The 25 Best Albums of the Decade

Dec. 2, 2009, 6:36 p.m.

It was a decade that began paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty with our hands hovered, quivering over the panic button. It was period that started when we were so disoriented and nervous that we didn’t even bother naming it. Sure there was the ’70s and next the ’80s, then naturally the ’90s, but what the hell was this? The naughts? The Ohs? Why name a decade when we weren’t even sure if we’d be there to see it out?

When the date line hit two, triple-zero in the year column, we began a new decade (and century) with our fingers crossed, eyes half-shut and one foot in the bomb shelter, half-expecting our world to come to a catastrophic end as the clock struck midnight.

Ten years on, we’re still here, but our fingers are still crossed. Taking a step back from it all, it’s not quite clear if we are any better off now than when we started in 2000. A decade that began with Y2K endured some the most horrific manmade and natural disasters, was marred by constant turmoil and now ends in one of the worst economic situations this nation has seen since the Great Depression.

Looking for metaphors for the sake of comparison, it would be almost too easy to compare the travails of the naughts to the ordeals of the music industry in the last 10 years. The decade began concerned not with Y2K, but rather MP3, as an industry scrambling to topple Napster during the file-sharing service’s heyday. It was the beginning of a decade-long campaign against the idea that music did not constitute a free public domain. And despite the shutting down of the company, today, failing record sales, the collapse of labels and one savvy marketing ploy by Radiohead have all been a tribute to the way that consumers now view and obtain their music.

In terms of musical creation, we’ve never seen a more schizophrenic decade. It’s been a time when the title of “indie” has slipped into mainstream thought and when Jay-Z is as likely to be heard blaring from the Upper East Side as the Bronx. Music has become niche-ified as artists, struggling to make a name for themselves, have stretched themselves to the limit with garage-revival, Afro-pop, house, lo-fi, hi-fi and all the stupid labels that come with diversification.

The result? On one hand, it’s kids with 100 gigs of music, ear buds jammed in on full-blast pumping Arctic Monkeys and Kanye. The decade has seen the creation of a listening public with the inability to stay content with one artist or genre and an insatiable desire to have the latest and greatest music. On the other side, this decade has seen the development of a plethora of great sound that has never been heard before. Artists fed off the decade’s uncertainty and listeners’ fickleness to push the envelope and explore what was really out there.

So here’s a pick of the 25 finest albums of the last 10 years. With contributions from Death Cab for Cutie to The Streets, these releases ushered in a new era and helped to define and provide a damn good soundtrack to an uncertain and unpredictable decade. -RM

1. Radiohead–“Kid A” (2000)

Divisive to fans, disappointing to those who viewed Radiohead as “the saviors of rock,” confusing as hell on the first listen. It’s less melody, more rhythm; less voice, more ambience. Radiohead’s “Kid A” is one of the most haunting, elusive and eccentric albums to also debut at the top of the charts in six countries. Its minimalist textures, heavy distortion and puzzling lyrics–some of which were created by words pulled out of a hat–reflect a well-established band that felt a heavy dissatisfaction with the wave of “anthem rock” and trite conventions of popular music. The band struggled to create a new, almost non-sound, warped vocals, electronic layering and, in one song, a distant horn section improvising over a steady rhythm. It’s easy to claim that Radiohead’s sharp turn down a figurative dark alley paved the way for post-rock and experimentation, but that would be mistakenly putting a grandiose veil over an album that’s great precisely because it’s small. As Yorke wails, “I’m not here, I’m not here / This isn’t happening,” it’s not about a band pulling a daring twist, but just a few guys looking for the way out of a bleak place. -EH

2. Arcade Fire–“Funeral” (2004)

How did “Funeral,” actually written about the experiences of some of the band members, create such an eclectic mix of emotions and sounds in just 10 tracks? Even more perplexing, how did the quintessentially indie Arcade Fire create such a popular record? The last decade could easily have taken a turn toward electronic, inhuman music. “Kid A,” though phenomenal, can sometimes feel filtered because of the heavy use of computers. “Funeral” is the triumphant response, using organic sounds and human expression to create the shortest possible path between the minds of the artist and the listener. It was a comforting reminder that music was still made by mortals, for mortals. The title might be a reminder that we’ll all perish, but the music is a reminder of what happens before then–and damn it’s a lot. “Funeral” doesn’t just succeed in overall feel, though. “Rebellion (Lies)” is easily in contention for song of the decade. The strings, drums, guitars and voices peak to perfection in the second-to-last track of the album. Five years since it’s release, the track is still guiding and motivating alternative music and “Funeral” as a whole continues to be regarded as a tome for success. -CD

