Max Bemis released his craziest and most ambitious project only after he became decidedly less crazy. In Defense of the Genre turned a lot of preconceptions about Say Anything on their heads (the loner persona, the winding canyons of his earlier songs), but mostly the album proved that Bemis had plenty of ideas beyond how much he hated everyone and everything. While the songs were shorter and less complex, they were also devoid of bullshit, and the fact that In Defense of the Genre has less filler in twice the material than …Is a Real Boy speaks louder praise for the record than anything else. Some of Bemis’ best songs are contained within, including the triumphant, lick-heavy “Shiksa (Girlfriend)” and the longing “Plea.” – Channing Freeman
Panopticon’s opener “So Did We” contains seven lines of lyrics, and they are all sung only once throughout the track. The rest of the song is made up of some of the most hypnotizing metal put to tape, and while Isis could only seem to get it perfectly right for one album, Panopticon stands as a pinnacle of post-metal. The rest of the songs are all similar in their approach yet wholly different in sound. As far as metal goes, has there ever been a better example of an album that lets the music speak for itself? Isis put forth art that was free of the gimmicks that plague the genre, and even though countless other bands would beat their formula to death, Panopticon still stands head and shoulders above other albums of its kind. – Channing Freeman
Post-Nothing should make us all feel guilty. Slumped on our sofas, feeling our asses slowly grow as we shovel mountains of food down our throats, refreshing facebook once every other minute, proudly letting the world know that we are doing exactly that by sharing a status along the lines of ‘just ate an entire family bucket lol’, our youths are fast passing us by. Japandroids are out there French kissing French girls, moseying on over to bikini island for a bit of TLC, and not giving a fuck about the rain in Vancouver. The furious, fuzzy fuck-it anthems on Post-Nothing are a timely wake-up call to the iGeneration of today that you only get one shot at being young so don’t let it go to waste by spending all your time learning how to triforce or building shallow reputations on music webzines. These two guys, they don’t have a plan, they don’t know if they’ll find their way back home, and sure they may be scared (aren’t we all?), but is that gonna stop them having the time of their lives? Is it fuck. Now hop to, and do something crazy this summer. – Matt Wolfe
One of the defining moments of my decade was the time I saw Yndi Halda play live in a pub in my hometown, some time in 2004. The place had a capacity of about 75 people and it wasn’t even full, and yet it was the perfect setting to experience the band’s own brand of panoramic, deafeningly loud post-rock. On the surface the accusations of plagiarism are easy to make, but they miss the point; nothing else in the whole genre – not “Your Hand in Mine”, not “Untitled 4” – is quite as movingly intimate as “A Song for Starlit Beaches” or “Dash and Blast” are. Being able to see the whites of the eyeballs of the people playing this music was just a good fit, because you could pick out the freckles and play join the dots on the faces of these songs if you wanted to. These are songs that seem to breathe softly on your neck, even as they’re soaring into places louder and more strasopheric than you could ever dream of. – Nick Butler
With Young Machetes, The Blood Brothers turned their spastic hardcore into something a bit more tuneful, although I’d still be hesitant to call it accessible. It’s less annoying, however, which is a blessing considering some of the tracks on their former albums. There are still the trademark parts that are too irritating to be catchy (contained within almost every song under three minutes in length), but they are more endearing on Young Machetes because they’re surrounded by maturity and excellent songwriting as well as Johnny Whitney’s and Jordan Blilie’s fantastic lyrics (“and the sun’s like a painting of your whole life/you scratch at the canvas but you can’t get inside”). “Laser Life” sounds like it could have been on Crimes, but there’s something there that The Blood Brothers didn’t have when they recorded that album. Maybe it’s the fact that Whitney’s distinctive singing voice actually sounds great as opposed to unbearable. Despite fifteen songs and a fifty minute runtime, Young Machetes blazes by with energy and bravado without devolving into caustic annoyance like their other albums. It might be too weird to be called a punk classic, but it’s certainly a watermark for the more “out-there” brand of post-hardcore, and songs like “Giant Swan,” “Camouflage, Camouflage,” and “Lift the Veil, Kiss the Tank” are too good to be ignored. Oh, and check out “Street Wars/Exotic Foxholes” for proof that these guys were more than simply punks mixing hardcore with Casio keyboards – they were visionaries. – Channing Freeman
The influence over the hardcore genre of City of Caterpillar and particularly this self-titled LP will probably always overshadow their actual music. But where countless screamo/post-rock hybrids have emerged in its wake, few have equalled City of Caterpillar in craft, intensity and ingenuity. As a whole piece, City of Caterpillar is constantly offering surprises with twisting, dynamic structures that go far beyond the typical extended crescendos of many of their peers. The best moments of the record are scattered throughout its seven tracks and they can manifest in anything from bursts of intensity that last a few seconds (the opening tom rolls of “Fucking Hero”) to long vamps on single ideas (the end of “And You’re Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven”). City of Caterpillar’s long pieces were always firmly-rooted in a punk rock aesthetic and the DIY tradition, and yet their pieces were always harmonically complex and beautifully structured. Their instrumentation was skilful without being showy and their instrumental interplay was masterful so that each climactic moment hit as hard as it possibly could.
