100. CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH!- CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH! (2005)
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Philadelphia’s CYHSY is both a true recipient and a true victim of the internet hype machine. In 2005 they generated a huge buzz by posting their 4 song demo on the net and were quickly touted as the hottest unsigned band in America. They were literally packaging thousands of their full length cd’s a week and selling them out of their own apartments. Soon the band couldn’t keep up with demand and finally signed a distribution deal. After the hype began to die down and more people had heard the actual music the inevitable backlash set in, which the the band didn’t help by releasing a comparatively very weak follow up album two years later. But upon even further review their debut is a damn fine album. There is certainly a heavy Talking Heads and Neutral Milk Hotel influence and lead singer Alex Ounsworth somewhat whiny voice can take some getting used to but if you can get past the voice it works very well with the music- much like yelping vocals of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse. And the tunes are great. Don’t believe the backlash!
99. MADVILLAIN- MADVILLAINY (2004)
Madvillain is a collaboration between underground L.A. rap DJ Madlib and MC M.F. Doom, originally of the little known but much loved early 90’s rap group KMD. Doom also released several very underground solo projects after KMD called it quits. “Madvillainy” is a very unconventional rap record. Its 22 tracks (including skits) fly by in under 45 minutes, one track blending into the next, with Madlib’s beats coming out of leftfield- he samples such things as chamber music, ukuleles & the “jazz” music from old school cartoons. Doom’s lyrical subjects are often comic book characters and his abundant humor is straight out of “Adult Swim”. The album’s constant pace shifting and the lightning quick segues make it a blink-and-you-missed-it listen. You will be rewarded more and more with each repeat play.
98. IRON & WINE- CREEK DRANK THE CRADLE (2002)
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Iron & Wine is the solo project of folkie singer songwriter and beardo Sam Beam, a very talented southerner who is originally from South Carolina and currently resides in Miami, Fl. “Creek Drank the Cradle” is his debut album and is stripped down to the bone- you hear nothing on the album but Beam’s hauntingly beautiful voice, his acoustic guitar and some occasional slide guitar and banjo. He fits right in with the freak-folk movement which happened early to mid-decade even though he really wasn’t a part of it. As under-produced as the record is, Beam knows his way around a hook and these songs are extremely catchy. It’s not a challenging listen like a Joanna Newsom album. The most apt comparison would be to Bon Iver though obviously Iron & Wine came first. Beam’s next album “Our Endless Numbered Days” is practically as good and just missed this countdown. “Days” raised his profile considerably and really was the album to put him on the indie-map. but I still prefer the majestic beauty of the debut by a nose.
97. THE NATIONAL- BOXER (2007)
“Boxer” is the follow-up to The National’s breakthrough album “Alligator” from 2005. This Brooklyn band of late thirty-somethings has earned its success the old-fashioned way. After two practically self-released albums they were signed to Beggars Banquet, a more prominent indie-label for “Alligator”. While “Alligator” came out to little or no fanfare, over the next few years a buzz began to build around the album and the band to the point where “Boxer” was one of the most pre-hyped indie album releases of 2007. Rather than build on the momentum of hard rocking tracks like “Mr. November” and “Abel” from “Alligator”, The National made “Boxer” a mellower, more somber, more socially conscious, more adult affair- and somehow gained even more listeners and critical adulation as a result. The National seems to have captured the zeitgeist and the ennui of what it means to be a middle class, urban adult male in the early 21st century. They also managed to meld the personal with the political at a very strange time in American history.
96. BLITZEN TRAPPER- FURR (2008)
This Portland, Oregon band has been kicking around since 2000, but only came onto my radar with “Furr” their first album for prominent indie label Sub Pop. “Furr” shows Blitzen Trapper perfecting an varied mix of different styles. Though they can easily be lumped in with other indie/Americana bands like My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses and even Wilco, their sound is much more all over the map. You get folk-pop, folk-rock, loose, jammy psychedelic music, southern rock, prog and country-rock harmonies all on the same album- each song is very unlike the next one. Somehow the album still sounds cohesive and there is not a weak track on it. Though I would still recommend this band mainly to fans of roots rock and the more Americana side of indie-rock, those listeners should all be prepared to be surprised. This is no paint-by-numbers roots album.
