The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

70. Death Cab for CutieTransatlanticism
(2003; Barsuk)

When it was released, Transatlanticism was the most muscular of Death Cab for Cutie’s albums to date. It marked a turning point for the band, and not just because its cover art appeared on an OC character’s bedroom wall. The album has the same scattershot rhythms and prose-like lyrics that had become the band’s signature, but there’s a certain earned quality to that dewy-eyed melancholy that colors all Death Cab’s songs. The guitars clang louder, especially on songs like “The New Year” and “We Looked Like Giants,” and there’s a grab for the anthemic on the album’s title track. But the while the sinew of Transatlanticism is more obviously in these distorted, raucous songs, there is also a quiet confidence to some of the gentler tracks, like “Passenger Seat” and “Lack of Color” that show the band’s willingness and desire to make the leap to the next level. – Elizabeth Malloy

69. The RaptureEchoes
(2003; DFA-Universal)

People talk about dance-punk like it existed for five minutes in the early half of the decade. If that’s the case, how do you explain “Heart of Glass,” Remain in Light, or half of The Clash’s output between 1979-82? Dancepunk goes way back, it just went through a period of renewal around 2002 or so. But it’s a damn good thing it did. The Rapture seem to get most of the credit for this, and with an album like Echoes, it’s hard not to see why. “House of Jealous Lovers” was the omnipresent dancefloor filler, but plenty of gold existed well beyond its cowbell beats. The sexy swagger of “Sister Saviour,” the abrasive crash of “Heaven,” the hypnotic house of “Olio,” even the handful of songs that borrowed liberally from David Bowie, all added up to a party record that, though definitely of a certain time, hasn’t lost its appeal or its dazzle. – Jeff Terich

68. Hercules and Love AffairHercules and Love Affair
(2008; DFA-Mute)

With the history of disco having invaded the humanities discipline for at least one state school I know, we can all rest easy. By ‘we’ I mean anyone who still considers themselves “a loyal adherent to the disco movement” (big up, Whit Stilman). In 2008 Hercules & Love Affair, more of a discussion than a real band, set out to prove disco’s lifelike qualities without dwelling excessively on, y’know, the past. But what they, and we, ended up with was a full-on celebration of all kinds of electronic music, from Chicago house to leisurely funk. House wizard Frankie Knuckles may have posted up on “Blind” for one of the more triumphant remixes of the decade but it’s the interplaying vocals of Nomi and Antony Hegarty, notorious shapeshifters both, that deliver Hercules & Love Affair past the original shiver of revivalism. Disco’s lifespan is in its clear-eyed tolerance, not any stubborn reliance on grooves. But the grooves don’t go away either. – Anthony Strain

67. Brian WilsonSmile
(2004; Nonesuch)

After conceiving and releasing one of the greatest albums of the last century, the indelible Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson set out to create a so-called “teenage symphony to God” with his now legendary Smile in 1966. This collaboration with composer and lyricist Van Dyke Parks was miles ahead of anything in pop music at the time in terms of its conceptual scope and compositional complexity, but proved to be too advanced for Capitol Records and his fellow bandmates in the Beach Boys (particularly Mike Love) who ultimately – in conjunction with stresses caused by Wilson’s drug use, mental illness, and inferiority complex – forced the album to be shelved after a year. Thirty-seven years later, Brian Wilson and his current band unveiled the resurrected project at the Royal Festival Hall in London and finally released a completed Smile record in 2004. Various songs from the original sessions had cropped up later in the Beach Boys discography and fans had attempted to compile versions of the album using bootlegged, unfinished session cuts, but all failed to convey the full power of this tremendous song cycle. A survey, summary and celebration of American music and history that spans from Dixieland, to George Gershwin, to ’60s psychedelia, from Plymouth Rock, to Chicago, to Hawaii, Smile‘s stirring Americana is interwoven with again-collaborator Van Dyke Parks’ dense allegory, replete with historical and pop culture references, puns, double entendres and allusions to Brian Wilson’s life and experiences. Meticulously crafted, Wilson’s emotional swell of intricate, sunny chamber-pop is equally playful, constantly shifting instrumentation, moods, and textures. With its unique, affecting arrangements and harmonies even more elaborate than those found on Pet Sounds, Smile – as presented for the first time in finished studio quality – is a long overdue, overwhelming triumph. – Derek Emery

66. Cat PowerYou Are Free
(2003; Matador)

Friends of mine had the tendency to write off Chan Marshall as a clone of Fiona Apple. Logic dictates that these friends of mine seem only to have heard The Greatest, which comes close to achieving that, though not quite. Prior to that Ms. Apple and Ms. Power could not have been more distinct. Though this is not to say Fiona Apple is terrible, hardly, but her production is too rich, her melodies too composed, her voice too breathless, her lyrics when not straining for metaphor veer into a kind of Writing 100 oversharing. Cat Power, in 2003 at least, was none of those things. Even with the extra layer of piano over guitar and vice versa, You Are Free is sparse to the point of semi-nudity (slightly more clothed, of course, than Moon Pix); her voice was only just then reaching its melodic potential and had it not been for her onstage breakdowns or other nonsense, she’d have gotten that notice much earlier, Eddie Vedder’s presence hardly seems necessary; and her lyrics, in most cases, remain steeped in ambiguity. Even now I’ve no clue what the fuck Ms. Marshall’s problem was, nor do I even care—even the most enigmatic works of art, in any medium, are no less beautiful. Fiona Apple is Lady Macbeth; Chan Marshall, however, is Prince Hamlet. – Chris Morgan