But despite all of this, City of Caterpillar is not a perfect record, and one can only be disappointed at the potential on display here that was abandoned after the group’s premature break-up. This rough-around-the-edges piece will always remain as the single most complete statement of City of Caterpillar’s vision and one of the very few records on this list that can lay claim to the phrase “started it all”. – Andrew Hartwig
Maybe it’s the fact that it sounds so stumbled upon; that it’s these chords, these piano melodies strung together by a pretty little thread in a way that makes it more than just chords and piano melodies. Copia tends to be mysterious that way. It’s just beautifully held together by this one sound; horn synths, pianos, and, in one soaring homage to the grandiose, fireworks come together in a dreamy haze that conjures more picaresque impressions than a post rock reviewer can invent (and believe me, I’ve tried). This is Matther Cooper’s most confident, ambitious work under the “Eluvium” moniker and it’s a journey, done with nothing but keys and an unyielding tranquility. Look at that cover and rightfully think of enjoying a September sunset alone in a field. I can think of no better metaphor for the warmth that is Copia. – Adam Downer
On the surface, Microcastle couldn’t be further removed from its predecessor, Cryptograms. Where Deerhunter were once content to blend their shoegaze roots into industrial forms of psych-rock and textured bedroom pop (the band appeared as something of a misfit amongst their baroque contemporaries, who attempted to date their sentiments in a past that Deerhunter were scrambling to redefine in present tense), Microcastle absorbs its influences right into its framework, shoehorning pink distortion Kevin Shields would wince at over drum patterns that wouldn’t look out of place on a Strokes record. From a commercial standpoint, Deerhunter’s moment of [production] clarity highlights the album’s cool air of nonchalance and Bradford Cox’ disaffected vocal work, framed as they are by the album’s warm guitar tones, creating an atmosphere that is at once far more inviting than anything Deerhunter have put their name on thus far while detailing complete alienation.
Thematically, Microcastle is still very much directed by the loss of identity that propelled the soundscapes on Cryptograms, detailing more eloquently that album’s sense of displacement and disillusionment through a structure that is focused and clear. I speculate that the popularity gained from Cryptograms allowed for certain members’ feelings of alienation to be laid to rest, and Microcastle is Deerhunter’s way of remembering their roots, defining the very decade that created it. A decade that bred a certain type of disenfranchised youth, one not rebellious or contemptuous but rather just really, very bored, the kids that survived 9/11, swine flu and mad cow disease only to come out of the decade feeling more directionless and alone than before. For those kids, Microcastle is a defining statement of an age where nothing happened as told by a guy that can legitimately say he was there, having confidently progressed beyond it. – Lewis P.
Soviet Kitsch wasn’t as immediately enjoyable as Begin to Hope and especially Far, yet it’s the definitive Regina Spektor album. There isn’t anything particularly challenging about it, the pop flair that dominates recent albums is simply utilized differently. It’s definitely still there, but Soviet Kitsch seems more focused on being a transition between Spektor’s anti-folk past and her pop-oriented work. “Chemo Limo” exemplifies the former with its unconventional structuring and vocal quirks, while the grandiose, upbeat nature of “Us” provides a captivating foil. “Us” is particularly noteworthy; it’s not only the catchiest song Regina has ever written, but more importantly its innocent, light-hearted themes (musically and perhaps lyrically) best sums up her career (particularly as of late). Though Soviet Kitsch has its darker moments (“Chemo Limo”, “Ode to Divorce”, “Somedays”), these themes ultimately permeate through the entirety of the record. And goddamn, it’s contagious. – Mike Stagno
Yo La Tengo constantly progressed throughout the 90s, evolving from an indie rock collective lost in a shuffle of many to one of the more interesting bands of their era, prone to craft distortion-laden and intricate epics instead of anything that could appeal to a larger audience, and without ever getting shoehorned into genres like shoegaze or dream pop. But, then again, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out isn’t like those 90’s albums. This is Yo La Tengo at their simplest, ushering in a new millennium by losing the noise and spontaneity in lieu of cleanness and serenity. Songs like “The Crying of Lot G” (nice Pynchon ref) and “You Can Have it All” are subdued and relaxing, inviting the listener to curl into their nooks and crannies, to relax and let this record drift past over like a hazy, bluish-colored fog. Others are more melancholic, like “Someday” and the 17-minute “Night Falls on Hoboken”, which recalls slowcore giants like Codeine and Bedhead. These songs use the band’s new-found demure nature to accent the hint of sadness that has always ran through Yo La Tengo’s veins, and this despondent, but not hopeless, feel is why it’s near impossible to not put this on night after night, like a big, fluffy, blue-colored comforter. It’s that intimate and comforting.
