50. The Thrills, So Much For the City, 2002
Sometimes appearances can be deceiving: for example, you might never guess that this blast of sunny pop didn’t come from a Californian band obsessed with the Beach Boys. Though the album was recorded in California, and the band was highly indebted to the Boys, the Thrills actually hail from Dublin, Ireland. Needless to say, their debut hits like summer’s first trip to the beach, an utterly addicting and highly melodious affair that is perfect for when your windows are rolled down.
49. Daft Punk, Discovery, 2001
The masked producers behind Daft Punk, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, finally confessed their dark secret before this album’s release: their equipment blew up on 9/9/99, and left them beyond mangled, only to come back as robots with nothing more to worry about than making people dance and smile. Whatever they did, they succeeded. Discovery is concrete-thick beats and synths all the way around, as eager to rock a synth-guitar solo as they are with shaking your booty. The almost childish repetition of “One More Time” is trance-inducing, but “Digital Love” is simply the most joyous song of the decade, the musical equivalent of a giant smile and hug from your best friend.
48. Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, 2000
Damon Gough’s debut album and its subsequent success set him up for a wildly uneven career: a shambolic, barely-together quilt of disparate influences and styles that somehow wins the Mercury Prize and raises expectations a thousand-fold. Had this album not had success thrust upon it, Gough might still be making decent albums and this could be appreciated as the cult classic that it deserves to be. Nevertheless, Bewilderbeast still stands as the accomplishment of a vastly talented, determined individual with the skills to put his wild ideas to plastic.
47. Amon Tobin, Out From Out Where, 2002
A thousand-foot black obelisk in the middle of a desert wasteland, as perfectly smooth as it is utterly inexplicable; perhaps a memento from millennia past, or the work of hyper-intelligent space aliens from eons ahead of us left behind to confound us into war. To comprehend that this work came from the mind of a single man is to transcend the human experience and shock you into paralysing awe. Truly, Mr. Tobin has been touched by the hand of God.
46. The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, 2003
The Twin Towers of the new pop renaissance in 2003 was the Shins' second album, and this Canadian effort that literally came out of nowhere. This is the true definition of ADD Pop, a near-maddening stew of so many glorious melodies and themes visited for such a short time that you want to punch the band for not standing still. The Unicorns throw away melodies like ordinary bands throw away broken guitar strings; they record more great pop embryos over 40 minutes than many bands do in their entire careers. Genius if you can stomach such disdain for normalcy.
45. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters, 2004
Chastised and labelled a gimmick act after their Bee Gees-on-E cover of Pink Floyd’s untouchable “Comfortably Numb”, the Sisters persevered with their act and crafted a debut album that reeked of its influences, yet somehow transcended them to become a camp classic on its own. Drugged-up trannies, hookers, censorship, and getting your mama wasted in order to soften the blow of your coming out, this is a dark album set to sunny melodies.
44. Royksopp, Melody A.M, 2002
The natural scenery of Norway is majestic enough to inspire some of the world’s best dance music, as evidenced by the abundance of magnificent dance-pop that arrives from those shores to the rest of us. The foremost of these artists, and arguably the best album of the movement, is Royksopp’s glacial debut: tiny exploding stars, fjords, smooth keyboards , and a ballad ("Sparks") many R&B singers would kill for.
43. Craig David, Born To Do It, 2001
For a year so long ago, the hottest British export in most parts of America was Mr. David and his inimitable producing team the Artful Dodger. An edgy R&B album that brought enough bangers to match its velvet-soft ballads, it was destined to break through in the US and make him an international star. Well...we know what happened. Still great, and still miles above any efforts from any of the endless bland American R&B singers.
42. Bjork, Vespertine, 2001
Possibly the most ingenious artist of the 90s took a step back on her first release of the decade, with her most low-key and accessible album to date. Gone were the abrasive electronics, the histrionic wails and wild genre-hopping, and were replaced with gentle drum pattering, whooshing Arctic winds and enchanted music boxes. What we lost in experimentation, we gained in warmth. The perfect winter soundtrack.
