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Slow Motion Panic Masters' Top 100 Albums of the 2000s

Nothing But The Best, From 2000 To 2009

Last summer, the team at Slow Motion Panic Masters finished our biggest project yet, ranking the top 100 best albums of the 2010s (as determined by our astonishingly excellent taste). Now, we're ready for more.

From the war on terror to the global financial crisis, the 2000s began the 21st century with events of immediately seismic importance. In many ways, it's the decade most shaped by tumultuous international politics, while music changed forever as the industry finally harnessed the seismic potential of the internet. From the PlayStation 2 to, here are our selections for the greatest music of the noughties. Here are...

Slow Motion Panic Masters'

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s

Note From The Editor: - this article is dedicated to Derek.

Derek knows who he is. He's a very cool guy.


- 100-91 -

Muse can often be a little cringeworthy in their music, but kicking off our list at #100, Black Holes and Revelations remains the group's best LP. Moby-Dick and metal coalesced on Mastodon's Leviathan, while Destiny's Child started Survivor with one of the best three-song openings of the decade ('Independent Woman, Pt. 1' / 'Survivor' / 'Bootilicious'). Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand made a big Scottish splash with their debut in 2004, while Yo La Tengo's 2000 record still sounds as gorgeous now as it did 20 years ago.

At #95, Corinne Bailey Rae's debut record is still wonderful. Next, the legendary Ali Farka Touré said goodbye to the world with his final, and perhaps greatest record, Savane. Begin to Hope will not be the last time Regina Spektor appears on this list, while formative albums from Beach House and the Miles Kane x Alex Turner harmonies of The Last Shadow Puppets round out our first ten albums.


- 90-81 -

Extraordinary Machine might be the least-good Fiona Apple album, but it's still great at #90. Beyoncé's Dangerously In Love is still a startlingly good debut, while Lily Allen's Alright Still is still an essential Londoner LP. Sweden's Opeth brought incredible subtlety and dynamism to death metal with Ghost Reveries, while Musiq Soulchild produced ultimate RnB slow jams through the fantastic Aijuswanaseing.


The hipster's golden child St. Vincent lit a fuse with Actor in 2009, while The White Stripes earn our #84 spot with the tasty tunes of White Blood Cells. Yeah Yeah Yeahs made waves with It's Blitz and Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner put grime firmly on the map. Finally, one of the most influential albums of the decade comes in at #81, with Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak going on to change pop music through fantastically pop-centric electronic love songs.


- 80-71 -

Robyn is very cool, and her comeback Robyn is some of her very best work (listen to 'Cobrastyle'). At #79, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III has some of the best bars of the decade, while Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning immediately became an essential indie-folk LP in 2005. The return of Kate Bush with Aerial was worth the wait, and though Mama's Gun is certainly no Baduizm, it's still Erykah Badu - ergo, genius.

Interpol's debut record Turn On The Bright Lights made a real wave in 2001, and at #74 The Microphones' "The Glow" Pt. 2 is still quite inexpressibly wonderful music. M.I.A.'s debut album Arular announced one of the UK's most exciting voices in 2005, and Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica is still brilliant. Finally, at #71, MF DOOM adopted a brand new persona as King Geedorah, mixing reliably genius bars with some of the best self-produced beats of Dumile's career.


- 70-61 -

To American high-schoolers in particular, few albums have resonated more than Kid Cudi's Man On The Moon: The End of the Day. Portishead and The XX represent the UK with stellar releases, before the orchestral scale of Canadian post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor made spacey suites on Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. At #66, I implore you not to overlook Radiohead's return to rock on Hail To The Thief - it's an incredibly overlooked LP ('Myxamatosis'? Fire).

My Morning Jacket's Z is wonderful as is Death Cab For Cutie's magnum opus Transatlanticism. With I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, one of the more unique voices in British indie rock emerged with Bombay Bicycle Club, featuring horrendously underappreciated drum performances from Suren de Saram. Panda Bear's Person Pitch is exceptional, but though Eminem's reputation has nosedived following consistently awful projects, The Marshall Mathers LP is still undeniably energetic and defiantly brilliant hip-hop vulgarity.


- 60-51 -

The last ten albums just missing out on our top 50, both Fugazi's The Argument and Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele demonstrated two 1990s icons that still had gas in the tank for the early 2000s. Damon Albarn legitimised his inventive "virtual band" Gorillaz with Demon Days and Jay-Z's The Black Album toyed with retirement through one of the rapper's best efforts to date. At #56, Kings of Leon landed on the international stage as four preacher's boys with an energetic, though often unintelligible brand of guitar rock.


Songs: Ohia made pretty music with Steve Albini (he's a surprise tool that will help us later!) on The Magonlia Electric Co. and Freeway made an often forgotten, star-studded hip-hop classic on Philadelphia Freeway in 2003. Aphex Twin made astonishingly impressive music, as ever, on Drukqs, while 50 Cent made something big, intimidating and unerringly fantastic on the floor-filling Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Lastly, at #51, Animal Collective produced a record equal parts perplexing, vibrant, chaotic and compelling with their 2007 LP Strawberry Jam.


