The Top 100 Albums of The Decade (2000s)

An entire decade of music has elapsed, and that means it is time to make a massive list. I’ve spent the better part of my spare time over the past ten years listening to, playing, discussing, and overall, enjoying music. In what has been a seemingly impossible undertaking, I’ve organized the 100 albums over the past ten years that I think have had the biggest impact on the music scene and more importantly, on my own life. I have to say, listening to these 100 albums again with intensity in their entirety was quite a rewarding experience.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that as time goes on, albums have more time to firmly establish their place, and therefore you should notice a slight skew on this list towards the earlier part of the decade. This isn’t to say that the first half of decade was better per se (even though it almost certainly was), but that those albums have demonstrated an ability to stand the test of time, an opportunity that albums from the decade’s latter half haven’t yet been offered. Simply put, this list could look a lot different in five years, but for now, what you see is what you get. I’ve limited my usually long-winded style to a maximum of five (or six and a semi-colon or two) sentences about each album, mostly in an effort to force myself to actually complete the project (at least when I began writing it…) Also, in years that a band released an album and a shorter EP that was of a similar style, I have grouped them, and in all cases, this resulted in a higher placement than would have occurred had the album been forced to stand alone. Finally, given that three months of the year remain, should any album released after today merit inclusion in this list, I will make note via an addendum.

Before we get into the Top 100 in all of its glory, let’s recognize some 50 or so albums that didn’t quite make the list, but are still worthy of mention…roughly in order of how close they came to missing the cut.

Honorable Mention:

Franz Ferdinand/ You Could Have It So Much Better

A.C. Newman/ The Slow Wonder

Vampire Weekend/ Vampire Weekend

Art Brut/ Bang Bang Rock and Roll

LCD Soundsystem/ LCD Soundsystem

Liars/ Drum’s Not Dead

Battles/ Mirrored

Sparklehorse/ It’s A Wonderful Life

The Dismemberment Plan/ Change

Grandaddy/ Sophtware Slump

Sigur Ros/ Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

Yo La Tengo/ And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Deerhunter/ Microcastle

Daft Punk/ Discovery

Okkervil River/ The Stage Names

Animal Collective/ Strawberry Jam

Grizzly Bear/ Yellow House

The Knife/ Silent Shout

TV on the Radio/ Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

Fiery Furnaces/ Blueberry Boat

Royksopp/ Junior

M.I.A./ Arular

Modest Mouse/ We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Junior Boys/ Last Exit

Clipse/ Hell Hath No Fury

Ghostface/ Supreme Clientele

No Age/ Nouns

Out Hud/ Let Us Never Speak of It Again

Arms and Sleepers/ Black Paris 86

Love Is All/ Nine Times That Same Song

The Rapture/ Pieces of the People We Love

Franz Ferdinand/ Franz Ferdinand

Dungen/ Ta Det Lungt

Broken Social Scene/ Broken Social Scene

Devendra Banhart/ Rejoicing in the Hands

The Walkmen/ Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone

St. Vincent/ Actor

Dirty Projectors/ Bitte Orca

Coldplay/ A Rush of Blood to the Head

Beach House/ Devotion

Phoenix/ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Iron and Wine/ Our Endless Numbered Days

Common/ Be

Kanye West/ Late Registration

Hot Chip/ The Warning

Burial/ Untrue

Iron and Wine/ Shepard’s Dog

Devenrdra Banhart/ Cripple Crow

Animal Collective/ Sung Tongs

Dodos/ Visiter

Godspeed You Black Emperor/ Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antenneas to Heaven

Bjork/ Vespertine

PHEW! If you don’t stop me I’ll go on all day. Okay, now, on with the list: The best 100 albums of this decade, judged with intense scrutiny in my infinite wisdom.

#100: RJD2/ Deadringer (2003)

Deadringer was one of the decade’s most diverse and exhilarating hip-hop albums, from the complex and lounge-bar friendly sounds of “Silver Fox”, “Ghostwriter” and “June Featuring Copyright” to the straight up rap tracks “The Final Frontier” and “Fuck Hip Hop”. The roundness of the sound benefits from an overall dark, acid jazzy undertone that is most memorable on “Good Times Roll Part 2” and “Smoke and Mirrors”, but from the opening blast of “The Horror”, everything on this album makes for a perfect mix of interesting background music at any gathering. The beats maintain a soft, rolling consistency that make the different musical elements blend better than you’d expect.

#99: Prefuse 73/ One Word Extinguisher (2003)

A lot of short samples break up the continuity here a bit, but there’s no denying the lounge bar classics on this album. Scott Herren (aka Prefuse 73) fuses hip-hop elements and a lot of beat shifts into his attempt at a magnum opus, which to my ears works best on rhythmic instrumental tracks like “Uprock and Invigorate” and towards the end of the album with the upbeat title track as well as the more subdued masterpieces “Choking You” and “Storm Returns.”  Arguably overlong but impeccably produced, the album falls onto my “dinner party music” playlist categorization based on a structure that allows it to always sound pleasing to the ear but never over-exert itself. The best tracks on One Word Extinguisher aren’t easily memorable by name as the album is more of one long track than it is a collection of them, but I can guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot of these for years to come at a trendy hotel bar near you.

#98: Jay-Z/ The Blueprint (2001)

This album wasn’t as much a comeback (since Jay-Z never really went anywhere) as it was a proclamation and demonstration of his superiority over the hip-hop world and stepping stone for what laid ahead for the future of that genre. The classic joints come one after another, setting a literal blueprint for all of the Kanye Wests and Lupe Fiascos that would follow over the next eight years. Although none of Kanye’s solo efforts ever equaled this one, his production expertise here is vital, especially on tracks like the triumphant “Takeover”, which samples The Doors’ “Five To One” as Jigga firmly establishes himself to be “runnin’ this rap shit. Opener “The Ruler’s Back” is thickly layered and musical, adding horns and ominous bass, while the central tracks like “U Don’t Know”, “Hola Hovito” and “Heart of the City” contain a darker, distinctly east coast production style that still brings the party beats. Speaking of partying, if there was a more infectious dance floor tune over the first part of this decade than “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, with its Jackson 5 samplings and celebratory dance vibe, I’m not sure what it was.

#97: Beta Band: Hot Shots II (2001)

On what would be their last truly great and arguably most accessible album, the kings of experimental indie rock Beta Band didn’t waste any time reeling us in with the terrifically layered, groovy opener “Squares” before leading us into the wildly meditative track “Al Sharp.” The latter is almost a capella, but with subdued xylophone and string instrumentation beneath the rich, spot-on harmonies. Hot Shots II never tops those two tracks, but succeeds admirably in its attempts, most notably on “Human Being”, which despite its moderate repetitiveness builds well and would have fit right in on The Three EPs, as well as on darker tracks like “Gone”. Honestly, I’m also still partial to the slowly building centerpiece “Broke” and wouldn’t argue with “Eclipse” and its honest outro lyrics (“I’m a human being!”) as a closing track, except that it is followed by a slightly hilarious and incredibly out of place rap version of Harry Nilsson’s  “One” called “Won.” The aforementioned track notwithstanding, Hot Shots II flows musically as well as anything the band has ever produced, even if the songs themselves don’t hold a candle to the astonishing The Three EPs, but then again, how many albums do?

#96: Fucked Up/ The Chemistry of Common Life (2008)

The sophomore effort from these hardcore punk-rockers is decidedly layered, intense, energetic and definitely not for the faint of heart. Soft flute notes lead into the powerful opener “Son The Father”, which from the opening shriek of lead singer Damian Abraham (Aka Pink Eyes) piles on the energy behind the anthemic chorus “It’s hard enough being born in the first place/ Who would ever want to be born again?” We get a better sense for Abraham’s vocal style on the next track, “Magic Word”, and it’s best described as a snarling dog being strangled after eating a pile full of broken glass. Key track “Days of Last” uses a classic American hard rock guitar riff above sprawling feedback and achieves one of the album’s best moments, while standout “Black Albino Bones” showcases some true melodic ability through the simple truth of the chorus “A little little escape” carrying above foot-stomping percussion and manic raving by our boy Pink Eyes. Vivian Girls add haunting harmonies on “No Epiphany”, which provides more classic guitar riffs and is probably the most accessible track here.

#95: Ladytron/ Witching Hour (2005)

One of the more surprisingly fantastic albums of the decade, Witching Hour manages to pull together fourteen straight songs of intense electronic darkness that range from soft and sweet to damp and terrifying. There is so much depth here, from thesprawling synth and guitars of the electrifying opener “High Rise” to the subtle intimacy of “All the Way” near the album’s conclusion. The production of the vocals is the key element here, as every song seems lifted and atmospheric, often to the extent that the songs sound like they are exuding from a dungeon. Still,  dance-floor-ready beats are all over the place here and greatly assist the vocals on standout tracks “Destroy Everything You Touch”, “International Dateline”, “Weekend” and”Sugar” — these would already be club staples if they weren’t so damn scary. The overall tone of eeriness is the clincher here, and songs like “Soft Power” and”The Last One Standing” really pull it all together, though as you’ve probably already realized, everything here is solid.

#94: Peter Bjorn and John/ Writer’s Block (2006)

Had it not been for the catchy whistling on the poppy international smash “Young Folks”, the world may have never fully realized the depth of quality that surrounds it, and betters it about half of the time on this album. On either side of the aforementioned hit, opener “Objects Of My Affection” is immediately engaging, with building percussion and soaring, distortion-laden shoegazer guitar lines, while the accessible “Amsterdam” is content to groove along its steady electronic beats and is a standout here. Influences of psychedelic, folky 60s pop resonate here, but Writer’s Block eventually adds other elements and proves to be too diverse and unique to categorize under a specific genre, as the band waltzes through these songs with a certain sass and swagger. The sweet, simple love track “Paris 2004” works incredibly well here as a centerpiece surrounded by tunes that sound nothing like it, including the more relaxed but addictive “Let’s Call It Off” and the complex percussion, bass and electronic keyboards on the aptly titled “The Chills.” After all of that, the final three tracks are a bit of a letdown, but there’s more than enough quality here to overcome the shortcomings there.

#93: M83/ Before The Dawn Heals Us (2005)

Simply put, Anthony Gonzalez makes very pretty electronic music, and on his sophomore effort, the French musician reminds us that there actually are some good things that come out of France besides wine. Behind intense percussion and soaring guitars, Before The Dawn Heals Us takes a more musical approach than the harder edged electronica on its predecessor, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts, and complements these elements with a lifted, atmospheric vocal sound that is immediately evident on the beautiful first two tracks, “Moonchild” and “Don’t Save Us From The Flames.” Like any M83 album, there are a fair share of interlude-ish tracks here that break up the flow a bit inside the highlights, but M83 really steps it up on tracks like the poignant, amped-up synth of “Teen Angst” and the foreboding electric guitar of “A Guitar and a Heart”, which despite their increased intensity relative to the rest of the album work incredibly well. Ten minute-plus closer “Lower Your Eyes To Die With The Sky” blends all of the album’s best elements with perfection, and by its conclusion we are either in the middle of a beautiful dream or ready to return to the beginning.

#92: The Hold Steady/ Boys and Girls in America (2006)

Currently, The Hold Steady may very well be the best pure bar rock band in America, and on their best effort to date, these Minneapolis natives managed to intertwine pure party rock with a decisive streak of sentimentality all behind lead singer Craig Finn’s energetic spoken word vocals. Seeing The Hold Steady perform live is always a highlight, especially on a hot summer day, and often the most memorable moments come from the songs here. On their sophomore effort Boys and Girls in America, references to drinking, getting high, and getting laid are still present with often hilarious frequency, but there is an underlying sadness that the times of these tales have long passed and are now gone forever, only existing in a memory. Near the beginning of the album, opener “Stuck Between Stations” and the riff-heavy “Hot Soft Light” highlight classic American rock-n-roll sounds complete with pounding drums, electric guitar riffs, piano, and, of course, that talking voice, while on “Chips Ahoy”, Finn recollects a week of partying following a winning day at the racetracks. Bittersweet love ballad “First Night” enters new musical territory for the band, as Finn reminisces on a first meeting with a long lost love, while closer “Southtown Girls” finishes in the same manner that the album opens, with classic American-roots rock and catchy guitar riffs.

#91: Prefuse 73/ Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives (2001)

What narrowly separates this album from its follow-up is its impressive flow. While One Word Extinguisher has its fair share of high points but suffered to an extent from a vast array of glitch in snippet tracks, Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives never wavers, and what results is an upbeat flow full of trip-hop bass lines and hip-hop samples all behind somewhat dark synths and loops. Prefuse 73 makes use of a large amount of rap samples that fuse perfectly with the downtempo beats, especially thanks to MF Doom on “Blacklist”, while shorter scratched-record elements of the same style blend consistently through the rest of the album as well. As is this the case over his entire catalog, even in his early work, Herren’s album is a very challenging listen, but the rewards here come at the end with the almost atmospheric penultimate track “Afternoon Love In” and the perfectly executed “7th Message”, my choice for his best work ever. Overall, it is hard to explain what makes this such a great fusion between the elements of lounge music and hip hop beats, but suffice to say that it sounds incredible all the way through and is quite easy on the ears (read: background music at its best).

#90: Sufjan Stevens/ Illinois (2005)

It is immediately evident just by viewing the long-winded titles of the 21 tracks here what a complex, challenging concept album Illinois will be. After years of repeated listening, the thick jazzy folk buzz and magnificent song-writing continue to build on the ear and render this Sufjan Stevens masterpiece worthy of praise. By tapping into the folkier side of his song-writing style and telling a story of the state of Illinois, the Midwest and America altogether, while layering diverse musical elements behind it, he is able to create an album of immense power. Highlights abound between a slough of shorter instrumental tracks, from the soft piano keys of opener “Concerning The UFO Sighting”, the twangy death track “Casimir Pulaski Day”, more upbeat folk guitar and rhyming schemes on “Decatur” and the perfectly executed lyrics on the biographical “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” Truth be told here, everything sounds fantastic, but if you don’t get any uplift from the jazzy strings and horns on standouts “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!”and “Chicago”, then I don’t even want to know you.

#89: Bat For Lashes/ Two Suns (2009)

Natasha Khan’s project reminds me of what would happen if Bjork, Ladytron and Cat Power had a three way love child. Like those acts, at its best, Two Suns is dark and mysterious with its electronic beats, catchy choruses and out-of-this-world vocals. The eerily produced drum beats on “Daniel” and “Sleep Alone” especially encompass these traits, while more experimentation works well on the atmopsheric “Two Planets.” I almost wish there was more electronic syncopation here, but the softer tracks succeed as glue and add complexity, especially the slowly building, gorgeous electronic organ on “Good Love” and the deep, bass-heavy piano on “Traveling Woman.” And one certainly can’t forget the insane vocals on captivating opener and standout track “Glass” which sets up perfectly for Khan’s impressive range over the rest of the album, or her collaboration with Scott Walker on impossibly soft piano track “The Big Sleep”, which combined with closer “Wilderness” create a tone of heartbreak throughout its beautiful entirety.

#88: Yo La Tengo/ I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)

These relative old-timers from Hoboken can stake a pretty solid claim that they invented the entire genre of indie rock, and proved on this album not only that they still have their act together, but that they are capable of as much innovation and diversity of sound as ever. Ballsy ten-minute opener “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” (aside from the amazing title) is immediately gripping with its repetitive bassline and drawn-out electric guitar riffs. The rest of the album switches between catchy piano tunes on the one hand that are as pleasing to the ear as anything Yo La Tengo has ever recorded, while on the other we are witness to real shockers spanning genres from punk rock to 60s psychedelica. The steady “Beanbag Chair”, jazzy “Mr. Tough” and showstopping “The Weakest Part” best exemplify the former, while the rollicking “Watch Out For Me Ronnie” and trippy rock track  “I Should Have Known Better” work well here despite sounding incredibly out of place. As should be obvious from its title, this isn’t as much a well-thought out album as it is an impressive collection of individual songs, and thanks to the more familiar sounding and immediately classic “The Race Is On Again”, we can be certain that this is indeed Yo La Tengo.

#87: Decemberists/Castaways and Cutouts (2002)

When seeking utter relaxation while driving through any part of hilly California, easily our nation’s most beautiful state from a physical standpoint, look no further than the Decemberists’ first album and its western harmonica and guitar jangles. From the opening acoustic notes and harmonica on “Leslie Anne Levine” to the epic highway/ wine country dream finale “California One/ Youth and Beauty Brigade” and everything in between, nothing disappoints in this capacity; this is truly the quintessential “driving music” band of the decade, and Castaways and Cutouts captures what is arguably their most pure sound, if not their best overall accomplishment (stay tuned). The real highlights here snap in immediately with album standout “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” and the impossibly summery and upbeat tune “July, July.” If there is a negative to this album against their other work, I suppose you could argue that it gets a bit too relaxing in the middle, although I happen to love the consistent but subtle sounds of “Odalisque” and “Grace Cathedral Hill.” And regardless of any unfounded complaints about a “too soft” middle, no one with a human soul can deny the glory of “The Legionnaire’s Lament”, a building, intensely uplifting and lyrical track that boasts lines such as “Curses to this mirage/ a bottle of ancient Shiraz.”

#86: Hercules and Love Affair/ Hercules and Love Affair (2008)

Hercules and Love Affair features the work of the young Andrew Butler, who uses strong disco elements along with powerful vocal work from Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), among others. Originality is king here, as the music doesn’t stick squarely to disco, but simply uses it as a backdrop for exciting turns and twists of style. Hegarty’s easily recognizable voice is the first thing we notice on opening track “Time Will”, which begins the album steadily and shows off an intriguing combination of dance music and darkness thanks to Hegarty’s unique voice. His vocals are even more enthralling on bouncier later tracks “Blind” and “Raise Me Up”, which are about the best examples of pure disco influence here. But what follows is the amazing and aptly titled highlight “Hercules’ Theme”, which opens with a catchy disco beat and electric organ and evolves into several complex musical elements including horns, strings, and perhaps the best baseline I heard all of 2008 topped off by carefree vocals.

