The Decade List — Looking Backwards

November 17, 2009

It’s the end of the world decade as we know it.

The decade is nearly over, and I’m forced (internally, of course) to analyze, contextualize, and dissect the last ten years in music. The 21st century has been a landmark time in my life—my introduction to music. Of course, the first half of my life had a background soundtrack as well, but it wasn’t until a certain 2004 release did I begin to realize that it was time for me to walk to the beat of the music, and not the other way around.

It’s bizarre to see how much my taste and listening habits have changed over the course of my immersion into the art. Napster downloads and carpool mix-tapes characterized the beginning of my musical indulgence, but now I literally lock myself in a room alone for hours, simply watching an album play down my iTunes window. It’s not even considered borderline obsession anymore, but it’s nice that society doesn’t frown upon a music geek the same way it would if I were spending my productive time fooling around with plastic Warcraft figures.

Considering I got into music relatively late, I’ve spent the last six years catching up. I’ve torn through the “greats,” of the 90’s, 80’s, 70’s, and 60’s, making sure I know every ironic line Morrissey has sung, and every line David Byrne snorted.
Every chord change the Pixies make, each time Bowie changed his hairstyle, and every time Elliot Smith hinted at his poetic suicide. But without hesitation, I can say that the last ten years in music have meant more to me than anything else.

If you’re a fan of electronic music, you’d have to agree with me. Technology = electronic music, and as we’ve gotten more and more sophisticated with computers, the music has mirrored this advancement. In the 2000s, we saw electronic music fuse with hip-hop, rock, pop and the mainstream-ization of house music. The most sought after live events (Daft Punk, Radiohead) use electronic elements as the backbone of their music, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a song sitting in the top legions of the Billboard charts that didn’t have at least a synth leaping across its chorus.

Not everyone will agree with this list—but for me, these are the albums that defined the decade in music. Without further ado, I present my top eleven (couldn’t do just ten) albums of the 21st Century (so far). For each album, I’ve included a key track available for download.

11) Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
This wasn’t the first time the robots lit up dance floors (that would be their first release Homework, with such jams as “Da Funk”) but for me, this was my discovery of the works of the two French DJs. The first half is cut with pop-friendly singles like “Aerodynamic,” “Harder Better Faster Stronger” and “One More Time,” and the second side creeps up on you with more subtle tunes like “Face to Face” and “Voyager.” Regardless of your preference, there’s something for everyone here. No other album released nine years ago still has the same relevance that this has today—a true testament to the pop perfection of Discovery.

Key track: “Digital Love”

10) The National – Boxer (2007)
Just three years old, the fourth album from the National already feels timeless. Matt Beringer’s soothing croon makes us feel like we’re sitting alone in a dark and damp bar late at night, but there’s something incredibly moving about this collection of songs that cures any sense of lonesomeness. Each song, from the opening chords of lead-track “Fake Empire” to the epic “Start a War” has a beautiful emptiness quality that is filled by your own emotional response to the songs. It’s dark and gloomy, yet simultaneously uplifting. You leave Boxer feeling at ease and content with all of your problems—finally.

Key track: “Fake Empire”

9) Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
Every music critic has exhausted the story behind this album—a heartbroken Justin Vernon travels to the woods of Wisconsin seeking isolation and returns with this album. It’s unimportant really—listening to this batch of acoustic wonders, I could’ve guessed as much. Vernon’s voice is the real instrument here—he reaches high notes Chris Martin could only dream about, and does so with incredible ease. There was no album that evokes as much emotion as For Emma does that was released this decade. Thoreau went into the woods and came back with his masterpiece, Walden. Justin Vernon came back with his—this.

Key track: “Skinny Love”

8: Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
Egomaniac Kanye West has made himself hard to love these days, but before his epic breakdowns at award shows and overly-glitzy production, he released two incredible hip-hop albums. College Dropout’s minimalist beats had some of West’s best verses, but his 2005 follow-up encompasses everything great about him. Turning Curtis Mayfield’s classic tune into his own on “Touch the Sky” and remixing the Bond theme for “Diamonds are Forever,” he showcases his creative genius. There’s not a dud on this 20 song masterpiece, though glad to see he’s since done away with the useless skits.

Key track: “Gone (ft.Consequence & Cam’ron)”

7) The Field – From Here We Go Sublime (2007)
Minimalist electronic music hit a genre highpoint with The Field’s debut album, From Here We Go Sublime. It’s endlessly repetitive, looping the same beats for minutes on end, but the result puts you in an inescapable trance. A dangerous album to drive to, your mind reaches new levels of thought and daydream during, and after, the conclusion of this record. He made this with only his laptop and a vision, but the sound is huge and otherworldly, a soundtrack to my most philosophical and transcendental moments.

Key track: “A Paw in My Face”

6) Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (2005)
The mid-decade Brit-rock invasion was led by an unusual group of musicians. Led by an openly gay Kele Okereke, Bloc Party tore apart the emerging hipster crowd with lead singles “Banquet” and “Helicopter,” which still sound as fresh as they did five years ago. Thousands of bands tried to copy Bloc Party’s sound (here’s looking at your Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park– though even they themselves could never recreate it completely), but all fell prey to the fact that there was no surpassing this group of lanky and awkward Brits. Powerful and thought provoking, light-hearted and witty, Silent Alarm opened the door for electronic music and rock to fuse without sacrificing the integrity of either genre.

