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100 Best Albums of the 2000s

100 Best Albums of the 2000s

Radiohead Kid A

Radiohead's Kid A

All through the last decade, you’d find a lot of people insisting that the album was dead, a victim of the MP3, the iPod and a la carte downloading. But that never happened. If anything, artists doubled down on the format, resulting in a renaissance of long form artistic statements from a wide range of artists. This list of the decade’s 100 best albums includes the work of rock revivalists (the Strokes, the White Stripes), dance floor visionaries (M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem), hip-hop icons (Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West) and old standbys like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and U2, who reinvented their sound without losing touch with what made them living legends. This list is not just an argument in favor of the enduring appeal of the album format, but a compelling case that some of the best music of all time came out between 2000 and 2009.

59

Interpol, ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’

These dapper New Yorkers may have been the first band in history cocky enough to name the first song on their debut album "Untitled" — and that barely begins to hint at their mind-boggling pretensions. ("Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down," for fuck's sake.) Yet they crafted one of the decade's great guitar epics, demanding rapt attention for 49 expertly paced minutes of arty post-punk melodrama. From gothed-out power-drone ballads like "Hands Away" to the hard-charging Rock Band fave "PDA," Interpol capture the moment on a late-night city street when the crowd suddenly vanishes and loneliness stares you in the face.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2002 Review

Video: Interpol Perform Their Grim Ballad 'Lights' on 'Conan'

Q&A With Interpol Frontman Paul Banks

58

Danger Mouse, ‘The Grey Album’

The mash-up reached a conceptual and artistic plateau with Danger Mouse's fusion of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album. It sounded like a stunt ("Justify My Thug" meets "Rocky Racoon"?) but it was really a love letter – a music geek's mash-note to hop-hop and classic rock – and a polemic: an argument that the best hip-hop warrants a place alongside the most revered gods of the pop music canon. But it was the sheer musicality of the thing that carried the day: Who knew that "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "Julia" could get along so beautifully?

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57

Death Cab for Cutie, ‘Transatlanticism’

Released at the peak of their career as indie heavyweights, Death Cab for Cutie’s fourth album was their most aspirational yet, as the Seattle band stretched beyond angular, tightly wound jangle-pop to explore more nuanced tones and moods. Lush and bombastic (especially on "The New Year," "Transatlanticism" and "Tiny Vessels"), the album demonstrated multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla's growing prowess as a producer. But it was singer and guitarist Ben Gibbard's lyrics that made Transatlanticism their master work, as he distilled post-collegiate malaise, the feeling of distance from loved ones and apathy about romance into songs that peeled back the skin on the place – as mentioned in "Title And Registration," "where disappointment and regret collide."

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

Death Cab for Cutie Grow Up On 'Codes and Keys'

Video: Death Cab For Cutie Perform "You Are a Tourist" on 'Storytellers'

56

Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’

Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University in the late 2000s, showing a pronounced affinity for boat shoes and button-downs as well as an intimate knowledge of African guitar music. Their debut backed up massive press buzz with suavely seductive pop-rock songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies were as refined as his education, floating over bright keyboards and Afropop-tinged grooves. Koenig had a term for VW's music: Upper West Side Soweto. However you label the sound, it was manna for indie-boys and Molly Ringwald girls all over the world.

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Video: Vampire Weekend and Black Keys Fight It Out on 'Colbert Report'

Photos: 2010 KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas

55

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, ‘Raising Sand’

One of rock's great voices meets one of country's great voices, tackling an inspired, roots-minded songbook with sonic guru T-Bone Burnett. Krauss sounds bluesy, even lusty; when she sings "I could never kill a man" on Gene Clark's "Through the Morning, Through the Night," you’re actually not 100 percent sure. Plant, meanwhile, dials it down so far, it’s often hard to identify the dude who sang "Black Dog." Yet the nuance in his vocals is as impressive as it is unprecedented. Tender, haunting, brilliant.

Related:
Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Aughts: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' "Gone Gone Gone"

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54

Norah Jones, ‘Come Away With Me’

Though its surprising success (eight Grammys, 20-plus million copies sold) overwhelmed it, this seductively modest little record is a marvel of mood and invention. The songwriting and arrangements are sophisticated, often jazzy, yet full of catchy hooks. And Jones' vocals are silken and perfectly turned, setting a seamless mood that could soundtrack high-end restaurants and low-rent make-out sessions alike. And the sexy double entendre of the hit "Don't Know Why" ("…I didn’t come") still sounds sly as hell.

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Video: Norah Jones, John Mayer and Keith Urban Perform 'Jolene' To Honor Dolly Parton

Video: Norah Jones Performs at Austin City Limits 2010

Norah Jones Charges On

53

Kings of Leon, ‘Only By the Night’

How soulful is it? Ask Beyoncé, who has covered "Sex On Fire" live, and Trey Songz, who does an impressive "Use Somebody." Those songs were the album's trumps. But the whole package burns with agitated good-ol'-boy hormones and lazily anthemic, unzip-those-jeans guitars. Add killer hooks and Caleb Followill's slurring down-home tenor, and you have rock enormity that isn’t supposed to happen anymore. Don’t call them the southern Strokes – call them the American U2.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2008 Review

Photos: The Hottest Live Performances from Coachella 2011

Video: Beyoncé Covers Kings of Leon's "Sex On Fire"

52

M.I.A., ‘Arular’

M.I.A.'s 2005 debut is both politically and musically radical, with the British emcee delivering biting, often nihilistic revolutionary rhetoric over tracks that blend rap, dancehall, club music and harsh British electronica into some of the most raging bangers of the decade. It's dark stuff, but M.I.A. has a wicked sense of humor, dropping bitter zingers into intense tracks such as "10 Dollar," "URAQT" and the single "Bucky Done Gun."

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2005 Review

Photos: M.I.A.'s Wildest Looks

Video: M.I.A. On David Letterman

51

Spoon, ‘Kill the Moonlight’

Though it came out in 2002, this masterwork of spiky texture and bummed-out sentiment seems even more appropriate for 2009, when a dismal economy makes college grads scramble even harder for jobs they hate. But Spoon's Britt Daniel made his gnomic soliloquies about directionless youngsters both humane and hooky, and he and his bandmates got tons of mileage out of a spare, signature sound, tossing in rollicking piano, sax and cold-eyed stomp. And not even the Shins or Death Cab came up with anything as insanely gorgeous as "Paper Tiger," a cryptic-but-sweet love song with budget-Radiohead sonics.

Related:
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Video: Spoon at Lollapalooza 2010

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