Dec. 8-11, 2005
Best records, 2001-2005
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
British author Neil Gaiman writes of gods who wander the highways and inner cities of America, abandoned by the descendents of those that brought them here. In his 2001 novel, American Gods, the main character meets one of three Slavic dawn godesses on a cold, windy Chicago rooftop. She holds her hand in front of the full moon, so that her thumb and forefinger seem to be holding it. Then, she plucks a silver, moon-sized liberty dollar from thin air.
Gaiman also writes of Chicago that it “happened slowly, like a migrane.”
One stumbles into Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in much the same way. Strummed acoustic guitar, percussion, atonal noise bursts, short-wave radio samples and intimate vocal melodies build upon themselves, towering into an intoxicating, near-headache of American pop and avant-garde.
Early 20th century social commentary often described the American Midwest as a place devoid of history and cultural identity. Yankee, written and recorded in Chicago, places the midwest in a cultural context, somewhere between “Diet Coca-Cola and unlit cigarettes.”
The result evokes, at times, the sounds of traffic, police sirens, change in tip jars, Beatles records, psychedelic drugs, hangovers, construction sites, cell-phone ring tones, piano bars, 45 rpm rock and R&B singles, television, 12-year-olds trying to tune electric guitars, dentists’ drills, Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration, and radio static.
And it sounds as though it’s been plucked from thin air.
2 The Arcade Fire
The title of the Arcade Fire’s debut Funeral may sound maudlin, but the music within the 10 tracks is irrepressibly joyous. Funeral, however, is a fitting title. Within 48 minutes, the Arcade Fire exuberantly rip through family, friends, community, death and innocent love. Winn Butler’s nasally voice attempts octaves and levels he can’t quite reach, but his community of band members, guitars, piano, crashing symbols, violins and a French horn, sing join in a raucous chorus. On the occasional tune, his song writing partner and wife, Regine Butler, sings in her French whimsical voice. The revolving community of musicians dances around these two, and the result on stage is absolute ecstasy on their faces as everyone belts out at once, “You’ve got to wake up, wake up!”
The driving percussion from drums, cymbals and piano leads every song, and nowhere is this more evident then their live performances. The Arcade Fire’s Funeral has taken those moments in the mid 20s of painful sincerity and transformed them into a euphoric religious revival.
3 Kanye West
The College Dropout
The new millenium was a chance for rap’s earmark producers to show their adroitness behind the microphone. While Pharrell Williams’ groups Neptunes and N.E.R.D both released admirable records, it was Kanye West who would emerge victorious as the producer heap’s greatest find.
What West accomplished with The College Dropout was a spectacular defamation of his hip-hop peers’ rhyme content, all too impressive for a debut record. Shying away from the typical rap lyric “shake it like a salt shaker” and the genre’s trend of objectifying woman, West was more interested in flaunting his quarterback-style assault on gun control, racism and sex in the media.
Dropout’s sonic journey proved equally rhythmically captivating and intelligent, supported with dexterous riffs, vocal line sampling and sharp production value. No stranger to insult or controversy, West’s egotism recalled the late Miles Davis.
“Most rappers wouldn’t deserve a track with me,” he told MTV and later wrote in a song on Late Registration, his equally provocative sophomore effort.
His comments were at the highest level of self-indulgent haughtiness, but as Dropout affirmed, every word was true.
More than any other band on this list, Radiohead drastically altered the landscape of ‘90s alternative music with a combination of extravagant rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of U2 with the artistic endeavors of My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies. What began with five Oxford students became a worldwide phenomenon as the group increasingly advanced its craft through its first three albums.
Amnesiac was supposed to be a return to Radiohead’s guitar-orientated sound, but the album, which was recording during the same session as 2000’s Kid A, offered even more genre-defying, atmospheric experimentation than its predecessor.
Consider it though the musical landscape in 2001. The year was practically a depression for music, marked by nu-metal disasters, a failed garage-rock revival and 3 months worth of patriotic music pumped out as quickly as possible. Then there was Radiohead: epochal and self-indulgent, artistic, textured, and challenging.
Beginning with an audacious brass backing and ending with pure melancholy poured through their signature three-guitar front and Thom Yorke’s effortless vocals, Amnesiac raised the bar once more for all others hoping to ride Radiohead’s coattails to success.
The Black Album
When the best rapper alive decides to call it a career, it’s a big deal.
