The Best Albums of the ’00s

Avatar photo
The Best Albums of the '00s

20. The AvalanchesSince I Left You
(2000; Sire)

Great albums often inhabit their own universes. I’m thinking of the bedroom-pop of Pet Sounds, the gloomy art film of Endtroducing…, or the techno-paranoia of OK Computer. And then there’s Since I Left You, which cobbles its own universe out of a thousand different ones, creating a funky bacchanalia rooted in songs you half-remember from your youth, videos you think you saw on MTV at 3 AM while in college, and 45s you might have dug up in the crates of your local record store. There’s hip-hop thrown in there, a mess of disco and electro, every type of music meant to make your body move since 1977 represented in one way or another, along with whatever goofy novelty album or crazy sound clip the boys from Australia felt like throwing in. And all this would be a cute party trick if there weren’t actual emotional underpinnings – the beauty of the title track, the intellectual mindfuck of “Frontier Psychiatrist”, or all the vocal samples that float in and out of the mix like the best dream you never had. It’s a gorgeous world The Avalanches created, one that’s so very hard to want to leave. – Tony Ling

19. LCD SoundsystemLCD Soundsystem
(2005; DFA-Capitol)

One hundred minutes of LCD Soundsystem just doesn’t seem to be enough. Let’s face it, James Murphy is a music geek’s (read: journalists like us) wet dream. He wears his critically acclaimed and obscure influences on his sleeve, name-checks those influences in a highly sarcastic meta-fashion, then derides the whole notion in the press. LCD Soundsystem seems a band `made’ for post-modernism. And here’s the reference that no one will understand—James Murphy is the John Barth or Italo Calvino of independent dance music. And yet, despite the meta-complexity going on in the LCD universe, the songs Murphy writes are enjoyable on such an elemental level, it’s easy to forget there’s more going on. The surfaces of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” “Tribulations” and “Disco Infiltrator” are sleek party jams, but contain a cheeky humor and wit that demand further investigation. And for those of us who weren’t singles collectors back in the early part of the decade, the second disc fills in the gaps, collecting all the great early 7- and 12-inches up to that point, including the infamous “Losing My Edge,” a song that gets an entire Wiki list of hip and obscure bands and venues that are mentioned. I can think of few other albums with such infectious bookends as “Daft Punk” and “Yr City’s a Sucker.” – Terrance Terich

18. Jay-ZThe Blueprint
(2001; Roc-a-fella)

The Blueprint was a game-changer. Taking on some of hip-hop’s most tried and true tropes – the battle (“Takeover”), the player’s anthem (“Girls, Girls, Girls”), the ballad (“Song Cry”), among others – Jay-Z created an album that was audacious and accelerated him to icon-status. Here his self-aggrandizing wasn’t a self-parody but actually made good on those claims. Rumored to have recorded and improvised the majority of his vocals over two-days, Jay-Z has never sounded better, his flow has never sounded so smooth and his hooks were supremely catchy. Steeped in rich soul samples, The Blueprint proclaimed itself a classic from the get go. Credit top-notch producers like Timbaland, Just Blaze and most of all, a young Kanye West for surrounding Jay-Z with great beats. From The Doors to the Jackson 5 to Al Green, the samples set a sepia-tone that was lush and comforting. On “Hola Hovito,” Jay-Z rapped, “I’m the compadre / The Sinatra of my day.” On The Blueprint, truer words were never spoken. – Jackie Im