- 50 -

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere [Neo-Soul] 2006 - USA

What should we have expected from the lovechild of CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse but sheer perfection?! St. Elsewhere was among the most exciting things to happen in 2006, and while I was far too young back then to discern a guitar from a trumpet, this genre-bending record was taking the rest of the world by complete storm. 'Go Go Gadget Gospel' kicks the album off at full steam, with Cee-Lo yelling “I’m free!” from the deep depths of his belly, as soul horns kick and hand-clapping beats clatter below. Danger Mouse's eclecticism continually amazes; creating a melting pot of Flamenco, Funk, Motown and Dub without ever overcooking the broth. Picture this: two guys fooling around and accidentally creating a musical masterpiece. In the words of Marie Kondo, “this one sparks joy”.



- 49 -

My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade [Emo Rock] 2006 - USA

The Black Parade is angst in its purest form, and an unbelievable collection of relentless bangers from emo rock masters My Chemical Romance. While remaining unabashedly playful, however, lyrically this is an album tied together with an overwhelming sense of disillusioned apathy. The resentment and hopelessness embedded into the lyrics of each and every one of these songs speaks to the psyche of a dejected generation, one faced with a post-9/11 world of economic collapse, environmental catastrophe, and adults who tell them they’re weak for feeling like shit.

It is freeing to listen to such an unapologetically self-pitying album every once in a while, one that will never sugarcoat modern tragedies just for the sake faux positivity. That being said, one should also note that its most hopeful song is also its most popular. 'Welcome to the Black Parade' defined a generation, and for good reason. Simultaneously optimistic, tragic and rebellious, it is the band, and the album, distilled into a single track; defiantly "a cheer for all the broken."



- 48 -

Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head [Alternative] 2002 - UK

It’s OK. You’re safe here. You might not want to come clean for fear of the repercussions, but don’t worry. Maybe there’s nothing “cool” about admitting it (which I’ve learned the hard way) but everybody loves Coldplay really.

2002’s A Rush of Blood To The Head is some of their best pre-Britain’s-biggest-pop-sensation work, catapulting their brand of mellow and wholesome “soft rock” to new heights. International recognition had come two years earlier with ‘Yellow’, but big hitters ‘The Scientist’ and ‘Clocks’ meant they were here to stay. Not just on these songs but throughout the record, the velvety smoothness of Chris Martin’s emotional outpourings are held together by a succession of madly catchy hooks and stunning chord progressions.

While debut album Parachutes proved a little sleepy and innocuous, it clearly showed an adept capacity for songwriting which set them apart from their contemporaries in the gentler group of 21st century British bands. Its follow-up is more urgent, more confident, and gripping, clear as day within the first minutes of thunderous opener ‘Politik’ to the gorgeously understated, and under-appreciated closer 'Amsterdam'. ‘Rush of Blood’ has a great deal more diversity than it’s given credit for. Its songs have a lot of breathing room and permitted Coldplay an opportunity to explore variations on their style and, ultimately, just how powerful and entrancing their music could be.



- 47 -

Florence + the Machine - Lungs [Baroque Rock] 2009 - UK

Florence + the Machine’s debut album Lungs is iconic. I’ve listened to this album way too many times during my teenage years. Somewhere between the raw emotion and the elaborate musicality, it really made me feel like an indie teenager. From ‘Dog Days Are Over’ to ‘Kiss with a Fist’ and ‘Cosmic Love’, there really isn’t a single skip in this album that I hold very dear to my heart since the first time I listened.

Lungs lives in a dimension where the night-time is always illuminated by the light of a full moon. You're in the middle of some mystically mysterious forest, and you feel some type of dark magic increasingly surrounding yourself. Blending baroque-pop and indie-rock, Florence Welch's impeccable vocals combine time and time again with undeniably brilliant choruses, communicating through Lungs in the cathartic release of complicated emotions. For a debut record in particular, this record is truly remains an exceptional accomplishment in the establishment of Welch as one of the UK's most significant contemporary voices.



- 46 -

Kanye West - Late Registration [Hip-Hop] 2005 - USA

Back when the mic was his humble pulpit and the beats were the lavish robes, Late Registration was the album that solidified Kanye West’s ascent on a sprawling sophomore project that crested hip-hop and pop’s most cinematic production while turning on a dark, relatable sensibility as he relayed the temptations and tribulations of the excesses he unapologetically indulged in.

Steeped in influences and faced with the pressure of following up 2004’s College Dropout, Kanye did the only thing he could— he made something timeless. With the help of Jon Brion’s lush orchestral arrangements, Kanye’s ear for soul samples and addictive hooks culminated in what would become his production’s signature Midas touch. And the bars ain’t bad either. Soul-searching to breezy pianos and Adam Levine’s croons on ‘Heard ‘em Say’ and striding over Curtis Mayfield’s horns on ‘Touch the Sky’, Late Registration basks in the voices and instrumentals that accompany Kanye’s reflections on fame, debauchery and mistrust — reaching peak irony on the brassy reversals of 'Gold Digger'. But between all the sermonising and douchebag punchlines, here is an artist still grounded by his come-up, making space for gold-rimmed storytelling on ‘Drive Slow’ and sentimental realism on tracks as incredible as ‘Roses’ and ‘Hey Mama’. On an album foregrounded by samples of past legends like Etta James and Gil Scott-Heron that pits ‘Ye alongside the veteran features of Nas, Common and Jay-Z, Late Registration establishes Kanye as in his own lane on the way to the throne— except he’s not in a hurry getting there, too busy savouring these extravagant heights.



