The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (2023)

Aging hipsters may-- as they have at all points in history-- mope and whine that none of today's artists share the lasting appeal of the artists of bygone eras. But looking back on the first half of the new millennium's first decade to create this list of the Top 100 best albums to date only re-enforced our already well-founded beliefs that, not only are these bellyachers just too old, their opinions are laughably wrong. The '00s have, thus far, produced as many innovating, life-changing, just-plain-amazing albums as had any other decade by this point, and while the intent of this list is simply to have some good, nostalgic fun celebrating the best music of the past five years, it just so happens to double nicely as ammunition against anyone who forgot how to enjoy themselves along the way.

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (1)

100: Various Artists
DFA Compilation #2
[DFA; 2004]

Murphy, Galkin, and Tim Handclaps aren't aloof-- they just want nothing to do with your scene. This comp documented DFA's increasing eclecticism, but more importantly, defended it from pigeonholing. While many labels anxiously tried tapping the post-Rapture heroin worm for last sprays, the DFA explored expansive disco (Black Leotard Front), revived electro-analog (Delia & Gavin), and confronted their own musical influences (Liquid Liquid, LCD). And of course, the two times the DFA did play into stereotype-- LCD's "Yeah" and Pixeltan's "Get Up/Say What"-- well, you've heard those songs. --Nick Sylvester

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (2)

099: The Unicorns
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone
[Alien8; 2003]

No one should believe a word that comes out of the Unicorns' lying mouths. They say they're broken up-- maybe they are, maybe they aren't. They say they wanna produce hip-hop-- right, sure. Steel cage matches? Doubtful. All that we know about them for sure is this unlikely, almost impossibly quirky mélange of song-seeds, a career's worth of glorious melodies and darkly sugary would-be choruses-- the Unicorns never repeat themselves-- got crammed into a lone, intricate pop accident, like a fatal crash between Brian Wilson and Daniel Johnston. Maybe they broke up from depression, regretful over tossing away so many great, half-formed notions on one album. If they're even broken up at all, that is. The Unicorns can't be trusted beyond the 13 tracks of their debut album, but at least follow them that far. --Eric Carr

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (3)

098: Clipse
Lord Willin'
[Arista; 2002]

In 2002, Lord Willin' seemed to be the Neptunes' album-- their science-lab synths punched and clinked as well or better than any tracks they'd made before (see "Grindin'", whose rhythms made of flesh and breath foreshadowed their finger-popping on 2004's "Drop it Like It's Hot")-- while the Clipse got a lot of hate for rapping ever-familiar tales of playing, pushing, and block-posting, territory covered since, essentially, the dawn of hip-hop. Unfair. Despite their claims to hoodrich and the sound of coin on the beats, Pusha T and Malice painted a darker, raggedier telescopy of street-life, their lip-curled irony cutting devastatingly: on "Comedy Central", after describing shooting someone as "cock the gauge/ Polkadot your braids," Malice raps, "I hate to think the dope game is my callin/ 'Cause it got us singing lullabies to our fallen." In the same track, Pusha says, "Ghetto streets so numb they call me Novocaine"-- so deep is their dichotomy of dealer braggadocio and S.O.S. ("Virginia"). As the men say, "i live this shit." --Julianne Shepherd

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (4)

097: Black Dice
Beaches and Canyons
[DFA; 2003]

There are lots of patterns to follow and like. I might guess Black Dice was caught in a pattern whirled up by Boredoms, and that Vibracathedral Orchestra and Excepter were mixed up in the same spiral. Or, I could say that Black Dice were caught in their (new) city's bubbling underground of beats and electronics, surging with life even after death from above. Or, I might wonder if all of us were caught running after something mystical in an age of instant gratification and shared information; a quartet of former noise-mongrels were as good ambassadors as any for recognizing beauty from seemingly infinite bits of noise and static. However, ultimately, I'm struck not by the myriad of patterns, but the transitions: Beaches & Canyons writhes with life and the tease of resolution, caught between states of euphoria and confusion, and it makes absolute sense that it doesn't sound like anything else they've done. --Dominique Leone

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (5)

096: The Decemberists
Castaways & Cutouts
[Kill Rock Stars; 2003]

Efforts to typecast the Decemberists as face-painting, pirate costume-wearing indoors types fell apart after 2004 embraced freak folk's much weirder acid-fed progenitors. The Decemberists' rococo folk-rock is sweet and pure, and Colin Meloy's Pulitzer-aspirant lyrics are just the icing on a deeply labored-over cake. "July, July" is jubilantly traditional, organ-bumping folk-rock-- a far cry from the putative weirdness interpreted into this album by lazy, overeager critics. And while "Odalisque" and "The Legionnaire's Lament" are undeniably Mangum-steeped, the Decemberists have likely read as much Bangs as Beard, borrowing discreetly from sources far and wide; there's nary a song that doesn't stutter on its own immense cultural vocabulary. --Sam Ubl

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (6)

095: Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You
[Kill Rock Stars; 2001]

Drone heads be wary: The two minutes of glaring sustained synth notes you hear at the beginning of "We Invent You" are deceptive. Leaves Turn Inside You is an Unwound album, and-- despite the band's penchant for obfuscation and risk-taking-- what would an Unwound album be without big, steely guitars? It may come as great relief when the harmolodic six-string melody finally comes ricocheting through the din like a rope of light through deepest space, but by then the band have made their point: Leaves Turn Inside You is one of the most aggressively unaffiliated albums of the aughts captured in (primarily) guitar, bass, and drums.

