1. Funeral, Arcade Fire 04
“If the children don’t grow up, our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up, we’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms, turning every good thing to rust.”-Wake Up
I went into Funeral cold, receiving it for Christmas in 04, having asked for it without hearing a bit of it. I don’t remember why I wanted it; I probably just wanted to hear something new and I liked what I’d read or the cover, the name of the band; I’m not sure but I was drawn to it. And I’m not sure when I felt it, but I know it wasn’t the first listen. It was probably the third or fourth time I spun the CD or when I started to hear the lyrics. This album was and remains the most magical rock music I’ve ever heard; deeply layered and drawn from personal experience but deconstructed, abstracted, universalized. There was something in this album that moved me, and continues to move me. I’ve listened to it more than any other album ever, probably nearing 100 listens, and if I had to only listen to one album for the rest of my life it would be this one. From its opening track, a post-modern re-telling of a post-lapsarian Adam & Eve to the haunting finale which finds regeneration through death, it’s an album full of child-like energy, imagination, and frustration. The layering of the instruments, the use of its rhythm section, the references to wall of sound girl groups, the wasteland landscapes of post-punk, and the cinematic romanticism of French pop music; the form of the album meets the content of the lyrics, which recall Strindbergian dream play, youthful literal interpretation of the abstract and frightening, the exilic poetry of Diaspora (Haiti), and the lamentations of the poetic books of the Bible.
2. Elephant, The White Stripes 03
“Now where a family!”-The Hardest Button to Button
The White Stripes could very well have folded under the same pressure hype as The Strokes for their follow-up to their 2001 breakthrough album. Throw in a major label debut in the mix, and it had the entire recipe for disappointment. Instead The Stripes found their sound, making their most complex and confident music of their career. Opening it up with one of the greatest songs of all-time doesn’t hurt either.
3. Is this it? The Strokes 01
“And spaceships they ain’t never gonna understand.”-Last Nite
The most important album of the decade hasn’t really aged as well as I thought it would when I posted the album cover on my wall or bought my Strokes shirt. Made by a group of young privileged New Yorkers who came out of nowhere and decided to be the best group ever, and for a short while were, Is This it? Is a definitive New York record, drawing upon Television’s live work and post VU Lou Reed. But the Strokes weren’t a band that payed homage. They were the first band of my young adult life that sounded like they could have opened for T. Rex or toured with The New York Dolls. The first legitimate rock band to get major MTV airplay in nearly a decade, The Strokes were not the first rock revivalists, but were the group that carried the vanguard of a return to raw rock music into the decade with a swagger that rivaled the hip-hop artists which dominated the airwaves. Someone wrote in 01 that The Strokes were our Beatles and the White Stripes our Stones. The White Stripes have turned out to be far more complex than that suggests, and The Strokes turned out to be our Stone Roses. A band that released one perfect album at the right time, and could never live up to it.
4. Things We Lost in the Fire, Low 01
“How can I blame You for all of the screaming that I’ve had to turn to just in time to blow off in my hand.”-Like a Forest
A candidate for the most gorgeous record ever, this is a slow, patient, yet impassioned, fragile to the point being holy, work. Love, prayer, death, rebirth, wash over you in waves of both challenging and sublime harmonies.
5. Smile, Brian Wilson 04
“I love the colorful clothes you wear…”-Good Vibrations
It’s fitting that the most influential figure on music in the 00’s finally released his magnum opus, a long awaited 40 year project that not only sounded just as relevant as any contemporary music, but also was up there with anything he’s ever recorded.
6. Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio 05
“Open my heart and let it bleed on yours.”-Wolf Like Me
This album made the biggest leap in the later revisions of this list, all the way to the top five. This demonstrates both its importance, but mostly it’s challenging nature. The most successful post-rock record to date, a synthesis of glitch, hip-hop, Berlin-era Bowie, and post-punk angst.
7. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco 02
“I want to hold you in the Bible-black pre-dawn, you’re quite a quiet domino, marry me now.” -I am trying to break your heart
A pop record that seems to be falling apart as you listen to it, picking up where Being There left off in its use of dissonance and noise; yet it comes together in moments of harmonic rapture. The lyrics, Tweedy at his semi-surreal best, cryptic yet down to earth, struck a chord in the immediate post 9/11 America, where songs like Jesus Etc and Ashes of American Flags took on new meanings. Though, I still contend that Summerteeth is Wilco’s masterpiece.
8. Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol 02
“He carries them all over the town at least he tries- oh look it stopped snowing.”-Roland
I think that of all the first wave of various rock-revival albums of 01-02 this one holds up the best today. No doubt, that is in part to the level of depth and darkness, the anxiety and frustration that never fully gets resolved. Dark, gorgeous, detached in a startling way.
9. Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 04
"Everything is collapsing, dear All moral sense has gone It's just history repeating itself And babe, you turn me on Like an idea Like an Atom bomb"-Babe, You Turn me on
Usually when musicians find God their music tends to suffer. But for Nick Cave, finding God resulted in an explosion of musical expression, culminating with this double-album. Like Leonard Cohen before him, Cave mixes the naturalistic and the carnal with the religious. This first half is a gnarling gospel album turned to 11. The second is more subdued, until the final tracks.
