For many people, including myself, the years after 2000 were where I really learned to trust my instincts and grasp new and exciting music that I wouldn’t have embraced in my formative teen years. Today I start a top twenty countdown of the best albums of the Aughts, or the years ranging from 2000 to 2009. This list will include many obvious choices, spanning all genres and nearly every year of the decade. Many of these are albums that are bands I still love, but more than anything, all of these are brilliant records that made the decade interesting. Enjoy!
20. El-P, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, 2007
El-P’s second album took five years to surface, but in the end it didn’t matter because it elevated his craft to a level that underground hip hop hadn’t seen in quite some time. Often times rap albums feature many guests, but rarely are the guest stars so diverse in taste. Trent Reznor, the Mars Volta, and fellow Def Jux star Aesop Rock all make appearances, but the worth of the album truly lies in Jamie’s brilliant lyrics, useage of samples, and of course, beats to out any other rapper out of business. These days he’s better known as the better looked but often overlooked portion of Run the Jewels, but with this record he took control and showed everyone what he could do when he put his mind to it.
19. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008
Since this record came out, stories of the album's creation have become indie legends among the Pitchfork faithful, but beyond the tales of a sick Vernon crafting this solitary beautiful album stands the fact that the album is gorgeous in ways that most albums can never hope to be. What’s even more interesting and wonderful is the fact that this record actually produced a bona fide great musician, and that he’s been able to continue to make music, with various acts. “For Emma” isn’t just an album for the heartbroken, but rather a healthy dose of fresh air in a sea of electronic beats and clueless rappers who couldn’t conjure up true, raw emotions if it hit them in the face.
18. the National, Boxer, 2007
Even though this record was the first record I truly gave notice to this band, I can’t think of a better record to showcase their depth. Of course I’ve gone back and rocked out to the previous efforts, but “Boxer” was the record that showed their brilliance and concise instrumentation, all within the confines of twelve tightly wound, intricate tracks. Berninger’s voice bellows when it needs to, and the sadness and energy prevailing over everything only makes this album more cathartic and resolving. The National may not have been a big name when this record was released, but after its release, the National had officially arrived.
17. the Knife, Silent Shout, 2006
The Knife had had a fair amount of success on “Deep Cuts,” but what they did following that is something only bands who give no fucks are able to do well. They dismantled everything they built for subsequent releases, and made an electronic album so cold and distant from everything else in the genre that even after ten years it’s one of the best most innovative records to be released under the giant umbrella of what can be considered Electronic music. Karin and Olof crafted brilliant tracks like “Silent Shout,” and “Marble House,” and in the process became an enigma in EDM, joining the likes of the equally brilliant Aphex Twin and Daft Punk.
16. At the Drive In, Relationship of Command, 2000
For many people, their awareness of the band came from the initial success of the Mars Volta, which featured probably the two best musicians of ATDI, but for a brief period of time before TMV’s success, At The Drive In was a force of nature in the area of post punk rock that broke huge with this album and swiftly fell apart under the weight of being a now successful band. The record however, is still brilliant and brimming with intensity, even over fifteen years later. Track after track pummels you, leaves you breathless, and makes you want to jump and thrash about for the sake of fun. Alas, in the years since, no band can match the magnificence of who ATDI was and how important they were to music t this crucial time in their career.
15. the Strokes, Is This It?, 2001
Many, many people I know consider this to be the single best album of the decade, and while the record is a garage rock masterpiece, for me it simply falls under the category of one of the best albums of the decade, not the best. “Is This It?” wasn’t only a huge monsoon of fresh atmosphere, but also an album full of chunky guitar parts, brilliant hooks, and enough no care swagger to make anyone fall in love. They, along with the White Stripes helped to shape the early aughts rock revolution, but The Strokes succeeded over the Stripes nearly only because of how cool they are. I mean, the White Stripes are amazing and of a somewhat different chain of the same dna, but even they couldn’t come off as cool as the Strokes do when they bang out “Modern Age” or “Hard to Explain,” even if the Stripes are better overall.
14. Mastodon, Leviathan, 2004
Mastodon still isn’t a household name everywhere you go, but among hardcore metal fans this band has gradually become the same type of band that Metallica or Pantera was. That’s not to imply that they are anywhere near as big as either of those, but Mastodon has arguably made more great records than those two I mentioned before. Largely, it began with the groundbreaking, earth shattering, “Moby Dick” inspired “Leviathan.” The album features some of the band's best known tracks, and while tracks like opener “Blood and Thunder” reign down with power, the greatness of the record lies in how intricate the musicianship and plot elements alike are used to explosives success.
