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Decade Mixtape: Spectrum Culture Turns 10

Decade Mixtape: Spectrum Culture Turns 10

In honor of Spectrum Culture’s 10th anniversary, we’re reviving the spirit of our erstwhile Monthly Mixtape feature and giving it the retrospective treatment.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Spectrum Culture. To commemorate this milestone, we’re taking a look back at the past decade and revisiting music and film that has left a lasting impression since 2008. Through the years, our music writers have covered live shows and have gone crate-digging for cheap vinyl. We’ve brought you artist interviews and analyzed dozens of acts’ entire discographies. We’ve revisited and rediscovered albums from every modern era and examined the sense of disorientation that can occur when one realizes an influential record has turned 20.

Over the years, we also often brought readers a monthly mixtape, which highlighted recent releases that were making their mark. In honor of our 10th anniversary, we’re reviving the spirit of this erstwhile feature and giving it the decade-retrospective treatment. Spectrum Culture is proud to present our Decade Mixtape.

The xx – “Crystalised” (2009)

Glaciers have melted to the sea/ I wish the tide would take me over.” The xx’s imagery in their debut single is as much introduction as it is metaphor. There is an intimate stillness to their electro-minimalism; vapors rise from the ice heating up too fast. Oliver Sim drawls out his vocals while Romy Madley Croft exhales her verses like smoke. The drum machine taps out a muffled gallop. The two vocals curl and wrap around each other, controlled and always touching. And as the tempo decelerates (painfully, blissfully) and their voices unite to implore “Go slow,” we know they’ve found that warm wave. – Stacey Pavlick

Animal Collective — “My Girls” (2009)

The lead single from their kaleidoscopic album Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective’s “My Girls” is one of those songs that was difficult not to love when it came out, even for those who’d previously claimed to dislike Animal Collective. Indeed, it seemed like a song for the haters, defying them to hate more and preemptively celebrating their surrender to the band’s psychedelic hymn to domestic bliss. With its chant-like vocals, swirling synths and totally irresistible dance pulse and hand claps, “My Girls” was the band’s “Hey Ya!”—a song for listeners of all stripes to enjoy, the musical equivalent of not needing to be cool anymore. – Dylan Montanari

Neon Indian — “Deadbeat Summer” (2009)

Chillwave is dead; long live chillwave! Well, the aesthetic is still hanging around, the lo-fi bounce glomming onto hip-hop beats to do homework to and the general, overwhelming vibes of slackerdom dominating our diminishing decade. Neon Indian mastermind Alan Palomo would eventually distance himself from the genre by going full ‘80s, but the goofy bounce of “Deadbeat Summer” had millions of hipsters checking out Todd Rundgren and dropping acid to the Theremin. Washed Out would create chillwave as make-out fodder and vaporwave was lurking just around the corner, but Neon Indian had made something delightful, no irony or hormones required. – Nathan Stevens

Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance” (2009)

Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster (along with Kelis’ underloved Flesh Tone) might be the artistic pinnacle of the post-Timbaland, pre-EDM strain of synthpop that dominated charts in the earliest, most optimistic years of the Obama era. “Bad Romance” is that album’s crown jewel, a song as blunt as a steamroller and wiltingly elegant as a McQueen dress. It might be hard for future generations to fathom how ubiquitous this song was at rainbow proms and Westboro Baptist Church counter-protests in a time when gay marriage seemed like the revolution to end all revolutions. Nine years after its release, it’s both a relic of a simpler time and a banger that still has the power to bludgeon listeners into submission. – Daniel Bromfield

Vijay Iyer – “Galang” (2009)

