30. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights [Matador]
Interpol‘s Turn on the Bright Lights was to post-punk revival what Is This It? was to garage rock revival. The detractors keep comparing this to Joy Division and the Chameleons, except they don’t seem to realize that Paul Banks’ voice moves more than Ian Curtis’, and the production is clearer than any Chameleons record. Then, they turn to tearing up Banks’ lyricism instead, taking them out of context and laughing at them, except they don’t seem to realize that Banks’ lyrics are more human than most any other record; relatable tales of relationships through the use of colloquialisms (“Her books are boring and stuff”) or filler words (“My best friend’s from Poland and um, he has a beard”), and comparing a subway to a porno was so obvious, I’m amazed no one’s thought of it before.
But forget all that and pay attention to the instruments because being post-punkers, they’re good at what they do: the guitar interplay of “Obstacle 1”, the finale of “PDA”, the chug of “Say Hello to the Angels”, the breakdown of “The New”, and the melodies of “Leif Erikson”. — Marshall Gu
29. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP [Aftermath/Interscope]
The poetry icons from the 1960s, such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton, became known as “confessional poets”. On The Marshall Mathers LP Eminem becomes the confessional poet of hip-hop. This often-controversial album exudes references to violence and homosexuality, but it did so through the character of Slim Shady, and though jarring and offensive, a character no more likely to manifest than Plath’s Nazi-fueled protagonist full of vitriol aimed at her father in “Daddy”.
The Marshall Mathers LP opens up Eminem’s artistic heart and leads it to spurt bloody and unrestrained. This album is a juggernaut of words and images that gush in a relentless, unambiguous assault. The singer sits like an American Horror Story version of an expletive-spouting carnival challenge, taunting the listener to take just one more shot, which he always does.
Ultimately, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes with permissions — permission to document life with absolute bluntness — permission to transform the near exhaustive horrors of love-tinged hate into poetry — permission to rise above the material, the motivation, permission to craft art from pain. Without the rhythm, the intricate rhymes, without the music the disassociated words would scatter on the floor and congeal like a threatening love note. But Eminem imbues the words with a kind of fragility that impedes their bluster. While the master of white rap eventually overcomes his demons with tenuous and sometimes feeble constraint the chronicle of that battle demands our attention over and over again. The Marshall Mathers LP will act as a get-out-of-jail-free card for artists taking colloquial agony to new heights. — Daniel Rasmus
28. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? [Polyvinyl]
Of Montreal‘s Kevin Barnes made a half-dozen albums of twee indie-pop in relative obscurity before essentially starting over with 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic. While his lyrical subject matter was still whimsical, an increased focus on danceable beats began to draw a wider audience, and 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins was about halfway to an indie-dance-pop masterpiece before succumbing to musical navel-gazing on the back end. But 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? turned out to be that masterpiece he’d previously flirted with.
This time, he turned the navel-gazing to his advantage, dropping the whimsy in favor of thinly-disguised lyrics about his own life. In Barnes’ hands, struggles with antidepressants became the bouncy, joyous “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse.” The ennui of living in Norway with his pregnant wife to take advantage of free state-provided health care became the soaring falsetto funk of “Gronlandic Edit” and the pop gem “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger”.
It climaxes in the 12-minute centerpiece, “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal”, where Barnes and his wife have a knockdown, drag-out argument that involves household objects being thrown across the room. Musically, the song pulses angrily, with tense, interlocking guitar and synth parts that steadily add layer after layer to the song at precise intervals. In the wake of the fight, Barnes retreats into a sexually ambiguous alter ego on the album’s smutty, flirtatious, and funky second half, until the gnarly distorted guitar riff of “She’s a Rejector” brings his real feelings back to the surface. The floaty, gentle yet resigned pop of “We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling” brings the album to a smooth, cathartic, and satisfying finish. — Chris Conaton
27. Kanye West – Late Registration [Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam]
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear to see that Late Registration was nothing less than a statement of intent. Kanye West had gotten people’s attention with The College Dropout, but one wrong turn could have easily sent him toward the commercial and critical purgatory that many throwback rappers find themselves in. With Late Registration, Kanye West aimed higher than being the best rapper of his generation, even higher than being the best pop star of his generation. He aspired to be a pop savant, the sort of individual talent that rarely comes along. He brought along Jon Brion to give his beats more intricate arrangements. While he still used soul and R&B samples as a base, Kanye’s work on Late Registration seems more grandiose, as if the ambition of “Jesus Walks” was blown up into a 70-minute epic.
