The Blood Brothers were one of the essential post-hardcore acts that this decade has seen. Their third full-length album, …Burn, Piano Island, Burn reciprocates such praise, as its off-kilter style combines vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney nasally wails with unrelenting and challenging songwriting created a mixture that was unorthodox, yet accepted. With a lack of any real musical constraint, The Blood Brothers vicariously lived through different climaxes and sounds unaccustomed to many. From the bass-synth gem in “Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon” to the overflowing emotion in “The Shame,” …Burn, Piano Island, Burn wears its heart on its sleeve, and wears it damn well. – Ryan Flatley
Unwound always had a textural ear. Throughout the beginning of their career the group always managed to make excellent tone choices that put their records into a more sophisticated level of rock. Where many groups use noise and dissonance as transitional parts of their music Unwound seemed to thrive melodically in their more abrasive sections. Leaves Turn Inside You is the opus of that exploration. From the first few moments of “We Invent You” Unwound’s sound is in a different place than they have ever been in their career. The influences are difficult to pinpoint, but it is obvious the band’s experimentation with electronic instrumentation has had a clear impact. Leaves Turn Inside You has a highly progressive influence amongst a punk backing which creates a juxtaposition between complex soundscapes that digress into post-hardcore ballads. The inherent sadness throughout the record offers what may have always made Unwound a little different from their peers: their melancholy. Unwound’s music never called for arms to be raised, rather they orchestrated a soundtrack to the desolation so many other artists were fighting against.
Is it surprising the group disbanded after releasing such a complete statement? Had Unwound continued would they have ever really been able to compete with Leaves Turn Inside You without attempting to piece records together from the remnants of their final statement. So many bands continually stretch their lifetimes out to the point that there is no reason for them to even exist anymore, maybe we should thank Unwound for always knowing how to stop on the perfect note. – Jared W. Dillon
More than perhaps any band of the last decade, Porcupine Tree hark back to prog rock’s 1970s heyday; not in sound, but in the way they have acquired a good old-fashioned fan base that follows them through thick and thin (and there’s been plenty of both), despite the mockery they draw from outsiders. So it makes sense that they make our list, just as it makes sense that a good many people reading this will scoff at their placement – the likes of Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and Rush were also deeply uncool in their day, yet they always did well in terms of both sales and fan-voted polls. So snicker all you like, people – it’s really only a matter of time before Steven Wilson’s primary vehicle are absorbed entirely into the rock canon, and In Absentia – their best outing – becomes a permanent fixture of rock retrospectives. And with songs like “Trains” and “Prodigal”, and a sound that really isn’t as far away from the likes of Radiohead as many would have you believe, why should we fight it? You’ll never score any points for repping In Absentia, but to deny this album’s melody, craft, and quality on that basis would be foolish in the extreme; you’ll be the one missing out, after all. – Nick Butler
Troy Jamerson does hip-hop the right way; with just five albums in sixteen years, and each one a banger, he’s the ultimate embodiment of quality over quantity in a genre more prone to short-lived megastars than just about any. He’s just got better with time, too; Desire, his second solo record (following on from three as a member of Organized Konfusion), is arguably the best and inarguably the most definitive of the whole bunch. A soulful powerhouse that aligned itself equally with the hardest mainstream hip-hop immediately before it and with the wave of arty neo-soul that came immediately after, and had the balls to cover Public Enemy and be better than them, Desire was a short, sharp, relentless attack that cemented once and for all exactly why Monch is one of the all-time greats. – Nick Butler
All things considered, September 4, 2001 probably wasn’t the ideal time for a band of Armenian-Americans to release their breakthrough album. Having scored a couple of decent hits with their 1998 self-titled debut, it was Toxicity’s ‘Chop Suey!’ that really set the wheels in motion for System of a Down. However, 9/11 was just an awful for a band to be scaling the charts with a song about “self-righteous suicide,” a time when anyone vaguely eastern-looking was viewed as a threat, and neurotically positive rock groups like P.O.D. cashed in on the confusion. Still, System of a Down’s march to prominence was simply too forceful to stop. Their brand of difficult, off-kilter metal was oddly tasteful, and had a heavy grounding in metal thanks to the tutelage of super-producer Rick Rubin. Tourettes-inducing lead single ‘Chop Suey!’ was a hit in spite of the radio ban, and the hypnotic title track and more traditional rocker ‘Aerials’ scaled even loftier heights. The band achieved more notoriety with the double-album Mezmerize/Hypnotize in 2005/06, but neither was able to recreate the artistic achievement of Toxicity. – Dave de Sylvia
