How many albums did you own ten years ago?

How many do you own now?

Without question, the last decade has seen a massive shift in the way we collect music, with an emphasis on the collect — thanks to mp3s, music has become one big all-you-can-eat buffet, devaluing everything from bootlegs to boxed sets while changing the definition of “huge collection” from hundreds of CDs to tens of thousands of binary files. And it seems like we’ve all become aware of a lot more music, too — this decade lacked a true superstar artist, but if you look back on the last ten years, chances are you’ll remember a handful of songs you fell in love with by artists most people have never heard of. Top 40 is dead, and now you’re the DJ.

Like our list of the decade’s best singles, our albums list is a blend of the major and the obscure — much like your own ever-expanding library, we imagine. How many of these do you own? How many did we miss? Let us hear about it in the comments!

41PPjiM9OcL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]100. Scott Walker, The Drift
The ultimate in hipster cred, The Drift is an album that will be claimed by many who have never heard it. One-time superstar Scott Walker remains as perturbing, disturbing, impenetrable, and brilliant as ever. –Ken Shane

99. The Streets, Original Pirate Material
England’s kinder, gentler, more literate answer to Eminem, the Streets advised you to “grab your sack and sit back” as one man act Mike Skinner sets out to “knock down your aerial” with his garage beats and clever and harmonic rhymes. Although mixing in a few tender apology songs and occasionally venturing into the political, Skinner generally focuses on his own social life and the perils of drinking too much in the familiar underworld of his favorite pubs, and delivers some tremendous music in the process. –Zack Dennis

98. Daft Punk, Discovery
French robots Daft Punk deliver one of the most versatile electronic albums of all time on Discovery, creating an album that is equal parts funk (“Harder Better Faster Stronger”), smoove R&B (“Something About Us”), prog (“Aerodynamic”), and straight-up pop (“Digital Love,” “One More Time”). So good that the band hasn’t come close to replicating its awesomeness. Of course, they’ve only tried once since then, but that sort of proves our point. –David Medsker

97. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
The Boss pays tribute to the aging icon of American song with a loose and rollicking hootenanny. What could have been a head-shaking vanity project turned out to be one of the most cohesive musical statements he’s ever made, with ”Jesse James” and ”Pay Me My Money Down” as highlights. –Dave Lifton

96. David Bowie, Heathen
David Bowie has made some creative decisions that would make some artists blanch, but since they already call him the Thin White Duke anyway, he was able to get away with the decision to reunite with producer Tony Visconti for the first time in over two decades (they hadn’t worked together since Scary Monsters), only to say, ”Look, there’s this song by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy that I’ve really been wanting to tackle…” Oh, come on, David, you know we’re only teasing: Heathen is actually quite a strong album, mixing an old-school Bowie vibe (”Slip Away,” ”Slow Burn”) with a modern sound (”A Better Future”), adding guest guitar from Pete Townshend and Dave Grohl, and even tackling the Pixies’ ”Cactus.” After absorbing its grooves, then digging on the almost-as-strong follow-up (2003’s Reality), we really only have one question: why hasn’t Bowie bothered to give us anything new since then? –Will Harris

51oY1vdq1NL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]95. KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope
Available in the U.K. (and nominated for the Mercury Music Prize) months before its U.S. release, the alternately gorgeous and playful Eye to the Telescope finally arrived here with an accompanying alt-rock hype-fest that belied Tunstall’s actual folk-pop roots. Beyond the hits ”Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and ”Suddenly I See,” Tunstall imbued tracks as disparate as the caustic ”Another Place to Fall” and the delicate ”Under the Weather” with quirky Scottish charm. –Jon Cummings

94. Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak
If Kanye West was interested in raking in the dough, he probably wouldn’t have made a record as polarizing as 808s. Yeah, Auto-Tune was all the rage a year or so ago, but this was no T-Pain assisted Top 40 rap. Much of the music on 808s is cold, spare and disarmingly personal — sounding more like Thom Yorke than Lil Wayne. Surprisingly, the switching of gears resulted in a great album, and perhaps not so surprisingly, Kanye continued to rake in the dough. –Mike Heyliger

93. Kirsty MacColl, Tropical Brainstorm
Her previous album may have dwelled on her divorce from Steve Lillywhite, but MacColl’s last album before her tragic death in 2000 finds her in a much happier place. She had recently discovered Cuban music, and its natural energy proved to be a perfect fit for MacColl’s warped sense of humor, telling tales of online chats with porn salesmen (“Here Comes That Man Again”), a pop singer turning the tables and stalking one of her fans (“Treachery”), and discovering that her lover has a wife and family (“England 2 Colombia 0”). The Popdose staff pours out a 40 every December 18 in her honor, while dancing around in our socks, of course. –DM

92. Brian Wilson, That Lucky Old Sun
If Brian Wilson completing SMiLE was the most shocking thing to happen in his late-age renaissance, then not too far behind was him following it up with another song cycle of original material that was nearly as good. Built around the historical themes found in the Los Angeles of Wilson’s youth, and musical themes partly based on the 1949 standard that doubles as the title track, That Lucky Old Sun is an exploration of what could best be (and oxymoronically) termed ”fresh nostalgia,” as Wilson revisits both his ascendancy and breakdown via descriptions of the Southern California backdrop. There are hints — both lyrically and musically — of previous Wilson compositions: ”Live Not Die” feels like a happier ”’Til I Die.” ”Going Home” personalizes the themes of ”Back Home” (from the Beach Boys’ 15 Big Ones), only the journey is not to the country, but back into a normal existence after his infamous breakdown in the late 1960s. Finally, ”Surf’s Up” finds a new cousin in the haunting ballad ”Midnight’s Another Day,” which by the way, is one of the most beautiful things Wilson has ever created. –Matthew Bolin

91. David Cross, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby
Patton Oswalt may have missed our list by splitting the vote with Feelin’ Kinda Patton and Werewolves & Lollipops, but if we’ve got to have one man flying the stand-up flag, David Cross will do nicely. Mind you, Cross put out a pair of albums himself, but although 2004’s It’s Not Funny didn’t live up to its title, it’s his sprawling 2-disc opus from 2002 which remains his masterpiece. After getting rid any nonbelievers with non sequitur track titles like ”Shaving the Pope’s Pussy” and ”Diarrhea Moustache,” Cross waxes hilarious on growing up Jewish in the South (”Do y’all’s people eat oatmeal?”), skewers the Catholic Church, reveals his hatred of DJs and the misuse of the word ”literally,” and speaks first-hand to the effects of 9/11 on New York before launching into a fierce but hysterical tirade on George W. Bush. You’ll wince repeatedly, but you’ll still laugh heartily. –Will Harris

51VUfIxU85L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]90. Josh Rouse, Nashville
Less buoyant, and less an explicit genre exercise than was his previous album, the mellow-gold masterpiece “1972,” “Nashville” somehow manages to resonate even more deeply. It captures country music’s themes of personal crisis rather than the sound of the music itself — it’s full of references to Rouse’s failed marriage and to the demon liquor. This is the kind of music that has no place on pop radio today, but might have ruled the charts 30 years ago — before all the best pop songwriters relocated to Nashville. –JC

89. Joe Jackson, Volume 4
JJ proved he still had some bullets left to fire in 2003, reuniting the punky-smart band that kicked off his career with Look Sharp two decades before. Updating the sound, he’s ever so sophisticated in his understanding of romantic relationships and they many turns they take. If you can lay hands on the “limited edition,” you get a smokin’ live bonus CD that includes the most intense version of “Got the Time” the band’s ever recorded. — Mojo Flucke

