Top 100 Albums of the 2000s

Given the debate-starting nature of list-making and the angry emails I already feel looming, let's lay this out. The Rules: 1) Strictly only one album per band. Otherwise there'd be like eight Animal Collective albums in here. 2) Popularity isn't everything. If you think album sales = artistic worth, I have one word for you: Creed. 3) Obscurity isn't a curse. If you haven't heard Nikaido Kazumi, that's your fault, not hers. 4) No critically acclaimed bands who're actually awful. The Hold Steady, that means you. 5) The judge's decision is final. Except if I accidentally forgot someone. Now, to the countdown...

100
of 100
Hoahio 'Ohayo! Hoahio!' (2000)

Hoahio 'Ohayo! Hoahio!'
Hoahio 'Ohayo! Hoahio!'. Tzadik
The 2000s were mere months old when Japanese 'girl group' Hoahio delivered an album that, in many ways, foresaw the decade coming. A mix of musics, cultures, tones, and approaches, the album throws the radically avant-garde in with the luridly pop, dissolving distinctions between highbrow/lowbrow as it stirs. The second outing for Haco's trio summons a unique 'pan-Asian' sound mixing Middle Eastern percussion with traditional Japanese instrumentation, minimalist electronic tonalities, and hooks playfully reflecting R&B ballads and insidious Canto pop anthems. Yet, as much as Ohayo! Hoahio! is capricious and silly, it's also intensely beautiful, its sweet pop-songs swimming in delicately plucked koto and reassuring field recordings.

99
of 100
Ólöf Arnalds 'Við og Við' (2007)

Ólöf Arnalds 'Við og Við'
Ólöf Arnalds 'Við og Við'. 12 Tónar
At the end of the '00s, Ólöf Arnalds' achingly brittle folksongs were barely known outside of Iceland (where, it must be said, she's hardly a household name, too). Yet, time shall surely be kind to her rapturously beautiful debut LP; a sparkling jewel that will come to light over the years, be treasured by listeners in subsequent decades. Arnalds' spartan, brittle, whittled-down folk music sounds like it's thousands of years old and made of crystal and smoothed into elegant shapes by the tender rasp of her voice. Members of Múm and Sigur Rós daub tuned percussion around Arnalds' plucked strings of guitar, harp, and violin, but you barely notice they're there; the music merely the skeletal frame on which Arnalds' singing hangs brightly.

98
of 100
White Magic 'Dat Rosa Mel Apibus' (2006)

White Magic 'Dat Rosa Mel Apibus'
White Magic 'Dat Rosa Mel Apibus'. Drag City
Mira Billotte began the decade playing alongside elder sister Christina in the great Quix*o*tic, who fashioned a bizarre take on graveyard/Gothic girl-group garage-rock. Going solo-ish as White Magic, she set sail with slanting sea-shanties, her deep, soulful voice singing doleful refrains over maudlin minor-key melodies tinkled on ivories. Billotte plays piano like someone yet to find their sea-legs; her hands stumbling up and down the keys with more of a drunkard's lilt than a pianist's precision. As White Magic's tunes stagger and sway, and brushed drums toss and pitch, Billotte's voice flutters in gusts and zephyrs, chanting witchy incantations that summon the dark dread of the terrifying unknown that lurks beneath the seas.

97
of 100
Scout Niblett 'I Am' (2003)

Scout Niblett 'I Am'
Scout Niblett 'I Am'. Secretly Canadian
Hear one of Scoutt Niblett's brittle ballads, and she sounds like some amazing Cat Power acolyte: her gloriously-hoarse voice sounding out soulful and doleful over a single spartan guitar. But that notion gets flipped with Niblett's other favored mode of musical delivery: cheerleader chants —sometimes literally spelling out words— matched to just a rudimentary drumbeat (I Am's most infamous slogan going, simply: “We're all gonna die!”). Each 'style' sounds achingly sad, but there's subversive humor writ in every note; the Emma Louise Niblett hiding behind the wig-wearing 'Scout' persona a performance-artist exploring the artifice of the songwriter; her only truths the self-styled mythology she spins on each disc.

96
of 100
Mirah 'C'mon Miracle' (2004)

Mirah 'C'mon Miracle'
Mirah 'C'mon Miracle'. K Records
Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn writes songs to “make sense of [her] place in the world,” exploring her relationships with lovers, friends, literature, culture, and geopolitics. These songs add up to daring, darling, girlie-ish albums, often produced, with much experimentalist panache, by Phil 'Microphones/Mount Eerie' Elverum. And none of these is better —is more of a glorious beacon of sweethearted artistry— than C'mon Miracle. When, mid-“Promise,” Mirah asks “would you promise to be kind?” to the paramour she's handed her heart to, it feels like she's asking the same of each listener. This LP is one long vulnerable state; Mirah laid out, naked, at the feet of an audience she hopes harbor sympathetic hearts.

95
of 100
Le Tigre 'Feminist Sweepstakes' (2001)

Le Tigre 'Feminist Sweepstakes'
Le Tigre 'Feminist Sweepstakes'. Chicks on Speed Records
The second LP for Le Tigre —Kathleen Hanna's post-Bikini-Kill dance-rock party— makes a fine, fun art out of sloganeering. Kicking off with “LT Tour Theme,” an anthem whose chorus proclaims “For the ladies and the fags, yeah/we're the band with the rollerskate jams,” Le Tigre knock out cuts that make rudimentary drum-machines and cheap keyboards the tools of virtuous protest. Though their rhymes're often funny (try: “Go tell your friends I'm still a feminist/but I won't be coming to your benefit” or “all my friends are f**king bitches/best known for burning bridges”), they deal with depression, artistic ennui, corporate co-opting of underground culture, academic elitism, and, yes, feminism.

94
of 100
Electrelane 'The Power Out' (2004)

Electrelane 'The Power Out'
Electrelane 'The Power Out'. Too Pure

Electrelane's debut, 2001's Rock it to the Moon, was utterly inessential: an instrumentalist combo playing a post-rocking take on krautrock that verily plodded from quiet to loud, crescendo to crescendo. The Power Out served as radical departure-point; the English girl-group's once-singular sound exploding into a myriad of sonic ideas. Here, Electrelane found their voice, both literally and figuratively. Whilst some of its dynamics recall their instrumental-rock beginnings, The Power Out's considered compositions are studies in the very nature of language; texts sung in English, Spanish, French, and German, and delivered solo, double-tracked, and, in one particularly inspired moment (“The Valleys”) by a medieval-sounding male choir.

93
of 100
Battles 'Mirrored' (2007)

Battles 'Mirrored'
Battles 'Mirrored'. Warp
Few would've expected party music when the crown prince of math-rock, Ian T. Williams, was assembling a so-called 'supergroup' of hot players. Yet, Battles, in spite of all their dork-worthy credentials —Williams' jam-band rounded out by vocal experimentalist Tyondai Braxton, former Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka, and manly skinsman John Stanier, who’s sat on the stool for Helmet, the Mark of Cain, and Tomahawk— were the '00s' most unlikely dancefloor fillers. On their debut LP, Mirrored, the quartet create complex compositions of dynamic, overlapping rhythms that are really, really rhythmic; swarms of fretboard-tapping guitars and cymbal-rattling drums gathering a kinetic sense of momentum that favors ass-shaking over chin-stroking.

92
of 100
Storm and Stress 'Under Thunder & Fluorescent Lights' (2000)

Storm and Stress 'Under Thunder & Fluorescent Lights'
Storm and Stress 'Under Thunder & Fluorescent Lights'. Touch and Go
After years of instrumentalist precision in math-rock dons Don Caballero, future Battles boffin Ian Williams cut loose with Storm and Stress. Their '97 debut was a free-jazz-ish wreck of smashing glass, guitar shards, spasmodic bass, absurdist lyricism, and erratic percussion. But, where that first S&S LP made a dynamic, almost violent spectacle out of cacophonous arrhythmia, 2000's Under Thunder & Fluorescent Lights found the band were doing something more unexpected: using rhythmic discordance as a study in isolation. As melancholy guitar flutters, doleful vocals, eerie keyboards, and Tourettic drum tics float by like ships passing in the night, there's an exquisite loneliness in the way these individual parts never quite come together.

91
of 100
Atlas Sound 'Logos' (2009)

Atlas Sound 'Logos'
Atlas Sound 'Logos'. 4AD
Bradford Cox released a lot of music in the '00s: three albums fronting Deerhunter, two under the name Atlas Sound, and a countless procession of home-recordings via his blog. His best work, the second Atlas Sound LP, Logos, almost was done in by Cox's fondness for sharing, after he accidentally made it available in an early version. After first feeling as if he couldn't be bothered finishing it, Cox determined to make the finished Logos so glorious it obliterated the early version. Boasting guest spots from Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab and Panda Bear of Animal Collective, Logos effortlessly mixes eerie ballads with dreamy drone pieces and krautrock-inspired workouts, making for a career-defining distillation of Cox's '00s discography.

90
of 100
Jeffrey Lewis 'The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane' (2001)

Jeffrey Lewis 'The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane'
Jeffrey Lewis 'The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane'. Rough Trade
Jeffrey Lewis —East Village-raised comic book artist turned anti-folk songsmith— is a funny guy. Funny like: “God's just a story someone made up long ago/before they had books and TV shows”; or: “If I was Leonard Cohen or some other songwriting master/I'd know to first get the oral sex, and then write the song after.” He sings the latter mid-“The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song,” a Cohen-evoking tune that serves as a rambling lament for another random girl that got away. On his 2001 debut, Lewis sings songs smart and smart-ass and sincere and self-aware, exploring himself and his work in a warts-and-all form that probably owes more to Harvey Pekar and Joe Sacco than any songwriting masters, be they Cohen or not.

89
of 100
The Moldy Peaches 'The Moldy Peaches' (2001)

The Moldy Peaches 'The Moldy Peaches'
The Moldy Peaches 'The Moldy Peaches'. Rough Trade
No-fi New Yorker anti-folkers The Moldy Peaches —twin songsmiths Kimya Dawson and Adam Green— made good on the myth of inspired juvenilia; their intentionally-crappy, lyrically-obnoxious music giving suspended adolescence a good name. The pair summon the rudimentary outsider-art style of songwriting manchildren like Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis, but insert sarcastic self-awareness in place of treasured naïvety (“who mistook this crap for genius?” they mock, before leading to a rhyme with 'penis'). It's music blatant in its complete lack of caution; vulgar and silly and, ultimately, throwaway. Yet, as the six-years-later soundtrack to Juno proved, as quickly as these Moldy Peaches may spoil, they're eternally ripe for rediscovery.

