By Johnny Firecloud at 4:00 AM Wednesday, January 6th 2010
Year End Lists, Music
Antiquiet was only alive for the final third of the decade, which means that we finally have an excuse to gush over the albums that defined the past ten years for us and, ultimately, inspired us to put this site together in the first place.
Cultural and musical distinction certainly play a deciding role in ranking, as well as the respect to album format and the places these collections actually take us as listeners. But ultimately, arbitrary Darwinism aside, the deciding factor was how well these albums will hold up a decade from now.
We slaved over this bitch for over a month and a half, arguing the conflicting merits and power points of more than a hundred albums before boiling the list down to 50. So what if the new decade’s already begun? Taking ten whole years into account, we’re giving ourselves a pass on these extra five days.
1. Songs For The Deaf
Queens Of The Stone Age (2002)
Johnny: It’s an extremely rare occurrence that one album will completely vaporize your concept of cool. This goliathan rhythmic melting-pot is the Rock equivalent of a trip out to the desert under a full moon with a lot of firepower, high-powered narcotics, great friends and a muscle car with a big-ass engine. It’s equal parts danger, mystery, fun and a mindblowing collection of talent providing a massive dose of steroids to the Queens sound. The result was something we’d been waiting for, whether we knew it or not; that first sign of a next evolutionary step in Rock music, like the Appetites and Neverminds that came before it.
Dave Grohl made his first high-profile return to the drums here since the shotgun demise of Nirvana, providing the core piston charge in the engine that roars to life in the record’s first moments and sets the relentless pace of the entire album. He’s the determined rhythmic core, matching both raw power and the rooster strut so integral to the Sounds of Homme. Mark Lanegan, lone-wolf man of many projects, contributes his whiskey-soaked, gravel-rubbed throat to the proceedings, a haunting and hypnotically smooth low-end weaving seamlessly with Josh Homme’s familiar tenor. Coupled with former bassist Nick Oliveri’s final shreiking spaz-freak appearance on record with Queens, Songs For The Deaf is that rare moment when the stars align and everything fits perfectly into place, creating a new standard.
Pearl Jam (2000)
Johnny: The delicate, introspective beauty of 1998’s Yield was traded for a driving return to motivated purpose and statement on Binaural, whether through sardonic apologies to imperialistic invaders, tales of impending heartbreak and lost loved ones or any of the other narrative themes explored on this complex, confident album. Buoyed by the stomping force of Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, invigorated survivalism is the main course on this 13-track banquet.
Skwerl: My personal favorite Pearl Jam album, Binaural remains, at least in my opinion, their strongest release since their classic 1993 sophomore album Vs.
3. Robot Hive/Exodus
Johnny: I will forever equate this album with driving through the hills of northern California with Skwerl, as the sun cracked the horizon, 5th-gear roaring to a court appearance 400 miles from home to avoid pissing off Johnny Law any more than I needed to or already had (for a while, anyway). It was a nails-on-chalkboard jittery nervefest, one of those mornings, usually inspired by near-certain incarceration or otherwise devastating consequence, when you’re suddenly overtly aware and hyperbolically juiced about the glorious beauty of freedom and nature. In those hysterical, unreasonably giddy moments, this is the most perfect album a man can lay ears on.
With each passing listen, the Robot Hive title rings more and more true; the guitars buzz and reverberate like a mechanical beehive, a slick titanium beast of Pure Rock Fury with Neil Fallon at the helm, gnashing teeth and stomping army of giants in his throat like a baptist evangelical preacher on a mean one. Metaphorical brilliance laced with the most clever couplets and double-entendres this side of Use Your Illusion only begin to explain Fallon’s lyrical prowess, but it’s the unyielding collective sweet-spot groove the entire band clicks into that makes this one special.
The White Stripes (2003)
Johnny: Jack White made me believe in the surviving soul of Rock N’ Roll, and Elephant was the catalyst. Darker, more aggressive and focused than its three predecessors, Elephant eliminated the concept that the White Stripes were a gimmick act in candy cane colors, and exposed the broader scope of White’s creative vision and vehement rejection of modern Rock trends, even (or especially) in the face of inevitable superstardom.
