40. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning [Saddle Creek]
Released in 2005 alongside the stylistically opposed Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning features ten brilliantly crafted songs about frustrating love, the struggle for identity, and the youthful uncertainty that accompanies the hazy landscape of post-collegiate life. Like an updated version of Bob Dylan's Chronicles, it's Conor Oberst's New York story, snippets of recollection detailing various madcap adventures, boozy train rides, and leery temptations beckoning around each and every street and avenue.
Musically, it's a sweetly arranged folk album, running the spectrum from arrestingly earnest near-lullabies ("Lua", "First Day of My Life") to shuffling country ditties ("Train Under Water", "Another Travelin' Song") to combatively cranky and politically charged pleas ("Road to Joy", which advises that "if you're asked to fight a war that's over nothing/It's best to be on the side that's gonna win"). Oberst has never before nor since sounded as confident and assured of himself and the freewheeling abandon of his musical accomplices backs up the self-assured vibe. The album remains a fascinating document of mid-20s life, where fear and hesitation often stood in the way of personal growth and how sometimes you could be your own worst enemy. -- Jeff Strowe
39. Alcest - Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde [Prophecy]
By the mid-2000s, black metal was already flirting with the sounds of early '90s shoegaze, with artists starting to notice a similarity in the hypnotic, atmospheric side of that most extreme of metal sounds and the hazy, innovative sounds of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive. Interestingly enough, the most significant breakthrough in this budding marriage between the two styles was made by a French musician in one of the happiest accidents imaginable.
Multi-instrumentalist Stèphane Paut, working under the black metal nom de plume "Neige", to forego the negativity of his past projects decided to try to create the musical equivalent of an otherworldly vision he'd had as a child, the only way he knows how, by approaching the black metal sound through innocent, optimistic eyes rather than nihilism and misanthropy. He had no clue what shoegaze was, had never heard any such bands, but Neige wound up creating an album of stunning pastoral beauty, his harsh, distorted guitars offset by dreamy melodies that rival such classics as "When the Sun Hits" and "Vapour Trail". Its sheer positivity was unprecedented in metal music, its power -- metal's most crucial characteristic -- coming from the heart instead of the gut, yielding a landmark album in what would subsequently be deemed the "metalgaze" movement. -- Adrien Begrand
38. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale [Def Jam]
Ghostface Killah distanced himself from his Wu brethren on his solo records by having the most carefully honed pop sensibility. Raekwon is smooth, and post-Tical Method Man aimed as populism, but Ghostface always seemed away of pop's (and hip-hop's) history. Fishscale, his finest and most expansive album, seeks to defend that and other sorts of histories. As always, Killah is all irrepressible id, as full of anger as he is anguish, as capable of bragging as he is gritting his teeth or morning.
Fishscale, with its tales of drugs and crime gone bad mixed with Ghostface's confusion over the state of hip-hop in 2006, is a statement of principles from a voice committed to hip-hop as a culture. He covers this declaration in two fascinating ways. The first is his untouchable wordplay on the record, from the ethereal redemption tale of "Underwater" to the business-like detail of "Kilo" to the heartbroken anger of "Back Like That", Ghostface is a genius with detail on this record, but he also makes clear what his partner Raekwon makes impressionistic.
But more than his choice of detail, it's the contradictions in the record that prove its most brilliant asset. "Back Like That" objectifies a woman but does it through an illogic that criticizes types of hip-hop masculinity rather than relying on them. "Big Girl" encourages young women to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and partying, while Ghostface himself supplies (here and all over Fishscale) the drugs they like. And then there's the breathless "Shakey Dog", the kind of long and perfect rap moment that really puts, say, Kendrick Lamar's "Control" in perspective, which is as much a braggadocio crime story as it is a perfect encapsulation of in-the-moment fear most hip-hop avoids talking about.
