Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Albums of the 2000s


The nearly year-long project Fifty Years of Great Music has finally come to an end with the final installment, the Top 100 Albums of the 2000s. I mark the occasion with a heavy sigh of relief, as time restrictions has made elements of its creation more arduous than enjoyable recently, but since I’m sure everyone’s already getting sick of all these “best of decade” lists, putting it off even longer would have been unwise.

As it was with the 2000s’ song list, I have included the full list of nominees (300 instead of 500) on the last page, as well as links to any reviews that you can find on the site. And feel free to offer your own two cents about how right or wrong I am. After all, this is a celebration of great music, and no one deserving should be left in the dark.

Albums in the 2000s faced some serious hardships. Not only did the rise of the mp3 age bring back the proliferation of the single format, but the way music is bought, downloaded, heard, and, yes, pirated contributed to the considerable drop in record sales (a much wider market also played a role much as cable television did to the big networks). But the album format did not die, and likely never will in the foreseeable future (but who knows what new technology will be unveiled next). Most likely, the concerns of the masses are related to the fact that perhaps even more than the 1980s, the majority of the stuff getting the most attention on the “clone radio” airwaves was simply awful. Luckily, with the proliferation of the Internet, the line between mainstream and underground is becoming very tenuous, and every once in a while, the big boys threw us a bone. Besides, also like the 80s, there was a lot of great music to find provided you knew where to look, and thanks to everyone being “connected,” it was a hell of a lot easier.

As usual, I begin with the last twenty-five albums to miss the cut. They are, in alphabetical order:

American Idiot by Green Day [2004 / Punk]
Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs by Andrew Bird [2005 / Pop]
Apple O’ by Deerhoof [2003 / Alternative]
Beyond by Dinosaur Jr. [2007 / Rock]
Cell-Scape by Melt-Banana [2003 / Alternative]
Crying Light, The by Antony & the Johnsons [2009 / Pop]
Fishscale by Ghostface Killah [2006 / Hip Hop]
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case [2006 / Country]
From Here We Go Sublime by the Field [2007 / Electronic]
Guitar Romantic by Exploding Hearts [2003 / Punk]
Hazards of Love, The by the Decemberists [2009 / Rock]
Hold On Now, Youngster… by Los Campesinos! [2008 / Pop]
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass by Yo La Tengo [2006 / Alternative]
I Am the Fun Blame Monster! by Menonema [2003 / Rock]
Ice Cream Spiritual by Ponytail [2008 / Alternative]
Love and Theft by Bob Dylan [2000 / Blues]
Mer de Noms by A Perfect Circle [2000 / Alternative]
Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman [2007 / Pop]
Quintana Roo by RH+ [2009 / Alternative]
Stankonia by OutKast [2000 / Hip Hop]
Take Offs and Landings by Rilo Kiley [2001 / Pop]
Takk… by Sigur Rós [2005 / Alternative]
Things We Lost in the Fire by Low [2001 / Alternative]
Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend [2008 / Alternative]
You in Reverse by Built to Spill [2006 / Rock]

And now for the Top 100:

100chaosandcreation100. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
by Paul McCartney

Without all of the quirks, hell-of-it experiments and flights of humor (either wry or confounding), this barely even seems like a Paul McCartney record. The songwriting genius is here, but where’s the reckless abandon? Where’s the roughshod, home-spun whimsy and bites of silliness? Not even a treacly love song? Mac left them all behind, thanks in no small part to producer Nigel Godrich, a man brave enough to rein in all of the artist’s tendencies in support of a focused and even relaxed effort. Beginning with the sprightly pop rocker “Fine Line” and alternately floating and rushing through gently coaxed ruminations of both self and the exterior, McCartney takes no missteps, and even delivers a few instant latter-era classics such as “A Certain Softness,” “Jenny Wren” and “Riding to Vanity Affair”—much quieter than his best loved hits since “Maybe I’m Amazed,” but no less worth being cherished. I may very well be the only person to believe it, but Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is the best album from Paul since the Beatles’ collapse.