The band played Coachella three weeks after the album was released, and Jack’s furious passion, mixed with an entirely unique minimalist style and staggering improvisational ability, resulted in an utterly devastating set that quite literally eliminated everything I thought I knew about a man expressing himself through a guitar, amp and microphone. The electricity of certainty that Jack had hit an unstoppable stride was thick in the air, and Elephant is the reason. It’s the sound of a legend coming into full bloom.
Skwerl: Before 2003, The White Stripes could be written off as a cute indie rock band, at least at a casual glance. Even when Seven Nation Army hit the airwaves, Jack White’s genius was largely unrecognized in a herd of three-chord garage rockers with simple, catchy rock candy radio singles. However, Elephant would be no forgettable Rocket To Russia knockoff. On Elephant, White revealed himself to be a ridiculously talented and inspired guitarist, a brilliant songwriter, an energetic and committed artist, and a powerful force of nature.
5. The Black Album
Johnny: An instant rap classic, The Black Album was supposedly Jay’s big kiss-off, a pre-retirement overdose of smash hooks by a melting pot of producers from the Neptunes to Rick Rubin. It was the first album white people could blast from their cars un-self-consciously since Stankonia, and several singles infiltrated mainstream radio markets as a result. Without getting caught up in beefs or top-heavy Blueprint expectations, The Black Album was a sleek, powerfully confident album that was easy to digest, but not because it dumbed down to the mainstream; the songs were just that good, the hooks were that infectious.
6. The Hazards Of Love
The Decemberists (2009)
Johnny: An epic concept album that’s arguably the most committed – and best – since Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Hazards Of Love offers a complex narrative featuring formidable guest vocalists playing parts including a jealous forest queen, a malicious shape-shifter, a child-killing rogue, and two ill-fated lovers. It’s grand, visionary and bursting with vibrant color.
Skwerl: I’ve already heaped over a thousand words of praise upon this album on Antiquiet. As it sits in our top ten best records of the entire decade, the only thing left for me to do is ask a nagging question: Why aren’t more albums crafted with this level of care, creativity, and inspiration? It’s beautiful, a masterpiece. As is the album that preceded, The Crane Wife.
7. A New Morning, Changing Weather
The (International) Noise Conspiracy (2001)
Johnny: I can’t help but feel like this album would resonate more loudly in America if it were released today, with raging sociopolitical discontent from coast to coast and shameless greed ruling the day. Noise Conspiracy rage against the machine with more than singular hatred for the establishment; they always seemed driven by, and in search of, the passionate humanity behind the bars of complacency and adapted mass passivity.
Skwerl: From the ashes of Refused, the best hardcore punk band of all time, rose The (International) Noise Conspiracy, one of the best rock bands working today. I’ve only ever seen one band put in more effort than Dennis Lyxzén and company onstage (I digress, but that was funk/jazz band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe if you’re curious). Their shows are among the most commanding I’ve ever witnessed, and 2001’s A New Morning, Changing Weather is their most incendiary call for nothing less than revolution on every front.
8. Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures (2009)
Johnny: Our #1 album pick for 2009 is an undeniable classic right out of the gate. As I said before, this one is special – a very rare melding of classic, psychedelic blues-rock authenticity and passionate groove-junkie sorcery. It’s not safe, it’s not slight, and the riff and tempo changes demand constant engagement. Trap doors are a vital component to the songs, with the sweet spots setting in unannounced as the polyrhythms shift, the clouds part and a motherfucker of a riff suddenly lifts off, taking you in entirely unexpected and adrenaline-surging directions.
Skwerl: I have to admit that I was a bit of a naysayer when it came to this album’s placement. I can’t deny the quality of the songs, or of the album’s production, or of the extraordinarily high standards for songwriting and playing the band seems to have held themselves to with this album. My reluctance came entirely from the nagging feeling that as good as it is, these guys can probably do even better. Thirteen of the best rock songs constructed in its decade are obviously enough to get an album into our hall of fame. But I can’t wait until the next one, when the band finds itself a little more free of its self-imposed pressures, gets comfortable in its crooked feathers, and sits us all down for a story.