#85: Clinic/ Internal Wrangler (2000)

The debut album from these uniquely dark punk rockers was something new and different, and featured some of their finest songs of their career. Lead singer Ade Blackburn (great rock and roll name) has a vocal style that can’t be ignored, especially as he sings in tongues over the catchy groove of “The Second Line” and the moderate world music tone on “T.K.” The real highlights are the short, punky tracks that would be few and far between in the band’s later work, including the sprawling, layered title track and the equally impressive, scorching “The Return of Evil Bill”, both of which make use of the eerie horn that makes any Clinic song easily identifiable. But there’s impressive depth and complexity here from a musical standpoint, and despite the general punky tone of Internal Wrangler, the haunting ballads leave the most lasting impression, especially “Goodnight Georgie” and the amazing “Distortions”, which is still easily the best song that the band has ever written even to this day.

#84: Madvillain/ Madvillainy

This decade’s hip hop scene benefited most from underground artists, and MF Doom was certainly the embodiment of that genre. On this collaboration with renowned producer Madlib, beats combined with diverse musical elements, including dark organ sounds and jazzy notes, all above one of the decade’s best lyrical efforts. By the time Madvillainy was released, Doom had become somewhat of an enigma, hiding behind his trademark mask, rarely performing live and resting on the strength of his underground reputation. With the help of an amazing balance of beats and musicality, the album shines throughout, especially early on the slowly grinding and aptly titled “Accordion”, bass-heavy “Meat Grinder” and the jazzy “Raid”, all of which grab the listener’s attention right of the bat. There’s impressive depth here, as exciting instrumental interludes (see the epic “Supervillain Theme”) serve to tie together the real highlights on the album’s backside, such as the surprisingly sunny “All Caps.”

#83: Spoon/ Gimme Fiction

It’s almost impossible not to like Spoon, and I’ll never forget the day I walked into a Virgin records store to buy this album on the day of its release and I was shocked to hear the dance-rock sounds of “Turn My Camera On” and to make the sudden, shocking realization that this was actually the new Spoon album. Now one of the best songs in the band’s deep catalog, that jam served as the glue on Gimme Fiction, an album that saw Spoon head in a different direction geared more towards long, bluesy melodies. You’ll see all four of Spoon’s major releases on this list, and the fact that this one places lowest is more out of necessity than anything else. The drawn out, howling piano bluesiness of “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” and “My Mathematical Mind” entered new territory for the band; whether or not they are actually better songs than the band’s previous and later work is open for debate. Still, with more diversity on the backside, such as the addictive (if simple) acoustic guitar track “I Summon You” and another dance-floor ready (if distant) song in “Was It You”, you can’t leave this album off the list.

#82: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/ Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (2001)

Once you can set aside the fact that these guys took almost all of their early sound directly from Jesus and Mary Chain, you might be able to sit back and enjoy the fuller, rockier sound of one of the decade’s most surprisingly fantastic shoegazer albums. Opener “Love Burns” is an instant classic, with its direct, pounding darkness and soaring electric guitars that set a perfect tone for the album from the band with a funny name. What follows is “Red Eyes and Tears”, which starts effortlessly enough with its steady percussion before ripping into one of the most badass guitar riffs that the decade has seen. And it’s songs like this one that really rock hard enough to create a separation between the band and their influences, while BRMC goes the shoegazer direction very effectively in full force later on the album with highlights such as the atmospheric “Rifles” and heartbreaking “Head Up High.”  There’s a decisive darkness running through the entirety of the record, and while it benefits from a lot of musical ideas that somebody else came up with, it plays with impressive accessibility.

#81: Air/ 10,000 Hz Legend (2001)

The downtempo electronic sounds of this French band are always difficult to classify, but the band went a different direction on this album, and the end result was an almost futuristic, space-age sound at the time of its release. Opening track “Electronic Performers” is surreal in all its beauty, backed by computerized vocals, electronic keyboards, piano, violin and slowly building synth. After the equally ethereal “How Does It Make You Feel”, complete with Radiohead “Fitter Happier” robot voices, and the slightly groovier “Radio #1”, one would think that the tone has been set, but instead Air veers off into a completely different direction with a Beck collaboration on the fantastic “The Vagabond,” complete with harmonica, acoustic guitar and synthesizers–what a combination. If the album has a flaw, it almost certainly from a flow perspective, as this seems more a collection of different ideas tossed into one than it does a work of art, but many years later, it sure is a great listen. Late in the album, the glorious, building chaos on “Don’t Be Light” seems to summarize how much the band gave a damn about how the songs flowed together, and spaced in between their best two efforts, perhaps 10,000 Hz Legend is better off for it.

#80: Tapes N Tapes/ The Loon (2006)

The Loon exhibits raw energy, focusing more on acoustic guitar strums than electric guitar riffs, and result is a rough-edged rock sound backed by drawling, often unintelligible lyrics. Rocky opener “Just Drums” is immediately enticing, as rolling drums and catchy guitar work progress nicely as leadman Josh Grier snarls over it all. “The Iliad” is a simpler, foot-stomping tune while highlight “Insistor” showcases a grinding rhythm into the building, anthemic chorus. The Loon gains complexity from tracks such as “In Houston” and “10 Gallon Ascots”, both of which mix initially soft melodies with surprising bursts of energy; the former combines xylophone notes with shrieking electric guitar and drumming, while the latter integrates a smooth melody with a pounding chant-chorus that provides the album’s loudest moments. But for all of the intrigue of these tracks, nothing compares to album centerpiece “Cowbell”, which begins with a hard-core guitar strum and Grier trash-talking, “I’ve been a better lover with your mother” and rolls along effortlessly and recklessly for two and a half minutes that are over way too quickly. On the whole, the album is rough around the edges and borders on bluesy roots rock at times, but turned out as well as I can imagine Tapes N Tapes hoped it would.

#79: Outkast/ Stankonia (2000)
On what is arguably their most complete and most innovative collection of tunes before the divisive Speakerboxx/The Love Below experiment, Andre and Big Boi come together behind a lengthy album packed with dance floor ready hits and trend-setting, hard-hitting beats all behind the subtle mix of carefree banter and extremely relevant cultural lyricism. Stankonia benefits immensely from its brilliant placement; instant classics like “So Fresh and So Clean” and “Ms. Jackson”, heavy reminders of the latter half of my frat party years, capture us early on, and lest we forget, the immediate attention-grabber “Gasoline Dreams” isn’t a bad set up for those two. Even the under-the-radar tunes strike a chord here, like the steady east coast rap beat on “Spaghetti Junction” and the heart-wrenching suicide tale “Toilet Tisha.” We get the typical sexually driven tracks as well, but “We Luv Deez Hoes” and “I’ll Call Before I Cum” are catchy, not overbearing, and for the most part all in good fun. They’re such a diverse mix here of style and lyric here, and what can be said about the overwhelming, game-changing percussion, taunting chorus and perfected diction on album standout “Bombs Over Baghdad” that hasn’t been said already?

#78: Beirut/ The Flying Cup Club (2007)

I missed this album the first time around, but caught up with it this year as it served for the perfect soundtrack as I sailed across the Mediterranean sea this past May. Zach Condon is truly a visionary and original artist at this point in his career, and The Flying Cup Club combines horns, pianos, ukulele and accordion elements here above constantly evolving percussion to give the album a subtle, lifted, other-wordly beauty. Soft opener “Nantes” sets the tone perfectly, and perhaps the biggest credit to this record is its consistency, as the melodic “Guyamas Sonora” and melancholy but upbeat highlight “Cliquot” keep the album flowing along, often so well that referencing individual songs seems to miss the point a bit. The music itself is a welcome style all its own that borders on theatrical at times, and horns and mariachi elements on tunes like “Forks and Knives” and the ukelele on “The Penalty” help to form one of the prettiest, most relaxing collections of songs in recent memory.

#77: Menomena/ Friend and Foe (2007)

On their third release, experimental indie rock band Menomena really knocked the ball out of the park with Friend and Foe. The band uses custom software which they refer to as “deeler” to loop simple musical segments throughout entire songs; leadman Brent Knopf writes the software and sings the songs, and the end result is an impressive album full of ideas and diverse tracks. “The Pelican” is a stomping, rollicking track with all kinds of diverse musical elements, and really benefits from Knopf being at his most intense vocally. The best song on the album is “Wet and Rusting”, which sounds nothing like the first two in any way, enough to make one ponder if this even the same band, as it combines early piano elements into strumming acoustic guitar and looped drum beats and eventually combines all of these together to form perfectly executed, layered and mesmerizing rhythms. “Air Raid” follows gloriously with a more futuristic progression while the softer “Rotten Hell” provides the album’s prettiest melody behind soft piano keys before building into its most impressive and dramatic finish.

#76: The New Pornographers/ Twin Cinema (2005)

Montreal collaboration The New Pornographers already had a strangle hold on the narrow genre deemed power-pop this decade, but with Twin Cinema, their most uniform and consistent record to date, A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Destroyer leadman Dan Bejar cemented that reputation. Every track shines here, although to me, the Bejar tracks take a backseat to the highlights from Case and Newman. The Case tracks serve as the softer portions of the album and really hold up well, especially on “These Are The Fables” but also on “The Bones of an Idol.” Newman picks up right where he left off on his fantastic solo album The Slow Wonder, with powerful, catchy pop jams on “Use It”, and highlight “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” Still, while the consistently upbeat sound on Twin Cinema allows for the individuality of its artists to wander freely, its best tracks result when the styles mix on songs like “Star Bodies” (Case and Newman), “Streets of Fire (Case and Bejar) and the building, confident crescendo on standout track “The Bleeding Heart Show” (all three).

#75: Animal Collective/ Feels (2005)

For a band like Animal Collective with so much innovative potential, Feels is truly unique as it builds on the band’s prior offerings and adds a distinct romantic element. The upbeat harmonies on opener “Did You See The Words” followed by the rollicking percussion and Avey Tare shrieks on “Grass” open the album perhaps as strongly as anything the band has ever recorded,  but the most rewarding treats come later on layered, drawn out masterpieces like the evolving, psych-poppy beach track “The Purple Bottle” (with some exciting howling towards the end) and the gloriously pretty centerpieces “Bees” and “Banshee Beat.” These last two serve as a setup for the album’s softer second half, but it stays thematic as it never changes key and is impressively arranged throughout by that measure. Feels would have been hard pressed to end on any better note than “Turn Into Something,” which with its rocky yet bittersweet tone lets us off nearly right where we began.

#74: Ghostface Killah/ Fishscale (2006)

If Supreme Clientele put the Wu-Tang Clan’s most successful solo act back on the map, the lush, heavy beats and razor sharp lyricism on Fishscale most certainly solidified that standing. From the full-scale Shaolin reunion and old school beats on “9 Million Brothers” and 36 Chambers-esque drug tale “R.A.G.U.” to the catchy modern melodies on drug celebration track “Kilo”, club-ready “Be Easy” and the bittersweet “Back Like That”, Ghostface delivers a wide range of complexities in full force. Thick, all-encompassing beats on robbery tale “Shakey Dog” and electric guitar on highlight “The Champ” pack as much heat as we’ve ever seen from this artist, and these unassisted solo tracks shine brightly here. Aside from the recurring themes of the drug trade and subculture, Ghostface investigates the lack of parental discipline in today’s world on “Whip You With A Strap” and enters new territory musically on the intense, foreboding “Clipse of Doom.” Wildly diverse and courageous in every way, Fishscale hits on all cylinders, a welcome offering over the latter half of a decade that was beginning to see intelligent hip-hop disappear.

#73: Panda Bear/ Person Pitch (2007)

Noah Lennox, the man disguised as Panda Bear in the innovative post-rock duo Animal Collective, brought his own vision to his epic solo album, complete with harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, but extending much further than that. The beauty of this album is its ability to combine elements of those influences with Lennox’s unique tastes in dance music, pop and post-rock, eventually forming a record that is immensely layered and demonstrates amazing musical depth. Opener “Comfy in Nautica” sounds like a campfire chant at first, but Lennox’s skillfully redundant melodies and Brian Wilson-esque vocals create a hypnotic element that sets a great tone right out of the gates. Second track “Take Pills” begins slowly with tambourine beats and feels almost as if was recorded underwater, but the subdued beats and vocals take a quick turn halfway through the song, and gain an almost tropical vibe. The devastating “Bros” combines incredibly refined melodies above synthesized drum loops initially, but builds into much more- the twelve-minute track evolves slowly but marvelously, intertwining elements from all across the musical spectrum, and concludes triumphantly with piano and horns crashing together with all of these to form a crescendo-based, melodic tune for the ages that certainly ranks among the best tracks on Person Pitch, a huge harmonic and electronic accomplishment all the way through.

#72: The Walkmen/ You and Me (2008)

After the somewhat disappointing A Hundred Miles Off misfired for the most part a few years back, I was of the opinion that The Walkmen had left their best days behind them. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as You & Me showcases a depth of truth, ingenuity and heartbreak that is a rarity in music today while delivering an onslaught of fantastic music. The ominous “On the Water” meanders along pleasantly enough before evolving into a crashing crescendo, while the optimistic, rocky “In The New Year” probably most resembles the band’s early work, as a fantastic organ riff serves as a backdrop under Hamilton Leithauser’s howls. Percussion-dominated tracks courtesy of drummer Matt Barrick dominate the middle of the album, including slowly building showstopper “Seven Years of Holidays”, which uses disjointed drum beats and a familiar stop/start rhythm structure, and the pounding percussion of “Postcards From Tiny Islands.” We certainly can’t forget highlight “Four Provinces”, as clap-style beats combine with a triumphant organ melody and strained, bittersweet vocals, nor can we overlook the perfectly executed use of horns on ballad “Red Moon”, which features the fantastic lyric “You shine/ Like the steel/ On my knife.” By the time we arrive at the heartbreaking, tear-jerking “I Lost You”, which could be the best song the band has ever recorded, the goosebumps are hard to keep down, and the subdued, elegant closer “If Only It Were True” does it justice as a follow-up.

#71: Junior Boys/ So This Is Goodbye (2006)

Junior Boys derive their style from smooth, well-integrated electropop with a bit of early 80s pop synth that approaches but never quite reaches melancholy, and what makes this album work so well is that the songs can play so softly together without ever seeming like a downer. So This Is Goodbye blends all of this together quite well, from the opening synthesizers on the dancey ”Double Shadow” all the way through the album’s prettiest track, the brilliantly placed closer “FM”, which plays like a soft lullaby. Highlights in between include standout “Count Souvenirs”, where bittersweet synth and minor keys showcase some of vocalist Jeremy Greenspan’s best work. The first single, “In The Morning” follows, with probably the album’s most upbeat electricity, complete with electronic keyboards, peppy beats and a killer synthesized riff which rocks but still never comes anywhere near “cheery”. The atmospheric “Like A Child”, a standout here, begins with an immediately enthralling stand-alone beat that continues to pick up all of its more complex instrumental pieces one at a time.

#70: Boards of Canada/ Geogaddi (2002)

If Boards of Canada aren’t the most innovative and intelligent electronic act around, they are certainly the most mysterious. On this followup to their arguably superior debut Music Has The Right To Children, the listener is challenged to wait patiently through what seems like a surplus of intricate interlude-ish tracks that may seem distracting to the lazy ear and would make an ordinary album seem overlong, but actually serve as the dark glue of paranoia holding together the highlights, and the payoff for our patience is worth the effort. Early on, the ambient, slowly building “Music Is Math” is gripping with its foreboding air, while “Julie and Candy” hits with a bit more pizazz, adding synthesized percussion to a catchy flute melody and probably comes closest to their past work . The real standout here is the eerie “1969”, which serves as a perfect centerpiece for the album’s darker mood with its references to the Manson Family, while that aforementioned patience comes in handy again on the hypnotically repetitive “Sunshine Recorder”, which feels warm but distant, and makes us wait long and hard before breaking down into a simple two word chorus- Beautiful Place. The placement of those two words almost seems like a paradox, early in an album that is dripping with fear and cautious wonderment, but for the good of humanity, I sure hope we can find it.

#69: The Field/ From Here We Go Sublime (2007)

Axel Willner’s From Here We Go Sublime is surely one of the most dark, intense, ambient and sharply focused electronic records in recent memory. Opener “Over the Ice” captures attention right off the bat with repetitive, syncopated techno percussion lines and subtle, computer-generated vowel chants of “E” and “I.” Indeed, this wouldn’t sound bad in a dance club, but it elevates well above that genre because of the somber, serious mood it creates. Later on the record, “Good Things End” further accentuates this tone, using even darker melodies above more repetitive rolling drum lines, while standout track “A Paw In My Face” builds slowly and evolves into one of the most melodic songs on the album, creating a downtempo, bittersweet tone perfect for background music at a gathering.  From the atmospheric electronic melodies on epic “The Deal” to the eerie syncopations of the astonishing “Mobilla”, From Here We Go Sublime stands true to its title, never wavering and never becoming the least bit disengaging. If there was ever an electronic album to prove to naysayers that beats and melodies created solely by computers can be intensely musical, this could be the one.

