Best of the 2000s: Top 100 Albums of the Decade, 40-21

Almost there, gang! Welcome to the penultimate day of The Rawking Refuses To Stop!’s countdown of the Top 100 Albums of the Decade. To click through the entire list, click below.

100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21 | 20-1

#s 40-21 after the jump.

40. Rufus Wainwright – Want One
I could never understand why people liked Poses better. Rufus’ penchant for dramatic, bombastic music — dude just wrote an opera — hit its apex here with a flurry of orchestration and boisterous songs with enough awareness to drop the occasional self-deprecating joke. He’s even better when he strips things down, though — take “Natasha,” a ballad beautiful enough to survive being about the star of Slums of Beverly Hills.

39. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
OK, yes: a hip-hop album! I’m an early ’90s Nas/Gang Starr/Tribe dude and I’ll confess to spending too little time with the decade’s acknowledged rap pinnacles — The Black Album, Supreme Clientele, etc. — but this one, oh man. I reach for it all the time, especially after seeing them play a free show at Columbia University (opened by a pre-fame Vampire Weekend!) wherein they rapped about “college hos” while said college hos danced mindlessly. (So proud of my generation.) An all-Neptunes production, one of my Cokemachineglow cohorts once said he could imagine Pusha and Malice sending the beats back to Pharrell with orders to make them scarier. And the lyrics, if admittedly one-note (selling coke!), are as clever and dexterous as the genre gets these days.

38. Beachwood Sparks – Beachwood Sparks
An utterly unique record. It picks up where the Byrds and Gram Parsons left off with their early ’70s “Cosmic American Music,” blending country-western twang with ’60s psychedelia — but the Sparks wrap it all up with a modernist indie pop twist worthy of their Sub Pop Records home. The band was too short-lived; seeing a pair of their reunion shows last year was an honor and a privilege, despite Echoplex security harshing a number of dudes’ mellows.
>> “Silver Morning After”: mp3

37. The Arcade Fire – Funeral
What came first: Pitchfork or the Arcade Fire? Chronologically, the answer is easy, but it wasn’t until the success of Funeral, zealously hyped by those three-pronged tastemakers, that Pitchfork transitioned from touting bands that were already successful to ensuring the fortunes of unknown debut artists. So my affinity for Funeral sometimes gets mixed up with the site’s latter-day sins, but we can all agree on one thing: At least they were right. Funeral is a glorious album, sweeping in sound, sprawling in tone, mature in production, the kind of record most bands would be thrilled to make at their peaks let alone have as their debuts. Would it have been as popular had Pitchfork not recognized this? Obviously we’ll never know, but it’s hard to begrudge the Fire their success because of the hype — or the indie-as-mainstream movement they helped birth.
Jake Tracer (Note: Some past Rawkblog contributors and friends were going to help with this list, which didn’t work out — but Jake nailed my feelings on this one.)
>> “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”: mp3

36. Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
Iron & Wine is my favorite success story of the decade. A bedroom folkie, his four-track recordings seemingly direct from the Reconstruction-era American South, becomes a huge crossover star thanks to genuine talent and fortuitous TV/movie soundtrack placement — and uses his cachet to expand his sound and collab with the likes of Calexico, Califone and Mike Watt (!) and generally keep making fresh, adventurous music. Guy couldn’t be nicer, either. The whole discog’s worth celebrating, but it’s his winning debut that holds the most unguarded charm.
>> “Lion’s Mane”: mp3

35. New Buffalo – The Last Beautiful Day
Good things happen when you’re married to a member of the Avalanches. Sally Seltmann, future co-writer of Feist’s “1234,” holds that honor, and husband Darren’s samples add character to an already vibrant, optimistic singer-songwriter collection. (One better than any of Feist’s records, by the way.) Bonus points for dueting with Jens Lekman on a single version of “Inside.”
>> “I’ve Got You And You’ve Got Me (Song of Contentment)”: mp3

34. Kings of Convenience – Riot on an Empty Street
Speaking of Ms. Feist, Leslie makes a pair of appearance on the Norwegian folk duo’s sophomore album, showing herself as usual to be a first-rate interpreter. But the Kings, a jazz-tinged modern-day Simon & Garfunkel without the ’60s social commentary or comedic leanings, have no trouble singing for themselves.
>> “Homesick”: mp3

33. Jim Guthrie – Now, More Than Ever
The former Royal City member’s Now, More Than Ever is in many ways a collaborative record — Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett adds string arrangements arguably better than the ones he lent to the Arcade Fire’s albums — but it’s also the crowning moment of the Canadian musician, a chamber-folk classic as masterful as Sufjan Stevens’ better work. Listen for the Elliott Smith-style doubled vocals.
>> “All Gone”: mp3

32. Math and Physics Club – Math and Physics Club
Math and Physics Club’s debut (another one!), like the aforementioned Dylan Mondegreen album, is another slice of perfect, effortless pop — and yes, one that owes much to Belle & Sebastian and Morrissey. Everything comes from somewhere, and these songs are simple, sweet and keenly felt; what more could you want?
>> “Darling, Please Come Home”: mp3

31. Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2/Magnolia OST
Aimee needs no introduction, but here, with an assist from Jon Brion, she finally tossed off her early grunge leanings in favor of full-fledged left-field pop as biting and cynical as it is instantly memorable. Like conjoined twins, these two releases share a number of songs and you’ll need both to survive.