- 45 -

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest [Alt-Rock] 2008 - USA

Grizzly Bear’s sophomore piece, Veckatimest came hot after the successes of 2006's Yellow House, but emerged clearer, accessible and much more refined - helping solidify Grizzly Bear’s recognisably collaborative sound.

Opening with 'Southern Point', Grizzly Bear lyricised location through a haphazard rhythm of climaxes and denouement. Then, 'Two Weeks': it moves at a familiar beat. Those oh’s and ah’s go where you expect them to go. Upbeat, for the soundtrack of a relationship coming apart. 'All We Ask' and 'Fine for Now' get reflective and slightly absurd. 'Cheerleader' feels like an internal conversation, made collective by how the band echoes each other. The glue that holds the songs from 'Cheerleader' to 'Hold Still' together is a little looser. They bleed into each other, without standing out too much. It's all fantastic.

Grizzly Bear managed such a solid, well-crafted album with Veckatimest. They have anger, thought, and process. This whole album feels good. It’s got solid indie-pop pieces and meanders into wisps of indie sound. Somehow, despite (or rather because of) this, it holds together as a paradox: well structured and yet it flows oh so effortlessly.



- 44 -

Anoushka Shankar - Rise [Indian Classical / Jazz Fusion] 2005 - India

If you take anything from our list today, please listen to 'Red Sun.' A moment of genuinely astonishing musical brilliance, the second track from Anoushka Shankar's Rise captures precisely why this is an unmissable album from the 2000s. That drone, the rollllllll of percussion, the syncopation of bass and extraordinarily complicated rhythmic layerings. All of it combines into this mammoth achievement of connected styles, and by the time the drum kit starts taking the piss at [3:13] it's clear just how genius this album really is.


Anoushka Shankar is so, so much more than the daughter of Ravi Shankar. She is a fantastic musician wholly in her own right, and Rise remains her best work. An ambitious project, the new age and jazz fusion connections that this record weaves into the tones of Indian classical music make for some of the most compelling musical experiences the 2000s have to offer. Listen to Rise and lose yourself in a cacophony of creativity.



- 43 -

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Alt-Rock] 2001 - USA
"I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue"

The first lines of Wilco’s 2001 alt-rock masterpiece are garbled and totally vivid, introducing an album of crossed-wires, tongue-tied emotions and a foggy mental skyline lit up by bolts of lightning from the frayed coils of Jeff Tweedy’s lyrical circuitry. Moving away from their alt-country beginnings and facing massive label resistance, the experimental tracks of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot cohered into Wilco’s most endearing and prophetic record.

Opener 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart' is song-written to perfection. From the shy intimacy of lines like "let’s undress just like crosseyed strangers" to Tweedy’s weather-beaten delivery, it’s a 7-minute ballad that rises in a sea of bells and plinking keys before crashing into fluorescent static. Buildings collide, stars blink and dissolve, it’s a dizzying orbit of America that trawls an expanse of lo-fi static and radio frequencies, picking up the melancholy interference of a million other lost souls looking for answers, wandering through the washed-up scraps of American flags, spent dollar bills and smoked cigarettes. Released in the immediate aftermath of 911, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot found a way to make sense of the chaos kicking off the decade by making its dazed gestures towards peace and human connection sound like individual heartache and national odyssey all at the same time.



- 42 -

The Breeders - Title TK [Alt-Rock] 2002 - USA

The Breeders' Title TK as the name suggests ("title to come", shorthand) is messy by design. Littered with mistakes, left in by the creative choice of lead singer and songwriter Kim Deal, with Title TK we see the Pixies-alum presenting a direct response to her distaste at the ultra-clean sound of rock at the time. Legendary rock engineer and producer Steve Albini is on hand to perfectly realise Deal's intention for a minimal, stripped back instrumentation that contrasts her delivery so, so well.

Harmonies between Kim and twin sister Kelley become a focal point of the album and their chemistry is undeniable. In the standout track, the crushingly angelic 'Off You', a simple chord pattern proves genius underneath Kim’s soft, grungy delivery. The album jumps from one sound to the next with each track, but in a quirky rather than awkward way it keeps you immersed from start to finish. The minimalistic, mistake ridden approach makes this album sound like an incredible demo tape from some new band you’ve never heard of, and this really feels like the intention. An album created by The Breeders, for The Breeders and for The Breeders only, with seemingly incoherent lyrics that mean nothing to the listener but everything to its author. It’s an album that doesn’t care what you or Pitchfork think of it, it’s just happy to exist.