88. The Feeling, Twelve Stops and Home
A left-field smash in their native England, this Sussex quintet’s debut overflows with classic pop songs that recall a different chapter of ’70s rock, namely the Supertramp/10cc section. Think Breakfast in America, only bigger. And better. –DM

87. Catherine Wheel, Wishville
Putting “The” before their name for the first time did in the Catherine Wheel, as Wishville would be their final album. Its guitar-heavy, almost hard rock vibe and stripped-down feel stood in stark contrast to their previous works, and turned off a lot of folks (including most critics). I’m always one to go against the grain, so it’s one of my favorite records of the decade thanks to the gritty riffs of “Gasoline” and the sparkling pop of “What We Want To Believe In.” Maybe another listen now will change some opinions? –DS

86. Elliott Smith, Figure 8
From a Basement on the Hill, in retrospect, was too scattershot, too plagued by Smith’s absence to be a definitive record of his presence. Figure 8, with its layers and ruminative impressionism and SoCal-meets-Abbey Road pedigree, was his true farewell. -—Rob Smith

85. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part
Subject: Nick Cave. Place of Birth: Warracknabeal, Australia. Base of Operations: London, England. Project Under Consideration: 2001 album No More Shall We Part. Over/Under of Bad Seeds: 9 full-timers, plus string section. Sound: remarkably hushed and melancholy; arrangements built on Cave’s own piano, Warren Ellis’s violin, and backing vox by the McGarrigle sisters. Highlights: ”Love Letter,” aching and sentimental; ”We Came Along This Road,” regretful and anguished. Current Projects: various screenplays; Grinderman; Fu Manchu tache. –Jack Feerick

61AsWH0ReML._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]84. The Thorns, The Thorns
No matter how many times you do the math — guy who did ”Girlfriend” + guy who did ”Lullaby” + guy who did ”If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” — you’ll still be stymied as to how the trio of Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins, and Pete Droge came up with a collection of acoustic pop songs quite as lovely as these. Each gentleman is such a strong solo artist that you’d expect a project combining the three of them to explode in a glorious conflagration of egos; instead, their self-titled, Brendan-O’Brien-produced album provided us with 11 wonderful co-written originals, offered up a sublime take on the Jayhawks’ ”Blue,” and even let a solo Sweet composition (”Now I Know”) slip into the set list. To date, the Thorns’ self-titled album remains a one-off, but we’re still waiting for the day when these glorious bastards decide to give it another go. –WH

83. Wilco, A Ghost Is Born
How do you follow up a masterpiece? With another masterpiece, of course. –Ed Murray

82. They Might Be Giants, No!
If you had told me, 20 years ago, that They Might Be Giants would one day be the de facto house band for the Disney Channel, I would have told you, ”Disney what, now? Dude, I don’t have cable.” I knew TMBG trafficked in catchy absurdity that got a rise out of my inner nine-year old, but the thought of extending their appeal to actual children would have seemed bizarre. And yet here we are at the end of the Aughts, and Professor Flans and J. Linell, Doctor of Funkology, have carved out a sweet little second career. This, their first album for kids, is probably their best; before they locked into their Schoolhouse Rock-style themes — Here Come the ABCs!, Here Comes the 1-2-3s!, Here Comes Keynesian Economic Theory! — the Johns were able to make a children’s album that was also a They Might Be Giants album — prickly, tinged with darkness, and occasionally quite lovely. –JF

81. XTC, Wasp Star
After Messrs. Partridge and Moulding escaped from Geffen Records’ icy clutches and onto their own label (Idea Records, distributed via Cooking Vinyl), the creative juices were flowing so fast and furious that they were able to produce two full albums worth of material. Though they’re known amongst the fans as Apple Venus, Vol. 1 and Apple Venus, Vol. 2, the second volume is more commonly recognized by its subtitle, Wasp Star, and while it’s decidedly less string-laden than its predecessor, the result is that the pop songs feel a bit cheerier. (Indeed, the phrase ”stupidly happy” might even come into play.) Moulding’s ”Standing in for Joe” is top notch, and even if there are some easily substantiated reports that our man Andy can be a bit testy at times, anyone who can write tunes of the caliber of ”Playground” and “The Wheel and the Maypole” still deserves our respect. –WH

80. Suzanne Vega, Songs in Red and Gray
Fresh off her recent divorce from producer Mitchell Froom, the normally guarded Vega bares her soul and in the process delivers her most personal album to date and one of the greatest breakup albums of all time. Rupert Hine’s production is warm and uncluttered, and Vega’s songs cover the fallout from a number of angles, addressing the children (“Soap and Water”) and the ways that small comments suggest larger problems (“If I Were a Weapon”). Sad without being bitter, pain has rarely been so beautiful. –DM

513wvL5+jcL._SCLZZZZZZZ_79. Eminem, The Eminem Show
Following up one of the best rap albums of all time in the Marshall Mathers LP with the weight of pretty much the entire world on your shoulders couldn’t have been an easy task for Slim Shady. The Eminem Show took a more reflective tone with its lyrics, relying slightly less on pure violence and shock value and more on a “here, take a look inside my life” stance. “Without Me” gave him his biggest hit to date and he even featured his daughter Hallie on “My Dad’s Gone Crazy.” While future releases have been better than 90% of the rap released these days, The Eminem Show might be the last great album Eminem will make. –DS

78. The Duckworth Lewis Method, The Duckworth Lewis Method
The purest pop music in years, maybe decades, comes from Neil Hannon (from The Divine Comedy) and Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh. So what if it’s a concept album about the sport of Cricket? –Dw. Dunphy

77. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
You know the CD review cliche about how an album would deserve to be considered a classic based solely on the inclusion of ”(INSERT SONG TITLE HERE)”? Well, in this case, you may insert ”Crazy,” possibly the only song to be covered by every single person ever…and if that’s an exaggeration, it’s probably only by about 12 people, because, seriously, everyone turned in a version of it by the end of 2006. Yes, even the Violent Femmes, though it was only fair, since Gnarls Barkley turned in a fine version of their classic ”Gone Daddy Gone.” St. Elsewhere is an album full of pop hooks and dance grooves, and if Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green never manage to match it, it hardly matters. –WH

76. Andrew W.K, I Get Wet
If you like intellectual music, you’re in the wrong place. But if you want quick bursts of crazy rock energy and songs about partying, puking (many times after partying) and doin’ it with girls then Andrew W.K. is your man. I Get Wet is stupid and totally mindless and yet for some reason it’s irresistible too. –Dave Steed

75. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Though I’d been a casual fan of her earlier work, this is the album that made me a true-blue fan of Ms. Polly Jean Harvey. Reviews I’ve read have called it her most accessible, most beautiful album and I don’t disagree. With its lush arrangements, ethereal vocals (well, ethereal for PJ) and a notable guest appearance by one Thom Yorke, Stories is arguably the album of her career — so far. –Kelly Stitzel

74. Opeth, Damnation
The reigning kings of the death metal/dark prog scene shock their audience with a gorgeous, straight-ahead classic rock album. Sure, the topics are as dire as ever, but Mikael Akerfeldt’s “clean” voice is just as persuasive as his dessicated metal growl. The cover art might scare your family, but the music might win them over anyhow. –DWD