Plus, “You Can Have It All” is probably the best song of the decade. Just sayin’. – Cam
Animal Collective have had a meteoric rise, most notably from their album Feels. Building from the steam Feels produced, member Noah Lennox (stage name Panda Bear), came out with undoubtedly his best solo album to date, Person Pitch. Person Pitch is constructed around samples, loops, and reverb vocals which makes Lennox’s voice dreamy, and utterly pleasant. While over twelve minutes in length, “Bros” never wilts in the slightest, in what may be one of the longest singles ever. Through the use of multiple guitars, maracas, tambourines, animal noises, and countless other effects, Person Pitch is a haven for odds and ends that work well when configured correctly. Simply put, imagine a 10-layer cake, with every layer different, and tasting more delicious than the last. Yeah, that’s Person Pitch. – Ryan Flatley
Unlike the clashing quiet/loud dynamics and apocalyptic visions presented by label mates Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think’s take on Post-Rock is a more subdued amalgam of folk and jazz. The Canadian octet’s third album, You, You’re a History in Rust, is a monument to the here and now, to every little insignificant second that silently ticks away without notice. Be it the triumphant roar of “The Universe” or the youthful innocence of “A Tender History in Rust”, You, You’re a History in Rust‘s relaxed, countryside vibe is just like mom’s apple pie, a delicious slice of nostalgia that warms the body and soul with each bite. It’s hard not to get lost in it all when given the chance. – Adam Thomas
If one thing managed to completely change the music world in the past decade, it was the incredible evolution of music recording and editing technology. The new technology has led to all kinds of new sonic experiments, from Animal Collective’s neo-Beach Boys freak pop experiments to Burial’s dark, atmospheric dubstep masterpieces. But perhaps one of the greatest results of these new forms of technology is the effect on the electronica world. Kashiwa Daisuke’s Program Music I demonstrates how technology can be used in a way to make beautiful melodies more beautiful and to make a story without words. The nearly thirty-six-minute “Stella” is an agonizingly beautiful love story that ends in glorious triumph, slowly devolving into minimalist piano that creates the perfect cinematic ending for a sequel. The other track on the album (yes, there are only two), “Write Once, Run Melos,” is a completely different beast, a pinnacle achievement in glitchy, chopped up beats, piano, and strings. Dedicate an hour of your day to Program Music I and revel in the combination of classical beauty and postmodern ambition. – Tyler Fisher
Human civilization just survived and adapted throughout another one thousand years, overcoming natural disasters, global wars, and worldwide epidemics, but Isaac Brock wants to remind you all that you’re still all going to die regardless, so there’s not much point in doing anything ever and the human race may as well just call it a day now. Or at least that may be what a shallow interpretation of The Moon & Antarctica might elicit. But dredging through the muddy, messy waters of Modest Mouse’s third full-length brings one closer to a more optimistic interpretation of life. A journey that involves roaming through eccentric post-punk quirks, exhilarating lo-fi epics, volatile, soul-bearing instrumentation and some absolutely unforgettable lyrics eventually ends up becoming wholly uplifting. When Brock throws the lyrical dagger “If you could be anything you want I bet you’d be disappointed, am I right?”, he makes you determined to prove him wrong. It may only be ten out of a thousand years later, but his message, and his album, is still as sharp as ever. – Matt Wolfe
Some of the most embarrassing moments in life are when you assume you understand something, only to find its meaning is completely different. Welcome to the Coheed and Cambria’s music/comic book saga. Back from 2002 when Second Stage Turbine Blade came out, it appeared to have no outlying storyline cliffhanger, but no, Coheed and Cambria had an entire novel enveloping the album. Fast forward to today where Coheed and Cambria have extended their original idea, however appearing more forced than what the simple pop-punk/alternative album Second Stage Turbine Blade alluded to. The playful single “Devil In Jersey City” ignited a following, all of whom screaming in hopes to match Claudio Sanchez’s unique, high-pitched vocals. Tracks like “Delirium Trigger” and “Time Consumer” are poignant examples of the intensity and passion stemming Second Stage Turbine Blade, yet only a sliver of the entire experience; an experience that is simply glorious. – Ryan Flatley
