Best of...

Burgo’s Top Albums of 2021

Oh. Hi.

Yep, it’s been four years since I last posted here. Man, that’s sad.

Anyway, here’s a “Best Albums of 2021” post. 21 albums for 2021.

21. Luca Brasi – Everything is Tenuous

Dependable melodic-punk, for when your inner 16-year-old needs to come out, and remind yourself that you’re not dead yet, dammit.

I can only speak for myself, but my inner 16-year-old needed to come out a lot, this year.

An album of bangers. Luca Brasi know how to write 3.5 minute songs that get you jamming, and that’s what this album does.

Standout track: Dying to Feel Alive (but honestly, the whole album bops)

20. Nas – King’s Disease II

Nas embracing Nas. Fully. Both who he is, and who he was. And it’s about time.

An album of killers. EPMD 2 (featuring Eminem and EPMD) has Em sounding the most fire he’s been in a while, and then the beautiful “Nobody” features the one and only Ms Lauryn Hill giving a lyrical masterclass; but the revelation of the album is Death Row East, where Nas gives an insight into his view of the East Coast/West Coast war, and his personal fallout with 2Pac (and the reconciliation that never had the opportunity to happen)

Standout track: Death Row East

19. The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy

The Hold Steady continue their renaissance, following 2019’s “Thrashing Thru the Passion“.

Sometimes, The Hold Steady sound like Craig Finn. This time around, Open Door Policy sounds like a band album. Once named “America’s Best Bar Band”, the “everyman” motifs are still there; but this certainly seems, to me at least, to be the most delicately textured of all of The Hold Steady’s albums. And it’s richer for it.

Standout track: Unpleasant Breakfast

18. Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life

Parquet Courts head further into “Talking Heads” territory, and I love it.

Standout track: Walking at a Downtown Pace

17. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – The Future

Soul, R&B, Blues, Rock, Folk, Americana – yep, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats have always been a versatile outfit, but this album definitely shows it off to full effect. A vintage outing into warm nights and swinging tunes. Coming from the past, but absolutely looking into the future. Sometimes uneven in pacing, its still buoyed along by Rateliff’s trademark soulful bark, killer horns and absolute joys like “Survivor” and “Love Don’t“.

Standout track: Love Don’t

16. Hayden Calnin – What it Means to be Human

Australian electro-folk artist, Hayden Calnin is an aural technician. Seriously. His albums are auditory experiences, best listened to through headphones that immerse you in the intricacies. On What It Means to be Human, Hayden appears to have found himself. There’s a natural flow to this album that his previous double-album debut seemed oh so close to, but didn’t quite achieve.

Standout track: Oh What a Mess I’m In

15. Emily Scott Robinson – American Siren

Emily Scott Robinson absolutely devastated me last year with her tune “The Time For Flowers“, which came at just the right time for me in 2020. Even so, I wasn’t ready for American Siren, which welcomes in the lost and lonely with open arms from the very first tune, “Old Gods“.

For the life of me, I can’t listen to Emily Scott Robinson without thinking of Dolly Parton, and I mean that in the absolute best possible way. This record explores the ups and downs and roundabouts of life, faith, loss and new loves. It’s a journey.

Standout track: If Trouble Comes a Lookin’

14. Valerie June – The Moon & Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers

A wistful record, taking in past pain with a faint… pride? Fondness? Honestly, I’m not sure how to describe the mood of The Moon & Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, but I can tell you this: it’s a beautiful, beautiful record full of acceptance and killer vocals that race up and down delicately, before slamming you with power. And Carla Thomas makes a feature! What else do you need?

Standout track: Call Me A Fool (feat. Carla Thomas)

13. Josiah and the Bonnevilles – Motel Mayday

I find Josiah and the Bonnevilles — and particularly frontman, Josiah Leming — just fascinating. The dude’s been a working, travelling muso for years now. On leaving school at 16, he took his first full-time job in a fruit and vegetable packing plant in Texas, and then headed across the States in search of gigs and open-mic nights. But despite the drive, determination and clear talent, he’s just never seemed to get the recognition I feel like he deserves. I wondered if this album would change that, but it seems to have passed pretty much under the radar, again.

Standout track: Oh No!

12. Sun June – Somewhere

Somewhere is certainly an apt name for this album. There is a yearning that pervades Sun June’s latest release… someone else, some place else, sometime else. The band produces “regret pop”, in their own words… but despite that framing, there’s an upbeat, airy quality to these somewhat weighty tunes.

Standout track: Everything I Had

11. Big Red Machine – How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?

HLDYTIGL is a divisive album; you either like Big Red Machine, or you don’t… and if you don’t, you really won’t like this album. It’s not that the songs are indescernable, but — particularly in the second half of the album — the songs seem to meld into a mashed song somehow. You begin to miss ebbs and flows… there’s just no tension and release, and it starts to feel like there could have been some more ruthless editing on the album.

