Top 10 Albums of 2001

Number 10.  –  “The Blueprint” – Jay Z

Back in the 90s there were many albums that set the trend for years to come, those influential albums that changed the game and that other hip hop artists would use as a template to follow. In the 2000s however, there isn’t quite many of those albums. The Blueprint however is one of them, and it can easily be classified as the most influential hip hop album of that decade. Actually for 4-5 years to come people would follow the production standard set on this album. It was the emergence of the Kanye West and Just Blaze sound, sometimes called chipmunk soul, with clap drums and a catchy soul sample that is often sped up. Both producers would work on that sound for years to come, but this is really where it became a staple. The Blueprint is also a Jay-Z album, in the sense that there aren’t any guests artists outside of a lone Eminem appearance. Especially after The Dynasty, Jay-Z wanted to show his skills without putting his crew on. That’s good because he’s easily the best in Roc-A-Fella records, as much as I like Beanie Sigel and Freeway, they can’t really compete with Jay-Z that’s one of the all-time greatest. So with groundbreaking productions and Jay-Z rapping solo, this is bound to be a classic? Well hell yeah it is. There are a little inconsistencies on the album, but there’s just so many moments of genius that it’s a pretty hard one to deny. There’s one thing that people rarely say about Jay-Z’s performance here, is that it’s he’s not quite as good as he was in 96 to 99. Yes even if his albums in the late 90s aren’t really as well acclaimed, he did rap at his best on those. Not to say that he doesn’t offer a great performance here (he’s still easily one of the top rappers of 2001), it’s just a little less than Jay-Z can do. But still that doesn’t stop The Blueprint from much, it’s still a cornerstone of 2000s hip hop and easily one of the best in his discography. 

Number 9.  –  “The Argument” – Fugazi

Fugazi’s apex is also a strong candidate for best album of the 00’s. Although retaining the same recording engineer and studio (inner ear) as the last two albums, the Fugazi sound on The Argument has shifted into a cerebral, murky wash of beauty and noise. They’ve done the impossible by making their most melodic, accessible record still somehow extremely dense and challenging. The contrast is most noticeably jarring on “Full Disclosure”, where female backing vocals adorn the catchy chorus and the guitar line during the bridge is just bursting with joy; the rest of the song is this ugly, shrieking mess of guitars, sinking into an atonal madness. As if their palate wasn’t expanded far enough already, nearly every song implements second drummer Jerry Busher, whether its behind a drum kit or on percussion. Other songs may feature piano, cello, vibes or even acoustic guitar, often as the focal point of the song. The brilliant “Strangelight” includes both piano and cello sharing a riff toward the end that repeats for ages while the chords get more abstract. Probably the darkest thing this band ever got, it sounds like no other song in their catalog and it’s easily one of my favorites. I’m at a loss as to what else I can say. Ian MacKaye’s hoarse shouts have been reduced to actual singing and Guy’s voice is as sexy as ever. Like I said before, the experimentation level is still incredibly high but there’s at least one part in every song that you can easily hum along to. And the way they build off simple ideas is masterful. In “Ex-Spectator”, the guitars play an easy riff at 1:29 that in the early days would probably function as the basis for the whole song. Instead, they’ve inserted it briefly in between the verse and chorus so it sounds out of place the first time, then they return to it a second time later in the song, expanding on it by adding contrasting guitar lines and bass so when they enter the chorus again it fits seamlessly. These types of things are all over this record. I marveled at it 9 years ago and my adoration hasn’t waned in the slightest.

Number 8.  –  “Toxicy” –
System of a Down

I have always felt that System Of A Down was one of if not the most creative metal bands in the entire history of the genre. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse it’s true. The experimental nature of these four Armenian guys hasn’t always payed off. And I will be the first to say that more often than not it worked against them. But one thing can never be taken away from them, and that is that Toxicity is one of the very best metal albums of all time. See, everything clicked here and everything worked here, and in spades. from the start of ‘Prison Song’ to the end of ‘Ariels’ melodic guitar progression it just works. I will say that whatever that bonus track is supposed to be, it didn’t need to be and for me is the only thing that keeps Toxicity from being a full five star album. It was just unneeded. Argue as much as you want, but Toxicity proved without a shadow of a doubt much like White Pony did for Deftones, that System of a Down was not just another horrible Nu-Metal band. They had something else, something more. Sure they had that whole nu-metal feel but with Toxicity they proved more while bringing in aspects of their punk influences and making their obvious Thrash Metal influence all the more obvious. This hybrid with quirky time signatures and light-hearted vocals met with heavy down-tuned guitars and screaming vocals when necessary. Toxicity is a treasure in a genre that has all but lost its zest and appeal and has, much like country music, become a parody in and of itself.

