Before I get too into it, let me be frank. These types of lists are very personal. No matter what anybody says, there is no way to be entirely objective about the “best” albums to come out over a period of ten years. No matter what I think about what you should think about music, everybody is his own person with his own values. There’s simply no way around that. We learned this in that elementary school class about respect and the golden rule. Having said that (Larry David et al.), in the construction of this list I did attempt to look at (a little more) than my own personal tastes. I tried to encompass as many genres and artists as I could without lying to myself or being to deliberate about it. For instance, if you don’t find too much of a certain genre on here, it is probably because, though many of the albums released under that genre may have been great, I may have never heard them, might have had no interest in them, or may not have had enough time to appreciate them. For that I apologize. But, hey, I’d hate to lie to y’all.
So, for the most part, these are just my favorite albums from the past 10 years. However, when I listen to music and pick favorites, I usually factor in many things subconsciously, such as the music’s cultural significance, innovation, and influence. So to me, these are the “best” albums released this decade. You don’t have to agree, but if you know what’s good for you, you probably should.
Now some people think that these lists are obsolete and are just made by a bunch of self-righteous music zealots who have nothing better to do than boast about their favorite bands and make you feel bad for not knowing them. Those people may be onto something, but these type of lists are also good for a few things. For one, they can be helpful in illuminating albums that people with similar tastes may have missed but would be happy to have recommended to them. So on that front, I’m just trying to let some people know about some albums I liked that they might also enjoy. Sorry if that upsets you, asshole.
These lists can also be helpful in homogenizing music taste so that every guy with an internet connection and headphones will have the exact same iTunes library. That sucks, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
This decade holds particular significance for me and other music enthusiasts around my age, because it’s the first where we can look back and say we were alive and interested in music for the whole thing. And man, what a decade it has been.
So, yeah. Here are some records I liked:
(Note: due to some technical difficulties, mainly my computer being broken and being forced to use a shitty old one that barely works, some images artwork is not included. To be fixed in due time)
100. Stephen Malkmus – Stephen Malkmus
99. The Besnard Lakes – Are the Dark Horse
98. Frightened Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight
97. …And you Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Worlds Apart
96. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
95. The Good Life – Album of the Year
94. Bjork – Medulla
93. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
92. Sparklehorse – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
91. Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth
90. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
89. Why? – Alopecia
88. MF Doom – Mm…Food
87. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
86. Ryan Adams and The Cardinals – Jacksonville City Nights
85. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
84. Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
83. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
82. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
81. The Decemberists – Her Majesty The Decemberists
80. Okkervil River – The Stage Names
79. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Letting Go
78. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
77. The xx – xx
76. Sufjan Stevens – Greetings from Michigan
75. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
74. Elliott Smith – Figure 8
73. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
72. Okkervil River – Down the River of Golden Dreams
71. Deer Tick – War Elephant
70. Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses?
69. Madvillain – Madvillainy
68. The Streets – Original Pirate Material
67. Liars – Drums Not Dead
66. The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
65. Islands – Return to Sea
64. Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway
63. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
62. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
61. Bright Eyes – LIFTED or the Story’s in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground
60. Sigur Ros – Takk…
59. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cold Roses
58. Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies
57. The Microphones – Mount Eerie
56. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
55. Girl Talk – Night Ripper
54. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
53. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
52. Tool – Lateralus
51. My Morning Jacket – Z
50. The Strokes – Is This It
49. Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem
48. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica
47. Kanye West – The College Dropout
46. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
45. Cursive – the Ugly Organ
44. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
43. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
42. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down In The Light
41. LCD Soundsystem – sound of silver
40. The Thermals – The Body, the Blood, the machine
39. My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves
38. The National – Alligator
37. Animal Collective – Sung Tongs
36. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill
35. Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
34. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
33. Kanye West – Graduation
32. Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
31. The Shins- Oh, Inverted World
30. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
29. My Morning Jacket – At Dawn
28. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People
27. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
26. Battles – Mirrored
25. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
24. Oukast – Stankonia
23. Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
22. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
21. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
20. Animal Collective – Feels
19. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
18. The Microphones –The Glow pt. 2
17. The Mars Volta – Deloused in the Comatorium
16. Bright Eyes – I’m wide Awake It’s Morning
15. Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy
In all its powerful alt-folk fury, Okkervil River’s remarkable narrative centered around an assumed character from Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy” delves into sex and drug abuse, manic depression, fucked relationships, and pretty much everything that falls in between. Will Sheff always had a penchant for vivid imagery and captivating songwriting, but not until Black Sheep Boy did his ambitions and stunning style balance out so damn perfectly.