- 41 -

Missy Elliott - Under Construction [Hip-Hop] 2002 - USA

WELL… The opening of Under Construction really won me over, and as Missy Elliot states "You

don’t see Bill Gates and Donald Trump arguing with each other ‘cause both of them got

paper, and they got better shit to do, get more paper" drove the point home from the

beginning. A powerful statement of the stark difference between economic and racial

communities in the US, and, I would add, a stronger statement in the aftermath of the 2020

US presidential election in which THE Donald Trump refuses to admit his defeat.

Regardless of this contemporary political commentary, Under Construction is an amazing

album that switches between old school hip hop and R&B flawlessly.

Again combining Miss Demeanour with the unspeakably talented Timbaland, Under Construction features a variety of very skilled and talented artist that bring constantly unique flares to the album. Beyoncé, Jay Z, Ludacris and TLC are only a handful of the amazing featured artists that rounds this album out as a real 'who's who' of the early 2000s American hip-hop/RnB scene. Missy Elliot’s lyricism, her tone and superb production make Under Construction a unique expression of how black female rappers and singers should not be underappreciated within an industry that is seemingly dominated by their male counterparts.



- 40 -

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago [Folk] 2007 - USA

In the wintering months of 2006, Justin Vernon hoped to be alone. With a band that had parted ways due to creative differences and health complications that were stifling his creativity, Vernon sought the solitude of his father’s cabin in the woods of Wisconsin as a last ditch attempt at reconnecting with his music. With For Emma, Forever Ago, the resulting songs from this experiment are both reflections of an uncertain state of mind, as well as the serenity of the artist's reclusive retreat into nature.

With songs ruminative and distinctly Thoreauvian in their lyrics, there’s this sense of isolation to the production that at the time went profoundly against the grain of records being distributed at the time. Many musicians believe your “big break' lies just beyond the moment you decide you might walk away from it all (a sentiment shared by Vernon himself). It’s true that For Emma, Forever Ago feels like an atonement with his musical identity: there’s an authenticity to the music that feels

like it can only be achieved when you’re saying goodbye. Poetically, this album served as the genesis for Vernon’s lucratively successful musical career since, and amidst the increasingly obnoxious crowd of coffee shop indie-folk stars that emerged in the late 2000s, Bon Iver remain one of the few to stand the test of time.



- 39 -

Robert Glasper - In My Element [Jazz] 2007 - USA

Robert Glasper makes jazz music, but with 2007's In My Element, what 'jazz' really is became the subject of experimentation. A generationally talented jazz pianist, Glasper's third release is in many ways his most impressive. Fusing hip-hop, gospel, and Radiohead while still remaining a fundamentally exceptional jazz record, In My Element may be one of the best introductions to jazz music a new listener can hope for.

Just listen to Glasper's reimagining of Herbie Hancock and Thom Yorke on 'Maiden Voyage / Everything In It's Right Place'. Tell me its not fantastic. Hear Glasper pay his respects to the late J Dilla on 'J Dillalude' with a gorgeous re-imagining of Dilla's trademark rhythmic style. This album is one born out of the very best that 2000s music had to offer combining a multitude of different styles into an unmistakeably brilliant jazz LP.



- 38 -

System of a Down - Toxicity [Nu-Metal] 2001 - Armenia / USA

System Of A Down’s theatrical, gothic brand of alt-metal, on paper, never should have worked. But ten seconds into 2001’s Toxicity and it will all make sense. A cacophony of chugging riffs and back-and-forth vocals between frontman Serj Tankian and guitarist Daron Malakian, Toxicity is a rage-fuelled, politically charged behemoth.

Released precisely a week before 9/11, Toxicity would in many ways go on to emblemise the crushing anxieties of islamophobia during the War on Terror, particularly in America. Looked to as a radical group, allegedly monitored by the CIA, the pronounced political lyricism of System of a Down in spite of an increasingly hostile American environment to Middle-Eastern people remains remarkably brave.


But forgetting the lyrics, Toxicity remains excellent in just how unique its fusion of Middle-Eastern melodies and metal instrumentation sounds. No-one has, or ever will, sound like this band. With 'Toxicity', 'Chop Suey' and 'Aerials', even without the political context Toxicity remains an essential album for the decade. Breaking through what is almost certainly one of the least appealing rock sub-genres in recent memory, Toxicity's genius is even more impressive given that it is one of the very few nu-metal albums really worth revisiting in 2020.



- 37 -

Regina Spektor - Soviet Kitsch [Singer/Songwriter] 2003 - USA

Regina Spektor is one of the most fearless vocalists working today, and her major label debut album proves it. In terms of its production, Soviet Kitsch is simple. Barring ‘Your Honor’, which incorporates British rock band Kill Kenada, most of its songs consist of just a piano, some basic percussion, and Regina’s voice. But my God, what a voice.