51sXmEeszqL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]73. The Cure, Bloodflowers
After Robert Smith and the gang offered up the all-too-appropriately-titled Wild Mood Swings in 1996, The Cure disappeared for the better part of half a decade, but when they returned, it was with the band’s best album since 1989’s Disintegration. Setting aside cheery pop songs like ”Mint Car” and ”Friday I’m In Love,” Smith dug deep into the darkness in an attempt to produce a set of songs which could live up to the sinister standards set by 1982’s Pornography and the aforementioned Disintegration, and if you’re the kind of gloomy Gus who likes that sort of thing, then there’s little question that he succeeded. Though it’s definitely not an album designed for rainy day listening (unless, of course, your interest is in not living to see another one), it’s easily the Cure’s strongest work of the decade and one of the most fully realized records within their discography. –WH

72. Crowded House, Time on Earth
Still grieving over the suicide of original Crowded House drummer, Paul Hester, the other two founding members of the defunct band, singer/songwriter Neil Finn and bassist Nick Seymour, found themselves collaborating on what was supposed to be Finn’s next solo album. Upon completing those sessions with producer Ethan Johns, Finn said to Seymour, “This feels like a Crowded House record.” Seymour agreed and suddenly the band was reborn. Mark Hart, the band’s longtime multi-instrumentalist, was called and they hired a new drummer (former Beck sideman, Matt Sherrod). The resurrected group then recorded four new tracks with Steve Lillywhite, including the two singles, “Don’t Stop Now” and “She Called Up,” and the album was completed. Amazingly, those songs fit in seamlessly with those from the original sessions. The sadness of Hester’s death is palpable throughout, the lyrics full of sad imagery and the music muted in a haze of melancholy chords and harmonies. Yet while death may have brought the band back to life, in the end there was plenty of reason to celebrate. Not only did Crowded House go on a prolonged tour that drew heavily from their eclectic catalog, but they determined that this wasn’t a one-off reunion. They are currently recording new tracks for a new album in 2010. –SM

71. My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves
The fact that the ultimately gorgeous vocals are soooo drenched in reverb still can be a little off-putting, but MMJ really hit their stride with this delicious slab of ’70s rawk-inspired modern-day Americana. –EM

70. Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American
With Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World helped bring emo music to the mainstream but unlike Dashboard Confessional, you didn’t necessarily want to bathe in a pool of your own blood after listening. They had a chance to be one of the biggest bands in the world if they had just continued releasing music. Thanks to long tours and releasing albums only once every three years they lost their luster with the mainstream mid-decade. –DS

69. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker
The warning shot. In all, it sounded like a damn good Whiskeytown record—it could make you weep or entice you to dance on the bar, sometimes in the same song. Little did we know what wonderful stuff would come flooding out of the man in short order. -—RS

51yrOmKpzcL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]68. Marah, Angels of Destruction
My hands-down favorite album of the decade, from veteran Philly rockers. A sloppy, poppy country-rock-blues production along the lines of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, it’s that good. Loosely a concept album, the record explores our good sides and bad. “Blue But Cool,” as one song title from the record aptly puts it. –MF

67. The Damnwells, One Last Century
Radiohead got all the attention for its “pay what you want” price model, but the Damnwells took the best album of their career, hooked up with Paste Magazine, and gave the whole thing away. One Last Century is equal parts tough and tender, a rock & roll serenade that can get down in the gutter (“Bastard of Midnight”) and then clean up real pretty (“Down with the Ship”). Plus, it’s got a track (“Closer Than We Are”) that makes the best use of bar imagery since the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular.” Did you miss the free download offer? Buy it now. Trust us, it’s worth the $8 and so much more. –Jeff Giles

66. Chris Whitley, Rocket House
In a career divided between naked Res-O-Phonic blues and knob-happy avant-pop, the late Chris Whitley trod an idiosyncratic path — two parts Blind Willie Johnson to three parts Prince. Rocket House isn’t quite his 1999, more his Around the World in a Day — a deep and haunting listen, but too flagrantly odd in its structures for rock radio. If anything, it sounds like a transmission from some parallel pop universe, cycling in between the sunspots on ghost-world shortwave. –JF

65. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights
Screw Mariah, Beyonce and Alicia with all their glamour. The best female R&B singer of the decade is a short, plump, fifty-something former correctional officer from Brooklyn. Sounding like the love child of James Brown and Tina Turner, Jones’ third, and best, record improves on the songwriting of her previous work, with “Tell Me,” “I’m Not Gonna Cry,” and the title track as the standouts. And if the sinewy, retro-soul/funk grooves of the awesome Dap-Kings don’t get your ass shaking, consult a physician. –DL

64. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind
It’s easy to write off a band after they’ve been around for awhile, but U2 have managed to defy the naysayers by opening the decade with this powerful statement, and closing it with another. “Walk On” indeed. –KS

63. Ryan Adams, Gold
After a critically acclaimed indie solo debut (2000’s Heartbreaker), singer/songwriter Ryan Adams signed with a Lost Highway and released 2001’s Gold, his breakthrough album. While his uptempo single, ”New York, New York” became a minor radio hit (added to playlists soon after 9/11), it’s not even the album’s best song. ”Answering Bell,” ”Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues” and the gorgeous ”La Cienega Just Smiled” stand out among these 16 songs of heartbreak, bitter breakups. and haunting melodies. Gold established the cantankerous alt-country punk rock brat as one of the most promising artists of his generation. It also established him as one of the most prolific, as he would go on a tear, releasing new music over the course of the decade at a pace matched only by Prince in his heyday. Still, Gold remains one of Adams’ most consistent efforts and perhaps the most important of his short career. –Scott Malchus

62. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
“I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, the opening salvo from Arctic Monkeys, posited the notion of what would music be like if the ’80s and ’90s never happened. Mixing the vibe of ’70s UK punk and pop, with more than a knowing wink toward The Clash, the conclusion is that we would have been in good hands after all. –DWD

51yD2TbZkOL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]61. Tenacious D, Tenacious D
There are certain moments where the ridiculous becomes the sublime. Tenacious D is one of those moments, where music goes through the looking glass, and what is nonsense ends up being some kick ass rock and roll. The duality of the album-and the band-is part of both the confusion and the excitement of the final product. Is Tenacious D an actual band? Are Jack Black and Kyle Gass really musicians, or just actors playing musicians? Are they really serious about what they’re doing, or is the whole thing some sort of deep stoner, hipster irony? The movement of Black from rocker-comedian to movie star, together with the underwhelming movie and soundtrack package The Pick of Destiny, leads one to believe that the duo have blown the D’s collective wad. On their debut album, though, their kielbasas had yet to splooge, and Black and Gass come off with some brilliantly self-aware cock rock (”The Road,” ”Double Team,” ”Rock Your Socks”), acoustic
metal (”Explosivo,” ”Dio”) and even prog (”Wonderboy,” ”City Hall”). –MB

60. Lily Allen, Alright, Still
Lily Allen has the distinct honor of being the first truly successful MySpace artist. After being booted from her first recording contract without releasing a single note, the resourceful Allen joined the social networking site and began releasing her cheeky tales of revenge on cheating lovers and odes to both London and her stoner brother Alfie. It’s from these demos that Alright, Still was born. A blending of pop, ska, vocal jazz and grime the record showcased Allen’s dark humor and the considerable talents of Mark Ronson. –Michael Parr

