1. Radiohead — Kid A (2000)

What’d you expect? Radiohead, coming off the release of what many still consider the best album of the last 25 years (OK Computer), decided to completely reinvent itself — a risk that resulted in the “difficult,” droning, mechanized, beautiful, triumphant Kid A. It’s hard to believe now, but the initial critical reaction was largely divided — a lot of people simply did not know what to make of it.

But Kid A’s power, bewildering as it was, couldn’t be denied even back in 2000, when it debuted at the top spot of the Billboard 200. Its influence is impossible to quantify, but every time a modern band forgoes the expected, every time an album challenges us and rewards us in equal doses, every time something or someone overturns musical convention and shifts people’s perspectives, Kid A looms in the background as the decade’s bold pioneer. What’d you expect? In 2000, certainly not Kid A. In 2009, nothing less.

— Jeff Sanford

2. The Arcade Fire — Funeral (2004)

Yarning together themes of love, yearning and fatalism residual in a generation bogged down by cynicism and teen angst, Funeral served as a voice of our time and the decade’s quintessential epic record. Right from the opening piano twinkles of “Neighborhood #1,” frontman Win Butler’s passion and intensity grabs you as he describes a world of adolescent fantasies where children are unmarred by the jaded miseries of adulthood. Under bottomlessly symphonic orchestrations, neighbors danced on powerless streets, pubescent lovers dug tunnels between snow-buried homes and the realization and acceptance of identity and purpose was achieved in the peace of the backseat.

— Kristyn Acho

3. Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

A pop album shipwrecked on the shores of Lake Michigan and scrapped for parts, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the decade’s best proof that, from the depths of despair, inadvertent brilliance often emerges. As good as the album itself, the unlikely story of YHF’s against-all-odds conception and birth is a biblical epic that needs no retelling. What matters now is that the record’s left-field majesty is more apparent than ever. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a breathtaking, slurred stroll down psychosis lane, “Jesus Etc.” is an enchanting smoky séance and “Pot Kettle Black” is a classic rocker on Quaaludes. By allowing uncompromising creativity and astonishing cohesiveness to coexist, YHF is a Beatlesque accomplishment. Just like frontman Jeff Tweedy saluted the ashes of American flags, we should salute the ashes of Wilco, a band that could never top Yankee and never will.

— Dave Watnick

4. The Strokes — Is This It (2001)

Is This It displayed New York wunderkinds The Strokes at their disenchanted finest, showcasing Julian Casablancas and Co.’s clear penchant for imploring croons and garage-y nostalgia. Often mimicked by lesser bands for their coolly disaffected sound, The Strokes may not have single-handedly saved rock ‘n’ roll (as some of the more eager members of the press gushed when Is This It first dropped in 2001), but the band has unquestionably left an indelible mark on the aughts by magnetically capturing the disillusioned sentiment of an entire generation.

— Jasmine Zhu

5. Radiohead — In Rainbows (2007)

For anyone who was starting to see Radiohead as a bunch of soulless, dial-twiddling extraterrestrials flying light-years above the rest of the music world in an ivory tower, In Rainbows arrived as a sharp rebuttal. Emerging after three consecutive albums of metallic sci-fi atmospherics, the record’s undulating warmth came as a bit of a shock. While studio wizardry was still in high order, Radiohead seemed to have stepped out from behind the curtain, allowing itself to sound somewhat like a rock band again (key word: “somewhat”). And the result is the most snuggly blanket of paranoia you’ll ever cuddle up with — a sonic teddy bear for those of us who like our bedtime stories a little bit terrifying.

— Josh Bayer

6. Animal Collective — Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

In a decade full of scruffy, trippy little bands with silly names, Animal Collective reigned supreme. The inimitable group charmed hipsters nationwide with kinetic shows, a steady output of ear-bending records and an ever-changing sound. Merriweather Post Pavilion is pure Animal Collective brilliance, from the pulsating start of “In The Flowers” to the didgeridoo-rooted “Lion In A Coma.” Its pop-oriented songs are more concise and accessible than any of the group’s earlier work, but still retain the same whacked-out flair. Reaching out beyond their indie-jam-band fan base, Avey Tare, Panda Bear and friends showed that they’re ready to take it to the next level in the next decade.

— Sharon Jacobs

7. Interpol — Turn On the Bright Lights (2002)

Toward the beginning of the aughts, before a series of Strokes rip-off bands bastardized Brooklyn-bred indie rock, Interpol released an album that would influence the post-punk revival genre for the remainder of the decade. Influenced by ’80s sound waves, Turn On the Bright Lights infused brooding Joy Division-inspired aesthetics with punchy, stripped-down riffing, producing an innovative sound combining New Wave minimalism with glorified 20th century ennui. Although Interpol’s later efforts would not compare, Turn On the Bright Lights violently captured the emotions of a generation of disaffected inner city youth.

— Sasha Resende

8. The Hold Steady — Boys and Girls in America (2006)

Alcohol-induced guitar solos communicate a classic rock‘n’roll pedigree, while a consistent dose of friendly piano and frantic organ prove a degree of technical skill. And Kerouac allusions are always a plus. From a critical perspective, Boys and Girls In America struck all the right chords at the right time, even when lead singer Craig Finn struggled to deliver stable vocals. But what set this album apart is something completely intangible — a brutal honesty in weighty stories about “Massive Nights,” “Southtown Girls” and the “Chillout Tent,” and the aching melodies that accompanied them, prompting band and audience alike into a collective state of euphoria only to be defined as The Hold Steady.

— David Riva

9. Fleet Foxes — Fleet Foxes (2008)

Who would’ve predicted the sudden rise of these hirsute Seattle folkies from Sub Pop rookies to chart-topping year-end best-listers? On the back of Robin Pecknold’s stunning vocals and jaw-dropping baroque harmonies, Fleet Foxes’s self-titled debut masterfully paired pastoral, reverb-drenched production with Pecknold’s fantastical woodland lyrics — “the morning tide when the sparrow and the seagull fly” never sounded so exciting. With a distinct chamber-folk sound reminiscent of the turn-of-the-’70s Laurel Canyon crowd (David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, etc.), there is enough peppy guitar work and vocal interplay here to please urban hipsters and old folkies alike.

— Mike Kuntz

10. The Flaming Lips — Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

The Flaming Lips are just plain weird. But it’s their unabashed assertion of their own kookiness that makes these musicians so lovable and their music so poignant. Yoshimi was the perfect balance of the band’s trademark wisdom and trademark quirkiness. Jumping from genuine acoustic guitar sing-a-longs to orgiastic messes of bloopy, farty synths, and lyrically mixing cartoony depictions of an allegorical fight between a girl and some pink robots with gutting truisms about life and death, The Flaming Lips show off their true colors — a base coat of wacky with an iridescently brilliant finish.

— Leah Burgin

11) LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)
12) Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise (2005)
13) M.I.A. – Kala (2007)
14) Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People (2002)
15) Beirut – Gulag Orkestar (2006)
16) Panda Bear – Person Pitch (2007)
17) Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam (2007)
18) Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (2009)
19) Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (2006)
20) Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)

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