- Kid A
It's been over nine years. Frankly, I'm all talked out and have been for some time. I didn't even put up a fight when my cousin dismissed it out of hand recently, having only heard it once, years ago. However, anyone reading this has probably heard Kid A
already and formed their own opinion long ago, so what more could I add that hasn't been said too many times before?
It's her idm
album, but it's also her songwriting album. Vespertine
showed me how glitchy electronics could be warm, but harps, strings, and one of the most gifted and talented singers of all time help make this an immaculate listen. I think this is one of the most underrated albums of the decade and in her vast, impressive discography.
3. Aphex Twin
Although not a cohesive listen in the traditional sense, to take in Drukqs
is to go on a wild ride through the mad genius of Richard D. James. Here, he revisits his classic techno
of the early to mid '90s
(setting the stage for his return to acid
in the mid to late '00s
) but aided by every production skill and compositional strength he's developed since then. As if that were not enough, the modern day ambient
master lets us hear his beautiful, Erik Satie
pieces and a series of avant-garde
acoustic workouts and freakouts. Never has one album offered so much and received so little appreciation and understanding in return. No wonder Aphex Twin stopped making albums.
- Cold House
This album will always be dear to me because it helped get me through a difficult time. It also serves as an awesome example of the promotional power of the mp3, as I'd never heard Hood until browsing Audiogalaxy (R.I.P.) when they were a featured artist with three legal downloads from this album. I was quickly taken by Hood's fragile, gorgeous, melancholic sound, and today I own 12 of their releases. In an ideal world, this naturally flowing, genre-blending album would get at least half of the acclaim heaped on Kid A
5. dead prez
- Lets Get Free
This is quite simply one of if not the most inspiring album I've ever heard. Listening to this gets me charged every time. I may not agree with every unabashed, radical political stance espoused by M-1
, but how can anyone disagree with messages like Be Healthy
makes things easier? Besides the raw, jaw-droppingly brilliant, poetically expressed lyrical content, the album is musically amazing. Few emcees have ever sounded this consistently sharp, focused, and hungry, and every beat knocks and sounds beautiful at the same time. The fact that dead prez had an active role in producing the album makes it all the more special.
6. Deltron 3030
- Deltron 3030
This album is just a lot of fun, even if Dan the Automator
's production makes an album set far into the future sound dated. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
was seriously in the zone writing and recording this album.
7. A Perfect Circle
- Mer De Noms
I don't think it's fair or accurate to call anything above a rock
album, so that makes this debut release by Maynard James Keenan's side-project the best rock album of the decade and them the best new rock group, at least for my tastes. I love how their songs completely rock but are full of nuances and subtleties. The arrangements are great, and the production is perfect. Rock needs more of this.
- White Pony
The production may be a little cold on this album, but it works. The songs rock hard but sound delicate, too. There isn't a bad song on the initial release, which is what I have and is the intended tracklisting.
9. Justin Timberlake
If you'd told me any time before 2006 that I'd be putting a singer from *NSYNC
and former Mickey Mouse Club
member ahead of most of my favorite artists in my top albums of the decade list, I'd have never believed you. Have you listened to this album though? It's incredible. Very rarely do I listen to an album and just envy the music the whole time as if I wish I'd made it, but this is one of those. No longer an industry puppet, Justin grew up (perhaps trying a little too hard in the process) and, with the able assistance of Timbaland
and Danja at the height of their pop
prowess, created a masterpiece.
Rarely do dream combos work out as well in reality as they do in theory, but MF DOOM
even managed to exceed expectations. It may not be Doom
at his deepest or 'Lib at his most experimental
, but it's a hell of an album. Here's to the next.
The musical equivalent to every frenetic, weird, crazy thought I've had, this is still the most mindblowing album I've ever heard. I've learned this is also the worst place for newcomers to Autechre to start.
12. Prefuse 73
- One Word Extinguisher
This was one of two discs that served as the road soundtrack to the worst summer of my life (so far!). I loved how catchy, visceral, and busy this album sounded, which was just what I needed. I thought Prefuse was cool from his first album, but a couple tracks aside it was just another glitch-hop
album to me, so I didn't have high expectations for this album. I was blown away by the tremendous growth in production, from the sinewy synths to the ambient textures (including vocals) to the assortment of other instruments and growing supporting cast. This album introduced me to the music of Diverse
, and Tommy Guerrero
, but Prefuse is the star of the show here. At the time, it seemed like the perfect melding of hip-hop
and IDM, my two favorite genres then (and perhaps still). To this day, I still consider One Word Extinguisher
Prefuse's magnum opus.
