My peers and I are in a conspicuous position when it comes to reviewing the past decade in music: we began high school and likely completed college all within the confines of the decade. High school and college. Those are your prime musical-attachment years. Regardless of whether or not you are capable of keeping an objective eye throughout your life, the music that affects you strongly during those formative years will have a special impact that will most likely never be rivaled by any competition. As a testament to that statement, know that – when I first organized the list of candidates – nearly 200 albums made an appearance. That means that, for a solid decade, I considered an average of twenty albums per year worthy of note. That’s a lot of music to digest, even for me. So while I could take two months to write 50,000 words in a list that no one would read, I’m going to cut back and try to keep it short and simple in the hopes that a few people will actually read this and – as always – in the hopes that this will incite some good, old fashioned, human-to-human interaction/debate on the subject. It is worth noting, as well, that I could barely decide which albums made the cut and that by tomorrow I’m sure there will be some albums that I’d like to shuffle around or add or subtract. Such is life.
Note: For my guidelines, I required that an album have at least six songs or that it be at least 30 minutes in duration (one or the other), eliminating most EPs (notably, Saosin’s Translating the Name and Paper Route’s Are We All Forgotten). Compilations, re-releases and live albums were also not up for consideration (goodbye to Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity re-release, Peter Gabriel’s Hit/Miss compilation, and Coheed & Cambria’s Neverender live set).
50. Almost Here by The Academy Is… (2005) Along with Acceptance’s Phantoms and Cartel’s Chroma this is one of the finer pop-rock albums of the decade and one that holds up over time, unlike some of it’s contemporaries (I’m looking at you What It Is To Burn).
49. Leaving Through the Window by Something Corporate (2002) The album that brought piano-pop to the 80s-born masses, with equal success in up-tempo singles and slowed-down ballads.
48. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 by Coheed and Cambria (2004) A progressive-pop-rock staple, headlined by the insanely catch “A Favor House Atlantic” and the dynamite title-track.
47. The Ugly Organ by Cursive (2003) A haunting and dissonant walk through a twisted world filled with counterfeits and call-girls. “Our Father who art in Heaven, save me from this wreck I’m about to drown in.”
46. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions In the Sky (2003) When I got this album my freshmen year of college it completely changed my opinion of what an instrumental album could be. EITS has since found considerable fame, but this may remain their finest effort to date.
45. In Motion by Copeland (2005) Catchy and strong, serene and powerful, In Motion is the alt-rock masterpiece that revealed what Copeland was capable of creating.
44. Rise or Die Trying by Four Year Strong (2007) The best driving album of all time. Hands down. Fast and catchy with harmonized vocals and riffs, blistering drum fills, and some serious chugging, when you put this in your car stereo, you’ll be singing along and air-drumming within seconds.
43. Please Come Home by Dustin Kensrue (2007) An acoustic-folk release from Thrice’s Kensrue who shows why he’s one of the era’s greatest lyricists and songwriters. The title track is incredible and “Blanket of Ghosts” is a lock to make anyone who’s lost someone tear up at least a bit.
42. Picaresque by The Decemberists (2005) A pop-folk-rock concept album about the hard-knock life in an historical seaside town. Equal parts romance, mourning, cleverly phrased observations, and self-deprecating humor, it’s hard not to love this one.
41. Like Vines by The Hush Sound (2006) A sublime pop album help up by strong piano and guitar work and the beautiful interplay of male and female voices. If you like pop-music, you owe it to yourself to at least hear Like Vines.
40. Lucy Gray by Envy On the Coast (2007) The last couple of tracks are dead weight. If the first eight songs of Lucy Gray had been released as an EP, it would have vaulted 15 spots up the list. Powerful guitars, unbelievable drumming, intriguing lyrics, and out of this world vocals and harmonies make this one a must-listen album.
39. Act I: The Lake South, The River North by The Dear Hunter (2006) The beginning of the unparalleled, genre-bending The Dear Hunter project. There is no way to classify any of these songs, you really just have to listen.
38. Interventions and Lullabies by The Format (2003) What sounds like a sugary pop album contains some incredible instrumentation and some of the wittiest lyrics of the decade. “The thought of death, it scares me to death. It’s just too much to never wake up.”
