There’s always the fear with these lists that the brain-spatula will miss something important from the crevices of your musical memories of the decade. We can, and do, hope that someone else will remember the bits that we forget. We also remember the word floccinaucinihilipilificate, which means “to consider [something] worthless”, and remember that many people hold this position regarding lists like these. The noughties, or naughties, might be the last decade in which it is appropriate to laud “albums”.

If that proves to be the case, then these are the ones we want to laud last.

< 40-21 |

20.

Madvillian
Madvilliany

Stones Throw, 2004

When a hip-hop record gets the kind of unanimous praise that Madvillainy was greeted with, you have to suspect it’s doing something to get people who otherwise wouldn’t give a shit back in their comfort zone. For those people, the most exciting combination here wasn’t the underground’s most astonishingly prolific MC with it’s most adventurous producer, but between rap’s structure and punk’s ground rules: 22 tracks and about twice as many minutes by stripping away pointless skits, unnecessary guest spots, R&B hooks, remixes, i.e., everything most rock people consider gauche about modern hip-hop records. But focusing on the length does a great disservice to Madvillainy’s depth, as it’s every bit as sprawling and wild as The College Dropout, Stankonia or any other 70-minute opus it was seen as an antidote to. Fractured soul (“Eye”), surprisingly lucid political raps (“Strange Days”), stunningly suspenseful instrumentals (“Madvillain Theme”), Sun Ra-worship (“Days Of Tomorrow”), all of it subsumed under a think haze of pot smoke, and of course, some guy named MF Doom who could rap pretty well. So it’s no surprise that he left the final word to himself on “Rhinestone Cowboy,” three minutes of such unfailingly quotable punchlines that all he could do to end the record was simply drop the mic and walk away, knowing it would take far longer to absorb Madvillainy than the 45 minutes it takes to listen to it.

– Ian Cohen


19.

Broken Social Scene
You Forgot it in People

Arts & Crafts, 2002

In retrospect, perhaps no movement exerted as much pull on American indie rock listeners this decade as the buzz north of the border. Although its most impactful releases happened in the first part of the 00s, Canada’s variegated collectives nurtured the emergence of well-loved artists all over the independent spectrum. The path stretches the length of the world’s second biggest nation, running through the circle of the Vancouver-based New Pornographers and Spencer Krug’s British Columbian constellation of acts all the way to the ubiquity of the Arcade Fire in Montreal. The Canadian invasion hit enterprising young listeners just as broadband enabled listeners to easily discover and/or steal music via the Internet: a wave of zeitgeist demolishing dormrooms and once sleepy independent record stores. And it produced more than a few stereotypes: late 70s art rock influences; intricate compositions carried out by a phalanx of multi-instrumentalists; members moonlighting in a variety of side projects; a general air of effortless brilliance. Those images come into focus directly above circa 2002 Toronto with Broken Social Scene, not the earliest or most prolific but certainly the most trailblazing of the Canadian rock cooperatives.

You Forgot It In People, the group’s second full-length, is a full-on earworm assault, drawing on its members’ varied talents to spackle together guitar feedback, a certain folksy haunt, and the instrumental foregrounding that we used to call “post-rock” into rough-hewn but elegant anthems. The wafer-thin vocal hooks are hardly the point, and neither is the vague fuzz of guitar riffs, but they pop like Technicolor. To liberally (and incorrectly, I’m sure) draw an analogy to physics, the elements of, say, “KC Accidental” co-exist as independent threads, each in their own orthogonal dimension, each vibrating in unison. Galloping drums frame (at least) two major guitar parts, harmonized like Sonic Youth doing Thin Lizzy, all building to a brief vocal, strings floating across the stereo field, and all eleven dimensions of expression form the indefatigable space-time that we experience as vivid reality. You could play your own analogy game using BSS’s forebears, but you’d pull your hair out at the possibilities. Lou Reed and Kim Gordon fronting Yo La Tengo. The Pixies as headed by David Bowie. Early period Beck carrying on an album-long argument with Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher. Ultimately, YFIIP holds all such hazy overtures at arms’ length.

It’s arguable that Broken Social Scene as a collective has its best days behind it. Its key players have either gone on to bigger or better things (e.g. iPod hawker Leslie Feist) or returned to orbit (Emily Haines back to Metric, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan with Stars). Co-founders Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew have kept only a dim torch lit for the BSS brand by releasing solo records under the nominal Broken Social Scene Presents... umbrella. Meanwhile, the rock of Canada has soldiered on and personalities like Krug, Campbell Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler (not actually Canadian) now control the narrative of 21st century art rock and graceful prolificacy. But for many enterprising listeners of a certain age or disposition, the lexicon of Canadian indie rock is YFIIP, its definitions buried in the quintessence of “KC Accidental”, or “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”, or “Almost Crimes”, or “Stars and Sons”. I could keep going.

– Mike Orme


18.

PJ Harvey
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

Island, 2000

Polly Jean Harvey once cannily nailed both her detractors' and her rabid fans' vision of PJ Harvey, Inc. with just one sentence: "angst-ridden old bitch-cow". It was this incarnation of Harvey - style tips from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, musical aesthetic equal parts exorcism and guttural moaning, references to Romanesque carvings and Leadbelly - that broke through in 1995, so it was that many expected Harvey to continue under this banner for the rest of her career. Those who were expecting more blunt sexual metaphors, rage-fuelled clanging and/or grim atmospherics from Harvey's 2000 release were, likely, sorely disappointed: the record was her attempt to create "absolute beauty" in song; in effect, PJ Harvey gone pop. As Robert Christgau put it at the time (taking a brief break from talking about Harvey's "juiced" pudendum), "If Nirvana and Robert Johnson are rock's essence for you, so's ‘To Bring You My Love.’” But if you believe the Beatles and George Clinton had more to say in the end, this could be the first PJ album you adore as well as admire." And yet, this was no slick pop confection: from the first moments of the first moment, “Big Exit” (zing!), Harvey finds immortality in intimacy, nestled amongst a clarion call of a riff buffeted by barnstorming drums - in effect, easing the listener from her previous guise(s) into this new mode of musical thinking. With those formalities out of the way, “Good Fortune” shimmers into life. A glorious romantic sightseeing trip through late-late-night New York city, Harvey revels in the restorative powers of l'amour fou; through her eyes, the ragged simplicity of rumpled sheets and hangovers glow with the beauty of a thousand (lesser) flowery romantic visions. In its own way, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is suffused with romance, its beauty as equally as its difficulties. Take “This Mess We're In,” the quietly feverish duet with Thom Yorke: could anyone else have coaxed Yorke to sing "Night and day/I dream of making love to you, baby" while helicopters chase them through New York? Harvey gets her chance to be direct with the rollicking “This Is Love”: "I can't believe life's so complex", she barks, "When I just want to sit here and watch you undress." But romance can blind the sharpest women, and quickly turn, and so “Kamikaze” roars forth, with Harvey chastising herself: "Where the fuck was I looking/When all his horses came in?" It's fascinating listening as the independent, stubborn Harvey allows herself to get lost in love in the same way she lost herself in the album title's City. She finishes the record with “We Float,” and its compelling lines buried amidst the song's anxious, skittish melody: "This is kind of about you/This is kind of about me." In unpacking her own romantic foibles, Harvey ended up making her most universal album; her Stories bear repeated readings to this day.