99porcelain99. Porcelain
by Sparta

It was a long time coming before I finally reevaluated Porcelain. My initial reaction was wildly mixed—as many blood-pumping winners as middling flirtations with mediocrity. It was certainly a bigger album than Wiretap Scars, and also a denser, slicker revision of Fugazi’s angular tactics into the melodic roar of radio-baiting post-grunge. The early passages (excepting “While Oceana Sleeps,” which should have been the lead single in favor of “Breaking the Broken,” the album’s weakest track) were most disheartening on those early passes, lacking the scope (but not the vision) of insular moodiness at odds with the statements of grand design. It wasn’t until potent rise-and-fall epics like “Lines in the Sand” and “From Now to Never” and the tactile post-hardcore fury of “Splinters” and “End Moraine” hit my skull did my teeth find something tough enough to clench down upon. But in the years since, revisiting old favorites bolstered newfound respect for the crucial aggression of “Travel by Bloodline” and the urgency burgeoned by fuzz bass and striking guitar patterns on “Guns of Memorial Park.” The pat analogy of “Walter Schreifels donning Bono’s sunglasses” sounds like it shouldn’t work, but I’m ready to admit now that in this case it surely does.

98gorillaz98. Gorillaz
by Gorlliaz
Hip Hop

Its promotional indulgence could be written off as just a few guys showing off their range of interest and talent either as a lark or as a smarmy retort to critics, friends and everyone in between. It’s no wilder than a latter-era Blur album, so Damon Albarn doesn’t sound out of place in the least, and as a record that frequently coasts through alternative rap, it’s twenty times sharper and more entertaining than what the genre typically offers. In the union of both styles, Gorillaz shares the same problem—at least a couple that either don’t belong or don’t land right—but the slip-ups here are at least worth hearing once or twice solely for the curio value. Even with the fun videos playing, I never invested entirely into the “virtual band” concept, which is just as well because it allows you to hear its refreshingly quirky beats, well-integrated samples and bevy of creative concepts for what they are: a collaboration of free-thinkers from different backgrounds committed to making music with real vitality. “Clint Eastwood” and “Double Bass” are the obvious choice cuts, but don’t forget second single “19-2000,” the eerie George Romero clip looping through “M1 A1,” the chintzy horns of “Rock the House” (a novel attempt at Dust Brothers style), and “Slow Country”’s warm piano dub sound.

97tensilverdrops97. Ten Silver Drops
by Secret Machines

The elliptical ruminations of Secret Machines’ debut album made it one of those listens demanding your attention but remaining just beyond the grasp. With Ten Silver Drops, the trio is more candid and upfront about its odyssey, less focused on the territory of post-whatever relief and more on common realities (or banalities)—the usual rock n’ roll obsessions with sex, love, heartbreak and copious drugs. With the more traditional (but never too specific) lyrical focus, so too did the songwriting get refinement from an unlikely source—Zeppelin meets Floyd with a liberal dash of the Lips we knew, but U2 bombast and Ride sonics? As it is, they don’t have the specifics (or daring) to casually stake a claim in the Spacemen 3 orbit, so it’s a mash of soaring, arena-friendly melodies and shout-along choruses with the cyclical rhythms and enveloping drone of Krautrock. Clunky sequencing is a drawback (“Daddy’s in the Doldrums” hamstrings much of the momentum in the fourth slot), but whether these three are bogged down in a whirlpool or throwing tsunamis about like a Greek god, they never sounded bigger, bolder or more confident. 

96concretes96. The Concretes
by the Concretes

Summoning up fond memories of the Beach Boys’ pocket symphonies, the dreamy fog of Velvet Underground at their least abrasive, Mazzy Star’s lush country pop side and Belle & Sebastian’s bedroom recording sighs (to say nothing for an apparent Diana Ross fetish), the Concretes prove that intimate indie pop need not be focused on spare, even twee-ish, tendencies. The band was eight-deep at this point (with almost a dozen more “honorary” members), but instead of surging with an orgy of sound, the swells are almost timid until the breaking point—listen to the rustic twang of “Lovin Kind” get lost in a swirl of near-silence and then climb (not rush) to a moment of bold, vibrant clarity towards the end. “Warm Night” sounds appropriate for a bunch of Swedes playing with American tricks—utterly international with its tinges of European waltz, Eastern bloc folk and square dance meter. And the brief but effervescent “You Can’t Hurry Love” is full of charming 60s pop references (surprisingly, though, not Motown). Victoria Bergsman’s sweet but elusive vocal style has never been put to better use.