9. White Pony
Johnny: Every time I hear this album, something new leaps out to make me love it that much more. Most recently, it was Scott Weiland’s backing vocals on Rx Queen, a guest appearance I hadn’t noticed before. Brooding, sexy and rhythmically gravitational, White Pony is a perfect rainstorm album – it doesn’t punch you in the face so much as hold you under the rushing, freezing waters until your face is numb and you can barely breathe.
Skwerl: In terms of quality, Deftones always stood far and away from the rest of the “nü-metal” bands they were lumped together with in the shameful first half of last decade. One of the first great albums of the 00s, and thus one of the oldest albums on this list, White Pony doesn’t just hold up after so long, it’s shockingly relevant, and somehow still seems as daring as it did ten years ago.
Skwerl: Until I start hearing the name Silverchair more often than Coldplay, I don’t think I’ll be ready to stop talking about how far this band has come since their 1992 debut as teenage grunge rockers. Diorama took the band in a new, extremely ambitious direction. With the help of producer David Bottrill and composer Van Dyke Parks, Silverchair incorporated rich layers of string and horn ensembles into songs written primarily on piano, which collectively represented a watershed development of the band’s songwriting. Like most of the albums in our top ten, Diorama is an adventure, an exhilarating journey from start to finish, and it remains one of the most elegant rock albums of its time.
11. Bronx III
The Bronx (2008)
Johnny: The attitude, the familiar LA flare, the balls-out pure rock fury – that doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a special blend of players who know what the fuck they’re doing and where they’re from. And if the fissure-torn shithole that is Los Angeles had to exist for the Bronx to come together and rock the fuck out, so be it. I say fair trade.
Occasionally this band reminds me of what Mötley Crüe might’ve sounded something like if they were born a decade or so later, rocked a little harder and didn’t fuck themselves to high hell with drugs and ride rock’s lowest lyrical common denominator (girls) into the abyss of self-karaoke.
This record is special, and not in a cheap, gimmicky way that signifies a “new direction” or particular selling-point theme. It simply belongs to the rare strain of smashing rock beast that leaves no room for pissing contests, no room for improvement. It simply fucking crushes, start to finish.
12. Kid A
Johnny: On the crest of the new century, Radiohead delivered a small taste of the digital revolution we’d envisioned the 21st century being like when we were children, but never saw materialize. From the very first moments of Everything In Its Right Place, the sounds of ethereal, melancholy electronica wash in like a digital flood, painting an entirely new picture from the biggest band in the world and completely reshaping the landscape of modern alternative music in the process.
I first listened to this album while tripping (hard) on mushrooms, standing alone on the ocean cliffs in La Jolla, CA in the middle of the night under a full moon. I remember thinking, in my twirling kaleidoscope mind, that this album was going to change things. I envisioned a new mainstream acceptance of computer rock, coupled with a horrific underbelly of feeble, whiny blip-riders and over-privileged white kids slowing down cheap eurotrash beats and employing various unconventionals to create utterly forgettable bullshit that people would flock to in search of the next big alt-rock sensation. That’s why assholes like Animal Collective sit smugly on the shoulders of unqualified hitmakers such as Pitchfork and the like. I may have been tripping, but I was right.
Electric Six (2003)
Johnny: Certain albums add color to your musical palette that you hadn’t even known were missing. Hilarious, infectiously danceable and endlessly fun, Fire is an ecstasy disco dance-a-thon with laughing gas pumped through the vents and blasts of pyromaniac joy shooting from selectively-placed cannons. It’s a high-strut party frenzy without the slightest hint of self-consciousness, and it’s brilliant.
Skwerl: Not since The Chronic had an album been so densely packed with single-worthy bangers. Every track is exactly as badass as its name, highlights including Dance Commander, I Invented The Night, I’m The Bomb, and of course the band’s most well-known hits, Danger! High Voltage and Gay Bar. This band came out of nowhere (well, actually, Detroit) and hit us like a ton of lubed-up gerbils covered in rhinestones. Their body of work is truly one of “modern” rock’s great treasures.
