Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#10-#1)

10. Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy
(Jagjaguwar, 2005)

Forget everything else for a moment and get lost in what kind of dazzling experiences music is capable of. Never being accepted and your faults always being put on display, forcing people to recognize your worth, fighting for the right to be seen and heard, battling your inner demons, watching the one you love fall for someone else and in the end, waiting for her to come back. Eventually, she’ll realize her mistake and whether it takes days, months or years – even if she has to marry him to realize that she belongs to you – you’ll still say, “So come back, I am waiting.” Because even if she never comes back, you’ll know that she was made for you and that your heart will always be hers.

That’s what you call unconditioned love. Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy circles that aforementioned story within a story with music that’s passionately packed with one massive punch: rocking riffs, rolling hooks, mesmerizing guitars, memorable lyrics and a story that’s filled with every possible emotion in the book. Few bands are capable of ‘such great heights,’ and others, like Okkervil River, create stunners like Black Sheep Boy as if it’s normal. The music’s caressing demeanor lift it to the height of absolute prominence and in terms of songwriting, it’s exceptionally splendid. Somewhere in the end, she never comes back but it’s about finding yourself, even if she never finds you. – Bryan Sanchez

9. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
(Barsuk Records, 2003)

To qualify as a “Best Album of the Decade,” a record must have the following attributes: 1) It must be immediately appealing, 2) It must be adventurous enough to push and/or smudge the boundaries of established genres, 3) It must not have one weak tune, 4) It must resonate with the listener’s mind, body and soul and 5) It must stand the test of time. Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism satisfies all these criteria and is the album that transformed the band from underdog indie darlings to major label idols for all the right reasons.

The crisp, mixed-meter beats, sleek guitar lines and lilting melodies are immediately appealing. The shifting bass lines gliding over walls of buzzing guitars are daring, and razor sharp leads dig hooks into the atmospheric synth washes creating an engaging sound that pushes and/or smudges the boundaries of established genres. Every song is brilliantly constructed as each one builds on the band’s formula of warm and vibrant indie-rock and the album flows over a varied landscape with ease without one weak tune. The plaintive vocals and heartfelt lyrics are as dazzling as ever and the driving rhythms rattle and hum underneath the dreamy melodies, while the intricate guitars shimmer and shine, often producing goosebumps, but always resonating with the mind, body and soul. Transatlanticism is a stunning album whose rich guitar textures, tight bass lines and clever pop nuances grow fonder with each spin as the quaint peculiarities of each song are majestically revealed over time. It’s as blissfully entertaining today as it was when it was released in 2003. – Matt the Raven

8. Deerhoof – The Runners Four
(Kill Rock Stars/ATP Recordings/Children of Hoof, 2005)

Bands like Deerhoof just don’t come along very often; they’re everything unusually atypical and still, splendidly cohesive. After seven albums that found the band taking turn by turn on every possible sound under the bright yellow sun, it’s fair to mark The Runners Four as their most consistent album to date. Be that as it may, this is the band’s longest album to date as well, totaling twenty songs that very nearly hit the 80-minute mark and still, it’s every bit as joyously wonderful and even – for many – the resounding highlight of their stellar career.

Beautifully melodic, Deerhoof have always been a musician’s band. Although Satomi Matsuzaki is a self-taught one, her chemistry with Greg Saunier, a classically-trained musician and arguably, the best drummer in all of music, is undeniably on fire throughout every recording. As a whole, they impose diminished chords, re-workings of plagal and deceptive cadences, harshly-coordinated cluster chords, sparkling linear lines and even a Neapolitan and a German augmented chord for good measure – and that’s just on the tag-team magnificence of “O’Malley, Former Underdog” and “Odyssey.” Their range is uncalculated and yet, it’s so expansive that after a while you just sit there, listening to the music in full appreciation and admiration. This isn’t just the sound of a band hitting on all cylinders but more apt, the capturing of a band in full accordance of the kind of gorgeous music they’re capable of and in turn, delivering it ten-fold. – Bryan Sanchez

7. Radiohead – In Rainbows
(Self-released/XL, 2007/2008)

Already branded by many as making the best album of the 1990s (OK Computer) and the best album of the 2000s (Kid A), Radiohead had tailored off with an album that was mired by inconsistency, sequencing problems and even a few throwaways with Hail to the Thief. Hitting the studio first, for some pre-recording and then taking the stage to perform all of this new material live, before recording it, Radiohead delivered In Rainbows, an album that’s grittier, polished, leaner and far more cohesive. It was a worthy surprise and it’s still an album that holds its own against the rest of the band’s immense catalog.