59. Kanye West, Late Registration
Thought Kanye was going to settle after selling 3 million copies and winning a few Grammy Awards? Wrong. Mr. West gathered Jon Brion to expand the sound of his production and created an album as lauded for its sound as it was for its lyrics and vocals. If anything, you’ve gotta give Kanye credit for being one of the few commercial rappers out there making music for the sake of art as opposed to the sake of finance. –MH

58. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
The greatest voice in pop today breaks from the alt-country of her earliest records, removing the twang but developing as a songwriter, giving us the sonic equivalent of a starry night that’s too quiet to fall asleep. The harmonies on ”Star Witness” will make you swoon, until you realize that the song is about seeing a murder take place. And if ”That Teenage Feeling” doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you’ve never fallen in love. –DL

57. Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
Still smarting from the events of 2003, country’s best band abandoned the genre (which had already abandoned them) and emerged three years later with an album of Rick Rubin-produced, singer/songwriter pop. They dealt with ”the incident” via the dramatic ”Not Ready to Make Nice” and the kiss-off ”Lubbock or Leave It,” but they also acknowledged their hurt on the title track, ”Easy Silence,” ”Bitter End” and elsewhere. Much of it was soaked in martyrdom … which only made it resonate more amongst a music-shopping electorate fed up with the Bush administration, and amongst a recording industry that rewarded the group’s defiance with a (deserved) Grammy sweep. –JC

56. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People
With subdued and distorted vocals added seemingly as an afterthought, Broken Social Scene made the most of its members’ strengths, as producer David Newfeld focused on producing a balanced mix of many, many instruments that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. The moody, dreary sound of the album fits well with the atmosphere of Toronto, the geographical centerpoint of its horde of talented musicians. The entire album evokes the spirit of a miserably lonely social existence, and the heartbreaking standout “Lover’s Spit” captures the youthful desperation for companionship and serves as a brilliant counterpoint to the achingly beautiful sweetness of “Anthem for a Seventeen Year Old Girl.” –ZD

51L5ume9LIL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]55. Outkast, Stankonia
Stankonia may have been released nine years ago, but every listen is still exciting as if you heard it for the first time. Artists have had a decade to cop the mind boggling sounds from ”B.O.B.” and ”Ms. Jackson” but why bother when you know can’t match the most unique rap duo in the biz? –DS

54. Twilight Singers, Powder Burns
In an alternate universe, Greg Dulli is a superstar. One of two masterpieces, along with the Gutter Twins’ Saturnalia, that Dulli was involved with in the ’00s. Dense, powerful, incendiary. –KS

53. Portishead, Third
Fans of this British trip-hop band had been eagerly anticipating a new album from them for more than 10 years. And after being teased many, many times with the promise of new material, they finally got their wish with the appropriately-titled Third, which was released in 2008. I admit that I didn’t really connect with this album the first few times I heard it, but eventually, it grabbed me and hasn’t let go. If only they’d do a proper tour that hits more than a few cities… –KeSt

52. Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway
All the previous albums from Idolettes — including Clarkson’s debut — had been mushy, bandwagon-riding dreck, so the brilliant sonic blast that emerged from Breakaway came as something of a shock. Somehow, a cast of characters who’ve produced so much middling 21st-century pop (Kara DioGuardi, Max Martin, Clive Davis, etc.) here found unexpected emotional depths, and Clarkson rode a batch of great songs (she co-wrote half of them) to five Top-15 hits. –JC

51. Tom Waits, Real Gone
Mid-decade/post-millennial/garbage-can-smackin’, overdriven blues, alternately growled and crooned by the same Kerouackian carny we’ve grown to love over the last 40 years or so. If a city gutter could sing of what it has seen and learned in all its years as a city gutter, this is what it would sound like. -—Rob Smith

50. Randy Newman, Harps and Angels
Never the most prolific dude, Randy Newman released a single album in the 2000s of original material that wasn’t packed with orchestrations or songs designed for animated characters. He promised on NPR last year that he’d have another album ready in 2010, but given his track record, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Rather, we should just be thankful for Harps and Angels, which may be his most consistently satisfying collection since 1983’s Trouble in Paradise. Newman’s gift of creating subtly disturbing narrators is back in full force in songs like ”Korean Parents” (which offers a deal for lazy white parents to turn their kids over to a culture which expects more from their children), and ”A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” which is such a biting piece of commentary on the way neo-Conservative hegemony transformed America’s image that the New York Times saw fit to publish the lyrics on their Op-Ed page. Of course, Newman is as much a sentimentalist as a curmudgeon, and that side of him is also strongly expressed in Harps and Angels. ”Losing You” is one of the most beautiful love songs he has written, and his vocal performance on ”Feels Like Home,” which originally appeared in 1995 on his ”cast album” of his musical Faust, is so good that it nearly eclipses the original version, sung by Bonnie Raitt. –MB

51Gqqeo-ifL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]49. The Darkness, Permission to Land
People had a tough time figuring out the Darkness. On record they sounded like a throwback to the early ’80s hard rock of AC/DC, Queen and Def Leppard. But lead singer Justin Hawkins’ histrionic yells, his outrageous behavior, and the band’s bawdy videos made the Darkness come off as a parody of those same bands. Whatever their intentions, the band’s debut, Permission to Land, fucking rocks. This music is dipped in a dirty pool of glam rock guitar riffs and Zeppelin-esque bravado. The four-song knockout punch of “Get Your hands Off My Woman,” “Growin’ on Me” (an ode to genital warts), “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” and the epic power ballad, “Love Is Only a Feeling” is reason alone to own this album. There is so much great hard rock music on Permission to Land, and the Darkness seemed to garner enough hype, that fans of the genre had hope that a hard rock revival was underway. Unfortunately, Hawkins decided to live like he was an ’80s rock star and fell deeper and deeper into addiction. After the release of the follow-up album, One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, Hawkins quit the Darkness and the group ceased to exist. –SM

48. The Decemberists, Picaresque
The Decemberists’ breakthrough album Picaresque is essentially like a great collection of short stories written by talented students at Bowdoin college who had just finished reading books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Faulkner, and Robert Louis Stephenson. The intriguing stories run from tales of lonely souls (“The Engine Driver” and “Eli the Barrow Boy”) to forbidden passion (“We Both Go Down Together” and “On the Bus Mall”) to doomed nautical voyages (“For My Own True Love [Lost at Sea])” and the unforgettable “Mariner’s Revenge Song”). The interesting array of exotic instruments that turn up in the songs and Colin Meloy’s ability to craft his stories into rhymes and fearlessly belt notes at the edge of his range make this album into a quirky delight that seems like it was as much fun to create as it is to listen to. –ZD

47. Coldplay, Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends
Allying at last with Brian Eno, as we always knew they would, Coldplay have finally abandoned their shtick as the poor man’s Radiohead to embrace their true destiny as the poor man’s U2. That’s not a slam; Chris Martin et al. are doing U2-style uplift better than U2 themselves, these days, and there will always be a market for uplift. Coldplay’s sheer eagerness to please puts them in the ”guilty pleasure” category for many rock fans, but honestly: What’s so wrong about giving the people what they want? –JF

46. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs
Freed from the limitations of his trio, Folds’ first solo album is more diverse and less raucous (only “Gone” and “Still Fighting It” approximate the Ben Folds Five sound), but full of the great melodies and quirky characters we’ve come to expect from him. The title track, and its “Weird Al” Yankovic-directed video, brilliantly skewered Fred Durst & co., and proved that Folds was still the best wiseass in rock this side of Randy Newman. And if “The Luckiest” doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you don’t know what it’s like to meet your soulmate. –DL

45. Robbie Williams, Sing When You’re Winning
He was the world’s biggest pop star at the millennium — not that Americans cared — and Williams certainly sounded like he was riding high throughout his third solo album. Sing When You’re Winning consolidated his blend of dance-pop (”Rock DJ”), anthemic rock (”Supreme”) and grandiose balladry (”A Better Man”), all tied together with a self-referential cheekiness that was as off-putting to Americans as it was endearing to his fans everywhere else. –JC

44. Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Picking up where Colin Meloy and the Decemberists left off, Will Schaff tells the same sort of stories but distills them down to the pure emotional components without the complex narration. The album opens by telling us that life is “like a bad movie…” and then pulls us down a dark spiral into the world of the theatrical, finally wallowing in the wasted life of poet John Berryman before boarding the sloop John B with the intention of returning home to an existence somewhat more bearable.

