The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

The Best Albums of the Decade: "Is This It?"

10 min read

By Bullet Music Snobs

This is it? Really, guys? the Strokes? Kanye? Justin Timberlake? Did you guys even listen to music this past decade? Yes, we here at the Bullet empathize with the omission of your favorite band. However, if it’s any consolation, this is not a subjective list. After hours of deliberation and discussion on the merits of every album of the past decade, Bulleteer music geeks reached a standstill. “In Rainbows” or “Kid A?” “Speakerboxxx” or “Stankonia?” Fortunately, in the midst of our struggle, the ceiling of the Bullet office opened in a crash of thunder and a great heavenly light shown down from Seaco. After the smoke cleared, a stone tablet lay on the floor with the following list inscribed upon it. So here it is, the Bullet’s list of the greatest albums of the decade, determined not by opinion or personal taste, but by divine right.

1. “Is This It” by the Strokes
Is this it? Absolutely, without question and by a decisive margin among Bullet staffers. After being championed in our hearts for almost a decade, the Strokes have now claimed the ultimate place of honor atop this decade defining list. Few bands have debuted amid such hype and hysteria and far fewer have deserved it. Whether or not the Strokes are really the next Rolling Stones or Velvet Underground is beside the point, because “Is This It” is an astounding achievement. After all, what’s not to love? “Is This It” has it all: distorted, howling vocals, vaguely suggestive lyrics, awesome guitar solos and clear signs of alcohol abuse. But most importantly, how did the Strokes end up at No. 1? By what rationale was this, among thousands of possibilities, the best album of the decade? Yes, there will always be endless debate and controversy when it comes down to one album brazenly declared as the best, but what set the Strokes apart? When I arrived at the Bullet office on Sunday night to choose the best albums of the decade, I had no Strokes-biased agenda, no plans to deliver an impassioned rallying cry for “Is This It.” Yet when the voting was over, there it perched, sitting calmly above its temporal fiefdom. Simply put, “Is This It” possesses a rare quality: universal appeal. That’s why this is it, because we all know this album rocks, plain and simple— (Alex Ricart)

2. “The College Dropout” by Kanye West
Imma let you finish Alex, but my shit “College Dropout” is the best album… of the decade. Don’t tell me I didn’t get everyone from your pops to your pastor bouncin’ when I came out of nowhere in 2004 and dropped the greatest rap album of the moment, year, decade and—hell, never mind, I’ll say it—all time. Y’all knew without a doubt that my skills as a producer were undeniable, and yes, I did use my signature production techniques over some of the sexiest soul samples and gospel elements to the flyest degree, but it was my 100 percent Kanye originality that caught the attention of critics and listeners. Nobody else but yours truly could rap about backpacks and Jesus and car crashes and drugs and get it played in every club and suburb in the nation. Kanye isn’t one to overexert himself so I like to write my lyrics in my sleep, yet hip hop lovers and Kanye haters all agree nearly every word on “Dropout” is catchy, witty and self-aware—that’s right, ladies and gentlemen, self aware. Kanye knows what he’s doing, when he’s doing it and how much y’all love it.. And while my haters today love to tell me to shut-up, listen to “Dropout” and I’ll get all y’all to listen to what I wanna say. (dictated by Kanyeezy, written by Kat Saunders)

3. “Funeral” by Arcade Fire
Plenty of artists tried what the Arcade Fire did. Sufjan Stevens already had three full albums out by the time “Funeral” was released—heck, Andrew Bird had five. Bands made orchestral indie rock with about every weird junk-shop instrument imaginable before the Arcade Fire hit it big, but no one did it more beautifully than they did on their debut LP. Band leader Win Butler took after his new BFF Bruce Springsteen by sticking his wife and all his friends in his gigantic band—who else to better execute songs filled with as much emotion as those on “Funeral?” The band suffered the loss of three family members while making this record, and it is only fitting that Arcade Fire decided to name the record “Funeral.” The album’s 10 songs describe a town with no parents, which many of us could relate to halfway through the Bush administration in 2004. “The power’s out in the heart of man/take it from your heart and put it in your hand,” Butler sings on “Funeral.” Numerous artists tried to deliver that message, but only the Arcade Fire succeeded connecting with their audience in a way that it actually meant anything. (Jeremy Flax)