88
of 100
The White Stripes 'Elephant' (2003)

The White Stripes 'Elephant'
The White Stripes 'Elephant'. XL
I once watched Cat Power fumble out a ten-minute version of “Seven Nation Army,” where the guitarist played that riff, over and over, whilst Chan Marshall struggled to remember the words. And at no point of those ten minutes did that lick grow tired. Like some “Smoke on the Water” for the oughts, Jack White's snaking, coiling-back riff marked the definitive finger positions for a generation of '00s bedroom rockers. And, even better, it served as the centerpiece for the best White Stripes LP. Its glorious, vintage analog recording showcases the multi-platinum duo's rock'n'roll essentialism; the thrust-forward/pull-back routines of their clunky drums/snarky guitar heaving with the same sexual pantomimes of a tango.

87
of 100
Gossip 'Movement' (2003)

The Gossip 'Movement'
The Gossip 'Movement'. Kill Rock Stars
Catching the Gossip at the perfect point between their shambolic early LPs and their overproduced later ones, Movement is a rock'n'roll record dedicated to the dancefloor; its title a plea for the audience to get footloose. Filled to the gills with killer two-minute cuts of sweaty soul-shouting and balls-out boogie, here the Gossip's femme-powered, queer-proud take on stripped-down rock —just drums, guitar, and the belted-out vocals of former gospel chorister Beth Ditto— staged its own Revolution Girl Style Now!, serving as a defiant antidote to the rock-revival boys-club that'd sprung up in the wake of The Strokes. In the years since, Ditto's found far greater fame, but The Gossip haven't come close to matching the mightiness of this disc.

86
of 100
Liars 'They Were Wrong, So We Drowned' (2004)

Liars 'They Were Wrong, So We Drowned'
Liars 'They Were Wrong, So We Drowned'. Mute
After dishing up a dance-punk debut, 2001's They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, that impishly knicked licks from ESG, Liars wanted to burn all the bridges between them and Brooklyn. Relocating to the New Jersey woods, they ditched the dancefloor beats, threw away their bass, and authored the witch-themed, terror-inducing concept-record They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. A caustic sonic stew of staticky guitars, cacophonous drums, and chanted incantations, the LP summons an all-consuming feeling of dread whose 'difficult' taste feels like Liars are deliberately presiding over their own commercial demise. Yet, in fame-friendly death, they found artistic transfiguration, authoring what is, far and away, their best record.

85
of 100
Interpol 'Turn On the Bright Lights' (2002)

Interpol 'Turn On the Bright Lights'
Interpol 'Turn On the Bright Lights'. Matador
If you can look past the laughably-bad lyrics —“the subway, she is a porno”!!!— and the fact frontman Paul Banks has the vocal subtlety of a foghorn, a pretty impressive anthemic-rock record lays in wait with Turn On the Bright Lights, the debut disc for black-clad New Yorker dudes Interpol. Drawing heavily from post-punk bands like Joy Division, The Cure, and Echo & the Bunnymen, the quartet make moody rock'n'roll full of chiming guitars playing big riffs, all pushed powerfully forward by the hard-pounding, stadium-sized drums of Sam Fogarino. The band are at their best on “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down,” six brooding minutes on which Banks, crying out “Stellaaaaaaa!” into the night, seems to think he's a young Brando.

84
of 100
Spoon 'Kill the Moonlight' (2002)

Spoon 'Kill the Moonlight'
Spoon 'Kill the Moonlight'. Merge Records
The suits in the music bizzz had long since consigned Spoon to ‘also-ran’ status when the Austin, Texas troupe turned up with this completely killer, wiry-tight set of stripped-down, spirited-out songs. Mixing smart studio-sonics with fierce rock-n-roll basics, Kill the Moonlight kicked Spoon's career into a new gear; was one of the first discs whose slowly-growing popularity seemed the product of internet buzz; that new-millennial evolution from good old-fashioned 'word of mouth.' Subsequent Spoon records have gone on to chart-bothering success, but they've yet to truly match the magic of the breakout set, an album personified by “The Way We Get By,” a knocked-out piano rocker that sounds for all the world like some eternal jukebox classic.

83
of 100
Architecture in Helsinki 'In Case We Die' (2005)

Architecture in Helsinki 'In Case We Die'
Architecture in Helsinki 'In Case We Die'. Bar/None
For their second LP, manic Melbournians Architecture in Helsinki —still, back then, eight members large— amped up the ambition, shooting for the stars with rock-operatic excess: banged gongs, exploding fireworks, opera singers, bursts of brass, strings, sitar, musical saw, and powertools used as percussion instruments. AIH marshaled all this in hopes of authoring their definitive album before death came acallin'; a morbid notion that, nevertheless, took their shambling, hyperactive, ADD twee-pop into surprisingly deep artistic terrain. All this is embodied by the set's achingly sad title-track, a four-part study in growing old/changing relationships that comes blessed with one piece of eternal lyrical wisdom: “silver never gets golder.”

82
of 100
The Flaming Lips 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' (2002)

The Flaming Lips 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots'
The Flaming Lips 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots'. Warner Bros.
The Flaming Lips' legendary liveshows —ridiculous explosions of fake blood, confetti, puppetry, and candy-colored psych-pop— are grand examples of Wayne Coyne's wonderment at being alive, but Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots authors these seize-the-day ideas as narrative. A kooky concept-record about a girl fighting terminal illness, it ends with its heroine's inevitable death; its Battle not for her life, but her transfiguration. And, the Lips find transcendence with the immortal “Do You Realize??,” a life-affirming, reach-for-the-sky, unexpectedly regal hymnal to the human spirit. It's become almost an “Imagine” for the iPod generation: a perennial power-ballad about making hay in the face of your imminent demise.

81
of 100
Nicolai Dunger 'Here's My Song, You Can Have It, I Don't Want it Anymore' (2004)

Nicolai Dunger 'Here's My Song, You Can Have It, I Don't Want it Anymore'
Nicolai Dunger 'Here's My Song, You Can Have It, I Don't Want it Anymore'. Zoe
Bruised, dude-ish Swedish crooner Nicolai Dunger had a long, Tim Hardin-reverent career behind him before he arrived at his 12th (or so) LP, Here's My Song, You Can Have It... I Don't Want It Anymore/Yours 4-Ever, Nicolai Dunger. But it was here that Dunger hit the peak of his powers, finally fulfilling his fate as fashion-dodging power-balladeer. Though it's graced by members of Mercury Rev, Here's My Song is straight singer-songwriterism; richly-orchestrated tunes grandly backing Dunger's achey croon. Its center-piece is “The Year of the Love and Hurt Cycle,” a concept-driven, nine-minute epic of choirs, string swells, squalling guitar solos, and melodramatic vocalizing that is never held back by anything so noxious as 'coolness.'

80
of 100
Spiritualized 'Let It Come Down' (2001)

Spiritualized 'Let It Come Down'
Spiritualized 'Let It Come Down'. Spaceman
Criticized, in its day, as a work of pompous hubris, hindsight reveals Let It Come Down's great sin to be simply that it's the follow-up to Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Worshipping at the altar of rock'n'roll, Spiritualized main-man Jason Pierce marshaled over 120 musicians (including full orchestra and choir), summoning the grandeur of gospel music in a bittersweet symphony whose dynamic highs/lows suggest the triumphs and pitfalls on the road to recovery. Like every Spiritualized LP, it's an album steeped in drugs, from the title on down. Ironically enough, Let It Come Down shares its name with one of the '90s' most unfairly-maligned albums: James Iha's 1998 soft-pop solo set. But that's a disc for another list...

79
of 100
Quickspace 'The Death of Quickspace' (2000)

Quickspace 'The Death of Quickspace'
Quickspace 'The Death of Quickspace'. Matador
The title of Quickspace's third LP proved prescient; foretelling a demise in which they suddenly seemed to mysteriously disappear. With a cover that showed a horse being put of out its misery, the record was loaded with clues to the imminent vanishing; the cover-image's referential pun —a song herein called “They Shoot Horse Don't They”— even suggesting the drug that'd do them in. As far as Deaths go, this one is, to coin a phrase, a slowburn of glory; the mumbled vocals and post-Sonic-Youth guitars of Tom Cullinan and Nina Pascale stumbling over each other in one long slow-dance. All slowcore gait and distorted guitar interplay, Quickspace's swansong marked not merely their death, but the death of noisy indie-rock records like it.

78
of 100
Alasdair Roberts 'Farewell Sorrow' (2003)

Alasdair Roberts 'Farewell Sorrow'
Alasdair Roberts 'Farewell Sorrow'. Drag City
No musical marker was more misused in the '00s than 'folk,' a term that, by decade's end, seemed only to mean 'uses acoustic instruments.' If anyone deserved to use the word in its hard-won sense, it was Scottish songsmith Alasdair Roberts. Working with the same reverence for oral histories that defined the folk-revival, Roberts draws from traditional tunes, but refuses to treat them as museum pieces. On Farewell Sorrow, the second of the five solo albums he made this decade, Roberts sings hunting songs, drinking songs, and ballads anew; his creaky voice cracking with emotion as he makes arcane idioms his own words. Fittingly, the LP booklet prints the lyrics, tunings, and chords; folk music, after all, being freely open to interpretation.

77
of 100
Bon Iver 'For Emma, Forever Ago' (2008)

Bon Iver 'For Emma, Forever Ago'
Bon Iver 'For Emma, Forever Ago'. Jagjaguwar

Justin Vernon's Bon Iver back-story is romantic as stand-alone anecdote —guy, heartbroken, holes up in his dad's cabin-in-the-woods, spends a Wisconsin winter chopping wood by day, playing his blues away by night— but it'd be just a well-spun yarn if not for the album that came out of it. And For Emma, Forever Ago, a stone-cold classic break-up album, makes it the stuff of modern-day myth. Snowbound and suffering, Vernon plays his spartan set of lovelorned laments with such delicacy and reverence they seem like spirituals. And though it's earnt its rep as some lo-fi outing, Vernon shows a suspiciously-sophisticated production touch; the many layers of “For Emma” spinning an intricate, multi-timbral web of brassy heartache.