3. The Strokes–“Is This It” (2001)

In the years before “Is This It” was released, rock n’ roll had been pleading for a savior. Floundering in a post-grunge haze, rock needed someone and it needed them badly. So when five ragged but fresh faces rose from the dirt with a mix of NYC swag and garage band innocence, it was so hard to deny that this was indeed it. From the brazen roughness of Julian Casablancas’ voice and raw guitar interplay, The Strokes sure played the part and, with their first release, did something that no one had done for some time: provide hope. It was the hope that one band could redefine a stale scene and that youthful swag could carry rock into an uncertain future. Listening to songs like “Hard To Explain” and “The Modern Age,” which are so inexplicably brilliant, who could have blamed anyone for wishing? While The Strokes didn’t exactly set the room on fire with their following work, the impact of their first release is undeniable, fleshed out in the music of bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines. “Is This It” was hope when it was needed most and, for 37 minutes, it was inspiration for a decade trying to find its musical identity. -RM

4. Death Cab for Cutie–Transatlanticism (2005)

From one of the best bands of the decade comes one of the decade’s best albums. Offering an intimate musical experience unlike any other, Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” is an 11-piece lullaby for the contemplative, the lonely, the passionate and everyone else looking for a deeper, meaningful connection in the form of sound. Frontman Ben Gibbard’s plaintive vocals–which range from the nostalgic strength of “We Looked Like Giants” to the crushing fragility of songs like “Tiny Vessels,” “Passenger Seat” and the title track–float lightly atop syncopated percussion, delicate piano and gritty guitar throughout the album, providing an all-around musical experience for any kind of listener. Of course, in Death Cab style, there’s the creative opener–“The New Year,” an epic tale of New Year’s Eve love that sets the stage for the remainder of this heartstring-tugging album. The lighter “Expo ’86” and “Death of an Interior Decorator” balance out “Transatlanticism,” and the infectious underlying beat of “Title and Registration” have had listeners’ bodies swaying for the past seven years. Ten years. Five albums. Five EPs. Four guys. One band. Last decade will not forget Death Cab for Cutie and I suspect the Washington natives will not disappoint this decade either. -DB

5. Wilco–“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (2002)

Since the band’s formation in 1994, Wilco has switched out all of its original members except singer Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirrat. It has also undergone a series of genre-bending changes from light country twang to 15-minute tracks ending with existential radio fuzz, thrilling some and angering even more. But Wilco struck gold with their fourth album. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is the Goldilocks of their discography, straddling the divide between strong songwriting and slow-paced, curious meditations. The album, recorded before the Sept. 11 attacks, nevertheless in its wake shows echoes of the tragedy, like when Tweedy sings in “Jesus, Etc.”: “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape / Singing sad, sad, songs.” Eerie foresight aside, though, Wilco has always been able to slip in understated lyrics that only hit you the fifth time around. “All my lies are always wishes,” we hear and if you’re really listening, that simple statement can make you pause. And then the next song does it to you again. And again. If for no other reason, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” stands out among others for its consistent appeal to the simple song that worms its way into your mind while you’re least expecting it. -EH

6. Radiohead–“In Rainbows” (2007)

Radiohead is getting boring. All they do is completely revamp their sound and put out a critically-acclaimed, revolutionary album. “In Rainbows” is just the latest addition to their absurd resume that includes the best album of the ’90s, “OK Computer,” and the best album of the 2000s, “Kid A.” This time, they decided to take on the entire music industry as well, releasing the album through a choose-your-price system. Even though ?0 could be paid, the average price chosen by listeners was around ?4. In a decade where getting music for free is something to brag about, people chose to pay to discover just how Radiohead could top themselves again. What they discovered was 10 tracks of musical bliss, created from unorthodox and even unmelodic individual noises and rhythms. “15 Steps” opens the album and is a perfect example. The bonus disc easily deserves mention as well, with “4 Minute Warning” and “Last Flowers to the Hospital Bed” topping any list of the best songs ever from a bonus album. “In Rainbows” isn’t going to fade away or be forgotten. Remember how much you paid and where you where when you downloaded it–your grandchildren will be interested. -CD

sigurros7. Sigur Ros–“Agatis Byrjun” (2000)