4. “Kid A” by Radiohead
It’s 4 a.m., and for the second night in a row, I am fruitlessly trying to catch a glimpse of the Leonid Meteor shower underneath dense cloud coverage, the perfect setting to revisit Radiohead’s “Kid A.” In these quiet, serene hours of the early morning, it has never been easier to appreciate Radiohead’s 2000 masterpiece. Uninhibited by daily distractions, “Kid A” paints a lush soundscape. Tethering the psyche to a slow progression of electronic manifestations, “Kid A” embodies the endless ebb and flow of a digital world with only occasional reminders of our organic reality. It’s a world as real and lucid as any—it’s dynamic as it is cold, lurching from placid to chaotic without refuge. But for those willing to engage “Kid A” as it should be engaged—wholly and with abandon—it’s an unforgettable and indescribable ride. There is an intangible sort of empathy in “Kid A,” the vagueness of its world leaves so much open for interpretation, and therein lays its beauty. “Kid A’s” many successes, including its massive influence on popular music, pale in comparison to its raw emotive powers. I encourage anyone with a quiet moment to explore this awesome and aptly lauded album. (Alex Ricart)

5. “FutureSex/LoveSounds” by Justin Timberlake
Prior to this decade, few people would have guessed that Justin Timberlake, the second-least threatening member of N*Sync (sorry, Lance), had the potential to fill up dance floors with a Prince-inspired, slightly dirty, bass and synth-heavy hit album produced by one of hip-hop’s most respected producers. And yet, with his second solo effort “Future Sex/Love Sounds” Timberlake falsettoed his way into respectability and the top of the charts with that very album. With guest vocals by rappers like Snoop Dogg and T.I and heavy doses of distorted vocals, R&B beats and ‘80s influenced breaks courtesy of Timbaland, Timberlake aimed his ambitious sights on becoming a monster hybrid of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and the ultimate ladies’ man. While he didn’t quite reach his goal, “Future Sex/Love Sounds” was a successful experiment that achieved that perfect balance of edge, catchiness and staying power few other pop albums manage to attain. (Kat Saunders)

6. “The Marshall Mathers LP” by Eminem
Once upon a time, white rappers were a musical novelty, much like the “Macarena” or “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Vanilla Ice’s “rough past” was fake, and he has since made his living being on VH1 reality shows. Released in 2000, “The Marshall Mathers LP” has sold close to 20 million units and spawned three singles. “The Real Slim Shady” attacked pop stars in Eminem’s humorous fashion, while “The Way I Am” responded to the pressure and expectations fans and record execs put on him. The final single, the still-to-this-day haunting “Stan,” is arguably Eminem’s best. It’s the story of an obsessive fan that never gets responses to his letters, and eventually kills his pregnant girlfriend, who he had suffocating in the trunk, and himself in a car accident. While responding to Stan’s letter, Eminem realizes that the news story he saw about a guy who killed himself and his girlfriend was, in fact, Stan. Launching Dido’s career and causing backlash from both GLAAD for attacking the gay community and several others for its misogynistic lyrics that talked about killing his mother and ex-wife, “The Marshall Mathers LP” constantly ranks as one of the top hip-hop albums of all time. (Emilie Begin)

7. “Return to Cookie Mountain” by TV on the Radio
A number of bands put out groundbreaking albums in their respective genres throughout the decade. The White Stripes breathed new life into the blues, the Strokes made rock cool again, Animal Collective deconstructed pop music, and Kanye West repackaged hip-hop for the masses. But nobody fused the whole internet-fueled postmodern milieu together quite like TV on the Radio.
Released in 2006, “Return to Cookie Mountain” is the sound of a band at the pinnacle of their artistic summit, somewhere in the clouds above the rest of the modern musical landscape. A rare, slow-burning masterpiece in a decade better known for hyper-ADD Internet hype, “Cookie Mountain” requires more than tinny-sounding I-pod ear buds and a few listens to decipher. Haunting, whistled melodies descend into whirling synths, horns build slowly behind hazy textures, West-African rhythms pound or stutter anxiously, and singer Tunde Adebimpe’s frantic poetics lead the charge like a mouth-foaming madcap preacher. Ultimately though, it’s studio mastermind Dave Sitek who is the unsung hero of the whole compelling mess. Burying layers of silver-throated backing vocals under reverb-soaked waves of synth, bass and guitar, Sitek—arguably one of the greatest producers of the decade—created an atmosphere that is as beautifully dense as it is intriguing. By scaling the dizzy heights of “Cookie Mountain,” TV on the Radio proved that, in terms of innovation, they were miles above the rest of the decade. Here’s to hoping that they never come back down. (Ryan Marr)

