Top 20 Albums of the 2000s

Posted: July 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
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So this is it. The final entry in a five-part series on my favorite albums of each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. I didn’t anticipate this project dragging out for two years, but real life can get kind of busy sometimes. Anyway, I’m sad it’s over because this was a lot of fun. Turns out there’s been a lot of great music made over the last 50 years. Before we get started, a rules reminder: no live albums, no compilations, no more than two albums from any one artist.

If you missed any of the previous entries, check them out here: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.

Honorable mentions
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World (2001)

20. The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)
Elephant isn’t as consistent start to finish as its predecessor, White Blood Cells, but it still has enough great songs to be one of the decade’s best albums. Opener “Seven Nation Army” is overused at sporting events, but it’s still an undeniably excellent song. The epic “Ball and Biscuit” alternates between slow blues and fiery, out-of-control guitar solos. “Black Math,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” “Hypnotize,” “The Air Near My Fingers” and “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” are all great as well.

19. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008)
Vampire Weekend has a bit of a reputation as being privileged Ivy Leaguers, which is understandable considering they went to Columbia and some of their lyrics are about being wealthy. But even if the lyrics on their self-titled debut don’t really say anything meaningful, they’re still clever. The album’s biggest strength is its music, though. Vampire Weekend features a unique combination of Afrobeat and baroque pop that’s catchy throughout. “A-Punk” (the closest they come to rocking) is the best song here, but “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “M79,” “Campus” and “Walcott” are all highlights as well.

18. The Black Keys – Rubber Factory (2004)
By 2004, The Black Keys were already being talked about as potential co-leaders of the garage rock/blues rock revival alongside The White Stripes. On their third album, Rubber Factory, they cashed in on that potential. It was their most consistent album to date, and is arguably still their best album now. Rockers like “10 A.M. Automatic,” “Girl Is on My Mind” and “Till I Get My Way” are the most recognizable songs, and they’re certainly all highlights. But there are other, somewhat surprising highlights as well, such as the lap steel-laden “The Lengths” and the cover of The Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentle.”

17. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004)
Franz Ferdinand was another product of the garage rock revival, but they came from the British side and had a different sound than The White Stripes or The Black Keys. There wasn’t any blues; instead, everything was more upbeat, incorporating elements of disco and dance into rock. “Take Me Out” is the best-known song here, and I’d argue it’s one of the best songs of the decade. “Jacqueline,” “The Dark of the Matinee,” “Cheating on You” and “Darts of Pleasure” are all great as well. The guitar interplay between Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy is a highlight throughout.

16. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (2007)
Neon Bible was a pretty significant departure from Arcade Fire’s debut, Funeral. It dealt a lot more with the world around the band, as opposed to the more personal nature of Funeral. Specifically, it dealt with the fear, paranoia and uncertainty of the post-9/11 world, with references to the government, church and entertainment industry. The music was more subdued, but also more urgent. Desperation and despair ooze out of tracks like “Black Mirror,” “Intervention,” “(Antichrist Television Blues)” and “My Body Is a Cage,” but there are also more upbeat highlights like “Keep the Car Running” and “No Cars Go.”

15. Gentleman Jesse & His Men – Gentleman Jesse & His Men (2008)
The cover of Gentleman Jesse & His Men is an obvious nod to Elvis Costello’s 1978 masterpiece This Year’s Model, and that’s a pretty fitting reference point. Gentleman Jesse is far from a Costello clone, but there are definitely traces of the new wave/punk/power pop sound that pervaded Costello’s early work. Basically if you like songs with catchy guitar hooks and singalong choruses, then you’ll probably like Gentleman Jesse. Slacker anthem “The Rest of My Days” and closer “Put Your Hands Together” are probably the two best songs here, but “Highland Crawler,” “All I Need Tonight (Is You),” “You Don’t Have To (If You Don’t Want To)” and “You Got Me Where You Want Me” are all great, too.

14. Nicole Atkins – Neptune City (2007)
It’s hard to decide which is the bigger star on Neptune City — Nicole Atkins’ incredible voice or the incredible instrumentation. Atkins sounds great throughout, but she really shines when she lets loose and lets her voice lift the songs to another level. Throughout the album, she’s accompanied by a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound that includes not just guitar, bass and drums, but piano, brass, strings and woodwinds as well. The lyrics often describe her love-hate relationship with her hometown (Neptune City, New Jersey), something a lot of us can probably relate to. “Maybe Tonight,” “Love Surreal,” “Brooklyn’s on Fire!” and “Party’s Over” are the standouts for me, but every song is pretty great.

13. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound (2008)
If you spend even 15 seconds reading about The Gaslight Anthem, you’re bound to see Bruce Springsteen mentioned, and for good reason. Like Springsteen, they’re from New Jersey. Their songs cover many of the same subjects Springsteen covered — growing up, getting nostalgic, wanting more from the world. They even quote Springsteen lyrics on “High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge.” But The Gaslight Anthem are far from simple Springsteen ripoffs. While the background and subject matter are the same, The Gaslight Anthem are a punk band at heart, and a damn good one at that. “Great Expectations,” “The ’59 Sound” and “Old White Lincoln” constitute one of the best opens to any 2000s album, and The ’59 Sound barely lets up after that. “Film Noir,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “The Backseat” are other highlights.

12. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (2006)
Boys and Girls in America is probably the most accessible Hold Steady album. It features the closest thing they’ve ever made to sing-along (or perhaps shout-along) songs, and the lyrics come closer to being universal for teens and 20-somethings, right from the album’s Kerouac-inspired opening line about boys and girls in America having such a sad time together. The music incorporates more keyboard than their previous work, but it still rocks as much as ever. Opener “Stuck Between Stations” is my favorite Hold Steady song, and “Chips Ahoy,” “Hot Soft Light,” “First Night” and “Massive Nights” are other highlights.

11. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)
Spoon had one of the most impressive runs of anyone in the 2000s, as Girls Can Tell (2001), Kill the Moonlight (2002), Gimme Fiction (2005) and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) were all very good albums. I think Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is their best, though. As is the case with all their albums during that run, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga builds off their previous work enough to still sound like vintage Spoon, but tweaks things enough to sound fresh. In this case, they added more soul, more horns, more Motown. The obvious highlight is “The Underdog,” which is basically a victory lap for anyone who’s ever been ignored or belittled. “Don’t Make Me a Target,” “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t You Evah” and “Black Like Me” are all great as well.

10. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose (2004)
A 72-year-old country legend trying to stage a comeback teams up with a 28-year-old rock star in the prime of his career. It sounds odd, but Loretta Lynn and Jack White wound up being a perfect match on Van Lear Rose. The songs range from nostalgic to funny to sad to happy, and they all sound great thanks to the music White creates as producer. He knows when to let Lynn’s voice breathe, when to accompany it with the country sounds of a steel guitar or banjo, and when to throw in some hard-rocking electric guitar. Opener “Van Lear Rose” is one of the most beautiful songs of the decade, “Portland, Oregon” is a wonderful rock and roll duet, and “Miss Being Mrs.” is a sad lament for Lynn’s deceased husband. Other highlights include rocker “Mrs. Leroy Brown,” ballad “Trouble on the Line” and jangly singalong “High on a Mountain.”

9. The Libertines – Up the Bracket (2002)
When The Libertines released Up the Bracket, their debut album, it drew approximately a million comparisons to The Strokes (because garage rock revival) and The Clash (because London punk). I’d also add The Rolling Stones because the perfectly sloppy vocal harmonies from Carl Barat and Pete Doherty make me think of Exile on Main St. As you can probably guess from all the comparisons, The Libertines didn’t really do anything that hadn’t been done before. However, there’s something to be said for being really, really good at making catchy rock songs, and there aren’t many who were as good at it as The Libertines. Just listen to “Vertigo” and “Boys in the Band” — they’re pretty much perfect rock songs. Other highlights include “Horrorshow,” “Up the Bracket” and “I Get Along.”

8. My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves (2003)
AllMusic compares It Still Moves to The Band, Neil Young, American Beauty-era Grateful Dead and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. I don’t know about that last one, but the first three make a lot of sense. It’s a great Americana mix of rock, country and folk. Jim James’ lyrics and vocals bring emotion to each song, and the great guitar work is always given room to breathe. Opener “Mahgeetah” sets the tone for the whole album, and is one of My Morning Jacket’s best songs. “Golden” has some of the best lyrics James has ever written, and “One Big Holiday” is one of the best guitar songs of the decade. Other highlights include “Dancefloors,” “Easy Morning Rebel” and “Run Thru.” If I had one complaint about It Still Moves, it’s that it’s a little long at nearly 72 minutes, but none of the songs are really duds.

7. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Interpol gets compared to Joy Division a lot, but I don’t really hear it. Interpol’s music is less sparse, more energetic and more guitar-driven (and personally, I like them more than Joy Division). In reality, they draw from all kinds of bands that came before them, and it’s not really fair to box them into comparisons because Turn on the Bright Lights, their debut album, features a pretty unique sound. That’s evident right from the start with opener “Untitled,” which features only a few lines of lyrics but still manages to be a beautiful song. “NYC” — their take on their home city — is another excellent slower song, as is “The New.” More up-tempo songs like “Obstacle 1,” “PDA,” “Say Hello to the Angels” and “Roland” are all great, too.

6. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
It should have been almost impossible for The Shins to live up to the hype that surrounded them following their debut album, Oh, Inverted World. Not only did they avoid disappointment, but with Chutes Too Narrow, they actually topped their debut. James Mercer’s songwriting is just as strong, but he sounds more confident as a singer, and he allows the band to rock a little bit more. All of that appears on the great opener, “Kissing the Lipless.” “Mine’s Not a High Horse,” with its atmospheric keyboards, is a nod to the sound they perfected on their first album. “Saint Simon” features a beautiful violin part. “Fighting in a Sack” and “Turn a Square” are two of their most rock-leaning numbers, and two of my favorite songs of the decade. And “Gone for Good” almost sounds like country with its pedal steel.

5. Modest Mouse- The Moon & Antarctica (2000)
The Moon & Antarctica features some of the most ambitious lyrics of the decade, as Isaac Brock tackles the universe, Earth and mankind’s very existence. If you’re the kind of person who likes to over-analyze lyrics, you could probably find all kinds of deep revelations here. Or maybe you’d conclude that it’s all a crock of shit. Personally, I’ll settle for calling them very good lyrics surrounded by even better music, as Modest Mouse found a wonderful balance between the raw sound of their earlier albums and a more polished, more diverse sound made possible by their move to a major label. “3rd Planet,” “Gravity Rides Everything” and “Dark Center of the Universe” make for an incredible 1-2-3 open. “A Different City,” “Alone Down There” and the nearly nine-minute “The Stars Are Projectors” highlight the middle section, while the bouncy “Paper Thin Walls,” sullen “Lives” and fiery “What People Are Made Of” provide the strong finish.

4. The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday (2005)
Here’s another album with some pretty heavy lyrics. Separation Sunday is a concept album that follows its characters through a life filled with parties, drugs, religion and shattered dreams. It takes a few listens for the story to sink in, and if you’re new to The Hold Steady, it takes a few listens to get used to Craig Finn’s vocal delivery as well. But it should only take one listen to appreciate the great music, which Blender describes as sounding “like the best bar band in the world.” Just listen to the music take off 22 seconds into opener “Hornets! Hornets!” if you need convincing. Things barely let up with “Cattle and the Creeping Things,” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and “Banging Camp” up next. “Stevie Nix” and “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” are great as well, and closer “How a Resurrection Really Feels” is one of the best songs of the decade.

3. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
On White Blood Cells, The White Stripes shifted away from the blues-rock they had become known for and embraced a more straightforward rock sound. That, combined with Jack White’s strides as a songwriter, resulted in their commercial breakthrough and their best album. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Hotel Yorba,” “I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman” and “Fell in Love with a Girl” — the first four songs — mark one of the best opens to any album in history. With 12 songs still to go after that, you might expect some disappointment. There really isn’t any, though. The Citizen Kane-inspired “The Union Forever,” the delightfully innocent “We’re Going to Be Friends” and the kick-ass “Offend in Every Way” highlight the middle of the album. Then “I Can’t Wait,” “Now Mary” and “I Can Learn” provide a stellar build-up to the finish.

2. The Strokes – Is This It (2001)
I like to mock Pitchfork, but their original review of Is This It was spot on. They pointed out how stupid it was for other music critics to call The Strokes “the forefathers of a bold new era in rock,” “the greatest rock band since The Rolling Stones” and “the second coming of The Velvet Underground.” But the review also said, “I’d be lying if I said I thought Is This It was anything other than a great rock record.” That’s exactly what Is This It is — a great rock record. You don’t need over-the-top comparisons to make the point. Just listen to this incredible collection of songs. Singer-songwriter Julian Casablancas bounces back and forth between confident and insecure, reflecting the feelings of so many other 23-year-olds. The guitars, bass and drums are all great throughout, with the music somehow sounding both simple and complex. I wouldn’t call any individual song an all-time great, but they’re all really frigging good. And when you string 11 really frigging good songs together, you get an all-time great album.

1. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
What makes Funeral my favorite album of the 2000s? I like that it’s emotional and dramatic without ever sounding fake or over-the-top. I like that it covers topics we can all relate to, like loss, despair, uncertainty, love and hope. I like that I can enjoy it regardless of the mood I’m in at that time. I like that the music draws inspiration from classic rock, indie rock, baroque pop and dance, among others. I like that the band uses not just guitar, bass and drums, but also piano, organ, synthesizer, accordion, xylophone, violin, cello and harp.

Every song here is at least very good, but some definitely deserve special mention. Opener “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” is just a beautiful piece of music that sets the tone for the whole album with its steady build-up from quiet to explosive. “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” is a classic anthem that starts off being about a simple power outage — which is “not really something to shout about” — before Win Butler ends up telling you that “the power’s out in the heart of man.” “Crown of Love” is a lovesick ballad featuring a wonderful string arrangement. “Wake Up” is another anthem, this one about how if we don’t grow up, “our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.” “Rebellion (Lies)” might be the funnest song on the album, with its jaunty piano line and lyrics about our dreams lying to us. And closer “In the Backseat” is Regine Chassagne’s chance to show off her voice, as the song builds to an emotional climax.

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