They changed the release process by offering a “pay as you like” process, offering fanatics a discbox and then presenting the physical CD on New Year’s Day of 2008 – it was a ballsy move that only the world’s best and now, biggest, band could pull off. The music sparkles with sharp textures of charging guitars, freshly centered drums and Thom Yorke’s inescapable voice. A few of them have already been covered by everyone from Gnarls Barkley (“Reckoner”) to Mos Def (“All I Need”) and others found the band playing with meter (“15 Step”) and even switching styles and keys (“Bodysnatchers” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place.”) Most importantly, In Rainbows was done only the way Radiohead knew how: impactful, significantly and always, masterful. – Bryan Sanchez

6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
(Sub Pop, 2008)

When Fleet Foxes’ Sun Giant EP was released in early 2008, it was greeted with a good deal of acclaim from the indie press. Citing influences as far ranging as Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Brian Wilson, and CSNY, the Foxes’ style – a dense blend of shimmering atmosphere and pastoral folk – sounded at once both classic and progressive. Even more intoxicating was lead singer Robin Pecknold’s emphasis on sun-soaked vocal harmonies, which, when given an application of reverb, were positively celestial. The band’s self-titled debut – which they described as a collection of “baroque harmonic pop jams” – capitalized on the EP’s success and garnered “album of the year” nods from numerous publications.

The breezy and refreshing choral harmonies of tunes like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” were incredibly self-assured, juxtaposing themselves nicely against the austere beauty of songs like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Heard Them Stirring.”  An added bonus was the cover art, a 16th century Dutch painting that, after close study, belied its seemingly tranquil setting with a series of smaller but more startling images. – Adam Costa

5. Madvillain – Madvillainy
(Stones Throw, 2004)

Back when this album was released, it took the music world for an unforgettable ride. MF Doom (now DOOM) and Madlib’s collaboration as Madvillain birthed what is still the decade’s best hip-hop album. Lo-fi production with bass-heavy beats and timely samples, Madlib was the supreme beatmaker, creating beats that satisfied Doom’s thirst. And the beats, jagged and patterned in demeanor, allowed the MC to spin tales of villains fighting against the good guys in a manner that had you cheering for those loveable bad guys. Money, marijuana, crime, integrity and even clowns and cowboys filter the music like a smooth-smoked cigar: puffy, cloudy and hazy. Like the opening lines state, “Audiences love to hate” and unfortunately for them, Madvillain only made out better because of it.

Madvillainy isn’t genre breaking and it isn’t revolutionary creative either but its luster comes from the duo’s ability at crafting short, two-minute tracks of flawless hip-hop. Some of the songs speed it up with quick exchanges (“Raid”) and others combine TV samples with piano flurries (“Money Folder”) but the cream of the crop will always be “All Caps” and its awesome descending piano line and flute combination. A flute and piano and horns in a hip-hop classic? Believe it or not, its magnificence will only reveal itself as time passes by; it’s an undeniably faultless example of two artists teaming up for an even better combination. – Bryan Sanchez

4. Arcade Fire – Funeral
(Merge, 2004)

Have you ever sat down, put on a good set of headphones, simply blasted “Wake Up” and gotten lost in its brilliance? A guitar that glides over everything else – when its by itself it simply soars – a singer who’s shouting, shrieking and screaming to break through, a background of vocals that support with a chorus of decadence and a stomping, pounding, chugging piano and drum counterpart that drives its sonic scope towards that flourishing coda. And then wham, you get those fluttering keys and those voices, “oh-oh-oh-ohhh.” By that time, you’ve completely gotten lost in the bliss that was the first half and are recuperating, trying to adjust and trying to make sense of it all. And before you know it, it’s evaporated into a spectral mist of glory.