Ghostface's tales on Fishscale are complex and all over the map, but a murderer's row of producers -- from MF Doom to Pete Rock to J Dilla -- give these tracks roots in the soul and hip-hop that came before. It's own dedication to the classics, and its ability to turn a careful, critical eye inward, is what makes Fishscale a classic in its own right. -- Matt Fiander
37. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat [Rough Trade]
It's not often that an album comes along that's as completely overstuffed, both lyrically and musically, as the Fiery Furnaces' polarizing 2004 breakthrough Blueberry Boat. Sibling bandmates Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger had demonstrated plenty of restless creativity on the previous year's Gallowsbird's Bark, but that album at least kept one foot firmly planted in garage / indie-rock tradition -- enough so that the listening public largely knew how to approach it. The same can't be said for Blueberry Boat, where the songs ballooned into long-winded adventure stories and the guitars gave way to a jumbled mass of keyboards, electronics, and odd sounds.
With its convoluted song structures and off-the-wall arrangements, the album attracted plenty of criticism, including one NME review that memorably dismissed the work as "toe-curlingly unlistenable". But for listeners with the patience to wade through it all, the album revealed new treasures with each play, as melodies bubbled to the surface and recurring themes came together in a way that rewarded careful study of the lyric sheet. Perhaps most importantly, Eleanor's vocals lent the group's tales just the right amount of warmth, making even the most bizarre plot events (keeping pirates away from precious blueberry cargo, discovering a runaway dog preaching at a church service, and so on) strangely relatable.
A celebration of wide-eyed imagination, childhood nostalgia, and unchecked musical appetites, Blueberry Boat stands as one of the decade's most ambitious and original pop statements. -- Mike Noren
36. Green Day - American Idiot [Reprise]
Who would've ever guessed that the most successful politically-charged album of the 2000s -- a rock opera, no less -- would be authored by the puerile punks best known for an album named Dookie? American Idiot heralded the second coming of a thoroughly revitalized Green Day after some commercial lean times, and the record's critical accolades and gangbuster sales cemented the trio, once seemingly on the verge of being commemorated by music historians as little more than lucky chancers in spite of their authorship of roughly a dozen rock radio staples, as an institution. The funny thing is, Green Day hadn't changed all that much in the decade since "Longview" vaulted the group to stardom. Really, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool are as bratty, restless, and irreverent as they had ever been on American Idiot (doubters need only listen to Cool's "Rock and Roll Girlfriend" segment of the "Homecoming" suite for proof).
The key difference is that on this full-length the members' bad attitude and the devil-may-care spirit found righteous inspiration in their outrage at the state of Bush-led America circa 2004 and that sense-of-purpose galvanized the band into making bold statements and tackling ambitious musical detours that in the end proved thoroughly rewarding. Running the gamut from the speedy punk blasts of the title track and "St. Jimmy" to the multi-movement centerpieces "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming", to the weepy stadium-ready ballads "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends", American Idiot is as effective a manifesto of the band's musical capabilities as it is its political leanings -- it's no wonder that Green Day has spent the following decade of its career trying to match it. -- AJ Ramirez
35. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods [Sub Pop]
The Woods is, one can claim with reasonable confidence, Sleater-Kinney's finest hour: a wonderful anomaly that balances painstaking performance and blissful abandon. Five seconds into the first track, "The Fox", there is little question that it's on. And it stays on. "The Fox" displays the cacophonous ecstasy patented by the Pixies and brings it into Y2K, featuring Corin Tucker's most impassioned vocals ever. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you open an album.
Everyone knows that women can do anything men can do, and often do it better. The Woods rocks as hard and drops jaws as low as anything anyone else did this decade. It's difficult to try and pick and choose highlights here; the entire album is one extended highlight. The album trudges along, angry and eloquent, leading up to the ultimate one-two punch which, if it has to represent the end of this epic band's career, is an inimitable way to go out.
The 11-minute "Let's Call It Love" (maybe their crowning achievement?) doesn't segue into "Night Light" so much as explode into it. Along with the feedback bliss from "What's Mine Is Yours" and the once-in-a-lifetime vocals of "The Fox", the transition into the album's coda is one of those moments. Too good for words. And it is an achievement, evidence of a band that has taken things to that other place and made a defining statement. -- Sean Murphy
34. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America [Frenchkiss]
During a year of High School Musical frenzy, the Hold Steady released an album about Boys and Girls in America having a sad time together (you could argue High School Musical's Sharpay was depressed, Gabriella and Troy addicted to musical theatre). The Hold Steady's hip alternative is a rousing, literate, wide-screen, sometimes alcoholic and druggy view of the messy excitement we got ourselves into during the noughties.
