The Roots: Game Theory and Phrenology
Phrenology is criminally underrated by hip hop heads. I always hear people talk about how “out-there” and “experimental” it was, but when you take away the little “punk” interlude and the freak-out at the end of “Water,” you have a pretty straight-forward monster of a rap record, probably my favorite Roots album. And Game Theory is just undeniable—super cohesive, dark and beautiful—through Phren is my favorite, Game Theory might be their best.
Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High
If you peel away all the seething hatred for this band—hatred that’s usually based on non-musical factors like who their fans are or who the bass player is dating—you’re left with some of the best pop music of the decade. I wrote more about my love for this album in my review of their follow-up.
K-OS: Atlantis – Hymns for Disco
K-OS isn’t a great rapper, but he is a great songwriter. Though I’m usually all about lyrics, this album got me because of how pretty the music is. K-OS is one of the few emcees to get the whole genre-bending thing right—the music defies easy categorization, but it’s not defined by that. The hybridization is organic, and the music never loses sight of the hooks.
This one hasn’t stayed with me as much, but when it first came out it was pretty revelatory. The harsh production isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this album really opened up some doors for other hip hop artists to explore weirder sonic territory. Sounds amazing live, too.
Haley Bonar: Everything
From "The Size of Planets" to “Lure the Fox” to “Big Star,” Haley Bonar is just breathtakingly good. Her lyrics are engaging, her melodies are beautiful and her voice is otherworldly. It’s an absolute mystery to me why she isn’t more famous than she already is—she can appeal to people who just want pretty adult-contempo folk rock, but she can go so much deeper than that too. And yeah, she's on my new album.
OutKast: Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Two interesting releases here. One represented the apex of OutKast as a duo; the other, the exact point they started to part ways. Neither release is perfect, but OutKast are so far beyond what most other artists are doing (hip hop or otherwise) that even their uneven, experimental stuff is pretty bonkers. If you took the best songs on these three albums and put them on one album, you'd have the best rap album of the decade. As is, they're still pretty good.
Janelle Monae: Metropolis - The Chase Suite
You don’t hear a whole lot of ambitious R&B music these days; usually it’s throwback retro soul, groove-oriented neo-soul or plastic loverman pop R&B. This album, however, shattered those molds and made something wildly original. Monae is one of the few artists I'm really excited about.
Yann Tiersen: Amelie Soundtrack
I don’t really have anything interesting to say about this one. I don’t really “do” instrumental music. I just really like this album. I think I listen to this more than anything else in my Itunes.
Res: How I Do
Another overlooked gem. Beautifully-produced music, well-written songs and a very cool delivery. An all-time favorite album for me.
Some Singles, Omissions and Random Thoughts:
I didn’t LOVE either of Lupe Fiasco’s albums, but “Kick, Push” might be my favorite rap single all year. He uses really simple language to say some pretty complex things about identity and freedom; I wish Lupe would “dumb it down,” so to speak, more often. Saying deep things with simple language is always better than saying simple things in overly abstract nonsense gibberish.
Another example of this would be "No Regrets" from Aesop Rock. I like Aesop's weird stuff too, but this is his most simple, straightforward song... and it benefits from that.
Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson made some really catchy songs. “Valerie,” “You Know I’m No Good,” and others—it’s not exactly revolutionary music, but it’s really well-done throwback soul.
D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was my favorite album for a long time, but I haven't found myself coming back to it any time recently.
I thought about writing up Rage Against the Machine’s “The Battle of Los Angeles,” but upon re-listening it’s a pretty uneven album. The high points are insanely high, though. “Sleep Now in the Fire,” in particular, is monstrously good.
Nothing deep to say, but Raphael Saadiq’s “Still Ray” might be my favorite song of the whole decade.
“Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis is probably the best song dealing with 9/11, at least the best one that comes to mind.
“At the End of a Slow Dance” by Vant Hunt is also a great track, "a tremendously weird blend of ‘80s synth pop, rock and soul that not only defies genre conventions, but is a pretty brilliant piece of songwriting in its own right" --me.
"Lord Willin'" from Clipse deserves a mention, but only a mention. Enough other people have written about them.
Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” is usually overlooked in their repertoire of albums, but I think it splits the difference between their early, more poppy stuff and later, more experimental stuff just like “OK Computer” did, just not as well. But being “almost as good as ‘OK Computer;” is still a pretty awesome thing. Some killer songs on this album.
Upon further listening, Saul William's Niggy Tardust album is pretty great. Not as good as the self-titled, but not as "eh" as I first thought.
Blue Scholars put out some great music, but they still haven't grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. They share this with about 98% of all indie-rap released in the last few years.
I think Ghostface and DOOM are both really talented and put out some great music over the past ten years, but I also think they’re insanely overhyped. You can read about how brilliant they are elsewhere.
Kind of the same for Kanye, who had some amazing tracks this decade, but I don't really feel like writing about.
I want to love The Coup, because I think Boots Riley is one of the best lyricists in all of hip hop, but their music is just too inconsistent for me. Some of it is beyond brilliant, but only some of it.
I’m SURE I’m forgetting some stuff too. It is a whole decade, after all. What about you? What are your favorite albums or songs of the decade?