#68: The Twilight Sad/ Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (2007)

This aptly named quartet from Glasgow, Scotland uses a unique style by intertwining shoegazer guitar with a story-telling Scottish folk style, and delivers here a record with compelling lyrics and a sound all its own. The album begins on a soft note with “Cold Days From the Birdhouse”, which starts sweetly and sadly before it picks up steam and builds into a startling crescendo. Lead singer James Graham is at his best on tracks like the amazing “That Summer, at Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” where his ability to oscillate between soft, deep vocals and angst-filled screams add powerful emotion to the songs, almost all of which uses a similar technique, starting slowly before building into a gut-wrenching climax that is usually accompanied by soaring shoegazer guitar work that mimics My Bloody Valentine.  A real highlight here is “And She Would Darken The Memory” which seems upbeat compared to its company, beginning with a bonga-drum beat and evolving into a pure masterpiece behind perhaps the prettiest musical and vocal work on the album- after repeating the opening line several times softly early in the song, there is a moment where Graham absolutely shrieks the same line at a later point. This isn’t music for the easy listener, but for those that enjoy music that conveys a lot of feeling and sounds incredibly good while doing so, I wouldn’t miss out on this one.

#67: Arcade Fire/ Neon Bible (2007)

As followup albums go, the Arcade Fire certainly had their hands full after the well-deserved success and widespread acclaim of their debut album Funeral, which will surely be the best album that they ever record. While Neon Bible draws criticism from an overly pretentious, self-righteous and somewhat angst-ridden feel that detracts from the listening experience in a way that the aforementioned masterpiece did not, the songs here are again so solid and energetic that it is difficult to ignore even if you don’t like the band’s attitude. “Keep The Car Runnin” is an early highlight after the overly dark and indulgent “Black Mirror”, as the former is an old-fashioned escape tune that showcases a familiar sound of foot-stomping, steady percussion, folksy guitar and horns that never waver and take us right back to where Funeral left off musically. There are moments of musical progression as well- church organs pound as leadman Win Butler howls lyrics of religious imagery on the fantastic “Intervention”, and as the album tends to slow down as it progresses, the gorgeous, uplifting crescendo on”Ocean of Noise” is a welcome deviation from some of the darker moments here. Regine Chassagne is more present here from a vocal standpoint, dominating the innovative “Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations” and adding key vocal backing to the standout, penultimate track “No Cars Go,” which could have easily served as the album’s closer instead of the Phantom of the Opera organs on “My Body is a Cage.” At times, Neon Bible seems incredibly over-serious, and for any other band this might have been a disaster, but the Arcade Fire has an ability to exude its positive energy over even its own negative mood.

#66 Mercury Rev/ All Is Dream (2001)

From the first notes of piano that lead into violin and heavy orchestral elements on leadoff track “The Dark Is Rising”, it becomes clear that All Is Dream is a deeply emotional and personal album. Their sound, with leadman Jonathon Donahue’s trademark high-pitched, soprano vocal style, has always been in deep contrast to the mainstream, but the lifted sound and combination of sadness and deep hope cause an explosion of intrigue on this album. The standout track here is also the darkest, as “Tides of the Moon” takes the listener on a virtual journey into a dark, ominous night behind soaring guitar; I can’t recall a more vividly produced track by this band in its entire catalog. The tone never turns cheery per se, but there are certainly moments of hope, realization and confident sarcasm on “Nite and Fog (Wise men want faith/ Fools want gold/ Sailors want water/ But you want it all!”) and “Little Rhymes” (Time/ Is all mine!”). The beauty on “A Drop In Time” borders on theatrical, as I could easily see this in the closing scene to some Broadway play about love, stars and all that good stuff, but All Is Dream turns back to deeply bittersweet on the awesomely hopeless piano track “Spiders and Flies”, which offers some of the best lyricism here throughout, opening with “Plans and schemes/ Thoughts and dreams/ Who cares/ What they mean/ When they work they’re amazing things/ When they don’t/ I hear you scream.” Drawn out, slowly building closer “Hercules” pulls it all together, and by the time it gloriously reaches its coda, we’ve been on quite a journey.

#65: Clinic/ Walking With Thee (2002)

When it comes right down to it, Clinic turned out to be one of this decade’s most unique and identifiable sounding bands, a reality that would have been difficult to imagine in their early, punk-heavy days. Walking With Thee showcases a darker, more ambient, softer sound than their previous work that is evident right from the start on haunting opener “Harmony”, and is my favorite of their albums. The slight improvement in sound doesn’t lack for beats either, as the patented Clinic horns and exotic world music time signatures elevate “The Equaliser” to instant classic status, as leadman Ade Blackburn murmurs as only Ade Blackburn can, “We fought for the best/ and the best/ then we left so…” The guitars come back on the atmospheric sounding “Welcome”, and never has the feedback of the electric organ sounded eerier or Blackburn’s voice sounded more desperate than on the memorable title track. No Clinic album would be complete without the softer, dreamier tracks, and we get a pair of solid efforts here with an impressive, rolling bass line on”Mr. Moonlight” and the impossibly pretty closer “For The Wars,” which brings the album full circle by scaling down the spooky direction of its opener, and these two combined with the bizarre but brilliant new sound that permeates throughout here kept my interest in music going strong as the decade was in its youth.

#64: The Antlers/ Hospice (2009)

A daring and gut-wrenching concept album that follows a boyfriend as he watches his verbally abusive girlfriend die in a cancer ward, Hospice takes a seemingly simple musical structure and adds depth and intimacy by adding an intricate detail of sounds and lyrical imagery. Songs like “Two” are reminiscent of the Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and while nothing here strikes as immediately as that album did, it is almost certainly more focused on its overall concept. To that end, where Hospice succeeds most is in the perfection of the song placement; this isn’t an album where the songs stand alone to be listened to in a short sitting, but instead one that when heard in sequence, in its entirety, produces an emotional effect that is nothing short of overwhelming. Opener “Ketterings” sets the stage for the story under a soft melody that bursts into a stunning crescendo and leads into highlight “Sylvia”, which benefits from its contrasting soft verse/ explosive chorus structure as well as some of the album’s finest lyrical work. A track by track breakdown misses the point here, but the moment that really pulls the album together is the astonishing, aptly titled “Shiva” in the later half, as a hypnotizing lullaby melody and a hanging, distant final chord serves as a metaphor for the death, and with such peaceful, almost hopeful sounds, this wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

#63: The Notwist/ Neon Golden (2003)

Germany’s The Notwist came virtually out of nowhere in 2003 and delivered an album full of melancholy, often uptempo, and overall impressively layered electropop tracks. Neon Golden is chalk full of dance pop and melody, from the immediately ear-catching, bouncing rhythm on “Pilot” to the pulsating, sweetly discordant “This Room” and the syncopated, sorrowful notes on the engaging “Pick Up the Phone.” However, what really makes this album a classic is the constant onslaught of seemingly simple but universally applicable one-liners that match with perfectly construed, bittersweet pop melodies. Take the line “Have you ever/ Been all messed up?” on centerpiece “One With The Freaks” or “Consequence”, which serves as an ideal closer behind the heart-wrenching chorus “Never/ Leave me paralyzed love.” For its time and place, Neon Golden hit all the right notes, bridging the gap between lap-top production and old-fashioned songwriting as well as anything we saw this decade.

#62: The Streets/ Original Pirate Material (2003)

When speaking of upsets, it wouldn’t be off base to bring up the fact that a nameless white kid from the ghetto of London produced this decade’s best hip-hop album. But that is exactly what Mike Skinner did, as the combination of stunning beat production, socially driven lyricism and an off-kilter, spoken word delivery style (never shy about that British accent or foreign street slang, mind you) on Original Pirate Material made it so immediately different, complex and fascinating –I for one still remember listening to a track and wondering if this was real or a joke; it was so vastly out of the ordinary for the genre. Years later, these tracks stand up incredibly well all the way through, from the dark beats and eerie violin on opener “Turn The Page” and our first taste of Skinner’s style, to the foreboding piano on sneakily optimistic closer “Stay Positive.” In between there is a lot of silliness and uncommon British slang, from “geezers”, “birds”, the hilarious impersonation on “Irony of It All” and a lot of “oy!” greetings, but two things remain consistent here: the beats never let up, and the lyrics are always insightful, even during the comical moments. The real depth of the album comes out on its most musical tracks, such as the sentimental keyboards on the flowing “Has It Come To This” or the soft, brooding piano and orchestration on “Weak Become Heroes”, which demonstrate the complexities of Original Pirate Material and never stop moving along in a forward motion- an attribute that Skinner would abandon in his later, far inferior work.

#61: Massive Attack/ The 100th Window (2003)

The trip-hop pioneers from Bristol continued upon the dark sounds of their life-altering 90s album Mezzanine on this effort. We hear the familiar voice of 3D on the stunning opener “Future Proof”, the groovy trip hop tune “Small Time Shot Away”, and the eerily redundant closer “Antistar”, as well as the creepy vocals from Horace Andy on slowly building dungeon tracks “Everywhen” and “Name Taken.” Sinead O’Connor adds intrigue on the Teardrop-esque “What Your Soul Sings” as well as the somewhat over-dramatized “Prayer for England” and “Special Cases.” Daddy G is sorely missed on this album, but it is certainly worthy of praise, and is the only example of new Massive Attack material in a decade that was worse off because of the shortage.

#60: Doves/ Some Cities (2005)

Three albums into their career, Doves broadened their sound a bit on Some Cities, resulting in a solid collection of tunes that arguably aren’t as cohesive as their earlier work, but stand alone quite well. The album’s strength is its first half, as leadman Jimi Goodwin shows off his patented vocal strains on the opening title track, and the upbeat, Motown piano on “Black and White Town” follows and provides a major high point early on that is among the best songs in the band’s entire catalog. The rolling bass line on “Almost Forgot Myself” evolves into one of the prettiest, most helpless-sounding choruses that Doves have ever produced, and the song ends somewhat abruptly on a perfect note.  The gorgeous “Snowden” expands on the building, pounding style that the band began to develop on their previous album The Last Broadcast, and they continue to draw from that effort on “Walk In Fire”, which would be much more notable if it were not lifted directly from Doves’ own “There Comes The Fear”, a clear highlight on that album. The back half of the album isn’t as strong as the first, although the upbeat percussion and characteristically pretty guitar melodies on “One of These Days” and “Sky Starts Falling” as well as the broad, sweeping closer “Ambition” are more than listenable.

#59: Spoon/ Girls Can Tell (2001)

This was the first of Spoon’s albums to really get any mainstream attention, and the bluesy, upbeat vibraphone and piano chords on sharp opener “Everything Hits At Once” evoke nervousness and make it easy to see why, as the sounds are remnants of the beginnings of a band that had big things ahead of them. Fuzzier guitar leads us into the jazzy, stuttering “Believing Is Art” while the woozey “oh oh ohs” on highlight “Me And the Bean” flow brilliantly with innocence and surrender behind the amazing concluding line “I have your blood inside my heart.” Simpler pop guitar songs like fashion-statement “The Fitted Shirt” and addictive electronic keyboards on “Anything You Want” have become cult classics in concert. Spoon has perfected the style of dark but somehow bouncey rock music, and closer “Chicago At Night” is a personal favorite on the strength of its twangy guitar line and its distant, unwavering electronic keyboard note. Say what you will about Spoon, but Girls Can Tell began to solidify their standing as one of America’s most consistently energetic, accessible and impossible-to-dislike rock bands.

#58: The Postal Service/ Give Up (2003)

What happens when you combine the nasal, made for indie-rock voice of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and IDM master Jimmy Tamberello? The culmination of the electropop genre. The subtleties on opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” demonstrate the best aspects of what this album is all about, with its impressive layers of understated synthesized organ and smartly arranged electronica that lead into that brilliantly catchy guitar line towards the end. Speaking of catchy, it is difficult to even begin to describe the impact of “Such Great Heights”, other than to say that it is a masterpiece in its own right complete with intense beats and a melody worthy enough for Iron and Wine to cover it. A surprising highlight here is the male/ female vocal exchange between Gibbard and Jen Wood on “Nothing Better”, while the soft, atmospheric beat on “Recycled Air” showcases Gibbard’s voice better than any of his Death Cab For Cutie albums have. For all of the worthy attention  that has been given to “Such Great Heights”, the real standout here may very well be the unwavering beat on “Clark Gable”, and “This Place Is A Prison” adds a darker element that keeps the album from becoming overly sugary.

#57: The Decemberists/ Picaresque (2005)

Colin Meloy and his gang expanded on their prior work on this album, which besides one notable exception (“The Mariner’s Revenge Song”), focused more upon song-writing than theatrics. The Decemberists’ music has always been notable for its the vivid imagery of their lyrics, but the band takes it up a notch on Picaresque, and adds an impressively diverse backdrop of folksy guitar melodies. The acoustic guitar on standout “On the Bus Mall” provides one of the prettiest songs here as well as some of Meloy’s best song writing to date, with lines such as “And we laughed off the quick tricks/ And the old men with limp dicks/ On the colonnades at the waterfront park”- leave it to Meloy to make a song about male prostitutes sound this enchanting. Explosive percussion on pounding opener “The Infanta” starts the album off impressively while a catchy folk string melody and more impressive drumming highlight the Romeo and Juliet-ish suicide tale “We Both Go Down Together.” There’s a wide array of sounds and stories here, from the devastating acoustic guitar on “Eli The Barrow Boy” to the somewhat autobiographical bittersweetness of “The Engine Driver”, and the wounded athlete lying on the field observing the darkness of his surroundings on “The Sporting Life.” But the real proof of the expansiveness of this album comes on centerpiece “16 Military Wives”, a seemingly anti-war protest track that sarcastically discusses the mathematics of war behind perhaps the album’s sunniest, most broad musical elements, complete with horns, organs, guitars and more rollicking percussion, and the consistency of the latter throughout Picaresque shows a band that is decidedly moving in a positive direction.

#56: Camera Obscura/ My Maudlin Career (2009)

I find this album to be so pretty that it literally hurts. From the horns and excessive string arrangements to Tracyanne Campbell’s angelic vocals, My Maudlin Career possesses a certain heartbreaking sweetness that runs throughout the album’s entirety and never gets old and combines with a fullness from a production standpoint that borders on unbelievable. Early on, there are upbeat highlights from opener “French Navy” and its catchy drumming and sunny melody as well as the delicious coda on album standout “Swans”, not to mention the triumphant horns on big-band-esque closer “Honey In The Sun.” However, I feel more affected emotionally by the softer tracks and simple, straight to the heart lyrics on songs like “You Told A Lie” (“I’m stuck with them/ and they’re stuck on you”), “James” (“You broke me/ I thought I knew you well”), “Away With Murder” (“Someone told me love conquers all/ Well he was a fool/ Because it doesn’t at all”) and “Careless Love” (“I don’t think/ that we should really be friends”). Forming such a collection of bittersweetness at such a relaxed pace is a risk on the listener’s ear to be sure, but Camera Obscura pulls it off with hypnotic perfection here, delivering a tender collection of melodies and lyrics that stick with you for days after each listen.

#55: Spiritualized/ Songs in A and E (2008)

Four years ago, Jason Pierce was on his deathbed battling double pneumonia; he had already been pronounced legally dead twice, and hope for his survival was dim. Three years later, he was miraculously alive and well, and on Songs in A & E, his band’s softest and most personal album to date, the sounds of death and loss are swirling all around, and make for a goosebump-inducing experience–this is exactly the type of album I’ve always hoped Spiritualized would make, and it’s easily their best since 1998’s groundbreaking Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space, showcasing a wiser, more mature band. Short instrumental tracks titled as “harmonies” help the flow, and after the first one we hear the lifted gospel sounds of “Sweet Talk” and the almost heavenly, jubilant sound of Pierce’s recognizable voice, but then we get the more foreboding sounds of “Death Take Your Fiddle”, which seems to nearly capture the sound of the incubator in Pierce’s hospital room, demonstrating his battle between life and death. Standout track “Sitting on Fire” is as soft and sad as anything Spiritualized has ever written as it glides along slowly with a simple acoustic guitar line, coming to a complete halt on more than a couple of occasions, and then starting up again behind lyrics packed full of regret, “When we’re together we stand so tall/ But the old flame still burns when we part” and evolving into a powerful coda filled with string instrumentation. “Don’t Hold Me Close”, “The Waves Crash In” and closer “Good Night Good Night” all slow things down to a crawl with perfect orchestration as well, but the champion of this style is the atmospheric “Borrowed Your Gun”, which with its sweet melody and terrifying, cynical lyrics reminds me of the good ole’ Radiohead “No Surprises” trick.  And as epics go (this is Spiritualized, so there’s no way they’re gonna let you out of this one without at least one 7-minute track), they don’t get much better than “Baby, I’m Just a Fool”, which starts slowly with a bittersweet, jangly guitar line before violins pace the tune into an explosion of sound through the conclusion, which features chaotic horns and suddenly sped up percussion.

#54: The Strokes/ Room On Fire (2003)

The residual hype coming off The Strokes’ game-changing debut Is This It? made their sophomore effort an unenviable task, but this foursome pulled it off with surprising aptitude, delivering another album of short, irresistible garage rock tunes. Leadman Julian Casablancas’ shrieks of ” I wanna be forgotten” are a welcome refuge on the constantly shifting opener “What Ever Happened?”, while “Reptilia” follows as an all-out guitar jam that seems to pick off right where these guys left off. The band’s patented sound of refined catchiness reaches its pinnacle on the poppy “12:51”, which starts with a somewhat foreboding guitar line before delving into a brilliantly simple, repetitive melody that will stick in your head for days. There’s quite a bit of honest comedic quality throughout Room on Fire, making it almost a perfect party album, behind the building, irritated sounds of “You Talk Way Too Much” and quickie-tale “Meet Me In The Bathroom,” which may have coined the phrase “That’s what she said” long before “The Office” ever did. Every track here deserves a mention as the album is incredibly consistent throughout, but the major highlight for me has always been “Between Love And Hate”, as one of the slowest tempos and prettiest melodies here gives way to one of Casablancas’ best, most tortured vocal performances to date as he wails, “I never needed anybody!” One can’t ignore the band’s first real love song, “Under Control”, nor the closing one-two punch of the peppy but somewhat tearjerking “The End Has No End” and the energetic but casually hopeless “I Can’t Win”, which clearly demonstrate a band that understands it will probably never match the ferocious perfection of its debut, but seems content to expand and innovate.