Can you name a cooler band to come out of the Noughties than Minus the Bear? These are the dudes that seem to spontaneously wake up in the morning and think ‘how about we go buy some yachts and race them to that there island? There, we can get drunk on expensive champagne and bang our girls, who, incidentally, are looking so good.’ No, you can’t. But, more importantly, can you name a band who has matured and progressed more in the last decade than Minus the Bear? Menos El Oso was years ahead of Highly Refined Pirates, and Planet of Ice was lightyears ahead of Menos El Oso. But, while Menos El Oso seemed to lose a lot of the fun, the groove, the cool of their earlier work, Planet of Ice managed to combine all of that infectious good-times tomfoolery with a much more focused, intelligent, creative and sophisticated approach to the song-writing. Minus the Bear have been welcomed into the very heart of today’s Indie scene because they are one of the few bands who consistently strive to improve on themselves, and succeed in doing so. Yet, more importantly, they’ve never forgotten or abandoned their boisterous, care-free roots. Listen to this album, live for the moment, and let the good times roll. – Matt Wolfe
Deathconsciousness is probably the only album on this list that uses a computer’s built-in microphone as a fundamental input in the studio setup. This inauspicious mic, combined with a MOTU traveler, a MIDI controller, Logic, and guitars and a bass make up the entire rig, however calling Deathconsciousness a lo-fi album is a clownish reduction of a rich, complex pattern of shoegaze, post-rock, dark ambient, and industrial. These distinctive styles are the compositional sweet spots of Have a Nice Life’s two songwriters, Tim Macuga and Dan Barrett, two college friends who converted their acoustic guitar noodling into a nuanced, intricate, and emotionally gripping two-disc masterpiece. Overdriven guitars and brittle snare drums define a soundscape that treads the line between despair and hope. Waterlogged vocals bounce off these instrumentals like a choir in an empty church. Pick scrapes and vocal inhales are interwoven with riffs and beats. Yes, Deathconsciousness is rough-hewn, but it’s also earth-moving. – Nick Greer
Right from their early noise rock experiments, through their brief tenure as niche-market one-hit wonders, up to their elevation to legendary status, the most special thing about The Flaming Lips has been the way they’ve blended an absurdist sense of humor with a childish, wide-eyed sense of wonder and an undercurrent of genuinely affecting melancholy. The demented and haunted Yoshimi is a case in point; on the surface it’s literally an album about a girl called Yoshimi battling some pink robots, but it was later revealed that the band had been in correspondance with a young Japanese fan who was battling cancer. Could the robots have been a metaphor for cancer cells? It’s debatable, but even the fact that the notion exists is enough of a testament to this band’s power to draw skyscraping emotion from the oddest of references. This album is just packed with breathtaking moments like that – it’s doubtful that anybody in pop has ever dissected their own mortality with more grace and invention than the Lips do here on “Fight Test”, “One More Robot (Sympathy 3000-21)”, “It’s Summertime”, “All We Have is Now”, “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell”, and the astonishing “Do You Realize?”. Sad without being depressing, uplifting without being cloying, resigned without being defeated – you can forget The Soft Bulletin, because this is their definitive late-career statement. – Nick Butler
Perhaps what is most exciting about IDM producer Flying Lotus isn’t the sound he is constructing but that he is able to do it at all. Music this cluttered doesn’t lend itself to descriptors like “seamless” or “cohesive” but those are exactly the strengths that elevate Los Angeles above the simple novelty of hearing dusty break beats spin tricks under strobe effects and irregular time signatures. It isn’t just weird, it’s consistent. There’s a flow– hell, there’s practically a narrative, with neo-noir synths and fractured vocal samples shifting their way through Los Angeles’ traffic jam of genre-influences, building and releasing tension till its colors mute and listeners are left with something intimate, paranoid, creative, even a bit celestial; Hollywood beamed from outer space and all the images that conjures. – Lewis P.
