These are my picks of the albums that I’ve loved most this past ten years. Obviously I haven’t heard every record of the decade (hence the absence of bands like The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age which I don’t know well enough to have an opinion on). In that sense, it’s not the most informed list in the world, but these are records you should really know about regardless.
If you’re a regular reader (apparently you guys exist, which shocked me something special) cheers for waiting.
Compilations/best of’s excluded
In reverse order:
100. Roots Manuva – Run Come Save Me
If you thought that British hip-hop starts with Welsh he-slags Goldie Lookin’ Chain and ends with shepherd-hatted uber-chavs N-Dubz, you have much to learn from the likes of Tricky and Roots Manuva. The fact that ‘Run Come Save Me’ makes British hip-hop seem even half credible (and doesn’t try to sound American) is a testament to how good it is.
99. Crystal Castles
I saw them live before I listened to this record. Alice Glass was rolling around the floor, shrieking like Bjork with menstrual cramps while Ethan Kath’s Atari chips blipped and blared. It was the sound of being eaten by Pacman at a cannibalistic orgy. The album itself has plenty of these noise-outs too, mixed in with craftier electropop.
98. Interpol – Our Love To Admire
The saviours of post-punk’s third album stretch their ambitions further and still shows them (nearly) on top form. Far more musically adventurous and literate than any of their peers, with lyrical characters you can really empathise with, such as the wounded husband reluctantly persuaded into a three-way by his dissatisfied wife in ‘No I in Threesome’.
97. EST – Seven Days of Falling
Norwegian Esbjorn Svennsen Trio (wisely shortened to EST) spectacularly bins all standard jazz conventions in favour of an experimental (but accessible) modern sound whilst still keeping their feet rooted in their jazz roots.
96. Low – Things We Lost In The Fire
More lonely than Paris Hilton’s brain cell, slower than a tortoise in a glue factory; ‘Things We Lost…’ is difficult to get into, but once you do, it’s more than just a designated wallowing pit, it reaches moments of palpable emotional depth that seem far too real to be called self-indulgent or pretentious.
95. Girls – Album
Fronted by a surviving member of the Children of God cult, who was later adopted by a millionaire, Girls’ debut is a confused indie-rock record, whistle-stopping past mangled Beach Boys surf-pop, high-n-miserable druggy stumbles, rough-n-ready quirky guitar pop among others, but it’s still difficult to compare it to anything; it has its own unique feel. Plus, while ‘Album’ isn’t instantly catchy the first time round, after the fourth or fifth listen you won’t be able to stop listening to it.
94. Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
A record that gets increasingly addictive the more you listen to it, ‘The Devil and God…’ would be a great record regardless, but the sheer passion behind it makes it one of the high watermarks of the once-great emo-rock genre.
93. Feist – The Reminder
Former Broken Social Scene member Leslie Feist went solo, but this time around she’s been commercially successful (shock horror)! Granted it was almost solely due to ‘1234’ being used in an iPod nano ad, but ‘The Reminder’ deserves every sale it gets. Folkish, smooth pop music which is both artistically rewarding and original.
92. The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
Arguably their weirdest album to date, ‘Get Behind…’ shows The White Stripes still out-doing nearly everyone in their field, with the occasional marimba explosion thrown in.
91. Eels – Hombre Lobo
Literally translated as “Wolf Man”, ‘Hombre Lobo’ is almost Fleetwood Mac-ish soft-rock that’s one part hopeless romantic and two parts sexual frustration. Plus it’s fairly simplistic, which shows you don’t always have to be overly different to write great songs.
90. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose
Inhabits a vision of Britain through a washed-out video filter; ‘I Had The Blues…’ is like train-hopping between Northern stations wondering why the sky has no colour in it. It weaves its own niche of atmospheric hook-riddled indie rock, set beside Jack Steadman’s shivering vocals.
89. The Dead Weather – Horehound
Jack White’s third band is his most gritty and sinister, but it’s almost easy to forget he’s in the band at all due to the ferocious presence of singer Allison Mosshart, who sounds like the kind of woman who’d seduce you with silky charms and then scare the bejesus out of you so that you run from the bedroom with your boxers round your ankles. Spiky, twisted blues-rock from beneath a layer of muck.
88. The Dandy Warhols – Welcome To The Monkey House
Their poppiest record to date, here the keyboards share the limelight with the guitars and they’ve gone back to writing choruses that you can sing while over the drink-driving limit. It’s great to hear a record like this where the band are concentrating more on having fun than writing a commercial success or an artistic high. Luckily this turned out to be both.
87. Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood
Before your mum was flipping between Radio One and Heart to find ‘Use Somebody’, Kings of Leon wrote great garage rock records and were worthy Stones to The Strokes’ Beatles.
86. Rufus Wainwright – Want Two
Absurdly ambitious, ‘Want Two’ is Rufus’ most personal and uncompromising record yet, whether he’s saluting his sister, writing requiems to Jeff Buckley or recounting a schoolgirl’s undying crush, he goes from strength to strength. He didn’t even slip up on the Latin prayer-chant.
85. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
‘Rather Ripped’ is Sonic Youth’s most conventional record which makes it their least conventional record, them being Sonic Youth and all. All the bizarre tunings, walls of noise and atmospheric surfable sound waves were gone; fortunately they prove to be just as great at writing a straight-up alt-rock record as they are at bending it all out of shape.
84. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
Jens Lekman is both an extremely clever songwriter and Swedish. He’s like Sweden’s answer to The Magnetic Fields, with added hopeless romantic, less brooding barfly and much more Swedish. Did I mention he’s Swedish? And it’s pronounced “Yens Lekman”. Because he’s Swedish.
83. Eluvium – An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death
Matthew Cooper detours from the unearthly ambient of his first album into these seven riff-based almost neo-classical solo piano pieces. All seven together sound like a brilliant film score to one of the best films never made; plus it carries far too much emotional weight to be considered dinner music.
