There’s always the fear with these lists that the brain-spatula will miss something important from the crevices of your musical memories of the decade. We can, and do, hope that someone else will remember the bits that we forget. We also remember the word floccinaucinihilipilificate, which means “to consider [something] worthless”, and remember that many people hold this position regarding lists like these. The noughties, or naughties, might be the last decade in which it is appropriate to laud “albums”.

If that proves to be the case, then these are the ones we want to laud last.

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Jim O'Rourke

Drag City, 2001

It’s impossible that someone as gifted and imaginative in the studio as Jim O’Rourke wouldn’t have his own things to say. Fortunately, he’s also interested in sharing them. Insignificance, his third solo album, finds him singing more, though his voice is often tentative, as if he’s musically note-taking with a pocket-sized voice recorder.

Maybe that’s all Insignificance is—seven whimsical and lyrically rather aggressive little notes from an eminent producer with some time on his hands. After all, the album was recorded in under a month and contains only seven tracks. Yet the instrumentation is from the outset confident, complex and, most importantly, fun. But the words themselves! “Fondness makes the heart grow absent,” he quips on the brilliant “Memory Lame.” “These things I say / might seem kind of cruel,” he admits, before unleashing his biggest insults of all, “from my heart to you.” But introduced by an undulating piano and locomotive guitar that compete and build in a crescendo, as if approaching a big city by car, these zingers can’t possibly sting.

O’Rourke’s songs meander, but expertly, busting out surprising new sections, climaxes upon climaxes, and sudden interludes. The bitter loner schtick of “All Downhill From Here,” for example, suddenly stops its arms-crossed whiny guitar defense and hands everything over to a slow, pretty piano line. The songs aren’t without reminiscences to O’Rourke’s studio clients, most notably Smog and Wilco, but the compositions, as verbally acerbic as they are, betray the loving attentiveness of an artist feeding his own inspiration.

– Liz Colville


Erykah Badu
New Amerykah Part One: Fourth World War

Universal, 2008

Erykah Badu freaks me out. Unlike M.I.A., whose every word and note feels deliberate, Badu seems to just include every thought and notion that pops into her humongous afro. She likes RAMP’s “American Promise,” so she just makes it the first song on her album too; but she also includes weird baby voices and God and detritus. She sings a pro-hip-hop song in a coffin designed by Madlib. She uses experimental boom-bap as R&B backdrops. She sings about whatever she wants however she wants to. Which is why Badu’s tricky Farrakhan-saluting politics don’t feel quite so irksome here, because on New Amerykah Part One there’s all of Erykah Badu. How could anyone expect that all of anyone is going to be good or positive? There are no promises of hope or optimism here. Just Erykah. Freaky, isn’t it?

– Tal Rosenberg



Dead Oceans, 2007

If many of a notably hirsute decade’s best bands, collectives, fireside gatherings captured the beauty of weariness on record, few have sounded as much like some shaggy new gospel as Phosphorescent’s Pride. For their third record under the moniker, Matthew Houck and company emerged sounding more blearily beatific than ever, a traveling caravan spreadin’ some smeared, gorgeous brand of post-folk—Houck’s shaky, sleep-lost voice at the center of rough songs that were really more a sort of musical flailing in road dust. But through the ukeleles and harmonicas, through the slow concussion like a clatter of sticks on earthenwalls and the sparse piano, Pride is a record centered on harmonies, on so many voices pitched in echo and scattered song. Just listen to the hours of night captured on “Wolves,” where Houck spins primal fears—“mama there’s wolves in the house, and mama I tried to put them out”--into an ode to the relief of first light. Pride is for people who may not believe in afterwhatevers, but allow for room for wonder nonetheless. Hobo spiritualism, maybe. But it’s quite possibly my favorite record from the decade, and no album from the aughts feels quite as redemptive.

– Derek Miller


Patrick Wolf
Wind in the Wires

Tomlab, 2005

If the last couple of years have revealed Patrick Wolf to be an even odder, more difficult personality than his wailing, gender dysmorphic debut had suggested, perhaps his sophomore album can mitigate his idiosyncrasies. Fleeing London in the wake of Lycanthropy, Wolf found solace on the Cornish coast, and made his most subdued and mature record to date. For me, Wind In The Wires is an album redolent of childhood, the songs very literally about towns where I grew up, the descriptions of places where “time slips and slows away / the tourists come around in May / till August when the clouds roll in” capturing a part of the world very different to the London of Wolf’s own childhood with a degree of melancholic affection that actual locals seldom seem to manage. And if the phalanx of instruments and sounds deployed within, from violin and ukulele to Farfisa organ and the kind of jackhammer electronic percussion that made Aphex Twin a legend, don’t demonstrate the author’s talents quite enough, there are always the tunes: the bile-duct stomp of “Tristan” and the gently unfolding contours of the title track beautifully at odds yet clearly kin. One of my absolute favourite albums to emerge from the 00s.

