In a decade where music listeners moved away from albums en masse, and towards downloadable tracks and podcasts, there was perhaps less emphasis on the musical long-player than at any period since the 1960s.
However, with more opportunities to Do It Yourself than ever before, great albums arrived in their droves. Some, like Jay-Z’s The Black Album, emerged on major labels backed by money-spinning promotion campaigns. Others, like Dangermouse’s The Grey Album, were home-made success stories that reflected the changing tides in the way people chose to consume and react to music. Tellingly, two of the albums in our final top 100 were free CDs given away with other products.
Neither Black nor Grey made that top 100. Along with other great contenders like At the Drive-in’s Relationship of Command, Superpitcher’s Here Comes Love, Jim O’Rourke’s I’m Happy… and Kate Bush’s Aerial, they fell by the wayside. Still, we’re happy with the results.
Every day this week, we’ll publish twenty of our top 100: starting with 100-80 today, and ending with the final 20 on Friday. And we’ll try not to use the word ‘noughties’ too much.
100: PARALLAX CORPORATION
A co-production between Dutch italo-fetishists I-f and Intergalactic Gary, the slyly humorous, irascibly funky Cocadisco introduced us to a whole new world of alternative electronic music. In its wake innumerable artists – from the dance underground to the pop charts – plundered 80s synth-pop, electro and disco for inspiration. To this day none have done so with anything like the aplomb of The Parallax Corporation. [Trilby Foxx]
99: LATE OF THE PIER
FANTASY BLACK CHANNEL
Nottingham glam rock, made by four teenagers dressed like Quality Street packets and produced by Erol Alkan – God this album was set up for a fall. And yet, on the strength of Alkan’s neon-filtered production and Late of the Pier’s unbelievable knack for hooks and melodies, Fantasy Black Channel succeeded, even managing to sound like Oasis’ ‘Live Forever’ (on ‘Random Furl’) and still be good. [Jay Shockley]
SHEDDING THE PAST
Shedding The Past is a haunting record, as much an elegy for techno as an affirmation of its enduring and mutable power.
From the windswept breakbeat of ‘Estrange’ and ‘ITHAW’ to the ambient exhalation of ‘Ostrich-Mountain-Square’, producer Rene Pawlowitz is at his best in reflective mode. But these melancholic passages of Shedding The Past are complemented beautifully by a number of full-heft dancefloor bombs: the rolling, positively locomotive ‘That Beats Everything!’ and especially ‘Another Wedged Chicken’, which finds Pawlowitz showing off his command of heavily swung, dubstep-influenced rhythms.
Techno will never be the same unquantifiable alien force that it was in the early 90s, and a spoken word interlude reminiscing wistfully about “true techno music” suggests Shed himself is well aware of this. But he also knows that true techno looks forward, not back – the past must first be confronted, and then cast aside. [Ben Baglin]
Dedicated to late boyfriend Tore Kroknes, Annie’s debut album was, in true pop fashion, all about the singles. That might seem like a slight, but when those singles are ‘Happy Without You’, ‘Always Too Late’, ‘Chewing Gum’ and the exemplary, euphoric ‘Heartbeat’ (love song of the decade? Probably) then they’re always going to stand out. Not as great an album as Robyn’s 2005 effort, but worthy nonetheless. [Anna Russell]
96: KARL LINDH
BORTOM E4’S HORRISONT
(STRANGE LIFE, 2005)
Released on Danny ‘Legowelt’ Wolfers’ Strange Life label and produced by Stilleben boss Luke Eargoggle, the sublimely slow and inscrutable Bortom E4’s Horrisont – which may or may not be about chess – is a world away from the Dutch electro sound we all know and love.
Subtle twilight jazz tropes – smokey double bass, electric piano – are fleshed out with willowy synth textures, electronic blips and shuffling drum machine rhythms. The mood is drowsy, lolling, hypnotic but also a little threatening – somehow reminiscent of deserted seaside resorts and amusement arcades, evacuated domes of pleasure. But this is no brooding Ballardian bore-fest – there’s wit and warmth to it. A totally unique and elliptical listening experience, Badalamenti by way of Portmeirion, Bortom E4’s Horrisont is second only to Burial in the ultimate night bus soundtrack stakes. [Kiran Sande]
95: PREFUSE 73
ONE WORD EXTINGUISHER
A hodgepodge of dayglo synths, cutting percussion, one-take verses and beautiful melodies that grew in stature as the noughties went on; taking in the best of Dilla, Dabrye, Boards of Canada and er, pre-fusion jazz, and predicting many of underground hip-hop’s movements late in the decade – but with the unbeatable rawness of a record made solely on an MPC sampler. [Jack Blake]
A bold departure from Raster-Noton’s typical digital minimalism, this dense and suspenseful record feels more like a grainy, fractal homage to the dystopian synth soundtracks of John Carpenter. Paranoid, claustrophobic and full of a vague but intense urban dread, List’s combination of advanced electronics and grindhouse swagger – replete with smudged jive-talk samples – make it one of the most bizarre and rewarding, ahem, “electronica” records of recent years. [Kiran Sande]
93: CAMERA OBSCURA
LET’S GET OUT OF THIS COUNTRY
The Glaswegian Peel favourites, well-versed in the Scottish indie heritage of bittersweet observations and comely ‘60s pop, were too often little more than a Belle & Sebastian reference in many critics’ eyes and ears – until the release of this, their third long-player. Songwriter Tracyanne Campbell’s pen began to sweep in broader strokes, and producer Jari Haapalainen employed lush orchestration and cathedrals full of reverb to give her dourly romantic outpourings the pomp and the pathos they deserved. Though their musical outlook is perhaps old-fashioned, the appeal of bands like Camera Obscura is indefatigable, and, like the timeless legacy of the pop greats that influenced it – Cobb, Spector, Greenwich and such – this album should hold its lustre forever. [Daddy Bones]
92: MISS KITTIN AND THE HACKER
(INTERNATIONAL DEEJAY GIGOLOS, 2001)
These days one tends to remember electroclash for its most lurid, pantomime aspects, and forget some of the remarkable music it threw up. Effortlessly bestriding speaker-ripping club music and arch art-pop, the near-perfect debut offering from Miss Kittin and The Hacker sounds as riveting today as it did back in ‘01. Kittin’s lyrics inhabit and skewer the slack-brained lifestyles of the rich and famous with uncommon sass and savagery: “Every night with my star friends / We eat caviar and drink champagne, sniffing in the VIP area / We talk about Frank Sinatra / You know Frank Sinatra? / He’s dead! HAHAHAHAHA! Dead.”
Elsewhere nurses, strippers and MTV automatons fall under the satirical knife, but crucially The Hacker’s jacked-up beats cut just as deep: made from a sub-heavy, acid-flecked alloy of electro-techno, EBM and synth-pop, they are, in the best possible sense, absolute filth. [Trilby Foxx]
YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT
Rejected by Reprise (who’d released every prior Wilco album under Howie Klein’s presidency of the label), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot saw band members leave, a documentary, a lawsuit, a leak (before leaks were standard procedure) and God knows what else. Without a label and tracks leaking fast, the band streamed YHF on their website in late 2001, and it turned out it was a masterpiece – unsettling in the way its lyrics and cover anticipate the September 11 attacks, and one of the great Americana albums of any era. [Tom Lea]
90: BJØRN TORSKE
(SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND, 2007)
In a decade where the “cosmic disco” sound of Lindstrom and Prins Thomas was endlessly exalted, many overlooked the related and arguably more impressive work of their friend and fellow Norwegian, Bjorn Torske. His Feil Knapp LP – despite bearing one of the least promising front covers in the history of recorded music – astounds with its simple compositional brilliance, its sense of fun and of free-roaming adventure. Dub is as much of a component as disco: the bass is fat and foregrounded in every tune, and ‘Kapteinens Skegg’ and ‘Spelunker’ are fully-fledged (if rather camp) journeys into the dancehall. Throw in shades of Morricone, pastoral folk, krautrock and Detroit techno, and you have yourself a rangy and captivating listen. Special mention, though, is reserved for ‘Hatten Passer’, which effortlessly outstrips ‘Young Folks’ as whistling track of the decade. [Kiran Sande]
WHERE WERE U IN 92?
