The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

50. Yeah Yeah YeahsFever To Tell
(2003; Interscope)

People can bellyache all they please over the offensiveness of Brooklyn’s counterculture, but one must accept that such a thing would not have happened had Manhattan not become a cultural wasteland, a Thunderdome even. At least Manhattan’s aesthetic apocalypse was a festive one. Considering The Strokes’ drunken lethargy and Interpol’s esoteric gloom, Fever to Tell came decidedly out of left field. Though sonic cleanrooms have their appeal, one couldn’t help but revel in the sheer messiness of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s post-millennial avant-punk, which recalled the lower island’s not-often-recalled appreciation for freeform composition and proceeded to keep that spirit, not compromise it, by venturing into pure pop with seemingly little concern as to whether or not it made sense to anyone else other than the band. Though the screeching vocals and buzzing riffs of “Rich” and “Date With the Night” can be contrasted with the more melodic and restrained “Maps” and “Y Control,” they are rooted in the same open-air inhibitions that makes the band decidedly them. They seemed hardly fazed when “Maps” became a hit, not so much out of arrogance, but out of a refreshing oblivion to anything other than what fascinated them. Less fame would not necessarily have led to less terrible clothes, less epileptic stage antics and less memorable songcraft. It was not really a new concept, but it was one of which the listening public could have, and got, a flamboyant refresher. – Chris Morgan

49. Sufjan StevensGreetings From Michigan
(2003; Asthmatic Kitty)

It was probably naive to believe that Sufjan Stevens would have been able to follow through with releasing an album for each of the 50 states. At the rate he was going—one Midwestern state every two years—he would have had to cut some serious corners to make any realistic progress in the future (e.g. a Maine E.P., Rhode Island seven-inch, minimalist ambient Alaska piece). But when the first installment of this impossibly ambitious project turned out to be so beautiful and expertly crafted, we certainly can’t be blamed for wanting at least a full representation of the lower 48. On Michigan, Stevens quietly echoes the loneliness and depression of unemployed auto-workers, gorgeously imagines a town without fathers, and gives Detroit an eight-minute, multi-part jazz-pop chamber of commerce advertisement with shifting time signatures. And separating the various sections of the record are Steve Reich-like modern classical compositions, thus splashing the album with a strange and beautiful abstract quality, approximating snow piling up during a frigid Midwestern winter. Maybe it’s not so bad that Stevens may have abandoned the 50 states project; he got it perfect on the first try. – Jeff Terich

48. SpoonGimme Fiction
(2005; Merge)

One of the most remarkable things about Spoon is their consistency. (That, and damn them white boys got soul!) From one album to the next, it’s hard to find any songs that can’t hang. But that’s not to say they all sound the same. At first listen, what distinguishes Gimme Fiction is how radio friendly it is, with full, driving pianos and jangly guitars. But while it may have produced Spoon’s first “hit” with “I Turn My Camera On,” Gimme Fiction is more a showcase of the band’s versatility than a dumbed-down grab for the mainstream. Cellos and strings bring “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” into territory the band hadn’t really explored before. The throbbing baseline and Britt Daniel’s falsetto on “Turn My Camera On” covers ground the band had already conquered, and still feels fresh. The acoustic strumming of “I Summon You” takes the album down a notch without losing any rhythm. Sometimes when a band throws the kitchen sink into an album, you wonder if they’re getting bored. With Spoon, there’s a chance they were just getting started. – Elizabeth Malloy

47. Arcade FireNeon Bible
(2007; Merge)

Following up a debut like Funeral with an album equally affecting and musically entrancing would ordinarily be a Herculean task, but with Neon Bible, the Montreal indie rock troupe came awfully close. With a touch more grit and a dash of E Street Band style rock `n’ roll, Arcade Fire began to move away from their snow-covered Talking Heads daydreams toward earnest tomes on war, religion and Joe Simpson (man, is that dude creepy). “Keep the Car Running” ensured that mainstream radio could be counted on to play at least one badass song every couple hours, while “No Cars Go” found the band holding on to that childlike magic a little longer, and making something even more powerful and gorgeous out of it. When Neon Bible was released in 2007, it truly felt like an event, and in a decade of slumping sales and infinite `meh,’ that says a lot. – Jeff Terich

46. BeckSea Change
(2002; DGC)

After a decade of spouting parodist speak-sing, Dadaist genre-hopping and absurdist anti-folk, it was a little hard to take Beck seriously when Sea Change floated by like a dark, nebulous river dead set on a southwardly trajectory into the oceanic abyss. The whole “break-up album” concept felt like just the kind of hackneyed stereotype Beck would thrive on exploiting. L.A.’s resident jackass was suddenly crying inside and we’re supposed to swallow it. But if Sea Change‘s pristine acoustic strums, letdown lyrics, drippy string arrangements and sparkling synth accents drove home any point, it’s that we were always the cynical ones thriving on Beck’s elaborate hoax. Instead of a trippy kaleidoscope, he held up a plain mirror. Not only was he sincere, but Sea Change lays bare the ever-present undercurrent to Beck’s entire repertoire, making for his most timeless, universal music to date. – Dustin Allen