There aren’t many records where I can distinctly remember when I first heard them – who I was with, what I was doing, what I felt. A friend’s older brother was driving me back from another dull 7th grade day when “Last Nite” came on the radio and whoa – hold the goddamn record. What was this? Having long been accustomed to a modern rock station that purveyed only the finest of discriminating tastes (Limp Bizkit, Adema, Nickelback, etc.), this was like a shot in the arm. The energy, the vibe, the undeniable sense of red-blooded rock ‘n roll – “Last Nite” and Is This It was the switch for me and, considering the vast wave of alternative bands modeled after them that followed, the music industry in general. It was a bit of a perfect storm, considering the album’s release just prior to September 11th and the seismic shift the industry was about to experience away from manufactured pop bands to garage rock, but credit must be given where credit is due: to the five New Yorkers who blew the door open on the world with simple chords, back to basics rhythm work, and one of the 2000s’ great personalities in Julian Casablancas. This was the blueprint. – Rudy Klapper
This Austin, Texas-based quintet gained initial notoriety after being affiliated with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian’s label (Serjical Strike), but any and all allusions stop there. Led by vocalist and cryptic lyricist Darroh Sudderth and his stunning three-octave range, Fair to Midland’s Fables is quite convincingly one of the most impressive rock albums of the decade. Vocally emotive and instrumentally brilliant, the record is neither outrageously bombastic or filled with constant bouts of ennui. While Sudderth’s performances are superb throughout, guitarist Cliff Campbell, electronics/keyboardist Matt Langley, bassist Jon Dicken, and drummer Brett Stowers each give the record immeasurable energy and grace in their individual and collective performances. From the frenetic “Upgrade^Brigade” and its searing lead guitar juxtaposed against a chunky main riff or album highlights “Dance of the Manatee,” “April Fools and Eggmen” and “Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes” showcasing the band at its best, there was honestly no record quite as memorable or as powerful as Fables this past decade. – Jom
Left and Leaving pads quietly around the house like a cat while everyone else is sleeping, purring softly to itself, wrapped in its own devices yet supremely aware of the effect it has on people. It snakes its way under furniture and onto couches, up the stairs and perhaps onto your bed, nuzzling your leg as you snore. It is there for you when you don’t realize it, and if there was a way to somehow trace the lonely patterns it makes around your house while you dream, you wouldn’t do it, because mystery is what makes it so enchanting. Left and Leaving is a perfect example of someone embedding their personality into their music so effectively and so deeply that, in the wrong hands, it might make listeners uncomfortable. Instead, it makes them relate. – Channing Freeman
When stacked against its three predecessors, “pop” is as accurate a description as any for Wolfgang Voigt’s final Gas album. Compositions that once pervaded the murkiest caverns take their giant leap out into the moonlit rainforest, streaking through the thick canopy in layers of billowing drones. The endless loops, the sounds of nature enveloped in the electronic hiss, the orchestra broadcasting from another dimension, all presented with a crystalline view of an artist successfully manipulating these textures until they disentangle themselves as the ambient bedroom pop songs they aspire to be, disarmingly immediate and, true to ambient form, a grower with layers to reveal. – Lewis
It’s probably not said often enough, but Damien Rice is an eccentric genius. He once made up a language and went by the stage name Dodi Ma. As his first band, Juniper, was about to make it big, he fled to the south of Italy and became a tomato farmer. Somewhere along the way, he returned to songwriting, bought a guitar and busked his way back across Europe, honing his craft as he went. His debut album, O, was released in 2002, and its delicate blend of barrelling soul and gentle fragility made it an instant underground sensation. Rice’s unique chemistry with co-vocalist Lisa Hannigan and Vyvienne Long’s distinctive, mournful cello inspired a million soundalikes but few could come close to the original. A truly inspired record, O is as vulnerable and naked as it is calculated and emotionally manipulative, but with tunes as affecting as ‘Cannonball,’ ‘Eskimo’ and the breath-taking ‘Blower’s Daughter,’ it’s manipulation worth going along with. – Dave de Sylvia
