The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

120. MastodonLeviathan
(2004; Relapse)

I am loath to use a term like “renaissance,” but in recent years metal has seen a lengthy and rewarding period of creative growth that has resulted in some of the genre’s most avant garde provocateurs (Sunn0)))) and most approachable and fun bands (Torche) alike. Still, few bands made a down-tuned rumble as monstrous and ass-kicking as Mastodon. They may have turned toward prog-rock and exorcising personal demons in recent years, but in 2004 they unleashed the Melville-inspired Leviathan, a furious ruckus that lived up to its name with ear-shattering pummelers like “Blood and Thunder” and “Iron Tusk,” and ragged melodic standouts like “Seabeast.” In the hands of others, a concept album about chasing the White Whale would likely turn out nerdy beyond belief, but with this Atlanta wrecking crew, every beastly gnash, every 10-foot wave and every harpoon puncture hits with maximum impact. – Jeff Terich

119. ColdplayA Rush of Blood to the Head
(2002; Capitol)

A Rush was Coldplay answering their critics, who at the time claimed them to be Radiohead clones and authors of their destined-to-be one hit wonder “Yellow.” They couldn’t do any better, right? Of course, Radiohead faced similar criticism after “Creep,” and then created The Bends. From the opening chords and lyrics of “Politik,” you could tell that Coldplay were reaching for the stars: “Give me time and give me space/ Give me real, don’t give me fake…Give me strength, reserve control/ Give me heart and give me soul.” As they ask you to open your eyes, the drums come in and you soon realize that maybe this wasn’t the same band destined for one hit wonder status. Unfortunately, the ridicule that dogged Coldplay during their first tour has yet to subside. But, A Rush is the album where they stood up and said ‘we’re here to stay.’ It’s because of this album that Coldplay are still thriving, relevant and mega successful today. And they would continue to grow and eventually find Brian Eno, who would add his experimental flourish by helping them change the cinematically inspired soundscapes in their already successful cerebrally rousing sound. – Adrian Cepeda

118. The White StripesWhite Blood Cells
(2001; Sympathy for the Record Industry)

In the middle of my time of excess, while I lived in New Orleans, my musical tendencies were more in step with modern dance music. But even though I kept my rolling feet entrenched on the dance floors of club culture, I still had a head for rock and roll. After one spin of White Blood Cells, this duo from my hometown of Detroit brought me back home with their raw rhythms. The White Stripes combined the DIY energy of punk rock with the vintage elements of traditional blues. Their distinctive sound, using only drums and guitar, highlight the power and lyrical purity of these immediate and timeless classics. With White Blood Cells, The White Stripes showed the world what a real American rock band sounds like. White was the real thing, the kind of guitarist that even Jimmy Page can appreciate, the axe-man who’s reared in classic Southern Blues. Further cementing White Blood Cells as an instant classic was the emotional resonance in White’s lyrics. You can feel the honest rage of heartache expressed in his bluesy vocals. Those words reflect the immediate elation of powerful crush as heard in “Fell in Love with a Girl,” or the Orson Welles/ Charles Foster Kane tribute on White’s allegory on modern love in “The Union Forever.” With many of my favorite bands, at the time, experimenting with electronic sounds it was an ear-opening experience to decompress with some traditional blues-inspired rock that hit a vein of euphoria when I pressed play. – Adrian Cepeda

117. Antony and the JohnsonsI Am A Bird Now
(2005; Secretly Canadian)

Antony is more than a figure in the continuing narrative of the New York art scene. Yes, his performances reference everything from Andy Warhol’s Factory, cabaret and glam androgyny, yet Antony and the Johnsons are more than a nostalgia act – it is something altogether new and beautiful. I Am A Bird Now is an album of devastating beauty; Antony’s voice is unlike any other and completely breathtaking, right from the stunning opening of “Hope There’s Someone” to the positively gut-wrenching “Bird Gerhl.” I Am A Bird Now explores complex issues of identity, mortality, love and gender with music that conveys compassion and depth of emotion. Aided by guest turns from Lou Reed, Boy George, Devendra Banhart and Rufus Wainwright, I Am A Bird Now is really about Antony: his voice, his poetic lyrics, his singular vision, all of which transcend any scene and hits right at the heart. – Jackie Im

116. The StreetsOriginal Pirate Material
(2002; Vice)

You’re listening to The Streets / You’ll bear witness to some amazing feats…

For most of its lifespan, hip-hop has been a distinctively American cultural export. Listening to The Streets’ debut with American ears, it can be difficult to understand how the geezer rambling in a Cockney accent can be credited with making one of the landmark hip-hop albums of the early 21st century. Mike Skinner stitched the beats together out of garage and 2-step—wholly British strains of dance music—and forgoes gangster posturing and materialistic braggadocio for modest tales of an average bloke: eating a classic English breakfast of eggs and fried tomato, traveling the London underground, reminiscing about his days as a raver. But if hip-hop is largely about storytelling—and Skinner spins some yarns that any MC would be jealous of—then, perhaps, Original Pirate Material is to hip-hop as the British Invasion was to rock and roll, or as the Sex Pistols were to punk: a British continuation of an American movement that seems to be going stale.

