Considering that the last decade featured two terms of the Bush White House, two years of the worst economic crisis in recorded history, one of the most violent acts of terror ever carried out, and the punking and retirement (however temporary) of Scott Stapp, it’s pretty easy to call music one of the best things about the last ten years. As if we needed more proof, there’s also been a veritable avalanche of quality albums released since 2000 – so much, in fact, that I have to guiltily leave off albums as good as Girls’ Album or Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours or Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom’s The Days of Mars (which would really be my #1, but even I’m not contentious enough to put Heavy’s name on a list topped by impenetrable drawn-out synth noodling). Just to set the tone, one album I categorically do not feel bad about omitting: Kid A.
10. Beach House – Beach House – Beach House’s self-titled 2006 debut is the musical equivalent of that one little guy lurking in the corner of every kung-fu fight (usually found placidly smoking a cigarette while wearing a white suit): impossibly quiet, immaculately composed, and capable of effortlessly wrecking everyone’s action at a moment’s notice. All ten songs on Beach House may be slight, willowy numbers, but each one builds to something life-changingly pretty, as best typified by the gargantuan key change partway through the album’s opening track “Saltwater”:
9. Avalanches – Since I Left You From a sheer logistical standpoint, Since I Left You probably shouldn’t even exist; normal human beings aren’t supposed to possess the patience and determination required to license over (over!) 900 saemples. Of course, normal human beings could never even have conceived of a majestic mishmash like Since I Left You in the first place, let alone managed to somehow bring it to term; the only conclusion to draw is that the Avalanches simply aren’t normal human beings. And if you’re still not convinced, one viewing of their (awesome) video for “Frontier Psychiatrist” should set you right:
8. Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic
Critics who venerate dead artists’ work can for the most part shampoo my crotch, but the sad story of the Exploding Hearts – who lost two of their three members in a fatal bus crash within a few months of Guitar Romantic‘s release to rapturous reviews from the press and rabid responses from fans – is too tragically flawless to ignore. What should have been a foundation for an inconceivably gifted band to build a career from instead turned out to be a painfully definitive one-off, and we’re left with one of the all-time great records in power-pop history as a silver lining. Usually, simply being able to add a record as good as Guitar Romantic to your library is consolation enough, but what can I say? This one just stings.
7. Jay-Z – The Blueprint – Arguably the biggest rap-canon no-brainer released this decade, Jay-Z’s revelatory reinvention as a Serious Artist remains as potent today as it did on release in 2001. Featuring arguable creative peaks from no less than three of the decade’s most compelling musical figures – Jay, producer Kanye West, and Eminem (whose guest spot on “Renegade” might be the single best verse on the whole record) – The Blueprint remains the gold standard against which all other big-budget “event” rap albums are measured for the way it fluently fuses artistic, chart, and street cred. Simply put, nobody’s come close to touching The Blueprint since its release – including Jay, who’s certainly been trying.
6. Various Artists – DFA Compilation #2 – Less of a compilation than a mission statement, Compilation #2 was the first record DFA – at the time, the hippest dance-music label in the known universe thanks to singles like LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and the Rapture’s “House Of Jealous Lovers” – chose to distribute through their brand-new major-label deal with EMI. It may well be the single strangest release in EMI’s catalogue, a sprawling three-disc behemoth where proven disco jams like LCD’s “Yeah” bump elbows with oddities such as the DFA’s remaster of Liquid Liquid’s incendiary “Bellhead” (exclusive to this compilation) or Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom’s stately 15-minute percussion-free odyssey “El Monte”. It’s one of the very best, too.
5. Arcade Fire – Funeral – As much as we all enjoy making fun of the decade’s most uproariously bourgeois band, this list would be incomplete without Funeral , an record which both perfectly encapsulated its cultural moment – seriously, what sums up “anthemic 00’s indie” better than Funeral? – and rocked with a degree of ferocity many of us presumed Canadians were too polite to ever display in public. There’s a reason their second album nearly debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts (missing the top spot by 5,000 copies to a Notorious B.I.G. compilation released/cashing in on the 10th anniversary of Biggie’s death): literally everyone who heard Funeral werethat eager to see if they could do it again.
4. Talking Heads – The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (remaster) – Though a version of The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads had been available for over 20 years by the time it was remastered and reissued in 2004, the hour-plus of additional tracks (hard to call them “bonus” tracks when there’s significantly more of them than total tracks on the original album) available for the first time on the reissue certainly hadn’t, and anyone who would argue against the inclusion of what amounts to the only live album released this decade worth buying should be reported to the police and/or Chris Hansen. Seriously, the Remain in Light tour stuff has Adrian Belew and Bernie Worrell playing with that band whose name I forget; it is the definition of “worth listening to”. But truthfully, the most startling revelations this set has to offer come from the exquisite remastering of the original album; with all the extraneous bullsquid inherent in performing live stripped to the bare minimum, there’s nothing to get in the way of appreciating just how good the Talking Heads really were at playing music (spoiler alert: really, really, really good).
3. Clipse feat. The Re-Up Gang – We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. II – You kind of have to feel bad for the Thornton brothers; We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. II is without question the greatest album they’ll ever put together (including “Zen”, their biggest club hit since “Grindin”), and they practically gave it away as a mixtape. In any event, it’s a hell of a generous gift – fifty-four minutes of masterful wordplay (also maybe six total minutes of Pharrell Williams), all set to a guided tour of 2005’s sickest beats as curated by an at-the-top-of-his-game Clinton Sparks. Also you kind of don’t get the impression that they’re hurting for money – don’t go spreading this around, but I’m starting to wonder whether they might be (shh) drug dealers.
2. The Strokes – Is This It – As much as we all enjoy making fun of the decade’s most uproariously bourge – crap, I already used that one? Really, though, it’s the same story – we’re a billion blog-years past the hype cycle now, and all that’s left is a singularly arresting record – in this case, driven by a ruthless, Quincy Jones-esque musical economy (what is “Last Nite” if not “American Girl” stripped of all its loathsome Pettyism?) which really ought to be at the heart of any good pop record. The Strokes would never get this close to perfection again, but really, that’s OK – by contrast, the White Stripes never even got this close once.
1. Daft Punk – Discovery – The most admirable – and interesting – thing any band can ever achieve is making something everyone can enjoy. I have no idea whether that was Daft Punk’s intent when they started putting together Discovery, but they damn well managed to pull it off better than anyone else in this decade (and as well as all but a few from other decades, too). The key to Discovery‘s success lies in how literally it takes the words “everyone” and “enjoy” in accomplishing its mission – it’s full of music which can (or at least should) only soundtrack a great time, and if you can’t find something in its sixty-one minutes to love you probably don’t technically belong to the human race. It’s simply a masterpiece – indeed, as far as the last ten years goes, it’s the masterpiece.