8. “Turn on the Bright Lights” by Interpol
Before Interpol proved they were indispensable—while they were still the hot new NYC buzz band with just one album and an EP under their belt—they endured endless comparisons to Joy Division and other ‘80s post-punk bands. Because of singer Paul Banks’ robotic vocals and Carlos D’s intricate bass lines, the rip-off accusations may never cease. The crucial similarity between the band and its influences, however, lies in thematic content: namely the notion that pretty much everything sucks. New York was depressing and addicted to coke in the ‘80s, and, in 2002, the city was still shaken from 9/11. “Turn On the Bright Lights,” their stunning debut album, encapsulates the melancholy of its time without crooning over ecstasy-fueled dance beats or lyrics about kicking terrorist ass. The band reflects this looming darkness by generating a cold and empty atmosphere, courtesy of Banks’ monotonic chant and the bands thin, minor key arrangements. Nevertheless, the band shines a small but piercing, guiding light in moments when they envelop you in sound, such as in the album’s shimmering closer “Leif Erikson.” In moments like these, it’s apparent that Interpol understands times are dark, but we can’t run from them forever—something that other bands this decade have seldom been able to express. (Jeremy Flax)

9. “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse
From her trademark beehive to her drunken onstage shenanigans, Amy Winehouse changed what it meant to be a female singer. Within the first seconds of “Rehab,” she admits, “they tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, no, no, no” and everyone listened up. On “Back to Black,” released in 2006 in the U.K. and in 2007 here, Winehouse worked with producer Mark Ronson to combine the genres of R&B, soul, jazz and rock to create an eclectic mix. The album mirrored her life with musical highs and heartbreaking lows. On the album, Winehouse is a mouthy, messed-up, vamped-up soul-stress, with the voice and attitude to back it up. A witty singer-songwriter not afraid to be honest about herself, Winehouse delves into her past and current relationships with a sprawling collection of songs. “Rehab” was the theme song of college students, celebrities and drunks everywhere. Darker standouts, such as “Me & Mr. Jones,” were just as catchy as pop singles, “You Know I’m No Good” and “Back to Black.” The music aside, the success of “Back to Black” allowed fellow female British singers, such as Duffy and Adele, to gain airplay and sales in the U.S. as well as abroad. The album “Back to Black” was one of the first well-done throw-back albums of the decade by a female singer. Many have tried to copy Winehouse’s shtick, thematically and vocally, since, but no one has come close. (Colleen Trachy)

10. “Stankonia” by Outkast
Before releasing the double album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” Andre 3000 and Big Boi synchronized their two distinct sounds into songs comprised of Big Boi’s traditional gangsta style and Andre’s funky persona. Released in 2000 at a time when rap was still fresh and influenced by the East/West coast rivalry, “Stankonia” was an album people could dance to. Based out of Atlanta, Outkast gave the Dirty South the representation it deserved, something that had never been done before in mainstream hip-hop. With songs like “Bombs Over Baghdad,” the duo created beats that listeners had never heard. Other album’s hits include “So Fresh, So Clean,” “B.O.B.,” and “Ms. Jackson,” which told the story from the Baby Daddy’s point of view. What really makes “Stankonia” an influential album though, is the different genres that influence it. With heavy metal, Indian instruments and gospel among the many types of music that make it what it is, the album is best summed up in the Andre 3000 words: “The world doesn’t need another clothing company, but it does need a certain funk.” Stemming from the word “stank,” which means “funk,” “Stankonia” was and is that certain funk. (Emilie Begin)

11. “Night Ripper” by Girl Talk

12. “Alligator” by the National

13. “Elephant” by the White Stripes

14. “Give Up” by the Postal Service

15.”The Moon & Antarctica” by Modest Mouse

16. “We Are Pilots” by Shiny Toy Guns

17. “Agaetis Byrjun” by Sigur Ros

18. “Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens

19. “Speak for Yourself” by Imogen Heap

20. “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards” by Tom Waits

21. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” by Wilco

22. “Discovery” by Daft Punk

23. “Stripped” by Christina Aguilera

24. “Demon Days” by Gorillaz

25. “Van Lear Rose” by Loretta Lynn

Staff writers’ individual picks