To be very clear, these are my personal Top 10 and not an objective selection. I am limited by several key factors, one being that I don't own very many albums from this decade. If I don't own it, I don't feel that I can safely include it. So albums that I suspect might be very fine (such as Speakerboxxx/Lovesounds, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Kala or †) are not here because I've never heard them from start to finish or lived with them for weeks and weeks.
Another criteria is that I have to like most of the album for it to make this list. So while I considered MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, I only like 3 songs on it so I can't really hold it up as a great album. And I can't just like the idea of the album ("OMG, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix!"). I have to actually like the real album, every day. I have to be willing to listen to it from start to finish without rolling my eyes, without getting up to forward a track, without even really noticing it's on, because it's so good it just becomes part of my day.
Here's the list in no particular order.
Cut Copy: In Ghost ColoursIf it were still the 80s, Australia's Cut Copy would be right up there with Duran Duran and The Cure and New Order in my personal pantheon of pop. If these names mean anything to you, maybe you love Cut Copy too. Because it is 20 years later, they seem all the more amazing. How do they get that pure electronic pop sound when the pure electronic pop era is so far away? This album rocked my world for most of 2008, then had a second life in 2009 when I discovered that many of the tracks are great for running. Favorite songs: So Haunted, Far Away, Lights and Music, Hearts on Fire, Out There on the Ice. The sound just makes me want to go to a high school dance and then ignore everyone because I am, like, too goth.
Gorillaz: Demon Days
Oh how long I resisted the Gorillaz concept. Damon Albarn, sure, cool. Imaginary animated band by the Tank Girl guy, also cool. But I didn't get swept away until 2005, when the local Adult Album Alternative station started playing Kids with Guns all the time. Almost every song on Demon Days is excellent and a standout, and some are also insane. I love that Shaun Ryder (to me, the voice of Black Grape) takes over "DARE." The only thing that makes me crazy is the one with Dennis Hopper talking ("Fire Coming Out of a Monkey's Head") which I have UNCHECKED in my iTunes so I never have to hear it again. Otherwise, top notch, never boring. Favorites: Tracks 1-12
This 2001 album changed my life. I first heard Stars on a couple compilations, probably from Darla. One was a cover of "This Charming Man" (whaa-at!? but amazing!). The other was called "The Very Thing" and a rather depressing story of a dad taking his kid out to the park and thinking about his failed relationships. Listening to "The Very Thing" is like eavesdropping on some guy's pathetic interior monologue, his thoughts are banal and crude but also noble and beautiful. I snapped up the whole album next and it does not disappoint. Stars makes me feel like it's OK to feel smart and depressed and romantic and superior... sometimes. I guess Stars are some kinda Canadian super-duper-stars now, but I'll always remember them playing to an audience of 20 or so at T.T.'s in Cambridge. They gave us a great show, then I bugged Chris Seligman at the bar afterwards and said totally idiotic things to Torquil Campbell. Hooray! Other great tracks: My Radio (AM Mix), My Radio (FM Mix), Toxic Holiday, Going, Going, Gone, Counting Stars on the Ceiling
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
I like what everybody else likes about 2008's Vampire Weekend I suppose--the slight tinge of afro-pop, the relentlessly bright sound, and the saucy lyrics about Mansard roofs and Oxford commas and Benneton. Listening to this album makes me feel like I am living in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan: home from college, sweater sets, dances, rich parents and weekend escapes to Long Island even when the weather is not that great, just cuz all your friends are out there too and you'll probably play some more charades while drinking peach wine coolers just because they're left over in the fridge. Favorites: The Kids Don't Stand a Chance, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, Bryn, Campus, A-Punk, M79
The Strokes: Is This It?
I heard about this album through pure hype. Every magazine I picked up in that part of 2001 managed to mention it. Every celebrity interviewed said they were listening to it. It could not be avoided. And for excellent reason: Is This It? is 35 minutes of rock & roll, all rejuvenated and loud and New York-y and playing actual instruments and Not-Anything-Like-Britney-Thank-Heavens. It's so short there's hardly a point in having favorite songs. Just play the whole thing.
Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
I guess this is a guilty pleasure. It is, like the name of Gwen Stefani's second solo album, just a sweet escape. It's not, for me, some musical revelation or pop masterpiece. But this 2004 disc is damn catchy and there is no denying that "Hollaback Girl" is hilariously awesome. I also love "The Real Thing" because it sounds exactly like New Order... then I learned Gwen hired New Order to make it sound that way. Nice! I guess what I like about L.A.M.B. is its clear debt to New Wave and also early Madonna. It got me through a lot of weeding the summer of 2005, when I lived on a farm and went out into the fields with my discman (!) to help out. Other favorites: Harajuku Girls, What You Waiting For?, Bubble Pop Electric, Danger Zone, Crash
Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs
For me, one difference between this decade and the previous one is that in this decade I did not listen to the Beastie Boys every single day. I did not see them live, not once. I did not memorize all the lyrics to each and every release. I guess, like they did, I kind of grew up a little. They had kids and got more private and more political. I started a family too, and stopped arm-wrestling people in bars (mostly). That said, I still really really like To the 5 Boroughs, released in 2004. It has all the great rhymes and rhythms you'd expect from the 3 MCs. And killer liberal lyrics like "Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex" from "Time to Build" or "We got the power to make a difference" from "We Got The." They haven't really changed, but I guess I have. Or is it the other way around? I LIKE this album, but I am not RABID about it like I would have been in the 90s. Still, it's Them and I'm putting it on the list. Other fave songs: All Lifestyles, Crawlspace, An Open Letter to NYC
Kleenex Girl Wonder: After Mathematics
So Kleenex Girl Wonder is just genius. I guess it's partly the myth that everything from KGW is actually the brain child of one person, Graham Smith, even though KGW was a real touring band before they broke up in 2003 (so Wikipedia tells me). It makes Graham Smith seem like Prince--he plays every instrument, creates so many different-sounding songs, writes great lyrics, and is only, like, 20!! The main thing I like about 2002's After Mathematics is just that I can listen to it start to finish and it's all good. They're just simple songs, but each deliciously twisted somehow, whether it's musical distortions or swear words, it's hard to know what to expect. Especially good: Why I Write Such Good Songs, Ain't a Damned Thing Changed, No Melody, I Was a Serving Wench at a Themed Restaurant, Amelia
Missy Elliott: Miss E... So Addictive
It really is addictive. Missy Elliott's 2001 disc has tremendous attitude and is unabashed about liking things like sex and drugs. It's got anthems ("Lick Shots"), ballads, funk jams ("Old School Joint"), club bangers ("4 My People"), insta-classics ("Get Ur Freak On") and just raw funny stuff ("Slap! Slap! Slap!" and "One Minute Man"). I think this is a "best of" contender because whenever one of these songs pops up on my random mix, I always enjoy it and never turn it off. So Addictive is a keeper.
Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope
This one surprises me, but I think the numbers will show that I listen to this album a lot more than I would admit. What's my problem, you ask? Well I usually don't like acoustic-type stuff by "chick singers," or "singer-songwriters" or whatever. Especially red-heads with pianos. Things can get so estrogen-y and earnest. I like the bizarre and the synthetic better. But Regina Spektor's 2006 release is pretty bizarre when you listen carefully. She is a great pianist and has a beautiful soprano voice. Some of the songs are heartbreakingly pretty. But she is not afraid to sing something about "a little bag of cocaine" (Hotel Song) or about "Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Camels" (That Time) or to make the word "heart" 13 syllables long (that's "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-heart," from "Fidelity). She also sings in Russian, mentions "November Rain," quotes Louis XV, and steals piano vamps from Chopin. I like very much. Other favorites: Better, Samson, On the Radio, Après Moi, 20 Years of Snow