41. The Notwist, Neon Golden, 2003
Some of the best albums from this decade are ones which mixed up seemingly disparate musical styles into a flawless whole. Germany’s Notwist were an acclaimed hardcore punk band for a few years, which makes this album such a head-scratcher: gentle drum programming, synths, warm vocals and organic guitars - including banjos. Inexplicable, yet irresistible.
40. Junior Boys, Last Exit, 2004
Styles are cyclical: in 2002, Joy Division’s influence came to the fore of music. Two years later (much the same as twenty years ago), New Order finally had their day. One of the premier albums to pay homage to the band’s sound was Canada’s Junior Boys, with a magnificent debut album many described as New Order mixed with Timbaland. Off-kilter beats coupled with warm, sparse electronics back this claim and make this a must-own.
39. Doves, Lost Souls, 2000
Starting their careers as house producers in the early 90s and suffering a destructive fire in their hometown, Sub Sub wisely changed their name and style, and in turn crafted one of the decade’s best rock albums, a swirling dance-influenced opus full of magnificent songs. Once you penetrate the dense production you will find a gem.
38. Aaliyah, Aaliyah, 2001
Death strikes when you least expect it, when everything seems to be going right. Aaliyah was riding high on the success of her self-titled third album when death stole her on a preventable airplane crash at the unbelievable age of 22. Trying to separate this album from her demise is terribly tough: Aaliyah would much rather sing at a simmer than at full boil, and as such she sounds strangely lost inside the machines providing the music. An ethereal and terribly sad album.
37. Kylie Minogue, Fever, 2001
While the teen revolution was starting to rage in 1999, Kylie was biding her time overseas. Ever since her 80s hit cover of “The Locomotion” she had been steadily building an army of fans around the world while the US slept on her. Right around the time teen bop was losing steam, she unleashed this monster in America and earned a well deserved “comeback“. Fever is easily the decade’s most perfect pop album: a collection of dizzying slices of 70s-influenced disco with perfectly cheesy lyrics. Not to mention “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”.
36. The Rapture, Echoes, 2003
Dance-punk, or whatever you want to call it, was supposed to be the new decade’s defining sound, the new grunge or boy band pop. Instead, the scene obliterated, and the Rapture’s DFA-produced debut is the rare album document we have of it. Few moments live up to their bonkers single “House of Jealous Lovers”, but it’s such an insane height that when moments reach that peak, it makes it all worthwhile.
35. Madvillain, Madvillainy, 2004
The mingling and collaboration of producer Madlib and rapper extraordinaire MF Doom was enough to give undie rap fans a simultaneous orgasm and heart attack. Needless to say, their collaboration was one of 2004’s most extraordinary releases overall, a heady cocktail of wild samples, jazzy beats and Doom’s inimitable rapping. Most songs were just one long verse over hazy beats, and Doom's scratchy voice is an acquired taste. However, his rhymes are truly delightful (only a master of language could rhyme so effortlessly), and the album is an exhilarating ride that any fan of creativity would be well served to experience.
34. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002
Established band records album slightly straying from their sound. Album deemed un-commercial by suits. Band buys back tape, leaves label. Album quickly bought by subsidiary of same parent company. Becomes band’s best-selling album to date, huge critical success. Lessons learned: 1) talent and perseverance wins; 2) the music industry is gayball.
33. D'Angelo, Voodoo, 2000
Michael Archer’s sophomore album was off-putting to many upon its release: people hoping for another “Brown Sugar” were, of course, disappointed. Perhaps feeling as if he had nothing to prove in the song writing department, D’Angelo bravely holed up in Hendrix’s Electric Lady studio and created a simmering, 79-minute jam, full of thick grooves and heavy endo smoke. The result? A perfect late-night soundtrack to whatever you’re up to.