#53: M83/ Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts (2003)

Before delving into the somewhat disorienting 80s sounds of last year’s Saturdays & Youth, Anthony Gonzalez’s M83 project was one of the world’s best examples of pure, heavenly electronica. On his prettiest, most electronically influenced and best album to date, Gonzalez produces sounds that I can only imagine hearing otherwise at the pearly gates, as the lifted, atmospheric “Unrecorded” is a revelation right off the bat with the vastness of its synthesized strings and computerized techno keyboarding; this remains the greatest M83 song ever in my opinion. Synthesized drum beats steal the show on “Run Into Flowers”, which benefits from some subdued (and rare for this album) vocal harmony and more electronic string components. These early tracks are immediate and gripping, and set the stage perfectly for a complex and challenging collection of beautiful music that takes cues from techno dance tracks of old and mixes those elements into wide, sweeping electronic soundscapes. Highlights abound, but this album is more about the journey than it is about the tracks. By the time we make our way past the foreboding “America”, the slowly building guitar line on “Cyborg”, the astonishing 14-minute closer “Beauties Can Die” and everything in between, hopefully there is a place for us to lie down.

#52: Annie/ Anniemal (2004)

An adorable Scandanavian voice says “Let’s start the record”, and few of us were prepared for the impossibly well-executed brilliance of this modern electropop masterpiece that follows. On Anniemal, Annie delivers every possible pop element we could ask for, from the genuinely teen-sappy pop beats on “Chewing Gun” to the heartbreaking loneliness of closer “My Best Friend”, written for her boyfriend and musical collaborator Tory Korknes (who died in 2001)– if that song doesn’t choke you up at least a little bit, you must be devoid of humanity. The album does a good job oscillating between its dark and poppy numbers, but all of these tracks are crying for a dance floor. “Always Too Late” shifts between spooky organ and Annie’s understated vocals “I don’t wanna wanna/ be a prima donna”, while the cheery, unapologetically catchy sounds of “Me Plus One” and the addictive title track are huge highlights here. If all of that wasn’t enough, everything comes together as Annie’s soft (and eventually straining) voice opens the slowly building album standout “Heartbeat”, which imitates its title with its rhythm and delivers lyrics with universal appeal. Towards the end of the album, the epic “Come Together” starts slowly before it explodes in an all-out acid-house dirge before fading effortlessly into the aforementioned closer, which only leaves us waiting in the wings for more from this exceptional artist.

#51: The Wrens/ Meadowlands (2003)

In what is arguably the comeback album of the decade, the middle-aged Wrens reunited on Meadowlands for a deep, introspective look on how they’ve spent the past several years–and it isn’t a pretty picture, full of heartbreak, disappointment and loss of youth. It is a rarity in music today to see a band give such an honest documentation of its collective hardships with such a lack of resignation, and The Meadowlands does just that, and sums it up perfectly early in the album with the pleading “This Boy Is Exhausted,” which combines some of the album’s sunniest melodies with its darkest lyricism- these guys are literally exhausted from life, but not giving up on it yet, and to that end, one could view this album with some cautious optimism. There is a tone of urgency and desperation throughout the album which culminates on showstoppers like “Everyone Chooses Sides” and “Hopeless.” Breakup tracks are here in droves, and although the album touches on a lot more disappointment than those of a romantic nature, its greatest achievement is the gut-wrenching “She Sends Kisses”, which combines accordion, acoustic guitar and soft, scratchy vocals that fully encompass that universal feeling of lost love into a chorus that bursts with heartache. In the middle, songs like “Thirteen Grand” inflicts deep pain with beautifully orchestrated disappointment (“Is this real at all?/ I’m not too sure”), while “Boys, You Won’t” shows some self-appreciation for what has been lost behind its dark, building guitar (“But I’ve stood up/ To face another round/ And you want me, you want me”). The album has its brief moments of hope, but lets us down easy with heartbreaking, defeatist tracks like “13 Months in 6 Minutes”, which despite their somber tone, carry an overwhelming feeling that somehow, everything is going to be alright.

#50: Band of Horses/ Everything All The Time (2006)

On Everything All The Time, Band of Horses combine atmospheric, echoed vocals with sweeping guitar work to create a collection of songs with a decisively rural tone. The tracks exert a great deal of emotion both lyrically and musically, and leadman Ben Bridwell’s unique vocal wails combine beautifully to create a collection of powerful, yet incredibly pretty tunes dispersed among jammier numbers in addition to soft lullaby tracks. After the bittersweet, jangly opener eloquently titled “The First Song”, the album goes right into the pounding “Wicked Gil,” a catchy, poppy example not without the same atmospheric qualities that run rampant throughout the album. The simpler “Our Swords” provides a nice rolling rhythm in its two and a half minutes to set the stage for the album’s finest moment, the entire duration of the epic “The Funeral”, where Bridwell begins to sing softly before roaring guitars and pounding drums enter as he howls, “At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral.” Other album highlights follow, including the pleasantly upbeat “Weed Party,” which catches Band of Horses in their most rocky, almost home-on-the-rangey form, while rolling guitars open the album centerpiece “The Great Salt Lake,” which features the album’s most transcendent guitar line sailing over the chorus and building into an anthemic crescendo with that same echoing vocal that becomes so addictive as the album progresses. One of my personal favorites is the penultimate track “Monsters,” which opens with twangy country guitar behind Bridwell delivering lyrics like a man who has much to share about life as all of the elements come crashing in marvelously upon the album’s greatest lyric, “If I am lost, it’s only for a little while”, which is wailed with unparalleled hopefulness.

#49: Belle and Sebastian/ The Life Pursuit (2006)

For some, Belle and Sebastian practically invented the entire genre of indie rock, and over the years they have refined their style and nearly matched some of their greatest work with the release of the nicely integrated The Life Pursuit, which feels bright, but adds a bittersweet element while focusing on more personal issues, especially faith and the loss of youth. The Life Pursuit is incredibly solid from start to finish, but begins on an immediately engaging note with opener “Act of the Apostle”, which struck me from first listen as innovative, with repetitive minor piano chords that are uncharacteristic of this band combined with impressive tone shifts from foreboding to cheerful. The next track is “Another Sunny Day”, easily the album’s standout, combining the band’s classic cheeriness with a beautiful touch of bittersweet remorse; more than ten years into their career and on their sixth full-length, I am not sure that Belle and Sebastian has ever written a better song. The only true resemblance of the band’s prior form comes on the soft, sweet “Dress Up In You”, which progresses with the oxymoron of complex simplicity that has made this band great for over a decade. The last few tracks on this album really capture the magic, turning the foreboding elements into optimism on the hopeful “To Be Myself Completely,” which sounds oddly like some of R.E.M.’s poppier work, and it doesn’t get any more carefree or fun for Belle and Sebastian than on the resolving “For The Price of a Cup of Tea”, a cheery, nonchalant ditty that assures us that everything is going to be fine. The Life Pursuit builds in an interesting manner, as it begins questioning life with uncertainty and seemingly becomes more optimistic towards its conclusion, but the band demonstrates that even a life filled with thoughtfulness and cheer can never be without uncertainty.

#48: The Avalanches/ Since I Left You (2001)

The mysterious Australian project The Avalanches were patching together loose-end samples long before Girl Talk made much less subtle music of the same sort, and Since I Left You remains a relic of the early part of the decade, when free Napster downloads were somewhat of an afterthought. The title track starts with such an engaging beauty, combining world music guitar lines with an AM radio style production and sampled vocals about surviving a breakup- or maybe just escaping. What the album accomplished more than anything is a boatload of club tracks; you could easily but this album on in the background of a dance party and no one would miss a beat. Musically, it’s still a collection of mash-ups essentially, but it is produced to perfection for that genre, and there are highlights all over the place. Take the lifted sounds of “Two Hearts in 3:4 Time” or the deeply disturbing “Frontier Psychiatrist”, and don’t forget centerpiece “A Different Feeling”, where a sampled voice cries out for “Johnny.”  For an album full of other people’s music, it sure does flow well.

#47: The Go! Team/ Thunder Lightning Strike (2004)

An undertaking that essentially involves lifting samples and combining them with Atari beats, cheerleader chants and a female lead singer named Ninja can only be one of two things: an unmitigated disaster or utterly brilliant. Luckily for The Go! Team, their debut Thunder Lightning Strike falls in the latter category, as the immediate intensity and energy on opener “Panther Dash” quickly sounds like nothing anyone has ever heard before. “Ladyflash” pumps in nostalgic 80s samples above its catchy flutes, strings and complex beat, while bluesy piano on “Feelgood By Numbers” keeps any party moving along swimmingly. This album certainly doesn’t lack for energy, as demonstrated on the rollicking, chaotic track “The Power Is On”, which combine’s Ninja’s raps with dark piano chords, horns and explosive percussion to create a certain standout here. “Junior Kickstart” is probably the most triumphant, horn-based track here, while the all-out celebration on “Huddle Formation” might as well be a high school theme song (Go TEAM!) For all of its fun, there is still real emotion on this album, which culminates in album highlight closer “Everyone’s A V.I.P. to Someone”, a song that sends the album off with unparalleled optimism behind its layered banjo, harmonica and horns.

#46: Coldplay/ Parachutes (2000)

It is somewhat amazing to consider the fact that when the opening notes of “Don’t Panic” ring out on this album, we are hearing Coldplay at their artistic pinnacle, a simple but perfect two minute, three chord acoustic tune the likes of which they would never again match. Parachutes showcases Coldplay at their most raw and vulnerable, before they shifted their concerns to becoming a singles band and dominating the large-scale arena rock scene, although admittedly, they’ve become very good at both. Still, the stripped-down electric guitar on “Shiver” and not-afraid-to-be-shaky falsetto on underrated highlight “Sparks” really capture a band coming into its own, blissfully unaware of how much better their music sounded the less choreographed it was. Sure, “Yellow” became almost a poster-child for British mainstream rock, but I remember the first time I heard it, which seemed like years before it hit the radio and led to Coldplay’s ascent into the broader spotlight, but damn, it sounded good, and I loved playing it on my acoustic guitar and trying to imitate Chris Martin’s impressive vocal range to little avail. And even after all of that, looking back, it was actually the mesmerizing piano track “Trouble” that really caught my attention, and the subtle epic “Everything’s Not Lost” had the sound of a band that was just doing its thing and not trying to hard–and we can’t blame them for trying to broaden their appeal and make millions of dollars, but let’s face it, with the exception of “Clocks” and “Politik”, from a musical standpoint, it was all downhill from here.

#45: Travis/ The Man Who (2000)

In what was possibly the greatest true British pop album of the decade, The Man Who encapsulated everything relevant about the bizarre summer that was my life in 2000 with a simple line on standout track “Luv”- “And the mistake we made/ Was in never having planned to fall in love, love.” Amazingly, what made an album so solid from a band such as Travis, whose overall catalog is quite medicore, was its simplicity. The opening acoustic guitar notes of instant classic “Writing To Reach You” ring out with a distant, heartfelt longing that is an immediate hook right out of the gates. There’s such sadness that permeates here as the album progresses leading into “The Fear”, with its repetitive, procrastinating chorus “Make it easy for a little but longer.” The poppier numbers still bear a certain sentimentality, like whatever was good in the present cannot and will not be sustainable in the future, from highlight “Driftwood” to the self-deprecating “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” I suppose this was one of those albums that just hit me in the right place at the right time in my life and became deeply personal to me, and I’ve probably overrated it as such, and I even avoid listening to it most of the time because of the things it reminds me of, but on the occasions that I do, it still gives me goosebumps.

#44: Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci/ How I Long To Feel That Summer (2001)

These normally eccentric folksters from Wales buckled down on this album, piecing together a focused collection of drop-dead gorgeous melodies. The nostalgic opening notes of  “Where Does Yer Go Now?” sound like classic Gorky’s music, and as the song builds it switches back and forth between its soft piano verses and the brooding sentimentality of its chorus. Prettier yet is the melancholy violin and horn arrangement on “Dead Aid” and the soft, repetitive piano and impressively understated violin on closer “Hodgeston’s Hallelujah.” The pretty songs seem the most eye-catching and set the album’s tone with heavy use of strings and horns, and there’s nothing here nearly as fun as “Spanish Dance Troupe”, but chipper melodies on groovy horn duet “Can Megan” and seemingly upbeat love song “Her Hair Hangs Long” keep the mood from becoming ultimately dismal. The real standouts here are the longing “Stood On Gold” with its subtle accordion notes and the amazing chorus line on the devastating “Christina” which boasts some of the album’s better lyricism, “What a way to carry on/You’re one minute cold/ The next you’re leading me on/ With me all alone/ And you in your Bel Air home.” That’s such a widely applicable lyric, even if the song isn’t named after the person that was making you feel that way at the time of this album’s release…I digress.

#43: The Shins/ Oh Inverted World (2002)

It’s hard to say how much attention The Shins ever would have gotten from the mainstream without Natalie Portman’s declaration in surprise indie hit “Garden State” that “New Slang” would change your life; I was already well-acquainted with the album by the time of that film’s release, but hadn’t yet fully appreciated that particular track and all of its subtleties, so thanks Natalie. The truth is, The Shins never intended to be one hit wonders, and there is a lot more to sink your teeth into here on their debut Oh Inverted World than that one (admittedly brilliant) track. Take opener “Caring Is Creepy”, in which we get our first taste of lead singer James Mercer’s unique voice which builds behind an innovative, lifted sound of apprehension before the album takes a sharp turn to the sunny side. “One By One All Day” is the perfect carefree summer melody, and later on the album there are strong traces of Beach Boys and early 1960s rock influence, especially on short, poppy masterpieces like “Girl Inform Me” and “Know Your Onion!” The Shins wisely don’t jam the pop down our throats here though, and pace is the trick to the overall quality of this album, as songs like the bittersweet “The Celibate Life” and the soft sweetness on acoustic closer “The Past and the Pending” are spaced well between and add complexity.

#42: Badly Drawn Boy/ The Hour of Bewilderbeast (2000)

Damon Gough is the consummate songwriter, and on his debut as Badly Drawn Boy, the only negatives (if any) are too wide an array of ideas–this is a challenging, sprawling folk guitar album, with innovative arrangements dripping from all four of its edges over its 18 diverse tracks. Opener “The Shining” takes its time with a drawn out cello introduction before moving forward with a simple but tearjerking folk melody that draws upon string and horns again as it progresses. An album this long full of songs that sounded exactly like this one, as good as it is, would get tiring, but it is evident from the track that follows, “Everybody’s Stalking”, that this will not be the case, as the song quickly turns the tables with its pounding rhythm guitar that draws from early 90s grunge rock. An early highlight is “Fall In A River” with its addictive, if short-lived melody that literally sounds like it was recorded underwater, while the dark, foreboding guitar and violin on “Stone on the Water” follow shortly after to continue the theme, and do so in an intelligent, unhurried manner.  There’s even disco and bebop influence on incredibly upbeat numbers “Disillusion” and “Once Around the Block”, which would seem quite out of place on an album of lesser scope and ambition, but instead fit right in here. With so many solid tracks over such a widespread undertaking, it is difficult to pinpoint standouts, but upon repeated listens, the layered yet accessible complexities of “Another Pearl” and “Say It Again” figure to best summarize this wildly impressive effort.

#41: Blur/ Think Tank (2003)

After previously Brit-Poppy foursome Blur turned the tables in the latter half of the 90s, ending the decade with the shockingly unexpected sound of their brilliant album 13, there were many questions about their follow-up effort; lead guitar player and key songwriter Graham Coxon had left the band, lead singer Damon Albarn had been experimenting with (of all things) rap, (or something like that) with his Gorillaz project, the remainder of the crew set off to record a new album in Morocco of all places, and the band’s overall direction appeared uncertain. From the opening sounds of the off-tempo, multi-layered standout “Ambulance”, it was immediately clear that Blur had continued to keep pace with the times, and Think Tank turned out to be one of this decade’s biggest surprises. The album does an impressive job mixing the sounds of almost shockingly futuristic sounding tracks nearly one to one with pop gems reminiscent of the band’s previous work, resulting in a somewhat haphazard organization that keeps the surprises coming. “Out of Time” is an immediate early highlight that blends these styles with its catchy chorus and intricate layers of sound beneath a seemingly simple bass guitar line.  There’s a decisive bounce and swagger to the new direction that also owe a lot to those bass lines, especially later in the album on the exotic “Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club” and subtle dance track “Jets”, while the chaotic “Crazy Beat” adds an extra dimension to band’s familiar one-riff guitar rock outs. Familiar sounding guitar ballads are here as well and are as solid as ever, especially on the bittersweet “Caravan” and highlight (and aptly titled) “Good Song”, not to mention the muted beauty of “Sweet Song,” while closer “Battery In Your Leg” takes it up a notch, building above soaring shoegazer guitars and poignant piano keys.

#40: The Walkmen/ Bows and Arrows (2004)

It’s a good thing that The Walkmen decided to open their fantastic sophomore album with the mesmerizing, slowly building “What’s In It For Me”, because the onslaught of raw energy and intensity that follows it might have otherwise caused my head to explode from excitement. Now the band’s signature tune, “The Rat” may be the best example of pure rock music that this decade saw, with its forceful guitar, pounding percussion and of course, lead man Hamilton Leithauser’s indicting howls “You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favor/ You’ve got a nerve to be calling my number/ Can’t you hear me/ I’m bleeding on your wall.” It would be one thing if this song stood alone from a style standpoint, but the songs that follow, such as the too-good-to-be-true drumming on “Little House of Savages” and “My Old Man”, continue to bring the energy full throttle. However, Bows and Arrows is by no means a chaotic album, as every move it takes seems planned and deliberate; there are moments of gentle heartbreak here in fact, such as the regretful “138th Street” and”The North Pole.” The album lets us down fairly easy with the unreservedly bittersweet “New Years Eve” and desperate title track, and as a sum of its parts, executes perfectly, resulting a collection of tracks that is altogether short, sweet and overwhelming.