Number 7.  –  “White Blood Cells” –
The White Stripes

Garage Rock is pretty interesting, I love the sound of it anyways, and most people would say that the ideal Garage Rock band (a revival band though they may be) are The White Stripes. The first song I heard by The White Stripes was “Fell in Love with A Girl” (I think every one’s was if not “7 Nation Army”), and though that is pretty much the fastest and most punk/garage song on the album, the heavier but more in-depth blues rock songs are really good as well and remind me of Black Keys a good bit (They were my first modern Blues Rock band so excuse me if you don’t like that comparison). Even though just based off of “Feel In Love with a Girl” I didn’t get what I expected at all but it was still really enjoyable with songs like “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” “Expecting” “Offended in Every Way” and “I can’t Wait”. Also softer (or more ballad like) songs I thought were really interesting and done very well were “I’m Finding it Harder to be a Gentle Man”, “The Boy You’ve Always Known” and the more familiar (from who knows where) “We’re Going To Be Friends”.  Although White Blood Cells did not turn out to be the Savior Of Rock Music music journalists anticipated it would be, it is still a prime artifact of the early part of the decade – and, I must add, a quite good one.  Although the chords are simple and, like R.E.M. in the early ’80s, the song structures tend to repeat themselves rather than “innovate”, each song is classic and has something to offer.

Number 6.  –  “I Get Wet” – Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is some kind of enigma, a prophet for everything precious that’s left to worship in these cynical, modern times. In other words: He’s a prophet of The Party. His principle is the ‘everything louder than everything else’-formula and the constantly present urge for true Rock & Roll and rebellious ‘Fuck You’-attitude that young people (and those who stay young at heart) demand. These are not songs, these are principles – impossible to ignore and always over-the-top. You think it could get louder, there could be another layer of sound, another hook or more screaming and there it comes! It’s full of riffs, simple melodies and one-liners you never can get out of your head. Fuck smart music anyhow, I’d rather be part of the Neanderthal-crowd and sing on those tribal “Fun Night”-shouts.. He stands in a long line of tradition. It’s funny indeed that nothing really compares to this: You may mention the steamroller, no-bullshit attitude of early Rock’n’Rollers Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard that is present as well as the self-explanatory bareness of former (70s) prophets Meat Loaf and Ramones (who of course totally contradict each other). You hear traces of that non-compromising Damaged-feeling as well as the declarative vocal powress of Scooter! Actually, you can add whatever else comparisons of music that brings you down to your basic human instincts – this is just my version of how to describe this post-modern power-cocktail! It must be heard to believe and it sure will evoke something in you. Truly the most glorious album of the 2000s.

Number 5.  –  “Lateralus” – Tool

There’s nothing out there quite like Lateralus. It goes well beyond what makes a great album, as it intentionally operates on an entirely different level. The ambitions attempted on it are nearly unrivaled. A record filled to the brim with astrological, philosophical, spiritual, musical, and lyrical ideas, all of which have these intrinsic symbols, metaphors, and secrets that took fans literally years to figure out (there may even be more, who knows?), and yet at the same time it seems effortless.  Plus, this features all of the band members at their most innovative peak. Every track has masterful musicianship that isn’t just interesting BECAUSE it has strange time signatures, ethnic sounds, or progressive instrumentation, it’s interesting because all of it works to creating songs that sound unbelievable. It doesn’t just sound like an experiment gone wrong of people showing off. It all just comes together and somehow works.  You can’t just find one track that is the “really great Danny Carrey drum song” or “one of the best vocal performances by Maynard”, all of the songs have the members channeling something that they tap into to make them the collective entity that is ‘Tool’. I don’t know, I really, really love Aenima and each song off that record is a classic, but it doesn’t have the profound philosophical and musical sense that Lateralus has. It’s kind of a Sophie’s Choice dilemma. I tend to listen to songs fromAenima much more, but at the same time, when I want to listen to Lateralus, I prepare myself for it and take time out of my day to do so, as if it were an event. To put it simply, it sounds as it were made by super-humans or something.

Number 4.  –  “Gorillaz” – Gorillaz

Witness Gorillaz self-titled first album.  The record earns mixed reviews on RYM and I can grasp some of the reason why.  My take on Gorillaz is that it was Damon Albarn’s attempt to break out of the creative cul-de-sac that he felt he’d reached with his day job band.  And fair play to him for trying something bold in response.  (Although it’s clear in retrospect just how divergent this direction was from his past and future partner in crime.).  Gorillaz reads to me like a sprawling, spliff-infused mess.  Like the The Clash’s Sandinista!, the only coherent theme here is a cannabis-inspired freewheeling spirit. But that’s all beside the point for this reviewer.  Before I-pods permitted random track selection from thousands, we mortals frequently tromped around listening to the same set of CDs and tapes until they were worn out.  There was some valor in that, too.  For me, it was heady process of self realization navigating the streets of Berlin in 2001 during my days there at the Freie University.  “Tomorrow Comes Today” is the Gedächtniskirche, “19-2000” is my nondescript student housing in the southern exurbs,  “5/4” still brings memories of the pock-marked walls near Pankow.  I reach out to trace my fingers along the cold concrete when it plays.  They’re treasured snapshots from my own memory that, of course, I’m helpless to truly communicate to anyone else. The melodies will take your mind back to places it would never find otherwise. I owe Damon and the rest at least four stars for an album that, for all its hits and misses, remains indelible to me.

