Best Albums of the 2000s: My Picks

I think it’s a bit silly to be making end-of-decade lists this early (there is still 2.5% of the decade yet to be lived), but Pitchfork has gone ahead with their “Top 200 Albums of the 2000s” list, so I figure I might as well put mine out there now too.

I’ve been adding and subtracting to this list for years now, and doubtless the list will change with time (in a month, some album might come out that outshines everything… and so I’ll adjust this list accordingly). But for now, in the waning months of this first decade of a new millennium, here are my picks for the decade’s 20 best albums, accompanied by a few words about what the top ten have meant to me personally.

First, 20-10:

20) Rufus Wainwright, Poses (2002)
19) Cat Power, The Greatest (2007)
18) Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (2008)
17) Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
16) Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (2009)
15) Low, Things We Lost in the Fire (2003)
14) Doves, The Last Broadcast (2002)
13) Pedro the Lion, Control (2002)
12) The Shins, Oh, Inverted World (2001)
11) Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009)

And here are my picks for the top 10:

10) Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003): I didn’t discover Explosions in the Sky until the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights (which used much of this album on the soundtrack), but once I found them I knew they were a band that perfectly fit my temperament. They make music that is sort of the instrumental equivalent of a Terrence Malick film, and the title of this wordless album perfectly captures the essence of what Explosions’ soaring guitar melodies evoke.

9) Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights (2002): When I first heard “NYC” it was at some coffeehouse at Wheaton College, and I immediately inquired about the band behind this haunting post-9/11 New York anthem. It was Interpol, and their debut album remains one of the best expressions not only of the decade’s musical trends but also the spiritual tenor of a city, nation, and generation working through new waves of cynicism, fear, love and paranoia.

8) Beck, Sea Change (2002): This album was such a change from the Beck we were used to. It was so melancholy, sweeping, dramatic in a Love is Hell sort of way. But for anyone dealing with relational angst, breakups, or the pangs of moving on, the album was utterly perfect. This was one of my go-to albums for cold weather days during the long Chicago winters in college.

7) The Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004): This is quite possibly one of the most generational/zeitgeist-capturing works of musical art to have come out in the 2000s. An album about family, youth, death, and discontent, Funeral announced the arrival or at least the first shout of a new sort of drum-beating, baroque sincerity. Seeing them play live at the Hollywood Bowl the summer after graduating from college remains one of my favorite concert memories.

6) Sigur Ros, ( ) (2002): This album may be the apex of post-rock pretentiousness (an album full of untitled songs with only parentheses as a name?) but it is also some sort of strikingly human, universal catharsis—songs of pure feeling, passion, and transcendence that many a hipster church has played during worship services. And believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced “Untitled 8” in concert.

5) Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002): It was never all that cool to love Coldplay, but whatever. I love their music. I remember buying this album the day it came out at a Tower store (remember those?) and listening to it in the car on the drive home. The opening song, “Politik,” was already so different than anything on Parachutes. And then when “Clocks” came on, it was utterly clear that Coldplay was on the fast track to arena rock status. Seeing them the next year at Red Rocks was definitely a highlight of my “decade in concerts.”

4) Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005): Where to begin with this album? It wasn’t the first great Sufjan album (and hopefully not the last), but it was the one that catapulted him to indie/hipster rock God status. And as the soundtrack to the summer after I graduated from college and left the “Land of Lincoln,” it will always be an album I remember with great fondness. It’s a near-perfect piece of art and an iconic bit of musical transition on the indie/hipster/Christian timeline.

3) Over the Rhine, Ohio (2003): This double-disc album from Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist (aka Over the Rhine) still stands as one of the most important albums in my own personal musical journey—and I think it can be rightly counted among the best (or at least most cohesive and lyrical) American albums of the decade. These are songs about place and home, memory and history, brokenness and hope… and the changes that come at every turn in life. I still consider the concert I saw Over the Rhine play on their Ohio tour the very best show I’ve ever been to.

2) Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002): From the opening words (“I am an American Aquarian drinker”) of the first song (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”), to the final resigned-but-hopeful emotions of “Reservations,” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is as beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful an album as anything that came out this decade. Jeff Tweedy’s personal demons inform every line of this album and yet it manages to stand for something much bigger and broader: love among the ruins of a deconstructed America. Released halfway between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War, Yankee evokes in my memory that peculiar stage in my life where my Midwestern, enchanted analog American youth began to fray at the edges as uncertainty, growth, nostalgia, and education coalesced to shake my paradigm and push me forward as an independent thinker.

1) Radiohead, Kid A (2000): When this album came out in October of 2000, I was a senior in high school. I had only recently begun to expand my musical horizons (I grew up mostly listening to Christian music), but when I bought Kid A, everything about the way I approached music changed. The eerie beauty and boundary-pushing creativity of this album stunned me and made me realize that the potential for transcendence in music had as much or more to do with a spirit of exploration and experimentation than anything else. To create something so new, so true, and so exactly of its time, was a feat only Radiohead—post OK Computer—could accomplish in the first year of our new decade. They ushered us in to the Y2K era with an album that systematically dismantled the 90s, embodied the dot-com culture of its time, and prophesied a decade of silicon chaos and modernist collapse—a frenetic decade in which the surreal and the real would collide in terrifying fashion and we’d be confronted with the wages of avoidant fantasy. As Thom Yorke sings on “Idioteque”: We’re not scaremongering / This is really happening, happening…

Honorable Mention:
Radiohead, In Rainbows
Radiohead, Hail to the Thief
Jay-Z, The Black Album
Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Outkast, Speakerboxx/The Love Below
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind
White Stripes, Elephant
Kanye West, Late Registration
Gwen Stefani, Love, Angel, Music, Baby
Hem, Rabbit Songs
Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism
Joanna Newsom, Ys
The National, Boxer
Wilco, A Ghost Is Born
Panda Bear, Person Pitch
Justin Timberlake, Futuresex/Lovesounds
Joseph Arthur, Redemption’s Son
M83, Saturdays=Youth
Bon Iver, For Emma Forever Ago

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22 responses to “Best Albums of the 2000s: My Picks

  1. Solid picks all around. There’s a couple here I need to check out, that somehow have slipped by…

  2. Sweet! My picks are (in no particular order):

    -Wilco–Yankee Hotel Foxtot
    -Radiohead–Kid A
    -No Kids–Come Into My House (the best album no one’s ever heard of)
    -Bon Iver–For Emma, Long Ago
    -Iron and Wine–The Shepherd’s Dog
    -Arcade Fire–Neon Bible
    -The Stroke–Is This It?

  3. That is, no offense, a tremendous amount of white guys.

    • You have got to be kidding me, Tim Coe (no offense of course.)

      What does that have to do with anything? Who even thinks along those lines?

      It’s 2009, correct? Who cares what the skin color is of the musicians one listens to?

      • Hi Aaron. It was an observation. I’m not sure what you mean by pointing out that it’s 2009.

      • It’s an observation that seems unwarranted. I suppose I just don’t understand why one would feel the need to make it at all. In fact, it seems like it’s less of an “observation” and more of a veiled judgment.

        As for the year, you know what I meant. It’s a rhetorical question. Let me rephrase it: “It’s 2009, who cares what the skin color is of the musicians one listens to?”

      • I’m not judging anyone. I think that, were I to proclaim that the best 20 records of the decade were all Sufi folk albums, someone could note that and wonder why I don’t think any other albums the world over in ten years’ time measure up to the output of a particular narrow demographic– and I don’t think this would be considered a veiled judgment.

        I honestly don’t know what the year has to do with skin color. Could you explain it to me?

  4. I totally agree on “YHF.” What an album.

  5. Yeah, I agree with a hell of a lot of this list. I particularly like your review of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
    Personally I’d say you’re missing on on some Portishead and The National, but that’s just being picky. It’s probably a better list than Pitchfork’s anyway!

  6. Hey Tim,

    Stop being silly.

    Or should we expect to look for a post from you on the tremendous amount of black rappers on Vibe’s end-of-the-decade list?

