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Top 20 of the 2000’s

September 10, 2009
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bestWe are now well in to the ninth month of this tenth and final year of the first decade in the new millennium.

At this point I believe that I could piece together my favorite albums from the past ten years without leaving out anything that could make a significant impact within the next three months.

This list of twenty albums that I have greatly adored was not put together hastily. Quite the opposite in fact. I spent a lot of time carefully considering what albums would be good enough to make such a list, and then reconsidering my decisions.

In the end what set these albums apart, besides their obvious brilliance, was the emotional impact that these records had on me personally.

This past decade encompassed all of my teenage years, and perhaps that is evident in a few of my choices. However, I truly believe that these twenty albums are not just good for this decade, but records that I will be able to listen to for years, and years to come.

So without further ado, here are my top twenty albums of the 2000’s.

Without further ado:

20. Take This To Your Grave
Fall Out Boy
Fueled By Ramen
May 6, 2003

Over the past few years I have put this album behind me, about as far behind me as I could. In fact, I have tried to put ever liking Fall Out Boy in the rearview.

The truth, however, is that I can’t ignore the significance of this album. In my opinion this album was the pinnacle of the “emo” movement. Released near the same time as Tell All Your Friends by Taking Back Sunday I can’t help but believe that this genre (turned industry buzz word) hit it’s high water mark at this point.

Since this album was released the quality of contemporary “emo” bands, and even of Fall Out Boy’s own work, has gone down hill. Some bands, like Brand New, have even shifted their entire sound to avoid being labeled as an “emo” band.

That said, this album stands out to me as a triumph of pop-punk, and it’s heartfelt lyrics really struck a chord with my teenage heart. I can’t downplay the significance of this album in my own life and personal tastes from thereafter.

Though Fall Out Boy may have gone down a different path with their musical endeavors, this album will always be like a historical landmark to me: one shining moment in which the music was perfect for me at the time.

19. Hearts of Oak
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Lookout
February 11, 2003

Around the same time Fall Out Boy were earning extended spins in my Walkman Ted Leo and his Pharmacists released their magnum opus. It wasn’t too long before it reached my ears and my musical tastes would forever be changed.

Listening to Hearts of Oak took the sugary sweet pop from the punk that I was listening to and replaced it with some hard nosed rock and roll.

From the opening drum roll of “Building Skyscrapers In The Basement” to the last delicately bowed string on “The Crane Takes Flight” this album is a tour de force. I learned a lot about what punk is from Ted Leo and this album specifically.

It’s impact in my own life has been widely felt partly because of the way I looked at music after hearing this album. There is a different standard to which albums are judged based upon what I heard in this album and its’ vast array of influences that blend together in Leo’s music. This album shifted my personal tastes for the better, and for that it earned a place on my list.

18. Waiter: You Vultures
Portugal. The Man
Fearless
January 24, 2006

Wasilla, Alaska’s Portugal. The Man changed my mind about music, much in the same way that Ted Leo did. The difference, is that while Ted Leo presented something easily accessible Portugal gave me something that comes from left field (or the wilderness of Alaska, perhaps).

Waiter changes time signatures more often than most people change TV stations, it is beautiful and dissonant at the same time, it screams and whispers all while maintaining a an overarching feeling that enthralls me as the listener.

This album is not a radio friendly Death Cab for Cutie album, rather, it is a difficult listen that requires some deep listenings before truly connecting.

The reason this album makes it on to my top twenty list is for the doors it opened. This album led me to other, stranger bands like Man Man and Tom Waits, for which I am very grateful.

Though this album took me on new exciting musical paths it always comes back to me and fills me with the same feelings today as it did when I first listened. This album is underrated by most, but not under appreciated by fans.

17. Midnight Organ Fight
Frightened Rabbit
Fat Cat
April 14, 2008

The best review I read of this album boldly proclaimed it as “Scotland’s answer to emo” and as far as I can tell that’s the best synopsis that anyone could offer.

This album seems to hinge upon a spectacularly horrific break-up undergone by the primary songwriter of FR. The music, on the other hand blends a folk and punk sound together with some uptempo rhythms to create a terrific combination of softness and aggressiveness.