Besides Bjork, green hills and Vikings, what comes to mind when the music lover thinks of Iceland is the post-dreampop group Sigur Ros. From the four members of the band, keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson is the only one who had any original music training, but from the beautiful arrangements and ethereal orchestrations displayed throughout their discography, nobody would know that. Their sophomore album, “Agatis Byrjun,” (translated to ‘An All-Right Start’) launched the group onto the world stage and soon, Sigur Ros began to play with major acts like Radiohead. Sung in a mix of Icelandic and a made-up language, the tracks are not anything that people sing along to, nor are they likely ever going to get a lot of radio play. Initially, the album may come off as confusing and overbearing, with ethereal and angelic patterns combined with utterly grandiose structures. Indeed, “Agatis Byrjun” seems like a soundtrack for Mother Nature herself, invoking imagery of the most beautiful vistas and the purest emotional experiences. With epic pieces like “Svefn-G-Englar” and tracks like “Staralfur,” with beautifully placed firework-like effects, it is not exaggerative to say that “Agatis Byrjun” can and probably will, bring tears to your eyes. -AH

8. Daft Punk–“Discovery” (2001)

When Daft Punk hit the scene in the late ’90s with “Homework,” no one realized how potent their brand of electronic–a concoction of House, funk and techno–could have really been…not even themselves. While they got a little more serious with “Discovery,” the odds were still stacked against them after its release in 2001. You would have been a fool if you were to believe that two grown men dressed as neon robots, pumping the obscurities of disco and sampling Barry Manilow could find success in this decade. I guess it just shows you how unpredictable the double-zeroes were. With club bass pounding and robotic samples purring, Daft Punk’s second album was a paradox. It was old, yet it was so new. It revived disco and made neon spandex and Day-Glo acceptable, but at the same time, it made AutoTune cool way before it’s exploitation (and subsequent D.O.A.) at the end of the decade. It brought back the ’70s with some funky keyboards and synths, yet it was hip before electronic duos like Justice and MSTRKRFT had even been conceived. Most importantly, however, it taught a generation that it was o.k. to dance and with “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” playing, who needed to be prompted twice? -RM

coldplay9. Coldplay–“A Rush of Blood to the Head” (2002)

Just one year after its 2002 release, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” made Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. To date, it is still Coldplay’s best-selling album, with 4.5 million sold in the United States alone. “Clocks” has created one of the best recognized piano riffs, but the award-winning single is barely the highlight of the album; “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is one of those rare albums that doesn’t contain a single dead track. Sure, the album has its highs and lows, but where most bands have them in quality, Coldplay achieves them in emotions. Consider how the album opens with the heavy-tempo intro of “Politik,” and ends on a piano fade out and “You came along and you cut me loose” from “Amsterdam.” Coldplay hit the full spectrum in a musical sense, while also appealing to a wider audience than any other band in the past decade. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t recognize at least one song from the album and even harder to find someone who wasn’t pleased with it. -CD

10. Jay-Z–“The Blueprint” (2001)

Arguably the best hip-hop album of the decade, Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” is a masterpiece. Jay-Z himself knew that, all while penning tracks like “The Ruler’s Back” and “Takeover.” The man whom many consider a remarkable lyricist of our generation makes the album a smart, savvy and valid reflection on society and culture, without weighing the album down too much with seriousness. Jay-Z cemented his status as one of the kings of rap with homages to ’70s soul and decades-old hip-hop. With classics like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Girls, Girls, Girls,” radio found gems that reached an audience on their own, without the support of the rest of the album. He raps, “No you’re not on my level, get your brakes tweaked, I sold what your whole album sold in my first week,” and while it sounds like swagger, Jay-Z has shown that it’s not just all talk. His three albums since “The Blueprint” have been extremely influential in the rap world and on the charts, with “Empire State of Mind,” released last year, becoming Jay-Z’s first much-deserved number one single. Despite crying retirement regularly, it’s clear that Jay-Z is not going to leave the rap world any time soon. -AH

11. Interpol–“Turn On the Bright Lights” (2002)

Interpol’s “Turn On the Bright Lights” has the greatest opening track of all time. “Untitled” isn’t the best track off the album, but never has an opening track so perfectly prepared the listener for a band’s distinct sound.  Although having lyrics, “Untitled” has the feel of an instrumental and this stays in the back of the listener’s mind for the duration of the album. Even the hit single “PDA” has a guitar-heavy conclusion just as impressive as the rest of the song. All the tracks contribute to each other, including “NYC,” with the complaint that the New York subway “is a porno,” and the closing “Leif Erikson,” which explores how romance can be difficult in the arctic. Although love for Norse explorers wasn’t a hot topic of the last decade, “Turn On the Bright Lights” as a whole gave us something completely new: a band focusing just on their music and making it show. The 2000’s gave birth to many over-the-top personas such as Kanye, Lady Gaga and Empire of the Sun. If only they had discovered the message of “Turn On the Bright Lights”<\p>–<\p>it’s not all about the musician, it’s about the music. -CD