When said rapper’s farewell solo album is packed with one of the strongest vocal performances in hip-hop history — well, it demands a VIP booth in the DT Weekend’s Top 50.
Kanye. Just Blaze. Eminem. Rick Rubin. DJ Quik. The Neptunes. Timbaland. 9th Wonder. This was an album designed to move enormous loads of units.
But don’t get it twisted. This is Jay-Z’s album. Despite the flashy singles, The Black Album features Jigga’s most personal lyrics. His emotional goodbye to the industry chronicles the development of a prolific music icon.
“What More Can I Say” spelled out his reasons for retirement, “Moment of Clarity” found Hova at peace with a recently deceased father he barely knew, and “Justify My Thug” and “Allure” provided candid looks at a criminal lifestyle Jay-Z couldn’t resist.
Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below
Big Boi is one of rap’s most underappreciated artists.
He’s always been the chunky sidekick to golden boy, Andre Benjamin. He’s the “fat friend” who basks in Andre’s outlandish glory every time the pair takes the podium to accept all sorts of awards.
To be fair, if Andre 3000 had never written “Hey Ya,” you probably wouldn’t be reading this blurb, and Outkast wouldn’t have been the first rap group to win a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Never has one song defined such an impressive collective work. This is probably because there has never been a song like “Hey Ya.” It is an irresistible demonstration of all the good pop music can provide for humanity.
For Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the Atlanta duo recorded individual albums and released them together. While Andre’s half, The Love Below, dabbles in live instruments and jazz accompaniments, the hip-hop boundaries were often stretched to irritating heights.
Sadly, all the glory from Big Boi’s flawless half was stolen.
Still, Speakerboxxx maintained Outkast’s street credibility while bringing issues like religion, divorce and the execution of journalists in the Middle East to the forefront.
And it banged.
Despite all the noise, screaming and thrashing about, Fugazi does not tolerate violence at their shows.
The polticized lyrics on The Argument are similar to Mackaye’s onstage rant. Rather than responding to injustice and corruption by shouting “Destroy!” or “Tear down the wall,” Fugazi simply confronts problems and calls them out. “Cashout,” for example, reads like a documentary on urban gentrification.
Songs such as “Cashout,” “Full Disclosure” and “Life and Limb” see Fugazi exploring new lyrical and musical terrain. Both the loud and quiet tunes on the record carry some of the band’s strongest hooks in its 14-year career. And gentrification is a complicated subject for a singer who used to shout “don’t smoke / don’t drink / … at least I can fucking think.”
Turn on the Bright Lights
My roommate hates Interpol. They rip off Joy Division. They rip off Wire. And Joy Division again. When the record came out, we would have nothing to do with it. We’d cry things like “posers!” and “rip-offs!”
But it turns out Bright Lights is a great record after all. The mesmerizing opening track has often been copied but establishes the really dark yet lighthearted way that Interpol goes about its business.
The solid-as-NYC-concrete drumming and bassing, guitars and vocals that haven’t given up on the old British sorrow sweep through the record.
Interpol took all the great bands everyone else has been name-dropping for years and just made a record they would enjoy.
9 The Postal Service
Listening to The Postal Service is like watching morning light filter through white sheets and pale yellow blankets.
Give Up was a landmark synthesis of two vastly different indie subgenres, and its ability to appeal to more than one audience forced it out from the underground, bringing the indie music into the mainstream.
And when Ben Gibbard sings stories of patchwork farms fading into the ocean’s arms, of swimming any day in November, of becoming silhouettes when our bodies finally go, we can’t help but want to believe. As he sings in “Clark Gable,” “I want so badly to believe/ that there is truth, that love is real./ And I want life in every word/ to the extent that it’s absurd.”
Step 1: Chop off a gigantic slab of Grade A Beck Hanson. Step 2: Take that delicious, fatty cut of meat seen in such previous efforts as Odelay and Midnight Vultures, and trim off that unhealthy excess.Step 3: Marinate with strings, acoustic guitars, vocals, etc. Step 4: Slow cook that sucker on low heat.
Indeed, Sea Change is a successful recipe, a singer-songwriter’s somber paradise in the midst of the crashing samples and beats of Beck’s previous catalogue.
Hearing Beck wail out “It’s only lies that I’m living/It’s only tears that I’m Crying/It’s only you I’m losing,” in the last minutes of “Guess I’m Doing Fine” still sends chills down my spine.