– Clem Bastow


17.

Bjork
Vespertine

One Little Indian, 2001

Was Vespertine the record where we really first came to know Bjork? Despite its spacious, web-like production and the emotional nudity for which Bjork had long since made quite a name for herself, the record’s sensuality feels immense even now, a keyhole glimpse of a woman who, once exposed, you’d almost like to remove to distance anew. Such is the impact of a rush of intimacies set to strings, pinprick percussion, lush choruses and harps, I suppose. As the decade wore on, she would eventually delve into more explicit biographical detail—as on 2007’s Volta--but Vespertine still feels like the album on which we were granted the keenest glimpse of the Bjork beyond the Swan dresses and Paparazzi attacks. This explicitness though—this frankness of tone, voice, and once-upon-my-youth storytelling—is also the record’s most marked asset, and the one that makes Vespertine her best effort to date. With programming aid from producers like Matthew Herbert and Matmos, Bjork’s fourth proper album was her most cohesive and consistently stunning to date. In retrospect, the album’s relatively humble rhythmic base seems like a testimonial to a shift in artistic temperament. As opposed to the often chunkier dance rhythms of its predecessors, the album’s beats are spider footfalls, little quiet scurries and scatters of rhythmic sound. Thankfully, Bjork’s voice itself is massive; I’d argue it’s even more integral to Vespertine than the record which would follow, Medulla, noted for its creation mostly around the human voice itself. Much of its atmosphere borrows from ambient music’s mood-setting—listen to the clock-chime harps of “It’s Not Up to You” or the open-sky synth tones of “Cocoon”--while enveloping them with enough compositional heft and contrast to side-step the genre’s wallpaper tendencies. As an interlude, “Frosti” is a Japanese snowfall over as quickly as it’s begun—its wet flakes cast as intertwined bell tones fading on empty blacktop—while “Aurora”’s tumbling beat and harp make for one of the album’s more aerial winter retreats. But as I alluded to, there are times when its honesty feels almost like assault, a too-open unveiling of self. Atop sea-foam strings, cold choral washes, and sticky minimal rhythms, “An Echo, A Stain” creeps about in the hush of night, watching its partner sleep, noting his various states of dream and uneasy rest. It’s an attachment whose intimacy feels almost creepy. Elsewhere, however, Bjork’s closeness feels simply human, raw and seeking the simple comfort of company. One of her most ascendant creations to date sonically, “Unison” is also one of Bjork’s coziest . On a record that delves into the difficulties of opening oneself up emotionally, “Unison” hints at a willingness to negotiate, to allow for ebb-n-flow. As a closer—with its soaring string, choral parts and sticky beat--the track feels like shedding fall-damp clothes and huddling about a fire. A long day of exposures and interpersonal intricacies, allowed now the cozy recline of evening.

– Derek Miller


16.

Eminem
The Marshall Mathers LP

Aftermath, 2000

I can’t listen to this album again. It’s not because of laziness, or self-indulgence or a desire to emulate Dave Longstreth and review Marshall Mathers entirely FROM MEMORY. The problem is that it’s is a period piece that looks grotesque in the rear view mirror, but will settle nicely when everything stops moving. I promise. In the meantime, the next time Jack-FM plays “Stan,” please pass me the Winchester.

So why, nearly a decade later, do we still embrace the sophomore album from a bleach-blonde trailer-trash cracker from Warren, Michigan. An ex-mullet sporting squirt who dubiously repped Detroit, and hijacked Dre for beats and enough street cred to turn him from backpack sensation into pin-up material for early adopting smoker girls too cool for “Bop.” Because for a few years, Eminem was the ID of every 16-year old boy in America: full of tasteless jokes, love and loathing for pop culture ephemera (Tom Green, Carson Daly and Fred Durst!) unwittingly homophobic, and angry as fuck. Plus, the dude could rap his ass off like no one had since Biggie died. Big words sure, but go back and listen again to the “Dead Wrong” duet he did a few months before this album dropped. Or listen to him black out on “Renegade” with Jay-Z, a waxing so vicious and thorough that it became one of Nas’ most pointed barbs only six months later.

But this was the grand rockist bid: recasting himself as maladjusted Holden Caulfield, an open book ripe for analysis, the toxic harvest of the Baby Boomers.

Eminem was tailor-made for his time: surly, self-entitled and self-absorbed, the final payoff from Generation X. A rebel with only bad causes. The white tee army at the VMA’s reified what we already knew—there were a million of them just like him, who walked liked him, talked like him. Open up any millennial-era yearbook and you’ll see dozens of scowling faces, sour at the world in the peculiar fashion of teenagers raised during times of limitless peace and prosperity.

The Slim Shady LP was better: funnier, rawer, less calculated. But this was bigger—full of sullen poisoned darts that struck a churning subconscious haloed with homicidal thoughts. There was “The Way I Am,” that somehow seemed liked It Mattered, with its empathy for Marilyn Manson and the Columbine shooters, a song with a hysterical self-seriousness ideal for an era when parental advisory warnings qualified as prime neuroses. Who else could deliver a line like “radio don’t even play my jam,” with a straight face. For the next year, they didn’t play anything but. Hell, even Dido got a career out of it.

Ever manipulative of the media, “Kim” somehow upped the ante of “Bonnie & Clyde’s” familicidal fantasies, while “Kill You” sent GLAAD into such a tizzy that only Elton John could mend fences. It made sense at the time. Sort of. There was the requisite drug abuse meditation (“Drug Ballad”), and mother issues fit for Freud. And just when you started to get fed up with the woe-is-me bullshit, the guy would put RBX and Sticky Fingaz on a track (“Remember Me”), or recruit Nate Dogg, Snoop, and Xzibit for one of the most iconic West Coast jams of the decade.

Eminem was the last star of the pre-Internet age and The Marshall Mathers LP was the last time an album seemed like it could be everything to everybody all the time. Who needs to listen to it again? I still remember every word.

– Jeff Weiss


15.

Outkast
Stankonia

La Face/Arista, 2000

Offering a jheri-curled pimp and a libertine in leather pants posing in front of a stark backdrop of black-and-white stars-and-stripes, even the cover of Stankonia screams “major statement.”

It’s odd to look at that image now and remember that at the time Big Boi and Andre 3000 were a functioning duo with a shared sense of purpose, cannily kicking their 74-minute fourth album off with its only explicitly political track, the righteously indignant “Gasoline Dreams,” an erupting geyser of distorted guitars and echo-treated chants like “burn American dreams!” But to call Stankonia a political or (worse) “socially conscious” album is to dismiss the bulk of its content. It’s easy to hear the “bombs over Baghdad” chorus and ignore the “let your brain breathe” verses, to say nothing of the Cypress Hill guest spot, or the weirdness of “We Luv Deez Hoez.” Stankonia may be major, but as a statement, it’s as incoherent as America Eats Its Young.

