60. THE LIBERTINES- UP THE BRACKET (2002)
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The Libertines were the late great entry to the garage-rock revival of the early 00’s; after most notably the Strokes, the White Stripes & the Hives. “Up the Bracket”, the band’s debut album, was in my opinion the definitive British take on the scene. While The Strokes took their cues from pre-punk late 60’s early 70’s NYC bands, The Stripes from the blues and Led Zep, and The Hives from garage rock 60’s Nuggets, The Libertines were mainly influenced by British punkers like the Jam & the Clash as well as the undefinable, mighty Kinks. Though they are clearly a derivative band, The Libertines songs are fun, fast & loose and they are sung and played with a reckless sense of danger missing from most modern music. Twin vocalists, Carl Barat and Pete Doherty sound like they could fall over at any minute and the music practically slides off of the rails at times but underneath all the sloppiness and punk attitude is some real detailed street poetry. And musically the songs, while under-produced and aggressive, are at heart tuneful and filled with melody. Unfortunately the band burned out after just one more album, likely due to the increasingly erratic behavior and drug problems of co-lead singer Pete Doherty. Their debut will stand as their definitive statement.
59. MY MORNING JACKET- Z (2005)
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“Z” was the first attempt at accessibility by Louisville, KY’s My Morning Jacket and it is hugely successful. The band had previously been kicking around for the better part of a decade honing their chops and becoming one of the best live bands around with a sound which was a mixture of the folk-rock and vocal-stylings of Neil Young & The Band & the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and blues of the Allman Brothers. But before “Z” they had yet to record a great album. “Z” pares down the lengthier jam-band qualities and massive amounts of reverb of early MMJ and adds in some funk, soul & reggae elements. The songs are tighter and rock harder than on previous efforts. MMJ embraces probably as many different styles of music as Mr. Young himself which is a great part of their appeal. They have so far been unable to duplicate the critical success of “Z” while their reputation as a phenomenal live act has only increased since ’05.
58. BLACKALICIOUS- BLAZING ARROW (2002)
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Inventive major label debut rap album from Northern California’s Blackalicious- one of the very best groups to emerge from hip hop’s second golden age of conscious rap of the late 90’s. “Blazing Arrow” is an incredibly diverse and innovative album- songs of straight hip-hop funk merge straight into lighter R&B tracks as well as tracks that contain rapid-fire breakneck lyrical rapping. There are also tracks that serve as the musical equivalent of progressive rock/rap- they sound like nothing heard before on a hip hop album. Although it sounds like a big mess on paper the brilliant production holds the whole 74+ minute album together. There are also many notable guess rappers & singers including Saul Williams, Ben Harper, Zack De La Roche of Rage Against the Machine, the legendary Gil Scot-Heron and members of likeminded Northwest coast crews Dilated People’s and Jurassic 5. This is the most musically inventive rap album I heard all decade outside of Outkast’s “Stankonia”.
57. CUT COPY- IN GHOST COLOURS (2008)
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Australia’s Cut Copy sounds to me like New Order updated for the 00’s. They were not previously on my radar at all- “In Ghost Colours” is actually their third album release- and from what I’ve read by far their best. Cut Copy’s trick is to do dance music in the context of a rock song. No track on the album runs over five minutes long and most use the normal verse chorus verse structure typical of rock & pop radio. They don’t break musical ground like New Order did in the 80’s by merging post-punk & House. Instead they are all about refining the best elements from various forms of dance music- electro, house & early 80’s New Wave and combines them to make breezy, fun dance-rock (should-be) hits. This is a deep album. By my count at least six tracks on “Ghost Colours” should be either big club or big radio hits- depending on city/country & station. It’s a shame modern radio playlists are not more ambitious-if they become so we will be living in a Cut Copy world.
56. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- TWIN CINEMA (2005)
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“Twin Cinema” is the third and best (so far) album release by this Vancouver super-group made up of of members from Zumpano, Destroyer, The Evaporators and solo alt-country singer Neko Case. Anticipation for this album was at a fever pitch after their first two excellent full-length releases “Mass Romantic” and “Electric Version” and band leader AC Newman’s very good solo album “The Slow Wonder” released in 2004. And “Twin Cinema” delivers in spades. The album takes the basic power pop blueprint of the first two albums and expand on it by adding additional instruments and more intricate arrangements. “Cinema” may not contain the sugar rush of the previous releases but it stands as a more mature album.
