The tendency of music fans to rank things implies the very simple notion that one album is unequivocally better than another. In finishing up its list of the Top 50 Albums of the New Millennium, the Daily Music Staff wrestled with the hazy distinctions between our favorite records. Separating the mad, mystical rants of Madvillain from the murky laptop pop of Radiohead was ultimately an exercise in futility. The fact is that all of the albums on this page have burrowed their way into our permanent consciousness. We hum Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” in class and carry Brian Wilson’s “Cabin Essence” to bed at night. We strove to represent our tastes; we tried to expose friends and co-workers to our passions; we hoped to incite debate about the best modern music has to offer. Mostly, we prayed that it wasn’t just us, that the joy, consolation and life that we derived from these albums was not ours alone.

Music Reviews
Music Reviews
Music Reviews

– By Andrew M. Gaerig

20 Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The best way to experience Yoshimi is live. Only then can you really comprehend what makes The Flaming Lips’ sunny psych so special. Their shows are less concert and more demented circus spectacle, but even with all the animal costumes, fake blood, and giant balloons, the music is the most outrageous aspect. From the surreal space rock of “One More Robot/Unit 300-21” to the sublime beauty of “Do You Realize??” the album does a great job of capturing the unadulterated joy of a Wayne Coyne performance. I’ve never walked away from a concert loving life more than the night I saw The Flaming Lips, and this album is the perfect memento. — Lloyd Cargo

19 Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief manages to be political enough to satisfy the blue states while having enough guitar riffs to nullify the red ones. The beautiful thing about Radiohead was that they didn’t forget the electronic lessons from Kid A and Amnesiac. Songs like “Sit Down. Stand Up.” break into syncopated beats and warbling piano with an ease that could only come from an older, wiser band, while the lead single, “There There,” sounds like a relief for guitarists everywhere — a glorious return to form. It’s just another stop on the road to being, what was that title Bono wants? Oh yeah, “the greatest rock and roll band in the world.” — Forest Casey

18 Liars – They Threw Us in a Trench

With an intriguing album title and minimalist artwork, the Liars give you plenty warning that their music isn’t exactly normal, and they come through. Their dance-punk masterpiece — with its electronic influences — features some of the most interesting and energetic songs in recent memory. With refrains “They cut me up in the medical school” the Liars show us that they are going to do whatever they wish with their music and all we can do is wonder what the hell they were thinking. — Punit Mattoo

17 Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Skinny Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

It’s melancholy, occasionally distressing and filled with pretension. But the intense opuses that Godspeed create are reassuring and familiar in their power. The struggle that takes place within the instrumentation is imbued with commentary on society’s degradation. As they progress through 20-minute string pieces their music pulls the listener through a bevy of emotions and thoughts. Godspeed is at the forefront of a newfound interest in Canadian music. They legitimize the often struggling and muddled genres of post-rock and orchestral rock. Lift Your Skinny Fists is their flagship work. — Jason Smith

16 Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner

There is a bullet train in my imagination that runs from a Japanese proton accelerator straight through the slums of Brixton and London. It was born in an old Commodore 64 and its name is Boy In Da Corner. In one streak of Dizzee’s crashing, gatling gun rap, hip-hop goes international, the English language find its best manipulator since James Joyce and the whole world tries to “Fix Up, Look Sharp.” Dazzling geezer, innit? — Evan McGarvey

15 Sufjan Stevens – Greetings from Michigan

When my RA tried to feed me this Christian lite-rock by some guy with a funny-sounding name, I almost didn’t listen. Oh, what I almost missed. Sufjan bravely tours the bleak horizon of job loss in Flint to the comic failures of Detroit to the chiming bells of love lost and regained across the state. His banjo rings true and his arrangements, though powerful, never seem contrived. In short, this man made it okay to wear your heart — and your religion — on both sleeves. — F.C.

14 Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People

You Forgot It In People is arguably the best pop album in the last 15 years. Its gorgeous melodies and seamless transitions make it enjoyable for nearly everyone. Its blend of pop hooks, combined with Broken Social Scene’s earlier instrumental material, creates a beautiful and vast landscape of sound. All of these attributes have assisted this Canadian super group in becoming indie legends and pop pioneers. —Chris Gaerig

13 Spoon – Kill The Moonlight

Kill the Moonlight was the record Spoon were inching toward for seven years. Their earlier releases showed talent, but they never fully realized their potential until this album. Finding the perfect fusion of indie-pop hooks, good heartedness and quirky touches such as a human beat box, guitar loops and programmed drum effects, Spoon created an LP that was witty and clever yet perfectly affecting. There’s a dark undercurrent on songs such as “The Way We Get By” and “Back to the Life,” but it’s hard not to smile as front man Britt Daniel sings about his schoolyard bully on “Jonathan Fisk” and lets it all hang out on the rave-up “You Gotta Feel It.” — Joel Hoard

12 Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP

Granted, The Slim Shady LP was great, but it could have been a fluke. It took The Marshall Mathers LP to prove that Eminem was the real deal. His rhymes were complex and crisp, and his voice confident and mature. With his joker alter ego Slim Shady laid to rest, Em bared his soul and vented 30-some years of pent-up aggression, sparing no one in the process. His mom gets it on “Kill You,” and then he offs his wife on “Kim.” But beneath the veneer of violence and hatred, there was the real Marshall Mathers, the man with a conscience and an uncanny intellect, the man who wrote the soul-searching “Stan” and “The Way I Am.” — J.H.

