The best albums this century

A&E wracked our brains and argued continually, but these were the final competitors.

PHOTO COURTESY XL

PHOTO COURTESY XL

Mark Brenden

10) “Moldy Peaches” âÄî Moldy Peaches (2001) “I like it when / My hair is puffy / I like it when / You slip me a roofie / I like it when / You’ve got the crack / Who’s got the crack?” It’s nonsensical side-nudge lyrics such as these that, coupled with the profound influence that the Peaches’ Anti-Folk genre left on lo-fi production, designate the Moldy Peaches as the quintessential poster kids for the postmodernist humor that values irony over authenticity, and justify their position on this list. Singers Kimya Dawson and Adam Green hurl their snotty lyrics of pillow-fight playfulness and youthful eloquence like snowballs at the nards of a society on the brinks of destruction (it’s rather symbolic that the record was released on, that’s right, Sept. 11, 2001). 9) “For Emma, Forever Ago” âÄî Bon Iver (2007) The narrative behind “For Emma” is almost as irresistible as the record itself: the Thoreau-back story of one Justin Vernon’s reclusive venture to a remote cabin in the woods of Wisconsin to “hibernate” and make a record about his long lost love. The seclusion story is particularly pertinent as a last hoorah for privacy from the intrusive rags of the Internet Generation (see trend three). With his intimate breathy folk, our man creates a new genre from this ever-symbolic cabin as a sort of Noah’s Arc of music that floats above those drowned by the invasive waters of Facebook and Twitter. 8) “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” âÄî Wilco (2002) As opposed to the blunt offering of Moldy Peaches’ 2001 endeavor, Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” plays hard to get. It’s not going to happen on the first listen. It’s not going to happen after a few glasses of Cognac. In fact, you might need to give the circumlocutory gorgeousness of “YHF” a few months before you can find what it truly is: a perfect record. The hallucinatory breeziness of Jeff Tweedy’s voice beckons you to follow it on an Odyssey with all the Cyclops intimidations and Songs of Siren distractions that Ulysses experienced. But Tweedy’s destination is not an end but a beginning, because you are listening to the damned thing again, and again, thinking, “This time I’ll figure it out.” 7)âÄúThe BlueprintâÄù âÄî Jay-Z (2001) In terms of what it did for the future of hip-hop, the title of Jay-ZâÄôs magnum opus is fitting. “J-HovaâÄôs” messiah-isms influenced the trend of overt cockiness in music âÄî without it, where is Kanye West? Where is T.I.? In “The Ruler’s Back” Jay raps, “There’s a lotta rappers trying to sound like Jay-Z / I’ll help you out / Here’s what you do.” He then releases laundry lists of suggestions, and, history shows, plenty of people listened. 6) âÄúWhite Blood CellsâÄù âÄî The White Stripes (2000) If there is a figure in this decade with the wherewithal to sit atop the Mt. Olympus of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s Jack White. When introducing their early ’00s Grammy performance, fellow Alt God Beck described the Detroit duo’s sound as: “The sound of dead cell phones and oil rigs. The sound of empty parking lots and school buses.” It’s true; they sound like all those things, but there’s more. Jack White’s sharp tongue wails out lyrics of wily confidence (“If you can hear a piano fall / You can hear me coming down the hall.”)Meg White’s elementary, back-to-basics banging provides a proper milieu for Jack White’s maniacal, kerosene-tinged guitar riffs to explode over, like flicking a match to an oil rig. The lo-fi resonance of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and “The Union Forever” is desolate as an abandoned house. The child-like buoyancy of “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” foresees the cutesiness that Moldy Peaches and others would later make a career out of. But this record, above all, sounds like the best hard rock record of the decade. 5) âÄúFuneralâÄù âÄî Arcade Fire (2004) The irony of each breath-stealing, euphoria-spreading song on “Funeral” being about death only further punctuates the numinous aura that already exists in this living thing of an album. Its package seems to have a heartbeat even before you throw it in the CD player âÄî then the heart nearly explodes. Its release date is noteworthy. 2004 was a year of uncertainty and rejection for the world âÄî George W. Bush had been re-elected in America and the Middle East was on fire. In “Wake Up,” we seemed to relate to Win Butler’s exhilarated bawls of, “I guess we’ll just have to / Adju-u-u-st.” 4) âÄúStankoniaâÄù âÄî Outkast (2000) The fusion of Big Boi and Andre 3000 is an unlikely one. If the former chillaxes casually on his rhymes like a recliner, the latter does so on an electric chair. Somehow, this amalgamation of casualness and lunacy works and it registered strongly with the folks of this decade. From the back porch languor of “Ms. Jackson” to the expeditious brilliance of “B.O.B.” the southern charm of these two ATLiens works like some sort of quirky hip-hop Righteous Brothers. 3) âÄúIs This ItâÄù âÄî Strokes (2001) The Strokes have been described a lot recently as the failed Nirvana of the decade, in that they made an attempt to save rock ‘n’ roll, but did not succeed. I do not follow the logic of these unnamed comrades. The end of the ’90s brought a delusional sense of poise to music by way of Third Eye Blind and Goo Goo Dolls. The cool kids of America had sucked Nirvana and Weezer down to the core and were looking for a new spokesman. Enter a Chuck Taylors-and-blazers-adorning clan of self-assured rich kids who knew plenty about “cool,” and plenty about how to bang out a good rock song. What the nearly flawless “Is This It” did âÄî besides providing the most influential drum work of the decade, besides igniting a wave of “The” band emulators, besides achieving a watertight collection of quick and satisfying jams âÄî was draw a framework for the attitude that would define a generation. 2) âÄúKid AâÄù âÄî Radiohead (2000) There is something so precise about Radiohead’s robotic masterpiece “Kid A.” The whole album has the feel of some sort of scientific breakthrough for which the band seems to deserve a Nobel Prize. With the uncertainties regarding the direction rock music would take in the beginning of the decade, particularly considering the unprecedented effect of the internet, Thom Yorke’s computerized intoning of “Everything in Its Right Place” was a declarative statement. It said, “Do not fear the World Wide Web; embrace it.” 1) “Kala” – M.I.A. (2007) Other than being musically innovative, âÄúKalaâÄù is a record that reflects the âÄúwaking upâÄù of the world in the age of the Internet. Not only is it a story that gives a voice to the third world, but M.I.A.âÄôs refusal to talk solely about sex and love has paved a new paradigm for women in music. The satirical nut-kick “Paper Planes” is the song of the decade. After being used in the trailer for Seth Rogan’s “Pineapple Express,” it got stoners of America on board. Then it dug into another demographic as the commercial track for Michael MooreâÄôs âÄúCapitalism.âÄù But, even if it wasn’t entirely responsible for making our generation globally aware, it is responsible for the absurdist hilarity that is oblivious Americans dancing and singing along to “If you catch me on the border / I got visas in my name.” Honorable Mentions: âÄúThe Marshall Mathers LPâÄù âÄî Eminem, âÄúDemon DaysâÄù âÄî Gorillaz, âÄúThe Moon and AntarcticaâÄù âÄî Modest Mouse, âÄúLiftedâÄù âÄî Bright Eyes, âÄúFeelsâÄù âÄî Animal Collective, âÄúTha Carter IIIâÄù âÄî Lil’ Wayne