95someloudthunder95. Some Loud Thunder
by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

The tale of CYHSY is more unusual than most—the hype mostly followed the release with jetlag and the backlash was a relative whisper. That didn’t prevent this promising act from becoming mostly forgotten in a few short years, though, and unfairly so. Under the direction of Dave Fridmann, the band’s anticipated sophomore album revels in the details of nuance, the obsessions with complex, cluttered and initially perplexing pop, and density that could be described as ostentatious if it weren’t so panicky. Song for song, their eponymous debut is the richer reward, but there’s a strange, simmering menace at place here that would erupt if not for the band’s slippery abstraction and playful tendencies. “Satan Said Dance,” “Emily Jean Stock” and especially the brave and beguiling gambit of “Yankee Go Home” are all top-notch, but I even have a soft spot for more controversial short-form experiments like “Arm and Hammer” and the maddening title track that brings us into this sprawling mess. Did I say mess? Remember when your mama and papa used to complain that your room was a wreck even though you knew where everything belonged and piled it up with relish? Yeah, it’s like that.

94thirteentalesbohemia94. Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia
by the Dandy Warhols

Conspicuously lacking any semblance of real substance has made the Dandy Warhols one of those bands you can love or hate and perfectly understand why your buddy disagrees with your sentiment (the 90s were littered with these types from Sublime to 311 all the way to Cake). It doesn’t matter to me how essentially aimless the aching drift pop of “Godless” is or how tart and sleazy (both musically and lyrically) a track like “Horse Pills” is (“itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, riding up your butt bikini”?); they both serve their purpose at wrapping you up either in lush fuzz or flashy power pop. They even liberally lift the “Brown Sugar” riff for “Bohemian Like You,” and by prowess of hooks, velocity and attitude alone, it’s the album’s best song! Is it even appropriate to say they mimic country and gospel as well, or do they go straight for parody? Or, shit, do they even care? They know well enough that surface is enough in pop music, and while the feeling may be shallow and fleeting, I can’t help but get a charge from this album’s glam harmonies and mesmerizing melodic pull. Ironic that such disenchanted folks would strut and stumble over waste-away music that would quickly shut out the disenchanted. But it’s not even a guilty pleasure—the best beer in the world brings regret, but damn it’s good going down.

93deadcitiesredseaslostghosts93. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
by M83

They’d embrace pop with warm, fascinating fashion on future releases, but Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts is simply a flood of sound, stadium-size but lacking easy hooks and catchy choruses, and swelling with emotion that never once makes you wonder if the duo might wear a little too much eyeliner at shows. The buzzing synths sound like techno tools, but this isn’t dance music. It pulses with wordless thoughts and feelings, but you’re not going to confuse this with Brian Eno’s ambient phase. The layered drone might make you think of My Bloody Valentine, but these tones sing a little louder (and a lot cleaner). You could corner M83 as a “keyboard band,” but they’re not content to work merely in the constrains of electronic shoegaze either—looping vocals, animal sounds, pseudo-hymnals, post-rock guitar noodling...they pull out all the bells and whistles to create this lush, dense and vibrant miasma (I think there might be some actual bells and whistles in there, too). If you’re looking for top-notch singles, I recommend proceeding to future releases, but these Frenchmen never topped this long player on the sprawl.

92wideawakedigitalash92. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning/Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
by Bright Eyes

The problem with Conor Oberst is that his aching vibrato does no service to his often self-centered and overly ruminative plucked-from-a-diary poetry, which is a shame because a steadier, wryer tone might have sold it and better words would have bubbled and bloomed above his timbre. But if I was less forgiving of Cassadega and (especially) Fevers and Mirrors, I probably embellish the strengths of his two records from early ’05, one a folk LP in concert with his modus operandi (Wide Awake), the other a folktronica effort with chilly glitches and blips overwhelming the warm pulse he’s known for (Digital Ash). The former is superior to the latter, but in tandem they shine brighter, especially as Oberst proves his ambition beyond a venue many others have tried—his slip ups in Jimmy Tambarello’s world are still more intriguing than his minor successes in the niche he had already carved. The simultaneous releases also marked the moment when Oberst’s revolving Bright Eyes collective graduated to center stage, even sending a single from each disc to the top two spots on the Modern Rock charts at the same time. Oddly, both of them are among each effort’s weakest tracks (“Lua,” “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”); instead, I recommend worshipping “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now,” “Arc of Time,” “Road to Joy,” “Down in a Rabbit Hole,” “First Day of My Life” and “Time Code,” and then forgiving the singer/songwriter’s missteps elsewhere.

