Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Top 50 Favorite Albums of the 00's

This is going to be a long one.

A few notes: Just to remind myself of what came out this decade, I put together a list of about 150 or so albums and culled my final 50 from those. I might list them later, we'll see. To give more room on the final list, I only allowed myself one album per band.

These are most definitely in order. I knew Lee would like it that way.

Without further adieu:

50) Fugazi, The Argument

This came out to little fanfare in 2001, and then Fugazi subsequently decided to go on what looks to be an indefinite hiatus. They went out with a bang. Some might say a whimper but there is still an anger underneath that guides this album although restrained and rarely allowed to boil over where you'll find this album's greatest strength. Some of it is sadly prescient now ("Cashout"). A fitting end to Fugazi's legacy, more fitting than if they had decided to end with the ho-hum End Hits.

49) The Coup , Party Music

Party Music grabbed headlines thanks to the original cover that showed The Coup blowing up the World Trade Center just before September 11th, but as per usual with The Coup, there’s substance, wit, and compassion underneath the provocation.

48) Belle & Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress

I lost track of Belle and Sebastian somewhere in the 00's, but this album saw them stretching themselves beyond their usual borders, experimenting in some minimal electronica as well what some labeled "funk." Its nice mix with their usual earnestness make this album a great listen.

47) The Roots , Rising Down

The Roots were somewhat inconsistent in the 00's, ever since "Things Fall Apart" set the bar so high. Starting with "Game Theory" and then rebounding and moving up, "Rising Down" saw them back at the top of their game. As great as they are I feel like it might be like this in general for them. It'll be interesting to see what they do next after all the musicians they seem to be running into on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." Although that's not really anything new for ?uestlove. (Seeing The Roots on the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was kind of wild...The Roots!!)

46) Mos Def , The Ecstatic

For the past decade, Mos Def has tried experimenting with a variety of different ideas and styles, from his abandoned Black Jack Johnson Project band among others. Most everything he put out has been hit or miss at best, leaving listeners to say, "Well, at least he's trying something new." But this album is the return to form that people have been waiting for, wiping the slate clean and showing the youngsters how it's done. Finally, it's nice to have him back.

45) Das Oath , Das Oath

This was a grower for me. Over the last year I went back and taken a more careful listen of it mostly due to Jef's enthusiasm for it. And he was right. To paraphrase Das Oath takes Black Sabbath-like riffage and condenses them down into minute long songs. It's really pretty amazing and talented stuff, and of course, it's awesome.

44) Mastodon , Leviathan

This is a concept album about "Moby Dick." It's not some English major's treatise on the nature of obsession. It's about a whale destroying ships. And it is stunning.

43) Ghostface Killah , Supreme Clientele

It was never obvious that Ghostface was going to be one of Wu Tang's breakout stars. He doesn't have the personality of a Method Man. Although funny, he was never the life-of-the-party like Ol' Dirty Bastard. But, out of the whole Clan, he consistently had the best albums of the 00's. Fishscale and The Pretty Toney Album were also contenders here for me. His verses sound like stoner Mad-Libs, he is this weirdo savant that stands out from all the other cookie cutter rappers out there. And, to me, he ushered in the 00's with his best album.

42) Raekwon , Only Built For Cuban Linx Part II

Like I mentioned above, most of the Wu Tang's solo albums didn't fare too well for most of the 00's. They all seemed to step up to the plate pretty well when they were all together, but their solo stuff mostly floundered. People waited for a long time for this album to come out, and unusually for stuff people anticipate for a long time, it delivered an excess of riches. Maybe not quite as good as the original, but amazing for the here and now. It was nice to not be let down. Yet another example, in 2009, of veterans showing the youngsters how things are done.

