The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

30. Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago
(2008; Jagjaguwar)

It’s become a well-known story at this point: man breaks up band and with his girlfriend, retreats to a cabin and records an album. The evolution of Justin Vernon’s snowy home recordings to crowds singing along to “For Emma” at festivals is astonishing and a true testament to Vernon’s music. Emotionally bare and incredibly vulnerable, For Emma, Forever Ago sounds as profound and heartbreaking after hundreds of listens as it did the first time. Vernon articulates emotion that is so true, so sad with lyrics that cut and ache with heartbreak and music that is spare and calamitous at the same time. It is the sound of man singing for himself, for his own grief – the pain is only too real in each cry of his voice and each strum of the acoustic guitar, reaching into our own vulnerabilities, empathizing with them. While the back-story is something to admire and retell, the true power of For Emma, Forever Ago isn’t that Vernon can articulate his own emotions so well, it is that he can make his pains sound so much like our own, touching our own loneliness and our own very real aches. – Jackie Im

29. BroadcastHaha Sound
(2003; Warp)

Broadcast is one of the bands of the decade and HaHa Sound is their best work to date. It is noisy and beautiful, chaotic and intricately woven, starred with lullabies (“Colour Me In” and the Valerie and Her Week of Wonders inspired, “Valerie”), pulsing, rhythmically-dense psych-rock (“Pendulum” and “Man Is Not a Bird”), and gorgeous, delightfully scuffed pop that would top charts in another, more healthfully-occult present (“Before We Begin” and “Winter Now”). Everything they do on this record works; they convert their love of ’60s psychedelia and library music into a set of songs that play simple arrangements, vintage instruments, and Trish Keenan’s airy, enchantress vocals into a sea of distortion, studio trickery, and sheared slivers of sound. Their singular take on retro-futurism manages to conjure and circulate signals that truly seem like transmissions from the other side. – Tyler Parks

28. No AgeNouns
(2008; Sub Pop)

Championing DIY is often far more fun that actually listening to DIY. But holy cow, when the music is as raw and powerful as on No Age’s first full-length album, it’s pretty easy to disagree. Built around guitar, drums, samples, and a shit-ton of energy, Nouns burns through 30 helter-skelter minutes with an eye-popping intensity. “Teen Creeps” (one of the longest songs at 3:25) piles grungy riffs on top of dentist-drill guitar screeches, lending an immediacy to whatever the hell it is they’re singing about. Elsewhere, “Sleeper Hold” sounds like every song on No Thanks! smashed together into 145 piledriving (pardon the pun) seconds of incredibly catchy noise, complete with earworm hook, while “Eraser” shows that the group can actually find a bit of gentle beauty in their aesthetic (is that actually an acoustic I hear underneath the squall?). Experimental music rarely sounds this powerful, this melodic, this alive. – Tony Ling

27. SpoonKill the Moonlight
(2002; Merge)

Spoon are about as utilitarian a band as they come. Never settling for the swooning melody, never venturing far outside the almighty rhythm and always exemplifying a relentlessly practical dedication to form, the Austin four-piece are a lesson in nuts-and-bolts function. That said, Kill the Moonlight hardly plays like a scrupulous math rock outfit. Instead, Spoon craft songs where the throbbing tempo itself is the ultimate goal, opting for, instead of the cathartic release, tight spaces of pent-up tension that knot up and unleash in a steady, measured cadence. What makes this album a particularly monumental, if melodically minimalist, achievement is how the band took the newfound, wiry funk of its predecessor, Girls Can Tell, and elaborated on it, allowing each band member, like gears, to rotate as a whole. Britt Daniel’s signature staccato guitar bursts don’t even enter into the picture until the sinewy pulse of “Something to Look Forward To” three tracks in, with most of the album’s weight up to that point carried by Eric Harvey’s stiff-fingered keyboard pounces, and the drum/bass duo of Jim Eno and Rob Pope perfecting the less-is-more aesthetic. In short, they believed in the sum of themselves. – Dustin Allen

26. TV on the RadioReturn to Cookie Mountain
(2006; Interscope/4AD)

When TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain leaked in early 2006, months before the album even had a legit release date, its low bit-rate files were jumbled, titled incorrectly and not without a few hiccups. But that didn’t stop pretty much everyone who obtained it from calling it album of the year. Though the band’s debut album Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes was good, it wasn’t adequate preparation for this supremely heavy, shoegazer doomsday party. From the opening horn samples on into the wash of distortion that cascades halfway through “I Was a Lover,” David Sitek’s beautifully noisy production bathes the record in a transcendent glow that’s a little unsettling, but mesmerizing all the same. Then Kazu from Blonde Redhead shows up. And Katrina from Celebration. And, shit, is that David Bowie? A few months after the fact, when the album’s outstanding lead single “Wolf Like Me” made its way onto radio, I began to feel a sense of ease, that maybe all the bad shit that went down during the past ten years was behind us and we could move on. Well, maybe not, but Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone can still talk us down with mad style. – Jeff Terich

25. M83Saturdays=Youth
(2008; Mute)

John Hughes died in 2009. Saturdays=Youth came out in 2008. Did Anthony Gonzalez know something? Seriously (kind of). The best possible kind of Hughes tribute and it’s a year early? 2008, you’ll recall, was when the years 1977-83, previously ridiculed for their soft-rock dreck, started to be fetishized by dozens of pixie-stick peddlers scribbling Ableton ideas in homeroom (hence: the chillwave, er, movement). It’s also the year M83 took a more mid-eighties molestation to the brilliant-sick extremes of “Graveyard Girl,” with its Cure-like insomnia; “Too Late,” the best track ever made for after hours at the food-court; and “Kim & Jessie” which might be twee by M83 standards but could just about change every kid on earth’s life, they’ll swear to it. (“We Own The Sky,” on the other hand, is too perfect to be glib about.) Subtract zero points from Gonzalez for being earnest, or sentimental even. His best music manufactures the best kind of melancholy, the kind you can sort of rock. Feel like killing yourself for a little bit, then go take out the trash. Nothing’s really wrong with your life. That’s what made Hughes movies so great: they made you search yourself without probable cause. Saturdays=Youth, even if it’s more consciously than unconsciously, gets at the same thing. – Anthony Strain