- In Rainbows
I had a long history with this album before I ever played it, but it's really not that interesting to recap, especially now. Suffice it to say that I'd heard nearly every song on here in its live incarnation long before the album was released and didn't expect much based on what I found to be second rate material compared to the songs they toured before the release of their three previous albums. I think it speaks to the power of an even, cohesive-sounding album that In Rainbows
is as good as it is. In the right order, these songs complement each other flawlessly, and although I find the high points to be higher on Amnesiac
and Hail to the Thief
and the production of those albums to be more "interesting," this is truly a great, often addictive listen.
14. Saul Williams
- Saul Williams
It was really difficult to rank Saul's three albums from this decade. Even his Rick Rubin-produced debut that sat on the shelf for two or three years before seeing a poorly promoted release is great. The margin between Saul Williams
and the next album is paper thin, but I give self-titled the edge because the music, nearly all of it self-produced, seems to fit Saul a little better, which makes sense as some of NiggyTardust!
is built on scraps from unreleased Nine Inch Nails material. Regardless, listening to him grow as a musical artist from Amethyst Rock Star
to Saul Williams
is remarkable. Here are fully fleshed-out, seriously heavy compositions sung more often than spoken or rapped, so it feels more organic than the spoken word over rap-rock
and drum and bass
15. Saul Williams
- The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!
Ziggy Stardust concept album produced by Trent Reznor
hits all the right notes. Even more so than Saul Williams
signaled the arrival of a fully matured artist within the realm of music (as opposed to all those other creative arts Saul has mastered or at least dabbled in). Some of it does sound like NIN with another vocalist, but it also sounds global yet completely personal. Obviously the industrial
elements from the previous album are pushed even further to the forefront here, but the punk
and hip-hop remain intact, and the sonic palate is greatly expanded, including everything from screw
to gorgeous, credible ballads. I was down in front for three shows supporting this album, all spectacular.
16. Cannibal Ox
- The Cold Vein
Dark, scary, depressing, and brilliant, I was a little late to Can Ox's unique brand of cerebral street rap, coming to it after falling in love with the production on El-P's Fantastic Damage
. The music on The Cold Vein
is just as tense if not more so, but the more accessible and adept yet creative and experimental flows and lyrics anchor the album. One of the other biggest disappointments of the decade in music is the revelation of just how unlikely it is that Vast Aire
, Vordul Mega
, and El-P will ever regroup for a sequel.
Even for me, it's easy to take this album for granted because its singles are so deeply ingrained into popular culture and the disc itself is full of so many songs and interludes, but it's important to remember that this is Outkast still at their creative zenith, making it look so easy trading smooth, rapid-paced rhymes and taking influence from all over, something we haven't truly gotten again from them in the decade since. The title for their planned full reunion album, The Hard 10
, has taken on a new meaning.
18. Nine Inch Nails
- Year Zero
Trent Reznor's allegorical, politically dystopian, cyberpunk
concept album consists of really catchy songs that formulaically devolve into glorious noise. It loses points for some generic hard rock
-isms, but Trent delivers the goods for the most part, making this an exciting listen complete with some career highlights like Vessel
and In This Twilight
. The remix album is great, too, and you can remix every song on Year Zero
with the multitracks posted online and in a DVD-ROM accompanying Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D
, further defining the concept of a DIY laptop musician future come reality.
- In Search Of...
at their peak stretched out and created a fun, catchy album with a couple really beautiful heartfelt, serious songs. I had the European and promo release as a download in 2001, but the album didn't really hit me until later in the year when they posted a stream on their official site of what would be released to the U.S. in 2002. I much prefer this live instrumentation version, but that's a debate that has been ongoing among fans ever since.
- Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Listening now I remember why I recommended this double album to everybody back then. While Andre 3000
experimented (and I say succeeded admirably) on his disc with singing, Big Boi
delivered on what he does best, zany, funky, but street-credible dirty south
rap. Between the two discs there are so many winners, yet this appears to be a Diamond-certified album that is actually underrated, at least among hip-hop heads.
- Like Water for Chocolate
This is another close call. I don't love this album as much as I did at the beginning of the decade, but I still find it one of the best rap albums I know, and I really do know every song on here very well. This is the album where Common joined up with The Roots Crew and Jay Dee
, officially the Soulquarians, and it sounds like the best of all three worlds. It's also the last album where Com wasn't P.C. Note the homophobia on album highlight Dooinit
and references to "bitches" peppered throughout the album. Nonetheless, Like Water For Chocolate
probably has Common's most tolerable musical love letters to women, especially the breakout single, and still classic, The Light
- Electric Circus
For my tastes, I prefer Electric Circus
these days. I give LWFC
the edge lyrically, but the weird, beautiful, seriously bumpin' (when's the last time you heard that? ha) electronic
music of EC
appeals to me more. Despite what some say, I think Com spits hard on this album, too. I feel one of the most regrettable things in this decade in music was Com's audience convincing him that he was too different on this album, that it sucked, that he dressed
weird. They got their wish because he's never been the same since, unfortunately.