Pianist Vijay Iyer’s 2009 cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang” doesn’t use samples or include rapping—it features his acoustic piano trio with Marcus Gilmore on drums and Stephan Crump on upright bass. But here was music that integrated the rhythmic innovations of hip-hop—its new, stuttering and fragmented dance impulse—with formal elements of jazz “swing” and approach. Other artists of this generation were doing this too, but Iyer’s trio created a cut-to-the-bone clarity, hammering at a rhythm that was created by the cross-currents of three voices, making clear that the new form could be beautiful fodder for a jazz impulse that was 100 years old: conversation between several voices amidst a rhythmic slip-and-slide fostering improvisation and movement. The trio’s version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (2012) would be an even better example of this integration, but “Galang” made clear that these two great American musical forms were not just cousins but potential bedmates. – Will Layman

Kanye West – “Runaway” (2010)

It’s hard to believe there was a time not so long ago when the worst thing Kanye West ever did was spoil Taylor Swift’s night at the VMAs. Even more remarkably, he actually (after a fashion) apologized for it: returning the following year to debut a new song, “Runaway,” with a hauntingly spare piano hook and lyrics that owned up to his worst impulses. Eight years later, Kanye has a lot more to answer for—his line “You been puttin’ up with my shit just way too long” has never rung truer—and “Runaway” feels like a relic of a bygone, more antihero-friendly era. But for a few moments in 2010, alone on stage in his red suit triggering Rick James samples on his Akai MPC2000, he really was a douchebag worth toasting. – Zachary Hoskins

Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope” (2010)

The ArchAndroid holds its space in a confusing, exhilarating context: running backward at full speed, the past collapses and we’re light years forward. Everything retro- is neo-; the familiar is simultaneously utterly new. This spirit of resurrection is so immediate on the joint-jumpin’ “Tightrope.” “I can’t complain about it/ I gotta keep my balance/ And just keep dancin’ on it,” Monáe intones, and her tightrope walk is not made up of timid steps, but a slinky MJ-inspired shuffle. After Big Boi low-key assures us that “We gonna get back up/ Like the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ,” Monáe reemerges with a horn section that pokes through her liquid rhymes. Colliding the past with the future, Monáe does an expert balancing act. – Stacey Pavlick

LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean” (2010)

“Dance Yrself Clean” feels like a fakeout: a monotonous, slowly oscillating beat, with James Murphy’s voice buried low enough in the mix that you need to turn it up as loud as possible. Slowly, a beat builds, but it’s sluggish. About three minutes in, a pummeling rat-tat-tat-tat hits, full force, and the song erupts. Murphy eviscerates his voice screaming on the song, pushing his register in every direction; at one point, he howls a sustained note for a full 15 seconds. From here, he alternates between restraint and outburst until the song slowly reaches a halt.

Everybody’s getting younger/ It’s the end of an era, it’s true,” sings Murphy, perfectly summing up the end of his band. “Dance Yrself Clean” was the best display of unbridled energy we’d seen from the band, making the end feel even more bittersweet. It’s no wonder they couldn’t stay gone. – Hollister Dixon

Joanna Newsom – “Have One on Me” (2010)

The title track of Joanna Newsom’s monumental triple-album Have One on Me is a candidate for her most well-realized longform composition. The epic 11-minute song goes through four distinct parts and offers one of Newsom’s most densely-structured set of lyrics to date. Exploitation, exile and death mar the lyrics, but so does an overwhelming sense of compassion and love. Ryan Francesconi’s arrangement perfectly matches Newsom’s grandiosity, backing her with an array of recorders, horns blasts and Mediterranean folk instruments. As the track reaches its climax with the refrain of “Don’t you worry for me/ Will you have one on me?,” the music is a web of counterpoint, following the narrator through her confusion and desperation. Perhaps the perfect middle point between Ys’ (2006) medieval wanderings and the soft rock leanings of Divers (2015), “Have One on Me” is the epitome of what makes Newsom great. – Connor Lockie

Waka Flocka Flame – “Hard in Da Paint” (2010)