14. Radiohead – Amnesiac
Let’s get one thing perfectly straight, though Amnesiac is a lot of things, it is not a collection of Kid A b-sides. It is a record which stands on its own entirely and sees the band picking up the axes they abandoned, for the most part, a year before with Kid A. It’s got the eerie dissonant electronica of Kid A, but brings back some of Radiohead’s rockier side. The songs fit together perfectly and see the band exceeding any limitations you thought might exist. “I Might Be Wrong” is a riff heavy rocker. “Pyramid Song” is a hauntingly timed, sparse piano ballad. And there’s even a New Orleans Funereal tune on there. Did I mention Yorke learned how to sing backwards for one of the tracks? Yeah, I think that’s a good enough indication of how awesome Amnesiac really is.
13. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
After Arcade Fire closed the casket on conflicted nostalgia, they were ready to tackle some more heated issues. With Neon Bible, a new, more mature, more ruthless Arcade Fire introduced itself to the world. Using church motifs, Arcade Fire viewed mankind’ss most controversial piece of literature as a neon sign; an advertisement for a commodity that they believed the world could really do without. Regardless of your values, there’s no denying that the Arcade Fire got at least a few things right with their sophomore effort.
12. Beck – Sea Change
To most, the name Beck conjures up an auditory kaleidescope, like the schizophrenic Alt-Rock of Odelay. While that’s all good and fine, some people have it right in praising beck for his folkier contributions. But, it wasn’t until Beck teamed up with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich that he crafted his post-breakup folk masterpiece. With Sea Change, Beck took his thumb off the genre blender and picked up an acoustic guitar. He wrote songs about heartbreak and with Godrich’s help, paired them with electro-tinged country swoon. This was the album Beck was born to make. Too bad it took some intense emotional turmoil to pull it out of him.
11. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Animal Collective doesn’t write songs per se. They salvage beauty from noise. With Strawberry Jam, the group proved that acid washed electronic blips can be crafted into glorious, naive pop music, and that screaming every once in a while only makes it better.
10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
I like to imagine Jonny Greenwood as a mad scientist, at work behind a lab table piled high with all sorts of electronic modulators, computers, effects pedals, and of course, guitars. Thom Yorke, he’s the quirky research supervisor, the guy who makes sure that in the end, the chaos remains somewhat controlled. The rest of the guys, they’re the much needed assistants. After years of observation and work with these two, they get what’s going on, and they glue all the pieces together. With In Rainbows, this process has been refined to the point of flawlessness. There’s a sort of impeccable balance between that erratic tinkering and the lush, more organized Yorkian songwriting. But moreover, In Rainbows is a record that sees a band with nowhere new to go, defying the odds and finding yet another distinction of the well-established, yet genre defying Radiohead sound by revisiting their past. It’s by no means a reversion or a muting of their eccentricities, but merely a summation of all the different Radioheads that came before. Because that’s what makes them Radiohead, it’s their ability to do everything all at once, but make it sound so natural that you can hardly trace the ingredients.
09. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug don’t sound good on paper. Both sing with hoarse, warbly voices, gargling most of their cryptic words atop their blend of noisy, mathy prog-pop. But somehow, the result of these chaotic, off-kilter ingredients makes for indie pop perfection. Wolf Parade leave nothing to be sorry for with their Apologies, but create a unique record that’s as danceable as it is philosophical.