65. Sigur Rós( )
(2002; Universal)

I’m an unabashed Sigur Rós fan, so don’t be surprised at the drooling sycophantism that will be on display in this capsule review. First of all, I’m ashamed of my fellow writers. I can’t believe this album, which fell squarely in my top 10, and which often finds its way to the top of my list as one of my favorite albums of all time, was ranked so low. I suppose I should just be satisfied that it’s here at all, but I have such emotional reactions to their music that I just can’t accept it. This is the power this Icelandic quartet has over me. I am an emotional blob upon listening to their music, especially upon hearing the songs on ( ). The album is practically untitled, the songs were originally untitled, and the lyrics are sung in a made up language. There is something incredibly powerful about letting the music speak for itself that it hits at something in my core I can’t explain. I am a writer. I want to become a teacher. There is something about words that is so powerful to me, and yet I am moved by this album’s absence of recognizable words. Maybe it’s because the presence of the parentheses means that we have to fill in that space with our own words. Or maybe it’s because the lyric booklet is empty, left for us to fill in our own thoughts. I don’t know, but it’s in the uncertainty that I find this album’s power. “Untitled #1 (aka `Vaka’),” “Untitled #3 (aka `Fyrsta’)” and “Untitled #4 (aka `Njósnavélin’)” are just as powerful as anything on the more critically lauded Agaetis Byrjun, while “Untitled #7 (aka `Dau_alagi_’)” and “Untitled #8 (aka `Popplagi_’)” are arguably more so, which is probably why the latter has been the band’s most frequent closer since its release. – Terrance Terich

64. UnwoundLeaves Turn Inside You
(2001; Kill Rock Stars)

Unwound’s Leaves Turn Inside You opens with two minutes of feedback, closes with a minute of static-ridden Dixieland hot jazz, and sandwiches between these two odd bookends 75 minutes of the most awe-inspiring abstract punk rock of the decade. A work of pure audacity, Leaves Turn Inside You is an album defined as much by its hazy, shimmering beauty as its raw, visceral power and sheer heaviness. The Pacific Northwestern post-hardcore veterans’ discography up to that point providing only the narrowest of springboards, Unwound explored a jaw-dropping array of sonic territory, delving into jerky, dissonant post-punk in “December,” shimmering indie pop in “Look A Ghost,” hypnotic shoegazer textures in “One Look Less” and epic, pulse-racing rock in “Off This Century,” all with a bare minimum of overdubs. Economical both in their musical approach and their sequencing, Unwound don’t leave a minute of wasted space on this sprawling double album, and that speaks volumes (even that extended feedback introduction is pure brilliance in the context of the song). An album every bit on par with Kid A, Loveless or Daydream Nation, Leaves Turn Inside You is the most stunning work of Unwound’s career, and, simply, one of the most amazing albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. – Jeff Terich

63. Justice
(2007; Ed Banger-Vice)

Justice’s biggest single may have been a Michael Jackson tribute with a children’s choir but the album from which it was spawned is a less about pure pop and more about making the nastiest, dirtiest, most distorted hour of French house ever thought possible. Like Daft Punk with 5 o’clock shadows and leather jackets, the Parisian duo emerged with a hedonistic spirit and grooves that kept on pumping into the wee hours of the night. Their “Phantom” was really a party monster. Their “Genesis” was really just the birth of an all-night rager. And their “Waters of Nazareth” was just an excessively spiked punchbowl. But for as much as this is a dance album, the duo’s love of distortion, mythical narrative and giant iconic crosses said otherwise: they were ready to be rock stars. – Jeff Terich

62. FugaziThe Argument
(2001; Dischord)

While Kid A may represent the beginning of an era, Fugazi’s most-likely (perhaps even hopefully) final record may represent the end of the previous one. In the face of Radiohead’s digital globalism, Fugazi’s analog communitarianism seems antiquated, much in the same way that George Orwell’s coming meant for the legacy of the Bloomsburg group; or the Bloomsburg group to the Victorian sages. There seems a great deal of modern age catharsis in the record. From Guy Picciotto screaming “I want out!” over and over at one moment, defiantly sneering “I’m pissing on your modems” at another, to Ian Mackaye speaking in telegram form in one song or anticipating the instensifying of bickering on the title track (“How did a difference become a disease?“), there is an articulate lashing out and disappointment at the lack of progress against what they had achieved. Perhaps it’s also not accidental that this is also their best sonic record since Red Medicine. All ethics aside, Fugazi always had the music, and though it shouldn’t have surprised people previously, it very gladly did this time. – Chris Morgan

61. BjörkVespertine
(2001; Elektra)

Björk’s career has seen her go from dance-pop pixie to trip-hop maven, orchestral pop diva to theatrical songstress, and a few other various niches tucked in-between. In 2001, after appearing in Lars Von Trier’s devastating Dancer In the Dark, Björk moved away from explosive, dramatic statements to make her most intimate and sensual work to date. Vespertine made pretty clear with its erotic cover portrait that this wasn’t an album to be populated with rumbles like “Army of Me,” but rather softer, more delicate expressions. Lead single “Hidden Place” may have pulsed with a hypnotic beat, but elsewhere, Björk opted for compositions that most closely resembled snowflakes, intricate and detailed but fragile. And for once, Björk the personality seems far less over-the-top, celebrating a new love in “Cocoon” and dispensing a humbling mantra in “Undo.” It’s one of Björk’s least immediate albums on initial listen, but over time has grown to be her most accomplished and beautiful. – Jeff Terich

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