91nouns91. Nouns
by No Age

Noise pop is all the rage now (but will inevitably curtail out of fashion soon enough as past trends would suggest) and the band that garnered the most press and hype during this movement was No Age, a scrappy, rollicking duo that put the Smell scene on a much larger map. There’s nothing terribly original going on here (Superchunk pulled off the same moves almost two decades ago) and we’ve heard too much from Fugazi to invest ourselves in emphatically championing their DIY ethic; Nouns’ greatness is purely in the visceral terms of its half-hour experience. Lo-fi but often noisy as hell, it’s pop music as contorted by the fundamentals of echoed skronk, waves of hi-hats, and pedal effects galore. Again, nothing new, but so bluntly catchy it is. “Keechie” and “Things I Did When I Was Dead” are virtually barren without the hiss and squeal, but instant winners like “Teen Creeps,” “Ripped Knees” and “Eraser” are staggeringly simple in the skeleton state boosted immeasurably by messy, thunderous performance. Its seeming lack of ambition is only matched by the vigor in which it is carried out; even when this method of attack is relegated by history as a musical fad, Nouns will remain the name-dropped emblem.

90yearzero90. Year Zero
by Nine Inch Nails

Even if the so-called “glitchtronica” failed to convince me entirely on those early listens (a lot like Aphex Twin in overdrive or a forward-thinking Bomb Squad), there was certainly something mysteriously inviting about Year Zero that NIN’s other original LPs from the 2000s lacked. Of course, describing a Nine Inch Nails record as being “inviting” will alienate at least 90% of those who read this, but even the most oppressive hardcore disco breakdowns and ear-piercing squelches and bleeps begin to reveal their deliberate (and, yes, inviting) patterns if you afford it enough attention.  Its fractured beat no doubt is an easy way to mirror its fractured future story, but no one brings accessibility to chaotic grime like Trent Reznor, and with the angst pointed outward instead of inward, the limp parts of his “poetry” are much easier to swallow. Even in this kind of grand conceptual phase, though, NIN is about the visceral, not the intellectual, and even if you could care less about its story, the polish he brings to this ravaged nightmare inspires pops in the synapses almost as loud as his virulent synths and drum machines. Even with its ambitious packaging and promotion, all whispers of this being a rush job to get him out of his label contract disappeared once you realize that he hasn’t sounded this inspired and passionate in some time.


89lengthofrail89. The Length of the Rail
by the Balky Mule

Just when you thought the whole “folktronica” thing has played itself out, Sam Jones comes along and does it better than almost anyone before (even luminaries like Badly Drawn Boy and the Notwist). With a firm grasp of the tools of the trade, Jones treats the digital side with the detachment of an isolated lo-fi balladeer—blips, whirs, clicks, burps and beeps that sound like rustic rustling, plastic cracked plucking, crickets in the grass and finches in the birdbath. Incidental sounds also play a vital role in its intimacy, giving it that flavor of soft-focus “bedroom recording” (in this case, quite literally). More than mere technique, though, The Length of the Rail’s real strength comes in its quiet, entirely uninsistent measure of atmosphere and melody correlating instead of opposing—its twinges never feel forced and the hooks rise from the soft breeze that glides through the entire album. In fact, Jones manages to even make the quirkiest and least traditional elements sound entirely soothing—while never outright hostile, there are enough unpredictable twists in both the texture and instrumentation to ensure that even the smallest and dustiest songs remain invigorating. With a voice echoing favorably of Ray Davies, he had wryness at his disposal from the outset; the introduction of subtly busy, lovely melodies just amplify that gift.