13. the White Stripes, Elephant,2001
Many album's stand out over time, and for me this is one of the most vivid reminders of where I was when I first came into touch with this kick ass Detroit duo. Nearly immediately after hearing the pulsing energy of “Fell in Love with a Girl” the album was purchased and filling my house with electric jams that were unique and familiar all at the same time. Even after all these years, I still get pumped when “Aluminum” rips apart with reckless abandon, or when Jack sings softly to Meg on “We’re Going to be Friends.” Jack may have gone on to numerous bands and a pretty large solo career, but the backbone of what he has accomplished will always lie upon the amazing chemistry he had with his ex wife, Meg, and the music they made as the White Stripes.
12. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, 2007
Mixing electro, punk, disco and a myriad of other styles, James Murphy and company came on the scene and quickly took off with a mix of music weird enough to make sense to many music snobs. It wasn’t until the 2007 release of “Sound of Silver” however that things really broke big. From the epic opener of “Get Innocuous” to the life changing moments courtesy of “All my Friends” this record cemented their spot among the Indie elite, and before long they weren’t only the new cool band, but also the band you never knew you desperately needed in your life. The first record may have been awesome in its own right, but “Silver” was the big push the needed to get even closer to being a perfect band.
11. Deftones, White Pony, 2000
There are two forms of Sacramento's Deftones as I see it. The brief, angry period before “White Pony,” and the more abstract, free flow of ideas that came after it. “White Pony” was an album that not only enabled the band to jump drastically out of the quickly dying circle of Nu Metal simplicity, but a record that mixed their early intensity with deep rhythms, ambient soundscapes, and whimsical and mythological themes throughout. The album is easily one of the best things I’ve ever heard, and while it ranks in the top three best albums I’ve ever heard, on this list it finds itself at number eleven, rounding out the first part of our countdown.
And Here we go with the Top Ten!
10. Gorillaz, Demon Days, 2005
After the massive success of their debut, the animated “group” really showed their depth with the equally diverse “Demon Days.” The whole range of the album is difficult to pinpoint, but with Albarn at the helm, it ends up being just as focused and energized as the previous record. I mean seriously, did you ever realize how much you needed Dennis Hopper narrating a track until you heard “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head,” or be as pumped to dance as when you heard “Dare” for the first time? Track after track is a different formula for how awesome the band can be, and while the next album featured an even more diverse mix of talent and sounds, “Demon Days” remains the Gorillaz landmark album and still easily holds up eleven years after being released. They just don’t make bands like this often, which is why it’s always refreshing to dive into Albarn's and Hewitt's weird mashup of a world.
9. Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero, 2007
I’ve long been a huge fan of Trent Reznor, and with each successive NIN album, he manages to not only grow his brand of complex industrial, thought provoking music, but build a world so doomed you can’t help but be curious. “Year Zero”is easily one of the bands strongest efforts, and the scope of the themes touched upon in this “Year Zero” really drive the point home of what TR was trying to convey. The images of a world left ruined by a corrupt and controlling government permeates the essence of the album, and with tracks like the pummeling “Survivalism,” and the extremely tongue in cheek “Capital G,” the record captivated long time fans of the band. For me though, it was a huge source of inspiration. Not only was the brilliant ARG campaign fun to follow, but the music that followed was some of the more innovative music he created in the later years of his career. If you’re a fan of wide ranging storytelling in music and concept albums in general, you’ll find this record stands up against NIN’s best works.
8. Kanye West, Graduation, 2007
Kanye is crazy, Kanye is impulsive, and Kanye isn’t always right in how he handles situations. But also, Kanye is one of the most polarizing artists of our generation, and the touches and finishes he adds to each album truly make him a worthy artist to watch. With “Graduation,” the last in his unofficial trilogy of breakthrough albums, we find Mr. West really diving in to hone his precision in ways that wasn’t overtly obvious on his previous efforts. “Good Life” provides a perfect beat and feel good vibe to assist any gorgeous day in the sun, and the Daft Punk sample heavy “Stronger” was able to bring new fans into his world based on the killer beat and reinterpretation of an already brilliant song.West may be brash and outspoken, but his albums are repeatedly not only engaging, but with hooks like the ones found on “Graduation,” he entered his own world and stood on the precipice of being the most captivating figure in modern day hip hop.
7. Portishead, Third, 2008
More often than not, when a band takes nearly eleven years to release an album, it’s rare that a record not only matches the excellence of the band's earlier works, but also manages to become their best effort. “Third” is utterly intoxicating in ways the band's earlier records aren’t and it shows that not only became a better band in the passage of time, but they broke new ground in areas the world wasn’t even aware could occur. It’s easily my favorite project Portishead ever released, and with it still simmers with urgency and new sounds eight years after releases. Gibbons, Utley, and Barrow all give their everything on “Third,” and while a track like “Deep Water” is unlike anything the trio had ever constructed before, it still fits nearly in the net of what Portishead is as a band. One of the best surprises of the decade musically, the third record by the Bristol group stands out as their most innovative and awe inspiring record, which is saying something considering how dense and interesting their early records are.
6. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Before “In Rainbows” the concept of a band releasing a surprise album wasn’t nearly as normal as it is today. Once again Radiohead had upstaged everyone with something revolutionary. The album however isn’t merely a genius marketing tool, but the music presented on “Rainbows” stacks up against the band's best efforts, and nearly ranks at the top of the band's brilliance. Over and over again the band rises to the occasion, and dismantles expectations about what type of band they truly are. Radiohead is so wide ranging in their tones and influences that it's difficult to calculate how awesome they are. “Nude” soothes the listener into maximum comfort musically, while remaining dark and ominous in the presented lyrics, while other tracks like “Bodysnatchers,” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place” show the band can dial it up and still be a thoroughly energizing rock band that can kick ass with the best of them. Most Radiohead albums are good, but on “In Rainbows,” Yorke, Selway, the Greenwood's and O’Brien reminded everyone why they are the most innovative band of the last twenty years.
5. Daft Punk, Discovery, 2001
Let’s just get this out of the way: Daft Punk is quite possibly the most groundbreaking electronic act of all time. Certainly the most well known. This is a band capable of taking years and years off and still somehow staying ahead of the curb. This is extremely evident by the time they released the now classic “Discovery” in 2001. The album features otherworldly beats, themes of love and loneliness, and epic musical throwdowns. No other act in the electronic realm is even capable of being as uncomplicated or cool as the much beloved french Duo. With classics like opener “One More Time” they not only captivated the music world but also showed how accessible electronic music can be to a large number of people. Further, there’s not a single track on the record that seems redundant or contrived, which is most certainly part of the Robots charm. They have plenty of great sounds on all of their albums, but if you want the Daft Punk golden standard, look no further than the masterpiece that is “Discovery.”
4. the Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002
Oh the Flaming Lips. Known more now for how weird and diverse Wayne Coyne is then the brilliance of their music, this is the album that tied everything together for them. “Yoshimi” is easily their most cohesive, single idea drawn out to perfect effect that the band has ever released, and while it’s definitely weird, it’s never too weird to get into. From the thumping energy of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 2,” to the rarely mentioned magic of “Are You a Hypnotist??,” this album thrives on beats and energy that are right at home in our vast solar system. Let’s also not forget how “Do You Realize??” quickly become an alt rock anthem for everyone, and made the fans that had been with the band for years proud of the weird little band from Oklahoma finally got a chance to shine in the stratosphere.
3.Arcade Fire, Funeral, 2004
Rarely in music does an indie band launch onto the scene and be immediately hailed as the next big thing. Even more rare is when it actually ends up being true on subsequent releases. Montreal’s Arcade Fire though, are in fact the real deal, and it all began with “Funeral.” Over the course of ten solidly paced tracks, the brothers Butlers, Regine and company captured moments of adolescents haunted by despair, unbridled happiness and solitude in a way that hadn’t been seen before. The album is fresh, and alive and even today the themes and lessons running through the tracks aren’t understated or blown out to maxed out importance. For many music fans this record was a slap in the face(In a good way), and for good reason. “Wake Up” soars over mountains like classic U2 songs did before the band became laughable, and the closer “In the Back Seat” perfectly paints a picture that everyone has experienced in their early years: watching the world through the back window, wondering what majesties await us.
2. Tool, Lateralus, 2001
Number two on our list might be a surprise to some people, but it really shouldn’t if you ask me. Tool is continuously a band that pushes what is acceptable in a hard rock world where it’s more acceptable to write songs about drinking and speaking like you’re still a fourteen year old child whose parents would buy you something than to actually approach things in a very introspective, thought provoking way. These terms came through bluntly with the meticulously calculated “Lateralus.” The record, clocking in around eighty minutes, never gets dull, uninteresting or overextended. Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor and Maynard James Keenan fire on all cylinders here, and push what they were capable of on previous albums to the hilt of excellence. This is a record that thrives in anger when it needs to(“Ticks and Leeches”), wraps you in a glorious path of uncertainty(“Disposition,” “Reflection,” and “Triad”) and finally with the title track makes you worship the world you have at your fingertips and “Separate the Body from the Mind.” It’s not only the band's best album to date, but stands as the water mark for a thinking man's hard rock album.
1. Radiohead, Kid A, 2000
If you’re surprised by this, then either you’re an idiot or you’ve never experienced the record in all of it’s flawless, well crafted poised. After “Ok Computer” ruled the world, no one expected the band to delve into the electronic sector, but in doing so they managed to not only prove they had more than one excellent album in their heads, but that they also weren’t merely a rock band. One of the biggest departures from “OK” is the elimination of most strings and guitars. What’s even more frightening is how well it works. In some ways this is the best the band has ever been, if only because it was so unexpected. At times it doesn’t seem plausible that the same band from the first three albums is even the band you’re listening to, but that’s the mark of an amazing band. Able to switch, adapt and ultimately capture people's love and imaginations with an album as starkly contrasted as this one. The best record of the Aughts, Radiohead’s perfect,cold and uncompromising “Kid A.”
Thanks for reading.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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