76
of 100
Ugly Casanova 'Sharpen Your Teeth' (2002)

Ugly Casanova 'Sharpen Your Teeth'
Ugly Casanova 'Sharpen Your Teeth'. Sub Pop Records

Taking respite from Modest Mouse after feeling frustrated by his major-label dealings with The Moon & Antarctica, Isaac Brock made a solo album wielding the countryish licks he'd been whetting since 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West. Made outside the confines of his rockband, Brock obviously felt a musical freedom, as there's a genuine sense of adventure in the Brian Deck-produced studio experimentalism that shrouds Brock's twangy tunes in layers of ghosted vocals, wisps of slide guitar, and random clangs of 'found' percussion. As songwriter, Brock's Ugly Casanova obsessions were the same as always: Sharpen Your Teeth continuing the career-long lyrical study of mortality that, soon thereafter, would suddenly go multi-platinum.

75
of 100
Modest Mouse 'The Moon & Antarctica' (2000)

Modest Mouse 'The Moon & Antarctica'
Modest Mouse 'The Moon & Antarctica'. Sony

Though Sony lamented their initial investment in Modest Mouse, and Isaac Brock publicly bitched about life in thrall to beancounters, The Moon & Antarctica —the major-label debut whose initial sales were deemed a 'commercial failure'— was hardly an artistic disaster. Coalescing the sentiments Brock had explored across a scattering of indie singles and EPs, the third MM LP again positioned its lyricist as philosophical thinker, stranded in the back of a tour van, contemplating the vastness of the universe and his tiny insignificance therein. Not a single second of it seemed stained by major-label intervention or commercial-radio slickness (that'd come later in their career), and much of it, over a decade later, still sounds totally fresh.

74
of 100
Bright Eyes 'Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear...' (2002)

Bright Eyes 'Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground'
Bright Eyes 'Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground'. Saddle Creek
Songwriting wunderkind Conor Oberst was all of 21 when he rolled tape on the fourth Bright Eyes LP, Lifted, but already fame had begun to weigh on him. “I do not read the reviews!” he yelps on the ten minute epic “Let's Not S**t Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved),” but, elsewhere, he betrays his own boast. Wielding his sharpened pen with a mix of cynicism and naïvety, Oberst writes with unveiled honesty, then vainly mocks listeners for straining to read meaning into his words. The songsmith is fond of self-deprecation, but he's so hyper-aware of every possible perception of him that Lifted's otherwise-rousing songs border on paranoia. It's self-obsession as high-art; car-crash confessionalism for fans of emo-ish Americana.

73
of 100
Feist 'The Reminder' (2007)

Feist 'The Reminder'
Feist 'The Reminder'. Arts & Crafts
As far as Platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated, Apple-celebrated, generally-ubiquitous albums go, it's hard to go past the third LP for Canadian songbird Leslie Feist. At the tender age of 31, the onetime Broken Social Scenester broke big-time; selling millions and charming legions in a silly successful 2007. But, beneath all the unit-shifting statistics beats the heart of an indie album; The Reminder's accidental success born from a tender celebration of shared melody. Not only do its more commercial(ly)-friendly numbers stay far away from over-glossed corporate-radio sheen, but hushed ballads “The Park” and “Intuition” are stark naked demos. Constantly reminding listeners of its heroine's faults, The Reminder finds strength in imperfection.

72
of 100
New Buffalo 'The Last Beautiful Day' (2004)

New Buffalo 'The Last Beautiful Day'
New Buffalo 'The Last Beautiful Day'. Arts & Crafts
Long before New Buffalo's Sally Seltmann found some sort of strange second-hand fame, as the human who authored Feist's Grammy-nominated anthem “1234,” the Aussie songstress was quietly fashioning a sweepingly romantic, totally homemade, slightly wonky take on cock-eyed pop. Written as Seltmann was recovering from debilitating illness, The Last Beautiful Day is a glorious shrine to sheer optimism, sung in a voice that sounds on the verge of breaking. Its cascading piano chords, gurgling analog organs, and sinuous sweeps of sampled strings work in service of sentiments like “recovery/looks like it's gonna be OK/it's a new day,” “it's all right,” and, on a song called “It'll Be Alright,” “I wanted to say/move on/And look on the brighter side.”

71
of 100
Nedelle 'From the Lion's Mouth' (2005)

Nedelle 'From The Lion's Mouth'
Nedelle 'From The Lion's Mouth'. Kill Rock Stars
Nedelle Torrisi, the Bay Area belle who also fronts the undoubtably ace out-pop outfit Cryptacize, kicks off her second solo album with one of the saddest —if not just flat-out best— songs of the decade: “Tell Me a Story,” 102 seconds of such sweet sorrow, whose cute images of a recently-deceased pet dog function like a well-oiled weepie: pushing your buttons, but still profound. Torrisi is a humble chanteuse; a songwriter who keeps her robust, soulful pipes in check with a bashfulness that matches her small, quiet, gentle, slyly funny songs. Dressing its songstress in tasteful daubs of nylon-string guitar, muted piano, and pianissimo clarinet, From the Lion's Mouth is a sparkling set of sterling indie songwriting.

70
of 100
Evangelista 'Hello, Voyager' (2008)

Evangelista 'Hello, Voyager' (2008)
Evangelista 'Hello, Voyager' (2008). Constellation Records

Through 30 years of ragged, red-raw music, Carla Bozulich's ever-shifting musical career can be charted not as ebbs and flows, but grand, tidal, heaving shifts. Though Bozulich's more 'together' records —like the Geraldine Fibbers' 1995 rock-opera Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, or her conceptual Willie Nelson reimagining, Red Headed Stranger, in 2003— have been her most acclaimed, to me she seems most vital when at her most unhinged. A decade after Scarnella's free-form funereal séance delved deep into the shadows, Bozulich's first Evangelista LP ventures back to that spectral, lunatic fringe. Made in league with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Hello, Voyager is a black-hearted album utterly unafraid of its own darkness.

69
of 100
Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors' (2007)

Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors'
Sandro Perri 'Tiny Mirrors'. Constellation
After years authoring instrumental music as Polmo Polpo, Toronto's Sandro Perri recast himself as a veritable troubadour on his regal solo debut. In debt to Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley, Skip Spence and Skip James, Perri's own-name album evokes singer-songwriters from before a time when “singer-songwriter” was an epithet; showcasing a honeyed voice, lyrical charms, wooded instrumentation, and glowing arrangements. To merely listen to Tiny Mirrors feels like a romantic undertaking; Perri's (photo) album a flickering showreel of precious memories, summoning that happy/sad feeling that comes with remembering in every loss-tinged love-song. It's a record steeped in the sadness of time passing, a record beautiful in complex, unexpected ways.

68
of 100
Vincent Gallo 'When' (2001)

Vincent Gallo 'When'
Vincent Gallo 'When'. Warp
When I first heard When's wondrous opener “I Wrote This for the Girl Paris Hilton,” I had no idea what the title meant. Its seemingly-nonsensical sentence seemed enigmatic and romantic; summoning shadowy lobbies in foreign hotels, fleeting glimpses of passing women held like tender snapshots. Eventually, unfortunately, I discovered that there really is a girl called Paris Hilton. Yet, the wonder of When is that Vincent Gallo's echoey, analog lullabies still have enough melancholy magic to take me back to that blissfully naïve place; all their poetic loneliness helping me forget that I know what a Paris Hilton is, helping me forget that this tender record was authored by a semen-selling Republican renowned for being an utter douche.

67
of 100
Jim O'Rourke 'Insignificance' (2001)

Jim O'Rourke 'Insignificance'
Jim O'Rourke 'Insignificance'. Drag City
Jim O'Rourke —the guy who saved Wilco from MOR mediocrity, did a stint as official fifth member of Sonic Youth, then bitterly retired from music for the latter '00s— has one of music's most confusing CVs, a mad tangle of collaborations, experiments, and one-off ideas. Luckily, he made a pair of peerless pop records that stand head-and-shoulders above all else: 1999's Eureka and 2001's Insignificance. The latter found Diamond Jim in full command of his semi-ironic soft-pop sound; a smooth mixture of bluegrass guitars, analogue organs, piano, pedal steel, and brass, topped with O'Rourke's gentle croon and savage sarcasm. The record's never better than on “Get a Room,” whose secretly hilarious lyrics reward, infinitely, those listening closely.

66
of 100
Fennesz 'Endless Summer' (2001)

Fennesz 'Endless Summer'
Fennesz 'Endless Summer'. Mego
A decade before chillwave blew up the blogosphere, Austrian boffin Christian Fennesz was staging a one man electronic exploration of the sadness inherent in summertime nostalgia. Fennesz had been, prior, working in far more austere realms of electro experimentalism; exploring digitalia's circuit-frying sounds and amusical ways. But Endless Summer's dense sound-clouds are infused with generous warmth; and, on the album's wondrous, eight-minute-long title-track, there's even a languorous acoustic guitar, whose lazy, loose-stringed strums are washed out into a haze of sweet sentimental sounds. It's not a pop record by any stretch, but the sense of emotion —something that, at the time, was a 'glitch' scene no-no— is palpable.

65
of 100
Dntel 'Life is Full of Possibilities' (2001)

Dntel 'Life is Full of Possibilities'
Dntel 'Life is Full of Possibilities'. Plug Research

It seems strange, a decade on, that this Dntel record has become but a footnote; as the LP on which Los Angelino beatmaker Jimmy 'Dntel' Tamborello met Death Cab for Cutie frontman, leading to their eventual union as The Postal Service. Strange given that, at the time, people went crazy for it on its own (see: a 9.3 on Pitchfork). Here, Tamborello collaborates with vocalists like Mia Doi Todd, Rachel Haden, and Beachwood Sparks' Chris Gunst, who give voice to his overwhelming fear of death (as reflected by the ironic juxtaposition of title/artwork); their voices layered, treated, cut up, and scattered through Tamborello's dense soundworlds of skittering beats, looming synths, vinyl crackles, and opaque atmospheres.

64
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The Postal Service 'Give Up' (2003)

The Postal Service 'Give Up'
The Postal Service 'Give Up'. Sub Pop Records

Trying, in vain, to follow up his Dntel's classic Life Is Full Of Possibilities, Jimmy Tamborello was stuck. Hoping to get out of his rut, he took the suggestion of Sub Pop bigwigs, and started trading tapes with Death Cab dude Ben Gibbard, whom he'd collaborated with on the Dntel cut “(This Is) The Dream Of Evan And Chan.” Going back-and-forth through the post, electro-nerd and emo-poet became unlikely artistic couple; Tamborello's blippy beatmaking and Gibbard's taut lyricism making for a perfect sad-electro-pop match. In the years since its blessed release, Give Up has gone Gold, Gibbard has steadfastly refused to revisit the Postal Service, and that Owl City huckster has so blatantly ripped the band off even he must feel embarrassed.