11 Broken Social Scene
You Forgot It in People
What do John Candy’s funeral and Broken Social Scene have in common?
Too many Canadians at one place to be comfortable.
Broken Social Scene was able to take the sweeping weirdness and too-many-cooks recording method of the Canadian art collective scene and write a pop album. Songs like “Cause = Time” and “Almost Crimes” feature robust orchestration while still retaining catchy hooks and memorable melodies.
Much like many a band on this list, the Scene has the ability to show their influences without indulging so much as to rip them off.
It’s just fortunate that these guys and gals listen to and love a whole lot of good pop. You Forgot it in People manages to cram elements of everyone from Dinosaur Jr. to Genesis into one sound without sounding like a mish-mash of noise and trombones.
12 The White Stripes
The initial draft of this list prominently featured three Stripes releases. After careful, exhausting deliberation “Elephant” emerged as the clear representative due to some forward-thinking logic.
“It’s White Blood Cells, but with a bass guitar.”
It turns out the famous bassline from “Seven Nation Army” was a guitar as well.
Elephant stayed true to the Stripes’ winning formula — great garage rock sprinkled with acoustic folk numbers.
But the Whites masterfully played around with other genres.
On “There’s No Place Like Home,” for example, they wrote a towering, classic-rock hook inspired by bands like Queen.
On Arrow, Blackalicous MC Gift of Gab hit a level of lyrical dexterity rarely matched. His lines, filled with internal rhyme twist around each other in a whirl of spirituality, positive thinking and superb battle rap.
“So make your disc and play this tape in your Camaro,” Gab raps on the title track. “Amazin’ phase your daze your hazy ways my blazing arrow.”
Producer Chief Xcel also stretches out on Arrow, blending psychedelia, vintage pop, funk, soul and rock into lush and astonishingly lucid beats. Where much psycedelic-tinged rap is intentionally muddled or confused, Xcel makes every individual note and beat stand on its own.
The closing tune, “Day One,” breaks from the album’s quick flow. The vocals are sung to a slow backing beat and swelling string samples. In a spiritual critique of materialism, Gab clearly state’s Arrow’s message:
“Get your soul back.”
14 Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever to Tell
Burning through your mind like a white-hot noise, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs assault your stereo with a take-no-prisoners attitude and enough thrashing guitar to back it up. Karen O’s sex-infused vocals combined with beats and strings provided by Brian Chase and Nicholas Zinner respectively make their third album Fever to Tell a must-listen for those about to rock.
The album’s first half features the kind of quick bursts of angry rock that makes you want to break stuff and punch a guy just to watch him bleed. Complimenting this, the album’s ending tracks including hits “Maps” and “Y-control” take a more mature, produced role, changing what would otherwise be a grungy, short album to one with some solid, sophisticated pieces.
15 The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
The Flaming Lips must take a lot of drugs. There is no other explanation for an album about robots who develop emotions, good vs. evil, the realization of death and a little Japanese girl who is out to save the world against man-eating, pink robots.
As playful as the album is, Wayne Coyne treats serious subjects with a straight face, as on the stand-out track “Do You Realize?”
He asks, “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?” It’s a tough question but one few bands ever undertake.
Although some of it is grim, the song, as well as the entire album, is a celebration of life.
16 DJ Shadow
The Private Press
I knew when I heard Endtroducing for the first time that Shadow’s follow-up would never reach that caliber. The man is only human. And truthfully, I was right.
The Private Press seems weak when put against the behemoth that is Endtroducing. But, even on Shadow’s “mortal” records, he still manages to create music that other DJs and musicians can only dream to achieve.
Like any good artist, DJ Shadow has a distinguishable style, a craft he has personalized. There isn’t another DJ out there who can dig through hundreds of thousands of records and find that perfect break or melody as consistently as Shadow. From the classic down-tempo percussion within “Fixed Income,” to the synthetic keyboard lines of “Blood on the Motorway,” Shadow proves over and over he’s a sampling genius.
17 Tom Waits
As far as artists with prolonged careers, Tom Waits has never softened like his peers (Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger), and 2002’s simultaneously released Alice and Blood Money further underlines this.