82. Passion Pit – Manners
Passion Pit are synth-pop with a vengeance; and by vengeance I mean a semi-castrati singer. The songs themselves are mostly frigging great by the way, despite ‘The Reeling’ that was so bog-standard it was loudly praised by world’s most dangerous man, Jason Mraz.
81. Thurston Moore – Trees Outside The Academy
Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore has, for a Sonic Youth member, branched out beyond belief. Two words: acoustic guitars! And cellos for that matter! What the hell? It’s hard to imagine a member of SY being in the same room as an acoustic string instrument without either him/her or the instrument itself combusting in a hail of feedback. Despite this, ‘Trees Outside The Academy’ is a superb record. It proves that he’s a great songwriter regardless, and that he’s even more versatile than once thought.
80. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
An epic folk-rock opera about a woman who falls in love with a wood nymph. Gloriously unfashionable, no? If this record went to school it’d be getting a wedgie from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The Decemberists’ fondness for English folk-tales and sideburns won’t get them into any cool clubs but their sheer skill and flare will win them many friends. This one is also their most adventurous and darkest effort, reaching its murky depths in the middle with the murder ballad ‘The Rake’s Song’.
79. Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows
With the constant dross of indie zombies signing to every major label going, it’s good to own a record like this which reminds you that ‘Indie’ used to mean different. Diverse influences of punk, pop and everything in between the two to make an accessible indie rock record that doesn’t compromise soul.
78. The Apples In Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder
One of the best records we have to remind us that indie rock can be damn exciting. Plus it’s hard to find an album that takes advantage of filler tracks. There are lots of them, they’re very short, but they help string it together; you’ll never get an urge to turn it off. Plus it’s somehow ripe for parties.
77. The Warlocks – Phoenix
The psychedelic, druggy garage swell of ‘Phoenix’ begs to be played loud. Fuzzy but focused, lazy but lively; plus it just sounds so cool it practically pisses Martinis.
76. Daft Punk – Human After All
(Deservedly) the least loved of all Daft Punk’s albums, but it’s largely because it’s such a different sound and it took people by surprise. There aren’t many minimalist electro-rock-dance-whatever albums out there but out of all them this has to be one of the best.
75. Beck – The Information
Pseudo-hip-hop-cum-electro-acoustic funk-riddled-over-hyphenated. This is a slow burner, it took me months to love this record as much as I do now. Just a further example that Beck can turn his hand to anything and show everyone else how it should be done.
74. Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
Boards’ debut ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ is probably one of the ten best electronic records ever made, but one thing is wasn’t was accessible. ‘Geogaddi’ is even less approachable. It seems to probe your psyche. It’s like revisiting childhood dreams and nightmares. It takes a long time to get to like this record, and even if, in the end, you hate it, it’s extremely hard not to admire it.
73. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country
All-too-often inviting Belle and Sebastian comparisons, but regardless Camera Obscura is a great band on its own. Sort of cheerful, sort of not, guitar pop that’s never a guilty pleasure, just a regular one.
72. Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism
A superb of emo-rock record, the way it used to be before My Chemical Romance stole the label and reduced it to parody; when it wasn’t a commercial success and when it didn’t sell totebags and T-shirts of The Black Parade to swarms of “non-conformists” who all look exactly the same. Altogether: “Yes! We are all individuals!” But anyway, Transatlanticism is ambitious, unpretentious and traces of sadness are disguised as opposed to flaunted as a fashion accessory. For genuine emo-rock, start here.
71. Primal Scream – XTRMNTR
From their humble jangle-pop beginnings, Primal Scream reinvented acid house, then became a borderline Rolling Stones tribute band, then made neon rock soundscapes, but they never exploded out of the speakers as much as they did on ‘XTRMNTR’. Rock and sonic-boom rave have never been merged so well.
70. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
Starting in 1986, gleefully experimental three-piece Yo La Tengo have yet to release a bad record. Their best this decade was ‘Popular Songs’ which starts with an almost Bond-themeish ‘Here To Fall’ and finishes on a borderline psychedelic 15-minute jam with brilliant moments of outlandish crazy-goings-on and perfect guitar pop in between.
69. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
Raw, powerful garage rock that somehow has mass appeal. Should be the staple of every student gathering.
68. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
One of the most atmospheric rock records of the year; it’s like driving on freezing Alaskan highways to sit by the fire of a haunted house. It has both a warm and ghostly feel to it, especially with its out-of-nowhere flourishes of almost Disneyish strings and flutes.
67. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
If ‘Yellow House’ was atmospheric, ‘For Emma…’ is utterly all-consuming. Justin Vernon recorded and wrote the album in a cabin in an isolated wood, hunting his own food and chopping his own wood; he called it “hibernating” after a traumatic break-up. Listening to the album the word “traumatic” seems appropriate. It’s both intensely personal and distorted, like watching the relationship itself disintegrate from behind the frosty window on the cover.
66. Burial – Untrue
I’m not an expert on dubstep, but if it’s all as good as ‘Untrue’ we don’t have a problem. The sound of London at 4am, plagued by the ghosts of the people who died partying too hard.
65. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
“It’s like taking something classic and then messing with it, like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa”. To be honest I couldn’t have put it much better than they did themselves. French artier-than-thou’s Phoenix have made their best album yet; this time around, their already-great dance rock feels misshapen, but sounds better for it, and like nothing else.
64. TV On The Radio – Dear Science
Someone once said that if you listen to too much, you lose all focus and end up sounding confused. TV on the Radio call bullshit. Equally embracing Talking Heads, Pixies, Daft Punk and Prince, often in the same song, it’s a glorious thumbs-up for having a finger in every pie. If you make a sex joke out of that metaphor, congratulations, you’re a teenager.