That’s if you don’t like Big Red Machine.

Fortunately for me, I do… so I could put up with that lull; although even I catch myself skipping a fair bit there. With all that said, I just feel like this is a pretty, pretty album, and if you like what Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner “do”, you’ll like this. The highlights come from Dessner himself, finally fronting songs like The Ghost of Cincinnati and Brycie (a very touching ode to his twin brother), and the copious crew of frequent collaborators that join the album, like Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes (featuring on certified bop, Phoenix), Anais Mitchell (who pens some of the best lyrics on the album) and, of course, Taylor Swift.

Standout track: Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift)

10. Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange

Wary + Strange is an intensely personal record, as Amythyst Kiah tries to work through her own feelings and past; without a care for what others think, mind you, as opener (and closer) track “Soapbox” warns the listener:

“Don’t wanna hear your soapbox speech / Don’t wanna know how you would do it / Don’t wanna know how it should be / ’Cause I don’t care what you think”

Kiah melds folk, country, southern blues and alt-rock effortlessly, as she explores her… self? There’s pain. Anger. Defiance. And progress.

Kiah’s multi-instrumental prowess is only matched by soaring vocals that rage and growl and dare. But it’s the introspective “Wild Turkey“, a song that deals with her mother’s suicide, that gets me every time. Opening with delicate finger-picking, it’s a slow burner of a song that slowly builds to wall of sound that totally sneaks up on you.

Standout track: Wild Turkey

9. Holy Holy – Hello My Beautiful World

An album of the pandemic, but just so… hopeful? Heading far further into electro-pop territory than I’ve yet heard from duo Holy Holy, this is an album of acceptance, but not resignation. Accepting that things may never be the same again, but being aware of the fact that the only way forward is to leave the past behind us. Tim Carroll spoke about how he became “quite obsessed” with an essay by author Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a Portal”, which argued that:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

… and man, this album soundtracks that sentiment perfectly.

Standout track: The Aftergone (feat CLEWS)

8. Tyne-James Organ – Necessary Evil

Man, this is an album of ups and downs. Raw emotion (Heal You), and certified bops (Sunday Suit). Gritty rock vocals (Hold Me Back) and pop sensibilities (Stranger). Such is the range and versatility of Australian artist, Tyne-James Organ. Totally blows my mind to think this is his debut album. The confidence is staggering.

Standout track: Sunday Suit

7. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

The album that we needed in 2021. This is the aural equivalent of a warm hug, comforting you that things will be ok again; or at least, “won’t hurt so much, forever”, as Parks repeats in the albums second song, “Hurt” (which is followed just two songs later by the aptly named “Hope”… see a theme here?)

Another debut album where I just can’t believe it’s a debut album. I can’t recall a single previous debut album that sounds this polished.

Music to watch the rain hit your window to, as you get lose in memories.

Standout track: Hope

6. The Killers – Pressure Machine

Brandon Flowers has never been shy about wearing his Springsteen-influence on his leave, but this album might be the most overt. The Killers’ “Nebraska”, Pressure Machine sees the band examining small-town lives, loves and losses in Flowers’ own hometown of Nephi, Utah.

Big stadium concerts are no longer a thing in the age of COVID, but honestly, I think that in some ways that’s freed up The Killers to explore parts of themselves outside of stadium pleasers. There’s a vulnerability here… and grief, and acceptance… that we haven’t seen before from the band.

Yet, despite all the pain that exists here, there’s a hope, too. Songs are punctuated by interviews with real residents of the town of Nephi. Before the second song – stunner “Quiet Town“, which deals with a death on the train tracks – kicks off, a resident talks about the train that winds its way through the town:

“I think the train is a way to find your way out of this life, if you get hit by it”

But in the final moments of album closer, “The Getting By”, we hear that train horn passing us by, and then another resident comments about the train:

“Twice a day it comes through — my grandkids, when it comes through, they run out and they look down the road, because they like to see it go by.”

Maybe that train is a way out of this life. But it depends on how it takes you.

Standout track: Sleepwalker

5. Strand of Oaks – In Heaven

Tim Showalter, the mastermind behind Strand of Oaks, just gets to me. The dude sings, and I feel it. Seven years since I heard Shut In, the guy is still soundtracking my feelings.

In Heaven is an album full of heartbreak and loss, but also hope. Showalter rails, rails against the dying of the light, and it gives us strength.

Standout track: Galacticana

4. Claud – Super Monster

An album made for day-dreaming to while staring out the window and thinking wistfully of past relationships. Claud may predominantly be known as a “bedroom-pop” artist, but this, their debut album released under Saddest Factory Records, is slick. And I mean that in the best possible way. This is an album that you can listen to from start to finish, and feel the cohesion throughout. That’s a pretty rare thing these days, and a welcome change in 2021.