(WERK DISCS, 2008)
Zomby – one of the second half of the decade’s most reliably intriguing and inspiring producers – has only released one full album, a modern take on early ’90s hardcore built on an AKAI S2000 sampler and an old version of Cubase running on an Atari ST. Blade Runner, Street Fighter, Gucci Mane, ‘The Bouncer’ and more were sampled on this air horn-heavy exercise in rave-digging. [Tom Lea]
88: MICHAEL MAYER
Mayer’s seminal mix CD gathered up the obscure sounds of disparate producers within the nascent German microhouse scene and thrillingly laid them end-to-end. In so doing he laid a pathway that led to Berghain, Villalobos and the dominance of minimal in techno clubs from Lille to Ljubljana. [Justin Toland]
87: NO AGE
(SUB POP, 2008)
Still the best record to come from this whole new LA thing, No Age’s first album proper saw Dean Spunt and Randy Randall channel Big Black, Weezer and everything in between into a sonic swamp of sludge-heavy riffs, broken channels, fuzzy ambience and some of the catchiest rock songs of the decade: ‘Brain Burner’ and ‘Here Should Be My Home’ particular highlights. [Tom Lea]
LA MAISON DE MON REVE
(TOUCH & GO, 2004)
Sierra and Bianca Cassady have spoken about being at their most creative in “pure isolation”, and that never came through more than on their first album together. Recorded in a bathtub and originally distributed amongst close friends only, La Maison de mon Reve tried to make sense of love, sexuality, religion and more and failed, emerging from its conception sleepy-eyed and even more confused. Dream-pop, but not as we knew it. [Tam Gunn]
MADE IN MENORCA
(SOUL JAZZ, 2006)
Matt Edwards has made a lot of fine music as Radio Slave and as one half of Quiet Village, but Rekid – his more self-consciously experimental project – has yielded some of the most interesting work. At the time of its release, journalists and record stores were quick to attach the tag of “smack-house” to Made In Menorca; sure, there’s a certain opiated haze about it, and the BPMs are wonderfully sluggish, but the debut full-length from Rekid is too alive and dynamic to deserve such an epithet. Better to describe it simpkly as a dark Balearic dance record – one that takes in abstract dub (‘Diamond Black’), rolling hip-hop (‘Tranzit’), trippy, malevolent synth-disco (’85 Space’) and, in ‘Retroactive’, one of the most sublime, blissed-out house tracks of this or any other decade. [Ben Baglin]
84: ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS
I AM A BIRD NOW
(SECRETLY CANADIAN, 2005)
There are few tools better shaped to explore the extremes of human experience than the voice of Antony Hegarty. The NYC-based singer would have stood out in any era, but in a decade where AutoTune pretty much owned pop music his excruciated wail – one minute soaring sonorously above the clouds, the next trembling fearfully beneath the duvet – seemed especially human and powerful. From the cover art on in (Peter Hujar’s portrait of Candy Darling on her deathbed) I Am A Bird Now – the second album by Hegarty and his band – is a morbid affair, but that voice consistently finds notes of hope in the key of despair. This, then, is an album of sumptuous, celebratory sadness – and those, as we all know, don’t come around very often. [Marie Kelly]
83: GHOSTFACE KILLAH
(RAZOR SHARP, 2000)
“Scientific, my hand kissed it / Robotic let’s think optimistic / You prolly missed it watch me dolly dick it.” God knows how many ex-skaters spent the fist half of this decade making slightly embarrassing ‘abstract’ hip-hop, but on Supreme Clientele the Wu Tang’s MVP gets weirder than all of them, and still sounds ghetto. “Apollo kids live to spit the real” indeed. [Chris Campbell]
82: BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE
(ARTS & CRAFTS, 2003)
On the surface, You Forgot It In People was off-putting: members of Stars, Silver Mt Zion, Metric and the rest of the Montreal indie brigade getting together to make a ‘pop album’, as if their past credits meant it’d be better than other pop albums simply on merit. Problem was, it was: blending post-rock rollercoasters (’KC Accidental’) with trance-pop lullabies (’Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl’), tribal dream-noise (’Shampoo Suicide’) and some cracking four minute rock songs to boot. [Jay Shockley]
81: NEIL LANDSTRUMM
SHE TOOK A BULLET MEANT FOR ME
In which UK techno’s foremost historian conjures up a demented scrapheap of trashy breakbeat, gun-metal electro and some of the hardest industrial techno, synth-pop, funk and hip-hop known to man. She Took A Bullet Meant For Me is brilliantly cheap: its tribal percussion sounding like cranes hammering sheet metal, its synths rusted and oxidized, dripping in oil. Dystopian dance music that still bangs. [Kevin Smart]
80: KODE9 & SPACEAPE
MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE
Without sacrificing any of Kode9’s trademark starkness, Memories of the Future turns out to be remarkably varied in tone. ‘Glass’ is an eerily jaunty synthetic sea shanty for an abandoned spaceship locked into a fixed orbit. The instrumental ‘Lime’ is as limpid and dank as Delia Derbyshire at her most extra-terrestrial. Spaceape’s vocals range from in-your-face to insinuating, from rabble-rousing clamour to rasping whisper…the simmering, febrile atmosphere recalling not so much Tricky’s Maxinquaye as its criminally underrated sequel, Pre-Millennium Tension. [K-punk]
79: DJ HARVEY
SARCASTIC DISCO VOL. 2
(SARCASTIC CLOTHING, 2001)
Who would’ve thought that a determinedly retro mix CD by a California-residing East Anglian hippie, given away with free at a Japanese clothing store, would change the course of dance music? Not us. But it did.
Recorded live with two turntables, mixer and FX, Harvey’s Sarcastic Disco Vol. 2 brought the genre-hopping, anything-goes DJing approach of Larry Levan and David Mancuso bang up to date. He included a false tracklist with the CD to throw spotters off the scent, but after much speculation, the tracks were ID’d – rare or little-known tunes from the likes of Claudja Barry, Logic System, Holger Czukay, even The Beach Boys (‘Our Prayer’). Suddenly the whole western world was reminded that you didn’t just have to play straight disco cuts to get the party grooving, and an extended era of post-Balearic, recklessly eclectic digging and re-edit culture was underway. [Daniel Feeld]
78: THE BUG
(NINJA TUNE, 2008)
Pressure, Kevin Martin’s second album as The Bug had its plaudits, but you felt that some people missed the point: all eyes were on the heavyweight ragga of tracks like ‘Gun Machine’, when Pressure was also an album that contained real beauty. But combining these opposing forces has long been Martin’s deal: he’s twice spoken to FACT about living for extremes (“I love really beautiful music or I love really ugly music”), and third Bug album London Zoo saw the heavy tracks get heavier, and the ballads become more unsettlingly serene.
Not just a career best – for both Martin and his array of vocalists – but a cathartic record: Martin spent his time making the album contemplating leaving London for the first time, and came out the other end feeling that the capital was “his only home.” [Tom Lea]
77: LIL WAYNE
THE CARTER II
(CASH MONEY, 2005)
Whether The Carter II is Wayne’s best album of this decade or not is up for debate – you could easily make a case for, let’s see, three mixtapes as being better? What The Carter II does represent though, is the point where Wayne officially graduated: the moment where the kid rapper we first heard on ’97’s ‘We On Fire’ fulfilled his promise of becoming the best MC alive, and reached the stature where he could do ridiculous shit like ‘Prom Night’ and still have the world behind him. Or, as one of his countless tattoos indicates, in the palm of his hand. [Chris Campbell]
76: THE KNIFE
Perhaps the most uncanny pop album of the decade. Crystalline synths warble and chatter, whisper and scream, creating a beguiling electronic backdrop for the stunning processed voice of Karin Dreijer Andersson. More Brothers Grimm than T-Pain, misery never sounded so glorious – or so groovy. [Justin Toland]
75: QUIET VILLAGE
(STUDIO !K7, 2008)
The work of Matt ‘Radio Slave’ Edwards and esteemed digger and disco fiend Joel Martin, Quiet Village’s Silent Movie rounded up most of the tracks from the duo’s stunning, limited edition releases on New York’s Whatever We Want Records, and added a clutch more.
The creative apogee of the neo-Balearic craze which blew up in 2005-2008, Silent Movie found Martin and Edwards gathering obscure psych, soundtrack, prog and exotica nuggets and splicing, augmenting, re-editing and arranging them into dazzling new configurations. ‘Too High To Move’, ‘Pacific Rhythm’, ‘Pillow Talk’ and ‘Can’t Be Beat’ – these were some of the most beautiful, most captivating tunes of the decade, and their uncertain origins in 1970s private presses, sound-libraries and second-hand stores only added to their dusty mystique. [Trilby Foxx]
START BREAKING MY HEART
Dan Snaith’s debut album as Manitoba was also his best, eclipsing both the follow-up Up In Flames and the subsequent music he’s recorded as Caribou. The moody, broken un-techno of opener ‘Dundas, Ontario’ sets the album on an intriguing path, and it climaxes with the driving, twinkling ‘Brandon’ and ‘Lemon Yoghourt’, which sounds like a Steve Reich CD skipping in the player – in a good way. Snaith might not be anywhere near as accomplished as Four Tet – the artist with whom he is most commonly and understandably compared – but the naïve emotional intensity he generates on Start Breaking My Heart just about gives him the edge. [Daniel Feeld]
(FAT CITY, 2007)
To call Working Night$ the Endtroducing… of house music would be a gross exaggeration, but first exposure to its sampladelic chutzpah undoubtedly reminded us of DJ Shadow in his pomp. Loosely styled as a nocturnal hop around different Detroit radio frequencies, snatches of hip-hop, funk and soul mingle gloriously with hypnotic techno cuts like the modern-classic ‘W.A.R.’. It’s still hard to fathom how this young Mancunian produced a debut album of such conceptual and musical maturity, but he did it, and we’re all the richer for it. Essential for fans of Moodymann and Theo Parrish. [Trilby Foxx]
(MONOLAKE / IMBALANCE COMPUTER MUSIC, 2005)
Produced by Monolake mainstay Robert Henke in partnership with Torsten ‘T++’ Profrock, Polygon Cities effortlessly combined the linear attack of techno with the spatial ambition of sound-art, with a liberal dash of jungle rollage thrown in for good measure. You need only listen to ‘Digitalis’ or the heavy-stepping ‘Invisible’ to understand why Monolake remain very much the producers’ producers, unconstrained by convention and always forging forward. [Kiran Sande]
71: THE SOFT PINK TRUTH
DO YOU WANT NEW WAVE OR DO YOU WANT THE SOFT PINK TRUTH?