63. Eluvium – Lambent Material
Despite an obviously duff track (the monotonous 15-minute cascade of distortion which would be excellent if it were trimmed down to under 5 minutes), Eluvium’s debut breathes new life into ambient. Never before has the genre sounded so earthy; like the cave-painting-esque cover art, it feels like this record’s been around for thousands of years; it’s a true musical anomaly. It exists outside of time and space while still sounding full of an omnipresent life.
62. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
Iron & Wine has reclaimed “acoustic” music from the chill-out compilation bin. Nearly every song on ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is excellent; it’s both atmospheric and often extremely poignant, such as on the sublime ‘Naked As We Came’ (stop laughing) which makes the line “One of us will die inside these arms” sound like the most devotional and private thing anyone has ever said.
61. Them Crooked Vultures
The world’s most handsome ginger/QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Midas-touch all-round bag of flippin’ yeah Dave Ghrol have formed a supergroup. Do you honestly expect this to be bad? For that matter, do you honestly expect this to be anything less than excellent? Well it is bloody brilliant, in case you hadn’t picked that up.
60. DJ Shadow – The Private Press
The atmospheric soundscapes of Shadow’s classic debut ‘Endtroducing’ have now been mixed in with something almost resembling pop music. The soundscapes are still there but they’re mixed in with pure hip-hop, pessimistic trip-pop and random snippets of 1930’s radio shows.
59. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
My Jack White-loving Aunt played this damn loud in her mini as we drove around London and people were hearing it and giving us thumbs up. White and Brendan Benson turn up trumps on their second album, proving to be an extremely worthwhile collaboration. Ie. It’s very very very good.
58. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Sometimes a record will be etched across Radio One and yet still be beloved by music snobs like me; that oddity happened with ‘Oracular Spectacular’ whose psychedelic-electro-pop-rock-whatever had enough great pop hooks and choruses to make it a commercial success and enough of whatever it takes to make me frigging love it as well.
57. Death From Above 1979 – You’re A Woman I’m A Machine
Destined to be one of the great one album wonders, ‘You’re a Woman…’ shrieks and roars out of the speakers, occupying the space between dancefloor summons and noise rock eardrum perforator with awesome riffs and choruses to boot.
56. Broadcast – The Noise Made By People
‘The Noise Made…’ sounds neither happy, nor sad, but always deeply thoughtful; the instruments quietly intermingle to create a distant, otherworldly and richly detailed texture on which Trish Keenan sings over as if she’s only half-listening to the band. It’s a lush, illustrative sound that evokes images of watching old films in dusty cinemas or sleeping in the aisles of an empty supermarket. It’s cinematic, laser-guided pop music that, nearly ten years on, still sounds peerless.
55. Lightning Bolt – Hypermagic Mountain
Undefeated champion for the title of the loudest album of the decade, Lightning Bolt hits the listener with a bullet-train of noise. These guys make Death From Above 1979 sound like Nick Drake. Yet among the aural assault, you can hear stuck-in-your-head-for-days riffs and avant-garde jazz influences. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the only instruments on the album are drums and bass, with the occasional vocal which sounds like drummer Brian Chippendale is shouting into a binbag full of pillowcases. A truly monstrous, thrilling force.
54. The Decemberists – Picaresque
Colin Meloy & co almost goes pop. Slightly proggish folk-tinged indie-rock loosely based on English folk-tales or similar. Pretentious? You bet, but The Decemberists rise above their pretentions to deliver an ambitious (as ever) theatrical record that seems to keep giving and giving.
53. The Strokes – Is This It
Superb garage-rock from beneath a layer of grime. Arguably the best drinking album of the decade since Julian Casablancas’ slurred vocals already sound half-way there. The songs themselves are near-perfect and effortlessly catchy; you’ll be singing along to them without even knowing what the hell he’s saying apart from the odd phrase (“Allasossysame seshwe’re all the same, oh I don’t see it that way”).
52. Rufus Wainwright – Poses
Probably a controversial choice but I’m a sucker for Rufus Wainwright’s half-sardonic self-deprecating baroque pop. Whether he’s singing about the annoyance of having to eat jelly beans in one sitting or genuine confrontations of grief or the shallow Hollywood lifestyle, he never misfires.
51. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Yanqui UXO
‘Yanqui UXO’ is an extended wordless protest song, carrying one of the most harrowing covers there’s ever been – a string of bombs tumbling carelessly from a plane. The orchestral post-rock moodiness of Godspeed You! is saturated with an incensed, seething righteous fury buried under layers of strings and soaring guitars.
50. MIA – Kala
One of the most diverse albums on the list, ‘Kala’ gives nods to hip-hop, electro, bhangra, pop-rock and most forms of music both Eastern and Western, into a mix that pulses with a feverish energy. Lyrically, MIA targets foreign policy and poverty, but she doesn’t immerse herself in despair; every injustice is another reason to “Fight On!” but she still finds time to shack up with Timberland.
49. The Magnetic Fields – Distortion
After falling in love with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut ‘Psychocandy’, Stephin Merritt set out to re-create its sound; ie. Every instrument in ‘Distortion’ has feedback. Merritt’s ever witty and miserable definitely-not-rock songs are shown here, bathed in walls of noise. While The JMC worked exclusively with guitars, The ‘Fields have to feedback pianos, accordions and cellos (and guitars). All the great songs aside, even if you don’t like it, you won’t find another album with accordion feedback anytime soon.
48. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
There’s so much going on in MPP it borders on causing a headache until finally you learn to bask in the gleaming kaleidoscope of hallucinogenic Brian Wilson-esque songs. It’s like a magic eye picture; relax your brain and everything will make sense; the difference is that magic eye won’t follow you around for days nagging at you to come back to it. ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’ will.