17. M.I.A.Kala
(2007; Interscope)

Globalization has made our world much smaller. We can send emails to Germany, Skype with someone in Korea, read Tweets from Iran – the advent of computer-based communications has made us all globetrotters from our desks. The abundance of voices that are being heard through the lines of communication is astonishing, a complete cacophony, it’s difficult to capture the disparate voices into a single work. M.I.A.’s Kala comes close. Sounding like a travelogue, Kala lifts influences in everything from the Pixies, Sri Lankan temples, Bollywood musicals, Modern Lovers, Tamil folk songs and of course, The Clash. Blending all of then through her singular Day-Glo lens, M.I.A. creates songs that package and represent the global as exhilarating – a big international dance party, if you will. Utterly danceable, M.I.A. addresses global issues with beats and hooks that are addictive. The ferocity of “Bird Flu,” the flirtiness of “Boyz,” and the laid-back cool of “Paper Planes” (a most well deserved hit), each track are like tours through shantytowns, varied locales, and familiar cities all at once. M.I.A.’s true genius is that she knows no one can actually see the whole world, but she’s going to present not only what she sees but how she sees it. – Jackie Im

16. The KnifeSilent Shout
(2006; Mute)

With Silent Shout, the brother and sister duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olaf Dreijer took listeners someplace that they hadn’t been before, into a dark but alluring world situated between the nocturnal anonymity of hidden electronic dens and an alternate pop music shaped around vocals modified into human/not-human hybrids and spine-tingling, synthetic fields of sound. Inimitable is the word that comes to mind a few years down the line, thinking about how The Knife shot into the spotlight only to slip off the stage after a scant number of shows, into a temporary hiatus, without a legion of emulators piling onto the stage in their wake. Loaded with dynamic singles, Silent Shout also offers songs like “From Off to On” and “Forest Families”, songs that, like the album as a whole, continue to grow more shadowy and inscrutable as their origins fall deeper into the past. – Tyler Parks

15. Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes
(2008; Sub Pop)

By 2008, a wooly group of Pacific Northwesterners armed with vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars and classic rock sensibilities wasn’t exactly a new idea. The primary factor in what made Fleet Foxes stand out about the rain-drenched flock of beard rockers is that they did it so remarkably well. Fleet Foxes’ debut album doesn’t sound like a first try. The bulk of its 11 songs had an instantly classic feel, from sprightly campfire singalong “White Winter Hymnal” to epic reverb rocker “Your Protector.” Their musicianship is impeccable, their songwriting is brilliant, and their harmonies — lord, their harmonies. There’s enough gold on Fleet Foxes to make me believe that the next generation is better off listening to Deja Vu than Never Mind the Bollocks. – Jeff Terich

14. Panda BearPerson Pitch
(2007; Paw Tracks)

I’m probably not the only one who’s glad to be alive at such an exciting time in music, when dense masterpieces can be created in the studio and recreated live by a single individual. Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) was certainly ahead of the curve on this front, his enigmatic magnum opus Person Pitch – along with 2007’s accompanying Animal Collective record, Strawberry Jam – helping to inspire a large paradigm shift amongst a number of bedroom-recording, and larger, indies. Their acolytes were cropping up all over the place during the last few years of the decade, engaged in their own varied pursuits of dreamy, experimental pop. But nothing, not even Strawberry Jam, could hope to compare to the raw emotion and vibrant psychedelics of Person Pitch. In a sea of towering choral chants, thunderous drum beats, hypnotic guitar loops, resonant vocal harmonies, and a myriad of other sonic layers, Lennox conveys his often intimate thoughts with characteristic heartfelt honesty. Throughout his explorations of family, individuality, growing up, and life in general, Panda’s comments and encouragements are simple, but charming and insightful in their own laid-back, nouveau-hippie (“Try to remember always / just to have a good time“) way. The music itself is constructed entirely from samples – some obscure, some more recognizable – and shows off not only his impressive ear, but also his uncanny ability to distort and channel a flood of disparate fragments of sound into an incredibly exhilarating and inventive whole. Panda Bear’s virtually flawless, meditative, Brian Wilson-esque collage of pop genius demands more than just a few repeated listens… in fact, Person Pitch is likely to ascend to “soundtrack to your very existence,” for at least a little while. – Derek Emery