63
of 100
Death Cab for Cutie 'Transatlanticism' (2003)

Death Cab for Cutie 'Transatlanticism'
Death Cab for Cutie 'Transatlanticism'. Barsuk
Death Cab for Cutie's fifth LP means a lot to a lot of people. Which is, of course, a cue to once more laugh again at that guy with the “Transatlanticism” tattoo. Aside from, obviously, being more evidence that extreme fandom is utterly terrifying, that photographed inkwork reminds that Ben Gibbard's emo-boy lyricism was tight on this, the breakout album that took Death Cab from hard-working indie-rockers to stadium-playing Grammy standbys. Yet, for all his well-considered rhymes and earnest turns of phrase, Transatanticism is never more effecting than on its title track, which reaches transcendence through the singalong repetition of seven simple syllables: “I need you so much closer.”

62
of 100
Wildbirds & Peacedrums 'The Snake' (2009)

Wildbirds & Peacedrums 'The Snake'
Wildbirds & Peacedrums 'The Snake'. The Leaf Label
Swedish husband/wife duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums are a profound study in songwriting elementalism, reducing music to its barest of bones: Andreas Werliin's percussion as rhythm, Mariam Wallentin's voice as melody. Yet, this simple set-up is anything but reductionist. Their second record, The Snake, isn't stripped down, but built up; the pair using those same simple tools to construct soulful songs of towering beauty. It's an album both rambunctious and grand; finding transcendence via skittering percussion and jazzy singing. And it's punctuated by the epic, majestic, seven-minute send-off, “My Heart,” which finds Wallentin exhorting her heart to keep beating, so she can stave off mortality to sing —to love— for one more day.

61
of 100
The Knife 'Silent Shout' (2006)

The Knife 'Silent Shout'
The Knife 'Silent Shout'. Rabid
Fear, in electronic music, usually summons that stock sci-fi parable: the fear of a high-tech future in which human values have been subsumed by the rise of the machines. Swedish brother/sister electro duo The Knife convey a completely different kind of fear in their quite-frankly-frightening sound: sheer abject terror. Not fear as ideological weapon, but genuine, visceral, deep-in-your stomach dread. The Knife's third LP is, in all its cold beats and heavily-effected Karin Dreijer vocals, just scary to hear. I guess you could dance to it in the club, sing along with it in your car (“spending time with my family/like the Corleones!”), or have it on while washing dishes, but I can only listen to Silent Shout curled up in fetal position.

60
of 100
Crazy Dreams Band 'Crazy Dreams Band' (2008)

Crazy Dreams Band 'Crazy Dreams Band'
Crazy Dreams Band 'Crazy Dreams Band'. Holy Mountain
Made up of members of Lexie Mountain Boys, Harrius, Mouthus, and Religious Knives, CDB come steeped in histories of difficult listening. But they couldn't be easier to listen to: their joyous, jam-band racket stumbling a line between classic-rock-approximation and shambolic capitulation. Powered by Nick Becker's overwired moog and dueling, wailing vocalists Alexandra Macchi and Chiara Giovando, CDB make ad-hoc experimentation sound stadium-sized. On the anthemic “Separate Ways,” Macchi harangues “hating you takes a lot of ENERGY!” in a bluesy, boozy roar that sounds not so much like Janis Joplin back from the grave, but Janis Joplin rotting in her grave.

59
of 100
Juana Molina 'Tres Cosas' (2003)

Juana Molina 'Tres Cosas'
Juana Molina 'Tres Cosas'. Domino
The phrase 'comedienne-turned-songwriter' has all kinds of bad connotations, but Juana Molina, once the star of an Argentine sketch-comedy show, makes music that is utterly magical. Her homespun sonic spells, record entirely in isolation, float woozily on tumbling layers of guitar and the soothing sound of Molina's soft Spanish singing. Molina's breakout (ie. the one first heard outside of Argentina) second record, Segundo, was a sweetly half-asleep LP; thick with flickering programming and narcotic keytone. But its even-more-impressive follow-up, the more acoustic (yet still woozy) Tres Cosas, strips songs down in an act of stunning compositional purity; feeling, in such, far more 'present' —more reverent, even— in the music's beauty.

58
of 100
Cornelius 'Point' (2002)

Cornelius 'Point'
Cornelius 'Point'. Matador
Openly evoking the hoary notion of the “journey through music,” Keigo Oyamada’s fourth album as Cornelius showed him embodying the familiar, romanticised notion of the crate-diggin’, dusty-vinyl-rescuing DJ: pawing through the refuse of pan-genre popular-culture, fashioning an array of audio sources into a singular whole. Using the studio as instrument, the king of Tokyo’s so-called Shibuya-kei scene seemed like a painter, dexterously applying precise strokes of color and composition. Oyamada constructs his songs with the same kind of conception and control; Point's voyage “from Nakameguro to Everywhere,” finding him cut-and-pasting his way to a densely-woven, impishly experimental, wantonly harmonic vision of shiny, futurist pop.

57
of 100
Tujiko Noriko 'Make Me Hard' (2002)

Tujiko Noriko 'Make Me Hard'
Tujiko Noriko 'Make Me Hard'. Mego
Tokyo-raised, Paris-based Tujiko Noriko wore one recurring comparison throughout the '00s: Björk. When you're making immense, emotionally-drenched soundworlds out of digital fragments, distorted synthesizer sounds, and the raw power of your multi-tracked voice, it's probably an apt comparison. Especially as female. Gatecrashing the abstract-electro boys club with a kind of 'avant-garde J-pop,' Tujiko sounded as alien as she did feminine; her music at once cute and devastating, sweet and heedless, friendly and terrifying. By her third LP, Make Me Hard, Tujiko was working at the height of her powers; the set's dark, shadowy constructions of swirling, funneling, pummeling electronic sounds set alight by the naked flame of her evocative voice.

56
of 100
Kahimi Karie 'Trapéziste' (2003)

Kahimi Karie 'Trapéziste'
Kahimi Karie 'Trapéziste'. Victor

After starting out life as cutesy J-pop ingénue, Kahimi Karie has had quite the impressive career: a fascinating narrative of forward-forging artistic exploration in which she's rubbed shoulders with the Olivia Tremor Control, Cornelius, Jim O'Rourke, and Otomo Yoshihide. Drawing inspiration from Brigitte Fontaine's eternal Comme à la Radio, the glorious Trapéziste found Karie soaring gracefully over a musical net cast far and wide. Collaging diverse sounds —opera, free-jazz, dissonant static, tropicalism, electro-pop, spoken-word— with careful editing and profound juxtaposition, Karie's daring fifth album assembles thousands of tiny fragments of sound into some of the most avant-garde songs ever to be sold as commercially-accessible pop.

55
of 100
Camille 'Le Fil' (2005)

Camille 'Le Fil'
Camille 'Le Fil'. Virgin
It's a B. A single note sung by Camille, and looped into an unending drone, resonates throughout Le Fil; this one sung B literally serving as the thread that stitches this oft-ridiculous set together. The French singer's second album —a work of radical avant-gardism dressed in the non-threatening threads of commercially-accessible pop— found her essentially ditching instruments, crooning, wailing, clicking, coughing, and beatboxing on an LP built almost entirely from sounds emanating from the voicebox. Rather than being about the naturalism of singing, it's an album on the mutability of language and the recontextualizing powers of the sampler. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Björk's voice-driven album Medúlla, Le Fil comes out a winner.

54
of 100
Mathieu Boogaerts '2000' (2002)

Mathieu Boogaerts '2000'
Mathieu Boogaerts '2000'. Tôt ou Tard
Mathieu Boogaerts is to pop music as Michel Gondry is to cinema: a kooky, quirky, cock-eyed Frenchman who sees the world through the prism of his art, and gives as much credence to dreaming as to so-called 'reality.' On his third record, Boogaerts took his twitchy, skiffle-ish 'pop minimale' sound away from its usual hypnotic, robotic rhythms, and into some sort of strange, wonky, woozy country fantasia. Like on opener “Las Vegas,” which, whilst Boogaerts sings of Caesers Palace and Marilyn Monroe, drizzles syrupy pedal-steel over reggae-inflected synth-pop rhythms. When not undertaking odd juxtapositions, Boogaerts stuffs 2000 with killer pop-songs; “Tu Es” perhaps the most brilliant three minutes of his brilliant career.

53
of 100
The Books 'The Lemon of Pink' (2003)

The Books 'The Lemon of Pink'
The Books 'The Lemon of Pink'. Tomlab
Sometimes, like nerds riffing on Monty Python, the two dudes behind The Books —American conceptual artist Nick Zammuto and Dutch classical musician Paul de Jong— have entire conversations in samples. For each Books LP, the pair spend years collating vast sound libraries: instructional records, field recordings, samples of everyday objects. Cutting up words and phrases, they give them a new, recontextualized identity amidst the band's shape-shifting 'folktronica,' in which de Jong's banjo, fiddle, madolin, and cello pirouette amidst cut-up syllables re-pasted into flickering, rhythmic patterns. If that makes The Books sound like a dull gallery piece, they're not: The Lemon of Pink is scandalously enjoyable listening for anyone with ears.

52
of 100
Grizzly Bear 'Veckatimest' (2009)

Grizzly Bear 'Veckatimest'
Grizzly Bear 'Veckatimest'. Warp Records
After debuting as Ed Droste’s solo home-recordings on 2004’s Horn of Plenty, Grizzly Bear have grown exponentially grander with every added member; the now-quartet upping the artistic ante sizeably on their glittering third LP. With this set of sweet pop-songs writ compositionally complex, their ambition has come to full fruition; Veckatimest ripe with body, vivid with color, bursting with sweetness. Cascading with counterpoints and decked out in heavenly harmonies, the beautifully-produced tunes bless those listening on headphones; each one a romantic dance of tiny detail and grand sweep. It's a record both staggeringly simple and quietly complex, one that, wonderfully, plays as well three dozen listens in as it does on that virgin spin.

