It is that time of the decade where one stares at their music collection and promptly regrets buying 95% of the music they now own. Everyone does it. Okay, maybe I do it. I buy a lot of music, so much so my children are convinced that I actually buy milk at the local vinyl store and bread from iTunes. This small habit has created a massive music collection that can be somewhat unwieldy. It doesn’t stop me from gathering up hundreds of albums from the past decade and asking myself a very simple question:
If I could only save fifty of these albums from the past ten years, what fifty would it be?
It would be easy for me to write-up a list in which only Green Day, and White Stripes albums are on it, simply because they produced amazing albums this decade. I could have simply gone with my kids suggestion and made the list all about Hannah Montana and the Wiggles. That was tempting, they could have written it for me.
My criteria was simple. First- I must have actually listened to it. I still have a couple of albums in the plastic. Most of these albums were gifts from well-meaning people who thought that I really needed Daniel Bedingfield’s album.
Second- How often did I listen to this album? Having the most listens didn’t mean that it would be number one. Music is very much my day between the hours of six a.m. and six p.m. There are albums on this list I only listened to once and found so compelling that I felt it needed to be on the list. Most I have listened to so often my CD player refuses to open to play them again and my iTunes has decided that they are the only artists I listen to.
Lastly- I must have had fun listening to it at some point. Dreary music is of no interest to me. That doesn’t mean sad music is ignored for the oeuvre of Britney Spears. On the contrary, I find Britney Spears to be enormously depressing. But her greatest hits album makes for a delightful coaster.
The list, in full, after the break.
50. Joyful Rebellion, k-os (2004)
Canadian hip hop hippie rebel tears the music industry a new one with melodic cynicism and spacey joy.
Download: ” Man I Used To Be”, ” B-Boy Stance”, “Crabbuckit”
49. The Greatest, Cat Power (2006)
Indie darling writes own songs, suddenly becomes big star who has her music used in commercials.
Download: “The Greatest”, ” Love and Communication”, ” Willie”
48. Accelerate, R.E.M. (2008)
After a decade of being not as good as they once were, Athens greatest band returns to the guitars and musings of old and prove they are still relevant.
Download: ” I’m Gonna D.J.”, ” Until The Day Is Done”, ” Living Well Is The Best Revenge”
47. Dangerously In Love, Beyonce (2003)
The diva of the new century goes solo and hooks Jay-Z. Thankfully, she has really awesome songs to go along with the voice.
Download: ” Crazy In Love”, ” Naughty Girl”, ” Dangerously in Love 2″
46. Back To Black, Amy Winehouse (2006)
Troubled junkie has throwback sixties soul voice, teams up with super music genius Mark Ronson for some of the best songs of the decade.
Download: ” Back To Black”, ” Rehab”, ” You Know I’m No Good”
45. The Chemistry of Common Life, Fucked Up (2008)
Canadian hardcore band with the unprintable name create loud chaos with artistic ambition, win prestigious music prize, get Canadian newspapers to print their name. Seriously.
Download: “Black Albino Bones”, “Twice Born”, ” Days of Last”
44. Figure 8, Elliott Smith (2000)
Sad singer songwriter of note creates masterpiece of simple beauty. One of the saddest losses in music.
Download: “Pretty Mary K”, “Somebody That I Used To Know”, “L.A.”
43. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (2002)
The Boss gets all classic Springsteen after 9-11, evokes resurrection to make a compelling study of human nature in the wake of tragedy. It’s no accident he went on to record an album of Pete Seeger songs a few years later.
Download: ” The Rising”, ” My City of Ruins”, “Mary’s Place”
42. Chemical City, Sam Roberts (2006)
Canadian wunderkind returns a little wiser and a little more mature, still kicks ass.
Download: ” The Bridge To Nowhere”, “An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay”, ” The Resistance”
41. In Your Honor, Foo Fighters (2005)
Dave Grohl is the hardest working man in music. This collection of blistering rockers and gentler acoustic songs shows the conflict of the era and within the man who wrote the songs.
Download: ” Best of You”, ” Friend of a Friend”, “Resolve”, ” Miracle”
40. You Forgot It In People, Broken Social Scene (2002)
A massive Canadian musical collective writes experimental masterpiece and suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite band. Buoys the success of individual members like Emily Haines, Feist, and Kevin Drew.