A potty-mouthed, club-savvy side-project of Matmos’s Drew Daniel, The Soft Pink Truth released a number of diverting records on Matthew Herbert’s Soundslike label before striking gold with this inspired covers album. Rendering classic 80s punk and hardcore tunes in synthed-out, sub-heavy dancefloor style – we’re talking Crass’s ‘Do They Owe Us Living’ re-imagined as speaker-whumping 2-step, Minor Threat’s ‘Out of Step’ as broken electro-disco – Do You Want New Wave knows not of sacred cows. It’s testament to Daniel’s talents that what might’ve been just another electroclash-era art-prank ended up being among the most scintillating dance music LPs of the decade. [Kiran Sande]
(FORCE TRACKS, 2000)
Pretty much the best vocal house album of the past ten years, with Sasu Ripatti suppressing his more self-consciously experimental tendencies to fashion elastically funky, synth-saturated grooves. So many producers have aped its sound that Vocalcity doesn’t sound quite as radically ravishing as it did in 2000, but ‘Market’ and ‘Tessio’ in particular are evergreen. [Ben Baglin]
69: VARIOUS ARTISTS
RUN THE ROAD
2009 might be the year grime had its biggest chart hits, but 2005 was the year the sound crossed over into the consciousness of American music fans, thanks to primers in The Wire, Pitchfork and Stylus (by Simon Reynolds, Jess Harvell and Simon Hampson respectively) and the release of this CD, compiled by Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark and featuring a booklet of grime photography that ranged from the sublime to the hilarious. Dizzee and Wiley may have already been recognisable names Stateside, but Run the Road was the point where No Lay, Shystie, Terror Danjah, D Double E, Bruza and more made the transition from relative nobodies to er, relative nobodies on a seminal album. [Tom Lea]
68: SUNNO))) & BORIS
(SOUTHERN LORD, 2006)
Rather than a lame ‘versus’ collaboration, the two coolest names in modern heavy metal actually collaborated to create this thrilling album. Altar could have just been Pink + Black 1, and people would have eaten it up. Being the artists they are, though, from the murk and gloom of this Southern Lord supergroup came the spine-chilling slo-mo ballad ‘The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)’; the enormo-fuck, synth-assisted mind annihilation of ‘Akuma no Kuma’; the sinister hypnagogic assault of ‘Fried Eagle Mind’. The suffocating atmosphere and low frequency overload meant Altar could be as palatable to Hyperdub fans as Relapse ones; perhaps more so.
Featuring not just the five full-time members of the two bands, the record enlisted the likes of Jesse Sykes, Earth’s Dylan Carlson and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil – but it sounds like the work of a single entity. So complete is the vision on Altar that there is a 28-minute ‘prelude’: ‘Her Lips Were Wet With Venom (SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas)’ boasts a palindromic arrangement to match its subtitle. While post-metal may largely be a damp squib, this record alone justifies the sub-genre’s existence. [Robin Jahdi]
(STONES THROW, 2000)
A patchwork quilt stitched together from the poetry of Melvin Van Peebles, the greatest breaks in rap history, the personality and voice of Sir Nose D’Void of funk and the astro-mythology of Sun Ra. It’s both hilarious and deeply brooding by turns, with Madlib’s helium voiced alter-ego Quasimoto tackling the subject of racist police on ‘Low Class Conspiracy’ as easily as he sings the praises of being ever-blazed with fat pockets on ‘Green Power’. A rap album so unique and entertaining it’s impossible to tire of it, and to crown it all, some of the finest Madlib beats in history, his most visionary and groundbreaking work, recorded on mushrooms and mixed entirely on a Tascam cassette tape multi-track. [Mr. Beatnick]
66: RICARDO VILLALOBOS
THE AU HAREM D’ARCHIMEDE
Never one to follow the herd – Thé Au Harem D’Archimède pointedly closes with the (anti-)anthem ‘True to Myself’ – Ricardo Villalobos, the Chilean-German producer/remixer/superstar DJ has deservedly attracted a global legion of techno fanboys. And this is one of his finest moments: an album whosepunning title (part geometry lesson, part nargile session) alludes to the mood of mellow abstraction found within. Yet the shapeshifting sonic textures (from atonal acoustic guitars to animal sounds and afro-aquatic synths) are merely the icing on a cake whose key ingredient is rhythm. Simply put, Villalobos has few peers when it comes to the ability to build and sustain interesting and effective grooves. Rarely is that more evident than on this album. [Justin Toland]
65: THE BOOKS
THE LEMON OF PINK
On their second album, New York’s finest cut ‘n’ pasters continued the sample-based approach that had made debut Thought for Food so captivating, but refined it: giving the acoustic melodies more room to breathe, build up and release, and adding the presence of Anne Doerner on vocals, providing The Lemon of Pink with a weird couple dynamic that resembled a scrap-folk take on Eric Trip’s cult indie classic Love Tara. [Tam Gunn]
64: THEO PARRISH
(SOUND SIGNATURE, 2008)
Keeping up with Theo Parrish’s vinyl-only releases is an expensive business, so this 2xCD set of heavily EQ’d grooves old and new was manna from heaven. It also provided proof – if it was needed – that the Detroit cat is deserving of the hallowed status that fanboys around the world afford him.
On Sound Sculptures, Theo and his invisible players bring a kind of pre-electronic intuition and musicianship to house; it’s no coincidence that the sleeve art depicts him in jazzman mood and design scheme, and there are shouts out to Coltrane, Ra et al on ‘Black Music (I Love You)’. But this album is at its best not when it talksabout the DNA-level kinship of house, techno, jazz, soul and funk, but rather when it demonstrates it – as on the mercurial ‘Galactic Ancestors’. There are numerous highlights, but look out in particularly for the Rhodes-rich Quincy Jonesism of ‘Nitedrive’ and the insanely raw techno cut ‘Synthetic Phlemm’, a collaboration with Omar-S. [Kiran Sande]
63: FIERY FURNACES
(ROUGH TRADE, 2004)
Bitter Tea, Window’s City, EP, Gallowsbird’s Bark – one could easily make a case for the Friedberger siblings as the decade’s most rewarding band. But it’s on second album Blueberry Boat where the duo’s prog-pop fetishation is most fully realised: a long player that works on countless levels (ever noticed the frequent mimicry between instruments and lyrics?), and best showcases the Furnaces’ ability to not just create sprawling epics (’Mason City’, ‘Chris Michaels’ and ‘Blueberry Boat’) but heartwrenching miniatues in the form of album highlights ‘Spaniolated’ and ‘1917?. [Tam Gunn]
THE ABSENCE OF BLIGHT
To call Lawrence’s sophomore album romantic techno at its best would be doing a disservice to others: the Hamburg native’s labelmate Pantha du Prince has since surpassed The Absence of Blight’s groundwork. But Absence, with its abundance of chimes, bells and soft pads still holds up as one of this decade’s loneliest statements – and could have been made by few others. [Tom Lea]
61: ARCTIC MONKEYS
WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT
What do you need to know about this record that you don’t already? It’s incredibly good. ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ in particular. But all of it really. [Trilby Foxx]
60: MATIAS AGUAYO
ARE YOU REALLY LOST
Kompakt were one of the most important and consistently great labels of the past decade, wistfully recasting techno as a kind of melancholic/ecstatic futurist pop. Are You Really Lost is one of the label’s finest moments, which crystallises why they matter so much. This is impeccably stylish music, but also utterly heartfelt, sensual and close. Along with Ricardo Villalobos, Matias Aguayo is one of the true geniuses of contemporary techno. [Simon Hampson]
59: WHITE STRIPES
WHITE BLOOD CELLS
(XL RECORDINGS, 2001)
Success rather went to the head of The White Stripes; it’s easy to forget what an appealing – and worthy – proposition they were back in 2001. They were already two albums old by this stage, but it was the jaw-dropping White Blood Cells that caught everyone’s imagination. Indie-disco staples ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ and ‘Hotel Yorba’ have been so overplayed that they tend to grate now, but you can never tire of hearing the righteous crunch of ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’, can you? [Anna Griffiths]
58: HORSEPOWER PRODUCTIONS
IN FINE STYLE
Without Horsepower there’d be no dubstep – fact. This, their effervescent debut album, was more of a garagey affair than it’s murkier, breaksier and ultimately more influential 2004 follow-up, To The Rescue. Still, the emphasis on dub style – from clipped, Maurizio-style chords to sampled badman chatter and, of course, cavernous sub-bass – certainly anticipates the coming era.