An unflinching examination of relationships, Super Monster offers relatable, wry, and gut-punch observations from start to finish. If you listen to this album without bopping your head along at least once… well, check your soul.

Standout track: On Or In-Between (but such a close toss-up with opener, Overnight)

3. Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

I honestly can’t quite describe this album. There are airy, floating, delicate vocals. Spoken word pieces. Buzzy guitars, wafting sax, flutes, strings, tight snares… there’s just so much happening over the course of 30 minutes, but all of it is touching.

Perhaps I’ll just try, by calling it a dreamscape in music. Cassandra Jenkins observes people (and art, and beauty) that enter her life, and leave (the gut-wrenching “New Bikini” deals with the sad loss of David Berman, and the all-too-relatable process of healing).

Healing, in particular, comes across strongly throughout this album. And there’s this line, towards the end of album centrepiece, “Hard Drive”, where Jenkins’ talks about healing hearts, that’s been living rent-free in my head for months now. Softly, barely there, the song ends with words that you can just hear the twinkle in the eye for…

“All those little pieces / One, two, three / We’re gonna put ’em back together now
… Are you ready?”

Standout track: Hard Drive

2. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

Now, this makes me feel old, but it’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since I first wrote about The War on Drugs on this site. It’s a 14-year love affair that’s still going strong, with the release of I Don’t Live Here Anymore.

I just get lost in this album. Completely foot-tappingly, head shakingly-lost.

We’re all growing up with Adam Granduciel, and I love it. 

Standout track: Harmonia’s Dream (but such a toss-up with the understand opener, “Living Proof”)

1. The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… along with Josh Ritter, I view John Darnielle as one of the best lyricists of our generation.

As with other Mountain Goats releases, there’s a tension that simmers in Dark in Here… a desolation and ruin, balance with wry ruefulness. Religious fury abounds, and heartbreak and futility (I’ve never heard helplessness as beautiful as “Before I Got There“) and catastrophe. But perhaps, more than all of that, walking through the darkness with you… there’s empathy. While the songs here address the gloom, they never fall to it. As Darnielle sings in album closer, “Let Me Bathe In Demonic Light“:

“Swim right through the night / Break the surface and rise like a geyser / When my time is right / There I’ll be / And who among you is coming with me?”.

I just find this such an enjoyable listen.

Standout track: Mobile

artists digital downloads guitar music

Another “Best Albums of the Decade” (2000 – 2009) List…

God. It’s already December the 15th as I write this (not sure when I will get to publish the post) [Ed’s note: only half a month later. Not bad. I’ll just use the excuse that I was waiting until 2009 was over, to give every possible chance to every album in the decade. Yeah, that’s it] and I haven’t even started on my “Best of the Decade” list.

I think part of the reason behind the procrastination is that, in a lot of ways, it’s simply too big. How do you boil a decade down to a single post? Which is why this isn’t the usual “Best Releases of the Noughties” post. Instead, this is just a post about some of my personal favourite albums of the decade, and which ones affected me as a person the most.

Anyway, no more qualifications or justifications, I just wanted to make that clear. Now that that’s out the way, let’s dive in, shall we?

(Side note: you might notice that the below list has 56 albums, instead of the traditional 50. “Why is that?”, you might ask? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure how that happened. Somewhere in drafting this post, I obviously skipped some numbers, and it was only when I got down to the last few I noticed I was heading to negative figures. As I say… no idea how it happened, but there you have it).

cat power free56. Cat Power – You Are Free (2003)
I both love and hate this album. I love it because it honestly is a thing of beauty. But I hate it because nothing Chan Marshall has put out since has ever come close to touching this release.
Must hear: Good Woman
+ Buy From Amazon

basia55. Basia Bulat – Oh, My Darling (2007)
Seriously, as soon as those handclaps started on single “I Was A Daughter”, I fell totally and completely in love with Basia Bulat. Arguably one of the most complete debut albums I had ever heard.
Must hear: I Was A Daughter
+ Buy from Amazon

continuum54. John Mayer – Continuum (2008)
And with this entry, I can hear the closing of windows in disgust from 98% of the other music bloggers who read this blog. But seriously, I’ve never understood the disdain most music bloggers seem to have for Mayer and his releases. And, as a guitarist myself, hearing “Continuum” for the first time was a staggering event, where John Mayer matured right in front of our very eyes. Or ears, as the case may be. The phrasing throughout the album is absolutely impeccable.
Must hear: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
+ Buy from Amazon

damien53. Damien Rice – O (2003)
Another case where I was torn: which album which make it, Damien’s 2003 debut, “O”, or the 2006 follow up, “9”? “9” nearly won it purely on the strength of opening track “9 Crimes” (which will easily go down as one of my songs of the decade), but in the end, I had to go with “O”. As an album, its raw passion from start to end is impossible to ignore.
Must hear: Cannonball
+ Buy from Amazon

