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The 50 Best Albums of the Decade (2000-2009)

November 2, 2009  |  7:00am
The 50 Best Albums of the Decade (2000-2009)

When this decade began, the Paste website was barely a year old, and the magazine was still a twinkle in its daddies’ eyes. So looking back over the first 10 years of the 2000s feels like looking back over our own history. There hasn’t been a new album Paste has covered that wasn’t eligible for our “Best of the Decade” consideration. We had dozens of critics vote for the best new albums, movies, TV shows games and books, and then we argued some more until we’d focused our spotlight onto the very best pop culture created during the aughts—whether it was wildly popular or is still waiting to be discovered by the masses. We’ll be bringing you each of the resulting lists, plus the best comedians, best documentaries, best movie soundtracks, best album covers and more throughout the month of November.

More than trying to create a canon for the ’00s (that’d be so last millennium), we’re just hoping you use these lists to reflect on some of the artists who shaped your decade and discover others that will change how you look at the next. What a great time to be a fan of thoughtful, engaging and original entertainment. And what a great time to be covering it all.

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50. Björk: Vespertine [Elektra] 2001
Even though its slender white neck figures into Vespertine’s cover artwork, forget about the swan-dress sideshow for just one moment. Forget the collective shriek of a thousand red-carpet fashion know-it-alls. Despite her reputation for flamboyance and silliness, the Icelandic empress achieved a shocking level of intimacy and tenderness with this folktronica gem. When I see the swan, my eye drifts past its beak to those pillowy white feathers, recalling the plushness and warmth of a down comforter. Feathers so white they evoke the purity of freshly fallen snow blanketing the ground outside while you sip a coffee by the fire, both hands curled around the mug’s warm ceramic finish. The beats and Matmos audio samples scattered across Vespertine are precisely executed; their subtle pop and crackle drawing you into an impossibly delicate, refreshingly sparse interior world: plucked harp strings, sparkling celeste, boy choirs, music boxes. The notes on this record might as well resemble the billions of tiny molecules expelled in a single contented sigh. Jason Killingsworth

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49. Libertines: Up The Bracket [Rough Trade] (2002)
As the baffling boyband/poptart craze was finally fading into oblivion, this vile, filth-ridden, substance-addled masterpiece of a rock record was projectile-vomited onto the U.K. charts by brilliant but reckless London band The Libertines. Following in the footsteps of their classic-punk heroes (The Clash’s Mick Jones produced the record), the Libertines preferred their sound raw and their subject matter depraved. Sadly prophetic, the band’s name was derived from the Marquis de Sade’s Lusts of the Libertines. But before Pete Doherty’s infamous binges derailed what might’ve been one of the greatest bands of the modern era, he and co-frontman/songwriting partner Carl Barat (along with drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall) cut this simultaneously apathetic and adrenaline-jacked speedball of a classic. Steve LaBate

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48. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose [Interscope] (2004)
In 2004, 69-year-old Loretta Lynn released her thirty-seventh solo studio album. It could have been a sad affair, the desperate yawp of a legendary Nashville madam teetering into an aged cliché of herself, but with the help of rock ‘n’ roll upstart Jack White, Lynn made the greatest record of her career. Like a bunch of rowdy grandkids, White and a crew of friends (most of whom would converge a year later as The Raconteurs) lent a sly, gritty feel to Lynn’s 13 mostly-autobiographical tracks—Van Lear Rose was her 70th release overall, but it was only the second time she’d written or co-written all of her songs. Her seasoned, tremulous voice paired perfectly with White’s electric guitar warble, pulling off mournful country crooners and all-out rock numbers with equal grit and spunk. She hasn’t released anything since, but it almost doesn’t matter. Rachael Maddux

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47. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not [Domino] (2006)
A modern-day Parklife and a punky companion piece to The Streets’ indie-rap landmark Original Pirate Material, Arctic Monkeys’ incendiary debut painted a dirt-streaked portrait of fin-de-siecle British youth culture: bleary nights out, romantic fumblings, chavs in tracksuits, run-ins with the cops. The band combined a precocious sense of melody with the kind of frenetic energy possessed only by the young and bored, parlaying their gifts into a thrashy Brit-rock classic. Nick Marino