47. Royksopp – Melody AM
I remember being at a party in the morning after everyone was up all night. It was in a field and we were all legally members of the undead from tiredness and hangovers. Someone put on Justice; not a good idea. The French cheerful racket is best for when everyone actually feels like having a good time in the traditional sense. ‘Melody AM’ (the clue is in the title) is for the comedown. The sonically rich, low-tempo electronica would have gone down a treat. Touching on sparkling bleep techno, smooth jazz, warped Bacharach melodies and pulsating blurs of nights out gone and past, this will be Europe’s morning after record for many years to come.
46. Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Belle and Sebastian go from the cynical, out-of-place teenagers’ masterpieces into this charming, chirpy record. It barely has a bad word to say about anyone. Even the sexually manipulative boss at work in ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ is viewed with a sort of exasperated amusement rather than disdain.
45. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
Million-member (stop giggling) Canadian band Broken Social Scene’s second album tears down the barriers whose existence the rest of indie rock was unaware of. There’s a weightless, almost spiritual feel to the album; it’s the kind of record you can easily get emotionally attached to, like a friend (or a dog at the very least). Plus extra credit goes to the fact that you’ll find yourself singing along to ‘Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl’ even though it sounds like it’s being sung by a swarm of bees playing kazoos.
44. Air – Talkie Walkie
The analogue warmth of their debut ‘Moon Safari’ is still here, but Air’s ‘Talkie Walkie’ is a more natural, organic sound, introducing plenty of acoustic guitars, pianos and kotos. (Despite containing the glockenspiels) it’s their second best to date.
43. Idlewild – The Remote Part
This was probably the album that brought me from a music lover to a music devotee. I was ten at the time and it still sounds great as ever. Here suppressed angst takes a back seat to epic arena rock (with the odd folk and Scottish poetry influence). One of the last great semi-commercial indie records.
42. Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim
I’d only vaguely heard of her at the Hop Farm festival when she came on stage; she was short and unassuming, but Laura Marling wowed the field effortlessly. She’s got this strange strength and premature wisdom that goes beyond her age. Even now, she’s yet to reach her 20th birthday. Marling’s stories of rural and eccentric romantics are set against a backdrop of soulful neo-folk with a rainwashed rustic atmosphere.
41. Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons
From the amusingly quirky to the bizarrely unpredictable, Lost Horizons has to be one of the most wistfully optimistic records I’ve ever heard. It’s the kind of record you’d travel the world with.
40. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
By this time the press had learned that Jack and Meg were ex-husband and wife as opposed to brother and sister, but rather than shrinking from the press attention, the pair used it as a springboard and with ‘White Blood Cells’ they catapulted into household-name-dom and deservedly so. ‘White Blood Cells’, along with the usual brilliant songwriting and a furious verve in their playing, they had a vivid energy behind them which made the wide-eyed howler ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ a floorfiller for every decent party in the Western hemisphere.
39. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
Switching from self-taught guitar to self-taught piano, and from her early aggressive, psychosexual grunge to an eerie, hushed record that doesn’t resemble rock music in the slightest; PJ Harvey couldn’t have done much more to make her fans do a double-take. It sounds like it could have been written by the doomed heroine from a Thomas Hardy novel (both Harvey and Hardy hail from Dorset). Often it’s so haunting it becomes uncomfortable, since it sounds like the protagonist of every song is being driven mad. It’s not the same madness as her raw-power early days; it’s a far more moving and frightening form of instability. One of the most powerful records of modern times.
38. Eluvium – Copia
Eluvium’s first was eerie, earthy ambient; his second was almost neo-classical solo piano. His latest to date is a glorious combination of the two. These awe-inspiring soundscapes sound tailor made to soundtrack the most significant moments in your life without detracting from personal experience. Even the ten-minute ‘Indoor Swimming At The Space Station’ doesn’t wear out its welcome. A deeply emotional cinematic wilderness.
37. Radiohead – In Rainbows
The fact that this was the first big album to come with an honesty box pay-what-you-like pricing method now seems entirely irrelevant because people have, understandably, been distracted by the music. ‘In Rainbows’ is alternately explosive and ghostly, but always as thrillingly miserable as ever. Plus they reach new levels of poignancy in the heartbreaking closer ‘Videotape’ which will make you feel like you’ve lived through something truly significant. Most bands would consider this the undisputed highlight of their discography, but this is probably Radiohead’s 4th best, which says a lot about what kind of people we’re dealing with.
36. Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast
This is the first album I bought with my own money and even now it stacks up brilliantly. Shockingly ambitious for a debut, Damon Gough does what he wants: the record starts with a minute-long cello and horn duet, there’s a track dedicated to a pump-organ solo and the end of ‘Cause A Rockslide’ is taken up by a bizarre sound collage that borders on Revolution 9 levels of just-plain-eerie/crazy, but ‘The Hour of Bewilderbeast’ deserves all the praise it gets; every risk it takes pays off ten-fold. It’s also diverse, touching on wah-wah jazz guitars, Nick Drake-ish folk, jam-led blues rock and hopelessly romantic piano balladry – which would border on naive if it wasn’t so charming – along with random oddities; it never runs out of ideas.
35. Beck – Guero
Here, Beck returns the genre-bending pick-n-mix formula of ‘Odelay’, but this time everything is less muddled and confused; true the muddledness was part of ‘Odelay’s charm but ‘Guero’s songs are so good on their own that no one will care. It’s a more mature, but equally adventurous record; once again, no song sinks below pretty-damn-good.
34. Bjork – Vespertine
Bjork had come a long way since ‘Debut’; ‘Vespertine’ is a sharp left-turn for her since almost entirely throughout, it sounds as if she’s wrapping herself in a cocoon; her rousing yells are reduced to strangled whispers while the music itself is far more natural. There is very little percussion, but when it does appear it often takes the form of cards being shuffled or ice scraping together. It was impressive enough when she was letting everything out, but here she sounds like she’s keeping everything in; it’s her most private and daring yet.
33. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers
Richey Edwards disappeared in 1995 and since then it sounds like the band have been desperately trying to compensate without him, whether it’s making sinfully run-of-the-mill indie or “we’re still hard, honest!” rock albums which didn’t fool anyone. And here it is, their best album in fifteen long years, the one where they confront Richey’s ghost. With Steve Albini at the production helm and using the lyrics that Richey left behind, it sounds bolder, braver and more aggressive, but while 1994’s incredible ‘The Holy Bible’ was almost praying for death, ‘Journal…’ doesn’t want to give in. An extremely fitting elegy.
32. The Thermals – The Body The Blood The Machine
A loose concept album about a couple escaping from a fascist Christian America, The Thermals’ third sounds both simplistic and barebones as well as ambitious and addictive. This is the album that ‘American Idiot’ wishes it was. A punk-pop classic.
31. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Despite being so middle class they make Hyacinth Bucket look like Albert Steptoe (they even complain that their “English Breakfast tastes like Darjeeling”), Vampire Weekend’s debut never comes across as condescending but even if they were, all would be forgiven since this is an absolute wine-and-dine on all that is good and right in chirpy guitar pop. Plus it sounds completely original having been raised on a diet of classical and African pop music. Undoes the PR damage made by the snobbish students in Animal House.
30. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Many hailed this as the American ‘OK Computer’. It’s not. Not even close but damn is it good. Wilco’s previous “alt. country” tag has been sidelined in favour of woozy drunken lollops, creaky death rattles, cheery nostalgic pop and zero-gravity dreamy wanders. The songs themselves are all fantastic which is probably why, despite being one of their least accessible and most experimental, it remains their biggest seller.
29. Roddy Woomble – My Secret Is My Silence
One of the core saviours and innovators of neo-folk, Woomble’s (laugh at his silly name and move on) side project from Idlewild actually ranks as probably the best album he’s been involved with making. Despite being a great lyricist and singer, the lyrics is all he writes, so it’s mostly full credit to his friends such as the superb violinist/songwriter John McCusker and Idlewild guitarist/songwriter Rod Jones to help Woomble make these songs the way they are: nearly all perfect.
28. Justice – Cross
It’s hard to write about an album like ‘Cross’ since, two years on, it’s still so firmly imbedded in people’s consciousness. Effectively, Justice have combined the three albums of their fellow French dance-wunderkinds Daft Punk. ‘Cross’ has the infectious and noisy house of ‘Homework’, the retro kitsch-y cool of ‘Discovery’ with the electro-rock of ‘Human After All’. Rip-off? Not really. You could say that an omelette is a rip-off of eggs. Justice have instead taken DP’s music deeply to heart and wrote them an awesome love-letter.
27. Explosions In The Sky – The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
Redefining epic for the 21st Century, post-rock five-piece Explosions In The Sky’s name couldn’t be more appropriate. Five achingly beautiful, soaring soundscapes saturated with the levels of emotion usually associated with watching a loved one’s ashes being shot into space. For 45 minutes, your heart is this band’s glove puppet.
26. Elliott Smith – Figure 8
‘Either/Or’ tried to exorcise Smith’s demons but ‘Figure 8’ made a futile attempt at covering them up. Though it was a commercial failure, it soon gained a huge following. Unfortunately, by that time Smith had killed himself. Great albums like ‘Figure 8’ came to invent the clichés now usually associated with the emo genre, but Smith had far more in common with his heroes The Beatles than to any of the hoards of fashion-obsessed posers that he was so determined to disassociate himself with.
25. Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull
‘Bees…’ is the soundtrack to volcanoes erupting in slow motion and glaciers in fast-forward. This is ambient music for a rock audience; it’s handfuls of riffs are repeated lulling you into a hypnotic state, making your brain cinematic until finally it all gradually changes and is all the more impressive for it. Don’t go in expecting a rock record; it’s a record you have to understand how to like it before you like it, but it’s so worth it when you do.
24. Doves – The Last Broadcast
Probably the best driving album ever (not just this decade; ever) ‘The Last Broadcast’ is the sound of Northern motorways under blinding streetlights. Alternately pained, liberated or both, ‘The Last Broadcast’ puts pseudo-emotional indie to shame.
23. Concert Silence – 09.22.07 [2-3pm]
Concert Silence appeared with no fanfare and disappeared just as quietly. There are probably less than 2000 people in the world who have heard this record. Concert Silence is Matthew Cooper (Eluvium) and Charles Buckingham. This album was improvised in a basement direct to a minidisc recorder in the time quoted in the title. This is one of the most “out-there” ambient records. Some of it lulling, other parts frenzied, others completely nonsensical. Part Four begins with what sounds like faltering, crackling signals from sinking ships; Part Two often sounds as if it’s being played from a burning tape player. However once you adjust to this record it’s a hypnotic alternate reality that seems to bare no resemblance to this one. Repeating patterns are built on oh-so-gradually until it sucks you in altogether, carrying aching emotion with it. Eventually you’ll even come to love the bizarre oddities. The unchallenged highlight though is Part Three which begins on a simple-as three-note pattern which is slowly built upon until it becomes a beautiful, textural blur that you hope never ends. Like all ambient records, it’s not meant to be wholly focused on; instead this one has ways of deeply affecting you when you don’t pay full attention. A lost classic.
22. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
Though many prefer the more straightforward ‘Picaresque’, ‘The Crane Wife’ has somehow stuck itself to me. Once again, The Decemberists have made an art form out of making pretentiousness sound sincere and brilliant; a skill that I am clearly yet to learn.
21. PJ Harvey – Stories From The City Stories From The Sea
‘Stores…’ is a confused lovelorn travelogue of the city that never sleeps from a half-amazed, half-terrified tourist. Harvey, through a dizzy wide-eyed view, observes crime, fear, excitement, love, loss and homesickness against New York’s neon backdrop and it’s also her best and most accessible album. It’s amazing how absorbing it is too; you feel all her confusion and thrill through the songs.
20. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Some of the most emotional (mostly) instrumental music ever made, the visceral ‘Lift Year Skinny Fists’ stretches Godspeed’s orchestral post rock to new levels of ambition and power. Impressive enough without the fact that they were already obscenely ambitious to start with, but this time everything is refined, fine-tuned, but equally jaw-dropping.
19. Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue
From their less-than meagre lo-fi beginnings, GBV’s Robert Pollard has always just wanted to be a rockstar like his heroes Pete Townshend or John Lennon. While the band could finally afford studio time as opposed to basement-and-tape-recorder time, their previous greatness wasn’t fully relived until ‘Earthquake Glue’. I just didn’t get it the first time. Or the second time. In fact a lot of the time this record is just-plain-awkward, but somewhere along the fifth or sixth listen all the way through and you’ll wonder why you didn’t love it in the first place. Despite its slow-burning nature, ‘Earthquake Glue’ does have the odd instant-hit such as the celebratory ‘My Kind of Soldier’, the numbly affectionate ‘The Best of Jill Hives’ or the just-plain-awesome ‘Useless Inventions’. It’s actually the third best Guided By Voices record which actually says a lot believe it or not.
18. The White Stripes – De Stijl
One of my favourite Beatles records is ‘Rubber Soul’ which infuriates me because it’s so ignored and it would easily be universally adored by all if another band had made it. It’s the same with ‘De Stijl’, in which Jack White’s love of raw blues is the most obvious but besides that, he barely writes a single song on here that isn’t instantly memorable and loveable and the two that he doesn’t write, he and Meg pull off perfectly. It’s also his darkest, tackling subjects on the misery scale from loneliness to death and domestic violence. Even so, it’s all so infectious and swaggering; the loose-stringed kidnapper’s declaration ‘Little Bird’ has all the dangerous cool of a cigar-chomping conscienceless wife-beater. Its lighter moments however, match the darkness with charm and/or humour plus it’s all so catchy and addictive you’ll be listening it all day and subconsciously learn all the words. An absolutely brilliant album that’s more overlooked that Gary Coleman at a basketball match.
17. DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist – Product Placement
DJ Shadow fully established sampling as an art-form with ‘Endtroducing’ but records like ‘Product Placement’ made people realise that it was also a sport. The feverish mixing going on here is incredible; Chemist and Shadow take a vinyl/tape side each in this glorious kaleidoscopic mixtape of long-dead 45’s blitzed together. Soul, funk, rock, hip-hop, jazz and advert jingles all shoved in a blender with some milk and somehow absolutely everything is perfect. To borrow a line, it’s a party in your mind and you hope it never stops. “Delicious”.
16. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem and Sound of Silver
James Murphy etc’s first two albums are
A) Both almost as good as each other
B) Very good indeed.
The first album is a mesh of the prime cuts of modern pop/rock/dance and art-school New York Disco Punk. Single ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ ensured a cult following but the album it came from more than fulfilled its promise, splicing in hangovered recovery laments, paranoid dance-offs and art rock mini-epics. Be sure to get the 2-disc edition which has the band’s early singles such as the brilliant grumpy record-collector’s manifesto ‘Losing My Edge’ which features Murphy boasting of his musical knowledge over a developing techno stutter.
‘Sound of Silver’ takes their debut’s ideas and refines them. Both are equally essential, but ‘SoS’ is a nose out in front, largely due to the emotional upper hand that it has. ‘Someone Great’ has to be one of the five best break-up songs ever written; ‘All My Friends’ builds to a peak that makes you feel glad to be alive and ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ shows Murphy as a Randy Newman-ish character poignantly addressing his home town.
15. Daft Punk – Alive 2007
Daft Punk’s electrifying live shows were already known from their early days (see their other live album ‘Alive 1997’) but once they had enough money to push the boat out they became legendary. It’s an explosive live show meets wild back-catalogue DJ set, but it sounds so much better than I can describe it. Every home should have a spare copy in a case that says ‘In Case of Faltering Party Atmosphere Break Glass’.
14. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
I tried to hate them. I really did. It’s pretty customary for people like me to do the whole “I knew them before they were cool” routine (which I did) and then slag them off when they get popular, but come on!! How is it even possible to hate this record? Seattle’s Fleet Foxes’ debut arrived quietly to unanimous praise from the press. Eventually due to it topping nearly every end-of-year list, it rose to number three in the UK album charts through reputation alone. Quite rightly so. It’s a blend of American folk-rock, English folk-rock, Beach Boys vocals harmonies and misty reverbs with songs so emotionally affecting Simon Cowell is destined to pick one of them to ruin forever for the next X-Factor series.
13. The Mars Volta – De-Loused In The Comatorium
The speedy hardcore of At The Drive-In was too restricted for singer Cedric Bixler-Zalava and guitarist Omar Rodruguez-Lopez. Their detour project The Mars Volta’s debut is an epic prog-rock masterpiece raised on everything from metal to flamenco. It’s a concept album based on their artist friend who fell into an overdose induced coma, experienced wild hallucinations and killed himself upon waking up. The first thing you notice is the sound, which on the surface is a barrage assault on the ears, but after repeated listens reveals itself to be meticulously detailed, beautifully melodic and highly emotional. It also reveals Rodriguez-Lopez as one of the most under-appreciated guitar heroes of his time and Bixler-Zalava as a singer who can make grown men cry without sacrificing fire-power.
12. Arcade Fire – Funeral
Arcade Fire’s live shows have becoming notorious for the band leaving the stage mid-gig and parading through the crowd, still playing, and then out into the street, still playing; as if the stage is just too small for them. ‘Funeral’ is a monster of an album, brushing the highest watermarks of indie rock. It’s so thick with raw passion and melodically dense; it’s deeply emotional, sometimes despairing but carries a resounding strength and determined to see the grief through and it never asks you to pity it. Win Butler sings like he has nothing left to lose while the music – complete with violins, pianos, accordions and whistling kettles – is full of human warmth and energy.
11. Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank The Cradle
Iron & Wine’s debut LP is at once soothing, unsettling and strangely exciting, despite its subdued, warm analogue sound. Recorded in his Miami apartment on a cheap 4-track tape recorder, university lecturer Sam Beam made an album totally divorced from both the time period and his urban setting. The only instruments are his own breathy vocals and a selection of acoustic guitars and the occasional hushed banjo. While the music has a warm glow, the vocals and lyrics often sound troubled but always deeply personal. It’s this vivid eavesdropping that gives it such an edge. Even if you don’t quite know what it means, each song sounds significant to Beam, like hearing one half of a phone conversation you know you weren’t meant to hear or reading pages from a muddy, battered diary written by an anonymous stranger. The music itself is, of course, beautiful.
10. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
The post-punk revival started here and what it start it was. ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ is a voyeuristic peep-show of dead and self-destructive relationships set against the backdrop of a gleaming New York skyline which, to the characters in the lyrics, is both an escape and a prison. Some of the songs here are just-plain-great rock songs like the bitter ‘Obstacle 1’ and the pounding ‘Say Hello To The Angels’. Others reach a rapturous, ringing beauty and poignancy, like the utterly heartbreaking closer ‘Leif Erikson’ which is like climbing the Empire State Building and taking one last sweeping look before finally deciding not to jump. Somewhere in its miserable heart however, ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ still clings to hope even when all is lost.
9. Beck – Sea Change
Easily the best break-up album of the last twenty years, ‘Sea Change’ saw Beck taking cues from Nick Drake instead of the Beastie Boys. It seems to track the course of a distraught end to a relationship, from denial through depression, to optimism and then moving on. The subject matters asides, the songs themselves are all perfect. Essentially, ‘Sea Change’ affirms three things:
A) Beck is a brilliant songwriter both with and without the genre-hopping tomfoolery
B) Beck is one of the most diverse, creative and consistently great artists in pop music ever.
C) Scientologists have feelings too.
If you don’t believe me, listen to the string-drenched enveloping ‘Round The Bend’. It’s pure aching sadness condensed into music; an abyss of loneliness you can’t wait to dive into. Matter of fact, just listen to the whole album. Or just buy it. That’s what the point of me writing this is in the first place.
8. Deerhunter – Microcastle
And the award for most worrying mental state goes to ‘Microcastle’. ‘Agoraphobia’ takes solace in sensory deprivation, ‘Cavalry Scars’ makes crucifixion sounds as peaceful as dying in your sleep after a glass of wine while the closer ‘Twilight At Carbon Lake’ feels like its determinedly leaving the world for good. What makes it unsettling though is how there is no self-pity; you believe every word. The music itself is incredible, mixing shoegazing guitar swirls, absorbing art-rock and distant, detached vocals. Plus the songwriting is great, reaching a peak with the deceptively pretty ‘Little Kids’, a haunting meditation on aging told through a group of children burning an old man alive. Despite depressing subject matters, ‘Microcastle’ still inhabits a strange and beautiful alternate reality.
7. Beck – Modern Guilt
Yeah that’s right, it’s him again. I was hugely disappointed the first time around. I thought he had lost his touch, but after the third listen or so everything clicked into place and oh look at that it’s bloody amazing. All brilliant creativity, originality and almost obsessive detail aside, no other album this decade has nailed the 21st century human condition like this one; the feeling of teetering on the edge of global disaster and being helpless to stop it, or as he says, climbing a bottomless pit just to get on level ground (‘Youthless’). Still, it’s not a depressing album at all; in fact it’s sort of uplifting. Absorbing funk, rock, psychedelica and electronica despite sounding like barely any of them, ‘Modern Guilt’ also seems to be harbouring a nagging fear that none of us have a future: a fear that my generation knows only too well. Musically and lyrically, a masterpiece.
6. The Avalanches – Since I Left You
The display image for The Avalanches’ Myspace page is a dustbin spewing a rainbow from its lid, which also happens to be a great metaphor for their music. ‘Since I Left You’ is made entirely out of other records; mostly bargain-bin borderline (or full blown) crap. A cut-n-paste mish-mash of just about everything from hip-hop, jazz, showtunes, general pop music from every decade since the 30’s, dance, to name but five of hundreds. It’s a childish trip through hot summers and rose-tinted flashbacks of long-gone parties and evokes so much without any proper lyrics. It took six maverick Australian DJs and several years to make; clearly not a minute was wasted. Unique down to the last detail, endlessly exciting, and despite being your inner child’s desert island disc, it sometimes, unexpectedly, throws up genuinely mature and thought-provoking moments. Case in point: the off-key piano-led ‘Tonight May Have To Last Me All My Life’ which is like standing on the deck of cruise ship, wine glass in hand, wishing you were anywhere else but there. Aside from that though, it’s an absolute party.
5. The Beatles – LOVE
Deceptively titled, ‘LOVE’ is no two-a-penny “collection”, “Greatest Hits” “Best of” or “Rest of”. Nor is it a compilation of the band’s love songs shelled out by corpse-flogging record companies around Valentine’s Day, to act as the last resort to painfully clueless unromantic boyfriends, desperately searching for something to dilute their girlfriend’s disappointment of the obviously-from-a-garage flowers. No. While it is in a sense a career retrospective, it’s unlike any other made before. Tracks are often blended into one another, snippets cut-and-pasted together with fleeting glimpses of otherwise un-included tracks drifting in and out of focus, all seamlessly sewn into the mix and the effect is nothing short of stunning. Whenever tracks are left original and whole, it is done so in all the right places (‘A Day In The Life’ would have been spoiled by extra meddling; here it is mercifully unchanged as are a handful of others). Father and son team George and Giles Martin have produced one of the best single discs in the band’s entire back catalogue; sure the music is amazing but the production is an absolute trip in itself. The title is the only thing wrong with it and despite my cynicism of “best of”s and the like, this is one of the most thrilling and exciting albums you could ever own. Plus it’s not technically a “Best of” hence its inclusion in this list.
