Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#20-#11)

20. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
(Sub Pop, 2005)

Catchiness is thought to be the byproduct of sacrificing substance. If you want to put forward challenging musical arrangements, thick ideas, and strange idiosyncrasies, you can’t also have infectious hooks that people can bounce around to. Wolf Parade basically punched that concept in the face. From the first night (I remember it distinctly) I heard Apologies to the Queen Mary, to right now (listening), this album has been terrifically catchy. Yet, after numerous listens, it’s the complexity of the music that keeps the album always fresh, instead of a flavor of the month type of deal.

Apologies to the Queen Mary is a concentrated mix of hard guitar riffs and shimmering electronics, new age indie and throwback rock, and instrumentation that strives to be heard as well playing a subordinate role to the vocals. This constant push/pull results in something that challenges you from a creative standpoint, but also feeds the need of great hook-laden pop music. You can feel mentally stimulated while you sing along manically to “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts.” – Bradley Hartsell

19. The National – Boxer
(Beggars Banquet, 2007)

Is there anyone else who’s expanded and grown their sound into something as rich and considerable as The National? Their debut possessed a raw and primitive sound, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers capered that with songs detailing everything the title was about, Alligator presented a spikier, rougher around the edges National and Boxer? Well, Boxer is much like its title too: a graceful, vindictive hungry boxer that’s tip-toeing around the ring with a bouncy confidence. Strong-armed, fleshed-out, he’s “showered and blue-blazered” after it all’s said and done and without a doubt, he’s reflective and poised, assured of his worth and never looking back. Such grittiness and sheen never sounded so appealing but after a wealthy catalog of breakthrough moments, Boxer is where The National took form and now, we fully await their next move, with bated breath.

There’s nothing in the rule book that prohibits such exceptional moves on the contrary, music entirely supports it. The songs on Boxer all paint a picture of maturity and looking back; each one’s story is buried deep within its scope but each also lends to the greater good of what the album achieves. Released during the decade’s banner year, it still holds its own against the steadiest of opponents and with such charm. The drumming is propulsive and dynamic, the instruments glisten with a steadfast brilliance, the string arrangements add even more substance and depth and the lyrics are genuinely earnest: all in all, a remarkable album in every regard. – Bryan Sanchez

18. Animal CollectiveMerriweather Post Pavilion
(Domino, 2009)

Has any other group experienced this sort of growth over the course of the past few years? Merriweather Post Pavilion couldn’t have been produced by any assortment of individuals but Animal Collective. They’ve gone from being little more than the erratic, substance-dropping kids down the street to deft purveyors of transcendent electronic neo-psychedelia. Merriweather Post Pavilion is, to its core, a record extravagant in sound but still personal in scope. The juxtaposition makes for interesting musical moments: Panda Bear declares modest, familial ambitions in “My Girls,” though you’d never know it, what with explosive beats and dazzling sounds enveloping his words. Other tracks express the same fascination with youth that previous albums Feels and Sung Tongs had crudely yet endearingly explored, but here the songs are cohesive and sharpened, finding a center in exhilarant rhythms and unceasing repetition.

Along the lines of perfecting Animal Collective’s sound, Avey Tare had, intentionally or not, appeared to assume a frontman position in the group on 2007’s Strawberry Jam, but Merriweather Post Pavilion benefits from providing him equal matching from Panda Bear’s gauzy vocals. This is a talented band realizing its fullest potential and best sound. One can only imagine what the next ten years will arouse from them. – Jacob Price

17. Spoon – Girls Can Tell
(Merge, 2001)

Remember when Spoon was still that spiky-haired, soft punk/pop band? Back in 1997 they changed their role as another forgotten Austin band with Soft Effects, an EP that showed the world what kind of music this band was capable of with “Mountain to Sound.” Maybe we’d forgotten all about that because when 2001 came along, Spoon had transformed that aforementioned primitiveness into a calm and collected demeanor. Their drums were tempered with a production style that only Spoon can call their own, their songs had become meaty, diverse and absolutely terrific killers and Britt Daniel’s voice was distinctive, lighthearted and utterly enchanting. Girls Can Tell was where lines like “I go to sleep to think that you’re next to me” would be heard, memorized and recited for the entire following decade.