45. SpoonGirls Can Tell
(2001; Merge)

Spoon churned out two raucous and wiry punk-pop albums before the sun set on the 1990s, but after being dropped, pretty quickly, from major label Elektra, the Austin group found themselves entering Phase 2. They dialed back the aggression, reined in the distortion and became intently focused, delivering an album of soulful and nervy pop-songs, creating a connective tissue between Wire’s 154 and David Bowie’s Station to Station, minus the extended experimental pieces or coke binges. The result is Spoon’s best album, a refined collection of streamlined art pop that retains the band’s jagged edges but coats them in honey and the glare of dew-soaked streetlights. Frontman Britt Daniel taps into raw emotion in “Everything Hits at Once,” an expression of heartbreak funneled through palpitating grooves. Meanwhile, the album’s other bookend, “Chicago at Night” is one of the group’s most mysterious and sexy tunes, still wounded but with a universal warning: “Everybody’s at disadvantage/ speaking with their second language” Lest anyone think that the group had forgotten how to rock out, however, there were high energy highlights such as “Take A Walk” and “The Fitted Shirt.” It’s not an album high on concept or complex themes, nor is it a particularly fussed-over artistic statement. It’s simply a perfect album by a band locking into their groove. – Jeff Terich

44. Flaming LipsYoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
(2002; Warner Bros.)

The Soft Bulletin made the Flaming Lips relevant again, and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots made them legitimate stars. The most striking thing about the album, seven years (seven years!) after its release, is just how weird the damn thing sounds, crammed with backwards tape loops, crazed synths spewing out God knows what noise, and even traditional instruments warped in new and fascinating ways (the bass, in particular, is twisted into almost monstrous audio configurations). And yet, once you get past the odd musical experiments and the occasional song about, yes, battling robots, you can hear the big beating heart that has marked every Lips record and probably always will. Wayne Coyne ruminates about death on “Do You Realize???”, maturity on “Fight Test,” and love on “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” – it may sound simple, but that’s why it’s so affecting. Only the Flaming Lips would create such a gorgeous soundscape, just to tell us that we have the most beautiful face. Bless them for that. – Tony Ling

43. Elliott SmithFrom a Basement on the Hill
(2004; Anti)

The inevitable question that arises with regard to unfinished albums is just how different the end product might be, were the artist fortunate enough to see its completion. Yet with Elliott Smith’s final release, From a Basement on the Hill, barring a few threadbare ballads, it’s hard to imagine some of these compositions being made any more elaborate or huge. “Shooting Star” debuted live as a pretty, concise pop song, but here erupts into a six-minute psych-rock stomp. “King’s Crossing” initially came across on bootlegs as a folk tune rife with cynical wordplay, but its studio counterpart is a dense, multi-layered monster of throbbing bass and cavernous drums. Yet for an album as ambitious as Basement, it’s still a very raw, vulnerable document, most evident in Smith’s quivering voice on “The Last Hour,” “Memory Lane” or the gorgeous and heartbreaking “Twilight,” which, like many of these, is one of his best songs. When everything comes together perfectly, as on the hopeful, deeply personal “A Fond Farewell,” it’s not the overdubs, but Elliott, himself, that I miss most. – Jeff Terich

42. TV on the RadioDear Science
(2008; Interscope)

What, indeed, can possibly be said about TV On the Radio that hasn’t already been said with regard to its two previous records released this decade? Well, whereas Return to Cookie Mountain was their most brilliant effort thus far, it was also mired in the pessimism of its time, attaching itself to the ideal of funky post-punk (post-funk? fost-punk?). Dear Science differentiates itself from its predecessor with its optimism, assertiveness and intelligence. The tongue-in-cheek slow dance of “I Was a Lover” is countered with the arena thundering of “Halfway Home,” the somber “Province” by the playful “Dancing Choose,” and the surreal “Wolf Like Me” by the anthemic “Golden Age.” Suffice it to say, 2008 saw TV On the Radio’s debt to A Certain Ratio paid in full. – Chris Morgan

41. Cut CopyIn Ghost Colours
(2008; Modular)

Most pieces written about Australian synth-pop trio Cut Copy mention New Order at some point, though not because they sound that similar; “Out There On The Ice” is actually a lot closer to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” to my ears. But like New Order, Cut Copy take electronic-based dance music and make it transcendent, and (perhaps history will determine) even timeless. Building on the promise of debut Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy go even brighter and more emotionally resonant with a diverse but seamless set of songs designed for gyrations and late night make-out sessions alike. The aforementioned “Out There On the Ice” should have been a single, its beats custom made for partying on an endless loop, but its actual singles, “Hearts on Fire” and “Lights and Music,” are pretty hard to beat as it is. With “Strangers in the Wind,” the group could have ended the record on a gorgeous, tear-streaked Fleetwood Mac-sampling note, but dancefloor fillers that they are, Cut Copy return to the pleasure zone with “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found,” ensuring that listeners exit the album as ecstatic as they are after taking that first plunge. – Jeff Terich

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