32. Justin Timberlake, Justified, 2002
Things couldn’t have looked worse for this album: the poodle-haired “lead singer” of notorious cheese factory *Nsync goes solo, and apes MJ’s moves in his video. Then something unexpected happened: the album turned out good. Really, really good. For a former boy bander, at least. Organic R&B production from the Neptunes and Timbaland create standout pop songs; a fair comparison is Off the Wall. While his ex floundered with overblown pop disasters, JT made effervescent pop music as easily as if breathing. Here’s hoping he delivers his Thriller next.
31. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come For Free, 2004
The best white rapper? His name is not a candy; his name is Skinner, and he literally skins the competition. After his brilliant debut album (a collection of short stories), his sophomore album exceeded every expectation - a full-length novel about a particularly mundane series of events in a mundane guy’s life. His TV’s broken, his new girlfriend’s taken off, paranoia about his friends, and of course his thousand quid has gone missing. Through all the minutiae, Skinner makes us realize that this album is about our lives too. A breakthrough in the concept album department.
30. Elbow, Cast Of Thousands, 2003
Simply put, this is the album everyone claims Coldplay has made. A rich, melodic and subtle album that unveils its assets over repeated listens. This is hardly as immediate, yet is immensely more rewarding, than any of Coldplay’s works. Proof in point: opener "Ribcage" is a moody, expansive song that meanders along for three minutes before exploding into a huge drumbeat and choir, while "Fugitive Motel" is the best song about the downside of touring ever, and a ballad Coldplay would love to write.
29. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, 2004
The Young Liars EP was a startling intro for this group of artists out of Brooklyn: a perfectly formed sound utilizing drone rock, jazz skronk, barbershop, and Tunde Adebimpe, one of the best vocalists in indie rock. For their full length debut, they greedily acquired Kyp Malone, and now possess two of the best singers in indie rock. Although this album has way too many great ideas for its own good, the potential of TV on the Radio is to become the best band of their era. Period.
28. Jay-Z, The Black Album, 2003
The best rapper alive, and his supposed farewell album. For years, Jigga had been making slightly substandard albums with his trademark killer flow: on this album, he relinquishes the guest rappers and endless skits, brings in a revolving door of ridiculous beats from an army of producers, and drops some of his most poignant rhymes. A brilliant bookmark to a career started by the classic Reasonable Doubt, and too good to really be a farewell.
27. M83, Dead Cities, Red Skies & Lost Ghosts, 2003
M83's recent album throws into light this gem’s lack of live drums and intense melodrama: Dead Cities is a lump-in-your-throat walk through green pastures while stars explode above your head. It is a beautiful sound, made all the better by the French duo's infusing a healthy humanity into what could have been a shiny metal slab of electro.
26. Prefuse 73, One Word Extinguisher, 2003
Instrumental hip-hop reached its zenith with DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, and has seen few albums of note since. However, the new decade has seen Def Jux’s production work (especially RJD2’s Deadringer), which is great, while Scott Herren’s break-up album on Warp Records is fantastic. The album goes through so many motions and sketches in one hour through electronic music, jazz, hip-hop that you’ll likely become dizzy. Though your heart will likely be rend first by the emotions Herren brings forth from his compositions. Instrumental hip-hop's first breakup album? I can't explain either, but I love it.
25. The Strokes, Is This It, 2001
The album that arguably started it all. Riding a crest of acclaim from British music mags on the strength of a three-song EP that hailed them the greatest band in the history of music, New York’s kings of cool fused elements of Velvet Underground, Television and the Fall into an irresistibly short album packed with no filler. Hardly the type of sound that can be labelled original, but the impact it has had on this decade’s rock music is so far incalculable. Also suffered the fastest backlash in recent rock history.
24. The Libertines, Up the Bracket, 2002
Initially denounced as Britain’s answer to the Strokes, the Libertines became equally famous on the strength of this album’s charms: shambolic, seemingly recorded in one take, with seedy bar-rock jewels strewn in Mick Jones’ under-production. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat’s strange laddy relationship, along with Doherty’s increasingly drug addled behavior, kept the band in the rags for the wrong reasons. That the band have since broken up makes the songs' romanticism of being young forever all the more bittersweet. The logical follow-up to Exile on Main St., and a rousing night-on-the-town soundtrack.
23. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000
This is when Eminem started to have it all. He arguably made a better album with The Eminem Show, but MMLP was simply monstrous in every sense of the word. Misogynistic, homophobic, violent, leery, and utterly vulgar. However, it transcended its surroundings and became the first pop culture event of the new decade, selling a huge 1.76 million copies in its first week, landing Slim Shady on every magazine, while earning him awards left and right (including the famous Album of the Year snub from the Grammys). For a long time, Marshall was a car crash we couldn’t look away from, and this album is his claim to icon, if not quite legend.
22. Manitoba, Up in Flames, 2003
The Beatles. U2. Joy Division/New Order. All made great stylistic leaps in their career, yet perhaps none of them as dramatic as Manitoba. Dan Snaith’s debut Start Breaking My Heart was a pleasant IDM album in the vein of Boards of Canada. His second was a psychedelic indie/dance/rock freak-out shot through an orange-and-green filter. Perhaps the title was a reference to his IDM start that went up in flames; whatever it was, a beautiful being was born from the ashes.
21. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells, 2001
Are they brother and sister? Divorced husband and wife? Friends who love a good joke? Whatever they are, they sure know their way around great blues songs with only drums and a guitar. They’d been playing around in Detroit, releasing two high-quality albums, before this one came along and slowly made them one of the founders of the decade’s new obsession with post-punk rock and blues. Yet even with higher expectations, they still record albums in two weeks and release them with little exposure. Hardcore.
20. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand, 2004
Who would have foreseen Franz’s debut to kick-start a revolution? The lazy, almost Strokesian intro to “Take Me Out” had them pegged as another lazy rip-off. Then 42 seconds in, a shift of gears, and an entire generation of bands start wearing skinny ties and playing angular guitar. Whatever that is. The Strokes and Interpol lay down the carpet, and Franz kicked in the door. The first single was perfect, but lucky for us, none of the other ten songs are below its quality. The decade's first contender for future classic status.
19. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow, 2003
Coming on the heels of a pop renaissance, the Shins’ sophomore album is the type of album that is museum worthy. Shedding the dreamy reverb of their debut Oh, Inverted World, songwriter/singer James Mercer brought his razor sharp hooks (sometimes three or four in a single song) to the fore with simple instrumentation and patience. An album that uncovers its treasures over time, and way too short for its own good. On par with the Cars’ best albums.
18. Zero 7, Simple Things, 2001
Released a year after chill-out kings Air went bananas on 10,000 Hz Legend, British producers Henry Binns & Sam Hardaker stepped up to the plate and filled the void in lush R&B/electro chill-out music for a candlelight and wine dinner at home. This album easily become a phenomenal success in its genre and made the Zero 7 name a highly sought remix. Perfect for late-night drives.
17. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in Da Corner, 2003
Young black man escapes South London ghetto through music, raps about it. Self-produces debut album. Watches fame and worldwide acclaim come his way. Sells half-a-mil. Celebrates 19th birthday by producing sophomore album just as great. UK rap’s great hope.
16. Primal Scream, XTRMNTR, 2000
Some have said, upon its release, that the first 20 minutes of this album would hold up as the most exciting piece of music for the next five years. Right now it’s looking like it will remain the most exciting for the next nine-hundred ninety-five years. A musical blender combining marching boots, napalm, shrapnel, and volcanic guitars (courtesy of still-MIA MBV mastermind Kevin Shields), this was the soundtrack to the revolution that never happened. Listen at your own risk.
15. MJ Cole, Sincere, 2001
Some albums have a specific time and place, a style they encapsulate so perfectly that they lose meaning if removed to another month, let alone another year. MJ Cole’s ice-cold debut is the perfect snapshot of the rising garage scene in the UK circa 2001. Skittering drum’n’bass beats like insects, warm orchestral strings, lazy guitars and smooth R&B crooning from talented guests mingle to create an intoxicating album that couldn’t have been made another time. Add in the fact that the album transports you to a specific time in your life, and it can’t fail.
14. Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow, 2002
This is the idealistic 70s block party you can see on TV: pigtailed girls jumping double dutch, Cadillacs, fire hydrants going off, and telling stories on the porches. Cliched, but Blackalicious provides the soundtrack to that warm summer day you never want to end. Cramming in every style and feel of rap, hip-hop and R&B, these Quannum alumni keep the music fresh, and the messages positive - a timeless album after hundreds of listens is created.
13. Boards of Canada, Geogaddi, 2002
BOC’s Music Has the Right to Children has become IDM’s ambassador, its Kind of Blue; you may not dig the genre, but you have the album. Immediate reaction to this album labelled it as more of the same, but the band’s warning to “play twice before listening” was fair warning. They replaced the dead air from MHTRTC with steady drones, while strange unnerving progressions wake you up from the false sense of comfort the rest of the album instils. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, musical palindromes, a god with hooves, frightening backward mumblings, and Leslie Nielsen all show up to make this the most perfect musical lucid dream the century has given us. Keep your eyes on the trees.
12. Coldplay, Parachutes, 2000
Oh, sweet discoveries. In December 2000, when the decade was finishing its first uneventful year, Coldplay were yet another British rock band, compared to Radiohead and Travis. In recent years, they mounted a legendary sophomore album/tour that put the world in their palms. For my money, this is their definitive album: a tender, quiet rumination on the themes of love and space they would expand on in the future, that I'm proud to be the first amongst friends to have discovered. Nothing encompassed that moment in time like Parachutes, and it is all the more wonderful for it.
11. The Arcade Fire, Funeral, 2004
The sort of album that sparks revolutionary movements and a new musical scene, Montreal’s Arcade Fire released their debut album to a simultaneous indie-rock critic orgasm. Dealing with a morbid plot arc of death, snow and redemption, Funeral nevertheless surprises as a redemptive and highly rewarding listen. Unsurprisingly, the insane hype was right on the money: fire and brimstones, enough experimentation for an entire career, and passion unseen since Boy. On to the sophomore album, then.
10. N.E.R.D., In Search Of..., 2002
What could they be in search of? Credibility? More platinum? World-wide fame and fortune? The Neptunes already had these blessings in spades, but when they formed a rock group and released this electro-rock-samba-R&B confection after a complete makeover, they found a treasure trove of pop songs superior to the ones they wrote for other recording artists. For a couple of years, Pharrell and Chad could do no wrong: this is their zenith.
9. OutKast, StanKonia, 2000
Years before they caught an unprecedented wave of hype with a sub-standard double album, OutKast made great single albums that captured Big Boi’s yin to 3000’s yang perfectly. A booty-shaking Technicolor funkfest that was (and still is) completely different from mainstream hip-hop, Stankonia is a rare gem that showcases two talented artists run amok with a wealth of ideas and the courage to try them all on. Even the cover art is downright iconic now. More fun than a barrelful of monkeys, and says more than many politicians could hope to express.
8. El-P, Fantastic Damage, 2002
El-P’s Def Jux debut is the sound of America at war on itself in the first months following the 9/11 tragedy: shock turning to rage, anthrax, cries for blood, the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, war, lies, more war. Simply put, this is one of the most uncompromising, vitriolic and abrasive rap records ever recorded. The music is harsh and discordant (the off-time beats of the title track; whatever's going on in "Tuned Mass Damper"; two words: "Lazerface's Warning" showcasing how Company Flow had a grip on East Indian influences way before Timbo and Missy) and El-P’s inimitable style is brash and aggressive. The scary thing is, as most records are products of the times they are made, the era of Fan Dam was a fucked up, all too real time indeed. It's highly unlikely a lot of people can listen to it straight through, but then, how did we survive through that era to begin with?