It probably isn’t unfair to say that Streetlight Manifesto’s Everything Goes Numb virtually murdered the entire ska-punk scene as it exploded its way across it. The proof is in the whispers that followed the release of anything even remotely resembling a ska record in its wake: yes but… how does it compare to Everything Goes Numb? The answer has almost always been a disparaging not very well. And that’s not even to begin to mention the humiliation – Even people who hated the genre could be heard saying: I don’t like ska, but this is something else altogether. Not only did the record leave the scene for dead, it retroactively blew up everything that came before it. An achievement? Try a revolution. When mastermind Tomas Kalnoky isn’t busy rip roaring his lyrical prowess away at a thousand miles an hour, when a blazing trio of horn players aren’t pummeling the air into blissful oblivion, when searing guitar lines aren’t rocking the party, when a rhythm section second to none in punk rock punch through some of the most sophisticated songwriting you’ll hear this side of ska, everything that’s left: sorrow, joy, bitterness, wonder – fill the spaces. Murder and humiliation in the first degree, yes please. – Alex Silveri
The Argument is Fugazi’s studio album. I know they worked primarily in the studio from In On The Kill Taker on, but The Argument represents the band’s full exploration of a studio sound. Two drummers, lots of overdubs, this is Fugazi’s patient record and is rewarding because of that. The Argument is a fantastic road album because the songs are relatable through any terrain. They are paranoid and bleak complimenting the cityscape. They are also textured and beautiful complimenting the countryside. Fugazi in my mind had always been the quintessential ’90s band and over the past few years my opinion of them has shifted to them being the quintessential American band. The members of this group completely understand the American ethic. Their music may frequently speak up against American ideals, but the band’s business model clearly latches onto the capitalist ethic. The honesty that has been so prevalent in the band’s music is also a key part of that American representation. The music on The Argument is a timeless example of the retaliation of punk rock and another example as strong as Fugazi’s opus simply does not exist. – Jared W. Dillon
If there was a candidate here for entrance into the world of ‘high’ culture, it might be a good move to place a bet on The Heat Death of the Universe. It’s all there – the delicate jazz stylings, the dramatic tension, the sprawling song structures, the, um, hardcore. Actually, scratch that ‘um’ and let’s start again – yes, that motherfucking hardcore. It deserves the emphasis because if any band has elevated the genre into an art style to be revered, it’s Off Minor, and The Heat Death of the Universe is nothing if not a statement – the statement – of their artistic definition. Just taking a dip into the opening moments of the record and you can already hear the sheer force of musical merit at play, from the sweeps of jarring, abrasive dissonance to carefully constructed cascades of instrumental beauty, steeped in a haze of musical knowledge that possibly no other band in the genre has ever got close to approaching. Long story short, Off Minor are far from the usual picture of fuck-the-world punks playing at basement shows – although that pathos is certainly there – no, these guys can play, and what they play with is nothing other than profundity itself. Avoid at your own risk. – Alex Silveri
The cynics will tell you that its nothing more than an overwrought, tragic indie cliche while the zealots will say its the perfect harnessing of sadness and loneliness and one of the strongest albums for our generation. To me, even though I have gone through periods of love and indifference with this album, Hospice was never either of those things. It’s a record that certainly doesn’t shirk its critically-amassed mythology (The lead singer holed himself in his apartment for a year to write this album, you say? How tortured this album must be!), but the music itself tends to kind of transcend who made it and what motivations composed it. Even if you don’t buy into its concept, even if you don’t follow along with Peter Silberman as he becomes attached to the dying cancer patient in the hospice, Hospice is an album that bears so much weight and masterfully directs it into so much optimism that any attention paid to it at all will garner results. Maybe the results are genuine dislike, but that’s okay. Hospice is certainly melodramatic, as Silberman’s lyrics oscillate between poignant zingers and embarrassing eye-rollers (un-fucked, anyone?), and you don’t have to embrace it, seeing how serious it is and what not. I just choose to, and this has worked out for me swimmingly. – Adam Downer