13. PortisheadThird
(2008; Mercury)

If you look carefully enough, you’ll see the career arc of Bristol electronica trio Portishead—as represented by the sound and feel of their albums—has quietly mirrored psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. On Dummy we heard Beth Gibbons wail “Nobody loves me,” the centerpiece riff on denial in an album of entertaining, spy-film-influenced distraction and misdirection that most listeners did in fact love. Second album Portishead represented anger, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley’s aggression and more up-front production seeming to represent quantum leaps in the band’s presence. Roseland NYC Live is their weakest link in an otherwise strong chain, Portishead bargaining with listeners (pretty successfully) to sit through orchestra-backed versions of their work. In 2008, after 11 years off the musical map, the trio acknowledge depression on Third. A Portuguese discussion of karma coming back to you threefold in “Silence” drops you right into the drama and holds you there like an Oscar-winning tearjerker. A powerful but graceful deconstruction of the trip-hop genre they helped build, Third incorporates facets of Krautrock, freak-folk, and straight-up industrial music to convey sonic and lyrical elements of sad, sad, sad. The moody chorale of “Deep Water,” Gibbons’ misery and exhortations on work like “Machine Gun” and “Small,” the contemplative, live-not-sampled deep guitar plucks throughout—it’s all very different and very familiar at once. Just about everyone who experienced it was surprised by it, yet understood how necessary it was for this sound to be just so. If that’s not stage five, acceptance, we can’t wait to hear what Portishead might make it sound like on their next album. – Adam Blyweiss

12. The NationalBoxer
(2007; Beggars Banquet)

The National’s Matt Berninger supposedly writes his foreshortened, non sequitur lyrics for complete tracks the band’s already made. Which would make him a librettist, which would make him way gayer than the actual writing is. Berninger himself is a tall drink of water with a regular lover and a corporate background all of which have ably prepared him, maybe, for the kind of mid-century masculinity he can’t stop writing about. Mad Men‘s a reference that’s almost too easy; also vintage dudes like Frank O’ Hara and John Cheever. Berninger’s the best imagist in rock with his blue-ribboned brains, prison for jerks, and other magic he makes in midair but Boxer wouldn’t be the complete prism it is without its two sets of twins: the Dessners and the Devendorfs occupy themselves as curators and obscurists and (oh!) the makers of lush, exact things like “Brainy” with its maddening plucks; “Guest Room,” which strokes glimmery guitar overlays into a sad, shrugging fear; and “Racing Like A Pro” with its crazed piano. “Fake Empire,” meanwhile, starts the record on a subtle high that pretty soon goes horn-bonkers; that Berninger’s called that song essentially a cartoon doesn’t diminish the genius of “half awake/ in a fake empire.” They play, he writes, everyone else dies. – Anthony Strain

11. MadvillainMadvillainy
(2004; Stones Throw)

To date, Madvillainy remains the career-defining statement from two of the previous decade’s most exciting figures in hip-hop, MF DOOM and Madlib. While DOOM changes record labels more often than Kanye puts his foot in his mouth, this collaboration led to one of the most comfortable fits, finding the masked villain right at home amid like-minded Stones Throw brethren. When self-described, the crash-course collision between his off-kilter flow and Madlib’s stellar production sounds like it might be a modest undertaking (Madlib: “DOOM came out for a couple weeks to LA and we just faded and did what we had to do”), but don’t be fooled. Constructed of 22 tracks, many clocking in at around two minutes or less and lacking any kind of discernible hook, Madvillainy‘s disregard for convention is refreshingly full of inspired innovation. Pulling pieces from wherever he saw fit – vintage television and film, video games, obscure soul, gonzo prog-rock, Sun Ra, Steve Reich’s landmark recording “Come Out,” classic hip-hop, and elsewhere – Madlib proves himself an unequivocal genius, practically reinventing the use of the sample in modern hip-hop. Not to be outdone, MF DOOM’s entire presence is indispensable, from his dazed, lethargic delivery, to his oblique lyrics and impressive wordplay that somehow straddles the line between realness and nerdiness, encompassing an impossible range of styles and slang. Together, with one of the most original and well-crafted hip-hop albums ever made, they helped raise the bar at a time when the genre desperately needed it. – Derek Emery

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Scroll To Top