51
of 100
Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds' (2006)

Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds'
Final Fantasy 'He Poos Clouds'. Tomlab

Anyone doubting that the nerds have inherited the musical Earth need only hear the second album by Owen Pallett, the ochestral-pop-penning Canadian carrot-top whose violin-virtuoso childhood didn't leave much room for socializing. A concept record schooled in Dungeons and Dragons magic, He Poos Clouds' title-track is about an obsessive crush on The Legend of Zelda's Link (“all the boys I have ever loved have been digital,” “I move him with my thumbs,” etc). I have no idea what RPG is in mind when Pallett sings “his massive genitals refuse to co-operate” over “This Lamb Sells Condos”' jaunty, rag-time marriage of harpsichord, piano, and choir, but it matters little: even those who've never rolled a 20-sided die can, and will, love this LP.

50
of 100
The Arcade Fire 'Funeral' (2004)

The Arcade Fire 'Funeral'
The Arcade Fire 'Funeral'. Merge Records
After the rock-revival big-wigs —The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes— demanded stripped-down reductionism, the Arcade Fire were hugely responsible for rehabilitating the cachet of earnest, emotive grandeur. The grandstanding Québécois combo's debut, Funeral, stirred up ridiculous hype on the back of choruses of massed vocals, massive crescendos, bashed pianos, and frenetic, we're-all-going-to-die-so-let's-live-right-now! energy. One part new-millennial lament, one part profoundly-humanist rallying cry, Funeral is an album steeped, somehow, in both tragedy and optimism; as in “Haiti,” where Régine Chassagne presides over a joyous jamboree whose lyrics, dancing between English and Kreyòl, paint with the blood of slain Haitians.

49
of 100
Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas...' (2000)

Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas...'
Godspeed You Black Emperor! 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven'. Constellation
There are few bands that can make a convincing argument that they needed to make an 87-minute-long double-album, but Québécois post-rock co-op Godspeed You! Black Emperor, in all their epic ideologies, strung out studies in dynamics, and apocalyptic crescendos, are a band befitting the long-form study. GY!BE's second LP, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven finds the band's boiling politicized rage simmering at more of a languorous melancholy, an aching sadness that lingers in every dewy note of frayed guitar, every ghostly field recording, every weeping wail of violin. Their music sheds tears for the landscapes of urban decay; it a form of audio architectural psychology that laments environments stained by white flight's blight.

48
of 100
Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover' (2007)

Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover'
Sunset Rubdown 'Random Spirit Lover'. Jagjaguwar
If anybody could've conceivably still considered Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown a “Wolf Parade side-project” after 2006's mighty Shut Up I Am Dreaming, then Random Spirit Lover was the silencer. Going way beyond where his other, more-famous outfit would ever dare, Krug's third Sunset Rubdown LP is ambition laid upon ambition; a mad tangle of off-kilter guitars and smashed keyboards in which he eagerly slathers on idea after idea. Such musical complexity is matched by Krug's literary lyricism, which —via verses like “think of the scene where a washed-up actor/wipes the make-up off his wife and says/‘morticians must’ve took you for a whore’”— summons a theatrical world in which every word or deed, on stage or off, is a performance.

47
of 100
Camera Obscura 'Let's Get Out of This Country' (2006)

Camera Obscura 'Let's Get Out of This Country'
Camera Obscura 'Let's Get Out of This Country'. Merge

For many, Scottish indie-pop outfit Camera Obscura were easily dismissed as simple Belle and Sebastian acolytes; yet, by the time Traceyanne Campbell and co arrived at their third album, few could deny they had their own vital identity. Crammed to the gills with harmonious, charming, toe-tapping tunes, Let’s Get Out of This Country can stand alongside any of Belle and Sebastian’s beloved classics (well, maybe not If You’re Feeling Sinister...). Amidst its sweeping strings and salty lyricism, Campbell shows she knows her pop-music place. When she tips her hat to the likes of Dory Previn and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, it's obvious Campbell has bided her time studying songsmiths most lyrically adept, then putting their lessons into practice.

46
of 100
Belle and Sebastian 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' (2003)

Belle & Sebastian 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress'
Belle & Sebastian 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress'. Rough Trade

After releasing one of the greatest records, like, ever, with 1996's note-perfect If You're Feeling Sinister, Scottish pop stragglers Belle and Sebastian slowly sunk into a fractured, muddled period personified by 2000's middling LP Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant. 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress arrived, then, as a bright new beginning. With their long-derided feyness and wetness in scant supply, the Trevor Horn-produced platter paraded hot guitar licks, sweeping strings, and classic-pop-song panache. Strutting proudly in high-fidelity, Belle and Sebastian sounded not like some straggly collective of christians and charlatans from the hippest cafs in Glasgow, but like a fully-fledged band, in the best sense of the world.

45
of 100
The Decemberists 'Her Majesty the Decemberists' (2003)

The Decemberists 'Her Majesty the Decemberists'
The Decemberists 'Her Majesty the Decemberists'. Kill Rock Stars
All ye olde seafarin' imagery, yellowing literary lyrics, and marching band stomp, Her Majesty the Decemberists introduced the world to the readily-apparent talent of Colin Meloy. Singing with a sneer equal parts Jeff Mangum and John Darnielle, Meloy pirouettes through a series of nimble numbers evoking Anglo-Saxon sea-shantys, Billy Bragg protest songs, and Elephant 6 whimsy. Throughout, his studious, well-shapen words —openly evoking other authors Dylan Thomas, Marcel Duchamp, and Myla Goldberg— seem ever-quotable; ne'er moreso than when Meloy calls Los Angeles “an ocean's garbled vomit on the shore.” Subsequent Decemberists discs have been more popular, but this still serves as the perfect entry-point to their particular brand of pop.

44
of 100
Beirut 'Gulag Orkestar' (2006)

Beirut 'Gulag Orkestar'
Beirut 'Gulag Orkestar'. 4AD
Stop if you've heard this one before: teenager from New Mexico drops out of high-school, wanders dirt-poor through Europe in search of the Balkan Gypsy music he's heard in Emir Kusturica movies, marries it with his own Morrissey-esque croon and Magnetic Fields obsessions, and authors one of the decade's best albums before he hits 19. Zach Condon's back-story is writ across Gulag Orkestar, which plays like a travelogue headed Due East through Europe. Though recorded in his bedroom at his parents' house in Albuquerque, Condon's romantic music summons sentimental vision of Europe; never moreso than in the rapturously romantic “Postcards from Italy,” a stirring, swelling ballad that's truly one of the very best songs of the '00s.

43
of 100
CocoRosie 'La Maison de Mon Rêve' (2004)

CocoRosie 'La Maison de Mon Rêve'
CocoRosie 'La Maison de Mon Rêve'. Touch & Go
Freak-folk was the feel-good story of '04: a host of hairy men and floral-frock'd women harkening back to some imagined yore when people were fair and had sky in their hair. CocoRosie were, then, clear black sheep of such a scene: a pair of sour-faced sisters steeped in a love of club hip-hop and performance-art provocation. Though their debut disc, Le Maison de Mon Rêve was filled with autoharps and acoustic guitars, its use of folk forms was ironic; the Casady siblings playing spirituals with a vicious revisionist twist. In their squeaky, squawky voices, the sisters sung things like “Jesus loves me/but not my wife/not my nigger friends/or their nigger lives,” turning pseudo-Gospel numbers into claws-out critiques of Christianity.

42
of 100
M.I.A. 'Arular' (2005)

M.I.A. 'Arular'
M.I.A. 'Arular'. XL
On the beloved first record for girl-made-good Maya Arulpragasam —brown skin/West Londoner/educated/refugee, huh— it's the beats that hit you first. Punched out on the daddy of all compact-drum-machines, the 505, M.I.A.'s groovebox boxes well above its weight; its concussive caress careening through combos of crunk, baile funk, ragga, gutter-garage, and dancehall. Over the top, Arulpragasam lets loose a lyrical haranguing, fusing hip-hop bluster with armed-resistance sloganeering as if stitching the first and the third world together like some musical factory-worker. On the back of such an audacious, heavyweight debut, it was to no one's surprise that M.I.A. went on to become one of the truly transcendent stars of the 2000s. God bless her.

41
of 100
Why? 'Alopecia' (2008)

Why? 'Alopecia'
Why? 'Alopecia'. anticon.
Yoni Wolf is the master of the overshare. Across five Why? LPs, the American lyricist's mixture of tragicomic neuroses and uncomfortable intimacy has earnt him more comparisons to Woody Allen and Larry David than singer-songwriters. Whilst his career has gone from backpacker-rap to cute indie-pop to piano-balladeering, Wolf's half-sung/half-spoken observations and confessions have remained a constant. And never was Wolf so on fire as on his fourth Why? set, 2008's Alopecia, which matched endlessly quotable lyrics (“you're a beautiful and violent word/with the skinny neck/of a Chinese bird”) to a host of utterly memorable hooks; cuts like “The Hollows,” “Fatalist Palmistry,” and “By Torpedo of Crohn's” the defining works of a career.

40
of 100
Sam Amidon 'All is Well' (2008)

Sam Amidon 'All is Well'
Sam Amidon 'All is Well'. Bedroom Community

It's rare when a formal, studious approach breeds better musical results than a ragged, intuitive one; yet Sam Amidon's mannered, stoic, prosaic All is Well goes far beyond the limits of freak-folk's adoptive, ad-hoc primitivism. Interpreting ten traditional folksongs, Amidon sings them in a croaky baritone bordering on monotone. His voice contrasts, sometimes violently, with Nico Muhly's musically dexterous, sonically complex, avant-gardist exercises in orchestral ambition. Whilst that might read as, at best, an interesting experiment, the results are the exact opposite: this restraint somehow summoning savage emotional outbursts from ambushed listeners. Meaning: you listen to All is Well, you probably cry.

39
of 100
Iron & Wine 'The Creek Drank the Cradle' (2002)

Iron & Wine 'The Creek Drank the Cradle'
Iron & Wine 'The Creek Drank the Cradle'. Sub Pop Records
Bearded folkie Sam 'Iron and Wine' Beam arrived bearing a debut disc proudly wearing its home-made inceptions on its sleeve. Beam's hushed set of songs play like half-whisper, half-tape-hiss, the rudiments of four-track recording giving them a genuine sense of shrouded secrecy. Rolling tape late at night his wife and newborn had gone to bed, Beam spun his gentle, rural ditties like lullabies for the already sleeping. His softly-sung lyrics offer imagery like “mother, remember the night that the dog had her pups in the pantry?”; effectively summoning notions of the mythical, Falknerian South in bashful balladry. Shrouded in the white-noise of roomtome, The Creek Drank the Cradle's tunes sound like ghostly remnants of a distant era.

