My friend Matej is doubly blessed: he knows a lot about great bands most people don't know about, and is a great writer. I am thus tickled to present a happy combination of the two for your Friday reading enjoyment. A more comprehensive list you are unlikely to find.
The only thing harder than cataloguing your favourite music is writing an introduction to a catalogue of your favourite music. According to iTunes, I have almost 800 albums from the period between 2000 and 2009. That’s not almost 800 complete albums, but it means I have at least one song from that many — and in many cases, many more. This is by no means meant to comprehensive, exhaustive or otherwise complete. In fact, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. And were I to make this list again in a month (or even a week), it would probably be different. Nevertheless, here are 50 of my favourite albums since 2000:
Alexisonfire | Crisis (2006) It’s amazing to me how seamlessly this band blends soaring, beautiful melodies with desperate, screaming vocals. Or maybe it’s not seamless at all. Maybe it’s the harsh juxtaposition that makes it work. It’s also amazing that I couldn’t get into it at all at first, but now it’s a staple from the last decade.
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead | Worlds Apart (2005) The title track begins, “Random lost souls have asked me, ‘What's the future of rock ’n’ roll?’ I say, ‘I don't know, does it matter?’ This and that scene, they sound all the same to me, neither much worse nor much better.” This might not be the future of (alt-prog-art) rock, but it’s certainly a welcome evolution. Powerful.
The Aquabats! | Charge! (2005) Costumed poppy punk rock (is that even a genre? Sure, why not) at its fun, energetic, campy best. Every song title ends with an exclamation point. I find it hard to listen to this album and not smile.
The Avalanches | Since I Left You (2000) This album is pure, laid-back summer joy. Given how sample heavy it is (it allegedly contains over 3,500), it’s hard to imagine it even being possible today, which is exactly why they haven’t managed to release a follow-up to this day, some 10 years later.
Badly Drawn Boy | About a Boy (2002) This is actually a soundtrack, but it’s also Badly Drawn Boy’s best album. Everything just seems to click from one song to the next, be it the shuffling groove of “A Peak You Reach,” the orchestral magic of “I Love N.Y.E.” or the bouncy, retro charm of “Donna and Blitzen,” a modern Christmas classic.
Band of Horses | Everything All the Time (2006) This is just beautiful songwriting. Every song sounds massive in scope, but grounded in authenticity at the same time. The band also has one of the more distinctive-sounding vocalists around, who cuts through the layered arrangements without being piercing.
The Bird and the Bee | Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future (2009) Childlike vulnerability marks singer Inara George’s vocals, which makes the naughty lyrics in “Polite Dance Song” all the more naughty— but delightfully so. It’s light and fluffy electronica-tinged pop, with just a hint of menace creeping in at the edges.
Blur | Think Tank (2003) I was pretty disappointed with Blur’s last album when I first heard it, but it really ended up growing on me. It’s totally uneven, but in the end, that’s why I love it, as it blends raw punk guitars, world music elements, electronic beats and the last vestiges of Britpop. And “Battery In Your Leg,” the final song the group recorded together (at least at the time), is about as fine a swan song as you could ask for.
Brand New | Deja Entendu (2003) This is basically an emo album, but it’s darker, deeper, more thoughtful and more musically and lyrically daring than that label has come to suggest. It’s probably in my top five albums of the decade and features two of my favourite songs from the same period: “Sic Transit Gloria … Glory Fades” and “Play Crack the Sky.”
The Cardigans | Long Gone Before Daylight (2003) This is not the album I was expecting from the Cardigans after Gran Turismo. It’s quiet, dark, country-influenced and caught me totally by surprise. Every time I listen to it I want to share it with someone. So someone, here you go.
Čechomor & Jaz Coleman | Proměny (2001) OK, so this is an orchestral folk album by a once-obscure Czech folk group and the singer from Killing Joke (who once threatened me to not mention the giant doob he was smoking while I interviewed him, but that’s another story). The result is lush and ethereal.
