Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The best albums of the 2000s: 10-1

This is it. The end. The final countdown. The top 10 albums of the decade, according to us.

Mason has posted his personal top 100 list as well. So we all have our own personal posts for your review (see the "contributors" sidebar).

10. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (2000)

While a fan of Adams and Whiskeytown, I somehow didn't own this album until I saw it on this list. I have since downloaded it, and subsequently confirmed that I am a moron. It's very good! - TN

One! Two! a-one whee-hoo! Who in the hell starts out a song like that? Someone who's bent on having a good ol' big time, that's who. And Ryan Adams does just that throughout this album, even with the more somber tunes. - AC

I was a latecomer to the Ryan Adams bandwagon, and while my first (Easy Tiger) is closest to my heart, the song “Come Pick Me Up” on this album pretty much brings me to my knees every time. - GC

That separate list I made ranking just Ryan Adams output during the 2000s - this is at the top. A harbinger of the (mostly) great things that RA would produce throughout the decade. - MD

To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, is To Be High) - Ryan Adams

Oh My Sweet Carolina - Ryan Adams

9. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007)

Did you notice how many wags in mainstream media tried to call this album economically unsuccessful -- mainly those working for publications owned by the same megacorps threatened by Radiohead's daring new funding model? Radiohead has made better albums, but never a bolder statement. - TN

It wasn't until I went back to this album fairly recently, that I realized how good it was. Powered by a model that said "pay us what you want for it," it probably exposed the band far and away to people who'd otherwise never hear them and those who checked it out were rewarded with a treat. - RB

Radiohead's approach to releasing this album was a bold statement. But even if it had been released in the more traditional fashion, I would still rate it highly. The musicianship and creativity on display in In Rainbows is as good as anything else this band put out in the '00s. - AC

This album, for me, is a perfect fit - I find all of the classic Radiohead motifs are present and wrapped in a nicely evolved, tightly held package. Each song craftily transitions right into the next, so worthy of being listened to in whole-record, beautiful form. Most classic. - HR

All I Need - Radiohead

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi - Radiohead

8. The Strokes, Is This It (2001)

"Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee asked in a 1969 single. Forty years later, The Strokes rephrase the question, but it is no longer a question; it is a blase statement. Is This It, both the album and the title track, explore the power of ennui. But don't mistake that attitude for dullness. Songs like "Hard to Explain" and the single "Last Night," with jangly, tinny guitars chugging alongside Julian Casablancas's world-weary vocals, evoke a modern take on New York City '77-era punk. This is it. - AC

Is this It is a futuristic sort of tv dinner from the past - without a doubt this is the most listened album for me. It was one of those last few physical CD treasures before I transitioned to mp3s and other digital varieties - a semi broken plastic case where a worn CD lives with my ticket stubs, memories of joining a fan club (!) and standing in line post-shows like a 14 year old waiting for Elvis. It was a golden moment of heraldry, a beacon which announced 'this decade may not suck musically after all.' I find rock and pop perfection in Jules' voice alongside my favorite guitar sound (thank you, Nick Valensi) of the decade. I see and hear music everyday that's been influenced by it - it touched everything. Each moment is perfect, down to the last minutes where 'Trying your luck' and 'Take it or leave it' rock the universe. Love it, can you tell? - HR

Hard to Explain - The Strokes

Last Night - The Strokes

7. The Postal Service, Give Up (2003)

The pairing of Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello was simultaneously fresh and exciting, cynical and world-weary. - TN

This may not be the best album of the 2000s, but one could argue it is its most definitive, both in terms of its musical style and how it was created. - GC

A well-deserved ranking for a project that took place via a medium that many believe is outdated. There's no dud anywhere on this one, either. I once heard a speaker muse about the music that my generation would listen to in our cars; sometime in the future that we'd fondly recall as seminal works from our generation. Hearing this one again, I believe this would make my shortlist. - RB

Such Great Heights - The Postal Service

Sleeping In - The Postal Service

6. The National, Boxer (2007)

Another unexpected critical darling, the album drags at times (imho), but establishes a very good and original sound. We can debate for ages whether Matt Berninger's Leonard Cohenesque vocals are a strength or a weakness, but no argument that the album belongs on this list. - TN

In a world where grown men wearing skinny jeans prolong childhood to avoid responsibilities and student loans and lament lost lovers who came and went ages ago, The National pens tracks that grown folks can listen to without feeling lame. - RB

One of the most important bands to come to prominence in this decade. And this album is nearly perfect. - GC

I can't top what RB said here. Terrific songwriting with a delivery that is simultaneously mellow and burning with a slow urgency. - MD

Slow Show - The National

Mistaken for Strangers - The National

6. Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica (2004)

Once upon a time, there was a band that was the darling of the indie set. They made songs that made its denizens happy. Hear them as they were then. - RB

Folksy acoustic guitars mesh with interesting sonic backgrounds. Isaac Brock's disjointed vocals -- he goes from nursery-rhyme sing-songy to mental-ward squacks in a nanosecond -- create an otherworldly musical mood. The album title conveys a sense of distance, isolation and alienation, and it's there in many of the tracks ("Alone Down There," to name one). But there's also a strong thread of humanity woven throughout. This is one album I never get tired of listening to. - AC