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46. Once: Music From The Motion Picture [Columbia] (2007)
We hear a lot about break-up records, but The Frames’ Glen Hansard and newcomer Markéta Irglová gave us the loveliest falling-in-love record of the decade, as the Once co-stars fell slowly for one another, both on-screen and off. Hansard’s voice is as vulnerable as an open wound, and Irglová’s is the salve that makes everything OK. Josh Jackson

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45. Radiohead: In Rainbows [Self-released] (2007)
In one of modern music’s more lamentable historical twists, In Rainbows’ legacy will likely be its ground-breaking online marketing strategy and not its glorious music. Remember double-clicking that little zip file you “bought” for $0.04 and downloaded to your computer desktop? Remember how inspiring it was to hear a band with nothing left to prove make music this ambitious: Phil Selway’s tasty, constantly morphing polyrhythmic percussion assault on “15 Step”; the only bass line to ever put a lump in your throat, courtesy of “All I Need,” with Thom Yorke’s sleepy melody adding the pitch-perfect counterpoint; “Videotape,” with its steady march of chiming, heartbreaking piano chords. The next time you go see Radiohead in concert, you’re going to walk your sorry ass to the merch booth and buy an absurdly overpriced American Apparel-brand concert T-shirt that probably cost half-nothing to manufacture. Then you’re going to buy another one to give to your next-door neighbor. You owe Radiohead at least as much for giving the world this gorgeous, underappreciated masterpiece for the price of an unbuttered scone. Jason Killingsworth

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44. The Jayhawks: Rainy Day Music [Lost Highway] (2003)
On their first Lost Highway release, The Jayhawks combine a classic-rock sound with a low-key Americana energy to make one of the decade’s coziest records. The ‘Hawks do the Byrds proud with moody opener “Stumbling Through The Dark,” sugar-sweet love song “All The Right Reasons,” jingly-jangly “Angelyne” and harmony-happy “Tailspin.” Don’t just save them for a rainy day—these are songs for the ages. Kate Kiefer

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43. Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala [Secretly Canadian] (2007)
That string-soaked introduction. That syrupy baritone. A sense of drama and a sense of humor. “I will never kiss anyone / who doesn’t burn me like the sun.” From the elaborate construction of Night Falls Over Kortedala’s opener, “And I Remember Every Kiss,” it’s clear that Jens Lekman favors a little pomp and circumstance. But it suits the talented Swede. Lekman’s always been an excellent songwriter, combining the wit and charming carelessness of Jonathan Richman with the alternately lovelorn/loveable aesthetic of Morrissey and Magnetic Fields, and Kortedala finds the bard’s talent at its most fully-realized pinnacle to date, all samples, horns, beats and just a touch of kitschy grandeur. Austin L. Ray

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42. Jay-Z: The Blueprint [Roc-A-Fella] (2001)
New York’s greatest living rapper became self-aggrandizing to the point of self-parody over the course of the decade, but this time he actually delivered—so much so that he named two subsequent albums Blueprint, trying to stoke his own fire, and both records flamed out. The original Blueprint was the classic, a knockout punch by a heavyweight champion. “Young Vito, voice of the young people,” Jay called himself, (and also “the compadre / the Sinatra of my day,” and also, most audaciously, “Jay-Hova”). It’s a testament to his ferocious skills and towering persona that the comparisons don’t seem like hyperbole. Nick Marino

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41. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver [Capitol] (2007)
In just less than an hour, over the course of nine songs, many of which are in the five-to-eight minute range, James Murphy crams in what feels like a hundred musical reference points. That might as well be Brian Eno singing on “Get Innocuous!”; “All My Friends” could be a New Order cover. Those nasal vocals on “North American Scum” cheekily referenced his tendency to cheekily reference music-geek ephemera. Murphy is a self-aware chef; he knows his melting pot contains all the finest ingredients from music history, and he’s happy to sprinkle fly disco beats on top of them. Somebody get this guy a television show. Austin L. Ray

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