55. THE KNIFE- SILENT SHOUT (2006)
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Two words you don’t see beside each other too often are ‘scary’ and ‘synth pop’ but that is the best and most basic way I can think of to describe The Knife, which is a brother/sister combo from Sweden who have been around since the early part of the decade; but were previously only noteworthy for their amazing single “Heartbeats”, (also covered very well by Jose Gonzalez). Olof and Karin Dreijer hide behind their creepy masks and keep their public identities fairly cryptic even though they are now big stars in Sweden. They supposedly put amazingly theatrical live performances though they are upfront about lip synching. On record their vocals are often manipulated to the point where they sound dehumanized- along with the menacing, icy synth beats the strange bugged out vocals create a beautiful and haunting sound It will make the hairs on your neck stand up straight.
54. THE THERMALS- THE BODY, THE BLOOD, THE MACHINE (2006)
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This Portland based trio’s third album is a scathing indictment of organized religion, right-wing politics and the Bush agenda released smack dab in the middle of Bush’s second term and helped land-mark (at least for me) the steep decline of Bush’s poll numbers primarily brought on by his mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war (and then later the economic collapse etc.. etc.. etc…). “The Body, The Blood” is a very satisfying blast of earnest pop punk and is over in under-forty minutes. Though it’s much less mainstream it’s just as tuneful as “Dookie”- era Green Day, but with much more mature subject matter. It’s a pissed off album, primarily focused on the lies and deceit of the religious & political right- an album I needed very much at the time (and still do). Along with Bill Maher and Jon Stewart it helped me feel sane.
53. EMINEM- THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP (2000)
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Eminem was already one of the biggest figures in rap after his multi million selling debut in 1999. But “The Marshall Mathers LP, his second album, really launched him into the stratosphere- after it he became one of the biggest stars in the music world all together. The album is filled with violence & misogyny, social commentary & toilet humor But that’s why Eminem is so controversial- he constantly pushes buttons. He takes violence, misogyny & homophobia to cartoonish extremes leaving the listener doubting his sincerity. While the targets of many of his rants has certainly already aged the album, his more universal commentary still rings true. He has his finger on the pulse of the trials and tribulations of lower middle class white kids for better or for wors. He is also a brilliant rapper with almost peerless flow & diction and a completely unique style at the time- his style has now been imitated to death. His often clever and poignant social commentary includes songs about adult & societal hypocrisy towards drugs (Drug Ballad) and modern day fandom and the desperate hero worship (Stan). With Eminem you have to take the good with the bad. You’ll miss out on too much if you dismiss him completely.
52. ART BRUT- BANG BANG ROCK N’ ROLL (2005)
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Art Brut is a band who on paper looks like an indie-rock version of Spinal Tap at worst, or a joke that could wear thin rather quickly at best. Thankfully the ironic wit of singer Eddie Argos and the band’s hook-filled songs leave me smiling and rockin’ even five years later. Though their subsequent albums have proven less and less noteworthy, this debut is a banger from start to finish. They manage to celebrate the joyousness of rock n’ roll through virgin ears- like a teenage boy who is just discovering it, while at the same time hilariously taking the music apart by exposing its clichés. At their best they boil rock n’ roll and youth in general down to its essence like The Ramones 30 years before them. “Formed a Band” is about forming a band! “Good Weekend” is the exuberance a teenage boy feels about his very first sexual encounters (“I’ve seen her naked twice!”). “Emily Kane” perfectly captures the feeling of a presumably pre-sexual encounter first crush. Awesome stuff!
51. THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS- IT’S BLITZ! (2009)
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“It’s Blitz!” is the NJ/Brooklyn (now L.A.) YYY’s 3rd full length album (to go along with 4 EP releases) and their most fully realized to date. Though their first two albums had many great moments, including contender for song of the decade “Maps” off of “Fever to Tell”, both albums were too scattered to match the high level of consistency shown on “Blitz!” That is not to say “Blitz!” doesn’t contain its fare share of brilliant moments as well. “Zero” is a full-on anthem and one of their best songs. “Heads Will Roll”, “Hysteric”, and “Dragon Queen” are among their best as well showing their quiet side ala “Maps” but dominated more by the synthesizer. In fact the whole album is driven by synth and techno beats. Karen O’s sex appeal is still front and center as is Nick Zinner’s inventive guitar licks, but gone is the noisy guitar thrashing and skronking of their earlier years. The YYY’s have been able to show growth without losing their sound or who they are.