415ToLMrmkL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]43. Tool, Lateralus
Tool’s third studio album is the most challenging and rewarding album of their career so far. The band’s leanings to prog rock on the album and creation of the title track based around the Fibonacci sequence make this a great thinking man’s rock trek. –DS

42. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once: Music from the Motion Picture
Irishman Glen Hansard’s emotionally raw compositions and riveting vocals had never earned him much mainstream recognition during a decade-plus as leader of the Frames. Thank goodness, then, for his longtime bandmate John Carney, who wrote and directed a quirky little verite romance called Once for Hansard and his new partner, Czech-born Marketa Irglova. In the process they brought songs like ”When Your Mind’s Made Up” and the Oscar-winning ”Falling Slowly” to the masses, and initiated a life-imitates-art cycle that continues with the new, post-breakup Swell Season album. –JC

41. The National, Boxer
Striving for, and achieving a mastery of subtlety from the opening notes of “Fake Emipre,” The National sidles up to listeners and somehow has us back to their apartment before we’ve even realized that they bought us a drink. Matt Berninger’s murmuring baritone mixes beautifully with the complex instrumental arrangements and fills a room with proof of how much a prize this album actually is. —ZD

40. Kanye West, The College Dropout
Before he became hip-hop’s #1 prima donna, Kanye West was just a famous producer. Armed with a charming wit that masked his lyrical deficiencies, a bunch of sped-up soul samples and a whole heap of guests, he became a superstar with this stunning debut. The ego was already in place, but it was coupled with a sincerity and hunger rarely found in any music these days — let alone rap. –MH

39. System of a Down, Toxicity
Back in 2002, I was in a traffic jam next to a minivan containing a mom and about six teenage girls. Blaring out the window was ”Chop Suey!” the first single from SOAD’s Toxicity. As it reached the chorus, everyone in the car, including Mom, screamed out ”why’d you put the keys upon the table!” It’s the first and last time I’ve ever seen a family singalong to some of the craziest music to ever get mainstream exposure. –DS

38. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
While less accessible than their 2006 breakthrough Boys and Girls in America, this concept album about hard-partying Catholic teenagers in Minneapolis shows Craig Finn and company finding their voice. Finn’s characters — and his love of them — exceed his vocal abilities, but the classic rock riffs keep them grounded, especially on ”Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and ”How A Resurrection Really Feels.” –DL

37. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Does it sound stupid to call this record a post-millennial Dark Side of the Moon? Not sonically — Godspeed’s massive, knotty instrumental-plus-found-sound suite, alternately majestic and brutal, assaultive and tender, sounds nothing like Pink Floyd, or anybody else, for that matter. But it’s a record that is ”about” everything — injustice, religion, madness, war, mortality and fleeting joy — and it begs to be listened to alone, in the dark, with headphones. Does that sound stupid? So be it. –JF

51nOScrBoUL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]36. Rufus Wainwright, Poses
Though I had heard songs from his first album, it wasn’t until a friend of mine played 2001’s Poses for me — prefacing the listening party by telling me it was the most beautiful thing he’d heard in a long time — that I truly discovered Rufus’s genius. The first time I saw Wainwright perform live, I declared that I would be willing to give birth to his hot, gay, scarf- and clog-wearing babies; I still stand by that statement. –KeSt

35. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
This album has a curious history, in that there are actually two versions: one produced by Jon Brion, which has never been officially released, and the official release, featuring re-recorded and tinkered-with versions of the original songs and a new song, mostly produced by Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew. The Brion-produced version was originally slated to be released in 2003, but was delayed several times, leading to rumors that Apple’s label, Epic Records, didn’t think the album contained any single-worthy material. Then, the Brion-produced songs started leaking over the Internet, leading to a fan-led campaign demanding the album be released. Eventually, it was, though not in its original incarnation. For the record, I prefer Brion version. –KeSt

34. Bob Dylan, Modern Times
No one knows how Dylan keeps doing it. As he approaches 70 years of age he is fully engaged in one of the most profound eras of his long career, with one classic album following another. Of these latter-day masterpieces, Modern Times may be the greatest of all. –KS

33. Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around
Although The Man in Black had successfully rebuilt himself from the ground up in 1996, when producer Rick Rubin stripped him down to his essence for the first American Recordings album, it wasn’t until the fourth in the series — The Man Comes Around — that his triumph extended beyond the critics and into the general record-buying public, thanks to his cover of Trent Reznor’s ”Hurt” and its subsequent video. If American IV isn’t the strongest of the albums from Cash’s career renaissance, it’s a sentimental favorite because of how much it feels like a farewell, from the apocalyptic title track to his hoarse takes on ”Danny Boy” and the Beatles’ ”In My Life.” On Sept. 12, 2003, many a Johnny Cash fan listened to the closing track, ”We’ll Meet Again,” and hoped to God it was true, but either way, the man offered up a hell of a last act. –WH

32. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
The decade’s best soul album was made by…a Jewish woman from London with a passion for the bottle? Amy Winehouse obviously studied her girl groups and jazz vocalists, added in some contemporary lyrical flavor, and came up with a brilliant album that looked forwards and backwards at the same time. Can she keep it together for a follow-up? –MH

31. The Strokes, Is This It?
For once, the pre-release hype surrounding a band paid off. The garage rock revivalist label these NY hipsters got tagged with never seemed apt, but the songs are catchy as hell, the music is both melodically poppy and rhythmically crunchy, the vibe is both modest and hypnotic. It’s a shame they never delivered on all the promise of this debut. –EM

61KQml6u4bL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]30. Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses
Rising from the ashes of her label-rejected Silver Bell album, 1000 Kisses found something of a midpoint between the acoustic demos of her debut album and the rock guitars that permeated its follow-up, Flaming Red. This album is Griffin’s most closely observed, and feels like her most personal, which is saying something. Its songs are exquisite
microcosms of a deeply emotional existence, and beg to be heard in the most intimate of settings — with noise-canceling headphones, or in a tiny club where you could hear a pin drop during whatever spaces aren’t filled by her soaring, unforgettable voice. –JC

29. New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
Carl Newman and Dan Bejar take the New Pornographers to dizzying new heights with Twin Cinema, expanding the playbook tenfold to include Zulu chants (“The Bleeding Heart Show”), show-stopping ballads (“These Are the Fables”), and choruses with no words (“The Bones of an Idol”). The titles may read like the ramblings of an insane person (“Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno”), but just try to not sing along. –DM

28. Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise
Sufjan has been called the Brian Wilson of his generation. Unbounded creativity is his trademark. One of the great artistic achievements of the decade, but one that remains completely and delightfully accessible. –KS