Shpongle – and Simon Posford projects in general – had such an impressive and consistent decade that it’s hard to justify why any one of their albums has made this list above any of the others. Truthfully, there are two important factors at play that have nothing to do with the music – the first being that Tales of the Inexpressible is the first Shpongle record many of the staffers heard, and the second being its age, and the fact that it’s had more time than Nothing Lasts and certainly Ineffable Mysteries to slowly worm its way into our canon. Don’t let that detract from this album though, because Tales of the Inexpressible is still a stunning statement – here was the first time that Shpongle perfected their own blend of worldly acoustics and electronic psychedelia. Posford and Raja Ram’s world view in one where there’s no such thing as an acip trip, and no country, culture, or time is ever out of reach; the breezy “Dorset Perception” might just be their single defining track, because it encapsulates that ideal perfectly. If the punk rockers really were taking acid, this record would be as ubiquitous a summer jam as any Bob Marley album you’d care to mention – this is how you wish your gap year was. – Nick Butler
Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill is not a revolutionary album or a “decade-defining” piece of music. Rather, it is a simple collection of songs so strong that I’ve struggled to find any real faults with it since its release in mid-2008. With its stripped-back acoustic and subtle electric instrumentation that eschews percussion instruments entirely, hazy and ethereal vocals, gorgeous minor-key harmonies and a production job that mushes it all together to make it muddy in the best possible way, its tones are strong and defined. Liz Harris’ vocal melodies combined with her loose, watery, reverb-drenched guitar work and occasional piano tinkerings creates an aesthetic that is not revolutionary but is fresh and personal.
But all of that is meaningless without the composition to back it up and thankfully, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill is not just a sonic triumph. It blends the ambient and singer-songwriter genres with the perfect balance between beautiful, catchy melody and atmosphere. And ultimately, it finds the perfect middle ground between traditional pop structure and meandering jams. It is here, then, that Harris proves herself as one of the most skilled and interesting songwriting voices to emerge in the past decade. – Andrew Hartwig
It’s not uncommon for MCs to go an entire career without ever reaching their true potential, for one reason or another; and for a while, it looked like Gift of Gab would have the dubious distinction of joining the likes of Beanie Sigel, AZ, Twista, and Royce da 5’9″ in that category, despite his outrageous natural ability. Then Blazing Arrow happened; one of the most fortuitous albums in rap history. For everybody involved, it all just came right at once – Gab’s flow hit just the right balance between complexity and accessibility, Chief Xcel’s beats did the same while staying ‘classic’ rather than ‘old-fashioned’, and the all-star guest list (Gil-Scott Heron, DJ Shadow, Zack de la Rocha, The Roots, and Saul Williams, among others) followed just the right kind of diversity, managing to make even Ben Harper sound right at home. And for all that, it manages to be celebratory in a way very few classic hip-hop albums are; Blazing Arrow is a testament to what hip-hop can do that avoids both the po-faced seriousness of the underground scene around it and the shallow crowd-pleasing that so many hip-hop summer jams suffer from. To say Blackalicious will never better it is hardly damning; will anybody? – Nick Butler