With awesome riffs and hooks, the band is mostly at a musical peak, and the lyrical references to Kerouac, John Berryman, Tennyson and Izzy Stradlin are pulled with ease. Most of the characters (some hung-over from previous albums) are struggling in one way or another, often due to the social curses of alcohol ("Citris") and drugs ("Chillout Tent"), but the overall tenor is almost always upbeat.
The straight-ahead bar band approach may not be all that fashionable, but the Hold Steady are at their best re-creating the rush of youth culture ("Stuck Between Stations", "Massive Nights"). As a listener it's easy to get carried away by the music of "You Can Make Him Like You", become immersed in the collective recognition of "Southtown Girls", or just get washed away in the righteous words. Passionate and non-ironic, this is a great album by some seriously clever kids. -- Charles Pitter
33. The White Stripes - Elephant [V2/XL]
Elephant, the fourth studio album released by the the White Stripes in 2003, cemented Jack White's reputation as a musical purist from probable to undeniable. By recording the album entirely on pre-1960s equipment, White encapsulated the gritty open-wound rawness of the early delta blues masters he is heavily influenced by. Yet there is an indisputable modernism to Elephant that makes tracks such as "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button" as fresh sounding today as they did a decade earlier.
The album's core themes of relationship dysfunction and where love fits into the mess of it are the bread and butter of songwriters from every musical genre, which makes writing memorable songs, never mind classics, a big challenge, yet White accomplished just that numerous times on Elephant. And what better title for an album that offers all that? Like the animal that never forgets, Elephant will be remembered as one of the best albums of the 2000s and beyond. -- Dave MacIntyre
32. Björk - Vespertine [One Little Indian]
Vespertine functions as a document on the interplay of interdependence and independence, crafting precise documents about the inter-relational. For how strange she seems, Björk's best work is profoundly collaborative, and the beauty here is the beauty of a community working together on a singular practice. She auditioned a choir of Inuit singers from Greenland. Harmony Korine contributed a song. nominally about Will Oldham. The harpist Zeena Parkins, brought the improvisational skills of the avant-classical and free jazz realms.
Two of the songs were adapted from literary sources, one from ee cummings, and one from English playwright Sarah Kane (in this case, a unique version of Kane, one abstracted from the violence of her early work). Björk was never as interested in the abject like Korine or Kane. Bjork returns beauty into the shock of the new. The album makes these themes explicit in how a chorus that tells us "it's not up to you" or a song that she talks about "trying to be a in a generous mood" or that it is not "meant to be a struggle" An album can be a struggle, a Björk album can be a struggle, but this -- this is pure pleasure. -- Anthony Easton
31. M.I.A. - Kala [XL/Interscope]
With all of its exotic sights and sounds blazing past at a Mach 1 speed, it's easy to ask, what is M.I.A.'s Kala exactly? There's nothing that resonates quite like it from the first decade of the millenium. On the album, M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasm) plays ringleader to a roster of guests that's just as globe-trotting as her soundscapes, enlisting everyone from Aboriginal child rappers ("Mango Pickle Down River") to American uber-producer Timbaland ("Come Down"). The outcome is a uniform a body-shaking extravaganza that was tailor-made for the ADD generation.