27. The New Pornographers, The Electric Version
A 13-song, 46-minute breathless rush of perfect power pop by the supergroup led by Carl Newman, the closest we have to a modern-day Brian Wilson. Guitars crunch while songs take unexpected melodic detours while never losing their accessibility. All that and Neko Case, who has never sounded as playful and sexy as on ”All For Swinging You Around.” –DL

26. Beck, Guero
The slacker deejay/impresario stepped up his game for this 2005 release, no question. Hard rock and funk grooves accent the record, but it’s the Latin flavor that swamps the music, in a good way, putting Beck’s ability to integrate any musical oeuvre into his mixes and make it sound great. While songs like “QuÁ© Onda Guero,” “E-Pro” and “Girl” might be fan favorites, Guero is loaded with many other instant classics like the driving “Scarecrow,” the reflective “Missing,” and the searing funk-rap “Hell Yes.” And that’s not even getting to “Black Tambourine,” whose groove’s in a booty-shaking galaxy unto itself. –MF

25. Jay-Z, The Black Album
Before hanging up his mic (temporarily, as it turned out), Jay-Z went out with a bang. Boasting an atypical musical continuity for a modern-day hip-hop album (even weirder considering nearly every track was helmed by a different producer), The Black Album was the triumphant victory lap-had Jigga actually retired instead of getting itchy fingers after only two years on the sidelines. The album as a whole was solid, but “99 Problems” was the song that took it over the edge. Jay at his most lyrically precise, backed by Rick Rubin production that harkened back to the early Def Jam days? Amazing. Let’s hope they do a repeat (for a whole album? Please?) before Jay decides to retire again. –MH

24. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It
Raphael Saadiq is easily one of the most underappreciated forces in popular music. His contributions as a producer and songwriter in the past decade reveal an undying love for classic soul, and in a way, The Way I See It is the record he’s been leading up to since his days in Tony! Toni! TonÁ©! From Motown to Philly to Stax, the influence is clear, but this feels as real and relevant as anything being passed off as R&B these days. –MP

23. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
This is a story in which four Ivy League graduates form a band and decide to make an album. This wasn’t any old album, though. The music would have a variety of influences, taking from the pop, rock, African and classical genres. After getting fawned over on just about every blog in existence and grabbing the cover of Spin before their debut album was even released, Vampire Weekend made an album that actually lived up to the hype. It was the indie party album of 2008, required listening for summer barbecues and weekend benders. I should’ve figured, considering their Columbia degrees, but Vampire Weekend turned out to be educational as well. Who the hell knew what mansard roofs and oxford commas were before this album? –MH

41EOL6tzHSL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]22. White Stripes, Elephant
The first time I thought Jack and Meg would be more than merely a curiosity was the first time I heard “Ball and Biscuit.” Pure evil, just the way mama used to make it. The rest of this (at the time) surprisingly varied album smacked of a classic waiting to be honored as such. –RS

21. Fountains Of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers
The album in which The Jones Beach Boys finally leave behind their suburban teen angst and replace it with…twentysomething angst. They’ve moved up to entry-level jobs and are now trying to cope with the trappings of adulthood – traffic jams, dumb bosses, alcoholism, indifferent waitresses. Adam Schlesinger’s pop hooks and cleverly detailed lyrics are never less than astonishing, with the huge hit ”Stacy’s Mom” echoing The Cars and ”Hey Julie” borrowing liberally from ”Uncle John’s Band.” And ”Little Red Light” may be the only song to use a busted cell phone a metaphor for impotence. Welcome Interstate Managers also wins points for inspiring Robbie Fulks’ ”Fountains Of Wayne Hotline.” –DL

20. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous
Here’s what I said about this album in 2004: ”More Adventurous has a sound that seems to cross several different genres (including rock, folk, country and New Wave), and lyrics that make each song into a short story. Frontwoman Jenny Lewis jumps to the forefront on this, the band’s third full album, garnering her comparisons to the likes of Neko Case, Dusty Springfield and Debbie Harry, depending on which track you’re listening to. Regardless of how this album compares to the band’s earlier work, More Adventurous has enough that should keep first-time listeners and fans happy, and talking.” I really don’t have much to add to that assessment, other than to say this is probably my favorite Rilo Kiley record. –KeSt

19. Brian Wilson, SMiLE
If you were told at the beginning of the decade that within the next five years Brian Wilson was going to (1) Start touring almost as much as Bob Dylan; (2) Would debut a completed version of pop music’s most (in)famous ”lost album”, SMiLE, 37 years after it was first abandoned; and (3) Would record a studio version of the completed piece that would be one of the best albums of the decade, you would likely ask me to pass you whatever it was that I was smoking. Yet, all of those things came true. Thought to be lost to the ether and the remnants of Wilson’s mind-shattered by years of mental breakdown and drugs-Wilson worked over the original recording tapes with Wondermints leader (and musical director of Wilson’s own band) Darian Sahanaja. Those brainstorming sessions sparked both Wilson’s remembrance of original plans for theme and fragment sequencing (including some that seem obvious now but escaped the ears of even the most avid Beach Boys bootlegger), and his creation of new compositions and arrangements to finally make SMiLE a whole, finished piece. The final product is a breathtaking, cohesive work that fully integrates, both sonically and lyrically (via Van Dyke Parks’ Lewis Carroll-esque lyrics) a narrative of American, generational, and elemental development, and stands as a unique forward-looking piece of pop music, even four decades after its initial conception. –MB

18. Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2, or the Last Remains of the Dodo
First, I need to tell you that this was my pick for best album of the decade. I could probably sing the entire thing for you, unaccompanied (but, trust me: you don’t want me to). Mann’s third solo album, which shares tracks that appeared on the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 film, Magnolia, has a fascinating history. Originally slated to be released through Interscope, the record label decided that the album wasn’t commercially viable. So, Mann decided to buy back the rights for the album and started selling it online, making it one of the first albums to achieve success through online-only sales. Eventually, Mann released the album via traditional retail channels through her own label, SuperEgo Records (fun fact: I was a street team coordinator for the label for a while). An incredible roster of musicians backs Aimee on the album, including her husband, Michael Penn, Jon Brion, Juliana Hatfield, Grant Lee Phillips, Buddy Judge and Jen Trynin. To support the record, she and Penn — whose fourth solo album, MP4: Days Since a Lost Time Accident, was released earlier that year — created a unique co-headlining concert concept called Acoustic Vaudeville. The shows, which started at Los Angeles’s Largo nightclub and eventually became a national tour, mixed music and stand-up comedy and featured comedians such as Patton Oswalt, David Cross and Janeane Garofalo. –KeSt

17. Jon Brion, Meaningless
Arguably the least heard album within our list, it’s obvious from its placing that those who have heard it consider it to be of the highest caliber. Brion may be best known for his accomplishments as a composer of film scores (Magnolia, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but in the 1990s, he was a pop musician with a ridiculously solid resume, briefly serving within the ranks of Til Tuesday before popping up on Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, then moving over to form The Grays with Jason Falkner, Buddy Judge, and Dan McCarroll. After earning plaudits for his production work, Brion took the plunge in 1997 and recorded a solo album for Lava/Atlantic. They opted not to release it, and in turn, he opted to put it out himself. Mind you, that didn’t happen til 2001, but the fact that Brion released it on a label called Straight To Cut-Out is almost as hilarious as the realization that a major label shrugged off the opportunity to release what is, even after a singular listen, clearly one of the best albums of either decade. Brion’s sense of humor is evident from the very beginning, kicking things off with a song called ”Gotta Start Somewhere,” but just because he’s got a wit about him doesn’t mean he can’t get thoroughly melancholy at times, as he does in ”Ruin My Day,” with his description of how even a fleeting memory of an ex can completely fuck up your mood. Although his co-writes produce some of the record’s highlights (”I Believe She’s Lying” with Aimee Mann, ”Walking through Walls” with Grant Lee Phillips), there’s little question that this is Jon Brion’s album through and through. If you have yet to hear Meaningless, then you must fix the problem immediately. It is a pop music masterpiece. –WH