Trippy though much of it may be, it’s too easy to call Stankonia a dirty south Dark Side of the Moon. After its wild success vaulted them to the critical vanguard of experimental (read: white) pop, Andre 3000 himself demurred: “We didn’t say, ‘We’re going to make a psychedelic album.’ It was more like we wanted a rebellious sound from traditional hip-hop—we tried all kinds of things that felt new and fresh to us.” And Stankonia is nothing if not an example of studio experimentation par excellence, a peak in the long-running collaboration between Outkast and production trio Organized Noize. Nearly a decade later, there are still details to be found buried in the headphone-friendly mix. Echoed harmonies bounce from speaker to speaker. Washes of synth jut up against stammering, jungle-influenced percussion. Oddities like the minute-long, backwards-tape drenched “?” bloom and disappear in time-lapse photography. Even the skits have musical interest: the intro offers tabla and harmonium!

In hindsight its fun to play pick-out-the-composer, but unlike Lennon/McCartney, with Patton/Benjamin the split is rarely so clean. Stankonia’s best bits defy categorization, revealing instead the bizarre hybrids birthed by a collaborative partnership. What’s for real about “Mrs. Jackson” is not the sincerity of Andre 3000’s apologetic chorus, but its contrast with the frustration and final dismissal of Big Boi’s verses. While the millennial post-funk of “I’ll Call Before I Come” is as purely Possum Jenkins as anything on the messily indulgent The Love Below, it stays grounded because of Lucius Leftfoot’s flawless ear for structure. After the dense hooks of Speakerboxxx, it’s obvious the epic “B.O.B.” is an oh-so-Antwan Patton song, but where would it be without the clattering drum-n-bass beats that are so clearly Andre Benjamin’s affectation? Despite its chorus, this is not a song about bombs or about Baghdad. It’s a song about artistic ambition. “Don’t pull that thang out unless you plan to bang,” Dre warns us. And bang they do. This is a thorny record, overlong, with enough room for the intellectualizing of “Humble Mumble” and the braggadocio of “Snappin’ & Trappin’” alike. It’s a place where male aggression and female power stand side by side, where politics and sheer silliness are twinned like a length of rope. Where Prince, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Teddy Pendergrass jam in outer space while somewhere below, on a locomotive roaring through a jungle, two bodies are entwined and making love. Power. Music. Electric revival.

– Patrick McKay


14.

Joanna Newsom
Ys

Drag City, 2006

Joanna Newsom, a virtuosic harp player, more or less halted years of classical practice to write folk songs about her life. In other words, she grew up. But that wasn’t Ys –that was The Milk-Eyed Mender, a blossomed album, but a different flower altogether. On Ys, Newsom returned to her classical roots and coaxed them gently into the 21st century, on which a concerto for one harp made perfect sense next to a Swedish duo’s spine-tingling electronics atop best-of lists the world over.

Ys sounds like a soundtrack, with the swooshing, zipping, and humming of Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral arrangement punctuating Newsom’s every phrase save the longest track, “Only Skin,” where they’re kept at bay. But there is no film, just a private series of stories transmitted to the listener’s clueless imagination, where natural objects spin into vistas, metaphors, and complex relationships, making for five mysterious poems as alienating as they are riveting.

At nearly an hour, it is a daunting undertaking. Even fans might be guilty of sometimes saying, “I just can’t do Ys right now.” Taking one of the songs on the album on its own—they range from just over seven minutes to well over sixteen—and you may feel full for an hour. Blame, if you want, Parks’ cinematic storm carrying on in the background. But on stage, Newsom has shown it isn’t Parks’ accompaniment pulling the weight of the songs. Ys is driven by the tickling energy of the harp, Newsom’s relentless narrative, packed with words that never rest or stretch for more than a beat or two, and her voice, unkempt and unafraid. Where on previous releases she sounded less certain that its idiosyncrasies could do something like this on Ys, her voice sounds childlike, operatic, playful, sapped, grating, cracked. What’s impressive is how, despite its antique-like beauty marks, this voice, in a live setting, can present Ys consistently from performance to performance, orchestra or no orchestra; changing the frame around the picture doesn’t change the picture.

The scope of the songs – making room for a tradition of musical movements and structured dramatic build – isn’t a classical trick. The lyrics, whether Newsom would say this or not, substitute for a conductor, to the point that there may be no strict verse, chorus or sense of musical climax in a song. Instead, there is the punctuating echo of the title word in “Emily,” and its nearly breathless chorus about meteors. There is the graceful tumbling vocals and virtuosic harp part on “Monkey and Bear,” or the harp’s babbling, percussive consistency on “Sawdust and Diamonds” and its sudden, insistent explosion into a would-be chorus that only happens once: “I wasn’t born of a whistle / or milked from a thistle at twilight / no I was all horns and thorns / sprung out fully-formed / knock-kneed and upright.” This is the point of the song. Why repeat it?

The album is overwhelming, but only after we’ve been jettisoned from it into the silence or—god forbid—someone else’s music. Ys is a commitment and, once committed to, an engrossing vacation from the modern world, which is why it’s so remarkable that it’s a product of it.

– Liz Colville


13.

Interpol
Turn on theBright Lights

Matador, 2002

It almost seems churlish, at the end of the decade, to point out quite how derivative of Joy Division and The Chameleons Turn On The Bright Lights is, or how silly many of Paul Banks’ lyrics are. Subsequent albums by Interpol would sell more, iron-out some of the really squirm-inducing lines, show the band almost managing to not be in thrall to their influences, and still manage to maintain a certain amount of critical acclaim, but none of the others appear on this list, and this one appears pretty damn high. Why?

Maybe it’s because you never forget your first love, and for one crop of Stylus writers this record emerged at the same time as the site started and seemed, like a handful of other 2001/2002 records, to be a reason why we were doing this, to be the start of something quantifiable. At the same time, for another crop of Stylus writers, perhaps Turn On The Bright Lights reminded them enough of actual musical first loves to turn their heads again, but with enough distance to assuage adulterous guiltiness.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because of the shimmering, resonant, cold guitars that open “Untitled”, the hollow, thick bassline, the clattering, distant drum pattern that subsumes the third minute of the tune, and Paul Banks’ detachment, his mournful, sorrowful Ian Curtis-impression that, for those far enough removed from Curtis’ death, sounds absolutely real and new and powerful. Maybe it’s the way the rhythm shifts into more urgent slashes after the first line of “Obstacle 1”. Maybe it’s all of “NYC”, from the repeated line about the city caring to the line about the subway being “a porno”, the simple chords that open it, the hesitant rhythm that matches the hesitant vocal delivery, another prominent bassline, this time giving the tune a shot of life when it seemed about to slow into terminal torpor. Maybe it’s the swell of guitar at 2:00 in. Maybe it’s how Banks reaches for the album’s titular request before all the elements start to coalesce and create something. Maybe it’s how, for all the aesthetic tickboxes that are crossed off on the postpunk influences checklist, it’s that, somehow, Turn On The Bright Lights is still imbued with that sense of post-adolescent solipsism that makes it seem like the most important thing in your world whenever you remember to go back to it. It doesn’t make any sense, especially the bit about love being “in the kitchen with a culinary eye”, but it feels right, even now, even here.