This album is like a bridge to a past life: the quality of the music is superb, it is well written and it is mature. The subject matter, on the other hand, allows me to remember those melancholy high school days better spent listening to sad music in my parents’ basement.

Perhaps it’s that connection that makes this album so special. Of course the Scottish accent of the singing brothers Hutchison and the delicate arrangements of indie rock splendor don’t hurt anything.

16. More Adventurous
Rilo Kiley
Barsuk
August 17, 2004

There is something about this album that is prettier than Jenny Lewis flashing her pearly whites. It’s in the lap steel and harmonica on the title track; it’s the beautiful narrative of “A Man/Me/Then Jim;” it’s the poetic remembrance of Elliot Smith in “Ripchord.”

There is an unquantifiable quality to every album on this list that makes it the “best.” That is certainly true about this album, and the true beauty of this album can’t be put to words.

With More Adventurous the band reached a new peak, a cooperative songwriting nirvana that is present across the entire body of work. Not to downplay the significance of any other albums by Rilo Kiley, but when I think of their work I think of this album.

And I think of the summer I couldn’t stop playing this album, singing along in my best falsetto alone in the car and losing myself in the beauty of Jenny Lewis’ vocals. That’s what makes this album one of the best to me.

15. Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins
Sub Pop
October 21, 2003

This album to me is mowing my backyard.

It’s all I hear when I return home and once again do the favor for my parents, and that’s all I could ever ask for from this album.

Understandably that sounds strange, and unfitting for an album on a “best of” list. In my mind, however, this album is unforgettable, indelible and all other synonyms for eternal.

The Shins did not just make an album when they made this, they made a gateway. A bridge between their strange world and the mundane early high school years at my parents house.

Undoubtedly a trend has emerged among these albums: they meant a lot to my adolescence and my personal growth. This album is that, because it took me away from the aspects of life that I didn’t like and took me to a world that was more fun.

Like the other albums on this list, this album exposed me to more music that I have since grown to enjoy greatly. It helped me diversify further and expand my personal music collection.

And like so many others, it kept calling me back. It kept me singing along, and it kept me going through another row of tall grass on a hot summer day.

14. Funeral
The Arcade Fire
Merge
September 14, 2004

This album, unlike some of those previously listed, is not here based upon how it changed my outlook on music, or my personal tastes, but simply based upon it’s quality.

This album is simply of the highest quality and of the utmost originality and it is one of the best pieces of work that I have heard in the past ten years. Clearly I don’t have to explain why a band like this would make such a list.

I found this album at a concert. It was a scratched up burnt copy and I played it over the PA in between bands. Immediately I was sucked in by how strong each song on the album was, and how well composed and orchestrated it was as a whole.

I still have that copy of this album in my car, and I listen to it often, especially on long trips. The music stirs something inside of me that takes away time and place. Before I know it “In the Backseat” is winding down and I’m sixty miles closer to my destination.

13. The Ugly Organ
Cursive
Saddle Creek
March 4, 2003

Another one of those right place at the right time albums, this offering from Cursive stirred my teenage angst with it’s aggressive guitar chops and soothed my fragile temperament with it’s gentle cello swells.

Tim Kasher has a special sort of genius that I regard highly, and his best expression of that came in this effort. Everything plays together beautifully on this album and nothing is out of place.

It is harsh and soft at the same time, it incites and calms at once. There are not many albums that I know that can do that.

This album teeters on the edge of punk and indie, without diving in either genre. It indulges my need to be hardcore while still maintaining that softer vibe that attracts me to music.

The highs and lows of each album are what make them memorable, but this has highs at the same time as lows, and makes it completely unforgettable.

12. At Home With
Owen
Polyvinyl
November 7, 2006

I have this affection for Mike Kinsella. It’s pretty serious. American Football, every Owen album, The One Up Downstairs, etc., etc.

This album, though, it speaks to me on a whole different level.

Since the first time I heard the opening notes of “The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” I was hooked. Sure, part of it had to do with my love of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work, but that is also one damn good song.

From there I just kept falling over and over for this album. It got even better when I heard one of the Japanese bonus tracks, “Stolen Car,” a Bruce Springsteen cover.

This album is so good, it’s classic, and I feel like it is totally underrated. I don’t think it showed up on many, if any, major end of the year lists in ’06 and I really doubt it’s on others’ decade lists. For what it did for me, and the impact it had on my musical tastes, it beat out a lot of those others “best” albums.

11. Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Modest Mouse
Sony
April 6, 2004

It’s a horn blast to the eardrums and a series of pseudo-pop love affairs.

This album was not my father’s older friends Modest Mouse; rather this was a band that was ready for radio air play. Good News seemed to be everything that their past work wasn’t, and obviously the only thing that was holding them back from the big time.

Since this album the band has enjoyed a string of prolonged success that seems unnatural, especially after their follow-up, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, saw them return to their old musical style.

No matter what they’ve done since, or what they did before, this album is timeless and it will always have a special place in my heart.

I remember when I first got this album, I fell in love with it immediately and my friends all thought it was weird. Since then my musical tastes have evolved but I still get the same looks about some of my music, and I’m proud that Modest Mouse is one of those bands.

10. Transatlanticism
Death Cab For Cutie
Barsuk
October 7, 2003

On any given day I’ll tell you that a different Death Cab album is my favorite. I really just love them all: Photo Album, Plans, Narrow Stairs — what’s not to love?

This one made the list because this is “the” Death Cab album.

The idea of the perfect album is going to come up much more frequently in these blurbs now that we’ve cracked the top ten, and this one is certainly a candidate. And a strong one at that.

Try to pick a song from this album that you would skip when you’re listening. “Passenger Seat”? No, way. It’s a fucking classic. “Expo ’86”? Nope, single mothers are awesome song fodder.

The damn album even ends with a roar on “We Looked Like Giants” and a whisper on “A Lack of Color.” It is a beautiful statement in popular music.

To think that I could have thought to put a different Death Cab album up, for shame.

9. The Crane Wife
The Decemberists
Capitol
October 3, 2006

In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of these albums were introductions to great bands for me. This, unsurprisingly, is no different.

I bought this album on a whim, mostly because it was on sale. Best Best Buy purchase ever.

Its been a good three years that I’ve had this album, and it’s been played countless times during that time but it’s still not grown old.

The part of The Decemberists’ music that I love the most is the stories they can tell in a few minutes. It’s not just in the words, however. The music behind Colin Meloy’s beautiful folk tales is so striking and pretty, it sucks me in and just steals my heart.

I could put up a good internal fight over which album by this band is the best, but I can’t help but feeling that no matter what I argued I would always end up with this album as the conclusion.

8. Deja Entendu
Brand New
Razor & Tie
June 17, 2003

Brand New is a band, to me, that has grown along with their fans.

Of course, some of those fans weren’t ready for to grow up and turned their backs on the New Jersey boys, but those who were got exactly what they needed in 2003.

After a debut that can only be described as pure pop-punk-emo, Brand New decided to cast off the growing stigma that comes with such a moniker and grow up.

This is the “coming-of-age” album. This album bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood: delving in to troublesome issues like the pressure to have sex or the destructiveness of cancer, all the while retaining teenage angst that made Brand New popular.

This album hit hard at the time because the subject matter closely resembled issues (perceived and real) that were going on in my own life. It stuck with me because the music was so much more expressive than the pop-punk that accompanied their first album.

7. A Ghost Is Born
Wilco
Nonesuch
June 22, 2004

After Wilco’s debut album A.M. came out in 1994 Jeff Tweedy and company knew they had to do something special to avoid being pigeon-holed into the “alt-country” boom and remain relevant.

In response Being There cast off any misconceptions about this band and set the stage for the dramatic reconstruction that took place within Wilco from record to record.

Ten years later Ghost became the zenith of that dramatic shift in songwriting, and to this day it is still one of the greatest experimental albums I have ever had the opportunity to listen to.

This album is a hot mess. I mean that in the best sense of the phrase, because it combines so many different musical elements into beautifully crafted popular music.

At points the album descends into white noise, but somehow Wilco manages to make that nothingness into something, and something incredible at that.

I see this album as a testament to creativity and a restlessness that cannot be resolved.

6. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
Bright Eyes
Saddle Creek
January 25, 2005

Until this album came out I was under the impression that folk music had to be boring.

A product of my own naïveté, folk songs in my mind resembled “This Land is Your Land” and anything by John Denver. Connor Oberst, the boy genius, changed my mind and my outlook.