Even the parts of Late Registration that seem baffling on paper (Adam Levine as a hook guy?) manage to work in practice. Less than ten years after Late Registration‘s release, Kanye West is regarded as one of the most controversial geniuses of his time. Many have argued that he has reached the heights of greatness that he insisted he could reach. But it all started here when Kanye showed the world just what he was capable of. — Kevin Korber
26. Daft Punk – Discovery [Virgin]
You can thank Daft Punk for the current musical dancescape. The rock stars of today are enigmatic priests of the dance floor, opting for laptops over Stratocasters. Before Daft Punk’s now-legendary Coachella set in 2006, this was not the case. Sure, there were electronic acts, but almost none of them had the same flair for showmanship. Would you feel the same way about Daft Punk if they didn’t dress up like robots? I didn’t think so. Every modern-day EDM artist should be paying royalties for their iconography, if not for their music. Unfortunately, like Led Zeppelin before them, Daft Punk’s innumerable progeny opted for fist-pumping excess at the expense of subtlety and texture.
The eerie serenity of “Nightvision” might be ideal for a cooldown, yet today’s acts seldom recognize any BPM other than “FIST OF GOD”. Moreover, if you expect to hear another track resembling the virtuosic insanity that is “Hander, Better, Faster, Stronger”, don’t hold your breath. Artists like Daft Punk come along once in a generation, and Discovery is their masterpiece, a record comprised of disparate moods and influences that nonetheless form a perfect whole. A retrofitted pop pastiche for the new millennium, never before had the past and future been so seamlessly integrated together. They likely never will be again. — J.C. Sciaccotta
25. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells [V2/XL]
The late 1990s and early 2000s were a dark, dark time for mainstream rock. So dark, in fact, that there was a period in my early adolescence when I quit paying attention to music altogether. That’s why White Blood Cells felt like a miracle when I first heard it that pivotal summer before high school. Sure, the album had its sinister moments — but they were far removed from the phony, suicidal bullshit corporate radio had been shoving down my throat. A song like “The Union Forever” could co-exist alongside “We’re Going to be Friends” because you knew both songs — raw, emotional, authentic — were cut from the same cloth. In an era where everyone strove for macho cool, the White Stripes weren’t afraid to be vulnerable.
Like their peppermint-striped color scheme, their music was simple, yet bold. “Fell in Love with a Girl” (and its accompanying LEGO-themed video) remains their greatest achievement: at a scant one minute and 48 seconds, this adrenaline shot to the heart of garage was potent enough to wipe nu-metal and rap-rock off the face of the earth. As far as I’m concerned, this album saved rock ‘n’ roll, and for that we should all be very, very grateful. — J.C. Sciaccotta
24. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People [Arts & Crafts/Paper Bag]
The diffidently-sung “Anthem for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” will reach you, even if you’re not in the targeted demographic. You will want to shout out the lyrics with the entire group in the climax of “Almost Crimes”. You will want to dance around to “Pacific Theme” while no one’s around to see it, and maybe enjoy a cigarette to “Looks Just Like the Sun”, “Lover’s Spit”, and “I’m Still Your Fag” afterward. And that’s all without mentioning “Cause = Time”, with guitar and strings that suggest maybe we can do something about the situation we find ourselves in; we can fight it, and we don’t have to submit.
Broken Social Scene, a full-blown collective, make sure that every song is packed with detail — things will stick to you at first because they’re catchy, but additional listens will reveal more. More guitars are going on in “Anthem for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” than you would think. And even “Capture the Flag”, which captures their entire debut album in two minutes and change, or the string-laden closer “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart” are pleasures. One of the greatest gifts, musical or otherwise, Canada gave the world that entire decade. — Marshall Gu
23. The Avalanches – Since I Left You [Modular]
You know that feeling: when you hear a song’s chorus or just a stray verse or maybe a chord change that is just so good, so downright powerful and undeniably cathartic that you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You can probably name only a handful of songs that have achieved this effect, but with the Avalanches‘ Since I Left You, they managed to maintain it over the course of an entire album.