Chore | The Coastline Fire (2002) There’s some Tool in there, and some weird mathy time signatures (is that 11/4 on “Electrojet?”) and changes. It’s dissonant, then melodic. Loud and angry, then soft and delicate. And it’s too bad this Hamilton band isn’t around anymore. At least we have Don Vail to make up for it (see below).
The Cool Kids | The Bake Sale (2008) The best old school ’80s hip-hop ever made by two guys who weren’t even alive in the ’80s. That about covers that.
The Cure | Bloodflowers (2000) Lingering is probably the best way to describe this album, the third in a trilogy (with Pornography and Disintergation before it). Except for one song clocking in at 3:43, there’s nothing shorter than five minutes here, with one track even topping 11 minutes. And while it’s not the Cure at its prime, it is the Cure at its still-pretty-frickin’-amazing.
The Decemberists | The Hazards of Love (2009) Basically your garden variety ’70s-inspired folk-rock opera about shape-shifting, impregnation and filicide. And it’s a love story, of course, full of the kind of hyper-literate lyrics and meticulous songcraft you’d expect from the Decemberists.
Don Vail | Don Vail (2008) Bill Priddle left Treble Charger because he felt they turned away from indie rock to corporate pop punk and that just wasn’t his scene, man. This is one of his recent endeavours, featuring him and three members of Chore (see above). It’s not as aggressive as Chore, but still plenty complex, now augmented by some rich jazz chords.
Enon | High Society (2002) Messy, fuzzy and quirky. When I listen to this, I picture a future version of Tokyo that’s all cut-out shapes and vibrant colours. That’s probably not going to help you figure out what it sounds like, but I’m not sure anything I can say will.
The Fireman | Electric Arguments (2008) I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to too much of Paul McCartney’s post-Bealtes output, but this is the best of what I’ve heard. It’s his third collaboration with producer Flood under the Fireman moniker, and while the first two were more sonically experimental, this is relatively straightforward, structurally, but no less remarkable for it.
The Frames | Set List (2003) If you don’t own any Frames albums or haven’t seen them live, this will be a hard sell (and in that case I’d recommend For the Birds as a way in). But as good as the albums are, the Frames is a live band; that’s where they really shine. Glen Hansard is as compelling and charismatic a storyteller as I’ve ever seen. I get chills every time I hear “Fitzcarraldo,” one of my all-time favourite songs.
The Gaslight Anthem | The ’59 Sound (2008) This is the best punk album Bruce Springsteen never made — and I don’t even like Springsteen. It’s full of raw emotion and honest, human stories of love, loss, the past and the future. If that makes it sound formulaic or in any way generic, rest assured it is anything but.
The Go! Team | Thunder, Lighting, Strike (2004) I guess I’m just a sucker for exclamation points. I’m also a sucker for jaunty, catchy electronica that sounds like it comes from an alternate universe Sesame Street. I bet the coolest kids in the world skip rope to these songs. Or they just get high behind the portable listening to them. Hey, at least they’re listening to good music.
Grandaddy | The Sophtware Slump (2000) This album will break your heart. It’s about nature and technology and how we mix and reconcile the two. It’s more pessimistic than I usually like when it comes to subjects like these, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful, both musically and lyrically. They build a robot, it dies, they find some poems it wrote and one of them becomes a song. Yeah, that sad.
Groove Armada | Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) (2001) Groove Armada pretty much provided the soundtrack for a big portion of our time in Prague, so nostalgia plays a big part in this pick. Still, I have yet to hear a better chill, organic-sounding electronica album. I only wish “At the River” from 1999’s Vertigo were on this album; then it would be perfect.
IAMX | Kiss + Swallow (2004) The bad news is we’re probably not going to get any more Sneaker Pimps albums at this point, but the good news is that Chris Corner is off making IAMX records. This is dirty, theatrical and industrial, all wrapped in a new wave bow. And it only narrowly edged out The Alternative, IAMX’s second offering.