What’s staggering about In Fine Style now is just how pert and polished it sounds, and also how unconstrained by genre: ‘Classic Delux’ pairs swinging 2-step rhythm with sampled spy-flick brass, ‘What We Do’ and ‘Stone Cold Vibes’ sound like Carl Craig making jazz-fried broken beat with a British soundsystem mentality, while ‘Fat Larry’s Skank’ lays down the gauntlet there and then to Skream, Digital Mystikz et al. Without doubt the greatest full-length album to emerge from the UK garage explosion, a techno and reggae-infused masterpiece that’s absolutely begging to get royal re-issue treatment. [Kiran Sande]
On paper the idea of two stoned Swedes referencing Fleetwood Mac, Holger Czukay and lush piano-house on tracks that run well past the quarter-hour mark didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but with West Coast Studio elegantly sidestepped the dub-disco waffle that was so ubiquitous in the late noughties – and instead turned out a fat-free, optimistic but still gloriously strung-out song-suite that sounds fresh even after, oh, 3021 listens.
A feat of songwriting and production both, these six tracks conjure vast aural vistas out of languid synth pads, plangent guitar licks and driving, full-bodied basslines, coloured with rococo percussion and vocals that recall the ‘Mondays and The Cure (in a good way). West Coast is so pretty, so individual, so charming and euphoric that you could basically die happy in its company. Up there with Surf’s Up as one of the all-time great summer albums. [Trilby Foxx]
56: RHYTHM & SOUND
W/ THE ARTISTS
(BURIAL MIX, 2003)
Having brought a dub sensibility to bear on high-BPM techno as Basic Channel, as Rhythm & Sound Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald set about making dub with a techno aesthetic. The resulting riddims would’ve been impressive enough in instrumental form, but the Berliners proceeded to coax amazing vocals out of a carefully chosen cast of Jamaican collaborators – among them Cornel Campbell, Paul St Hilaire and Jah Batta – recording their efforts with incredible understanding and fidelity, situating them in their perfect space, so to speak.
While so many attempts to “modernise” dub feel soulless and derivative, w/ The Artists’ roots-futurist confections have a timeless gravity about them. A big influence on Kode9, Appleblim and other key dubstep denizens, not only is this album an unlikely feat of thoughtful cross-cultural exchange, it’s also a divinely sensuous listen. [Daniel Feeld]
55: MATTHEW DEAR
(GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL, 2007)
One of the finest electronic pop releases of the decade – a deft mingling of traditional song-form and rhythmic modernism that was a deserved underground hit. Brushing aside the over-sexed techno vibes of his Audion project and re-connecting with the micro-house balladry honed on 2004’s Backstroke, here Dear privileged storytelling and emotion over dancefloor effect. That he still got feet tapping and arses wiggling is to his infinite credit. [Kiran Sande]
VISION CREATION NEWSUN
Julian Cope once described this as sounding “like the Faust Tapes’ most euphoric uplifting moments were digitally tape-sped into some kind of Beyond Time.” What else needs to be said? That it sometimes sounds like a load of native Indian drummers trying to summon Aphex Twin? That it’s one of the biggest, most life-affirming albums ever made? Just listen to it if you haven’t already. And if you have, then do so again. [Jay Shockley]
53: THE XX
(YOUNG TURKS, 2009)
Okay, so five years down the line the xx placing this high on an end of decade list might seem ludicrous, but when was the last time a young British band arrived equally respected in indie, dance and pop circles, acclaimed by both the underground and mainstream, with artists as disparate as Skream, Hot Chip and Florence and the Machine wanting to work with them? Much is made of the space and lighting offered by the xx’s production – courtesy of the band’s own Jamie Smith – but it’s easy to forget that without songwriting skills ahead of their years, this band would get shown up across the course of a full length. As things stand, they’re far from punching above their weight on this list. [Jay Shockley]
52: JAN JELINEK
A post-graduate diploma in a subject not yet invented is required to give Loop-finding-jazz-records the analysis it deserves, so let’s settle for the basics here. Comprised of one-second samples of, yes, vintage jazz records and inspired by the Moiré effect (wiki it), L-f-j-r is the most sublimely complex and disarmingly pretty work to emerge from the clicks’n’cuts diaspora. [Trilby Foxx]
51: J DILLA
(STONES THROW, 2006)
I still remember walking past London’s Deal Real Records a few days after Donuts was released and seeing “DILLA – R.I.P” in the window. It wasn’t just a tragic death, but shittily timed one: the Slum Village founder – who’d provided beats to Common, Busta, The Pharcyde and more in his fifteen plus years producing – was finally getting the wider recognition he deserved due to praise from Kanye West and Pharrell. Dilla made Donuts while dying in hospital, and it’s a remarkably celebratory album, revelling in soul samples and mischief. More than any of his other records, its legacy lives on, with everyone from Doom to Drake paying tribute on tracks. [Tom Lea]
50: DJ SLIMZEE
DJ Slimzee should be protected against harm by Her Majesty’s Government, or funded by English Heritage or something – at the very least, his record collection should. His prominence during the critical ‘what do you call it?’ period when UK garage was bleeding into grime means he has dubplates no-one else in the world has ever owned. As DJ for the crew Pay As You Go, Slimzee was often behind the decks in 2002 when, as on this rave cassette pack’s bonus CD and later Limewire sensation, “Dizzee Rascal and the Wiley Kat run the mic centre”.
Back then grime’s godfather and errant son did so together, not apart, passing the mic back and forth, feeding off each other’s restless energy. This studio-recorded set is a vital historical document of two extraordinary personalities, as well as an hour of unimpeachable DJ-led rollage. Both the riddims and the loose, skippy lyrical delivery represent no less than the dawning of a new era: “We are extravagant in the bashment, blazing fire in the bashment” – indeed Wiley, indeed. [Dan Hancox]
49: DAFT PUNK
After delving into Chicago house with Homework and their earlier 12?s, Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo and Thomas Bangalter decided to don technicolour goggles and robot masks for their 2001 prog-disco odyssey. Slated by some upon release for being too pop, underneath the cover’s chrome logo these 14 songs beat with a human heart; ‘One More Time’ a euphoric, romantic paen to the disco while the rest of the opening salvo – featuring ‘Aerodynamic’, ‘Digital Love’ and ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ – is almost perfect. Vocoders, p-funk and guitar solos are blended into a sound as fun and fresh as it is nostalgic, the album’s childlike sense of innocence is encapsulated in the visual soundtrack they made through the film Interstella 555. [Jim Ottewill]
God bless Outkast. Following three brilliant albums in the nineties, 2000’s Stankonia saw them elevated to, well, everyone’s favourite rap group. Singles ‘B.O.B.’ and ‘Ms Jackson’ cemented new-found status as TRL favourites, while Stank’s cold Southern jams (’Snappin’ and Trappin’), pitch-bent quasi-funk (’Red Velvet’) and breaks-heavy aqua-pop (’Humble Mumble’) ensured the group’s underground credentials – in hip-hop circles and beyond – were going nowhere. How to blow up the right way – just don’t mention Idlewild. [Tam Gunn]
47: THE STREETS
ORIGINAL PIRATE MATERIAL
(LOCKED ON, 2002)
Mike Skinner may have spent the second half of this decade making painfully bad music (who remembers ‘He’s Behind You, He’s Got Swine Flu’?), but when debut single ‘Has it Come to This?’ dropped, there was genuinely nothing like it on mainstream radio: spoken word, piano led garage with a brilliantly manipulated chorus and turns of phrase that made everyone from the Kool FM listeners to Heart FM drivetime casuals take notice. The album that followed isn’t the grand, all-encompassing proletariat statement that magazines like the OMM would have you believe, but it is very good, and features nearly all of Skinner’s best songs. Simple as, really. [Jack Blake]
46: THE CARETAKERA STAIRWAY TO THE STARS
James Kirby has certainly entertained more ambitious prospects this decade – 6xCD box-set Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia, ten part digital download The Death of Rave (which came with another fourteen zip files of ‘additional’ material for the obsessives), to the V/VM 365 project, where the hauntologists’ favourite son released a song for each day of 2006.