Key track: “So Here We Are”

5) Deadmau5 – Random Album Title (2008)
Well, this really came out of nowhere. First introduced to Deadmau5 (pronounced dead-mouse) through his EPIC remix of “The Longest Road” by Morgan Page, I had no idea this man was capable of topping himself there. I have never been more wrong. Random Album Title is the culmination of the decade’s foray into electronic music. It fuses house, electro, minimalism, dubstep and arguably any other tag you want to throw out there. Bass is this man’s middle name, and he crushes eardrums and hearts alike with such gems as “Slip,” “Brazil,” “I Remember” – I’ll stop naming tracks because there isn’t one on here that’s not worth it’s own paragraph. The most original and unique sounding electronic album this decade (ever?), Random Album Title is the answer to any naysayer who says they can’t understand the appeal of lyric-less music. Immense.

Key track: “Slip”

4) Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it In People (2002)
The rotating cast of characters in Broken Social Scene, the Canadian band at the heart of the Arts & Crafts label, means a constant dose of new energy and new sounds. Throughout YFIIP, the band’s second and best album, the songs ring with a sense of creative unity, but at the same time, you can often hear the disagreement amongst instruments. But this lack of togetherness in the traditional sense is what gives the album its unique charm. Part shoe-gaze, part jam-band and part ethereal-rock, You Forgot it in People is every indie-kid’s golden egg. Without it, we wouldn’t know how to express our emotions with the sincerity and emo-ness that defines us. This album did more to soundtrack my life—it helped teach me how to feel. Beat that, Coldplay.

Key track: “Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl”

3) LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2006)
The brainchild of multi-talented musician and overall hipster-god James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver is what happens when a brilliant musician is given time, money, and artistic freedom. Released on his own label, Sound of Silver fuses wavy electronic elements with rock anthems to create an intimate, personal and instantly lovable sound. The mid-album combo of “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” just might be the most killer back-to-back track listing in all of music. Murphy finishes the album by stripping away all the other elements that he hid behind before; on “New York, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down,” it’s only his voice leading a soft piano far behind him. At his most vulnerable state, we finally see the man behind the mask, the hero behind Sound of Silver—and after this rollercoaster of an album is done, we take a deep breath and tip our hat to the man who just gave us a lifetime of music in only fifty-six minutes.

Key track: “All My Friends”

2) Radiohead – Kid A (2001)
My complete indulgence—nay—mania—nay—obsession with all things Radiohead came into full swing about three years ago. After years of “not getting them,” I spent one solitary night alone with headphones on listening to OK Computer, and it was like getting hit in the face by a brick wall. I soon moved on to their following album, the 2001 electronic-fused Kid A. Whoaaaa. That was probably my first reaction upon hearing the opening chambers of “Everything in its Right Place.” Thom Yorke’s signature, melodic yelp echoes behind a synthesizer that in no way, shape, or form can be from this planet. On “The National Anthem,” a thundering bass-line propels the song again into outer space, and only further disconnects from Earth at the orchestral breakdown. How has no one thought of those four simple chords before! This is an album made for humans by creatures that have seen the light from somewhere far beyond. You will never hear an album described as sounding like Kid A because that’s simply not possible. Trying to describe this album is like trying to describe sex to a nun; sure, I can explain to you what it feels like, but until you experience it for yourself, you’ll never quite understand the hype. If you happen to be a nun (i.e., have not heard this album), I urge you, I beg of you, I’m on my knees praying for you—break your commitment. Listen to Kid A.

Key track: “How to Disappear Completely”

1) Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
No, this is not my number one album of the last ten years because it’s the album that got me into music. No, I don’t uncontrollably break a smile every time the violin opens on “Neighborhood #1.” No, I haven’t written an entire essay on why this is my favorite album of all time for my own personal use and have never shown it to anyone. No, I’m not actually convinced that if I got one wish it would be for me to play the two piano keys that jumpstart “Rebellion” with the band live in concert. I wouldn’t say that this album transcends every other rock record made this decade because no other album has even come close to matching the intensity, the passion, the fire, the wit, the humor, the laugh, the tears, the sadness, the vivacity. No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s not like “Neighborhood #3” has the most spine-chilling and bone-shattering bass-line this side of the year 2000. No, the tribal chanting, earth-shattering and emotionally derailing crescendo on “Wake Up” doesn’t make me want to jump up and celebrate life and love and happiness and eternal ecstasy. I definitely wouldn’t say this album is completely, utterly, entirely, unquestionably and indisputably perfect. No, I don’t have chills writing this right now. No, Funeral has never brought me to tears, unable to decipher just why I’m crying

Oh wait—I mean yes. This is the album of our generation.

Key track: “Rebellion (Lies)”



  1. Really? Funeral the album of the decade? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album but I doubt it’s the album of the generation let alone decade.

  2. hahaha how did i know funeral would be number 1

  3. nice. love the entire list. ps did you see this shiet?

  4. thanks
    very good..

  5. […] posted my list of my top 11 albums of the decade, and now we have arrived at that more specific indicator at greatness– the songs. Most […]

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