25. Sigur Rós – Takk… (2005): Ah, what would we do without Sigur Rós? Of course, the lyrics would mean more to me if I could actually speak Icelandic, but one gets the general idea even without the lyrics. I guess that’s what makes Sigur Rós such a wonderful band – their music transcend the language barrier. Of course, knowing that they write the original melody in a made up language called “hopelandic” and add real lyrics sure helps one find an interpretation.
24. The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics (2006): The first time I heard “The W.A.N.D.”, I knew I wanted more of this album. At War with the Mystics might not get the love that “Yoshima Battles the Pink Robots,” has been getting, but its probably the most accessible album The Flaming Lips has ever done. At any rate, how can one pass up ANY album by one of the greatest rock bands of the last twenty years?
23. Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005): Mr. Bird’s second solo album is also his best. From Opposite Day’s karmatic approach on the world, to Nervous Tic’s painting of two different people’s lives, this album has some of the most brilliant lyrics of the decade. And Mr Bird’s whistling! Don’t forget about his whistling!
22. Blitzen Trapper – Furr (2008): I have a theory on this album: every song has something to do with dreams. Some songs are dreams, some song reference dreams, some songs talk about dreams. Even if my theory is wrong, every song makes me fish for meaning, and that’s always a good thing. And the 1970s flare of the album always puts me in a good mood.
21. Jenny Lewis (with The Watson Twins) – Rabbit Fur Coat (2006): Jenny Lewis is no longer starring in Toys R Us commercials, and that’s a good thing! Her first album away from Rilo Kiley explores spirituality, poverty, and even corrupt politicians. Backed by the beautiful harmonizing of The Watson Twins, this album is candy for the ears. And probably the best cover of the decade (Handle me With Care by the Traveling Willburies) is on this album.
20. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001): Ben Folds lost the other two members of the Ben Folds Five, and produced this amazing and fun album. The title track is hysterical, telling the story of a white kid from the suburbs and how rough his life is. But the album is not all light fun; “Zak and Sara” tells a story of a couple just trying to make it, “The Ascent of Stan” tells a tale of a hippie who sells out his beliefs, and “Fired” tells the story of an abusive workplace (probably run by Stan actually).
19. Air – Talkie Walkie (2004): The first time I heard “Cherry Blossom Girl,” I kind of fell in love. That sounds like a Cliche’, but its really the truth. A month later, I bought the entire album. While the other songs didn’t quite hit me like Cherry Blossom Girl, my first exposure to Air was more than pleasant. Air: they named their band well. We all need a little Air to live.
18. Rilo Kiley – Take Offs and Landings (2001): Depending on who you ask, this was Rilo Kiley’s first or second album (I say second). To me, Rilo Kiley was a defining band in the early and mid zeros. I remember one college paper that was written in its entirety while listening to this album. Of course, there’s also a negative memory- a girl actually quoted “Science vs Romance” to me as a reason we shouldn’t date….but that’s a different story altogether! And I do have to admit, she was right!
17. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (2009): When making this list, I knew I had to include this album. To be honest, I’m still digesting it as a whole – and I’ve had it since February of this year (2009). I am actually surprised it took The Decemberists this long to do a rock opera, considering their albums are always equal parts literature and music, but The Hazards of Love was worth the wait.
16. Daft Punk – Human After All (2005): Ahhh, funky dance music – how could I live without you? But there’s more than just funky dance music, there’s a running theme in this album about television as well as consumerism. Your feet and your mind will love this album equally.
15. Elvis Costello – North (2003): This is a great album to listen to on a cold, rainy night or a walk in the snow. Probably the only non-Christmastime album I associate with winter. Its not a typical Elvis Costello album – pretty much piano driven, slow Jazz – but that’s what makes this such a magnificent album.
14. Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly (2004): From Elephant Woman to Falling man, this album is everything I love about Blonde Redhead. When they stop playing music as a band, I’m sure I’ll look back at this album and see it as their masterpiece. Well, maybe – they might have a few good albums left in them still.
13. Ladytron – Light & Magic (2003): I bought this album as soon as I saw it was available. I didn’t even listen to any tracks on the album – just picked it off the rack, brought it to the counter, and paid for it. Ladytron’s sophomore release did not disappoint. The songs are full of metaphors that I’m still trying to unwrap six years later. And one of these years I’ll find a translation to the songs sung in Bulgarian.
12. Over The Rhine – Ohio (2003): This album was originally supposed to be two albums, but the band couldn’t stand to separate the songs from one another, so they released this masterpiece of a double album. At times Ohio’s songs are minimal and naked, at times they are fully orchestrated. At times Ohio explores personal hardships and spirituality, at times, the songs are outright political. If you can find it, be sure to check out the extended version of “How Long Have You Been Stoned.”
11. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (2005): The New Pornographers are my favorite band, so of course they would get a mention on this list. Twin Cinema is somewhat of a departure from a simple rock and roll to more of an album rock sound. The band also grew in the literal sense with the addition of keyboardists / Vocalist Kathryn Calder. And what other band can write a song full of lyrics that don’t really make any sense and make it sound like an epic journey?
10. The Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army (2007): This is the album I always pull out when I’m feeling down and want to cheer myself up. While a 20+ member band cannot really be described as “scaled down” in any sense, The Fragile Army seems to be the most “scaled down” of The Spree’s albums. The songs feel more accessible and while the songs still work as pieces to a whole album, almost all of them work individually – which is a change of focus for The Spree. Next time you feel like curling up with a blanket and sobbing into a pillow, pull up the video for “We Crawl” and try not to smile just a little.
9. Rufus Wainwright – Want One (2003): I like to think of this album as a musical blog: Wainwright seems to write about random experiences from dancing at a club, hoping someone special will call and “Vibrate” his phone, to hitting on someone (and getting shot down) on a train. Every time I wake up at 11:11, I must quote the song of the same name. Though I have to change the lyrics, because I usually AM in Portland (the lyrics state he is NOT in Portland – or Heaven).
8. Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003): I picked this album up during a time when everything in my life was changing. The album provided much needed solace to me in a very shaky time. Now that things have changed a few more times, and I’m generally on the upside, this album still provides me with a smile when I hear it. Maybe its the lyrics, maybe its the music, or maybe I’m just a sucker for any band that likes to give their albums a 60s and 70s feel.
7. The Shins – Oh, Inverted World (2001): There’s a reason this album had two tracks on the Garden State Soundtrack, as well as an in Movie shout out by Natalie Portman. Yes, this band WILL change your life – but you probably knew that already. This band has gotten so much positive press that its hard not to know this band. But in case you haven’t heard it, go listen to it already! Jeez! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?!?!?!?
6. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000): No, this was not the Joshua Tree come again, but All that you Can’t Leave Behind is one of the best albums U2 has done to date – I would rank it number four. Sure, its got the crowd pleasing (and thus overplayed) “Elevation,” but its also got so many overlooked songs: Wild Honey, New York, Kite. Grace. There really isn’t a bad song on this album.
5. Ladytron – 604 (2001): Ladytron’s first full length album is often described as “what 1980s futurists believed music in 2000 would sound like.” While I’m glad not all music sounds this way, I am also glad 604 sounds the way it does. 604 is probably the best, and most important electronic pop album since Kraftwerk’s “Die Mensch-Maschine.” I’m still waiting for an interpretation to the songs done in Bulgarian though!
4. Sufjan Stevens – Come on, Feel the Illinoise (2005): This is probably the most obscure album on this list (sarcasm tag). I think Paste (do they matter anymore?) rated this as the best album of the decade. While I don’t quite agree with Paste, Illinoise is indeed one of the most ambitious pieces of music I’ve listened to in a very long time and is probably in my top twenty all time favorite albums. Now, will Sufjan ever continue with his 50 states album project. or was that really a joke? Come on Sufjan, feel the Oregon already! That didn’t quite sound right.
3. Menomena – I am the Fun Blame Monster (2003): Menomena is my favorite local band, and one of my favorite bands altogether. When this album finally came out, I already knew all the songs by heart (I saw them several times in early 2003). They also get the award for best packaging ever. The CD booklet was actually an 80 page flipbook and was hand assembled by band members. If you can, get a hold of the song “stability” and compare it to the album version (E is Stable).
2. The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic (2000): Some might not actually consider this album to be eligible for a best of the zeros list, considering the first songs were recorded in 1998, but the album release date says 2000, so that’s good enough for me. And besides, how could I not include my favorite band’s debut album? The best song on the album,”Letter from an Occupant” is really a show of all the band’s talents, but do not stop there! Even if you’re just a Neko fan and not a New Pornographers fan, listen to the entire album! If you can, find the Japanese version which features a cover of Donner Party’s “When I was a Baby.”
1. The Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004): Again,an album that has plenty of good press – but the Arcade Fire deserves all the good press they get and more! Every single song on this album is amazing: From Wake up, to Rebellion (lies), to the four “Neighborhood” songs, to Haiti, to…you get the point. The Arcade Fire is one of those bands that puts good use off the talent they have. I think most of the band members must play an average of two instruments on any given song. For an extra treat, watch this video of The Arcade Fire doing “Wake Up” with David Bowie.