As versatile as it is beautiful, Spektor’s vocal range in this record is something to behold. The control she displays as she sings the last verse of ‘Sailor Song’ is masterful, as is her inventiveness during the last minute of ‘The Flowers’. Spektor’s voice can switch from a series of quick staccato notes to a breathy whisper in a second, it can shoot up and down like it’s nothing, and all the while Regina plays with rhythm like a kid left unsupervised in a park: jumping about, cartwheeling from track to track just because she can, and so she will. But make no mistake: this album is quirky, but never aimless. A highly satirical, politically charged record, Soviet Kitsch shines the most when Spektor’s voice and her spectacular songwriting work towards a common goal. From the personal to the societal, the funny to the tragic, Soviet Kitsch sells every subject matter it addresses. Uniquely varied and excellently performed, this album is truly one for the ages.



- 36 -

Sigur Rose - ( ) [Post-Rock] 2002 - Iceland

Icelandic ethereal post-rock. ‘Nuff said.

With fourth album ‘( )’, Reykjavik’s Sigur Ros craft haunting and dreamlike soundscapes. Feeling cinematic in parts, and then melancholic in others ‘( )’ in one word is beautiful. ‘Untitled #3 - Samskeyti’ loops a nostalgic piano motif over rising and falling textures made up of strings, percussion and god knows what else. Closer ‘Untitled #8 - Popplagio’ shows a stark change in emotion from the first half. The outro, while retaining an aura of beauty, is noisy and chaotic. Lead singer Jon Por Birggison sang the entirety of this LP in a made-up language - 'Hopelandic.' Divided into two halves, separated by a thirty second window of silence, ‘( )’ is ambiguous and essentially meaningless. Sigur Ros’ intention was for the listener to determine their own meanings behind each of the untitled tracks.

‘( )’ is no ordinary album. It is more an experience of celestial feelings than a conventional album. For me, ‘( )’ is no easy listen. It evokes nostalgia and resurfaces memories, from the happiest to the most painful. What Sigur Ros achieved with this album is truly incredible.



- 35 -

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois [Singer/Songwriter] 2005 - USA

If you’re looking for 74 minutes of sheer liquid wonderment, just put on Illinois by Sufjan Stevens. Let yourself get lost in the strange and lush musical abyss of this record, the egregiously long titles; the sheer achievement of it all.

Illinois presents no shortage of immediate and sustained pleasures—the recorder that opens 'The Black Hawk War' with a flourish, the anthemic chorus of 'Chicago' that just demands to be sung along to, but it is ultimately the type of complex, challenging project that demands to be played on repeat until you’ve exhausted yourself engaging with it. But the true highlight of the album still stands in 'Casimir Pulaski Day', a song capable of smiles and tears simultaneously. Among Sufjan Stevens' magnificent career, it is still Illinois that perhaps stands as his most essential record, and though granted, appreciating Illinois can be a bit of a commitment, it is a commitment I can promise you won’t mind making.



- 34 -

Fleet Foxes - Self-Titled [Folk] 2008 - USA

What can I say about Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut album? Very few genres are capable of topping truly great indie-folk. There is something about recording live instruments combined with minimal post-production musical editing that just feels right to me. I have always tried to explain this phenomenon (although it might just be a phenomenon in my mind) of music feeling full. In other words, there is nothing that you could add to any of these songs to make them feel any more or any less perfect.

Combining intricate, Brian Wilson layers of gorgeous vocal harmonies with more than a hint of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Fleet Foxes were never produced for mass-consumption like most of modern pop is, but the songs featured on their debut album are just as catchy simply by sounding so full and complete. ‘Sun It Rises’, 'White Winter Hymnal', 'Ragged Wood', ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and ‘Meadowlarks’ make up a list of countless highlights on this album, exemplifying what this album is at its core. Fleet Foxes are simply amazing at expressing emotions. The album is warm and welcoming, almost like a nostalgic nod to the past whilst at the same time it keeps modern and nuanced. Like For Emma, Forever Ago, Fleet Foxes proves an album far beyond its initial comparisons to The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons, and remains a quintessential album for its decade.



- 33 -

Nujabes - Modal Soul [Hip-Hop] 2005 - Japan

For those unfamiliar, Nujabes is the legendary Japanese music producer. The godfather of ‘lo-fi chill beats’, the impact of the late Jun Seba on music really cannot be quantified. His ability to fuse together beautiful samples (usually of harps, jazz and airy instrumentals) with old school hip-hop beats is testament to his pioneering lo-fi production. This is the lo-fi hip-hop album. It is the point of genesis for beats to study to and that iconic pairing of a hard working student and her calmingly inseparable cat.

Modal Soul is Nujabes' finest record. Taking you on a wonderful journey through atmospheric, ethereal sounds, jazz, hip hop and so much more, there is perhaps no beatsmith with quite as recognisable a style as Seba. During these boring lockdown times, I’ve really enjoy taking long walks and I’ve found that Nujabes is great company. Whack on Modal Soul and just enjoy it for what it is: it’s an experience that I really can’t recommend enough.



- 32 -

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular [Psych Pop] 2007 - USA

When neo-psychedelic pop group MGMT created Oracular Spectacular, they weren’t interested in reinventing the proverbial wheel. In our presence stood two Brooklyn boys, armed to the teeth with college laptops, cheap synths and a whole lot of fluorescent war paint. They weren’t out to shock the world with some bombastic new sound. Quite the opposite: many different influences are present on the album, from the 70s shimmer of the guitars, the analogue punch and bite of the drums, the colourful synths a-la Animal Collective, fit for a space opera OST.