– Nick Southall


Twilight Sad
Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

FatCat, 2007

...but zero springs, and just one depressing summer; that's how sullen Scots tally up the years. James Graham's memories feature cold days and hard rain, and Andy MacFarlane's guitars howl like freezing winds, but the key track on The Twilight Sad's debut album, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, is about that summer as remembered by the teenage Graham: a summer of school holiday boredom growing into intense feelings of isolation. Graham starts by innocently announcing his age, before exploding into a fury against his "strong father figure" and "loving mother". The rage is unreasonable, probably, but the savage, sarcastic delivery leaves no doubt that it's real, too.

So that's the summer jam. But it's not just Graham who knows how to exploit the simple power of placid/passionate shifts. MacFarlane's Mogwai-sized guitar storms and soft, glistening lulls provide a sense of size, kept in check by the recurring appearance of a warm, wheezing accordion. Those dynamic moves within each song are also part of a larger pattern, cohering nine ordered tracks into one intense, epic and elegant journey. By the end, Graham's vulnerable kid has become a persecutor, but he hasn't turned nasty, he's just grown up.

– Ally Brown


Six By Seven
The Closer You Get

Mantra, 2000

The converse to the old saw "anger is an energy," of course, is that it's not the only energy. And while the frenetic, vitriolic opening salvo of "Eat Junk Become Junk" and "Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt" might suggest otherwise, the strength of Nottingham's chronically overlooked Six By Seven's second and best album was that Chris Olley and co. were capable of harnessing more than just rage. In fact, given the fact that their debut dealt more with contempt, crawling noise, and general misanthropy than the kind of speedfreak noisepunk thrills scattered about here, what makes this album so great is that it upped the aural aggression to match Six By Seven's ferocious view of love and life. It's the gentler likes of "England and a Broken Radio" ("everybody's got nothing to say") or "Ten Places to Die" (with Olley cooing through a list of murder methods in falsetto over a roiling cloud of guitars) that provide the necessary sonic counterpoint that helps Six By Seven's music embody their constant concern with the push-pull of human relations – or, as Olley howls on "My Life Is an Accident," "how can I miss you if you won't go away?"

– Ian Mathers


Boards of Canada

Warp, 2002

When Geogaddi dropped in 2002 some complained that it was too like its predecessor, Boards of Canada’s 1998 debut Music Has the Right to Children, but with time its differences have been thrown into starker relief. Where the first album was a faded memory of bright Highlands sunshine but one sharp enough to still feel wind blowing briskly through the hair, in the follow up this memory has become rancid, curdling and clotting at the edges. It’s dusk and it’s cold and things seem to be lurking in the weathered grain and queasily wavering tones of the massed synthesizers. The new age is getting old and going wrong. Play “You Could Feel the Sky” backwards and hear references to “a god with horns”.

If the combination of seventies synths, eighties bass and nineties breakbeats of their debut showed the wide-eyed wonder of “the past inside the present” (as the vocal sample on “Music is Math” says) then the cold fever-dream psychedelia of Geogaddi says that it’s a short distance from there to wide-eyed insanity; check the references to David Koresh’s apocalyptic Branch Davidians on “1969”. Put simply: music has the right to abuse children.

– Patrick McNally


Girl Talk
Night Ripper

Illegal Art, 2006

Hip-hop is so thoroughly postmodern it doesn't deserve its own museum, it is its own museum, as self-cannibalizing as any fan of the cultural self-suck could desire. Girl Talk pushes the art end of that equation to damn near the breaking point. While the genesis of the mash-up lies somewhere between the club DJ and the pop fan's smirk, Night Ripper eschews dancing and deconstruction for referential meta-ménage and just plain destruction. It's the logic of John Cage's radio concerts and Philip Jeck's turntable shows applied to the digital pop venue, edited down to milliseconds by Gregg Gillis' maniacal mouse-tapping. Nothing could be more indicative of the position in which we find ourselves in the post-everything world: gleeful, violent, lusty, grinding robots bent on thoroughly devouring both our own souls and those of our creations.

