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“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter.”
— High Fidelity

Etcetera

Best Albums of the 2000s

I originally wrote about most of these albums on Tumblr in 2010 and 2011.

  1. Come to Where I’m From

    Joseph Arthur

    Real World, 2000

    Choice Cuts:

  2. Whoa Nelly

    Nelly Furtado

    Choice Cuts:

  3. De Stijl

    The White Stripes

    Choice Cuts:

  4. Phrenology

    The Roots

    2002

    Choice Cuts:

  5. Simple Things

    Zero 7

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  6. Ganging Up on the Sun

    Guster

    2006

    Choice Cuts:

  7. Voodoo

    D’Angelo

    2000

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  8. Woke Up on a Whaleheart

    Bill Callahan

    Drag City, 2007

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  9. Friend and Foe

    Menomena

    Barsuk, 2007

    Choice Cuts:

  10. Morning View

    Incubus

    2001

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  11. Speakerboxxx / The Love Below

    Outkast

    2003

    Choice Cuts:

  12. Icky Thump

    The White Stripes

    2007

    Choice Cuts:

  13. Asleep in the Back

    Elbow

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  14. Show Your Bones

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs

    2006

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  15. Trouble

    Ray LaMontagne

    2004

    Choice Cuts:

  16. Rubber Factory

    The Black Keys

    2004

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  17. Welcome Joy

    The Cave Singers

    2009

    Choice Cuts:

  18. Arcade Fire

    Arcade Fire

    2003

    Choice Cuts:

  19. Love Is Hell

    Ryan Adams

    2003

    Choice Cuts:

  20. Haughty Melodic

    Mike Doughty

    ATO, 2005

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  21. Invitation Songs

    The Cave Singers

    Matador, 2007

    Choice Cuts:

  22. Nashville

    Josh Rouse

    2005

    Choice Cuts:

  23. Be

    Common

    2005

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  24. In Camera

    Arthur & Yu

    Hardly Art, 2007

    Choice Cuts:

  25. Niño Rojo

    Devendra Banhart

    2004

    Choice Cuts:

  26. Sebastopol

    Jay Farrar

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  27. Dear Science

    TV on the Radio

    2008

    Choice Cuts:

  28. Two Thousand

    French Kicks

    2006

    Choice Cuts:

  29. Illinois

    Sufjan Stevens

    Asthmatic Kitty, 2005

    Choice Cuts:

  30. It’s Frightening

    White Rabbits

    2009

    Choice Cuts:

  31. Narrow Stairs

    Death Cab for Cutie

    Atlantic, 2008

    Choice Cuts:

  32. Is This It

    The Strokes

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  33. Okemah and the Melody of Riot

    Son Volt

    2005

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  34. Poses

    Rufus Wainwright

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  35. Late Registration

    Kanye West

    2005

    Choice Cuts:

  36. Modern Guilt

    Beck

    2008

    Choice Cuts:

  37. Transatlanticism

    Death Cab for Cutie

    Barsuk, 2003

    Choice Cuts:

  38. Virginia Creeper

    Grant Lee Phillips

    2004

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  39. Post-War

    M. Ward

    Merge, 2006

    Choice Cuts:

  40. The Photo Album

    Death Cab for Cutie

    Barsuk, 2001

    Choice Cuts:

  41. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

    Phoenix

    2009

    Choice Cuts:

  42. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

    Neko Case

    2006

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  43. Our Endless Numbered Days

    Iron & Wine

    Sub Pop, 2004

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  44. Agaetis Byrjun

    Sigur Ros

    2000

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  45. Turn on the Bright Lights

    Interpol

    2002

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  46. Descended Like Vultures

    Rogue Wave

    Sub Pop, 2005

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  47. I and Love and You

    The Avett Brothers

    2009

    Choice Cuts:

  48. Neon Bible

    Arcade Fire

    Merge, 2007

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  49. Kill the Moonlight

    Spoon

    2002

    Choice Cuts:

  50. Veneer

    Jose Gonzalez

    Mute, 2005

    Choice Cuts:

  51. The College Dropout

    Kanye West

    2004

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  52. Skittish

    Mike Doughty

    self-released, 2000

    Choice Cuts:

  53. Gold

    Ryan Adams

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  54. Hey You. Yes You.

    Ben Lee

    2002

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  55. The Greatest

    Cat Power

    2006

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  56. The Weight Is a Gift

    Nada Surf

    Barsuk, 2005

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  57. Blacklisted

    Neko Case

    2002

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  58. Demolition

    Ryan Adams

    2002

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  59. Alligator

    The National

    2005

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  60. Stankonia

    Outkast

    2000

    Choice Cuts:

  61. St. Elsewhere

    Gnarls Barkley

    2006

    Choice Cuts:

  62. Dark Was the Night

    Various Artists

    4AD, 2009

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  63. By the Way

    Red Hot Chili Peppers

    2002

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  64. Soul Journey

    Gillian Welch

    2003

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  65. Gravelled & Green

    The Actual Tigers

    2001

    Choice Cuts:

  66. When I Pretend to Fall

    The Long Winters

    Barsuk, 2003

    Choice Cuts:

  67. Bitte Orca

    Dirty Projectors

    4AD, 2009

    Choice Cuts:

  68. Sha Sha

    Ben Kweller

    2002

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  69. White Ladder

    David Gray

    2000

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  70. Awake Is the New Sleep

    Ben Lee

    2005

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  71. Daybreaker

    Beth Orton

    2002

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  72. Guero

    Beck

    2005

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  73. Home

    Josh Rouse

    2000

    Choice Cuts:

  74. Accelerate

    R.E.M.