88. Toxicity
by System of a Down

With the Dadaist schizoid tendencies of Frank Zappa and Mike Patton streamlined into a speedy, melodic thrash package, System of a Down were different enough to signal a new populist headbanging force amidst all the stagnant nu-metal but were just accessible enough to gain a following beyond cult—and let’s face it, any group as oblique, political, heavy and strange as this almost never rises above the cult. “Chop Suey!” became an “Epic”-sized hit (and the similarities don’t end there) and both “Aeriels” and the title track offered different shades—the former is as melodiously anthemic and emotional as they ever got and the latter, while still askew, is the most polished thrasher in their arsenal. But Toxicity’s real pleasure comes in between, whether you want oddities like “Prison Song” or “Bounce,” zigzagging maelstroms of obtuse words and whipcrack fury like “Jet Pilot” or “X,” or zealous mini-masterworks like “Science” or “Forest” (the arrangement of the former is so perfectly plotted and devious that I choose to relegate its message to spirituality rather than organized religion). And I can’t help but laugh aloud while shouting along, “Psycho groupie cocaine crazy,” and pumping a fist in primeval glee. Arty and experimental but just sleek enough for wholesale; without its broken operatic crescendos enflamed by strong rhythms, hooks and sheer volume, just a pale imitation. Therefore, it’s the real deal. 

87glowpt287. The Glow Pt. 2
by the Microphones

There’s no easy answer to what this album is about, and trying to describe its unnaturally seismic but relaxing reimagination of folk pop (as filtered through epic ambience) would probably sound as pretentious as these sorts of collage experiments tend to become. Not The Glow Pt. 2, which sidesteps lyrical masturbation by being so intrinsically devoted to the silent fears and curiosities we rarely give voice to. But this isn’t a record of words, and indeed without a lyric sheet, it’s frequently difficult to figure out what Phil Elvrum is even saying (on album highlight, “The Moon,” it’s just a busy chatter that dissects the tumbling, pre-You Forgot It in People beat). It’s the grand musical view that you notice immediately and remember best, a masterful manipulation of sound in a studio setting, somehow dense with detail but flickered by the dry hiss of great lo-fi heroes. It stretches and rushes along one minute, and then slows long enough to throb and echo—it’s rare that music that doesn’t employ synth washes or orchestras could be described in the terms of the old workhorse adage, “soundscape.” At more than an hour, a couple of passages meander and labor a bit listlessly, but since that reflects the weary journeyman tone of the Microphones, it’s like criticizing a documentary for being too real. 

86binaural86. Binaural
by Pearl Jam

A rock band that sells out arenas around the world decides to utilize a recording technique designed for headphone play? It’s an example of Pearl Jam experimentalism, which is to say that it seems half-hearted only because it’s only halfway there. While producer Tchad Blake indeed does create some unusually dense, warm and hazy textures on this album, it’s not easy to invest oneself fully since most tracks just sound like typical Pearl Jam songs (a compliment so long as you weren’t craving otherwise). The only real drawback to the technique comes in Ed Vedder’s vocals, which seem unnaturally muted even when he yells (and when he warbles, he slurs even more than we’re accustomed). Is there passion lacking? Not likely, since the songs themselves bristle, aggressive on the hard rockers and redolent on the ballads. But fans or not, the midsection run rivals almost any span of their earlier records, especially the country-tinged “Thin Air,” the Pink-Floyd-doing-the-blues workout on “Nothing As It Seems,” the bitter anti-war screed “Insignificance,” and the regretful obsession of the eerie “Of the Girl.” Their admirable decision to buck trends and follow their own path makes some of their future sliding forgivable, but Binaural’s layered and cohesive production makes these veterans sound as united now as they did when they were five against one and their rage appealed beyond the fanbase.

85wind85. The Wind
by Warren Zevon

With Zevon recording this album after discovering he was terminal and releasing it only a few weeks before his death, it would be easy to snap that its fine favor is related almost wholly to the sentimental (no hygiene jokes). And indeed, I anointed it before I even let it properly sink in, and probably still would in a muffled capacity should it have turned out to be one of his merely good records. But turns out it was better than merely good, and affection is earned not just for the flecks of introspection but the same meaty dark humor, lyrical bon mots and sharp rock n’ roll spirit that made him fit to be treasured. His “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is my all-time favorite version, his “Keep Me in Your Heart” one of the most unintentionally heartbreaking tunes ever released, and “Please Stay” has virtually none of his moribund mendacity—real songs with real (but wry) feelings. Making time for rollicking roadhouse rock (“Disorder in the House”) and strutting roadhouse blues (“Rub Me Raw) improves its vitality over the long haul, and his acerbic wit bites a little deeper under new implications—transforming finesse into sting—and provided you know not just its timely implication but the artist’s entire body of work, you’re moved to knowing grins and cheers instead of crocodile tears. The impressive guest list is evidence enough of how treasured he will always be.