    Nice list, Brett. It takes guts to publicly admit that you like Coldplay when hipsters are looking. And it takes even more guts to resist the temptation to make your list as ridiculously eclectic, obscure and ethnically diverse as possible. Way to keep it real.

  7. Awesome list, Brett! What a great decade of music.

  8. I like Hem too! Good list. I don’t know half of those artists, though…

  9. Our tastes differ DRAMATICALLY, but I think you did well putting Radiohead where you did… It’s one of my favorites as well.

  10. I like your style. some of my favs from the 2000s:
    pedro the lion, control
    mewithoutYou, catch for us the foxes
    mewithoutYou, brother, sister
    wilco, yankee hotel foxtrot
    wilco, sky blue sky
    death cab for cutie, the photo album
    death cab for cutie, transatlanticism
    death cab for cutie, plans
    u2, all that you can’t leave behind
    the mountain goats, the sunset tree
    the mountain goats, all hail west texas
    weezer, maladroit
    sufjan stevens, come on feel the illinois!
    the shins, wincing the night away
    radiohead, kid a
    radiohead, in rainbows
    radiohead, hail to the thief
    the flaming lips, yoshimi battles the pink robots
    the postal service, give up
    the snake the cross the crown, cotton teeth
    the avett bros., emotionalism
    coldplay, parachutes
    coldplay, a rush of blood to the head
    thrice, vheissu
    green day, american idiot
    discover america, psychology

  11. JOHNNY CASH
    American Recordings III Solitary Man, American Recordings IV The Man Comes Around, and American Recordings V A Hundred Highways all came out in the 2000’s.

    These legendary sessions are a shoe-in top ten, and I guarantee every band in your top ten would agree.

    Nice seeing you in San Diego!

  12. Neat list! I may not agree with the #1 item but I like the majority of the disks here.

  13. Pingback: Top 100 Films of the 2000s: 100-75 « The Search

  14. I’m with Tim, sort of.

    If I may, I think his point is that it’s very evident from Brett’s list, what he doesn’t listen to.

    That being said, (again, if I may) this is Brett’s list of his favorites, not some music magazine’s proclamation of what should be declared best of the 00’s.

    In no particular order, my list so far (and for the record, my list also reflects that I don’t listen to much of the musical spectrum out there):

    The National, Boxer,
    Gnarls Barkley St. Elsewhere
    Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
    Arcade Fire, Funeral
    The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
    and Carman, Greatest Hits.

    (Hugely kidding about the last one.)

  15. To be honest, I haven’t listened to enough ablums of the 00s to make a list. But I do know some great ones:

    No Doubt – Rock Steady
    Madonna – Music, Confessions on a Dance Floor
    Radiohead – In Rainbows
    M.I.A. – Kala
    TV on the Radio – Dear Science
    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
    The Kills – Midnight Boom
    Arctic Monkeys – Favorite Worst Nightmare
    Robyn – Robyn
    The Strokes – Is This It
    Lily Allen – Alright, Still

    I’ve mostly named recent ones because I have really bad memory but I listen to more and more bands everyday, so I’m not totally sure just yet. Most of my favorites are The Stones, Beatles, Clash and Radiohead and I listen to them too much and don’t make much time for other music lol. Then there’s like Vampire Weekend, the other Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums, I never listened to Radiohead’s Kid A but I just bought it the other day and I’m going to, then there’s the Return of Saturn by No Doubt and Roisin Murphy’s Overpowered. Even Britney Spears’ Blackout perfectly captured the state she was in at the time of its release. Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero was pretty awesome, too. Goldfrapp (Black Cherry), Gwen Stefani (LAMB) and Lil’ Wayne (The Carter III) made some great albums and we were introduced to Santogold (or is it Santigold? I can never get it right), Monsters of Folk and Vampire Weekend very recently. And can’t forget Spoon! Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Kill the Moonlight and Girls Can Tell were amazing. They’re so consistent.

    There’s endless others, but it’s a lot so I’d rather not name. It’s 10 years! There’s just so much and I haven’t gotten a REAL chance to listen to most of it because I’m a little preoccupied with the oldies and a phase of dance music.

  16. ok, i’m love it :-)

  17. Greenday American Idiot. It was unstoppable.

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