38
of 100
Fleet Foxes 'Fleet Foxes' (2008)

Fleet Foxes 'Fleet Foxes'
Fleet Foxes 'Fleet Foxes'. Sub Pop

One of the decade's more pleasant massive-success stories, this crew of polite, pleasing, bearded boys from Seattle garnered a besotted, ever-growing following with their self-titled, Sub Pop-issued debut. The folkie fivesome are blessed by glorious four-part harmonies, their obvious joy in the “almost religious” power of singing summoning romanticized images of rural clans caroling away summer nights together. Fittingly, frontman Robin Pecknold writes songs filled with yearning for his own family, blood so much thicker than water that even the set's ostensible lovesong, “Blue Ridge Mountains,“ keeps its heart close to home: “Sean, don't get careless/I'm sure it'll be fine/I love you, I love you/Oh, brother of mine.”

37
of 100
Damon & Naomi 'With Ghost' (2000)

Damon & Naomi 'With Ghost'
Damon & Naomi 'With Ghost'. Sub Pop Records

Husband-and-wife team Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang —former members of indie legends Galaxie 500— had already crafted three impressive LPs of tender, bashful balladry by the time they hooked up with Japanese hippies Ghost. Though there were cultural boundaries to cross (“wait, you guys practice?” Yang asked), it soon proved a blessed union: the deft, glistening guitar playing of Michio Kurihara bringing out the psychedelic heart beating deep within Damon and Naomi's normally-restrained acid-folk. The resultant, resplendent album finds nine gently numbers glowing with the warmth of newly-blown glass; none more beautiful than Yang's impassioned reading of Nico's Tim Hardin-penned “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce.”

36
of 100
Nagisa Ni Te 'Feel' (2002)

Nagisa Ni Te 'Feel'
Nagisa Ni Te 'Feel'. Jagjaguwar
Japanese couple Nagisa Ni Te —nimble-fingered guitar god Shinji Shibayama, his wife/muse/collaborateur/foil Masako Takeda— authored a tender set of vows with their glorious fourth album. Practitioners of a melancholy psychedelia openly inspired by Neil Young (their name means 'On the Beach' in Japanese), the duo ditch the normal 'cosmic' sentiments of psych for a series of domestic devotionals and transcendental spirituals. Their faith is not in God, though, but in their marriage; their thanks and praise always for the existence of each other. On the achingly beautiful “We,” what they sing together, in gentle Japanese, translates as: “Every day we fall in love, and share the same time. Deep as the first day, but never the same.”

35
of 100
Jens Lekman 'When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog' (2004)

Jens Lekman 'When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog'
Jens Lekman 'When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog'. Secretly Canadian
“I encourage people that I’ve written about, if they feel they’ve been portrayed in a bad way, to come up to me and spit in my face,” laughs Swedish crooner Jens Lekman. And, by 'people,' he means: girls. On an LP dedicated to his “first love, Sara,” there’s also songs called “Julie,” “Silvia,” “Psychogirl,” and “Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa.” Even the 'political' cut —a chronicle of WTO/anti-Bush protests, “Do You Remember The Riots?”— is about a girl. “A collection of recordings – 2000-2004,” When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog matches Avalanches-inspired sample-swells with smart-ass singing heavily in debt to Morrissey and Stephin Merritt. Yet, as Lekman's words walk a line between honesty and irony, his romanticism remains unwavering.

34
of 100
Jenny Wilson 'Hardships!' (2009)

Jenny Wilson 'Hardships!'
Jenny Wilson 'Hardships!'. Gold Medal
Jenny Wilson’s magical 2005 debut, Love & Youth, was a suite of songs about high-school politics, summoning pangs of awkward adolescence over an amazing 'acoustic disco' sound. The Swedish starlet's follow-up is a gorgeous R&B record of rich, real instrumentation —all piano, hand-percussion, and woodwinds— that equates new parenthood with going to war. Razing the noxious clichés of celebrity trophy-babies, Wilson feels abandoned by society, mourns the loss of her individuality, even fantasizes about walking out on her children. On the set's title-track, she wonders why the scars of motherhood are unworthy, whilst the scars of war are noble. It’s brave, brilliant stuff, an inspired marriage of thematic conflicts and harmonic songwriting.

33
of 100
Tune-Yards 'Bird-Brains' (2009)

Tune-Yards 'Bird-Brains'
Tune-Yards 'Bird-Brains'. 4AD

Merrill Garbus started 2009 selling Bird-Brains via her website, and ended it signed to indie empire 4AD, upstaging Dirty Projectors on tour. Informed by time/s spent living in Kenya, nannying a two-year-old, and working as a puppeteer, Garbus authored these (amazing) songs on a hand-held digital recorder, as a form of self-powered audio vérité. Built from thrummed ukulele, clunky programming, hand percussion, and Garbus's glorious, boisterous voice, Bird-Brains vaults from quiet to chaotic at a whim, seeming forever blessed by serendipitous spirit. Home-recorder-turned-indie-star has become a familiar narrative, but it feels like a miracle that something as pure and personal as Bird-Brains has vaulted into the collective consciousness.

32
of 100
Of Montreal 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?' (2007)

Of Montreal 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?'
Of Montreal 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?'. Polyvinyl

Of Montreal were once the twee-est jamboree in Elephant 6's prized patch of retrophonic flower-children. Yet, by their eighth album, Kevin Barnes shelved the old-timey imagery and archaic idioms, radically rewriting Of Montreal as tense electro-funk outfit rife with simmering sexual tension. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? is the band's landmark longplayer, a colossal epic in which Barnes ditches the fanciful and whimsical for the hysterical and confessional. Its centerpiece, the krautrock-ish 12-minute workout “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal,” finds him rambling in free-association, his ever-increasing agitation making it seem like so much psychotherapy. It's neurosis on the dancefloor, and Barnes dares not kill the groove.

31
of 100
Life Without Buildings 'Any Other City' (2001)

Life Without Buildings 'Any Other City'
Life Without Buildings 'Any Other City'. DC Baltimore 2012
Life Without Buildings have myth all stitched up. The Scottish art-school outfit recorded only one album before breaking up, and it just so happens to be one of the decade's best. With a sound inspired by Television and The Smiths, the quartet bounce along with cleanly-played guitars and spunky, push-beat drums. And then there's Sue Tompkins, the bouncy vocalist who makes like some mad mixture of Patti Smith and Clare Grogan as she unleashes a torrent of half-spoken words all over the LP. The buoyant spirit of both band and album, Tompkins has a habit of repeating words until their phonetics fumble and the syllables become unrecognizable; like in “Envoys,” when she spits out “sob, sob, sob” until it becomes a kind of sob in itself.

30
of 100
Phoenix 'It's Never Been Like That' (2006)

Phoenix 'It's Never Been Like That'
Phoenix 'It's Never Been Like That'. Virgin
It's with much, much irony that the album that broke Phoenix from cult rockband to crazy commercial success was 2009's patchy Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. AKA: the disappointing follow-up to far-and-away the best record of the band's career. The third Phoenix LP comes completely stuffed with near-perfect pop-songs: “Rally,” “Consolation Prizes,” “Second to None,” “Long Distance Call”... these are jams that many songwriters would murder their mothers to offer, but here this crew of French fops seem to toss them off effortlessly; the clanging guitars, keyboard squelches, and Thomas Mars' lyrics rolling out smoothly. If there's a criticism to be leveled at It's Never Been Like That, it's that it's a little too perfect.

29
of 100
The Strokes 'Is This It' (2001)

The Strokes 'Is This It'
The Strokes 'Is This It'. RCA
Seen through hindsight's lens, it's easy to hate The Strokes; given they inspired a retrograde rock-revival in which dudes dressed in shaggy hair, tight trousers, jean jackets, and casual misogyny acted like the world owed them something. Yet, there's no denying their debut is a killer rock record. For an album made by a hyped-to-death band who changed a musical decade, Is This It is, as its rhetorical (read: question-mark-lacking) title suggests, unaffected and unimpressed. Though the chugging guitars and push-beat rhythm section barrel along with irrepressible swagger, the tone is truly set by Julian Casablancas's half-sung, plain-spoken lyrics, which he delivers with a nonchalant shrug part Lou Reed, part Stephen Malkmus.

28
of 100
Vampire Weekend 'Vampire Weekend' (2008)

Vampire Weekend 'Vampire Weekend'
Vampire Weekend 'Vampire Weekend'. XL
Essentially the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson movie —all literary heritage, belletristic privilege, and droll irony— it's no surprise than Vampire Weekend's debut met with reactionist slander. Doubly so due to the fact that the quartet draw heavily from West African guitar-pop; frontman Ezra Koenig proudly rocking that high, bright, dry guitar sound. This intercontinental influence leads to claims the band were culture thieves and Paul Simon wannabes; but they're clearly more clued up, mocking the “world music ” generation in “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” where Koenig sings, “it feels so unnatural/Peter Gabriel, too,” before sardonically asking “Can you stay up to see the dawn/in the colours of Benetton?”

27
of 100
Dirty Projectors 'Bitte Orca' (2009)

Dirty Projectors 'Bitte Orca'
Dirty Projectors 'Bitte Orca'. Domino

Dirty Projectors spent the whole decade toiling under his Dirty Projectors handle, making amazing, idiosyncratic albums that, for most of the '00s, remained ignored. That changed with Bitte Orca, in a very big way. The seventh DP LP —a grand, irrepressible pop record of bright, bold colors and crazed compositions— broke the band out of the underground and into the spotlight. Fittingly, the set marked the culmination of the many varied, particular, peculiar strains of hipster musicology —pointillist orchestration, West African guitar pop, thudding R&B sub-bass, competing polyrhythms— Longstreth had dabbled in. This time, he piled them all on for an album of constant thrills; an utter joy for longtime Longstreth lovers or neophytes alike.

