The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

100. Sonic YouthRather Ripped
(2006; Interscope)

The release of Rather Ripped signaled a quarter-century since Sonic Youth first formed, and while it bears all the visible marks of a seasoned band entirely confident in their own skin, it shows absolutely none of its age. A fully formed, 12-track block of unfiltered art-rock noodling, cracked vocals and slowly revealing yet visceral hooks, Rather Ripped portrays a band highly attuned to their particular dynamics – despite the bowing out of longtime compatriot Jim O’Rourke several years prior – and tirelessly dedicated to their uniquely haunting, uncompromising sound. From listening to this album, it’s clear Sonic Youth don’t believe in either second chances or rapturous comebacks. They practice consistency and nothing else, and even if they were to crank out another 25 years of albums no different than Rather Ripped, they’d still be light years ahead of the rest of us. – Dustin Allen

99. Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye
(2006; Domino)

With their second record, Junior Boys stretched out in the space between sex and sentimentality, taking their sound toward an electro-pop, Environ disco hybrid that sounded as fresh as it did reverential to its precursors. “In the Morning” was a hypnotic, ambiguously charged single that seemed to pop up at all the right moments, and “FM” was one of the standout love songs to close an album all decade. Jeremy Greenspan’s croons, come-ons, and pleas somehow continue to seem perfect where they could easily seem all wrong; they balance on the thin line between clichéd sentiment and genuine emotion, breathing warmth into the web of echoing, arctic soundscapes that frame and deepen even his most saccharine lyrical conceits. – Tyler Parks

98. PJ HarveyStories From the City, Stories From the Sea
(2000; Island)

After taking her journey of darkness through the soundscapes of Is this Desire and To Bring You My Love, Harvey finally let her true unprotected lyrical skin flow inside the sensual love songs of Stories from City, Stories from the Sea. This album is a document of Harvey falling in love while facing her personal failings in personal relationships, with a raucous sound that’s sexy, sultry and 1,000 percent Polly Jean Harvey. There’s the elation-filled ecstasy of lines like “I just wanna sit here and watch you undress,” to the depths of “The Mess We’re In.” Both perspectives from the emotional spectrum of love and loathe are brought to life so eloquently and sensually. This may be the most intimately reflective that Harvey has ever allowed us to hear. The delicate nature in which she deals with modern love makes Stories her most beloved album. Polly Jean may not have unraveled the mysteries but she flourishes within lusty licks and the timeless voice of honesty that radiates within all of us, as we search for the perfect sound of found true love. With Harvey coming this close, she can serenade me anytime. – Adrian Cepeda

97. Godspeed! You Black EmperorLift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
(2000; Kranky)

What was perhaps assumed to be some neohippe throwaway record by many who weren’t already enthralled with the band’s hypnotic post-rock symphonics was, in fact, the decade’s greatest metal album from a band that wasn’t explicitly metal. Isis’ final Neurosis fix was released the same year as this album and it seems completely natural that the more melodic, sprawling Oceanic would follow. GY!BE is a band of great sonic understanding which they indulge in with hedonistic aplomb, though it is a ruminative indulgence. The orchestration that seemed to rise and fall wave-like at the utmost correct times, gave the music a soft resilience that would please most, but its more cerebral tendencies, its cavernous guitars and formless song structure, not to mention its veering off into strange ideas such as found spoken recordings and ramblings, seemed all the more fitting for a genre that was just as familiar with sonic excess, but becoming bored with its previous ambitions. This has caught on just as much with the likes of pure instrumental (or instrumetal) acts such as Pelican and 5ive. Complexity on its own is fine up to a point, but aggression can entrance as much as tense, and in this context aggressive is a fitting description for the band. Still, on its own there is little else in its own genre that is more bizarre or more atmospherically demanding than this album. – Chris Morgan

96. Ryan AdamsHeartbreaker
(2000; Bloodshot)

There’s an old joke that says if you play a country song backward, the singer will get his wife, dog and pickup truck back. Using that same benchmark, if you play Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker backwards, the troubadour goes from being a drunken, lonesome wreck to picking himself up, going out and starting arguments about Morrissey. However, that 30 second dispute about Bona Drag and Viva Hate is about the brightest and most jovial this album gets. The remaining 14 tracks find Adams opening up nerve after raw nerve, baring his soul on tracks that range from bitter (the incredible “Come Pick Me Up”) to pissed off (“Shakedown on 9th Street”) to devastated, which is basically the entire second half. Only “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” actually sounds like a rip-roarin’ good time, and even that one isn’t sunshine and roses. The album is called Heartbreaker if you hadn’t noticed. Nonetheless, for all its pain and sadness, it’s a beautiful and honest statement from a prolific singer when he was young, when he was sad, when he was high. – Jeff Terich