nizlopi52. Nizlopi – Half These Songs Are About You (2004)
It’s only now that I sit down to make this list that I’ve noticed a trend, in that many of these albums of debut efforts. Hmmm, does that say more about me, or more about the artists? That question aside, this release by Nizlopi came at exactly a point in my life where I needed this kind of music; life-affirming, yet introspective, it’s a beautiful album.
Must hear: Wash Away
+ Buy from Amazon

eits51. Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
The second album from Explosions in the Sky, this 5 track masterpiece simply knocked me out when I first heard it. This is the very epitome of music you can lose yourself in. And when you find yourself again, you’re a new person.
Must hear: Your hand in mine
+ Buy from Amazon

phoenix50. Phoenix – Alphabetical (2004)
Most music bloggers seem to be hailing their 2009 release, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” as their best thing ever. Not me. For me, nothing comes close to “Alphabetical”. The thing is pure pop glory. And while “Amadeus…” may have the fantastic tune, “Lisztomania”… well, this is better.
Must hear: Victim of the Crime
+ Buy from Amazon

bastards49. The Damnwells – Bastards of the Beat (2003)
Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time knows my love for The Damnwells. Easily one of the world’s most underrated bands, The Damnwells deserve to be huge. Epically huge. And their 2003 release, Bastards of the Beat, illustrates why perfectly. An album of singalong tune after singalong tune, Bastards of the Beat is one of the Noughties classics.
Must hear: Kiss Catastrophe
+ Buy from Amazon

yeasayer48. Yeasayer – All Hour Cymbals (2007)
Strangely enough, this album took a while to grow on me. But man, once it did, it did. With lead single “2080” being my introduction to the album, I’m not sure how I didn’t lose my shit immediately.
Must hear: 2080
+ Buy from Amazon

athlete47. Athlete – Vehicles and Animals (2003)
Man, it was a tough call for whether “Vehicles and Animals” or “Tourist” would make the cut when it came to this list, but ultimately Athlete’s debut release came out on top. With tracks like “El Salvador”, “Beautiful” and the stunning “You Got the Style”, this album of pop mastery was on rotation for the better part of a year for me. Full of wry observations, humour and genuine tenderness, Vehicle and Animals did it for me.
Must hear: Vehicles and Animals
+ Buy from Amazon

imogen46. Imogen Heap – Speak for yourself (2005)
Textured. Layered. Cinematic. Visionary. No matter how you describe Imogen Heap’s music, one thing we can all agree on is that it is simply wonderful. Just like this album.
Must hear: Hide and Seek
+ Buy from Amazon

joseph45. Joseph Arthur – Come to where I’m from (2000)
It’s no secret that my relationship with Joseph Arthur seems to have its highs and lows. But “Come to where I’m from”, released in 2000, was definitely a high point, and I still view it as one of Arthur’s finest moments. Unapologetically honest, it’s everything that a life-changing album should be.
Must hear: In the sun
+ Buy from Amazon

killers44. The Killers – Sam’s Town (2006)
What? Did I really pick sophomore release “Sam’s Town”, instead of debut “Hot Fuss”?
Well, yes, I did actually.
Sod off if you don’t like it.
Must hear: Read my mind
+ Buy from Amazon

oasis43. Oasis – Heathen Chemistry (2002)
I don’t think I ever saw this on any “Best of ’02” lists, so I doubt I’ll see it on many “Best of the Decades” lists. In fact, chances are, I might be the only music blogger to credit this release with that honour. And sure, maybe by this decade, the best times of Oasis might have been behind them. But c’mon… “Hindu Times”? Noel on “Force of Nature”? “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” and friggin’ “Little by Little”?? For me, this was a great, great album. And, again, Noel picked up the singing for a few tunes. Rock on.
Must hear: Stop Crying Your Heart Out
+ Buy from Amazon

benfolds42. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001)
Strangely enough, not many people seemed to like this album. Perhaps it was because “Rockin’ the Suburbs” (apart from its title track) was a more sombre release than Ben Folds had released previously, with Ben Folds Five. Quite frankly though, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass. “Rockin’ the Suburbs” was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. “Still Fighting It”, in particular, was a declaration made with such honesty that it still haunts me to this day.
Must hear: Still Fighting It
+ Buy from Amazon

molly41. Flogging Molly – Drunken Lullabies (2002)
The second album from Flogging Molly, “Drunken Lullabies” combined acoustic guitars with punk guitars; violins with whistles, and the kind of lyrics that simply make your body feel more alive than it ever has. And – quite possibly – ever will again. God, this was a cracker of an album.
Must hear: If I ever leave this world alive
+ Buy from Amazon