Crafted by a group of Australian DJs out of both original instrumentation and hundreds of samples, Since I Left You cannot be classified as belonging to a single genre because throughout its hour-long run time. It features every single genre you could ever think of: jazz guitars melt away into indie-electronica experiments, four-on-the-four club bangers transmogrify into Osmond Brothers’ send-offs, and spoken-word sound bytes are married to hip-hop beats, Brill Building vocal choirs, country croons, and, just for the hell of it, the bassline to Madonna’s “Holiday”. It’s an outright celebration of music with electricity coursing through its grooves as it interpolates the sounds of opera singers and turntable scratches without even the slightest hint of effort. The album sounds like every record you ever loved melting together to create something that you’ve never heard before.
Coming out at the end of the Napster era, Since I Left You wasn’t a mere mashup or Girl Talk-styled music nerd amalgam, no. Instead, it modified the DNA of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. It created something completely new out of tropes we are already too familiar with, subverting our expectations on an average of every ten seconds. It is transcendent in its pop music pleasures, and, amazingly, after personally listening to this record end-to-end over 300 times, I am still hearing elements that I never heard before. Few records in history will ever have this kind of replayability, but, to be fair, few records have ever sounded like Since I Left You. — Evan Sawdey
22. Basement Jaxx – Kish Kash [XL/Astralwerks]
Despite the early millennial success of “Where’s Your Head At?”, the UK house duo known as Basement Jaxx were getting increasingly bored with the modern sounds of dance music. A simple, catchy chorus just wasn’t enough to satiate their tastes because, in a world dominated by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk, they were left to ask, “Where is the fun? Where is the humor? Hell, where is the out-and-out weirdness of it all?”
With Kish Kash, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe decided not to record one dance album but about six of them. Instead of releasing all these things separately, they melted all their ideas down into these 14 songs, each one brimming with a half-dozen choruses that are basically playing over each other but somehow completely and thrillingly cohesive. Just take the Dizzee Rascal-featuring single “Lucky Star”, for example, which features an exotic keyboard trill, about four different layers of shouted vocal harmonies, synth pads coloring the chorus, a furiously strummed acoustic hook that comes in right before the three-minute mark. Any one of these elements would stand as an amazing pop single on its own. Still, instead, they’re all put into one frenetic club banger that sounds dangerously close to exploding with over-enthusiasm at any given second.
Throughout the rest of Kish Kash, the boys root their songs in electroclash (“Cish Cash”), gospel (“Supersonic”), late ’90s R&B (“Feels Like Home”), and even string-drenched Björk-styled electronic catharsis (“If I Ever Recover”). But those simple frameworks are soon filled with the duo’s off-beat personalities and eccentricities. The Jaxx’s insatiable, overstuffed brand of dance-pop quietly influenced the decade that followed. Still, as their subsequent efforts proved, Kish Kash is when they perfected their sound, throwing more memorable hooks into a single song than most bands will write in their entire career. — Evan Sawdey
21. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black [Island]
When Amy Winehouse‘s unfortunate death on 23 July 2011 became a media sensation, many people were discovering her music for the first time. One listen of Back to Black was all it took to recognize that the world had lost a major talent. With the help of producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, Winehouse crafted a beautiful album that highlighted her unique singing voice, which was at once euphoric and sorrowful. The now iconic single “Rehab” captures a joyous Motown sound, but the sting of depression always lingers in the background.
Winehouse confronts longing and loneliness head-on in slower, more soulful tracks like “Love Is a Losing Game” and “Wake Up Alone”, and they’re the most moving recordings of her career. After listening to this intensely personal record, there’s a sense that we’ve crawled inside the soul of a flawed, troubled woman who wanted nothing more than to be loved and deeply understood by those around her. Each track is a testament to Winehouse’s vulnerability as a human, honesty as an artist, and brilliance as a musician. — Jon Lisi