Best Albums of 2000-2009 (#80-#71)

80. Flotation Toy Warning – Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck
(Pointy/Misra/Talitres, 2004/2005)

A shroud of mystery surrounds this excellent album as there is very little information to be had about the band and there has been no follow up to this 2005 release. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of the decade’s finest records. Flotation Toy Warning’s entertainingly bold musical imagery, dubbed “astrophonics” by the band, could be soundtracks to our strange, yet pleasant, dreams and should catch the ear of anyone seeking effusive, timeless pop. The album is filled with high-tech dreamy soundscapes masquerading as ingenious, atmospheric dream-pop, complete with wonderfully obscure, lo-fi orchestrations and exquisitely demented vocals.

Imagine the ambient sound effects and riveting pop experiments of Brian Eno’s early solo works blended with the wispy electronic orchestrations of Air and The Flaming Lips, along with the melancholic atmospherics of Mercury Rev, served with the skewed attitude of Grandaddy or Eels and you start to get an idea of what this 5-piece is capable of. Flotation Toy Warning have created a new genre that, as frontman Donald Drusky sings in his trembling tenor on “Popstar Researching Oblivion,” “Trying to understand it all just makes your head hurt.” Using sound effects as instruments, ethereal vocal harmonies and whimsical lyrics like “I’ve seen places you can only dream about,” Flotation Toy Warning mold their joyfully sad melodies into sublime musical shapes that shouldn’t be missed. – Matt the Raven

79. Orthrelm – OV
(Ipecac Recordings, 2005)

Though certainly not the decade’s most emotive or expressive album, OV may be its most disciplined. The record is 45 unflinching minutes of minimalist speed metal, as though Steve Reich or Charlemagne Palestine pared their instrument selections down to a single guitar and drum set. There are two reasons why this record is such a feat. First, Mick Barr (guitar) and Josh Blair (drums) don’t only play faster than the vast majority of their contemporaries, they do so for considerably longer; OV is one single track without even the slightest pause. Then, there’s the fact that the album hinges on very particular, repeating phases that abruptly begin and segue into one another without warning.

I saw the duo perform OV in its entirety around the time it was released, and neither musician even as much as glanced at the other, as though they instead shared some sort of telepathic bond that allowed them to jump sequence to sequence without cue. This record, a document of equal parts stamina and virtuosity, represents a dedication to craft that one seldom witnesses in the underground. – Jacob Price

78. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
(Capitol Records, 2006)

Listening to a Decemberists album is much more than just a satisfying musical experience. The resplendent melodies and eloquent lyrics sweep the listener away from the doldrums of everyday life into an enchanting universe where old-world characters merge with new-world musical motifs. 2006’s The Crane Wife flaunted all of these attributes and even embellished on the band’s captivating and artistic folk-pop by integrating the intricate and complex cadences of 70’s prog rock with vestiges of 80’s synth-rock polyrhythms, all without losing their distinctive charm. But the most striking improvements are the inclusion of more electric guitars and the way the bass and keyboards have been turned up a notch in a progressive style.

Using bouzoukis, hurdy-gurdys, upright bass, glockenspiel, and hammered dulcimers, in addition to the customary guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, the Decemberists mix indie-pop with classical and rock. With a handful of songs loosely based on a Japanese folk tale, the songs are more focused and sharpened and come complete with well-dressed production and extended instrumental breaks. But there are still plenty of masterful murder ballads and tragic love songs, proving the Decemberists did not abandon the genuine sounds that graced their earlier albums but instead, tweaked them up. – Matt the Raven

77. Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
(Interscope, 2002)

As the band name suggests, Queens of the Stone Age is all about upending preconceived notions about what rock music is. Founder Josh Homme and company rock with attitude and élan, combining athleticism and grace, via muscular, quicksilver drumming (courtesy of guest drummer Dave Grohl,) monster guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and a variety of vocal deliveries, depending if Homme is singing sweetly and melancholically, like on the chorus sections of “No One Knows” and “The Sky is Fallin’”, or if a guest vocalist takes over, like Mark Lanegan’s gnarled oak vocals on “Hangin’ Tree.” The drums and guitars on “First It Giveth” pummel away like stones in a washing machine, while jaunty single “No One Knows” features an exhilarating bass guitar break, turn-on-a-dime drum work, and Homme’s brooding demeanor. Ear-blasting opener “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” comes on like the “massive conquistador” it is with screamed out vocals and well-timed hand claps. Songs for the Deaf is a landmark in the musical landscape and is meant to be played loudly and preferably on a long (or short) road trip. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

76. Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
(Epic, 2007)

Modest Mouse have always entertained with a unique mix of frenetic rock fragments, hazy melodies and hard-edged, math-rock experimentalism, but never really crossed over into commercial pop territory until 2004 with the successful breakthrough album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. That album set the bar high and would be a hard act to follow. But in 2007, the addition of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, created a synergistic effect that transformed Modest Mouse’s laudable indie-rock from extraordinary to phenomenal, making We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank an easy choice for one of the decade’s finest records.

We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is filled with edgy rhythms, unconventional melodies and odd but catchy hooks, coated in a slick pop sheen and played with a raucous energy; and it’s the perfect compliment for the charged lyrics and volatile vocal stylings spewing from the mouth of head Mouse Isaac Brock. It’s a powerful, slick, spastic, rockin’ and superbly fantastic indie-rock record! – Matt the Raven

75. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
(ANTI-, 2006)

There’s really not anything exceptionally original that can be said at this point about the awesome power of Neko Case’s vocal chords. With every album she’s released – both as a solo artist and as a sometimes member of power poppers The New Pornographers – Case demonstrates why no one out there can ever hope to replicate the smoky beauty of her alto. Until the release of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood in 2006, many critics were just content to pigeonhole her as an heir to Loretta Lynn, but Case’s penchant for spectral yet earthy songwriting soared on her fourth studio LP.