But the more manageably-sized Stairway to the Stars, released early in the decade and dedicated to warping and time-stretching ballads and ballroom dance records from the ’20s and ’30s until they resemble transmissions from another world, still stands as Kirby’s most well-realised and beautiful album to date, remarkably subtle in its manipulation of timbre. Time will tell whether this year’s Sadly, The Future Is Not What It Was, released under the name Leyland Kirby, will overtake it. [Tam Gunn]
45: ELLEN ALLIEN & APPARAT
ORCHESTRA OF BUBBLES
(BPITCH CONTROL, 2006)
Released around the time that minimal had firmly established itself at the dominant European (hipster) dance style, the emotionally and melodically fanciful Orchestra of Bubbles stood out like a peacock in a munitions factory. Clever arrangements and tripped-out beats provided the spiky buttressing for gushing gales of synth and vocal texture that summoned the flush of first love, your first ecstasy rush, and, er, other rapturous firsts. [Marie Kelly]
THE DEAD BEARS
A quite astonishing record, wherein Dutch producer Jochem Peteri takes the kind of loping, chiming discoid grooves favoured by Kenny Dixon, slows ‘em down, squashes ‘em up and dubs ‘em out, somehow opening up a gateway to a new psychedelic realm in the process. The Dead Bears’ dizzying, hypnotic brilliance is pretty much impossible to describe; deep immersion is the key to understanding. DJs will want the vinyl, but everyone else head for the CD version which includes ‘Trespassers’ – previously released on Carl Craig’s Planet E and arguably the single greatest techno track of the 2000s. [Ben Baglin]
WE GOT IT 4 CHEAP VOL. 2
Clipse’s long awaited, and even longer delayed Hell Hath No Fury fulfilled its promise, but the second of the mixtapes that preceded it holds up the best – in short, because it’s simply four of the hardest rappers around going back and forth over some of the best tracks of the year. Had We Got It For Cheap featured Pusha and Malice alone it would have still been great, but the addition of laconic giants Ab-Liva and Sandman pushed this over the edge. Full of quotables (today’s pick: “my forte involve kitchen utensils / my come up got niggas so resentful”), even Pharrell came hard on this one. [Chris Campbell]
42: GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR
LIFT YR. SKINNY FISTS LIKE ANTENNAS TO HEAVEN
By the end of this decade, the genre of ‘post-rock’ had become a joke. Originally coined to refer to rock bands playing with non-rock structures, it ended up meaning bands that had no singer, a lot of strings, and basically sounded like Godspeed You Black Emperor.
Lift Yr Skinny Fists features everything that would go on to become post-rock cliché: swelling strings, brooding passages of quiet giving way to explosions of loud, long tracks divided into different sub-sections, pretentious sleeve notes on a cardboard digi-pack and samples of old men reminiscing. And it uses them in ways which are both incredibly affecting and shockingly replayable – how many other double-disc, eighty minute albums do you know that you can play this regularly?
For evidence of how far ahead Godspeed were of their many clones, if their career had started a year later then they could easily have three albums on this list. This is colossal music that demands and deserves obsession. They don’t sleep any more on the beach. [Tom Lea]
41: BELBURY POLY
(GHOST BOX, 2004)
An uncanny adventure that brought to mind the camp, subdued psychedelia of British TV in the 70s and its strangely parochial intimations of the future.
As ever with Ghost Box, there’s more going than just the music – classic textbook-style artwork by Julian House that secretes ancient pagan imagery in a molecular diagram, a title referencing Algernon Blackwood’s occult novel about the unknowably malicious power of nature – but the music has it going on. Jim ‘Belbury Poly’ Jupp’s burbling synth miniatures range from jaunty pastoral numbers like ‘Wildspot’ and ‘Monstroon’ to the aching, eldritch techno-drama of the title track and the Monoton-esque ‘A Thin Place’. The Willows’ musical lineage is obvious – BBC Radiophonic Workshop, German kosmische and Raymond Scott – but it has a strong and irreducible identity of its own. [Kiran Sande]
THE FLYING CLUB CUP
Gulag Orkestar gets the plaudits, but this is Beirut’s best: more consice than its predecessor, songs bursting with brass and accordion like they’re living their last moments in front of your very eyes. Amount of conversations I’ve had with people where we both admit we think this is Beirut’s best record: three. Amount of very drunken conversations where we both admit we think this is Beirut’s best record, followed by an impromptu rendition of ‘Nantes’: one. But I’m hoping to double that by 2020. [Jay Shockley]
(STUDIO !K7, 2001)
Widely known for performing his first shows with a sampler, a microphone, and a bag of crisps, Herbert’s manifesto states that “the use of sounds that exists already is not allowed”. This, coupled with his mild obsession with concepts and themes, bore 2001’s Bodily Functions, an album made from samples of human skin, hair, bones, and even inner organs.
Preceding singles ‘Leave Me Now’ and ‘Suddenly’ yet again married Herbert’s shuffle with Dani Siciliano’s silky vocals, but it wasn’t until the album’s closing track, and later single ‘The Audience’ that Bodily Functions really started to gain attention. Dani on vocal duties again, but this time they got that bird from the Noisettes to do some nasty pseudo-lesbian duet thing over Herbert’s deft sample manipulation and epic arrangement. A jazz ethic runs through the album, and shows a little glimpse of his future big band material. [Tom Kerridge]
38: BLACK DICE
BEACHES AND CANYONS
The greatest live band on the planet, Black Dice’s recorded output is generally too much of a headfuck to warrant much more than a grudging admiration. While their friends and protégés Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance have discovered just how far a judicious flash of pop melody will get you, ‘Dice remain incorrigibly difficult and digressive – witness this year’s Repo. Still, on Beaches And Canyons – released by DFA in the US – they found the perfect register of ritualistic industrial rhythm, demented electronics, acid-addled west coast harmony and molten guitar noise, even daring to be beautiful on tracks like ‘Things Will Never Be The Same’ and ‘Endless Happiness’. [Marie Kelly]
37: CANNIBAL OX
THE COLD VEIN
(DEF JUX, 2001)
No matter how much retrospective sneering the latter half of this decade has sent in the direction of El-P’s Definitive Jux label, for the first three years of the noughties they were one of the most pressing, enthralling imprints on Earth. Fantastic Damage, Daylight, Labor Days – all great records, but The Cold Vein is where Jux’s stars aligned.
The only full length album Vast Aire and Vordul Mega recorded together (effectively a trio with El-P on production – the former Company Flow man is said to have often made Ox record their vocals first, then built the beats around their words rather than vice versa), Vein is one of the record’s most detailed records: sonics often align with words, and lyrics drip with double meanings (”supposed to be the friend / I’m getting fri-ed in the end“) and extended themes (the album’s constant bird metaphors, from pigeons to phoenixes). The years that followed Vein’s release featured much speculation regarding a follow-up, but let’s face it, they won’t top this. [Tom Lea]
Let’s go back to the time before the fatigue for pan global music(s) set in, before the hipsters in sunglasses got off on playing records from countries with more violence and poverty than theirs, and before Bonde de fucking Role.
Channeling the multifarious influences gleaned from an upbringing that saw Maya Arulpragasam go from immigrant to musician via artist and graphic designer, Arular is characterised by its sparse, weighted bass and innovative nods to baile funk, hip-hop, dancehall and grime. The militaristic posturing and inflammatory politics may have put some off, but tracks like ‘Galang’ with its cheap, sequenced beats long before that was a cliché, and the brutal sub low that drives ‘Pull Up the People’ proved that she didn’t need production credits from Timbaland to mark her out as someone worth listening to. Her second album would herald in the chart success, but it was here, on her debut, that M.I.A is at her most raw, that her creativity is unchecked. [Louise Brailey]
WE ARE MONSTER
From the moment this electrifying, breathtakingly imaginative album dropped, we knew we were dealing with a classic. From the raucous electro-funk of ‘Do Re Mi’, to the country-meets-techno synapse-fryer ‘Schrapnell’, nothing about We Are Monster is straightforward, and yet it exhibits such a simple childlike joy in the manipulation and juxtaposition of sounds. A sunny micro-house symphony that refuses to age, We Are Monster is tremendously radical but, more importantly, tremendously fun; even as it leaps out into the unknown, it refuses to take itself too seriously. [Ben Baglin]
34: 2 MANY DJS
AS HEARD ON RADIO SOULWAX PT. 2
When indie rockers Soulwax first clattered into the world’s ears in the late nineties, it would have been a lucky psychic who’d have bet on the brotherly bond at their creative hub redefining the landscape of pop during the next decade. But Stephen and David Dewale literally took a hammer to 21st century pop, stitching Dolly Parton and Destiny’s Child together with enough panache and acid to make even the most chemically enhanced Dr Frankenstein proud.
For many indie kids and guitar lovers in 2003, this mixtape was the soundtrack to their first sweaty embrace with electronic music. Ripping through 45 tracks in 60 minutes, it blended Parton with Rokysopp, the Stooges with Salt n Pepa and brought Vitalic to the masses. Pop will eat itself? Here’s where it finally swallowed, and cannibalisation has never sounded so good. [Jim Ottewill]
33: JOANNA NEWSOM
(DRAG CITY, 2006)
Just as broadband and MP3 blogs were making it all too easy and tempting to drown in music, Joanna Newsom’s masterpiece came along. We stopped iTunes-hopping and, for once, just listened like we used to – deeply, carefully, and on repeat. A vast, ornate expanse of dazzling moments that’s such a personal vision to be pretty much immune from imitation. [Simon Hampson]
(MILLE PLATEAUX, 2000)
It took the best part of the decade for Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient odyssey to be deservedly recognised as a work of genius. Light, dark, dense, sparse, organic, electronic – as varied and beautiful as the Black Forest that inspired it. Truly music to lose yourself in. [Justin Toland]
Bristol has long been a city in love with low frequencies: from Mark Stewart to Tricky, Talisman to Full Cycle, its residents have always been attuned to the ’special character’ of bass. Its no surprise then, that Bristol is now a hotbed of dubstep, and scene godfather Pinch’s 2007 debut marked, in some ways, the summation and culmination of Bristol’s bass-wise history to date.
