The Top 100 Albums of the Noughties

So now it’s time for the other countdown of the decade.  It’s been a funny period for the album.  In this fragmented age of downloads and shuffling, and with CD sales heading south like migrating geese, rumours of the demise of the traditional long-player continue to gather pace.  And yet, artists continue to release records designed to be heard in one sitting; in some cases, you can even discern an “end of side one/start of side two” feel somewhere round the middle.  Below are a hundred of those albums.  Whereas my initial attempts to only include one song per artist in the singles countdown had to be abandoned, I did manage to harden my heart against some consistently great artists and stick to that principle for the albums countdown.  Although the inclusion of a “various artists” compilation does at least allow one or two people to make a second appearance.  Also, soundtrack albums.  Juno in particular has a fantastic soundtrack – but an awful lot of it is, quite literally, so last century.  However, if we were talking movie soundtracks, that would undoubtedly top the list.

Again, this list isn’t going to appeal to all and sundry, and judging by their recent Top 50 of the decade it certainly won’t appeal to readers of the NME.  You will search in vain for either the first or second album in that tediously hetero-rockist countdown.  Would-be post-punks who went to rock finishing school in Switzerland, would-be cockney geezers with needle tracks up their arms – they can frankly naff off.  My list is fabulous and the music in it a balm in this often difficult decade.

One more word before we get started – I haven’t included any Christmas albums, simply because I only wanted to include music that you’d want to listen to at any time of year.  And as much as I love and adore Christmas by Low, it only sounds right at this time.  It is, at any rate, my favourite Christmas album (with the standout track being their exquisite cover of Little Drummer Boy), although the box set collection of Sufjan’s Songs for Christmas, and Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter In The Snow, both run it close.

So let’s get down to business, starting with the countdown from 100 to 21:

100 – MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

99 – Hot Hot Heat – Make Up The Breakdown

98 – Fever Ray – Fever Ray

97 – Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

96 – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

95 – Ed Harcourt – Here Be Monsters

94 – The Wave Pictures – Instant Coffee Baby

93 – Rosie Thomas – All These Friends of Mine

92 – The Polyphonic Spree – The Beginning Stages Of…

91 – Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

90 – Shortwave Set – Replica Sun Machine

89 – Saint Etienne – Tales From Turnpike House

88 – Magnetic Fields – i

87 – Fionn Regan – The End of History

86 – The Reindeer Section – Y’All Get Scared Now, Y’Hear

85 – Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps

84 – The Cinematic Orchestra – Ma Fleur

83 – DM Stith – Heavy Ghost

82 – The New Pornographers – Challengers

81 – Supergrass – Life On Other Planets

80 – Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers

79 – Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

78 – Rachel Unthank and the Winterset – The Bairns

77 – Tommy Sparks – Tommy Sparks

76 – The Go-Betweens – The Friends of Rachel Worth

75 – The XX – The XX

74 – The Futureheads – The Futureheads

73 – Client – City

72 – Wild Beasts – Limbo, Panto

71 – Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger

70 – Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim

69 – Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair

68 – The Young Knives – Voices of Animals and Men

67 – Johann Johannsson – IBM 1401, A User’s Manual

66 – Grace Jones – Hurricane

65 – Broadcast – Tender Buttons

64 – Art Brut – It’s A Bit Complicated

63 – CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy

62 – Jim Noir – Tower of Love

61 – Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental

60 – Field Music – Tones of Town

59 – Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man – Out of Season

58 – The Leisure Society – Sleeper

57 – The Cardigans – Long Gone Before Midnight

56 – The Concretes – The Concretes

55 – Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power

54 – Hot Chip – The Warning

53 – Royksopp – Melody AM

52 – Gruff Rhys – Candylion

51 – Richard Hawley – Lowedges

50 – The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

49 – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

48 – Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory

47 – Mull Historical Society – Loss

46 – Clinic – Walking With Thee

45 – Roisin Murphy – Overpowered

44 – The Coral – Magic and Medicine

43 – Santogold – Santogold

42 – Sigur Ros – Takk

41 – Kaiser Chiefs – Employment

40 – Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

39 – Annie – Anniemal

38 – Patrick Wolf – Wind In the Wires

37 – Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future

36 – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – How I Long To Feel the Summer In My Heart

35 – Luke Haines – Off My Rocker At the Art School Bop

34 – Peter, Bjorn and John – Young Folks

33 – Bjork – Vespertine

32 – Aimee Mann – Bachelor No.2, or The Last Remains of the Dodo

31 – Beirut – The Flying Club Cup

30 – The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home

29 – Mercury Rev – All Is Dream

28 – Kate Bush – Aerial

27 – The Fiery Furnaces – Gallowsbird Bark

26 – Duke Special – Songs From the Deep Forest

25 – Howling Bells – Howling Bells

24 – Black Box Recorder – The Facts of Life

23 – LadyHawke – LadyHawke

22 – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part

21 – British Sea Power – Open Season

And it’s getting good.  So now, let’s indulge in some more detail as we count down from 20 to 11:

20 – Various Artists – Dark Was The Night (2009)

The finest of all the Red Hot collaborations that have been done to raise money for the fight against HIV, this saw hip young things like Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors rub shoulders with indie veterans such as David Byrne and Stuart Murdoch.  The whole thing a brilliant kaleidoscope of genre-spanning goodness.  Standout Track: Amazing Grace (by Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues)

19 – Martha Wainwright – I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too (2008)

Too often overshadowed by her brother Rufus, Martha really came into her own with this brilliantly mature and moving album, shortly after she’d also achieved the impossible by making a Snow Patrol song interesting.  Neat Pink Floyd cover as well.  Standout Track: You Cheated Me

18 – Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Ballad of the Broken Seas (2006)

Like a Noughties Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, this unlikely meeting of minds bore fruit in one of the greatest albums that Nick Cave didn’t actually make, as bittersweet and dark as molasses.  Standout Track: The False Husband

17 – Guillemots – Through The Windowpane (2006)

“Restraint” is clearly not a word that exists in the vocabulary of Fyfe Dangerfield, a man whose band brought much-needed colour and extravagance to an increasingly grey-sounding music scene with this gorgeous kaleidoscope of rhythm and style.  Standout Track: Sao Paulo

16 – Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)

If Isobel Campbell collaborating with the bloke out of Screaming Trees seemed improbable, the notion of her ex and his associates collaborating with the man who produced ABC, Dollar and Frankie Goes To Hollywood must have seemed nothing short of nonsensical.  And yet, it worked, giving muscle and direction to a group who were sounding increasingly  like an effete parody of themselves.  Standout Track: Dear Catastrophe Waitress

15 – Feist – The Reminder (2007)

The some-time member of Broken Social Scene (although that’s a designation that could, in all fairness, be applied to half the population of Canada) finally got some attention with this album, helped with the unexpected success of the single 1234.  That in fact turned out to be one of the lesser tracks on a beautiful, endlessly hummable collection.  Standout Track: My Moon, My Man

14 – Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

1999’s The Soft Bulletin was a pretty hard act to follow, but Wayne Coyne and his bunny-suited friends did a magnificent job with this record, one of several in the upper reaches of this chart to be inspired by and dedicated to absent friends.  Behind the knowing sci-fi trappings beats a warm and devoted heart.  Standout Track: Are You a Hypnotist?

13 – Cat Power – The Greatest (2005)

If you’re going to give your album such an apparently self-aggrandising title, you need to be able to deliver on your promise.  Fortunately for Chan Marshall, she was more than capable of doing just that.  Someone with a heart as battered and bruised as hers has pretty much earned the right to say she is the greatest.  Standout Track: Lived In Bars

12 – Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004)

In which four arty boys reminded the world that great pop music and great indie music need not, and should not, be mutually exclusive entities.  The sort of debut album so stuffed full of potential singles that it almost sounds like a greatest hits collection, and has inevitably been hard to top subsequently.  Standout Track: Take Me Out

11 – Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)

At the vanguard of all these young men making folk albums that sound like they were recorded (or actually were recorded) in log cabins in the Rocky Mountains, a delicate and poignant album that came along unassumingly and has steadfastly refused to go away.  Standout Track: OIiver James

Phew.  Now, if you’re sitting comfortably, we’ll get into the small matter of the Top 10.  Starting with 10, all the way to 2:

10 – Arcade Fire – Funeral (2005)

More death, more Canadians, more musical brilliance.  Now that the Springsteen-esque bluster of Neon Bible has subsided, we can see this as their undisputed masterpiece.  An album that it’s possible to live inside as you become enclosed in its wintry – yet vital – embrace.  Standout Track: Rebellion (Lies)

9 – Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)

Their previous album had been the knowingly-titled Underachievers Please Try Harder.  As if taking their own advice, Camera Obscura then produced a perfectly crafted gem of a pop album.  It could have been utterly twee (a response song to Lloyd Cole – need I say more?), but the sincerity of all those broken-hearted moments, and some awesome tunes, elevated it to greatness.  Standout Track: Razzle Dazzle Rose

8 – Goldfrapp – Supernature (2005)

Having reinvented herself as a dominatrix for 2003’s Black Cherry, Alison Goldfrapp then decided the logical next step was to pose in a forest of penises and record an album of irresistible glam disco pop.  Like the Franz’s debut, this is wall-to-wall singles, too many of which frustratingly underperformed in the charts.  Standout Track: Koko

7 – Amy Winehouse – Back To Black (2006)