Download: “Cause=Time”, ” Anthem for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”, “Stars And Sons”
39. A Ghost Is Born, Wilco (2004)
The band survives a label change, creates album that documents Jeff Tweedy’s insanity, plus a fifteen minute opus involving a synthesizer, which just kind of proves Tweedy’s calculating ways. He called “Less Than You Think” the song even die-hard Wilco fans would hate. It’s actually one of my favorite Wilco songs because it’s so crazy.
Download: “I’m a Wheel”, “At Least That’s What You Said”, “Less Than You Think”
38. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay (2002)
They fail at being the new U2, but they succeed at being themselves. An album of piano based mid tempo hymns and poignant ballads, it remains their best album. Contemplative and haunting.
Download: “Politick”, “The Scientist”, “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face”, “Amsterdam”
37. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens (2005)
Part of an insane, possible practical joke of an idea Stevens had to write an album for all fifty states, Illinois is one of the best concept albums ever recorded. Stevens sings both joyous accounts of the history and the people of the state, but also throws in a song called ” John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” Humorous, informative, and delightful.
Download: “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!”, “Jacksonville”, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Our Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhh!!”
36. Fantasies, Metric (2009)
Emily Haines’ thin sunshine ray of a voice is matched with eighties inspired keyboard riffs and lyrics about Beatles songs and De Lillo novels. More cohesive than their previous works.
Download: ” Gimme Sympathy”, “Front Row”, “Help I”m Alive”
35. The College Dropout, Kanye West (2004)
No one has shaken up the world of hip hop quite like Kanye West. Hyper literate, unafraid of his own preppy image, he wrote songs critical of the current state of the genre and used samples from songs no one else would ever think of. The opposite of gangsta rap is the smart boy swagger brought to us by the son of a college professor.
Download: “Jesus Walks”, ” All Falls Down”, “Through the Wire”, “Last Call”
34. Hot Fuss, the Killers (2004)
Dynamic Las Vegas band immersed in eighties pop write bright songs about girls and becomes the biggest band on the planet for six months. They have had better individual songs on their follow-up albums, but those albums are messes thematically.
Download: “Somebody Told Me”, “Smile Like You Mean It”, “Mr. Brightside”, “All These Things That I’ve Done”
33. Warning:, Green Day (2000)
Underrated adult album from the notorious juvenile punks. The beginnings of their later sound and themes are found here, on a less epic scale.
Download: ” Minority”, “Warning”, “Macy’s Day Parade”
32. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters (2004)
Disco never really died, because every once in a while, an artist comes along that reminds us disco was fun. In this decade, it was a band from New York who made it huge in England with their delightful ditties about the Wizard of Oz and out of nowhere covers of Pink Floyd songs. Easily the most fun I have ever had listening to a record.
Download: “Comfortably Numb”, ” Take Your Mama”, “Filthy/Gorgeous”
31. Furr, Blitzen Trapper
Folky Portland band with a unique world view, they made an impact with their fourth album. Another great band in the history of the Sub Pop label, they write songs evoking the naturalism of the Oregon wilderness. They even sing about transmogrification. Certainly one of the great discoveries of the decade.
Download: “Furr”, “God and Suicide”, “Black River Killer”
30. Strict Joy, The Swell Season (2009)
If I hadn’t long ago decided that soundtracks were not permitted on my lists, the soundtrack for Once would be on this list. It would have made my top ten. Fortunately for me, and for everyone else as well, the Swell Season put out this album a little while ago and saved me the grief. Equally as beautiful, and as poignant as the songs off of Once, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova document their personal relationship with reason and even emotion.
Download: “In These Arms”, “I Have Loved You Wrong”, “Low Rising”
29. Action Pact, Sloan (2003)
It baffles me that Sloan isn’t the biggest band in the world. Those gorgeous harmonies and sunny sixties pop inspired melodies seem tailor- made for world domination. It makes me that much happier that I live in Canada, where I can always hear them on the radio and see them on that five-minute block MuchMoreMusic has in the morning for videos. This album sees the band maturing and searching for their futures. It is both bouncy fun and contemplative narrative.