    Warner Bros., 2008

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  75. Violence in the Snowy Fields

    Dolorean

    2004

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  76. Kid A

    Radiohead

    2000

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  77. Mermaid Avenue Volume II

    Billy Bragg & Wilco

    2000

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  78. The Moon & Antarctica

    Modest Mouse

    2000

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  79. Twin Cinema

    The New Pornographers

    2005

    Choice Cuts:

  80. Let Go

    Nada Surf

    Barsuk, 2003

    Choice Cuts:

  81. Keep It Together

    Guster

    2003

    Choice Cuts:

  82. Funeral

    Arcade Fire

    2004

    Choice Cuts:

  83. Shallow Grave

    The Tallest Man on Earth

    2008

    Choice Cuts:

  84. D-D-Don’t Stop the Beat

    Junior Senior

    2003

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  85. Give Up

    The Postal Service

    2003

    Choice Cuts:

  86. A Rush of Blood to the Head

    Coldplay

    2002

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  87. Parachutes

    Coldplay

    2000

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  88. Out of the Shadow

    Rogue Wave

    Sub Pop, 2004

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  89. Aha Shake Heartbreak

    Kings of Leon

    2005

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  90. Change

    The Dismemberment Plan

    DeSoto, 2001

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  91. Weed

    Chris Whitley

    2004

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  92. Discovery

    Daft Punk

    2001

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  93. In Rainbows

    Radiohead

    2007

    Choice Cuts:

  94. For Emma, Forever Ago

    Bon Iver

    Jagjaguwar, 2008

    Breakup records are a funny thing. Alanis Morissette made a pretty good, angry breakup record once with Jagged Little Pill. Beck made a sad, self-pitying, jaw-droppingly beautiful one with Sea Change. Justin Vernon made a record that lies somewhere in the middle. Or on the outside. With For Emma, Forever Ago, the first album by what has since become the band Bon Iver, Vernon made a unique breakup album, one that reflects the bittersweetness of the experience. For out of the ashes, a life is reborn.

    I’m probably not alone when I say I never heard of Vernon before Bon Iver. His two self-released (and spottily brilliant) solo albums never found an audience (if they were even meant to). His earlier band, DeYarmond Edison, never quite materialized. When his bandmates kicked him to the curb, and his girlfriend did too, Vernon probably seemed like the least likely person to make one of the great albums (and in my estimation, the greatest album) of the decade. For Emma, Forever Ago is the sound of an person coming to terms with loss, then summoning the courage to carry on.

    In a remarkable feat of symmetry, this metaphor applies itself even to the process of making the record. As the now-famous story goes, Vernon holed himself up in a wintry Wisconsin cabin, and when he emerged, he did so with these songs—and undoubtedly with a profound and new outlook on life as well. And as if that weren’t enough, the album itself represents this journey. Vernon starts off frustrated and soured by the whole experience. On album standout “Skinny Love,” this indignation reaches its peak. “Who will love you? Who will fight?” Vernon asks, never receiving his answer.

    The anger continues, if less spiteful, through the middle half of the record. The magnificent (and best experienced live) “The Wolves (Act I and II)” finds solace in community: by bringing in his audience, Vernon allows us to share the burden of his loss. In so doing, we don’t just bear the weight, we connect to the experience and together, move on from it. By the time we reach the title track, “For Emma,” we too are beginning to move towards forgiveness, acceptance, and growth. Gone is the anger, gone is the sadness. We can now, like Vernon, step back and see beyond good or bad. Instead, we see how this experience has shaped us, and will continue to do so.

    “For Emma,” then, serves as the closing of a chapter. When Vernon sings “With all your lies, you’re still very lovable,” it’s the beginning of a new path, and the end of the story. The album plays like a movie in that way. This song is the resolution and the launching point all wrapped into one. Happiness and sadness, after all, sit beside each other. Most of the time, we cycle back and forth around the circle, never quite reaching either point. But in moments of true grace, we pass through both states, almost instantaneously. This album embodies that feeling for me with every listen.

    Album closer “Re: Stacks” serves as a coda to our story. Like the song that plays over the end credits of a movie, it serves to sum up all that has come before it, from the downtrodden beginning to triumphant end. Still, as we slowly fade to black, Vernon makes a point to remind us that “This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization.” Life isn’t so neatly tied up in a bow as it so often is in the movies. Instead, “It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away / Your love will be / Safe with me.”

    Postscript.

    It wasn’t until early 2008 that I became aware of Bon Iver. Though Vernon self-released the album to great success in 2007, it wasn’t until the record bubbled up to the top of a lot of year-end lists that I began to take notice. Jagjaguwar released the record in February of 2008, and after I heard “Skinny Love,” “Lump Sum” and “Flume” a few times over the course of the next few months, I was hooked. Only now I couldn’t find the record. Every time I went to buy it in my local shop, they were all out.

    Then one day I had to take a long drive, and knew that this album absolutely must be my soundtrack. I listened to it twice through on the way out. On the way home, darkness setting in, I began the record as I pulled out of a wooded drive onto the two-lane highway. By the time I reached emerged from my moonlight drive—reintroduced to a bigger highway, more traffic, more lights, more concrete—the last notes of “Re: Stacks” were sounding, and I too could feel like a phoenix rising from the flame. Perhaps it was this moment that so deeply entrenched itself in my heard and mind, putting this album atop all others. Perhaps that moment was simply a culmination of days, months and years of memories. No matter what brought me to this point, I was then and am still glad that, going forward, I have this record to carry with me.

    Choice Cuts:

  95. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

    Wilco

    2002

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  96. Oh, Inverted World

    The Shins

    Sub Pop, 2001

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  97. Busted Stuff

    Dave Matthews Band

    2002

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  98. Chutes Too Narrow

    The Shins

    Sub Pop, 2003

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  99. Rocket House

    Chris Whitley

    2001

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  100. Sea Change

    Beck

    2002

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