Sure, the astute reader may point out that there is plenty of “folk” music on this same list came out prior to this album, but I never told you when I discovered those albums.

This album was a meta-gateway to better music and it led me to discover other albums that helped changed my life (i.e. More Adventurous).

The rest of the Bright Eyes discography, while impressive and littered with hits, has nothing on this album. Each note on this album is beautiful and resonates, even haunts the listener. I never thought any one of these songs could get better until I heard the Dark Was The Night version of “Lua” with Gillian Welch. Of course, that’s a completely different review.

5. Illinois
Sufjan Stevens
Asthmatic Kitty
July 5, 2005

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this guy, he’s pretty obscure, but he makes some darn good music.

Sarcasm aside, this sprawling epic about my home state is truly a masterpiece.

I don’t know if my proximity to this album has anything to do with it’s high ranking, but I’d like to think that it really is just that good.

There are 22 songs on this album (23 on vinyl) and though some may be short, there isn’t one that feels out of place or like it should have been omitted. That in and of itself is one incredible feat, and alone is enough to top most lists.

Of course, since this is all personal opinion, it’s not top on my list; but fifth out of thousands and thousands isn’t too terrible.

4. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Spoon
Merge
July 10, 2007

With such a pretentious title there is a lot of pressure upon the music to be awfully good to back it up, and in typical Spoon fashion, the content is there.

For my money there has not been a more consistent act than Spoon in this past decade. From Girls Can Tell in ’01 to this ’07 offering this Austin band just cranked out the hits.

There are ten songs on this album, and each one tells it’s own story in an unbelievably simple fashion. That is the beauty that is Spoon’s work: it is concise.

In under five minutes this band can do what many acts can’t in eight or nine. They tell you a story, give you a hook and keep you wanting more.

Many people describe this as Spoon’s “soul” album, and in many ways it is. To me, this album is more than just a “soul” album, because it connects with my own soul and fills my spirit with a good feeling that I don’t get from most music.

3. Cold Roses
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Lost Highway
May 3, 2005

Ryan Adams was a busy man in 2005. He released three studio albums and battled substance addiction. Seems busy to me, at least.

So it would seem, with everything else that was going on and the absolute horde of music he release, that an individual effort from ’05 would fall short of spectacular.

Maybe that is what makes Cold Roses so magnificent.

Of albums that are conceived as double albums, there is not one that I would say is better than this one. Each one is indispensable Ryan Adams of the absolute highest caliber.

This album runs the gamut of emotions, from happy to sad to simply moving on, and takes the listener on that roller coaster ride with superb precision.

This is not just one of my favorite albums of the past ten years, this is one of my all-time favorites.

2. Hi, Everything’s Great
Limbeck
Doghouse
June 17, 2003

I can’t hide my adoration for certain bands; Spoon, Wilco, Owen, Ryan Adams, they’re all on that list. But one band that I really fall all over myself for is Limbeck.

These Orange County boys may not be the most household name, but their sound is one that most music fans could get behind.

With a peppy mix of country and pop-punk, Limbeck make a unique sound that is appealing to the bar crowd and the teen boppers as well.

This album, their debut, is by far my favorite of theirs and in my estimation nearly perfect.

There is sheer joy behind the music on this album and the words that sing of friendships and roadtrips just lift my spirits every time I listen. It’s the kind of feeling that makes music not just something you listen to, but something that you feel and live in your own life.

1. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wilco
Nonesuch
April 23, 2002

After reading this list it is clear that something very special was going to take this top spot. Something that was not only a special album in terms of the skill and craftsmanship in the album, but an album that has a deep personal meaning to me.

YHF is that and so much more.

This is the album that launched what can only be described as a torrid love affair with the Chicago sextet.

The same person who got me interested in writing recommended this album to me. So clearly he knew me in a way that few do. I’d say that I owe him a big thank you.

Words escape me on how to describe this album, mostly because everything that I have used to describe these previous blurbs describes this album. It is easy to listen to from beginning to end; it runs the gamut of emotions; it is pretty and well constructed.

You get the point. This album inspires me more than anything else, and just hearing Jeff Tweedy makes me want to be better at whatever it is that I do in my own life.

For that, I think that it is deserving of this honor. At least, in my book.

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