The Welsh-born producer enlisted a raft of vocalists to realise his ambitious, soulful sound designs, and in doing so summoned up the collaborative spirit of local forebears Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack. The Juakali-assisted update of ‘Qawwali’, Yolanda’s mercurial turn on ‘Get Up’, the more spooked, Berlin-influenced likes of ‘Widescreen’ and the unabashed ethno-spiritualism of ‘Angels in the Rain’: all components of an album astonishing in its breadth and clarity of vision. [Kiran Sande]
30: WILLIAM BASINSKI
THE DISINTEGRATION LOOPS
You probably know the story by now: it’s September, 2001, and Billy Basinski – obscure New York sound-artist – is trying to salvage some gravely beautiful ambient recordings he made years earlier on magnetic tape, by transferring them to digital format. But the tape has deteriorated in storage, and as it passes the read/write head the ferrite (which holds the “imprint” of the sound) detaches from the plastic backing – it disintegrates. “I was blown away by what had just happened,” Basinski told me earlier this year, “And I was incredibly moved by the whole redemptive quality of what I’d just experienced: each of these loops had disintegrated in its own way and its own time, yet the life and death of the melody was redeemed in another medium.”
Two days after the fated analogue-to-digital transfer, 9/11 happened. A stunned and horrified Basinski was up on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment; he set up a static video camera framing the view of downtown, where the smoke was, and the towers had been. This haunting film was set to the prescient music of ‘Disintegration Loop 1.1’ and later released as a DVD – a cinema verité elegy to those who died in the attacks. The full set of The Disintegration Loops – almost five hours of haunted audio – was released across four audio CDs, using stills from the film as cover art. They amount to one of the most elegant and powerful art-works of the contemporary era; a harrowing but ultimately life-affirming compound of accident and intent. [Kiran Sande]
(WERK DISCS, 2008)
Darren Cunningham’s monotone odyssey, four years in the making, didn’t feature on FACT’s Best of 2008 list, presumably because it was released in late November and we hadn’t even began to wrap our heads around it. But with some of the mist that surrounds Hazyville lifted, it’s clear that this is a timeless record: a collection of compressed house tracks that inhibit some strange purgatory between Detroit and Brixton, stifled by small walls and skunk smoke. [Tom Lea]
Portishead are smart, politically sussed, Mark Ronson-baiters from Bristol: what’s not to like about them? Still, somewhere along the way ear-fatigue set in and the thought of yet another album of smog-smeared torch songs sent me scurrying under the bed-covers. I needn’t have worried: Third is bloody good. Forget trip-hop, this is UK noir: post-industrial micro-dramas set in the outsourced limbo-land formerly known as Britain. Portishead songs seem to inhabit some emotional aftermath, a musical wasteland haunted by phantom strings and juddering, dysfunctional beats. Try playing ‘We Carry On’ at your next dinner-party, yuppie scum.
But Third also suggests some new, unexpected form of urban folk: ‘Machine Gun’ is Sandy Denny sings grime, while ‘The Rip’ is, well, almost too beautiful to bear. The least successful tracks – ‘Threads’, ‘Silence’ – are the ones that still sound a bit like the old Portishead. But they’re still inching forward, still finding new ways to sing in amongst the rubble. Dream on, England, you wonderful broken little country. Dream on. [Kek-w]
27: ARCADE FIRE
An obvious pick, but that’s because it’s a brilliant record. The album that broke The Arcade Fire and by far the band’s best, pretty much perfecting the rock anthem (’Rebellion’; ‘Power Out’) whilst dabbling in regal pop (’Crown of Love’) and the sort of foamy lullabies that Air France would go on to make a career out of (’Haiti’). Add that to the fact it features one of the decade’s most powerful closing ballads (’In the Back Seat’) and you’ve got a ubiquitous indie favourite far superior to any Spoon or Sufjan Stevens. [Tam Gunn]
(ITALIANS DO IT BETTER, 2007)
The Italians Do It Better label brought an agreeable Portland punk-hipster style to the disco dancefloor; its open-hearted, band-oriented offerings provided a welcome change from the oppressively masculine, DJ-led re-edit culture that had become the norm.
Chromatics were always the most mysterious, most entrancingly lonesome-sounding act in the IDIB portfolio, but their scuzzy previous releases hardly prepared us for the pristinely pretty Night Drive. Johnny Jewel’s morse-code guitar lines and plangent noir synths provide the setting for a stunning sustained vocal performance from Ruth Radelet – at once full of intense longing and a kind of breathy, prozac’d insouciance. We’re treated to Fleetwood-esque rock (‘Healer’), a breathy cover of Kate Bush (‘Running Up That Hill’), bucolic kraut-ambient (‘Tomorrow Is So Far Away), cosmic disco (‘Let’s Make This A Moment To Remember’) and, on superb closing instrumental ‘Tick Of The Clock’, minimalist italo-techno. But Chromatics don’t make a big song-and-dance about it, making for a taut and accessible set that pop fans and disco nerds alike can do business with. [Marie Kelly]
25: HOT CHIP
Released in the midst of, er, “nu” rave, where songwriting chops came second to knowing which Prodigy song to give a guitar makeover and having the number of a good dealer, the easy beauty of The Warning shines like a beacon to anyone who wanted something a bit more substantial.
Obviously ‘Over and Over’s DFA cowbell clonking, CASIO-referencing and catchy as hell synth tremours straddled the zeitgeist but tracks like ‘No Fit State’, with its squiggles of John Foxx synths and ‘Careful’s twitchy shards of percussion interspersed with treated guitar washes proved that this was an album bursting at the seams with fresh ideas and glistening with thrilling production ticks. Most importantly, in Alexis Taylor they had a vocalist who gave tracks like ‘The Boy From School’ an unforced, soulful melancholy, proving that amidst all their electronic geekery, Hot Chip contained an enduring pop heart that not even the fickle passing of trends could obscure. [Louise Brailey]
24: KELLEY POLAR
LOVE SONGS OF THE HANGING GARDENS
2008’s sumptuous, blazingly camp space-opera I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling is a remarkable work, but it’s Kelley Polar’s more introspective debut which lingers in the mind at the turn of the decade.
A collection of balmy disco-pop nocturnes brought to life with the studio assistance of Metro Area’s Morgan Geist, Love Songs Of The Hanging Gardens sounds like nothing which has come before it, and is nigh-on perfect. Honestly, listening to tracks like ‘Here In The Night’ and ‘My Beauty In My Moon’ again now – with their norm-defying constellations of swooning strings, feathery, multi-tracked vocal harmonies, tough analogue basslines and crisp, Music Box-friendly beats – I personally wonder if this album shouldn’t be occupying the no.1 spot in this list. [Kiran Sande]
An endless delight. As smooth as Air, as glitchy as Oval, Austria’s Fennesz combines electronics with electric and acoustic guitar to dazzling effect. Background loops are overlaid with foreground jitter until all perspective is lost, other than the thought: this is good. Proof that easy listening doesn’t have to be easy (or kitsch). [Justin Toland]
Upon its release in 2006, Burial sounded like an instant classic, an impression that the years since have only reinforced. Derelict, dejected, desolated, Burial demonstrated that the ghosts of the hardcore continuum have far more to tell us about London today than any rock revivalists ever could. Interred beneath an unrelenting downpour of pirate radio interference, the fast-forward futurism of jungle returns on Burial as a spectre at contemporary pop’s thin fest; a reminder of rave’s broken promises. [K-punk]
(DOWN LOW MUSIC, 2006)
Gerard Hanson has enjoyed eminence among techno producers ever since his earliest releases on Matrix Records in the mid-late 90s. A native of Dallas, Texas, he’s developed an isolationist but incredibly soulful techno sound that pays open homage to Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Basic Channel without being smothered by their influence.
Pretty much every one of Hanson’s absolute-bugger-to-track-down 12” singles are worth owning (including the more electro-leaning fare he records as ERP), but the self-titled Convextion album of 2006 is the most satisfying and economically viable one-stop-shop. ‘Equanimity’ sets the scene with its yearning, life-after-the-apocalypse synth hues; the twitchy minimalism of ‘Sulphur Vent’ sounds less like electronic music and more like a living, wriggling organism, while ‘Solum Ferrum’ and the gently skanking ‘Desolate Hub’ remind us that dub-techno needn’t be dull BC-lite. Oh, and mark my words, there’s no better accompaniment to night-time city driving than the sodium-lit, tunnelist trance of ‘Premiata’ and ‘JMA020603’. In Convextion’s hands, techno still sounds vital, and futuristic; and it aches – oh, how it aches. [Kiran Sande]
20: KANYE WEST
THE COLLEGE DROPOUT
How great Kanye was in that short period before his ego went mental and he turned into a massive prick who CAN ONLY WRITE LIKE THIS!!! on his weird, American Psycho-esque blog. In amongst the high-drama of the likes of ‘Jesus Walks’ – which, in retrospect, hints at the bombast that was to come from him – are a peerlessly lovable set of songs: clever, goofy, funny and sad, and all drenched in dreamy helium-soul samples that distantly echoed the plasmic bliss of old hardcore rave.