#39: Grizzly Bear/ Veckatimest (2009)

On the highly anticipated follow-up to their debut, Grizzly Bear created an album that is as good as music of this leveled tempo style can possibly sound, demonstrating impressive focus and delicate precision regarding its vocal harmonies and musical arrangements. Vecaktimest starts powerfully, as opener “Southern Point” is gripping with its sitting-around-the-campfire acoustic guitar that explodes into all out chaos before coming full-circle back to where it began. The poppy summer tune “Two Weeks” is perhaps the band’s best harmonizing track to date with its addictive “oohs” and “aahs” soaring behind an already lights-out melody, while “All We Ask” pleases with its march-step percussion and eventual surrender into singer Dan Rossen’s hopeless lyric “I can’t/ Get out/ Of what I’m into/ With you.” The album’s darker, mesmerizing midsection is less immediate than its bookends, but adds substantial balance, especially on somewhat eerie sound of teen tale “Cheerleader” and the absolutely haunting organ on “Ready, Able.” The band lets us down as powerfully as they draw us in, as the final three tracks are all huge highlights in their own right. “While You Wait For The Others” gives “Two Weeks” a run for its money in terms of harmonic arrangement and arguably builds better into an equally catchy chorus, while “I Live With You” shifts between its atmospheric horns and foreboding melodies before exploding into an all-out dirge. Closer “Foreground” sums up everything that is great about this album, as a soft piano line carries throughout, highlighting both the beauty and simple perfection that permeate throughout this effort, which as it turns out, is more than anyone could have hoped for.

#38: Animal Collective/ Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

Speaking of highly anticipated albums, on their most recent effort, Animal Collective combine and expand upon elements of their hugely innovative prior work to deliver their most accessible and complete album to date, full of pop melodies and not lacking for advancement in their continuing journey of musical discovery. I often suggest to people not familiar with Animal Collective’s wide, diverse and generally genre-less catalog that the best way to begin to understand and appreciate this band might be to start with this album, looking no further than standout track “My Girls” early on. This song exemplifies everything that the band has accomplished to date and points toward a promising future, with its looping synth beats, catchy pop melody, building song structure, well-intertwined background vocals (WOO!) and universally applicable lyrics for a recession-ridden nation, “I don’t need/ To seem like I care about material things/ Like social status.” Gone on Merriweather Post Pavilion are the shrieking vocal improvisations from lead singer Avey Tare that hard core fans have grown to love, but there is still a lot of aggressive but engaging repetition that will remind fans of the old school sound, such as the bursts of percussion on the upbeat “Summertime Clothes” (“I want to walk around with you!) and the more melodic “Guys Eyes” (“I want to work!”). There’s a pleasant psychedelic tone over much of the album, as “Also Frightened” drifts through layers of sound before exploding into one of the band’s prettiest chorus melodies to date, while “Daily Routine” sputters around between its lifted organ notes and synthesized, uptempo percussion. Unlike their prior work, this album is impressively polished and doesn’t have any rough spots, which is a testament to a band with such huge ambitions. The balance is probably best exemplified on the mesmerizing centerpiece “Bluish”, which sounds like a distant love song recorded while on a scuba dive, and the rollicking, constantly evolving world music influence on closer “Brother Sport.”

#37: Fleet Foxes/ Fleet Foxes and Sun Giant EP (2008)

The rustic, rural guitar sounds of the Fleet Foxes combined with some of the best-arranged harmonies in recent memory on their debut album and the EP that preceded it was music to my years; I’ll always have fond memories of listening to this album as I drove through Napa and Sonoma Counties in the July of 2008 as the sun made its descent–what a perfect musical backdrop! The uniquely western sounds of the opening track “Sun It Rises” paint the perfect picture of the song’s title, and is a great opening choice, while the harmonic standout “White Winter Hymnal” carries on slowly but substantially, featuring the story tale lyric “I was following the pack all swallowed in their coats/ with scarves of red tied around their throats/ to keep their little heads from falling in the snow/ and I turn around and there you go.” The music speeds up a bit on songs like “Ragged Wood” and “Quiet Houses”, but the style is consistent throughout, as every song here is incredibly dependent on vocal harmonies. Even on the jammy highlight “Your Protector”, the congruence of the many vocals adds the finishing touch, while amazingly hummable melodies on the soft “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Heard Them Stirring” as well as the visually vivid “Blue Ridge Mountains” add subtle beauty. Album centerpiece “He Doesn’t Know Why” fits the serious but folky tone perfectly, while all of this is preceded by the incomparable “Mykonos” and mood-establishing “Drops in the River” on the EP.

#36: The National/ Boxer (2007)

The sophomore album from The National creates a unique, consistent mood, somewhat reminiscent of walking through an abandoned, rainy city at night. As dreary as that may sound, leadman Matt Berninger’s deep, haunting baritone and the band’s persistent rock feel carry Boxer a long way. From the dark, isolated sound of the brilliant “Brainy” to the soft, beautifully arranged acoustics on “Slow Show” and the culmination of complex sounds including piano, guitar and horns on the penultimate “Ada”, the band shines throughout this album without a weak track to defend. They really show their stuff on rockier tracks like “Mistaken For Strangers” and “The Apartment Story”, while “Guest Room” provides a mixture of melancholy and hope all at once that serves as the underrated glue patch for this collection of tunes. It’s an addictive listen to be sure, and shows a lot of promise behind its subtly orchestrated beauty, showcasing lyrics that we can all relate to on its opener as the words “We’re half awake/ In a fake empire” speak volumes.

#35: Of Montreal/ Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (2007)

On their darkest effort to date, Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? benefits from its unique style and comes off on the whole as rocky and incredibly interesting musically through an evolving storyline that eventually results in leadman Kevin Barnes morphing into a middle-aged transsexual African-American named Georgie Fruit.  “Suffer For Fashion” gets the album off to an upbeat, well-disguised cheery start behind circus-like Atari keyboards and a catchy melody. The poppy, tons-of-fun “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethan Curse” follows in the same style complete with seventh-inning-stretch organ and synthesized percussion. Slow grooves like “Gronlandic Edit” and “Faberge Falls For Shuggie” keep the album moving along smoothly, with the latter adding eerie violin notes. The relative fun stops with the devastating album centerpiece and masterpiece “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal”, a twelve minute epic filled with pain in its universal and incredibly real lyrics.  Meanwhile, highlight track “She’s A Rejector” sounds like a combination of a Franz Ferdinand guitar riff and vocals from The Rapture, and although shockingly different from the rest of the album is perfectly placed near the album’s conclusion, rocking while carrying a tone of sadness all the while.

#34: TV on the Radio/ Dear Science (2008)

On Dear Science, the band’s third full length, we see an evolving group of musicians, as the music is sharper and catchier than their previous work, beginning with a bang as “Halfway Home” enters with immediately attention-grabbing guitar feedback behind lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s “ba ba ba” vocal intro and evolving into an in-your-face combination of throbbing percussion and soaring electric guitars. “Cryin” shifts gears a bit, with one of the brightest melodies we’ve ever heard from these guys, but also showcases what is surely the album’s catchiest guitar riff. One of the many new stylistic approaches TV on the Radio has developed is using hand-claps as percussion samples, and nowhere does this innovation pay off more than on the rousing “Dancing Choose”, which begins with fuzzy guitar and Adebimpe almost rapping his lyrics before a segment of horns pipes in to pull it all together. The band continues to use upbeat horn arrangements on tracks like “Golden Age”, in which Adibempe strives for utopia, and while it may sound like this is a somewhat bright album compared to their previous offerings, make no mistake, there are deep themes of self-doubt, fear and unmitigated rage here as well. Nowhere is this more present than on the fiercely anti-war “Red Dress”, although a better example is standout “DLZ”; from the opening lyric “Congratulations on the mess you made of things/ I’m trying to reconstruct the air and all that brings”, it’s evident that this will be a condemnation of all authority figures worldwide, which seems to fit in with a widespread sentiment as 2008 headed into its end. Even the slower tracks here are nearly perfect, such as the soft piano keys and violin strings on the flawless “Family Tree” or the easily overlooked “Stork & Owl,” but in the end, it is the complexities at the end of the album on songs like “Love Dog”, which adds electronic keyboards and even more horns as it slowly builds, and “Shout Me Out”, which defines the concept of a tune that builds, using a looped synthesizer and steady guitar line before exploding into heavier electric guitar and heavy percussion, that prove the album’s greatest strengths.

#33: Deerhunter/ Cryptograms and Flourescent Grey EP (2007)

As the title would suggest, Cryptograms is a haunting, immaculately arranged work containing soaring melodies, rolling bass lines and space-rock guitar punches. In the early stages of the album, Deerhunter seems content to progress at a snail’s pace, placing purely instrumental tracks intermittently throughout. On the title track, tortured leadman Bradford Cox opens by speaking over transitive feedback, which is followed by the catchiest bass line in recent memory combined with a simple repetitive guitar riff which all eventually evolves into absolute musical chaos behind soaring electric guitar and heavy drum beats, all over a song that expresses fears of death and post-mortum isolation. Eerie guitar rings out over the devastating “Spring Hall Convert”, which is probably the best song on the album besides the title track, while the incredibly dark “Lake Somerset” seems fit for a vampire dungeon. Poppier melodies dominate the engaging numbers “Hazel Street” and “Strange Lights.” On Fluorescent Grey, the dark, atmospheric sounds continue, highlighted by the foreboding guitar line on “Dr. Glass” and the pounding teenage-angst recollection “Wash Off.”  On the whole, Cryptograms and its EP companion combine elements of shoegazer, dream pop and noise rock almost perfectly into albums of pure beauty that concentrate more on the sum of their parts than on each individual track.

#32: Sigur Ros/ () (2002)

The somewhat off-putting nameless title of this Icelandic band’s follow-up to their brilliant debut wreaked of pretentiousness, and so did the fact that all of the eight drawn-out tracks were initially titled simply by their order on the album (the band would later attribute actual titles), as well as the fact that all of the songs are sung in an invented nonsense language rather than Icelandic. Still, in what is arguably their only attempt at a true concept album, and by far their darkest effort to date, Sigur Ros pieces together eight challenging songs that tear the listener’s heart to shreds; suffice to say it is a good thing that this album was released in December as opposed to July or August. The dark, melancholy electronic organ and piano notes on opener “Vaka” are stunningly beautiful in their simplicity, while “Njosnavelin” boasts distant shoegazer guitars and a gorgeous riff throughout perhaps the only uplifting moment on the album. The latter half of () turns decidedly darker and arguably stronger after the absolutely hopeless and immaculately arranged “Alafloss.” The band has built its reputation upon not only the heavenly sound of its music, but more upon its ability to build its songs into the perfect crescendo, and the last three tracks are as good a demonstration of this style as anything in the band’s catalog. Patience is required, but the payoff is immense over the final moments of the perfectly orchestrated “E-Bow”, the penultimate and devastating “Dauoalagio” and the impeccably timed switch from subtle beauty to terrifying, chaotic paranoia on stunning closer “Popplagio.”  Forget about the obvious repetition of the nonsense lyrics and the lack of a real album title and pay attention to the music itself–Sigur Ros knows exactly what they are doing.

#31: Wolf Parade/ Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Interestingly enough, I’ve never been bowled over by either Spencer Krug’s Sunset Rubdown or Dan Boeckner’s Handsome Furs projects, but when the two combined for their first album as Wolf Parade, a chemical reaction occurred. Apologies to the Queen Mary provides impressive balance between their two distinctive styles with a track list that essentially alternates between Krug’s unique vocals and building musical arrangements and Boeckner’s gruff, grungy voice that complements his more rock-based sound, which owes a lot to early 90s alternative. What makes the album so effective though are the more understated moments of collaboration; a bit of flavor from Krug’s organ arrangements on Bockener’s rollicking “Modern World”, or Boeckner’s guitar addition to the Krug vocals on album highlight “Grounds For Divorce.” Boeckner’s clear standouts are the anthemic “Shine A Light”, with its foot-stomping progression and dark vocals reminiscent of what Kurt Cobain might have sounded like behind a more complex and varied melody, and closer “This Heart’s On Fire” as it builds with force into the album’s most memorable crescendo. However, it is the Krug tracks that really steal the show here aside from the aforementioned “Grounds For Divorce”, especially later on during the back to back tandem of the uptempo “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”, which showcases the best of his vocal range, and “I’ll Believe In Anything”, with its synthesized organ and a repetition that is so organized that it bursts right past being obnoxious directly into embracing its own beauty as Krug laments, “I’d take you where nobody knows you/ And nobody gives a damn.”

#30: Dandy Warhols/ 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia (2000)

Of all the disagreements that I will hear about the order of this list, I can’t imagine that any positioning of any other album will generate more controversy than my exalted placement of the sophomore album from the too-pretentious-to-be true Dandy Warhols, led by lead singer Courtney Tayl0r-Taylor, who legally added the extra Taylor just for fun. I’ll just shake my head and smile, wondering how on earth this band ever put together such a collection of songs, fully comfortable in my knowledge that this album absolutely kills. Everyone has heard “Bohemian Like You” a million times by now, but the fact that it has become almost a cliche shouldn’t take anything away from its sheer pop power, while party tunes like “Shakin” and “Solid” keep the upbeat fun moving along towards the album’s center. However, an album full of songs like these would have sounded like, well, every other album that the Dandy Warhols have ever made. What separates this effort are songs like the complex opening trio, as “Godless” begins the album with its desperate acoustic guitar chords and brilliant horn accompaniment before the tribal drum beat and soaring guitar on “Mohammed” and steady percussion and horns (again) on “Nietzche” demonstrate a new direction, and all of which feature Taylor singing in a less direct, higher octave style that creates an atmospheric tone. 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia does a great job of mixing the more serious tone of these types of songs with direct and powerful pop rock songs; the best example of this is almost certainly towards the album’s center, as the devastating simplicity and intricate background vocals on “Sleep” are sandwiched by the almost sociopathic energy of sex tune “Get Off” and the catchy, confident swagger of “Cool Scene.” Penultimate track “Big Indian” sums up life honestly and directly as Taylor sings “My friend told me one time/ You never get wise/ You only get older” over musical layers that show development by leaps and bounds that the band would unfortunately abandon on future albums for the sake of its own silliness, but for a brief moment, they really pulled something special completely out of their ass.

#29: Modest Mouse/ The Moon and Antarctica (2000)

In the year 2000, Modest Mouse, with their static-laden twangy guitars and the straining, off-key voice of leadman Issac Brock, were about the least likely candidate to produce an album with the depth and scope of The Moon And Antarctica, which touches on the beginning of the universe, the apocalypse, the overall human condition and everything in between to create the decade’s most unintentionally brilliant concept album. The first three tracks are impregnable, from the immediate highlight “3rd Planet” (which manages to span the creation and destruction of Earth in four minutes) to the now Nissan-ad famous “Gravity Rides Everything” and absolutely rocking “Dark Center of the Universe.” As songs go, the disco rock, heavy bass and overall paranoid chaos on “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” seems incredibly out of place here but somehow manages to fit perfectly all at the same time, showcasing perfectly what an enigma this album truly is, and battling for standout status to boot. However, contrasts abound as there are moments of severe darkness and hopelessness here as well, especially on ballads like the gorgeous “Perfect Disguise”and “The Cold Part,” while Modest Mouse waxes a bit philosophical (forgiveably) as they deliver an incredibly optimistic message on the amazing “Lives”, which switches between separate melodies on its fingerpicking verses and heavy acoustic guitar strumming with some cello accompaniment on the chorus as Brock sings “If you could be anything you wanna be/ You’d be disappointed/ Am I right?” The band’s more mainstream future manifests itself on the catchy rolling guitar notes of “Paper Thin Walls”, but the depth of this album is best showcased on the epic centerpiece “The Starts Are Projectors” and angry closer “What People Are Made Of”, and combine with all of the elements to produce one of the decade’s broadest musical achievements.

#28: Cut Copy/ In Ghost Colours (2008)

Drawing comparisons to LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture, something about Cut Copy’s sophomore effort was much more musically oriented than any of its “punk-funk” peers. Immediately enticing from the first beat of the melodic, synthesized “Feel The Love”, this is truly a special electronic album that brings the energy, and brings it with force. The next song, “Out There on the Ice”, showcases the impressive melodic and lyrical attributes of this record, as lead singer Dan Whitford pleads “That’s what it takes/ But don’t let it tear us apart/ Even if it breaks your heart.” Meanwhile, “Lights and Music” is immediately dance-floor ready, with hard synth beats, background harmonies and electronica that set an early tune for the band’s penchant for a minor verse-major chorus release structure– If you aren’t hooked by this point, you might not have a pulse. There is so much to like about this dense, textured album with so many upbeat dance grooves and strong, poppy choruses, and the eventual complexity that it achieves rests upon the tunes that serve as interludes or breaks from the dance floor, such as the 80s synth on the bittersweet standout “Unforgettable Season”, the keyboard hooks on “Strangers In The Wind” or the subtle beauty of key transition track “Midnight Runner.” The real treats come toward the end though, as the atmospheric, distorted shoegazer guitar on “So Haunted” combines with intense, dark vocals but eventually makes a complete shift into a showstopping, lifted synth chorus melody, and after that sublime tune, In Ghost Colours puts on the finishing touches with the outstanding “Hearts on Fire”, which adds yet more synthesized keyboards, beats and vocals, creating the band’s signature hit–lest we forget about the massive dance tune “Far Away”, which showcases as much 80s influence as anything here, complete with background “Ooh, ooh ooh!” vocals and more fantastic synth beats.