This duo largely wrote the songs that shaped this album in their dorm rooms, with the only quality

control seemingly applied to the album being "is this a bop?" It could be argued that the album’s sonic vision consequently lacks focus at times, but this could also be construed as missing the point. The group’s prescience lay in their ability to repurpose pop tropes of the past into feel-good musical nostalgia. With three of the biggest tunes of the decade in 'Time To Pretend', 'Electric Feel' and 'Kids' with Oracular Spectacular there's something here for every listener to pull something out of, no matter where you're from.



- 31 -

MF DOOM - MM...FOOD [Hip-Hop] 2004 - USA

MM…Food is easily MF DOOM’s most thematic album experience, a creatively woven together collection of food obsessed rap songs, working in a sense of humour and paying absolutely no attention to what a rapper is supposed to sound like. His sandpapered, gravelly voice spills over his own drums and looped samples, from the oddly stark keys over a beatboxed rhythm on ‘Hoe Cakes’ to ‘Deep Fried Frenz’, a song with a cheerful backing that wouldn’t sound out of place as a theme song for a sitcom.


The erratic quality of DOOM's self-production is pivotal to the brilliant bizarreness of the project: ‘Beef Rap’ somehow manages to pull off samples of a 1983 cartoon Wild Style, Frank Zappa’s ‘Would You Like a Snack?’ and the score of ‘Canon of Doom’, from a 1981 Spider-Man episode.

Mos Def has practically the entire song memorised, as a YouTube video made clear, featuring the hip-hop legend cracking up at line after line as he recites them, displaying the immense impact and respect that DOOM has commanded throughout the world of hip hop, both in the booth and behind the mic.

The odd subject matter is a way to anchor his artistry to one simple statement of intent: DOOM is extremely talented, and he knows it. Rap’s most quotable artist hammers the message home with dense lyrical content and one liners, all while maintaining such a strong focus on the backdrop of food that blogs have actually created genuine recipes based on the project. Only DOOM could intricately dissect other rappers by referring to them inadvertently as “wrappers”. It’s a testament to the ridiculous amount of creativity possessed by one of history's most unique rappers.



- 30 -

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots [Psych-Pop] 2002 - USA

On the follow up to the highly acclaimed underground 1999 release The Soft Bulletin, frontman Wayne Coyne proved himself to be something of a genius. Coyne built on the approach of the previous project; the synthetic strings and strangely philosophical lyrics, but focused on genre-pushing synthetic qualities and electronic manipulation. The resulting project Yoshimi borders on being a concept album, as Coyne explained in 2017, the idea built on Yoshimi P (of Boredoms fame), as they had been sprinkling her singing through the songs, and a random comment noted she sounded like she was being “attacked by a giant robot”. The loose theme was born, although the project often floats into a diverse array of subject matter, with wide meditations on love and mortality.

Coyne’s vocals travel over psychedelic backing, with hazy electronic synth pop, sometimes interrupted by disorienting detours into orchestral notes on a project that is very sci-fi, and extremely ambitious. The tracks are often beautifully catchy and intricate; ‘One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21’ bristles with falsettos and strange surges of tapping electronic drums, and ‘Do You Realize’ was an instant hit, drenched in strange percussion and chords, featuring the famous line “do you realise that everyone you know will someday die?”. There is a mass of beautiful material here, so much in fact that the album was adapted into a musical in 2012. The project is lush and contemplative techno pop folk, featuring well crafted melodies and some stunning choruses. Coyne outlined it perfectly, stating that the thought process was effectively “why don’t we put all this weird quirky backing to some songs about robots? Could be interesting”. He was pretty spot on. Yoshimi is a beautifully peculiar project, as the vocals lament on the opener, it’s all a "gorgeous mystery", waiting to be solved.



- 29 -

Arcade Fire - Funeral [Indie Rock] 2004 - Canada

"Something filled up my heart with nothing!" and with that the kids were not alright and the sound of a band crashing in from their lost childhood was spilling its candle-wax all over the indie scene, writing grandiose anthems to rail against some lie their generation were told. As guitars thrash, organs swell and strings quiver in the air with all the friction of lighting a match, Montreal's Arcade Fire let loose an earnest and despairing requiem for youth that set fire to disillusionment, heartbreak, and I’m assuming, some arcades.

There’s not a single bad track or dry eye on Funeral. Win Butler’s vignettes are instantly familiar, his voice tremulous with an emotion burnished by partner Régine Chassagne’s fevered cries. 'Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)' is easily one of the best album openers in damn history dammit; an escapist adolescent romance set to snow, pianos and the shadow of mid-life. Arcade Fire would go on to depict wide panoramas of ennui and faith on Neon Bible and The Suburbs, but their debut project is a memorialising epic that deals in fleeting vistas of loss and change. On 'Wake Up', they turn the line "I guess we’ll just have to adjust" into the unlikeliest and most revelatory sensation-seeking chorus— inflaming the lighters of stadium crowds the world over and securing their place as the decade’s most impassioned rock outfit.