I have to say, I never saw it coming from this album that they would become a near-mainstream hit. This may be their peak, but the works that followed didn’t fall too far off. - GC

3rd Planet - Modest Mouse

Wild Pack of Family Dogs - Modest Mouse

4. Sufjan Stevens,
Illinois (2005)

Having previously composed album dedicated to the state of Michigan, Sufjan Stevens once told what ended up being a joke in an interview that he wanted to make an album for all fifty states. Fans hung on his every word and waited for their favorite state album to be released. Before he revealed it wasn't serious, he released Illinois. Critical acclaim has nothing to do with this one, it's inventive, creative and just plain good. - RB

This masterpiece soars with sweeping, Coplandesque orchestral compositions and Americana tales of stepmothers, cancer treatments, UFOs and Superman. - AC

Just genius. Since he could never do all fifty, I only wish Sufjan would pick up on the Lincoln connection and put Kentucky in the queue. - MD

Truly one of the best of the decade and also one of the most accessible - there is impressive artistry at work. Clever song writing through historical narrative; delicious but stable, sensible orchestrations that have an exotic and familiar feel. Something you can safely listen to with a senior citizen, a four year old, and your peers. Pretty much anyone you know can dig it. Awesome. - HR

Chicago - Sufjan Stevens

Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother - Sufjan Stevens

3. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)

It's a beautiful, bizarre day in the four-part "neighborhood" suite that opens this Canadian band's debut. Born out of band members' personal tragedy, Funeral is a beautiful meditation in combining unusual sounds -- from brass instruments to violins to tea kettles -- with more conventional elements of pop and rock -- your drums, guitar, keyboards and bass -- to form amazing music. - AC

A record that seemingly came out of nowhere to become loved just about everywhere. It's hard to exactly pinpoint its charm: the gritty anthem spark, the quirky instrumental arrangements, the clever lyrical arc? Maybe its ability to seem so much greater than the sum of its parts is part of its appeal. - TN

Magical. Love every single song. Validated lots of stuff going on in our local music scene, so it has an extra special place in my heart. Repeat. - HR

Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire

Neighborhood 3 - Power Out - Arcade Fire

2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Since his days with Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco's front man) was known for his roots-rock musicianship. But with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco took a sharp turn away from their roots to create one of the best experimental albums of the decade. The music industry wouldn't touch it -- at first. But eventually Wilco got a record deal and the rest is recent history. Parts of this innovative work sound as though Radiohead broke into the studio and jacked with the tracks. - AC

I think some critics buy into the narrative about this album more than the product itself, but the last release fed by the creative tension between Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett has its merits. While I find it lyrically short of some Wilco efforts, Tweedy does some of his best vocal work. - TN

I have to confess that this is another one I missed the first time around. I picked it up a couple of months ago out of the used bin and it hasn't left my car cd player since then. Sure folks tend to get caught up in the creation myth of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (see this Pitchfork review from 2002), but it stands on its own as a fine album full of poetic truths embedded in catchy, inventive pop songs. This one endures. - MD

Much more than 'the album with a movie attached.' A slighly augmented Wilco proves they were meant to set the bar in the alt-country world - some of the best songwriting and musicianship from a band whose discography is full of home runs. - HR

When I saw Wilco live and they played the last track on this album, “Reservations,” I was reduced to a quivering wreck. And that pretty much sums it up. - GC

Kamera - Wilco

Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco

1. Radiohead, Kid A (2000)

This album was a kick to the head of the world of rock'n'roll ... in a good way. By all rights, we shouldn't want to inhabit the dystopian, disturbing landscape painted here, yet it is endlessly marvelous and mesmerizing. - TN

Kid A sounds great when I'm on over-the-counter cold medication. Seriously. Next time you're at home with a head cold, pop some NyQuil, put on the headphones and crank it. You will disappear completely into the soundscape. But even if you're the picture of health, Kid A will do your head good. - AC

It's really strange to be looking back at ten years of music and believe it all started here. In many ways, Kid A defined the beginning of the decade. It is sparse and rich, for the more reflective side of yourself, a promise to emerge later on as 'the future.' This enigmatic meditation was played a lot in my classroom. Eleven year olds gave it rave reviews while it brought out their scholarly side. Apparently other folks held it in pretty high regard as well ... here it is at number one. Take a listen and remember the journey. - HR

“We’re not scare mongering. This is really happening.” If ever a song to kick off the 2000s with, “Idioteque” was it. - GC

The National Anthem - Radiohead

Kid A - Radiohead

* * *

So, there you have it. Thanks for following along with us as we revisited some of our favorite music from the past 10 years. We hope you found something in common with us in these groupings, but no doubt we omitted some of your favorites, included something you would find unworthy, ranked some album much higher or lower than you think it deserved. We hope that maybe our little project led you to discover some new sounds, or rediscover old albums you had set aside during the preceding decade. At any rate, thanks for reading, and please, by all means, tell us where we went astray.


