek Records, which enjoyed a bang-up year with releases from Bright Eyes (Fevers and Mirrors) and Cursive (Cursive's Domestica) that garnered national exposure. Even The Faint's 1999 release, Blank-Wave Arcade, continued to burn brightly in the indie world, thanks to the band's tireless national touring schedule.

But Saddle Creek wasn't the only playa in the crowded Omaha music scene. The Good Life (headed by Cursive frontman Tim Kasher) put out arguably the best CD by local musicians last year with Novena On a Nocturn released by Better Looking Records (much to Saddle Creek's chagrin). Oil's outstanding Dreaming with a Deadline was among the best non-Saddle Creek-related releases, along with Fizzle Like a Flood's homemade ode to AKsarben, Golden Sand and the Grandstand, Bad Luck Charm's blistering slice of punk-roots meets twang madness Viva La Sinners, and The Crossphade Family's hip-hop street-opus Middlenium.

The live music scene again revolved around three primary stages. The Ranch Bowl continued to cater to owner Matt Markel's GetGo! Records' stable as well as a handful of national touring alternative bands. The Music Box, in its lackluster first year of operations, finally began to draw crowds after dropping its no-smoking policy and booking AOR-friendly national acts like Maceo Parker and The Jayhawks. Sokol Underground booked the most interesting national shows by bands including Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion, The Dismemberment Plan, Her Space Holiday, Guided by Voices, Sunshine, and, of course, the Saddle Creek acts. The Junction, a relative newcomer, began forging a reputation as a much-needed alternative stage for metal and noise bands. But perhaps the strangest trend was the Cog Factory's success at booking touring Christian rock bands between the usual hardcore/punk outfits that have made the venue famous.

The best live band remained The Carsinogents, whose flame-throwing antics and knuckle-bleeding, chainsaw punk-a-billy continued to push it past any and all contenders. If this band ever gets its CD released and distributed, and ventures outside of the Midwest, they're bound to get the attention they deserve.


But before we get to the predictions, let's review last year's prophecies:

Prediction: Bright Eyes will release a full-length CD that will push him to the next level of national exposure. 
Fevers and Mirrors almost broke into the CMJ top-20, Conor penned a deal with Sony involving his publishing rights and has appeared in the pages of national publications such as Magnet, CMJ, and New Music Express.

Prediction: Grunge will rise from the ashes as the natural evolution of emo. 
Guitar-driven emo and post-emo rock pretty much dominated the indie scene last year.

Prediction: Chicago-style house music will be back. 
Who would have thought that the rave culture would continue to bubble over a decade after its first incarnation?

Prediction: Violence suggested at the Woodstock festival will be rekindled somewhere during the summer festivals. 
The closest thing to violence came at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, the Rage Against the Machine performance outside the Democratic National Convention and the Source Hip-Hop Awards show.

Prediction: Marilyn Manson will release a dark, violent, hate-filled opus that parents will really hate. 
Holy Wood took Manson to new lows, both in content and sales.

Prediction: Non-touring Omaha original bands, such as Twitch, Five Story Fall, Silicon Bomb, The Get, Oil and Jank 1000, will continue to garner a loyal following, waiting for some sort of miracle to get them to the next level. Watch half of these bands break up in 2000. 
Well, Twitch did break up, Silicon Bomb hasn't played live since August, and Five Story Fall broke up then reformed with new personnel. None of the above bands made any national headway.

Prediction: 106.9 FM The City's free-form radio format will prove to be too "free form." 
The station dropped the format last fall for a VH1-style format.

Prediction: An Omaha musician or band (or former Omahans) -- other than 311 or Mulberry Lane -- will appear on either David Letterman, SNL, Leno or Conan O'Brien. 
We're still waiting.


Hey, five out of eight ain't bad. So what's in store for 2001?


The return of overblown prog-rock, a modernized version of that old epic song-and-dance invented by the likes of Rush, Kansas, Yes and King Crimson. Get ready to hear 7- to 10-minute-long pseudo-psycho operatic dirges. Can the return of the drum solo be far behind?


Pressured by the crash-and-burn ratings of Big Brother and Survivor II, as well as the re-emergence of VH1's music-oriented programming, someone will finally take a long look at MTV and say, "Hmmm… this non-music format ain't working," and begin stripping away the awful reality-based Real World/Road Rules/Undressed soap opera schedule that's turned MTV into warmed-over post-Nickelodeon schlock.


Bands and musicians we'll be talking about this time next year: Stephen Malkmus (formerly of Pavement); Weezer, Radiohead, Built to Spill, Unwound, R.E.M., Neil Young, Prince, The Faint, Air and Beck. Bands and musicians we won't be talking about this time next year: Papa Roach, Kid Rock, Moby, Matchbox 20, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greenday, Sting and Santana.


U2 as we now know it will finally call it quits.


Female-fronted indie artists, such as Liz Phair, Helium, Cat Power, Come, Barbara Manning, Team Dresch, Blake Babies, Julie Doiron and Rebecca Gates will slowly begin to reemerge in the post-Lilith Fair environment. It would be nice to hear some intelligent women artists countering the no-brainer, cutesy, female-sung schlock being produced in the country/western and teen-pop worlds.


Look for Son, Ambulance -- Saddle Creek Records' newest act -- to make national waves with their split Bright Eyes CD, slated for release in early January. Also, don't be surprised if Oberst's music begins to turn up on your television next year, either as a backgrounder on a WB/Fox TV show or (here we go again) when Conor is asked to perform on a late-night comedy/talk show.


An Omaha band not affiliated with the insular Saddle Creek scene also will gain national exposure. And it'll be a classic storybook tale where, through a 6-degrees-of-separation-style incident, their demo will fall into the right hands and strike a magic chord with a major label executive.


Not one but two new big-dollar live music venues will open in Omaha (one downtown focused on indie rock) that will make competition even tighter among the more popular venues. The loser will be Sokol Underground, who's owner threatened to turn the place into office space last year. His dream may finally come true.


With the complete sell-out of the two dominant music publications, Rolling Stone and Spin, and the emergence of fluff, advertorial-based publications such as Entertainment Weekly and Us, the major record labels will turn to established music-based Internet websites to both market and regain credibility for their acts. They'll be following the lead of independent artists and indie labels, who already know that webzines are a cheap, timely and relatively painless medium that has respect among music buyers and taste leaders.


Through court action, Napster will finally be laid to rest, but it won't matter, as new technology that does the same thing as Napster will continue to offer free music downloads beyond the music industry's grasp. Regardless, music sales will continue to soar.


Commercial radio in Omaha will remain as dismal as ever until some ambitious youth (and I know you're out there) gets the moxie to start either a pirate radio or effective web-based radio station that catches the ear of a local music mogul who hires him/her to reinvent his station's format (Norm, are you listening?).






No matter what happens, we're stuck with the "boy bands" and goon rock for at least a couple more years. In its heyday, disco was amongst us for maybe five years before New Wave and Punk pushed it aside. A decade or so from now, we'll look fondly upon the N'Sync- and Backstreet Boys-style acts the same way we remember The Osmonds, the DeFranco Family, and disco -- with ironic love. Meanwhile, the metal rap hate bands such as Limp Bizkit, Kottonmouth Kings and Eminem will be all but forgotten except by a handful of gearheads who will struggle to keep their memories alive. May it rest in peace.

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Originally printed in The Omaha Weekly December 27, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.