41) Wu-Tang Clan , The W

The couple of times when the Wu Tang Clan got together for proper albums in the 00's, most, if not all of the (living) members brought their A-game to the table. They seem to play off one another and bring their game to another level. Too bad they couldn't fully sustain that in their solo offerings. But this time was a comeback of sorts after the overstuffed Forever. It was a step back to a more "stripped down" time, sort of like 36 Chambers but not quite reaching that height. To put it simply: RZA brought some of his best beats in a while and put together some of their best songs in a long time.

40) MC Paul Barman, It's Very Stimulating (ep)

It's the type of musical alchemy that happens only once (or twice) a decade, where two musical weirdoes get together and make beautiful noise together. Paul Barman, Brown graduate and friend of Michel Gondry, loves lyrical gymnastics and palindromes and has one of the weirdest flows, complemented pretty perfectly by the beats of Prince Paul. I remember being introduced to this in California by a Pat O'D mixtape and being just flummoxed and intrigued. I remember introducing Jef to it on our cross country trip, and it becoming a soundtrack, not only to the trip, but a part of my biography.

39) Queens of the Stone Age , Rated R

This was another group who had a few albums competing against each other, but you'll never forget your first. This was the first one I heard, and it was an eye opener for sure. I like Josh Homme's brand of scumbaggy (it's a word-look it up) rock n'roll, and this is a pretty perfect distillation of his aesthetic.

38) The Dismemberment Plan , Change

The best band to get its name from a Bill Murray movie. While probably not as good as Emergency & I, this was a great album to end on since, sadly, they broke up at the start of the 00's. I still feel super lucky to have seen them on their last tour.

37) The Clipse , Hell Hath No Fury

Bringing the coke game to the indie rock masses. A lot of people have put Lord Willin' ahead of this one, but, to me, this is their best. Not only are Pharrell and the Neptunes at the top of their game as the beatmakers, the rhymes that the duo spits are amazing. It's like an updated Too $hort for the 00's.

36) Andrew W.K. , I Get Wet

As someone once mentioned to me, who knows how much Andrew W.K.'s private persona differs from his public one. His public one is so unapologetically positive, and curious - it's hard not to be infected by his enthusiasm. What's funny about this album is how earnest it actually is, even with all the songs about partying and puking and what not. It's all done really unironically, which I find really refreshing. Although you could take it either way and still enjoy it, I think.

35) The National, Boxer

I like Alligator but this edges it out just a bit due to Squalor Victoria. Capable of making both men and women swoony with the boozy beauty of it all.

34) The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike

It's like the soundtrack for the craziest 70's cop show that was never actually made. Ridiculously good live, too, if you ever have the chance.

33) Spoon , Kill The Moonlight

More great hooks and witty lyrics in 35 minutes than most bands can manage in twice that time. They seem to strip everything down and leave only the most danceable music and the snappiest beats and notes. It also has one of the best album openers of the decade in "Small Stakes."

32) Sleater-Kinney , One Beat

Women from Seattle rocking out. Some absolute jams on here.

31) Bright Eyes , Lifted, Or The Story is in the Soil, So Keep Your Ear To The Ground

This was probably edged simply because of the inclusion of the epic, 10 minute long Lets Not Shit Ourselves. Conor Oberst made me a believer with this one. I have to admit that none of his other albums have reached me quite like this one, but that doesn't make it any less good.

30) Broken Social Scene , Broken Social Scene

Canada was the spot in 00's. Considering all the musicians breaking off to do solo stuff or working with other bands, it's actually a surprise how effortless this all seems. Like these songs were just plucked out of nowhere instead of actually having to be written. It was because of Windsurfing Nation and 7/4 (Shoreline) which edged it over You Forgot It In People.

29) The Raconteurs , Consolers Of The Lonely

I like how this album suceeds in capturing a harder, seventies bluesy-punk-inflected sound. I remember a friend thinking I wasn't going to enjoy it because of that big, 70's sound. An update of classic rock, if that makes any sense. Whatever the magic combination, it works here from the harder stuff to the story songs, like Carolina Drama, which is what Johnny Cash might sound like if a harder Faces were his backing band in the mid-70's. Great, foot stomping stuff.

