10. INTERPOL- TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (2002)
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This much-hyped but note perfect debut album is the hipster, NYC -based Interpol’s definitive statement so far- and by a long shot. Interpol plays like a more muscular Joy Division and they brought a sexy darkness to indie-rock in the wake of the ascendance of bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes a year before- Interpol was post-punk to the Strokes/Stripes more straight up punk. Despite the gloomy vibe and constant tension created by the throbbing bass-lines and esoteric lyrics the majority of the record rocks your ass off. And ballad “NYC” was held dear by many a music lover as an ode to the aftermath of 9/11 to the city they loved for better or for worse.
9. FLEET FOXES- FLEET FOXES (2008)
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Seattle’s Fleet Foxes are a sixties-throwback without being a slave to any of their influences (think CSNY, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Flying Burrito Bros.). Though they certainly carry a hippie-vibe and are an amalgam of folk, classic rock & late 60’s/early 70’s country rock they really do have their own distinct sound. Everyone in the band can sing and sing well and the band’s gorgeous harmonies are probably the band’s biggest draw, though their music is also full of wonderful compositions and instrumentation. It’s unbelievable to me that this is the Fleet Foxes debut album and that lead singer Robin Pecknold was only in his early twenties when they made the record. Both he and the band seem to be “old souls”- the album sounds like it has existed for much longer. This is likely my pick for the most flat-out beautiful album of the decade. And they get bonus points for releasing an amazing EP (with no songs overlapping) just months before in the same year called “Sun Giant EP” that can be listened to as a companion piece to the full length. The songs on the EP are equal to the songs on the full length. Check it out!
8. WILCO- YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2002)
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YHF is my #1 favorite out of off the great albums have released in their illustrious career. Wilco had already After developed their sound away from their alt-country beginnings with their last album “Summer Teeth”. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” finds them moving toward a more experimental-rock sound with the help of eccentric Chicago musician and producer Jim O’Rourke. As a result the band created its artistic masterpiece. However, the band lost key contributor & main guitarist Jay Bennett due to artistic differences during the recording of the album. The album was also rejected upon delivery by their label Warner Bros/Reprise for being to un-commercial only to be released close to six months later on the Nonesuch label (another label within Warner Music Group). The joke was on Warner/Reprise. Though the production on the album is indeed “unique” and experimental, the songs most of the songs are quite accessible- many of the band’s “greatest hits” are found on it. Ironically it ended up being Wilco’s biggest commercial seller by a landslide. The songs are gut wrenchingly beautiful, full of longing and sadness and projecting an unease about the modern world. Though the entire album was recorded pre-9/11, some of the lyrics on the album seemed to eerily predict the twin towers collapsing. For me the album was a cathartic listen during such a difficult time.
7. RADIOHEAD- KID A (2000)
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“Kid A” was a hugely anticipated, much debated, screeching left turn by Radiohead after their brilliant epic “Ok Computer” in 1997. After “OK”, they slowly became one of the biggest bands in the world- certainly artistically if not commercially. Though the music on “O.K Computer” was incredibly complex and challenging, with “Kid A” they took “challenging” to a whole new level. They risked alienating their entire fanbase by almost completely doing away with the rock element of their previous sound and eliminating choruses- their new sound was a strange new hybrid of rock & techno largely influenced by groups like Authechre and The Aphex Twin. EVen among techno/electronic music these were not groups that dealt in techno “hits”. Anyone expecting a new take on The Chemical Brothers or The Prodigy was very disappointed. Though “Kid A” did had many detractors who wanted them to return to their rock oriented roots, their new sounded suited them well- conveying their dystopian worldview and capturing their overwhelming feeling of post-millennium tension.
6. THE STROKES- IS THIS IT (2001)
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The Strokes debuted with the freshest sound in rock since Nirvana, saving America from the wrath of nu-metal, rap-metal & emo the way that “Nevermind” saved us from hair metal a decade earlier. The “fresh” sound was ironically a second generation take on the NYC punk and pre-punk of the Velvet Underground & Television while even taking some riffs and cues from the likes of The Cars and Tom Petty. That said it sounded, and still sounds wonderful. The whole album goes by in the blink of an eye (it’s barely over thirty minutes) and is a blast the whole way through- no bad songs on it. The U.S. version of the album came out right after 9/11 and the carefree songs about love, partying and city life in your twenties helped lighten the mood during such a heavy time. Their U.S. label decided to take the song “NYC Cops” off of the album for PC reasons which would be a precursor of times ahead where most Americans feared looking at all unpatriotic. In hindsight the decision was ridiculous- the song wasn’t even derogatory toward the police. Those types of overly cautious, knee-jerk decisions in the wake of 9/11 were the embodiment of very strange and confusing time.
5. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE- MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILLION (2009)
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“Merriweather Post Pavillion” is the pinnacle (so far) of a career which to me to has shown vast improvement with each album. The Collective brought together the crazy experiments and general noisiness of their earlier albums with a poppier, latter day Beach Boys influence, creating a new sound more fit for mass consumption. The way they were able to bring such previously inaccessible music to the masses evokes what Radiohead did with “Kid A” But where “Kid A” was steeped in gloominess and paranoia, Animal Collective sound is dreamy but joyous- the harmonies of the Beach Boys combined with the repetitiveness of krautrock and the instrumentation of a techno-loving jam band. It was tough for me to rate this ahead of the other albums below it in the top ten, as the album was only released a year and a half ago, but so many of the tracks already have a classic feel when I hear them and I expect this release to continue to grow in stature as time marches forward.
4. M.I.A.- KALA (2007)
Though “Kala” didn’t offer the same amount of surprise as M.I.A.’s brilliant debut “Arular” did in 2005, it has a better sound, stronger songs & even a national top ten hit with “Paper Planes”- to my ears one of the best songs of the decade, which also providing M.I.A. with a taste of larger, mainstream success. On “Kala” M.I.A. works primarily with dirty-house producer Switch rather than Diplo, her main collaborator on “Arular”. She brilliantly incorporates lines & beats from “Where is My Mind” by The Pixies, “Straight to Hell” by The Clash, “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers and even “Rumpshaker” by the forgettable Wrecks-n-Effect, showing her excellent taste while confidently announcing her proper place in the musical pantheon of greatness. “Kala” is pretty much killer from start to finish with only one minor misstep in “Mango Pickle Down River” and is THE great “World Music” album and one of the most original sounding albums of the 00’s.
3. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- SOUND OF SILVER (2007)
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LCD Soundsystem is a one man bad consisting of James Murphy- like Nine Inch Nails is to Trent Reznor.. Murphy moonlights as CEO of DFA Records, one of the best and most influential indie-dance labels of recent times. Though Murphy and LCD had put out a series of brilliant 12” singles and a more than decent self-titled first album, “Sound of Silver” was his/their giant leap forward. It is record collector rock done by a normal looking guy in his late 30’s- a sum of all of his influences…and there are many. Though “Silver” really is full-on dance music, it is dance music done by a guy who obviously grew up on rock, incorporating elements of punk & post-punk and especially the early ambient techno of Brian Eno. Though Murphy lacks a traditional singing voice, often mimicking the flat, sneering vocals of Mark E. Smith of The Fall, his instrument has improves with age- he is able to convey emotions vocally that his songs call for which is certainly outside of the detached irony of his earlier records. His overall song writing has also improved immensely- both “All My Friends” and “Someone Great” are two of the very best songs of 2007 and the decade as a whole. “All My Friends” captures the essence of aging while trying to maintain true to your ideals as an adult and “Someone Great” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard about losing someone of utmost importance.
2. ARCADE FIRE- FUNERAL (2004)
This beautiful, mysterious & haunting debut album by husband and wife-led Montreal band Arcade Fire to me perfectly captured the mood of fear, hope and despair surrounding the presidential election of 2004. The album feels desperate, isolated and snowed-in but you never get the sense that the characters in the songs will give up. There is hopefulness in their stubborn will to carry on. It mirrors the situation that so many of us are in modern times- we have to keep fighting the good fight regardless of what is happening around us. Various members of Arcade Fire experienced deaths to very close members in their family in the few years preceding the release of this album (hence the title). “Funeral” is an intense, bittersweet album about coping with death and crises and trying to find and make beauty out of desperate situations. It stands tall among every album release in the 2000’s as a modern masterpiece.
1. OUTKAST- STANKONIA (2000)
Outkast released three increasingly fantastic album releases in the nineties but in 2000 the Atlanta rap duo hit perfection with “Stankonia”, and they will likely never better it. “Stankonia” plays like an old sprawling double album from the 70’s- think a rap version of “Physical Graffiti”- its running time is over seventy minutes and they throw everything but the kitchen sink on there. Though not every track is a five star song all work in the context of the album. And the highlights are many. “Ms. Jackson” is the heartbreaking- yet danceable mega-hit about a separated father who still wants to do right by his kid(s) and ex-wife. Club music with a conscience!
The pissed off and politically poignant “Gasoline Dreams” comments astutely on the dimming hope in the “American Dream” and our relationship with oil and the Middle East. “Humble Mumble” (Feat. E. Badu), “So Fresh, So Clean” and “We Luv Deez Hoes” are all funky smooth standout tracks with absolutely ridiculous beats and grooves. And “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” is the best track of all and my very favorite song of the entire decade and certainly one of my top 5 raps ever. The rapid fire vocal interplay between Andre 3000 and Big Boi. The amazing gospel choir. The rap, techno & metal hybrid that would foretell all of the musical blending to come later in the decade. Not to mention the title strangely predicting the Iraq War a few years before it even happened. Just amazing. In August of 2001, some friends of mine were driving me to my wedding- a short 5 minute ride from the hotel to the church. They asked me to pick a song for the ride- the last one I would hear as a single man. My answer- Bombs Over Freakin’ Baghdad!