Blood Money is a concept album based on an 1837 German play titled “Woyzeck,” a story of a soldier driven mad by army medical experiments, eventually murdering his lover. How uplifting. Waits’ voice, finely aged in a steady diet of hard liquor and cigarettes, perfectly accompanies the low woodwinds and chaotic percussion.
The sinister carnival of Blood Money is juxtaposed with the balladeering and self-proclaimed “skeleton chamber orchestra” of Alice.
With the exception of “Kommienezuspadt,” Waits croons over varied string arrangements and piano melodies, leaving tunes like “Flower’s Grave” and “Poor Edward” in its wake.
With Alice and Blood Money, Waits once again teaches the young musical whippersnappers of today the meaning of originality and pure creativity.
18 System of a Down
Like a skizophrenic politician on crack, singer Serj Tankian leads Toxicity’s charges through socially hilarious and mind-numbing public policy suggestions.
The unabashed, thrash-tempo songs blazed relentlessly, but it was the title-track line “the toxicity of our city” that unmasked the group’s ability to conjure absurdity and acrimony in consecutive seconds.
Unnerving and uncompromising, drummer John Dolyman knew how to navigate the ferocious tempos, accenting Takian’s sternness and folly alike. Toxicity well relinquished the group’s uncontested heavyweight title as metal’s most daring, brilliant and bizarre quartet.
19 Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf
Songs for the Deaf, considered by many to be a milestone for radio-accessible alternative rock, was a long time in the making.
Queens’ guitarist and front man Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri first garnered a cult following in their iconic stoner rock group, Kyuss.
Their first two records as Queens of the Stone Age yielded the same chaos and disruptive distortion patterns, but placed a greater emphasis on songwriting and craftsmanship.
This album ties together extremely diverse songs through pop-culture samplings, such as radio clippings, and delivers the album’s best song after the concept ends (“Mosquito Song”).
It’s also a collection of everything that Queens had going on for them at the time. It featured arguably the best drummer and guitarist from ‘90s alternative rock with Dave Grohl and Dean Ween, respectively, and some impressive vocal performances from ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan.
Josh Homme wrote three of the catchiest and best songs of his career with “Go With the Flow,” “First it Giveth” and “No One Knows,” while Oliveri’s chaotic edge, found mostly in high screams, gives this record the randomness it needed to work as a conceptual whole.
20 The Shins
Oh, Inverted World
Oh, Inverted World could have been released somewhere in the mid-1960s and no one would question it.
Its poppy melodies along with James Mercer’s echo-filled vocals produce an atmosphere not too different from early Beach Boys material.
It feels as if it could be a soundtrack to old super-8mm home movies from the ‘70s. My only complaint is that it ends too soon, clocking in at just over half an hour.
The highlight of the album comes right in the middle with “New Slang.” Mercer sings of regret and yearning for the past.
Even if his lyrics weren’t present to convey it, the eerie “oohs,” heavy bassline and haunting guitar solos explain his longing.
No band in the last few decades has ever sounded anything like the The Shins.
21 Alicia Keys
Songs in A Minor
Alicia Keys found music’s rare road: to both amend and arouse musical lineage. In Keys’ erratic world, neo-soul, old-school hip-hop, R&B, classical and remnants of contemporary jazz aren’t segregated genres.
Songs bred no ugly ducklings. It was the kind of major-label debut of which most recording artists could only dream. For Keys and her piano-playing prowess, criticisms were few and far between, as they should have been.
It’s the trademark line “Now you know a woman’s worth” that recapitulates the tenderness, pensiveness and vehemence with which Keys was born to sing.
From the Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots
In the Dr. Who television series, the Daleks are an evil race of mechanically enhanced mutants, who travel the universe, hell-bent on galactic domination.
Unfortunately for the Dalek empire, the producers of the BBC show were incredibly cheap — early versions of the Dalek costume didn’t permit climbing stairs.
This led to the joke among Dr. Who geeks that “real Daleks don’t climb stairs. They level the building.”
It’s clear that Dälek could live up to that promise. “Spiritual Healing” sounds like distorted electric guitars swordfighting with God.
23 The Mountain Goats
All Hail West Texas
Everyone hates the jackass that breaks out a guitar in the middle of the party.
It’s either the fratty that plays alternative hits from 1993-96 or the misanthrope who conspicuously sings about that girl that broke up with him. All while everyone else just wants to get drunk and listen to Daft Punk.