26
of 100
Parenthetical Girls 'Entanglements' (2008)

Parenthetical Girls 'Entanglements'
Parenthetical Girls 'Entanglements'. Tomlab

On their third longplayer, Portland's Parenthetical Girls went wholly orchestral, fashioning a fruity set of densely-scored, elaborately-layered mini-symphonies drawing from folk like Raymond Scott, Scott Walker, and Burt Bacharach. The songs zip about with the jaunty jollity of a distant era, their devil-may-care accelerando bursts pirouetting with the kind of gay abandon usually reserved for Merrie Melodies episodes. Forever running counter to the orchestrated schmaltz is frontman Zac Pennington: his fruity, gender-confused crooning; his thesaurus-leafing lyrics; his perpetual lyrical attraction to the bodily and the grotesque. Wedding such words to woofing woodwinds and zinging strings, Entanglements is an inspired marriage.

25
of 100
Scott Walker 'The Drift' (2006)

Scott Walker 'The Drift'
Scott Walker 'The Drift'. 4AD

Scott Walker, that one-time teen-pop pin-up turned legendary avant-garde recluse, moved further into the darkness with The Drift. Issued when Walker was 63, the set shows a daring usually associated with youth; but, perhaps, it was the feeling of ever-nearing death that inspired Walker to once again throw caution to the wind. Here, he continues exploring the farthest reaches of the extremes of songcraft; embracing atonalism, dissonance, friction, and bizarre narrative literalism: “Clara” finds percussionist Alasdair Malloy punching on a side of pork to summon the sound of angry citizens clubbing the strung-up corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress in a Milan piazza. It makes for the most extreme, intense, and nasty Walker set yet.

24
of 100
Antony and the Johnsons 'I Am a Bird Now' (2005)

Antony and the Johnsons 'I Am a Bird Now'
Antony and the Johnsons 'I Am a Bird Now'. Secretly Canadian
Many a concept-record was made in the '00s, but only one symbolized the physical journey from male to female as a chick growing into a bird. Suitably enough, that only-one was the second record for gender-confusing crooner Antony Hegarty; a warbling songbird whose pipes sound more like Nina Simone than any fella you could think of. Working, again, under the name Antony and Johnsons, Hegarty delivered a tender set of transgender torchsongs that told of transgression, transformation, and taking wing. Doing so, the the pianoman's peerless pageantry was so utterly Classical in its approach and raw in its beauty that you could forget the Leather Pants guest list (Lou Reed, Boy George, Rufus Wainwright) and learn to love it for all its lumps.

23
of 100
Frida Hyvönen 'Until Death Comes' (2005)

Frida Hyvönen 'Until Death Comes'
Frida Hyvönen 'Until Death Comes'. Secretly Canadian
Pounding at her piano with a fearsome fierceness, statuesque Swedish songstress Frida Hyvönen —six feet of vicious lyricism and brutal honesty— laces toe-tapping tunes with uncomfortable truths. On her debut album, Hyvönen comes across as a performer ripe with sins to confess and scores to level. That starts with “You Never Got Me Right,” two minutes of barreling, boisterous, piano/male-bashing that strikes blows at a condescending former beau. It stands alongside the jaw-dropping “Once I Was a Serene Teenaged Child,” whose casual references to anatomy and unguarded recollections of nascent sexuality are at once hilarious and shocking, singalong and profound. It's a blinding highlight: the best songs on one of the decade's best albums.

22
of 100
El Perro del Mar 'From the Valley to the Stars' (2008)

El Perro del Mar 'From the Valley to the Stars'
El Perro del Mar 'From the Valley to the Stars'. The Control Group
Of the three albums for impossibly-breathy Swedish chanteuse El Perro del Mar, this is, mistakenly, regarded as her least essential; the difficult-second album stuck between the Brill Building pop of her self-titled 2006 debut and the languorous disco of 2009's Love is Not Pop. It's likely because those (admittedly amazing) discs turned the familiar happy-music-with-sad-lyrics trick, whereas From the Valley to the Stars turns that inside-out. A concept album, of sorts, about transfiguration, its lyrics are awash in joy whilst its music sounds solemn. As the songs steadily 'ascend,' the arrangements shed weight, until all that's left is the holy sound of barely-there organ chords and El Perro Del Mar's rapturous whispers of happiness.

21
of 100
The Concretes 'The Concretes' (2003)

The Concretes 'The Concretes'
The Concretes 'The Concretes'. Licking Fingers
Here lies the dazzlng debut of The Concretes: an ungodly-good girl-group from Stockholm harboring —as jams like “You Can't Hurry Love” and “Diana Ross” attest— a serious Supremes love. Swaggering like Ronnie and layering on instruments like Phil, the Swedes conjure the Spector of past pop with wall-of-sound arrangements stacking organ, harp, strings, and choirs skywards. What sets their music apart from other old-R&B revivalists is the inescapable feeling of melancholy; as personified by the sad, Hope Sandoval-ish voice of Victoria Bergsman. Years later, Bergsman would eventually be kicked out of the band, then find fame as Taken by Trees, but for one brief, 40-minute moment, The Concretes were the best band in the world

20
of 100
The Avalanches 'Since I Left You' (2000)

The Avalanches 'Since I Left You'
The Avalanches 'Since I Left You'. XL
The Avalanches' 2000 debut announced the decade anew: slaying the irony that reigned over the '90s and championing the glories of sincerity. Hearing the sad melancholy inherent in every lost or forgotten record they cut from, the Melburnian crew cobbled together a tapestry of romanticized samples. The result, Since I Left You, explores that hoakiest record-spinning concept —the DJ taking you on a journey— in earnest. Like any good road movie, it's voyage not into the landscape, but the interior; an album powered by flights of imagination. It proved so good that The Avalanches made it their only record of the '00s; the undelivered, perhaps-never-coming status of its follow-up turning this into some sort of Australian Loveless.

19
of 100
Broadcast 'The Noise Made By People' (2000)

Broadcast 'The Noise Made By People'
Broadcast 'The Noise Made By People'. Warp
When Brummie outfit Broadcast blithely arrived in a sea of modular organs, rickety drums, and cooing vocals, they were summarily as a second-rate Stereolab. Thankfully, they didn't let it dissuade them, and, by the time they finally arrived at their debut album —after five years of existence— they were already an utterly unique proposition. The brilliant The Noise Made By People finds Broadcast coaxing all kinds of otherworldly —or, more aptly, worldly— sounds out of keyboards; the eerie “Echo's Answer” making synths sound like wind howling through high-cliffs on some snow-swept outpost. Broadcast went on to make two more killer records in the '00s —2003's Haha Sound and 2005's Tender Buttons— but neither quite summoned the same magic.

18
of 100
Celebration 'The Modern Tribe' (2007)

Celebration 'The Modern Tribe'
Celebration 'The Modern Tribe'. 4AD
Baltimore's amazing Celebration have been dubbed “the greatest band in the world” by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek. Who happened to, y'know, produce both Celebration LPs in the '00s. But he speaks the truth: Celebration's second set, The Modern Tribe is utterly thrilling, wickedly soulful, and strangely underloved. The stripped-down trio make the scant sound mighty: David Bergander's nimble-limb'd percussion all tumbling-over, propulsive momentum; Sean Antanaitis' fevered organ stabs eerily delirious; Katrina Ford's untamed caterwauling pirouetting in an around these insistent rhythms. It's dance music for the out-of-step; a party lighting up the shadows; a celebration of living through dark times. It is, indeed, undoubtably great.

17
of 100
The Microphones 'Mount Eerie' (2003)

The Microphones 'Mount Eerie'
The Microphones 'Mount Eerie'. K Records
Raised on remote Fidalgo Island near the Canadian border, Phil Elverum grew up in the shadows of Mt. Erie's towering 1200 feet. To him, it was Mount Eerie, a looming, terrifying peak that served as a constant reminder of man's inconsequential stature in the face of nature. Elverum's Mount Eerie is an indie-rock opera about this; sending its protagonist on an Odyssey up the mythical mountain, he comes face to face with the environment manifest: the earth, the sun, and the universe all manifest as living beings. Musically, Elverum stages this as five long sections, built on Taiko drumming, distorted bass, and washed out choruses, and overlaid with wilderness sounds —whale-calls, snowfalls, wind and rain— as reminder of the immensity of nature.

16
of 100
Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky' (2005)

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky'
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band 'Horses in the Sky'. Constellation
Silver Mt. Zion —who record under an ever-changing handle that, at its longest, has read Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Choir— is the side-project of Godspeed You! Black Emperor leader Efrim Menuck, born out of a desire to sing. By their fourth LP, Efrim and his SMZ crew were belting it out. Horses in the Sky features plenty of plaintive caterwauling, communal choruses lamenting the fate of the human carbine in throaty, hearty, sobbing wails. Menuck's crowning symphony-of-decay —perhaps his best ever album— touches on familiar themes —love, love of animals, dead pets, the military-industrial complex, gentrification, community, mercy, hope— as it touches some sort of God in the space b'tween its (many) members.

15
of 100
Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies' (2006)

Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies'
Destroyer 'Destroyer's Rubies'. Merge Records
Daniel Bejar’s Dylan-esque discography is a maze of mirrors; the lithe lyricist authoring an ever-evolving, proper-name-fetishising songworld in which lyrical references draw webs of connections between tracks from all over his back-catalogue; creating worlds upon songworlds in which his words start to take on talismanic power. His career-defining seventh album, Destroyer’s Rubies, marked the culmination of Bejar’s obsessive craft. Here, he hammers his familiar hallmarks —literary lyrical texts, over-the-top anthemicism, hysterical Bowie-esque falsetto-ing, camp piano, searing guitar solos— into the most instantly impressive, infinitely replayable set of stirring, sterling pop-songs in Destroyer's tangled-up canon.

14
of 100
Sufjan Stevens 'Seven Swans' (2004)

Sufjan Stevens 'Seven Swans'
Sufjan Stevens 'Seven Swans'. Sounds Familyre

Sufjan Stevens' 'state' records scored most of the acclaim —numerous publications suggesting that the patchy, spotty Illinois defined his decade— but clearly his most coherent, endearing, accomplished work was this tender song-cycle writ along biblical lines. From its instantly-memorable opening gambit —“If I am alive this time next year/Will I have arrived in time to share?”— Seven Swans is an album exploring faith as it relates to its author; Stevens not content to merely parrot bible verses, but, instead, weighing up the worth of his life as lived. There's none of the vile smugness of Christian rock, only true humility; this just a man and his banjo (and occasional orchestra), wandering in wonder, in search of enlightenment.