Raekwon’s second magnum opus is a rousing reaffirmation of Wu-Tang dominance over the rap game, seen through the crusty, smoke-stained windows of the Wu’s Staten Island home. RZA’s production is his best work in years, the various guest spots all seem placed to perfection, speaking more to their lyrical abilities and personalities than any “oh, hey, look who we got to guest on this track” bullshit, and that’s not even mentioning Raekwon’s brilliant conductorship. Every spot here means something, and, more than that, every spot here frames and support the leader, the rapper whose flow and style define this album and make it a new rap classic. Raekwon is clearly at the top of his game here, delivering a conceptual story that wallows in the dirt and grime of New York and comes out reinvigorated in the end. It’s a record that harkens back to the group’s heyday but also comes out decidedly fresh, the complex rhymes and vintage beats a welcome respite in the face of mainstream faux-gangsta rap. The Wu are far from dead – indeed, this might be the strongest they’ve been all decade. – Rudy Klapper
Thanks to five very different albums released over the past decade, the legacy of The Mars Volta is a muddled affair. Once heralded as geniuses for expanding punk’s boundaries to include progressive, classic rock, fusion, and world music traditions, The Mars Volta slowly attracted skepticism about their multi-minute ambient passages (Frances the Mute), overt weirdness (The Bedlam in Goliath), self-aware attempts at normalcy (Octahedron), or bloated concepts (all albums). Somewhere along the path, The Mars Volta’s boundless ambition for blending disparate genres and influences morphed from being a badge to a scar. The exact moment that this transformation sparked into existence was probably somewhere in the 90+ minutes of Frances the Mute.
Frances the Mute is the album in which the band is most in their element; it’s the album in which they most passionately and effectively dissolve boundaries. These boundaries can be sonic, theoretical, and even physical. Frances the Mute is an impenetrable weave of genres and influences that knows no taboo (think of the fluttery Chick Corea flute in the introduction of “Cassandra Gemini” or any of the ambient passages). It’s also an album that embraces concepts that antagonize theoretical norms in songwriting (its story is an overwrought post-modern puzzle about an HIV-positive prostitute that is meant to be unsolvable) and Western music tradition (the Locrian tonal center of “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus”). Physically, the album doesn’t even fit on a CD-R and the album’s best track “Frances the Mute” had to be released as a CD single to accommodate for this limitation. On Frances the Mute, boundaries aren’t ignored or abandoned as much as they are vaporized, which makes the album challenging and bloated, but singular and original. Frances the Mute was definitely the point where fans and critics were put off, lost, and annoyed, but it’s also their finest accomplishment. – Nick Greer
The one single album and artist more blighted by comparison than any other on this list, The Tallest Man on Earth (aka Kristian Matsson) seems to react to the endless stream of Bob Dylan references in his reviews with a shrug. Perhaps he just accepts it as the compliment it surely is; it’s rare that a songwriter appears with the talent to really justify that comparison, and Matsson is perhaps the most confident and assured writer to earn it since Conor Oberst. Quite aside from the quality of his lyrics, though, Matsson brings his considerable talent as a guitar player and a melodicist to the table – barely a song goes by on Shallow Graves with an unexpected melodic twist lodging itself in your brain. You’ll come for the words, and you’ll stay for the Nick Drake-esque fingerpicking, but once you’ve left, I dare you not to be humming “I Won’t Be Found” or “Honey, Won’t You Let Me In” to yourself in a month’s time. Matsson is simply the most well-rounded singer-songwriter to emerge in the past five years. – Nick Butler
I challenge you to find a person of my age (early 20’s) that doesn’t know the words to the chorus of “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)”. You can’t. It’s fucking impossible. For as much crap that pop-punk, emo, mall-punk, whatever the hell you call it got during the last decade, it owned the MP3 players of teenagers worldwide; and there is no better example of it than Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends. Every single lyric was tailor made for the Myspace generation, perfectly quotable for any situation a sixteen year old kid might find himself in. So much so, that when I wistfully reminisce about my teenage experience, a Taking Back Sunday song is always playing in the background. Always. – Adam Thomas
For as many ‘d0cuments’ that Pg. 99 released, there is a cryptic unknown surrounding their brief time as a band. Their underground status remains that way, in large part by their scene and record label, however their legacy grows as listeners stumble upon their most publicized release, d0cument #8. Muddled and yet often elegant, d0cument #8 is one of the greatest screamo/punk rock albums to date largely in part to its consistency and balance. “Your Face Is A Rape Scene” and “The Hollowed Out Chest Of A Dead Horse” show through their intensity that chaotic music can sound awfully beautiful and downright inspiring. As the decade turns, another slew of listeners will find Pg. 99’s d0cument #8, and their place in screamo/punk rock world will continue as long as people will still talk about it, and they will. – Ryan Flatley