30. The Autumn Defense – Circles
Detractors of Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky didn’t seem to realize that with bassist John Stirratt and new member Pat Sansone, the band had annexed John’s side project, the Autumn Defense — and made a really good Autumn Defense record. This is a better one. Crackling with some of the fuzzy inspiration of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, John croons through ’70s soft-rock-indebted California love songs as good as those of his Laurel Canyon influences.
>> “Silence”: mp3

29. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
An unexpectedly inspired album from Spoon, who had previously peaked (to these ears) years earlier with Girls Can Tell. Turns out they saved the best for last, or at least later, filling out their usually utilitarian sound with dub reggae production, Motown horns and aching-heart lyrics.
>> “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”: mp3

28. Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
As a teenager in 2002 who’d never heard Joy Division, Turn On The Bright Lights was a revelation. (Hearing Joy Division later: Not a revelation.) They had a titanic sound, from the angular guitars (best catchphrase) to the burrowing bass lines and burly percussion — and of course, Paul Bank’s unearthly vocals. In other words: “You’ll go stabbing / yourself in / THE NECK!” DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO.
>> “Obstacle 1”: mp3

27. Ryan Adams – 29
The best of late-period Ryan, and through a confluence of events that made it his final album of 2005 — a year in which he released three albums — his most overlooked. But strip away the context and you’ll find a loose concept album filled with his most vivid narratives, from the shoot-out of “Carolina Rain” to the mysterious meeting of “Starlite Diner” — an ascent to heaven? The music, too, shows him as vulnerable as he’s ever been, recorded with magnificent clarity. There’s enough depth in this album lyrically alone to write another few hundred words about, which I did for Cokemachineglow a while back and will link you to now.

26. Radiohead – Kid A
I was never a Kid A guy. It never spoke to me in quite the way OK Computer or even Amnesiac did — it always felt like a relatively morbid collection that never quite congealed. The beauty of recorded music is that it gets to age with you; listening to Kid A now, it’s abundantly clear that the band has never been more focused. Each moment leads into the next, with not a second wasted, blossoming with gloriously uncompressed mixing and mastering that the band seems to have shied away from in recent years. For a future-shock album meant to pull away from rock toward something more mechanized, the sound itself is palpably vital. That and “How To Disappear Completely,” obvs.

25. Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
The fractured, migraine-addled follow-up to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot never aimed for the full-album art record of its predecessor, instead trying out a handful of styles — Krautrock (“Spiders (Kidsmoke)”), Jim O’Rourke-influenced pastoral glory (“Muzzle of Bees,” a serious song of the decade candidate), Beatles pop (“Hummingbird”), scorched-earth Neil Young solos… etc. It all works, cementing Wilco, at least at the time, as the best band in America.

24. The Microphones – The Glow, Pt. 2
Calling the Microphones lo-fi would be a mistake. Phil Elvrum’s recordings are crisp and clear, mixed with the full magic of the stereo spectrum. And yet, you’d never mistake him for Radiohead, or even the Flaming Lips. The Glow, Pt. 2 is what happens when a seemingly hermetic existentialist becomes a studio wizard. Acoustic guitars chime, others thunder into microphones, and Phil searches for purpose — and relationships — against the metaphoric and literal backdrop of nature itself. It hasn’t aged a day.
>> “The Moon”: mp3

23. Jens Lekman – When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog
Jens’ best work may yet be ahead of him, but for now, I’m content to let his debut — itself a compilation of assorted singles and recordings — stand as his masterpiece-so-far. With his subversive sense of humor and disarmingly earnest croon, Jens’ songs would be charming enough on their own — the samples that so effectively adorn tracks like “Maple Leaves” (the Left Banke!) raise them even higher. Dog only hints at the exotic, Avalanches-style dance beats he would later explore on Night Falls Over Kortedala, but I like him better this way, swaddled in warm lo-fi against the chill of heartbreak and another cold Swedish winter.

22. The Clientele – Strange Geometry
The aforementioned “Benton Harbor Blues” aside, if there’s a better song than “Since K Got Over Me,” I don’t want to know about it. On their least lo-fi full-length, the Clientele honed their brand of luminous, mystic psych-pop to perfection, leaving a trail of softly plucked electric guitar arpeggios and innumerable faces in the trees and half-forgotten city evenings behind them. Strange Geometry adds up just right.
>> “Since K Got Over Me”: mp3

21. Elliott Smith – Figure 8
If you’re a purist, this is Elliott Smith’s final album — the last one he had complete authority over before he cut his own life short on a terrible night in October 2003. As such, it was his most ambitious yet in the Beatles/Big Star-influenced style he’d begun to embrace on XO and earlier with Heatmiser. A decade after my discovery of Elliott, and this album, I have yet to stumble upon another artist whose catalog is so thoroughly affecting — with songs such as “Everything Reminds Me of Her” and “I Better Be Quiet Now,” Figure 8 holds some of his most touching moments, but also a number of his best rockers — “L.A.” and “Son of Sam” among them. He turned toward another, equally interesting direction in the sessions that would become his posthumous From a Basement on the Hill, but this is ground I’m glad he explored.
>> “I Better Be Quiet Now” (live): mp3

The Rawking Refuses To Stop!’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade:

100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21 | 20-1