A stark turn towards what the studio could provide, Spoon relished in the idea of being able to get trapped in a room, rehearse and perform music and then endlessly play around with it. Whether this experimentation was minimal with the outer looping, Beatles-esque of “1020 AM” or much more robust in bringing a piano and Daniel’s inner Cobain to the front of “Me and the Bean,” this was a turning point for Spoon. Top to bottom, they hit a peak that has not dipped since the release of this classic. Girls Can Tell’s scope is wrapped up in the mystique of crafting hook after hook, riff after riff, line after line of impeccably strong music. – Bryan Sanchez

16. My Morning Jacket – Z
(ATO, 2005)

My Morning Jacket didn’t have to alter their sound. They had no reason to since both their live shows and records received high praise in all the right places. But for whatever reason, a challenge to themselves perhaps, they broke free of their borderline jam band tendencies and got spaced out. Instead of just 8-minute long songs with dueling guitar solos they tinkered around, adding some pulsing bass, and moved the reverb from the vocals to everything else to create an open space to lurk around in.

They balanced out the serious (“Into the Woods,” “Dondante”) with the light hearted; ones that allowed singer/guitarist Jim James to break out some Prince impressions or oddly enough, sing about kittens in blenders. And the strangest thing happened. Their following grew and their performances became legendary. It takes a lot of guts to make an album like Z and to make it work. Luckily we’re only treated to a few bands like this every decade. – Matthew Smith

15. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
(Razor Sharp/Epic/Sony, 2000)

Of all the Wu-Tang Clan arguments, countless questions could be made. Who’s the purest rapper? Who’s the most inventive? Who’s the absolute best? While those will always be open-ended, one can’t deny the fact that Ghostface Killah’s solo career is by far, the most successful. Supreme Clientele is explosive, divisive, ear-shattering and above all, superb. There are moments where you don’t know whether he’s ready to stop singing and hold his pillow or whether he’s only growing in strength; regardless of which one it is, his flow is unrivaled and unmatched. He broke away from all-RZA produced tracks and delivered an album that covered every possible base. Samples range from Isaac Hayes to David Axelrod to Solomon Burke, the skits are comically engrossing and Ghostface tear’s through everything with an aggressive precision.

He hits all of the right buttons, where every single second is an absolutely flawless moment of perfection. You can take one single song like “Buck 50” and cite his Baby Huey sample, the inclusion of Method Man, Cappadonna and Redman or even just nail it to the simple fact that Ghost never disappoints in proving who the king bee is (he even raps supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!) But whatever you do, don’t get it twisted: not only was Supreme Clientele a hip-hop album that showcased an MC and his crew at their highest peak but it’s arguably the best of its class for the past decade. – Bryan Sanchez

14. Fennesz – Endless Summer
(Mego, 2001)

Endless Summer, experimental Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz’s much-heralded 2001 album, exposes itself as a masterpiece in much the same way as My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless: by inventing an esthetic which, despite its widespread acclaim, goes unimproved, even by its own progenitor, like a musical form of evolutionary punctuated equilibrium. Looking back, one would think that Endless Summer would have spawned a whole new genre of laptop pop deconstructionists, but maybe change comes slower than the anticipation brought by first signs. Instead it sits by itself in rarified air, the lone master of a technologically mediated exploration of the past which is as challenging as it is accessible.