14. Consolers Of The Lonely
The Raconteurs (2008)
Skwerl: In The Raconteurs (or the Saboteurs, as they are called in Australia), sass virtuoso and finally properly respected White Stripes frontman Jack White was paired with an under-recognized songwriter named Brendan Benson in a full band (rounded out by Jack L.J. Lawrence and Patrick Keeler). On paper, it seemed certain to trump the Stripes’ formula on every front and bring to the field a new great American rock and roll band. While the debut album had many great songs, their second effort, Consolers Of The Lonely, revealed the band’s full potential. The class of songwriting on Consolers is superior to that of any other album from any of White’s other projects, as venerated as some may be. And with a four piece band of deeply experienced, talented musicians working in perfect harmony, the richly layered compositions are realized with chilling elegance.
Fernando: The thing I like the most about this album is how it seems to be aimed directly at the people who criticized their first album. Sure, the Racs were a great live band on their first year, but the album just wasn’t very strong. Consolers, on the other hand, is exquisitely produced where their debut felt like a jam session; it’s one our-long where their debut was half of that; it sees the band delight itself in complex tempo changes where their debut was content with its straightforward pop-rock songs. Basically, this the release where you see The Raconteurs as they really are: a strong rock band with two great composers and a solid rhythm session, a band that moves forward in leaps, and one that doesn’t give a shit about comparisons with The White Stripes.
Johnny: This album is brilliant, and Skwerl and Fernando both summed up my feelings about it, so rather than jerk you off with words I’ll just list my three favorite tracks: Many Shades Of Black, Top Yourself and Salute Your Solution.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (2005)
Skwerl: There’s not exactly any shortage of classic blues rock revival bands. While there are surely nice things to say about many of them, very few possess enough original artistic character to rise above the pop gimmicks and well-worn chord progressions and create something truly special; songs that couldn’t have been written by the guys in the next garage or rehearsal space. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is one of these rare acts, and Howl is the album that established it beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s not a single bad cut out of fourteen, and even the six outtakes released as the Howl Sessions is a solid EP on its own.
16. Deltron 3030
Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (2000)
Johnny: Deltron 3030 is easily Del’s most colorful and ambitious effort. Released in 2000, the record is listed as a supergroup collaboration, but for all intents and purposes it’s still Del’s show. The guests on the album, from Sean Lennon and Prince Paul to Brad Roberts, are mainly present to provide atmospherics and flesh out the concept. Producer Dan The Automator sets the stage by laying on the density, creating an eerie tapestry of sounds, with Kid Koala providing the follow-up gloss on the tables.
The album’s a narrative of the futuristic date in the title, and Del paints himself as a savior superhero named Deltron Zero. Dystopian hero fantasies aren’t your typical hip-hop fodder, but It’s a bizarrely fun, loose-concept album that’s officially described as a “fight against an oppressive government and powerful corporations, while also battling to be the Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion.” See, I told you he wasn’t your average rapper.
Johnny: Released less than a year after Kid A and sounding like a direct extension of it (rightfully so; they were recorded in the same sessions), Amnesiac was the second part of Radiohead’s revolutionary one-two punch of electronic-tinged classical ambient rock. It found each member of the band playing much more flexible roles than they had in the past, resulting in something entirely unfamiliar.
As guitarist Ed O’Brien told the Chicago Tribune back in 2001, “Suddenly we were presented with the opportunity and the freedom to approach the music the way Massive Attack does: as a collective, working on sounds, rather than with each person in the band playing a prescribed role. It was quite hard work for us to adjust to the fact that some of us might not necessarily be playing our usual instrument on a track, or even playing any instrument at all. Once you get over your insecurities, then it’s great.”
Fernando: I like to compare Radiohead albums to Beatles albums. Rubber Soul/The Bends: where everyone realized that there’s more qualities to them than being a simple rock band; Revolver/OK Computer: expands the horizons of rock music with its fantastic new way to look at it from different perspectives – some still think it’s their best album; Sgt. Pepper’s/Kid A: the album that blew everyone’s minds with how different it sounded from everything out there, and how it flows perfectly; Magical Mystery Tour/Amnesiac: kind of a sequel to the earth-shattering album that came out only months before, and therefore kind of hard to judge – sure the entire package is not QUITE as brilliant, but you can pick songs here and there that are even better than anything on the first piece (Strawberry Fields Forever/Pyramid Song, anyone?). So yeah, it ain’t Kid A, but I’ll take You And Whose Army? over half of that album.
