My baker, an elderly fellow from Bristol, asked me what I thought about Third. I wasn’t expecting to find him in a dark corner of the grocery section, lurking like a local Yeti between the meat and the English beef. “So, what do you reckon? Isn’t it a great record?” “Obviously,” I replied. But was it? When Third came out in 2008, Portishead sounded like a completely different band. Which is quite normal considering that 11 years had passed since their self-titled second record rewrote the rules of trip-hop at the end of the noughties. Faster rhythms (“Silence”), industrial digressions (“We Carry On”, “Machine Gun”) and psychedelia (“Small”) make this album a clear departure from that weird fusion of hip hop and electronica which is the territory inhabited by the likes of Portishead, yes, but also Tricky and Massive Attack. Third is a necessary anomaly which seals the fate of a genre. An array of influences over the cinematic attributes; more krautrock and less ambient, colourfulness over monochromatism, Third is the album the ‘90s left behind. Time has gracefully changed it beyond recognition to make it sound so contemporary and beautifully unmissable. My baker, a good man, nodded and went back behind the counter. Alex Franquelli
The Blueprint is lounge rap—luxurious, laid back, and best served with a stirred martini. Jigga’s in full Sinatra mode; he’s no longer the hungry hustler on Reasonable Doubt, nor is he the new money player on Volume 2. This is Jigga in retrospect, enjoying the spoils of a hard fought war. While Jay-Z peaks on The Blueprint, Kanye West begins his ascent. ‘Ye’s soulful production is still some of his best—check out the Jackson 5 sample on “Izzo,” or the Bobby Bland sample on “Heart of the City.” Elsewhere on the album, Jigga spits “The Takeover” —a wild haymaker at Nas that finishes their “feud”. And then there’s Eminem, who ditches the Slim Shady theatrics and kills on “Renegade.” It’s The Blueprint‘s only guest spot, and it’s quality over quantity, laid bare.
The Blueprint dropped on September 11, 2001. That morning was a gorgeous one, with a warm sun and clear blue skies. In hindsight, that’s exactly what The Blueprint was. It was that pre-9/11 New York beauty: the uptown opulence, the downtown swag, the cocky ‘make it anywhere’ pride, before fire and steel fell out of the sky. Kevin Wong
To say that the debut album from this Montreal group has had a lasting impression on the musical landscape would be a huge understatement. Funeral is now widely regarded as one of the best albums released by a Canadian band, one that led to (eventually) a Grammy Award and massive concert tours where the outfit reportedly rakes in at least a million dollars a night. While some in Canada may feel that the impact is muted, thanks to excessive overplaying of the singles from that record on the radio and such, you can’t deny that Arcade Fire has essentially become this generation’s Big Thing. Aesthetically, though, there is no inherent weakness with the LP, with each song building upon the last, and if you’re not moved by “Crown of Love”, you don’t have a soul in your body. It should come as no surprise that, according to Metacritic, Funeral has had the second most appearances on Top 100 albums of the double aughts lists right behind Radiohead’s Kid A. And here it is on our list. This all may not come as a surprise, but Funeral still retains its power and beauty 10 years after its release, and stands as an important landmark in shining a light on music made in Canada. And, yes, it is still very list-worthy. Zachary Houle
It’s appropriate that OutKast released its quintessential album on the first Halloween of a new millennium. Stankonia was the result of Big Boi and Andre 3000 dressing up their already nuanced Southern rap template in a prismatic array of genres, tempos, and vocal deliveries, topping it all off with the kaleidoscopic dreadlocks of a George Clinton wig. By eschewing celebrity cameos in favor of hard-nosed underground rappers like Killer Mike and Gangsta Bo—and tackling its own verses with the confidence of veteran craftsmen—the Atlanta duo was able to make any wild flight of fancy sound like an organic extension of itself. This wasn’t the first release to disprove the disrespectful notion that hip hop artists can’t have long careers, but it was the first mid-career hip hop album that proved experimentation in the genre could also sell tons of copies and win Grammys. There’s the speed metal jump rope rhyming of “B.O.B.”, the vintage cop show horn stabs of “Spaghetti Junction”, the Prince-ian boudoir compact that propels “I’ll Call Before I Come”, and the cheeky, unplanned pregnancy pop of “Ms. Jackson”, for starters. In hindsight, the artistic evolution that made this album special—Andre’s growing preference for singing and guitar playing mingling with Big Boi’s refined approach to straight rhyming—turned out to be a double-edged sword. (Eight years since the last album and counting!) But think of it this way. Without the boundary-smashing example of Stankonia, Kanye West might not have had the balls to make 808s & Heartbreak. Lil’ Wayne might not have felt free to explore all of that unhinged, hysterical territory on his mixtapes. And hip-hop in 2014 would certainly not have as many strikingly unique rabbit holes for us to get lost in. Joe Sweeney
Things were changing at the very start of the decade. The year suddenly, shockingly, started with a “2”. And the way pop music worked—not just how it sounded, but how it was made, how it was distributed, how it was listened to, and how it was received—was decidedly on the cusp of change. Who expected the best “rock” band of that moment, a band built around sturdy songcraft and serious guitar energy, to understand the change so utterly and to reflect it back to us in a stunning, immersive, seductive collection of tone poems? Kid A arrived in 2000 with plenty of warning, but it still amazed us. “Idiotique” seems to be about an evacuation or apocalypse, underscored by a driving and syncopated loop of electronic percussion and a moving set of four sampled chord inversions from avant-garde classical music. “This is really happening”, Thom Yorke sings in his his keening falsetto. “The National Anthem” rode a driving four-measure bass line to chaotic joy, allowing a group of eight saxophones and brass to play like a Mingus band on free-jazz amphetamines. “How to Disappear Completely” was delicate and shimmering, built on a strummed acoustic guitar and a perfectly articulated vocal: “I’m not here, this isn’t happening.” Kid A was (and still is) the sound of the biggest band in the land reinventing itself before our eyes—adjusting to a changing and terrifying world but doing so with beauty, humanity, and humility. That your tenth listen is better than your first (and your hundredth best of all) tells you that Radiohead made an album in 2000 that might still be around when the year ticks around to start with a “3”. Will Layman