With Kanye picking over the disappointments of post-college life, The College Dropout was for many middle class listeners the first time that hip-hop spoke directly to them and their concerns. That makes it a controversial piece of work, but also an important one; for me, at least, this direct reportage of a common experience – be it facing unemployment after college, or just going to Ikea to buy a bed – was a revelation, an epiphany moment of finally realizing just how powerful hip-hop could be when it told stories about your own life. [Simon Hampson]
19: METRO AREA
The founding idea of Metro Area was, essentially, to make a series of techno-savvy disco dubs. A simple premise, to be sure, but Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani fulfilled it so consummately that they ended up creating an entirely new kind of music: a mix of house, boogie, techno, electro, R&B, disco and lavishly orchestrated pop. Distancing themselves from opportunist re-edit culture, the New York duo went about creating tracks as soulful and musical as those that had inspired them in the first place.
The rolling ‘Miura’ is the album’s best-known track, a crisp and skilful melding of low-slung beat-programming and gliding Philly-style strings, but there’s so much else to enjoy on this glorious, cumulative record. Pay particular mind to the piano-glossed, elegiac ‘Caught Up’ – for me, it’s about as good as music gets. [Kiran Sande]
18: VAMPIRE WEEKEND
2008 saw the unthinkable happen; firstly, the resurgence of boat shoes as the fashionista’s footwear of choice, and, more startlingly, the USA became cool again. You can trace both these outcomes back to Vampire Weekend, four Ivy League graduates furnished with a kind of confidence that only a healthy trust fund can bestow.
Their self-titled debut specialised in tight, Afro-pop-inspired indie rock which saw critics falling over themselves to phone in the Paul Simon comparisons. Tracks like ‘Campus’ and ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’, with their starchy tales from within the quad set to sparky mbaqanga rhythms, revelled in a kind of fey intellectualism that appealed to an audience sick to death of the conceit that creativity should be borne out of garret hardship. Rather, charismatic front-man Ezra Koennig proved that you could be militantly erudite – ‘Oxford Comma’ presumably sent the text message generation into the arms of Lynne Truss – and unfeasibly cool. Breezy literariness in chart-bothering indie? About as likely as America electing a black president. [Louise Brailey]
17: ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI
(PAW TRACKS, 2004)
‘Hauntology’ was a hot concept in the more theoretically-inclined musical corners of this decade, and it was rarely so movingly explored than on The Doldrums; jolts of gorgeous melody cracking and warping under the LA sun. Through refracting pop’s past – and particularly 70s AOR – something radically new came about; the familiar and the kitsch – the falsettos of the Bee-Gees, say – are twisted into something right in the middle of being both unsettling and deeply comfortable.
As a set of songs which feels like half-remembered dreams and muddied memories of pop songs, The Doldrums is a little like this generation’s World of Echo, one of Arthur Russell finest and most hallucinatory works. It’s fair to say that The Doldrums is also a right slog in places, though; there are long, long passage of teeth-grinding dirge. But this total unwillingness to compromise and pander to the listener is part of what makes the record so beguiling. And amongst the background moroseness, the breath-taking moments of beauty shine out, jewel-like. [Simon Hampson]
16: MAX RICHTER
THE BLUE NOTEBOOKS
The Blue Notebooks has become rather a name-dropped album since its 2004 release, and with good reason. The work of British composer Max Richter, who combined his formal classical training and worship of Philip Glass with a love of Kraftwerk, Basic Channel, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and countless other masters of electronic texture from the realms of techno, ambient and post-rock, it’s too musically expansive to be called ambient, and too sonically advanced to be called classical.
This album is really a kind of chamber music in dub, its aching piano, string and woodwind arrangements augmented with drowsy synths, cotton-wool drum tattoos and judiciously deployed field-recordings. The fragments of Tilda Swinton reading aloud from Kafka are a little hammy, and at times the swelling strings are just a bit too overwrought, but overall this is too enchanting a record to find fault with – I mean, you could just die to the strains of ‘Shadow Journal’.
Listening to The Blue Notebooks for the first time, it’s hard to shake the impression that you’ve heard it before; you don’t feel so much that you’re discovering it as being reunited with it – and not just because the BBC are always pilfering its best tracks for TV idents and transitions. This is music which plays games with one’s memories and one’s perception of time; music that obliterates the already blurred boundary between the conscious and unconscious mind. [Marie Kelly]
We got what we wanted with Robyn, and that’s a strange feeling. Hipster MP3 blogs raised the alert to ‘Konichiwa Bitches’ and ‘Be Mine’, everyone did the usual thing of saying “this album should be massive” without ever really believing it would be, and upon Robyn’s re-release in 2007, it was… well, it was massive. Nice when things go right.
This decade has, in truth, be a bad-to-fair one for a whole range of genres, but it’s been a brilliant one for pop; Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Annie, Kylie, Lady Gaga and Robyn – future generations will look back on this time with envy and awe. In amongst all that greatness, Robyn stands out for two reasons. Firstly, she’s particularly great – ‘Be Mine’ and ‘With Every Heartbeat’ [from said reissue] some of the finest three-minute moments of this decade. Secondly, she created a whole new framework for pop – totally independent and DIY, setting up her own label to release this album. This should be the future – let’s hope the wish comes true once again. [Simon Hampson]
(STONES THROW, 2004)
Fresh off the heels of Jaylib, Madlib’s collaboration with J Dilla, came Madvillain, his partnership with MF Doom that led to this full LP in 2004. It seemed as though Madlib was the west coast underground Marley Marl at this point – Madvillainy is consistently praised as a complete and satisfying hip hop experience, a perfect synergy between raw beats and incredible rhymes that in the minds and hearts of many, neither party has yet to surpass.
From the eerie Daedulus sample that opens ‘Accordion’ to the very last bar of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, Madvillainy is a journey into Doom’s dense wordplay and Madlib’s dirt-cheap sampler crunch and light/shade contrast, and they compliment each other’s work perfectly. Its enduring appeal has a lot to do with the genius rhymes Doom spits on this album, probably his finest and most tongue twisting since Operation Doomsday. “Doom’s songs lit, in the booth, with the best host / Doing bong hits, on the roof, in the West Coast / He’s at it again, Mad at the pen / Glad that we win / a tad fat in a bad hat for men”. [Mr. Beatnick]
(ONE LITTLE INDIAN, 2001)
Bjork’s ode to the evening is perhaps her finest musical statement todate. Certainly it’s her most coherent: a Narnia-esque soundworld full of beats that crunch like snow underfoot, synths and strings that glisten and glide and songs that charm like incantations. “I never thought i would compromise” she sings on the closing ‘Unison’. Pop music never sounded less uncompromising; never sounded more magical. [Justin Toland]
12: PANDA BEAR
(PAW TRACKS, 2007)
Regarded as the populist conscience at the root of Animal Collective’s amorphous experimentalism, Person Pitch gave Noah Lennox opportunity to flex his avant-pop muscle to impressive effect. Sounds here are refracted like light through water, giving Pitch’s songs the effect of existing on an upward trajectory rather than following any discernable linear structure.
Rarely is a record so effective in treading the line between wildly experimental – check ‘Good Girls’ almost tribal, techno aesthetic or the gauzy abstractions of ‘I’m Not’ -and gloriously accessible – ‘Bros’ channels the Beach Boys dusky harmonics into 12 minutes of almost spiritual sustained bliss punctuated by owl hoots. Sure, it eased the way for the wholesale taking of the world by Animal Collective in 2009, but it’s so much more than some kind of hipster fluffer. Person Pitch is boundary pushing, meticulously detailed and so beautiful it seems almost sad. [Louise Brailey]
11: THE OTHER PEOPLE PLACE
LIFESTYLES OF THE LAPTOP CAFÉ
The only album that late Drexciya founder James Stinson released under the Other People Place name, and a quiet masterpiece.
Perhaps Stinson’s most friendly, and bitter sweet work, Lifestyles is a very simple, open and lovely album. The premise is simple and well executed; it’s more or less jazz-funk compacted and stripped of its pomp and pretence, reduced down to the parts that matter. An album that’s unashamedly about vibes, warm alien jazz chords, simple crisp drum patterns and funky little melodies, vocals that are notions rather than narratives, woven mantra like into the tracks. Tracks like ‘Let Me Be’ instantly personalize the music for the listener, providing almost the exact opposite effect to Stinson’s dense, cryptic and cold work with Drexciya. [Marcus Scott]
10: GANG GANG DANCE
Saint Dymphna might not have received the same widespread appeal as Gang Gang’s fellow Brooklynites Black Dice and Animal Collective did with their respective decade highs, Beaches and Canyons and Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it sounds better than both.
Much was made of Gang Gang ‘going pop’ on this album, but what makes Dymphna stand out is its vibrancy: the depth and emotiveness of the colours that saturate from its every corner. It featured some of the decade’s richest house music, a couple of its catchiest pop songs (one a collaboration with Tinchy Stryder before he became a chart topper) and marked Lizzi Bougatsos’ transformation from kneeling Earth mother to strident frontwoman. [Tom Lea]
09: LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
SOUND OF SILVER
James Murphy warned FACT in 2006 that LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver was “bound to be second best” when compared with the band’s debut. One suspects the canny old dog was being disingenuous: he knew how good SoS was shaping up to be.