plans40. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans (2005)
I’m certain to catch some flack for choosing “Plans” as Death Cab’s release of the decade; after all, people rightfully claim that this, their first release on a major label (Atlantic) is too predictably slick, too polished. And that’s true; it is, and certainly doesn’t display the rawness of earlier releases. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sodding great record. After all, this is the album with “I will follow you into the dark”, for pete’s sake.
Must hear: Marching Bands of Manhattan
+ Buy from Amazon

joe39. Joe Pug – Nation of Heat EP (2008)
The most impressive debut I think I have ever heard. Complete in every sense, “Nation of Heat” remains one of the most exciting releases of the past 10 years. I still hold out high hopes for Joe.
Must hear: Hymn #101
+ Buy from Amazon

boh38. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (2007)

Hauntingly beautiful, Band of Horses “Cease to Begin” release was the first real exposure I had had with the band. Sure, I had heard their 2006 debut “Everything All the Time”, but it took this release, and particularly the cracking tune, “No One’s Gonna Love You”, to really pull me in. And man, I’m glad it did.
Must Hear: No One’s Gonna Love You
+ Buy from Amazon

thecon37. Tegan & Sara – The Con (2007)
The only fault I could find in 2007’s “The Con”, was that the damn thing ended too soon. And that’s a fantastic, fantastic fault to have. Tegan and Sara probably haven’t reached these heights again, but I’m ok with that. This was more than enough.
Must hear: Call It Off
+ Buy from Amazon

flobots36. Flobots – Fight with tools (2008)
“Positive change music”. Sounds poncy, doesn’t it? But somehow, the Flobots pull it off with aplomb. I challenge you to listen to this album and not feel that you can change the world. And you know what? With enough of us, maybe we can…
Must hear: Mayday!!!
+ Buy from Amazon

myslovitz35. Myslovitz – Korova Milky Bar (2003)

To this day, I have no idea how Myslovitz didn’t end up being huge. And by huge, I mean huge. When I first heard Korova Milky Bar, it was like it was the album that woke me up from slumber and breathed life into me. How could everyone else not feel the same way? But, alas, it appears they didn’t. Musical taste’s a funny old thing, isn’t it?
Must hear: Sound of Solitude
+ Buy from Amazon

postal34. The Postal Service – Give Up (2003)

You know, I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s a tragedy, or a blessing, that this is the only album the Postal Service have ever released. It’s a tragedy, because Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, as Postal Service, create such bloody beautiful tunes. But, it’s more likely a blessing, as I don’t think they would ever be able to live up to this, their first (and likely only) album. Give Up was a revelation when I heard it. Back in 2003, I was going through somewhat of a backlash to electronic music. I thought I had heard all it had to offer, and quite frankly, I was bored with the lack of soul. Then Give Up came along, and changed all of that. And man, I’m glad it did.
Must Hear: This place is a prison
+ Buy from Amazon

perez33. Perez – Picture Perfect (2002)
Perez is one of a handful of South African bands to make it onto this list, and for good reason. (Incidentally, before moving on, Just Jinger’s “Here’s To You”, a joyous celebration of a new time in South Africa when hope was on the horizon just missed out on this list as it was released in 1999. But I had to make a reference to it here anyway. Go get it. It’s stunning and captures the feeling in South Africa at the time like no other album ever would). Ahem, as I was saying, “Picture Perfect” makes it on here for good reason. I remember the first time I heard “Wasted Out”, lead single from the album. It was a goddamn awakening. Recorded by guys that we had grown up with (only a few years older than us) who frequented the same places we did for a quick drink? Man, you couldn’t get more rock star than that. The entire reason I got into a band. Point blank.
Must hear: Wasted Out

city32. City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love (2008)
One of those albums that you simply never seem to get tired of, Dallas Green’s (get it? City and Colour!) “Bring Me Your Love” was one of the highlights of 2008 for me. While I always loved his stuff in Alexisonfire, this folksy album from Dallas is by far the best thing he’s ever produced. So far, that is.
Must hear: Confessions
+ Buy from Amazon

razorlight31. Razorlight – Up all Night (2004)
Do you remember the first time you heard Johnny Borrell from Razorlight? God, he was an arrogant little prick, wasn’t he? You could practically hear the swagger in every word he spoke, couldn’t you?
I loved him. Johnny Borrell and Razorlight were going to save friggin’ rock ‘n roll singlehanded. They were the saviours we had all been waiting for. Here were some rockers you could respect.