- Rock Action
A lush, beautiful album, and their last where I can remember the music just by the track titles. It is a tad short, but maybe it's just right. It's a bit of a departure not only in length, but also in content, as You Don't Know Jesus
is the only song that rocks long and hard (pause?) like so many highlights on their first two studio albums, but I wouldn't trade Sine Wave
or 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong
24. Boards of Canada
I love the paranoid effect derived from the obscure vocal samples, sinewy synths, and ambient textures married with insistent drums. The track titles and album artwork only add to the mythos. This freaky, psychedelic album has been imitated but never duplicated.
- I'll Sleep When You're Dead
The hip-hop auteur grew in the many years between proper solo albums into a better emcee and even more formidable producer in the traditional sense, here drafting The Mars Volta
, Cat Power
, and Trent Reznor in addition to the usual help from his Definitive Jux
roster. Every song here hits hard on some level emotionally and musically.
26. Nine Inch Nails
- With Teeth
Although this wasn't another masterpiece that announced the triumphant return of Trent Reznor, I think this album is underrated. A lot of the quirks on past albums and Year Zero
are replaced here by sludgy or jagged guitar riffs and pummeling drums, but it's a great performance.
27. Slum Village
- Fantastic, Vol. 2
This is a very fun hip-hop album with dope beats and catchy raps. The End.
This was my favorite album of 2008. I consider it nearly as good as the first two albums but in a completely different way. With Portishead having spent so much time away from music, no reasonable person could expect them to sound the same as they did before, back when trip-hop
was still alive, and I'm glad they didn't try to act like nothing happened, either to their band or the Bristol scene. What they give us instead on Third
is their rock album (some may feel more comfortable seeing "kraut" or "psychedelic" prefixed to that, but it's rock nonetheless). The feel is thus different but familiar. Beth Gibbons
still sounds fragile, lost, and distraught but resolute, and the music is still heavy and serious, except for the delightful breather on the album, Deep Water
, which always reminds me of Steve Martin
's The Jerk
. The band is in top form, and I am so pleased that more new material is on the way this year.
- All of the Above
Perhaps too sincere for some, All Of The Above
is nevertheless a tutorial on great hip-hop. J-Live has a sporty flow and clearly has fun kicking nonstop substance and creative concepts over serviceable beats. It's refreshing to hear someone put so much time and effort into his craft.
- Fantastic Damage
This is the second, darker half of the soundtrack to the worst summer of my life and is a natural accompaniment to Prefuse 73's One Word Extinguisher
as it, too, is a hybrid of hip-hop boom bap and electronics. This album is harder and uglier, however, in the most beautiful possible way, from the harsh sound of the beats to the subject matter of the songs. Very few albums are this well produced either.
31. Massive Attack
- 100th Window
Nowhere near as good as Mezzanine
, nowhere near as bad as many say. The intensity and paranoia here are aided by glitchy, icy electronics. This album is a heavy listen, not meant for dinner parties. My favorites are the songs where 3D sings lead.
32. J Dilla
Despite how easy it plays, this album can be difficult to get a handle on intellectually if you love hip-hop and
other music because of the length and treatment of the samples used. Is this technically a megamix? Are these even beats? These were among my first questions when I got into the album. As I listened, new questions arose. Is this Dilla's best album? Is this going to be a new trend in hip-hop? That last question was quickly answered in a resounding yes!, but the rest isn't so clear. I know this reads like the introductory paragraph of the pamphlet handed out at gatherings of the Cult of J Dilla, but just listen to the album. Closely. It has a message it speaks to you, if you listen.
- The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
This album is mad. It's musically all over the place and full of so many ideas it can be hard to keep up. A lot of people don't like the funny voice affected by Madlib as the character Quasimoto, but I love it both musically and conceptually. I think the voice and the Melvin Van Peebles
samples fit the music perfectly, too, so much so that I've never wanted to hear the instrumental version of either album.
- The Blueprint
This is big budget, blockbuster rap in every sense. Jay-Z became a superstar here, but so did Kanye West and Just Blaze
. This album has long reached Kid A
levels of overdiscussion and overpraise, however.