I am convinced that a rain cloud is constantly perched over Tim Kasher’s head, blocking out every happy ray of sunshine, leaving him trapped in a perpetual darkness where love only leads to pain and hope only leads to crippling disappointment. Or at least I am convinced that that’s what he wants me to believe, and it’s hard not to feel that way after listening to Domestica (or any Cursive album for that matter). After going through a bitter divorce in 2000, Kasher channeled his frustrations into what would become Domestica, a profile of the decline and collapse of a semi-fictional couple’s love. Kasher’s wounded vocals crack under the weight of his own emotional agony. Complimenting his vocal catharsis, the intertwining dissonance of Kasher’s guitar work bleeds with a resounding urgency; the modern day trumpet blasts at Jericho, collapsing the walls of a once sturdy love. Cursive’s Domestica is a reminder that behind every great album is a relationship gone horribly, horribly wrong. – Adam Thomas
Easily the greatest and most unexpected comeback of the decade. Quite aside from the quality and invention of the songwriting, what makes Third so remarkable is its steadfast, bloody-minded refusal to ever play it safe. This could have sounded exactly like their first two albums and, in a world where even Goldfrapp and Morcheeba have given up copying them, that would have been okay, but they had the guts to refuse. The reference points here – Silver Apples, United States of America, Suicide, Red Krayola, Can – might be terminally hip on paper, but very few bands have achieved any sort of real success by exploiting their influence, and for Portishead to even attempt it was arrogant in the extreme. Or at least, it would have been, if it didn’t come off so brilliantly; Dummy was already canonized 10 years before this was released, but frankly this is the better album. “Sour Times” and “Glory Box” might be excellent but they don’t pummel you into submission like “Machine Gun” and “Silent” and “We Carry On”. For an act so closely associated with dinner-party background music to reinvent themselves as an act you simply cannot ignore, 14 years after their so-called peak, is little short of miraculous. – Nick Butler
The great thing about Mew is that you can approach their music in a variety of ways and come away with something new every time. This versatility is particularly true for Frengers; though predominately atmospheric, the album sees Mew dabble with a variety of sounds. “156” showcases the band’s propensity for huge pop hooks, while “Am I Wry? No” features heavier rock guitar and the nine-minute “Comforting Sounds” is a mostly subdued, yet sprawling piece that builds and builds and builds until reaching its explosive crescendo. More than anything, Frengers is a remarkably refreshing album that makes for a wonderful listen. With three excellent releases, the past decade has been very kind to Mew, and Frengers is zenith of their success in virtually every regard. – Mike Stagno
As with most post-rock bands, Explosions in the Sky lack any vocal accompaniment and The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place doesn’t need any. The song titles speak for themselves, each song appropriately named to give a pretense behind such a powerful record. Armed with three guitarist (one who plays bass occasionally) and a drummer, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place never once overwhelms with layering, structure, or climaxes as each track gently moving between the next. “The Only Moment We Were Alone” and “Your Hand In Mine” define the album, as the first is noted for its remarkably intense ending, while “Your Hand In Mine” is one of the most gorgeous tracks ever written without a single word spoken. In all, the album title proves its point; the Earth is not a cold dead place. Instead it is filled with millions of joyous, emotionally charged moments, as demonstrated by Explosions in the Sky. – Ryan Flatley
When Kidcrash’s Jokes dropped in late Summer 2007, I completely changed the way I approached emotional hardcore and maybe music in general. The stellar hardcore releases of the early decade like Circle Takes the Square’s As the Roots Undo succeeded because they were melodramatic, grandiose, and overwrought. They created little violent worlds where every minute emotion was magnified and contorted into maudlin catharsis. Kidcrash’s Jokes formed a parallel universe where songs don’t go through rollercoasters with blatant emotional and musical cues, but instead opt for taut, through-composed strings of neverending passages, each more compelling and gripping than the last. Each instrument, particularly the virtuostic and relentless drums, weaves a rich contrapuntal web sequenced from moment to moment that is undoubtedly cathartic without falling trap to the pleading, verbose extrema that have hurt the genre in the second half of the decade. – Nick Greer