Through all of the strangely filtered guitar parts, exquisite textural fills, sculpted noises, and their patient and balanced arrangement, sits a deceptively simple experience. Regardless of the pieces they are constructed from, the melodies Fennesz presents here capture a complex existential emotionality common to all classic music, exhibiting a wide spectrum of human feelings including sadness, exuberance, reflection, and overwhelmed astonishment. He explores the tradition of melancholy in song, but he does so from an uncompromisingly forward-looking perspective. From now on, the past, if sepia-toned at all, will be so because of a conscious manipulation instead of a technological limitation. As the album cover shows, ideal experiences will be realized through gridlined screens. Appreciating both the slower-moving past and the faster-moving future, this is cause for both mourning and celebration, and on Endless Summer, it prompted Fennesz toward an immediate practicality that forged forward embracing both perspectives in all their glory. – Greg Argo

13. Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News
(Epic, 2004)

If I may take a moment to quote the Ramones here, do you remember rock n’ roll radio? There was a time when the rarest of things happened, aside from when radio played songs that is. This strange, and let’s be honest, rather surly, band got regular mainstream airplay and with a song that was rather optimistic. To those hearing of Modest Mouse for the first time “Float On” was an upbeat little ditty. But for the rest of us, those familiar with the band and not swayed by “sell out” cries, cheered that this strange group was actually breaking through and all with very little change involved.

Good News for People Who Love Bad News was still full of Isaac Brock’s skewed vision of the world delivered in his hiccup style of singing, those springing guitar harmonics, the locked in rhythm section. It was all the same and yet it was all different. What other top 40 album featured a song calling God a control freak but also reassured we’d all “float on?” It was an amazing output from a band we’d expect nothing less from, but somehow remained true. If you’re familiar with the band and the several unfortunate things that have occurred in their sixteen year career, then it should be shocking they changed little and managed to write a song popular enough that children would want to sing it. – Matthew Smith

12. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
(Paw Tracks, 2007)

The sprawling dimensions that encompass Panda Bear’s (Noah Lennox) creative masterpiece, Person Pitch, are noticeable in everything from its cover art to its actual music. Lennox would go on to cite hundreds of artists in his “thank you” section and filled every crevice of his music with samples, looped beats, keyboards, synthesizers. Its inspiration could be taken from that aforementioned Fennesz album in that it was an album made entirely by playing around on a computer. Pictures were later found of where Lennox created this work and one can only wonder what the experience felt like. And yet, for all of its technically savvy attributes, it’s packed with an emotionally charged vitality that Lennox showers throughout its entity.

The transition in the middle of “Pills” is something so pure and magical; very few artists will ever create something as good as that entire segue. There’s the naked beauty of the closer, “Ponytail,” where Lennox hides away his electronics in favor of a chiming, chugging melody of retrospective alluring. And then there’s the hypnotic trance of “Bros,” lulling, sucking in and able to thrive with the most subtle of twists, Lennox’s genius is on full display. Somehow, in some inexplicable manner, Lennox was able to make all of us forget about pop sensibilities and allowed us to join the swimming pool of fantastic sounds, somewhere in between the cuddly Koala and even cuter Panda Bear. – Bryan Sanchez

11. The Postal Service – Give Up
(Sub Pop, 2003)

This techno-pop collaboration between indie darlings Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello would eventually go on to achieve gold status, the only record on the Sub Pop label besides Nirvana’s Bleach to do so. Back in 2003 though, the idea of such a bittersweet – and at times, precious – record of glitchy electronica vying for Kurt Cobain’s throne seemed unfathomable. Assembling Give Up in slapdash fashion while juggling their respective day jobs with Dntel and Death Cab for Cutie, Tamborello and Gibbard pitted opaque ambience, glitchy beats, and icy synths against disarmingly vulnerable vocals.

While it undoubtedly harkened back to the New Wave movement of the 1980’s, Gibbard’s intimate vocal style and penchant for introspection assured that Give Up would be a more absorbing listen than your average New Order or Pet Shop Boys record. Poppier tunes like “Such Great Heights” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” stood in stark contrast to the chilliness of “This Place is a Prison” and the dense harmonic motion of “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” After getting face time on the Garden State soundtrack and in a UPS commercial, the duo went on indefinite hiatus. This album’s beauty only continues to grow with the wait for a sophomore follow up. – Adam Costa

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