The lyrical imagery was more disturbing (“One left a sweater sitting on the train / and the other lost three fingers at the cannery”) and the song structures were more unconventional, but there to keep it all together were those amazing pipes, which when treated with some reverb, were all the more astounding. Always refined and yet still rousing, tracks like “Maybe Sparrow” and “Hold On, Hold On” were testimony to Case’s gifts as a truly original songwriter in the 21st century, finally putting all those Patsy Cline comparisons to rest. – Adam Costa

74. Common – Like Water for Chocolate
(MCA/Universal Recors, 2000)

Following guest appearances on The Roots’ masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, Common’s 2000 classic marked a return to the soulfulness hip-hop is fully indebted to – Common’s enthusiasm for creating emotionally passionate music was what Like Water for Chocolate was all about. Much like Tita de la Garza gave her entire soul into her cooking for others to feel as they ate, Common stopped at nothing to pour his own heart and soul into poignantly moving music. But the real beauty lies in how genuine Common stayed to his roots on this, his major breakthrough success: the music is heavily influenced by afro-centric themes, the lyrical content is always socially conscious and never, ever, does he stray away from the underground.

The beats are strong and heavy with Jay Dee offering his finest set of drums and ears to every track save one, the skits add volume and dimension instead of shading away the texture and the sheer melodic essence of each song is a joy to behold. One of them, “Thelonius,” was so good that it’s included on Slum Village’s own classic, Fantastic, Vol. 2. The album’s a bona fide force to be reckoned with and its presence continues to loom over hip-hop’s finest albums. – Bryan Sanchez

73. Hey Mercedes – Everynight Fire Works
(Vagrant, 2001)

I can’t think of a better emo-rock band of the 2000’s that wooed boys and girls alike than Hey Mercedes. With Bob Nanna bringing his quirky sensibilities from Braid and asking “will you come true?” his call was heard by all. Prized producer J. Robbins translated tremendous live energy to tape, but the band faced the greatest challenge chasing a rambunctious debut. I distinctly remember the teenage crowd collapsing like dominoes during “The Frowning of Lifetime,” the initiation of Everynight Fire Works that sets the bar unreasonably high.

The token two minute punk cut “Our Weekend Starts On Wednesday” became a staple in the setlist, but the real cornerstones of Hey Mercedes’ progression into adulthood are elsewhere. Nanna’s keen rhyme schemes and similes (“You’re smiling like New Jersey on its side”) reflect off mathematical and melodic guitars in “Que Shiraz.” And “Let’s Go Blue” is a classic Nanna duel between his swirling leads and ear-ringing rock. If it’s not broke, as they say…and while most follows that formula, “Haven’t Been This Happy” adds light shoegaze bliss into the mix – a sign of sprawling things to come. Everynight Fire Works still steals the spotlight. It’s the sound of being confident and content with whom you are. – Brian Kraus

72. GAS – Pop
(Mille Plateaux, 2000)

Pop – arguably the best ambient album of the decade – was released way back in early 2000 on Mille Plateaux, a then-vibrant German label exploring glitchy, minimal electronics with a techno and house bent. GAS-master Wolfgang Voigt had already put out plenty of minimal electronic works under a number of aliases, and three previous GAS full-lengths before he hit upon the pure audio velvet found on Pop. Constructed largely of slowed orchestra and string-instrument samples, it is a fabulous work of artistic recontextualization. That fact is easy to miss due to the sensually immersive nature of the music.

Less drifty and more “there” than most ambient music, its womb-like atmosphere sounds best in the dark with the shades drawn, perhaps under blankets in the fetal position. The elemental sounds of pressure changes, running water, Doppler swooshes, and diffuse air dance in slow circles, their orbits coalescing ever so slightly due to mutual gravitational force, executing the logic of place, stillness, and eternity. Trippy like codeine, not acid, Pop removes the immediacy from your environment and replaces it with a stark universal existentialism which is both neutral and therapeutic. – Greg Argo

71. Devin Townsend – Synchestra
(HevyDevy, 2006)

“Brilliant” music showcases the best execution of a familiar sound and genre. It’s the best you’ve ever heard, but you still recognize its foundation. But the music of a “genius” doesn’t fit into any classification; it was created, crafted and perfected in the universe of the artist’s mind, which exists on a different plane. Like Frank Zappa before him, Devin Townsend is a genius who writes for the sheer joy of his art, and 2005’s Synchestra is an hour-long odyssey that literally changed my life. Trust me; you’ve never heard anything like this.

Beginning with the folksy, melodic “Let It Roll,” Townsend lets his skill for combining the ridiculous and the poignant shine on Synchestra. “Hypergeek” is a prog metal volcano, “The Babysong” is about loving babies, and the insanity of “Vampolka/Vampira” makes the perfect theme for a B movie. By contrast, “Mental Tan,” A Simple Lullaby” and “Sunset” feature glorious, moving melodies, walls of sound and lyrics, and “Sunshine and Happiness” is a great tongue-in-cheek closer. Synchestra flows together wonderfully, and it’s truly an inspirational marvel. It’s an album you must hear to comprehend; discussing it only brings limitations. Again, it’s a work of genius. – Jordan Blum

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