13
of 100
Meg Baird 'Dear Companion' (2007)

Meg Baird 'Dear Companion'
Meg Baird 'Dear Companion'. Drag City
Dear Companion may seem a slight prospect: a solo debut for one of the ladies of Philadelphian acid-folk outfit Espers, recorded in less than 24 hours by one of her bandmates, made up mostly of folk standards and odd covers. Yet, one listen to Baird's rendition of “Willie O'Winsbury,” wrung out to six beauteous minutes, shows this album's sense of magic; Baird breathing life anew into this ancient traditional by the spell of her quivering singing. Performing with a purity reminiscent of folk-revival heroine Anne Briggs (especially re: her 1971 classic, The Time Has Come), Baird's fingerpick’d guitar and honeycomb voice are of such uncontrived, near naïve beauty that her songs seem like vessels of naked, unguarded truth.

12
of 100
Diane Cluck 'Oh Vanille/Ova Nil' (2003)

Diane Cluck 'Oh Vanille/Ova Nil'
Diane Cluck 'Oh Vanille/Ova Nil'. Important Records
The best American singer-songwriter of the '00s wasn't Conor Oberst or Bruce Springsteen or any other dude playing stadiums, but an obscure, publicity-averse, touring-reticent songstress who spent years burning her own CDR albums and taking them around to Brooklyn record-stores. Diane Cluck came up through New York's anti-folk scene, perfecting her lyrically-dexterous, emotionally-overwhelming songs on works of home-recorded wonder. By the time she released her first-ever properly-pressed-up LP in 2003, Cluck was at the peak of her game. Oh Vanille/Ova Nil finds her wielding her sharpened songsmith's pen with aplomb; her use of language so intense and evocative that she redefines what one person singing over acoustic guitar is capable of.

11
of 100
Cat Power 'The Covers Record' (2000)

Cat Power 'The Covers Record'
Cat Power 'The Covers Record'. Matador Records
Back in 2000, there was nothing Cat Power couldn't do. Hot on the heels of her cult-defining classic Moon Pix, Chan Marshall proved her powers by breathing life into the moribund concept of the covers record. Most bow down before the rock'n'roll songbook, but Marshall's happily subverts the mythologies normally writ into cover versions. Though she's dabbling in the pantheon —the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan— Marshall is utterly unreverent; stripping songs of their rock'n'roll bluster —their own essential identities— and authoring them anew as eerie Cat Power laments that bear little resemblance to their source works. It's a work of artistic transubstantiation, turning tired standards into nascent tunes of pure rapture.

10
of 100
Nikaido Kazumi 'Mata, Otosimasitayo' (2003)

Nikaido Kazumi 'Mata, Otosimasitayo'
Nikaido Kazumi 'Mata, Otosimasitayo'. Poet Portraits
Hearing Nikaido Kazumi sing is a thing of pure wonder. Her voice, capriciously whipping from whisper to wail, is an incredible interpretive instrument of aching emotional tenor, known to reduce listeners —and performer— to tears. Both live and on record, it often sounds as if she's trying to connect to a primal part of herself, away from words and language, communicable only through pure sound. Kazumi was born and raised in a Buddhist monastery in rural Japan, and, there, sung night and day to the stars and sun; eventually teaching herself guitar far from the prying eyes of pop-culture. It's no surprise, then, that her awe-inspiring debut album has no obvious reference points; Mata, Otosimasitayo is simply the sound of one woman's soul.

09
of 100
Rings 'Black Habit' (2008)

Rings 'Black Habit'
Rings 'Black Habit'. Paw Tracks
Like some mystical successor to the Raincoats' 1981 mind-alterer Odyshape, New Yorker dames Rings pirouetted through an eco-mystical song-cycle called Black Habit, in which their odd music sounds as if from nature; growing out of the primordial swamp of punk, into an audio eco-system of awe-inspiring life and staggering, unexpected beauty. Black Habit bespeaks its evolutionary wonder in every strange, misshapen song. Rings' swirling clouds of drums, piano, and voice, dowsed in echo and spun in spirals, initially sound like pure chaos, only for subsequent spins to reveal recognizable shapes and interpretive logic; sounds that once seemed serendipitous starting to feel far too fated, too mystical, too meaningful to be random acts of chance.

08
of 100
Panda Bear 'Person Pitch' (2007)

Panda Bear 'Person Pitch'
Panda Bear 'Person Pitch'. Paw Tracks
Panda Bear's second record, 2004's sparse Young Prayer, was shocking in its intimacy: one long poem whispered into the ear of a dying father. Three years on, with father gone, and new wife and child by his side, Sweet Panda wanted to shed that heaviness, and just feel the joy. Borrowing from the Beach Boys and Basic Channel techno records, the two-years-in-the-making Person Pitch heaves with these good vibrations, exemplified by “Comfy In Nautica”’s exhorted chorus: “try to remember, always/always to have a good time.” Yet, it's more complex than a mere good time: bursting with happiness yet tinged with sorrow, immediately accessible yet distant and mysterious, gloriously summery yet sounding like a soft, slow snowfall. It's incredible.

07
of 100
Animal Collective 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' (2009)

Animal Collective 'Merriweather Post Pavilion'
Animal Collective 'Merriweather Post Pavilion'. Domino
After years in the 'exploratory' musical wilderness tending to a slowly-growing cult-following, Animal Collective exploded onto the greater pop-cultural consciousness with Merriweather Post Pavilion. Hailed with near unanimity as the best album of 2009, the jam-band's ninth LP found them wholly embracing their evolution into major musical players. No more wonky experimentalism: here Animal Collective functioned as a joyous, rambunctious, infectious outfit fashioning ever-evolving walls of sampled sound into dancefloor-friendly anthems of no known genre. Big, bizarre, and intensely beautiful, Merriweather Post Pavilion cemented Animal Collective's reputation as one of the most important, distinctive voices in modern music.

06
of 100
Gang Gang Dance 'God's Money' (2005)

Gang Gang Dance 'God's Money'
Gang Gang Dance 'God's Money'. The Social Registry
Perhaps no album from the '00s got better as the decade ticked on as did God's Money. On its release, the third album from Brooklynist hipsters Gang Gang Dance was but a delirious rabble; a cobbled-together concoction of cacky sounds slathered into hypnotic, hot-footed dance jams that straddled some never-before-straddled line between tribalist and futurist, highbrow and low-, avant-garde and in-da-club. Yet, as the years went on, it started to feel like a landmark: leaving behind a litany of impressive outfits working in post-GGD fashion (Crazy Dreams Band, Rainbow Arabia, Rings, Telepathe, These Are Powers, Yeasayer), it sounds both of its time and, even still, every time you listen to it, like it exists in its own magical musical future.

05
of 100
Boredoms 'Vision Creation Newsun' (2001)

Boredoms 'Vision Creation Newsun'
Boredoms 'Vision Creation Newsun'. Warner

It's the most unexpectedly influential album of the '00s: the percussive noise orgy that rewired and inspired Gang Gang Dance, Black Dice, and Animal Collective. Of course, Vision Creation Newsun isn't so much an 'album' as it's a pagan ritual, a tribal drum-circle in which Boredoms play themselves into transcendent trance-states. Essentially a single 67 minute incantation, the set relentlessly pursues a shared, sustained, singular ecstasy. Boredoms send torrents of noise and circumvolutions of polyrhythmic percussion spiraling upwards, skywards, in search of some kind of communal, musical transfiguration. It's religious music for people whose religion is music; a profound, universal truth for those who seek enlightenment in sound.

04
of 100
Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Ensemble 'Dreams' (2002)

Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Ensemble 'Dreams'
Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Ensemble 'Dreams'. Tzadik
Otomo Yoshihide's concept of jazz is not as style, but as interpretation: his out-rock big-band undertake radical reworkings of the material of others. And, on the suitably dreamy Dreams, they set to work bashing out stormy stagings of compositions by Otomo's friends and peers, including Seiichi Yamamoto of Boredoms and Jim O'Rourke. In a raucous highlight, the NJE —here fronted by sweet/sour vocalists Jun Togawa and Phew— explode O'Rourke's quirky, quizzical nine-minute mood-piece “Eureka” into 16 minutes of musical fireworks; going from a Jun-sung lament to a cacophony of percussion, guitar, woodwinds, and sine-waves. The band's utterly ecstatic tribute to their contemporaries is an inspired antithesis to jazz's blinkered nostalgia.

03
of 100
Radiohead 'Kid A' (2000)

Radiohead 'Kid A'
Radiohead 'Kid A'. Parlophone
Where OK Computer was steeped in pre-millennial anxieties, Radiohead ushered in the third millennium with an album that sounded entirely integrated into the digital diaspora; musically, aesthetically, and conceptually. On Kid A's title-track, Thom Yorke's voice —theretofore the rockband's defining instrument— is warped and stretched out into a sinister, slippery, pitch-rupturing locus of digital manipulation; sounding, for all the world, like a fragile lullaby sung by a tender motherboard. Reborn as children of the computer age, Radiohead shed the anthemic guitars and the 'next U2' tag; instead becoming, by way of their restlessly inventive and genuinely uneasy music, the thinking man's stadium band.

02
of 100
Björk 'Vespertine' (2001)

Björk 'Vespertine'
Björk 'Vespertine'. One Little Indian

In the decade's early days, back when Metallicorp was battling Napster, the ever-visionary Björk was already peering into the future. Wanting to make an album that sounded good after suffering through crushing digital compression, the Icelandic icon constructed a set from dry vocals, brittle harp, and patterns of electronic static. Working with American sampledelic darlings Matmos, Björk fashioned a unique kind of 'minimalist lushness,' where tiny, crackling, skittery beats weave sound-blankets spun from so much sonic silk. Laying atop such, Björk's breathy vocals intone every syllable with a dramatic intimacy that, even when at a whisper, carries a monstrous emotional weight. The result is the best record of this mighty artist's career.

01
of 100
Joanna Newsom 'Ys' (2006)

Joanna Newsom 'Ys'
Joanna Newsom 'Ys'. Drag City

When Joanna Newsom arrived with The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004, she all but stitched up the 'album of the decade' title. But who knew that it'd be her second album, Ys, that would end up trumping all others. After delivering one of the greatest debuts in the history of the recorded medium, Newsom somehow succeeded it with her follow-up. A five-song, hour-long song-cycle in which her virtuosic harp-playing and scraping, squeaking voice are trussed in the ornate orchestrations of Van Dyke Parks, Ys showcases Newsom as one of the most gifted songwriters ever to put fingers to harp strings, one of the most idiosyncratic lyricists ever to put pen to paper. Forget 'album of the decade': Ys might be the greatest artwork of the 21st Century, period.