It turned out to be a more coherent album than its predecessor, more ambitious, and broader in scope. LCD Soundsystem and the majestic bridger 45:33 were fundamentally underground dance records, destined to be loved chiefly by the small huddle of hipsters and DJ-types depicted/derided in ‘Losing My Edge’; with Sound of Silver, by contrast, Murphy set himself the challenge of making a pop record, one which would appeal to everyone (well, everyone with working ears). Hell, he even decided to sing – and the gamble paid off. From the heart-stopping, Bowie-meets-Telex opener ‘Get Innocuous’ through snotty college anthem ‘North American Scum’ and sentimental festival singalong par excellence ‘All My Friends’, this is an unashamedly big and brash record, but one possessing uncommon depth and wit. Sound of Silver was the sound of a band losing their “edge” – whatever that means, or meant – but gaining in maturity, authority and for-the-ages excellence. [Daniel Feeld]
08: PANTHA DU PRINCE
Among the most candidly beautiful and accessible electronic full-lengths ever made, Pantha Du Prince’s second album represented the climax of the “romantic techno” narrative that began with Kompakt at the turn of the decade. Only Pantha’s label boss, Lawrence, has come close to charting such heights of prettiness, longing and mystery in the context of the dancefloor, and I dare say even he’d wilfully defer to This Bliss.
A sequence of precious instrumental poetry crafted from chimes, bells, fragmented piano and field recordings, set to a steady, rolling 4/4 bump and the rudest basslines in central Europe, This Bliss is breathtakingly sensuous, original and complete – right down to the enigmatic calligraphy and cheeky Ballard quote that adorn the sleeve. All the tracks are exquisite, but ‘Saturn Strobe’ – based around an extraordinary string arrangement by The Scratch Orchestra’s Robert Skempton – is first among equals. Divine doesn’t do justice. [Ben Baglin]
In a move that some considered weird, Radiohead began the decade by ditching the indie rock albatross for which they had been backslapped by all and sundry, and coming out with something a bit leftfield. Much had been made of the band holing up in a manor house while Thom Yorke divided his time between an ideas blackboard and the Warp Records back-catalogue.
The result was a thrilling journey into the world of a band both big and imaginative enough to do whatever they wanted. ‘Everything in its Right Place’, essentially Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ Out’ re-imagined as a blissed-out slab of electronica, nestled next to the super-Plone return to childhood that was the title track. Elsewhere, you’d find the agit-pop breakbeat brickbat ‘Idioteque’, Krautrock party piece ‘The National Anthem’ and the Björk-level serenity-in-discomfort of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’. Throughout, you’d find post-rock interludes, ambient epilogues and no wasted moments. It got some stick for not being really avant-garde, but the point was to open the ears of Radiohead’s myriad mainstream fans.
It was also supposed to be the dawn of a new era: no more singles; the band would release whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted; no more 2-3 year album hype cycle. Compromise was inevitable, as they returned to singles and the multi-year wait. But, for a short while, Britain’s biggest band was also its most intriguing. And that’s not something you can say very often. [Robin Jahdi]
Recorded all over the world with contributions from Switch, Diplo, Blaqstarr and more, Kala marks the point where M.I.A. went from a talented multi-tasker punching admirably above her weight to the leader of a movement. First album Arular’s nods to grime, dancehall, soca and more are still present, but the songs are more refined; the production sleeker without sacrificing personality. Tellingly, M.I.A.’s live shows after this albums release featured a whole tribe of backing musicians, dancers and vocalists – after Arular people got behind her; after Kala they followed. [Tam Gunn]
As of writing, The Blueprint sits at the exact midpoint of Jay-Z’s career, his sixth of 11 albums; and from this perspective, it seems like the one that everything he made before it built up to, and that everything since has been gently sliding back down from. The moment that encapsulates the best of Jay-Z more than any other; when all his ambition, talent and potential came to its fullest fruition and was crystallised in one 15-track statement that, oh yeah, happened to actually live up to its title and end up being this decade’s commercial and aesthetic blueprint.
It’s odd, though: if any buzz theme springs to mind when remembering turn-of-the-century hip-hop and R&B, it’s sonic innovation, hyper-futuristic production and technicolour beats. The Blueprint isn’t like that. It’s built on old, crate-dug soul and funk samples – not so much recontextualising them, but using them as the solid foundations on which to build towering skyscrapers. Sometimes you have to move backwards to go forwards. And Jay-Z more than matches the music: on ‘Takeover’, he doesn’t just crush his opponents with swagger, but makes it seem as though the entire concept of beef is beneath him; on ‘Song Cry’, he’s hard enough to be hurt; pride and masculinity in his words and sentimentality in the underpinning piano. And on the album’s finest moment, ‘Heart Of The City’, the sheer momentum of his confidence is irresistible. He’s at the height of his powers here, and eight years on, it’s still impossible to tear your ears away from his voice. [Alex Macpherson]
As Ricardo Villalobos went through the last decade, his music became ever more oblique, sometimes to the point of being near impenetrable. Yet, at the heart of his music has always been a pretty straightforward joy; a love of the possibilities of rhythm and dancing, and a desire to let the beats run on forever. Re-visiting Alcachofa, Villalobos’ breakthrough 2003 masterpiece, what stands out is just how generous and inviting a listen it is. It’s such an easy record to love.
Forget the ‘minimal’ tag; these tracks are overgrown, spilling over borders, covering the lines, angles and points of techno with thick layers of prettiness. There are countless moments here that give an immediate pop-rush – the floating-in-space bass of ‘Dexter’ being a particularly intense one – but a kind of pop that still sounds like it comes from 50 years in the future. It’s also a record that demands to be danced to; just check ‘I Want to Live (Can I Live)’, in which Villalobos turns what sounds like creaking leather into a ferocious jacking acid track.
Listening back to the album, it feels more and more like a key to further understand Villalobos’ recent, more daunting output. There’s a lightness, simplicity and funkiness about this music, for all its details and strangeness. Although it’s become less obvious, Villalobos is still coming from that same place. [Simon Hampson]
03: DIZZEE RASCAL
BOY IN DA CORNER
A singular vision, a singular sound, a singular voice. This remains Dizzee Rascal’s – well, grime’s… hell, London’s – crowning achievement. Only a teenage genius with nothing to lose would start their debut with ‘Sittin’ Here’, one of the harshest musical and lyrical descriptions of modern Britain imaginable, like a grime version of La Haine.
If you can endure that with your head still up you’re confronted with the buzz of robot helicopters and then the blitzkrieg bombardment of ‘Stop Dat’ – grime as transcendent aggression. The unadulterated glee when DJ Spyro dropped this at The Egg earlier this year – 300 people effectively having a massive fight with the space in front of them – reiterated the tragedy of grime’s live banishment: a shower-face and a beaming grin are the same thing.
It’s painful to dwell on what Dizzee did next, on pop and paps and Paxman – and Boy In Da Corner’s three singles have a place in a generation’s hearts and on their dancefloors that ‘Bonkers’ never will. “Being a celebrity don’t mean shit to me / fuck the glitz and glamour hit em with the blix and hammer” he yelps joyously on ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’. 2009’s Dizzee Rascal can perform with Shirley Bassey as much as he wants to; it’s the 2003 Dizzee Rascal that changed British music forever. [Dan Hancox]
02: THE STROKES
IS THIS IT
(RCA / ROUGH TRADE, 2001)
With their debut album The Strokes caused a sea change in mainstream pop music in the US, but particularly in the UK. Suddenly three minute garage rock jams were the pinnacle of cool, and indie landfill ruled Britain’s charts for the next nine years.
But what the copyists could never match was the attention to detail and the hoarse, heartfelt emotion that The Strokes brought to their music. When Julian Casablancas begins this album with “Can’t you see I’m trying / I don’t even like it”, it conjures up a hundred images – of forced fun, of relationships resigned to mutual antipathy – and it follows one of the greatest opening samples of any record. The perfect three-and-a-half minute pop songs on Is This It might seem casual, but they’re constructed with craftmanship and care: check the rhythmic scrapes of fingers on guitar string that punctuate ‘Trying Your Luck.’ Not for nothing did these songs become the stuff of universal consciousness.
So as the decade fades, and mainstream indie rock continues to nauseate and bore in equal measures, do me a favour. Forget The Killers, forget T4, forget The View, forget Colin fucking Murray, and just listen to this album, contextless. Is This It’s status as the decade’s most influential guitar record may be a double-edged sword, but its status as the decade’s best pop album shouldn’t be in doubt. [Tam Gunn]
Less melancholic and seeped in static than its predecessor, Untrue is haunted by uncanny, almost wordless vocals that seem to flicker with a muted alien radiance, touching the listener on some deeply personal label. Voices hover in a void, suspended above some of the most elegiac and glacial-sounding strings since Joy Division’s Closer.
This is music in a state of suspended animation, timeless and frozen, yet also firmly embedded in the urban now. With his second album, Burial stripped UK garage of its twitchy micro-textures and created a fabulous new strain of future soul, underpinned by hollow-eyed, stumbled drums liable to turn Timbaland green with envy. Untrue is achingly lovely, but perhaps ill-suited to the CD format. Check the vinyl edition instead: it’ll give your ears more time and space to digest the music – otherwise an illusion of uniformity will set in and you’ll start to feel that each track is just the same jewel viewed from a different angle. [Kek-w]