This is a departure from even the band's most far-reaching prior material-- Unwound did some major musical soul-searching (nearly three years' worth) before deciding to construct their own studio and record a self-produced double album on analog. Shear pomposity aside, how else could the ran-backward guitar solos, percussive jamborees, cinematic organ builds, and slow-burning 10-minute seances have come about? Take the high-arching three-act "Terminus" out for a spin and begin to love perhaps the least-heard album on this list. --Sam Ubl

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (7)

094: The Strokes
Room on Fire
[RCA; 2003]

I have a difficult time recalling why this album was seen as a disappointment. It seems each member of the Strokes learned a few lessons about the true meaning of being rock stars in the aftermath of Is This It? : Nick and Al learned to make guitars into keyboards, adding the illusion of increased complexity while sticking to the stripped-down melodic simplicity that served them so well, not to mention some kickass two-note solos. Julian learned that he's capable of drawing-out vowel sounds better than almost anyone, and that those sonds are the source of his vocal powers. Fabrizio learned that every beat can sound the same and that as long as you hold steady, let Nick and Al dish the hooks and Julian drawl, everything will be beautiful. Their bass player learned that he's invisible. And collectively, they learned that by sticking to the simple if formulaic reliance on great riffs and killer choruses, you can make one hell of a rock record. Just like the last time. --Eric Carr

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (8)

093: Eminem
The Marshall Mathers LP
[Interscope; 2000]

There's Marshall Mathers, and there's Slim Shady. There's the multi-millionaire from Detroit writing lengthy letters to fans, and there's the multi-millionaire calling his fans "fucking retards." There's the man wondering why parents are allowing their children to listen to his music ("Now because of this blonde mop that's on top/ And this fucked up head that I've got, I've gone pop?"), and there's the shifty thug screaming "I don't owe you a motherfucking thing." There's the single father from a broken home inexplicably finding himself the idol of millions, and there's the obnoxious class clown reveling in the rewards and money he's received for acting like a fuck-up.

There are the thoughtful and considered stories of Em's life, and there's the skit where Em pretending to be both some guy getting his dick sucked by the Insane Clown Posse and the Insane Clown Posse sucking some guy's dick. There's a brilliant and nuanced track tackling fan worship and artistic responsibility like "Stan", and there's an interminable and nearly unlistenable wife-murdering scree like "Kim". There's a happy-go-lucky shiny pop hit like "The Real Slim Shady", and there's a hard-knock-life dirge like "Amityville". There's the doubt and reflection in "The Way I Am", and there's the irredeemably ignorant fag-bashing in "Criminal".

This is where Em played Marshall against Slim like a chess master playing both sides of the board to a draw. Marshall redeems Slim; Slim validates Marshall; Eminem tries to stay true to both, and succeeds by simply acknowledging that both Slim and Marshall need to co-exist in order for Eminem to survive. This is where Eminem rose to the top. This is where Eminem began to fall. --David Raposa

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (9)

092: The Clientele
Suburban Light
[Pointy; 2000; Merge; 2001]

The Clientele are about place. Over the course of the early singles collected here you can hear them building the fictional geography in which one hopes their music will always be set. Down these leafy lanes, striding through empty parks, illuminated by dingy lamplights as dogs bark in the distance, people quietly fall in and out of love beneath their umbrellas (weatherman is the dream gig in Clientele-land). Suburban Light is the triumph of romanticism: It doesn't matter what happens with that girl or guy, as long as it's sharply observed and you can wallow in the result with a heavily reverbed and catchy melody. As long as we have rain and Augusts inevitably fade, we'll have the Clientele, a band that illustrates the virtues of tirelessly revisiting familiar places. When your parents complained that you didn't live in the real world, this is where you were hiding. --Mark Richardson

The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04 (10)

091: Yo La Tengo
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
[Matador; 2000]

Yo La Tengo had to get old, too. But though the distortion-soaked sonics of previous outings may have quieted, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out spotlights some of the band's most emotionally acute songwriting. "Last Days of Disco" nicks the title of an underappreciated Whit Stillman film to languidly look back on the first moments of a now-aborted relationship. "The song said 'let's be happy,'" Ira Kaplan recalls, "I was happy/ It never made me happy before." Anyone who has over-appreciated an awful love song can appreciate the sentiment (for me it was DJ Sammy's cover of Bryan Adams' "Heaven"). "Our Way to Fall" captures the same moment on the way up. Kaplan adapts a Thomas Pynchon title for a hilariously bittersweet half-spoken song about lovers' quarrels ("It seems like just a little thing/ You don't want to listen and I can't shut up"). Georgia Hubley's vocals render a George McRae cover quietly sublime. Then the squalling power-pop of "Cherry Chapstick" proves Yo La Tengo have still got it. --Marc Hogan


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