The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts
The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

90

Erykah Badu, Worldwide Underground

Upon the release of Santogold’s debut album, Touré anointed her America’s first “post-black” artist. Erykah Badu hews closer to the soul of what she proudly calls “my people,” but no recent singer has more defiantly and fascinatingly refused racial or aesthetic categorization. Worldwide Underground is a rapturous riff on the music that inspires it, full of flabbergasting digressions that deepen upon further listens, like the 11-freaking-minute-long “I Want You,” a pulsating pant akin to an extended orgasm every bit as hot as Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.” Schrodt

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

89

Radiohead, In Rainbows

When it was released (pay what you want OMGZ!!), a lot of commentary on this record focused on how it was Radiohead’s most accessible work in years, which tells you a lot about how far the band has managed to move the goalposts of accessibility. After a decade’s worth of provocations and obscurantist (if also frequently genius) experimentation, even an album bookended with the flanged, ultimately compromising minimalism of “15 Step” and the shuddering, forbidding “Videotape” seemed like inviting in comparison. Especially as it included the band’s most generous ballad since The Bends in “Nude.” It wasn’t full of their biggest ideas, but small can be beautiful too. Hughes

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

88

M. Ward, Transfiguration of Vincent

Transfiguration of Vincent is inveterate recycler M. Ward’s most enjoyable collage: gorgeous Ry Cooder-esque guitar work, haunting vocals reeking both of Portland fog and Delta dust, and shuffling bluesy songs that dance from the ditch to heavens. There’s also an imagining of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” as a plaintive lullaby. The album is as disciplined as a graduate thesis while being as wild as a hootenanny, which has always been Ward’s special skill, but it’s never as perfectly rendered as it is here. Ward may be correctly tagged as a sepia-toned regurgitater, but damnit is he ever good at singing like a ghost. Wilson McBee

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

87

Missy Elliott, This Is Not a Test

Though the album didn’t really live up to its war-meets-blaxploitation cover art, Missy Elliott came off like the Ntozake Shange of hip-hop on This Is Not a Test!, waxing poetic on the state of the genre on the first couple of tracks and then sounding like a 21st-century post-feminist on songs like “Toyz” and “Let Me Fix My Weave.” Because in times of war and exploitation, sloppy sex, self-gratification, and good hairpieces are what truly matter. Cinquemani

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

86

The National, Alligator

The decade’s ultimate example of a “grower,” the National’s third album Alligator was released to relatively little exposure in the spring of 2005. The record was a kind of a phenomenon by the end of the year, though, after the band won fans the analogue way while on a semi-infamous tour with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and most of the listeners who were at first put off by Matt Berninger’s moody baritone eventually found it to be a voice of poetic power. Thus, “I’m a birthday candle in a circle of black girls” is the kind of lyric that, taken out of context, appears a dark joke, but set against the landscape of Alligator’s white-collar desperation it becomes the “I am Spartacus” of the drunk man’s cubicle. McBee

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

85

Songs: Ohia, Magnola Electric Co.

Jason Molina’s last and best work under the Songs: Ohia moniker, Magnolia Electric Co . fittingly opens with the nearly perfect “Farewell Transmission,” an aching distillation of the album’s air of routed sadness. The resolute bleakness presented by Molina reaches some of its deepest points on Magnolia, his voice crackling with despair, lonesome notes arcing coldly into infinity. Even the songs he doesn’t sing—like the Merle Haggard-inflected “Old Black Hen,” and Scout Niblett’s perfectly off-key “Peoria Lunch Box Blues”—ache with that same transposed sorrow. Cataldo

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

84

Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker

With collaborations with Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Emmylou Harris on his résumé, Whiskeytown’s Ryan Adams was already established as pretty hot shit in the alt-country scene when he cut his first solo album in 2000. But Heartbreaker has all the sass and brilliance of a great debut and every minute—from the just-gone-electric Dylan howling of “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” to the extraordinary ballad “Come Pick Me Up”—rings with promise. Adams’s later output has been spottier, but Heartbreaker announced one of the decade’s finest songwriters. Newlin

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

83

Joanna Newsom, The Mik-Eyed Mender

Joanna Newsom may have gone from dressing like an elf and dating Bill Callahan to posing in Vogue and dating Andy Sandberg, but the power of her bizarrely beautiful debut has not receded one iota. The music here is among the decade’s most adventurous, from the archaic style of lyrics to the plucking of harp strings to the infant-like warble of Newsom’s unique vocals. Unlike a lot of freak-folk that was popular during the same time period, though, there is some real meat beneath Newsom’s fairy-world razzle dazzle, partially proven by the fact that songs off Milk-Eyed Mender have been covered by people like Final Fantasy, M. Ward, and the Decembrists. McBee

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

82

Damien Rice, O

Not to take anything away from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, whose lilting, emotive Irish folk-pop elevated the otherwise pedestrian love story of Once, but Damien Rice and right-hand woman Lisa Hannigan covered the same territory on Rice’s debut record, O, with far greater depth. Documenting each phase of a doomed relationship, from its lust-fuelled origins to its crushing, death-wish aftermath, O is a heady meditation on the nature of romance, with Rice and Hannigan demonstrating a real mastery of melody, arrangement, and dramatic scope. Keefe

The 100 Best Albums of the Aughts

81

Kristin Hersh, Learn to Sing Like a Star

I had never listened to Throwing Muses when I first heard Kristin Hersh’s Learn to Sing Like a Star, my first foray in what became a love affair with her and Tanya Donelly’s music. Hersh does not tread lightly: “Put a rock into my brain,” she sings unceremoniously at the beginning of “Nerve Endings,” one of many songs that deal with the singer’s personal psychodrama (a kind of living performance art). It’s hard not to love if you grew up listening to the Top 40 versions (Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette), but like Apple’s own Extraordinary Machine, Learn to Sing also counts among Hersh’s most accomplished musically: Acoustic guitars and swooning strings give “In Shock” and “Ice” thrilling, lived-in texture. Schrodt

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