You say that everything sounds the same / Then you go buy them / There’s no excuses my friend / Let’s push things forward.” – Eric Friedman

115. The White StripesElephant
(2003; V2)

To mainstream audiences, the White Stripes were still something of a novelty act in 2003; the phony brother/sister team that dressed alike and made that cool Lego video. With Elephant, the band threw down the gauntlet and claimed its place as one of the biggest – and most interesting – hard rock groups of the decade. From the instantly recognizable opening of riff of “Seven Nation Army,” to the unique spin on the Beatlesque in “There’s No Room For You Here,” to the sexy, seven minute blues freakout “Ball and a Biscuit” and beyond, Elephant showcased a band unafraid to experiment, but with its feet still firmly planted in its garage roots. The White Stripes made their big splash with White Blood Cells. With Elephant, they alerted the world that they weren’t going anywhere. – Elizabeth Malloy

114. BlurThink Tank
(2003; Virgin)

Blur were always the most musically diverse of the Britpoppers, but Think Tank is such a departure that it hardly sounds like a Blur album. Moroccan orchestras, African rhythmic preoccupations, beats lifted from dance clubs—perhaps due to the loss of guitarist Graham Coxon, it sounds more like a Damon Albarn solo album than anything else, but only in hindsight. The ’00s saw Albarn blossom from a pop songwriting genius into a pop songwriting genius with a fascination for other cultures, delving into projects as disparate as animated hip-hop groups and Chinese operas. Blur’s last gasp is more than a preview for Albarn’s future endeavors, though; between “Out of Time,” “Sweet Song” and Coxon’s final contribution, “Battery in Your Leg,” it features some of the band’s finest songs. Just be sure to skip over “Crazy Beat.” – Eric Friedman

113. WilcoA Ghost Is Born
(2004; Nonesuch)

A Ghost is Born is Jeff Tweedy’s personal Plastic Ono Band. Tweedy’s Lennon-esque guitar solo, which he, himself, dubbed the “musical transcription” of one of his panic attacks, echoes the sound of John’s first solo album since he left The Beatles. There are numerous parallels between the two songsmiths. Tweedy had just dismissed Jay Bennett from the band and A Ghost reflects Tweedy’s persona, similar to the emotions Lennon was facing working on his first solo album. The thing is, at the time of recording and eventual release of the album, Tweedy was fighting a battle with his addiction to painkillers. He was a man lost, fearing the identity that would be formed within the creation of A Ghost is Born. Yet the man who was searching for his signature identity revealed influences by two legendary bands here. The surprising first is the incorporation of more of the cerebral, axe-wielding tendencies of Television’s Tom Verlaine. And there was a twisted, modern feel to the guitar solos over Beatlesque arrangements, such as the very McCartney-ish “Hummingbird,” and the haunting, emotional “Hell is Chrome,” which channels White Album-era Lennon. Although not as primal as Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, A Ghost is Born holds the emotional core, the sound of overcoming one’s personal demons. This this journey may be harrowing, but equally as legendary. – Adrian Cepeda

112. Animal CollectiveFeels
(2005; FatCat)

Although Animal Collective’s music now appears to have become synonymous with flawlessly produced, left-field electro-sampladelic pop, it’s worth reminding new fans and the absent-minded that this band used to create their weirdo pop music with mostly traditional instruments. It also used to be a whole lot weirder and recorded in intentionally low fidelity, staking claim to a place somewhere beyond the spheres of experimental folk, ambient-drone, psych-pop, and noise rock. But ever since the breakthroughs of Sung Tongs – an album credited only to members Avey Tare and Panda Bear – they’ve been set on a trajectory toward more accessible songcraft. In 2005 the band released the exceptional Feels, at that point their most enthralling and song-centered album, one that is still held by many to be their magnum opus. Featuring all four members – Avey, Panda, Geologist and Deakin – their so-called “love record” finds Animal Collective drifting away from the acoustic guitar meanderings of their prior effort to explore the warmth, jubilance and melancholy associated with marriage and relationships. Waves of amplified, delayed guitars, subtly out of tune piano arpeggios, tribal drumming, piercing screams, and sweet, off-kilter harmonies meld into quirky bursts of bubblegum-pop (“Grass”), lush, crescendoing soundscapes (“Banshee Beat”), and spaces in between (“Turn Into Something”). Feels is just as charming and refreshing as any of their preceding works, but balanced Animal Collective’s characteristic, childlike curiosity and joy with a bit more maturity and a stronger grasp of songwriting, helping to propel them into new and more captivating territory. – Derek Emery

111. Iron and WineThe Creek Drank the Cradle
(2002; Sub Pop)

Like Pink Moon or early Leonard Cohen, listening to The Creek Drank the Cradle is a glimpse into something unbearably personal. We feel almost intrusive as Sam Beam whispers into the mic, huddling his banjo cross-legged on the living room floor. Unlike Nick Drake, however, penning his fond farewell, or Cohen turning his literary ambitions toward the stage, Beam was an utter unknown, without any audience or hope for one outside his own four-track and sleeping kids in the next room. Its stark barrenness might be embarrassing were it not imbued with such a warm beauty – songs that could very nearly be called gospel and said without the least bit of slight. Rather, Beam’s intimate, lone-soul musings coax the entire richness of the word, alluding to the breadth of southern milieu – its peculiar fears, crumbling doubts and blind joys of faith, and the humble yet rigid backbone that made folk music so vital a century ago. No matter how much critical applause or tour dates Iron & Wine rack up now, The Creek Drank the Cradle remains a testament to the necessarily unadorned beginnings that make up the heart of any enduring artist. – Dustin Allen

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