11 Jay–Z – The Black Album

There are two ways out of the rap game and neither happens to be particularly pleasant: You can either slip into old age, making sloppy records and alienating your fan base, or you can get shot. Shawn Carter, being the 21st century man he is, ditches the rap circus and leaves behind his last will and testament. The Black Album often gets misunderstood as pure autobiography; it’s not. Jay-Z isn’t saying goodbye to himself, he’s bidding farewell to Jigga, S.Dot and all the other personas that beamed him from Bed-Stuy to every stereo in America. It’s one hell of a bon voyage as Just Blaze, Kanye, Timbaland and The Neptunes all crack some bottles on the good ship H.O.V.A. And seriously, if you’re not feeling the urge to get wild after the third verse on “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” then you’ve missed the boat entirely. — E.M.

10 OutKast – Stankonia

Pushing the envelope or selling out? Making music for love or money? Over the years, Outkast have shown tremendous growth, going from a pair of young players to space aliens and more recently to love haters and old-school pimps. But one thing has been consistent: They are one of the most lyrically talented groups in the industry. And this has never been more evident than on Stankonia. Over sometimes questionable beats, they always deliver lyrics that have never been less than excellent. Creating vivid imagery and playful ear-teasers, there is always something new to hear. On this album they took a chance and created a more funkadelic hip-hop, beats that are derived from techno and ’70s soul music as well as less-explored genres like heavy metal and alternative rock. So even though they have gone on to greater successes and moved out of the underground, we’ll remember them for the eclectic grooves of this album. Stankonia delivers as the most eclectic expressions of hip-hop to ever come out of the South. — Khepra Akanke

9 The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

Dear Sir:

I don’t know who you really are. You record as Jack White, but your real name is John Gillis. You said Meg was your sister, but the two of you were married. There are probably still kids out there who think your entire wardrobe looks like a peppermint.

I’ve been listening since you channeled the blues and mixed the Detroit sound you knew, since you pulled in the abstract and made your songs prettier. You covered Robert Johnson, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan; you’ve worked with Loretta Lynn. You – whoever you are — were always present, but teachers and ghosts got in the way.

White Blood Cells is your most honest album, but you hid yourself pretty well: In the first half, you do country, punk-blues, avant-jazz, Orson Welles. And then, maybe, you show yourself. “Well I guess I haven’t grown,” you say. Self-deprecation will get you nowhere.

But you already know what I’m going to say. “I hope you know a strong man / who can lend you a hand / lowering my casket.” Excise the part of you that follows. Ditch the dead weight behind the drum kit, get out of Hollywood and write music. I don’t care about the name on the label.

“If there’s anything good about me / I’m the only one who knows.” Don’t keep it a secret. Give us more of yourself. — Alexandra Jones

8 The Shins – Oh Inverted World

When Natalie Portman hands the headphones playing The Shins’ “New Slang” to Zach Braff in Garden State, she says to him “Here, listen to this. It’ll change your life.” Can an album change your life? Absolutely. I still remember the day my 10th grade English teacher approached me after class and told me he’d read about an album he thought I’d like. Ranked third on Mojo magazine’s 2001 year-end best album list, The Shins were described as “The Kinks meet Love,” two bands he knew I loved. That very same day I headed down to my local record store and had a copy ordered. After I got it home and into my stereo, I began to fall in love with it. Oh Inverted World is one of those first-listen stunners, the sort of record you put on and devote all your attention to. Oh Inverted World was my intro to indie-rock, and virtually everything else on this list. You might be thinking, so what? If not for this album, I wouldn’t be nearly as passionate about music, which is to say that I don’t know where I’d be. Forget your life. The Shins changed mine. — L.C.

7 Brian Wilson – Smile

I’m left speechless when describing this album. There’s the ingenuity that makes Brian Wilson one of the all-time great songwriters. There’s the ear, always grasping those angelic harmonies and asking us to listen in awe. It could be the mostly nonsensical but ultimately profound words of Van Dyke Parks. Or the virtuosic arrangements with quirky instrumentation and a keen sense of texture. There are so many reasons to listen to this album again and again and again. Like other great art, Smile is timeless and relevant, transcending generations and living up to its reputation as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Smile should be embraced for reminding us what’s possible, what boundaries can be crossed and the potential of actual intelligence in modern pop music. Smile serves as a wake-up call, raising the bar of what pop music can and should be. It will, in some time, proudly stand alongside the other great albums in rock history. — Andrew Horowitz

6 Madvillain – Madvillainy

You could say a lot of things about this album. You could say the pairing of two underground hip-hop heavyweights, MF Doom and Madlib, was a can’t-miss collaboration. You could say that Doom’s unorthodox and dense flow fits seamlessly with Madlib’s unorthodox and dense production. You could say that no other hip-hop artists cultivate such a wide variety of personas as well as these two, save for maybe Ghostface. And you’d be right about all of those things. But what it comes down to is this — you should listen to it, over and over, because that’s what it demands of you, and that’s the only way you’ll ever come to really appreciate it, and that’s the bottom line. Doom and Madlib take Yoda to heart, because they don’t try to be on an entirely different sonic landscape than anyone else-they just are. — Amos Barshad

5 The Strokes — Is This It

Here’s the real story of how this album got made: Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, the rest of the band and some other good looking hipsters from Williamsburg snuck into a leather jacket-powered time machine and transported themselves to New York’s CBGB, circa 1974. They all made like the Scooby Gang, stole the playbooks from Television and Blondie and high-tailed it back to our time before Tom Verlaine knew what hit him. Is This It? has all the churning guitars, blurry, fuzzed out vocals and vagabond lyrics of the best new-wave and punk acts. And since The Strokes got to revitalize a city’s music scene and maybe an entire genre, they now have to deal with some other clich

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