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Top 50 albums of the decade, part two

This is a continuation of an alphabetical rundown of the top fifty albums of the decade as compiled by myself and my close friend, Calle Fitzgerald. Ten albums from the unranked list will be spotlighted daily over the next few days. To read part one, click here.

Death Cab For Cutie, Transatlanticism (2003)

I will freely admit to some of my picks on the list being largely a product of my own nostalgia, and Death Cab For Cutie's Transatlanticism is one of them. Years later, Ben Gibbard’s oft-imitated vocal style doesn’t pack as big of a punch, and the music here doesn’t really branch out stylistically or sonically, instead relying on the songwriting and sequencing to propel the album. On those counts, though, it succeeds brilliantly. And when the title track hits its climax after 6 minutes of build-up, I feel no need to defend my pick as nostalgia; it’s really good music, too. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Expo ’86,” “Transatlanticism,” “A Lack of Color”

The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound (2008)

The Gaslight Anthem is in no way revolutionary. Right down to the title, The '59 Sound is backward-looking in every way, with lyrics that sometimes fall back on a game of spot-the-references, and like The Hold Steady (see below), they're worshipers at the altar of Springsteen, not surprising consider their New Jersey roots. It's those Jersey roots that give The '59 Sound such a strong sense of place, with hard-rocking working class anthems about cars, awkward love and aimless youth that perfectly evoke hanging out with friends on summer nights, when you're just a short drive away from the big city, but you always wind up in a local parking lot at two in the morning, and you wouldn't want it any other way. (JM)
Choice tracks: “The '59 Sound,” “Miles Davis & The Cool,” “Here's Looking At You, Kid”

Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (2001)

On the charging “Skills Like This,” Robert Pollard sings, “I want to reinvent you now.” He could easily be referring to his band. Though they made a name for themselves with the scattered lo-fi experimentation of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes in the mid-1990s, Guided By Voices would gradually refashion themselves as a more straightforward rock band over the course of the decade, and they hit a newfound peak in 2001. Focusing on the pop hooks that were often buried underneath the fuzz of their earlier releases, Isolation Drills is a sleek collection of undeniable rock star moments. Though The Who have been a go-to reference point since GBV first started appearing on critical radars, with this album, those comparisons finally needed no asterisks. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Chasing Heather Crazy,” “Glad Girls,” “Run Wild”

El Guincho, Alegranza! (2008)

I have the most respect for artists who take a diverse array of influences and filter them through their own style, so that they could make anything sound distinctly like them. El Guincho has this quality sealed up pretty early on in his career with Alegranza! Listening to the album and trying to pick apart all the influences, though, is nowhere near as exciting as letting the ecstatic melodies, upbeat rhythms and summery sounds wash over. “Ecstatic” is a key word here—I’m not sure any other album on the list is so consistently joyful. That it is done without a hint of irony and with fantastically good songs to recommend makes this an incredible debut album and incredible album in its own right. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Palmitos Park,” “Kalise,” “Prez Lagarto”

The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006)

It's not all that surprising that Craig Finn recently announced a foray into screenwriting, since his albums with The Hold Steady are all remarkable pieces of storytelling. When applying the auteur theory to music, it's tough to think of a better songwriter this decade than Finn to build a case around, exploring recurring themes and characters on every release. While Boys and Girls in America is littered with Finn's obsessions, running the gamut from highbrow literature to all sorts of hard drugs, its main focus is reckless youth, with enough Catholic guilt thrown in to make the album feel like an adaptation of Thin Lizzy's “The Boys Are Back in Town” as directed by Martin Scorsese, and yes, it is as awesome as that sounds. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Stuck Between Stations,” “Chips Ahoy!,” “Massive Nights”

Jay-Z, The Blueprint (2001)

While the other rap albums on this list are great in spite of the occasional tired skit track, Jay-Z (with the help of such production luminaries as Bink, Just Blaze, Timbaland, and Kanye West) crafted a rare beast of the genre: one that actually earns the “all killer, no filler” label. This is all the more impressive considering it still runs over an hour, and save for one guest track with Eminem, all the rapping falls on Jay-Z's shoulders. Though The Blueprint parts ways with traditional guest and skit-ridden rap albums, it embraces other rap touchstones: the diss track, the Jackson 5-sampling first single, and naturally, the rampant boasts. Of course he named it The Blueprint; it's the template for the ideal rap album. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Takeover,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “U Don't Know”

The Killers, Hot Fuss (2004)

Ultimately, one can only attempt to objectively judge music if that judgment is based on explicitly delineated criteria for whatever constitutes good music to that particular person. No two people share exactly the same musical taste or culture, which is why criticism generally makes me pretty damn squeamish. All of this is preamble to two items relevant to this album: a really strong, expressive melody will always win my heart over anything else, and Hot Fuss is brimming with those. It’s possible that The Killers will never again match these heights to my now-jaded ears, but this album will always thrill me greatly. (CF)
Choice tracks: “Mr. Brightside,” “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Change Your Mind”

LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (2007)

On “Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem's 2002 debut single, James Murphy clearly targeted those in the indie rock set willing to embrace elements of electronica. Continuing that trend on Sound of Silver, he made the transition a breeze, with its use of live instrumentation, often added gradually throughout the song for maximum build-up effect, and sound that so sharply recalls the work of such genre pioneers with crossover success as Brain Eno and Kraftwerk. Most compelling, though, are Murphy's lyrics. With the keen social satire of “North American Scum” and “New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down” and the emotional one-two punch of “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” Sound of Silver is a cohesive, moving, and practically universal portrait of growing up in this decade. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Someone Great,” “All My Friends,” “New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down”

Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)

Sweden turned out to be a surprise hotbed for some of this decade's most compelling music. Such acts as Peter Bjorn and John, The Knife, and Lykke Li possess that rare ability to seamlessly wed pop smarts and a flair for experimentation, while Hello Saferide crafts acoustic folk gems out of clever slice-of-life story-songs. None of these Swedes, however, are able to stir all of those qualities together as marvelously as Jens Lekman. As if ably combining lush orchestral pop with disco beats on Night Falls Over Kortedala wasn't enough, Lekman brings his distinctive sense of humor to the fore on every track, spinning tales that are at time surreal, at times awkward, at time nostalgic, and at all times delightful. (JM)
Choice tracks: “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” “A Postcard to Nina,” “Your Arms Around Me”

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (2003)

These days, it's pretty much impossible to peg an artist as “punk” without throwing in another genre signifier to hyphenate it. Ted Leo clearly pines for those no-hyphen days. While so many punk albums of yore featured at least one reggae workout, Leo laments their eventual disappearance on “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?,” the highlight of Leo's strongest set of tunes in a very strong discography, Hearts of Oak. Sporting his distinctively fierce guitar skills and arresting falsetto, the rest of the album offers high energy gems that stand alongside classics by The Clash, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers and a bevy of Leo's other punk idols without ever falling into strict genre revivalism. (JM)
Choice tracks: “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?,” “The High Party,” “Hearts of Oak”

For part three, click here.
For part four, click here.
For part five, click here.
For the individual ranked lists and also-rans, click here.

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