28) Jay-Z , The Black Album

Everyone else seems to go gaga over The Blueprint, but I don't know. Here's the thing - I never really liked Jay-Z before this album, and I can't say I loved him after either. But this album is a pretty amazing distillation of Jay-Z, and it would have been the perfect end if he had decided to keep to his retirement after this album like he originally intended to. But this is, truth be told, great.

27) Kanye West , The College Dropout

Kanye West gets boatloads of shit for his ridiculous behavior-most of it probably deserved. But this obscures the fact that in both beats and rhymes department, he not only is really good at what he does, he really does take a lot of risks with his music despite the fact that he manages his image so much. Like any risk (see Mos Def), they either work or they don't. Another fact that gets obscured is how Kanye's output in the 00's became the gold standard for hip hop (open for debate). Also, when he started, he was about as humble as a superstar producer and soon-to-be superstar MC could be. He used the sped-up soul samples that he made famous with his beats with Jay-Z. And while not the wordsmith that Jay-Z is, he was inventive, poppy, likeably eccentric, and retro and futurist at the same time.

26) The Black Keys , Rubber Factory

Most often compared to The White Stripes, they're two people from the Midwest who play stripped-down bluesy rock. It's an apt enough comparison, but they are far different in subtle ways. This is one of the first albums Tina gave to me, and it is the first I heard of them, Thus, it stands out in my mind. I still think it is their best of the 00's, hence why it was here. Obviously.

25) Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Fever To Tell

Another one of the "new wave" of New York/Brooklyn bands that came up in the early 00's. While they have put out a lot of good stuff, I still gravitate towards the rawness of their first full-length.

24) Blackalicious , Blazing Arrow

Blazing Arrow is their Sgt. Pepper compared to their first album Nia , which was their Revolver.

23) The White Stripes, White Blood Cells

I remember Jef actually hepping me to this album by telling me it was like Led Zeppelin sounds coming out of just two people. And he was right. This lost a three-way match to represent The White Stripes on this list. What's interesting is how just two people can produce such eclectic songs. Just look at I Fell in Love With A GIrl , Hotel Yorba , and We Are Going To Be Friends - obviously they all come from the same place but are all very different. Just like a movie trilogy, the first one is usually the best.

22) Johnny Cash , American IV: When The Man Comes Around

The last gasp of a legend, and you can hear it in his tired voice throughout the record. Like he wanted to put down one more genius album before he shuffled off this mortal coil-and with the help of Rick Rubin, he did it. There are a few lasts on this list, but this one is probably the most poignant. And amazing.

21) El-P , Fantastic Damage

As the 00's started (and sometimes throughout) a lot of people were pegged with "This is the sound of the future..." etc. And a lot of them fell off or didn't live up to their potential. In a lot of ways, El-P was like that. He seemed to be on such a roll. He drops this gem that's like a pastiche of transmissions from the hip hop future. But often with something so ambitious, he wasn't able to quite follow-up after that. That's okay. This is a great document of what was and what might have been.

20) Of Montreal , Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

I suppose this is an odd way to put it, but this is surprisingly "danceable" goodness from these Georgia weirdoes. And if you do ever see their live show, they are definitely weirdoes. What's weird for something so oddly funky, if you listen closely, all the lyrics are pretty dark with themes such as isolation, suicide and death stemming from Kevin Barnes's screwy personal life at the time this was written and recorded.

19) Outkast , Stankonia

Talk about the future falling apart, this sounded like the future. Outkast took a huge evolutionary step forward with this album, and by their next album Big Boi and Andre 3000 were existing in different stratospheres. Amazing production from their longtime producer, Organized Noise, they embraced a really sonic and emotional canvas. Just check out the funky, emotional depths of Ms. Jackson alongside the strange lyrics and ridiculously catchy, balls-out beats of B.O.B.. The latter being one of the best songs of the decade.