  1. I am TORN between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky Blue Sky for my top ten of the decade list; whereas YHF definitely put them on the map, I somehow feel SBS was the culmination of everything they'd worked towards. And yes, I realize they released an album this year. I stand by my original statement, if you get my drift.

    That National album made my list as well, just haunting. Terrific song choices, too.

    Such fun! Thanks for doing this. Look for my contribution to the noise after Christmas.

  2. Courtney - Thanks for following along. Can't wait to see your picks. I included "Sky Blue Sky" in my top 100 (No. 88).

  3. I'm pleased to see Funeral, Give Up and Boxer make the top 10. I was getting worried there.

    Boxer and Give Up are the two albums I listened to the most during this decade as albums. One thing to add about Boxer -- the drumming on this album is fantastic, it's the thread I follow throughout as I listen. Also: for those of us who aren't fond of the sensitive indie bearded tenors and falsettos, it's nice to have a dissolute baritone vocal to latch on to.

    I adore Give Up. I joined a synth pop group a while back and was surprised to discover that The Postal Service is disdained by the hardcore crowd, but hello -- the word pop is in synth pop. But these aren't just great pop songs. They evoke a certain Radiohead-esque relation to the world of technology and what that means for human relations. In fact, I found listening to the album so evocative that I wrote a short short story cycle based on it. It was an interested experience in writing and at the end of it, after listening to every song on the album multiple times in a row, I still wasn't sick of it.

  4. Had fun doing this for sure. Too much Radiohead, though. ;)

    Great to discover that my tastes -- hipsterish or not -- were somewhat universal. Fun project all around. Three cheers to The Brandmaster!

  5. Ron - Definitely fun for me, too. Amen to too much Radiohead! For my taste, not enough White Stripes, Joe Strummer was ranked far too low (old Clash fans die hard), and it was obvious I am the geezer rocker of the bunch. In addition to Strummer, my top 100 included such elder statesmen as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, REM, Warren Zevon (RIP), Elvis Costello, David Bowie and U2 -- none of which, other than U2, garnered a mention by any of my fellow raters. I came THAT close to including Neil Young in my list (love Prairie Wind) but left it on the cutting-room floor. All of which just confirms what the Rolling Stones sang years and years ago, while they were still young and hip: "What a drag it is getting old." :)

    WM - Glad the top 10 included a few of your faves. You had me worried earlier.

  6. OK, this makes me an official dork, but I'm not familiar with ANY of the top 20! But it's been fun reading and gives me some artists to check out.

    I'd have to think hard about a top 20 for the decade. Somewhere pretty close to the top, if not at #1, would be "Two Men With the Blues" by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis (2008).

    Thanks for some fun posts!

  7. The high rankings for Radiohead are perhaps more indicative of consensus among our critics than everyone placing them high. Personally, I only ranked one of their albums in my Top 10 -- Kid A -- but that enough contributors liked all their albums put them up. That I'm not particularly impressed by The Strokes, The Fleet Foxes or other acts that were one-song-and-done for me, or that my fellow critics don't listen to a lot of Canadian music, acts as a leveler. It's quite possible I could listen to Of Montreal, MGMT or TV on the Radio and put them well up in the Top 100.

    As for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, my enduring unfashionable opinion is that both AM and Summerteeth are better realized, written and performed albums. But it's all about opinion.

    Anyway, this was fun. Let's set a date to do it again!

  8. I'll third Ron's Radiohead comment. Tim's right, it's like the reputation component of the USNews rankings - they showed up high because everyone ranked them somewhere. Whereas my #2 album (Gillian Welch) and @halogoggles' #1 (to take two off the top of my head) barely made the final countdown, and only by virtue of those respective high rankings.

    Andy, while you did a nice job representing "geezer rock" I'm pretty sure I was the only person to list kids albums. I can admit that I listen to the Barenaked Ladies' Snacktime sometimes when I'm by myself.

    Tim, I'll stand by Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - but I also don't have the entire Wilco ouvre. I'll have to pick up AM and Summerteeth and get back to you. Lately I've been trying to catch up on the Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown stuff I somehow missed in the 90s, so it's not a stretch.

    I was a little surprised I was the only person to list Okkervil River. Highly recommended.

    This was a blast and I've learned quite a bit through the process. My first 50 picks came pretty easy; once I got to about 75 I had a really hard time coming up with enough stuff I actually own that I thought warranted inclusion. Now I have a good list to try and fill in some of the big gaps in my collection.

    Thanks to all who followed along and continue to make suggestions in the comments. I will have to check out Willie and Wynton (I love Willie and almost included Willie and the Wheel in my list).

  9. @Wm Morris You're thoughts on Give Up are great, thanks for sharing! That was one of my favorites of the decade and I forgot to comment on it in the above post. I enjoy Ben Gibbard with The Postal Service more than with Death Cab. And I can never make up my mind whether I like Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello) or not. Together these guys were a match made in heaven.

    It's a little strange that Amnesiac didn't make our list but Kid A did. Those albums are similar. I'm guilty too, as in my personal list I had Kid A in the top 10 but Amnesiac barely made my top 40. I primarily thik it's because Kid A was first.

    Thank you to everyone who followed our posts!