95. The WrensThe Meadowlands
(2003; Absolutely Kosher)

Few can quarrel with The AV Club‘s assessment of The Wrens’ body of work as “Terrence Malickian.” Like the work of the director, The Wrens’ creations are marked by their distinct style and production and are comparable to other bands only by their idiosyncrasies than by potential similarities of their sound. They’re also decidedly unprolific. In Malick’s four decade-long film career he’s released only four full-length films. In The Wrens’ two decade-long career they’ve released only three full-length albums. But while both the director and the band grate their fans’ collective patience with their work pace, they should also find solace in the fact that their final efforts will more often than not be well worth the wait. The deconstructed alt-rock of their 1996 album Seacaucus had, seven years later, evolved comfortably into deconstructed pop rock and balladry. The tight composition is indeed crucial to assuring us that we are listening to songs. There arrangements, of course, are a less obvious matter. The short bursts of Secaucus are stretched out, just as the members have grown, so too have the songs. It is perhaps the most mature album about maturity, The Wrens react sage-like to life changes from good to bad, from beauty to ugliness and vice versa. For every solemn “Happy” with its chiming guitars and soft vocals that rise steadily to a more vibrant conclusion, there are more voluminous, more distorted but no less artful affairs such as “Faster Gun,” “Per Second Second” and “Everyone Choose Sides” that make perfect sense to the band but can be assimilated into a listeners thinking however they like and yet still retain the core intent and emotion. It’s a fine display of contrast and complication that comes with artistic and personal growth, though it also captures the contrasts that are found in their home state which inspired the titles of this and the previous album. I know because I fucking live there, too. – Chris Morgan

94. The DecemberistsPicaresque
(2005; Kill Rock Stars)

Picaresque is that miracle bridge of an album. After Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty, the Decemberists, yet before the grandiosity of the thematic Crane Wife and Hazards of Love albums, Picaresque encapsulates a combination of elements from each one. It’s all a part of the rich tapestry of literate rock that the Decemberists are known for, but the songs seem more whole. “The Infanta” and “16 Military Wives” are examples of the Portland group’s most energetic tracks to date, while “The Engine Driver,” “On the Bus Mall” and “We Both Go Down Together” are among Meloy’s contemplative best, being staples of his stripped down acoustic solo shows. Nerd culture was on the rise and Colin Meloy was one of its many flagbearers. Soon, NPR would name the Decemberists as one of their favorites. Soon, dudes will be roaming the role-playing section of their local bookstores, wearing their They Might Be Giants t-shirts and making up songs about gypsies, chimney sweeps and bootblacks. – Terrance Terich

93. Sufjan StevensSeven Swans
(2004; Sounds Familyre)

I’ve written about this album several times in the recent past. But never has it been more pleasing for me to revisit the stripped down acoustic music of Sufjan than now, four years after Illinois. Everything since that 2005 album has seemed stopgap—not necessarily unwelcome—but nowhere near the same rich vein as Stevens’ usual fare. A Christmas box set, an album of remixes and unreleased stuff, an avant-garde audio-visual tribute to the BQE, and a string tribute to his least accessible album are all great, but pale in comparison to Sufjan’s middle period albums. Seven Swans is another album that doesn’t quite fit into the oeuvre, other than the fact that the folk revival was in full swing in 2004, and that after Enjoy Your Rabbit, Stevens was mostly known as a folk artist. Nearly every song on Seven Swans makes an allusion to a Biblical story, with the exceptions of Sufjan’s lesson on what to say to a lady (“The Dress Looks Nice on You”), a song named after Southern gothic author Flannery O’Connor’s book, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “Sister,” and “A Size Too Small.” Seven Swans is the most earnest, sweetest, deepest and most heartfelt of all of Stevens’ albums by far. It also frequently swaps places with Illinois as my favorite. Aside from Kermit, Stevens holds the distinction of being a huge influence on my wanting to learn to play the banjo. – Terrance Terich

92. Animal CollectiveSung Tongs
(2004; Paw Tracks-FatCat)

Since Sung Tongs, Animal Collective and its individual musicians have gone on to become darlings of the critics and fans alike. They’ve taken music that seemed incredibly fringe, experimental and psychedelic (not usual popular fare), and cracked the Billboard charts in the top 15. Sung Tongs doesn’t sound a whole lot like Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it does sound amazing. This early album is without every member, but does consist of the core of Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Some songs act as the springboard for what was to come, in the layered pastoral weirdness of single, “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” and “Winter’s Love,” but others are more traditionally folk-based, spurring many to put them in the `freak-folk’ category that seemed chic at the time. Regardless, if not immediately accessible, it was incredibly engaging. It remains one of my go-to picks when I’m in the mood for something relaxing, yet complex and cerebral. And believe me, I get in that mood often. – Terrance Terich

91. Elliott SmithFigure 8
(2000; Dreamworks)

This is not my favorite Elliott album, but this doesn’t make it any less essential. Figure 8 is an impressionist’s eloquent lyrical takes on the intricate reflections of identity. Without giving a complete picture, Smith effortlessly skates around a lyrical snapshot, as if he’s describing an event we’re trying to imagine as we’re passing by inside the window of our own rhythmic car. We each may have personal interpretations to these ambiguous classics, but is “Son of Sam” really likening a Tyler Durden-like multiple personality murder addiction to love? There’s a duality of emotions going on throughout Figure 8. The album is the sound of someone caught inside the finite emotions of lust and hate, a reflection on the finality of love. You hear moments of spite when Elliott sings in his cold-blooded lyrical persona who’s neglecting his partner in “Somebody That I Used to Know.” And then there’s the lamenting singer who wants to vanquish inside the memory of “Everything Reminds Me of Her.” But it’s not until the end of Figure 8, as he admits “I’ve got a long way to go,” that one can feel the spark of another, even a twinge of hope. We can still try to understand the emotional mysteries that Smith spent his brief career attempting uncover with his own lyrical prowess. What Figure 8 shows us is that it’s anything but simple trying to understand the infinite complexities of interpersonal relationships. – Adrian Cepeda

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