18) Radioheadd , Kid A

This was another steel cage match for a position on this list, but I had to go with this one. I think almost ten years removed from when this was released it's easy to forget just how nuts and and out-of-nowhere this album seemed when it first came out. It represented a leap forward for sure, but thanks to Thom Yorke's voice, it was still grounded in some manner of warmth, which makes it more amazing. Idioteque might be the song that pushed it over the edge for me. It's like an eerie transmission from another world.

17) The Shins , Chutes Too Narrow

There's an argument to be made that this album is too twee by half, nut it's actually a step forward from Oh, Inverted World. It's guitar-pop and James Mercer's great lyrics, it has a slow boil about it that makes it better than other efforts. They seem to come into their own here with their own worldview instead of just borrowing from a pastiche of 60's British Invasion pop.

16) The Thermals , Fuckin' A

Just the right combination of intensity and heart for me. A lot of people are saying their album after this is the one to go for, but this is the one that really speaks to me. These guys are just amazing. Remember Today is a particular standout.

15) Modest Mouse , Good News For People Who Love Bad News

I love Modest Mouse. And I am sure a lot of people will call b.s. on this pick since, obviously, it is their biggest "hit" album with their biggest "hit" song. Believe me, it was a tough choice between this or The Moon and Antartica, but in the end, this wins out. I mean there wasn't just the awesomeness, there was a really awesome song, Float On, which made people in a wider audience finally notice them. But there was still Isaac Brock's voice and inventive lyrics, there was still other songs such as Ocean Breathes Salty , which is actually my favorite. There is still the weirdo touches here, the toy trumpets and babies talking, all the familiar strangeness that Modest Mouse is known for, and for whatever reason this one spoke to me more. Maybe because it's catchier in the end. It just wormed it's way more into my mind, for sure.

14) Beck , Sea Change

It's interesting that Beck's most "different" album is his best one. If this is what is made after a particularly bad breakup, it would be amazing for us if he broke up more often. But then again, if it happened more often this wouldn't be as special, would it? This album seems like a complete aberration, which makes it so special.

13) The Flaming Lips , Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

For many, this was the introduction to Wayne Coyne's brand of spacey, psychedelic rock. There is a loose narrative here of a post-apocalyptic world where there is one savior sent to battle the robots that are sent to destroy us. I guess. Coyne is pretty much out his mind in the most sincere way possible. He is one of the best type of weirdoes. I would love to seem in an "Earnest-Off" with Andrew W.K. Out of the rubble of such a strange sounding album comes one of the most lovely, heartfelt, and heart-rending songs of the decade: Do You Realize? I remember coming into this album backwards at first, as someone, I believe Jef, put this song on a mixtape (maybe CD by then), and I listened to it over and over. It hit me in the right place at the right time.

12) Animal Collective , Merriweather Post Pavilion

Sort of like Sea Change, this album is both a leap forward for Animal Collective, but also an aberration in their catalog. This vied with Feels and Strawberry Jam for this list, and even in those records, as inscrutable as they seemed at first listen, they definitely built up from the previous record before it. And that is what makes Merriweather Post Pavilion, oddly, their most accessible album without really trying - accessible in only the most inaccessible ways, strangely danceable while being miles away from being any sort of regular dance album. Animal Collective, and this album in particular, is going to be pored over, dissected, and perhaps obsessed over for a long time.

11) Interpol , Turn On The Bright Lights

Even though they put out, what, one more album than The Strokes, I feel like this album is going to define a decade for years to come. Although they are probably as relevant as that first Strokes album, it doesn't make it any less good. Of course, they arose out of that same New York scene a lot bands were spawned from in the early part of the decade. And, I think it's safe to say that they didn't sound like Joy Division as we all first thought. They clearly did their late 70's post-punk homework, sure, but their music just seems much more alive.