“Hard in Da Paint” marks the beginning of trap music’s new era. The efforts of the rap subgenre’s architects such as T.I. and DJ Toomp as well as Jeezy and Shawty Redd during the prior decade reach their peak. Lex Luger stacks the Gothic music to impossible heights while Waka Flocka Flame’s inimitable roar leaves a crater where his street stories land. While other rap artists from all over the map took this approach into more adventurous styles, “Hard in Da Paint” also provided the blueprint for EDM’s next wave. Countless producers borrowed Lex Luger’s rolling hi-hats and epic, sinister melodies, spawning a subset of the dance genre called trap. The one-dimensional sound of “Hard in Da Paint” dates the single, but the anthem undoubtedly started the mainstreaming of trap music for the following years. – Ryo Miyauchi

Jlin – “Erotic Heat” (2011)

One of Jlin’s earliest releases, “Erotic Heat” is an excellent introduction into her signature style of avant-garde dance music. It’s deceptively sparse, utilizing only a few manipulated vocal sounds and synthetic percussion to craft a skeletal atmosphere. It’s Jlin’s expert treatment of rhythms, though, and her deliberate arrangements that sell the music. The tiniest moments stand out, like the rising three-note melody in the bass or the sudden drops into half-time throughout. Though the sound is bold, the execution is carefully measured. Jlin has gone on to make more ambitious and more nuanced music, but “Erotic Heat” is a fine example of the artist’s knack for merging experimentalism with exhilarating, grooving rhythms. – Connor Lockie

Tyler, the Creator – “Yonkers” (2011)

Few things feel less relevant to 2018 than the gleefully nihilistic edgelord rap of early Odd Future; but for a brief period at the turn of the decade, this crew of seemingly feral L.A. youth had captured the imaginations of fans and critics alike. Listening to “Yonkers,” the breakthrough single by the group’s ringleader Tyler, the Creator, it’s still easy to see why: the song’s stalking, malevolent beat had a sense of danger that was sorely lacking in mainstream hip-hop. Less dangerous than embarrassing are Tyler’s lyrics, which range from merely juvenile (“Threesomes with a fuckin’ triceratops—Reptar”) to violent and homophobic. Seven years later, half of the dissolved collective have come out as gay—including, maybe, Tyler himself—and Eminem is in the hot seat for slinging the “F-bomb” at his one-time acolyte. Sometimes, things do change for the better. – Zachary Hoskins

Burial – “Ashtray Wasp” (2012)

When Burial emerged from hiatus in 2011 with his Street Halo EP, he marked a shift from cryptic, timely LPs to suite-like compositions that profoundly expanded his production. Nothing exhibited this more than “Ashtray Wasp,” the concluding epic on 2012’s Kindred. Fading up on woozy, waterlogged klaxons, the track gradually builds into a skittering, addled hi-hat shuffle that takes the loneliness and longing so central to Burial’s music and explodes them on a cosmic scale. A thoroughly warped sample of Monica’s “Like This and Like That” spits out a plaintive moan of “I want you,” and much of the track’s first segment hinges on the devastating refrain of “I used to belong.” Eventually, the hiss and crackle of Burial’s spaced-out dub swallows the chugging rhythm, splintering and flattening the track into an entropic groan of isolation that, in its impressionistic despair, feels every bit as topical as the more explicit urban sketches of Burial and Untrue. – Jake Cole

Grimes – “Oblivion” (2012)

Before Elon Musk or the joint single with Kreayshawn, Claire Boucher was a Canadian girl fascinated with off-the-beaten-path synthpop and mainstream pop stars in equal measure. “Oblivion” is those fascinations made manifest, a combination of underground electronic textures and bright, poppy melodies that pointed to where pop music was going to go as the decade progressed. The wash of synths has a bouncy quality to it, working both as an introspective mood piece and a party song. What’s more, Boucher’s lyrics, which veer between fear of stalkers and worries over self-care, are exactly the kind of concrete stuff that is never associated with atmospheric synthpop, even as her faint whisper of a voice adds elements of Kate Bush-esque dreaminess to the proceedings. Even now, “Oblivion” is a wholly unique piece of work, the kind of song that could only have been made by a visionary artist under just the right circumstances. – Kevin Korber