Although Damnation isn’t the best representation of Opeth’s sound, obviously lacking heavier elements that have made the band so popular, it saw the band step out of its comfort zone a little bit. The songs were shorter, perhaps not quite as complex, and certainly not as dense, yet what resulted was one of the Opeth’s most creative records. The disturbing “Weakness” is a highlight in this regard, with its divergent structure relying solely on mellotron and Mikael Akerfeldt’s crooning vocals. “Windowpane” and “In My Time of Need” are a little more typical of Damnation (and a little more accessible), but they convey the brilliance that we’ve come to expect from Opeth. Songs such as Watershed‘s “Coil” have experimented with similar dynamics, but for the most part Damnation has remained a unique one off project, and that makes it a special release. – Mike Stagno
On The Eye of Every Storm‘s title track, Scott Von Till speaks the following lines: “a wind carries your scent to those who will find you out, a storm forces you down to seek shelter from the rain”. The implications made by its title are remarkably relevant to the album as a whole. In the grand scheme of the band’s discography, this is the eye of the storm. There is an uneasy calmness that peppers each track. Certain songs plod at a deliberate pace, the vocalists occasionally dragging their words at a snails pace. But every once and a while there’s the faithful reminder that the calm usually brings a storm. In the case of “Burn”, the album’s opener, that storm comes in the form of arguably the greatest musical moment of the past decade. As the vocals layer themselves over barren synths, the uneasiness I spoke of earlier rumbles into a cacophony. “Don’t let it steal your eyes” shouts the band, and as the guitars build towards absolute madness comes an important reminder. Things may be quietest in the eye of the storm but the fact remains that you’re still in the centre of a huge fucking storm.
In writing this I struggle to withhold my frustrations with The Eye of Every Storm‘s remarkably low placement on this list. But as it sits in the bottom 25 of our top 100 I’m reminded of how Scott Kelly closes the album. As if he were looking up to number 74, watching his star pupils gain notoriety for a sound that is not theirs, he groans, “I can see you.” In the end its ranking doesn’t matter. I know its there, as should you. Neurosis are the storm surrounding us. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, it only makes their impact more engulfing when you notice them. The Eye of Every Storm may be their most ambient album, but its far from relaxing. It’s not a sludge album, it’s a fucking tidal wave and in turn one of the greatest albums of the past 20 years. – Tyler Munro
Of course, quantity is not quality, and on a 31 track album such as Soundtrack to a Vacant Life, it is easy to assume that the listener will come across endless filler while searching for those singular golden tracks. But what makes this album succeed is its combination of quantity and quality–a thoroughly engaging and pleasing listen from start to finish. A 31-track album may also frighten some because many songs will probably sound the same. Yet, The 31 tracks never seem dull because of Benn Jordan’s (the man behind the name) ability to fuse so many genres together. In one fell swoop, Jordan tackles hard rock, trip-hop, breakcore, dubstep, and folk, among other genres. Still, the opposite is not true either. Soundtrack to a Vacant Life manages to sound coherent despite jumping genre nearly every song, and neatly captures the many vicissitudes of life into one album. – Tyler Fisher
Toby Driver was one of the most reliable artists of the decade, both in quantity and quality of work. His albums appear multiple time on this list across multiple groups, but none as alien and challenging as in Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue. Kayo Dot’s first album, Choirs of the Eye was a pet project built in a studio that was never composed with the live show in mind. Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue was Driver’s attempt at creating an album that renders his hyper-detailed modern classical style in a format that converts to a live setting. The resulting album though has to be seen to be believed. ” ___ On Limpid Form” is a 20-minute long ambient doom metal dirge that ends on a polyrhythmic percussion canon. “Gemini Becoming the Tripod” features Driver howling and shrieking over ambient feedback and synthesizer. The album’s most elusive and beautiful track is its closer, “Amaranth the Peddler,” which plods across brush-stroked drums and shimmering guitars until it delivers a deathblow with its subdued lyrics and vocals. Though some would argue Driver is at his best when he combines more traditional components of metal with his abstract avant garde ideas, Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue is a tribute to the fact that Drivers compositions succeed no matter how far they stray. – Nick Greer