– Mallory O’Donnell


Scott Walker
The Drift

4AD, 2006

The grotesque depths of The Drift, with their bleak vistas of cruelty and carnage, put paid to the notion that any one decade has the monopoly on human suffering. Amongst shifting soundscapes Walker croons, growls, croaks and occasionally even sings about Mussolini, Milosevic, Russian revolutionaries, 9/11 and Elvis Presley’s still-born brother. It’s an avant-garde archive of pain stretching back into the darkness of history. The music - harsh, dissonant and on occasions terrifyingly silent - falls far beyond what can reasonably be described as rock or pop but its shifting dynamics project an intensity and immediacy that’s utterly immersive. Yet amid the despair, flashes of beauty, and queasy humour. Staring further into an abyss than many have dared as “A Lover Loves” comes to a close, Walker whispers “it’s alright.” On this cathartic end note he suggests that the horrors of history still allow for a semblance of hope.

– Paul Scott


The Notwist
Neon Golden

City Slang, 2002

There’s an oddness and a delicacy at the heart of Neon Golden that keeps me going back to it. Sure, the likes of “Pilot” are compelling, groovy electro-indie pop songs of the highest order, but it’s the long passages of nothingness in songs like “One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand” that really fascinate. Maybe it’s a Talk Talk thing, finding profundity in the spaces where nothing much is happening; maybe it’s Markus Acher’s flatness of intonation, which may or may not be down to him singing in a non-native tongue; maybe it’s that The Notwist had flirted with so many things – metal, indie rock, electronic jazz – before hitting on this wonderful symbiosis of glitchy motherboard interference, doe-eyed melancholic pop, and bubbling Krautrock catchiness. Banjos sit next to oboes sit next to scratchy synthesised drum loops sit next to little silver slithers of guitar, all enveloped in a reserved dubby warmth. Sometimes the sadness is painfully slow, such as on “Solitaire”, the songs full of holes because the emotions within have sucked them dry of energy. But sometimes Neon Golden escapes isolation briefly, ticktocks, and then rushes headlong into joy like on “One With The Freaks”. Both sides are beautiful.

– Nick Southall


Through the Windowpane

Polydor, 2006

So it turns out Fyfe Dangerfield and Guillemots didn’t save the world after all. Red, Through the Windowpane’s follow-up, didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and people still listen when NME insists on approving bands and styles that reflect the superficial status quo. We hope that the new decade sees a comeback for the London-based quartet, whose captivating debut full-length managed to flex unparalleled band-geek muscularity. Indebted to the strictures of indie pop, yet endowed with a studied knowledge of jazz, and fascinated with the possibilities of samba, Windowpane conjures Pet Sounds or Revolver but with the deliberate confidence of a multi-ethnic, classically trained phalanx of musicians.

What results is a dizzying array of sounds and conjured images. A choir’s collective voice mingles with squeaks of guitar feedback and doe-legged organs on “Come Away With Me” before gelling into a psychedelic orchestra in the next, eponymous track. Ten-plus minute closer “Sao Paolo” takes to the riotous streets before scaling a “Day In The Life” crescendo. Huge swing-beat drums accompany kids’ screaming voices as Dangerfield wails a political and emotional protest decrying lost innocence on "Trains to Brazil." Windowpane’s got a rare purview: a work by a group in full control of their dynamic, yet willing to cede that control in service of unbridled enthusiasm. Dangerfield’s voice is one of this decade’s freshest and you can bet that it will echo in the annals of the next one.

– Mike Orme


Jimmy Eat World
Bleed American

DreamWorks, 2001

Clarity, of course, was the 1999 record that preceded Jimmy Eat World’s emo breakthrough Bleed American, but the title fitted the latter record equally well. If there’s one thing Jimmy Eat World bled in 2001, it was clarity. Clarity of sound: in the hook-laden riffs and radio-rock rhythms of tunes like “Sweetness” and “If You Don’t, Don’t.” Clarity of emotion: in the barefaced earnestness of the buck-up-kid summer hit “The Middle” and the unashamed weepiness of “Hear You Me.” Clarity of production: Mark Trombino’s recording was crisp and robust, washing away a decade and a half of obscurant emo turbulence and replacing it with triumphant, unabashedly populist power-pop. But this album bled American, too. Its guitars shone like hot Arizona sunshine, and its heartbroken laments and naïve optimism, delivered in Jim Adkins’ indefatigable cry, were the diary entries of boys and girls off every highway exit across the country. This was music to believe in and sing along to; music to, as “The Authority Song” suggests, drop a quarter in the jukebox and dance to; or, as “A Praise Chorus” proposes, music to fall in love to — and all you need is just to hear a song you know.