– Nick Southall


12.

M.I.A.
Kala

XL, 2007

The profusion of multi-media has shown the world to be larger than previous generations thought. It’s not just more difficult to make the claim one pop artist speaks for the whole globe but harder to throw around hyperbolic generalisations (“Best band in the world!” “Album of the decade!”) without someone pointing out how laughably wrong you are. With so many disparate voices out there in the world it is indeed unlikely that one album could really sum up the global state of pop. Whilst Kala doesn’t really give us an A to Z comprehensive musical tour of planet Earth, the illusion that it does is one of the main reasons it hangs together as such a great album. The other is that it is full of really good songs. Obviously. From Bollywood string to amateur Australian hip-hop through Tamil folk music to the ghosts of modern lovers and pixies, Maya Arulpragasam (aided by producers Diplo and Switch) magpies some of what the world has to offer and pieces it all into a half-way coherent whole.

Yes, in the 21st century anyone can be curator. We have the past and the present at our fingertips, but it’s still just as hard to make it interesting, to widen the appeal beyond a core constituency; that’s still as much a challenge as it would have been in 1955 or 1975. It might have come attached to an advert but it wasn’t just Seth Rogen’s mug that made “Paper Planes” a hit. It might have smoothed some of her earlier abrasiveness but the inspired sampling of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” and Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker” gave M.I.A.’s charismatic flow a cinematic setting and an utterly undeniable hook. It’s not hard to see why it was a hit but somewhat harder to gauge why at least three or four others weren’t also globally ubiquitous.

Sometimes she verges on the cringe-worthy: the spoken-word section of “Paper Planes” and the London clique brag of "XR2" have a gaucheness that calls to mind some of her less illustrious contemporaries. But unlike M.I.A’s Day-Glo, midrange, and patois imitators it is not just her likeable persona that keeps the cringe at bay but a willingness to try something that might not quite work. Incorporating child rappers on "Mango Pickle Down River" could have been a disaster in lesser hands but with rough edges intact it is neither patronizing nor sickly. With M.I.A cast as cool older cousin, the kids engage as equals.

Kala is not a dry musical treatise on globalization; every track is danceable or simply stuffed with dazzling ear candy. You don’t have to be able speak the same language to understand and enjoy it. Sometimes, like on “$20 Dollar” the result of information overload is dislocation, minds adrift on endless seas of information turned inwards and defensive. Throughout the album there is a sense of anger at the injustices of the world. War and extreme poverty are never too far from the surface. It does not, though, come across as preachy polemic, nor messianic western promises to heal the world, but competitive threat. The characters who speak and are spoken for are never victims to be saved or pitied. They don’t just have hopes and aspirations they have the savvy to achieve them too. The world is now too small for cosseted Westerners to hide in their Hummers; everyone is in on the hustle now. At the end we know we really can’t have seen the whole of the world, but for any discerning dilettante that shouldn’t be a problem when the Technicolor tour is so dazzling.

– Paul Scott


11.

Ghostface Killah
Fishscale

Def Jam, 2006

This album has a lot of details on it, which people enjoy. Like: Ghostface Killah's leg cramps up while waiting in the back seat on a hit; Ghostface Killah got beaten when he was a kid and thinks it was probably for the best; Ghostface Killah's worried about his bald spot; Ghostface Killah has a weird dream about Spongebob Squarepants and the Isley Brothers. All of this is good - interesting, unexpected, quotable.

But lots of rappers love details, and details aren't really that hard. And if Ghostface did nothing but compile them he'd have only his frantic, arresting delivery and the 70s soul he loves to sample, which a lot of people would call enough. But this isn't some thug lepidopterist. He doesn't collect moments fastidiously, or archly, and he doesn't arrange the uglier ones to show off their piquancy. He links every one to an emotion or an impression or a concern. He uses them to show us when he's lying. He brags, like all rappers do, but his details subvert or complicate or second-guess his bragging, because he's confident enough to reveal he's not that confident.

There's always been a Softer Side of gangsta rap, which usually manifests as sentimental paens to saintly mothers or righteous condemnations of failed socioeconomic systems. Ghost's written more than one of the former (one of them's on this album), he was part of one of the best of the latter (the Wu-Tang Clan's "I Can't Go to Sleep"), and even here he dips occasionally into the dessicated well of crack-salesman posturing, but Fishscale at its best is about none of these things; its spirit isn't sentimental or hackneyed. It's the mundane spirit of keeping your eyes open all the time, and letting what you see settle into you without losing track of it, or hiding it, or worrying how closely it jives with your rep as a G. It's not that Ghostface is a good guy, necessarily, or even a wise one; it's that he's a clear thinker, and they always end up wise anyway.

So here are some of Fishscale's twenty-four tracks: a song in which Ghost gets cheated on and explains sort of sheepishly that just because he cheated on you doesn't mean you can do it to him, does it; a song in which Ghost's so taken with an older woman at a bus stop he spends a whole verse describing her neck but blames his goosebumps on "the wind chill factor"; a song in which Ghost calls himself "The Champ" and goes into a balletic rage in a figurative boxing ring while someone yells that he "ain't been hungry since Supreme Clientele"; and a song in which Ghost flirts cynically with a couple of disinterested cokeheads before suddenly, with frantic speed, because he has to get it all in before the sample loops, shading in an elaborate paternal fantasy wherein he brings up the girls so well they never have to sit in clubs and get hit on by dickheads between bumps.

That last one - it's called "Big Girl" - fades out before the girls answer, and all that's left is stifling club air, cigar smoke, smudged nostrils, and, underneath, the scratched, blurry warmth of the sample. Warmth is what this neurotic, philandering, occasionally violent, frequently selfish guy never lacks, and it's the characteristic through which he filters everything he sees. Which is itself only a detail, but an important one.

– Theon Weber


10.

Primal Scream
XTRMNTR

Creation, 2000

There’s something awesome about the moment when the drums first kick in during “Kill All Hippies”, something mechanical and fascistic. And then that bassline, not so much bottom-end as dirty space. A friend of mine was convinced for a while that Bobby G was singing “you got the money / I got the soap” and that it was a drugs reference. Nah, not a chance.