18. From Beale Street To Oblivion
Johnny: Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Vamonos, vamonos! “An electric blues frenzy with razor-sharp wit” sums this one up. If you aren’t familiar with Maryland’s finest stomp-rock prophets, you’re missing out. They’re a hearty backhand slap in the face of all the corner-cutting bullshit anger-rock that infiltrates the airwaves and bro-systems of the Midwest, a working man’s band in the prime of their careers and artistic high-stride.
Skwerl: In a perfectly fair world, all five Clutch albums released this decade would have places in this list. High ones. And of course, then it would have to be a top 200 given all of the other great albums released, and it would never get finished before the end of 2010. So rather than lose sight of it all, we decided to focus on the most flawless of classics. Yet while Robot Hive/Exodus earned our #3 spot, we couldn’t agree to ignore the fact that its follow-up, Beale Street, is in its own right a masterpiece of professional, confident, soul and spirits-soaked Rock N’ Roll.
The Mars Volta (2006)
Johnny: Sixth-dimension latin-funk math rockers founded by vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist/composer Omar Rodríguez-López, collectively known as The Mars Volta, are a group far outside the outer limits of whatever confines the traditional prog-rock framework might call for. They also happen to be one of the most complex and fiercely talented bands modern music has ever seen. Amputechture finds the band at its uncompromising finest, all over the map in a kaleidoscopic blast of psychedelia and otherworldly sonic tapestries.
Fernando: Its big moments are separated by brilliant, straight-forward songs, in a way that you never get tired of all the progressive…ness, with such wonderful ballads as Asilos Magdalena and Vermicide. Tetragammaton is the heavy epic with lots of complicated guitar solos; Meccamputechture just grooves like a motherfucker; Viscera Eyes starts out like a simple song but ends in a complex manner; Day Of The Baphomets is brilliantly eclectic, with epic call-and-response bits between guitars and horns, percussion solos, and several different sections intertwining each other, at times heavy, at times grooving, at times downright apocalyptic, but never, ever letting go of its intensity.
20. Year Zero
Nine Inch Nails (2007)
Johnny: Pulverizing, sarcastic and aggressive for more than the sake of self-destruction, Year Zero was Trent Reznor’s first full immersion into political rock. A high-concept blast of Orwellian rejection without sludging through preachy, literal lyricism, it’s the sound of visionary fine-tuning and a statement of kinetic awareness, of hijacking the machine and turning the guns around in full-throttled aggressive survivalism in the modern age.
Fernando: With the combination of super-strong instrumental opener Hyperpower!, the apocalyptic sounds of The Beginning of the End and the unbelievably mean irony towards global warming on Survivalism, my head was blown wide open. I grew up on classic rock. The most electronic I ever got was Radiohead – and still, not much of it. When I listened to the double-strike of Me, I’m Not and Vessel, and found myself liking it for some reason that was beyond my comprehension, it was a profound experience, one that got me much closer to what my real taste in music was, free of prejudices.
21. Thirteenth Step
A Perfect Circle (2003)
22. Coral Fang
The Distillers (2003)
23. Rated R
Queens Of The Stone Age (2000)
24. The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
25. Extraordinary Machine
Fiona Apple (2005)
26. Comfort Eagle
27. Talkie Walkie
28. 10,000 Days
29. Late Registration
Kanye West (2005)
30. Rubber Factory
The Black Keys (2004)
31. Relationship Of Command
At The Drive-In (2000)
32. 100th Window
Massive Attack (2003)
Brother Ali (2009)
The Dead Weather (2009)
36. Blazing Arrow
37. American III: Solitary Man
Johnny Cash (2000)
38. Mama’s Gun
Erykah Badu (2000)
39. Real Gone
Tom Waits (2004)
40. Down III: Over The Under
41. Lover’s Rock
The Gutter Twins (2008)
43. The Satanic Satanist
Portugal. The Man (2009)
44. Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
PJ Harvey (2000)
46. The Bedlam In Goliath
The Mars Volta (2008)
47. Demon Days
48. The Con
Tegan & Sara (2007)
49. Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
Gogol Bordello (2005)
50 How I Do