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Best of the Aughts: Albums

Radiohead is tied with Missy Elliott and Erykah Badu for the artist with the most albums on our list.

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

Blame it on Shawn Fanning, the tanking economy, American Idol's shaping of the pop market, or the way the mainstreaming of "indie" music resulted in increasingly insular, niche-oriented consumers: The biggest talking points about albums in the 2000s is the precipitous decline in sales and how record labels' hemorrhaging profits impacted the way we interact with music. Perhaps the trend was part of a greater cycle, and the current singles-driven market will shift in favor of LPs after a few years. Given what a phenomenal decade the aughts were for singles, plus the advent of iTunes and file-sharing options, it's understandable that consumers gravitated toward individual tracks. But the quality of the proper studio albums released over the last 10 years was anathema to the drastic plummet in sales: Limited attention spans or otherwise, audiences short-changed some exemplary music.

Like many of the decade's finest films, the best albums of the decade shared a preoccupation with subverting conventions of narrative, plumbing the depths of society's collective memory, blurring the lines between the personal and the political, and exploring the mechanics of how we construct personal identity. From the shameless escapism of the first 20-odd months of the decade, to post-9/11 disaffect and alienation, and then to a tempered, guarded sense of optimism, the best work of artists like OutKast, TV on the Radio, M.I.A., the White Stripes, Madonna, and Animal Collective served as a cultural barometer, reflecting the broader zeitgeist and the trends that informed collective beliefs and perceptions. Put more succinctly, the best albums of the decade did exactly what pop art is supposed to do. That something vital to pop discourse might be lost if full-length albums disappear should give pause as we dive headfirst into the 21st century's gangly, awkward teenage years. Jonathan Keefe

[Editor's Note: Head on over to The House Next Door to see # 101 – 250.]

Bachelor No. 2

100. Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2. Initially released through her website after she was dropped by Interscope, Aimee Mann's finest hour both heralds the dawn of the music industry after new media even as she keeps her sound classic. Jon Brion's production richly fleshes out the Bacharach-tinged melodies (and Bacharach's occasional collaborator Elvis Costello co-wrote "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist"), but the real star here is Mann's witty, caustic lyrics. The album opens with Mann coolly asking a would-be suitor what his return policy is ("When you fuck it up later, do I get my money back?"), perfectly coupling Mann's gorgeous, unforgettable melodies with her knack for a charming cynicism. Jimmy Newlin

Album99. Sinéad O'Connor, Faith & Courage. Christianity got a bad rap this past decade, and with the far right co-opting Jesus's message and using it as an oppressive tool to control women, gays, blacks, Latinos, and science, it certainly earned its reputation. So it's easy to forget that, in gentler, wiser hands, religion can be a tolerant and empowering device. Ten years ago, Sinéad O'Connor did just that with Faith & Courage, challenging the patriarchal pillars of her faith and proving that it's possible to be spiritual and optimistic and still have a healthy amount of rage. Sal Cinquemani

Lord Willin'98. Clipse, Lord Willin'. Kanye West may have definitively proved that backpack and gangsta rap can converge on a shared mainstream plane, but Clipse had been working on subverting the ties between those two since their first album, giving their lyrics an almost geeky focus on the specific commerce of drug dealing. Seasoned with just the right amount of guest appearances and snarky brio, these songs are clever and expressive while still resolutely single-minded. Production by the Neptunes, who honed their craft with exquisitely wafer-thin stagger-step beats, didn't hurt. Jesse Cataldo

Two Suns97. Bat for Lashes, Two Suns. Natasha Khan is unabashedly melodramatic and her music is at turns spacey and cavernous, but you never get the sense that you're dealing with a flake. The Pakistan-born beauty's sensuality tethered her sophomore effort, Two Suns, to something earthly and tangible. It helps that both the album is slightly more grounded than 2007's Fur and Gold and that, by the end of the decade, pop music was inching closer to the fringe (the tribal "Two Planets" would make Kanye a fan if he isn't already). PJ Harvey and Kate Bush are obvious points of reference, but Khan etched out a heady, haunting spot in the pantheon of female singer-songwriters that's truly all her own. SC

Gorillaz96. Gorillaz, Gorillaz. As Gorillaz, Blur's Damon Albarn hides behind characters invented by Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, and in a way, you could say the music itself is a living, breathing comic book. Albarn's influences span garage, pop, and hip-hop (rap interludes have found their way into the most celebrated singles, from "Clint Eastwood" to "Feel Good Inc.), and while the overall mood is downtrodden, it's never sullen like Blur; like a cyberpunk movie, it's futuristic and wistful all at once. That's also thanks to the tight production work. A harmonica, a whistle, and a drum loop is all it takes to make even a low-key head-bopper like "Tomorrow Comes Today" ecstatic. Paul Schrodt

Silent Shout95. The Knife, Silent Shout. Putting a decidedly modern spin on the concept of "danse macabre," Swedish duo the Knife pushed well beyond the set boundaries of dance music on their chilling sophomore album, Silent Shout. While much of the decade's dance music leaned on its synthetic origins as a means to create an icy, detached remove, Silent Shout rejects that impersonal approach. Instead, the album teems with palpable menace, tapping into the violence found in the disconnection between society's crippling dependence on technology and deep human emotions of fear, rage, and regret. JK

Felt Mountain94. Goldfrapp, Felt Mountain. Released in 2000, Goldfrapp's debut was either a signpost of trip-hop's impending second wave or the last masterpiece to come out of a movement that began a decade earlier. Sadly, it seems it was closer to the latter, signaling the end of the genre's creative peak. But oh what a lofty peak Felt Mountain was. Namesake Alison Goldfrapp's voice is at turns evocative of Shirley Bassey, Portishead's Beth Gibbons, and any number of French-pop chanteuses from the '60s, while Will Gregory's lush, orchestral arrangements swing effortlessly between vaudeville and something from Rosemary's Baby. SC

The Warning93. Hot Chip, The Warning. People tend to remember this album for its hits: the stone-cold Party Jam "Over and Over" and "(Just Like We) Breakdown" and its monumental DFA remix. But the album tracks are all aces too, representing the band's most successful attempt to reconcile its opposing poles: weepy, white-boy soul and dorky prankster disco. Just listen to the title track, a cooing lullaby flush with skittering subliminal percussion and twinkling ascending synths and a lyric that endears and takes the piss in equal measure. Sly, wry, and persuasive, it sneaks up on you slowly before smacking you upside the head with a perfectly nursery-sized synth rush. One punch and you're floored. Dave Hughes

St. Elsewhere92. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere. Cee-Lo squeals on the opening track of St. Elsewhere as if he were a jack unleashed from his box, courtesy of the gorgeously propulsive force of Danger Mouse's winding backbeats. The funkiest and most spontaneous of pop records, about hot topics as wide-ranging as suicide and receiving good head, Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere libidinously slaps Cee-Lo's bizarrely infectious and soulful vocals atop Danger Mouse's cool experiments in sound to create a marriage of styles that isn't perfect so much as perfectly fun. Ed Gonzalez

Chutes Too Narrow91. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow. The Shins's debut, Oh, Inverted World, was a pleasant enough set of anti-rock songs that evoked 1970s AM radio, but despite what Zach Braff's Garden State claimed, it was far too mellow to really change any lives. Follow-up Chutes Too Narrow, on the other hand, explodes with twee exuberance: Opener "Kissing the Lipless" starts with a Neutral Milk Hotel punk-folk strum before moving toward a shrieked, psychedelic chorus. Chutes's songs are delightful, but they're also jagged, making for one of the most interesting about-face sophomore records in recent memory. JN

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