Finally, I’m done. Here are my top ten albums of the decade. Before you skip to the actual list, let me explain a few quick things. First of all, the albums are not ranked in any intentional way. These ten have all reached the top tier of records in my collection and comparing them to one another is very difficult. The rankings could easily be different in a week, but I can almost guarantee these would still be the best of the best. Each and every album is more than enjoyable; they are all sublimely meaningful and original. They all make me stop what I’m doing and listen. That being said, I don’t recommend these as background music, though if you must, it’s better than Kenny G! As always, I’d love to hear what y’all think. Tell me what I’m missing and why!
Satanic Panic In The Attic (2004)
Every once in a while, I find an album I love on first listen that ends up only getting better and better. Satanic Panic in the Attic is one of those albums. The energetic hooks of this modern psychedelic pop record instantly grab you and don’t let you go until the satisfying gong finale of “Vegan In Furs”. of Montreal, a.k.a. Kevin Barnes’ masterpiece, one can honestly say that this album doesn’t have a dull moment. And of course, the cover and album art add to the delightfully colorful ambience of these fourteen bursts of well-crafted sonic excitement.
In Rainbows (2007)
Based on my Beatle worshipping tendencies, a band called “The Beatles of our generation” would seemingly elicit an avalanche of defensive anger from me. Well, in the case of this British beacon of perfection, the statement rings true. Listening to In Rainbows in my college dorm room upon the album’s release in October 2007 is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the mind-boggling revolution created by albums like Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. Like the aforementioned albums, this one takes the listener to a utopia of sorts where flaws just don’t happen. Sounding completely new yet taking a cue from the group’s past work, In Rainbows is all I can ask for in an album.
Fleet Foxes (2008)
This band is almost too good to be true. Unabashedly influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Beach Boys and My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes have a uniquely Americana sound that has reminded us all of why the world just can’t have enough vocal harmony. Robin Pecknold’s eleven songs are like one huge breath of fresh air. From the delightfully ragged “Sun It Rises” to the swan song “Oliver James”, the record paints pictures of the natural beauty of our country better than anything this side of Aaron Copland.
The Long March (2005)
Yes, this is an EP. Yes, I may be biased because I met the two members of the Blue Scholars. Yes, much of this is inspired by the Chinese communism of Mao Zedong. Nonetheless, I hardly had to think twice about including this incredible record on this list. Each song is an eye-opening anthem for the struggling middle class. Each song makes you want to get up and do something about the problems of the world. Each song keeps you listening to every passionate word from the mouth of MC Geologic and grooving to every beat courtesy DJ Sabzi. “I heard a few heads say that hip hop is dead. No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”
Don’t blame Coldplay. It’s not their fault they got so popular. It’s hard to believe that it was nine years ago that this London quartet recorded their debut album. Back around the turn of the century, Martin, Buckland, Champion and Berryman and were “yapping at the heels of Radiohead” as frontman Martin so aptly said himself. But with Parachutes, Coldplay captured something very fresh; something they would never quite reach again. A song like “We Never Change” sounds so startlingly honest, the confession of a young dreaming Brit, unashamed of his naiveté, unaware of his paparazzi filled future. This record is a winner and no indie cynicism can change that.
The Crane Wife (2006)
The Decemberists have five albums this decade and each one has glorious moments. But this album stands alone as the band’s greatest achievement thus far. With songs ranging from 3:48 to 12:26, The Crane Wife is a brilliant balance of ambitious rock and simple shimmering pop craft. There’s no clear thematic thread to the work (that would come later, on The Hazards of Love), but it somehow feels like the songs relate to each other, unlike the charming pastiche of tunes on the previous albums. The final song here is called “After the Bombs” which is ironic for there isn’t a single bomb of a song present. Nonetheless, The Crane Wife is an explosive record and I’ll never tire of lighting the fuse.
Hail to the Thief (2003)
Oh yeah. That other Radiohead album. The one with all the words on the cover. That’s what this album was to me for so long. What the hell was wrong with me? Hail to the Thief is one of those albums that takes awhile but gets better and better with every listen. Finally, I have learned the truth: that this is one of Radiohead’s finest moments. “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)” is about as good as music gets and the same can be said for songs like “Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)” or “I Will (No Man’s Land)”. This record is just another reason why we can all thank our lucky stars this band didn’t break up after OK Computer.
Figure 8 (2000)
Every bit of praise I can heap on Mr. Smith I do without hesitation. The guy can do no wrong in my book. Figure 8 is his first album with hi-fi production and he handles the change with elegance. It’s a daunting task to record sixteen songs with no filler but Elliott succeeded here beyond belief. Each track is drenched with that mysterious X-factor of Elliott Smith. They’re all so beautiful, emotional and painful all at once. I can hardly listen to them without melting. It just isn’t fair that he had to die, for I don’t know if anyone recording in the 2000s was blessed with quite the gifts that he had.
A Piece of Strange (2005)
Don’t judge a book by its cover. And for that matter, don’t judge an album by its cover. And for the matter, don’t judge an artist by its name. Lo and behold, a Christian themed hip-hop album by a group with a blatant sexual innuendo as a moniker finds a place on this list. A Piece of Strange is the story of a man, just out of jail, trying to get back on his feet. He finds himself tempted (see apple on cover) by women, crime and drugs and ends up sucked in to this world of sin and finds himself in Hell, only to eventually see The Light. The story is powerful but what really sets this record apart are the beats. This is just about the most musical hip-hop I’ve ever heard.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
It’s hard to believe that the stars aligned for this one. The band was in turmoil, the record label situation was sketchy, the official release was delayed forever. But somehow, we have Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with all its echoing pianos, strange industrial noises and poignant lyrics. On this release, Jeff Tweedy proves himself as one of the finest living songsmiths with tracks like “Jesus Etc.”, “Radio Cure”, and “Ashes of American Flags”. It’s lines like “Distance has no way of making love understandable” that resonate for so long after hearing them delivered by Tweedy’s husky baritone voice. With two towers on the cover and an intended release date of 9/11/01, this album is a frighteningly prophetic work of art.