Ok, so maybe looking back on it, Johnny and Co. might never have lived up to that promise, and ok, maybe that broke my heart. That doesn’t change the fact that every time I listen to “Up All Night”, I feel that optimism all over again. And I live in constant, constant hope, that Razorlight will deliver on this debut.
Must hear: Up all Night
+ Buy from Amazon

once30. Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard – Once OST (2007)
The first time I heard the soundtrack to Once, I fell in love. Fitting, given its context. I don’t think there has ever been a better soundtrack, and I’d be hard pressed to believe there will be, at least in my lifetime. Listening to Glen and Marketa experience love, and the hardships that go with it, through their songs, was something beautiful. And I will remember the first time I heard “All the way down” for the rest of my life.
Must hear: All the way down
+ Buy from Amazon

brighteyes29. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (2005)
“I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” is, in my opinion, the best thing Bright Eyes has ever produced (although Cassadega comes close). Although Conor Oberst had threatened brilliance for years before this album, it was with “I’m Awake…” that it all really seemed to come together. A singer-songwriter country/rock album, it’s the album that Bright Eyes were meant to make.
Must hear: We are nowhere and it’s now
+ Buy from Amazon

mraz28. Jason Mraz – Mr A – Z (2005)
I feel like I constantly have to defend this album to Jason haters. Ok, so it doesn’t have the sheer abandonment of “Waiting for my Rocket To Come”. Yeah, it’s not as polished as subsequent releases. But “Mr A – Z”, Jason’s second album, has always been one of my favourites. There’s something in this album where you can almost hear Jason trying to find his way in his new life. And that honesty draws me in every time. As a side note, I’ve said previously that I think that Jason has one of the purest, most effortless voices I have ever heard, bar none. And this was the album where he showed that off with an opera solo during “Mr Curiosity”. It still gives me a kick whenever someone hears that song, and the opera section takes them completely by surprise. It’s the small things, you know.
Must hear: Song for a Friend
+ Buy from Amazon

animalyears27. Josh Ritter – Animal Years (2006)
How do you pick one album for the decade from an artist such as Josh Ritter? Answer? You don’t. Try as I might, I simply could not just enter one album for Ritter. His music was too special, too important to that decade for me. A lot of fans thought that in this album, “Animal Years”, Josh Ritter began to take himself too seriously. I beg to differ. I think it was an album where he found himself.
Must hear: Thin Blue Flame
+ Buy from Amazon

historical26. Josh Ritter – The historical conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
And here’s the other Josh Ritter album, released the very next year. I’d go out on a limb here and call this the album of 2007, but we’ve seen how that’s worked out for me in the past. Aah, what the hell… this was the release of 2007.
Must hear: To the Dogs or Whoever
+ Buy from Amazon

nada25. Nada Surf – Let Go (2002)
For me, “Let Go” was the best thing Nada Surf had ever created, and I think it still is. The album was simply brim-full with masterful song writing, with lyrics that felt like they were written specifically for you.
Must hear: Blonde on Blonde
+ Buy from Amazon

streets24. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free (2004)
“Original Pirate Material”? Sure, that was a great album. But “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” was where it was at for me. Skinner opened up, and let us in. And damned if it wasn’t a damn nice place. I defy any male who has ever had a relationship end on them not to identify with “Dry Your Eyes”. Go on. I dare ya.
Must Hear: Dry Your Eyes
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rainbows23. Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)

You know, it’s interesting looking back at my first reactions to this album, and my feelings towards it now. Tellingly, I ended off that post with the lines: “All in all, despite my misgivings, I have the feeling that “In Rainbows” is an album that will grow on the listener after time. And, so often, that has been the case with Radiohead in the past. Pioneers have to deal with strange looks from infidels sometimes.” Despite the clumsy wording of that sentence, the sentiment was right… the more time I spent with this album, the more it grew on me. I still don’t think this was exactly the biggest stretch for the band themselves… but that doesn’t change the fact it’s a great album.
Must hear: House of Cards
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demo22. Ryan Adams – Demolition (2002)
Fair warning, I couldn’t pick a single Ryan Adams album to include from the decade. So I cut it down as much as I could, but still ended up with four albums. Sue me. “Demolition”, to many, came off as a mixed bag… which makes sense, seeing as the album was ostensibly a “Best Of” compilation of unreleased demos, from the always prolific Ryan Adams. But for me, there was something special about Demolition. And with tracks such as “Chin Up, Cheer Up”, “Dear Chicago”, “Desire” and “Starting to hurt”, Demolition was always going to make it onto this list.
Must hear: Desire
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silent steeples21. Dispatch – Silent Steeples (2000)
Another band that honestly changed my life, Dispatch’s 2000 release, Silent Steeples was the album of my teenage years (ok, ok, so I just scraped into the teens in 2000 when it came out. Sue me). There is literally not a single song on this album that does not kick ass. Not one. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Must hear: Bridges
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goats20. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree (2005)
The Sunset Tree is a difficult album to listen to, once you realise how autobiographical the work is. For those who haven’t listed to John Darnielle’s work much, let’s just say that the guy did not have the best of childhoods. Lines like “Held under these smothering waves by your strong and thick veined hand, but one of these days I’m going to wriggle up on dry land” give you some kind of indication of what Darnielle experienced growing up. But, despite that, “The Sunset Tree” is an album filled with hope, in the direst of circumstances. And it takes a songwriter as talented as Darnielle to pull off that contrast.
Must hear: This Year
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andrewbird19. Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)