51-BoqUa30L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]16. Jay-Z, The Blueprint
Previous albums sold more, but 2001’s The Blueprint cemented Jay-Z’s legacy as one of the best rappers (if not *the* best) of his generation. It was also the first time we really heard the mature Jay-Z as the rapper waxed nostalgic on the title track and lamented a relationship gone bad on “Song Cry”. The typical brag and girls tracks were there as well, only with a clever twist (“Girls Girls Girls”) and soulful production by the likes of then upstarts Kanye West and Just Blaze. That all would be enough to make the first and best Blueprint a great album, but add in the venomous “Takeover” (in which he eviscerates Nas and Mobb Deep) and the seething “Renegade” (featuring an on-fire Eminem in the album’s only credited guest spot), and you end up with a true hip-hop classic. –MH

15. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
What was it that elevated Coldplay above its vaguely arty, vaguely space-y UK contemporaries and into the pop stratosphere? (It can’t just be Gwyneth Paltrow…) Whatever it was, it began here, with an album that achieves a consistently anthemic tone yet occasionally offers up a window (if an opaque one) into Chris Martin’s soul. The pounding rhythm of “Politik” drew us in, then the stirring piano line of “Clocks” hooked us completely. This was music that begged the masses to feel things more deeply, and provided a sonic environment in which they could do so.

14. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
You can’t leave out the quotations: Both the title and the songs are taken from other sources. The album gets its name from a 1993 book on the history of minstrel shows. Some of the lyrics come from locations as disparate as Lewis Carroll, traditional Appalachian folk ballads, and the english translation of a work by Junichi Saga. The music finds its roots in Chicago blues, Eastern folk, Bayou rhythms, and even Texas big-band jump-swing. In a way, Dylan states with Love and Theft that nothing is original; it is only the degrees by which we ”steal” what we love from the past to make our new art that defines our originality. The result is a thick and rich exploration of what ”American Music” really meant in the 20th century, and continues to be at the start of the 21st. There are two real keys to the success of this album: the first, ironically, is that Dylan’s voice is finally shot. Somewhere around the turn of the decade, during some leg of his famed ”Never Ending Tour,” his voice finally gave out, reduced to a throat-shredding croak. For the music he was producing at this part of his career, though, it was perfect. He finally sounded like the old, weary bluesman he’d been wanting to be since his early 20s. The second is that he’s finally perfected his lyrical transformation from postmodern poet to creator of more ”traditional” works, like the old blues songs, folk tunes, and anonymous ballads he sang on his two solo acoustic covers albums in the mid ’90s. On Love and Theft, this one-two punch is expressed best in the vicious ”Lonesome Day Blues,” the comical ”Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee,” the album’s soul-darkening closer ”Sugar Baby,” and especially ”Mississippi,” which Dylan rescued from the scrapheap of the Time Out of Mind sessions (and a middling, uptempo cover by Sheryl Crow), and turned into one of his greatest songs. Period. –MB

13. Various Artists, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
It shouldn’t have worked. Nobody thought there was any place for world-of-mouth success anymore; nobody thought that acoustic Americana could cross over to AOR; nobody thought that an increasingly image-obsessed public would embrace plain Janes like Dan Tyminski or the Whites, let alone septuagenarian bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. The success of O Brother, Where Art Thou? — both the film and the album — is one of those vanishing cases of the audience knowing what they like better than the marketing machine knows how to sell it to them.

And if O Brother had the unfortunate side-effect of turning millions of hipster dirtbags into instant experts on old-timey music, well, that’s no fault of its own. It’s a preposterously lovable record, offering to frazzled urbanites a fantasy front-porch jam session for a lazy Sunday, where your favorite aunts harmonize on ”I’ll Fly Away,” except that your favorite aunts are Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch; the kids, God bless them, sing one they learned in Sunday school, and then Uncle Dan just about knocks the hat off the house when he busts out his flat-top. And as the afternoon lags and all the young folks start getting tired, Pop-Pop comes out with an ancient ballad, out of nowhere; who knew the old man had it in him? Uncle John’s fiddle is out of its case (he’s not your real uncle, you suspect, but that’s what everyone’s always called him), and he’s playing something slow and unearthly; then you wind on into the twilight with a set of singalongs, always finding your way back to the old hymns, and the smells of cornbread and ham from the house.

It’s a seductive vision of traditional rural life, minus all the poverty, racism, violoence and despair. A fantasy. But isn’t that in the job description for any filmmaker? –JF

12. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne
Artists and athletes often respond to the notion that they’re making a comeback by saying defiantly, ”I never left.” In Lynne’s case, the more appropriate retort would be, ”I was never quite here.” After more than a decade of frittering away her gorgeous, whiskey-soaked pipes on bland material that flitted from country to pop and back again, she vanished for a spell in the late ’90s — then emerged at the turn of the century as a soulful, mature artist who could finally proclaim I Am Shelby Lynne. Co-writing most of the album with Sheryl Crow’s producer, Bill Bottrell, Lynne finally found her voice in the sweet spot between Nashville and Memphis and Muscle Shoals. And she was rewarded for it, ridiculously, with a Best New Artist Grammy. ”Thirteen years and six albums to get here,” she laughed in her acceptance speech, but in retrospect there was nothing wrong with her peers celebrating the fact that she had finally arrived. –JC

417uZYAptAL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]11. Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music
Tears welled up the first time I heard “Tailspin,” as though I were seeing an old, beloved friend again after I’d given him up for dead. He looked thinner, having shed his preoccupations with psychedelia and studio wankery for the sake of studio wankery. His voice was still true, however, and he had a lot to say, as well as a newly re-energized way of saying it. –RS

10. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP
A true hip-hop masterpiece and one of the best rap records ever made, this is almost certainly a point that Eminem will never get back to. The hype over Eminem coming into this record was immense following the overwhelming and shocking success of the Slim Shady LP and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Eminem’s alter ego comes out in places like ”The Real Slim Shady” but The Marshall Mathers LP is really the most serious of his five albums.