Incubus | Morning View (2001) This is before Incubus got all political, angry and, well, sucky. It’s 13 tracks of energy, hope and positivity. It’s telling anyone who’s trying to bring you down to piss off. It’s standing on the edge of a cliff and screaming at the world to bring it on. That might sound lame, but it’s rare in rock music and therefore thoroughly welcome.
Interpol | Turn On the Bright Lights (2002) The second I heard “PDA” I was hooked. It’s dark, textured and layered. Every instrument — including voice — has a place, a role to play. Take any one away and it would all start to fall down. And that about sums up the album as a whole, too.
The Killers | Hot Fuss (2004) I tried to love Sam’s Town. Then I tried to at least like it. I even defended it to people. But in the end, I just couldn’t do it. At least I’ve still got Hot Fuss, the driving new wave mini masterpiece that it is. (Pro tip: Get the deluxe edition for “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll,” which really should have made the main cut.)
Mew | No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away (2009) I could just as easily have put And the Glass Handed Kites on this list, but the newer, weirder, longer-titled No More Stories… won out. They’re Danish; carried by soaring, ethereal vocals; and they love to play with weird timings. Oh, and the last song on the album is just the first song played backwards. Really.
Minus the Bear | They Make Beer Commercials Like This (2004) A lot of these bands I love because there’s nothing else in my library that sounds like them — ie. Mew, Wax Fang — and that’s definitely the case with Minus the Bear. It’s meticulous alt-prog-math-rock by way of pop with awesome song titles (“Houston, We Have Uh-Oh”). This is just an EP, but it’s even better than Planet of Ice, my favourite full album of theirs (at least until the new one comes out in early May).
Muse | Origin of Symmetry (2001) Especially earlier in their career, Muse was often compared to Radiohead, which I think is lazy and does a disservice to both bands. I think this a near-perfect album, the kind some bands can only hope to achieve on their greatest hits package. If the only good thing about moving to Prague had been discovering Muse — and it wasn’t, by far — it would have been worth it.
The National | Boxer (2007) As guitarist Aaron Dessner says so casually about the album’s opening track, “Fake Empire,” “it’s based on a polyrhythm, four over three.” Yeah, sure, of course it is. But that’s the National in a nutshell: Complex rhythms and song structures that come so naturally to them you might not even realize they’re complex until you start to deconstruct them. One of the best albums of the decade.
The New Pornographers | Twin Cinema (2005) I briefly struggled with including this album because it features two songs I truly can’t stand — “Falling Through Your Clothes” and “Broken Beads” — but then I remembered “Three or Four,” “These Are the Fables,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” et al. To me, there’s something quintessentially, yet completely intangibly Canadian about this band and here they are at their best.
Nine Inch Nails | With Teeth (2005) I was happy for Trent Reznor when he got clean, but I’ll be honest, I was worried about what it meant for his creative output. This album set me straight. It’s is as raw, emotional and fierce as anything he’s ever done. And it gave us “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” and — the surprisingly upbeat and disco-infused — “Only,” two of my favourite Nine Inch Nails tracks, full stop.
The Postal Service | Give Up (2003) A perfect little gem of an electronic album. It came out of nowhere and blew a lot of people away, myself included. Sometimes I wish they’d record a follow-up, but other times I think it’s better left this way, with nothing to compare it to, for better or worse.
The Raveonettes | Pretty in Black (2005) Here I chose an album over an EP. Whip It On, the band’s first release, is an 8-song, 20-minute assault of fuzzed-out guitars (and it rules), but Pretty in Black is a much more diverse offering, though still firmly rooted in gritty, ’60s-inspired, Jesus and Mary Chain rock. David Lynch would approve.
Robbie Williams | Sing When You’re Winning (2000) I know. I know. The first track is called — unironically — “Let Love Be Your Energy.” What am I thinking? But I just can’t help myself. It’s strong, infectious pop songwriting carried as much by Williams’ voice as his swagger and bravado. Let the judging begin.
Robyn | Robyn (2005) Yup, same Robyn of late-‘90s “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes)” fame. She’s gone and reinvented herself and is making some of the best, smartest pop around. And if you think pop is a four-letter word, start here.