John Darnielle doesn’t go to parties. He stays in a dark room and plots the undoing of several fictional characters using a map, colored pencils and a fifth of Jack.
More fun than freak-folk longhairs, All Hail West Texas offers epic introspection and tragic characters but somehow still makes the listener smile with honest delivery and quirky style.
24 The Drive-By Truckers
The Dirty South
My great uncle Simp never had much use the Tennessee Valley Authority.
So when TVA wanted to build a road through Simp’s north Alabama land, he naturally demanded they pay what it was worth. TVA wouldn’t deal, so Simp proceeded to chop down several trees, trapping TVA’s construction equipment on his property.
The Drive-By Truckers sound like great uncle Simp talked, with a distinctively Southern swagger and accent. Characters fight cops, work their lives away at the Sheffield Ford plant, and empty out shotgun shells and “fill ‘em full of black-eyed peas.”
It makes me homesick.
— Ben Heath
25 Gillian Welch
Time (The Revelator)
Gillian Welch has to be one of folk music’s most honest artists.
Welch continues to deliver rich mountain ballads that sound as if they could have been crafted on someone’s back porch 70 years ago. She also treads on new ground, delivering “really tiny rock songs” with “Elvis Presley Blues” and “I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll.”
26 Neil Young
Leave it to Neil Young to make a concept album about a small-town family in California that is torn apart by a murder. And then watch him take it on the road as a pseudo-rock opera.
To top that off, he shot a super-8 film that acts as a 90-minute, album-long music video of the story.
Young reunites Crazy Horse to create raw, energetic, often off-time music that compliments his lyrics of a family trying to get along in a world that doesn’t agree with them. On Greendale, Young shows that he can still rock like he’s 24 and yet has the insight to deliver a story that stretches across generations.
27 Bright Eyes
Conner Oberst is not the modern-day Bob Dylan that many proclaim him to be. He is, however, a painfully straightforward songwriter who has a knack for transforming the disillusion of youth into passionate reflections of life.
On Lifted, Oberst uses an array of instruments and styles to create a symphony of love and contempt for those around him. Oberst conveys so much sentiment, not necessarily in the lyrics themselves, but how he delivers them. He convincingly makes you feel his pain, pouring out emotion from song to song, subject to subject.
28 The Strokes
Is This It?
If we were giving an award for most hyped band of the millennium, the Strokes would be it.
Their debut lived up to all the excitement, drawing on influences such as Television and The Velvet Underground to craft a raw, garage-rock sound that seems to be lacking in production. Julian Casablancas’ vocals, dealing with the almost glamorous issues of being a twenty-something in New York City, are matched perfectly with crunchy, repetitive guitar.
The Strokes’ garage-rock revival spawned a whole slew of bands that eventually led to MTV VJs throwing around the term “indie rock” like it was going out of style.
29 Loretta Lynn
Van Lear Rose
Loretta Lynn revived her career with possibly her best album to date. Van Lear Rose, which was completely penned by Lynn, is autobiographical, starting with the tale of how her parents met (“Van Lear Rose”) and ending with “Story of My Life,” which is a humorous tale of how she was raised in Kentucky, became a country-music sensation, raised kids and even had an Oscar-nominated film made about her life.
Lynn hired Jack White to arrange and produce the album, and his influence is all over the place, from wailing guitars to solid drum lines. The intimacy and quality of storytelling that Lynn gives is simply stunning.
30 Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie finally perfects the sad, feel-sorry-for-yourself songs that emo is all about.
Frontman Ben Gibbard doubled his success in 2003 with this album and The Postal Service’s Give Up. Both display his talent for making your heart heavy even when you feel good.
Underrated guitar work accented with poppy drumbeats sandwich the most heartfelt tracks on Transatlanticism. The ordering of songs is perfect, creating an emotional rollercoaster that reaches its peak halfway through, with the title track. If there ever was an album to make you bawl your eyes out after you’ve been dumped, this is it.
Kill the Moonlight
Generation Y views its slacker predecessors contemptuously, blaming them for today’s materialism and intolerance. It makes sense, then, that GenY-ers reject the convention of their elders and instead “seek out the taciturn.”
Spoon did more with Kill the Moonlight than produce sexy songs; it captured the mindset of a generation that wants to be more than it is, but feels it’s been put in a position to just get by: “We get high in backseats of cars/ We put faith in our concerns/ Fall in love to down on the street/ We believe in the sum of ourselves.”
