The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

130. Okkervil RiverBlack Sheep Boy
(2005; Jagjaguwar)

Will Sheff made the curious choice of opening Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy with a minute-long cover of the Tim Hardin song of the same name, thus introducing a character that would show up again later on. But it’s only a brief diversion; this humble and pretty tune fades quickly, thus putting the listener at the mercy of gut-wrenching single “For Real.” With that song’s explosive breakdowns and violently terrifying lyrics, it’s clear that this isn’t the delicate folk album that Sheff so deceptively teased within that first track. Black Sheep Boy is a much more sinister offering, one rooted in darkness and despair, but always within reach of new hope. With “Black,” Sheff creates one of the angriest love songs I’ve ever heard, his revenge fantasies against his lover’s abuser being undercut by Jonathan Meiburg’s joyful organ hooks. And “Get Big” makes a plea for growing up and making a commitment without preachiness, and with a gorgeous lap steel climax. It isn’t the Okkervil River’s most autobiographical record, but the intensity and conviction makes it feel like their most personal. – Jeff Terich

129. ShearwaterRook
(2008; Matador)

From the softly unsettling opening combination of piano and voice in “On the Death of the Waters,” Shearwater’s Rook provokes a chill in the listener that doesn’t escape the spine until its 40 minutes are up. Taking cues from Talk Talk’s abstract post-rock compositions and John Cale’s elegant art-pop, Jonathan Meiburg & Co. slowly mold a delicate and thoroughly unsettling piece of graceful melody. With scarcely a major chord in sight, Meiburg describes a landscape of dead birds in “Rooks,” narrates a beast in captivity in “Leviathan, Bound” and even lets out a cathartic “tear it off!” in two-minute garage rocker “Century Eyes.” There are traces of tragedy, slow-motion image captures of breathtaking and sometimes painful scenes, and a strange calm amidst observations of chaos. And it’s goddamn beautiful. – Jeff Terich

128. Danger MouseThe Grey Album
(2004; Self-released)

All of the reasons that Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album is controversial has nothing to do with how great a record it truly is. One controversy is age-old—in essence, what constitutes as original art? The second controversy is the furthest thing from art possible, having to do with lawyers. And we all know that lawyers are the best things that happened to the music industry (read: heavy sarcasm). Before Gnarls Barkley and the Gorillaz; long before Dark Night of the Soul and an upcoming collaboration with James Mercer, there was The Grey Album. Jay-Z released an a cappella version of his Black Album for just such occasions, allowing other artists to create remixes and the newly hip idea of the mashup. There were plenty to go around, including some with Prince, Dr. Dre and Linkin Park, but it was Danger Mouse’s ingenious use of the Beatles’ White Album that achieved the unique combination of brilliant songcraft and legal nightmare. EMI blocked the release of the album, after a very short window of exposure online, and the rest is history. As a matter of composition, I tend to prefer the `grey’ versions to the originals. – Terrance Terich

127. BattlesMirrored
(2007; Warp)

From ’70s prog-rock revival, to massive sludge-metal, to literary folk-prog, to IDM, to math rock, the 2000s saw a surprising expansion of progressive and technical music. Battles can certainly be counted as contributors to this push, but also escape any attempts at concise labeling by pulling elements from myriad genres into their mathematical avant-rock. These tech-wizards – quasi-frontman and multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton, guitarists Dave Konopka (Lynx) and Ian Williams (Storm & Stress/Don Caballero), and drummer John Stanier (Helmet/Tomahawk) – came together in 2003 to indulge their experimental tendencies, composing songs made up of complex, dizzying loops. After releasing two solid EPs, they finally got around to putting out their debut record in 2007. A notable step forward, Mirrored built upon the instrumental foundations of their early pieces, integrating demented Disney-chipmunk vocodered vocals into a tight, conceptual work. Originally arising from a desire to distance themselves from the plant and tree imagery of their first EPs, Battles constructed an opposing theme in the room of mirrors and musical equipment featured on the cover art (and in the video for album standout “Atlas”), reinforcing the central forces of technology and effects, technical prowess, and ostensible infinities of loops. The juxtaposition of the mechanical and organic seamlessly permeates Battles’ music as their rigid, repetitive compositions unfold patiently and naturally, an array of interlocking parts layered and disassembled with ease. Driven by its dense experimentation, abstract song structures, and absorbing melodies, Mirrored unquestionably remains largely outside the realm of comparison. But perhaps more remarkably, this highly technical, experimental, and effects-laden opus simultaneously manages to retain a soul at its core. – Derek Emery

