Musings on Music, top 50 albums of the decade

26th November, 2009

In thinking on the top 50 albums of the decade, I tried to distill down what I’ve listened to over the last ten years into the best of the best. Game changers, genre busters, glorious illustrations of brilliance, subtle tomes of awesome, albums that made you laugh, albums that made you cry, artists that noone had ever heard of 11 years ago, artists that reinvented themselves in the ensuing years, new collaborations, new forms of music.

The decade has seen the internet completely change the landscape of the arena of music. At the end of the 90′s, napster was an unheard of phenomenon. By the early 2000′s, Lars Uhlrich had single-handedly demolished the first worthwhile music-sharing network. But that didn’t stop us. Throughout the decade, the internet mutated & evolved from illegal filesharing networks like kazaa/limewire, to music blogs and internet radio stations who curate & promote great music, while heavily encouraging listeners to support artists in whatever way they can [WOXY, Cable & Tweed, Gorilla vs Bear, Kiss Atlanta]. Apple has created out of thin air a legal way to easily buy music [iTunes], as well as forever altering the way we consume it [iPods]. Radiohead & Paste Magazine & Girl Talk experimented with “pay what you want”, and while Paste has had its own financial woes [much like the rest of the publishing industry], Radiohead & Girl Talk have been considered unmitigated successes.

At the beginning of the decade, I was just a kid that liked music & explored interests through napster, etc. By 2003, I was the general manager of my college radio station [Wake Radio]. Somewhere in the middle of the decade, I started this blog & found it as a new avenue to spread what I like listening to to my friends & closest strangers [along with other musings on life]. With twitter, the possibilities exploded as sharing news & information have become increasingly more ‘viral’. Towards the end of the decade, we witnessed the birth of Muxtape, and while we knew the blessing couldn’t last, we had a way to share digital, streaming mixtapes of our own creation with the world. Even before its untimely death, some folks decided to launch an opensource model [rather than hosted] with a new, similar project called Opentape. This inspired me to launch a new site called Pneumes Radio with a couple friends of mine contributing semi-frequent mixtapes based on a shared theme.

What I haven’t mentioned so far are the bitter failures of the music industry this decade. The RIAA launched thousands of lawsuits against its customers, thus embittering a generation of music lovers. The radio industry launched digital FM, creating the hope of diversity & quality in radio, but ending mostly in the same old crap we get on analog radio. [Notable exception- my college radio station, once internet-only, finally found its place on the FM airways through a digital channel on the campus's NPR station.] Record stores across the country have shuttered their doors. And, lest we forget, dancing is still illegal without a license in the city of New York.

Actually compiling this list was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a while. The ‘smart playlist’ by year feature in iTunes was a great start, but actually distilling that down to what you see here was no small feat. Added to that was the problem of not having all my albums properly tagged with a year. I have left out amazing albums by wonderful artists who, for one reason or another, didn’t make it.

I didn’t dare attempt the logistical or quasi-legal option of adding songs for each one of these, but I have linked them all to iTunes, where you can preview & purchase the albums [plus, you support the blog! We get 5% of each purchase].

Without further adieu, I humbly present what i consider the best 50 albums of the decade, in order by year [within each year, no particular order].

The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
OutKast – Stankonia
Radiohead – Kid A
Nickel Creek – Nickel Creek

Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People
Circulatory System – Circulatory System

The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Rosebud – Vespers
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Sigur Ros – ()

OutKast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
The Postal Service – Give Up
The Rapture – Echoes
Rufus Wainwright – Want One
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

Adem – Homesongs
Arcade Fire – Funeral
CocoRosie – La Maison de Mon Reve
Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
Kings of Convenience – Riot on an Empty Street
Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
TV on the Radio – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Sondre Lerche – Two Way Monologue

Dr. Dog – Easy Beat
Iron & Wine + Calexico – In the Reins
Jamie Lidell – Multiply
Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinoise!

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
Cansei De Ser Sexy – Cansei De Ser Sexy
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Dona Got a Ramblin Mind
Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
Hot Chip – The Warning
Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds
The Rapture – Pieces of the People We Love
Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope
Snowden – Anti-Anti

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Beirut – Flying Club Cup
Feist – The Reminder
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
MIA – Kala
The National – Boxer
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Janelle Monae – Metropolis
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

Passion Pit – Manners
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Bands I recently came to dig, but are far too new to fit into the scope of the decade:
Rain Machine
Chiddy Bang
Bad Rabbits

Notable Soundtracks:
Almost Famous [2000]
O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Kill Bill Vol. 1 [2003]
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004]
Garden State [2004]
Juno [2007]

Notable singles:
The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army” [2003]
Mates of State – “Goods” [2004]
Yuki – “Joy” [2005]
Clap your hands say yeah – “Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” [2005]
Junior Boys – “In the Morning” [2006]
Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook” [2008]
Bag Raiders – “Shooting Stars” [2008]
Beirut – “My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille” [2009]

Notable covers:
Johnny Cash – “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails [2002]
Outkast – “My Favorite Things”, originally by Rodgers & Hammerstein [2003]
José González – “Heartbeats”, originally by The Knife [2005]
Feist – “Sea Lion Woman”, traditional [2007]
Franz Ferdinand – “All My Friends”, originally by LCD Soundsystem [2007]
She & Him – “You Really Got a Hold On Me”, originally by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles [2008]
Janelle Monae – “Smile”, originally by Charlie Chaplin [2008]
Run Toto Run – “Sleepyhead”, originally by Passion Pit [2009]

Luminaries who didn’t explicitly find their way onto the list anywhere, but who still deserve a mention:
Girl Talk
Danger Mouse

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank the following for regularly introducing me to awesome music over the course of the last ten years:
Trey Tims
Grant Bollmer [Wake Radio]
Cable & Tweed
Preston Craig [DSC+KissAtlanta]
JP Stephens
Paste Magazine
Tiffany Needham
Jacob Morris
WRAS-88.5FM Atlanta
Most likely everyone who’s reading this.

Finally, a plea to the linguists of the world. Can we come up with new, separate terms for a DJ who simply plays a song for others, and a DJ who takes songs & sounds to create a new song all together? Thanks.

I invite you to check out Pneumes Radio, where we’re also launching a new “best of the decade” theme today. Check it out at:

Buy the ‘best of’ mixtape on itunes

Happy Thanksgiving all! Thanks for reading.


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