Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#60-#51)

60. Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
(Warner Bros., 2006)

The vocals and instruments are all cranked to 11 on Muse’s robustly dynamic fourth album, a grand and grandiose opus that combines the classical elements of cascading piano and synth progressions with the epic rock of ringing guitars and vocal chord wringing from frontman Matt Bellamy. While certain lyrics tackle geo-socio-political themes (“Take A Bow,” “Assassin,” and “Exo-Politics”) the overall aim is one of sonic liberation.

Be it with Bellamy’s cooing falsetto and shuffling beat on “Supermassive Black Hole,” the darkly pulsing tempo and ricocheting electronics of “Map of the Problematique,” the dense, hyper guitar thrash of “Assassin,” or the operatic odyssey of Spaghetti Western space oddity “Knights of Cydonia.” With the exception of a couple lighter numbers, it’s full-throttle from the get-go as the songs fervently press forward, with Bellamy’s dramatic, histrionic declarations pushed to the limit, amid exhilarating guitars, drums, synth, and electronics overload. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

59. Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow
(Load Records, 2003)

I pity my musical compatriots who, like avant-Martha Stewarts who long ago realized that deciding on the right wine to serve with a roast just lacked a certain flair, are inclined toward pairing records with drugs, because your average plastic baggie may as well hold pencil shavings in light of the hard-edge this record necessitates. Wonderful Rainbow would be self-indulgent wankery if you didn’t get the feeling every few moments that the only reason Lightning Bolt are making music at all is to slowly A) decimate your hearing, and B) bludgeon your body into little more than a fleshy husk with fingernails and hair.

Though, it can’t be stated enough how talented the two Brians – Chippendale on drums, Gibson on something vaguely resembling a bass guitar – really are. The caveman-having-a-shaking-fit drumming is manic and scattershot, propelling the duo forward with abandon, and Gibson’s tech-y/beefy playing continuously invents and subsequently obliterates new realms for bass to inhabit. Their previous record, Ride the Skies, suffered from musical tunnel vision, allowing its compositions to meander as jumbles of notes that were instrumentally astounding but thematically bankrupt, and Wonderful Rainbow somewhat remedies this with a more multifaceted sound. This is Lightning Bolt at, paradoxically, both their most punishing and most listenable peak. – Jacob Price

58. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness
(Jade Tree Records, 2002)

Birthed by vital parts of Jawbreaker, Texas is the Reason and Handsome, there’s a lot to love. Never mind the ex-member cred in spades, Perfecting Loneliness is really perfecting Jets to Brazil. An open book of solitude, whimsically delivered by Blake Schwarzenbach. “The Frequency” is a psychedelic rocker – exotic, entrancing leads bouncing toward sugary choruses coated with an extra layer of radio distortion. The true genius spree lies in tracks five through nine where things just go numb – the doctor is in. And breaking five minutes each, there’s a lot on his mind.

Looking for a good chastising? Piano-driven “Lucky Charm” leaves on a harmless nostalgia trip, crumbling into sad realizations and sadder inventions of imagined conversations. “Wish List” commands the simpleminded acoustic hooks of classic Oasis, while “Psalm” dances in the stars along a yearning voice that still hasn’t found what it’s looking for. Nothing rocks harder in the name of regret than “Autumn Walker,” and nothing glamorizes self-pity like “Further North.” Sure, anyone can write personal lyrics, Schwarzenbach just has a way with them, obvious and elegant at the same time. “A glass half empty / can empty you out / My heart is full / of promises that drank me whole.”  One jaded, bittersweet, and beautiful album. – Brian Kraus

57. James Blackshaw – Litany of Echoes
(Tompkins Square, 2008)

The sonic equivalent to pointillism in painting. It’s Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon, had all those hoity-toity park folks put down their parasols and picked up texts on metaphysics. Flurries of notes conglomerate to form beautiful melodic images – Litany of Echoes really demands you take in the work as a whole since otherwise, you’d wind up analyzing sporadic sounds rather than a coherent sum.

It’s John Fahey’s scattered guitar aerobics as channeled through only the most lavish, indecipherable mystic. Blackshaw has recorded albums with broader scopes and more diverse soundscapes, but Litany of Echoes stands not only as his most realized and complete album but as one of the most serene recordings of the decade. – Jacob Price

56. The Flaming LipsEmbryonic
(Warner Bros., 2009)

What a way to end a year and in turn, a decade? After ten years that featured enough peaks and valleys for anyone to survive, The Flaming Lips decided to leave us with a blast of fury and sparkle with Embryonic. Fittingly so, with an album that weaves in and out of consciousness, other-worldliness and even magic, it’s the utmost pleasure to get lost in Wayne Coyne and Co.’s deafeningly raucous closer, “Watching the Planets.” This is the kind of music we should all be so lucky to receive from bands and artists that have nothing to prove to anyone.