126. Bright EyesI’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
(2005; Saddle Creek)

And Laura’s asleep in my bed/ As I’m leaving, she wakes up and says/ `I dreamed you were carried away on the crest of a wave/ Baby, don’t go away, come here’

And there’s kids playing guns in the street/ And one’s pointing his tree branch at me
And so I put my hands up, I say, `Enough is enough If you walk away, I’ll walk away’
And he shot me dead…”

That’s how it felt like, and it all would come back to me in every song from I’m Wide Awake. Conor’s musings of memory brought back the pain; it always felt like the end with her. For years, I couldn’t listen to this. I tried over and over again, but it brought back everything. It wasn’t one of my regrets but I just couldn’t remove her emotional grip from this album. It’s amazing how something so personal from your past comes vividly back to you within the sound of an album like I’m Wide Awake. But one day while driving, Michelle put this album on and something amazing happened, I realized in the middle of “Landlocked Blues,” the curse had been broken. I started to fall for these songs again. The memory of her hurt had vanished. It felt like I’d gone through this everlasting journey of emotions, but I love it again. Conor shares his unbridled enthusiasm throughout I’m Wide Awake. I think you’re supposed to listen to I’m Wide Awake when you’re lost—it’s an album of resurrection. There is hope oscillating throughout. Oberst allows you to remember so you can reflect, accept and move on stronger with hints of rhythm and harmony. And this is what happened to me—much like how the album starts with the airplane crash on “At the Bottom of Everything” and ends with the revival of “Road to Joy.” By the end, Oberst has accepted his shortcomings, as the listener finally realizes the road to joy goes through the city of sadness. Going through to the other side of bliss with the help of blues-tinged ballads is what makes this my favorite Oberst album. We’ve gone through a lot, but me and I’m Wide Awake are linked forever. – Adrian Cepeda

125. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of DeadSource Tags and Codes
(2002; Interscope)

From the bass drop on “It Was There That I Saw You,” to the gripping coda on the title track, Trail of Dead’s 2002 album Source Tags and Codes oozes with killer riffs, loud hooks, catchy sing-along melodies, and a fist pumping angst the band seemed incapable of controlling on prior efforts. As elaborate as it is intense, Source Tags and Codes channels the bands aggressive nature into an all out onslaught of guts laden melodies and huge guitar overtures. Despite the composed guitar work, the band maintains their trademark hardiness and passionately raw, at times screeching vocals that breeds a sweaty existence into their music. It is the quick maturation process, and the labored purification of what worked on the early recordings that makes this album as impressive it is. Trail of Dead perceptively hangs on to and further hones the hard rock elements of their previous efforts and introduces lucidity that results in a final product that is simultaneously awe-inspiring and headbang inducing. “Relative Ways” has a marching quality to it, enforced by a plodding rhythm section and nifty guitar work, serving as solid ground for singer Conrad Keely to test his newfound interest in falsetto on. The anthemic “Baudelaire” exhibits the quick drum work of Jason Reece, and the band’s ability to sweep through a blistering track, subtly planting seeds of prettiness without detracting from the song’s sheer power in the slightest. – Ryan Agnew