Download: “The Rest of My Life”, “Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore“, “I Was Wrong”
28. Everything All The Time, Band of Horses (2006)
One of the great debuts of the decade were this South Carolina based group with rich guitar sounds and a lead singer that yelps and wails like nobody’s business. The songs on this album are hauntingly beautiful.
Download: “The Funeral”, “The Great Salt Lake”, “Monsters”
27. Songs For The Deaf, Queens Of The Stone Age (2002)
Any group that can bring in Dave Grohl to bang on the drums that ferociously deserves a spot on this list. I’m also glad that this, my drinking album, has a genuine party feel and rocks hard in a decade where great hard rock was sadly lacking. Let’s not even begin on the state of metal in the 2000s…
Download: ” Go With the Flow”, ” No One Knows”, “A Song for the Dead”
26. Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003)
Avant garde melodic punk with dance floor ambition, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of my favorite bands on the decade. Their debut album remains a highlight of the dance punk scene that seemed to struggle throughout the decade. Dark, bare bones, and Karen O’s voice is so uniquely perfect over the steady percussion and ringing guitars.
Download: “Maps”, “Y Control”, “Date With The Night”
25. St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley (2006)
I think Danger Mouse’s impact on music over the decade has been under appreciated. His 2004 Beatles-Jay Z mash-up The Grey Album was a massive digital success story, and he helped produced the best album Beck did in this decade. But it was this album, with old friend and Goodie Mob member Cee-Lo, that remains a stand out. Taking the best traditions of hip hop, soul, and rock, they mixed it with genuine paranoia and fear to create a masterpiece of the dark side. All that, plus a warped cover of a Violent Femmes song.
Download: “Crazy”, “Gone, Daddy, Gone”, “Smiley Faces”
24. Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World (2001)
Why do people bash on Jimmy Eat World? I know they aren’t the most ground breaking band, but they produce albums of great pop-rock songs, and I find them less offensive than matchbox twenty. This, their break through, is a strong album about coming to terms with the adult world without leaving what makes you young and fun behind. It’s also more ambitious than what one would expect from what was at the point a label free rock band with no prospects.
Download: “The Middle”, “A Praise Chorus”, “Sweetness”
23. When I Was Cruel, Elvis Costello (2002)
I am a die-hard, slightly obsessive Elvis Costello fan, so one should not be surprised that he’s on this list. I would put an album of Elvis coughing on my list. I’m glad that instead I have an album that returns to Elvis’ angry young man style and in the midst of the bitterness and general annoyance with the world, there are grand arrangements and great guitars. How can one go wrong when Elvis Costello remembers he’s a rocker?
Download: “45”, “Spooky Girlfriend”, “When I Was Cruel 2”, “Radio Silence”
22. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (2008)
One must realize I bought this album on the strength of hearing ” White Winter Hymnal” and finding the imagery of cold and snow and the red scarves kind of homey. Maybe it’s the fact I live where snow and cold is the norm for six months of the year. But the overall album is a gem, a mix of folk melodies and sixties vocal harmonies. Proof positive that the sound of the northwest in the 2000s was very different from the sound that came from there in the 1990s.
Download: “White Winter Hymnal”, ” He Doesn’t Know Why”, “Meadowlarks”
21. The Blueprint, Jay-Z (2001)
The lyrical master of hip hop was in trouble legally and with the hip hop community in 2001. His peers were dissing him left and right and there was that gun charge hanging over his head. But this isn’t Nas, ladies and gentlemen, this is Shawn Carter, and he ain’t a bitch. What he did was create a hip hop masterpiece with the help of a young Chicago based producer named Kanye West. An astonishing and real work.
Download: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, “Takeover”, “Renegade”
20. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (2008)
Every once in a while, I buy an album by an artist on whim and discover something great. I bought this because I have a daughter named Emma and I collect albums that use the names of my children. That album count is one. This is a low fi collection of acoustic love songs written by a heartbroken man in a wintery Wisconsin cabin. I just lucked out that the album was amazingly beautiful and sad. Emma is never going to steal this away.
