Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#30-#21)

30. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
(Warner Bros., 2002)

The Flaming Lips are quite an interesting, inventive and unique act. More than just another rock/pop band, they add ambient and industrial experimentation, dreamy soundscapes, psychedelic timbres and a joyous attitude to the mix. Their fairly simple songwriting is complemented by lush productions, allowing them to execute them far better than most would. They showcase this amazingly on 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a seemingly silly romp which reveals affective commentary on the human condition underneath. It’s a catchy and powerful journey.

While appearing as a narrative concept album on the surface, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots turns out to be more of a thematic exploration of love, loss and self fulfillment. Yoshimi (representing all of us) doesn’t fight robots as much as she fights her own insecurities and fears as she tries to discover her own destiny. Opener “Fight Test” openly discusses how we, especially as adolescents, are faced with challenges “…when we’re not prepared to face them.” The true highlight is the largely instrumental “In the Morning of the Magicians,” which uses audience clapping and cheering to capture that feeling of being judged. The Flaming Lips may be lighthearted at times, but with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, they pull at our heart strings gloriously. – Jordan Blum

29. Beck – Sea Change
(Geffen Records, 2002)

The 90s were a fun time for Beck as he fully portrayed that on his idiosyncratic lyrics and enjoyably fun music. He seemed poised to conquer the 2000s as well and why not, with the support of a strong woman anything’s possible, right? The new decade rolled around and Beck was left alone, shattered, beaten and with a broken heart. But just as much as women are the downfall of men, they can inspire in the unlikeliest of ways and with Sea Change, this woman helped make Beck’s strongest album of his career.

Bringing Nigel Godrich to produce once again and asking his father to write the string arrangements, Beck dressed his heart on his sleeve to present a marvelously depressing album. His lyrics have never been as poignantly honest, the music is bare and crammed with minor chords and every single song is filled with at least one moment where you can actually feel his hurt. These moments often change because of how superb it’s all composed but Beck – even with all of that pain and distress – came out of it the winner with an album that will forever be nestled deep in all of our hearts. – Bryan Sanchez

28. Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner
(XL, 2003)

It only takes a few moments before one will instantly recognize United Kingdom’s Dizzee Rascal’s confidently full of swagger, roughly adjusted and much maligned one-of-a kind voice. When his debut Boy in Da Corner hit the scene, it was a worldwide hit that amazed with its head turning words and down to earth beats. From a production standpoint, this is grime and heavy bass blended into a simplistically supportive role; allowing the speedy MC to take full stage: boisterous, raucous and fierce.

In many ways, Boy in Da Corner stands alone as a hip-hop album that fully changed the name of the game with its tenacious attitude. The only rapper to ever win a Mercury Prize, this Rascal menaces stories about suicide, hated relationships, the lowdown that is everyday life and still, finds a way to state that, “You can do anything” on the album’s closing moments. It’s easy to get lost in an album this weighty with substance but what makes it so memorable is how every piece is in full support of the next; tirelessly inventive and impactful without overdoing it, Boy in Da Corner, straightforwardly, finds itself as one of the decade’s top debuts. – Bryan Sanchez

27. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
(Matador, 2002)

No one can underestimate the impact Interpol made upon our consciousness in 2002. This was, if you look back over the end of year listings of seven winters previously, a major new find, gaining massive kudos from the most influential sections of the music press internationally. DOA itself described them as resembling “the Ramones covering OK Computer,” and it is more apparent now that dismissing the band as mere Joy Division copyists was simply lazy cynicism on the part of some commentators. There is so much more to the Brooklyn quartet than the regurgitated Curtisry they were sometimes accused of, much more.

Perhaps a more prescient comparison are their actual contemporaries Longwave, with whose Dave Fridmann-produced album, The Strangest ThingsTurn On The Bright Lights shares many attributes, and while it isn’t necessarily any lighter in tone, the air of glorious melancholia and defiance of alienation is something both albums possess. Except that Interpol simply up the levels of sullen aggression and build their songs into genuinely anthemic moments, rather than subtly drift off into twilit ennui. They couldn’t put a foot wrong in 2002, or since. – Jon Gordon

26. The Knife – Silent Shout
(Rabid Records/Mute Records, 2006)

The oxymoron that The Knife’s Silent Shout is plays out into one ominous, dark and intimidating work of art. The Swedish duo conveyed electronic music in a completely new spectrum that found many wondering whether to dance in happiness or hide in terror. The looming beats, the repetitive drums and those alarming voices all signal a call to arms that few would answer. Silent Shout, in turn, continues to be one of the decade’s most entertainingly successful electronic albums because it has everything: five lead singles that cause listeners to latch onto the entire album, corresponding music that demands future listens and a concept of icy coolness that cascades into a blistering chill.

