Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#70-#61)

70. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
(Warp, 2006)

Those shaky flutes, the clamoring piano, the sonic charisma; from the very outset, with Yellow House’s opening stunner, “Easier,” this was a striking progression for the Brooklyn band. Grizzly Bear showcased what being a band is truly about with musicians who all share an equally forceful take on music; the ominous shadows that tower over this house are the sounds only an excellent set of musicians could create. “Marla” not only conjures up lost ghosts of the past but it channels the piano aesthetics of darkened pastures: distanced, distressed and diminished, the music is a mesmerizing experience.

Much like the house that is presented on the cover, the album’s music is filled with striking contrasts of light/dark imagery and rattled and old landscapes that generate a wholly spectral experience. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen establish their amazing ability at, each, being able to fully explore new realms: Rossen on the flourishing, special “Little Brother” and Droste on the painfully honest “Knife.” I don’t think anyone was fully prepared for something this astonishingly superb but I am positive that no one had any reservations about the flawlessly perfect music coming out of every corner of this remarkable yellow house. – Bryan Sanchez

69. Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place
(City Centre Offices/Domino, 2003)

Electronic music has come a long way since 1999. The “a” mercifully dropped off the end of “electronica,” the tools of the trade became more ubiquitous than traditional rock instruments, and these lower barriers to entry pushed the music into a zillion different directions even as it also immediately dated a good portion of it. Ulrich Schnauss had a hand in some of these trends, recording as View to the Future and Ethereal 77, but eventually went on to find his own voice recording under his own name, and second album A Strangely Isolated Place represents his most exquisite work.

With crisp, dumb beats neither techno nor hip-hop but reminiscent of both, Schnauss let rip layer after layer of electronic goodness, creating songs in the indie idiom with nothing but a keyboard and laptop. With results equal parts gauzy, bright, and introspective, Schnauss took what he liked from dream pop and shoegaze and created symphonic soundscapes that still sound fresh six years later. Ultimately, Schnauss’ most remarkable achievement here is in bucking a well-heeded paradox by finding a music which has the effect of being simultaneously relaxing and energizing. – Greg Argo

68. Six Organs of Admittance – School of the Flower
(Drag City, 2005)

If nothing else, Ben Chasny succeeded on this album in rescuing a lost psych-folk artist from the margins of musical history. A message in the liner notes, “If anyone has any information on the whereabouts or fate of Gary Higgins please contact us at Drag City,” and a cover of Higgins’s “Thicker Than a Smokey” set the search into motion, which eventually lead to Higgins’ rediscovery and a reissue of his 1973 record Red Hash.

The whole of School of the Flower, though, seems to grasp at a similar goal. Six Organs of Admittance craft psychedelic textures and hues that seem to distort time itself, conflating past and present into one sublime mélange. Whether through the mesmerizing riff repetition of “Procession of Cherry Blossom Spirits” and the title track (with free-jazz drumming provided by the enviable Chris Corsano) or the Eastern-tinged drones of “Saint Cloud,” Chasny’s mellow virtuosity achieves loftier goals than most. – Jacob Price

67. Rival Schools – United by Fate
(Island, 2001)

Walter Schreifels’ roots run deep: Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Walking Concert, and his most commercially viable band, Rival Schools. Recently reformed (and interviewed for DOA), the band released United by Fate in 2001 before dropping off the radar until recent years. Its fiery contents are just as fresh as the iconic cover it bears (one ripped off by a certain hardcore band.) The Quicksand formula was given a makeover for radio play, and even if it never made a huge splash there, it has stood the test of time without it.

Schreifels’ ditches his spiteful and unimpressed emotional state at Manic Compression, adopting a happy-go-lucky attitude with Rival Schools – and not only vocally. Never has there been a more instantly likable, racing opener than “Travel by Telephone” with its swerving octaves and soaring vocals blossoming energy. The song tackles his long distance woes but you’d never tell from nearly overdosing on summer melodies. “Used by Glue” retains massive heaviness without losing its pop appeal. Bands like The Starting Line have written entire albums using the same balance act Schreifels sought after. And then in the middle of things a bottled up ballad like “Undercovers On” opens up old wounds. United by Fate is a trip through time, and it’s happening all over again. – Brian Kraus

66. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia
(Lava, 2002)

Steven Wilson began Porcupine Tree as a mock rock band circa 1991; it was really just him messing around in the studio. Several years later, he actually formed a band to tour the music, and they recorded three stellar albums between 1996 and 2000. In 2002, drummer Chris Maitland was replaced by Gavin Harrison, and Porcupine Tree released the best work of their career (so far), In Absentia.

With this album, Wilson began exploring a heavier side, partially due to his collaboration with Opeth and interest in the industrial genre. However, he still adored softer pop, prog and folk, which makes In Absentia one of the most diverse albums I’ve ever heard. Opener “Blackest Eyes” encases a pop/rock song in metal guitar riffs, “Trains” has a prog folk feel like Jethro Tull, and both “Gravity Eyelids” and “Wedding Nails” clearly draw from King Crimson. There is also the dreamy ambience of “Lips of Ashes” and “3,” and the NIN-influenced “Strip the Soul.” However, “Heartattack in a Lay By,” and “Collapse The Light Into Earth” are the real gems; these are easily two of the most beautiful and touching songs ever written, and you may shed a tear as you listen. – Jordan Blum

65. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
(Domino, 2006)

Everything that was thrown towards Arctic Monkeys’ way in 2006 was surely the stuff made for legends. Young and energetic, they fed the hype with a singer who possesses one of the finest British accents heard in years, music that intensified with every passing note, drum hit and guitar frenzy and mostly, they packed their music with craft, style and downright superb musicianship.