12. Sufjan Stevens–Illinois (2005)

Sufjan Stevens is a prolific musician (to the tune of more than 10 instruments), songwriter (his “Songs for Christmas” come in five volumes) and dreamer (even if he made one album a year, he wouldn’t finish his 50-state saga until he was 82). As the second of two completed state-centric concept albums, “Illinois” should be just a piece in a (hopefully) growing puzzle, but it’s a work that defies a category and doesn’t need a pipe-dream project to justify its creation. Armed with his whispery voice, a guitar and a back-up mini-orchestra, Stevens attacks all aspects of the Midwestern state: “Chicago” is a breathless ride through the Windy City, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” shivers its way through the tale of a famous serial killer and “Casimir Pulaski Day” turns a state holiday for a Revolutionary officer into a quiet confession about young love, cancer and faith. “Illinois” will certainly teach you more than you needed to know about the state’s history and people, but in making a portrait of the state, Stevens has made a portrait of ordinary people, in brief snapshots of song. Come on, feel the Illinoise! -EH

13. Gorillaz–“Demon Days”

Despite initially being considered a gimmick and a joke, Damon Albarn, former frontman of Blur, conceived Gorillaz, the first “virtual hip-hop group.” Along with artist Jamie Hewlett and producer Dan Nakamura, Albarn released the album “Gorillaz” in 2001, with critics expecting nothing but cool cartoons and garbage. Instead, the world got four strange looking creatures with one of the sickest Web sites and multimedia presentations that the music world had ever seen, not to mention some really unconventional and exciting music. With the single “Clint Eastwood” becoming a smash success, the world eagerly awaited the release of the sophomore album “Demon Days.” And people were not disappointed. Enlisting DJ Danger Mouse, Albarn created a post-apocalyptic concept album that is hard for listeners to wrap heads around conceptually–think “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head,” featuring a just-plain-weird narration by Dennis Hopper–but the funky beats, spastic synths and catchy choruses make the tracks very accessible. Albarn proves his art-pop mastery with this album, highlighting futuristic themes with his typical detached vocals and exciting mixing. With “Feel Good, Inc.” and “DARE” shooting to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom, as well as in the United States, Gorillaz’s sophomore effort showed naysayers that this project was more than just some strange looking cartoons. -AH

14. Eminem–“Marshall Mathers LP” (2000)

The first words out of Eminem’s mouth on his third full album: “Sue me.” It was so blatant, so full of menace, pain and hatred that only one artist this decade could have pulled it off: Eminem. By now, we should have all had an earful of this rapper’s lyrical antics: songs about murder, beating women and all the amoral content that would have parents ripping the album out of their children’s CD players one minute into track two, “Kill You.” Yet, despite the criticism and calls for Eminem’s head, we’ve still remained fascinated, drawn back by the sublime skill and rhymes of one of the decade’s most gifted rappers. “Marshall Mathers LP,” Eminem’s crowning achievement, is the case in point. Playing off his critics, Eminem satirically warns listeners that he’s created a monster–hence the short skits throughout the album that foreshadow the dangerous thematic content. Despite this, it’s a car wreck and we just can’t look away, the 9X platinum proves it. Yet removing all the controversy from the album, the concept is simple: let Dr. Dre handle the production and have Eminem just rap, a phenomena so fluid and so accomplished that it’s jaw-dropping. Doubt it? Listen to “Stan” and try not to be impressed. -RM

15. LCD Soundsystem–“Sound Of Silver” (2007)

While it’s easy to cite names like Daft Punk for leading indie kids toward the waters of dance music, it was essentially LCD Soundsystem that made them take the drink. Sure, Daft Punk paved the way for those hipsters to dance, but it was James Murphy and Co. who made it so damn cool. Fresh off the name-dropping, cutting-edge of their self-titled hit, the band played a little bit of one-upmanship with “Sound Of Silver” with Murphy, a famed producer, proving that he was no one-trick pony by the time the album was released. While “Sound” and most of Murphy’s work have been classified under the catch-all title of dance punk, the label alone does little justice to the nine-track masterpiece. Each track was incomparable to the next from the mellow, sample-pieced track “Someone Great” to the piano-driven ballad “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” But just to be sure that that last bit of doubt was extinguished as soon as you hit the halfway point in the album, Murphy drops “All My Friends,” exhibiting a flurry of production skills, songwriting aptitude and sheer emotional understanding that will blow your mind away. -RM