This was a hard one. Andrew Bird has released a slew of awesome albums in the past decade (“Armchair Apocrypha” and this year’s “Noble Beast” both narrowly missing out on a place in this list), but ultimately I decided to go with 2005’s “The Mysterious Production of Eggs” (although I’m still in two minds about the decision, almost purely based on the strength of “Noble Beast”’s Anonimal). Can you tell I’m torn? I think “…Eggs” won out in the end because you can lose yourself so completely in the thing. Bird is, without doubt, one of the most interesting artists of the decade, and nowhere is this more evident than in this album.
Must hear: Sovay
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rabbit18. Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight (2008)
The release of 2008. ‘Nuff said, really. Seriously, I’m not going to waste your time here anymore. Just step away from the computer, go to your local music store, and get this album. You’ll thank me.
Must hear: Good arms vs. Bad arms
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gaslight17. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound (2008)
God, I hate the fact that I just used the line “The release of 2008” in the previous entry. Because if any other album in 2008 stood up to “The Midnight Organ Fight”, it was The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound”. An album that, it appears, I’ll simply never get tired of, this is one that will stand the test of time. Watch my words.
Must hear: Great Expectations
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howie16. Howie Day – Australia (2000)
Howie Day is a year older than me, and – in many ways – I’ve grown up with the guy’s music. If any artist on this list has been able to speak for me when I couldn’t find the words, it’s Howie Day. In 2000, when I first heard this album (yes, it was released independently two years before the Epic release) I was 18. And man, did it speak to me. While I’m not sure that Howie has ever quite fulfilled the potential that I still feel he has in him, I’ll forever be grateful to him for this album.
Must hear: Ghost
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jack15. Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales (2001)
Even though Jack had his music out there previous to this album (via soundtracks and the like) it’s still hard to believe that this album, “Brushfire Fairytales”, was his “proper” debut release. The album is a study in perfection, and I don’t make that statement lightly. A release that simply inspires joy, I’ll never forget the first time I heard it.
Must hear: F-stop Blues
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lovehell14. Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell (2004)
“Love is Hell” (issued as two EPs) saw a return to Ryan’s top form, and I think excited not only us fans, but Ryan himself too. I say that because when I’ve watched Ryan and The Cardinals perform live, there always seems to be a little extra… sparkle in the set, when they perform “Love Is Hell” tunes. And rightly so. The album was at once tender, and at the same time defiantly aggressive. Getting that mix right, some would say, takes genius.
Must hear: I see Monsters
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plush13. Plush – All That is Should Be (2004)
Another South African release, I’ve written about Plush before in my South African bands post (band #29), so I’ll let you read that for some more background. Suffice to say, I felt that Plush were going to save South African music. They had everything needed to completely revolutionise how the industry perceived itself, which was always our biggest problem. So when one half of Plush, Chas Smit, was tragically killed in a hit and run car accident in 2005 following a gig, a little piece of all of us died that day. A few years on, and Rory Eliot (the other half of Plush) has picked up the mantle again. I’m holding thumbs for him.
Must hear: Jet Life