37. Sound the Alarm by Saves the Day (2006) A riveting pseudo-punk album filled with speeding guitar riffs and wailing, double-tracked vocals; a mix of New Found Glory-esque pop-punk and a throwback NOFX-sound all glossed in Saves the Day’s brilliant songwriting and musicianship.
36. Dog Problems by The Format (2006) A pure pop album filled with lush orchestral and vocal arrangements and completed by witty and contemporary lyrics.
35. Saosin by Saosin (2006) Not as innovative (or as good) as the aforementioned Translating the Name EP, Saosin’s self-titled full-length is a perfectly blended pop-metal album with soaring vocals, intricately harmonized riffs, and a real sense of power that leaves you wanting to sing along while banging your head.
34. Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World (2001) The measuring stick by which all modern pop-rock albums are judged, this album mixes big, radio friendly hits and more intricate and introspective tracks and still blends into a beautiful whole.
33. Transatlanticism by Deathcab for Cutie (2003) This album has everything from piano ballads to rockin’, indie anthems. The epic, sweeping title track says all the things that I can’t.
32. The Alchemy Index, Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth by Thrice (2008)
31. The Earth Sings Mi, Fa, Mi by The Receiving End of Sirens (2007) In retrospect, these two albums have a lot in common: they were followups to masterpieces (Vheissu and Between the Heart and the Synapse, respectively) and, as such, were generally underrated at the times of their release, but both were solid throughout, sprinkled with a few exceptional tracks, and have two most memorable closing tracks of the decade (“Child of Dust” and “Pale Blue Dot”).
30. Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance (2004) A breakthrough album in that it combined elements of pop, metal, and a comicbookian darkness that bordered on ridiculous. No matter what you think of MCR’s image or their earlier or later work, there is no denying that this album is filled with amazing hooks and fun-as-all-get-out guitar riffs.
29. Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. I: Fear Through the Eyes of Madness by Coheed & Cambria (2005) The first eleven tracks of this opus would have made a decent enough album on their own, full of the same formula that made In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (No. 48) so great, but it’s the final four tracks (“The Willing Well I-IV”) that really make this album exceptional: the four songs total 30 minutes of play-time and constitute one of the finer examples of prog-rock this decade.
28. Tiger and the Duke by The Sound of Animals Fighting (2005) Speaking of prog-rock, TSOAF came along – a collective of musicians from various musical outfits – and created an astonishing concept album whose liner notes even included the story upon which the album was based as well as a detailed breakdown of the musical modes used throughout the album. No one had combined programming, excellent guitar playing and drumming, programming, a tinge of screamo, and brilliant composition so well before.
27. Rockin’ the Suburbs by Ben Folds (2001) Unfortunately, it must be noted that this album had the odd misfortune of being released on Sept. 11, 2001 and, as such, wasn’t really given it’s due until a few years later when it had developed a cult following. Folds really exposes himself as a songwriter and performer here (he’s nearly the only person involved with the album on any level) and he shines throughout in his modern day Elton John-meets-Billy Joel-only-wittier way.
26. The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists (2009) A brilliant concept album. I’ve said a lot elsewhere, but if you haven’t read that, trust me: this album is more than you thought The Decemberists could be (even if you thought they could be great).
25. Illuminate by Lydia (2008) Over the last year or so, I’ve realized that I severely under-ranked this album in 2008. This is one of the most subtly melodic records in recent memory; it’s truly beautiful in its own unique way. It takes more than a few listens to finally appreciate all the depth that’s going on with Illuminate, but it’s certainly worth it.
24. As Tall As Lions by As Tall As Lions (2006) Dan Nigro’s voice is splendid, but it does take some getting used to, so don’t be put off if this album doesn’t immediately sink it’s hooks into you. But the instrumentation and vocals are superb and this album provides flowing pop-rock songs in a way that few others can.
23. Emotion Is Dead by The Juliana Theory (2000) The oldest entry on this list is often credited as being one of the finest ’emo’ records of all time (it has a name that certainly fits), but I think a more accurate description would be that it is one of the finest experimental-pop records of all time. The music is, at it’s core, straight-up pop, but the presentation – which involves programming, intriguing arrangements, and unique voicing – is what really sets it apart.