I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to this inverse-Screamadelica in a long time, maybe a couple of years or more, until I knew I’d be blurbing it for this little list. Hell, I organized this list, and selfishly, solipsistically called this blurb for myself before we allocated anything else to anyone else; at least three other people asked me if they could do it, as if I’d let them. I’m imagining, judging by the number of high votes it got, that more than three would have liked to blurb it. So I’ve got it on my headphones now, the big-ass Austrian ones. Track two’s just descended into that hellish compressed scree of guitar that comes courtesy of Kevin Shields. Ever heard “Lear Jet Song” by The Byrds? This actually does sound like a jet taking off.

So, “inverse Screamadelica”, wtf do I mean by that, eh? I mean that we start with a “funky” tune catchy enough to be a single, that the centerpiece if s remix of a song off the last album that completely recontextualises it and acts as the aesthetic lead for the rest of the record, that it ends with a moment of bliss, that one track appears twice in different form on either side of the vinyl- and I do own this on vinyl since day of release in early 2000, when my university housemate and I – he taking too many drugs and me drinking too much to be friends anymore – both felt, in our bones, that this record was an event, and sat around – in different rooms at different times, of course – soaking it up, playing it LOUD, feeling its impact ripple outwards across the decade. Several months later we lived in different houses cos we really couldn’t stand each other anymore, and both ignored the Radiohead record because this had already done everything that Kid A was meant to do, only this was angrier, dancier, louder, more fun. Hell, the best track on Kid A sounds like an XTRMNTR out-take.

Where was I? “Inverse Screamadelica”; I mean all the acidhouse hippy drippy LSD & MDMA love that rippled through that record has spun itself out and been replaced with thick doses of paranoia and political instability. I asked everyone taking part in these blurbs to not focus on historical impact and importance and context and influence in these blurbs about these records – because we all know that already. I wanted people to write about their personal feelings towards and relationships with the music. Because that’s The Stylus Way. But you know what? Chemical Brothers. Kevin Shields. Bernard Sumner. Keith Tenniswood. David Holmes. Tim Goldsworthy. All that discopunk, indie-electro, and Joy Division revivalist shite that’s permeated this decade like hemorrhoids? XTRMNTR invented it all, and did it better. Hell, the DFA practically met because of this album. I wont even mention the state of the world since its release.

So “Keep Your Dreams” is still the most beautiful thing they’ve recorded. “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” the most perfect. “Blood Money” actually does manage to capture the spirit of Miles circa 71. Hell, I even like that track where Bobby raps a string of swear words like a playground showoff. The only thing wrong with this record is the decreasingly effervescent dribble of shit that Primal Scream have produced since bottling out and retitling “Bomb The Pentagon”. XTRMNTR’s near as damnit a decade old. XTRMNTR’s near as damnit amazing.

– Nick Southall


9.

The Avalanches
Since I Left You

Modular, 2000

Anyone else ever try to convince some girl at a party that you were in the Avalanches? Obviously, this was far easier to accomplish before the vast advances in portable technology in the latter part of the decade, but who’s gonna call you on that? The Avalanches certainly haven’t made themselves conspicuous in the time that’s passed after the release of Since I Left You, but beyond that, it’s almost certain no album on this list has caused listeners to think less about the people who actually made the thing. A strange circumstance considering the genre-hopscotching, sampledelic masterpieces of the past (Night Ripper, Endtroducing…, Paul’s Boutique, Odelay) were defined almost entirely by their creator’s cult of personality. But Since I Left You’s selflessness is a large part of its genius; it leaves everything to the imagination. When it’s flush with such joy and generosity, why think of a bunch of Australians huddled over samplers, feverishly dissecting cut points? Why think about them as total ‘90s rap geeks when their awesome flips of Raekwon, Camp Lo, and Prince Paul make you think of the Avalanches instead every time you hear the originals? Why consider how much effort went into the genius sequencing when there are so many outstanding singles? Isn’t it just easier to yell, “He’s crazy in the coconut!” instead? Hell, the thing is so eerily perfect that it’s actually more plausible to think the Avalanches actually don’t exist and Since I Left You actually fell from the sky fully-formed or evolved out of our public consciousness as some sort of divine miracle. Hell, maybe we all really are in the Avalanches all along.

– Ian Cohen


8.

Arcade Fire
Funeral

Merge, 2004

Grandiose. Cathartic. Euphoric. Mesmerizing. Beautiful. Now that we’ve gotten the adjectives most commonly used to describe Funeral, we can get to the heart of what makes the album one of the single best works of music of this decade, and that relates to the power of affectivity. “Affectivity” is a psychological term to describe something “concerned with or arousing feelings or emotions.” In reality, it’s a powerful concept in marketing used to explain how certain stimuli influence our cognitive processes towards a desired specific feeling, and more importantly, how much we’re willing to accept that feeling, even when we become aware of the manipulation.

Funeral is an interesting case study on the power of affectivity in music. It’s common knowledge that Arcade Fire were using death and loss as the thematic framework for their debut, and it wouldn’t be bold to assume that they were aware that their use of histrionics and grandiose instrumentation would provoke a certain type of emotional reaction on its audience. However, as the end result played out, Funeral turned the rules of affectivity on its head. Yes, its listeners consciously accepted the emotional responses of their aural stimuli, and that they were supposed to be responding to them, but those ultimate feelings were situated across a wide range of the emotional spectrum. Put another way, virtually every listener who came across and loved Funeral reacted with a bleeding heart, but the ultimate emotions evoked were disparate and unpredictable.

What makes this scenario unique is not that Arcade Fire were providing aural triggers for their listeners to respond to—music affecting its listeners moods is something that’s been done for ages. What’s special is how Arcade Fire created something seemingly made for its audience to specifically react to, but instead gave their listeners an outlet for their own emotionalism. For example, depending on whom you ask it’s either life reflecting, life-affirming, or life-changing. It’s dark, depressing, dour, or despondent. It’s radiant, ravishing, resplendent, or revelatory. It’s some combination of any or none of these. I’ve even been told that its greatest quality is that you can’t identify its greatest quality—to describe it would be to describe the ineffable.

Of course, no one remembers an album solely for its abstract qualities (with the exception of perhaps Trans). Ultimately, people chose Funeral because it had a remarkable set of songs. From the furious slice of Springsteen-indebted romantic escapism that is “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” to the Modest Mouse/Pixies fusion “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” the “stadium Bowie” anthem “Wake Up” to the Björk-meets-The Bends rapture of “In the Back Seat,” there’s not a single cut lacking in scope or sheer force of will. But the real surprise is how the Arcade Fire evaded the standard debut album trap of literally sounding like their influences without resorting to generic pastiches. “Rebellion (Lies)” may have its DNA set in Roxy Music, but then the song begins to gradually gain layers of noise, and climaxes into a confident and bombastic party more the province of U2 than the seminal art-rock group—and even then, U2 took a couple of albums to reach this level of exuberance. And I defy you to find me another song that sounds like the stark, gorgeous “Haiti.”