95. BEYONCE- B’DAY (2006)
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It’s mind-numbing to me that “B’day” is the least seller out of Beyonce’s three solo albums. It contains no singles as big as “Crazy in Love”, “Single Ladies”, or “Halo” with the exception of the massive hit “Irreplaceable”. Despite its lower sales “B’Day” is far and away her best solo album and it’s consistently better song for song than any of Destiny’s Child’s albums as well. Endless 15+ minute closer “Resentment” aside, “B’day” is filled with killer funk tracks like “Get Me Bodied”, “Upgrade U”, “Freakum Dress”, “Ring the Alarm” and “Suga Mama”- all either minor hits or should have been singles. Every other Beyonce and DC release contains more than its fair share of syrupy ballads that weigh down the albums and make for an very uneven listening experience. But put on “B’day”, delete “Resentment”, and see why Beyonce was the best pop star of the past decade. I hope she makes another album as good as it again.
94. RAEKWON- ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINX II (2009)
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Though the exact subject matter of “Linx II” does not really justify its sequel status, one gets the feeling that Raekwon naming this album after his first great solo album was less a marketing ploy and more a statement of purpose. With the notable exception of Ghostface Killah, the Wu-Tang Clan had spend most of the 00’s decade floundering in disappointing releases. Sure enough Rae and company step up their game to deliver the best non-Ghost Wu release since ’96 or ’97. Though most of the subject matter focuses on mafia & selling cocaine none of the songs are direct continuations of anything from Linx I. Rae and every guest rapper is in top form and the beats on the album are the best heard in years. Other than main Wu-producer RZA – Pete Rock, the Alchemist, Dr. Dre & the late J Dilla are at the helm as well. Everything seems to work perfectly. Again Ghostface and Raekwon compliment each other beautifully as they always seem to do- Rae’s soft spoken but burning intensity is the perfect juxtaposition to Ghost’s ecstatic shouting. Let’s hope the Wu have several left in them that are this good!
93. ARCTIC MONKEYS- WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT (2006)
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The Arctic Monkeys were probably the first internet phenomenon before they even released their first official album. Due to a handful of free MP3’s the Monkeys built up such a buzz that this, their debut album, became the fastest selling debut in the history of the U.K. The band was certainly not reinventing the wheel. They took their musical cues from mostly past British guitar bands like The Clash, Blur & Oasis & more recently The Libertines, The (non-British) Strokes & Franz Ferdinand. The band itself, made up of boys in their late teens, is extremely solid and tight as a drum- no loose jammin’ with nary a missed note. The most exciting thing about them is singer/lyricist Alex Turner, who adds a new take on the classic late teen/early 20’s concerns of club hopping, underage drinking, hookups, getting into fights and in trouble with the law and other tales of debauchery. He borrows Julian Casablancas’s (of The Strokes) sense of detachment and has a amazing eye of detail for such a young writer. All of the songs on the album are filled with musical stop-starts, and packed full of riffs and words. Though the album is slightly overrated as per usual with the British hype machine it was certainly a great debut from one of the most promising new bands of the decade.
92. IRON & WINE- THE SHEPHERD’S DOG (2007)
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“The Shepherd’s Dog” is Sam Beam’s 3rd studio album as Iron & Wine, not including their nice collaboration with Calexico- “In the Reigns” released in 2005. Beam undergoes a drastic change in sound with this album- rather than just him and an acoustic guitar as on his previous records, he has surrounded himself with a large cast of musicians and instruments- not just drums, bass and electric guitars, but piano, vibes, harmonica, organ & accordions. The high quality of the music proves that his previous stripped down sound was anything but a gimmick. The increase in production and instrumentation does nothing to diminish his sound- in fact I think this is his best record. Though the album sounds entirely different than his previous output the overall vibe is similar. Beam’s amazing voice still gives the songs a eerily, mysterious tone and the album feels south gothic. Is there anything this guy can’t do?
91. TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS- HEARTS OF OAK (2003)
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An early forty-something, intelligent, diminutive, vegan, hard-core politically left-wing Brooklynite, Ted Leo is the current torch bearer for straight forward punk rock influenced by the Jam, the Kinks, the Clash along with the post-hardcore of groups like Fugazi and err… Thin Lizzy- you see he’s also quite the lead guitarist as exhibited by his searing solos in the middle of nearly all of those tracks. I guess he needs to bring the classic rock to the middle of all that punk. He can also spin quite a story ala Lizzy’s Phil Lynott. Check “Oak’s” The Ballad of a Sin Eater” if you don’t believe me. Though Leo has consistently released good to great albums for the past ten years, I find “Hearts of Oak” to be his best by a fairly good measure. It is both his most diverse and hookiest album with his best songs- among the best in his catalog including “Sin Eater” (from above), Specials nod-“Where have All the Rude Boys Gone?”, the title track, “The High Party” and “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead”.