4. Daft Punk – Discovery
So retro, it practically has a mullet, Daft Punk’s second album is a complete departure from the first; Across the album’s 14 tracks, there’s vintage electro-pop, robotic funk, proggy-tech-rock and even ambient nestled beside their trademark French house which is almost sidelined. Daft Punk had been hard at work. Any shortcoming is always forgiveable. The sappy sugar-soaked lyrics of ‘Digital Love’ may roll eyes, but I dare anyone to not to smile at the music itself; plus the sound of that guitar makes my jaw-bone buzz. Even ‘Veridis Quo’, which sounds uncannily like Mario’s funeral, doesn’t jar the album’s flow, and eventually you come to love it as much as the others. This is dance music at its most diverse, rewarding and enjoyable. From the pseudo-space-rock guitar solos and bleep-squeak techno to the cyborg-singalongs and the music playing in the Starship Enterprise’s cocktail bar, it hardly ever flags. Everyone with even a passing interest in electronic or dance music should own at least one copy.
3. The White Stripes – Elephant
This marks the point where The ‘Stripes conquered the world. They had already seized the music world’s delicates with ‘White Blood Cells’ but even that couldn’t have prepared it for ‘Elephant’, the decade’s greatest rock album. Carried on the back of lead single ‘Seven Nation Army’ – which most tone-deaf mushrooms can hum in their sleep – it didn’t pander to the mainstream, but dragged it kicking and screaming with it until virtually anyone worth their pair of ears had a copy (or at least downloaded it). Everything that Jack and Meg had done before was taken, sharpened, roughened and refined, touching on their early whizz-bang garage rock (‘Black Math’), searing blues swaggers (‘Ball and Biscuit’), genuinely moving whispered regret anthems (‘You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket’) as well as dabbling in newer meddlings such as the Queen-esque harmonies on ‘There’s No Home For You Here’ and homely in-jokey country sing-along ‘It’s True That We Love One Another’. ‘Elephant’ also boasts the decade’s best album cover: iconic, heavily symbolic and with their trademark red, white and black colour scheme, it’s both subtle, complex and attention-demanding. Anyway, every track is perfect, it’s amazing, Jack White is the greatest rockstar of the century so far: everything you’ve heard is true.
2. Radiohead – Kid A
‘Ok Computer’ is easily one of the most universally adored albums ever. ‘Kid A’ was a far stranger beast. Some thought the band had lost their minds. ‘OK Computer’ opened up with a guitar roar like some colossal engine revving with drums that sounded as if the whole vehicle was crashing. ‘Kid A’ goes two whole tracks before the first bass comes in and three whole tracks before a guitar makes an appearance; not to mention the first drum pattern you hear is about as noticeable as a synchronised moth’s fart in the background. If ‘OK Computer’ hinted at a dehumanised, machine-led society, ‘Kid A’ is already there, in all its beauty, sadness, awe and confusion. Whether indulging in experimental oddities (‘Everything…’) or left-field gleaming rock songs (‘Optimistic’), the quality never lets it’s guard down. The band even try their hand at ambient on the glacial, enveloping mood-piece ‘Treefingers’ which introduced a legion of rock fans onto the genre. The title track is a lullaby sung by Frankenstein’s monster whereas ‘Idiotech’s nervous, frosty techno-rock remains a live favourite as does the cacophonous dystopian jazz-drone-rock ‘The National Anthem’. As if they hadn’t done enough in their career, ‘Kid A’ added a third to their canon of classic albums, taught rock fans about keyboards and taught techno fans about guitars; it seems to resonate so well within people today. It’s both an escape from, and a representation of, all the internal pressures and fears we have in modern culture; feeling awed and powerless at a world which we have helped to build but have no control over.
1. The Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
The title is too long. That’s it. There is nothing else wrong with ‘Thirteen Tales…’. Trust me I’ve been searching for years and found nothing. It’s like some wonderful suite that crunches down nearly every age of rock and alt rock into 13 easy-to-swallow pills: Bowie, The Beatles, Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, The Stones, My Bloody Valentine… I could go on but I’m sure neither of us have the time. Like Spiritualized’s best records, the album lowers you into a trance from the stunning opener ‘Godless’. After that, just try and turn it off. Play the sneering, snarling ‘Horse Pills’next to the peacefully and thoughtfully zonked-out ‘Sleep’ (which barely progresses away from one line of lyrics) and you’d find it hard to believe that it’s the same band, but what’s even more puzzling is how well it all fits together. The buzz-saw grind of ‘Neitzsche’ sounds like The Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine drinking eachother under the table with barely legal alcohol volumes; ‘Shakin” is what would happen if Mudhoney smoked too much dope; ‘Bohemian Like You’ is a sumptuous tap-in to the life of the twenty-something club-crawler while the closer ‘The Gospel’ seamlessly blends tender lyrics with exhausted and peaceful guitars that summon thoughts of being in the back of a taxi after closing time and so grateful for the friends who held your hair when you chucked up. ‘Thirteen Tales…’ is a mastepiece of modern pop music. Slipping comfortably from one style to the next while still maintaining a gloriously hypnotic and semi-stupour-inducing sheen that seems to grow with more and more listens. The soundtrack to booze-drenched night in and road trip alike; this is a band that formed for the purposes of making drinking music and you’d never expect a band that formed on those grounds to make a record this good. To be honest you’d barely expect anyone to make an album this good. Dandys rule, OK?
Album of the decade
Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols
Bands of the decade
Beck and The White Stripes (4 entries each)
Best ‘Best of’ album
Human Amusements at Hourly Rates by Guided By Voices
Best selling album
James Blunt – Back To Bedlam (the world is doomed)
Best selling album (including compilations)
The Beatles – 1 (that’s better)