Number 3.  –  “Blackwater Park” – Opeth

Opeth’s fifth album is widely considered one of the best metal album of all time, and is by many more loved than those early classic metal albums like “Master Of Puppets”, “Rust In Peace”, “The Number Of The Beast” and many others. I too feel like this album challenges me and interests me more than those timeless masterpieces. Indeed, “Blackwater Park” is THE progressive death metal album, along wih the previous effort by the band “Still Life”.  What makes this so universally acclaimed is that it’s probably the most accessible death metal record, thanks to the crushingly beautiful moments that are here present. But die hard death fans will also be satisfied, with the powerful, yet complex riffs that are the true skeleton of each of these eight songs. The production is crystal clear, the mixing is fantastic, everything here sounds so beautiful and graceful, even if it’s an indeed violent record. The guitars are crunchy and thick sounding as hell, the vocals are amazingly brutal when leader Akerfeldt growls, the drums are as sharp and precise like never before. These qualities guarantee though the style of this particular record; each song, long as it is, has many time changes, a lot of hooks, different melodies; it gets from loud and violent to a soft, melancholic piece that makes your soul shiver, to get loud once again. “The Leper Affinity”, “Bleak”, the title track and “The Drapery Falls” all use this formula, even though they all have completely different structures. These epic songs are the ultimate towers of the album, while the other tracks seem simply to give yet another touch of perfection and decoration, so that the album turns out as it is. For Example, “Harvest” is a great, memorable but quite sad sounding ballad, and on the contrary “The Funeral Portrait” is the heaviest song here. “Blackwater Park” is the essential Prog metal album, a masterpiece to bow to. Everything about this album excites me and satisfies me completely. This is one of those perfect metal albums that makes you proud of liking and being a fan of the genre.

Number 2.  –  “Is This It?” – The Strokes

You know life has so many downs that sometimes you have to remember that it could be worse wherever you are at now, no matter what the circumstances. You should never put yourself lower than where you already are, which is what this generation feels like it has been; Japan has the highest suicide rates, the emo movement lasted throughout the decade, and more, it just isn’t what the world needs. What people should need is an inspiration and a good role-model that they can look up to and realize that there’s always a chance. The Stroke’s “Is This It,” will guarantee to bring anyone up from hard times and try to make anyone happy again. I got to say, out of all the indie rock albums I’ve seen, this one will make sure to shake your booty as you’re listening to dance-music when the songs picks itself up. “Is This It” is the best representation of what New York rock music truly is and these days, even the Strokes know they’ll never make another record this good. The one thing I adore about this list of songs in “Is This It” is that the lyrics for all of their songs are easily relatable to almost anyone, dealing with subject matters such as waiting, broken relationships, regrets, disappointments, stress, giving up, and loneliness, but somehow managed to turn those subjects that sounds negative and turned it positive, as if we all faced the same issue, but feel good that it’s not any worse than that. This was a fantastic opportunity to finally put garage rock into the mainstream and it’s remembered as to one of the best albums of the 2k’s.

Number 1.  –  “Discovery” – Daft Punk

What I find most disappointing about music today is that I can only find very few albums that came out this past decade to be quite as good or just as groundbreaking as Daft Punk’s “Discovery.” Every song, every note, every beat, every instrument used, every writing, and every second of each & every song in Discovery was just made perfectly and made it unforgettable. Daft Punk made this album based on their childhood in the 70’s & their personal relationship with that time of their lives. The theme really colors this album entirely; so colorful in fact that it makes their listeners to feel like kids. It took every popular music genre in the 70’s and mixed it with modern electronic instrument to feel like a ride of a life time to appeal anyone with any musical taste. All of their songs succeeded wildly, dissolving a decade-plus of dance music good taste. Anyone who’s anyone has a favorite song in this album, but of course the obvious choices are “One More Time,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” & “Aerodynamic,” but my favorite song in this entire album would probably be “Digital Love,” because it’s the best love song I’ve ever listened to and still cherish it ever since. When there’s an album, I usually find myself thinking if only they could organized the song better, used the solos more than they left off, or made some of the songs longer/shorter (especially some of the albums in this list), but in Discovery’s case, there’s no possibility of me thinking that I could make this album better because this album showed me that perfection is believable. The electronic music industry owes a lot for Discovery for bringing much more recognition to the electronic genre. This album is so inspirational that several other artists such as Kanye West, LCD Soundsystem, and more couldn’t simply ignore them. This album was popular enough to get itself a movie, Interstella 5555, which purpose was show the visual realization of the album as a whole. Clearly, Discovery is the album that made Daft Punk world-wide fame and the legacy of this very album still lives on. Discovery’s reputation as being the best of the decade is truly deserved. This is perhaps one of the most celebrated albums I’ve ever encountered and yet, I refuse to stop celebrating this brilliant piece of music. I’ve met a lot of people who doesn’t believe in perfection, but I strongly disagree with them after listening to Discovery.

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