32 Paul Wall and Chamillionaire
Get Ya Mind Correct
This 2002 classic is the H-Town scene’s defining crown jewel. Get Ya Mind Correct finds two of the finest MCs in Texas swapping bling stories, trying to out-boast one another.
Before succumbing to money and business beefs, this childhood duo’s collaborations provided countless three-minute nuggets of charm and wit.
They have since released successful solo debuts on majors, but remain best remembered as Swishahouse’s smartasses.
By the time Sleater-Kinney formed in 1995, Corin Tucker’s full, harsh voice had already become the signature sound of feminist punk-rock.
On One Beat, her powerful vocals tear through a background of machine-gun guitars, declaring that “It’s not the time to just keep quiet” and telling the world to speak up.
Though the riot grrrl trio’s 2002 album brought them closer to the mainstream than previous records have, they still cling to their indie feminist roots with raised, clenched fists.
— Noelene Clark
Common struck gold in ‘05.
The Chicago rapper spent last century one hit away from career vindication. He came close in 2000 with “The Light,” the year’s most soulful single.
Lucky for him, he has Kanye West’s cell number.
Lyrically, Common sticks to his guns and spends Be preaching love and unity.
Considering the singles gave Ying Yang Twins serious chart competition, Common’s subject matter was desperately needed amongst hip-hop fans.
Dance and Dence Denso
Molotov have an atypical manner of bringing out the best and worst of Hispanic pride in their mother country.
Often imitated by lesser Spanish rock bands, Molotov is Mexico’s equivalent to Limp Bizkit without the the stupefying lyrics. Channeling polka, furious punk rock, hip-hop, dance rock and metal, Dance patrols the frontier of racism among Texas and Mexico, illegal immigration’s woes, and several songs about food’s levity.
A Rush of Blood to the Head
In classic Coldplay fashion, A Rush of Blood to the Head features music best for when you’re not sure what kind of mood to be in. The harmonies reflect an artistic, tortured soul trying to find meaning in an otherwise melancholy life.
But dramatics aside, Coldplay has a gift for blending conflicting, yet complimentary, emotions into every song — dejection, bliss, nostalgia, hopelessness and solemnity.
I recommend listening to this album on a road trip with close friends, early in the morning, when sunlight is still faint and the only noise is the meandering thoughts in your head.
MF Doom’s collaboration with producer/rapper Madlib sounds like a symphony of broken instruments, Saturday-morning cartoons and marijuana smoke. Doom’s rhymes flow like blood “dripping off the meat grinder.” Madlib’s beats creak and groan, and they allow Doom the freedom his clever lines demand.
With Absolution, this young trio created a soundtrack to Armageddon that was more visceral, compelling, dramatic and musically innovative than anything Green Day could ever have hoped to, and they did it without mascara, red ties and getting on the John Kerry campaign trail.
Frontman and virtuoso piano and guitar player Matthew Bellamy carries this album through the opening march of “Apocalypse Please” to the closing memento “Ruled by Secrecy.”
Now on their fifth single, Muse continue to draw new fans and dominate alternative rock airways.
39 Daft Punk
Not much is known about the two musical masters behind Daft Punk. They’re from France ... I think.
The mysterious duo also claim in multiple interviews to be robots. The few images that exist of the dynamic duo would seem to support their assertion.
Following up their Homework album, Punk’s digital daydream Discovery blends catchy hooks and just enough lyrics to keep you listening “one more time.”
The album even garnered the attention of Cartoon Network after Manga/anime legend Leiji Matsumoto signed on to produce an animated version called “Interstella 5555.”
Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn doesn’t really sing about anything original, but she approaches love and nature themes in a refreshing way. Advisory Committee uses echoes, twang, chimes and, on one track, a full choir to provide powerful background music to her honest and clever lyrics.
But even if you stripped her of first-class producer Phil Elvrum (The Microphones), took away the prettily-plucked acoustic guitar, the robust accordion and echoing chimes, left her with nothing but a drum beat, Mirah’s voice would still be clear and beautiful, and her songs would still be brilliant and sincere. She can prove it on “The Garden.”
— Noelene Clark
41 Bloc Party
When it comes to hyping music, nobody does it better than the Brits. Every year, dozens of UK rock bands get giant billboards pasted up in the London Underground. And every year, most of these bands fall flat on their faces.