Download: ” Skinny Love”, “For Emma”, “Creature Fear”, “Blindsided”
19. Let It Die, Feist (2004)
This is the real classic of Leslie Feist’s career. Don’t let the fact ” 1234″ isn’t on it scare you or anger you. A mix of sunny sounding jazzy-folk originals and diverse covers from the likes of the Bee Gees and Ron Sexsmith, it’s the album that brought her to an international audience who needed to be reminded that Canadian female singers don’t always have amazing soprano voices that reach thirty different octaves and sing schlock. They sometimes write their own simple songs and sing in their own wistful ways.
Download: “Mushaboom”, ” Inside and Out”, “One Evening”, “Gatekeeper”
18. American Idiot, Green Day (2004)
You can’t look at this as being a pop-punk album- its meat and potatoes rock with varying influences. Mostly, Green Day shakes off the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers cobwebs and infuse their politics with the Who and Zeppelin. What you end up with may not be perfect, but damn if it doesn’t make me want to change the world every single time I hear it? This took them from a dying, middling 90s band to international superstars that aspire to be the atheistic version of U2.
Download: “Jesus of Suburbia”, ” Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, ” Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “American Idiot”
17. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon (2007)
I had honestly let Spoon slip under my radar for years due to some unknown reason that I can’t come up with ( I think it has to do with young children and their music leaving me little time to get into what was happening in Texas at the time musically -or maybe I kept getting Spoon mixed up in my head with 90s Detroit grunge rejects Sponge). But when I came across “Don’t Make Me a Target”, I went crazy on iTunes. A solid indie rock band delivers and album full of interesting rhythms and obscure lyrics.
Download: ” Don’t Make Me a Target”, “Don’t You Evah”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, ” The Underdog”
16. Only By The Night, Kings Of Leon (2008)
The Followill boys made a huge impact in England early on in their careers, but this, their fourth album, was the one that hit commercially. They still are bigger over there than here, although we all finally got it. ( I must admit, I was a fan of 2007’s Because of the Times, but found their first two albums lacking in focus). If you are looking for a grimy southern sound full of sex and promise, this is the album you should own.
Download: ” Use Somebody”, “Sex On Fire”, “Notion”, “Crawl”
15. Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers (2000)
The New Pornographers was one of those bands I ended up having to listen to backwards, as I fully didn’t appreciate them until I heard Twin Cinema and I somehow completely forgot about their existence for a few years. But of all their albums, the one that remains the most fun is their first, a symphonic blend of lyrical melodrama and indie guitars.
Download: ” Letter From An Occupant”, ” Breakin’ the Law”, “Mass Romantic”, “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”
14. Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins (2006)
Jenny Lewis for the longest time was that red-headed girl who kissed Fred Savage in that really awful video game movie. Thankfully, she grew up and started Rilo Kiley and all is pretty much forgiven. Her solo debut is a masterpiece of alt country- indie rock fusion with Lewis’s amazing and subtle voice reigning supreme.
Download: ” Handle With Care”, “Born Secular”, “Rise Up With Fists”, “You Are What You Love”
13. Set Yourself on Fire, Stars (2004)
Haunting pianos, harps, violins, brass bands- this doesn’t scream simplistic beauty or an efficiency of style and sound, but that’s what you get. Nothing on this album is extraneous. It’s orchestral on a shoestring and thrilling in its mandate. An amazing record that everyone should own.
Download: ” Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”, “Ageless Beauty”, “Reunion”, “What I’m Trying to Say”
12. “Love And Theft”, Bob Dylan (2001)
I recently listened to Dylan’s new Christmas album, where profits go to charity, and decided that one of Dylan’s best albums opened the decade, and he was closing out with one of his worst. This, the best he had released in decades, is steeped in the American South, where the American musical styles are all born and nurtured before being corrupted. An amazing piece of work from an artist that just cannot escape the expectations of his fans.
Download: “Mississippi”, “Sugar Baby”, “High Water (for Charley Patton)”, “Honest With Me”
11. Smile, Brian Wilson (2004)
I am a die-hard Beach Boys fan who laments the loss of the brilliance of Brian Wilson for that long dark period of American music where no one could craft a perfect pop song because he was high and crazy. That’s when we get things like “Kokomo”, people. Glad to have Wilson’s ideas that were rejected in the sixties used to such amazing ends.