There are those who’ve retroactively complained about Arcade Fire’s propensity for making every song sound like the end of the world. But when you’ve centered your first album on the aftershock of death, why wouldn’t it make sense to address the world crashing around you? Ultimately, it’s this sort of honesty that provides the emotional structure to which its audience responded with their own feelings and beliefs. Funeral isn’t just a seminal indie rock record, it’s a treasured memory.

– Andrew Casillas


7.

Jay-Z
The Blueprint

Roc-A-Fella, 2002

Jay-Z has always been at his best when he’s been bigger than the sound; on The Black Album for instance, when he orchestrated his own career’s wake, or with Reasonable Doubt, on which he transformed himself from a young hustler into the coolly detached, criminal/businessman mastermind we’ve become so familiar with over the decade and a half since. But not even his greatest album, The Blueprint, could be bigger than the sound, not when it dropped on that same clear late summer morning two jet airliners obliterated the World Trade Center. A trivial marker of a far more significant disaster, true, but The Blueprint became a bridge across time periods: a record of a New York that no longer existed by the time most stores opened their doors to sell it. When the city was at its lowest ebb, battered and scared, its king still sounded as untouchable as ever, the old, brash New York of asshole Yankees and Wall Street wizards. “If I ain’t better than B.I.G.” says Jay, “I’m the closest one” – a fit of arrogance considered tasteless by many used to much of the same from him (in a year his assertion would become gospel). The most megalomaniacal song on an album full of them — the wide-screen, Just Blaze-directed “U Don’t Know” — was a financial report: “I smarten up, open the market up/One million, two million, three million, four/In eighteen months: 80 million more.”

And the brilliant audacity of it was that, though Hov was big at the time — popular, controversial, even respected — The Blueprint demanded that he was timeless. Its sepia-toned soul production and ceaseless assertions of dominance said that Shawn Carter was bigger than rap now, bigger than the moment, a man for the annals of history, along with Biggie and KRS-One, yes, but also with the Jackson-5 and Al Green and the Doors.

The Blueprint created a new order in rap: Jay-Z was an empire now, and when he acted, he created his own reality. While we studied that reality —judiciously, as we did — he would act again, creating other new realities, which we studied too, and that’s how things worked out. Jay-Z was history’s actor, and all of rap music was left to study what he did, and attempt to replicate it. The Blueprint was the blueprint of how to create a classic rap album in the ‘00s: sonic consistency; few, if any guest appearances (Eminem on “Renegade”); the sentimental love song (“Song Cry”); the score-settler (“The Takeover”); the infectious club throwaway (“Jigga That Nigga”). In retrospect it seems so calculated, not the kind of thing one could pull off in a few weeks of intense recording, as Jay did, and sure enough, few following artists were able to trace his plan and retain his impression of effortlessness.

It’s telling that this is an album that opens with a recycled Slick Rick song that made absurd claims for its creator of equivalence with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but ends with an airy admission of vulnerability in the closing “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me).” Over Bink’s tranquil, chilled ambience, Jay sketches a youth of dependence and mentorship where little of it was to be naturally found: “Momma loved me, Pop left me/Mickey fed me, Annie dressed me/Eric fought me, made me tougher … Marcy raised me.” The strokes are simple, fine, and precisely drawn. Even as a kid banging on the kitchen table to accompany to his formative rhymes, Jay was on the verge of becoming the indomitable presence of the twelve tracks prior. In this bare autobiography of a tune, he sounds bigger than ever.

– Jonathan Bradley


6.

The Strokes
Is This It?

RCA, 2001

Looking back, it’s impossible to guess what made this such a cause célèbre: the inspiration for dozens of stories about the Return of Rock and a renewal of interest in New York as fecund breeding ground for a new generation of guitar bands, and so on. No one could know, least of all this gang of would-be Bowery bumblers, that the same industry turning them into examples of something or other would collapse, victims of interweb malfeasance.

So what have we here then? An album as dependant on its production as Nirvana’s Nevermind. Guitars sound like synths, drums like pistons, the bass like your speakers have blown, and the vocalist like he was just blown. The songs, compressed and monochromatic, are the kind of taut marvels that turn teens into indie converts and older ones into skeptics (is this it?). Singer Julian Casablancas, the guy who turned the megaphone and chubby cheeks into conveyers of feeling as worthwhile as Dylan did with the harmonica, stretches vowels hoping to keep himself awake, but the poking bass of the title track and surging guitars of "Take It Or Leave It" and "Someday" leave no doubt that he wears the louche act as well as his bangs -- he affects caddishness because the kind of girls he picks up in bars really dig it. Meanwhile the other guys he's cockblocking can't help but admire Casablancas for reducing the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" into the burbling wonder of "The Modern Age," complete with Lou Reed-ian vocal stutters and Albert Hammond, Jr.'s shambling attempt to play the "What Goes On" solo. While Casablancas is too busy hitting on your girlfriend to suck on ding-dong, he also gets off thinking that you might think he might. These mixed signals turned Is This It into the guaranteed dancefloor-filler of 2001 and 2002, which is odd considering the competition. The guys in Interpol flaunted their art cachet as conspicuously as their nancy-boy eyeliner and subway-porn twaddle, but they were the real pussyhounds; under the strobe lights and through the tinniness of those early mp3's, the aggressive laddishness of Is This It swelled to pansexual proportions. As Michaelangelo Matos said recently, "It's a little too glamorous to be quite real, but it's so feisty it can't be anything but."

Luckily the Strokes treated the glamorous as if it was real, and their fragile coalition held for 2003's Rooms on Fire, which duplicated Is This It so expertly and breathlessly that it made a hash out of words like "epochal" when associated with its predecessor. With his band scattered and possibly dissolved until the 2014 reunion shows at the Beacon (special guest Lou Reed, reciting a plaintive spoken-word version of "Sweet Jane'), Casablancas now records attenuated synth-pop: the misapprehension upon first hearing Is This It made flesh. It isn't that he thinks, like so many of his brethren, that he can remain young forever; it's the heartbreaking assumption that as a sober, serious subject of New York Times Sunday profiles he can freshly draw upon the same memories. This was the subtext of Is This It: being profligate with experiences before they calcify into memories.

– Alfred Soto


5.

Burial
Untrue

Hyperdub, 2007

The significance of Burial is threefold: sonic, social, and personal. Sonic: Ray J’s “One Wish” is a mostly unmemorable piece of R&B. As he executes vocal acrobatics that have as much ingenuity as a car commercial, prancing around over a guitar line that Babyface writes while eating his cereal, one sliver of his singing sticks out. It comes around the :26 mark, a wheedling “we couldn’t be alone.” What Burial does is actually quite simple: He snips that vocal, along with a couple of Ray J’s other interjections -- “trust you,” “love you,” “holding me” – and rearranges them. But by placing them over the sound of dusty, dingy, blocky two-step beats and cavernous keyboard loops, he recontextualizes them. This is the key aspect of Burial’s music. Though R&B is arguably the most ubiquitous genre of the last decade, the music’s emotions feel by-and-large disconnected from its lyrics, which often deal with heartbreak, trust, love, and maturity. Burial manifests these emotions in sound, taking the sounds of club culture and R&B and reconfiguring them as ghosts drowning into a black hole. Too overtly rhythmic to be shackled by the cumbersome pomposity of classical music, and too morose to provoke dancing, Untrue is a 21st century update of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing: A mysterious map of a wider cultural mood.