22. Tell All Your Friends by Taking Back Sunday (2002) I’m sure I’ve ranked this album a lot lower than many of my readers would like, but – for some unknown reason – it never resonated with me like it did with my peers, even though I loved the album. The multiple-lead-vocalist arrangement has only been done better once (we’ll get to that later) and the instrumentation is simple but incredibly well-arranged. This is one of the best albums that you could ever hope to sing to with your friends in the car.
21. Act III: Life and Death by The Dear Hunter (2009) The most cohesive release to date from The Dear Hunter, this album packs a tremendous amount of musical ideas into one hour-long package. You can read more here.
20. Postpartum Modesty. A Portrait of Skin by Evaline (2006) An oft overlooked EP, Evaline’s 2006 release is the best of two worlds: it’s heavy enough to warrant ‘rocking out’ and it’s melodic enough to demand singing along. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this one without wanting to start it up again when it finishes.
19. Come Now Sleep by As Cities Burn (2007) The magnum opus of this New Orleans-born band, Come Now Sleep is a melancholy tour de force. As an album written by devout Christians who find themselves questioning the existence of God, it’s hard not to be moved by this album, and it’s also tough to qualify the blues-influenced hard-rock sound that is so unique to ACB, so suffice to say that the opener (“Contact”) and closer (“Timothy”) are two of the finest songs of the decade, the latter of which has the capacity to bring anyone who has suffered a loss to tears.
18. Progress by RX Bandits (2001) One of the first successful prog-rock/ska crossover albums, the Bandits experiment with just about every sound at their disposal on this one and get it right every single time. There are still lots of ska roots here (think lots of brass arrangements) but while your listening, it’s hard to think of Progress as anything but a masterful rock album.
17. The Moon Is Down by Further Seems Forever (2001)
16. How To Start A Fire by Further Seems Forever (2003) I had to lump these two together as they are so divisive to the FSF fan base, yet so intimately connected. The Moon Is Down is a masterpiece led by Chris Carrabba’s (now of Dashboard Confessional fame) incredible lyrics and vocals but driven by unbelievable instrumentation. But I had to give the slight edge to How To Start A Fire which brings that instrumentation front and center and supplants the departed Carrabba with the howling Jason Gleason creating a raw and visceral prog-pop album unlike any other.
15. Wonderland by Forgive Durden (2006) How this band never really caught on before 2008’s Razia’s Shadow: A Musical continues to astound me. Wonderland is a brilliant pop-rock masterpiece, each song brimming with incredibly creative instrumentation, vocals, and lyrics. There isn’t a bad song on this album. Hell, there isn’t even a good song because each track moves beyond that and is great.
14. Define the Great Line by Underoath (2006) The defining album of the screamo movement and an album that, ultimately, may never be surpassed within the genre. This album comes at you and hard, with tearing guitars and a wide array of screaming and singing arrangements that will get your heart pumping. Plus, this album is – in my opinion – the absolute high point of the digital recording age; the production on this album is the absolute finest that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
13. Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading by The Dear Hunter (2007) The album that really established The Dear Hunter as major players in the music scene. Act II has a little bit of everything in it – and I mean that quite literally. It really doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, because you’re bound to find something that pleases you here.
12. De-Loused In the Comatorium by The Mars Volta (2003) A groundbreaking prog-rock album that hearkens back to the days of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. This album plays as the most organized and creative jam session you’ve ever heard with unbelievable melodies flying high above the mind-boggling instrumentation.
11. In the Land of Lost Monsters by Gatsbys American Dream (2004) Clocking in at seven tracks and eighteen and a half minutes, this is one short album. But boy, oh, boy does it give you your money’s worth. A bitter mission statement, this album has an anger and edge unmatched by any other GAD album but never loses sight of the bands strengths: Nic Newsham’s phenomenal vocals, highly literate lyrics, and breathtaking instrumentation. It’s hard to get, but if you can find this one, hold on to it.