But occasionally the hype machine is right, and something like Silent Alarm comes out. With its no-frills, aggressive production, this album never wanes in energy from start to finish. Even their first single, “Banquet,” made a modest splash stateside. Easily the UK’s best album of 2005 and arguably the best British release this millennium.
42 Brand New
What the punk/emo genre has morphed into since 2001 is easy to poke fun at.
Regardless, it’s difficult to deny the brutal honesty Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey puts forth in his songs. Lacey has a knack for writing enormous, haunting choruses.
“Guernica” turns the gutwrenching helplessness of watching his grandfather succumb to cancer into an electric blast of head-bobbing rock. While on songs like “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” Lacey writes circles around emo clichés by candidly disclosing selfish conquests.
43 Brian Wilson
Forty years after The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” first topped the pop charts, the 2004 release of Brian Wilson’s Smile proved the reclusive composer’s lost masterpiece was well worth the wait that the masterful “Vibrations” had hinted at.
Wilson’s aging voice and the absence of Beach Boys’ lead singer Mike Love may have dimmed the luster on some tracks. But whatever it may have lost in vocal sheen, Wilson’s whimsical brilliance and exceptional compositional abilities helped make his “teenage symphony to God” one of the richest listening experiences of this century.
Or, for that matter, the last.
DJ /rupture wields songs like weapons. Foxy Brown, Aalyiah, Roberta Flack, Nina Simone and noise freakouts erupt like improvised explosive devices. Middle Eastern chant combines with breakbeat and mainstream R&B. Percussion like submachine guns. Noise like tank treads.
Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
Metric singer Emily Haines twines the microphone cord around her neck, around and around and up, as though she’s hanging from its silver head.
She closes her eyes, her pink tongue pokes out, and she lets the mic bounce off her chest. She throws the audience a spiteful glare as she unwinds, her microphone limp in her left hand. Her boots slam into the stage, her hips pop side to side, and the mic teases the hem of her miniskirt and disappears underneath.
She stops, smiles innocently. She lifts the mic to her mouth, licks it and begins singing a song that laments the modern world’s loss of originality.
46 The Boredoms
Vision Creation Newsun
Albert Camus’ The Stranger describes the events leading up to a murder in vivid detail:
“Beneath a veil of brine and tears my eyes were blinded; I was conscious only of the cymbals of the sun clashing on my skull, and, less distinctly, of the keen blade of light flashing up from the knife, scarring my eyelashes and gouging into my eyeballs. … My grip closed on the revolver. The trigger gave …”
In the space between the gun, the knife, the sun, the sea and the victim is Vision Creation Newsun.
With the release of Melody AM, Norwegian production duo Royksopp cemented their role as one of the foremost in the downbeat electronic genre.
Royksopp consistently and almost predictably bring the “chill” more than most of their peers throughout the record.
Melody AM gives listeners a pleasurable insight into this post-clubbing, “electronic-lite” genre, and, alongside such richly produced singles like “Eple,” still gives you something to move your feet to.
48 Jimmy Eat World
Perhaps I lost all credibility as a music critic when I picked up the habit of dancing to cell phone rings, but this album hooked me the second I happened upon the strikingly unusual video for “The Middle.”
Four years ago I was a closeted freshman in a new town needing something with which I could connect. And Bleed American, while sometimes shifting into pop ballad territory, is still the band’s best album of the past five years.
And it’s a powerful piece of music.
God Hates Us All
Some call it a coincidence; others proclaim it to have been prophetic. Either way, the release of this controversial album the morning of Sept.11, 2001, shot Slayer and all of their thrash-metal glory back into the national spotlight.
With brutality not seen to this degree since their 1988 release South of Heaven, this quartet slapped nu-metal in the face with blistering tracks that screamed “God Send Death” and ushered a call to arms to defend the new “War Zone.”
50 Sufjan Stevens
Illinoise, the second record in Stevens’ quest to chronicle every state in America, shows strength in its narration. While portions of the record sound like Stevens enlisted his high school marching band, its ambition is admirable.
Tracks such as “Decatur” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” feature banjoes, trumpets and pianos, while never overshadowing Stevens’ simple yet lush vocals. If making the road trip up to Illinois is too difficult, then Illinoise may be the second best way for you to know what the state is really like.