#27: The Decemberists/ The Crane Wife (2006)

By 2006, Colin Meloy had already established himself as one of America’s best pure up-and-coming songwriters in the company of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Badly Drawn Boy, and on this, their fourth album, The Decemberists stepped up to the big leagues, popping out of the indie rock doldrums and signing with prestigious Capitol Records.  Thankfully, Meloy and company used this promotion as an excuse to upgrade not only their salaries but their musical and lyrical determination as well, as this is easily their best album to date. There is an element of tightness to this album in regards to the way in which it is wound–The Decemberists don’t forgo their psychedelic folk-rock backbone on this effort, but rather use it as layering for musical experimentation and expansion; for example, the 12-minute second track “The Island” is actually three songs blended together with perfect regard for tone. Beginning with the foreboding “Come and See”, the epic evolves into the more upbeat yet terrifying “The Landlord’s Daughter”, an intense rape tale with electronic keyboards and Meloy wailing, the climax of which is absolutely possessive, and then cools off into sad acoustic guitar ballad “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning”, as Meloy pleads, “Go to sleep now, little ugly/ Go to sleep now, little fool.” The innovation doesn’t stop there, as standout ”The Perfect Crime #2″ exhibits upbeat bluesy notes that work incredibly well as the band enters completely new territory musically and Meloy sings of thievery and murder. Tales of war aren’t exactly new territory for The Decemberists, but this time around they dive deeper and more specifically into their story-telling and musical choices as the slowly progressing, softly pounding “When The War Came” (which would play perfectly over a field of wounded and dead bodies from the front line), as Meloy professes “When the war came, the war came hard” with almost Led Zepplin-esque characteristics and unprecedented darkness. In possibly the greatest song they have ever written, the Decemberists really rock on “Yankee Bayonet”, as Meloy and guest singer Laura Veirs rotate verses as a pregnant wife and a presumably dead civil war soldier/ husband; the track is absolutely incredible musically, lyrically and emotionally, and is probably the best single song of 2006. The anthemic, optimistic ”Sons and Daughters” is perfectly placed as the closer, sounding off with Meloy singing the inexplicably warm lyrics, “We’ll build our homes of aluminum/ We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon/ Here all the bombs fade away,” while even the familiar sounding tracks, such as opener “The Crane Wife 3″ and the amazing “Summersong” soar on this effort.

#26: Sigur Ros/ Takk (2005)

The followup to the admittedly brilliant but dark and desolate () finds Sigur Ros brightening things up a bit with what is easily their most accessible record to date, as Takk is full of hope and optimism, a stark and welcome contrast to their previous offering. Opener “Glosoli” is true to their slow, building style but sounds much more relaxed and carefree with the subtle beauty of its melody before it explodes into glorious distortion and percussive chaos. A huge highlight follows in “Hoppipola”, which combines heavenly piano notes with strings and horns and evolves into what is easily the band’s most jubilant and triumphant song to date; don’t be surprised to see it playing all over advertisements for the most poignant scenes of the “Planet Earth” series. “Gong” darkens things a bit early but picks up the beat a bit while lead singer Jonsi Birgisson showcases his impressive vocal range as impressively as anything else he has ever done, and is a sure standout here, as the track eventually evolves into a lifted, atmopsheric coda. Takk would merit consideration for this list based on the strength of those two tracks alone, but there are other goodies surrounding them as well; of the longer, wandering styles, “Andvari” works best with its patient, steady beauty, while centerpiece “Saeglopur” probably comes closest to the band’s previous work, as piano and glockenspiel chimes gain depth from soaring shoegazer guitars as the track progresses. The hypnotic closer “Heysatan” lets us off as gently as Sigur Ros ever has with its gorgeous simplicity, and works perfectly to end an album that takes the intensity level down a notch at exactly the right point in the band’s catalog.

#25: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah/ Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)

Every once in a while an album comes along that fits perfectly for its time and place, and for me in the summer of 2005, the self-titled debut album from psychedelic folksters Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was that album. A carnival midget (presumably and imaginatively) opens the album on the strangest note imaginable, but for those of us that were hooked and decided to keep listening are all the better for it. As the band thunders into “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away” we get our first taste of lead singer Hamilton Leithasuer’s unique nasaly voice (you either love it or hate it right off the bat) as the track builds slowly and impressively, while “Over and Over Again” really puts a bounce in the album’s step with its bassline, percussion and nonchalant vocals (“Success is so forbidding/ It makes me think I’m winning”), and is an immediate attention-grabber, one of those tracks that I will always remember where I was the first time I heard it. The band’s influences are wide, ranging from Talking Heads to Neutral Milk Hotel, and the slowly progressing “Details of The War” even evokes memories of British-pop outfit James before it explodes into its harmonica-laced coda, while “Heavy Metal” is arguably the band’s rockiest number, but they keep the folk vibe alive with more harmonica lines.  Standout “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” opens with a fuzzy, synthesized organ and features some of Leithauser’s best and most desperate vocal work before fading perfectly into the rather upbeat and fun twangy guitar on “Is This Love,” a song that maintains its circus-music feel without compromising any of the inherent beauty of its melody. The band adds a bittersweet element towards the end of the album on rock ballads “This Home On Ice” and “This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” which features Leithauser gasping for air as he robotically repeats the lines “young blood” and “child stars.” Wedged in between is “Gimme Some Salt”, a sauntering boogie track that seems perfectly out of place, and proves that on rare occasions the energy and excitement that can arise from an album that is brilliantly scattered and lacking any cohesiveness can often trump that of the most focused efforts.

#24: Doves/ The Last Broadcast (2002)

On their sophomore effort, Doves benefit from their experience and deliver a confident album that draws upon the dark elements of their debut but adds more varied instrumentation and arrangements. The Last Broadcast starts with a bang after a brief intro track, as the stunning “Words” opens with a repetitive piano melody behind singing drummer Jez Williams, and adds layers of glockenspiel, atmopsheric guitar and energetic percussion; try getting this song out of your head after listening to it even once. The following track is “There Goes The Fear”, which tackles new territory for the band over its seven minutes, as the swinging epic builds upon its sliding acoustic guitar and energetic drumming into an all out, foot-stomping romp as lead singer Jimi Goodwin sings, “Think of me when you’re coming down/ Don’t look back while you’re leaving town.” The acoustic “M62 Song” is actually a King Crimson cover but is one of the more affecting moments here with its its regretful, distant darkness, while the uplifting “N.Y.” absolutely soars, especially after virtually stopping towards the middle. The last half of the album doesn’t quite equal the strength of its first, but the aptly titled “Pounding” is a definite highlight, with its consistent percussion and hummable (if repetitive) melody, while closer “Caught By The River” keeps things simple and showcases another pretty melody behind its acoustic guitar rhythm. The title track serves as the glue towards the end of the album and would have held its own as the closer, but perhaps works better in between tracks as an example of the band’s overall musical progression in lieu of the brilliant flow of their earlier work, as this darker, more lifted track takes the energy down considerably with its seemingly hopeless but impressively integrated vocal harmonies.

#23: TV on the Radio/ Return To Cookie Mountain (2006)

With their sophomore effort Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio succeeded in making the album that we all knew that they were capable of after the release their Young Liars EP. Opener “I Was A Lover” begins the album immediately with syncopated drums, horns, electronic keyboards and heavy guitar feedback, as the song progresses softly with authority, but it is with the next track, “Hours”, that we begin to see TV on the Radio’s more focused direction, as eerie, repetitious drumming opens along with a hummed harmony from lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, a technique that the band uses throughout the album in its melodies. The next song is “Province”, and at this point in time, we haven’t heard anything this emotionally deep from TV on the Radio yet, as it moves along slowly with one of the album’s most impressive repated piano riffs, more hummed melodies and a crescendo-esque chorus complete with Adebimpe straining in falsetto that “Love is the province of the brave.” Later, “Wolf Like Me” is the clear standout of the band’s entire catalog sitting in the middle of this collection of incredibly diverse musical arrangements, with its pounding drumming and heavy electric guitar feedback prevailing in this raucous, foot-stomping rock song. Diversity abounds here in between the highlights, from the chanting, tribal drum beat of “A Method” to the anthemic, ciruclar, carefree jam ”Let The Devil In” and the dark, underrated “Blues From Down Here,” and closes soundly with slowed-down ballad “Tonight” and building send-off “Wash The Day.” Overall, what seperates this album from the rest of their work is indeed a combination of the drumming additions and the soaring melodies, but mostly the incredibly focused diversity from track to track.

#22: Wilco/ Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

For a band dubbed as merely mid-tempo alt-country after its first three releases, Wilco shocked the world with the broad, experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which expands upon the twangy guitar lines of their past work by adding electronic elements to complex arrangements that are already bursting with innovation. The AM radio sound on the majestic “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” contrasts sharply with the band’s prior offerings, combining piano, chimes, and whistles with percussion that stops and starts, as the track seems to consciously usher us into some sort of mysterious experience. There’s actually a bit of familiarity on the steady acoustic blues track “Kamera”, but pay attention to the subtle, intricate instruments underneath here and elsewhere and you’ll notice a band that has redefined its style. That isn’t to say that the band’s influences aren’t still in country music, as the rootsy “War on War” and ringing twangy guitar on “Pot Kettle Black” can surely attest to, but even on these tracks, Wilco pays meticulous attention to detail and adds unexpected, layered musical undertones. Everything here is astoundingly high quality, but the real highlights come on “Jesus, Etc.”, with its lovely violin elements and slowed down tempo as lead singer Jeff Tweedy sings, “Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs to two chords/ Strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around” and “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” with its dueling tangy acoustic guitar and electric riffs. Of course, I can’t forget to mention the real game-changers from a style standpoint, such as “Heavy Metal Drummer”, with its sped-up tempo, impossibly catchy melody, and additional electronic elements, or the heartbreaking “Ashes of American Flags”, where Tweedy laments, “All my lies are always wishes/ I know I would die if I could come back new,” demonstrating a decisive depth of lyricism compared with past efforts. The album couldn’t close more perfectly, as the gorgeous piano chords and defeated vocals on the constantly evolving “Poor Places” terminates with explosive feedback before it leads into the impossibly pretty cello on honest ballad “Reservations,” leaving us fully saturated but still wanting more.

#21: White Stripes/ White Blood Cells (2002)

It isn’t that the history of music has never seen a two-man (or man/woman hybrid) band piece together heavy guitar riffs with explosive drumming into short, hard-hitting pop songs, it’s just a rare feat that a band can achieve such quality as effortlessly as the White Stripes did on their influential sophomore offering. The songs move quickly with their strong blues influence, and there are a lot of them, but from the opening guitar screech of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” which switches effectively between its hard and soft moments, to the soothing piano on closer “This Protector”, there isn’t a dull moment to speak of. The shining achievement for the White Stripes comes on “Fell In Love With A Girl”, as in under two minutes the band epitomizes the perfect garage-rock song, as Jack White’s speedy, memorable guitar riff nearly outruns his manic vocals, “Can’t think of anything of anything to do now/ My left brain knows that my love is fleeting/ She’s been looking for something new/ I said it once before but it bears repeating now” and into Meg White’s steady la-la hums.  There are all kinds of memorable moments pieced together through what became my go-to background party music album during my senior year of college, especially on the twangy, upbeat highlight “Hotel Yorba” and the raw electric guitar on the melodic “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known.” White’s wails on the dark “The Union Forever” are downright frightening behind its heavy power chords, while “I Think I Smell A Rat” may be the best example here of the structure of alternating quickly between a slow tempo that then explodes into a massive storm of electric guitar before coming full circle, a thematic musical element that becomes so common on this album. Despite its influence after White Blood Cells took stereos by storm far and wide, we didn’t see too many albums with such compulsive and intense energy again this decade.

#20: Spoon/ Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

On the playfully titled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon combines elements from all of their terrific previous work into short, intense, diverse pop-rock songs that pack serious punch, and the result is the band’s best album to date aside from 2002’s influential, stunning opus Kill The Moonlight. The album opens with that characteristic bluesy Spoon guitar grind on “Don’t Make Me a Target” as leadman Britt Daniel sings about “nuclear dicks with their dialect drawls” as piano chords creep into the forefront about halfway through and the tune becomes all so familiar yet still incredibly refreshing. The devastating “The Ghost of You Lingers” follows and serves as this album’s “Paper Tiger”, using softly syncopated keyboard lines and eerie, echoing vocals to perfectly capture the mood of sadness that the song is intended to create, and it actually makes me want to cry. The short, poppy “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” switches the mood quickly with its upbeat percussion and the addition of triumphant horns and tambourines, while the dancey “Don’t You Evah” draws comparisons to past classics like “Turn My Camera On”, “Was It You” and “Stay Don’t Go”, using a rolling bassline and catchy percussion beneath upbeat guitars.  Spoon really serves it up in the album’s second half, beginning with the album’s first single “The Underdog,” where we see the band at its most triumphant, as jangly guitar riffs and horns combine wonderfully to form one of the album’s strongest tracks. Penultimate track “Finer Feelings” keeps things moving with its tambourine percussion, jabbing bassline, hand-clap chorus and a bittersweetly hopeful lyric, while “Black Like Me” closes the album with its beautiful melody and the unforgettably honest lyric “I’m in need of someone/ To take care of me tonight,” and as the coda turns the regretful melancholy of the tune into a full-blown emotional break down, the album ends on a perfect note.

#19: Bloc Party/ Silent Alarm (2005)

To this day, I still am at the edge of my seat and shaking to my core listening to this album, as it creates such a stunning, urgent intensity thanks in large part to some of the best percussion arrangements that I’ve heard in my entire life, but it also benefits from its catchy Brit-punkpop guitar riffs. No discussion of the wonderfully accessible Silent Alarm should ever begin before singling out the immaculate “Banquet”, which is a strong contender for the best song of this decade on my list, building with innate energy behind its dark “ah-oo” chant, irresistible guitar riff and perfectly timed drum rolls; I’m not sure any song on my iPod makes me feel as invincible as this one does as I listen. Speaking of drumming, “Helicopter” is the clear standout in that department, with storms of cascading beats that carry over the catchy electric guitar riff through the chorus, while broader opener “Like Eating Glass” demonstrates the band’s focus and precision right off the bat. Still, the album has its moments of beauty laced between its energy, notably on bittersweet ballad “Blue Light” and the epic, building guitar and percussion on centerpiece “This Modern Love” in the middle, as well gorgeous, lifted send-off track “Compliments.” But what could turn into a subdued conclusion instead tears back into ripping punk on penultimate tracks “Luno” and the steadily building “Plans”, songs that really hold the momentum of the album together with forceful…Energy! Drums! What else can I say? Let the pounding optimism on “Price of Gas” speak for itself- “We’re gonna win this!” Yes indeed.

#18: The Shins/ Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

The Shins quickly erased any concerns over a sophomore slump after their highly acclaimed debut Oh Inverted World, and if that album ushered in the second coming of the Beach Boys, Chutes Too Narrow expands on that style both musically and emotionally, widening their soundscapes and adding a decisive western vibe that showcases their local influences.  Opener “Kissing The Lipless” makes great use of a soft acoustic guitar that explodes into a powerful chorus behind lead singer James Mercer’s straining vocals, providing evocative imagery all the while. There’s a diverse mix of sounds here, from the chaotic, scaled electric guitar on arcade jam “Turn a Square” to the noticeable home-on-the-range twang of ballads like “Pink Bullets,” which adds harmonica to achieve its full effect, and the gorgeous “Gone For Good,” which boasts some of the most emotional lyrics here, “I find a fatal flaw/ In the logic of love/ And go out of my head.” There’s more harmonica towards the end of the upbeat “Fighting In A Sack”, which sounds like something you’d here right before the rodeo starts, while anxious, jangley psychedelic pop carries highlight “So Says I.” However, the album’s shining center is “Saint Simon,” a song that really shows how far the band has come and what they are capable of, as a simple guitar riff evolves into strings and impressively arranged “la-la-la-la” background harmonies, culminating in a conclusion that is so powerful it becomes almost too much to bear. Every vocal aspect of this track is executed to perfection, a theme that runs rampant throughout this album, as Mercer sings engaging lines such as “The cruel uneventful state of apathy releases me/ I value them but I won’t cry if the time was wiped out.”

#17: Spoon/ Kill The Moonlight (2002)

Spoon is one of only two bands to boast four different albums on this list (it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out who the other one is, even though all four are yet to come), and Kill The Moonlight is without a doubt their greatest achievement, as it creates an air of vastness and spaciousness that is the product of noticeable patience and musical restraint not typical of their earlier work. Echoey opener “Small Stakes” is immediately a huge contrast to expectations, with its isolated, repetitive guitar riff that seems fit for a giant, abandoned theater. “Paper Tiger” takes this airy feel to new heights, with an eerie, repetitive electronic keyboard and short bursts of buzzing electronica above a drumstick clap as lead singer Britt Daniel sings matter-of-factly, “I’ll never hold you back /And I won’t force my will/ I will no longer do the devil’s wishes/ something I read on a dollar bill.” The beat-heavy yet intelligently scattered rhythm of “Stay Don’t Go” actually features Daniel beatboxing, and closer “Vittorio E” uses nothing besides a single acoustic guitar and subtle piano backing to carry its considerable melody. However, Kill The Moonlight doesn’t completely abandon the blues rock that has made the band what it is, as “The Way We Get By” of The O.C. fame has justly earned its reputation as the band’s best known jam, while “Jonathon Fisk” benefits from its pulsating percussion and electric guitars and is a common closer in concert to this day. All in all, this is an album that gives new meaning to the phrase “less is more” and is living proof of a band’s potential brilliance when not trying to overdo it, as these stripped-down tunes feel more personal than any of Spoon’s other work, and sound more raw and real.

