Ten Must-Own Albums from the 2000s (#10 – #6)
I know this list is gonna generate some controversy. Hell, I’m counting on that.
And considering the 2000s aren’t quite over yet (we have another 16 months or so to go) I do not consider this list complete. Having said that, I feel it would be difficult for an album released in the next year and a half or so to top any of the albums on this list.
Have a suggestion? Your favorite album get passed over? Just want to bend my ear for including both pop and indie music? Add your comment below. If I get enough solid reponses I would be totally willing to alter the list.
Without further ado — and in no particular order — here are the top ten albums released in the 2000s that you just have to own.
10. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (2000)
I picked this album because it tells a story common to fans of contemporary indie rock — cult favorite band signs to major label and eveyone worries about how the album will turn out.
Epic Records signed Modest Mouse after the fan buzz got too loud to ignore. We Modest Mouse fans worried if Epic would require the Mouse to play radio friendly rock without the charm and awe of their standard fare. Modest Mouse was known for odd arrangements, solid lyrics, and a sound nearly defined by their willingsness to vamp on a particular theme for what seemed like hours on end.
Instead of letting us down, Modest Mouse spent their major label money recording what is perhaps the most haunting and intricate of their albums to date. Classic tracks from this album, like “Dark Center of the Universe”, show off the best of Modest Mouse’s heady past while introducing new elements, such as more sophisticated and personal lyrics.
Other tracks (I’m looking at you “The Cold Part”) found Modest Mouse playing around with atmospheric sounds. You could almost hear the growing pains if you turned the speakers up to 11.
Yes, Modest Mouse lost some fans after this album dropped. And yes, they gained about twenty times as many as they lost. Cut to 2004, when Modest Mouse enjoyed platinum success and tons of airplay. Was Moon the first step towards mainstream success? We could debate that for hours.
Buy this album because: Good major label released by indie bands are rare.
9. OutKast – Stankonia (2000)
It is fall of 2000. Having just moved in with a new roommate, I look for ways in which we can bond. He’s a wet behind the ears rich boy with a penchant for hardcore punk and (above all) System of a Down. Instead of dwelling on our problems, I pop in the new OutKast album I picked up.
The rest is history. The roommate and I are still great friends, and he hasn’t played a System of a Down album since. I’d like to think I changed his life that day, but let’s be honest — OutKast deserves that honor.
Stankonia is good, okay? I don’t care if you don’t like rap, I don’t care if you have something against Big Boi and Andre 3000, I don’t care if you’re an Icelander, a Brit, or a Lilliputian. This album produced two major hits for the burgeoning rap duo out of Atlanta — “Bombs Over Baghdad”, and “Ms. Jackson” — while earning them critical praise at a level unknown before in the world of rap.
Stankonia is an expressive, intricate, sometimes loud and sometimes gentle composition that highlights the best of OutKast’s talent. Featuring some of the best wordplay in rap history alongside music so hot it can still be heard leaking out of car windows 9 years later, this was my favorite album for years after its release.
Buy this album because: Rap is relevant, and this is the War and Peace of rap.
8. New Pornographers – Mass Romantic (2000-2001)
Boy oh boy am I going to hear a lot of nonsense about this pick. First of all, look at that date up there. How could an album be released across two years?
This album tells another of the great stories of music in the 2000s — how promotion and PR affects a band’s success. While Mass Romantic technically came out in October of 2000, the record label did literally NOTHING to promote it until 2001. This was simply a crime — the New Pornographers are making some of the best pop music in recent memory, and they’re doing it with style dripping out of their ears.
Many people came to the New Pornographers through the fame of Neko Case, who sings on most of the tracks. Neko is a star in her own right, and it is not uncommon to hear NP fans complain when she is absent from the lineup.
Mass Romantic is proof that good pop music is not dead. We don’t have to mourn the end of Brian Wilson or the Beatles. The New Pornographers play highly energetic pop music — and these guys are talented musicians. I’ll say it — Mass Romantic is the catchiest collection of tunes to come out since the last great era of Pop, the 1960s.
Carl Newman, who records solo as A.C. Newman, arranges these seemingly simple songs with the delicate touch of a jeweler. Neko Case adds her heartbreaking voice. Dan Bejar’s lyrics are more than just a little off kilter — this is the kind of songwriting that gets under your skin and takes up residence in your ear.
Buy this album because: The title track will intrigue, alarm, and excite you.
7. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
This album from one time indie mainstay Wilco was not popular across the board. In fact, if rock critics read my list, they’d be quite likely to point this selection out as “way off”.
Was YHF a brilliant and bold new direction for a band once considered alt-country? Was it a forced and lazy piece of experimental garbage best left in the same pile as Metal Machine Music? If you ask me, YHF ‘s unique style not only spread the band to new groups of fans, but it also represented the next stap for a band who’d already made several.
Their first album, AM, was an alt-country masterpiece. It only took one more album for the band to change itself. The second album, Being There was a direct slap in the face of their alt-country fan base. Wilco’s been changing from the beginning. Get over it.
This is a small album, a “minimalist” album if you must — an album that Pitchfork describes as being “concerned with subtraction”. What frontman Jeff Tweady was doing on YHF is very clear — he’s taken his typical folk style and stripped it down to its most basic parts, then added flourishes whenever he felt like it.
Buy this album because: It represents a common meme among bands in the 2000s — experimentation outside of their genre. Plus, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” might get you laid.
6. The Books – The Lemon of Pink (2003)
The Books aren’t making pop music. Sure, sometimes their fractured sound collage can be catchy, and I’ll admit to getting parts of their tracks stuck in my head like a bad early Beatles song.
No, The Books aren’t making pop — they’re more concerned with the creation of sound from ideas. Whoa, I know, this is getting pretty heavy. And I don’t want to make it sound like this album is a noise experiment or something only music snobc can enjoy. That’s simply not true.
There are soundbites collaged and mixed in new ways used to create many of the “lyrics”. Much of the music coomes from similar sources — soundbites, sound effects, synthesized percussion, handclaps, it is all here. But you’ll want to hear it again and again.
The Books represent, much like Wilco’s YHF, the new direction that popular music was and is moving in the 2000s. Sound collage has been done before, but not popular enough to get heavy airplay at colleges across the country. And it isn’t all sound of technology — pretty bursts of fiddles, banjos, and other strings crop up more often than a 50s sitcom.
Buy this album because: It is a journey in the best sense of the word. Because it may be the most remarkable listening experience of the last 10 years.
Tommorrow, catch the second half of the top ten list. Here’s a spoiler — Animal Collective will make an appearance, along with R Kelly.