10) The Arcade Fire , Funeral

I am still not so sure of the comparisons to Bruce Springsteen that these guys engender. Or is it that they have fashioned themselves as lyrical disciples of Springsteen? Whatever it is, when this came out people were taken aback, me included, at the sound of the joy of a group of people putting their all into an album and just having it burst out of them in a flood of near-orgasmic joy. They have a lot to get off their chest, and rarely has their been an album that has captured people's hearts and imaginations quite like this one. Just check out the communal sing-along (or the trailer for "Where The Wild Things Are") that can get a crowd so pumped to sing awfully at the top of their lungs to the chorus (or beginning) of Wake Up. The sheer amount of joy contained in this album is hard to measure or put into words. It really is an amazing accomplishment that is going to be very hard for them ever to replicate or get to that place again.

9) Lupe Fiasco , Lupe Fiasco's The Cool

Lupe Fiasco is one of, if not THE most slept on rapper this decade. He is another one of the better things, besides amazing beats, that Kanye West found and nurtured. Unfortunately, he probably won't stay in the game too long because he knows people are sleeping on him. When I saw him in Chicago, at least his hometown embraced him. They know what's going on. Not only are his beats excellent, but he is a ridiculously talented wordsmith, and of his so-far only two albums, this is the perfect coming together of both aspects. He is smart, and hopefully he will return in the future.

8) The Blood Brothers , Young Machetes

For a Blood Brothers album, their last before breaking up, from Burn, Piano Island, Burn and Crimes, this turned out to be the apex of the Blood Brothers' evolution and was probably a bit more accessible then the other albums they released this decade. But seeing and hearing them live, that didn't make this album any less raw than its predecessors. Being "accessible" even a little bit doesn't make it any more likely for the masses to embrace The Blood Brothers. They are loud, screechy, and off-putting for a whole subset of people. But on this album they seem to distill everything down to its essence. Turns out it was a fitting and perfect swan song for them.

7) Wolf Parade , Apologies To The Queen Mary

Who knows what's going to become of Wolf Parade? Both of their albums this decade were great, this one edging out At Mount Zoomer by the slimmest of margins. And with the awesome Dragonslayer, who knows. Sunset Rubdown might replace Wolf Parade as Spencer Krug's main band. Another surprise hailing from the same scene in Canada that has produced some of the decade's best bands, this album is in some ways minimalist and in other ways more reaching with an electronic bent to it. All I know is there is nothing wrong with a band wearing its heart on its sleeves. It's not only the music here, Krug and Boeckner's voices are amazing. It sounded different enough at the time it came out, and accomplished enough, and great enough to keep it in my head.

6) The Postal Service , Give Up

A lot of Death Cab disciples will disagree with me here, but I thought then and I think now that the Postal Service is still the best stuff Ben Gibbard ever did. With the same amount of "wear your heart on your sleeve" miserabalism, there is also a lot of hope here. I think the Postal Service started a movement that never really took off-but who knew that an album essentially made through the mail (just look at the band name!) could come out sounding so good, and so nearly perfect. This sort of electronic tinged, semi-sadness is definitely hard to pull off but they manage to do a pretty brilliant job of it here. Another album that caught me off guard and stay with me ever since.

5) N*E*R*D* , In Search Of...

I remember getting this album as a present, out of nowhere, before I had ever heard of them. It knocked me for a loop. It's so odd The Neptunes make an album, scrap said album, and then find themselves a backing band and re-record their album. And what they came up with is probably the purest essence of what The Neptunes have been trying to do for years in producing and making beats for other people. Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams took their unique view on music, threw everything at the wall and took only the best of what stuck. And what stuck is basically a hip hop sensibility filtered through a Steely Dan filter. It's catchy, it's loud, it's quiet, it's oddly sexy, and it is definitely oddball and/or off the wall (Wait, politicians are like strippers. "You're my pop rocks, you're my cotton candy, when it's hot and sandy you're my water,'re my LSD, someone's perfect daughter). It made me a fan of Pharrell Williams, and introduced the world to his high pitched singing. It's an utterly baffling and entertaining album.