Social: With Burial’s second album, the South London artist provided the music that most accurately evoked the nauseous gloom of the ‘00s. Released in 2007, I like to think that Untrue, my #1 album of that year, is the inverse of M.I.A.’s Kala my #2. Where Kala actualizes a pervasive sociocultural tone, it's nonetheless very specific to M.I.A. Untrue is the sound of a shared sentiment, but it's couched in anonymity. It’s a lonely cab ride, a nighttime spent crouched in the corner of a small bedroom, the hollow glow of a computer screen, the distrust created by the shattering of ideals and dreams. It’s a cumulative sadness rendered by a then-anonymous figure, which only made the music feel that much more appropriate. The person making it is just as inscrutable as the music.

Personal: But in the end, all the information I’ve provided prior to this paragraph: Ultimately, these are not the reasons I choose to write this blurb. I write this not for those people already familiar with this album; those people who lurk on message boards in the night, who scour blogs and music magazines and artists’ Twitter feeds. I write this for the person, five years from now, who wants to know what albums from the past ten years are significant. To you: Please listen to this album. It moved me. I truly believe that it will move you too.

– Tal Rosenberg


4.

Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Nonesuch, 2002

The story behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a chunk of rock and roll mythology. One that most, if not all, of Stylus’ readers actually lived through or at least know about—and it wasn’t one of those VH1 pills-and-thrills rides either. Wilco and their singer-songwriting head Jeff Tweedy faced off with a major label and came out smiling, famous, respected, and adored. This was Jeff vs. Goliath, played out on a world stage with artists on one side and cash-hungry philistines on the other (BIBLE ‘FACT’—Goliath actually was a philistine!) As such, through the distance of time, YHF is a record that’s become much bigger than its 52 minutes could ever hope to really support. Swallowed by this soap operatic narrative, many listeners fell in love with the tale while others spat out the record like its baggage was a bitter pill. YHF’s very particular sound soon became another in a long line of rock litmus tests on perceptions. Even with the relatively warm regard given to Summerteeth, Wilco’s clash with Reprise sent them from being regarded as a “so what” to a band whose talent was so evident. The ‘90s might have seemed to be all over genre hyphens and cores (trip-hop, sadcore, post-rock, etc) like accepting flies on a flurry of fresh turds, but YHF showed acceptance for a lack of respect for following the format was still a way off. For a songwriter who left behind his alt-country shoes for a slice of barefoot in the dark, Tweedy was hailed by many as either a genius or a traitor.

It’s a well-worn and lazy diss to label YHF a producer’s record, a record that only really stands up because of its sound; voodoo trickery Jim O’Rourke style. This is not an album held together by the musical version of denture-grip made by men with black rimmed glasses. This point of view is more to do with the longing for rock’s staples, for what a record normally/usually/is-supposed-to sound like, than it is a direct criticism of the music on YHF. The fact that Wilco chose not to rock did not compute, and the fact that YHF did not twang must’ve had Joshua Trees blazing across more than just the America’s National Parks. YHF saw Wilco fall back from the perceived nature of genre, the slivers of slide guitar on “Jesus Etc.” the only musical acknowledgment of yesteryear. To some Wilco had delicately slighted their own record with wrong turns, a lack of phallic guitar and quirky dead end sounds. To others, it was and remains a buffet of earworms – a record that swoons as much from Tweedy’s cracked and confusing vocals and words as it does the unusual bed that Wilco’s songs are laying in. Playfully setting up a fake narrative, their backwards echo/quote from “I’m The One Who Loves You” arrives in the opener “I am Trying to Break your Heart”; it’s clearly a wink rather than a conceit. This moment isn’t without its ambition either though, launching the record with a stumble that harks all the way back to The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

And yet for all its shortwave trickery, wide-open song spaces, and anomalous production, it’s still a surprise what a massively understated record it actually is. There’s a lot of stead to be set in how a story’s told, as well as what its saying. All the talk of YHF’s off-balance production belies its lightness of touch with these songs, there’s a whole other raft of beauty in “Radio Cure” that’s brought further into the open by its ramshackle vibe. The track has the feel of imperfect tenderness, a two-left-footed shuffle in the music’s bare bones. The song’s structure is at the very point of fraying to the near-extinct sound of radio static, a sound not unlike the scattering of birds. Even the album’s most commercially viable moments—the double whammy of “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m The One Who Loves You”—are done in pastels and greys – smudges outside the lines of the actual song within. YHF is still a high point for Tweedy’s lyricism, too; there’s a profundity in his vagueness when it lies up against his brief leaks of the heart. By not painting his world wide open for all to gawp at, or rehashing a load of dumb lines into a new clichéd whole, the words become a stream of pocket watch-like intricacy—except with an extra matchbox of parts that don’t seem to fit.

For all the opportunities that the Internet hippies took to waffle on about music versus The Man, YHF remains first and foremost a gorgeously minimalist spread of an album and a windows-wide first breath of air for its key architec. So, boxes can be ticked for its place in the evolution of Wilco band (check), and the first big record to show the cracks in the major-label release process (check), and a benchmark in the tidal-rise of digital culture (check). But more than all that blog décor, it’s most importantly still a great record.

– Scott McKeating


3.

Daft Punk
Discovery

Virgin, 2001

Daft Punk’s stated intention for Discovery was to bypass people’s critical faculties totally, eliciting a nostalgia-based response to music where everything is as simple, non-analytical, and fun as it was when you were a kid. A pretty fucking lofty aim, and one they pursued with an anything-goes approach that resulted in songs that piled highlights on top of each other, often with scant regard for sanity or conventional structure. This wasn’t just evident in the "what the fu...?" feeling you got when you first heard that ungodly processed guitar riff cleave “Aerodynamic” in two, but in the reconfigured version of the same sensation caused by its subdued, dancefloor-confounding rebirth 90 seconds later.

They also got an admirably large amount off mileage out of four and a half Barry Manilow syllables, subsequently allied to “Superheroes”’ startling, operatic synth strings to create a breathtaking union of unfashionable white guy disco and relentless, futuristic house. Not a bad mission statement. “Crescendolls” made its sample pretty much the whole song to the point of sounding maniacally repetitive, while “Veridis Quo” (that pun took me a few years, ridiculously) comparatively subtly subsumes Cerrone's Italo-Disco epic "Supernature" into a melancholy, organ-led mood piece.