124. Scott WalkerThe Drift
(2006; 4AD)

The ten tortured compositions on Scott Walker’s The Drift are far from accessible; they’re hardly even approachable. This isn’t so much an album as it is an exorcism. After an 11-year silence, which followed a 12-year hiatus, the onetime pop crooner conjured his most malevolent demons to create his most challenging and terrifying work to date. With only the faintest of lights illuminating this nightmarish opera’s stage, Walker moans through tales of Mussolini’s execution, Elvis Presley’s stillborn brother, 9/11 and punching a donkey in the streets of Galway. And his gruesome imagery is matched, if not bested, by the discordant, hellish melodies, whisper quiet one moment and deafeningly dissonant the next. Only in the end, with “A Lover Loves,” does Walker return to some sort of peace. Yet even at the album’s most melodic and simple, it maintains an unsettling quality, suggesting that the horrors that precede it may be just around the corner. And really, that’s not such a bad thing; Walker has created a frightening sound world so expansive and ambitious, it consumes the listener, and while it’s frequently chaotic, its immensity is awesome and often, perhaps oxymoronically, beautiful. When I hear The Drift, I feel alive. – Jeff Terich

123. DestroyerDestroyer’s Rubies
(2006; Merge)

When he’s not helping to crank out stellar power-pop albums with side-project and indie supergroup The New Pornographers, Dan Bejar is busy crafting sprawling rock records of his own as Destroyer. His most affecting and consistent work to date, 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies, is delivered with distinctive (and thoroughly enjoyable) long-winded pretentiousness as Bejar constructs his cryptic tales with literary references, metaphorical storytelling, bizarre imagery, blatant Bowie posturing, and epic, bombastic classic rock. Doing away with the MIDI-symphonics of his previous album Your Blues, Destroyer’s Rubies is particularly well composed and expertly paced, its rich swath of acoustic and electric instrumentation swelling into towering walls of sound, punctuated by patient and equally moving minimal passages. This emotional songwriting collides with Bejar’s absurd stream-of-consciousness in a way that completely cuts through any complaints one might have about Destroyer’s intense theatrical bravado (including that faux British accent), coalescing all into a comprehensive and satisfying approach to indie rock. He may openly admit to and defend his indebtedness to his rock `n’ roll forebears (“Why can’t you see / that a life in art and a life of mimicry / It’s the same thing!“), but somehow the music of Destroyer feels like it is largely orbiting within its own galaxy, a testament to its immaculate construction as well as Dan Bejar’s ambitious vision and immense charisma. – Derek Emery

122. The Dismemberment PlanChange
(2001; deSoto)

The Dismemberment Plan could have followed up their 1999 masterpiece Emergency & I by ramping up the speed, intensity and experimentalism of their post-hardcore new wave sound, but they likely wouldn’t have survived the experience. Instead, they issued an album titled Change, and followed through on the promise of that single, evocative word. Far more restrained than its predecessor, yet still born from the Washington, D.C., band’s boundary-pushing instincts, Change is less agitated but more contemplative, fragile and wounded. It’s an emotional record, but with fewer yelps and more sighs, a quiet reflection amplified with post-punk guitars and Roland synthesizers. On its most upbeat moments, frontman Travis Morrison sounds almost desperate to make something of his life on the otherwise infectious “Following Through,” and gawks at Springsteen mooching friends without sexual filters on “Ellen & Ben.” And “Face of the Earth” goes from meditative to explosive with just the flick of a wrist. The Dismemberment Plan broke up only two years after its release, but at least they went out at their most elegant. – Jeff Terich

121. McLuskyMcLusky Do Dallas
(2002; Too Pure)

Boy howdy, the mouth on that Andy Falkous. He says his band is better than your band, accuses your mother of being a ball-point pen thief, complains that he’s “achin’ from fucking too much” and…well, you don’t even want to know what he thinks of your friends. But how he spits that venom with a smile. It should be no big secret why an indie rock hero and legendary grump like Steve Albini would choose to work with McLusky (not that he hasn’t done it for the money a few times)—this is the most ass-kicking, lyrically bilious good time since Songs About Fucking. However, Big Black was never quite this catchy. Even when singing about surgically enhanced musicians on “Collagen Rock,” McLusky cranks out a furiously abrasive series of hooks. As the titular reference accurately suggests, McLusky Do Dallas is vulgar, but it’s also a classic. – Jeff Terich

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