10. Eat, Sleep, Repeat by Copeland (2006) A darkly beautiful wonderland of rolling guitars, intricate drum beats, gentle pianos, and Aaron Marsh’s sensational voice flowing over everything. From beginning to end, this album is an emotive experience with the title track, “Love Affair”, and “When You Thought You’d Never Stand Out” reaching a whole other plane of excellence.
9. Volcano by Gatsbys American Dream (2005) This album is not often given its proper due when discussing great works of the time because of GAD’s numerous contributions to the conversation, but – I assure you – this album is fantastic. Containing some of the decades finest pop songs but having them also be some of the decades most progressive songs is not an easy task, but that’s what happens on Volcano where “Shhhhh! I’m Listening to Reason” might be the textbook example of progressive-pop-rock.
8. ( ) by Sigur Ros (2002) A sprawling album divided into two halves with no actual lyrics (or song or album titles for that matter) which uses the voice simply as another instrument in the band’s arsenal, ( ) is a landmark record. Its songs are epic (“Untitled 8”) and gorgeous (“Untitled 4”) with no song more noteworthy than “Untitled 1” which may be the single most beautiful composition I’ve ever heard.
7. The Resignation by RX Bandits (2003) The followup to Progress (No. 18), The Resignation was recorded almost entirely live in the studio and – considering the complexity of the material involved – I can’t say much more in praise of the Bandits’ talents. A prog-rock album far more than a ska album (which I dare say it isn’t at all), The Resignation should appeal to a wide audience and is impressive on every front.
6. Up by Peter Gabriel (2002) Few of you reading this will have ever heard anything from this album. I cannot recommend that you seek out a song or two strongly enough (I’d recommend starting with “More Than This”). Gabriel has always been an innovator and he outdoes himself in every capacity with Up, by far his greatest work. Every song is intricately composed and arranged and one really gets the impression that Gabriel searched the world over to find the perfect sound for each and every second of this beyond-impressive work.
5. Stay What You Are by Saves the Day (2001) The finest pop-rock album on this list, Stay What You Are is an exercise in doing something and doing it well. Saves the Day didn’t reinvent the wheel with this catchy wonder-work, they just made the best damn one available. You won’t be able to stop listening to this album once you start.
4. Vheissu by Thrice (2005) A staggering album. Vheissu occurred in a perfect storm of conditions within a band and a studio and the result is an unforgettable album. Thrice try every style that they want here and nail each of them, from hard-rock, to spiritual chants, to piano ballads, to programmed epics. One of the few albums that, without fail, seems to get better and better with each listen.
3. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New (2006) The absolute pinnacle of darkly melodic rock. Dark as it is, everything about this album is phenomenal, from the instrumentation to the melodies and lyrics. Brand New have a brooding cynicism about them on this album that infects the musical and lyrical tone and never relents creating an album that is deeply and darkly poignant: “And in the choir, I saw our sad Messiah. He was bored and tired of my laments. Said, ‘I died for you one time, but never again. Never again.'”
2. Ribbons & Sugar by Gatsbys American Dream (2003) The defining progressive-pop-rock album. There isn’t a down moment on this entire album and every song makes its own case for being the strongest of the bunch. The recording and production maximize every glorious guitar riff, snare hit, and background vocal. Every musician on this album is undeniably brilliant at what they do and it shows. A true masterpiece.
1. Between the Heart and the Synapse by The Receiving End of Sirens (2005) In the Tell All Your Friends section (No. 22), I mentioned that only one album better exemplified the ‘multiple-lead-vocalist’ arrangement and this is the one. With three lead singers seamlessly exchanging lead lines and gracefully singing counterpoint melodies over one another, this album has some of the finest vocal arrangements this side of John and Paul. But what really puts the album over the edge and into the number one seat, aside from the vocals and equally impressive musicianship, is the composition. This is one of the most well thought out and organized concept albums I’ve ever seen. The album exists completely within itself, with each song making reference to at least one other song on the album and with a fully functional “Prologue”, “Intermission”, and “Epilogue”. This album is epic and perfect in just about every way. There’s not much else I can say.
That’s a lot of information and I think I’ll leave it there for now. In a couple of days I plan on coming back and giving a brief analysis of all of this information.
Happy New Year everyone! I’ll see you in 2010.