10. Yoshimi Versus The Pink Robot, The Flaming Lips 02
“I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life, it’s all a mystery.”-Fight Test
Until the Soft Bulletin I think most people found that the Lips were still around was an achievement. But how do you follow-up one of the greatest albums of the last decade? Make one of the first great ones of the next. Yoshimi didn’t depart too much from Bulletin, but it is probably the album that features the Lips’ best songs, including their Grammy-winning instrumental ones. A loose concept album, if Philip K Dick made a romance album it may have come out like this, about colorful sentient robots, vitamins, Japan, free will, and existential decisions in the face of death and violence, culminating in Do You Realize, an ecstatic hymn to seizing each moment as your last.
11. Stankonia, OutKast 00
“Forever ever? Forever ever?” –Ms. Jackson
As imaginative an album ever produced, its mood is all over the place from a celebration of being “so fresh and so clean” to a heartbreaking story about a mother dealing with a child’s suicide to political pieces like Gasoline Dreams, this album changed everything, and influenced music of all genres in the decade.
12. Xtrmntr, Primal Scream 00
“You’re paralytic you’re syphilitic, you’ve got swastika eyes.”-Swastika Eyes
The band finally sounded like its name on this electronic/punk/dance/jazz album. The most aggressively radical album since Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, it was an album lost equally in the demise of electronic music and the reactionary aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Prophetically, the final track is called “I’m Five Years Ahead of my time,” and had the album been released in 2005 it would have found greater resonance. With an all-star lineup of guest collaborators the band takes on American imperialism and militarism, and gives a dark forecast of a world where capitalism has run amok.
13. Kid A, Radiohead 00
When I first heard it I thought to myself: “This is what I expected music to sound like in the future.”
14. I am a Bird Now, Antony and the Johnsons 05
15. Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers 05
16. Trust, Low 02
“I have learned all your secrets so familiar. I know where you lay your head. Fear of God and disappointing Father, holds the hand around your neck.”-La La Song
The most explosive bit of Religious devotional in rock music this decade, Trust was the Low album nobody knew what to do with. It was more polished than anything they’d done before, with more instruments, and more departures from their near acesetic minimalism. “That’s How You Sing Amazing Grace” quickly sets up the album’s thematic, a haunting subversion of the eponymous hymn, and taken to the album’s pinnacle, the 7-minute, Native American influenced and dissonantly punctuated (a lightbulb is smashed) imagined sonic version of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith’s final conversation, titled The Lamb; to Argument with Myself, this is a musical parallel to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where sacrifice, suffering, and ambiguity confront honest devotion and faith…or perhaps trust.
17. Sea Change, Beck 03
“It’s lies that I’m living, it’s only tears that I’m crying. It’s only you that I’m losing. I guess I’m doing fine.”- Guess I’m Doing Fine
Nearly a decade earlier Beck had been tapped the voice of his generation, their Bob Dylan. While he spent the last part of the 90’s in relative obscurity experimenting on a subdued sound influenced by everything from Tropicalia to glitch music, it was this unprecedented album which brought him back to everyone’s attention. One of the most intimate albums, it sounds like Beck is playing his pains for you. One of the saddest, most personal albums ever made; his Blood on the Tracks.
18. Gimme Fiction, Spoon 05
19. Boxer, The National 07
20. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire 06
“I don’t want to live with my father’s debt, you can’t forgive what you can’t forget, I don’t want to live in my father’s house no more. I don’t want to fight in a holy war I don’t want the salesman knocking at my door, I don’t want to live in America no more.” -Windowstill
While it may not be the best album of the decade, no album embodied thematically the decade as much as Neon Bible. Each song an expressionistic work of anxiety: Iraq plays a prominent role (Intervention), as does fundamental Christianity, and confronting what Baudrillard called the “transparency of Evil,” the ambiguous cycle of emptiness following a world “post-“ of all “posts-,” where love has been lost to bodily function and the body to increasing prosthesis. Funeral finds hope in the near suffocating presence of death while this album, a realistic yet dystopian view of the suffocating power of complacency, and the status quo, and where Springsteen-esque freedom through motion is all one can hope. The line: “Every spark of Friendship of Love will die without a home,” is as memorable and disquieting as anything.
21. Third, Portishead 08
22. White Blood Cells, The White Stripes 01
23. The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse, Besnard Lakes 07
More than a masterful indie rock effort, those who listened carefully to this album discovered that there was a lot more going on here; a sort of pseudo-mystical dialectic in the guise of a spy film. An album sure to rise in esteem as time goes on. Do yourself a favor, if you like music, go buy this album.
24. The Great Eastern, The Delgados 00
A “lost” album that will eventually find its appreciation and its audience, this was the first pop masterpiece of the new century.When I first heard "No Danger" on the radio (cf. KRCL.org) I raced home to call the radio station to find out who it was (this was back in the day before I had a cell phone and before all the helpful site on the net for finding songs. Or Shazam...and when there was still radio...)