Frank Ocean — “Pyramids” (2012)

There’s got to be some prophecy, foretold by Marvin Gaye, Prince and Lauryn Hill that, one day, a R&B classic of unparalleled length, eroticism and awe would be crafted. Who’d figure a former Justin Bieber ghostwriter would be the chosen one? Frank Ocean dropped “Pyramids” at the half-way point of the already stellar Channel Orange and nothing was the same. Perhaps the greatest song of the 2010s, “Pyramids” is a multi-part suite, fluctuating between ancient Egypt and the strip club. The main focus is on the truly progressive instrumentation, with slippery, backward drums, delicious bass lines and a hypnotic swagger, but Ocean’s keening baritone proves his eye for detail, tracing a doomed love from Cairo to a Vegas bachelor pad. Ambition of this caliber is usually messy, but “Pyramids” is improbably smooth. – Nathan Stevens

Daft Punk – “Get Lucky” (2013)

The idea of “Song of the Summer” is entirely subjective, but in 2013, two months before summer even began, one song won the title without trying. That the song was such a massive hit makes the return of Daft Punk feel even more triumphant. Outside of a live album and the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, we hadn’t heard a proper album from the robots in eight years. When they returned, they didn’t come alone: with buttery-slick bass by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, and equally smooth vocals by Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky” didn’t sound like anything else around it—and didn’t even sound like Daft Punk. It was pure disco and pure perfection. “Get Lucky” united us in a way that songs rarely do anymore, but hopefully, one day, will again. We’ll be fortunate if the next song is equally funky. – Hollister Dixon

Savages – “Husbands” (2013)

The startling “hit” that brought Savages to the attention of the broader listening public, “Husbands” sounds a bit like a rewriting of Patti Smith’s “Horses,” albeit coupled with the dissonant intensity of post-punk and goth. As much as its descending bassline and squeals might be recognized elements within the idiom in which it participates, however, the song is more than just pastiche. Rather, it is desperate and defiant, both invocation and denunciation, a musical exorcism that questions itself as much as the listener, without providing an answer to either. Savages may have made greater songs, but “Husbands” remains its fiercest clarion call. – Dylan Montanari

Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (2014)

From the moment Samuel T. Herring did his serpentine, mortar-dodging dance on “The Late Show,” Future Islands cemented “Seasons (Waiting on You)” as an instant zeitgeist smash. Herring, looking far more like the frontman of a Black Flag cover band than an icy synthpop group, provided a striking contrast with the rest of the band, at once disrupting their ‘80s retro electro-pop and expanding the sense of nostalgia by combining it with college rock angst and energy. The lush swells that open the track at first synchronize with Herring’s cooing first verse, but soon he hurls himself into the lyrics, lunging from regret over a lost love to surges of passion as sadness spikes with attendant bitterness and lingering feelings. Four years later, it’s one of the few songs of the summer of the last decade to retain all of its power and irresistibility. – Jake Cole

Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta” (2015)

Kendrick Lamar could have it all, but he won’t sacrifice who he is to get it. That’s what’s at the core of “King Kunta,” one of many, many standout tracks from K-Dot’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly. On its surface, “King Kunta” is a brash statement of intent, the kind of “This is who I am” announcement common in the genre. But what’s important to Kendrick and what he brags about isn’t street cred or success or any of the common tropes; it’s his vision of rap that he takes pride in. Kendrick rejects all the trappings of fame if it means that he has to sacrifice any aspect of who he is. For Kendrick, rap is first and foremost self-expression and a way to see the world; as long as he can do that, he can lay claim to a royal title no matter how much money he has. – Kevin Korber

Sufjan Stevens – “The Only Thing” (2015)