16. Kanye West–“Late Registration” (2005)

While many Taylor Swift fans out there root for him to fail, Kanye West cemented his status as a force to be reckoned with when he released “The College Dropout,” the album that caused the hip-hop world to ruminate over his unconventional approach and interesting sound. One of the most vocal, absurd, opinionated artists of our generation showed that he was truly a powerhouse with “Late Registration,” an album that blew critics and listeners out of the water with its eclectic mix of Top 40 traditions and odd, yet surprisingly brilliant, sounds and harmonies. Songs like “Gold Digger” topped the charts, with artists like Jamie Foxx and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 lending their skill sets to the orchestrated hodgepodge of the tracks. Across the globe, musicians were astounded with Kanye’s grand arrangements and multi-layering of sounds. “Late Registration” is an album that proves that Kanye is indeed capable of some legendary hip-hop, “jackass” (as Obama eloquently called him) or not. -AH

17. Bloc Party–“Silent Alarm” (2005)

Syncopated beats, melting riffs and from-the-heart vocals dominate this album of the decade. “Silent Alarm,” the debut studio album of British indie rockers Bloc Party, immediately commanded attention to the British indie scene upon its release in early 2005 and has since had a lasting influence through such tracks as “Helicopter,” “Banquet” and “She’s Hearing Voices.” When asked to describe Silent Alarm, frontman Kele Okerere has called the album big, energetic, ambitious and tight–and that’s exactly what comes across the speakers. The rock sound is a step up from the standard beats, riffs and screams, instead incorporating sophisticated melodies atop syncopated rhythms, all packed tightly into a defined musical package. Passionate displays such as “Like Eating Glass” balance emotional outpourings such as “So Here We Are,” but the sound consistently exemplifies Okerere’s ideal of a ‘Technicolor’ album–one we surely will remember as we take on the new decade. -DB

18. White Stripes – “Elephant” (2001)

It’s hard to go wrong when you write the most recognizable riff of the decade. “Elephant” kicks off with a rumbling seven-note guitar lick that became the chant de jour for millions of crazed European football fans. The howling stomp of “Seven Nation Army” is a perfect introduction to an album that finds Jack White showing that he can do the whole white boy Zepplin electric blues better than anybody else. Sure, he never led society back to the promised land of rock and roll, but the music suggests otherwise. “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart” is pure old school rock-and-roll sweetness, while the snarl in tracks like “The Hardest Button to Button” and “Hypnotize” is pure menace. And then Jack reminds you that guitar is always the answer with the eight-minute showstopper “Ball And Biscuit,” so good that he must have made Robert Johnson’s deal with the devil for it. In 20 years when classic rock stations scavenge the decade for their own, Jack will be the chosen one. -WD

19. The Streets–“Original Pirate Material” (2002)

“Don’t conform to formulas, pop genres and such / Let’s push things forward.” Mission accomplished. Mike Skinner took two-step to the top of the charts in England by sitting in his mother’s house and telling stories about his life. And the impact was tremendous, with Skinner becoming a national treasure and paving the way for acts such as Dizzy Rascal. Critics like to wax poetic about “Original Pirate Material” as the successor to Blur’s “Parklife” in describing middle-class British life.  But more important are the songs, a rare “album” in hip-hop where each track lifts the others around it. Oozing charisma, his tales of “sex, drugs and on the dole” are by turn sweet, hilarious, sentimental and tragic. Standouts include “The Weak Become Heroes”, a nostalgic track about 1995’s London rave scene, the wickedly funny marijuana-vs.-alcohol rant “The Irony of It All” and the tragic breakup song “It’s Too Late.” But every track boasts original lines made all the better by British slang lessons such as Skinner explaining “Round here we say ‘birds’ not ‘bitches.'” -WD

20. The Killers–“Hot Fuss”

Soon after The Killers released their debut studio album in the summer of 2004, one reviewer thought the Las Vegas rockers could afford a “bit of honesty,” writing: “The Killers are just the latest band to be born too quick inside the popular music vacuum, where expectations for broad accessibility kill dudes’ potential for deeper creativity quite fabulously dead.” Now, as the decade has come to a close, The Killers have established themselves as more than “just the latest band”–and “Hot Fuss” was their branding. Songs like “Mr. Brightside” and “Smile Like You Mean It” defined the decade for countless rock music fans and though a bit monotonous at times, the album served as a powerful launching pad for the four desert rockers. Three albums later, The Killers continue to draw upon the early work in “Hot Fuss” that catapulted them near the tops of charts around the world. -DB

brighteyes21. Bright Eyes–“I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (2005)

