Ah 2001, and this time not a space odyssey. It was a glorious year for music and a dark year in terms of society and politics. The 21st century was in for a messy time and continues to be punishing since then, but at least we can look back on these fantastic rock, indie, dance and rap albums and feel the freedom and expression the artists felt. The further back we go in these anniversary lists, the more glorious the list becomes and here are ten great albums turning 20 this year.
The Strokes – Is This It (24/08)
Hello old friend. Is This It had a charm like no other album of its time with consistent lo:fi and rhythmic guitars, vintage garage sound and highlights of New York suburban youth. It was an album that would become a game changer in indie rock and a large influence on later artists. The band, which seemed like a mixture of The Ramones by design and The Velvet Underground by sound, brought short and sharp alt rock songs with moody vocals that were ever so catchy. Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi’s inter-playing guitar work made the album flow from start to finish, swapping from popping lead notes to fast chords that resonated with energy. The singles Last Nite, Someday and Hard To Explain were catchy hooks and earned the group instant success in the UK and US and became and outfit to be reckoned with. Long live The Strokes.
The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (03/07)
For me, this was The White Stripes’ finest work with the full track-listing being all hit and no miss. The album helped grab critics’ attention with its tasteful fast-paced single Fell In Love With A Girl and accompanied it with a creative LEGO-based video. There’s a variety of guitar styles on this record from crunching I Think I Smell A Rat and Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground, to the Americana Hotel Yorba and the delicate We’re Going To Be Friends. It kept up the traditional and recognisable guitar styling that took influence from blues rock and Led Zeppelin like the pounding Expecting, the gritty The Union Forever and grooving Now Mary. I emphasise on the “all hits” statement, as each track is different from the next, but at the same time flows consistently.
Gorillaz – Gorillaz (26/03)
Wow look at that exciting new virtual band, what a unique sound they have! Wait it’s Damon Albarn from Blur and Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl?! Gorillaz have since become one of the biggest bands on the planet, but 2001’s self-titled release is where it all began with elements of trip-hop, lo:fi and alt rock. The album produced the widely popular single Clint Eastwood with its infectious groove and slick rap delivery. There’s upbeat pop in 19/2000, sombre vocals and pounding drums in Tomorrow Comes Today and jazz-fused hip-hop in Rock The House. We’re given a variety and appreciation of all styles of music with the edge of the new century and freedom of hip-hop and grime expression. The guitar work had janky punk elements in tracks such as 5/4 and Punk and gave us the impression this band was capable of doing what they wanted and could go off in a multitude of directions… and we’re so grateful that they did.
System Of A Down – Toxicity (04/09)
Politically charged and instrumentally fired up. Toxicity for me is a 10/10 heavy metal record and bleeds the American international and national struggle that has simply gotten worse since. The vast majority of the album was ferocious with screams from frontman Serj Tankian as he tackled subjects on police brutality, drug abuse, mass incarceration and the environment. It’s an album you can pick up at any time and let its energy fuel you. The album took influence from many styles such as metal, folk and Armenian music and progresses with mania and insanity and the instruments pound away. There are moments that ease off, only for the guitar and bass picking to provide an eerie vibe. It’s an uncomfortable record, but it had to be to get its distasteful topics across. The singles Chop Suey, Aerials and Toxicity certainly brought the band to the top of the metal realm and it’s a record that hasn’t been matched since by the group.
Daft Punk – Discovery (12/03)
There aren’t many sophmore albums quite like Discovery and to date it is some of Daft Punk’s finest work. From hit after hit you’re taken on this space dance journey that is an iconic moment in French house music. From the thumping dancefloor opener One More Time to the technological and bass-driven Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, Daft Punk cemented themselves early on as clinically catchy songwriters. Aerodynamic has melting guitar tapping on top of pounding drums and funky bass, Voyager has dreamy synths that are once again dominated by the bass guitar and Short Circuit has some of the smoothest synths I’ve heard. It’s an album that’s littered with beats, grooves and chilled synths. It’s one of the most engrossing dance albums of our time.
R.E.M. – Reveal (14/05)
Whilst Reveal received positive reviews from critics, I still think it is underrated and not talked about enough in comparison to REM’s previous releases. The album was vibrant with warm resonating acoustic guitars and had Micahel Stipe’s vocals soaring around the album. Reveal saw a higher use of synthesizers which I feel presented the album in a positive way; although it still rang out with moments of melancholy. It’s full of melodies and catchy hooks like the moving All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star) which continues to stay in my head long after listening as Stipe’s vocals ring out. Imitation Of Life felt like a waterfall crashing down with one of the band’s most upbeat and catchy choruses.
Jay Z – The Blueprint (11/09)
Jay Z pretty much summarised this album in the track Lyrical Exercise: “Best flow, most consistent, realest stories, most charisma, I see the most trends and my interviews are hotter.” The Blueprint is really a stand out moment at an already great time for rap and hip-hop. The production quality was insane from a young Kanye West and had some of the finest flows and beats from an album that was cut together in two weeks. Covering topics such as drugs, gang crime, women, youth, marriage, rivalries, money and his career saw Jay Z explode with his feelings over soul-centred beats with influences from jazz and rock as well. For me it is some of his finest work and an hour feels like nothing as you’re absorbed into Jay Z’s world which saw a shift in direction for hip-hop quality.
Rammstein – Mutter (02/04)
Now I know Rammstein are a fan of pyrotechnics, but this album was as fiery as they come. Mutter had a dark aura around it from its artwork alone, but the crunchy and aggressive guitar riffs and operatic vocal style made for a huge sounding metal album. Singles such as Sonne, Ich Will and Mein Herz brennt gave huge success to the German rockers in the West and helped them to become one of the biggest metal groups of the 2000’s. They also had a guest feature in the movie XXX which was used for the music video Feuer frei! and that track is explosive and sees some crazy electronic additions. The mixture of industrial, metal and dance-metal made for an accessible and engaging sound in the word of heavy music.
Weezer – The Green Album (15/05)
Oh Green, so many people hate you but I love you. A tasteful and sugary half hour of power pop was Weezer’s return after 1996’s now critically acclaimed Pinkerton. The album burst with energy and distorted guitar riffs not too distant from Blue, but without that nostalgic charm and riffing versatility. The album was packed with engaging singles such as the chilled Island In The Sun and the chugging Hash Pipe and is a tight record from start to finish. Some argue this was the start of the decline in Weezer’s discography and obviously they followed with cheesier and more pop-sounding records, but Green has an edge to it and is as smart as it is simple. If you want a fun, sunny and easy-going rock album, then it’s easy to be Green.
The Moldy Peachers – The Moldy Peachers (11/09)
The debut album that you could say has grown a cult status around it and saw a new growth in attention from the movie Juno. Adam Green and Kimya Dawson‘s lo:fi and indie rock sound cemented a growing sound in American rock music, with fuzzy guitars and janky melodies. The lyrical themes are crass and full of pop culture and even corny at times, but it fit the mood and style of the album nicely. It’s an album for all of the awkward teenagers out there and screamed 2000’s vibes. You could describe this album as both messy and creative and I think it works and tried to do something new. It was raunchy, hip and a delight to revisit with delicate love songs such as Nothing Came Out and the iconic Anyone Else But You.