Staff Lists

The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s: 150-101

The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s: 150-101

by Pitchfork, posted September 29, 2009

130. Clipse
We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2

[; 2005]

Now that Hell Hath No Fury is no longer trapped in record-industry limbo-- now that it has taken its rightful place among fellow cult-favorite commercial flops like Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance-- the We Got It 4 Cheap mixtapes can be seen a little more clearly for what they are: The greatest collection of freestyles recorded over old G-Unit and Dipset beats by Grammy-nominated street rappers trying desperately to break their label contract ever. Vol. 2 remains the purest distillation of the Thornton brothers' narrow brand of genius, a treasure trove of punchlines so impeccably phrased, turned, and timed that they transcend their punchline status. The insouciance of Pusha and Mal's drug talk got some white people angrier with each other than at any point since the "Seinfeld" finale, but the writing on this mixtape mounts its own defense of its subject matter, gleaming with a fierce love for words and a helpless fascination with the infinite ways they can be put together to say new versions of the same thing. In short: These are still some of the most quotable raps of the decade. --Jayson Greene

129. The Streets
A Grand Don
't Come for Free
[Vice/Atlantic; 2004]

Strange that the explosion of social networking sites coincided with Mike Skinner losing touch of his greatest attribute-- the ability to sound like someone you don't know but would still call a friend. That gift was maximized on A Grand Don't Come For Free, a record that really needed it in the worst way. Overcoming wallpaper beats, impossible plot points (for his next trick, he'll lose his ATM card in a plasma TV), spoilers, and, well a plot to begin with, Grand's frankly stunning replay value stems from creating perfectly drawn vignettes that stand alone as individual set pieces. That first date that's going a little too well for comfort ("Could Well Be In"). The packed club that still feels like the loneliest place in the world ("Blinded by the Lights"). The heartbreak that's so crippling that you clutch to clichés like "there's plenty more fish in the sea" as if they could truly save you (imagine if "Dry Your Eyes" actually kept its rumored hook by Chris Martin). And then the beat switches in "Empty Cans", and you realize listening to A Grand might be akin to Facebooking an ex, but damn if Skinner rationalizes that too: "Something that was not meant to be is done/ And this is the start of what was." --Ian Cohen

128. Life Without Buildings
Any Other City
[D.C. Baltimore; 2001]

Sue Tompkins might be the most striking indie singer of the decade. She sounds like an internal monologue. She rattles out streams of words, repeating phrases and fragments like someone compulsively murmuring a list she's trying not to forget. She rolls and stretches words around in her mouth. She makes girlish exclamations and then whips around to chest-beating boasts, defiant dares, wounded questions. Her voice bounces and twirls acrobatically all around the music, then pulls itself up into passionate demands like lines ripped from an argument: "Look back and say that I didn't!" She does all this and yet sounds really normal and down-to-earth and awesome about it. Glasgow's Life Without Buildings backed up her gorgeous high-wire act with perfectly understated guitar work, and made just this one incredible, gem-like album-- lovable, beautiful, and moving, the kind of treasure with a mood and aesthetic entirely its own. Then they broke up. It's a good thing this one's so endlessly replayable, so worth poring over every tic, stutter, and syllable. --Nitsuh Abebe

127. Sleater-Kinney
The Woods
[Sub Pop; 2005]

By album seven, the life-cycle of most bands would dictate stagnation, or at least a move towards more "mature" themes. Not Sleater-Kinney. A jump to Sub Pop from longtime home Kill Rock Stars and the enlistment of producer Dave Fridmann kickstarted a short but brave new era for the band. On The Woods, the trio rock out with their cocks out, embracing their inner shag-haired arena gods via florid guitar solos and thunderous low-end crunch, not to mention an 11-minute song about fucking. It was the most body-focused music of Sleater-Kinney's career, but it didn't come at the expense of the head: "Modern Girl" coats the emptiness of consumer culture in sugary melody, "Entertain" disses merchants of mediocre art, "Jumpers" offers sympathy for a suicide. It would be the band's last album (not forever, let's hope). --Amy Phillips

126. Mastodon
[Relapse; 2004]

This decade, the metal underground dropped its stadium ambitions and turned inward, splitting off into dozens of subgenre variations and bashing away in tiny rooms. Mastodon rose to the top of that pack not by bringing back accessibility or grandeur but by doing crusty, misanthropic churn better than anyone else-- which, after all, is how a band like Metallica ascended to stadium status in the first place. Leviathan, still Mastodon's best, is a concept album about a Herman Melville Novel. That's the sort of dubious idea that you'd think only a stoned American Lit study group or the Decemberists could conjure, but Mastodon make it work by tapping into the primal dread and awe that comes with a gigantic whale smashing the fuck out of a whole whaling ship. Their bile-gargling vocals and juddering riffs and double-bass pummel all work together like a terrible machine, and even something as epically ambitious as the 14-minute "Hearts Alive" stays gripping throughout. --Tom Breihan