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Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not [Indie Rock] 2006 - UK

Music, particularly in the UK, could be divided broadly into two eras. Before 2006, and after it. The impact this record had here in Britain is incalculable, perhaps representing the most important shift in the history of the UK music industry. Ultimately, it was four lads from Sheffield that forced the whole industry to finally get to grips with the uncontrollable potential of internet buzz.

Arctic Monkeys are a once in a generation band, and Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not was a phenomenon. It's still the fastest selling debut album in the history of British record sales, and thanks to the band's trailblazing effort to capitalise on digital distribution, it might keep that record until the end of time. UK music changed in 2006, both with Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' and this record, blowing the doors open to finding success through the power of internet distribution and promotion, and scaring the shit out of the institutional gatekeepers at the head of the countries' major labels.

Oh, and it's also one of the best indie albums to ever come out of the UK. This album is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the sheer depth of its quality, from 'Dancing Shoes' to 'Mardy Bum'. The importance of Whatever People Say... cannot be understated, and though it holds a couple of underwhelming tracks in its rough and unrefined style of noisy Sheffield music-making, it remains an essential album to the world of indie rock.



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Queens of the Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf [Rock] 2002 - USA

A “saga” modelled as a radio experience on a drive through the California desert, Queens of the Stone Age's phenomenal third album Songs For The Deaf immediately explodes into life with an unmatched four-song masterclass in musical tone-setting, and barely stops to catch its breath. From the initial dirty-blues swagger of lead single ‘No One Knows’ and its crowning moment ‘Song For The Dead’, the album descends into a haunting darkness reflective of the drive deeper into the desert, culminating in the wonderfully sinister ‘Song For The Deaf’. In fact, Queens stomp from great song to great song with an effortless consistency, everything executed flawlessly. A cycle of three lead vocalists keeps things fresh, with Mark Lanegan’s signature raspy drawl a perfect fit, and Dave Grohl’s work behind the kit is his finest ever.

There aren’t really enough accolades befitting of this album, perhaps the only one of its kind, a ferocious hour of hard rock with just enough varnish and nuance to have it stuck in your head for weeks on end. Songs For The Deaf is an ensemble cast at their creative apex: there’s a brass band buried deep in ‘No One Knows’, sweet orchestral arrangements on ‘Mosquito Song’, a Spanish folk touch on ‘First It Giveth’, and ‘Six Shooter’ is borderline lunacy. Yet Josh Homme somehow ties it all together through his crisp and clever songwriting. “Here is something you should drop to your knees for and worship,” declares a radio host towards the end of the record. And she’s right.



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PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea [Alt-Rock] 2000 - UK

PJ Harvey’s 2001 Mercury Prize winning album demonstrated the artist’s ability to move beyond the captivating noise-rock of previous albums, crafting great, tuneful songwriting. A more polished approach and style resulted in her most accessible album with appeal to a wider audience but doing this without losing any quality or creativity in her music is what makes Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea just so good.

Influenced by her experience of living and loving in New York, as reflected in the iconic album cover, the album is essentially a “love” album. However, it’s notable that for a love album it’s incredibly stark in its often-painful associations with love, at times being even brutally cynical. But the album is not without genuinely happy emotional moments, for example the hauntingly beautiful 'You Said Something'. A highlight of the album is the 7th track 'This Mess We’re In', featuring a back and forth between herself and Thom Yorke, with Yorke’s harmonies perfectly complimenting PJ Harvey’s dry and sombre delivery.

For an album she intended to contain beauty, she certainly succeeded, although certainly not without the darkness and uncomfortableness typical of a PJ Harvey record, and this combination makes for one of the best rock albums of the 2000’s. Consider this required listening for any alt-rock head.



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JAY-Z - The Blueprint [Hip-Hop] 2001 - USA

Very few artists have managed to maintain the consistency in rap as long as Jay-Z, with one of the most celebrated discographies in hip-hop history. However, it was 2001’s The Blueprint that cemented his legacy. A rap-revolutionary's indisputable classic, The Blueprint still stands one of the most influential albums in the genre's history. Hov’s New York bravado and carefully crafted lyricism were elevated to new levels on this album, and two decades on you’d still struggle to find a more complete and impressive collection of instrumentals.

A producer battle for the best beats between Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Bink culminates in an incredibly rich and luxurious backdrop for Jay-Z’s rapping, with a stellar singular guest feature from Eminem (haven’t heard that in a few years have you). The lead single 'Izzo (H.O.V.A)' launched Kanye West’s career and was at the time Jay-Z’s highest selling single, with a catchy hook and a Jackson 5 sample, the song is one of Jay-Z’s best. This powerful and persuasive album marked a new era for Jay-Z, providing the blueprint for a decade of rap dominance.



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Burial - Untrue [UK Garage] 2007 - UK

With just that solitary cover and a single word, Burial's Untrue casts the listener into a nocturnal world of falsehood, where from the first muffled footfalls you’re hit with a rush of someplace else. It’s a recording from some dead-night alley, a dark wind tunnel inhabited by bodiless voices where emotions become lost and obsessive. Song titles linger on these elusive shapes, from the fleeting drones on 'Etched Headplate' and 'Ghost Hardware', to the ethereal vocals on 'Shell of Light'.