Songs like “Neverland” and “One Hit” pound away with a relentless drive that firmly keeps the pedal to the metal; in sharp contrast, “From Off to On” is highlighted by dripping keyboards and a linear melodic line. The greatest moments come on songs like “Marble House,” where they start off with a creeping introduction before building into massive, epic and thunderous jams. Following Deep Cuts, The Knife stopped at nothing in creating a mammoth of an album: a glorious body of tremendously powerful music. – Bryan Sanchez

25. The National – Alligator
(Beggars Banquet Records, 2005)

Boxer may have made the better first impression, but Alligator tortoises the Boxer’s hare. Both are terrific, for subtly different reasons. Boxer went deeply baroque, Alligator went for sprawl. The National use melancholic guitar riffs, timely drumming, violin, piano and excellent somber melodies from frontman Matt Berninger to achieve a high standard of baroque pop. Alligator often broke off from the root of the song to shift into another section, and it’s better for it. The best example is the way “City Middle” starts with a catchy verse, turns into a dark memory lament, and ends in an ominous comparison to Tennessee Williams. For a four minute pop song, the ability to seamlessly pull off directional shifts is a subtly fantastic quality about this album. Berninger’s delivery of stone cold hooks, along with the technically proficient work of the instruments around him, make Alligator a brooding, terrifically memorable album. – Bradley Hartsell

24. Grizzly BearVeckatimest
(Warp, 2009)

A spellbinding journey that’s filled with charm, exquisiteness and caverns and caverns of musicianship, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest will only get better as time passes by. A logical step up from what they created with Yellow House, their 2009 album found the band exploring the sounds of new production, new song structures, while Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste simply continued to expand their already very strong songwriting ability. Everything from Rossen’s acoustic classic guitar on “Southern Point” to Droste’s timid piano on “Foreground” – and somewhere in between you have the flourishing coda of “Ready, Able” – is delivered with a skillful amount of flair, it’s utterly remarkable.

It’s not as if they were necessarily going for a defiantly new sound, rather than attempting to be something they’re not, they added textures, layers and even more harmonies on top of their arrangements. The results were astonishing with songs that were fueled by a doo-wop style of music (“Two Weeks,”) a chamber-inducing wash of beauty (“All We Ask”) and a mysterious amount of ecstasy (“I Live With You.”) It’s the kind of progress that bands should be making and it’s one of the most welcoming and welcome albums; in terms of gorgeousness, there’s very few out there like it. – Bryan Sanchez

23. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
(Merge, 2007)

It’s an understatement to say that anticipation to the follow up to Funeral was high. When we place too many expectations on our favorite new artists it more often than not leads to their downfall. They make boring by-the-book sequels, devote their work to dealing with newfound fame, or perhaps disappear completely. Arcade Fire is a rare band that did none of this while still managing to continue their agenda. Instead of dealing with their sudden success the band continued to explore the themes of the age we’re living in, of paranoia, of fear, of isolation.

But Neon Bible didn’t present these feelings as “woe is me,” they were a call to arms. It’s an album that preceded the ushering in of a new era; it was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was an event that allowed the band to play by their own rules with cryptic websites asking you to call an 800-number and listen to garbled messages, but it also allowed them to play festivals and large market television appearances. Arcade Fire is not a band that wants to keep indie cred, they want to be large and accepted, but on their own terms. Neon Bible was an album that allowed the message to remain undiluted and it was up to the listener to decide if they wanted to come along. – Matthew Smith

22. The White Stripes – Elephant
(V2 Recordings/XL, 2003)

Darker and angrier than its predecessor, more deeply connected with themes of love, religion and social issues and aggressively positioned to the front with songs that jam and blow open the door, Elephant is still The White Stripes’ magnum opus. After a set of albums that concentrated around delivering powering amounts of rock, Jack White took to that same approach, except this time he covered it with a vivid energy that paced itself on each song with careful excellence. A sign of the times, this was Jack’s answer to the haters proclaiming rock was dead. With a rocking set of rolling tunes, they were wrong and we couldn’t be happier because of it.

Jack tunes his guitars to the loudest volume and even a cover of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” sounds snarly and full of life. “The Hardest Button to Button” finds the Stripes creating their best song but the most vicious signal of magnificence comes on the explosive guitar of “There’s No Home For You Here.” The images on the cover conjure up many different ideas but at the core of it all is an elephant: courageously strong, burly and muscular and puffing with smoke coming out of both ears. – Bryan Sanchez

21. Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway
(Jetset Records/Caldo Verde Records, 2003)

After garnering attention putting out dreary and dreamy autobiographical folk rock as Red House Painters for ten years, Mark Kozelek decided to release his next project, Ghosts of the Great Highway, under the name Sun Kil Moon. Gaining a fresh perspective both for himself as an artist and for his audience, it’s strangely fitting that this later-in-life album is his best work under any of his pseudonyms. Whereas Red House Painters songs were known for their nakedly confessional sentiments about relationships, Ghosts of the Great Highway coheres as an impressionistic tone poem of aging, memory, and selfhood.

The social no longer taking primacy, Kozelek is free to explore death’s approach in minute (“Glenn Tipton”), personal (“Carry Me Ohio”), historical (“Salvadore Sanchez”), and mystical detail (“Gentle Moon”). “Sanchez” is later reprised in a completely different arrangement as “Pancho Villa,” a device which lends continuity to the proceedings while suggesting the flighty nature of memory’s backwards reconstruction of life. On Ghosts of the Great Highway, Kozelek achieves a moving picture of the mutual dependency of mortality and vitality. That he does this amidst the least mopey, most vibrantly full arrangements of his career is just icing on the cake. – Greg Argo

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