24. InterpolTurn on the Bright Lights
(2002; Matador)
Listening to Interpol’s “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” reminds me of living in New Orleans. I was working at Tower Records in the French Quarter when Turn on the Bright Lights first came out, and back then almost all you would read about the band was how Paul Banks sounded like Ian Curtis. But “Stella” became a minor hit in the goth rock clubs of the French Quarter. This song reminded me of this one customer, Frankie, a traditional Goth girl who was also an acquaintance to my good friend Lisa. Frankie was the one whom I’d see bar hopping around and in the store but never really talked to. I knew from Lisa that Frankie was a big fan of Joy Division so one day when she came in looking for videos to rent I suggested Turn on the Bright Lights. After our short conversation she bought the album A few days later she came back in and thanked me for the recommendation. I’d see her in passing, at work and on the street. We’d wave and say hello but that’s it. A few months later I found out from Lisa that Frankie had committed suicide. I was shocked. I barely knew her, but Frankie’s death deeply affected me. When I play Turn on the Bright Lights, I think of this girl I barely knew, and whether or not anyone will else remember her. But I keep playing it in her honor. To others, it may inspire emotions of hope and wishful exuberance. But that’s the magic and power of music. We always go back, press play while trying to gain more insight as to whether or not the Subway really is a porno, reflect on learning a new language and try to understand the meaning of subliminal love. So we imagine riding underground trains while listening to “NYC” in our ears, as Interpol brings to life a different side of New York that lurks, smoking in shadows while shining through the gutter of strangers’ souls. – Adrian Cepeda

23. RadioheadAmnesiac
(2001; Capitol)

I don’t get why so many Kid A devotees were so quick to dismiss Amnesiac as its inferior follow-up. First of all, the similarities abound, but secondly, it’s rewarding in as many different ways as it is similar. In fact, one of our writers felt so strongly about the connection, he voted for the two as one album, refusing to split them apart. I admired that stand. But, in actuality, I actually fall into a very small camp of those who prefer Amnesiac over Kid A. In my opinion, it’s just that Kid A came first, blew people away, and no matter what came after, it just couldn’t be as good. But, song for song, Amnesiac can hold its own against any other Radiohead album. “Pyramid Song” is one of the band’s most heart wrenching songs, almost unbearably so, since “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” is just as experimental as anything on Kid A, and still seems futuristic eight years after the fact. “You and Whose Army” is a rallying cry, pure and simple, and I can’t get Thom Yorke’s cheeky looks to the camera from the live show out of my head. “I Might Be Wrong” and “Knives Out” may be some of the best one-two punches since tracks on OK Computer. Okay, so maybe Amnesiac is less cohesive than Kid A, but that’s what I love about it. It’s dark and dreary and sometimes even horrific in its imagery, but “Life in a Glasshouse” acts as New Orleans jazz funeral, celebrating that which we most fear. – Terrance Terich

22. Sleater-KinneyThe Woods
(2005; Sub Pop)

After five years and four albums on Kill Rock Stars, Sleater-Kinney’s leap to Sub Pop didn’t necessarily seem significant on a musical level, but we should have seen it coming. Graduating from the underdog indie to the underground giant that launched Nirvana’s career, among others, should have been a warning sign that their seventh album, The Woods, was going to be a monster. Still, that opening blast of “The Fox” hit like a suckerpunch to the eye. Sleater-Kinney rocked before, but on The Woods, they destroyed. The product of strenuous recording sessions with producer extraordinaire Dave Fridmann, The Woods is Sleater-Kinney pushing every possible extreme. The volume is blown out, the distortion enough to distress one’s bowels. And Carrie Brownstein, typically the one playing it cool, out-wails Corin Tucker on “Entertain” and just straight up loses her shit. Just when it seems there are no further boundaries to push, along comes eleven-minute monolith “Let’s Call It Love,” an epic piece of wailing guitar and hard rock swagger. Part of me keeps holding out hope that Sleater-Kinney will put an end to this `indefinite hiatus’ business and pick up their instruments again (in the same room, that is). But I suppose if that never happens, we have this, their most uncompromising, unfiltered and cohesive album. And it’s really fucking loud. – Jeff Terich

21. PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
(2009; Glassnote)

Do I really have to explain this album? It seems so simple, doesn’t it? A French pop rock band with one foot firmly in the ’80s and one in the present day? And while that may sound effete and haughty, Phoenix are anything but. As I mentioned in my full review of WAP, I’ve had the honorable distinction of being able to review every single album by Phoenix. And while I’ve loved every single one of them down to their Gallic cores, WAP was the first to get our coveted “Album of the Week” honors, and deservedly so. The album and its singles are ubiquitous, and yet, I still find that most people wouldn’t know the band upon request. They’ve all heard the car commercials using “1901” and probably most of them have seen Lost in Translation with “Too Young,” but they’d be at a loss to recall the actual band. “1901” and “Lisztomania” are two of the best singles of the past year (as you may have noticed), but that isn’t where the wonders WAP cease. Album tracks such as the sprawling “Love Like a Sunset” and the slinky “Fences” are easily fan favorites—okay, mine—but the album as a whole is magnificent. It may not have been our highest 2009 entry, but I’d dare say it’s the most fun. – Terrance Terich

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