You see, “Mardy Bum” isn’t an over publicized song, it actually is a gorgeous ballad and furthermore, “A Certain Romance” was the beginning of a band fully showcasing what their album closers were made off: epic swings, fist-pumping anthems and impeccable rousers. Take any of the songs from this bristled debut, attempt to perform/transpose/rehearse them and you’ll find slices of rhythmically brilliant patterns, tempo and meter changes to die for; along with Alex Turner’s myriad collection of one-liners that pack honesty with brutal candor. So in purely sincere essence, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was all we had hoped for and it’s still what we listen to with a craving adoration, in hopes that it never, ever ends. – Bryan Sanchez

64. Blood Red Shoes – Box of Secrets
(Mercury, 2008)

Laura-Mary Carter (guitarist and vocalist) and Steven Ansell (drummer and vocalist) of Brighton, England’s Blood Red Shoes play bloody spectacular rock tunes and there’s not a single snoozer on this album that is, unbelievably, still on import status for the U.S.! For only two band members, Carter and Ansell produce a massive, unflaggingly energetic sound of propulsive and pulverizing drums and cymbals, brisk, sharp guitar lines, and shouty, dual, British-tinged vocals with Carter’s crisply sulky, but sweet delivery contrasting with Ansell’s earnest, but enthusiastic exclamations.

The duo are champing at the bit and go after each song with a bracing, defiant, tuneful passion; from the opening whammo-blammo reverb guitar line and drum beat on “It’s Getting Boring by the Sea,” to the child-like playful belligerence of “ADHD,” to Carter’s mad-dash guitar work and drumkit-demon Ansell on “I Wish I Was Someone Better,” to the (in)tense ascension of slammin’ slabs of distorted guitar and bashed drums on “Take The Weight.” Forget all the cynical, apathetic, and just plain crazy people who are proclaiming that “rock is dead.” It’s alive and kicking out the jams right here! – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

63. Spock’s Beard – Snow
(InsideOut Music, 2002)

Los Angeles’ Spock’s Beard have shown a mastery of complex musicianship, melodic songwriting, intertwined vocal arrangements and epic compositions ever since their debut, 1994’s The Light. In 2002, the band saw an oddly similar fate to Genesis thirty years prior; the lead creative force, Neal Morse, decided to leave, allowing drummer Nick D’Virgilio to take vocal duties. Before either band made this line-up change, they released their magnum opus concept album; Genesis had The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Spock’s Beard had Snow.

Snow is a masterpiece, plain and simple. It is one of the best works ever released in the genre. Like most concept albums, the story is convoluted, but it revolves around an albino loner who travels to New York to find his calling. The album explores a range of emotions and contains some beautiful melodies. The overtures are prog rock gems, “The Devil’s Got My Throat” is incredible freak out featuring an outstanding vocal row a la Gentle Giant at the end, and “Solitary Soul” is very touching. Several songs segue and reprise throughout, and the closing bracket is wonderful. Spock’s Beard may have borrowed from their forefathers on Snow, but they crafted an album superior to most of them. – Jordan Blum

62. Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
(Fat Cat, 2000/2001)

What is it about Iceland ? This island landscape of tundra, lakes, volcanoes, glaciers, and fjords conjures up a breathtaking, beautiful, and transcendent atmosphere that is somehow beyond the earthly realm and is reflected in enigmatic musical exports like The Sugarcubes (and later, solo Björk), múm, Bang Gang, GusGus – and especially Sigur Rós.  Vocalist Jónsi Birgisson’s introspective, tenderly budding, angelic tones merge with the lengthy, slow-building soundscapes of measured drum beat, bittersweet orchestral strings, looming, ice-scraping guitars, piano notes, and horn accents.

Ágætis Byrjun strikes a deft balance between this type of number and softer tunes filled with Birgisson’s sweet croon. Most songs take a while to reach their peak, but when they do, there is a sudden liftoff of clashing instruments and keening vocal catharsis. The masterful centerpiece is “Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)”, a song of ice and fire which walks a tightrope between tamped down verses and cataclysmic upheaval. Birgisson plaintively sing-talks against an unhurried, but rhythmically thumbed bass line, tapped cymbals, a deeply cavernous, lamenting guitar line, and piano notes on the verse, while the chorus sustains a heightened poignancy of strings, guitar conflagration, delicate piano, and Birgisson supplicating to the heavens as he awaits salvation amid the destruction. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

61. The Strokes – Room on Fire
(RCA, 2003)

Is This It ushered in a new legion of devotees who harked back to the days of Television mixed with the Velvet Underground: music able to flourish and thrive without assistance from anything else. Many things need to be explained and one is that while Room on Fire followed a breakthrough monster in Is This It, it’s equally as good and for some, including yours truly, just that much better.

The Strokes couldn’t have chosen a better path to follow after their debut’s wild craze and a tour that found them honing in on their strengths. Room on Fire isn’t just an extension of where they’d been but it’s an absolutely exceptional collection of music to love for all new reasons. Whether it’s the guitar licking away on the upbeat of “Automatic Stop,” the hustle and clamor of “Meet Me in the Bathroom[‘s]” driving pulse, or even the thrilling guitar work on “I Can’t Win,” there is no denying the unstoppable amount of outstanding consistency on Room on Fire. And yes, there were still a few flawless singles like in the case of spacey, and riotous “12:51;” it’s just that once again, they were surrounded by songs of equivalent excellence. – Bryan Sanchez

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