You wont find many other better musical moments to champion and it goes without saying that the Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, is filled with these kinds of moments all over. But if you noticed, that wasn’t a moment but an entire song of beautiful music and every thing that passes you by will be remembered as such. An album that was brought upon after the tragic loss of many of the band members’ family and friends, we’re lucky to have even heard it. Not only was it a remarkable experience but Funeral still represents what the decade was all about: fully getting lost in the moment and never thinking twice. – Bryan Sanchez

3. Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antarctica
(Epic, 2000)

Coming off the latter half of the 90s, Modest Mouse channeled their aggression and raw energy into one of the most beautiful albums of the decade. Isaac Brock took the riptide guitar riffs that he had patented (really, you knew a Brock riff the second you heard it) and shone them through an icy prism, resulting in complete isolation and morbid reflections. Yes, Brock has always pondered over death and God, but the questions on The Moon and Antarctica became more universal, more existential. But in spite of that, maybe that progression is rendered moot without the maturation in the instrumentation.

Earlier Modest Mouse hinged on Brock’s guitar work and vocal play between quiet and shouting, all with stunning results. But in 2000, the band deployed an array of baroque arrangements and ratcheted up the atmosphere that surrounded Brock; everything was much darker, if not hopeless at times. The volatile outbursts are toned down in favor of the mood, which at first, doesn’t seem to play to the band’s strengths. Brock had never played off of anything besides himself and maybe some killer Jeremiah Green drumming, but this album found him playing to his environment. The idea may have been dubious, but the results were the best thing Modest Mouse has done to date. On The Moon and Antarctica, the violins, the sonic washes, the layers of sound, all join up with Brock’s ability to write phenomenal songs, for a sterling album full of the most depressing shit anybody can think up. – Bradley Hartsell

2. Radiohead – Kid A
(Parlophone/Capitol, 2000)

What else could be said about Kid A that hasn’t already been shouted from the mountaintops? It’s probably the album that, for many, fully introduced them to what good music was all about. And it’s probably the album that after years and years of searching was the one you “had to hear” (along with our #1) after you’d made some finds of your own. Regardless of when or what or who, we can still remember where we were when we first heard it and how it all felt.

Their experimentation of electronics and putting all of that love for Boards of Canada to use, the writing of arguably, their best ballad and more affluently, their skill at abandoning everything that had made them famous and tackling all new horizons is all on display on Kid A. See, after OK Computer, Radiohead had two choices: 1) Go arena, stadium rock like U2 or 2) Continue to grow and expand as musicians. Not only would their unmatched musicianship disallow the former but they’ve never taken the easy road anyway. Kid A is a terrific starting point but it’s also an immaculate piece of art: stunning, exceptional, fantastic and immensely great. Who knows where they could have gone had road 1 been chosen but who cares because what we were left with was something even better: an album no one will ever forget. – Bryan Sanchez

1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
(Nonesuch, 2002)

As is often the case when a band has nothing to lose, they go for broke. Wilco did the alt-country thing, they did the shimmery pop thing, and when all else failed they went weird. The story of how Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came to be is legendary and won’t be repeated here. But think back to not how it came to be but when. The writing and recording of it was before blog hype sold albums; when it was word of mouth recommendation and free availability on their website. It was pre-iPod, pre-American Idol, and yes, pre 9/11. It was before it made Wilco the biggest little band of the decade.

The combination of Jeff Tweedy feeling the need to change his songwriting style coupled with an interest in stretching out sounds and experimentation made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot an album full of big ideas and larger successes. It represents a dividing line between when everything came together, the launching of the band into the public consciousness, and when everything fell apart, be it Tweedy & Jay Bennett’s relationship or the beginning of the end of record labels. It was the little brother to Kid A in that bands would begin to take that next step into the unknown, a tradition dating back to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not only had how we listened to music changed, what we expected from our favorite artists changed as well. – Matthew Smith

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