Download: “Good Vibrations”, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”, “Heroes and Villains”, “Wonderful”
10. Stankonia, Outkast (2000)
The famed hip hop duo, one straight up old style gangsta, the other from some other galaxy, produced a nearly perfect album of wildly diverse themes and styles. This album took them from the underground and firmly entrenched them as the kings of hip hop for the decade. Whether you like loud and rocking drum and bass, traditional samples with traded verses, or deep funk, this album has it all for you.
Download: ” Ms. Jackson”, “B.O.B.”, “So Fresh, So Clean”, “Humble Mumble”
9. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix (2009)
The new apex of French pop. Delightful, bright, and so damn catchy that it’s easy to become obsessed with individual tracks. An over arching theme of history and classical music cements the album, and it remains on of the perfect indie pop records ever crafted.
Download: “1901”, “Lisztomania”, “Armistice”, “Love Like A Sunset, Pt. 1”
8. Kala, M.I.A. (2007)
Her intention was to work with Timbaland, and I have never been so glad an intended collaboration fell through. This album is a stark work of realism, where much of the music that was big in the 2000s was fluffy escapism ( see: the Black Eyed Peas bigger hits after Fergie joined them). M.I.A. never winces from her ambition, and creates a piece of art that is fearless in its honesty.
Download: “Paper Planes”, “Boyz”, “Hussel”, “World Town”
7. Gold, Ryan Adams (2001)
I forgive Ryan Adams a lot of things- drunken outbursts, bad records, marrying Mandy Moore ( okay, that’s my own fan girl issue. I actually like Mandy Moore. A lot). This album remains my favorite of his solo work, a warm album about love, loss, and Sylvia Plath. His most famous tracks remain here.
Download: “Sylvia Plath”, “When The Stars Go Blue”, “New York, New York”, “Firecracker”
6. The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem (2000)
He is a homophobe, a misogynist, and abusive in his lyrics. Every bone in my body tells me that I should object what he is saying. But I can’t because he speaks of these things with a world-weary humor and a truthfulness that cannot be ignored. Easily one of the best writer’s in hip hop, he is backed with strong beats and fearlessness.
Download: “Stan”, “The Way I Am”, “The Real Slim Shady”, “Criminal”
5. Bring Me Your Love, City and Colour (2008)
Stark songs about love. It’s really a simple album by Dallas Green, so different from his day job with screamo act Alexisonfire, and while that band is certainly a great band, I always prefer Green on his solo releases, where his gift for melody and introspection shine.
Download: “Sleeping Sickness”, “Waiting…”, “As Much As I Ever Could”, “The Girl”
4. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Flaming Lips (2002)
I’m sorry, but I love both the weirdo psychedelia of the 90s Flaming Lips, and the spaced out prog rock of the 2000s Flaming Lips. Both are entertaining as all hell, because both have Wayne Coyne, who is the most entertaining person in rock and roll. This, their melancholic masterpiece, remains their best known and best work.
Download: ” Do You Realize??”, “It’s Summertime”, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1”, “Fight Test”
3. Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004)
Wildly expansive, highly original arrangements from a music collective who used personal tragedy to create an album so unique that it’s really hard for me to come up with the words I want to use to explain how much I love this record. I’ll try with the following: brilliant, fresh, powerful, and magical.
Download: ” Rebellion (Lies)”, “Wake Up”, “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”, “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”
2. Kid A, Radiohead (2000)
Radiohead’s desire to reinvent itself at every turn has created a catalog of work that is mind-blowing in its creativity and quality. This, their inspired peak, was an album of jazzy orchestral mass of strange songs and cryptic lyrics that was originally divisive, but once the dust settled and everyone remembered that not every album could be O.K. Computer, it became clear that Radiohead was at it’s best when they surprised us.
Download: “Everything in Its Right Place”, “Morning Bell”, “The National Anthem”, “Optimistic”
1. White Blood Cells, White Stripes (2001)
My favorite White Stripes album changes constantly, but I keep coming back to White Blood Cells. Maybe it’s because I discovered them with this album, but certainly it has something to do with the ambition of some of the songs. The primitive percussion of Meg White suits the elaborate guitar playing of Jack White, and they remain the best indie rock duo I can think of. Ferocious, ground breaking rock and roll.
Download: “We’re Gonna Be Friends”, The Union Forever”, “Fell In Love With A Girl”, “Now Mary”, “This Protector”