The Aughts: Top 100 Introduction

On December 31, 1999, I was hopelessly trying to sync up "A Day In the Life"'s final piano crash to coincide with the turning of the new year. I had spent the previous year getting more immersed in popular music and its history. Among some of the albums I had purchased that year were The Chronic, Nevermind, Midnight Vultures, and of course a whole smattering of the Beatles, from Rubber Soul to Abbey Road. I failed with the epic countdown moment, but something more important had already happened: I was quickly becoming a music consumer, ready to soak up new styles and events, to move from casual observer to devoted fanatic.

In a decade where the proliferation of technology and instant access to entertainment intensified, what can be said about music? For one thing, physical sales are way down, and downloads are an all-time high. Consider that, in 2000, no fewer than six albums saw one-week sales totals above 1 million, including NSync's unfathomable record of 2,415,859 (remember, in seven days), and the back-to-back debuts of Britney's Oops...I Did It Again and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP at 1.3 and 1.7 million, respectively. 2009's highest-selling album, Taylor Swift's Fearless at 3.2 million, would have ranked a pitiful 12th in 2000. And hers was the first album since 2006 to sell over 3 million in a year! The industry has seen better times.

But what about the quality? Sales are always fun to discuss and use as a barometer of the times (which have a-changed), but the outstanding issue will always be quality. Is the album, as a format, dead? All signs point to no. Throughout the decade, no matter the trends, the preferred method for a band or solo artist to release new music has predominantly been the long-playing album. Quite often, there are two or three tailor-made singles surrounded by lesser album tracks (or "filler" as they can be known), and thrown out to the masses with video and touring support. Much it has been for decades. For all those crying about the album's death, take cheer: according to Billboard, vinyl sales of new music in 2009 were the highest since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. For all the joys of an iPod and thousands of tracks to pick from, there is still nothing that can rival holding an extant copy of music in your hands and taking your time with it. For all music lovers, all of the following 100 albums are readily available, quite often even in vinyl format, if not in a physical music store, then online at your fingertips. Whatever the next decade brings, it will be exciting. If vinyl sales keep up and the album remains the primary format of music, so much the better. If the album dies in 2016, the following are the final ones I want to laud.

So, in a word (or three): Here it is. This is the moment the site has been building up for basically since its inception. It is not a secret that this site has existed almost solely for the dissemination of my views on the best albums of all time, whether in yearly lists or in my collection of CDs and albums, the number of which has exploded in the last decade. Quick trivia: on January 1, 2000 my CD collection numbered 76; ten years later, the count was at 621, with an additional 63 slabs of vinyl. I have been a one man army keeping up sales of albums. In addition to physical purchases, there have been countless albums I have downloaded, often as a one-and-done listen. It has been a chore, a bore, and utter chaos trying to organize the thousands of albums I've heard in ten years into a cohesive list of 100 to represent them all: disparate styles, endlessly splintered sub-sub-sub-genres, forgotten artists, and lost albums that came back to kick me in the guts all over again. It is a fascinating thing to re-examine a large part of one's personal history microscopically and try to arrange it into a legible document.

However, I do offer a disclaimer to anyone setting off on this journey: this is a populist list, and proud of it. This list is not meant to introduce 100 albums that nobody has heard of, those super-underground records available in an ultra-limited edition 100 copies that now regularly sell for thousands of dollars on eBay. The Internet's tentacles have assured that every album, no matter how obscure or hard-to-find, will find a niche audience that seeks it. 1998's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea slipped through the cracks and took years to become recognized as an essential 90's album: I find it hard to believe it would remain obscure for months in today's atmosphere, let alone years. As a listener who has had to settle for buying physical albums for years, and only recently learned downloading skills, I have created a list that will seem familiar to anyone who has perused a few of these types of lists in recent months. I started the decade in high school reading Rolling Stone and Spin, and spent much of the rest of it following Internet publications like Pitchfork, for better or worse. I think there are substantial differences and different albums on my list from those types of publications, but the bulk is an agreed-upon ouevre of Aughts Classics that are static from list to list. Radiohead? White Stripes? TV on the Radio? I plead guilty in advance.

My own top 100 has been in utter flux; if not for my setting a deadline and cutting off any more changes, it would never be listed but forever picked apart and moved around. In the end though, almost without my conscious doing, it is surprisingly well proportioned and evenly distributed: aside from 2003's 8 albums, and 2009's 6 (too soon!), every year invariably ranges from 10 to 11 albums throughout the list, with 2008 topping out at 13. I avoided doing a Second Half Decade list focusing on the years 2005-09, but there is quite a disparity between my half-decade list from 2004 and this complete decade list. At the time of the first list, I thought 2003 was a watershed year - must be why only 8 percent of this new list is comprised of those gems. It may initially seem like there is emphasis on the second half of the decade - it certainly appeared that way to me as I was writing it - but my count is nearly evenly split down the middle: 49 from 2000-04, 51 from 2005-09. Again, this was a complete surprise, and definitely not plotted, regardless of how meticulous it may seem.

It was noted to me that making a decade list should be quite simple: take the top 10 of your lists from each year and voila! Alas, that would not only be incredibly lazy and boring, but it would be a disservice to any changes in my tastes I've had since I made those lists. Indeed, by that process, the list would only be 62 albums long - nearly half of the albums on this list were not in their respective years' top ten. 2003 fared the worst, my number 1 of that year nowhere near even consideration for this list. Making a decade list like this is an on-going process that will re-evaluate recent releases: just because there are only six albums from 2009 on the list doesn't necessarily denote a poor year. The same in reverse for 2008; they've had an extra year to ferment and I consider them to be excellent albums, but will I still in 2014? Chances are, maybe not. In one year, five, ten years, the list could be rewritten anew and look completely different. However, this is the list that has chosen me and I have set down at this time: I am proud of it, and I will stand by all of these albums, defending them and their merits vociferously. Until I change my mind.

I will not be cruel and have you scroll for an hour: please find the list on the following four pages. Let's start the record!