– Jonathan Bradley


Sonic Youth
Sonic Nurse

Geffen, 2004

In 2002, Murray Street was hailed as a return to form for Sonic Youth, after several years in the bohemian wilderness. But while its high points are certainly transcendent, it never quite succeeds as an album, with Lee Ranaldo's beautifully indulgent "Rain on Tin" awkwardly competing for space with Kim Gordon's quickie grunt session "Plastic Sun." Its follow-up, Sonic Nurse, on the other hand, is really where everything fell into place again. Though the band had been tinkering around with a looser, dreamier sound since at least "The Diamond Sea," never before had their hazy guitar-army jamming integrated so well into the pop structures that remained their bread and butter in the last two decades of their career. More important than the fact that the album is a stellar collection of songs—running from the spirited "Pattern Recognition" all the way through to the wistful, contemplative "Peace Attack"—these art-rock trailblazers sound, after more than 20 years together, perfectly at ease.

– John M. Cunningham


Half Man Half Biscuit
Achtung Bono

Probe Plus, 2005

Nigel Blackwell has been the greatest living lyricist ever since that fateful day Christopher Rios decided he could probably chow down one final breakfast burrito before bedtime. Achtung Bono proved that the right bedding for it wasn't the "crass" with-a-note-excusing-them-from-games C86 thrash of their earlier efforts, but instead what led Andy Kershaw, in between being a violent threat towards his wife and family, to term them "the most authentic of English folk groups". And if folk music addresses the needs of the common man, "Achtung Bono" proved the mid-noughties Brit was mostly concerned by Wittmaack-Ekbom's syndrome ("Restless Legs"), the feebleness of the second Libertines album ("Shit Arm Bad Tattoo"), and the proposition of violently gunning down Brenda Blethyn ("We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune"). No wonder she rolls with Danny Dyer and Rio Ferdinand for protection now. Spirit-of-twee club discos and uni radio DJs may have checked for "Joy Division Oven Gloves" from this, but it's all near-perfect, right down to "Upon Westminster Bridge's" rage against "a pulled-up at Bangor On Dee" and "Nick fucking Knowles". Sentiments we can all share in.

– Dom Passantino


Max Tundra
Mastered by Guy at the Exchange

Domino, 2002

Ben Jacobs is no straw-hatted techno maven and he most certainly doesn’t rule the club circuit. The audiences at his live shows (which have never been well-attended because, well, nobody really knows the guy) gather around his array of laptops and synthesizers, with Jacobs bouncing around in Birkenstocks and black socks like a computer lab tech. His alter-ego Max Tundra, frittering away at wires and circuit boards, cultivates a singular DIY aesthetic—mostly because Jacobs pretty much D.I. all himself—but the Jacobs on record is completely transformed.

At nearly every juncture, MBGATE threatens to come apart at the seams. Ostensibly a pop record but ultimately an exhausting listen, the album’s ridiculously complicated melodies never say one word when two can be said. On one hand, every cut on MBGATE sounds like it could be a TV jingle (the self-titled track actually is, used in a Sirius Radio commercial). But Jacobs readily pushes the limits of synaptic stimulus by introducing his own well-timed horn squelch or a beat freakout (other than utilizing his sister’s vocal talents, Jacobs plays everything himself). Everything improbably gels into a synth-pop smash, tailor-made for us obsessives who sometimes decide their nights are better spent obsessing over six-letter track titles and the most involved hooks EVAR.

– Mike Orme


Jamie Lidell

Warp, 2005

Remember that collective hallucination where Justin Timberlake was going to be the new Michael Jackson? Jamie Lidell was never going to be the next anything, but Multiply was dancefloor proof of the crucial margin between imitation and flattery. Otis Redding’s buried body spins like a record every time the title track plays, but that is noone’s loss but his; there is no mistaking “This Time” for “The Dock of the Bay,” no matter how insistently Lidell breaks it down.

Neo-soul, the genre Multiply most clearly evaded, had foundered in soupiness, the production making promises the vocals couldn’t deliver. Lidell, scaling back the instrumental tracks with a DJ’s eye for layer and impact, found a way to infuse Motown mojo into the glitchy, twitchy millenial soundscape, by hewing more closely to rhythmic essentials and owning up to a voice which verges on too good to be true, supply embracing a range, tonal and pitch, that might have made him a male Mariah Carey.

But too much time eying the influences will do you wrong: “A Little Bit More,” putting krautrock in sexy boots, at the same time precedes “A Milli”. Multiply is suspended between the unshakable marquis posts of its singles, the title track and the unimpeachable “What’s The Use,” whose lyrical snake neatly eats its own tail, coiled around a backbeat set as modestly and carefully as a prized LP.