Never one to shy away from her political leanings, underneath the multi-cultural celebration lays sharp criticism of present day society. "How many no money boys are rowdy/ How many start a war?" M.I.A. chants with the disarming playfulness of a schoolyard jump rope rhyme on the raucous "Boyz". Her influences stretch across a vast map- tribal drums join with deep bass that could only be found in first-world nightclubs while street-savvy raps entwine seamlessly with the schizophrenic beats behind her. It's true, no one on the corner has swagger like M.I.A. -- Andy Belt
30. Kanye West - The College Dropout [Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam]
It's hard to believe that in only ten years he was able to go from "Jesus Walks" to "I Am a God" but in retrospect all the elements of the loud, opinionated, triumphant and ridiculous iconoclast that we know call Yeezus were present in his debut album. There's the perfectionism, the musical eclecticism, the unhinged ego, tongue-in-cheek humor, the endlessly fascinating internal contradictions, the groundbreaking production, all united by West's overarching vision in a way that makes this whole thing feel somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
Still trying to work his way into the mainstream after years being the wizard behind Jay-Z and others' hits, Kanye West managed to bring together elements of classic soul and gospel, bawdy mainstream rap, conscious hip-hop and avant garde art and combine them into a cohesive whole. Never before had these worlds sat so comfortably together, especially not on massive singles that hit both the street and the critics' lists with equal force. Songs like "We Don't Care", "All Falls Down", "The New Workout Plan" and "Two Words" may be diverse in their scope but they're uniform in their musical insistence. The College Dropout is a record ambitious and accomplished enough to change both the sound and the substance of rap. -- John M. Tryneski
29. Beck - Sea Change [Geffen]
I'm not a fan of Beck. His nonchalant irreverence which permeates albums like Odelay and Mellow Gold can be quite grating and difficult to warm up to. However, with Beck's beauteous eighth studio album Sea Change, he managed to do something that most artists so late into their careers could never do -- a redefining of musical boundaries that drops the pretension and goes for the emotional jugular. Not only did Beck manage to produce a longing album of yearning and heartbreak, he proved that beyond the icy and kitschy demeanour that made him famous exists a diverse and complex artist capable of stretching beyond his showy complex production style. Something that is would make naysayers who may have prematurely written him off, take a second look. -- Enio Chiola
28. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights [Matador]
Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights was to post-punk revival what Is This It? was to garage rock revival. The detractors keep comparing this to Joy Division and the Chameleons, except they don't seem to realize that Paul Banks' voice moves more than Ian Curtis' and the production is clearer than any Chameleons record. Then, they turn to tearing up Banks' lyricism instead, taking them out of context and laughing at them, except they don't seem to realize that Banks' lyrics are more human than most any other record; relatable tales of relationships through the use of colloquialisms ("Her books are boring and stuff") or filler words ("My best friend's from Poland and um, he has a beard"), and comparing a subway to a porno was so obvious, I'm amazed no one's thought of it before.
But forget all that and pay attention to the instruments, because being post-punkers, they're good at what they do: the guitar interplay of "Obstacle 1", the finale of "PDA", the chug of "Say Hello to the Angels", the breakdown of "The New", and the melodies of "Leif Erikson". -- Marshall Gu
27. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP [Aftermath/Interscope]
The poetry icons from the 1960s such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman and Anne Sexton became known as "confessional poets". On The Marshall Mathers LP Eminem becomes the confessional poet of hip-hop. This often-controversial album exudes in references to violence and homosexuality, but it did so through the character of Slim Shady, and though jarring and offensive, a character no more likely to manifest than Plath's Nazi-fueled protagonist full of vitriol aimed at her father in "Daddy".
The Marshall Mathers LP opens up Eminem's artistic heart and leads it spurt bloody and unrestrained. This album is a juggernaut of words and images that gush in a relentless, unambiguous assault. The singer sits like an American Horror Story version of a expletive-spouting carnival challenge, taunting the listener to take just one more shot, which he always does.
Ultimately, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes with permissions -- permission to document life with absolute bluntness -- permission to transform the near exhaustive horrors of love-tinged hate into poetry -- permission to rise above the material, the motivation, permission to craft art from pain. Without the rhythm, the intricate rhymes, without the music, the disassociated words would scatter on the floor and congeal like a threatening love note. But Eminem imbues the words with a kind of fragility that impedes their bluster. While the master of white rap eventually overcomes his demons with tenuous, and sometime feeble constraint, the chronicle of that battle demands our attention over-and-over again. The Marshall Mathers LP will act as a get-out-of-jail free card for artists taking colloquial agony to new heights. -- Daniel Rasmus
26. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? [Polyvinyl]
Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes made a half-dozen albums of twee indie-pop in relative obscurity before essentially starting over with 2004's Satanic Panic in the Attic. While his lyrical subject matter was still whimsical, an increased focus on danceable beats began to draw a wider audience, and 2005's The Sunlandic Twins was about halfway to an indie-dance-pop masterpiece before succumbing to musical navel-gazing on the back end. But 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? turned out to be that masterpiece he'd previously flirted with.
