Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 100 Albums Of The Decade: 20-11

20. Matthew Good

[Universal Canada, 2003]

Unknown on this side of the border, Matthew Good isn’t just the most consistent, visionary Canadian songwriter of the 2000s; he’s one of the best anywhere. And while all five of his studio releases this decade are worth your time, this remains his magnum opus, a sprawling and beautiful work both ambitious in scope (six tracks exceed the 5:55 mark, each a standout) and startling in its hard-edged humanity. Thanks to the digital domain, Avalanche is finally available in America, and nearly seven years on, it still retains every ounce of its power.

19. Jay-Z
The Black Album

[Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2003]

Does it matter that his “retirement” only lasted slightly longer than Brett Farve’s? In 2003, Shawn Carter was ready to leave a legacy, and damn if he didn’t deliver, cashing in blue-chip stocks from a Who’s Who of top producers: Kanye (“Encore”), Just Blaze (“Threat”), The Neptunes (“Change Clothes”), and, of course, Rick Rubin’s master class in Eighties revivalism (“99 Problems”). Every track is a monster, every lyric a victory lap. No wonder it’s been (seemingly) sampled or remixed by a thousand others since; The Black Album finds Jay-Z leaving the game on his terms, on top and untouchable.

18. The Strokes
Is This It

[RCA, 2001]

Could any album have lived up to the hype that greeted Is This It in the summer of 2001? Amazingly, this one nearly did, and while it might’ve been foolhardy to think the Strokes—or any “garage band,” for that matter—could save rock, at the very least Is This It rescued us from the prolonged American nightmare of Creed, Staind, and Limp Bizkit, kicking the door in for indie acts of all shapes and sizes to mingle in the mainstream. In 2010, The Strokes don’t matter, but their first effort—in all its skuzzy, dirty, insanely catchy glory—still does.

17. Robyn

[Cherrytree/Interscope, 2008]

Shattering the myth that of-the-moment music must be mindless, Robyn arrives both inviting and audacious, with its contemporary sheen serving as Trojan horse for one of the smartest, sensitive “pop” records imaginable. Throughout, former teen-idol-turned-indie-auteur Robyn displays enough range to shame a warehouse of single lady divas, moving from L’Trimm-styled goofs (“Konichiwa Bitches”) to Kate Bush-flavored confessionals (“Anytime You Like”) in roughly forty minutes and change. And the points (“Be Mine!,” “Cobrastyle,” “With Every Heartbeat”) in between? As good as pop—or any other—music got this decade.

16. My Morning Jacket

[ATO, 2005]

Jim James and company could’ve easily taken the safe route, refining their brand of jam-band fireworks for an ever-widening, ever-adoring audience. Instead, Z blew the blueprint to hell in a thousand dazzling ways, from the sinister electro of “It Beats 4 U” to the cracked reggae of “Off The Record” and the epic, psychedelic set closer “Dondante.” Like Radiohead or Wilco before them, MMJ threw down the gauntlet with Z, instantly transforming into the kind of groundbreaking act whose every move bristles with wide-open possibilities.

15. Arcade Fire
Neon Bible

[Merge, 2007]

Alone amongst their crazily-hyped indie peers, Arcade Fire actually managed to follow up an amazing debut with an equally amazing second record. With its torrents of sound and expanded palette—and yes, above all, that singular passion—Neon Bible marked the moment when AF's career path changed from “streaking comet” to “one of the brightest stars in the current musical landscape.” God only knows what they’ll do for Album #3.

14. Patty Griffin
1000 Kisses

[ATO, 2002]

No contemporary singer does “sad” better than Patty Griffin, and no album of hers overflows with sadness—and humanity, and heartbreak, and hope—like 1000 Kisses. If you haven't yet discovered one of the best-kept treasures in music today, start with this record; a tiny miracle of hushed moments, it's Patty at her superb best, every vocal as raw as a wound and every ache as radiant as the morning sunrise.

13. The Postal Service
Give Up

[Sub Pop, 2003]

On paper, there seemed little common ground between Ben Gibbard’s sad-boy yearning and Dntel’s sprightly, bouncing electronica, but once released, Give Up turned out to be the decade’s most left-field surprise, a spot-on pairing that managed, miraculously, to infuse bedroom angst with swirling Technicolor propulsion. Sub Pop’s second-best-selling album to date (behind Nirvana’s Bleach) would go on to spawn countless lousy (and occasionally chart-topping) imitators, with a long-rumored second Postal Service LP never materializing; perhaps for the best, as it’s difficult to imagine any way in which Give Up might be improved.

12. Radiohead
In Rainbows

[self-released, 2007]

Now that its headline-grabbing “pay what you want” release has faded into folklore, one can appreciate In Rainbows for what it really is: not a business model or music-biz game changer, but simply a great start-to-finish album. With no lofty concept and no one to please but themselves, Radiohead (AKA The Best Band Of Our Generation) delivered their most consistently open, accessible, and listenable work to date, ten perfect songs performed to perfection.

11. Modest Mouse
The Moon And Antarctica

[Epic, 2000]

From day one, Isaac Brock’s best moments have unwound like travelogues, which might explain the singular triumph of The Moon And Antarctica; track for track, this is his band’s finest adventure yet, an album with the scope to encompass each far-ranging experiment, yet fine-tuned enough to capture every last odd, mesmerizing detail. Future Modest Mouse efforts would achieve greater commercial success, but none captured a world quite as mesmerizing as Antarctica, resolutely earthbound in one moment and interstellar the next.

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