84wecancreate84. We Can Create
by Maps

James Chapman may choose the obvious inspirations as a framework for his large-scale electronic/psychedelic pop, but he could have done a lot worse than Spiritualized, M83, Loveless and the Flaming Lips. Mixed on a 16-track recorder, Maps forgoes digital layering in creating its synth-drenched analog sound, proudly huge for the crescendos and quietly elegant for the reflections. It might lack the (no leadoff track pun intended) highs and lows of a proper full-length’s journey, but complaining that nearly every song on here could have been released as a single (and five were) seems to be missing the point. Which isn’t to say that it’s monotonous—Champman moves freely from dreamy to anthemic and every avenue between—but rather that it sounds like a batch of pored-over songs worked out one at a time in an isolated space, which is fine for no better reason than because it’s true. Luckily, almost every song is at least near-great, whether drifting through the druggy pulse of “Glory Verse,” skipping over trip hop beats on “It Will Find You,” or bursting from the breathy minimalism of “Don’t Fear”’s early passages to towering, majestic life.  

83whitepony83. White Pony
by Deftones

The “white” version is the copy I own, so on my first listen, White Pony couldn’t have started on shakier footing with “Back in School,” tiresome Chino Moreno pseudo-rap and all. After that, though, is when the real album actually begins and it doesn’t take a wrong turn again. The band’s punk-fueled thrash sound is dialed back a bit in favor of a denser and more richly textured wall of sound, but its metal roar still flattens everything in sight. Rodleen Getsic’s wordless backup howls enrich “Knife Party”’s drama, “Teenager” offers a quieter, subtler sonic stew for them to stir, “Digital Bath” is a culmination of their previous (frequently mediocre) stabs at quiet-loud explosions, and “Change (In the House of Flies)” is still one of their two or three all-time best singles. The highlight, though, comes from a collaboration between the band and Maynard James Keenan on the fevered eroticism of hooky epic “Passenger”; with their perfectly complimentary voices, it’s a shame they don’t team up more often. The album’s polished production and attention to ambitious but conventionally attractive songwriting makes White Pony one of the last gasps of a dying alternative rock scene; that it stands up fairly well against the monuments of its heroes (Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, etc.) is reason enough for it be on here. 

82alpinisms82. Alpinisms
by School of Seven Bells

Initial response to Benjamin Curtis departing Secret Machines for a new partnership with the Deheza sisters in an outfit called School of Seven Bells was, understandably, harrowing. Those tears melted away pretty fast once their debut album Alpinisms, reached the ears, though. Shuffling tribal tones, trip hop loops, gauzy gossamer pop and, yes, an obvious Kevin Shields fetish offers both an echo and a refreshment to both Secret Machines and On!Air!Library! but it’s the exotic flavor of the music that commands most of the attention, from Afro-beat to Eastern melody and even textures that can only be described as otherworldly. The Dehezas’ dual vocals could be described the same by working alternately as an atmospheric component and a playful instigator, and even if the words either baffle or just float on through, the vehicle that delivered them glows so luminously you can be forgiven for not even paying attention. An obvious amount of patience and perfectionism was at play in the making of this record, but you don’t feel the exhaustion—instead you just long to drift off under its hypnotic spell across “a desert full of dunes, a desert full of dunes.”


81originalpiratematerial81. Original Pirate Material
by the Streets
Hip Hop

I confess I knew nothing about the UK garage scene in ‘02, so when I first sampled the Streets’ “Has It Come to This?” under word that it was “garage,” I was startled that what came out sounded nothing the White Stripes or Vines. I was initially off-put by Mike Skinner’s half-rap style—too conversational for the club scene standard and with a faux-Cockney accent that sounded more gimmick than method-of-attack. The fact that he’s rarely on the attack at all ended up becoming Original Pirate Material’s greatest asset, as the world he describes feels unnaturally harsh and ragged, but his problems are shabby and boilerplate from the outside even as he paints them with a refreshing understanding that sarcasm and sentiment can coexist. Right behind that in terms of weapon of choice are the beats, which are initially off-center, shambling and lacking in easy hooks (sort of an anti-Timbaland), but since his style is one of refreshing (sub)urban intimacy instead of banging anthem-blasting, hooks would only prevail as a means to sell. And as a cult figure, it wasn’t a huge seller, but I play it a lot more than almost anything produced by Timbaland, even on the omnipresent producer’s best days.

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Matt Medlock


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