08. The National – Boxer
The National has always been an interesting force in indie rock. They create lush, full orchestrations accompanied by gut-wrenching poetry. Where the band may have been a bit more punked out and energetic on Alligator, on Boxer Matthew Berninger’s poetry drips like deep-black honey over Brian Devendorf’s frantic stickwork. It’s gloomy in only the best way. His nostalgic ballads mesh together into one story about a guy coming to terms with adulthood and hating everything about it. But you can’t help but fall in love with such beautiful agony. With Boxer, Berninger and co. release their most polished and cohesive work, leaving us on the edges of our seats waiting for a follow-up.
07. Okkervil River – Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See
From the moment the lush, full sound of “Red” enters on a half beat, almost as if you’ve caught Okkervil River in the middle of something magnificent, Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See is a folk-rock masterpiece till its finish. Will Sheff is at his absolute finest in terms of both his earnestness and songwriting skills. Sure, with each of their subsequent albums, the Austin, Texans crafted more refined, ambitious records, but there’s something about the raw, emotive folk of their debut that makes it so captivating. Is it the way you can hear Sheff strain for the notes he hits, or doesn’t hit? How impassioned everything feels? Is it the ramshackle instrumentation that sometimes feels as if it’s going to fall apart? Is it how every song feels like it’s dripping with Sheff’s blood, sweat, and tears? Yes, yes, and yes. Will Sheff has certainly changed a lot since his band’s debut, but sonic evolution doesn’t always make for better music. Though a rockier Okkervil River would produce some glorious albums, it is their stripped down, folked out debut that still stands as their best work to date.
06. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Is Wilco the American Radiohead? It’s hard to make such a ludicrous analogy (bands aren’t just versions of their international contemporaries), but some have gone as far as giving Wilco this strange title. Of course, Wilco is its own entity, and some would be downright confused at to what makes Wilco and Radiohead similar in the slightest. But, I’ll try to help clarify. Though, I am not convinced of the comparison myself (clearly Radiohead is better), something about what happens on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot makes the comparison somewhat understandable. The album sees Wilco deconstruct folk rock, like taking apart an American log cabin piece by piece. On YHF, Jeff Tweedy and co. look at what makes pop music what it is, what elements form folk rock, and how those elements can be fucked up. They’ll take a song like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” tear it to shreds, and then build it back up into fluidity, all in one track. So where does Radiohead fit in? It’s something about how both bands take distinctly American and British styles of rock music, respectively, and turn them on their heels. Both of these bands are creating the most inaccessible pop music they can, specific to the country that birthed the style, for the sheer thrill of experimentation. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot rips the folk rock aesthetic to splinters, throwing in delay, drum machines, and the like in the process. And hey, even if you don’t agree with the Radiohead comparisons, the fact that the two can even be mentioned in the same breath says a lot about how good they both are.
05. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
It’s unbearably cold outside as you walk home from an intensely traumatizing breakup. Snow floats around you, coating the rock hard soil beneath your stiff legs. As you walk, your shaky breath dances around your head in warm vapor. In many ways, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever ago is the sound that mist would make if it only could. It expresses everything you feel in that exhalation, but can’t put to words. It’s a record that acknowledges the downright miserable circumstances of the situation, but also recognizes that there’s some beauty to be found in the moment. As Justin Vernon belts out line after cryptic line, through layer upon layer of soulful, gut wrenching falsetto, you feel his pain like it were your own. It floats around your ears in tear-jerking bliss. It’s an impeccably crafted bedroom record that, through its honest sound, says everything about the conditions under which it was made. You can’t help but take pleasure in a misery that sounds this perfect.
04. Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
After the deconstructed electro-rock of Kid A and Amnesiac, it only made sense for Radiohead to combine their newfound identity with the brute force rock of OK Computer and The Bends. With Hail to the Thief, Radiohead reemerged as a living, breathing rock band, but not without ensuring that “the rats and the children” followed along. Some may argue that it’s not up to snuff in contrast to their other releases, but these people clearly don’t deserve any of your time.
3. Arcade Fire – Funeral
Though Funeral itself might mourn the loss of innocent youth, listening to it uplifts as and upsets in equal parts. Hearing Funeral is like reliving a childhood you never even lived in the first place. It’s like seeing flashbacks to the hardships of growing up, crying about them, and suddenly realizing that it was all just a gloriously crafted dream. Win Butler’s imagery and narratives are so universal it’s frightening. From the second the album’s bright piano notes combine with Butler’s angst-ridden cries, you can feel it. You want to build a tunnel, you remember your bedrooms and your parents bedrooms. Then after you’re well acquainted with how beautiful it all is, Butler will throw a line at you so rich with naïve imagery that the smile your mouth forms almost stings: “When daddy comes home, you always start a fight/ So the neighbors can dance/ In the police/ Disco lights/ Now the neighbors can dance.” The record presents an ambitious art-rock framework that feels familiar simply because we wish indie rock had always been this grand, this heartfelt. This is the record that rock music had been waiting for, without ever even knowing it. It came out of virtually nowhere and birthed one of the most treasured bands of the burgeoning twenty-first century. The subject matter combines with an arsenal of instrumentation to form a grouping of songs that are impossibly poignant, miserable, and blissful all at once. And man, what an impossibility it is.
02. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
It wasn’t always easy to “get” Animal Collective. In fact, it used to be a pretty difficult feat. Nevertheless, with each subsequent album, the psychedelic connoisseurs brought something new into the mix, making it easier and easier to get a grasp on the ultimate goal of their seemingly sporadic plucking, their earsplitting tweaking, their chaotic screams, their impossibly naïve storytelling. And so finds us face-to-face with that very goal, the 21st century sunny psych-pop masterpiece that is Merriweather Post Pavilion. With their tripped out, liquid drenched, electronic based take on Smiley Smile era Beach Boys pop, Animal Collective connected the dots many people didn’t even see in the first place. In doing so, the guys showed us that they had a twisted plan all along, we just may not have been able to read the blueprints. Whether anybody got it or not, the Baltimore natives unleashed their gorgeous summation of just how beautiful the banality of existence can be in the right context, ushering in an almost entirely new genre of music in the process.
01. Radiohead – Kid A
What do you say about an album as earth shattering as Radiohead’s Kid A? What can be said about an album so unbelievably alienating that it almost rewrote the definition of rock music entirely? Thom Yorke and the lads from Radiohead shocked the music world with the intense aesthetic makeover that was Kid A, taking their biggest risk on one of the most anticipated releases of the past twenty years. “Fuck it,” Yorke screamed, tears bleeding from his tired eyes after twenty interviews in ten days, never wanting to talk about what went into making OK Computer ever again. “If we’re gonna do this again, we’re gonna do it by our own goddamn rules,” he cried. “Throw out the guitars, let’s have a machine play the drums, and put my voice through electronic modulations while you’re at it. Now bring those guitars and drums back in and let’s get to work.” And so, after an intensely emotional labor, was birthed a new child of the music world. One that didn’t listen to its grumpy old parents and their stupid rules. One that didn’t give a shit about what all the other kids thought was cool. This here was a record that perfectly expressed the technologically ambivalent state of the world by relying on technology for its base. It was a record that showcased a band searching for something more within themselves in the least conventional way possible. Kid A was and will always be its own rare breed. It will forever be the record that shocked fans with its inaccessibility, but slowly grew into one of the most cherished albums of a new generation of music lovers. Radiohead would still have made two of the most important contributions to rock music without it, but would they have become the genre defying, shape shifting monsters they are today without their timeless middle finger to the rock world?