#16: Doves/ Lost Souls (2000)

When techno band Sub Sub decided to regroup after a massive fire that destroyed all of their three years of recorded material, they obviously threw their previous style out the window in frustrated nonconformity, and instead embarked on an admirably ambitious debut that benefits immensely from its atmospheric darkness, constantly reverberating guitars, and subtle intensity. The opening instrumental introduction is an essay in buildup strategy, as shortly after we arrive at the sublime “Break Me Gently”, which features the distorted vocals of lead singer Jimi Goodwin well behind a concoction of understated guitar, glistening glockenspiel and lifted, heavenly background vocals that combine into an utterly showstopping track. There’s pure foreboding melancholy at hand in rainy day pop tracks “Here It Comes” and “Rise”, but what really pulls the album completely together from a continuity standpoint is highlight and centerpiece “The Cedar Room”, which builds infinitely like a great shoegazer track into Goodwin’s universally encapsulating lyric and album-topping moment “I tried to sleep alone/ But I couldn’t do it/ I could see you next me/ But I wouldn’t know it/ If I told you I was wrong/ I don’t remember saying it.” The closer on the original version of the album, “A House” is haunting in its simplicity and surely makes for a fine conclusion, but the album benefits from the three bonus tracks added to the US version, which while perhaps adding some unnecessary minutes here do not interrupt the continuity whatsoever, especially “Darker”, which by title alone fits perfectly. However, the best of these additional tracks is “Valley”, with its slowly building electric organ, percussion and monotone vocal that quickly turn into complete hopelessness as Goodwin sings “It’s a great day/ For a valley”, and rarely have words with so little understandability sounded so heartbreaking.  Doves would shift towards a more light-hearted and accessible style ever so slowly after this opus (the considerably high quality “The Man Who Told Everything” beings to establish some repetition, even being one of the better tracks here), but this remains their claim to fame in terms of arrangement and depth.

#15: Interpol/ Antics (2004)

Sometimes when a band creates a name for themselves with a debut as showstopping as Interpol’s was, it is better to redefine the sound of that debut than to switch directions completely, and on Antics, Interpol delivered as good a followup to Turn on the Bright Lights as should have been expected, and did it by not veering to far off course from what made that album so spectacular. The end result is more of a collection of singles than a seamlessly flowing album, butthe songs are so strong on their own that they combine to form another impressive effort. Opener “Next Exit” begins the album on a softer, prettier organ note than their debut would have us expect, while lead singer Paul Banks gets away from his usual monotonous delivery and showcases his vocal range a bit more on the melodic standout “Narc” which benefits from one of the band’s most gripping chorus moments to date as Banks howls with urgency, “She found a lonely sound/ She keeps on waiting for time out there.” There’s genuine post-punk angst here as well, especially on the riff-tastic indictment “Slow Hands”, while songs like “C’Mere” carry on the band’s recurring theme of romantic isolation behind some of its catchiest guitar and drum work to date; it is certainly quite a feat to create music this painful that still somehow entices us to boogie.  Still, other tracks build slowly and steadily into epic status with the layered intensity that was so present on Bright Lights, as dark centerpiece “Not Even Jail” moves along confidently behind its pounding percussion and foreboding bass line and broad closer “A Time To Be So Small” soars behind gorgeous guitar lines even in its hopelessness as Banks laments “When the cadaverous mob/ Saves its doors for the dead men/ You cannot leave.” It is a stirring conclusion that leaves us with a lot of uncertainty and despair, and from these guys, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

#14: Arcade Fire/ Funeral (2004)

Creating an album that centers around dealing with death and escaping from reality is certainly not a new artistic medium, but when Arcade Fire released Funeral following a year shadowed by the deaths of several aging family members, they took this idea to a new level, and express emotion in a manner that makes us remember what that word actually means. We feel every shake and crack in lead singer Win Butler’s voice and every yearning guitar line and beat of percussion as these songs build within their immaculate arrangements into intense, grief-stricken anecdotes of lives that once strove for freedom and escape from the barriers of youth and have now come full circle into adulthood and into a place of real insecurity. The music itself is distinctly raw and honest with its natural folk elements behind its early imagery of the neighborhood, and the album gets off to a strong start behind opener “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, which builds into a powerful crescendo after its antique piano, heavy drums and organ combine to form complex musical layers. That theme continues on the darker “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” and its accordion notes and muddled, desperate vocals, but the real showstopper comes later on the sprawling anxiety of the anthemic “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), which combines heavy electric guitar with glockenspiel and violin which evolve into a coda that is ready for battle and taking no prisoners. Even the less immediate tracks here are stunning in their melancholy, especially the subtle folk violin and soft guitar plucking on “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” and the more elegant strings on regretful love ballad “Crown of Love.” The album makes a switch towards redemption and renewal over the course of its second half, as optimism and hope abound from the slowly building background humming vocals on “Wake Up” that eventually become some of Butler’s most urgent before the whole track breaks down into doo-wop piano, while Regine Chassagne adds vocals on the shimmering “Haiti,” complete with a sound that seems fit for a haunted Caribbean beach party. Funeral reaches its true catharsis on penultimate track “Rebellion (Lies),” starting slowly with its layered bass and piano notes before exploding into heart-wrenching violin lines, guitar, and foot-stomping percussion as Butler wails above Chassagne’s backing vocals to create the most intense moment here, and by the time it comes to a sudden end, we are happy to be let off a little easier by the subtle beauty of closer “In The Backseat.”

#13: Portishead/ Third (2008)

The most highly anticipated release in recent memory couldn’t have been more worth the wait, as Bristol trip-hop pioneers Portishead delivered one of the darkest, most devastating albums of all time; in the ten years since we’d last heard from them, it doesn’t seem like life has been very pleasant, and to be sure, this is no longer trip-hop. Instead, the band delivers an intensely emotional and uniquely sad album that benefits from its use of new techniques, including a lot of synthesized drumming and organ sampling, turn table spinning and even some carefully placed electric guitar. Portishead also builds into many of its slower songs, creating a crescendo effect that adds intensity to Beth Gibbons’ haunting vocals, which haven’t lost a single step over the last decade and change, and sound even more tortured this time around behind lyrics depicting helplessness, loss of love, and fear of death. The album starts on a solid note, as the up-tempo but terrifying “Silence” sounds completely different than anything the band has ever done, beginning with a rolling drum line and evolving into some frightening, discordant string arrangements that create foreboding musical sounds that serve as a great preface for the incredibly dark, personal subject matter that the album contains.  Third benefits most from its experimentation on songs like “Plastic”, which starts and stops a lot behind synthesized organs and underlying percussion reminiscent of “Mysterons”, as well as Gibbons pushing her vocals to their own limits, while the general air of hopelessness makes itself known early on with “Nylon Smile”, which rolls along under a steady ringing-bell synthesizer as Gibbons admits, “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you/ And I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” The real standout track among such amazing music is centerpiece “We Carry On”, another uptempo number which hits like us a brick to the face with its steady, pounding krautrock percussion and a catchy synthesized riff, but the band steps outside of the box yet again on the perfectly titled “Machine Gun”, which shoots short, syncopated blasts of sound beneath Gibbons’ flawless vocal work. Despite all of this brilliance I have described, perhaps my favorite thing about Third is how well some of the songs build into a crescendo, and the best example of this comes early on standout “The Rip”, which starts simply with Gibbons’ vocal “White horses/ They will take me away/ And the tenderness I feel/ Will set the darkness underneath” above seemingly simple acoustic guitar picking that evolves into synthesized organ and percussion that carries the track into its subdued coda, brilliant in its seeming simplicity. “Threads” sends the album off on a perfect note as Gibbons confesses, “I’m old/ Tired of my mind/ I’m old and/ Thinking of why/ I’m always so unsure,” and may be the album’s most powerful emotional track and its most familiar sounding, as it rolls softly above synthesized guitars that join intense percussion for the chorus as Gibbons essentially loses her mind during the coda, wailing unintelligibly as the vocals fade out and we are left with one last haunting horn riff that repeats, and repeats, and repeats into the darkness.

#12: The Rapture/ Echoes (2003)

In the first half of this decade, the DFA-led movement towards a seemingly new genre dubbed “punk-funk” or “dance-rock” or “dance-punk” or whatever you wanted to call it, was going to be the next big thing, as acts like Out Hud and contemporaries !!! were creating an entirely new sound by meshing the evolving aspects of computer generated electronic music technology with old-fashioned guitar riffs. However, it wasn’t until Echoes came into the universe that the excitement reached full-on frenzy, and for good reason. The dark, fuzzy synth on stunning opener “Olio” combined with some of the eeriest keyboard notes I’ve ever heard work wonders with lead singer Luke Jenner ‘s tortured vocals that strain to hit the highest of the high notes, while house jam “I Need Your Love” steps up the digitization and the beats a bit, and even adds a distorted saxaphone just for kicks. There’s such depth and complexity to these songs as some abandon the electronic aspect altogether and work more singularly as perfectly executed ballads (“Open Up Your Heart and “Love Is All” come immediately to mind), while others are heavy on the noise-guitar element and vocal shrieks and softer on the synth beats (the title track). And even after all of that brilliance, there are two tracks here that tower above the rest. “Sister Savior” is the perfect summation of the style, as its intermittent bursts of distorted electric guitar combine with a repetitive, rolling synth beat that is ready for the dance floor, but it’s on club anthem “House of Jealous Lovers” that the Rapture really make a name for themselves, with the album’s catchiest bassline, handclap percussion, and a memorable cowbell behind more of Jenner struggling to hit a note, a trend that seems to suit these songs surprisingly well. Pardon me, but listening to this again begs the question, why was this genre so short-lived? Into the basement youngsters, experiment!

#11: Radiohead/ Hail To The Thief (2003)

For the first time in their career since Pablo Honey, Radiohead threw together an overlong, scattered album full of songs that didn’t have any continuity whatsoever, was a mix of finally recorded fan-favorite-live-only tunes, experimental electronica and electric guitars, and generally devoid of focus relative to any of their work before or after. And guess what- it’s astoundingly good, and almost shockingly serious-sounding as well. While it doesn’t have the seamless flow of OK Computer, this can best be considered a collection of singles that were too good to be b-sides but were also too diverse to trim down for the sake of flow, so Radiohead did what they do best, and said screw the rules, let’s throw them all together and keep things interesting (and head-scratching) for our fans. Opener “2+2=5” may actually contain the best single moment in the accomplished band’s entire catalog around the two minute mark, when the seemingly soft and pretty guitar line explodes without warning into a sprawling concoction of distortion and pounding drumming as lead singer Thom Yorke screams the words “Pay attention” with unexplainable intrigue before the song shifts again and ends abruptly before we can even process what the hell has happened–kind of like a mini-“Paranoid Android” for the 00s. Elsewhere, as the not-so-subtle title might indicate, the band bombards us with mysteriously dark and angst-filled lyrical imagery like that final line in the opening track that is often mesmerizing in its repetition, and even gives us alternate titles for each of the tracks here that make even less sense than the original ones. Take the breakdown of the highly experimental and out of place “Sit Down, Stand Up” and eerie “The Gloaming”, as Yorke maintains his focus on “all the raindops” and “your alarm bells/ they should be ringing” respectively, or his proclamation that “we want young blood” on the strangely discordant piano track of the similar title. Songs like the techno-driven “Backdrifts” and darker “Where I End And You Begin” are surely Yorke-driven with their dance beat undertones, but are far better than anything he would achieve on his solo project The Eraser, although the best pure experimental track is the sauntering piano and bass line on “A Punch Up At A Wedding,” which also features some of Yorke’s best vocal work in terms of both intensity and range. Personal favorite “A Wolf At The Door” serves as an unlikely closer and combines its dark organ and guitar with Yorke practically beatboxing the lyrics before shifting into a heartbreaking chorus (even though we have no idea why it should be), but even with all of these bizarre (but pleasing) elements, there is still some classic Radiohead here. “There There” and “Go To Sleep” are pure guitar rock songs that hark back to the golden era of The Bends, while there are moments of the pure beauty we’ve come to expect from Radiohead, especially on the long-awaited recording of the gorgeous “I Will,”  which is show-stopping in its spaciousness and lack of percussion.  I suppose you could consider this album a concoction of all of the band’s previous styles along with a sign of their future interests all jumbled into one long, glorious mess, but whatever you do, don’t think too hard. Dude, it’s Radiohead. It’s bigger than you. Just shut up and enjoy it.

#10: Air/ Talkie Walkie (2004)

Many times it is difficult to describe an album that maintains such a relaxed, unwavering, subtle beauty, and on Talkie Walkie, Air gets a bit more serious, personal and focused than they were on their brilliant 90s breakthrough Moon Safari. The mind-numbingly spacious piano notes and hand-clap percussion on opener “Venus” are practically hypnotizing, and set the tone perfectly for this album, which still focuses on themes of outer space, but seems more heavenly than extra-terrestrial (assuming there is a difference). The impossibly pretty “Cherry Blossom Girl” is the clear standout here, combining a constantly gorgeous acoustic guitar line with flute, electronic keyboards and distant, lifted vocals. There’s a mesmerizing tone to almost everything here, even the more experimental tracks like “Run”, which features a repetitive, computerized vocal sampling, and such seamless flow separates this effort from all of their prior work. It isn’t all this atmospheric and numbing however, as upbeat whistling mingles with an edgy electric guitar riff backed by propeller-esque percussion on “Alpha Beta Gaga”, while “Surfing On a Rocket” surges above the rest of this album and takes us back to the more space-rock oriented dynamic of the band, and both of these tracks provide a welcome change of pace that brings the tempo up a notch without switching the album’s overall tone. There’s an exotic element to the purely instrumental tracks, as flute initially dominates “Mike Mills” before evolving into more electronic keyboard, synthesized strings and simple percussion, while the slowly building, orient-inspired guitar plucking and deep piano chords on closer “Alone In Kyoto” couldn’t be placed more perfectly, seeming to lure us into the most secure and relaxing sleep imaginable. Still, the brilliance of Talkie Walkie is all in its subtle moments and striking consistency. Listen to “Biological”, the longest track here, and pretend that you don’t recognize the insanely perfect execution of the heavenly bass line switch through its coda. I might even believe you.

#9: LCD Soundsystem/ Sound of Silver (2007)

If The Rapture’s Echoes justified the existence of the DFA-led “dance-rock” movement, this album added and expounded upon the potential sound of that genre and with Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem ultimately created a masterpiece. With this album, DFA head man James Murphy put together a relentless, high-octane dance record which at the same time feels decidedly musical- in and of itself, quite a combination. It is evident from the opening beats of the show-stopping opener “Get Innocuous” that Murphy has sharpened his art considerably, immediately topping the best of his last album (which is no small feat) and combining catchy synth and heavy percussion beneath subdued, chanting vocals reminiscent of the Talking Heads. Playful songs like “Time to Get Away” and “Watch the Tapes” hold the album together nicely as strong dance tracks that sound more similar to the last album, while others like “North American Scum” take it a step further and provide shockingly intense beats and crescendo choruses all behind Murphy’s trademark spoken vocals that beg us “But don’t blame the Canadians!”; if you aren’t bouncing off the walls while listening to this particular track, there’s something wrong with you. However, what really will end up separating Sound of Silver from other albums released this decade is the complexity it gains from its softer, melodic and poignant tracks draped with lyrical depth such as the scratchy synth and glockenspiel on “Someone Great” and the certifiable epic “All My Friends,” which builds impressively behind an innovative piano loop and into its heavy percussion and sentimental guitar riff; these two songs would have fit perfectly in the 1980s, and would have blown the doors off of the entire decade. Even soft closer “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” finds a place here, taking the energy down a notch to let the listener down easily with its bluesy piano and noticeable lack of synth beats. Without a single weak track, this record seems likely for a long shelf-life, and its innovation merits it deserving of a special place in music history.

#8: Radiohead/ Amnesiac (2001)

All of the songs on Amnesiac may have come from the Kid A recording sessions, but this is ultimately much more than just a collection of b-sides; although the songs are all over the radar from a stylistic standpoint, a decisive note of elegance runs throughout the album as Radiohead continues to develop experimentally on this effort. Opener “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” immediately enters new territory for the band, with its tinkering, clanging tin can drums and synthesized beats that linger behind a repetitive but catchy melody. The astonishing “Pyramid Song” follows, featuring dense layers of piano and an unusual time signature that drummer Phil Selway absolutely dominates in one of the best moments of his career throughout the track’s ominous sound and lyrical imagery. Intentionally fuzzy production on the soft acoustic beginning of “You and Whose Army” gives off an antique, AM radio feel before it explodes into a fantastic crescendo of pounding piano, drums and lead singer Thom Yorke howling “We ride, tonight/ Ghost horses” into the conclusion. The more familiar sounding “Knives Out” takes the guitar line from the slowed down midsection of OK Computer’s brilliant “Paranoid Android”, speeds it up, and repeats it, and this song should be pleasing to those fans still waiting for Radiohead to reprise that magnum opus (impossible). There’s plenty more accessibility here in between the wilder tracks, especially the dancey, two step guitar riff repetition on “I Might Be Wrong”, while darker anti-government and anti-capitalism themes run rampant on the slowly building, foreboding “Dollars and Cents.” What seals the deal for Amnesiac though its its conclusion, where we really get to see the true shape of a band bursting with ideas and creativity. Penultimate track “Like Spinning Plates” samples keyboards and Yorke’s backwards vocals (played backwards, so that they sound as they would if they were sung forward, except eerie and strikingly odd) through the verses before reversing it through the highly emotional chorus to create a stunning effect, and the widely awaited recording of “Life In A Glass House” gets a completely different production treatment, closing the album with with big band piano and horns that turn the once acoustic track into a full blown New Orleans funeral dirge. Yorke’s vocals through the climax are among his best to date, and those are fighting words.