The songs that span this double album (one blue vinyl and one yellow vinyl if you’re lucky) are everything any music fan could hope for. It’s soulful and melodic when called upon (“The Impulse,”) explosively killer at other times (“Aquarius Sabotage”) and beautifully skillful and playful whenever it pleases (“I Can Be a Frog”) – and those are just some of the shorter cuts. While we’re all well aware of their capability and genius, it’s something special when bands like The Flaming Lips are still putting music this good out. Even with a few classics already under their belt, why not, let’s add another. – Bryan Sanchez

55. Band of HorsesEverything All the Time
(Sub Pop, 2006)

When Everything All the Time was released, all that knee-jerk detractors had to point out to dismiss Band of Horses were similarities between the voices of singer Ben Bridwell and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and the sound of the band vis-à-vis a number of already successful Pacific Northwest indie bands. As usual, these folks mistake surface similarities for essential qualities. While both are high-pitched and reverb-soaked, Bridwell’s singing sounds knowingly resigned while Jim James sounds soulful and flighty.

Phil Ek’s masterful, layered production maximizes the impact of the shimmering guitar lines and ghostly vocals, imbuing the album with a humble grandeur which makes it more emotionally resonant to introspective individuals than bands like The Shins, later-day Mercury Rev, or Fleet Foxes. I guess with a debut album that comes out filled with solidly constructed songs and a fully-realized esthetic, it may be hard not to think that the band is following blueprints. But as the years pass, that question of authenticity becomes less important, and what matters is lasting appeal. With the passing of time, Everything All the Time has acquired that lived-in feel which seemed built into its songs at their inception. – Greg Argo

54. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
(DFA, 2007)

Sound of Silver was a stripped down affair, as opposed to the double album debut, and was full of perfectly constructed dance/punk what-have-you. And already the feeling was one of maturity, as though James Murphy had grown a little tired of playing to the hipsters. The album opens with layer upon layer of synth, beats, and samples, testing the audiences’ patience. But the album peaks with the trio of “North American Scum,” the beautiful “Someone Great,” and the admission that there’s so much more to life than partying, “All My Friends.”

Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe “Someone Great.” Few other songs this decade are as emotionally draining yet completely uplifting as this. The repetition of the music is hypnotic, the melody is soothing and its meaning is ambiguous. Has a friend passed away? Perhaps a relationship ending? It so perfectly encapsulates the minutia of life when we’re faced with a tragedy of some point. If you haven’t gotten the point by now, “Someone Great” spells it out for you. And Sound of Silver is the sound of compromise between facing maturity and still wanting to remain young. – Matthew Smith

53. Neko CaseMiddle Cyclone
(ANTI-, 2007)

Neko Case’s phenomenal vocals will always be the surface level draw of her music, but it’s the total package that makes each of her albums amazing recordings. Although Case has moved away from the purely Americana style of her first few releases, her voice and powerful songwriting skills still perfectly mesh with the overall downcast subtlety of her music regardless of what genre she takes on. Middle Cyclone’s natural themes – evident almost everywhere here, but especially beautiful on tracks such as “Red Tide” and “Polar Nettles” – may be delicately crafted, but each song carries the full force of Mother Nature.

There are very few people exposed to Neko Case’s music who do not seem to be intensely moved in some fashion and despite utilizing very distinct styles, this is one woman whose music transcends boundaries and listener preferences. Middle Cyclone is another superb addition to Case’s discography, and is an album not to be missed. – Jenn O’Donnell

52. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
(Kompakt, 2007)

Ironically landing a record deal with German techno label Kompakt, Swedish producer Axel Willner’s 2007 debut was a trance-heavy masterpiece that had more similarities with the glistening sheen of shoegaze and the hypnotic rhythms of minimalism than it did with techno. To most electronic connoisseurs, From Here We Go Sublime was an easily digestible record, placing greater emphasis on melody and convivial textures that made it a choice candidate for music to fall asleep by.

Willner’s deft application of sampling – which in the final moments of “A Paw in My Face” reveals a snippet from Lionel Richie’s “Hello” – is something to marvel at, ensuring that any embedded hooks take their sweet time to make themselves felt. By the time the title track arrives at album’s end, you can’t help but chuckle as Willner skews a Flamingos sample into a maddening loop of slightly-out-of-tune broken record skips. For music of such repetitiousness, it’s a surprisingly opulent listen. – Adam Costa

51. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
(Interscope, 2003)

We had heard of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs prior to their 2003 debut album. Both “Our Time” and “Miles Away,” the best known tracks from their self-titled debut EP, had already established the trio as a significant new addition to the burgeoning Williamsburg circuit. Everything took so long though. There are two years separating the EP and Fever to Tell. Perhaps after making such an impression the band decided to ensure that their album would more than equal the effect of their first release and in doing so they produced one of the most memorable debuts of the decade.

Right from the opening saber dance of “Rich” the album simultaneously captivates and demands the listener’s attention. The silken ferocity of “Date With the Night,” the playful nihilism of “Black Tongue,” the totemic melody of “Maps” and, with finality, the overdriven guitar harmonics of “Y Control” is some of the most affecting and challenging music produced anywhere in the last ten years. – Jon Gordon

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