Spent shells and murmurs coalesce on 'Near Dark', roused by the anaesthetised repetition of "I can’t take my eyes off you" above a skeletal drum loop flanked by haunted synths and sawn-off currents of air. The phantom allure of this album was underlined by the anonymity of this still reclusive artist, who crafted his own plaintive, secretive sound from obscure vocal samples while taking inspiration from the UK’s rave scene as well as the murk of jungle and garage. The results were some otherworldly DIY beats scrounged from lonely drives at midnight and the glint of video game SFX, primed for the AM slot of your own solitude.



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Common - Be [Hip-Hop] 2005 - USA

Common’s four-time Grammy nominated Be is often regarded as the greatest comeback in Hip-Hop history. Coming off the back of the critically and commercially unsuccessful Electric Circus, Common returned to the roots of his MC’ing on Be, providing typically rich, intimate storytelling about his home city of Chicago, the complexities of love, and as always with Common, politically driven commentary.

At times feeling more like a documentary of Chicago, Common doesn’t waste a spare minute on this album, delivering 11 songs and 42 minutes of un-skippable music, almost entirely produced by a little known producer called Kanye West, who lays down exquisite College Dropout era soul sample based beats, whilst also pitching in with the occasional verse or hook adding a freshness to the project. Be also hosts some of the last work of the legendary producer J-Dilla, who contributes two stunning instrumentals for the album with 'Love is…' and 'It’s Your World'. Be is arguably Common’s magnum opus, and fully deserves its high-ranking spot on our list.



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LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver [Dance] 2007 - USA

From techno to punk and diving deep into dance rock, LCD Soundsystem’s 2007 album houses a bit of everything - and it’s all spectacular. ‘Get Innocuous!’ is a slow-building, confidently layered techno opener that gradually gets you on your feet before seeing you off with some downright eerie violins. But before you can sit back down, ‘Time to Get Away’ hits you with its funky vibes and that’s it: you’re officially in for Sound of Silver.

Pretty much every song in this record is a musical gem that ought to be celebrated. The bittersweet ‘Someone Great’ with its heavy, harmonious synths; the playful ‘Watch the Tapes’ with its 70s rock-tinged vocals; the droning ‘Us V Them’ with its earworm of a chorus and, of course, the absolute hipster dance classic that is ‘All My Friends’ are all analogue musical treasures put together by the one and only James Murphy – y’know, that walking, talking musical encyclopedia. Needless to say, Sound of Silver’s production quality is astounding.


Lyrically, this album is also phenomenal. I will never fail to snicker at the fourth-wall break that are the lines “And for those of you who still think we're from England / We're not, no” in ‘North American Scum’, nor have I managed to hold in my tears upon hearing the sincerity in Murphy’s ‘New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down’. And the lines “But they shuttered your stores when you opened the doors/ To the cops who were bored once they'd run out of crime”? Truer now than ever.

From mass media and politics to lost love and aging, Sound of Silver rides the line between upbeat dancefloors hits and depressing real-life happenings with prowess, and that goes both instrumentally and lyrically. This record is a varied, beautiful artistic feat that deserves to be spun years into the future.



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Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion [Psych Pop] 2009 - USA

There’s little to be said about this record which hasn’t been said before. The eighth in a long line of Animal Collective albums - some bizarre, some beautiful, most both - Merriweather Post Pavilion is their foray into a friendlier pop that may not grab you on first listen, but the irresistible energy and sheer originality of it will draw you back in over and over again.

“Pop” is a label Animal Collective probably never wanted to earn - often bleating or shrieking over otherwise innocuous music to push it into the “experimental” realm. The group once allowed a quarter of an album of campfire folk to be absorbed by (virtually) two droning chords - but how could the playful melody of ‘Summertime Clothes’ and the lovelorn nostalgia of ‘Bluish’ have adorned them anything else?

The group’s spirit is still ever-present and this is a record only they could have made. The nonsensical poetry of ‘Lion In A Coma’, the layers of harmonies in ‘Guys Eyes’, and the swelling noise that drives ‘Brother Sport’ are all creative hallmarks. Drenched in lucid psychedelia, washed in warm reverb, the highest praise for this record is in its achievement of balance between inimitability and infectiousness, or perhaps the journey every listener undertakes from bewilderment to addiction, to eventually know every twist and turn like the back of their hand. Merriweather Post Pavilion is still a truly unique record with enough dizzying brilliance to make anything else of its ilk feel timid and toothless both upon its release and years later.



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The White Stripes - Elephant [Rock] 2003 - USA

Rock duos are an interesting study. They’re often efficient, relying on a bare-bones approach, or they go overboard, supplementing their work with electronics, ambience, or samples. Sometimes, though, less is more. The White Stripes are the less-is-more band, and Elephant their most polished work. Relying on old school recording techniques and musical chemistry, this project is a throwback to the blues and garage rock of the 60s and 70s, usually welding these two inspirations together. This is the sound of the White Stripes, characterised by the contrast betw