Usually the word “emotional” is spat like a curse when it comes to music. And yet of all the so-called “new Dylan’s,” emo king Connor Oberst kicked out unquestionably the best album of the bunch. The album is an ode to New York’s 20-something’s who spend their time looking for love, drugs and the meaning of life. Tightly played by accomplished Nashville studio musicians and backed by the incomparable Emmylou Harris, Oberst’s emotional wail reels off lines that would make you cringe if they weren’t so true. Self-absorbed in the best possible way, “I’m Wide Awake” catches the yearnings and heartbreaks of youth with acute lyrical skill and consistently beautiful melodies with the result very much like a modern day “Blood On The Tracks.” -WD

22. Yeah Yeah Yeahs–“Fever To Tell” (2003)

Brought up in a whirlwind of hype in the midst of a garage-rock revival, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs threw themselves into the arms of avant-garde adoring hipsters with their first album, “Fever To Tell.” Introducing the world to a screaming banshee of a frontwoman in Karen O and two obliging minions in Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, “Fever” was an assault on the eardrums and a not-so-subtle slap in the face to those doubting that there was no longer a mainstream place for feedback-laced riffs, headache-inducing percussion and larger-than-life rock stars. And at the center of it all was O, sporting a lipstick and beer-smeared sneer to lead listeners through a sometimes improvised, always loud, but never boring roller coaster. Add to that ride one surprisingly beautiful and vulnerable ballad in “Maps,” and “Fever to Tell” was one hell of an introduction for three Big Apple rockers looking to make a name for themselves and justify the prenatal hype. -RM

Bon Iver23. Bon Iver–“For Emma, Forever Ago” (2008)

Conceived in a cabin in the woods by a man simply trying to connect the dots, “For Emma, Forever Ago” is one of the most original and heartfelt musical creations of this decade. Justin Vernon, who records under the name Bon Iver, had spent a decade with former bandmates and the dissolution of the group weighed heavily on him. So, for three months, Vernon lived alone, chopping firewood, hunting deer and reflecting on his relationships with other people by purging an overwhelming backlog of sentiment, emotion and perspective into the form of song. The result: a nine-song collection of Justin Vernon’s free-flowing experimentation with his guitar and with his own mind during his hibernation. The layered vocals, topped with Vernon’s painfully expressive falsetto, take the listener on a slow exploration of the contemplative consciousness that exists within every person’s mind–the mind that has known and has forgotten, that has loved and has lost and that is consistently being shaped along the way. -DB

24. Outkast–“Stankonia” (2000)

A masterpiece featuring two of rap’s best flows, Big Boi and Andre 3000 effectively draw out the tension between their respective “player and poet” personalities. Over tracks that are unapologetically weird and impossibly catchy, the “blue-collar scholars” dropped some of the decade’s best singles. From the spacey disco of “B.O.B” to the irresistible braggadocio of “So Fresh and So Clean” to the sentimental “Ms. Jackson,” Outkast only got weirder and catchier, leaving rap (and the whole world) to wonder, “Where the hell did that come from?” “Stankonia” is where, the land at the “center of the earth, seven light years below sea-level…the place from which all funky thangs come.” Filled with politics, ideas, gangsters, whores with wigs Andre’s kajillion nicknames and an absurd amount of freakishly fast flows, the album has cemented its place in the rap–and pop–canon forever. Forever? Forever ever. -WD

25. Fleet Foxes–“Fleet Foxes” (2008)

For a band that has only recorded its first demo four years ago, it’s impossible to project if Fleet Foxes as a group has a staying power on the musical scene. Their first full self-titled release, however, has earned its place even in the unlikely event that the band proves to be only a blip on the radar. “Fleet Foxes” is woodsy and folksy, but also brings a kind of lyric maturity that is rare in debut albums. With songs that are humble, but fully fleshed out with rich harmonies and church-tower acoustics, it evokes images of a tiny choir that picked up instruments and moved into the forest a la Thoreau to spin minstrel-like songs and grow big, bushy beards. Somehow, they’ve managed to meld olden, almost madrigal-like melodies and instruments with conventional style and create something only possible in this crazy decade of the ’00s. -EH

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