Rufus Wainwright | Poses (2001) Rufus Wainwright is modern cabaret and Poses is gritty, playfully depraved and inescapably charming. It’s the kind of album you listen to alone, barefoot, with a bottle of wine and/or alternate vice of choice. Or whenever you’re in the mood to get in touch with your gay, theatrical, singer-songwriter side. So, you know, Wednesdays.
She & Him | Volume One (2008) Zooey Deschanel is basically a latter-day Patsy Cline, and it’s only fitting that her songs of love and heartbreak are as quirky and irresistible as she is. It’s a good thing, then, that she found M. Ward to help bring her country- and folk-tinged compositions to life.
Silverchair | Diorama (2002) An epic, symphonic rock album, the grandiose ambition of which is only matched by exquisite execution, this might be my favourite album of the decade. No joke. It’s heavy, complex, beautiful and totally surprising. (And Daniel Johns manages to work the phrase “polystyrene hat” into a song.) It might not be your thing, but if you only know Silverchair from their formative Frogstomp days, give this a serious listen.
Sneaker Pimps | Bloodsport (2002) First came the Kelli Dayton–fronted incarnation of this band, which helped define the trip-hop genre. Not wanting to be pigeonholed, they dropped Dayton and released two more albums, both darker, more visceral and more organic sounding than the first. Chris Corner is a musical force and was the true soul of this group.
Stirling | Northern Light (2004) I saw the video for “I Came Late to the Party” on the Wedge one night and was instantly hooked. I’d describe them as a cross between Interpol and Pulp, but as with any comparison like that it only tells part of the story.
The Supermen Lovers | The Player (2002) I don’t know house music as a genre, but apparently this is it. It’s the kind of funk- and disco-inspired electronica you’d expect from Daft Punk side project — and fellow Frenchmen — Stardust. I probably don’t own anything else like it, but it’s smart, totally danceable and I love it.
Tori Amos | Scarlet’s Walk (2002)
I used to have a huge soft spot for Tori Amos. Like, line-up-all-day-for-tickets soft spot. And while I can’t claim that same level of
obsession devotion today, I can’t deny the strength of this cross-country road-trip album. It also had the distinction — thanks to gorgeous “I Can’t See New York” — of being the album I think of when I remember the tragedy of 9/11.
The Veils | Nux Vomica (2006) The pain and passion of lead singer and songwriter Finn Andrews just drips from his tortured lyrics and strained vocals. He’s like a much darker Rufus Wainwright, a lounge singer from the Black Lodge. I think this is also the only band from New Zealand in my library, which has nothing to do with anything, but I find it interesting.
We Are Scientists | With Love and Squalor (2006) Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! The time these guys don’t waste taking themselves too seriously they instead spend writing and recording infectious rock songs with pop hooks. They’re also friends with the Lonely Island guys, so that makes them automatically cool.
Wax Fang | La La Land (2007) I had to ask Nunc Scio to help me describe these guys. He calls it “progressive rock with a folk sensibility,” which definitely gets… well, at least part of the way there. But it doesn’t really explain the chorus of kazoos. Or why Wax Fang is so awesome. I guess some things just are.
Weezer | Maladroit (2002) For a long time I mourned the fact that Weezer wasn’t going to make another deeply personal, challenging album in the vein of Pinkerton, but then I heard Maladroit. It’s not as deep or complex, sure, but it’s awesome, riff-heavy hard rock that’s a blast to listen to. Bravo.
Wilco | Sky Blue Sky (2007) This is a stripped-down, mellow chamber piece of an album. It’s got as much heart as it does clever songwriting. And it’s the sound of a band perfectly meshing in the studio, which is odd given that Wilco used to be more about Jeff Tweedy than a band as a whole.
Young Galaxy | Young Galaxy (2007) I feel like these guys have been flying just under the radar and have been underappreciated and underrated as a result. On this list, they’re probably most like fellow Canadians the New Pornographers, but they definitely have their own thing going on, too. A rich, emotional debut.