Like I said when she appeared in the singles countdown, forget about everything that’s happened.  Focus instead on this superb piece of work, brimming with modern classics.  When it first came out, this was Amy Winehouse before she became a tabloid joke, produced by Mark Ronson before he became a big-band whore with a part-time lesbian sister.  The fact it still sounds magnificent even with all the baggage is testament to its brilliance.  Standout Track: You Know I’m No Good

6 – Antony & The Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now (2005)

An album about gender dysfunction is never going to be anybody’s idea of easy listening, but in the hands of Antony Hegarty it made for utterly compelling listening, that soulful, keening voice sounding so much older than its owner.  Like old Berlin paid a visit to the Factory in New York – no surprise then that Lou Reed sounded so at home.  Standout Track: You Are My Sister

5 – Bat For Lashes – Fur and Gold (2006)

Immediately branded the new Kate Bush just for being a bit different, Natasha Khan does admittedly share one great quality with the Blessed Kate: she lives in her own unique world, one of fantasy, alternative identities and witchy, spacey dreams, tinged with girl-group harmonies.  Like all the albums at the top end of this list, it takes you by the hand and leads you into that world, and you don’t want to leave.  Standout Track: What’s a Girl To Do

4 – Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005)

Whilst the project of doing an album for each of the fifty states of the USA may have proved too much, even for the ultra-prolific Sufjan Stevens, the two he did deliver – this one and Michigan – more than make up.  This is an extended love letter, whose often ludicrously convoluted track titles (some longer than the tracks themselves) conceal songs of great beauty and warmth.  And he made the banjo cool.  Standout Track: Casimir Pulaski Day

3 – Rufus Wainwright – Want (2003-4)

Strictly speaking this is two albums – Want One and Want Two – but I personally think that it can only be properly considered as a double album.  The first is luxurious, romantic and playful, the second is darker and more introspective, the whole is indeed about Want, and about need of all varieties.  There are odd moments when perhaps he could have reined it in just a tiny wee bit – but then, if he had, he wouldn’t be the Rufus we love.  All that’s missing is Sian Phillips vamping it up – that had to wait for another album…  Standout Tracks: 14th Street (Want One); The Art Teacher (Want Two)

2 – Joan As Policewoman – Real Life (2007)

At this point, you might be thinking it’s all frightfully incestuous in here – Antony, Rufus and Joan Wasser have all collaborated with and supported one another over the years, but whilst the other two have had higher profiles, it’s Joan who pips them in the album stakes.  This is a fantastic, sexy and quietly compelling album, rounded off with a tribute to a dead lover.  See, death continues to stalk this chart, and most of all it haunts the album that’s made it all the way to the top… Standout Track: Christobel

What is that album?, I hear you cry.  Well, it’s a record from an act that spent most of this decade plugging away, largely acclaimed but also rarely noticed, until they (as some occasionally do) put out an album that struck a chord, lodged its way in people’s brains and provided fodder for a hundred TV soundtracks.  So raise your glasses, because it’s time to drink to this one:

1 – ELBOW – THE SELDOM SEEN KID (2008)

Let’s count the ways in which this is great.  There’s the fact that it’s an album about saying goodbye to a friend (Bryan Glancy, the “seldom seen kid” of the album’s title), but also about saying hello to love.  There’s the fact that it begins with the lines “How dare the premier/ignore my invitations/he’ll have to go.” There’s the fact that two utterly heart-breaking songs, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver and Some Riot, come either side of The Fix, a darkly comic song about a horse-racing scam, without the changes in tone jarring in the slightest.  There’s the fact that, whilst the performances at the Mercurys aren’t supposed to have any bearing on the outcome, Elbow blew everyone else away with Tower Crane Driver, Guy Garvey rocking as if with intense grief as he performed it. And there’s the fact that every second of this record is brimming over with love – for people, for music, for the world, most of all in the euphoric One Day Like This, a song that even after its seemingly endless use, still feels utterly fresh and joyful with its exhortation to “throw those curtains wide”. That’s just for starters.  Whether albums survive in their present form or not, this one should survive for all eternity.  It’s a thing of beauty and its joy and sadness are forever.  Guy Garvey, this is your finest hour.  And the finest hour of the decade.  Standout Track: The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver

And there endeth my take on the best long-players of the last decade.  Feel free, as ever, to comment on here and tell me what you think should and shouldn’t have been included.  By 2019, albums may indeed no longer exist, and we may be making our own.  Which would be a shame in the end, because listening to the greatest of these is a precious experience, and their beauty and brilliance will, I hope, get passed on.  Just as long as we remember to sit back, listen and immerse ourselves.

Chris x

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One response to “The Top 100 Albums of the Noughties

  1. i seriously love your writing way, very unique,
    don’t give up and also keep writing considering it just simply good worth to look through it,
    excited to looked over alot more of your current articles, goodbye 😉

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