#7: The Strokes/ Is This It (2001)

Putting aside the overbearing hype that turned a lot of people off initially and long afterward, the simple truth is that the debut album from The Strokes is nothing less than a modern classic, and not because of its brilliance, innovation or complexity. What made Is This It the theme album of my senior year in college and what has allowed it to stand the test of time is nothing more than its honest musical simplicity and immediacy both lyrically and musically; to say that these eleven short, dense garage-rock pop songs fly by without a single moment of a let down from an intensity standpoint is a massive understatement. Lead singer Julian Casablancas has a deep, growling voice that was made for the surging riffs and pounding percussion of an album like this one, as he shrieks in a hopeless attempt to keep up with the surging distortion and stomping percussion of “Hard To Explain.” The catchy, stabbing guitar riff on “Last Nite” will always be the most memorable moment here and for good reason, but “Someday” is the album’s shining centerpiece, combining an onslaught of heavily distorted electric guitar and bass with a riff that emotes a certain tone of bittersweetness and somehow always manages to take me back to my last fraternity room and the parties that I threw in that bastard. The most hardcore rock moments come on tracks like “New York City Cops” (which was actually replaced on the album after the 9/11 attacks) as Casablancas screams “Yes I’m leaving!/ Cause this just won’t work” and on “Barely Legal”, with its building guitar into the album’s catchiest, playful, self-deprecating chorus. There wasn’t a single rock album packed with this much focused intensity this decade, and by the time the sprawling closer “Take It Or Leave It” finally concludes, anyone that has been paying even the slightest bit of attention is badly in need of a cold, wet towel.

#6: Broken Social Scene/ You Forgot It In People (2002)

A scattering of musicians from Toronto’s exciting music scene collaborated and ultimately formed Broken Social Scene with the goal of combining and scaling back their considerable but largely experimental musical talents to create pop music, and what results on You Forgot It In People is arguably pop rock in its purest form, as the band takes simple musical ideas and expands upon them with subtle undertones and layers of sound that add a certain complexity not typical of what one would ordinarily consider pop. After a brief instrumental interlude, “KC Accident” bursts onto the scene with its forceful percussion and lifted, repeating guitar riff before the track slows down into a lullaby for lead singer Kevin Drew’s perfectly timed vocal, after which the music fires itself back up again. There’s genuinely awesome rock and roll moments scattered throughout here, but there’s always something a bit more substantial underneath, a spacious, airy feel that doesn’t quite make it to shoegazer or space rock, but you get the idea. “Stars and Sons” moves along sharply with focus and precision through its rolling guitar and keyboard riffs and distant vocal production, actually breaking down into hand-clapping through the finish, while the anthemic “Almost Crimes” might be the perfect pop song, as ferocious drumming combines with the incomparable Leslie Feist’s straining and hardly intelligible vocals on the chorus through its irresistible melody. You Forgot It In People benefits immensely from its perfection in understanding song placement, as after the energetic previous track, the more relaxed, carefree beauty of “Looks Just Like The Sun” provides a welcome change of pace. Purely instrumental tracks are placed throughout and hold their own impressively against the rock tracks, especially the atmopsheric beach party sound of “Pacific Theme”, which adds horns to its reggae beat through the cascading finish. Some of the best tracks here carry a certain sweetness, like the tearjerking piano chords on the gorgeous ballad “Lover’s Spit”, or the glorious repetition of Emily Haines’ vocals on “Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl”, which adds subtle violin and banjo notes underneath as the track builds. Following that, we get back to the brilliance of the placement and flow, as “Cause=Time” arguably provides the album’s high point, picking up the energy full throttle again as Drew sings about “fornication crimes” and wanting to “fuck the cause” above what is surely the album’s most immediately memorable guitar riff and heaviest pure rock track. Despite what would seem to be an emo undertone based on everything from the band’s name to the lyrical content of these songs, there’s a distinct element on enthusiasm on this album that feels like a group of friends just having a great time playing music together; the joke here is that they all happen to be musical geniuses, and cover a wide range of styles that never let up during this hypothetical jam session. An album so complex yet so accessible at the same time is such a rarity in music as there is truly something here for everyone, and the balance demonstrated here between universally enjoyable melodies and such strong, innovative musicianship deserves the utmost recognition.

#5: The Flaming Lips/ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)

The followup to the groundbreaking The Soft Bulletin found the Flaming Lips advancing into the future, concocting an impeccably produced psychedelic and electronic quasi-concept album featuring themes of technological paranoia, mortality, and optimistic unity among the human race; call me crazy, but I prefer this album to their last. Opening track “Fight Test” is a strong contender for my favorite song of the decade, with its fuzzy synthesizers, pulsating rhythm, delicate melody and call-to-arms lyrical content, as lead singer Wayne Coyne delivers words of wisdom as he sings “Because I’m a man/ Not a boy/ And there are things you can’t avoid/ You have to face them/ When you’re not prepared to face them.” So simple, so true, and so perfect for an album that focuses its first half upon a female kung fu master’s battle with giant, terrifying, pink robots, which might be a metaphor for our increasingly dependent reliance on technological advancement, or might just be complete madness, but is pretty kickass in either case. The stylistic change is immediately evident as this track evolves into the bass-heavy “One More Robot”, which actually mimics the sounds you might expect these machines to make, while still sounding dark, mysterious and heavenly simultaneously. We get to the heart of the tale on the strong acoustic track “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot Part 1”, which is laced with a sound that I can best describe as robots warming up for battle underneath before ingeniously involving into the actual battle on the “Part 2” track. I’m of the opinion that the chaotic bass, electric guitar screeches and synthesized cymbal banging that follows is actually Yoshimi destroying and defeating the robots, ultimately saving the human race, and after their voices fade out, the album takes a sharp turn into a more atmospheric and sentimentalized sound, and there’s even applause as the battle fades softly into “In The Morning of the Magicians.” Even with the shift, everything here blends beautifully thanks to some of the most immaculate production in recent memory, and becomes mesmerizing in its lifted beauty and cohesive style through its conclusion. “Are You a Hypnotist” is a shimmering example of this, with its bizarre choir background hum, perfectly syncopated percussion, and patient building style into a hopelessly gripping release through the bursting chorus. “Do You Realize” has somehow become the band’s signature tune thanks to its simple, clever lyrical observations that drip with over-sentiment, but ultimately succeeds thanks to its head-turning melody. However, better tracks precede it, especially the bursts of bass on the amazingly textured “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” where Coyne is waiting on a moment that never comes, and how universal a theme is that? Yoshimi is an essay in balance, seamlessness and flow, and sounds futuristic even now, more than seven years after its release, and continues to amaze me with the openings it leaves for our own metaphorical interpretations.

#4: Interpol/ Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)

There are only a few albums that I have ever purchased that have provided me with that awe-inspiring, absolute freak-out feeling from the opening note, but the sweeping, other-worldly air of opener “Untitled” produced that effect for me upon my first listen, and after that, the rest was history. On their stunning debut album, Interpol takes post-punk to a new level, drawing on their Joy Division and Velvet Underground influences but expands upon them, creating a grander, more lush, and more immediate reprise of those artists’ dark, sprawling cynicism, fear and regret. Every heavily layered, carefully organized piece of musical brilliance combines perfectly behind lead singer Paul Banks’ tortured vocals, complete with soaring guitars, impressively arranged bass lines and intricate attention to every detail of the relationship between rhythm and emotion; it is hard to imagine these guys playing these songs anywhere but in darkness and in their signature black suits. The overbearing intensity is enough to overcome the album’s dark themes, as songs like the rollicking “PDA” and the propulsive, uptempo “Say Hello To The Angels ” really rock in their pure punk greatness, while the foreboding onslaught and frenzied paranoia on “Roland” is downright scary. However, early on “Obstacle 1”, we are treated to an immediate highlight, as a seemingly simple opening guitar line bursts into an urgent, painstaking hook as Banks laments with captivating seriousness “It’s different now that I’m poor and aging/ I’ll never see this place again/ And you’ll go stabbing yourself in the neck.” Meanwhile, there are diverse changes of pace here as well, especially the soft guitar progression and eventual soaring distortion on “NYC”, an ode to the band’s home town that is easily the prettiest song here, dependent on its minor chord switches, which is a consistent element that mediates the flow of all of these songs. And even after all of that, what really ends up separating this album from almost everything else this decade is how immaculate and gripping the bass lines are all the way through, and given that my personal favorite song here is probably the penultimate track “The New.” Serving as the album’s fullest attempt at an epic, it builds slowly behind a lifted but regretful melody that suddenly shifts into anger and darkness, and the moment of that particular switch, along with perhaps the most badass bass line ever put to record in perfect sequence with Banks’ desperate vocals, is the showstopping high point on Turn On The Bright Lights, the real glue that pulls everything that came before it together. The crushing layers of melancholy that shift in and out of cautious optimism on “Leif Erikson” send the album out on an affecting note of personal defeat, but fortunately for us, such expression of sadness and defeat put to music is hugely our gain.

#3: Radiohead/ In Rainbows (2007)

When the band announced on the first day of October in 2007 that they would be releasing a completely unanticipated, brand new album nine days later, and without a label, it isn’t hard to imagine the frenzy that resulted from hard-core fans and the music industry at large, with some speculating that the peculiar release style was somewhat of a cover for the band’s inevitable musical decline. Leave it to these tricksters (no pun intended) to shock everyone, in every way possible, once again as with In Rainbows, Radiohead achieved its most beautifully calculated collection of songs to date within an arrangement that flows as though it were a symphony, and the end result is their greatest album since Kid A. Thom Yorke’s voice has never sounded better, and the addition of string elements on many of the tracks flow together brilliantly, demonstrating the band’s reborn focus on the music itself and away from the experimentation that drove some fans away in recent years. Instead of retreating back to the arena-rock guitar that gave the band its beginnings, Radiohead enters new territory on this album, focusing on the pure beauty that they have always been able to create, and stringing it together over an entire album. Opener “15 Step” begins with syncopated drum beats that initially render memories of past experimental tracks, but once the catchy guitar riff comes in, we know we are in for a treat. Songs three through seven are easily the most amazing twenty minutes of consecutive music that Radiohead has recorded since the opening half of OK Computer. The onslaught of fantastic tunes begins with the long-awaited recording of crowd-favorite “Nude”, which has undergone quite a transition from its former condition. Radiohead nails it by recording a version that is hopelessly pretty beyond explanation. We get a full blast of orchestral string notes through the soft, intimately produced track, which carries itself on the strength of some of Yorke’s best vocal work to date. “Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi” follows with its rolling percussion, submerged-underwater guitar rhythms and some more great vocal work by Yorke, eventually building into a classic Radiohead crescendo and one of the album’s greatest surprises. And then there’s “All I Need”, which is probably my favorite song on the whole album, opening with a deep string arrangement, heavy bass and a dancy drum rhythm that rolls along with suave persistence. What could have been a simple romantic tune succeeds as one of the band’s greatest songs ever behind glockenspiel notes, deep strings and an eerie simplicity before exploding into a piano-based crescendo supporting Yorke’s soaring vocals the likes of which we haven’t heard from these guys since “Let Down.” The mysterious “Faust Arp” and its downtempo Beatles-esque acoustic tune integrates some of the album’s best use of string instruments and serves as the perfect glue. The next track is titled “Reckoner” but bears no resemblance whatsoever to the unreleased track of the same name that the band has played on numerous occasions live, and to say that this version is better is a massive understatement. Yorke sings in falsetto on a high octave throughout the seemingly redundant but impossibly beautiful first half of the song before the tune slows down to a crawl and picks back up again with more strings, tambourines and more great vocal work by Yorke. After that, the band hits us with a jangly, upbeat tune called “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” which outdoes previous post-Bends attempts at guitar-rock such as “Go To Sleep” in terms of intensity and musical quality while still flowing wonderfully with the album’s somber tone. Closer “Videotape” is almost frustrating in its simple beauty and seemingly intentional lack of building into anything that resembles the crescendo that listeners have come to expect from previous send-off tracks. Again, the beauty of Radiohead lies within their ability to shock and amaze and always keep the listener guessing as to what they could possibly have up their sleeves next, and on In Rainbows, it was a reborn focus on the concept of the album as a whole.

#2: Sigur Ros/ Agaetis Byrjun (2000)

Any attempt to describe the sublimity of Iceland’s Sigur Ros’ magnum opus must begin by stating the obvious: this collection of songs is hopelessly beautiful beyond explanation on even the most basic level. However, nothing about Agaetis Byrjun could ever be described as basic. It is icy and distant while all the while warm and comforting, soaring with e-bowed guitar and string arrangements that somehow straddle the line between distorted shoegazer and textured orchestral beauty. Opener “Svefn-g-Englar” is mesmerizing over its ten minutes, combining the croons of strikingly exceptional vocalist Jonsi Birgisson, soft keyboard, drifting lead guitar distortion and a spacious arrangement that evokes the peaceful waves of a dark ocean. The seamless complexities of this album continue to amaze me nearly a decade after its release. Take the opening horns on the intro to “Ny Batteri”, which is an essay in song structure and the effect of a well-arranged build, as a soft, seemingly simple melody explodes into a catharsis of cascading chaos, complete with pounding drums, fuzzy, atmospheric guitars and distorted, nearly off-key horns that lead us willingly through the conclusion. The longest track here is the mind-blowing eleven-minute epic “Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa”, opening with a soft, impossibly beautiful piano line that evolves into layers of strings, subtle cymbal beats and perhaps Birgisson’s most majestic vocal of all throughout its many changes of pace before exploding into a sweeping, heavenly guitar that serves as a hypnotic backdrop as all of these elements collapse back onto one another. Meanwhile, easier to grasp is “Staralfur”, which bursts with gorgeous violin behind Birgisson’s amazing voice, and when the track stops suddenly and then starts up again, we as listeners gasp a giant sigh of relief, as this is a song that we could go on listening to forever, and sounds like something you would hear in outer space, or in heaven, or somewhere in between. Another personal, more accessible favorite is the gently building “Flugufrelsarinn”, which begins distantly and somewhat darkly with heavily distorted guitar and horn elements that patiently crescendo into one of the purest, most uplifting and gorgeous melodies in the band’s catalog through its midsection and coda- the moment when Birgisson’s voice cracks on one of the last high notes is without compare. The beating heart and soul of the album comes on “Olsen Olsen”, which begins with a subtle, rolling bass line before adding elements of flute and some of the most echoey vocals here, eventually resolving into a highly orchestrated arrangement of strings, lifted choir vocals and more horns. Sigur Ros leaves us with the resigned piano and glockenspiel notes of the title track before closing with the shortest track here, “Avalon”, an instrumental track that gently allows everything previous to settle in upon it. Did I mention that this music is just too immaculately pretty to be true?

Question: How is it possible that I don’t understand a single word uttered over the course of this brilliant album, but it still has the ability to put tears in my eyes? Answer: That’s what music is all about.

#1: Radiohead/ Kid A (2000)

The year was 2000. The sovereignty of the massive OK Computer still resonated throughout the world, even three full years after its release, and the natives were restless–we wanted more, and specifically, we wanted another OK Computer. What we got instead was, well, what was it? It certainly didn’t sound anything like the band we’d grown to love after The Bends and obsessed over with wild anticipation after the aforementioned masterpiece. Was this even the same band? Still, these new musical sounds and the production effects behind them were undeniably breathtaking, and after ample time passed and all of the intricate pieces of Kid A were allowed to fully sink in, it was evident that Radiohead had actually reshaped the way that the world would think about music going forward, bravely forgoing what surely would have been a disappointing attempt to re-create the inimitable OK Computer and instead choosing to move forward and innovate. Frustrated and depressed on tour while suffering from writer’s block, lead singer Thom Yorke finally threw aside the guitar, instead convincing the band to head in an entirely new direction while drawing upon their electronic and classical influences. What resulted was an album every bit as perfect as the one that preceded it, and one with a sound all its own.

Ambient organ notes open the album on the strongest note imaginable, as “Everything in its Right Place” is a vast and surprising yet immediate beginning that showcases the band’s shift in style with Yorke’s spot-on, fuzzy vocals and eerie tone; I much prefer the airiness of this version to the faster, drum-laced live production, and this high in the running for the greatest opening track of all time, no joke. Even more shocking is the turbulent, thrusting bass line on “The National Anthem”, which progresses into a chaotic yet perfectly orchestrated traffic jam of horns, strings and percussion through its massive coda. The fascinating but unsettling “Idioteque”is nearly a pure techno track initially with its synthesized, gyrating drum beats, but Yorke’s spastic vocals are dripping with fear and confusion (“ice age coming!”) as Johnny Greenwood’s sampled electronic chord loops form the glue for one of the this album’s finest moments of complexity. The only track that even approaches mainstream accessibility is the melodic “Optimistic”, where we finally hear a stomping guitar riff characteristic of the band’s prior accomplishments, but it is still layered by Greenwood’s reinvention of the ancient Ondes Martenot instrument. Elsewhere, the band keeps us guessing and electrified all the while with exquisite quasi-instrumentals like “Treefingers” and the title track.

Radiohead’s penchant for gorgeous, melancholy acoustic tracks doesn’t completely fall by the wayside, as “How To Disappear Completely” establishes that element and expands upon it with a symphonic string backing that makes it a huge, soaring highlight here. The first song to immediately capture my attention when I first started listening to bootleged concerts in the summer of 2000 was the surreal “In Limbo”, which is also one of the earliest composed songs included on this album. The track builds with a steady bass line and purgatory images revealing the band at their darkest and most paranoid, while the snare heavy “Morning Bell” brightens things up ever so slightly and allows drummer Phil Selway to truly shine. A sparse, haunting version of early live acoustic favorite “Motion Picture Soundtrack” sends Kid A off into the dark night as Yorke sings in falsetto, “I will see you/ In the next life.” There is striking depth and musical genius here on what began as an experiment and evolved into a transcendent masterpiece, and what an astounding album it is that can forcefully usher in the excitement and hope of a new decade while simultaneously echoing dark, apocalyptic sentiments of fear and uncertainty for the past, present and future.

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