7. Amon Tobin, Supermodified, 2000
The Brazilian by the way of London electronic mastermind Amon Tobin had already released two supreme jazz n’ drum albums before the century began, but he began the new one with a monster. More organic, yet much darker than Bricolage and Permutation, Tobin began his move away from jazz into an altogether more indefinable sound. This album cannot be described by anything other than your ears, so skip this review and pick it up now.
6. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights, 2002
The opening salvo in the new decade’s 80’s post-punk revival, New York veterans Interpol’s glorious debut is the dark, romantic third album that Joy Division never made. Swirling atmospherics, “angular” guitars, and propulsive drums come together to form an impassioned musical wall for Paul Banks’ regal vocals to paint all shades of grey.
5. Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun, 2000
Iceland’s second-best export catching lightning in their bottle. Their debut was overblown and stuffy; this album’s follow-up was overblown and featherweight; but “A Fine Beginning” is pure alchemy, four young men with a clear picture of their intentions and the skills to set them to tape. And what images they had: melting glaciers, meandering green hills, and enormous geysers of molten rock, with an alien child as your tour guide. To call this album cathartic is an understatement: this is music to cry, laugh, and slit your wrists to. Essential like oxygen.
4. The Streets, Original Pirate Material, 2002
With the emergence of British hip-hop (better known as garage) came its best-known, completely un-archetypal face: skinny, white 21 year old Mike Skinner, rapping under the Streets pseudonym. It is fitting, then, that there hasn’t been a better snapshot of urban British youth culture in 21st century Britain before or since. Describing the album as bedrock Casio beats with a barely understandable Brummy accented drunkard over it does it no justice. Torn between getting high and surveying his run-down surroundings, Skinner finds the beauty in life through song and stories.
3. The Avalanches, Since I Left You, 2000
Before I continue, I must make a starling confession, one which might shock everyone who reads this, all four of you: I placed this album on top of the slow year of 2001’s list without hearing a single note. A shameful practice, no doubt; but, as it turns out, I already had heard this entire album, albeit in different places and contexts. Everything on this album is sampled and thrown together like a magnificent musical blender by an unknown Australian DJ posse. With such a staggering palette (nearly 900 samples), it’s only fair that a very small amount of musical permutations don’t quite mesh. Kudos to the Avalanches for making the other 98% of the album flawless musical sunshine.
2. Radiohead, Kid A, 2000
The anticipation for this album was akin to awaiting Jesus’ arrival back to Earth: three long years after changing modern rock forever with OK Computer, Radiohead decided to forgo releasing a single. Or videos. Or a promo tour. Or interviews. Or an album with guitars. Warm, discordant electronics and deconstructed lyrics greeted listeners, and hit Number 1 on the charts. As befits an album of such huge risks, it became one of the most polarizing musical pieces of the last few decades: for every person who thinks it a Bible, there's another labelling it pretentious garbage. Nevertheless, the band was hailed as visionaries, and it still might be years before we finally see what kind of musical revolution Kid A will give birth to. Score a million points for brave creativity and the last great “album” of the last five years.
1. Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein, 2001
Released in May 2001, and already gathering praise for its uncompromising apocalyptic visions of a dark, violent New York, The Cold Vein sounds nothing less than an eerily prophetic vision of something much more terrible to come: whatever MCs Vast Aire and Vordul, and producer El-P were thinking during recording, it probably didn’t encapsulate the events to come in four months. The Cold Vein is most notable for its unwillingness to compromise. Vast and Vordul take you on a grimy tour of the New York that isn’t glamorized in rap videos, and rub your face in it for a hellish hour. El-P sets their hyper-literate rhymes within a framework of twisted metal and smouldering fire: discordant synths bubble as if from the River Styx and the beats rumble like buildings crumbling. Yet from this apocalypse and hopelessness comes a ray of light, in the redemption songs of “Pigeon” and “Scream Phoenix!”. For my money, this album encapsulates the decade’s most important event months before it happened: a hell on earth; apocalypse from a blue sky; hope from desperation. Who knows if we'll ever reach the final two songs' stages, or how The Cold Vein will be viewed in 10 or 20 years; right now, it is the decade’s most important and challenging album.