Yet if Discovery was just some eccentric sample-toting record with a bunch of good synth noises, we still wouldn’t be as insanely in love with it as we remain. It’s as emotionally literate as it is technically impressive, and even if its idiosyncratic source material and sense of humor alienated the occasional disco-hating curmudgeon, it never devolved into irritating irony. Even when Daft Punk apparently play it for laughs on the breakdown of "Digital Love", with its comically chirpy Supertramp Wurlitzer, within seconds it confounds expectations by mutating into that amazingly affecting “why don’t you play the game” mantra.

The fact is that Discovery totally succeeds in its mission, pushing emotional buttons in such a suspiciously accurate way you suspect Bangalter and De-Homem-Christo went on some grueling pilgrimage up Mount Sinai and got handed the manual. It’s a credit to them that instead of sitting round with shit-eating grins on their faces and high-fiving each other, they came across like affable but slightly unhinged disco zealots who’d stumbled across some previously untouched sonic mother lode and started fervently prodding everyone in the direction of the promised land.

The ecstatic bedlam that greeted the opening bars of “One More Time” when they issued forth from a colossal, flashing pyramid in Hyde Park in 2007 is the clearest anecdotal example I can muster of this record’s capacity to get otherwise awful people to abandon any trace of cynicism, but that’s without taking into account all the other parties, clubs, and funerals it’s graced this decade. Never mind how Discovery has quantitatively improved the quality of life of literally everybody who’s heard it; it also gets to the heart of how we link sound, emotion, and nostalgia to a kind of towering, Platonic ideal of popular music.

– Fergal O’Reilly


2.

LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver

DFA, 2007

I think if you were to take a poll of our alums who participated in Stylus Decade, most of them would have wished for this album to finish ahead of our actual number one. Not that they necessarily thought Sound of Silver was the second best record of the decade—whatever that might mean to any of us—but that in that case something would have nudged out the record that seemed pre-slotted for the title. But it didn’t work out that way, and I’m left to talk about our “next” favorite record, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver. When Stylus closed up shop in 2007, Sound of Silver was our album of the year. If James Murphy and gang’s eponymous debut was their bratty dance-funk record in a year soon littered with it—one that segued from the sneering, snotty punk grind of “Movement” to the libido-funk of “Disco Infiltrator”--then Sound of Silver is the moment Murphy became a pop craftsman by making a record that eluded ‘scene’ or ‘moment.’ But like all cross-pollinating dance albums, it is only superficially made for, you know, dancing. Don’t get me wrong: it’s one long jump-around from the surface. But it’s most memorable not when stripped to naked groove, but when playing to the me’s instead of the masses—when propelled by its emotional excesses, its confessions, its boy-laid-bare. Blending shimmery trance pop, vulcanized funk, and narcotic piano ballads, Sound of Silver is ultimately the record that every one of your idiotic friends and their conflicting tastes could agree should get some turntable time. Rounding out two of 2007’s best songs—“Someone Great” and “All My Friends”—with a series of slightly more traditional floor-fillers, Murphy and co. were shrewd in their sequencing: two mixtape-staples right in the center. I mean, who the fuck still plays “Sound of Silver” or “Watch the Tapes”? Built around so many of Murphy and Patrick Mahoney’s city at night rhythms and Murphy’s small-arena choruses, Sound of Silver is classic dance-popcraft given just a little girth--a Chipotle belly and a good two day chin growth--pitched now to those who need something to shout along to while setting the table in the crude keyless pitch of home. Murphy succeeds when he exceeds, when he forms tracks around a peculiarly intimate largesse. Consider it heady navel-gazing, if you will, but he’s best here when he’s shrinking city-wide marches to the number of steps it takes for you to cross your bedroom. His is a consolidation of the epic into little thumbnail classics. Play it how and where you want: Sound of Silver’s designed both for those at the center of the room, and the stragglers and the small peripheral heroes just out of focus. Situated in a dance genre typically oriented toward group-think, the album is a series of consolations and small comforts that feels intensely personal. Or as Murphy sings on “All My Friends,” “If I’m made a fool, if I’m made a fool, if I’m made a fool of on the road, there’s always this.”

– Derek Miller


1.

Radiohead
Kid A

Parlophone, 2000

The 2000s were great for music obsessives, and not just because of the advent and proliferation of file sharing. Almost as important as our beloved piracy was the birth of blogging and the growth of message boards and other internet watering holes. No longer was a music freak resigned to arguing about bands with the contemptuous dick behind the counter at the local record store or perhaps with one or two similarly clued-in buddies. Now you could become part of a community made up of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people who were equally batty about the same thing that got your motor running.

Of course, most music geeks are opinionated assholes when it comes to the things we love and the things we hate, and the web gave us all a wonderful outlet for hashing out the merits and demerits of every record that crossed our radar. Without question, the album most hashed out, most picked apart, most waged war over and most heaped with extreme rhetoric on both ends of the spectrum in the 2000s was Radiohead’s Kid A. Which is why I’m glad it ended up #1 in our best-of-the-decade retrospective (well, aside from the fact that personally I do think it’s the best album of the past ten years).

Kid A offered something for almost everyone to enjoy – or gripe about. It was the most adventurous and forward-seeking album Radiohead had ever made – or was it a pin-headed feint that traded the epic Floydian sweep of OK Computer for sterile blips and squiggles? It internalized experimental, avant-garde music better than any popular rock group ever – or was it just a watered-down, compromised version of that stuff? Thom Yorke was a dystopian genius – or was he an oblique fool? Grappling over Kid A’s worth has remained a rousing parlour game well past the point when even the album’s most ardent admirers stopped listening to it regularly.

For trad-rock custodians who clench their fists at any encroachment of experimentation or deconstruction of convention suffered by their precious calcified art form, Kid A is a favored pejorative to fling at all manner of egghead elitists and posing hipsters. For many of the album’s admirers, however, any unwillingness to recognize its brilliance is a sign of intellectual paucity and a tragic narrowness of taste. Both platforms are odious, and I say that as someone who once felt a surge of secret pride at hearing his unenlightened college friends mock Radiohead’s so-clearly-glorious performance of “The National Anthem” on Saturday Night Live shortly after Kid A’s release.

Using a record as a cudgel for any governing principle only serves to obscure the fact that it’s only a collection of noises made by a group of human beings. As fun as it may be to bitch and moan about Kid A’s critical preeminence or to fetishize its self-evidently unimpeachable magnificence, we’ve made quite a mess these past nine years of the album’s enduring legacy, which now seems destined to be either comically grandiose or bitterly tainted with venom. The Internet in the Aughts accelerated our debates with such mutative gusto that it threatened to crowd out completely the long view, the reasoned, considered take (my own best attempt: Kid A is still a risky and unsettling record, the strangest and most beautiful this band will likely ever make. It powerfully dislocates a listener with its noise and its art and its paranoia, only to re-anchor the hearer with the deeply human need in Yorke’s voice).

How fitting that a tech-obsessed treatise like Kid A would define our era. Yorke proved prescient in his paranoia, though I doubt even he could have reckoned in 2000 the extent to which his own band would serve as poster children for the sportive snarl of hyperbole and defamation the web so readily engenders.

– Josh Love


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