Sufjan Stevens had a troubled relationship with his mother, who struggled with mental illness, and the tenderness with which he renders this relationship throughout Carrie & Lowell makes for some of the most touching music released this century. Over gentle finger-plucking, Stevens blends his usual Biblical imagery with that of Greek myths as he rhetorically asks if he should tear his eyes and heart out now because everything he sees and feels returns to his mother somehow. On what many heralded as his best album, “The Only Thing” stands out as one of his most breathtaking songs. Stevens stretches his voice gossamer thin in the song’s chorus, and the plucked strings are soon joined by gentle instrumental swells that reinforce the bared-heart emotion behind this song. If you want to isolate one song that’s emblematic of Stevens’ emotional and existential power, this is as far as you have to look. – Josh Goller

Adele – “Hello” (2015)

Adele proved her vocal chops with her first album, 2008’s 19, and established herself as a global superstar with 2011’s 21. The sales and admiration that Adele garnered with 21 were astounding, but by repeating them with 2015’s 25, she elevated herself from star to legend. While the third album is often where pop stars go astray, Adele proved any doubters wrong with the simple but haunting words, “Hello, it’s me.” 25’s lead single, “Hello,” is an exceptional showcase for the audacious sonic force of the British songstress’ instrument. The song spawned memes, a music video with billions of views and is so ubiquitous that it is still, to this day, nearly impossible to answer the phone and say “Hello, it’s me” without thinking of Adele. – Mike McClelland

Radiohead – “Burn the Witch” (2016)

First conceptualized during recording sessions for Kid A, and tinkered with through the subsequent 16 years, Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” acted as harbinger for the sinister rise in xenophobia and ethnic scapegoating that swept the Western world in 2016 and led to unprecedented results at ballot boxes in both the United States and Radiohead’s native UK. While A Moon Shaped Pool may otherwise be one of the band’s least political records, opening track and lead single “Burn the Witch” is clearly the exception, as Yorke’s voice soars over Jonny Greenwood’s arrangement of pensive strings in flat-out opposition to the demonization of the perceived “other” that has been going on in varying degrees since time immemorial. – Josh Goller

Beyoncé – “Formation” (2016)

Just when it seemed as if Beyoncé had nothing left to prove, she dropped her feminist, politically-aware single “Formation” just before guest starring in a Super Bowl halftime act, where she stole the show performing the song in a sing-off against headliner Bruno Mars. “Formation” would end up serving as the lead single for Beyoncé’s revolutionary album Lemonade, and it set an incredibly high standard that the rest of the album somehow managed to match. “Formation,” and Lemonade at large, built upon the foundation the singer laid with her 2013 album, Beyoncé, revealing more sexually forthright, racially-aware and justice-oriented material than less nuanced work of her earlier career. – Mike McClelland

Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3” (2017)

Lil Uzi Vert has competition for the title of this decade’s best use of Auto-Tune, though he easily fills the top spot with “XO Tour Llif3.” “Push me to the edge” is too fitting of a lyric for this warped pop song, and like TM88’s own corrosive beat, the rapper’s voice bleeds over the margins with the manipulation of Auto-Tune. The effect feels uncanny from how unnatural he sounds, but also from how intense the technology expresses his agony and heartbreak on record. While Future numbed the pain, Lil Uzi Vert forces listeners to confront it at its rawest form. How he made “XO Tour Llif3” into such a deceivingly delightful sing-along only adds to his terrifying power. – Ryo Miyauchi

Troye Sivan – “Bloom” (2018)

There have been more queer stars on the charts than you can shake a disco stick at, but few were out when they started their careers—fewer still as viciously so as young Australian singer Troye Sivan. That a pop song could spawn so many think-pieces simply for being about anal sex between two men speaks to the dearth of queer carnality on the charts; while stars like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj can rack up millions of streams with comically graphic music, it’s a sad fact that a lot of people just don’t want to know what goes on in the bedroom between two men. Sivan tells us—just slyly enough that it might take a minute or two of casual head-nod listening before we realize, with a shock, what he’s singing about. – Daniel Bromfield

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