35. Kanye West
- Late Registration
I've always found this album to be complete and musically masterful. Time has shown this to be the last time Kanye rapped for a whole album with substance and conviction, and although he's grown as a producer and composer since, nothing has sounded this fleshed out (thank Jon Brion
With this following so quickly behind Kid A
and consisting of songs recorded at the same time, it's a little too easy to dismiss Amnesiac
. I don't advise it, as the highlights on this album are just as good as those on Kid A
. I do find the "electronica
" to be a little overcooked here, to the point of ruining what was their best new song in their live set in years, I Might Be Wrong
, a kink they finally worked out on In Rainbows
. The piano, strings, and horns that fill many of the songs here help make them some of Radiohead's finest moments.
37. The Roots
- Game Theory
On their Def Jam
debut, The Roots trade their feel-good vibes for sad times and tension, crafting a claustrophobic, dark, gritty masterpiece that stands among their best work.
38. The Roots
This is the third or fourth Roots album I heard and owned, but it's the first one I learned front to back and still some of their most creative work. I'd love to hear the Black Thought
solo album, Masterpiece Theatre
, that half of this album was versioned from. As diverse and well-produced as the music is, BT's solid command of the mic and songwriting development arguably make him the high point of the album, the group's first without Malik B
sharing mic time (although he is the subject of the experimental album highlight Water
If Burial isn't ambient r&b, this is. I've always been attracted to the creeping tones of this album and how pretty melodies, simple but often profound lyrics, and even the funk
would cut through the murk. This album is so good I can almost forgive D'Angelo for not releasing another one after.
- Blazing Arrow
This may have had too many hands in it, but I still find it a highly accomplished work and a rewarding listen. Gab has the same fun but substantive and conceptual lyrical content and dexterous delivery as J-Live but doesn't come across quite as naturally. Still, if you can tolerate a little geekiness and playful corniness in your rap music, this album was the best of its kind in the decade.
- Outside Closer
There really isn't a noticeable dropoff in the quality of the music and lyrics between Cold House
and this album. I think that, other than the two singles, the songs here are a little less catchy. If Cold House
hinted at any hope for the future, it isn't really found here, as this is a sobering listen, with Closure
being perhaps the most emotionally devastating song I've ever heard. This album isn't for everyone, but I find it a very rewarding listen. It's also another album that shows the similarities between jazz
- Bodily Functions
This album is highly accomplished musically and contains some of the most sophisticated and fully formed songwriting in the electronic music genre. That, in addition to live instrumentation, so much of this album consists of samples actually sourced from the human body is remarkable. Matthew Herbert
and his jazz singer wife Dani Siciliano
make a wonderful team.
43. Reflection Eternal
(Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek
) - Train of thought
I think this is Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek
at their individual best, and joining forces they created a classic with serious bars and serious bass. The mournful tone found in many of the songs adds even greater depth and resonance.
44. The Notwist
- Neon Golden
I guess I like this album in the same way other people like The Postal Service
, but I find The Notwist's beautiful and quirky brand of "indie electronic
" music to have a lot more depth and lasting appeal.
45. The Dandy Warhols
- Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
This is the shoegaze
album of the decade as far as I'm concerned. Every song on here is good if not excellent.
46. Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli shocked the underground by releasing his first solo album without any assistance from Hi-Tek and with actually measurable swag. I've always loved this album. The songs are fun and meaningful. It's no mystery why Kwe broke through with this album and Get By
Judging by my list so far, you'd never know dubstep
ever happened, and Burial is probably the least dubstep-sounding artist associated with that movement, which is perhaps why I love him and this album so. Every song here is basically a stolen r&b a cappella
over top of ambient music with a percussion set consisting of samples of a wood block, an aerosol can, a gun cock, and bullet shells hitting the floor. Burial's music also sounds like there's a room playing drum and bass and another playing r&b and you're in a room in-between. Or maybe it's just really good ambient uk garage
. That's the thing with Burial, he's intriguing and hard to classify.
- Talkie Walkie
It's an album full of really pretty, catchy songs, some light, some serious. There's probably more variety in mood and instrumentation on this than any other Air album.
- Go Plastic
It's really good Squarepusher, easily some of his best work, a solid album, and fun to listen to. It hurt to exclude Ultravisitor
, as that is a more interesting album, but consistency and cohesiveness made the difference.
50. Daft Punk
I listened to this album a lot, and you probably did, too.
Personally, I have a hard time taking seriously album recommendations from people who don't put their money where their mouth is (or their key-tappin' fingers, as the case may be). If you're like me, you should know that I bought every single one of these albums.
All questions, comments, and recommendations are welcome. I only delete advertisements.