125. The Books
Thought for Food
[Tomlab; 2002]

The Books' debut splits the difference between a joke and a revelation. Sometimes the duo of Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto act ridiculous: a dead fish realizes it's dead; a dad disses his daughter. But other samples are anonymous and mysterious, and the music that envelopes them is sublime. From the sweep of a cello to an indescribable clatter, every detail catches the ear, and the instruments are cut and overdubbed so carefully that the seams vanish. These passages are as alluring as the gags are wacky-- or maybe the humor helps us give in to a sense of wonder. The Books' later discs smooth out their rough edges, but this one's the most fun, and you may still wonder from moment to moment exactly what's making you smile. --Chris Dahlen

124. PJ Harvey
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
[Island; 2000]

It could have been Polly Jean's jump-the-shark moment. Having built a career pushing the boundaries of art-diva dramatics, playing it straight was possibly her riskiest move yet. A fashionista glamour shot on the cover? Mousse-slick production? Songs about luuuurve? Uh oh. But it turns out that Happy PJ can be just as compelling as Tortured PJ, and sometimes even as scary (see: the violent lust of "Big Exit", the unbridled horniness of "This Is Love"). Unfortunately, history added another level of spookiness to the album. After 9/11, Harvey's reminiscences of romance on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn took on a previously unimagined sense of dread. It just isn't possible to hear "This Mess We're In", with duet partner Thom Yorke singing "Can you hear them?/ The helicopters?/ We're in New York," the same way again. Following Stories, PJ Harvey returned to unabashed weirdness; the three albums she has released since are as raw as ever. Any further drifting into the chick flick netherworld was thankfully avoided. --Amy Phillips

123. Four Tet
[Domino; 2003]

There's exacting and there's shambling. And then there's Rounds smack in the middle of the two. Kieran Hebden's finest LP is a sweet-spot masterclass, zoning out on the precise midpoint between jazz, hip-hop, folk, and Warp-ed electro. There's as much John Coltrane as there is J Dilla, yet this is no mash-up exercise. Critics called it "folktronica"-- about as inelegant a term imaginable for something so seamless. For all of the enveloping drums and whittled acoustic guitars, Rounds' secret weapon is air. Whether its the oxygen tank breaths that runs through "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" or the exhaling rubberducky squeaking on "Slow Jam" or the hi-hat's hiss on "Spirit Fingers", Hebden humanizes his laptop-born instrumentals with constant sonic CPR. The album starts with a heartbeat; flatlining is inconceivable. --Ryan Dombal

122. Ryan Adams
[Bloodshot; 2000]

Heartbreaker should be disqualified from such lists: Its raw nerves inspired a legion of jackasses to chord an acoustic clumsily. But these 14 songs, recorded in as many days between the end of Whiskeytown and the release of its swan song, still stun: Emmylou Harris' harmony on the soul-draining "Oh My Sweet Carolina" recalls her chemistry with Adams' icon, while Gillian Welch chills the air of "Bartering Lines", a creeping banjo blues, with steely exhalations. He misses his girl as soon as she's driving home, and he hates everything-- his best records, his favorite friends, her sweetest gifts-- when she finally bails. There have been plenty of reasons to pity Adams this decade. Heartbreaker, though, inspires the kind of regret you feel for anyone that's ever lost at love. --Grayson Currin

121. Broadcast
Haha Sound
[Warp; 2003]

If there is a nostalgia at work in the music of Birmingham's Broadcast, it is the wistful nostalgia for an alternate pop-cultural history-- a timeline whose canon is dominated by such mad scientists as Joe Meek or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, synth pioneers Silver Apples, and the vintage soundtracks of cult films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. On Broadcast's second studio album, Haha Sound, the full spectrum of their inventive scavenging is on exuberant display. Considerably more turbulent than their debut The Noise Made By People, Broadcast move gracefully from the primal Krautrock throb of "Pendulum" and raucous, Meek-inspired instrumentals to tracks of almost impossible delicacy such as the lullaby-like "Valerie" or the gauzy "Winter Now". Above all the tumult, Trish Keenan provides a crucial human element, keeping the album stabilized with her serene vocals and expressive melodies, sounding wholly unflappable no matter how much the ground might pitch beneath her feet. --Matthew Murphy

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