This time, he turned the navel-gazing to his advantage, dropping the whimsy in favor of thinly-disguised lyrics about his own life. In Barnes' hands, struggles with antidepressants became the bouncy, joyous "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse." The ennui of living in Norway with his pregnant wife to take advantage of free state-provided health care became the soaring falsetto funk of "Gronlandic Edit" and the pop gem "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger".
It climaxes in the 12-minute centerpiece, "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal", where Barnes and his wife have a knockdown, drag-out argument that involves household objects being thrown across the room. Musically, the song pulses angrily, with tense, interlocking guitar and synth parts that steadily add layer after layer to the song at precise intervals. In the wake of the fight, Barnes retreats into a sexually ambiguous alter ego on the album's smutty, flirtatious, and funky second half, until the gnarly distorted guitar riff of "She's a Rejector" brings his real feelings back to the surface. The floaty, gentle yet resigned pop of "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling" brings the album to a smooth, cathartic, and satisfying finish. -- Chris Conaton
25. Daft Punk - Discovery [Virgin]
You can thank Daft Punk for the current musical dancescape. The rock stars of today are enigmatic priests of the dance floor, opting for laptops over Stratocasters. Before Daft Punk's now-legendary Coachella set in 2006, this was not the case. Sure, there were electronica acts, but almost none of them had the same flair for showmanship. Would you feel the same way about Daft Punk if they didn't dress up like robots? I didn't think so. Every modern-day EDM artist should be paying royalties for their iconography, if not for their music. Unfortunately, like Led Zeppelin before them, Daft Punk's innumerable progeny opted for fist-pumping excess at the expense of subtlety and texture.
The eerie serenity of "Nightvision" might be ideal for a cooldown, yet today's acts seldom recognize any BPM other than "FIST OF GOD". Moreover, if you expect to hear another track resembling the virtuosic insanity that is "Hander, Better, Faster, Stronger", don't hold your breath. Artists like Daft Punk come along once in a generation, and Discovery is their masterpiece, a record comprised of disparate moods and influences that nonetheless form a perfect whole. A retrofitted pop pastiche for the new millennium, never before had the past and future been so seamlessly integrated together. They likely never will be again. -- J.C. Sciaccotta
24. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells [V2/XL]
The late 1990s and early 2000s were a dark, dark time for mainstream rock. So dark, in fact, that there was a period in my early adolescence when I quit paying attention to music altogether. That's why White Blood Cells felt like a miracle when I first heard it that pivotal summer before high school. Sure, the album had its sinister moments -- but they were far removed from the phony, suicidal bullshit corporate radio had been shoving down my throat. A song like "The Union Forever" could co-exist alongside "We're Going to be Friends" because you knew both songs -- raw, emotional, authentic -- were cut from the same cloth. In an era where everyone strove for macho cool, the White Stripes weren't afraid to be vulnerable.
Like their peppermint-striped color scheme, their music was simple, yet bold. "Fell in Love with a Girl" (and its accompanying LEGO-themed video) remains their greatest achievement: at a scant one minute and 48 seconds, this adrenaline shot to the heart of garage was potent enough to wipe nu-metal and rap-rock off the face of the earth. As far as I'm concerned, this album saved rock 'n' roll, and for that we should all be very, very grateful. -- J.C. Sciaccotta
23. Sigur Rós - Ágætis byrjun [Aftermath/Interscope]
The image of a nascent, alien life on the cover of Sigur Rós' 2000 breakthrough Ágætis byrjun is perfect. No other image associated with the band so perfectly captures what it is that made the Icelandic group's sophomore outing so revelatory in 2000. Although the album was released in 1999 in Sigur Rós' native Northern land, it would not be until 2000 that the world fully experienced this ethereal, otherworldly sound.