4) At The Drive In , Relationship Of Command

This reminds me of driving around with Jef and Alwyn when they visited me in Sacramento. I remember cranking up Enfilade. At the time, this caught me by surprise too. It's interesting because once they signed to a bigger label, the production sounded much better. Which, I guess, goes without saying, but in their case it was actually an asset for this album. At the time they were on the precipice of being the biggest and buzziest band around, but then they just collapsed and broke up. Some continued what they started in At The Drive In in The Mars Volta. But not only did this album rock it, the musicianship was so tight, and the vocals so amazing, and the subject matter taken from science fiction and outer space, it all blended together to make an album that was as stunning as it was out of left field.

3) TV On The Radio , Return To Cookie Mountain

TV On The Radio is probably my favorite and/or best new band that dropped in the 00's. It was a bloody cage match to choose between this, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Dear Science, all of which are amazing in their own rights. But when all is said and done, and when future music scientists set up their lab and start dissecting Return To Cookie Mountain, they are going to be analyzing layer upon layer of musical ideas and motifs, all of which come together to form an amazing whole. To put it more simply, TV On The Radio makes you want to simultaneously dance, take your clothes off, and fight the power.

2) ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead , Source Tags and Codes

Behold the legend, told before, of the Trail of Dead show where Lee, Erica, Jef and I left before the headlining Queens Of The Stone Age because ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead knocked our socks off with their performance. They were touring behind this album, still their best and most accomplished album to date. They switch off playing instruments. Each song is well-crafted joyous noise, using the loud-quite dynamic to the best ends. Songs build to ridiculous crescendos, sometime starting out hard right out of the gate...There's a lot going on here, and to put it another way, it's a righteous noise these guys make and manage to keep making at the same level throughout. A thoroughly mind blowing album that has withstood the test of the intervening years of this decade.

1) Madvilllain , Madvillainy

One of the leitmotifs of this decade is how people can make crazy, off-the-wall ideas work. I guess that is always the challenge, but it seems particularly true in this decade. Because, let's be honest. While ambitious, it doesn't always work. So when two of the looniest, stoned geniuses in hip hop get together, one an inspired wordsmith and the other an inspired beatmaker, this is the result. An instant hip hop classic. It's a brilliant tour de force from MF Doom (now just Doom) and super producer/mad scientist of beats, Madlib. Hip Hop's greatest supervillain quickly became my favorite rapper of the decade, and this album is a showcase for his incredibly convoluted and dense rhymes with the surrealist of imagery, strange old-timey turns of phrase, and off-the-wall, out-of-left-field pop culture references, all the while Madlib channeling Pete Rock, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa and every comic book and science fiction movie that has ever floated into his consciousness from space. Every so often two nutcase geniuses get together and serve up an offering that so perfectly encapsulates their point of view. In this is one particular incidence, it works so much better than it has any right to.

Thanks to everyone who has every burned me a CD or suggested that I try something out which has led me to a lot of these picks. It's been a pretty awesome decade. I can't wait to hear what the future has in store.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Love your list!! Too many to comment on, but I have to :)

    Postal Service--- def. like their album but nothing tops Death Cab For Cutie's early work! Ben Gibbard can do no wrong in my book.

    Kudos on Lupe Fiasco, NERD (i listen to this album when i need energy to clean or get ready for a night out), Sleater Kinney (again, high energy), Mastodon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fugazi, The Roots, and many others.

    Love each album of-- Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, Spoon, Dismemberment Plan, Flaming Lips.

    I'm a big Beck fan and I think Sea Change is definitely one of the best records that anyone has put out in the last few years, let alone just out of his own collection.

    And lastly, I think it's funny you mention you were driving around Sacramento with friends listening to At The Drive In. I love this band! I remember one trip from Chico to LA and then back again, Sarah & I played this album on the way home to Chico (past Sac)... screaming along with the lyrics. fav song to sing to: Invalid Litter Dept by far!