50. AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD- SOURCE TAGS & CODES (2002)
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This former indie-band from Texas with the crazy cool name crafted quite an epic in “Source Tags & Codes”, their major label debut. Like At the Drive-In but less punk and more prog metal (yet thankfully not going as prog as post At The Drive-In band ‘The Mars Volta’), “Source Tags” hits you with power, beauty & force. The drums are absolutely hammering and the guitars surround you in sheets of noise. Though most of the songs can also stand by themselves they are conceived on the album as a cohesive whole- one song runs right into the next. AYWKUBTTOD may have completely blown their wad with this album as they have not even come close to doing anything as good since- not even by half. But if you are a fan of hard charging, epic rock check this out.
49. PHOENIX- WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX (2009)
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This French indie group hit pay dirt the old fashioned way. They recorded and toured over a ten year period, getting better with each release, and then finally exploded into the mainstream with “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”- their 4th studio album release. Phoenix has had great moments on each of their albums- particularly the very good “It’s Never Been Like That” in 2006, but W.A.P is a banger from start to finish. Their songs are immediately catchy and hook-filled. They both make you rock out and make you dance- for both the boys and the girls with absolutely no nods to cock or mook-rock. The two huge singles (listed below) are the standouts but the album runs deep as well and is prone to repeated plays.
48. JAY-Z- THE BLACK ALBUM (2003)
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2003’s “The Black Album” was at the time said to be Jay-Z’s last album. We now know that not to be true, but it would have been a hell of a way to go out. While falling a bit short in quality of “Reasonable Doubt” and “The Blueprint”, “The Black Album” is his third full length album release that can be deemed a hip-hop classic. Jay moved further into the mainstream with big hits “Change Clothes”, “What More Can I Say”, “Dirt off My Shoulder” (even referenced by Obama in a press conference!) & “99 Problems”, but was still able to maintain his respect on the street. In fact “The Black Album” cemented his status as the biggest rapper in the world- a status that he has still not given up to date despite three less spectacular follow-ups.
47. RADIOHEAD- AMNESIAC (2001)
“Amnesiac” is often not-totally-unfairly dismissed as an album of “Kid A” outtakes. While it came just a year after “Kid A”, mines a similar sound, and doesn’t flow as an album quite as well as “Kid A” (then again what does?), if these are outtakes they are some of the best ever! It’s true that all of the songs were recorded during the “Kid A” sessions but the reason they were not included were not because they were necessarily weaker but because they didn’t fit the album thematically. “Life in a Glass House” is one of the best tracks the band has ever done and a perfect album closer. And songs like “Pyramid Song”, “I Might Be Wrong” and “Packd Like Sardines…” are standouts as well. What an amazingly fertile period for arguably the best working back in modern music.
46. BON IVER- FOR EMMA FOREVER AGO (2008) (SELF RELEASED 2007)
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Still one of the best stories of the decade- unknown Wisconsin singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has a terrible breakup, retreats solo to a log cabin in the Wisconsin woods (during Winter!!) and records an album full of stark, heartbreakingly beautiful songs that are an ode to his failed relationship. He self releases the album in late 2007, it gets picked up by an indie label the following year, and the album actually sells astounding well- at least for an indie release. Though the songs were recording using just Vernon’s gorgeous voice and acoustic guitar, horns, drums and backing vocals were added later. The end result is a thing of beauty- Vernon’s falsetto pulls you in even further. You have to have a heart of stone not to feel this music emotionally.
45. GRIZZLY BEAR- VECKATIMEST (2009)
This somewhat sleepy Brooklyn group became an unlikely indie sensation with “Veckatimest” somehow selling over 100,000 albums and helping to create a trend in music toward slow moving, brainy, fussed over and musically sophisticated albums. If it sounds like a drag it certainly isn’t. Though the album doesn’t rock and you won’t find any beats to wiggle your hips to, it is gorgeous throughout with otherworldly harmonies and songs that require intense concentration but your enjoyment of them will increase with each listen. Some of the tracks even gathered some radio airplay. At the rate they’re going Grizzly Bear may turn out to be the Crosby, Stills & Nash of this generation- without the whole supergroup thing attached.
44. HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR- HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR (2008)
This is a flat out disco album and a great one at that. It also owes a debt to House Music and all forms of club music that have thrived since the decline of disco. Despite its mining of dance music’s past “Hercules” sounds totally of its time. The group is led by NYC twenty-something Andrew Butler who does all of the songwriting, some of the production (along with DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy), plays keyboards and one is of the vocalists. The instrumentalism on the album is very strong overall and in addition to Butler, three additional vocals are present on the album including the incomparable Antony Hegarty from Antony & the Johnsons. This is a tight album with not a wasted note. Be forewarned- if you like your music straight up masculine this is probably not for you. It’s a gay themed album made by gay people with gay people in mind as the main audience- it’s extremely gay! But straight people give it a try. You’ll be o.k. Really!
43. KANYE WEST- COLLEGE DROPOUT (2004)
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“College Dropout” is the debut album from middle class Chicago rapper Kanye West. West had previously made his name as the main producer of Jay-Z’s now classic album “The Blueprint” in 2001 putting his stamp on tracks like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and challenging others like Timbaland, The Neptunes & Premier for best producer in the game. Despite his noteworthiness as a producer, Kanye’s MC skills were roundly dismissed in the early part of the decade. He certainly doesn’t have smooth or acrobatic flow but he is an original lyricist which much to say. and quite a chip on his shoulder to prove all of his naysayers wrong. “College Dropout” made Kanye the most talked about new rapper and also one of the first to successfully straddle the fence between backpacker conscious rap and the more celebratory rap coming from the hood. Kanye questioned everything. He was often perplexing (is it really worthwhile for a black person to have a college education. Say waaaah?) but just as often thought provoking and well meaning (Why is there so much homophobia in hip hop). He was a breath of fresh air and would climb to more prominence in the rap and music scenes which each subsequent album release. “College Dropout” is one of the definitive debuts in rap’s history. My only big complaint is that I wish that he would just drop most of those annoying skits.
42. THE STROKES- ROOM ON FIRE (2003)
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“Room On Fire” is the prototypical “follow up” album. Like “Strange Days” after “The Doors” or “All Day and All of the Night” and You Really Got Me”, it doesn’t really offer anything new but it reaffirms (with an exclamation point) why you love the band in the first place. “Room On Fire” may showcase The Strokes ambition or eclecticism but it certainly put to rest the notion that they were a one hit wonder. The album is chock full of as many good songs as “Is This It” without quite reaching that albums heights. They did add some minor tweaks to their earlier formula- keyboard-heavy lead single “12:51” sounds like an early 80’s song by the Cars and gorgeous ballad “Under Control” is practially (indie) blue-eyed soul. Mission accomplished Strokes. The only question was could they keep it up the winning streak?
41. KANYE WEST- GRADUATION (2007)
“Graduation”, Kanye’s third album, was delivered at the height of his own popularity as not only one of the biggest rappers, but one of the most popular artists in music “Graduation” to my ears is Kanye’s most consistent album and cements his status as the most noteworthy new rapper of the decade. While it may not contain the high points of his two previous releases, it is edited much better- without the long running time, the superfluous skits and the endless final track. Rather than using his trademark sped up 60’s and 70’s soul samples, Kanye this time mines from both classic rock (Steely Dan in “Champion”) and techno music (see “Flashing Lights” and Daft Punk in “Stronger”. Love him or loathe him, Kanye is never boring and keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what he will do next. “Graduation” is yet another great listen.