Sigur Rós often gets labeled as "post-rock", which, while not entirely inaccurate, is also not a truly fitting way to describe the impression it made on the world in 2000. The band's sound does bring together elements of both post-rock and shoegaze, but its take on each style on Ágætis byrjun remains unmatched. Plenty of artists tried to ape the textural guitar sounds of My Bloody Valentine long after Loveless' 1999 release. Three years prior to Ágætis byrjun, the crescendo-obsessed Scots of Mogwai laid down the archetypal post-rock formula with Young Team. But while the styles of these predecessors can in some way be heard on Ágætis byrjun, Sigur Rós created something wholly alien in its sonically pristine quality. Having been to Iceland, I can attest that the country's gorgeous mountains, valleys, and vistas could have been the only place in the world to spawn something so crystalline.
Tracks like "Svefn-g-englar" have gone on to become Sigur Rós classics, and the key aspects of the song remain central to the group's songwriting choices. Frontman Jónsi' Birgisson's angelic falsetto floats delicately in and out of the song's spacious ambient arrangements. Pings of electronic noise echo throughout the wafting notes, as were they transmissions from a a faraway planet. But while at ten minutes "Svefn-g-englar" does feel like a world unto itself, Ágætis byrjun is best experienced as a whole. If you have the time to sit through the 72 minutes of music contained in this album, do it. Despite the modesty of the record's title translated into English ("A good beginning" or "a fine start," depending on who you ask), this is the kind of beginning that few artists in any medium ever pull off. -- Brice Ezell
22. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black [Island]
When Amy Winehouse's unfortunate death on 23 July 2011 became a media sensation, many people were discovering her music for the first time. One listen of Back to Black was all it took to recognize that the world had lost a major talent. With the help of producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, Winehouse crafted a beautiful album that highlighted her unique singing voice, which was at once euphoric and sorrowful. The now iconic single "Rehab" captures a joyous Motown sound, but the sting of depression always lingers in the background.
Winehouse confronts longing and loneliness head-on in slower, more soulful tracks like "Love Is a Losing Game" and "Wake Up Alone", and they're the most moving recordings of her career. After listening to this intensely personal record, there's a sense that we've crawled inside the soul of a flawed, troubled woman who wanted nothing more than to be loved and deeply understood by those around her. Each track is a testament to Winehouse's vulnerability as a human, honesty as an artist, and brilliance as a musician. -- Jon Lisi
21. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner [XL]
Armed with a razor tongue, rapid-fire post-garage rhythms, and precocious insights, 17-year-old Dizzee Rascal, the youngest vet of the infamous Roll Deep crew, made an album that sounded like something new (the premier global document of grime), but also sounded like it could be his last. Where the Streets really should have been called the Pubs, Dizzee was the real sound of the British streets, a poor fatherless kid from London's East End. He found salvation from the growing hopelessness of urban neglect in music, arguing of the toxicity of love in a hell of zero trust in "I Luv U" or watching the petty squabbles of youth devolve into battles "we settle... with the skengs" in "Brand New Day".
Boy in Da Corner is a Bildungsroman with no arc, the cover image the full extent of its worldview, backed into a corner with defenses raised for the fight, flight, or straightjacket. There's a pall from the diminished afterglow of what came after, which is grime and Dizzee's mainstreaming. It's odd, because Boy in Da Corner avoided the aspirational pabulum that plagued the self-help chart chat of American hip-pop in the naughts. Instead, Dizzee invested in the "real", an outpouring undercut by the alien mechanics of his productions; electro-dystopian digital strafes and glitchy battering kling-klangs -- a true 21st century merging of rave and hip-hop that didn't condescend either (hello David Guetta). Boy in Da Corner's grime was as future as the naughts got, even if the lyric sheet was as "no future" as the punk war cry 25 years previous. -- Timh Gabriele