mattryan12. Matthew Ryan – Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State (2008)
You know, I’ve been listening to Matthew Ryan’s stuff for quite some time, so it might seem strange that it’s one of his latest albums, “Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State” to make it onto this list. But, for all of Ryan’s habits of delving into the darker, more depressing conditions of the human spirit, it was this, his somewhat more optimistic album that stands above the rest for me. I’ve always felt that Matthew Ryan deserves far more recognition, because the dude really does produce music that means something. And that’s saying something.
Must hear: Dulce Et Decorum Est
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outkast11. Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
The crowning glory of Outkast, without a doubt. Sure, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” might have been a more ambitious undertaking for the duo, but “Stankonia” was their masterpiece. The album had a massive 24 tracks, and yet somehow managed to keep it together for its entirety; no mean undertaking, especially given the fickleness of some of their hip-hop contemporaries at the turn of the new millenium. But that’s just it, really… Outkast had no contemporaries at the time. They were flying on a completely different cloud. And man, was it bad ass.
Must hear: Ms Jackson
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pete10. Pete Francis – Untold (2003)
There’s something about this album from Pete Francis (one third of the aforementioned “Dispatch”, who had by this stage broken up and moved on to respective new projects). I can’t describe what it is, but I felt that, when I heard this album, I grew up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but before listening to it, I was… different. After listening to it, I was another way. That probably makes no sense to anyone, but there you have it.
Must hear: Untold
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coldplay9. Coldplay – Parachutes (2000)
Just a great, great album. While Chris Martin seems to be the new Bono in the music bloggers world (ie. it seems remarkably popular to pick on the dude), I’d challenge anyone to disagree that this was a near-perfect album. Track after track, Martin and Co. knocked it out of the park. Reportedly, Chris refers to this album as “terrible music”; I’d disagree… for me, it’s possibly the best thing Coldplay have ever produced.
Must hear: Don’t Panic
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ben8. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Live from Mars (2001)
Ben Harper (with and without The Innocent Criminals) has been responsible for some of my favourite albums over the last two decades, but I’m not sure anything will ever quite live up to the 2001 live release, “Live from Mars”. “Live from Mars” is, quite possibly, the perfect “live” album; an album that captures – but does not tame – the live sound of a band at its highest point. Listening to this album is an exercise in sheer beauty… I cannot for the life of me listen to it, without wanting to pick up my guitar. And that’s a beautiful gift.
Must hear: Excuse Me, Mr
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3eb7. Third Eye Blind – Out of the Vein (2003)
Ok, seriously. Music bloggers, I’m putting you all on notice as of right now. Stop with the 3EB hating, k? One of my favourite bands of all time, it was natural that Third Eye Blind would have an album on this list. So thank goodness for “Out of the Vein”, because the only other album released in the decade, “Ursa Major” was quite frankly not up to par. But “Out of the Vein” is another story. Every song catchy, every song full of wry observations… every song full of Third Eye Blind awesomeness.
Must hear: Crystal Baller
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weaker6. The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site (2003)
You know, even though The Weakerthans are ostensibly a punk rock/folk rock band, I still find it hard to believe that that’s the same John Samson singing as was once in hardcore punk band Propagandhi. And, even though in my younger years I had brief flirtations with Propagandhi, I’ll say this outright… that outfit never came close to The Weakerthans for me. Reconstruction Site was the band’s third full-length album, and really, it should never have been able to live up to the brilliance that was “Fallow” and “Left and Leaving”. But somehow, it not only lived up to those releases, but completely eclipsed them. Such a great, great album that had a story to tell. Just bloody brilliant.
Must Hear: Reconstruction Site
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national5. The National – Alligator (2005)
I know most would pick 2007’s “Boxer” as their “National” release from the decade, but there’s something special about “Alligator” for me. Perhaps it’s a selfish impulse, that “Alligator” was where I first “discovered” the band. I’d largely missed out on the hype that was “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers”, but this album was a revelation when I heard it. And, ultimately, when you get right down to it, Matt Berninger could read out a grocery shopping list and that voice would still captivate you.
Must Hear: All the Wine
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boniver4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
I’ve written about Bon Iver enough times on this blog, and watching them live last year was one of my concert-going highlights for all time, so it’s no surprise that Justin Vernon and Co. find themselves on this list. This album, “For Emma, Forever Ago” is an album of fragile beauty, weary acceptance, and subtle hope. Simply beautiful, and an album that wasn’t just heard, but experienced.
Must hear: re: Stacks
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tiger3. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Easy Tiger (2007)
Unquestionably, one of my favourite Ryan Adams releases. Once again backed by the Cardinals, “Easy Tiger” is full of those aching observations that Ryan Adams seems to toss off like dust off his shoes. Probably the most consistent of all Adams’ albums, “Easy Tiger” is an absolute must in your CD collection.
Must Hear: Two
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johnsons2. Antony and The Johnsons – I Am a Bird Now (2005)
You know, I distinctly remember this album came out right at the beginning of 2005, and yet, somehow, all of us knew without a doubt that it would be in our “Best of ’05” lists. “I am a Bird Now” is one of those albums that – if you’re lucky – comes along once in your lifetime. I’ve noticed that if I have videos playing of Antony Hegarty performing, a lot of people do a double-take; sometimes with notable discomfort on their face. It’s hard to blame them… if you’ve ever seen Antony and The Johnsons perform live, you’ll know the raw and painful emotion Antony puts into his performance. And that voice is just so damn fragile, and vulnerable, it sounds like it could break into a million shards at any time. It really is, at times, uncomfortable. Bloody worth it though.
Must hear: My Lady Story
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heartbreaker1. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)
Could it really be that this was Ryan Adam’s debut solo album, post-Whiskeytown? Surely he sounds… older, and wiser here? But it was, and in a lot of ways many of Ryan’s subsequent releases seemed to be running away from Heartbreaker, in a sense. It was like “Heartbreaker” had Ryan at his rawest and most emotionally open, and for a long time everything after that was running and hiding; until, at least, Love Is Hell in 2004. Heartbreaker is perhaps Ryan Adam’s finest moment. And I’ll thank him for this album for the rest of my life.
Must hear: Come Pick Me Up
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