Eminem hadn’t yet gone overboard on the silly alternate voices he spews out these days and his ”I’m Baaaaacccck and I hate you Kim, though I love my little Hailey even though my mom’s a drugged out whore” message hadn’t gotten stale yet. Combine that with the best beats that F.B.T ever created and the best ones Dr. Dre had given up since his early days with Snoop Doggy Dogg and that makes this album an end to end listen. And let’s not forget ”Stan” with its almost spoken delivery and unique story of a crazy fan writing notes to his idol, which will go down as one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. –DS

9. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Sentimental, melodic, cohesive and hook-laden are all apt descriptions of The Flaming Lips’ breakout hit album. Those who were suddenly turned around by their previous release, The Soft Bulletin (and its core devotion to pure pop music), were rewarded by some of the band’s best compositions: “Fight Test,” the title track, and the psyche-prog mini epic “Do You Realize??” The subjects range mostly toward the sci-fi side, exploring topics like robot feelings, interstellar trips and facing the dreaded moment when taking a stand and fighting your battle is the only course of action. The band hasn’t sounded quite this exuberant and full of positive energy since. –DWD

8. Radiohead, In Rainbows
In addition to the music business footnote-worthy stunt of initially releasing this album online with a digital ”tip jar” pay-what-you-want scheme, In Rainbows was also Radiohead’s strongest collection of actual songs since 2000’s Kid A. Whether that’s because the innovative way they decided to release the album offset the need to sonically reinvent themselves yet again (chicken and egg that all you want), or because Thom Yorke was simultaneously launching his solo career, such instant classics as ”15 Steps,” ”Faust Arp,” ”House of Cards” and ”Bodysnatchers” stand with the best of Radiohead’s entire canon. In fact, In Rainbows could be called the band’s first truly successful blending of abstruse sounds and simple songs — without all the attendant controversy of Kid A‘s polarizing nature. –EM

51vsWgOGoXL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]7. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
The most important statement of the decade from a musical artist, The Rising is right up there with George Bush’s first pitch at Yankee Stadium, and David Letterman’s return to television following 9-11 in terms of bringing solace to people who were down on their knees, and living in stunned grief. Everyone was affected by the tragedy, and it influenced the work of every artist in some way, but only Bruce managed to commit the feelings of a nation to a recording. There is a lot of myth-making when it comes to Bruce Springsteen. The Rising is the album that cemented his legacy. –KS

6. Arcade Fire, Funeral
This band’s live show is a musical tent revival meeting, with the attendees both upon and in front of the stage awash in the joy and power of music. While it’s hard to capture that vibe on record, the ambitious Funeral comes awfully close. Thematically, it’s an emotional tour de force, encompassing love and loss, life and death, family and community. Sonically, it’s an orchestrated pop masterpiece that seamlessly blends a mature indie art-rock sensibility with lush melodies, anthemic choruses and dense instrumentation. Strings, drums, guitars, accordion — and it all feels of a piece. Stylistically, it’s all over the map, but in a pleasant, effortless way that keeps you interested and, at times, mesmerized. It’s all pretty remarkable for an almost-unknown band’s debut album on a small-ish independent record label. –EM

5. Radiohead, Kid A
The first Radiohead album to debut at No. 1 in the United States, Kid A nevertheless polarized fans and critics alike. And with good reason — Kid A is as much a leap forward from OK Computer as that album was from ”Creep” and the band’s first two records. Released at the beginning of a new millenium, Kid A is the sound of a rock band leaving its earthly grounding and pressures behind, busting out of whatever strictures placed on them (by their fans, the media or even themselves) and forging a new identity that was as much about sound as it was about songs. Dispensing with the usual blase rock instrumentation, and layering on such diverse sonic textures as Ondes Martenot, strings, horns and a electronica-inspired beats, Radiohead created something truly new and unique for rock music at the time (mainstream or alternative), and got pagged by many music journalists for being difficult, while simultaneously winning a Grammy award, plenty of critical praise, and a huge amount of new fans. Thom Yorke & Co. also began experimenting with new marketing techniques around the release of Kid A, tapping into the power of the Internet, and viral video, not to mention media obfuscation, fanboy baiting, and the fact that the album’s Dada-esque lyrics and hypnagogic themes lend themselves to any number of interpretations, all executed with aplomb and, well, fun! In a somber way, of course…after all, it’s still Radiohead. –EM

4. Beck, Sea Change
After proclaiming himself a loser and touting the possibilities of two turntables and a microphone, Beck Hansen was at a crossroad. Mutations and Midnite Vultures both showed different sides of the performer but there, at every turn, was the hip, flip and slightly self-conscious persona he constructed in the Mellow Gold days, whether he liked it or not. Leave it to the venerable ‘break-up album’ genre to allow him to get real. Eschewing his standard wordplay, the lyrics are strikingly no-nonsense as on “Guess I’m Doing Fine” and the musical bed leans toward a chilly, moody vibe, found on the standout “Round The Bend.” –DWD

3. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
More than a few eyebrows raised when this collaboration was announced. Robert Plant, the aging rocker pairing up with beloved bluegrass singer, Alison Krauss? It sounded like a disaster in the making. While it looked odd on paper, the two music stars blended their voices beautifully to create an album that is loose and fun, yet tinged with sadness. Backed by producer T-Bone Burnett and a small group of top notch musicians, Plant’s bluesy voice harmonized perfectly with Krauss’ soft country twang on songs like “Killing the Blues,” “Rich Woman” and the single, “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On).” They turned the Everly Brothers rockabilly hit “Stick With Me Baby” into a hushed pledge of devotion, and resurrected one of Plant’s songs he wrote with Jimmy Page, “Please Read the Letter,” saving it from the classic rock sludge of its original incarnation and making it a new, more desperate recording. Both Plant and Krauss took a risk recording this album, stepping out of their comfort zones both in music styles and the way they used their famous voices. The risk paid off ten fold when Raising Sand went on to win mulitple Grammys, including Album of the Year. –SM

2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The backstory alone would be enough to rationalize Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s placement on this list: alt-country posterkids take great pains (personal and personnel related, all starkly captured in Sam Jones’ film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart) to create their masterpiece, continuing their genius blowing up of the mold of the genre that birthed ’em, and submit the finished product to their record label. Their record label, Reprise, is caught up in its own problems, and ultimately dismisses both the album and the band. Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, not wanting a change in record labels to back-burner the project altogether, begin streaming the album in its entirety on their website. It’s an unqualified success, attested by the numbers racked up on the following tour. Sure enough, a record label bidding war ensues, and Wilco ends up signing with Nonesuch who, like Reprise, is a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner (so yeah, the parent company paid for the album twice). The album has since gone gold and garnered enough critical plaudits and awards to justify its surreal journey. All of which would add up to absolutely nothing if the music didn’t deliver, which it does, in spades. Breathily intimate in spots, violently ethereal in others, YHF dispenses with formula altogether, and fuses its mild Americana charms with blistering rock, multi-instrumental psychedelia, and lyrics that are equal parts stream-of-consciousness and late-night confessional. This is the album that makes Wilco fans out of newbies. –EM

51ulrU3HD5L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]1. Green Day, American Idiot
It was brash and petulant, disaffected and mournful, media-addled and self-contradicting and hilarious. It flailed at its targets and sometimes missed completely, it didn’t learn from history and was therefore doomed to repeat it…and, most of all, it was everywhere. In other words, American Idiot was the perfect album for the Bush era, and by practically any standard it was the most memorable rock album of the decade. Having carried punk’s tattered flag into the mainstream, Billie Joe Armstrong and his cohorts revived the concept album on a grand scale, applying their caustic wit and patented guitar attack to the loose-knit story of a ”Jesus of Suburbia” torn between media-driven alienation and his hunger for human connection. Along the way, the band offered a sweeping critique of our post-9/11 culture’s retrenchment into political and moral fundamentalism. So what if much of American Idiot makes little thematic sense, or if much of the music sounds vaguely — and sometimes obviously — familiar? The fact that Green Day are neither the most brilliant of philosophers nor the most ingenious of composers only made the album more charming, more immediate, and ultimately essential to understanding the dark heart of 21st-century America. –JC

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