25. From the Basement on a hill, Elliot Smith 04
26. The Last Broadcast, The Doves 02
27. Let it Come Down, Spiritualized 01
28. Let’s Get Free, Dead Prez 00
Revolutionary, angry, confrontational, uplifting, intellectual: this is an essay that’s also a tremendously produced album, and an example of the possibilities of Hip-Hop.
29. Our Endless Numbered Days, Iron & Wine 04
30. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens 05
31. The Crane Wife, The Decemberists 06
Their most divisive work, The Decemberists make a prog-rock inspired album of songs that seem plucked from some sort of antebellum concept album. Lyrically, musically, they’ve never been stronger or more adventurous.
32. Amore Del Troppo, The Black Heart Procession 02
33. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand 04
34. Internal Wrangler, Clinic 00
35. Game Theory, The Roots 07
36. American IV: The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash 02
The greatness of this album is not in its song craft, its musical composition, or its ingenuity. Rather it lies in one man’s voice, carrying in it the years and experience of his entire life.
37. No More Shall We Part, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 01
38. Dear Science, TV on the Radio 08
39. Kill the Moonlight, Spoon 03
40. The Man Who, Travis 00
41. In Rainbows, Radiohead
42. Pneumonia, Whiskeytown 01
43. The Boxing Mirror, Alejandro Escovado 05
44. Oh, Inverted World, The Shins 02
Inflecting British invasion bands with a laid-back style, and filling them with some of the cleverest lyrics you’ll hear.
45. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay
46. The Magic Numbers, The Magic Numbers
47. Don’t Give Up on Me, Solomon Burke 02
A minimally produced, old school soul record; listen to the title track and if you’re not sold, check your pulse. One of the great tour-de-force vocal performances of the decade.You know what, just listen to this live performance in the video above, it says it all, and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
48. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver, 08
49. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
50. The Blueprint, Jay Z 01
51. The Swell Season/ Once Soundtrack, Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova
52. Hot Fuss, The Killers
53. Be, Common
54. At the Cut, Vic Chesnutt
55. Van Lear Rose, Loretta Lynn
56. Rook, Shearwater 08
57. Picaresque, The Decemberists
58. Embryonic, The Flaming Lips
59. Speakerbox/The Love Below, OutKast
60. Blinking Light and Other Revelations Eels 05
61. The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake
62. The Meadowlands, The Wrens 03
63. Scale, Herbert
64. De Stijl, The White Stripes 00
65. Nashville, Josh Rouse 05
66. Good News For People Who Like Bad News, Modest Mouse
67. Glasvegas, Glasvegas
68. Set Yourself on Fire, Stars
69. World Won’t End, Pernice Brothers 01
70. Drums and Guns, Low 07
71. Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon
72. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 08
73. Haunted, Poe 01
A sign of the multi-platform nature of the new century this album was influenced by her brother’s book, House of Leaves. Though one doesn’t have to know anything about the book; this is a great album on its own. I'm not sure where Poe went, maybe she's still navigating those hallways...
74. Didn’t it Rain? Songs Ohia
75. The Libertines, The Libertines
76. If We’re Really Here, The Happies
77. Girls Can Tell, Spoon 01
78. 0, Damien Rice
79. Modern Times, Bob Dylan
80. Songs in A & E, Spiritualized
81. Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens 02
82. You Forgot it in People, Broken Social Scene 02
83. Strange Weirdos, Loudon Wainright III
84. And then Nothing Turned itself inside out, You La Tengo 00
85. Hail to the Thief, Radiohead 04
86. New Moon, Elliot Smith
87. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case
88. Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins
89. The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
90. The Great Destroyer, Low 05
91. It’s a Wonderful Life, Sparklehorse 00
92. Discover a Lovelier You, Pernice Brothers
93. I, The Magnetic Fields
One of the most underrated albums ever. It was impossible to follow-up 69 Love Songs, but the amount of negativity directed at this album was surprising and undeserved. In many ways these are The Magnetic Field’s most polished and self-contained songs.
94. Keep it Together, Guster
95. Weezer, Weezer 01
96. About a Boy, Badly Drawn Boy 02
97. Takk, Sigur Ros 05
98. When the Devil’s Loose, AA Bondy 09
99. Real Animal, Alejandro Escovado
100. Louden Up Now, !!! 04
A profanity-laden dance/punk/protest record that may eventually be remembered as the political album of the Bush era; assaultive, emotional, and impassioned, that's catchy and danceable.
101. Innocence and Despair, Langely School Music Project 01
102. The Drift, Scott Walker 06
103. Blazing Arrow, Blackalicious
104. Guero, Beck 05
105. The Stage Names, Okkervil River
106. Stay Human, Michael Franti and Spearhead
107. Get Ready, New Order
108. Soul Mosaic, Greyboy
109. Silver Lake, Vic Chesnutt 07
110. Alligator, The National
111. Living With War, Neil Young
112. Rainy Day Music, Jayhawks
113. Shake off the Dust…Arise, Matisyahu
114. The Sights, The Sights
115. Year in the Kingdom, J. Tillman 09
116. Poses, Rufus Wainwright 01
117. The Revolution Starts Now, Steve Earle 04
118. Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World
119. Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, Grouper
120. Let Go, Nada Surf