We can continue now. 2001 was a decent year. For many people that I've talked to, they consider it one of the best of the entire decade. Looking at my list - I don't readily agree. But a favorite is a favorite and some of the albums in this top 10 were huge obsessions of mine back in those days.
10. Maxwell - Now
I always found it somewhat baffling that Maxwell didn't receive the critical praise of a D'Angelo. Commercially, he had some big hits - but even so, in a more remote "slow-jam only" crowd. The fact remains in 2010 that every Maxwell release has been excellent. Laced with solid soul and funk production and his super smooth vocals laid on top. Sex jams? Sure. In the vein of the slower Prince songs, latter day Marvin Gaye, and the sound that most neo-soul practitioners try to cop. "Now" feature "Lifetime" the song that I most asssociate with Maxwell, it also has the Kate Bush cover that made some waves. It's not mindblowing and the record doesn't reveal anything new about this genre of music or the artist in question - but it's still good. It's still enjoyable and I've still listened to it a lot since it's release.
9. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Ease Down The Road
Most people know that I can boil both my favorite modern songwriter and musician down to one person: Will Oldham. Following his true breakthrough "I See A Darkness" with "Ease Down The Road" Oldham went even more direct. Not entirely as dark, but maybe a little more sparse. Songs dealing with love (yes I can tell you that "May It Always Be" is a special song for me and my girlfriend), silly songs, sad songs. Oldham's voice and minimal instrumentation throughout. It's not my favorite release of his, but it's one of the easiest to listen to. Ultimately, it's a calming release, it just happens to have some great songwriting along the way.
8. Kylie Minogue - Fever
Kylie Minogue's re-emergence and conquering of the American charts in 2001, more than a decade after putting out some successful, cheesy pop singles overseas is one of best stories of the early part of the decade. Teamed up with true dance music producers and reaping the benefit of promotion from Madonna, Minogue stole the chart with "Can't Get You Out of My Head" the song with the "na-na-na's" that were impossible to escape for years. I hated that song. I like it now, but hated it then. The rest of the album though is some of the best produced pop music of the decade and some of the best dance-oriented pop music ever produced. "Love at First Sight" has to be one of the best singles of the entire decade. The rest of the album is just an example of pop music done right. Terribly catchy, immaculate production and just a lot of fucking fun. Is it embarassing to be a Kylie Minogue fan as an adult male? Not if the music is this good.
7. Fennesz - Endless Summer
There are times when I think that "Endless Summer" might very well be the best album of 2001 and one of the most important and relevant albums of the entire decades. There are other times when I don't understand why I am so fascinated with this record. A glitchy, ambient, obscene and serene take on sun, seen through the eyes of the inimitable Christian Fennesz. I don't hate this record ever, don't get me wrong, but I don't always love it. It's a "when the mood is right" type of record for me. It almost always sounds pretty (though the harsh glitches on "Shisheido" and "Before I Leave" wake me from my daydream), but about one out of every 4 listens reveals a record that stands on its own, with few sounding like it. The mixture of guitars, fuzz, and samples just hits the right emotions. One of the very few ambient that does indeed work on a sunny day. Keep it around, listen to it every now and then, you'll become obsessed eventually.
6. Daft Punk - Discovery
The definitive party album for the new decade. Daft Punk expanded their already amazing house music to other planets for "Discovery". Whether or not you have this album, whether or not you're a fan of Daft Punk - it is nearly impossible to have not heard most of the tracks on this album. It's even weird for me to think that most of these songs are only about 9 years old at this point. This is soundtrack to your life type music, or someone's life anyway. The samples are amazing, the tracks are blazing, this is the ultimate pop music. For me, "Discovery" basically made creating a playlist for a party unnecessary. Every track is an anthem, the fast and the slow. It's not as though it's my favorite album ever, but it will always be one of the most memorable. Every reasonable person should have this be an obsession at some point in their life.
5. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Tyranny Of Distance
Ted Leo is one of those musicians you just want to root for. Non-pretentious, infinitely talented, clearly a big fan of music and he just seems like an incredibly nice guy. These were some of the reasons why I obsessed over Ted Leo so heavily in 2001-2004. I think I saw him perform 4 or 5 times during this time period and every time was an incredibly fun concert. Ted Leo writes catchy, witty, sometimes breathtaking songs and never is this more evident than his undeniable "The Tyranny of Distance" Whether he is forming a straight up pop/punk song, something in the vein of Elvis Costello or if he slows it down ("The Gold Finch and Red Oak Tree" has got to be one of my favorite songs ever, really), Ted Leo put out an album of guitar driven, hook-laden indie rock music that was rarely matched by anything else during this decade. It's not simple, but it's not all that complex either. Regardless - you'll remember these songs and you'll want to come back for more.
4. Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
As I've said before, although I was a hip hop fan prior to 2000-2001, I didn't really start to pay attention to many independent releases until this time. Most of this is thanks to a website that used to exist called something like HipHopInfinity, that specialized underground hip hop reviews and often included Real Audio files of a lot of the songs. This is prior to when bitrates mattered, before soulseek had taken off. This was the last time finding hip hop was truly exiting to me. It seemed every day I was finding a new release that whet my appetite for forward thinking hip hop. I'd heard of El-P before as part of Company Flow, but didn't know what he was doing since then, and when I read a review of "The Cold Vein" by some group called Cannibal Ox - this website I deemed better than all others gave it a perfect score. Listening to this album, it's not hard to see why. One of the single most inventive, bizarre sounding hip hop albums I've ever heard - "The Cold Vein" has become THE Def Jux release that matters, surpassing El-P's on albums and other lauded release of the early 00's. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega spit with this nasty, mean, gangster flow. El-P's production is street music from 2035 and the whole mix just sounds rough. It works great, it bumps incredibly hard and it never sounds like a "futuristic" or gimmick-laden album. It sounds like a gangster rap album. Just unlike any other before or since.
3. Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)
When I'm talking about Gillian Welch, I have a couple big statements to make. First, she is one of those few musicians who has a voice that is utterly timeless. Put Gillian Welch into any decade since the inception of popular American folk music and she would be a star. Haunting, sad, ultimately beautiful. Second, I'll go ahead and say that Gillian Welch (and Dave Rawlings) are the most important thing to happen to folk and country music over the last 20 years. The two have set the bar not only for great songwriting in folk music, but also in production, style, touring schedule, off-stage banter, fanbase, just about anything that is relevant and important to a musician - Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings have done right. They're not superstars and they're not household names. Even to this day, with 4 critically acclaimed albums and countless covers of their songs, Gillian is probably still best known as one of the voices of the sirens in "O Brother Where Art Thou?" But we should get this straight: "Time (The Revelator)" like all other Gillian Welch albums is a masterpiece of what folk music in the modern era should sound like. Harkening to old time music, but never sounding like a throwback. Timeless music, timeless voice, I can think of no other musician more satisfying to have around than Gillian Welch.
2. The Strokes - Is This It?
Masked as a obscure, independent, greasy bunch of New York brats without a car in the world and creating rock n roll because there's nothing else to do, it took The Strokes a mere 35 minutes to completely rewrite the rock n roll scene and the music being produced. Remember the first time you saw "Last Nite" on MTV? What the hell was this? As a 14/15-year old this was music that was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time and I became instantly hooked. This was what partying was all about. We wanted to BE The Strokes. And not just us, but judging by the hundred of "The" bands that popped up on major labels in the year that followed, The Strokes made an impact on rock music that hadn't been seen since Nivana and hasn't been seen since. Always referred to as a throwback to the 60s mod scene or New York underground, the truth is that "Is This It?" sounds unlike any other album that I've ever heard. Sure the guitars are not terribly fuzzy, the vocals sounds lo-fi (although it's expensive production that gets it to sound like that), but this music could have only come from The Strokes and it could have only come out in 2001. 35 minutes of non-stop pop. You don't listen to this album once and call it good. It's so well sequenced, so fucking catchy that you have to repeat it once, twice, maybe three times before you can finally shake it off. A legendary record and one of the few that deserved all the hype it received.
1. Jay-Z - The Blueprint
For my money, the only hip hop album of the 00's whose classic status cannot be disputed. "The Blueprint" is Jay-Z's finest album (all you "Reasonable Doubt" people can tell me otherwise, I love that one too). "The Blueprint" is the perfect album that matched Jay-Z's pop-rap style with the right beatmakers. Just Blaze, the introduction of Kanye West - this album still blows my mind right now. I can probably recite every word to every song here and I can't pick a favorite. Undeniably the best hip hop album of the decade, one of my favorite of all time. One of those albums where the mood matches the raps, the beats stay at the front and all the songs contained within are just masterpieces in themselves. Perfect.