– Andrew Iliff


The Great Destroyer

Sub Pop, 2005

Low’s eighth studio album is an anomaly: a blip of high energy and hooks in a decade-plus-long career of slow, fuzzy, and scary music whose strength is finding poise in tension and elegance in suppression. While those qualities exist on every Low album (even the Christmas one), nothing detonates until The Great Destroyer, an album fit for action sequences rather than the heated standoffs called up on 2007’s Drums and Guns or the underwater sleepiness of 1995’s Long Division. The Minnesota trio, driven by the seamless pairing of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s voices, here experiments with faster tempos and pulsating bass, frothy effects and thickly-layered harmonies, resulting in the album’s surprising pop song, “California,” which opens with Sparhawk’s refreshing contralto reaches.

But what might be most impressive is the winks to familiar Low territory, which occupy ample space and sometimes entire songs: the sinister mundanity of “Monkeys”’s essentially one-note melody; the shy, limping chord changes in the quiet moments of “Broadway (So Many People),” where Sparhawk and Parker ask, “Where is the laughter?”; the slow creep of anticipation and longing on “Silver Rider”; the sexy yowls of the guitar on “On The Edge Of,” or the downright jammy “Walk Into The Sea,” where, as so often on this album, something frightening, dirty or otherwise awry is cloaked in exuberance.

– Liz Colville


William Basinski
Disintegration Loops

2062, 2002

William Basinski's Disintegration Loops is adorned with a back-story only a rocking chair could love. In the process of digitizing his 20-year-old magnetic tapes, Basinski discovered that his sound loops were slowly crumbling away on the playback heads. Sure, the process is rife with metaphors for a decade - the endurance of time, sacrifices made in the face of a “lossless” culture, an enduring elegy of 9/11 - but Disintegration Loops never sounds smothered by meaning. Over the course of five hours, Basinski strikes an intriguingly ambiguous tone – loops begin as lush pockets of warmth but quickly deform, like hot wax over a fire. You can hear it in “D|P 1,” which spans four tracks and over 100 minutes. The original pastoral loop breathes in new life as it slowly dissipates; accumulating and focusing on the messy smudges and hollow quivers. What’s left is a mixture equal part meditative and haunting, a literal death of sound that’s never bogged down by grief. Like the rest of Disintegration Loops, the drone might be fragile and fleeting, but there’s more than enough space to burrow.

– Nate DeYoung


Stars of the Lid
And Their Refinement of the Decline

Kranky, 2007

I’m not even sure Stars of the Lid should be on this list. I adore them, listen to them as much as any other artist (though when? I can’t remember), hopelessly evangelize for them. But I can’t avoid the feeling that they simply do not belong here, cheek by jowl with, well, music.

It is not, I suppose, hard to find words that might apply to Stars of the Lid’s correctly-named magnum opus. Thesaurus armed, one could say: Opaque, iridescent, opalescent, phosphorescent, incandescent, nacreous, chatoyant. Doing so only highlights the abject failure to describe. The conventional term is “drone,” which is as accurate as comparing your refrigerator’s sonics to Bach. The Lid make sound, massaging it so exquisitely subtly that it defies both naming and sustained focus; one of the Stars says he roadtests new songs by falling asleep to them.

Given its profound somnolescence –it is all but impossible to know where one is in the album, coming/going, up/down, listening/tuning out – the Lid’s music begs a lingering, troubling question: what do we listen to sound, to music, for? Most music takes you away with it, puts you in a new pair of mirrored sunglasses. Stars of the Lid puts the mirrors on the inside. Refinement can be melancholic, tragic, restorative, boring, meditative, hypnotic or pointless. It all depends on the listener. This is terrifying.

– Andrew Iliff


Lord Willin'

Star Trak/Arista, 2002

By now, the rigmarole surrounding the Clipse has become something so worn to the bone, it's almost hard to remember when it all began. It shouldn't be : Lord Willin' sits right there on your shelf or amongst your folders, and it's still bracing, bumping, raw; 2002 stuffed into a sixty-minute smokeable wad of bilious swagger and cheery menace; tan-green like a crisp bill, burnt umber like old dry blood. All the key period excesses (R&B pop, brutal mastering, terrible closing track, Fabolous) rear their heads and it still doesn't matter, because this remains the most complex and wide-ranging union of dirty, hungry coke shit and glib club-pop savvy to come out of the alchemical wedding of the Brothers Thornton and Neptune. Critics creamed over the mixtapes and the monochromatic follow-up, but this is the record that people actually bought, piled high with hardcore handclap beats and schoolyard wordplay, scabrous crack odes, cold funk loops and studied insouciance. Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take a bruised farmstand peach over a hothouse tomato any day.

– Mallory O’Donnell

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